cycling · fitness

Changing of the guard: one bike out, one bike in

This weekend has been, for many social media watchers, All Olde England all the time. Yes, you probably heard something about a wedding; I think it was in the papers. Royal weddings are prime occasions for wallowing in the excesses of British pomp and parade. But for my money, I prefer the traditional, always-in-style changing of the guard in front of Buckingham palace. Maybe it’s because I was in marching band in high school and college, but I love me some bright uniforms and shiny brass buttons (but not those bearskin hats– read more about them and where they come from here).

If you’re not up on the British changing of the guard, here’s a photo to help (and of course the wikipedia page, too):

The changing of the Queen's guard at Buckingam palace, with red uniformed guards on horseback.
The changing of the Queen’s guard at Buckingham palace, with red uniformed guards on horseback.

Although it is undoubtedly less newsworthy, I thought I’d share with you, dear, readers, my changing-of-the-guard story.  I own 5–6 bikes (depending on how you count), which may seem to some (okay, almost all) people like a lot. Hey, bikes are like shoes– you need different ones for different occasions. And, of course, for all cyclists, the correct number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently own.

What I said above.
What I said above.

A less-well-covered story, though, is the story of letting bikes go.  We do this for lots of reasons: a bike might no longer fit well (because of injury or other body changes); we upgrade to a fancier model; we send it as hand-me-down to another; or, it’s just reached the end of its bike life. Such things happen, and all have happened to me.

But this time, I have to admit that I’m letting a bike go for more personal reasons.  The fact is, I just couldn’t make the relationship work. So it’s time for it to go be with someone else. I’m talking about my Brompton folding bike.

My Brompton folding bike, in all its orange and celadon-green glory.
My Brompton folding bike, in all its orange and celadon-green glory.

I bought it in December of 2016 with glee and anticipation of many memorable trips with it– to conferences, on vacation, to work, and who knows where else. I wrote about it here on the blog.

But you know, sometimes relationships just don’t work out. I tried hard to make friends with this bike. I rode it around town, put it in the car to ride it other places, and even took it to a conference in Atlanta.  Boy, did that not go well. You can read about my airline-induced bike fail here.  The fact is, I just didn’t like riding it.  Period.

However, just as some relationships end, others appear on the horizon. I had just made plans to sell the Brompton to my new friend Christy (who’s super-psyched about it– yay!), when my friend Rachel texted me to ask if I was interested in buying her year-old gravel bike. It’s too small for her, and she thought it would fit me. What is a gravel bike?  You can read here about it, but it is a bike built like a road bike, but with disc brakes.  And it’s meant to be ridden on a variety of terrains– on and off road, and takes bigger tires.  Here’s the one Rachel offered to me– a Salsa Warbird:

A Salsa Warbird, with shimano 105 components and a white frame with  red, orange an yellow stripes. Gorgeous.
A Salsa Warbird, with Shimano 105 components and a white frame with red, orange an yellow stripes. Gorgeous.

And here it is in my dining room:

Same bike as in above pic, but it's mine, all mine!
Same bike as in above pic, but it’s mine, all mine!

Yeah, I bought it. I love it. It rides beautifully, and it will carry me back into the woods, which I’ve not been riding in for some time. Yay!

So, one bike out, and one bike in. I’m preserving the bike status quo, and three people– me, Rachel, and Christy–  get a new bike to work into their rotation.  Oh, yeah, of course Rachel has to replace the Salsa Warbird with another gravel bike (I think she may get the same model but in a bigger size).

Have you recently let go of or acquired a new bike, boat, or other important-to-you gear? I love hearing people’s happy (and also bittersweet) stories.





feminism · fit at mid-life · fitness · racing · running · training

On Running My First Marathon (Guest Post by Alison Conway)

by Alison Conway

Image description: Alison on left, smiling, with short hair, sunglasses, and a t-shirt hugging a friend, longer hair, also smiling, stadium stands in the background.
Image description: Alison on left, smiling, with short hair, sunglasses, and a t-shirt hugging a friend, longer hair, also smiling, stadium stands in the background.

[Note from Tracy: Alison sent me this in April and her race was a few weeks ago. Congrats, Alison!]

Eighteen months ago, Donald Trump became president of the United States and I wrote here about my determination to limit my running time so that I could devote more energy to politics. Most immediately, my goal was to become active in the civic affairs of my home town.

Life had other plans for me. A year of upheaval included new jobs across the country, the sale of the home where I raised my children, the turmoil of a big move. My father became ill and he died. That family home was cleaned out and put on the market. It was, let’s say, a wrenching twelve months.

Through it all, running kept me grounded. Or rather, my running families kept me grounded. My Ontario friends ran with me in the weeks and months of packing and grieving. They convinced me to sign up for a spring 2018 marathon as a goal to work toward, whether or not I ran the race. I found a running club in my new home town and the folks in that group went out of their way to help me find my feet. I ran miles and miles through the roads and trails of my community, learning its spaces and hearing about those who live there.

As the ground under my feet was shifting, so too was the ground underneath American politics. Out of the ashes of the election arose the phoenix #metoo and a widespread protest against workplace harassment and sexual violence. From the Women’s Marches of January 2017 onward, energy and momentum built as women filed complaints and shared their stories.

When people remark on the difficult year I’ve had, I have often noted that running saved me. I began to wonder if it wasn’t doing more than moving me forward. The feelings I have toward the women who have helped me move and those who are helping me settle in British Columbia feel like the basis of a larger, collective feeling that has emerged in a wider sphere, one that helps women act together in an effort to shift cultural norms. It is, for me, both about harnessing anger and generating laughter. It is about looking down the road toward the goals that might take a while to reach.

A friend once said, casually, “Anyone can run a marathon. You just have to train for it.” What that remark misses is how difficult it is to train for a marathon: the discipline it takes to get out there day after day, week after week, in terrible weather, on days when other demands weigh heavily, when your mind says, “Enough.” There was a moment, maybe a month before the marathon, when I felt bone-tired. But I had friends waiting to run with me, so out I went.

Last month, race weekend arrived and I flew back to Ontario to meet the women who first encouraged me to sign up. One was injured, so couldn’t race—but she drove me to Toledo, OH, anyway. Another had just raced the Tokyo marathon, but she came along, too. They went over every detail of the race. I was shown how to make arm warmers, out of socks, that could be thrown away on the course (who knew?). They listened to me fuss and fret. They told me I could do it.

When I pulled on my arm warmers, the morning of the marathon, I felt like I was pulling on my armour. It was an armour I would not have been wearing, had it not been for the friendship of women, those who inspired me with the examples they set. It was an armour built, too, by the new friend who sent me a card, a week before the marathon, filled with messages of advice and encouragement; by the marathon veteran in my new running group, who slowed her own pace to help me speed up mine; by the colleague at my new job who trained with me, week after week, through rain and snow. It was the armour made by women everywhere who fight for the right for women to move freely in public spaces.

My marathon was a run of joy and gratitude, supported by the women who cheered me on as I faced down the miles. I have come out of a challenging year stronger and wiser. I can take that strength and wisdom into my community and help to make the changes that need to be made. The ground beneath my feet is made up of so much more than pavement. Mostly, it is made up of the feeling that emerges when women believe in each other: love.

body image · diets · eating disorders · fashion · fitness · Martha's Musings

We are more than a collection of parts


Women being active and not worrying about thigh gap, or hip cleavage, or any other nonsense Photo by Kyle Pham on Unsplash

It’s tiring to be female in this world. I can only speak from a cis-perspective, of course, but it occurs to me, that howsoever you come to identify as a female, there is an endless list of things you must have or prevent if you are to present acceptably as female.


First it was thigh gap, that space between a woman’s thighs — the wider it is, the thinner and more desirable the women. Then it was the concave navel. Now we have a new one: hip cleavage, or what I knew as high cut underwear or swimsuit bottoms to show off the hip bones.

We are all familar with the term cleavage as associated with breasts. Plunging necklines in dresses are designed to show off cleavage. There are right ways and wrong ways to show off cleavage in the upper body.

Too much in the wrong way means you end up with sideboob reveals; too much in the right way means you may risk a wardrobe malfunction and subject unsuspecting bystanders to a glimpse of the “girls.” These days, the focus, and perhaps the parts in question, has shifted to the underboob (I can hardly wait to see if there is an upper boob!).

Regardless of the terminology, the prinicpal issue is that women continue to be divided into parts. Perhaps it’s the legs (although it and the toes had cleavage back in the day). Let’s not forget the butt or the breasts, with fashion dictating whether they were perky, ample, lean or sleek.

When I used to deliver media literacy sessions to high school students, we would talk about the techniques used to separate, disconnect, and isolate girls and women from their bodies. Instead of being seen as whole, unique individuals with our own kind of beauty, women and their bodies are broken into parts and given meaning and value by others.

The obsession with thinnness as a beauty standard has fueled anxieties and nurtured the development of eating disorders; sadly, girls and women continue to starve themselves to fit a largely artificial construct of “female” beauty.

In Canada, those of us who work in health promotion talk about the vitality message — eat well, be active, live smoke free, and support mental wellness. Being active offers tremendous health benefits and it makes me sad to see fitness being used negatively to coerce women into creating and maintaining a body shape that is not natural to them.


Another picture of fabulous women not caring about articifial body constructs. Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash


Focusing on hip cleavage is just another stick we use to bash away at ourselves. It’s a stick handed to us by the arbiters of fashion and trends (I keep meaning to ask, who died and made them the rulers of the universe?) and quite frankly, I’m tired of it all.

We need to rewrite the script and start talking positively, frequently, and loudly about all the good things we can with our bodies: how strong our legs are to drive our bikes and our feet on our runs; how powerful our arms are so we can lift, wheel, and strike; how big our chests can be to ensure we can take in the oxygen we need to keep going; how wide our hips can be to birth children or to cuddle them.

We are enough as we are. In fact, we always were. Let’s remember that.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.



accessibility · disability · fitness · illness · injury

consider pain: why the social model of disability fails (reblogged)

We don’t reblog a lot around here but sometimes something just strikes me as so right and so important I want to share it. As I’ve been thinking about injury, disability, living with pain, and trying to come to terms with my left knee, I’ve been thinking about the social model of disability. Here’s Andrea Zanin on what the social model of disability leaves out.

I’m hoping to get Andrea to guest blog here about her return to yoga and biking and other things after years ago coping with pain and very serious health issues for many, many years.

But we can start with this. Thanks Andrea.

Sex Geek

pain punctuationToday I am spurred to rant about the social model of disability and why it’s inadequate.

The social model says, essentially, that disability, rather than being a characteristic of an individual, is created by society. On its surface, this is super useful. For instance: if a building has stairs, and a person cannot go up them because they use a wheelchair, then the disability is caused by the lack of a ramp, and by the lack of universally accessible design more broadly. Problems are also caused by ableist attitudes, both interpersonally and within larger power structures.

So far, I totally agree. When the built environment is designed on the assumption of a normative set of physical or mental abilities, then all who fall outside that set have trouble navigating it. Which includes almost all of us, eventually, as we age. It’s good for pretty much everyone if we shift the…

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How the fitness challenge took the fight out of me #tbt

Oh, the corporate fitness challenge! ‘Tis the season where everyone st work is getting their trackers ready for the 100 days of counting steps. And guess what? True to my word, I’m not doing it. Because I tend to experience FOMO even over things I don’t want to do, I’m posting what I wrote last September at the end of the challenge. This is to remind me that I really meant it.

Do you like fitness challenges that last 100 days or more? Do you like counting steps?


image description: the word weary, written in a casual purple, lowercase script-like font, over a white background and lighter purple. image description: the word weary, written in a casual purple, lowercase script-like font, over a white background and lighter purple. overlapping circles.

I’ve complained about the 100 day corporate fitness challenge a few times over the past 100 days. Here and here and here. When I said to Renald last week that I will not be doing this again next year, he said, “yeah sure.”

But I can promise you, I will not. I lost interest in counting steps at about the half way point. My interest waned for several reasons, not the least of which is that counting steps is about the most boring way to track “fitness” that I can imagine. Sure, some days it’s challenging to hit the target, but for me the reason those are challenging days is that I do a lot of things besides counting steps.

Yoga — no steps. Personal training —…

View original post 561 more words

diets · fitness

So many bad diet headlines, so little time…

There’s a lot we already know about dieting, namely:

  • No matter what cockamamie diet we dream up, it is both true that  1) someone probably can lose weight temporarily with it; and 2) almost no one can keep weight off with it.

Imagine my 1) lack of surprise; and 2) skepticism when I saw a headline saying “lose weight by eating as much rice and potatoes as you want– no, really”. This news (and I use that term lightly) story reported on a 14-week study done on participants in a UK-based  commercial weight-loss program called Slimming World vs. a control group that did self-led calorie reduction using standard nutritional materials.

The idea behind the study was to see if eating less-energy-dense foods (of which carbs are included) could result in more weight loss, lower appetite and fewer food cravings.  And indeed the experimental group did lose more weight on average than the control group (13 lbs vs. 7). However, we don’t know that it was because of what they ate, as the experimental group had lots of attention from the researchers, peer-group support, and other treatment that (according to the study) may well have influenced the outcome. In addition, the subjective reports of appetite, satisfaction with the program, and cravings were more favorable than those of the control group. But again, they knew they were the experimental group and identified as a group.

I might add that many of the important health metrics (blood glucose level, blood pressure, etc.) didn’t differ between groups.  However, one difference in the study caught my eye:

RMR significantly decreased in the SW [experimental] group but did not change in the SC [control] group.

What’s RMR?  Resting metabolic rate. The above line says that those in the Slimming World diet plan group ended up with a lower metabolic rate than those in the control diet group. That’s not good. That’s really not good. That’s one of the many bad effects on bodies that engage in dieting. It’s bad because it means that your body’s rate of energy consumption is lower, meaning that you burn calories at a lower rate.  This is part of the reason why most people who diet regain all the weight they lost and then some.

What can help raise the RMR? Several things, but the easiest is exercise, which can contribute to increased muscle mass.

So what are the salient results from my reading of this study?

  • You can indeed eat potatoes, rice, etc. in amounts you want. (We knew that already).
  • Being part of a group with shared goals (whatever they are), may help members feel committed to and satisfied by the group’s activities.
  • Dieting often results in lowered resting metabolic rate, which has significant negative effects on bodies.
  • Exercise has no such negative effects on bodies; in fact, exercise raises RMR.

If you’re looking for eating advice from me, here’s something that looks good– this whole-wheat roti with bananas and peanut butter.

What are you finding yummy these days? I’d love to hear from you.

Whole wheat roti with bananas and peanut butter. Mmmmmm...
Whole wheat roti with bananas and peanut butter. Mmmmmm…



feminism · fitness

Self-mothering as activity

Last weekend I went for a yoga retreat to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness in western Massachusetts. My friend Laura and I did a Five Element Yoga workshop with Jennifer Reis, who also does Yoga Nidra (or yoga sleep) workshops. This involved a bunch of yogic practices:

  • poses or asanas;
  • different breathing techniques;
  • mudras, or hand gestures done with breathing, meditation, or poses;
  • self-massage (literally from toes to head);
  • yoga nidra, where you lie down on your mat while you are led through a body scan and/or guided meditation.

We also went through these poses, breathing technique and mudras in the contexts of earth, water, air, fire, and ether (something like space). All of the movements, however big or small, restful or vigorous, were hitched to some internal state, or intention, or emotional expression. The metaphysical taxonomy of all of this is pretty baroque, but as in many things, you can take what you like and leave the rest.

The big message I got from all the movement and internal focus was this: I want and need more mothering in my life. This semester in my academic job has been emotionally intense– one of my students died from suicide, and several others have been suffering from and getting treatment for depression, anxiety, and trauma. And for whatever reason, this semester I was the professor that these students talked to about their troubles. Of course they have many others in their lives, including therapists, family, friends, community, etc., but on the academic front it felt like I was the go-to person on the Bridgewater State University campus for student support.

I consider it an honor when a student trusts me with sensitive and difficult information about their lives. It is also a burden, as it makes me want to bifurcate myself into two persons: Catherine the kindly professor, and Catherine the mama bear, ready to do battle with whatever and whoever is causing them pain. I admit that I was more bearish than I usually am, in response to students’ pain.

I also didn’t take great care of myself this term; I haven’t been eating in ways that feel healthy to me, and I haven’t done as much activity as I need to feel good and vigorous and strong. Clearly I need some mothering myself.

So I did what I could, which is to go to Kripalu for the weekend as soon as the term was over. I am lucky and aware of the privilege that allows me to devote time and money and resources to this kind of self-care. I ate great tasting and healthy-to-me food that I neither cooked nor cleaned up after. I moved around and was still and was curious and listened.

What I heard were these desires:

  • I want to move with energy and strength and grace.
  • I want to be less fearful about the body I have now.
  • I want to be by myself and also with others in movement and stillness.

I’m not a mother, but I know lots of them. They seem to combine lavish loving with relentless cajoling, threatening, sweet-talking and redirecting their children to help them move toward their goals in life.

I have goals– in particular, physical activity goals this summer. They are:

  • Bikes not Bombs charity ride (30 miles)
  • PWA Friends for Life charity ride (68 miles)
  • MA-VT round-trip Labor Day weekend ride (100ish miles)
  • NYC Century ride in Sept (75 miles, which is actually 82)

I’m doing some riding and some yoga, but I need some serious self-mothering to get enough done to make these goals. So I’m going to see what I can do to act as my own mama bear to myself. I’ll be reporting back on what happens.

Thank you to all the mothers out there, and also to those of you in the process of self-mothering. I find strength and solidarity and motivation and community from reading your stories and comments.

Happy Mothers Day to all of us!