motivation · weight loss

Better to be a corpse with ripped abs?: On looks, performance, and health

Here on the blog we often make the distinction between athletic and aesthetic values when it comes to exercise goals. We’re about the former, not the latter. You know, run to improve your 5 km time not to lose those last five lbs.

That said, you do you.

Our worry is that appearance, in particular weight loss, is a lousy motivator. See here. People try. It doesn’t work. And then they stop exercising even though it’s good for their mental and physical health to workout.

But looks and performance aren’t the only games in town. You might also care about health.

At the elite level health and performance might come apart. They often do. Lots of athletes train in ways that aren’t great health wise. At the other end of the spectrum, the kind and amount of exercise recommended for health might not have much effect performance wise.

Health goals might also conflict with appearance goals. I was chatting with some young people this week about the latest news about health and ultra low carb diets. Interestingly, they didn’t care. The news wasn’t that ultra low carb diets don’t work for weight loss. The news was that they are bad for your health. Low carb dieters don’t live as long as people who eat a moderate amount of carbs.

It made the news everywhere. Here’s this story from Running World on low carb diets leading to premature death.

But, said the young person, who cares about living long? I’d trade five extra years of life for ripped abs. My low carb diet is about being shredded not about being healthy. If low carb is key to weight loss, who cares if it’s bad for your health? I have a few Facebook friends who feel the same way. Some want just to be skinny. Others want to look muscular and chiseled.

I don’t want to argue the facts of it here, that is, really low carb versus moderate carb diets, but I am interested in the relative weight we give to looks versus health and longevity. And it’s interesting to see the weight loss set admit it’s not about health really after all. It’s about chiseled abs. Fine.

So where do you stand? Are you in it for the abs, the long life, or for winning the competition, whatever competition that is?

Lately I’ve been thinking that what gets left out of these goals is a broader definition of health, one that includes functional fitness, pain free living, and mental well being.

A picture of a breakfast. A mug of black coffee and a bowl of muesli and fruit
family · fitness · motivation

Sam craves early mornings but just how early?

Readers know that I’m a morning person. Here’s my piece on the allure of very early mornings.

I’ve written lots about finding time that way and sometimes about how I can struggle with it.

Still it’s my go-to way of finding time for work and for fitness.

If I’ve got a big thing due the next day staying up late to finish it doesn’t occur to me. Instead, I go to bed early and set the alarm at 4 or 5 as needed, even 3 rather than staying up late.

I admire celebrities who are very early risers. How does The Rock, for example, find time to work out? He gets up super early. My Rock app alarm time gives me the option of getting up at Rock Time. I can get set my alarm for whatever time he chooses. Usually that’s at 330 am.

I reported on my week with the Rock Clock here.

Now Mark Wahlberg has one upped the Rock, sharing his sleep and workout and prayer schedule with the world. He gets up even earlier at 2:30 am. He’s in bed by 7:30 pm.

Here’s a plea to save Mark Wahlberg from this schedule.

Can you imagine going to bed at 7:30 and rising at 2:30? He does it he says to get the exercise out of the way before his family wakes up.

For Wahlberg and the Rock looking fit is part of their job. They need those muscles and those visible abs.

I’m an academic dean. There’s no merit pay for muscles in my role. But still I’m fascinated by the super successful extreme early risers.

My mother’s theory, at least I think it’s my mother’s, is that nothing good happens in the evening. Usually it’s a time to sit around and relax. Few people write or workout in the evening. Instead, so this theory goes, we eat cookies and watch television.

(Note to friends who are super productive night owls. I see you. I know you. And I know it’s not true for all people. That’s why I attributed the view to my mother. Sorry mom.  I know night owls who struggle with trying to fit into society’s norms around work and schedules.)

But for people like me who are “Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic”  in the morning, the evenings can be a sink hole of inactivity.

We likely need some of that down time, true. But how much?

As far as getting to your goals, it’s wasted time. But I’m never tempted to turn on Netflix in the morning. The most procrastinate-y stuff I get up to is dog walking and house cleaning.

So the morning, the early morning, feels like the best time to exercise.

How about you?

fitness · motivation · season transitions

It’s getting dark out there… transitioning into autumn without losing momentum

As Sam mentioned earlier this week, autumn is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere. And with it comes the challenge of shorter, darker days and worse weather for those of us who like to exercise outdoors. To be honest, at this point I’m actually grateful it’s getting cooler. The Central European heatwave that lasted from… basically June through August and made it nearly impossible to exercise without melting is finally showing signs of abating, even though it’s still unseasonably warm. We’re getting a wonderful late summer here this year (picture proof below).

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Late summer in Bettina’s neck of the woods: blue evening sky with some clouds reflected in the river, hills, trees and the buildings of a small town in the background. This was taken during a recent bike ride with some colleagues after work.

But we’re also getting less and less light and eventually the temperatures will drop to less pleasant weathers. I’ve definitely struggled in the past to keep my outdoor momentum up during the autumn and winter months. I don’t mind it so much if it’s cold, or even snowing. I also don’t mind running in the rain in the summer, but the combination of cold and wet is my kryptonite. And the lack of daylight is definitely an issue: no more run commutes (the latest addition to my routine anyway) because it’ll be too dark in the forest, and even in the city I don’t enjoy running at night that much. Lots of people have a gym subscription, but I don’t. So what is an aspiring fit feminist to do? Here some ideas, based mostly on my own personal experience:

  • Take it inside. It may not be as enjoyable as the outdoors, but some sports don’t suffer too much. Of course I prefer the 50m outdoor pool, but the indoor pool isn’t too bad in comparison. And, if that’s up your alley, you could consider adding a sauna visit afterwards, or sit in the hot tub after training, if there’s such a thing at your pool. I’ll admit that swimming is a sport where this is singularly easy, unless you’re an open water swimmer. Switching out your favourite running trail for a treadmill is much less appealing…
  • Switch it up. I’ll definitely be doing more indoor yoga when it’s too wet for me to want to set foot outside. Also, strength training. There’s some good apps that guide you through a workout, or Youtube videos if that’s your jam. In our household, we recently invested in one of those sling things (whatever they’re called, the ones used in TRX training) that you can hang on your door to do core and strength exercises. You could even try something totally new to you that’s geared more towards indoor practice.
  • Team up. I’m much more likely to go running in the rain if I’ve made a commitment to others. That works well for me in general – if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I usually will. External accountability does a lot for me.
  • Time change. For weeks, it was too hot for lunchtime runs here. But now they’re staging a strong comeback! If you have the option of showering at work, going for a run at lunchtime is a great option if, like me, you don’t like running in the dark. Plus, lunchtime runs are in a group (see above). If you can’t shower at work, even a walk is good to get some movement in.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just as it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too hot, it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too cold, or too wet, or you’re just not feeling it that day. Yes, a routine is important, and some days it’s important to push through and get a move on. But not always. Everyone’s allowed a rain (literally! ha!) check every once in a while. Cosying up on the couch can be just as worth it.

So, what are your tips for keeping up a strong sports routine in the colder weather? Curious to hear about your strategies, so please share them in the comments!

fitness · motivation · race report · racing · running

Have you amazed yourself lately? Try consistent effort and see where it takes you [aka Tracy’s epic 10K]

Image description: Ellen and Tracy selfie after MEC 10K. Ellen on left, blond hair with straight bangs, smiling, white tank; Tracy on right, smiling, short blond hair, sunglasses atop head, smiling, pink and purple tank, white earbuds cord hanging around her neck; trees and parked cars in background.
Image description: Ellen and Tracy selfie after MEC 10K. Ellen on left, blond hair with straight bangs, smiling, white tank; Tracy on right, smiling, short blond hair, sunglasses atop head, smiling, pink and purple tank, white earbuds cord hanging around her neck; trees and parked cars in background.

One thing that I’ve loved about the past six years since Sam and I started our Fittest by 50 Challenge and created this blog to document it is the way I’ve actually amazed myself.  When I was 48 and we were just embarking on challenge, I didn’t think of myself as an athlete at all. And definitely not as a runner.

Well, fast forward six years, well after the end of our challenge (Sam and I hit 50 in August and September 2014, respectively), and just two weeks shy of my 54th birthday. On Saturday morning at the MEC 10K race at Fanshawe Conservation Area I put my summer of 10K training to the test. My last race was in early June when I did the Guelph 10K with Ellen and Violetta. There, I ran with Violetta and had the goal of running a continuous 10K, no walk breaks. My time: 1:10:01.

This time I wanted to break 1:05. That’s a lot to shave off a race time, just so you know. Indeed, I confess to feeling as if it wasn’t going to happen. I trained consistently through the summer, following weekly training plans developed for me by my running coach, Linda from Master the Moments.  They were tough some days, with long interval repeats of 800m to 1K at uncomfortable paces. But I did them.

That’s when I started to amaze myself, actually. I would set out to do one of these interval workouts and think to myself, “Linda has got to be kidding if she thinks I can hit those paces for that length of an interval!” And by the time I had about 6-8 weeks of training under my belt, I was routinely hitting the prescribed paces, often even going faster than she asked me to go for all or almost all of the intervals. And that was despite a hot, muggy, uncomfortable summer.

Linda said to me a few weeks ago that she really thought I hadn’t yet reached my athletic potential. My first thought, “Coaches are supposed to say those sorts of things.” But she actually meant it. She doesn’t like to get too hung up on race time goals, but she believes that consistent effort in training can pay dividends on race day.

So I went into the Saturday race with the hope of breaking 1:05 but lacking the confidence that I would. Ellen came in from Guelph the night before to do the event with me.

Saturday morning was the first day in months that presented perfect running weather. Perfect! Cool but not cold. Light breeze. Zero humidity. When we got to Fanshawe Lake Conservation Area and parked the car we were cutting it close to the start time. We asked someone in the parking lot which was to the start line and she pointed in the right direction and then said, “Are you Tracy from Fit Is a Feminist Issue?” And then she talked about how she’s been following the blog and she likes it and she’s planning on power walking the trail race. I always get a kick out of meeting people who love the blog! So that sort of charged me up and we wished each other well in our respective races.

I am the kind of person who has to pee before movies, classes, runs, and yes, races. So as we walked past the bathrooms I told Ellen I needed to go in and she could go ahead. She said she’d wait but when I got out I couldn’t find her. Now we were really close to the start I thought, so I wandered over the to start area and saw a bunch of people with red race bibs like mine milling about. I milled about with them and Ellen was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of minutes, I asked some one if this was the 10K road race. Guess what they said? “They left a few minutes ago!”

Bam, I was outta there. Looking back, I wonder if that late start without a cohort to run with lit a fire under me that made me not just break 1:05, but come in at 1:04:25, a personal best for me!

I ran strong and continuous for the entire 10K. I eventually did see Ellen on her way back (it was 2x out and back for 5K each time, so we passed each other three times in all). I went in with a few strategies that served me well:

  1. I left my Garmin on my belt and vowed not to look at it after the race started. I wanted to check my stats later but I wanted to run by feel not the external cues of the Garmin, which can mess with my head.
  2. A friend of mine who has done a couple of iron distance triathlons said he gets through them by smiling (I’m sure it takes a little more than that, but whatever). I remembered that and decided smiling would be a good strategy. It wasn’t hard to do because I really did feel amazing on Saturday.
  3. This might sound strange and obvious, but I committed to pushing myself just enough to be able to sustain what felt like a strong pace but not so much that I would lose steam before 10K was over. I figured I could turn on the extra power near the end when I knew I didn’t need to have anything left in the tank.
  4. I absolutely didn’t want to walk at any point, and I made that decision ahead of time so there would be no question if my mind started to play tricks on me.

So, without the Garmin, smiling, pushing my pace, and committing to a continuous run, I ran the fast flat course in perfect weather. I could feel that I was running strong and steady. Instead of thinking I needed to walk, I actually felt pretty jazzed by the building momentum. I hit my rhythm and stayed there pretty consistently after 3K.

My younger faster colleague, Miranda, turned out also to be doing the 10K, and it was great to see her a few times and also at the end with her partner (also a colleague) and one of their kids. I got cheered on by a few other runners who know me through the blog and the book but whom I don’t know in person. At about 7K, one woman running towards me said she read and loved the book and that I was her hero! That almost made me cry but then I knew crying would slow me down so instead I let her beautiful comment motivate me (“you’re someone’s hero! Act like it! Go faster!”). Thank you to the lovely soul who said that to me.

When I hit the final turnaround and realized I only had 2.5K to go, which, come on, is hardly anything, I felt so good. I made a final decision that when I got to about 1K to go I would turn off the music and give it my absolute all. And I did just that.

When I crossed the finish line I hit “stop” on the Garmin. True to my word, I hadn’t looked at it since the race started. It read 1:04:31, not far off my chip time of 1:04:25. I was amazed. Seriously.

Now it’s true that had the conditions been different — a more humid day, a hillier course, less support from others, maybe even an on-time start — it wouldn’t have been the same. But whatever. I did it. I broke 1:05 and shaved almost 1:30 off of my previous personal record, set way back in 2014 at the Halloween Haunting when I was in top condition after my fittest by 50 triathlon season.

Between breaking my 10K record and consistently doing 3 sets of 12 pull-ups at the weight training studio, I’m feeling pretty amazed at the evolution of my athleticism. Confident and strong. Yes, I realize that 1:04:25 is not an epic time for some people. Lots of folks come in under 60 minutes for their 10K, some even under 45 minutes, closer to 30. Wow! I am truly in awe of those sorts of times. But I am also in awe of progress and personal milestones, and I think it’s okay to be impressed with ourselves sometimes!

That feeling will carry me to my next goal, which is to take the continuous running to a new distance–the half marathon. That will be a new challenge, but I think I can do it if I run smart at the Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon in October. I have the time goal of 2:25 in the back of my head. I will follow that pace bunny. But my main objective is to run continuous. Again with no Garmin. Between now and then I will stay consistent with the training that Linda has laid out for me.

Sam and I sometimes laugh about how boring our message is. No dramatic magical transformation that happens overnight. Just a moderate, easy going approach. Start small, put in consistent effort, challenge ourselves a bit, and see what happens. It really does yield amazing results, even if they kind of creep up on us.

Have you amazed yourself lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

fitness · motivation · swimming · training

You can love a thing and always suck at it. That’s okay. Also in not unrelated news, Sam starts swimming lessons.

Susan gave me some framed pictures from our cruise for my birthday, photos of me in the water. Such happy memories from our cruise. Thanks Susan! I look really happy. And that’s the thing. I love being in the water. I’m not scared of fish. I’m not worried about drowning. I can tread water and float really well. It feels great moving in the water.

But you’ll never see that smile indoors. And swimming, here in Canada at least, is mostly an indoor activity. Also, my swimming isn’t at a level where it’s a fitness activity. I’m not sure why, bad technique probably, but unlike running and cycling, I don’t seem to get faster with training in the pool. When I trained with the university students’ triathlon club I was the anchor person of the slow lane. New people came and then after a time moved up to a faster lane.

Then last week this article made its way into my newsfeed, Revel in the joy of doing things you’ll never master.

And I wondered, could I enjoy swimming without getting any faster? Does everything have to be about speed and improvement? Couldn’t swimming just be pleasurable even if I remained a slow swimmer?

I begin swimming lessons later in September. I’ll let you know how it goes!

In the meantime here’s me 11 years ago, with Susan, after the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. I was happy but I was also last out the water of those who weren’t rescued. The thing is I was in zero danger. No need to rescue me. But I was just slow, as usual. Maybe that’s okay.

Maybe part of my learning to love swimming means getting comfortable with staying in the same place?

How about you? Do you have a thing you’re not good at but that you love anyway?

Susan and Sam, 2007
motivation

Happy New Year! (September is the new year for academics)

September is my January. It’s a time for resolutions. I’ve written about September feeling like my January before.

And I’m not alone.

It’s not just university professors and students everywhere who feel this way.

Here’s Lindsey Siera writing about why September is actually New Year’s.

“Sure, January 1st may mark the onset of the official new year. But for most of us, it’s more about the excitement of New Year’s celebrations than an actual new beginning. In fact, there’s not a lot of “newness” about that time of year at all. It’s still winter. We’re still in the same humdrum routines. For many of us, it’s still just midway through the school year. And for all of us, it just doesn’t feel like all that much is fresh. Now September 1st — that’s when the new year actually feels like it’s ready to start. Albeit nine months into the “official” calendar year, it’s when our new planners actually begin. It’s the beginning of fall, when the leaves begin to change, the beginning of school terms, and (most importantly for fashion diehards) the beginning of the biggest, boldest fashion season of the year.”

Catherine blogged this week about her worries about re-entering the academic year routine after a good summer that had time for flexible fun and fitness. I’m still trying to balance my new big job with my fitness ambitions. Also, I need some plans and goals about writing and research. I love academic administration–making things happen makes me smile–but it’s a struggle to fit my own stuff in. Just check out Monday’s post on my scramble to find vacation time.

I set intentions about all sorts of things: getting enough sleep, packing healthy lunches, setting time aside every day to write, going to the gym, and riding my bike. Also, buying new clothes that aren’t black.

I’m commuting by bike everyday but it’s just 5 km round trip. That’s not enough. I’m also running errands by bike and that helps. Ditto there are a lot of dog hikes in my life. I get into the gym about twice a week to lift weights. What’s missing? Well, long bike rides, for sure. I also need a new thing to get me into the university fitness centre. It will be swimming for a few weeks. If that doesn’t take then aquafit and spin classes will take its place.

How about you? Does September feel like a new beginning to you? Do you set intentions? Make big plans?

A reddish dog with a white collar sitting on a chair, underneath a plant. Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash
fitness · motivation · movies · training · triathalon

“We Are Triathletes” is an inspiring film but Tracy won’t be signing up for the Challenge Roth

Last night we had a special film event, one night only, through “Demand Film.” It’s an organization that sets up film screenings that only go ahead if enough tickets get sold by the deadline. The film was We Are Triathletes and it followed six athletes from four countries as they prep for and compete in the Challenge Roth, the world’s largest triathlon with over 5500 competitors, held every year in Roth, Germany. 2014, the year the film highlights, was the race’s 30th year.

I went with a group of people who have actually done Ironman triathlon events. I ran into a few people who I used to train with when I was doing the fittest by 50 challenge and getting ready for my Olympic distance events back in 2014. I think almost all the London, Ontario triathletes who weren’t training last night were at the movie.

In addition to following a diverse group of athletes–elite and age-group, men and women, and one para-athlete who had his legs amputated as a child, and the first Chinese competitor in –the film fills in some of the history of Ironman, including interviews with legends like Julie Moss, Kathleen McCartney, Dave Scott, and Mark Allen. It also gives great context for and history of the Challenge Roth, which really does sound like an amazing day for athletes and spectators alike.

Going in I had one worry, which is that I would find the film so inspiring that I would want to do something ridiculous like start training for longer distance triathlons (or any distance triathlons). But that didn’t happen. I did find it inspiring. It’s hard not to feel a little kick of motivation watching determined athletes train hard and hearing them talk about what draws them to the event, what race day feels like, and what it means to them to finish (let alone win).

So what happened was this. I am in total awe of anyone who has ever completed an iron distance triathlon. Whether it was the athletes in the film or the people I went to the movie with, completing a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then running a marathon is an incredible physical achievement. Timo Bracht, who won the men’s elite category at the 2014 Challenge Roth, finished all that in under eight hours (7:56)! Mirinda Carfrae, one of the featured athletes in We Are Triathletes, won the women’s event in 8:38:53. These are incredible times. So yeah: wow.

Despite being in awe and full of admiration, I really don’t have the desire to do that type of training, which the film made clear kind of has to take over your whole life. I mean, I found Olympic distance training tough to sustain, so I can’t even imagine staying motivated to train for an event like Challenge Roth.

But what it did inspire in me is motivation for the training I’m doing now, which is my 10K training. Time is closing in on my September 8th race, where I put my summer of fairly consistent training to the test. I’m not sure if I can but I would love to get my time under 65 minutes. We’ll see.

I think documentaries like this are amazing for showing what humans can do. It doesn’t necessarily mean you want to do exactly the same thing, but it can inspire nonetheless. I remember how Anita used to love watching The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young:

She liked it not because she wanted to do it, but watching the people do it inspired her to want to do her things.

We Are Triathletes was like that for me (but my friend Ed now wants to do the Challenge Roth, so clearly it has a different impact on different people). Here’s the trailer:

What about you? Do sports documentaries inspire you at all? In a particular way? Not at all?