cycling · family · fitness

Bettina is back in the saddle – in company

Woohoo, our family has emerged from the weeks of survival mode! We’re more tired than before, but who isn’t these days? In any case, I’m trying hard (and not managing very well) to shift my priorities back and include more movement in my life.

The youngest member of our family is now nearly 9 months old. In some ways this helps (we can do more things) and in some ways it doesn’t (increased mobility means less ability to just plop him down next to me and do 20 minutes of yoga while expecting him to still be there afterwards) with my exercise quest.

One thing that does help is that he is now fairly good at sitting up on his own, so yesterday we risked putting him in the bike trailer for the first time. Here we are, mama grinning from ear to ear about being back in the saddle and baby looking sceptical behind the yellow star I use to cover his face in an effort to keep his privacy on the Internet:

Bettina in cycling gear next to a bike trailer with a strapped-in baby in it. Both are wearing bike helmets, which makes one of them look rather like a mushroom – up to you to decide whom.

If that bike trailer looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same vehicle as our jogging buggy, which converts to a bike trailer. But while it’s safe to go running with a baby who can’t sit up on their own yet (provided you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and common sense), biking is a different story due to the speed at which you might fly over obstacles. It requires the little human to have a bit more body tension and stability.

Anyway, yesterday was the day. We strapped on his bike helmet (so cute!), hooked the trailer up to his dad’s bike, and off we went. We didn’t get very far because it started raining, as it is wont to do these days around here. But it was fun anyway! Baby didn’t complain much and even fell asleep at the end. So even if we didn’t go for a long ride, we have proof of principle: the parents had a good time and the little one didn’t hate it, so we can attempt a longer family ride next. YAY!

What sports and fitness activities do you enjoy with your kids, if you have children? If your they are older, what did you enjoy doing with them when they were small – and in particular, what did the kids enjoy?

family · fitness

Shifting priorities: Bettina is in survival mode

A month and a half ago, I returned to work after maternity leave. In a way, it was like coming back after an extended holiday: insanely busy. I spent the first three weeks in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting just catching up. Then, as soon as I felt I sort of had a handle on things, my partner – who is now on parental leave – realised that contrary to what we had hoped, Europe’s major scientific funding body had not moved its application deadline to June because of Covid. The deadline is now 20 April. It’s my husband’s last chance to apply; next year he’ll be too old (well, too many years after completing his PhD) for this particular grant.

A picture of a woman (not Bettina), buried under a stack of books. This is sort of how I feel right now, except I’m buried under a stack of Zoom calls, laundry, dirty nappies, and reports for the finance module of my MBA.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Result: partner is now working every free minute he is not watching baby. This means that I’m on baby duty essentially every minute I’m not working. This leaves very little time to exercise. When I can’t go for a run on my lunch break, or put the little one in the buggy and run with him after work, I basically can’t do much. (On Thursday, partner watched baby for a bit longer while I did half an hour of yoga after work. It completely reset me. The man is a saint.)

It’s Covid, so we can’t spontaneously hire childcare, and our son’s daycare spot doesn’t start until mid-May. Our cleaner retired just before he was born (it was well-deserved and I don’t blame her). The house is a tip. Again, it’s Covid, so we didn’t manage to find a new one until next week (I realise that we are very privileged for being able to hire a cleaner in the first place). I decided to apply for an executive MBA just before I got pregnant, well, and before a global pandemic hit. I was meant to start last March, but it’s Covid (are you spotting a pattern yet?) and we didn’t start until September because they kept holding out hope we’d be able to have in-person classes, LOL, so now I’m in the thick of it when I was meant to be on a semester’s break.

I know it’s “fashionable” to complain how busy you are, but honestly? It’s just all a bit much right now. My priorities have shifted: I’m in survival mode. Eyes firmly set on 20 April. This too shall pass. I have leave booked in for the first week of May, and whether we’re able to go anywhere or not, I’m going to enjoy it. Now I just need to get through the next six weeks somehow… and get a run or some yoga in every once in a while to keep me going.

Have you ever been in survival mode? What got you through it?

cycling · family · fitness · yoga

Lizard Pose with Lizzy!

I confess. I’m partly writing about lizard pose to share photos of a new pet in the house, Lizzy the bearded dragon. My son just moved back home and he was nervous we wouldn’t like her. Luckily, she seems to fit in just fine as part of the working from home crew.

But that’s not the whole story.

In an online cycling group of which I’m a member someone recommended lizard pose as an excellent yoga pose for cyclists.

What’s LIzard Pose? “Lizard Pose is an excellent stretching posture for the hip flexors, hamstrings and quadriceps. Integrating this pose into your regular yoga practice improves hip flexibility and strengthens the leg muscles.”

I’ve been riding lots lately (207 km this week on Zwift) and feeling in need of some bike speciifc stretching in addition to the Yoga With Adriene I’ve been doing. So Sunday morning, ater taking Cheddar for a walk, Sarah and I spent some time with Adriene and lizard pose. I love how low key silly and goofy Adriene is. I feel much more relaxed and happy on that mat with attitude.

As always, there are even more advanced poses.

Here’s flying lizard.

But for what it’s worth, even Lizzy–an actual lizard–can’t do flying lizard and neither can I. That’s just fine by me.

Happy Monday from Sam and Lizzy!

covid19 · family · fitness · fitness classes

Bettina’s postpartum fitness parade, part 2: postpartum gymnastics

So I already have to recant a promise I made in my first post in this mini-series: I cancelled my MommaStrong subscription this week. I just haven’t been doing the workouts because I enjoy other things (running, yoga) so much more and it’s not worth paying good money for something I don’t use. But anyway, on to part two of this little series on what I’ve been doing fitness-wise since giving birth.

In Germany, statutory public health insurance entitles you to a postpartum gymnastics course and will pay for up to 8 sessions (because of my work I have private insurance, but it’s also covered). I think this is kind of amazing and possibly quite unique, at least from what I hear from some of my international friends, who have been astounded by this.

Normally, these postpartum gymnastic classes are fairly mellow, aimed mostly at restoring some pelvic floor and core health after pregnancy and childbirth have left your body in… probably a very different shape than it used to be. They sit somewhere between physical therapy and a light workout and are intended to prepare you for going back to “normal” exercise and life in general without incontinence and diastasis recti problems.

If you’re interested in what these classes look like, here’s a video (in German, sorry) from a couple of midwives who have recorded theirs and put them on YouTube to cater to women who can’t attend an in-person class due to the pandemic:

Video from hallohebamme.de – postpartum PT/gymnastics class. They do their course in a “mummy and me” format, Bettina’s was a class without baby.

I think these are the right choice for most people, but if you were quite active before and during pregnancy and had a relatively uncomplicated birth, you’re probably hankering for something a bit more challenging. At least I was. Luckily, my midwife had caught onto that. She found out about a postpartum gymnastics course specifically for “sporty women” (sic) and I immediately signed up.

“Thanks” to Covid, it was an online course. Run by two midwives, we gathered on Zoom once a week for eight weeks in November and December to restart an exercise routine. The sessions consisted of warm-up, some cardio, a lot of post-pregnancy safe strengthening exercises for arms, legs, and core, and finally stretching and cool-down. Over the course of eight weeks, the intensity increased gradually.

Reader, I LOVED it. The first session, I almost cried when I actually broke a sweat. I know breaking a sweat is by no means a requirement for something to “count” as exercise, but I was really craving a hard workout by that time. The women who ran the class were lovely and funny and did their best to make sure we did the exercises correctly even though they couldn’t physically correct us. The only thing missing was the community spirit that would probably have developed had the class been in-person. Although I’m definitely ready to take up other forms of exercise again, I’m still kind of sad the course is over. I was a lovely way of getting myself in gear once a week.

Are postpartum gymnastics courses a thing where you are?

family · fitness · kids and exercise · running

Running with baby!

My partner and I bought ourselves two things for Christmas this year: a hoover (vacuum) robot and a running/bike trailer to take the little human on sporty adventures with us. So on Boxing Day, we ventured out for our first run as three, which was also my first run since I was 28 weeks pregnant. It was So! Much! Fun!, even though I’m very much out of shape. No regrets on spending our hard earned euros on this new plaything! The small human enjoyed it too, or at least he didn’t complain and even fell asleep.

Bettina in running gear with a three-wheel running stroller and a snugly-dressed baby in it (no photos of baby’s face on the interwebs, sorry!).

Hooray for getting my identity as a runner back, and for making the little one part of it!

family · self care

Postpartum self-care stress, or how Bettina learned to take a chill pill and drink the breastfeeding tea

Cate’s crowdsourcing for her post on self-care in tough times (hello US election amid a global pandemic!) inspired me to think about my own recent experience with self-care. Admittedly, I’m in a special place regarding self-care at the moment, where it’s difficult to disentangle my self from that of another, 11 week-old human being.

In the FIFI blogger Facebook group, we were discussing how self-care is becoming not just commercialised, but also Another Thing Women Are Expected To Do. The discussion prompted me to write out a little rant. Here it is, slightly adapted for the purposes of this post. Because boy, are there expectations and (contradictory) opinions around self-care for new mothers, on top of all the expectations and (contradictory) opinions about motherhood and parenting in general.

A river under a clear blue autumnal sky: walking is self-care after Bettina’s own heart.

On top of “be there for your baby 24/7; put him on his tummy 30 minutes a day (never mind if he screams his head off); play with him and read/sing to him every day; feed him every 2-3 hours (that one’s not so much advice but a necessity of life), spend time doing skin-to-skin with baby, etc.”, it’s “drink this tea twice a day and this other one also twice a day (never mind that they taste horrible); also, drink 2-3 litres of water a day; sleep when the baby sleeps (LOL, considering he will pretty much only sleep on top of me during the day); don’t worry about the housework (but make sure everything is hygienic for the new human without an immune system); don’t worry about the paperwork and admin stuff (never mind that it has deadlines); do your pelvic floor exercises; and oh yeah don’t forget to take time for yourself.”

I’m not sure anyone’s day has the 48 hours it would take to do all of these things, but mine sure as hell does not. I really had to learn not to stress about it. Apparently all the pressure new mothers get about breastfeeding, parenting in general, getting back in shape, and so on isn’t enough. We need to stress them out about self-care as well. I know the advice is well-intentioned, but it can be really stressful at a time where your mind isn’t in a good place to be able set your own priorities and all you want is to make good choices for the tiny human you’re suddenly responsible for. It definitely took me several weeks to figure out that “sleep when the baby sleeps” is not for me except at night, and that I’ll do fine if I just drink one or two cups of breastfeeding tea a day (or on some days, none).

And I say this as a woman of many privileges: my partner was home with me for the first two months, so he could take care of the household and many other things, including his share of baby care duties. I have a generous leave policy that allows me to stay home with baby for several months. Our healthcare system is – compared to many others – excellent at postpartum care, free midwife visits, postpartum gymnastics and other perks included. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for a person with fewer privileges to be confronted with all the expectations and pressure around self-care on top of everything else that being a new mother entails.

family · health · Seasonal sadness

Sam is making a conscious effort to acknowledge gratitude, #NationalGratitudeMonth

November is not my favourite month.

That’s an understatement at the best of times and now there’s a pandemic on.

Serious mood improvement measures are called for. In Cate’s blog post about self-care, I even mentioned candy. I’m bringing out the big guns. I’m also trying to get more light in my life.

A few of my friends do a November gratitude thing. They consciously acknowledge and share each day some things for which they are grateful. I figure it can’t hurt and it might help. I’ve been enjoying reading their gratitude posts. So far I’ve noticed that turning my mind each day to the good bits makes me smile, and even on bad days, there’s always something I’m grateful about.

Here’s a few of my first posts:

“Today I’m grateful for teamwork and getting things done. This weekend we managed to cover the boat in shrink wrap for the winter and move the shed so my mother could have more light in her window. Thanks Jeff and Sarah for working to keep boats and houses in order.”

“November is gratitude month and today I am grateful for working with very smart and hard working colleagues, for Sarah who made dinner while I zoomed the day away, and also for a mother who came home from the doctors with oat cakes.”

“Continuing with theme of gratitude, tonight I am thankful for my smart, generous, creative and caring graduate students, for warm sunny fall days for outdoor in-person office hours, and for the technology that allows us to meet as a group safely online. “

I read up on National Gratitude month too.

See National Gratitude Month is an annual designation observed in November.

“Gratitude is more than simply saying “thank you.”  Gratitude’s amazing powers have the ability to shift us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Everything in our lives has the ability to improve when we are grateful. Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress and drastically improve our overall level of health and wellbeing. On average, grateful people tend to have fewer stress-related illnesses and experience less depression and lowered blood pressure, they are more physically fit, they are happier, have a higher income, more satisfying personal and professional relationships and will be better liked. “

It seems everybody has good things to say about gratitude.

See 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round.

  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • Gratitude improves physical health.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.

And if 7 weren’t enough benefits, this list has 28!

See 28 Benefits of Gratitude & Most Significant Research Findings. Is there anything gratitude can’t do?

I also read a thing from the Harvard Medical School about the health and mental health effects of gratitude. Again, there’s a lot of perks for the grateful person.

It’s good for everyone, it seems. Well, almost everyone.

“There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.”

Have you tried a gratitude habit/practice before? What do you think? Did it improve your mood/well-being?

climbing · family · Guest Post · kids and exercise

Climbing with kids (Guest post)

by Jennifer Szende

I am a recreational climber. I bouldered through both of my pregnancies. As my pregnancy advanced, I gained weight and muscle mass in proportion to each other, or so it seemed at the time. My center of gravity shifted forwards, and my body shape pushed me farther away from the wall, but I was still able to move my body in this familiar way, in a familiar setting, even as my body became less and less familiar. I primarily shifted to traversing (climbing sideways, rather than upwards), and I down climbed rather than jumping on the few (very easy) vertical bouldering problems that I still felt comfortable on.

My first pregnancy was in parallel with Beth Rodden’s pregnancy, so from my second semester onwards, I was following her blog for posts about climbing when pregnant, and fortnightly interviews with climbers and mountaineers about their pregnancy experiences. The interviews gave me some previews of what postpartum climbing or climbing with kids might be like. I read about professional and amateur climbing mothers from around the world, and the variety of ways that climbing became part of their postpartum and family life. It gave me a little preview of the different ways that it might be difficult, but might still be possible to keep climbing once I had kids. The differences and diversities were as important as the similarities.

Even so, I was still surprised to experience a complete loss of technique and muscle tone postpartum, with both of my pregnancies. My climbing gym had a mother and baby climbing group with an instructor, which was a very positive experience for me, but essentially required me to learn how to climb all over again with what felt like a third unfamiliar body. Although I had climbed all through my pregnancy, I still experienced a significant loss of core and ab strength. Basically, stretching your abdominals outward for a prolonged period of time, or adding a substantial amount of weight that sits on your pelvic floor, changes those muscle groups one way or another. Climbing postpartum was difficult in unexpected ways. In terms of the logistics of climbing, there were two primary changes:

(1) I couldn’t use lower abs to raise my legs, especially on an overhanging climb, and

(2) I found it difficult to use core strength to keep myself on the wall.

Essentially, I had to learn how to climb with yet another new body (although this time it was on very little sleep and a base level of constant exhaustion). I found some resources to help me out. Beth Rodden’s postpartum posts continued, and chronicled her very difficult postpartum recovery. The relevant part of the blogosphere has grown in the past several years, and I think this advice is really sensible. Especially this: keep making plans, and keep trying, because “The more times you try, the more times you will actually get some climbing done”.

Here are some of the techniques that my mom and baby climbing class helped me develop:

  • Concentrate on volume rather than difficulty to begin with. I would aim to climb all of the easy climbs in the gym (V0 and V0- especially), and potentially climb them twice.
  • Climb as many (easy) problems as possible within a very short timer (e.g. 5 minutes) then do active rest for longer (7 minutes), and you will avoid ‘cooling down’ between climbing reps.
  • Reps on an easy climb (up and down) to build endurance.
  • Do some core and conditioning during rest periods (e.g. plank for 1 minute, V-sits, squats holding a baby, wall sits for 1 minute, piston squats, etc). Or, just do some kegels, if that works for you.
  • Mostly ignore overhanging problems until other techniques are back, although using overhanging problems for lower ab workout (basically reps of hang from straight arms and try to raise one or both legs) was a way to check in with conditioning.

Somewhere along the way, I read and heard about a number of people who took parental leave trips to climbing destinations. Two or three families in my climbing circle did extended road trips through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Colorado, Utah, California, and other climbing destinations in the US. My partner was able to take an extended parental leave, and we ended up spending most of it in a series of climbing destinations. The highlight was spending nearly 2 months in Fontainebleau with an 8-9 month old, and it was motivating from the moment we booked the flight. Climbing with a baby in Font is such an absolute delight. (It was also an excellent lesson in comparative European parental leave policies.) There are guidebooks that rate climbing areas around Fontainebleau by stroller friendliness, list rest day activities by children’s ages, and highlight gites with high chair and crib availability. It was such a delight, in fact, that we have been back to Font 3 more times over the last several years, and we are not alone.

I think, essentially, that climbing postpartum made me feel like I was part of a community much more so than any other postpartum activity I did. I attended mom and baby yoga, caregiver and baby story time at the library, and a couple of different parent and baby community health groups. But climbing was the one where I felt the most connected to the other adults in the group. And, it turns out, that climbing with kids has given me access to another supportive community. 

Pregnant bouldering

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.

#deanslife · cycling · family · fitness · October · Zwift

A weekend in three rides with a backyard disco in the middle

I’ve been working hard on the weekend lately. There’s just too much going on. I’m dean. I’m teaching a grad seminar. There’s the usual house stuff. I’ve got three kids who are in their 20s and visiting them these days requires some ingenuity and coordination, thanks to the pandemic.

This weekend was no exception really except for some scheduled bike rides. I’m glad I got to ride and I got to see my adult kids. I did a bunch of work but it also felt like a weekend, if you know what I mean.

Friday is the TFC’s, my Zwift bike club, namesake ride, The Friday Crit. This week’s route was RGV in France. I like the route, all beautiful scenery and rolling hills. Except at the start I got a flat in my real world bike on the trainer! I stopped. Sarah put more air in the tire and I worked hard to catch my teammate Keith who’d been riding slowly and waiting up. He’s in the blue cap below. I’m in the pink. Speaking of colours, that’s a lot of red in the screen capture below! That’s time in my highest effort zone. I ended up finishing, with Keith, and some others, somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was proud of catching up to Keith and the others and proud that in the end I took the women’s sprint jersey.

Total distance: 4 km warm up + 25 km race (45 minutes)

Saturday Sarah and I rode for pleasure, not speed, on our gravel bikes, in the outside world, on another section of the Guelph to Goderich rail trail. We started in Monkton, Ontario and covered about 16 km of the trail. At our meandering pace that took about an hour, including stops to pick apples and take photos! Some sections were wide open in farm fields, while other bits had lots of beautiful trees with gorgeous fall colours. If you’re in southwestern Ontario, I strongly recommend this trail. Even on a Saturday it was pretty quiet. The gravel is well packed and it’s easy riding.

Total distance: 16 km, about one hour

Sunday saw me back on Zwift for my club’s Sunday social ride, 6 laps around the volcano circuit in Watopia. We have a group leader with a yellow beacon who keeps the set pace of about 2 watts per kilo. This week we were so well disciplined at keeping the pace that the leader didn’t have to turn on the fence. We had lots of new riders along and team regulars kept up answering questions in the chat. We chose to race the last lap and after staying a steady pace until then it was fun to let go and go fast for the final 4 km. Whee! A fun thing for me was getting some PRs on the route and getting faster pretty much every lap, especially the last one.

Total distance: 30 km, about 50 minutes

Thanks to my friend Rob who let us use his backyard and propane heater for visiting with the London kids. My daughter Mallory is just back from a 3 day solo hiking and camping trip. She’s promised to blog about it!

Rob’s backyard also had a disco light which we all enjoyed as the patterns flickered on the trees!

Disco lights!
220 in 2020 · family · fitness

From the trenches: postpartum re-definitions of “fitness”

Hi all, I’ve missed you! I went on parental leave from the blog at the end of July and gave birth on 21 August. But I’m back! For now it’s going to be once a month from me and I’ll most likely focus on my postpartum fitness journey most of the time.

It’s been quite a ride! From an emergency c-section (luckily everyone involved is doing very well) to figuring out life as a parent and starting an Executive MBA at the same time (thanks to Covid, all classes are online, which is actually extremely convenient for me), I’ve sort of been in a haze for the past 8 weeks since giving birth. Some days, I feel like I’m beginning to emerge from the fog, but other days are still hazy.

Of course, the c-section meant that I was completely off movement for a short while, but once I got out of the hospital, my midwife allowed the gentlest, tiniest postpartum exercises. Thus followed a complete redefinition of “fitness” and “workout”. I’m part of the 220 in 2020 challenge group, so of course the question of what to count as a workout came up. Initially I counted any sort of purposeful movement, even if it was just lying on my yoga mat for ten minutes doing pelvic tilts (not even lifts! Tilts!) and moving my arms about. Then I was also allowed to start walking, so I could add my walks.

After about 4 weeks, I started getting impatient. I was feeling good, and yet here I was doing pelvic tilts. I know, I know. A c-section is major abdominal surgery and You. Need. To. Be. Careful. But I feel like “careful” should be defined individually? For some people, pelvic tilts might be plenty. For others, maybe they can return to a bit more a bit earlier.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I found a very gentle post c-section yoga video online that felt right, so I did it. I had to make some minor adjustments the first few times, but they were easy enough. My midwife also gave me more exercises. But they were still incredibly boring, so I needed something else.

And then I discovered MommaStrong, an online platform dedicated to postpartum fitness. I’ll write about it in a separate post because I feel it deserves one, but basically there are different stages you go through, starting with “Hazy Days”, an 8-week postpartum programme for the first weeks. The premise is this: 5 minutes a day, be gentle, and there are modifications even for when you’re holding a baby. I graduated “Hazy Days” yesterday, so I’m excited to see what the next stage brings.

Last week, my OBGYN cleared me for exercise and I’ve been doing slightly more challenging YouTube videos since. And in another 2 weeks’ time, I’m safe to go back to the pool! I hope it stays open, since here as elsewhere, there’s an uptick in Covid cases and everything feels very fragile right now.

I won’t lie, redefining fitness after giving birth is hard. There’s no time. A little person wants to eat from me about every two hours, and in the meantime they want to be held, changed, cuddled… My body is completely different after almost 10 months of pregnancy and giving birth. But slowly but surely, I feel like I’m emerging from the haze.