Book Reviews · fitness · running

Run like a girl, or ride too in Sam’s case

Look what I got in the mail! A book by the blog’s Mina Samuels, which includes interviews with me and with Kim.

You can read all of Mina’s posts on the blog here.

You should also go buy the book. I have been picking it up and browsing and reading and smiling ever since it arrived.

Book Reviews

Nat reviews Bikes Not Rockets: Intersectional Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories

This awesome collection of 11 short stories answers the question that has always bothered me in science fiction “Why aren’t there any bicycles?”

This is the 5th book in the series published by Microcosm Publishing edited by Elly Blue.

When the opportunity came up to review this book for our blog Sam knew I was the feminist sci-fi reading and writing cyclist who is always on the lookout for a great read.

In the introduction Elly Blue outlines why when we build worlds and tell tales that we must actively engage in intersectionality. If we don’t think about all the axis of identity and oppression then we risk perpetuating the “isms” of the world we live in into our imagined worlds.

I have had the opportunity to go to WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, the past two years.

WisCon and Functional Fitness

WisCon41 all the feels about disability

It was a wonderful experience but I also learned how some of my favourite genre stories are filled with unexamined ableism, sexism and racism. If we can build any world we want when writing why not create ones that challenge these inequalities?

As a fledgling writer I’ve set aside my apocalypse novel after realizing it was a story about privileged white people patting themselves on the back for figuring out how to live in the apocalypse the way many people around the world live today. Ya. That was an icky realization. I can do better. We can do better!

Elly Blue clearly knows how to get there and has sought out writers who are witty, funny and craft tender, engaging stories with characters I can relate to who take up the challenges in their lives while riding bicycles.

Novel cover art depicting a woman riding a bicycle through space. She wears a helmet and her pants are tucked into her socks. With toe clips, saddle bags and an oner the handlebar bag she clearly has spent many parsecs in the saddle.

Would you like a chance to win a copy of this fantastic book?

Like or comment before my Saturday post goes up at 6am EST and I’ll put your name into the draw.

The book was funded on kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ellyblue/bikes-not-rockets-feminist-bicycle-science-fiction

And if you are looking for more great stories the buck the norms in engaging ways check out the full catalogue at microcosmpublishing.com

beauty · Book Reviews · fashion

Beauty, barbells, and blush for the gym: Sam has some complicated thoughts

I read this article, Make Up is the New Work Out Gear, with a sad feeling. Really? Really? Can’t there be some places (like the gym) where we are free from beauty’s demands and normative femininity?

I knew it was on the horizon thanks to the Clinique counter. I was there recently because of my own vexed relationship with make up. I’m all in favour of the fun stuff  (pink lips and sparkly eyes!) but I’m not such a big fan of foundation and cover up and blending (whatever that means).  I like my artifice to look like artifice. I like my hair best when it’s bright blonde or pastel pink. I never colour my undercut so you can always see the grey and silver. So it’s not about looking like I’m young, or in the case of make up, tanned and well-rested. But I just don’t want people asking me every winter if I’m sick. “No, I’m just pale. This is what white women without make up look like in January!” That’s what I want to scream.

Back to the Clinique counter where they were outfitting with me foundation and blush etc which, when I remember, I sometimes wear to work, grudgingly. They’re also selling “CliniqueFit”–a line of make up just for working out with the slogan “Life is a marathon. Look good running it.”  As usual, there’s a lot of it. There’s pre-workout this, post-workout that, not to mention the stuff you wear while actually working out. And it’s sold as an essential, not an optional thing, “essentials for your highly active life.” 

I get it. Who doesn’t want to look good?

See  our fellow former fitness blogger Caitlin. She writes Athletic women want cute clothes and shoes too! 

And my musings on looking good while working out, 

And, of course, I also think, hey, you do you. I’ll be over here in my ratty workout t-shirt, unbrushed hair, and gym relegated leggings wearing definitely zero make-up. You can wear your pricey matching Lululemon workout outfits with your bared midriff and your smokey eyes. It’s a big tent. Let many  flowers bloom.

Yet, it’s also not simply a matter of personal choice. Feminists know this. We don’t choose alone. We choose in a context. That doesn’t make the bottom line any different. I’m still a strong supporter of not judging others and of individual women picking their own way through this minefield. My sense, as I watch young women get ready to work out in the university change room, is that in these days of Instagram and fitness influencers, it’s getting harder to make the choice to not care.

I’m writing this blog post on holidays in Florida, where I am I here to ride my bike. But since there are only so many hours a day you can ride, I’ve brought some fun work along. I’m reviewing the book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal by philosopher Heather Widdows. The Irish Times ran an article about her work:  Why are beauty standards becoming more onerous.

Ironically, she says, the beauty demands are greatest in cultures where freedom is highly valued. Thus she provides today’s idea: “As beauty norms get harder to attain, we all have less choice rather than more choice.”

So I am trying very hard here not to be a grumpy old ‘get off my lawn’ feminist. But I worry we’re all upping the ante and making it harder and harder to not look in the mirror and judge everything we do by appearance. I know for me too once I start doing a thing, it can be hard to stop. I laughed at Mina’s naked yoga toes story but it also rang true. I had my first ever pedicure in 2017 as a treat before the bike rally. I liked my pink toes. But when it came off, I wanted more. Now in the fall when I stop wearing toe nail polish my toenails look all worn and mangy to me. When a thing stops feeling optional, it starts feeling more like a duty and less like fun to me.

So what makes the ‘wearing make up to work out’ choice complicated isn’t just its effect on other women. That’s the issue of collectively raising the bar and making it more difficult for other women to opt out. But it’s also the effect on our own individual, future choices. Think carefully before you allow beauty into a realm where it wasn’t before. If you’re like me you’ll have a hard time in the future chasing it back out.

How about you? Do you wear making up while working out? Do you wear special make up for that purpose? How do you feel about your choice? (Let’s stay away from the choices that others make.)

Book Reviews

Books for fit feminists and friends!

There are parts of my Dean’s job that feel like work–tenure and promotion meetings, anyone?–important work, yes. But still work. And then there are times when I’m just thrilled to be associated with the College of Arts at Guelph and the thing that I’m doing just feels like fun, not like work at all.

As Dean I get to attend musical performances, art openings, and theatre.  Also, book launches. Last week we had our first big snow and I walked home and then bundled up to walk downtown to the Bookshelf/ebar  to watch two fantastic women colleagues in History launch their new books.

Full disclosure: I own signed copies and I’ve listened to them read from their books but I haven’t read them yet. Still, it strikes me that they’re books that readers of this blog would like very much.  In Thumbing a Ride: Hitchhikers, Hostels, and Counterculture in Canada Linda Mahood explores the rise and fall of hitch hiking in Canada. In Be Wise! Be Healthy!: Morality and Citizenship in Canadian Public Health Campaigns Catherine Carstairs and her co-authors examine the history of public health in Canada. These books connect with our themes of adventure and travel, as well as health education and healthism.

Looking for holiday gifts? All of your friends already own Fit at Midlife? Then, consider these titles!

Oh, oh, oh. I also love that they had non-alcoholic punch at their lunch. Thanks Linda and Catherine! (I’m hoping to get them both on board as bloggers too. Wish me luck.)

Book Reviews · fitness · trackers

Trackers, Vox, and chilling feminist fiction

If you’ve got a thing about tracking devices (hi Tracy!) there’s a feminist distopian novel you might want to read. Or listen to. I went for the audio book. Since reading it I’ve been unable to look at the slim attractive devices on friends’ wrists quite the same way.

I picked it up afer reading this artice in the New York Times, How Feminist Dystopian Fiction Is Channeling Women’s Anger and Anxiety.

From the article, “In Christina Dalcher’s recent debut novel, “Vox,” an ultraconservative political party gains control of Congress and the White House, and enacts policies that force women to become submissive homemakers. Girls are no longer taught how to read or write; women are forbidden to work or hold political office, or even express themselves: They are forced into near silence after the government requires all women to wear bracelets that deliver a shock if they exceed an allotted daily word count.”

Instead of steps the tracker counts words. 100 a day are permitted. It’s chilling.

Is it a good book? It’s a good audio book. I’m never sure how well that translates that plain words. But you might feel a bit differently snapping a tracker on your wrist after reading it.

Have you read it? What do you think?

Vox
Cover of VOX, a novel, by Christina Dalcher
Book Reviews · fitness

Please review our book!

I feel a bit like a broken record these days asking people to rank and rate our book. But the thing is reviews matter. Books that have more reviews, good reviews, are more likely to appear as recommended titles for people who use the biggest of the online book retailers, Amazon. So, please do us a big favour and review our book. See Why reviews matter.
Even if you didn’t purchase your book from Amazon, your review will help ensure others find out about Fit at Mid-Life
How to review Fit at Mid-Life:
  • Click https://www.amazon.com/Fit-Mid-Life-Feminist-Fitness-Journey/dp/1771641673
  • Scroll down to the Customer Reviews Section
  • Take a look at the existing reviews, and click on “Helpful” below any positive reviews you find helpful
  • Click on “Write a Customer Review
  • Select your star rating
  • Write a few words on what you liked (or loved) about Fit at Mid-Life

You can also review our book at GoodReads. We have more reviews here and they’re fun to read I think. I especially like the review that described us as having “that peculiarly Canadian style of being earnest, educated, judgmental, ideological, and yet both endearing and inspiring.”

A black and white photo of Sam and Tracy’s book on a window ledge. The window is stained glass.

Book Reviews · fitness

Sam thinks about pain, endurance, and performance (Book review in progress)

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain lately as I emerge from the knee pain fog that took over lots of my life this fall/winter. At its worst I just couldn’t think about philosophy, work, relationships, or my kids while walking. That’s the usual stuff that fills my brain but my knee hurt too much to think. I used to think of my walks as productive time.

I enjoyed the freedom to think as I walked and often claimed I thought more clearly when walking. Like my standing desk, but better. Instead with my knee pain, I had to focus on breathing through the pain, paying attention to my gait to not make it worse. I’d count steps not with a tracker but in my head to help me make it to my office. The walk was 1.3 km and often I’d stop along the way and check messages, take photos of horses, and catch my breath and regroup.

See Pondering pain and its absence.

Thank you knee brace!

There is nothing the world could do to accommodate this pain. I’ve wondered about how to think about injuries and disability and my knee. See this post on getting past the usual talk of injuries and healing. It’s not that simple. It’s not just a matter of inclusion/exclusion either. See Andrea Zanin’s post on pain and the what the social model of disability leaves out.

Now I think of myself as someone who is good with pain. And I’ve been thinking about what I mean by that.

I think that of myself I suppose because other people tell me that. That’s part of the story. I gave birth to three kids without pain medication. I’m not claiming I could handle difficult births without drugs but run of the mill uncomplicated easy births didn’t seem to need drugs for me. I hear it too from physiotherapists who make your body move in painful ways as part of the injury recovery process. I do exercises even though they hurt. And once, when a dentist couldn’t get the freezing to work for a root canal, I asked him how long the painful part would take. Not long, he said. Just do it, I replied. And yes it really hurt but I lived to tell and we’re still friends.

I’m also reading a really wonderful book about endurance and I especially enjoyed the chapter on pain. I’ve liked Alex Hutchinson’s work for years. His column Sweat Science is one of my fave things to read and share on the Fit is a Feminist Issue Facebook page. I also follow his work in The Globe and Mail. It’s not particularly feminist but it is evidence based reporting on fitness. That’s rare. His book Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance is well worth reading. Chapter Five is about pain and endurance athletes.

Of course, I’m also drawn to the chapter because it’s about cycling, the sport of pain. Cyclists have lots to say about pain. Lance Armstrong, “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” Hutchinson goes for Jens Voigt, of “shut up, legs” fame. Among reasonably equally fit and talented cyclists a bike race is about the willingness to suffer. She who suffers the most wins the race. And the ability to suffer was Voigt’s claim to fame.

Hutchinson details some of Voigt’s successes including his career capping attempt at the record for The Hour. Voigt succeeded but he only held it briefly.

What’s the hour? Says Voigt, “The beauty of it lies in its simplicity. It’s one bike, one rider, one gear. There are no tactics, no teammates, no bonus seconds at the finals. The hour record is just about how much pain you can handle! It’s the hour of truth.” p. 85

What’s so tough about it? Hutchinson explains that for a trained athlete sixty minutes of all out exercise sits in the excruciating gap between lactate threshold and critical power. In other words riders need to find the highest metabolic rate that is also steady state. Done right, writes Hutchinson, the hour is the longest bout of painful high intensity exercise you can endure. p. 97

I haven’t done anything like the hour but I have done various distance time trials in a velodrome with a coach yelling “suffer” at me. If I finished and could walk away with a smile, clearly I hadn’t worked hard and suffered enough! Going fast on a track bike hurts. It’s not about bike fit or about things you can fix. It’s about working your body that hard. There’s definitely pain involved. Rowing was similar.

Hutchinson also reports on various tests of endurance athletes and pain. It’s true that athletes can take more pain than the average person. It’s not that they perceive pain differently. In the tests that Hutchinson reports on both athletes and non athletes report pain starting at about the same point. The tests involve non fun things like holding your hand in ice water or having a blood pressure cuff squeezed well past the point of comfort. But notably, for a given test, where the average person says “stop” at point n, the athlete is still going strong at 2n.

The gap between athletes and non athletes is striking. But so too is the gap between athletes in season and off season. It also makes a difference how you get in shape. Athletes who train using high intensity methods, repeated all out sprint drills for instance, develop a high tolerance for withstanding pain than no athletes who train at a moderate pace.

I’m going to his Guelph launch on Wednesday night. See BOOK LAUNCH: Endure! Award-winning journalist Alex Hutchinson launches his book, Endure! on Wed. May 30th at 7pm in the ebar. And I’m going to give him a copy of our book and hope he spreads the word.

Past posts on pain:

Greetings from the Pain Cave

Three great articles on the psychology of pain and of pushing yourself

Are athletes masochists?

Why are painful workouts so much fun? (And other questions about suffering and athletic performance)

Here’s a cycling t-shirt I love but I don’t feel the same way about knee suffering as I do about really hard ride suffering:

View this post on Instagram

New cycling t-shirt

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on