fashion · feminism · fitness · gear · running · swimming

Bettina’s quest for a multi-sport watch – small wrists and designing with women in mind

Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists.  Very small wrists.

So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.

Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.

One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.

I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.

Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).

So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.

If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?

gear · walking · yoga

Summer Victory! Christine troubleshoots her outdoor fitness

I’m my own superhero this week – gleefully removing obstacles that prevent me from going outside to play.

 

How did I do that you may ask?  I bought a mat and a new pair of sneakers.

 

I know, it doesn’t sound heroic at all, blah de blah, Christine bought things, but I had to do a ridiculous amount of thinking to figure that those were the things I needed.

 

I’m sure I have told you before how my ADD makes it hard to break a problem into pieces, I usually refer to it as a reverse ‘forest for the trees’ problem – it’s not that I can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s that I can’t see that the forest is made of trees. So, when I meet some resistance to things I am trying to do, I often can’t see what the solvable issue is – I just see the whole situation as difficult.

 

So, given that it is (finally) getting summer(ish) here in Newfoundland*, I want to do more things outdoors, especially exercise. I love to go for walks and I love to do yoga in the sunshine in my yard.

 

But, last summer and fall, I found myself a bit reluctant to go out walking. I liked the process of being on a walk but it was hard to get myself to put on my sneakers.

 

And, also last summer, I really liked the times that I did yoga in the yard but I didn’t do it as often as I meant to.

 

I know that some of the more fitness-driven readers might be thinking – oh, just do it and stop whining about it. You’re right, of course, that’s a lot of the issue. I ‘just’ need to get over myself but there was more to it, and this week,for some reason, I managed to zero in on the issues with both activities.

 

First, the walking… 

 

My old sneakers had holes in the sole. I don’t mean that I had worn a hole in them, I mean that the design was such that there were a series of spaces in the sole of the shoe. That may not seem like a big deal until you realize that the holes are big enough to pick up rocks. So, every time I wear them, I have to stop and pry rocks out over and over. It’s annoying but apparently the task had sunk at least part way into my subconscious, so I didn’t really realize what a hassle it had become.

The bottom of a right sneaker. The sole is grey and green and the design of the surface includes ridges and a line of large holes. The sneaker is resting on a brown linoleum floor.
See what I mean? Imagine the rocks that could fit in there and click while you walk.

 

It was only this week, when I was putting the sneakers on to walk my son to school for an exam and I suggested a less rocky route, that I realized they were such an impediment. And the sneakers are several years old so I don’t even feel guilty about replacing a pair of ‘perfectly good sneakers’ because they aren’t perfectly good in other ways either.

 

So, now I have a pair of brand new sneakers and I have already taken the long way to get several places just to get a bit more of a walk in.

The author's feet in her new grey and pink sneakers. She is standing on black asphalt.

 

 

Next – yard yoga!

 

The grass in my backyard is bumpy. I’m sure that there are plenty of rocks getting in my way under the surface out there, as well. Perhaps the sod is not laid well, I don’t know, and I am not about to do the kind of landscaping that would fix it. If I put my yoga mat directly on the grass, I am all uneven, I’m on a slant, and I can’t do any poses requiring balance.

 

My back deck is old and the ‘floor’ is made of fairly widely spaced slats. If I put my yoga mat directly on that, I can feel the spaces under my feet or back or knee, and one of my fingers always ends up pushing my yoga mat into the space.

Three weathered brown deck boards. There are finger-width spaces between each one.
Look at those finger-trapping spaces. Ignore how badly the deck needs painting, we’ve only had about nice days so far, so painting will have to wait.

 

Last summer, I countered the problem by dragging a piece of plywood from behind the shed and placing it on the grass before putting my yoga mat down. It worked but it added one more task to the process of doing yoga and that was enough hassle to stop me sometimes.

 

After I bought my sneakers on Wednesday, my next errand was the grocery store.

 

Since I was in problem solving mode, I guess my brain decided it was a good time to kick up the memory of the patio mats I had seen at that store a couple of weeks before. Previous to that, I didn’t know patio mats existed.

 

This time, I put two and two together and, to quote my dad, ‘got something approximating four’ and realized that the patio mat would instantly remove the obstacle to putting my yoga mat on the deck.

 

A green yoga mat with flowers printed on it in yellow rests on a larger beige patio mat that has circular patters on it.
Yoga mat + deck mat = more yoga It’s mathematical!

 

I’ve already done two outdoor yoga sessions and it had only been a few days.

 

So, yeah, I’m my own obstacle-removing superhero this week. I don’t have a clever name yet though, and my costume will have to wait until I get back from a walk.

 

*My province is called Newfoundland and Labrador but I live on the island portion and I can’t speak for what the weather is like in Labrador.

fitness · gear · traveling · yoga

Yoga mats are purple in India, too

It’s my last full day in India and it’s been a dream trip in so many ways. But if I had to identify one thing that hasn’t been great it’s been my activity level. Now, I’m not one to get down on myself when I don’t stick with routine. Regular readers of the blog will know that I am endlessly forgiving in that area, a committed advocate of doing less.

But I’ve been  completely absorbed with the adventure of exploring India, and one aspect of that adventure is that unless you’re in a high end hotel with a fitness centre, you can pretty much forget running. Apart from it being too hot, the roads are not navigable for runners (at least not anywhere I’ve been). The traffic is chaotic and there aren’t really long stretches of good sidewalk. Dangerous potholes mean you need to pay close attention even when walking.

I’ve spent part of my time in high end hotels when in Chennai (four nights at the Hyatt at the beginning of my trip and now two nights at the Taj Clubhouse at the end of my trip). At the beginning, I was too wiped out to think about spending time in the gym. But this morning, after many hours of sitting in the conference Thursday to Sunday then on a road trip on Sunday after lunch (sitting on a bus for hours and then on a boat before spending two hours on our feet exploring an ancient temple) my body was screaming for some of my regular activity. This hotel has a roof top fitness centre and I noticed last night when we were at the roof top restaurant beside the rooftop pool (it’s extremely luxurious and we got a deal on expedia) that they have a bank of treadmills.

The lovely concierge here, Rajeswari, said I could ask her anything.

Image description: Head shot of Rageswari, a young Indian woman with dark hair, a red bindi between her eyebrows, a large beaded read necklace, and a red and beige sari, and a gold name plate that says Rajeswari. Blurred background of a green plant on the left and chairs on the right.
Image description: Head shot of Rajeswari, a young Indian woman with dark hair, a red bindi between her eyebrows, a large beaded read necklace, and a red and beige sari, and a gold name plate that says Rajeswari. Blurred background of a green plant on the left and chairs on the right.

So I messaged her this morning at 6 a.m. to find out if the fitness centre has gear kits. Some hotels, like the Westin, will provide you with a kit that contains shoes and workout clothes. I didn’t expect to hear back from her quite so quickly, but she let me know that they don’t do that here. What about yoga classes, I asked. No yoga classes either. But, she said, I can have a mat delivered to your room.

Within ten minutes a purple foam yoga mat, just like the very first yoga mat I ever owned, was delivered to my door. There is something comforting about familiar equipment. Anyone who has ever worked out somewhere new will know that initial feeling of disorientation. But encountering something you already know makes you feel right at home. That’s how I felt when I was handed the purple yoga mat.

Image descrription: purple yoga mat on the floor in Tracy's hotel room, with wood shelving and desk in the background.
Image descrription: purple yoga mat on the floor in Tracy’s hotel room, with wood shelving and desk in the background.

It’s been many years since I’ve been this inactive, with only walking and sitting, for this long (over two weeks). My feet have swollen with the heat and inactivity. As I said to Sam this morning when I was messaging her: “I want my ankles back!”

When the mat came I couldn’t get going fast enough. I spent the next hour working my way through the moksha series of standing poses then floor poses. It felt incredible to stretch it out and put in some effort. I held each pose for at least 30 seconds, some longer, and did my best not to rush through anything. By the end, my aching bones and muscles and joints felt alive again.

At breakfast, Rajeswari came by to assure me that the mat would stay in my room until I check out tomorrow.

Image description: Rolled up purple yoga mat propped against built-in wood shelving with black desk chair and part of desk visible in the background.
Image description: Rolled up purple yoga mat propped against built-in wood shelving with black desk chair and part of desk visible in the background.

And I’ve already done my research: I have a four hour stop over in Toronto on the way home. Pearson International Airport has a Good Life gym where you can rent a workout clothing kit for $10, store your luggage, and have a workout and a shower. After 24 hours enroute, I’m sure this will be a most welcome way to hit the Canadian ground running.

What workout gear makes you feel at home when you’re working out in a new or unfamiliar place?

fitness · gear · martial arts

The Right Tools for the Job

Like everyone, sometimes I struggle to figure out whether the fitness item I want to buy is worth it. Will this item help me train to reach my goal or am I secretly hoping it will get me there by magic? Do I really need this thing or am I just trying to ‘buy’ fitness?

A rectangular yellow board and a black kickpad that is round on one end with a long handle. Both say 'Benza Sports' on them.
I get a kick out of both of these. Or maybe they get a kick out of me? Ha!

I have been on that fence for ages about two items for Taekwon-do – a rebreakable board and a ‘clapper’ pad.* My husband bought me both for Christmas. I was thrilled to receive them but I still felt a little weird about it for some reason. So I did what I usually do when I am getting on my own nerves – I turned on voice dictation and essentially journaled aloud into google docs.

After a lot of rambling, I ended up with two questions for myself.

Did I want both of those things because they were ‘cool’ or because I would actually use them?

Did a part of me think that I didn’t ‘deserve’ those specialized tools?

 

The first question, I realized, was about me reminding myself to commit to structured and specific practice for my kicks and punches. I could get behind that.

The second question made me mad. Was it possible that I had that thought buried deep in my brain somewhere? Was I falling victim to that kind of annoying thinking? You know, the kind that tells you that you can buy nicer gear once you earn it by reaching some external standard?**

And I do think there was a bit of that going on but now I’m pretty sure I have eradicated it.

Because, here’s the thing, sometimes you need the right tools to get a job done.

Sure, you can use a butter knife as a screwdriver but it is not nearly as effective.

You can roll out a pie crust with a cold glass but it’s much easier if you use a rolling pin.

You can practice spinning hook kick in the living room with a pillow but you won’t be able to tell if you have hit your target correctly.

You can punch any sort of practice pad in your rec room but you won’t be confident that, when the time comes, the board will break.

I can practice that punch and kick all I want in class but I still need more work at home. My challenges with the ‘choreography’ of the spinning hook kick and the jumping punch mean I have to do a lot of solo practice. If I have the right tools, I can do safer, and much more effective practice at home.

So, it’s not matter of me just wanting something because it is cool. And I certainly don’t have to ‘earn’ the right to practice effectively. Even all the overly-socialized parts of my brain can accept that.

Instead, I can consider these tools a good investment.

By getting the right tools for the job, I am showing myself that honing these techniques is something I care about. I am creating a good mental space for the practice ahead.

KIYA!

Are there any specialized tools for your sport or activity that you hesitated to buy? Was ‘deserving’ them a factor for you?

Did you ever get them?

How did they work out?

*I don’t know what it is actually called but there it is in the photo above. It is actually two pads stitched together on the narrow ends. When you kick the wider part, the two pads collide and make a VERY satisfying noise.
**I’m not referring to things you set up as rewards for reaching certain goals. That’s entirely different.

fitness · gear

My optimal number of bikes right now is (N+1)-N

What in the world is this title about?  And why am I asking readers to do math on a Sunday morning?

Some of you readers, especially those of you who like cycling, may remember posts about The Rules.  My title refers to the correct number of bikes to own; see below.

rule 12, saying that the minimum number of bikes to own is 3, but the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you already own.

I happen to prefer this version, found on a bike forum:

N = your current number of bicycles. +1 = the number you need to have a happy fulfilled life.

For me, N = 6.  That’s right, I have 6 bikes.  Here’s a list:

  1. road bike
  2. cyclocross bike
  3. mountain bike
  4. commuter bike (25-year-old rigid Trek mountain bike, bombproof)
  5. Brompton foldable bike
  6. old cyclocross bike that lives at my mother’s house in South Carolina

For cyclists, bikes are kind of like shoes– you need different ones for different occasions.  You wouldn’t wear sneakers for the opera, would you?  (Well, in Boston, people wear hiking boots everywhere, but I digress…)

But back to my title– it looks like I’m saying that, for me, my optimal number of bikes is 1. How can that be?

This summer I’ve been riding a lot more and love love loving it.  It’s been hard to get back into shape for the kind of riding, frequency of riding, length of riding, and speed of riding that I want.  And I’m not there yet– I’m still moving up the fitness curve, looking for my new normal.

In uncertain times, we tend to gravitate toward the familiar.  For me, this has meant spending my saddle time on my road bike.  Here it is, resting in my dining room:

My old but adored road bike-- silver with orange decals, a little scratched up but always ready to ride.
My old but adored road bike– silver with orange decals, a little scratched up but always ready to ride.

Behold my 2003 LeMond Alpe D’Huez.  It’s been completely redone– the only original parts are the frame, fork and brakes.  It’s the bike of Theseus (this is a silly philosophy joke; read here for info).  It fits me like a glove.  I’ve had two bike fits done and it’s perfectly dialed in (I highly recommend this for anyone looking to spend a lot of time on a road bike).

So, I’ve found myself riding this bike around town: doing errands, going to the dentist, cycling to yoga, etc.  All the other bikes have been sitting in the basement, unused.  Well, I have used the new Brompton some for grocery shopping, but even it’s been a bit neglected.

Is this is a problem?  No.  I have a super-good lock when I need to leave it somewhere briefly (usually I can take it inside), and I wear cycling shorts underneath a skirt or some cute city biking shorts.  And did I mention how comfortable it is?

I bring this up because I want to say that, when we’re comfortable, we are happier doing the activities we like and want to do.  This works for clothing, this works for footwear, and it also works for bikes and other equipment we use in our activity-filled lives.

Fall is coming, which means that the cyclocross and mountain bike will get out there with me in the woods soon.  And the Brompton has some trips coming up.  But I’ll still be road cycling.  And I’m grateful to my old road bike for seeing me through a summer of transition back to regular cycling.

Readers, do you have any old or familiar gear or clothing or something that you turn to for familiarity or comfort in some physical activity?  I’d love to hear about it.