athletes · blogging · fitness · injury · monthly check in · motivation · sailing · weight loss

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the July version (CW: long, some sad bits, some discussion of weight loss)

Down, is of course, my knee

Saw the surgeon and his team on Monday. I’ve been crying on and off since.

The easy bits are that I got another shot of synvisc under my kneecap. What is it and what’s it for? “SYNVISC is a viscosupplement injection that supplements the fluid in your knee to help lubricate and cushion the joint. SYNVISC is for people with knee osteoarthritis who have not received enough pain relief from diet, exercise and over-the-counter pain medication.”

Read more here.

Knee injection

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I’m also still wearing the knee brace and it’s helping on days when I’m on my feet a lot. I spent the weekend in New York and even though I took the subway more than usual and hopped in a few taxis for good measure, I still got 13,000 steps in on Sunday including a walk through Central Park. Thanks knee brace. I did some shopping for more leggings for under the brace and for short skirts and dresses to wear over the leggings. The brace presents some fashion challenges and I’m warmer than usual with black leggings on no matter what.

Image description: A photo of Sam just outside Central Park. I’m wearing black leggings, sandals, a sleeveless black jumper and a purse over my shoulder. Also, a knee brace. I’m smiling and the sun is shining.

I’m still going to physio and doing lots of knee-supporting exercises.

I still meet the conditions for knee replacement surgery (in both knees actually though only the left hurts) but neither of the surgeons I saw recommend it. I’m too young and I’m too active. The surgeons made me laugh, which is something, given the general message they had to deliver.

They said they like to make people happy. The person they make the most happy through knee replacement is somebody who arrives in their office, sad and older. Someone who just wants to walk to the grocery store without pain, the kind of person who says they want to lead a normal life, get a decent night’s sleep, and not suffer all the time. Knee replacement apparently makes that person very happy but they said for someone like me it wouldn’t make me happy.

Why not? Because I want to regain function and their line on knee replacement is that you shouldn’t do it to regain function, you should do it to lose pain. Also, knee replacements don’t last very long maybe 20 years and I’m young. I want to do things like ride my bike and some patients after knee replacement have difficulty bike riding because they don’t have the full range of motion back necessary for riding a bike.

So, no.

Instead they discussed a different surgery called high tibial osteotomy. That surgery involves breaking bones and resetting them so I have a bigger gap in my knee cap on the side that’s in a lot of pain. It’s a good sign that the brace helps because this does surgically what the brace does mechanically. But it’s not a permanent fix. There’s a chance the other side of my knee will become painful as arthritis advances. So it’s good for 2-10 years maybe. Also, it’s big deal surgery. Like knee replacement it’s months and months of recovery. I’d trade off 10 years of active living without pain for six months painful time consuming recovery but I’m not sure about 2 years. There are no magic globes I can peer in to see the future.

I’m trying to decide. See them again in three months.

In the meantime my fit feminist friend Sarah is having that same surgery. Wishing her well.

But the other depressing piece of news from the surgeons was the strong recommendation of weight loss, both as a way of avoiding surgery and as essential to recovering from it. Either way I should lose a lot of weight. It will definitely, they say, help with pain relief. The pain is all about weight bearing. That’s why downstairs is harder than up. It’s all about force on the kneecap. And as far as motivation goes this is pretty horrible pain. Like pain that makes hard to think about other things.

Now as I’ve said before I wish that it were the case that medical reasons for weight loss changed the facts. But that’s not so. Your body doesn’t care how good, how “pure” your motivation is. It’s still tough. It’s tough losing weight and tough keeping it off.

I don’t have any choice but to try. The worse case scenario is that I lose it, gain it back, and more and need knee replacement surgery. But that’s the same worst case scenario I face now. I’ve lost significant amounts of weight in my life, 70 lbs in grad school, 60 when I turned 40. The trick, the hard part, is keeping it off. This time, if I actually lose weight, I’ll be unicorn training, learning the habits of people who actually keep weight off.

Don’t worry. This won’t become a weight loss blog. Likely I’ll save any angst, any updates, to my monthly check in posts. I’ll also add content warnings.

I thought about leaving blogging but making this pain manageable and movement possible is a big part of my life right now. And I’m very much still a fit, feminist just one who is coping with injury and aging and hoping to keep in moving.

Wish me luck.

Up, still Snipe racing

Our Snipe!

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It can be tricky moving around in a small boat in ways that don’t hurt my knee but I’m learning how to do it. I haven’t raced a small sailboat ever. All of my sailboat racing experience is on relatively big boats so this is new to me. With all the knee misery, see above, it’s good to have something new to focus on. It’s fun and exciting and lots to learn.

motivation · running

Petty makes me fast: A runner’s confession (Guest post)

by an anonymous academic runner

“Just a tiny brag. I ran a tempo run at a 5:33 pace last night, which is waaaaaay faster than I’ve ever done. 3.01km in 16:39. It felt so good to move that fast.

It felt good too because I was running right alongside the two very young statisticians, one of whom is nice enough and the other of whom is nice enough but very very annoying and loud in the vein of Dora the Explorer and said to me, after she asked what I researched and I replied “social media,” “Oh you mean NARCISSISM” and so I won’t let that woman run faster than me if it kills me even if she is 20 years younger than me.

Petty makes me fast.”

advertising · body image · diets · men · motivation

Men, don’t change much but women, you’re doing everything wrong!

We’ve all heard the message of small changes, Make small changes to improve your health and fitness

And for Canadian Men’s Health week that’s the message, Don’t Change Much.

I love the motto, “Half fries, half salad, once in awhile” in this radio spot,

 

There are lots of reasons to start small. Tracy, here on the blog, has been a big advocate of doing less.  I’ve written about aiming for a 2/3 vegan diet because a fully vegan diet seems too much and it’s better overall, if it’s sustainable, to just eat fewer animal products.

In general, lots of public health agencies push a moderate message because it’s more likely to be motivational.

But I worry it’s gendered. We send men the moderate message, while women strive for perfection. We tell men that the “dad bod” is hot but there’s no such equivalent as the “mom bod.”

I love this Southern Comfort ad but can’t imagine a women’s version.

Instead, the message I hear that’s aimed at women is “OMG women, eat less, move more, sleep more, spend more time with your families, advance your careers, GO GO GO!”

It’s hard to imagine the “don’t change much” campaign aimed at women. What might it look like?

 

 

fitness · holiday fitness · meditation · motivation

Exercising During Ramadhan (Guest Post)

Picture of dates, a sweet fruit used to traditionally break fasts.

I have steadily gained weight since having my two kids. It’s been so gradual that with each gain, I told myself that this was the new normal for my body. I have never dieted (that’s another story) but I have tried to exercise at various points in my life. Early last year (2017), I managed to get into a groove of walking/jogging on a treadmill for two miles, about three times a week. I don’t think I lost any weight during that time (but that wasn’t my goal), but I stopped gaining more. My purpose was to build stamina and strength and I developed a decent routine. Then, around end of May, Ramadhan came and I stopped exercising altogether. I thought to myself that I will pick it back up after, but I never did.

Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Last year, it started around May 25th (each year, the month shifts by 10 -11 days). Muslims around the world observe this month by fasting from right before sunrise to right after sunset. During this period, Muslims abstain from all food, liquid, and from any sort of physical nourishment. We also abstain from (or are supposed to anyways) from any sort of bad behavior, such as telling white lies, being impatient, or rude, etc. Anyone who cannot fast because they are ill or pregnant, etc., can make up the fast later in the year. Ramadhan is also the month when we develop the habit of giving to folks less fortunate. It is considered a deeply spiritual month, when one is a guest of God’s hospitality and mercy.

By February 2018, I had gained another 10 pound from May 2017. I also had my blood work done and found out that I had high cholesterol level (the bad kind) and borderline A1C numbers (thing that measures if I am diabetic). I decided to get a personal trainer at my local YMCA and we began to meet once a week around Mid-March. She built a good steady plan with me, though there were weeks where I didn’t do the expected 30 mins, three times a week (I would think to myself: let me do a little bit more grading/work-related-emailing/course prepping because …. life ). Despite building a (more or less) good regimen, I was dreading what would happen to it all during Ramadhan. If I can’t eat or drink for almost 17 hours, I could not possibly workout.

Fortunately, my (non-Muslim) trainer had spent time in a Muslim country during Ramadhan and had some familiarity with the life style changes. She seemed convinced that I could work out during Ramadhan, though internally, I was rolling my eyes every time she would say that. I decided to schedule our last appointment during Ramadhan (I had bought two packages of five sessions and it was the last of the ten).

I was feeling quite lethargic when I went in to the gym. I didn’t want to be there. We began by her going over how I was feeling. Here what I learned in the rest of the session:

  • Since I haven’t eaten in a while before my workout, my metabolic rate slows down. Working out would speed it back up a bit and so I actually experienced a surge of energy by the end of the workout
  • Try and schedule my workout as close to iftari (breaking of the fast) as possible. This way, I can eat and drink within a couple of hours of workout. (This is a bit hard for my family because we open out fast at our local mosque. There is a lecture before our prayers and then we open our fasts together. If I work out around 5:45 pm, it gives me plenty time to get ready, and head to my center by 7:30 and open my fast by 8:55 pm).
  • Lay off hardcore cardio altogether – or anything that makes me thirstier.
  • Workout in a cool environment.
  • During Ramadhan, I should exercise to maintain the habit of exercising and maintain my strength and stamina. This may not be the best time for me to make any new gains.
  • Build in 30 seconds to 1 minute break between reps, be in control of my breath before starting the next rep.
  • Breathe through my nose, not through my mouth so that my throat doesn’t dry up.

Other things I have incorporated for myself:

  • I am trying to not consume too much oily food at iftari– it gives me heartburn, especially since I am eating so late
  • After breaking the fast with a date and/or salt (which is traditional), I have fruits and water first, before having other stuff.
  • I try not to fill up my plate with food. Once I have my first serving, I don’t feel hungry at all.
  • Don’t eat excessively at iftari

I cannot say that I have been super regular with my workouts, but I do physically feel a lot better now that I have been doing them somewhat regularly.

Ramadhan is a month of introspection. We are meant to develop our relationship with God, which requires us to inculcate kindness toward fellow creations, but also toward ourselves. It is one month of the year when we focus on our character weaknesses and improve ourselves, so that we can carry on our good habits through the year. It is a month that is meant to impact all aspects of life – mind, body, and spirit.

I do remember, after last summer I would experience frequent pangs of disappointment from time to time, thinking about how I had failed myself in Ramadhan. And I had, but not in the ways I had thought. I failed to reflect on how my body was part of the spiritual journey. This Ramadhan, I am trying to incorporate exercising and eating better as an integral part of my spiritual experience, part of living life in moderation, something that will hopefully improve the sort of person I am.

I cooked some desi (South Asian) food for our communal breaking of the fast.

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/

accessibility · aging · disability · injury · motivation

An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…

My life has changed a lot since we started the blog and the fitness challenge. There are things I say when we’re promoting the book that now strike me as wrong or at least not as simple as that, or maybe even naive.

Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement.

It’s hard to get a more nuanced message across when you’ve just got four minutes on television so I’ve been sticking with the simple story but the truth is I know it’s not so simple. I’m not staking out a position here or defending a claim other than than claim that things are messier than I thought. I do know the blog can handle more complexities than the media buzz around the book can take. So you blog readers get the messier story.

Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.

Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.

See When exercise isn’t fun.

Why am I doing it? Not love of the thing itself that’s for sure. Partly to be sure it’s instrumentally justified in terms of continuing to do things I love. Canoe camping, hiking, biking. I want to keep these things in my life.

But it’s also instrumentally justified in terms of basic movements, like walking to campus, between meetings, getting in and out of chairs.

To suggest that we approach all exercise from this “loving it” perspective comes from an incredible place of privilege. I had that privilege. I don’t anymore and I’m sorry if I sounded insufferable, naive, and smug.

I saw it again today, by the way, in an online body positive fitness community of which I’m part. Someone offered the advice to another community member to do whatever brings joy to your heart. And the thing is I too reject the imperative that we all have to do joyless exercise to tame or unruly, overweight bodies to keep them in line. I also know though that life is complicated.

Just as Tracy rejects body positivity as just one more demand, I’m coming to feel that way about “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” No one loves knee physio. It’s okay not to like it and to do it anyway.

It’s okay to be angry and sad and roll your eyes at people who say they just don’t feel like running this morning. You don’t get to yell at them that at least they can run and tell them to just go do it because you can never run again. Just say it in your head. That’s what I do.

It’s okay to think, “I’m tough and I’ve got this” instead of I’m doing this because I love it . Because that’s what’s true: I’m tough and I’ve got this.

Maybe that’s true for you too. I’m sorry for saying you have to love exercise. You don’t. Right now, a lot of the time, I don’t. And that’s okay too.

martial arts · motivation · training

A Challenge Not a Chore: Christine Delays Her 3rd Degree Test

I recently decided to delay taking my 3rd degree black belt test.

 

Phrasing it like that makes it sound like a simple decision but it took a lot of emotionally-fraught consideration on my part, and a consultation with my instructors to come to that conclusion.*

 

It is really hard for me to back down (or at least sidestep) an important plan I had made for myself – especially when there is a established timeline to follow. However, as Master D reminded me this week, for black belt testing the suggested timeline is a minimum, not a maximum. With that in mind, taking an extra 6-8 months (depending on scheduling) is not a big deal.

 

Here’s my thought process that led to my decision…

 

My wrist, broken or not, has been troublesome.

 

Even though I practiced in a modified way while my wrist was in a brace, the restrictions on my movements prevented me from learning the flow of my new patterns. I order to maintain my balance,  I wasn’t even supposed to do any kicking while I had my brace on. 

Since ‘TaeKwonDo’ essentially means ‘the art of kicking and punching’, you can imagine how much of my patterns I had to just make a mental note for instead of doing the movement.

 This video is of someone demonstrating ‘Juche’ one of my newest patterns. Imagine trying to learn this without being able to move your right hand, and without being able to kick or jump. It was tricky, to say the least.

Also, I wasn’t expecting that my movements would still be somewhat restricted when my brace came off. I had sort of thought I could throw myself back into everything once I was brace-free. Instead, I had to take a break from sparring, or any movements where my wrist might strike something.

So, I have spent the past three months being extremely conscious of every movement, which puts me in the overthinking zone. That’s not a good place for me to learn effectively and definitely not a good place for me to build confidence in my movements.

 

My time has not felt like my own.

 

In the past few months, I have had a variety of new obligations – a new freelance gig, some family-related things, and some time-consuming volunteer work- that have resulted in a new schedule every week.

 

All of those things have been fun and worthwhile, but the changing schedules have wreaked havoc on my ADHD brain. My sense of time has gone right out the window.

 

That means that I haven’t always had the focus I needed for the other aspects of test preparation – studying theory, ensuring that I understood the purpose and methods behind the movements, and practicing my board breaks.

 

It’s not that I didn’t have the time to do those things, it’s that my perception of my time has been inaccurate.

 

My heart was not in it.

 

Normally, the time before a belt test is nerve-wracking, but exciting. Even when the work ahead of me has been hard, I still felt drawn to it. This time, it felt like I was preparing to test just for the sake of taking the test. It seemed like I was doing it because I said I would.

 

That’s not how I want to approach my tests. I want them to feel like a challenge, not a chore.

 

I want to feel up to the challenge, I want to feel ready for the work.

 

Instead, I just felt kind of tired. I knew that I *could* do the work in time, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to. And I didn’t feel prepared to sacrifice other things to make more room for the extra work I needed to do.

 

It was my own attitude that made me decide that I didn’t want to test in June. I wasn’t in the right headspace for meeting a challenge. I wasn’t feeling any joy in the process.

 

Once I had acknowledged where I was, I began thinking about what it would be like to test at another time. That’s when I realized that delaying my test meant I would have all summer to practice (I love practicing outside) and I would get to train and test with some of the highest ranking students in my school.

 

Something clicked for me then.

The author's tools for preparing for her test - a yellow rectangular plastic board for kicking, a gold notebook for recording her progress, and two white books printed with black type that include training theory and lists of patterns.
Some of my resources for the next six months – my theory book, my patterns book, my shiny gold notebook for recording my training notes, and my rebreakable board for practicing.

 

I felt excited about that future testing. I felt a power in the idea of training with that group, of being challenged to match their skill levels.

 

I could see the next six months or so laid out in front of me, training in one area and then another. It didn’t feel like I had to know everything at once. And it wasn’t just that the time had expanded that gave me that feeling, it was knowing who would be with me on that journey.  I could clearly imagine that test day and I smiled at the thought.

 

And since I made that decision, every exercise I have done has a type of ease in it.

 

KIYA!

 

*Just to be clear, even if I had decided that I was ready, my instructors have the final word. I don’t know what their final word would have been but I know they were concerned about whether I was ready.

 

fitness · motivation · yoga

Psyched out: Spirituality, the yoga space, and laughter (Guest post)

My favourite piece of fitness advice is that “the best exercise is the one that you will do.” I have spent much of my life trying to find exercise I can stand. I discovered that I can always get myself to do yoga, which is why I’ve become committed to it. Also, I can do it anywhere — except small hotel rooms! And I’ve found with time that I really enjoy the psychological benefits.

But I find the notion of “psychological” benefits to be clinical in a way that puts me off. I have no trouble taking medicine, but it grates for me to think of yoga that way. Yet, a friend (who is actually a clinical psychologist) speaks of the “spiritual” benefits of yoga in a way that refers to the mental aspects.

I have resisted yogic spirituality because my view of the universe is not especially religious or non-material. Sure, I like to chant “ohm,” but that’s for three material reasons: I like to sing, I enjoy how the voices come together, and I like in the vibration on my lips from the final “mmmmm.” There is nothing religious or metaphysical about it. But “spirituality” describes seems to describe the changed orientation I get from yoga, the patience, the humour, and the pleasure in physicality. I view those as important aspects of my fitness.

Lately, I have neglected the need I have for physical exercise, strength training especially. I’ve not been practicing yoga the three times a week I find is essential to maintaining strength; sometimes taking yin yoga which is beautifully relaxing and can be a mental challenge but requires little strength. Further, the ashtanga program I dipped in and out of has moved to another studio, and it’s become clear that I need to “up my game” and add some strength training to my routine.

IMG_3953 2

A large dog with a white heart-shaped face and legs and black ears and saddle looks straight into the camera. She stands on a striped rug, her white tail blurred from wagging.

I’ve tried to run a little, but I need to strengthen my legs, and to be honest that may not be an option for me anymore. Now the weather is better, I’m walking a lot more and getting back to my bike, and my dog Chloe is very encouraging. Spending time with her is part of my spiritual practice too. But strength, strength, strength…. my physician has been telling me for years that yoga would not cut it, but I didn’t want to believe.

So I am trying some other things out. I’ve tried barre classes at my yoga studio, and I really, really like them — I felt better for the whole next week, stronger and more limbre. Barre mixes pilates, dance, yoga, and functional strength training. In a single class we do all the exercises I’ve been given by physiotherapists, and a range more, plus I enjoy the lively music. Because it’s in a yoga studio, I feel happier — more spiritually at home, perhap. I went to a gym last week too, and I laughed while working out, when it got tough. People stared. People don’t stare in yoga, and they laugh. That’s part of the spiritual element that I value! I don’t want to say, as others do, that the yoga studio or the mat have a positive energy. I would say instead that my relationship with the studio and the mat involves all sorts of positive associations and vanishingly few negative ones; it is happy and resilient. I aim to to take that spirituality, as I will now allow myself to call it, into other places as I change up my fitness routine. If I have to, I will laugh at myself in the gym.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Windsor, Canada, where I am also cross-appointed to Women’s and Gender Studies and Director of the Interdisciplinary PhD program in Argumentation Studies.