aging · athletes · competition · cycling · Guest Post · health · look at you · racing

Amazing is the New Realistic (guest post)

The devil is in the details, or so they say, and it can certainly be true of sports. Both because athletic achievement takes many hours or years of dedication and training, but also because of the multiple ways we have of measuring ourselves, evaluating our progress (or lack thereof), and assessing just how well we stack up against others. From within this framework, it becomes quite difficult to appreciate—or even see—one’s own accomplishments. There are so many folks who are faster; heck, even our younger selves were faster! Women are usually quite proficient in spotting our own shortcomings; we can be less good at applauding our hard-won sporting expertise.

Last year I was reminded of this when I registered for a mountain bike race I have done several times in the past, but that nonetheless seemed impossibly intimidating on the day.

I’ve been a bike racer of some sort or another for almost 20 years: I believe my first bike race was in the fall of 1996. It was a collegiate mountain bike race, and I finished somewhere in the middle of the B women.  After that I did road racing somewhat seriously for several years and less seriously for a few more, then reverted to mainly mountain bike racing in around 2007. I have now been competing in the amateur “expert” (Category 1) division for several years. I have won some races, but generally I average mid-pack. I don’t mind this. If I were always winning the expert field, I would just upgrade and get my butt kicked at semi-pro. There is always someone faster. There is always someone more skilled. But I love racing nonetheless. It pushes me, focuses me, makes me take a few risks, and gets me to ride places I wouldn’t otherwise go.

But I am “realistic” about my performances: occasionally a non-biker (or non-racer) friend will say something to me along the lines of, “that’s amazing that you race for such a long time,” or “I can’t believe you go over rocks like that.” I’ll thank them, but I’ll secretly believe they’re wrong: nothing amazing about it, I think, plenty of us do it, and I don’t do it particularly fast. (Those people who beat me: now they’re the ones who might actually be good. Or those who didn’t beat me, but who only recently started riding. Well, you get the picture…) Also, I might think: it’s just bike racing. It’s nothing really important.

But maybe those friends are right. Last year, I cut back on racing and even more on training, plus I started it all late in the year. I had a new focus: I was trying (still trying, along with half of Boston, judging by the popularity of creating writing classes) to write a novel. Of course, undertaking this has exposed me to all sorts of different ways in which my efforts are lacking. There are new experts; new heroines. When you’re trying to write a novel, you’re awed by novelists—they are the ones who have beaten the odds and realized that dream.

This meant that I arrived at a favorite race of mine (for those who know the circuit, it’s the Pinnacle) last year feeling severely out of the swing of racing. It was already June, but it was my first race. Most others had a few under their belts by then. My bike had a couple of small “issues” I had forgotten about (because I hadn’t ridden it much). I wasn’t trained. I hadn’t stopped riding: my commute is long and makes it reasonably easy to fit in road rides during the week, but I hadn’t really done much more than commuting. The course is a pretty tough one: laps are 5-6 miles up and down a big hill (it’s called “pinnacle,” after all), with several technical sections. I would have to do three laps. Even on my best day it would be over two hours.  I remember arriving at the venue, registering, looking around at my fellow racers, all of whom appeared to be fit, ready, with fully functioning bicycles, and thinking: I don’t know if I can do this. I’m not ready. I’m too much on the racing fringe right now. I’m getting too old for it.

I did complete the race, and actually enjoyed it, mostly because I love the course. But in some ways it wasn’t too pretty. I did have to lean heavily on my years of experience to get me through: technique, pacing, and tenacity. It really brought home to me that this sort of racing takes serious commitment, training, and skill. Those are not things you develop overnight. There aren’t too many people who could just show up and ride the way I’d ridden (I shall breezily ignore the preternaturally talented). I thought, maybe having the ability to do these long, grueling, difficult races actually IS kind of amazing. (I also have a new-found admiration for those who have been side-lined, for whatever reason, and who fight to get back into their sport.)

I’m still busy pursuing my writing goals and weekends this year have already taken a turn unlike years past, in that I spend a great deal of time plonked in front of the computer and much less on my bike (I try to fit in more rides midweek). This is good news, I suppose, for any potential novel, but I miss the weekends that used to be a blitz of physical activity. I feel it: my body feels less conditioned and much less challenged. It’s led me to wonder: how would life be for me now, mid-forties, if I hadn’t discovered a sport I love? I suspect it would be much worse. Those who have known me a long time will attest that I’m not a particularly “sporty type”; I’m pretty happy lolling around reading or writing, preferably with a beer. But biking has its claws in me and I’m very thankful it does.

Most of us at this blog have at least one sport or activity we’re committed to and that makes us happy. I say: don’t forget how amazing that is! (Stop exercising for a while and then be daunted by what you were doing if you need to!) You probably didn’t just roll off the couch and do it. You’ve probably been at it for a while. You rock. Celebrate it, and what it’s done to enrich your life!

Fittingly, or perhaps ironically, I can’t decide, after I was done writing this blog post I got today’s mail, and found this had arrived:

efta championship 2015

The Pinnacle is part of a series, and I won the series for my division last year! “Participation points” play a role for sure, but it’s another nice reminder that my sweat and toil added up to something!

Rachel is in-house counsel for the City of Lowell, MA. She was formerly a philosophy professor, and likes to think she remains a philosophical thinker. She rides all sorts of bicycles, but her true love is mountain biking. She races for (which sadly fails to have an analogue at

aging · athletes · look at you

Physio promises and running dreams

tvPhysiotherapists like me. I’m a model patient. I come in before I’m completely laid up with whatever’s bothering me and I do the exercises they assign. I’m disciplined like that. I listen to instructions. I respect their expertise.

That’s learned behavior. It’s worked in the past.

I’m also lucky. I have a great job with excellent benefits including physio and a sports medicine clinic not far from my office door.

I was there Thursday for my initial assessment about my knee pain. So different from family doctors and their usual advice of taking it easy for six to eight weeks and seeing if the pain goes away. The sports medicine team instead focus on keeping you active. (I’ve written before about how much I love their attitude. See Aging and the myth of wearing out your joints.)

If your knee feels better after a given activity, that’s true for Aikido and cycling, go right ahead. If it feels worse, stop now. (Running and I’ve already stopped. It hurts! ) Jury is out on CrossFit. I’ll see what I can do this week.

Their claim, which I believe, is that people do as much or more damage to their bodies through inactivity.

One bad thing about me as a physio patient is that I don’t watch television. Not very much anyway. (Though I’ve mentioned my thing for Once Upon a Time here.) What’s the connection? If you’ve got an hour of physio exercises to do a day, it’s easy. Just watch your favourite show and do your physio homework. Bing bang bong, done.

It’s true I’m watching House of Cards with my partner, Jeff. But he works in Toronto and is there some weeknights. When we pledge to watch something together–and it’s tricky to find something, we have pretty different taste–we generally don’t watch ahead. No Netflix adultery at our house.

So I need a back up physio show. I haven’t watched Orange is the New Black yet and that’s on my list. And this morning Nat posted to Facebook about watching and loving Orphan Black. So I’m scoping out my options.

What’s the physio drill?

Clam shell leg exercises to strengthen glutes, bridges (ditto), also lots of stretching and foam rolling quads and glutes.

That’s week 1. More to follow.

No word back on the x-rays, and I’ve got an MRI in my future, but assuming all that stuff comes back negative–but for mild osteoarthritis which I know about–and it’s just soft tissue stuff, then I should be good to run the Kincardine duathlon in June. (I’d already said goodbye to the Cambridge race in June.

Assuming I do all the physio regularly. Which I will. Because I’m good like that.



look at you

Look at You! (#3)

Today we’re profiling regular reader and frequent commentator, Jean. Jean is a self-identified “lifestyle cyclist” whose commitment to cycling through winters in Calgary is enough to silence anyone (like me, Tracy) in Ontario who complains that it’s too cold and snowy to ride through the winter!

Jean has offered many helpful and inspiring words of cycling wisdom since we started this blog. She has a blog of her own, Cycle Write Blog, where you can read more of her musings on cycling and other fitness pursuits, and see her wonderful photography. She has also blogged about bike art at Third Wave Cycling Blog.

Jean: Lifestyle Cyclist: When It’s No Longer Exercise, No Longer a Chore

Jean Chong riverside path dec 2013

I’ve been car-free for over the last 3 decades. I gave up my driver’s license in my early 20’s, when I realized my discomfort with driving would endanger others. So I traded a car for active transportation and good health –cycling, walking and transit.

I have consciously chosen to live and invest in walkable and cycleable neighbourhoods in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, where it’s close to a bike route or two, public transit and within a 15-min. walk of some shops and services. I haven’t known the cost of gasoline for last 30 years. I’ve saved a ton of money for other stuff. Read my post about how I did that, here.

In 2014, I will be bicycling into my 55th year. I returned to bicycling 23 years ago. I have 3 hybrids and 1 folding bike in Vancouver and Calgary. There’s even a 4th well-used bike, I gave away to a sister in Toronto. I borrow it whenever I visit my extended family in Toronto.

Cycling is integrated into my daily lifestyle by cycle-commuting to work, shopping, for fitness and on our self-made bike trips. I’ve never had an indoor bike nor bike rollers. In 2010, I started winter cycling with some snow when I relocated to Calgary. Since dry prairie air and warm chinook winds that sweep from the mountains, suck up melting snow, I’ve been able to cycle at least 70% of winter days on clearer pavements. Since our winter days are much colder, I learned to bike down to -24 degrees C (-11F). Maybe I’ll get studded tires one day.

I range from 3,000 to 7,000 km. of cycling annually. Our bike trips with my packed bike panniers, each cover from 100 km. to over 1,000 km. Every year, we cycle at least 1 trip or more, at least over several days. Since my partner is consummate cyclist himself, and local cycling advocate where we’ve lived, I’ve learned bike routes and how to string together multiple routes so that I can ride on my own or with friends. One can bike 60-100 km. in 1 day, by cycling within the borders for each of these 3 Canadian cities! I love exploring locally by bike. So “exercise” by bike is so much more psychologically effortless.

So find your favourite daily exercise for life. Then it’s no longer a chore. Read more about this approach here.

Jean Chong summer

If you’d like to be profiled in “Look at You!” please send a photo of yourself in action and a 75-150 word bio focusing on what you do to stay active. You can send your submissions to We look forward to hearing from you!

look at you · swimming

Look at You! (#2)

Today we are profiling a colleague of ours from Western, Savita Dhanvantari.  Love this picture!


I’m a scientist, swimmer and lover of the great outdoors. This is a selfie after a terrific swim this summer at Gibbons Park pool in London, Ont. I belong to a Master’s swim club, the London Silver Dolphins, and our motto is “fun, fit and fast”. Fun comes first! Swimming is an inclusive sport: people of all ages, body types and physical abilities can do it. On our team, there are ex-Olympians, Para-Olympians, Special Olympians, and age groups 20-87, all swimming together, pushing and motivating each other, and having a blast.

My other ways of staying active, in order of “fun”: cross-country skiing, canoeing the magnificent lakes and rivers of southern Ontario, hiking in the woods. My workouts at the gym include free weights and machines, treadmill, spin class or stationary bike. I started following this blog a few months ago, and am really enjoying the conversations and issues around fitness and feminism. I, too, am “almost 50”; 2015 is my year!

If you’d like to be profiled in “Look at You!” please send a photo of yourself in action and a 75-150 word bio focusing on what you do to stay active. You can send your submissions to  We look forward to hearing from you!

look at you · reader profiles

Look at You! #1

We have such great readers!  Two people stepped up with “Look at You” submissions after yesterday’s call. So today, we launch our new regular feature with profiles of Stephanie Drago and fitness blogger Robin Kadet.

Stephanie Drago

Stephanie Drago

I’ve been a fan of the blog for probably most of 2013.  As I write this, I am nine days away from turning 40, so stories you tell and the adventures you have give me ideas of what is yet to become for me!

As you can tell from the photo, my big hobby is running.  This is a snapshot a friend took at the San Diego Rock & Roll half marathon in June 2013.  2013 has been a big running year for me, since it started with the Carlsbad marathon back in January.  While that was my sixth marathon, it was the first I’d run in 9 years, and I can say that training, racing and recovery has been a little bit different with nine extra years under my belt.  I am friends with a foam roller in ways that I never thought would be necessary when I was in my 20s!  Training just started for my next marathon, which will be Los Angeles in March.  I said I would retire from marathons by doing one when I turned forty, but anyone who runs with a group knows how peer pressure works, so we’ll see how that goes.

When I am not running I enjoy other activities like yoga, spinning and Pilates.  I unfortunately don’t do as much strength training as I would like, so I always have aspirations of focusing on that.  And my secret aspiration is to one day participate in a century ride.  Considering I haven’t owned a bicycle since I was in high school, I read Tracy’s posts about getting on the bike with great interest.  I still have plenty of time, right?

Robin Kadet (Blog: A Fit and Focused Future)


My name is Robin, and my whole future revolves around staying fit and healthy. Every day I have around 45 minutes to an hour of formal workouts, involving weights, yoga and various strength training workouts. I call this my “formal exercise”, but really I do this so that I can stay in shape for all the activities I love to do outside in rural Vermont where I live. Whether it’s wading through the river behind my house, fly fishing, hiking, foraging for mushrooms in the woods or snowshoeing and skiing in the winter, I find the strength, flexibility and balance I have gained w/ inside fitness enables me to make the most of whatever I like to do outside. I love to write about fitness and health, and help others in a relaxed way, keep their health top of mind. I’m an advocate and cheerleader for my son and my husband, and anyone else who would like to listen. Because keeping fit as we get older is hard, and so many people I know want this to happen, but don’t really know how to make it a priority. It doesn’t come by chance. Sometimes I need the reminder too, and writing in my blog every few weeks, (and reading others, like yours )even when other priorities vie for my attention, always helps me circle back to where it needs to be.

Thanks so much for your blog–I really enjoy reading it.

If you’d like to be profiled in “Look at You!” please send a photo of yourself in action and a 75-150 word bio focusing on what you do to stay active. You can send your submissions to  We look forward to hearing from you!