covid19 · fitness · fun · Guest Post · hiking · temperature and exercise · winter

So Many Reasons to Hike with Friends this Winter (Guest Post)

By Elan P

As the days of winter get shorter and colder, we begin shifting our thoughts and habits to account for the winter. Tracy I , Nicole P , and Sam B have all blogged on winter exercise and how they love it, have grown to love it, or have chosen to love it (respectively). 

Of course, there is an added layer of challenge this year, as catherine w describes, when we must exercise during a pandemic. Many bloggers in the FIFI community emphasize how maintaining physical health also supports mental health during COVID-19 isolation.

Over the past few years I’ve posted about group exercise in a summer fun run and winter fun run. In her post, Catherine invited FIFI readers to share our winter pandemic plans: mine will be regular winter hiking with friends.

Just starting out on the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

Using a social media chat channel, each week those available agree on a 2 to 5 hour hiking route in SW Ontario, of easy to moderate difficulty, then on weekend mornings we just get up and go. If we carpool together, we wear masks. We keep track of our journeys with GPS, pictures, and good memories. Only a few times so far have we canceled due to poor weather conditions.

I asked this group how likely they are to continue hiking outdoors together this winter. Here is what some of them said:

  • I’m very likely to continue group hiking this winter. Why? It’s fresh air. It’s exercise. It’s community with amazing, diverse women who inspire and support one another. It clears my mind, works my body, and fills my heart. (Kimi)
  • As a single person during covid, it’s even more important for me to keep contact with my friends doing what we love, which is being outside being active. It’s all about mental health check-ins. (Sarah)
  • Our small hiking group this summer allowed us a sense of normalcy during a mentally and physically challenging pandemic. Hiking provided the perfect outlet for our need to stay safe and stay connected. I look forward to continuing our hikes this winter as COVID cases continue to rise and our fears and anxieties fester. Fresh air, friends and physical fitness are the remedies that will get us through this darker than usual winter. (Sheila)
  • Hiking has become a regular component of our self-care, especially since Covid. Everyone in our hiking group decided that we need to make time for this self-care ritual. For me, when I immerse myself in nature, combined with the methodical pace of hiking, I am soothed. And as a group, we are sharing this experience. Often we find ways to avoid, replace, or distract us from self-care. The hiking group has kept us all accountable and motivated to keep it a priority. We will continue even in tougher weather as part of our commitment. Self-care is non-negotiable. And snow and cold add a layer of physical challenge. (Marnie)
  • I am likely to continue group hiking over the winter because I’ve found a great group of like minded women who have a desire to challenge themselves to get outdoors, stay in shape and enjoy a beer. (Julie)

Exercise. Support. Clarity. Check-ins. Safety. Normalcy. Accountability. Motivation. Challenge. Sharing experiences. Self-care (which for our group usually includes enjoying a beer during or after the hike). I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Friends hike the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

One person isn’t joining us for an upcoming hike due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak at her workplace. Here’s what she said:

  • I enjoy doing sports that are social. Hiking in this respect is social, and as Sarah said, for our mental well being this is so important! It might also be the laughing that happens is also food for the soul. Hiking is in the outdoors, and you don’t touch things, so the risk of spread is super low as long as people are hiking a bit apart. I feel our group has been smart and conscientious of our social distancing, while being able to enjoy and look forward to outdoor activities. Still, I will continue group hiking after this gets resolved at work. I don’t want to cause anyone stress.

Even when we hike outdoors together, we can’t forget to be vigilant about staying safe.

So, if you’ve been practicing physical distancing and you’re not showing signs of illness, grab a few friends (well, don’t grab them) and head outside for a winter hike. There are so many good reasons to do it. If you’re looking for a new crew, there are meetup.com hiking groups available. Choose a group with clear safety practices that follow local health guidelines.

A woman walks across a small wooden slat bridge in the forest with leaves on the ground
Marnie M. hikes the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)
cycling · fitness · Guest Post · motivation · Zwift

Moving my own goalposts (Guest Post)

by Jennifer Szende

A little over a week ago, Samantha wrote about giving herself permission to quit, and it was just the push I needed. You see, I had been struggling with Zwift Academy for a few weeks and I had just about come to the decision that I should quit the program. I was hating it and avoiding it, but still in denial. I kept setting up my bike on the trainer, then doing other things. Or, just not setting up the bike at all. I would look at the schedule of Zwift Academy rides for the next day, and then find conflicts with all of them. I was going days in a row without doing any Zwift rides, let alone Zwift Academy rides. I finally motivated myself to do a group ride by choosing one of the easiest rides I could find. I was running out of time to complete the rides before the two month long “Zwift Academy” program closed. 

I had finally reached the point of naming my problem: Zwift Academy workouts are hard. Really, really hard. I would find myself either yelling or on the verge of tears trying to complete the workouts. On the plus side, I was really doing what the rides are aiming for: leaving it all on the field. On the downside, I was hating it to the point of avoiding it. I was making excuses to myself. And to make matters worse, the rides are so popular that they seem to also be prone to bugs. I had at least one ride where ERG mode disengaged, and it took a ton of effort (and was virtually impossible) to hit the required cadence/wattage combos on the workout. And I had another ride where I lost internet just minutes from the end of the cool down, so the ride didn’t upload, and I had to do it again to get it to ‘count’. So, I was finding Zwift Academy frustrating, too. Finally, the parameters of the rides are genuinely designed to push a rider to their limit. That means that the rides were genuinely designed to be difficult. Naming the problem was the first step towards recognizing an obvious solution: I could quit. 

After all, I was completing the program for fun, and not competing for a contract. Why continue to torture myself? Why continue with Zwift Academy once I realized that it was demotivating me to Zwift at all? This is supposed to be my fun. It’s a game, and it’s exercise. It’s endorphins, and serotonin. It felt like I wasn’t getting any of that, so why was I doing this again? 

I have always been motivated by the game of Zwift. The game aspect usually helps me to complete hard tasks that I wouldn’t otherwise attempt. It helps me break them down into manageable chunks, provides additional external motivations, and quantifies them. Since joining Zwift just over a year ago, I have completed a series of challenges: the Off the MAAP Tour; the Tour for All; Tour of Watopia. Each of these gave me specific ride-tasks to complete in a specific timeline, and I felt motivated to work for the completion-reward (usually, completion would unlock a virtual kit to wear in the game, or a virtual bike to ride in the game. Occasionally, completion would unlock a code to purchase a real-word jersey). The game aspects of Zwift generally help me stay motivated and goal-oriented. I like the game of Zwift.

But Zwift academy felt different somehow. I would look at the hard task, and think, “That’s too hard.” I was giving up without even attempting certain rides. Samantha blogged about it here, and discussed how the rides feel a lot more contrived than other ‘group’ events on Zwift. All of the comments and discussion are pre-programmed, and there is nobody monitoring them in real time. So, when the ride flashes a message on the screen saying: ‘Great job!’, it feels much more disingenuous than usual. And Zwift workouts are also designed to adapt to your FTP. They are designed to be hard for everyone, in approximately the same way. Zwift Academy does this extremely well. 

Along came Samantha’s post. When she pointed out that she had tricked herself into completing a race, by reminding herself that she could always quit, I saw a way forward. After all, I had already decided that quitting was on the table for me. I could walk away without finishing ZA, and that would be fine. The next day, I started a Zwift Academy Segment –Three Sisters ride which was an incredibly long ride with a lot of climbing, but no timer, and I gave myself explicit permission to quit. I didn’t just give myself permission: I told two people that I was giving myself permission to quit. I vocalized it, and gave myself accountability. I wanted my ‘permission to quit’ to be meaningful. And, it worked. I finished the ride: 13th out of 13 riders and completely exhausted, but I finished it. 

Completing that one thing helped me feel better about Zwift Academy. It helped me tick off another ‘accomplishment’ within the game. And it also served as a reminder that completing something feels good. I didn’t have to hit a particular performance marker. After all, I came in last in the segment ride. But even so, the feeling of completing something difficult helped me get back on the bike. The feeling of accomplishment was real, even if the challenge was slightly easier than it could have been. 

I realized that the only way that I was going to finish Zwift Academy was if I gave myself permission to quit each time. But the workouts were still incredibly hard. So I gave myself permission to lower the bar, just a bit. I didn’t have to excel. I didn’t have to perfect the workouts. I could *just* finish, if that was all I could manage. And I did. 

I ended up completing my last 4 Zwift Academy rides (3 workouts and 1 group ride) in the last 5 days of the program. I used the group ride as a ‘rest’ between two workout days. I completed some of them well, and some of them just barely. But I completed the entire Zwift Academy training program with a day to spare. 

The phrase ‘moving the goal posts’ is ambiguous between two possible scenarios: making some goal harder to achieve or making a goal easier to achieve, but doing each while the game is already in progress. Make the goal bigger, or make it smaller. By giving myself permission to quit, I made completing Zwift Academy a bit less likely. But by giving myself permission to *just* finish, I made finishing a bit easier. I don’t feel like I’ve cheated myself out of anything. After all, I was ready to walk away with nothing. At the end of the day, I’ve walked away having left it all on the field, having accomplished something hard, and feeling good about my accomplishment. Permission to quit felt like I was walking away from the game, but in the end, it helped me stay in the game. So, I moved my own goalposts, and it felt great. Sometimes, admitting the possibility of defeat, coming to terms with failure, and letting go of a goal, can help you succeed. And sometimes, coming to terms with walking away is its own success. Sometimes, I just have to move my own goalposts. 

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

fitness · Guest Post

The Fastest Game on Grass (Guest Post)

by Anna Creech

Raven and I met for coffee for our first date. She was brilliant, funny, and cute, and I wish we could have sat and talked longer, but she was late for a skills practice with some new recruits in this odd little team sport she’d joined the year earlier. So, we made plans to meet up again later that week. Things went well from there, and eventually I’d learn that this odd little team sport is a 400 year old game from Ireland called hurling (or camogie for the women’s only variation).

To keep some skills up over the winter, we had been visiting a nearby park with a racquetball enclosure that was perfect for practicing hitting and catching the ball, called a sliotar. My sports background is mainly slow-pitch softball and sandlot baseball, so I have some skill with hitting and catching, but that translated only but so much to hurling.

The first hurdle to learning the skills to play hurling is picking up the sliotar. You have to pick it up with the hurl before you can transfer it to your hand. There are several methods for doing this, but the basic idea is to angle the hurl so that the thinner edge catches the underside of the sliotar and scoops it off the ground. Here’s a brief demonstration video of one method (the easier one, IMHO):

Now that you have the sliotar in hand, there are a couple of ways to transfer it to a teammate or try to score. One is to pass it by hand, or hand pass. However, unlike with softball or baseball, you can’t just throw it. You have to toss it up slightly and then bat it with your hand to your target.

Another way is to strike the sliotar with the hurl, which can be done for passing any distance from short to long, depending on the situation. To do that, from a soft/baseball perspective, you have to pitch to yourself. Getting the timing and placement of my pitches and swings right took me most of the winter and spring months. And, I was really only working on my dominant side. Recently I’ve started practicing more on my non-dominant side, because there are many in-game situations where you need that flexibility.

You can also kick the sliotar or hit it on the ground, which happens more often in our scrimmages than I would have expected.

Receiving a hand pass or strike takes some practice as well, but also a lot of mental fortitude for those of us not used to bare-handed catches. I’m frequently amazed by how seemingly effortlessly and painlessly more experienced players will catch a strike. A sliotar hit off a hurl can travel at speeds ranging from 50-90 mph (80-150 kph).

Lastly, you can hold the sliotar in hand and take up to four steps, but after that point, you can only bounce or balance it on your hurl. So, another skill I have been working on is balancing the sliotar on the hurl while moving. I’ve managed to keep it on while weaving around cones at a brisk walk so far. I consider that a success, given how long I’ve been practicing.

As the summer progressed, I started going to the field where the camogie team practiced (socially distanced) one night a week. I wasn’t yet ready to try my new skills with actual players (besides Raven) yet, so I took that time to walk/jog the track around the field. After a while, I would help out during practice by shagging the balls they hit at the goal and tossing them back to the coach to save them time and give me some softball fielding practice. Then one day, the coach asked me if I was going to do the whole practice with them, and that was that.

What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the running. So much running. Our camogie practice warm ups begin with a lap around the football field (we use those for practice/games because the dimensions and goals are close enough, and there aren’t hurling fields in my city), followed by side steps across the width and back. Then it’s drills that focus on specific in-game skills, but still so much more sustained movement than my softball body is used to.

The competitive season for the mid-Atlantic teams was canceled this year due to COVID-19, as you might expect, but we’ve had a few informal scrimmages against a nearby team. I didn’t feel like I was ready for an actual game with rules and performance under pressure, so I focused more on attending practices. I would be at the scrimmages to cheer on my girlfriend and teammates, though.

Then in late summer, we were at a scrimmage, and they were trying to have a camogie (women’s only) match without pulling in substitutes from the men’s teams, but we were short one player. Our team captain turned to me and indicated I could fill in as goalie. I was not dressed to play nor prepared to play, but she continued to insist that I would play. Finally, she said in her lovely Irish lilt, “If you didn’t want to play, you should have stayed in the car.” Shortly thereafter I found myself nervously guarding a goal that was much, much too large for me to keep a very small ball from repeatedly going in.

I’ve now made it my aim to learn how to keep goal. It gives me more focus in my practice sessions. Plus, the goalkeeper doesn’t have to run all that much.

If you’re interested in learning more about hurling, there are lots of videos on YouTube, from tutorials to matches. If you’d like to find a club near you, check out USGAA or Gaelic Games Canada.

A photo of Anna Creech

Anna Creech is the Head of Resource Acquisition and Delivery at the University of Richmond, which is a fancy way of saying she’s in charge of the department that buys all the (library) things. In her spare time (mainly pre-COVID), she plays recreational softball and sandlot baseball, lifts weights, manages the inflow of new music at a community radio station, and sings in two women’s choruses.

fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Being Underestimated by the Lifeguards (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

Over the summer, I started lane swimming as one of the few socially acceptable fitness activities. Our outdoor pools were open with restrictions and it was almost impossible to book a lane. But once you did, it was fantastic! One swimmer per lane, booked in advance so you could schedule your time, masks worn in the changerooms and the pools themselves were outside!

Once September hit, I moved to the indoor pools. Now, I’m not going to say indoor lane swimming is risk-free since nothing is these days BUT I will say, for me personally, it is within an acceptable level of risk. One person per lane, pre-booked time slots, minimized time spent in changerooms and masks worn everywhere except in the pool itself. In addition, the gym I’ve been attending has two sets of changerooms and has dedicated one of the them ONLY to swimmers with specific lockers set aside all very distanced from each other. Once you get onto the pool deck, each swimmer has their own space on the bench marked off for you stuff and the lifeguards are diligent in reminding you to wear your mask until you are about to enter the water.

One of my favourite exercises when swimming is to tread water with a brick. For those of you who don’t know, lifeguards often train using a brick to create additional weight. These bricks come in either 5lbs, 10lbs or 20lbs and treading water with a 20-lb brick is equivalent to carrying a 200-lb person. This is the standard that all lifeguards (in Canada) must be able to meet.

These bricks are kept in the lifeguard office and you must ask politely to borrow them. Most lifeguards are slightly flummoxed by this request since most people don’t know they exist let alone want to use them for exercise! When I first started swimming at this gym, I had to explain myself and the lifeguard had to check with her supervisor before I was allowed to use the brick as they don’t normally let people use them due to risk of injury. Now it’s not an issue and so far, it’s been the same lifeguard on duty who remembers me.

This morning, it was different lifeguards on duty and when I asked, they were clearly flummoxed by this request. The following conversation took place:

  • “I’m not sure if you can use the bricks, I’d have to check with my supervisor and she’s not here right now”
  • “I was here earlier this week and the lifeguard on duty checked with your manager, it wasn’t an issue.”
  • “Okay”. (Goes to guard office and audibly asks the other guard to pass out the 5-lb or 10-lb brick).
  • “Actually, I was using the 20-lb yellow brick last time. Can I use that one today?”
  • “That one’s only for lifeguards, I’m not sure we are allowed to give it out to people”
  • Other lifeguard comes out and looks at me: “Are you a lifeguard?”.
  • “Yes although my NLS expired over the summer”
  • “Just give it to her”

And I got the heavy brick! I will admit, there was moment of pleasure watching the initial lifeguards face as I cheerfully started my exercises with the 20-lb brick. Following 15 minutes of drills with the brick, my legs feeling rubbery I exited the pool area and went on about my day.

Bricks

Mallory is human, currently doing graduate study in Community Music. She loves traveling and spending time outdoors and prefers not to wear shoes when possible.

camping · Guest Post

Escaping the Pandemic by Camping! (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

Over the past few months, I have spent a significant amount of time online. This summer I was involved in the creation and implementation of a virtual summer camp for 2SLGBTQ+ teens (for more information visit www.rainbowcamp.ca!) and this fall I started a new program at university which is being held entirely online. In between that, I’ve had virtual choir practices, book clubs, birthday parties, workshops, etc. So lots of time spent online and when I realized that my university had a fall reading week, I jumped on the opportunity to escape the virtual world for a few days!

I spent three days backpacking along the Bruce Trail near Tobermory the week after (Canadian) Thanksgiving. I’ve done this trail several times in different seasons and there’s something special about being there in the fall. The leaves are changing colours and the scenery is stunning. There are significantly less people, especially once you leave the areas near the car parks. It is cold at night but during the day it warms up enough that I was hiking in shorts each day.

There’s also something special about camping solo. I’ve done quite a few trips by myself including several of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It can be refreshing to spend time by yourself, especially when you disconnect totally from all technology. On this trip, the only piece of technology I brought was my e-reader which had both school reading and fiction on it!

I recognize that being able to escape for three days comes from a place of tremendous privilege. I can disconnect and not answer my phone/email for a few days. I own all the right lightweight camping gear. I have the experience to be comfortable camping by myself. I can financially afford to book campsites and pay for parking in a National Park (which is very affordable but still). I have a car so I can drive myself to the trail.

So this year for Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of this privilege and for the chance to escape and spend three days disconnecting and resetting from technology. It was just what I needed before returning the digital world.

Mallory is human, currently doing graduate study in Community Music. She loves traveling and spending time outdoors and prefers not to wear shoes when possible

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.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Joy and Bubbles! A Guest Post and Photo Essay

by Joy Cameron

On October 2nd my odometer rolled over to 10,000 km on Bubbles: an average of 79km per week for the past 29 months. I can’t imagine many places in London better than Banana Kingdom to achieve that goal! Only wish it was warm enough for my Banana Kingdom t-shirt!!

Order your Banana Kingdom t-shirt here.

Joy and her bike, Bubbles
10,000 km!
Joy in orange jacket, blue helmet, and bike print mask

You can Joy’s past posts here:

2017 Experiments with Bikes

First Snowy Ride

cycling · Guest Post · running · swimming · triathalon

Why Will Writing Make You a Better Triathlete? Or Ten Maxims of Writing for My Students (Guest post)

by Şerife Tekin

I turned 40 last Friday. To celebrate my efforts to become a triathlete in my late 30s I went to the beautiful Canyon Lake with a super-triathlete friend. With no actual race or scheduled event in sight due to pandemic, we executed our very own choose-your-own-adventure triathlon. We swam for 40 minutes, rode our bikes on high hills for 40 minutes and ran for 40 minutes. I would have never considered waking up at 4am and pushing hard nonstop for two hours a kind of celebration but, hey, maybe that was what 40s were for. I suffered with so much joy. It was the fittest I’ve ever felt; I could have probably gone for another round of 40+40+40 (after having snacks!)

How come it felt easy and fun even though triathlons are still so new for me? Two reasons: First, the foundational triathlon training program prepared by my awesome coach and my ability to stick with it thanks to pandemic’s side effect of no travelling. Since March, all my work-related trips (averaging 2 per month) were cancelled and I stayed put with a solid uninterrupted time to dedicate to my research, writing, and training. The second reason was me discovering that triathlon training and writing have so much in common. Since March, I have also been thinking about the graduate course I was going to be teaching this Fall, on Philosophical Research and Writing. As I contemplated on my own research and writing process to find the best way to pitch the course to my students, I realized how much in common (academic) writing and triathlon training have. I started transferring my attitude to writing to my training. Triathlon training, just like writing, I realized, involves a lot of suffering and joy. Here are the ten maxims that have been working for me; perhaps they will work for you too!

1. Do a bit everyday

Noone ever wakes up one day to find themselves transformed into a strong athlete or a prolific writer. It takes a lot of consistency. Develop a routine and do a little bit of writing/training each day.

My habit of writing by using the Pomodoro Technique – in 25-minute chunks – served me well in my tri-athletic endeavors. Even when I don’t feel like writing (I almost never do!) I convince myself to do it just for 25 minutes. Most of the time that one 25-minute chunk turns into 4 or 5 because I eventually start enjoying it. Similarly, I started taking a look at the training I have for the day and dividing it into 25-minute chunks. It helped me overcome the mental obstacle of say, having to run 70 minutes in the summer heat of Texas: It was only two chunks of 25 minutes with a 10 minute warm up and 10 minute cool down.

2. Track your progress

Tracking your progress enables you to celebrate small victories or think about what you can do to improve. In other words, don’t wait to finish the project you are working on to celebrate – your dissertation is not going to be done in four Pomodoro sessions. Instead, give credit to how much time and work you’ve already put into it. As a bit of a productivity technology junkie, I use an app called “forest” to track my writing time; after each 25 minutes the app plants a tree. It is so fun to see a forest emerge out of nothingness. Similarly, it is motivating and sobering to see how many hours per week I spent running, biking, and swimming on my smart watch and Strava.

3. Don’t worry about perfection; allow yourself be awful.

Accept that every day is going to be different. Sometimes you spend eight Pomodoro sessions just writing random sentences with no sense, logical coherence, or whatsoever; sometimes you pump out a well-argued paper in just four. Similarly, sometimes (often!) running sucks all the life out of me; everything hurts, I am short of breath even after 10 minutes. I learned to accept the pain and carry on. As my coach always says, it will always hurt, regardless of how fast you can go; even the elite athletes suffer. Just plow forward. You need to be really bad at it before you can be good at it. If you need more inspiration listen to Ira Glass on storytelling.

4. Read or foam-roll if you feel stuck.

Sometimes, you just can’t write, you are stuck. After hiding under your blanket with your eyes tightly closed having a panic attack (this is a very typical process for me when I start a new project), get up, wash your face and read. Just relaxing into reading will help get back to writing. I think the reading-equivalent of triathlon training is foam-rolling; when everything hurts and I “can’t even…” anymore I get on the foam roll, it relaxes my muscles as they get stronger.

5. Rest. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

Take at least one day off per week. Get enough sleep. Take naps. Eat. These all fuel your writing and training. Always keep snacks around.

6. Balance between sprint and endurance workouts.

Sometimes work on multiple projects simultaneously in one day: 25 minutes for that article revision, 25 minutes for that conference abstract, etc. Make sure to also work on a single project for a long time in a given day, such as your dissertation or book. Endurance writing is necessary for big projects. Similarly, do multiple sports in one day (combining cycling and swimming in a day is always a good idea; or a bike-run brick) while training but make sure to do one long session per week on one of the three sports.

7. Enjoy solitude

Get comfortable being alone, in your head, for hours at a time, both for writing and triathlon training. Yes, you need to spend time, writing, by yourself. That is the only way you improve. Similarly, you need to run, ride, swim, by yourself, for hours at a time, to make progress. It will get uncomfortable at times, be ok with it.

8. Find your peeps

Yes, you need peeps. You need them to feel inspired and motivated but you also need them for the honest and sometimes brutal feedback they will give you. Get comfortable with sharing your work with your peers, supervisors, or anonymous referees and receiving feedback. You might hate it at first but taking the feedback seriously will make you a better writer. I love receiving feedback; someone took the time to challenge you, that’s just so precious! Similarly, get comfortable training with other people and getting feedback on how you are doing. You might be the slowest in the group (I often am!), or you might have no idea about the technicalities they are talking about, but listen, learn, enjoy. Try to incorporate their recommendations into your training.

9. Listen to yourself but not too much.

Listening to yourself is a double edge sword: acknowledging how you are stuck in your writing or you really don’t have time because you have to fulfill x,y,z, responsibilities are important; you can work on addressing these so that you can dedicate time to writing. But don’t always believe yourself– these thoughts might be your mind making up excuses to avoid the discomfort of writing. When you feel this way, go back to advice number 1, do it for 25 minutes. Similarly, while training, listen to yourself: if your knee is stabbing in pain, be sure to skip the run that day, but maybe try to drag yourself out of bed and go for your run-meet even when you really feel like sleeping in.

10. Showcase your progress

Whether submitting a conference paper or sending articles to journals for publication, get out there and see how you do. You will learn a lot and make solid progress. Similarly, do races or group events once in a while to see how much you’ve improved and what else you can do to push your limits.

Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Medical Humanities at UTSA. When she is not moving around she can be found petting her kitty cat Cortez. Her website is www.serifetekin.com,

220 in 2020 · fitness · Guest Post · health

Getting a new perspective on self-care (Guest post)

So I have completed the “220 (days of exercise) in 2020,” 4 months ahead of schedule and am pretty damn pleased with myself. You should see my muscle definition!

I want to share a few thoughts I wish I had realized years ago because I spent the majority of my adult life struggling with weight loss and trying to make exercise part of that. As in, whenever I did any form of movement it was hoping that it would contribute to making my body smaller and more attractive. Sure, sure, healthy too but primarily smaller and more attractive. Thing is, exercise and weight loss are only loosely connected. Of course you can use it to burn calories and tip the scales in favour of weight loss but that’s not really the point because nutrition is the major determining factor here. And then of course the entire story of weight cycling and just how damaging that is etc.

Not all of HAES (Health at Every Size) is a good fit for me and the way I think about my body but the part of the HAES movement I can absolutely get behind of is this: large bodies still need to be treated well, just as medium sized or small bodies do. These things are independent of each other. Bodies need good nutrition; they need rest and they need movement. They need doctor’s visits and they need mental health support because being flooded with stress hormones 24/7 is a pretty damn damaging thing to a body.

So that is what this exercise thing is about, a part of the self-care puzzle. I used to buy into the idea that self-care is letting myself off the hook and eating whatever and how much I want to eat, relax on the sofa and have a good time with smoke and drink if I fancied it. But really there’s nothing self-caring or self-compassionate about it because at the end of the day no matter what stories we tell ourselves about it, that doesn’t change biological reality. Well at least I don’t buy into that whole “affirmation changing reality” thing.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is hard. First of all, it’s years and decades of thinking one way and then trying to change that. It takes time and effort and while I do have “an acre of greens” in the fridge as my partner lovingly mocks it, and have had for years, it’s really hard to get away from the constant barrage of treat food that isn’t really a treat given that it’s a daily feature, so more like a staple. There’s the time, money, effort and all those things. I have actually realized that working out regularly is easier than eating well regularly because for exercise you’re done at some point in the day. Complete a morning workout and you can feel good about yourself for the rest of the day, knowing that any additional movement is good and likely but still, you’ve done the thing. Eating well, relaxation, mental health practices etc are much harder because it requires a sustained effort throughout all waking hours and a litany of decision points. So, it’s hard and requires a mindset of learning and growing rather than all or nothing on/off the wagon thinking.

So what did I do this year for the exercise thing? I just started, focusing on the things I felt I could do. There has been a lot of walking and especially initially I did a fair bit of semi guided dance sessions. Body groove on demand is really really good for that because it is very inclusive of many abilities, genders, bodies and ethnicities. I felt very much represented by the cast in the videos and it was fun. It helped me gain some confidence in my ability to move and to show up, which in itself is maybe the most important skill to develop.

I then went through a series of programmes on daily burn, there are some beginner ones that helped with the whole thing of getting into the spirit of doing uncomfortable things. Like getting down on the ground and up again repeatedly or like sticking to the exercise for a few seconds longer etc. Then moved on to more demanding ones, I like kickboxing and circuit training, barre, yoga and pilates.

The rewarding part has been trying to increase my ability to do things. For example, there’s a pilates move I just can’t do so I found a ten minute video (on Pilatesology) that is a preparation for that move. Still working on being able to do a full push up, or burpee, clean lunges, and so on. It’s rewarding to feel stronger just for the sake of feeling stronger. And more agile, mobile, fit. Whatever size or whatever appearance.

Below is my gym. This, and a sports bra if you are of the booby persuasion is plenty. Onwards to 300!

Image may contain: one or more people

TabeaD is a university lecturer and enjoys gardening, crafting and making art. After struggling with her weight as a very large person for decades, she has started to increasingly explore ways to drop the struggle and make peace with her body while finding ways to be healthy and active. Over the years she has engaged in swimming, various forms of dance, tai chi, yoga and weight training although she has struggled with consistency and motivation throughout, which has led her to engage in “220 in 2020.”

competition · covid19 · Guest Post · race report · racing · triathalon

Mary’s non-race race report (Guest post)

by Mary Case

May 31st 2020.  It is race day. Perfect conditions in Middleton Connecticut where the 70.3 Half Iron Man is scheduled. The sky is a clear blue; the temperature is 16 degrees in the early morning with no call for rain.

This day has been years in the making with hard physical and mental preparation, not to mention the hill repeats. This was the race to celebrate retirement from thirty-five years of teaching.

However, this race is not happening.

Covid- 19 a closed border, and I’m recovering from a broken wrist. This day is turning in a different direction.

This is a non-race race day.

What does someone do with a non-race race day?

Option number one: stay in bed. Duly considered. It is an unseasonable 9 degrees in London, Ontario.

Option two: drink tea and eat pancakes loaded with fresh maple syrup, topped with coconut whipped cream and fresh fruit followed by a Netflix binge. (Now we are talking. But as it turns out, this comes later.)

Option three: race!

What! Race? Is that even possible?

How does one define a race anyway?

Who decided it has to look a certain way?

What would be fun?

What else is possible here that I have not considered?

What is it I really love about race day?

What part of that can be duplicated, and how?

And so, as I stare longingly at my triathlon gear, the non race, race day plan is created.

No alarm set, no travel required. Not so bad really.

Race day breakfast is prepared. Steel cut oats with fresh fruit, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, dried cherries and almond milk. Delicious.

Support crew John Case has absconded for the day. It begins with him walking the dog and preparing a few more nutrition pieces for my day. I am warming up with some running drills and a short walk.

And the non-race race begins. 

I chose to start with the bike. 

Mary’s living room bike trainer set up

Rule number one of the non-race race day: break the rules to create what works for you.

So, the order of events is changed.

I hop on my bike trainer. Still somewhat limited with gear changing due to the weakness in my wrist, it seems the next best option when not able to ride outside. I choose a 1:45 minute program found in Trainer Road, one I had completed already in early February. I set a challenging Functional Threshold number.

Knowing that this was a race and not “just” a training ride, there was no taking a break. No stopping on the last set when it got challenging. This was a race, and when the going got tough the mental game was ramped up. I found this ride a great challenge and pushed through the last ten minutes as if ascending one of the challenging hills of Connecticut in anticipation of the final downhill into the town. My heart rate was elevated, my legs were burning, and I felt great.

Phase two: run. Unfortunately, my wrist is not so happy with the jarring motion of running, and so we get a new phase two: walk.

Mary getting ready to walk

No problem, no rules here. I call my friend Chris for some social distance phase two support and we head out on a favourite University Hill route at a brisk pace. I am grateful for the company.

One hour and fifty minutes later, a 10k walk is complete. It was a gorgeous day. Perfect temperature. I notice things that perhaps would go unnoticed when wrapped up in the focused intensity of running. The flowers, the river flowing, the birds singing. This non-race race thing is not all that bad.

Now, home for phase three. I am delighted that I have an outdoor swimming pool as all public pools have been closed since Covid-19. I change into my Canadian Triathlon Suit for full effect and head to the water.

Mary in her pool

The non-swim swim in the non-race race consists of short lengths, some water running and drills for 30 minutes. Not quite the open water swim that I love so much, but I was grateful for this option.

In the end, the non-race race was half the time and distance of the Half Ironman. There were no cheering crowds, finish lines, expos and aid stations. I did not receive a medal or a fancy hat. I still do not have that 70.3 bumper sticker to display on my car and… I am so grateful for this non-race race day. 

Amidst these crazy times, this was a day just for me. It was simple, challenging and rewarding, and it reminded me, as cliché as it sounds, that sometimes it is not about the destination, but about the journey.  

It is about resiliency, about choice, about flexibility and adaptation in this game called life.

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.