Bracebridge Duathlon Race Report (August 7, 2016)–Guest Post

This was my fourth duathlon and first international distance race (10k run – 40k bike – 5k run) of the 2016 season.   I was very active in duathlons from 2008 through 2013, including competing in three national and two world age-group championships.   In the time since then, I have been dealing with injuries (a concussion and plantar fasciitis in both feet) as well as life upheaval and menopause.  When I returned to training, I had lingering symptoms and was carrying an extra 20 lbs which is very detrimental to racing speed, especially running.

My main goal for 2016 has been qualifying for the 2017 world championships.  The qualifying race would be held on August 24th, at the international distance.    This distance has typically taken me 2hrs30 to 2hrs45, depending on the course.  I knew I would feel more confident going into my goal race, if I completed one prior.  The Bracebridge race was only 17 days before August 24th, but I decided to do it and treat it as training.   I also did a full week of training leading up to the race and did not allow myself a taper.  This was going to be a test of endurance, not of speed.   I’ve used this strategy before and it takes a good deal of humility, especially when you know your less-than-stellar results are going to be posted online for everyone to see.

This was my first time doing the Bracebridge course.   I have done the hilly Multisport Canada (MSC) Gravenhurst and Huronia (Midland) races in the past, and was told that the run course would be flatter than those, but the bike course would be harder due to longer hills.   I debated changing the gearing on my bike but in discussion with others, opted to stay with my existing gears.

I drove up to Bracebridge the night before and was able to get to the race site with plenty of time in the morning.   I stick primarily to the MSC series as their races are very consistent in their organization.   I quickly had my bike racked and transition area set up, including a second pair of running shoes.  With my plantar fasciitis still bothering me a bit, I opted to do Run 1 in my cushioned training shoes and Run 2 in my racing flats.  

For my warm-up, I did about 5 minutes of easy jogging, in contrast to the normal 20+ minutes I would have done in the past.   I knew I was going to do Run 1 at an easy pace, so I didn’t need a long warm-up.  As well, I didn’t feel that I had any endurance to spare!  My legs felt good with no hamstring or calf tightness.  My nutrition was good, my stomach was settled and all the bathroom stuff got taken care of in time.  I have had some stomach upset (runner ischemia) in the past so I have now started taking two Imodium after my final bathroom visit at races, and this is working well.

Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 6:09/km) –  We started out on grass and headed up a small hill.  Within the first 10 metres, I was in last place of all 24 participants.  At first, I was very disheartened about this, but then I realized that it took all the pressure off of me as there would be no one for me to try to stay ahead of.    

I always view the first 10km of an international distance duathlon as a mental challenge.  I try not to think about the fact that I am only in the first 10km of a total of 55km that I need to cover.  I need to go hard, but not so hard that I am exhausted for the bike.   When I am fit, I usually aim for 1-2 minutes slower in total than a stand-alone 10km race.   That would put me at about a 6:00/km pace at my current level of fitness.   The run was an out and back on a Muskoka road with cottages on one side and a river on the other.  It was partially shaded, which helped as the day was already quite warm at 8:30am.   My feet were tingly within the first couple of kms, due to lingering plantar fasciitis symptoms, but I knew this would improve as I carried on.  By about the 3.5km mark, I started to see the fast men coming back towards me, followed by the women around the 4km mark.   Lots of encouraging words back and forth, as many of us in the duathlon world know each other.  There was a young woman volunteer on a mountain bike playing “sweep” who was following me as I was in last place…. That’s a first for me, but she was also encouraging.  I plodded on, keeping my pace just below 6:00/km, but I faded in the last 3km and finished up a bit over that.

Bike (goal 24km/h, actual 24.8km/h) – a fairly quick transition, then out on the bike course.  It started out fairly flat but at km4, there was a very big uphill.  I had to go into my easiest gear, and stand up, but I got up it fine.  After that, there were quite a few more ups and downs, but none as big as that one.   In retrospect, staying with my existing gearing was the right decision.  Mentally, this one-loop bike course went on forever.  I had done a number of solo 50-60km rides in training, but my total bike mileage year-to-date is very low and I had not done any 40km time trials as I had in past years.  I just kept telling myself to ignore my speed and get through it.  The second half of the course had more of a tailwind than the first half, which was motivating.  Finally it was over and I was back into transition.

Bracebridge bike

Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:30/km) – Ideally, I try to keep my second run to within 15-20 seconds per km of my first run.  Any closer than that means I haven’t worked hard enough in my first run.   Any slower than that means I have gone way too hard on the bike portion.  I headed out of transition feeling my normal amount of quad pain after a 40km bike ride, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs were ok after the first km.   I got into a good running rhythm and started to feel very happy, knowing that I was going to finish the full distance in a solid manner.

 

I headed in towards the finish area and became quite emotional, realizing that I had met my goal of getting back up to the level of fitness where I could finish this race distance.  I was thinking of all the life stuff that I had dealt with since the last time I did a full duathlon, especially the sudden cancer death of my dear friend Shirley last summer.  I was very down for many months and for a while I thought that I would never compete again, let alone at this distance.  Shirley’s cancer was completely unexpected and it threatened my previous assumption of my own health.  The feeling of relief and gratitude when I crossed the finish line, was suddenly overwhelming.  

It was pretty easy to collate my results….. 2nd of 2 in my age group, 8th of 8 women, 24th of 24 overall, and 3hrs18 total time, my slowest for this distance by about 25 minutes.   Last in every way and a personal worst time, but it just didn’t matter.   What a relief to know that I had met my race goal of finishing this distance.  

Here are some random pics with my pal Shirley.  Yes, she did 50 half marathons by the time she turned 50!  She is very deeply missed.

 

 

 

Duathlon, anyone?

Kincardine 2016 pre race

Susan, Tara, Sarah, Sam, Anita, Tracy right before the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon (um, make that a duathlon).

For the second time in four years, those of us who signed up for the triathlon ended up in a duathlon instead. Kincardine is on Lake Huron, and Lake Huron is a changeable and sometimes fierce lake. In 2013 they cancelled the swim because of frigid water. On Saturday the water was warm enough that I’d contemplated forgoing my wetsuit to decrease my T1 time. But then they cancelled the swim because of rough water. And then it rained a bit. And the weather turned much cooler than you’d expect in July.

Some (most) of our crew had already signed up for the duathlon, which had been scheduled to go out in two waves.  The triathlon would go out in three. They kept the waves the same, so the people who’d originally signed up for the duathlon competed as a distinct category from those who’d originally planned for the triathlon. It made for a somewhat confusing start, but we all found our way to the starting line.

Here’s how it went.

Tara

Last year I completed the Kincardine Du in 1:05:04.  So, I set a lofty goal of completing the race in under 1 hour and I knew in setting that goal that I may be setting myself up for disappointment.  I completed the race this year in 1:03 and indeed I find myself somewhat disappointed in my results.  On one hand, my run times were some of the best I’ve ever run at 5:16/km so I’m very pleased with that.  However, my bike time was only marginally faster than last year and I had hoped that I would see a bigger difference given that I have a faster bike this year (clearly it’s not all about the bike that one rides).

I finished in the top third of the pack and for that I am very pleased!  What I know now is that when in the top third of the pack and setting goals that I need to go easier on myself because marginal improvements make a big difference in the finish positions.  I’m close to that sub 1 hour and with some specific bike training I think I can get there next year!  I still love this race, it’s short and fast.  Having some experience doing this race last year gave me the confidence this year to push myself harder in the run segments.  There’s value in experience in these types of races and I’m excited for what next year will bring at Kincardine!

Susan

I enjoyed the race this year despite making the poor choice to run the second 3 km barefoot.

Although it was a fun day, I have decided to commit to training before I sign up for another year.  It was frustrating to be unprepared – I feel like I missed an opportunity to push myself.  Lack of training is a convenient excuse.  I’m done using it.

Alison

What a hoot!  I’m in for multi-sport racing from here on in.  I’m not a confident cyclist but with the adrenaline flowing I was able to enjoy the ride in a way I’ve only experienced with running before. The lesson I took away from the day: get into the open water more often. Our swim was cancelled, thank Venus, but the fact that I was so nervous about the swim–even though I’m strong enough in a pool–tells me that I have work to do there, if only on the mental side.

I was really impressed by the camaraderie on display at this event, and by the local support for all the competitors–I’ll definitely be back!

Anita

I was a little blasé going into Kincardine 2016 but it turned me right around, right away. Tracy and I got there the night before under the threat of rain and lightning, but during a break in the storm we got to walk along the beach after doing a bike check with the volunteer bike mechanic. The whole evening was pretty peaceful. Before going to bed we had a nice visit with Susan and Tara who were staying at the same hotel.  It was great running weather the next morning, but unfortunately it was a bit too rough for swimming (poor Tracy – she had been really looking forward to the swim). So we all did the run, then the bike, and then the run. I don’t remember much except saying to myself that if I wanted to quit after the bike I could (but I didn’t). I just kept thinking “slow and steady wins the race” to keep me shuffling through that last run on very tired legs. And then it was over. I felt AWESOME. I felt like an ATHLETE again with my PB.

PS Of course a shout out to the terrific team is in order: Tara, Susan, Sam, Tracy, Sarah, Alison, Jennifer – it wouldn’t have been as fun without you all!

Sarah

I knew going into the duathlon that I hadn’t trained the run enough. The multisport veterans warned me that it would be hard to keep running once I’d been on the bike. And I know I’m slower in humid weather, even when it’s not hot. (I might be gritting my teeth not to have them chatter in the picture!) But wow, what a slog! I followed my race plan, carefully keeping my speed down on the first run, maintaining my favourite, slow, “I could do this all day” pace, trying to keep my legs as fresh as possible. I loved the bike segment, head down, cadence up, steadily passing people I’d lost sight of on the run, remembering to keep drinking. I took my time on the transition to the second run, even downing a gel and a few more mouthfuls of water before heading out. The next 3 km were a blur of leaden legs, pounding heart, and frequent short walk breaks just to keep moving safely forward. Ugh. But I still had an absolute blast, there was a wonderful camaraderie among the participants and especially our team. I’m inspired to train running for the first time in ages and I look forward to trying a duathlon again some day. Fun!

Sam

Sometimes I feel like my Kincardine race reports are a testimony to getting old and slow. Like Tara I used to have dreams of doing this event in under an hour. My fastest time was for the full  triathlon at just over 1:10. When I finished the relay version of the triathlon we finished in 52:57. No pesky transitions, no tired legs. Since I’ve been doing the duathlon though my fastest time has been 1:18 and change. This race was slower than that, 1:22:15. But I was 5th in my age group. So there’s that. And I was in the top half of the bike times. As a cyclist, I like that!

But, forgetting times and competition, I had a blast. Why? Well, super fun doing the race with friends, family, colleagues, and co-bloggers! Fun racing with Sarah for whom it was her first ever multisport event. I love the course out along the beach.  I love the age range and the inclusion of athletes with disabilities. I love the community involvement and being cheered on by so many happy people. I love that the distance is accessible to people who aren’t necessarily that athletic but at the same time it’s a super speedy challenge for the fast, fit folk.

Notably I did the running parts at a slow reasonable, non knee injuring pace. No pain during or after and that made me smile a lot. Thanks Sarah for the quick tutorial on pacing the week before. It really helped.

Hopes and dreams for 2017? Doing it again and this time being able to train without hurting my knee. You know, the usual hope and dream!

Tracy

When we arrived and I heard they’d decided to hold off on distributing the swim caps because they wanted to wait until 8:30 to “call the swim,” I wanted to shake my fists at the heavens. The night before the lake had been calm and warm. But when I peeked over the berm between the park and the beach an hour before the start time, the lake had transformed — breaking waves and gusty winds.

When I ran into Alison in the body-marking and timing chip line, she was contemplating whether to wear the wetsuit. “That’s if they don’t cancel the swim,” I said. And before she got to the front of the line they did cancel it.

Since I had high hopes for a faster swim (but it may not have been faster given the conditions) and run this year, I felt disappointed. But at least I didn’t experience the same dread as I had in 2013. That time I had very little running experience, so the idea of doing not one but two runs put the fear into me. This time, I’d been training a lot lately to push myself as hard as possible for 3K (which is the run distance for the triathlon run and for both duathlon runs). I couldn’t do it as fast as I could swim, but I could definitely do it a lot faster than I could four years ago, which was the last time I did a duathlon.

Well lo and behold! I shaved over 11 minutes off of my 2013 duathlon time. I postively impressed myself with both runs, pacing at 6:01/km for the first one and 6:14/km for the second. For me, that’s amazing and meant I did the first run in 18:03, which is the fastest 3K I’ve ever run, and the second in 18:41. I shaved a tiny bit off of last year’s bike leg, but since they roll T1+bike+T2 all together and since I didn’t swim this year so my T1 was swift, I think that means my bike leg took me a bit longer (my T1+bike+T2 time: 33:56 to last year’s 34:02). So we know where the work needs to happen and that’s no surprise to me. This is the consequence of giving in to my road phobia and not training on the bike.

I feel good about my run progress, but I need to not compare myself to others (I finished 17/26 in my age group, though if I’d entered into the duathlon from the beginning I would actually have placed). Lots of women finished in under an hour, which always impresses me and is totally out of reach for me in the duathlon (not the triathlon, where it could happen if I train on the bike enough to get my time under 30 minutes), which took me 1:10:39. And for the very first time I successfully used the multi-sport function on my Garmin. So there’s that cool thing. I had fun again this year. I think a lot about the whys and wherefores of comparing and “doing better” and being “slow,” and all that jazz.

In the end, Kincardine is an event where you can enjoy yourself no matter how you do. It’s always a blast to go with the group–look at our smiles. And the organizers do a fantastic job (though I wish they would get women to do the announcing). And I love the red New Balance tank tops they gave us this year, along with the re-designed medals.

The professors, post-race. Anita, Sam, Tracy, and Alison.

The professors, post-race. Anita, Sam, Tracy, and Alison.

 

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Women, wine, and the gendered marketing of alcohol through running

It’s wine o’clock somewhere, right?

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Well, not for me. I don’t drink. Because Tracy and I have both chosen not to consume alcohol we tend not to talk about it much on the blog.

But lots of women like the joke. I see wine o’clock memes a lot in my social media newsfeeds. Wine o’clock is when children go to bed, when women finally get a moment for themselves, and when friends get together at the end of a long work day.

I’m thinking about this at the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics Congress in Edinburgh where Professor Kate Hunt’s opening plenary addressed gender and public health.

Hunt’s talk mentioned the gender based marketing of alcohol to women. Why?

We all know that the average lifespan for men is lower than the average lifespan for women. Hunt began with the question, how much of the gender gap in all cause mortality can be attributed to differential rates of tobacco use and alcohol consumption?

Lots it turns out. In pretty much all countries men out smoke and out drink women. The gap between these behaviors tracks the gender gap in all cause mortality.

Gender is made up of behavior and lots of the behavior is health related.

Hunt went on to talk about successful gender based campaigns aimed at men but my thoughts kept returning to alcohol and women.

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The alcohol industry increasingly views women as an untapped market. Hence the “empowering” message behind “wine o’clock” jokes might not be so empowering after all. Gender socialization of women as non, or light, drinkers might be good for our health. And not all rebellion against gender norms is good for women. I think feminists see this in the case of smoking but not so much when it comes to alcohol.

What’s this got to do with health and fitness and feminism? I’ve been thinking about the ways the wine industry sets out to appeal to women. First, it sets itself apart from the broad category of alcohol. It’s not like rum or beer or those manly drinks. Second, it associates itself with rest, time for oneself, and friends. Wine is positively feminist. Indeed as a feminist academic, I hear women who are usually pretty critical cultural consumers sharing this messaging. Third, there’s the link between wine and fitness activities. People who care about their health drink wine, do yoga, and run marathons. Think about all the wine sponsored races out there. Tracy talked about getting a bottle in her race kit at the Niagara half marathon. There’s the wine and chocolate marathon in nearby Windsor, Ontario too. Wine sponsored running races seen to be cropping up everywhere. And the rise in the numbers of people running in these events is fueled largely by the increase in running by women.

wine

No conclusions to draw here though I am concerned about rising rates of alcoholism and binge drinking among women. Likewise I’m concerned about the way the industry seeks to tie itself to healthy lifestyle pursuits like running.

Also, if you’re interested there are lots of wine based races out there! A very quick Google search turns up:

But still mulling. And I’d welcome your thoughts.

Bicycle Racing is Expensive! (Guest Post)

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)

Hi there! This is my first fitisafeministissue post, so let me introduce myself. My name’s Rachel. I’m also a Canadian philosopher (who lives and works in the US), a feminist, and a life-long competitive athlete. My primary competitive sport used to be badminton, but since moving to Charleston, South Carolina, I’ve taken to bike racing. In my first season, I won the NC/SC combined state championship, along with a bunch of other regional races. I took to bike racing like a fish to water, one could say.

I have a few big goals. First, I’m aspiring to a professional cycling contract. Now, I won’t quit my day job! Hardly! Women’s professional cycling doesn’t pay well—if it pays at all!  Second, I want to win the 2017 Canadian Road and Criterium Championships (I’ll happily substitute an ‘or’ for the ‘and’). Third, I want to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics.

But here’s the rub: bike racing ain’t cheap. I don’t think that’s really a surprise to anyone, but the costs don’t stop at our bikes. There’s maintenance costs (tires, tubes, chains, brake pads—although, as someone who likes to go fast, I try not to brake much!), race entry fees, travel costs (food, gas, rental cars, hotels—if one is lucky, one can arrange a ‘homestay’ where a family graciously offers room and board, or at least a couch to surf), clothing, and replacement costs for broken equipment when (not if, when) we crash. And that’s just for racing: there are also training costs, such as monthly coaching fees, training camps, and so on. These costs add up, and that’s after the ‘start up’ costs of a race-quality bike, helmet, shoes, wheels, and so on. I added it up my annual costs for a full race schedule, it’s $6000-9000 (USD). Per year.

Like I said, it ain’t cheap. As an amateur cyclist, nearly all of those costs fall on my shoulders. Sure, I’m on a local racing team, but that involves only a partial reimbursement of clothing costs (up to $265, which doesn’t go very far) and race entry fees (up to $400, where a single week-long series costs that much). We receive free or reduced-cost maintenance, as well as equipment discounts, by the local bike shop that sponsors us. But there’s no cash. There’s no free gear (except four team water bottles—don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them!). So it’s hard to get by.

You might wonder: Rachel, you win lots of races, can’t you just pay for your trips from the race payouts? Well, women certainly can’t. Payouts for women’s fields are typically a tiny fraction of men’s races—quite often 10-20%. We are a long way from equality. There’s a great documentary by Kathryn Bertine on this: Half the Road. Also, since our fields are often much smaller, we may not make the ‘field minimum’ for a full payout, and they may cut our payouts in half. And we don’t know whether the field will meet the minimum generally until we toe the line for the start. In some cases, I’ve been in big races where we didn’t meet the field minimum, so they cut our payouts by 50%. OK, I think that sucks (because if you want to grow women’s cycling, then offering good payouts is a great way to attract more racers next time), but at least that was on the race flyer. But they went one step further: they also cut the number of places paid out by half, which effectively reduced the total race payouts for the women field by 75%. If a race costs ~$40 to enter, women’s payouts are often only 2-3x the race entry fee: $80-120. And that’s if you win. Payouts for second or worse often barely cover the race entry fee (usually payouts off the podium don’t cover the entry fee).

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A

In the top fields, populated by the best pro teams, the winner might make $1000, but it’s extremely difficult to win those races as a solo amateur (I’m generally the only women from my team in any given race). The race I won last weekend, for example, was an exception in that for a $30 race entry, the women’s payout was $100. I don’t own a car, so I have to arrange rides (which is extremely difficult when I’m the only woman racing from my team, because that means arranging with guys who might race at radically different times from me), or rent a car. The average rental costs about $35 (by going through a discount site), plus $40-60 in gas (depending on how far the race is), and the race entry fee. My expenses for that race were $27 in gas, $33 in race entry, $35 for the rental car: $95. Winning the race brought in $100. So include post-race lunch, and it’s a wash.

That’s a GOOD race situation. It was a close race (3hr drive), with a relatively decent payout, and I won. Most races don’t even come close to covering expenses, especially the bigger races, farther away. For example, I’m trying to plan to do the Northstar Grand Prix stage race in Minnesota in June. Renting a car and driving the 20hrs, doing the week of races, and driving back (including gas, stopping somewhere to sleep once each way) is a minimum of $500. The entry fee is $145, and I either need to find a homestay, or a week worth of hotels. Expensive trip! The alternative is to fly, which requires purchasing a sturdy bike box (upwards of $350) and a return ticket (probably in the $500 range).

So why this post? Well. Being an amateur bike racer is AWESOME. But it’s also very expensive. I was bemoaning this fact on Facebook, and reached out for suggestions on how possibly to raise money to help with reaching my goals. Someone suggested some crowdsourcing platforms, but ultimately it seemed best just to make a paypal.me account and start asking people to consider contributing to it. I haven’t quite planned out how to make this most effective. I post race videos on YouTube, and I’m active on Instagram and Twitter, particularly with an eye towards service towards my sponsors. One thought is to start including ‘Special Thank Yous to…’ additions to my posts for anyone who contributes and helps me fund a racing trip. Sam graciously asked me to write this post, explain a bit what costs are involved in committing to being an elite bike racer, and possibly get some traffic to my paypal. So…here it is: www.paypal.me/rachelvmckinnon. I would certainly appreciate any help y’all would be willing to give.

I do want to give a little love to those who support women’s cycling. Often our events don’t get the prime time slot, we don’t get media coverage, and we often don’t even have professional photographers covering our races. And not having good photos makes it hard to make sponsors happy, or to show people just how cool women who race are! So first a special thank you to Valerie Leggett (and Bruce Fuller!), who took me into her (their) home for a homestay for some recent races in the Tampa area, but she also took some kick-ass photos of the women’s races. You can find her on instagram at www.instagram.com/valeriedleggett Special people like her make women’s racing possible. I also want to give a shout-out to Weldon Weaver (I’ve included a couple of his photos from this past weekend). He takes professional photos of the women’s field (and the men’s, of course). He also clearly cares about supporting women’s cycling.

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Weldon Weaver (Instagram: @fotowvr; Website: http://www.weldonweaver.com)

 

Just Go (Guest Post)

(Part 1 of my conversation with Pamela Meyer about ski racing at the age of 55 was published on Wednesday).

When I started talking to my friend Pamela about skiing, she was wearing a sweatshirt from her NASTAR championship week, and she showed me her medals. “I’m just sitting here geeking out about the whole thing,” she laughed. I started to understand how racing isn’t a thing that she does, but part of who she is, and who she’s becoming.

The two of us talk a lot about the things that can go haywire in our bodies as we get older. P has had a couple of cancer scares, and has had to have rehab on her knee to keep skiing. It would have been really easy for her to ease into her 50s on a base of yoga and vigorous walking — the “invitation to chill” that our culture gives us, as she put it. But because of racing, she’s more present to the strength of her body than she ever has been.

“I feel more in collaboration with my body,” she reflected. “I have truly struggled through mid-life, through peri-menopause and post-menopause — the extra 10 pounds that may be moving around but it’s not going away. I’ve gotten caught up in the whole western civ body image frustration. Racing and doing well has given me the perspective of what am I complaining about, this is a great body, I’m healthy, I am getting to do the things I love well.

“I realized I have a uniquely good body for skiing – if I were thinner I might not have the same centre of gravity. At first I was really self-conscious about pouring myself into the speedsuit. But after racing — I realize, I don’t look so bad. There are some areas I wouldn’t mind photoshopping, but this community — it’s people of all shapes and sizes. We’re all out here being willing to shimmy into our suits. It’s given me a love of our foibles and humanity, made me cut myself some slack, appreciate myself more than criticize myself.

“That’s our socialization – we’ve been totally hoodwinked into battling our bodies. It’s not helpful! In my work with organizations I take such a strength-based approach, but with myself, all I want to do is focus on deficits. Racing has helped me revel in my strength.”

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We talked about how being in your body and its strength is about making choices and being intentional — and it’s also closely intertwined with decisions about who we want to be as we age.

“To be an athlete at mid-life requires being more mindful,” said P. “I take a very phenomenological approach to exercising and racing. I have to be in my body, I have to pay way more attention to my form. I take boot camp classes and I’ll sometimes go slower than the rest of the 20 – 30 somethings, really pay attention, make sure I’m not landing funny on my knee. The things I could get away with in my 20s, 30s, 40s – I can’t get away with now.  You can’t be an athlete or an active person without being in your body all the time – even standing. I have to work on my postures, remember to engage specific muscles.

Racing keeps P motivated to stay fit all year around. “I was back at the gym two days after winning the gold medal.  I pay tons of attention to what I eat.  It’s about making conscious choices overall.  It’s not super-strict but I have a lane that I try to stay in.  The alternative is incremental decline – it’s the lobster in the pot thing – if you’re mindless, then you keep rationalizing poor choices, as opposed to making conscious choices.”

P had a concussion at the end of last season, as well as some issues with her knee. I asked why that didn’t make her rethink racing.

“The concussion seemed like a bit of a fluke.  Because it was at the end of the season, it wasn’t a disruption from skiing.  I focused on the recovery.  I learned  everything I could about from concussions. I know people who’ve had all kinds of injuries who come back, and I know some who haven’t.  I’ve chosen to pay attention to the people who come back.

“If you ride the chairlift enough on your own you hear all the stories from the over 50 crowd — like the racer who says ‘I just had this hip replaced.’ It’s just expected that stuff will start to break down and you’ll do whatever you need to do to get back in action and you’ll just be joining everyone else.  I was at a racing camp where the oldest person was 77, this guy Jimmy, who said, ‘you stop skiing, you’re dead.’

“Once you decide you shouldn’t be skiing anymore, then you think of all the other things you shouldn’t be doing.  And there is always risk.  I had another conversation with a woman who said ‘I stopped skiing because I decided it was too dangerous, I stayed home and slipped on some black ice in the driveway.’ Someone else I know slipped loading her dishwasher and blew out her ACL.  Shit happens if you’re flying down the mountain or loading the dishwasher. I’d rather get hurt having an interesting life than loading the dishwasher!”

Starting to think of herself as an athlete in her 50s has also shifted how she negotiates the world. “Now I seem to interact with the people who construct me as a serious competitive person — who don’t treat me as a dabbling middle aged lady .  Whether it’s people in the ski shop, health providers, physiotherapists — people who take me seriously as a racer. I think that’s crucial. First, I have to take myself seriously. I  have to seek out and co-create that identity in many communities .  I’ve moved past treating this part of myself in a little bit of a joking way — now it’s just what I do — I love it – I’m not apologizing or making it a goof thing – it’s another part of my life and who I am.”

The most powerful impression I was left with after our conversation was about how racing for Pamela is about living as fully as possible, flying in the face of fear.

“There’s this moment at the top of the course, in the starting gate. You’re trying to strategize, and there are so many variables, and there can be a lot of fear. And then it’s your turn, and you slip into the start gate, and the course director is at the top on the headset, and says ‘Course is clear, Racer ready, 3, 2, 1 GO.’

“I just LOVE that – that moment of Racer Ready, when in all of your being you have to be ready.  it’s negotiating your preparation, your fear, your physicality.  When they say “go” – you’re expected to be ready to go.   I don’t care what noise has been in your head, you have to GO.

“We have so many metaphorical starting gates in our lives — moments where you have to GO whether or not you’re ready.  It all crystalizes.  I realize that if I can do this, I can speak in front of hundreds of people, I can negotiate all of the other burblings of fear in my life.  I take this attitude of just go, there’s a point where you just can think about this anymore – go on the date, sign up for the class – just go.

“It’s like I remember a friend describing driving in India — realizing that you couldn’t wait your turn because there will never be a turn. You have to just go.  Don’t wait for the perfect time where you don’t have a stomach ache, where you have no fear.  I love that – it’s the best socialization ever. Take that attitude into anything and you’ll survive.”

Pamela Meyer is an author, educator and organizational consultant living joyfully in Chicago and skiing wherever she can. Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and teacher in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads a learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, and takes every chance she can to explore the world. She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.

Black Diamond (Guest Post)

Slalom 3

When my friend Pamela heard her name announced for a gold medal in a national US slalom race last month, she was overcome with joy. She’s 55. She decided to start skiing again when she was with a group of women celebrating her 50th birthday, and raced for the first time since she was a teenager 2 years ago. Now she’s on the podium for the NASTAR championships.

Pamela is one of those people who can put her head down and accomplish anything she sets out to do, creating three books and a successful consulting and teaching life since she finished her PhD 10 years ago. She’s always been fit, but what she describes as a “leisurely exerciser,” with lots of walking, spin classes, weight training and riding her bike on Sundays with her wife along a lakeshore bike path. She certainly wasn’t racing — and then suddenly, in her 50s, was hurling herself down sheer ice on a black diamond run in Colorado, through giant slalom gates — and winning.

One of our recurring friend conversations is our relationships with our bodies as we’ve gotten older, and I’ve watched with awe and curiosity as P shifted from leisurely biking to  “I like knowing I can keep up with the 30 year olds in boot camp class” to “I just spent a lot of money on a speed suit.”  I asked her a few questions about this transformation — why racing, not just skiing, when you haven’t been a competitive athlete since you were a teenager?  How do you handle the fear?

“Why racing, why not just skiing at 55?”  she said.  “I love skiing, I love everything about it —  I love the equipment, I’m a total gear geek, I love packing, I love the research on the resort and studying the trail maps. It’s not just about the skiing, it’s about who you meet on the chairlift, talking about where you plan to go for dinner, hanging out in the hot tub . . . so many times I just stop in the middle of the run, and take in the vastness of the mountains, the cold, the sun.  

“I get so invigorated from a week of skiing – it clears up any muck in my life, being out there in the mountains – even up at the little ski area where I race on the weekends outside of Chicago – it’s just a trash heap they put artificial show on – even that is invigorating.  That’s skiing.

“Now racing…  if skiing is the wide angle lens, then racing is absolute narrow focus. The level of preparation and precision is so much sharper to compete.  You have to be able to turn where the gate is – it’s all strategy, tactics, skills.  A lot of people can look pretty going down a wide open run — but can you ski on a course?  I love going fast and it gives me an excuse to do it.  When you ski fast recreationally, not only do you leave your friends behind but you can get your lift ticket revoked.

“Competing keeps me in an aspirational mindset. It pushes me to work out more. I watch a lot of pro world cup racing videos – I’m always thinking about ways I can improve, work on my technique, form. Women seem to be more coy about being competitive – like, we’re secretly paying attention to how we did.  It’s not as socially acceptable to really care if you win.”

Now, I’m pretty adventurous with my physicality, but the idea of a vertical ice rink scares the crap out of me. Skiing, for me, is one of those things I don’t do because I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself and not be able to do the things I love, like cycling. I’ve been trying to understand how P handles that fear, especially after she had a concussion from a fall at the end of the season last year.

“For the championship, I really had to negotiate a whole new level of fear — it was a steeper course than I’d ever raced on. It’s water injected, and one that the US development teams use, so it’s meant to be icy so the course holds up and it’s very fast. It’s basically an ice rink.

“I’d never raced a black diamond in Colorado.  The night before, I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking, I have no business doing this, I could be seriously hurt, have I deluded myself into a really stupid idea – if I really hurt myself, people would be kind but they wouldn’t have a lot of sympathy. It’s not like I’d be hurting myself feeding the poor in Afghanistan – I’d be hurting myself doing something of my own volition that was stupid for a middle aged lady to do – there’d be some sorrow but not really sympathy.”  She laughed.

“The first morning of the championship, I had to put all of that out of my mind – I had to trust how much preparation I had done, had to think, I can totally do this. I strategized how to approach the trickier turns. I put the fear out of my mind.  One of the things I talk about in my work about organizational agility is the idea of “anxious confidence” — you have to embrace this in the starting gate. You’re confident because you have the skills, experience, knowledge. But you’re also anxious because you have to deal with the unknown — a set plan is not going to work for you.

“You have strategy and tactics – it’s having a plan but holding that plan lightly. My first run, I took the advice of all of the race coaches to just go – don’t leave anything on the table.  I got up some good speed, then hit a gate that was sheer ice, and I had a rather spectacular crash.

“It was my first run, total crash. I started to think, maybe I am in over my head. I wasn’t hurt but I was shaken. And you have to get up, ski down to the lift, get back up and get back in line, and race again so you qualify to continue the next day.

“Here’s what shifted the fear for me. After I wiped out we gathered just outside the finish area. Some of the women in my group who’d gone before me had wiped out in the same place. We started talking about ‘it’s steep, it’s icy, I went too fast.’ That little ad hoc group of women made a huge difference. Together we commiserated, regrouped, strategized and encouraged each other. We focused on ‘we just have to get through the next one.’

“On the second time down, we had already formed a few connections. We would cheer each other on as we slipped into the start gate, “okay Jane, go for it, ski fast – a little bit more, you go, you got this.” We started creating a holding space for each other. When you’re in a team that happens all season. For this race, without a team, we created it on the spot. 

“The championships were a stretch experience, I knew I was up to the stretch, and the challenge became how do I manage my fear and uncertainty?”

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Pamela ended up with a bronze in the giant slalom.  And then two days later, raced in the slalom competition that she had no expectations for — and ended up with the gold.

“That gold was just giddiness and pure joy.  There’s such camaraderie, the two women I shared the podium with, the crowd clapping – that moment was complete embodied joy and fun and realizing that it really was a result of an incredibly intentional year. Physical work, coaching, training, practicing.   It’s so fun to be in a community of equally crazy people – to race at my age,  you really have to work to find people in that tribe. And you see the people in their 70s and 80s who are still out there, who have every invitation from our culture and their peer group to chill out.  It’s incredibly joyful.”

(This is Part 1 of my conversation with Pamela — on Friday Pamela will talk about how her relationship with her body has changed since she started racing).

Pamela Meyer is an author, educator and organizational consultant living joyfully in Chicago and skiing wherever she can. Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and teacher in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads a learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, and takes every chance she can to explore the world. She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.

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 Bikeman.com (which sadly fails to have an analogue at bikewoman.com).