fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running

Left and Right (Guest Post)

by Amy Kaler

The road is never neutral. You are always moving towards something or away from something, bearing dread, hope, anticipation, longing, as you go. No one is the same at the beginning of the road as at the end.

Roads are also risky. “Highwayman” was once a synonym for the worst sort of thieves, a “roadhouse” is a place where bad things can happen, and when someone titles a novel “The Road”, you know it’s not going to end well. By now, there may be nothing new that can be said about a road – the metaphor itself as exhausted as the travellers.

Speaking of exhausted –

In mid-September, I was running on a road near Banff, Alberta, and I was exhausted. It was my first official road race – Melissa’s Race, 10KM – and along with several thousand other people, I was pushing through rain, snow, sleet, freezing mud, and cold water in all its forms. The weather was not just bad, it was apocalyptic. At the end of the race I ran into a friend who regularly runs Death Marathons and the like, and he used words like “gruelling” and “excruciating”. So now you know I did make it to the end of the road. But I am getting ahead of myself.

By the second kilometre I wanted to give up. My knees hurt, my chest hurt, I could not run uphill in slush and breathe at the same time. I wondered desperately if somewhat dramatically whether it was possible that I would actually die, just fall over and die, in mid-race, and whether that would be better or worse than giving up and revealing myself as a quitter who couldn’t handle the road. This run is supposed to be visually spectacular, circling upward through mountains, but all I could see was the metre right in front of my wet shoes, and the peripheral view of other runners moving steadily past me. My MP3 player with its curated inspirational running music had given up on me a few hundred meters in, so I jammed the cord into my phone and listened to the same six Fleetwood Mac songs over and over. I had to stop. But I had to continue.

After a while I became aware of my feet. At first I noticed my feet because they were not cold, unlike most of the rest of me. Then I became aware of my feet running, side to side, right and left and right, like a pendulum swinging fast while moving forward. The oscillation started to weave into my monotonous survival-focused thoughts. I’m overwhelmed, I can’t keep going. I can do another hundred steps. I can’t do another hundred steps, I’m going to die. I can do another fifty steps. I can’t breathe any more. But I AM still breathing because I’m having this thought which I couldn’t have without oxygen in my brain. I have to stop before we get to the hill. I can keep going up the hill.

Eventually the thoughts narrowed down to I can’t run/I can run. I have to stop/I won’t stop. Left, right, left-and-right. Breathe in, breathe out. I can’t/I can. I have to/I won’t.

Many things invaded my mind, my imagination skittering around a wealth of images because linear thought was not really happening. I was bouncing amongst all the times when we say yes and no, real and unreal, what is and what isn’t, known and unknown. I was Vladimir and Estragon, who can’t go on/ will go on. I was a fresh Marine recruit at boot camp (when I first typed that, I wrote “boot can’t”) marching in cadence: I don’t know/But I’ve been told. I was a hundred therapists and yogis and spiritual teachers breathing: in with the good air, out with the bad.

Am I the only runner in the history of Melissa’s Race to fantasize that I was a yoga teacher? Left, right, left-and-right.

Every step was a question and a choice. Can I? I can. Left side, right side. I did not have the clean precision of a metronome. I was irreducibly organic and visceral, not mechanical. I tripped over roots, skidded on a Dixie cup discarded at one of the water stations and doubled-over a couple of times when I truly couldn’t breathe any more. I kept falling out of rhythm and then falling back into it. Left, right, sideways, then left-and-right again.

I have read that neurologists use diverse forms of bilateral stimulation, alternating sounds or pulses or light on the left side and right side of the body in order to calm erratic nerves and to help people integrate traumatic or awful memories into their present selves. I met no trauma ghosts as I was running, and even now as I write this, the awfulness of the cold and wet has moved away from me, become something I describe rather than something that I feel. But I can easily believe that the left-and-right, one-side-the-other-side, movement helped to draw me through a physically pretty intense experience.

I also believe that this back-and-forth of running opens into a bigger experience of ambivalence and contradiction. I’m in danger/I’m okay. I can/I can’t. I am/I am not. And all the while I am moving forward while I’m tiring out. I am not enjoying this road, but I’m not getting off it either.

You never know how far you can go until you stop, and at last I did stop, with ten kilometres behind me. In the final kilometre, my glasses fogged up so I was running through a fuzzy translucence in which I had to trust that there was an actual road in front of me, which is probably a metaphor for something. At the end of the road, I was indeed not the same person who began it. When I started, I didn’t know if I was the person who could run ten kilometres in terrible weather. I thought I was the person who would give in to the road, who might be humiliated by weakness and failure.

But I did get to the end of the road. I did it one step at a time, but more vividly, I did it step by step by step by step. I have to stop/I can keep going. I can’t breathe/I’m still breathing. I can’t/I did.

Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her academic work can be found here: https://sites.google.com/ualberta.ca/amykaler/home?authuser=2. Her nonacademic writing about Edmonton can be found here: https://edmontonseries.wordpress.com/

fitness · Guest Post · running

On running and feeling grateful! (Guest post)

by Kaitlyn Elizabeth

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had to fight to find myself again, while simultaneously finding the patience to heal. There have been some really low days, but little bit little, I’ve been rebuilding my physical and emotional stamina and energy. Today was a landmark for me as I crushed my former personal best of 37m7s for a 5km race and beat it with a 31m18s!

Today I’m grateful for my health and my body and its ability to move and exercise. Never in a million years would I have thought of myself as a runner! Even more so, I’m grateful for all the amazing people who have stuck by my side and who have inspired me to simply put one foot in front of the other 💜🏃🏻‍♀️💜

Kaitlyn is an elementary teacher in London, Ontario, black belt and long time Aikido practitioner, recently started cycling, trying to find her groove with running, continually learning how to have patience with her mental and physical health… 

Image may contain: 17 people, including Tara Clark, people smiling, people standing, shoes and outdoor
Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
Image may contain: 8 people, including Tara Clark, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
Guest Post

How Gym Class Ruined My Life (Guest Post)

Last week Susan Tarshis posted about gym class and many other bloggers also had to chime in–we had very strong feelings–and it became a group post. Now our readers and guest bloggers are moved to share their stories. I’ve got about five more people in the queue who want to have a say! But first, here’s Sally. 

by Sally Hickson

I grew up moving every two or three years or so in accordance with my dad’s career. One of four and then five kids, moving from the Eastern Townships of Quebec to St John, New Brunswick, to Ottawa, to Calgary, back to Ottawa. One thing you learn from this is that education is a provincially regulated undertaking, so curricula change from province to province – you can be ahead in Quebec and behind in St John, as I learned when the rest of the class had ready responses to the mysteries of something called the ‘multiplication tables’. I sat there praying the teacher wouldn’t call on me since I had no idea what they were doing. My brother later explained it to me using the handy tables they printed on the backs of Hilroy copy-books.

Strangely, however, or perhaps not so strangely, when we moved from somewhere to somewhere (I really can’t remember the sequence) I was accelerated from grade three to grade five, based on my advanced literacy, although I remained ‘behind’ in math for the rest of my school career (I’d learned the ‘wrong’ way to do long division, for example). So there I was, eventually, in sixth grade in Ottawa, two years younger but taller and larger than the other kids, and suddenly plunged into full-blown gym class. I have to explain that in the Quebec Catholic school system we didn’t really do gym; that was for the Protestants. At JFK school, during physical activity time, we wore bloomers over our tights and ran around for a few hours each week, but there was nothing systematic about it. I don’t recall taking gym in St John at all, which might have had to do with the fact that the school wasn’t really big enough and we’d spilled out into portable classrooms scattered around the back lot.

Anyway, in Ottawa I soon realized I was in way over my head. I was a big girl, not fat, but tall and solid, physically mature for my age, and completely without any kind of organized gym experience. The class consisted of boys and girls and we had to wear shorts, which was humiliating because I was bigger than the other girls and uncomfortable about my body. In one of my first classes the gym teacher, who went by the improbable name of Mr Jolly, lined everyone up to do ‘vaulting’. I had no idea what he meant but I lined up with everyone else. It seemed to consist of running very fast, then up a little ramp with a springboard and flying over the ‘horse’. Everyone seemed to touch the horse on the way over, giving themselves an extra little boost, legs spread out to either side. Do gym teachers still indulge in this barbarism? I hope not. Anyway, I was worried. I was pretty sure my legs didn’t work that way. I balked and said no. The teacher said ‘try’. He knew there was nothing worse than being the new kid and appearing to be a crybaby. Remember, everyone was watching. I took a run at it. I’m not sure exactly what happened. I think I just hit the horse broadside and it flew apart. I wasn’t hurt, but the astonished silence quickly turned to titters and giggles. Mr Jolly looked slightly surprised – he probably saw his career passing before his eyes.

Things went downhill from there. Rope-climbing – I just swung around sitting on the knot. I was good at sit-ups, mostly because it didn’t involve leaving the ground. Hopeless at everything else. Team sports were especially bewildering, and that started a year of team captains sighing and saying ‘I guess we’ll take Sally.’ In the middle of it all, at the age of ten, my period started. I now had an occasional medical excuse, but gym class remained a nightmare because of the laughing, the teasing, my inability to be as ‘good’ as the other kids. I had a brief moment of hope when a fat boy appeared, but he became the vicious ringleader of the teasing, I suppose in order to deflect attention from himself. Outside of gym class he was actually pretty okay, and I knew how much the other boys made fun of him. I started getting sick a lot and the gym teacher recommended to my parents that they find me a psychiatrist. That was the last straw for my dad – I’m not sure what he said to Mr Jolly but, from then on, I was allowed to go to the library during gym class.

I’ll never forgive the junior high girls coach (by then they’d separated us from the boys) who made each of us do a gymnastics routine in front of – wait for it – ALL of the grade sevens. I did three agonizingly slow somersaults to a smattering of giggles and ironic applause. I felt hot all over, conspicuously incapable. I remember exactly what that felt like. When I started high school we moved to Calgary and I discovered that, at that time in Alberta, a female student had to be able to run a twelve-minute mile in order to graduate (for boys it was 10 minutes). By that time I had a partner in crime who trailed around the track with me long after the others had gone inside. We were both convinced we’d still be in high school in our 20s, running in the twilight.

I can laugh about it now but, in all seriousness, gym class ruined my life. It made me feel bad about myself. For me, it was a horrible, nasty, twice-weekly ritual at which I was the main sacrifice and there was nothing I could do about it until I cracked that twelve-minute mile and was finally allowed to leave gym class behind. The worst thing was that it made me hate my body, and the second worse thing was that it made me reluctant to try sports or exercise of any kind because I was convinced I could not be good at anything. Through my 20s, 30s and 40s the very idea of walking into a gym gave me a knot in my stomach, the gym class feeling. And my struggle with my body is not so much how I look but how I feel about how I look, again the gym class feeling that I’ve been carrying around with me since the age of ten. In my 50s, I’ve finally started letting go of that feeling, but it hasn’t been easy. After all, that ten-year-old is still part of me and she still hates gym class.


Sally is an art historian, professor, department chair, Italophile, film buff, heavy metal AND country music enthusiast, and fitness newbie.

Guest Post · hiking · nature

Joh et Sabrina en randonnée à la Péninsule Bruce/Joh and Sabrina hiking on the Bruce Peninsula (Guest Post)

Joh. et Sabrina en randonnée à la Péninsule Bruce (see English below)

En juillet 2018, j’ai eu le plaisir d’aller en randonnée pédestre pendant 3 jours à la péninsule Bruce avec mon amie Sabrina Olender . Quel bonheur que de voyager avec une personne aussi organisée que Sabrina! On a préparé la liste des repas et du matériel commun ensemble, mais quelques jours avant le départ, Sabrina avait contacté le parc national pour s’assurer que nous avions tous les permis en main avant de partir, nous épargnant ainsi une heure de transport supplémentaire vers le poste d’accueil, en sus de la route de Toronto.

Après quelque quatre heures de route, nous voici donc arrivées au stationnement du lac Crane, notre point de départ vers le camping High Dump (après avoir pris une mauvaise route privée et rencontré une résidente assez abrupte de notre erreur). Nous mettons la dernière touche à nos sacs à dos, enfilons nos bottes et étudions la carte. Je marche 10 pas et réalise, catastrophe, que la semelle de ma botte droite s’est complètement détachée, affichant un large sourire. Comment vais-je marcher 8 km avec un sac à dos de 18 kg sur le dos sans bottes de randonnée?

Heureusement, Sabrina la prévoyante avait du ruban adhésif (le bon vieux duct tape) avec lequel j’ai réussi à attacher ma botte tant bien que mal. À ce moment est sorti du sentier un couple de randonneurs (de 75 et 78 ans!) qui m’a aussi donné du ruban pour tenter de réparer ce dégât; un autre randonneur rencontré en route m’a également donné du ruban. Beaux exemples de solidarité en camping!

Après une randonnée sans autre anicroche, nous avons entamé la descente abrupte vers le site de camping, à l’aide d’une corde pour faciliter le tout. Notre campement était le plus éloigné de tous, situé près de l’eau et très bien aménagé avec une plateforme de bois entourée d’arbres pour bien attacher notre bâche. Aussitôt arrivé, il a commencé à pleuvoir, interrompant notre observation de la magnifique baie Georgienne pour terminer notre installation. Grâce à la plateforme, la tâche nous a été simplifiée, et la cuisine aussi, que nous pouvions faire debout

Le lendemain, nous sommes parties pour une randonnée d’un jour avec un plus petit sac, mes bottes toujours maintenues par le ruban et munies de notre enthousiasme à explorer le secteur et les différents points de vue sur la baie Georgienne. Le sentier était vraiment plus difficile, parsemé de grosses roches et très accidenté. Nous nous sommes rendues au point de vue situé à 2 km, avons dévoré notre lunch et sommes revenues profiter de notre campement et de la plage.

Pour conserver notre nourriture au frais au campement pendant notre randonnée d’un jour, nous avons eu l’idée géniale de la mettre dans un sac étanche dans l’eau glaciale de la baie, bien sécurisé sous des roches et arrimé à la terre ferme (photo 5)… sauf que, deuxième difficulté technique, nous avons dû constater au retour que le sac étanche ne l’était plus et qu’il était plein d’eau; celle-ci avait pénétré par une ouverture béante à son côté! Heureusement que tout était emballé à l’intérieur du sac, sauvegardant la nourriture qui s’y trouvait.

En ce qui concerne les animaux, nous avons vu de multiples grenouilles et crapauds dans le sentier qui sautaient littéralement juste devant nos pieds, un serpent d’eau près du campement, des tamias rayés assez agressifs (un d’eux a même suivi Sabrina dans les bois) et des oiseaux. Pas de trace d’ours, malgré les avertissements. Et vraiment trop de traces de l’animal le plus terrifiant des bois à cette période de l’année : le moustique! Omniprésents et fatigants, ils ne nous ont pas laissées tranquilles, comme en fait foi l’épaule de la pauvre Sabrina!

Le dernier matin, avant de tout remballer et de reprendre le sentier, il y a des crêpes au menu… mais plus de beurre ni d’huile pour les faire cuire, et la poêle n’est vraiment pas antiadhésive. Ce sera notre dernière mésaventure technique… et une chance que nous avions beaucoup d’autre nourriture pour bien commencer la journée!
Puis, ce fut le démontage du campement et le départ! Il s’agissait d’un trop court séjour pour cet endroit magique et magnifique, que je revisiterai assurément.

Et vous, quelle est votre destination préférée de randonnée pédestre avec camping?

Joh. est traductrice, originaire de Montréal et vit maintenant à Toronto. Elle aime être en plein air autant que possible et fait du vélo, du ski, du canot, du kayak, de la randonnée pédestre et, plus généralement, aime trouver du temps pour être active, malgré une vie divisée entre un travail à temps plein, des contrats et un enfant.

 

 

Joh. and Sabrina on the Bruce Peninsula

In July 2018, I had the pleasure of hiking on the Bruce Peninsula with my friend Sabrina Olender.

Sbarina (left) and Joh (right), all smiles and backpacks

What a joy to travel with someone as organized as Sabrina! We have prepared the list of meals and common equipment together, Sabrina had contacted the national park to make sure we had the right to leave the room. pick up our permit before getting to the trailhead.

After a couple of hours on the road, we arrived at the Crane Lake parking lot (after taking a wrong turn on a private road and meeting a resident who was quite angry at our mistake). This was our starting point towards the High Dump campground. We put the finishing touches on our backpacks, put on our boots, and checked the map. After 10 steps in, I realized that the sole on my right had been completely detached, showing a wide smile. How am I going to walk 8 km with 18 kg backpack on my back?

Hiking boot with duct tape

Fortunately, Sabrina the farsighted had the good old duct tape with which I managed to wrap up my boot as best I could. We also have a couple of hikers (75 and 78 years old!) Who were getting off the trail. And as luck would have it, we put another one in the way who also gave me some more. Beautiful examples of solidarity in camping!

Boot with tape

After all, we started our strenuous descent into the camping site, using a rope to facilitate everything. Our site was the most remote of all, with a wooden platform. As soon as we arrived, it started to rain, interrupting our break to observe the beautiful Georgian Bay. Thanks to the platform, we were able to set up camp and it was nice to cook on a level surface, which we could do up.

Wooden tenting platform

The next day, we still have a little bag, my boots are still wrapped up in its tape, and we’re all looking at Georgian Bay. The path was more difficult, strewn with big rocks and very unven. We went to the viewpoint 2 km away, ate our lunch and cam back to enjoy our camp and the beach.

To keep our food cool during the day, we had the brilliant idea of ​​putting it in a dry bag in the cold water of the bay , right?)  This is when we encountered our second technical difficulty – we realized that it was a long time ago because of a gaping opening at its side! Fortunately, everything was well inside the bag, saving the food.

As for the animals, we have a lot of frogs and toads on the trail, we are going crazy, and we’re going crazy. No trace of bears, despite all the warnings. And too many traces of the most terrifying animal in the woods at this time of the year: the mosquito! Omnipresent and tiring, they did not leave us alone, as shown on this picture of Sabrina’s shoulder!

Sabrina’s tattooed shoulder with lots of bug bites

The last morning, before packing everything and heading out, we had pancakes on the menu … no more butter or oil to cook them, and the pan was not really non-stick. It was our last technical mishap … and good thing we had plenty of food to start the day!

Then, it was time to dismantle the camp and off we go! It was too short a stay for this magical and beautiful place, which I will certainly revisit.

And you, what is your favorite destination for hiking and camping?

Joh. is a translator from Montreal who now lives in Toronto. She likes to be as active as possible, and is into biking, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and enjoying an active life, between a full time job, some contracts and having a kid.

Guest Post · running

Starting my feminist fitness journey: Early days of couch to 5K (Guest post)

A photo of Cheryl, a white woman with a lime green scarf and a dark sweater and short spiky hair.

Hello fellow feminist fitness folks, this is my first guest post and I’m feeling a bit nervous about it but also excited to share my thoughts and experiences in this space as I embark on my own feminist fitness journey.

I stopped going to the gym gradually over the last year (not that I was going very much at all) for a combination of reasons – boredom on the treadmill when the TV system in the gym was changed to one that I could rarely make work, anxiety about sharing the space and machines with other people, and the fact the my running shoes had developed a hole in the lining that hurt my foot. But perhaps the biggest reason was that I found myself feeling a lot of self-imposed guilt and shame when I didn’t go, which was pretty much all the time, and this was making me miserable. So I decided to let the gym go. This was a relief and definitely good for my mental health, but I found myself wondering “now what?”

I was not and am not in great physical shape, and after quitting the gym I was struggling with how to change this without getting into a repeat of the obligation/guilt/shame cycle. I also thought a lot about the “why” behind my interest in getting fit. How much was coming from a desire to change my body to be thinner and more conventionally attractive? Could it ever be possible for me to want to get fit without some of this internalized stuff coming up? After reading Sam and Tracy’s excellent book this summer I had more tools to approach fitness in a new way and since then I’ve been trying to focus on reasons for getting fit that feel good to me as a feminist (more on this in a future post).

Here’s how I got started: I posted on Facebook about reading Fit at Mid-Life, and my friend Tanya messaged to ask if I ever went running. I told her that I’d run occasionally in the past, but had worked up a lot of internal barriers to it over the years (Anxiety! I will be slow and awkward and people will look at me! Where will I put my keys and water?!). She’d recently started running again using a couch to 5k program and invited me to join her for after work runs. So I decided to give it a try.

Here’s a brief story of my first few weeks, as it involved a lot more than I thought it would “ie. just go outside and start running.”

The first thing I knew I needed to do was buy new running shoes. I’d been feeling annoyed about doing this because it seemed like they wore out much sooner than they should have, given my relative inactivity, and I’d been putting it off because I resented having to spent the money.  But running with shoes that hurt wasn’t going to work, so I went out and got new shoes.

For my first run I had the new shoes, but no place to carry my phone to use the training app as my running clothes don’t have appropriate pockets for this. So I just estimated the times for alternating the 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking that the app instructed.

I definitely started from the couch on this one –I was surprisingly sore the next day. I felt proud of having worked hard enough to feel it, but I also noticed some negative self-talk about how out of shape I must be to feel so sore.

Next I had to solve the problem of how to carry my phone while running. I did some research and bought a money belt/fanny pack sort of thing which has been working well for me so far.

I’ve been running at a local park and in the university area near my home, and also with Tanya at a running track in the east end of Toronto. I think that having some variety is helpful for me in terms of not getting bored.

After a couple more runs I noticed that my breasts were hurting because my old sports bra was not providing enough support.  Shopping for any kind of bra can make me feel like my body is not normal, because I have a really hard time finding bras that have long enough straps over the shoulders. Two stores and about eight types of sports bras later I found one that fit and it’s made running a lot more comfortable.

In the in the first 2 weeks I completed 5 of the 6 sessions from the training program, did a lot of troubleshooting, and spent over $300. I’ve been reflecting on the things that have I have access to that make running easier – money to buy gear, safe outdoor areas to run, and a washer/dryer in my apartment for washing stinky clothes.

I took a break for a week for a family visit in August, and then started up again right after that. It’s feeling good, and on my most recent run in particular I had all the gear I needed, had figured out how to use the music player successfully in the training app, and so was finally able to just get out there and run. At this stage it’s still actually alternating between walking and running, but by the end of week 8 I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run 5K. Stay tuned for more on my progress towards this goal over the next 6 weeks!

 

About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.

Guest Post

Running Ten Kilometres in the Summer of 2018 (Guest Post)

By Amy Kaler

1. When I first realized I was doing it, that evening – I was running ten kilometres and would finish squarely in front of the building where I lived – I should have had the right music. I had my running mix singing through earbuds and in a perfect world I would have been hearing something triumphant, David Bowie’s “Heroes” or one of Bruce Springsteen’s anthems, or even something embarrassingly dramatic like the Rocky theme. What I had instead was Patti Smith’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Changing of the Guards”. It’s a great cover and I suggest you listen to it, but it doesn’t have the exuberant finality the moment at first seemed to require. “The Changing of the Guards” is a gorgeous, allusive song filled with fragments of enchanted landscapes: banners flying over fields and witches holding flowers and a town of merchants and thieves. It doesn’t really add up to victory and personal best, and that is why, in the end, it was the right song for the moment.

2. The moment was a long time coming. I am not an athlete. I inhaled the Cartesian mind/body dualism long before I had words for it. I knew from earliest childhood that I was a mind (or rather, an avid reader who was good at school, which seemed like the same thing) and therefore I could not be a body as well. I was no good at anything involving dexterity because I am severely left-handed, with poor vision in one eye and a vexing inability to locate objects in space, which I now understand as the proprioceptive equivalent of dyslexia. Ergo, I was no good at throwing or catching; ergo, I wasn’t athletic because I equated athleticism with gym class. I regarded people who were athletic in this sense with a mix of envy and mild fear, like the hearty fun-in-the-sun jocks of high school and summer camp. Later I learned about feminism and cultural critiques of normativity, and somewhere in there I learned the term “body fascism”, which I applied liberally (if inwardly) to anyone I didn’t particularly like who seemed to
be in great physical shape. (It didn’t occur to me that there might be something like “mind fascism” and that I might be doing it). So when I turned into a runner at 52, I was heading into terrain that I had never claimed as my own.

3. I don’t mean to tell this as an uplifting story. If the months when I started running were to be released as a biopic or an Oprah appearance or an Eat-Pray-Love narrative, it would be unsatisfying. There are no aha moments, and no inspiring struggles against odds. I started running for a few reasons: because I was getting really tired of yoga; because I had heard there was a runner’s high or a zone of exaltation and I wanted to get into it; because my life was swelling up with midlife stressors that wouldn’t go away and I’ve always believed that if you can’t do anything else, you can always do something new. And this was new.

4. So several evenings a week I went outside and started to run, and then when I started to feel pretty bad I ran a bit more, and when I felt worse I stopped. I had no training or learn-to-run program, and my only accessories were an MP3 player and a Strava app, which quantified and fixed my runs as little maps and nuggets of data. I was gratified that my first few runs weren’t disastrous, that I could keep asking myself “what happens if I keep going a bit more … and a bit more … and a bit more… can I do another ten steps? Yes I can. Another? Yes”. It occurred to me that if I just kept doing ten more steps, I might never stop. I might run forever. And the more I ran, the more I was drawn to the idea of never stopping.

5. Obviously I didn’t run forever. But one of the reasons I continue to run is to get to that place where it feels like I could run right off the top of the earth, a sort of disciplined wildness that had been within me all along, until my pounding heart and the trees sliding past called it out of me.

6. Before this descends in Women Who Run With the Wolves, I’m going to loop back to Patti Smith and the gorgeousness of “The Changing of the Guards”. I live and run in the eastern part of central Edmonton, midtownish, neither hip urban centre nor suburb. It was built between the 1930s and 1960s and is not especially beautiful. Rows of houses are interspersed with walkup apartments and utilitarian throwbacks to the days when people congregated in the neighbourhood – community league halls, schools, churches, mini-strip malls, now mainly underused. At the peak of midday it’s not full of people,
and by 9.00 on a summer weeknight, it’s very quiet. The streets are wide, the sunset is lit up faintly by the refineries to the east and the elms and conifers are dropping shadows around me. I know – something in the air or the light – that I’m up north and high above sea level. I pass fellow travelers I recognize from previous runs: the orange tabby with half a tail, the lone kid in the spray park, the taco truck parked behind the curling rink, but as it gets later these sightings trail off until it’s just me and a hundred different forms of dying light. No one will ever spin a fable about east-central Edmonton but running transforms it into a strange and marvelous world to inhabit, as vivid to me as Dylan’s images.

7. Is this feminism? Because I am a woman, does everything I do with strength and power become feminist? I don’t know. Certainly not everything in my life is done this way, which makes running important to me. Whatever else I do, I will always be the woman who ran ten kilometres for the first time when she was 52, and who could imagine herself never stopping, running right off the surface of the earth.

 

 

 

Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her academic work can be found here: https://sites.google.com/ualberta.ca/amykaler/home?authuser=2. Her nonacademic writing about Edmonton can be found here: https://edmontonseries.wordpress.com/

Guest Post

Failure, Fitness, and Feminism (Guest Post)

By Saba Fatima

Sam recently contacted me and asked if I wanted to write another post for the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog. I felt a bit paralyzed, because I had stopped exercising again. If any of you remember, I had written in May about exercising during Ramadhan, and one of the things I commented on then was how Ramadhan often resulted in me taking an irreparable break from exercise, and how this Ramadhan was different . Well, after Ramadhan, we left for Najaf and Karbala (Iraq) for a religious pilgrimage,

a brown woman standing in front of the entrance of a large mosque at night time.
Me at Masjid-e-Kufa in Iraq at 3 am at the morning, right before morning prayers.

and onto NYC for a wedding.

A man, a woman, and two kids sitting on a flower-decorated swing
At one of the wedding ceremonies in NYC

While I walked a lot in Iraq, I also started consuming high amounts of soda (it was readily available and it was super-hot).

Screenshot of the weather app in iPhone, indicating temperature of 105F in Karbala, Iraq.
the air was super dry and the sun was relentless.

Once we returned, I just couldn’t start again. I don’t have any excuse, I just didn’t want to, didn’t feel like I was in a routine, or something like that. In fact, I have gone back to consuming a soda bottle a day and eating quite unhealthily.

So I thought, what the heck would I write on? Too embarrassed to even respond, I felt paralyzed. Then fellow philosopher and a prominent scholar on disability, Shelley Lynn Tremain, posted this link to an article on her Facebook page Discrimination and Disadvantage, The danger of fetishizing failure in the academy. Something in that article really stuck out to me. “What I was inadvertently telling students with my cheeky art installation was that their failures don’t matter as long as they eventually succeed – and that success is narrowly defined as excellent grades.” Well, that’s how I felt about exercising. Writing a blog about how I didn’t exercise during such and such time would be wonderful, but only if it ends with some triumphant story about being fit and eating healthy, and how I was able to overcome it all.

Well, it’s a constant struggle for me and it doesn’t always have a triumphant ending.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Religious Studies program coordinator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I am always in the process of getting/remaining physically active. I am also the mother of a 10 and 8 year old. I am concerned about social and political issues that Muslim Americans and other marginalized communities face and believe that our struggles have many commonalities. I am currently working on a book on an introduction to Shia Islam. You can find more about me at http://www.siue.edu/~sfatima/