cycling · fitness · illness · running · swimming · yoga

Pregnancy and Fitness in the times of Corona

CW: Mentions pregnancy

Throughout my first trimester, I tried to exercise as much as I could despite the fatigue I already mentioned in my post on Saturday. Very early on, I was still able to run really well (so much so that I started doubting I was really pregnant). That changed fast though, by around week 10 I was slowing way down. Right now (17 weeks) I am almost a minute per kilometre slower than I was when I first got pregnant. That might also be due to a nasty cold that knocked me out for two weeks in between, but still. I’m definitely not as fast as I used to be. After yesterday’s run, my Garmin watch kindly informed me I was “overreaching”: doing more in the face of declining fitness. The poor thing doesn’t have a pregnancy mode. Nevertheless, I plod on, especially now that the coronavirus crisis is upon us but the weather is getting nicer. While I can still get out, I do. At the moment, I’m expecting Germany to take lockdown measures similar to France, Italy and Spain before the end of the week, so let’s see how long that lasts. Here’s a picture of the panorama I will be missing once I can no longer run:

A river and a city in the evening light, hills in the background. This is on my “standard” running route when I set off from my house rather than from work. You can probably understand why I’d miss it!

Swimming – as always – worked like a charm during the first trimester. It was actually something that magically made me feel better. I had evening sickness (“morning sickness” is such a misnomer!) and swimming would make that go away. What did happen was that I didn’t go to swim practice a couple of times because I was just too tired. But I could keep going at my usual speed for longer than with running. Only in the past week have I noticed that I’m slower than before, but I can still keep up with the people on my team – I’ve just moved a couple of spots down. (Again, some of that might be due to that pesky cold.) But now, all the pools are closed, so no swimming for me, even though it’s supposedly the best sport for pregnancy, you can do it right up until the end and it works out your entire body. I really hope this passes fast enough so I can get back in the pool quickly. I miss it already.

I also did yoga throughout the first trimester. Towards the end I found I was having to start adapting some poses, like doing child’s pose with my legs spread apart. I was supposed to start a prenatal yoga class on 21 April, let’s see if that happens. I doubt it. Luckily there is a bunch of online prenatal yoga videos on Youtube, so I’ll be working my way through those once I can no longer do non-pregnant people’s yoga (i.e. I’d have to adapt the normal Yoga with Adriene routines so much they stop being fun). Not quite there yet.

I didn’t bike at all during the first trimester, save for a ride to some friends’ house for dinner one night. I was too exhausted to haul my tired butt up the steep hill behind my house for my bike commute. Actually you can see that hill in the picture above. It’s the one in the background, so that gives you an idea of what I’m up against – it’s not all that tall but steep! I started bike commuting again on Monday, and it went surprisingly well. Alas, the campus I work at is shutting down on after today and I won’t be going in anymore, and today I need to drive to haul some things back home from the office for remote work purposes. I’m still hopeful I can get on the bike a few more times before my belly gets in the way…

As you can see, corona is thoroughly thwarting my attempts at getting back into moving more, just like it seems to be impacting everyone’s fitness routines. I’ll need all the pregnancy home workouts I can get! Sam has a 7-point social distancing workout plan, which is pretty awesome. Mine looks simpler: do as much yoga as possible, some TRX workouts, and research home cardio workouts suitable for pregnant people. And: go outside while I can! If you have any advice, I’d be happy to hear it!

competition · fitness · Guest Post · running

The Women Runners of Kelowna (Guest Post)

by Alison Conway

Diane Leonard, Grand Master of the Maui Marathon, Sunday, Jan. 19th, 2020.

Malindi Elmore, from my home town, smashed the Canadian women’s marathon record on Sunday, running a blistering 2:24:50. Canadian Running observed that it has been a spectacular year for Canadian women runners. Twenty records have fallen over the past thirteen months. In Houston, as Malindi was crushing the marathon, Natasha Wodak became the first Canadian woman to run the half marathon in under 70 minutes. 

Fingers crossed, Malindi will run for Canada in Japan this summer, and I know the Kelowna running community will be glued to the live stream when she races. The success of our home-town superstar reflects the achievements of a larger group of amazing women runners of all ages and stages. Liz Borrett, age 80, ran the Boston and London marathons back to back last April, winning her age group at both races. Christy Lovig was the top Canadian woman at the New York marathon in November. Diane Leonard, age-group winner of the 2017 Boston, was declared Grand Master of the Maui marathon the same day Malindi broke the tape in Houston. Kelowna is home to Cindy Rhodes, six-time winner of the Victoria marathon.

I have often speculated that there is something in the Okanagan water that makes for such greatness. But having run with the Kelowna Running Club for the past two years, I’m pretty sure it’s about the running community, a community that has fostered women’s running for decades, even when running—especially the marathon—was all about men. The loneliness of the long-distance runner is well documented, but in this place, everyone has your back, whether it’s Park Run or Boston that you want to race.

When I moved to Kelowna, my friends in Ontario warned me: “Those people out there, they’re not kidding.” And it’s true—they aren’t. They race to win. And racing to win is not for everyone. But the joy of racing, at any level, is the about the joy of testing your limits. And for me, testing limits and gaining confidence in the face of adversity (currently, the fresh hell that is the marathon), is part of the feminist work I undertake as a daily practice. The women of Kelowna push me forward when I want to step back. Of my half marathon performance in the fall, a running friend observed, “I thought you would do better.”  When I say these words to myself, they are part of a language of self-criticism and defeat. When I hear them from a friend, they motivate me to reach the standard she has set for me. The same is true on a long run. When a Boston veteran tells me I had better pick it up for the last five kilometres of a 20 km run, you can be sure I get my ass in gear. I run harder because the women of Kelowna believe in me, even when I don’t believe in myself.

On Sunday, while Malindi was chasing her PB in Houston, I was running a half marathon in California, and Diane was running her full in Maui. I thought of my fellow Kelowna women as I ran, knowing that all three of us were suffering.  As I reached mile ten, a woman came up on my shoulder. “Let’s pass these guys,” she said, nodding at the men in front of us. In that moment, I remembered what is distinctly feminist, for me, about racing. Women prove, by their efforts, that they have great strength, strength that often goes unrecognized and unrewarded in our culture. We prove that we are determined to overcome the barriers we encounter. We prove that we will get to the finish line, one way or another, with the help of our friends and allies.  Approaching the end of my race in Pasadena, I saw a young woman in front of me struggling. “You’ve got this,” I said as I came up beside her, and she took off. I kept her in my sites as I ran for my PB. I was doing my thing, and she was doing hers. But we were doing it together.

Alison Conway works and runs in Kelowna, BC.

alcohol · beauty · body image · eating · fat · fitness · habits · health · injury · movies · running · self care · sex · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don’t

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

competition · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · racing · running · swimming · triathalon

Is this what retirement is like? (Guest post)

by Mary Case

Day one of retirement was officially declared a “jammie” day. No alarm clock, a pot of tea, a good book, feet up, sitting in front of the fireplace. It was blissful and lasted almost ninety minutes.

Author in a comfortable arm chair, sitting in front of a fireplace with her feet up, reading a book with her dog at her side.

And then that was enough for the dog who, delighted that there was another human home, insisted on a walk.

Somewhat reluctantly I changed out of my jammies.

It is so quiet and peaceful on this crisp winter’s day.  No noise except the occasional passing car. Was this what it’s like, this retirement thing?

I returned home an hour later, fully intending to return to my perch. (My colorful, cozy jammies now replaced with walking gear, looking suspiciously like running gear), and then I had a vision: an empty pool, a lane to myself perhaps. Was that actually possible? 

Empty YMCA pool.  All lanes free.

It was too irresistible, and so the perch by the fireplace was abandoned again. And there it was: my empty lane. Two kilometres of blissful, uninterrupted swim strokes.

Was this what retirement is like?

The choice to retire from teaching elementary school music was a tough one. I loved my job and was not particularly desperate to get out. 

I had a fulfilling and vibrant career but, I was curious what life would be like on the other side. 

Last fall, in a moment of “but what will I do when I retire?” I wondered what it would be like to be a gym rat, and so I approached my computer in search of half ironman races. These are called 70.3’s in the triathlon world. It seemed a good idea at the time, and it was a distance that my years as a triathlete had prepared me for. 

I chose a date. May 31st, that worked for me. It would have been concert prep time, if I was not retired. 

I chose a location. Connecticut, I could drive there. 

Done! I signed up. 

Oops. I missed a little bit of homework here. I found out later that this half ironman is called the Beast of the East. 

As I write this blog, week one of retirement is almost over. It’s also my 59th birthday. I think about this “fitness” thing. For me, it’s always about the joy of seeing what my body is capable of. I do not have a point of view about speed, competition, losing weight, or much of anything else. 

I love a challenge; my body loves to move endlessly, and the amazing thing is that I am fitter, faster and stronger than I have ever been. 

I think I might  be able to get used to the quiet, the recovery time and being able to head to the gym, my trainer or the road, at hours that do not involve the numbers 4, 5, or 6 attached to “a.m.” 

I think I can get used to this thing called retirement. And who knows, hills may just become my new best friends. 

Author, School photo.  Looking very professional in a pink top and pearls.

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.  

cycling · Guest Post · planning · running · yoga

A different kind of running (Guest post)

By Shawna Lewkowitz

The lessons learned while being active are ones we can use in every part of our lives. My own journey of running and doing yoga taught me plenty and served me well for when I decided to leap into a whole different kind of running, as the NDP candidate for London West in the Federal Election. 

For years I was a regular runner but like many, I didn’t come to running until later in life and it took me a while to see myself as a “real” runner, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made my way from 5ks to 10ks to half marathons, always believing marathons were out of reach for me – meant for the actual real runners. People who were of course more athletic and capable than I was.

As you can imagine, the decision to run in the election wasn’t a simple one either. I’d asked and supported many women to run and founded a local organization,  Women & Politics to support them when they did. But for many reasons, when previously asked to run, I’d always said no.

 This time was different. I still went through the cycle of questions: Am I really the right person to do this? Do I have the grit to make it through the inevitable criticism, long days and hours of campaigning? How will I make this work with all the other responsibilities in my life? What will the impact be on my family? And most of all, do I really want this? Questions that were similar to the ones I’ve asked myself in other situations.

Before doing marathons, I wasn’t sure I was capable of running 42.2 kms or perhaps more pointedly, doing the training to run 42.2 kms. Before doing yoga regularly, I didn’t think I was capable of a daily yoga practice. I eventually learned that like everyone, I am always capable of more than I think I am and that big challenges usually excite us and terrify us in equal measure. So, after lots of conversations, soul searching and contemplation, I took the leap and said yes to being a candidate. 

Running and yoga proved to be great teachers for an election. During the actual campaign period, the days were long and extremely intense. Twelve hour days or longer, with at least half of that spent out door knocking were the norm. I consistently woke up tired. But just like training for running, I put on my shoes and headed out the door. There was no “if” about it, I just did what needed to be done.

But none of us do anything truly on our own. When I was training for marathons I did so alongside a supportive running community and encouraging friends and family. In my daily yoga challenge, I had a consistent online group of like-minded yogis. For my election run, I had an amazing campaign team working with me and an incredible partner and two teenage daughters who all who took on the bulk of our family responsibilities. They made it easy for me to focus on what I needed to do. 

I treated the pre-campaign period before the election was officially called, as my “base training”. We were door knocking and listening to people all summer long. The time spent walking and listening for those months laid the foundation for the six-week election period (the marathon). Not only the intense physical requirement of campaigning but also the intellectual and emotional considerations of being “on” and in tune with people’s needs.

My many years of doing yoga, brought a calm and clarity to the emotional experience of campaigning. People shared really hard stories at the door and they trusted us to do something about the issues they were facing. At times it was overwhelming – the pain and struggle people live with is real. When overwhelmed by the immensity of it all, I would go back to focusing on being present, listening and offering up a platform that I absolutely believed in. 

There were also the inevitable negative reactions at the door. Misogynistic comments about my appearance, my obvious feminism and my stance on gender issues. Men who would argue with me just for the sake of arguing, who would slam doors in my face and call me names. People who would make racist or homophobic comments to volunteers. But honestly these interactions were minimal compared to the positives experienced at the door. 

There will always be people who think we aren’t capable of accomplishing our goals – exercise, work or personal wise. They will put real and imagined obstacles in our way. The key is to see them for what they are and to stay focused on what we set out to do. The hate only drove me to push harder and as a runner, I know how to push hard. 

I did ultimately end up losing the election, but we ran a campaign I can say I am really proud of and I have absolutely no regrets about running. I’ve trained for races I couldn’t complete before. I know what it feels like to put your heart and soul into something and have it turn out differently than you hoped. But it doesn’t make the journey any less worthwhile and if anything, it prepares us even better for the next time we show up at the starting line. 

The lessons learned through being active have relevance to all areas of our lives. It is one of the many reasons we lace up our shoes, get on our mats, bring out our bikes, show up for that game, make time for that walk – we know the value is in more than just the moment. That our commitment to moving more, and reaching our goals helps us to do more, cope better and feel healthy in all areas of our lives. 

Shawna is an instructor and community-based learning coordinator in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s University College, founder of Women & Politics, and the past Federal NDP Candidate for London West. She does all kinds of active things that feed her soul but her favourite is getting lost in the woods with the people she loves. 

motivation · running · training

How To Make Running in Paris Fun and Challenging

I’m just back from two months in Paris. Running in Paris is a challenge. The Bois de Boulogne has lots of dirt trails and is decently big, but to stay close enough to run there regularly too far from everything else I want to do. There are many other parks, but they are all small or smaller and involve a lot of loops to build a run of anything longer than 3k. We rode the Velibs (social bike system) up to the Buttes Chaumont (a fave park) one Sunday and ran 4 loops; along with a big crowd of runners and other weekenders. The Buttes is the only good place to find hills. Sure, you could run around the streets of Montmartre, but the traffic (foot, bicycle, scooter, car etc…) is not my cup of tea.

By process of elimination then, when in Paris I stay near-as-possible to the Seine and run along the banks. This is lovely, of course. Running past Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower, even the mini Statue of Liberty (one of our weekend destinations for a longer run)—what’s not to like?

Well, not to be a sourpuss, but there are no hills at all, it’s concrete or, worse, cobblestone. Running on cobblestone is charming for a week and then it gets less so. I give thanks for the grace of every run without a trip-and-fall.

Still, I love running in Paris, because I have a set of fun and challenging routines, unique to that city.

First, there’s one-legged stair hopping to start and finish each run. Shortly before going to Paris a few years ago, I was at a cat circus with an eight-year-old. As we cooled our heels out front of the theatre, waiting for the house to open, she was hopping up and down the stairs. I tried to join her and discovered that hopping up a set of stairs is no joke. This was a provocation. I decided I should work on my stair-hopping, on the theory it might give me some extra spring for running. The next week, I was running in Paris, with its endless stairs up and down from the banks of the Seine. On a whim, I hopped up one of the staircases on one leg. To be clear, the first time was more of an attempted hopping. Since then, I’ve incorporated stair hops into my regular routine in Paris (though not in NYC, where I’ve never found the right staircase). It’s a mini HIIT (high intensity interval training) moment before I get into to the rhythm of the run.

The second unique-to-Paris addition is the monkey bars. On most runs, I pass a set of monkey bars, where there are usually some groups doing various strength workouts. I do a one-way pass at a hand-to-hand hanging traverse. It’s only 8 rungs. Exhausting. This year on my last run I managed, first time ever, to traverse there and back. Thrilling.

But my favourite Paris routine is the little exercise yard by the Seine, in the sculpture garden near the Jardin des Plantes. My partner and I call it our “health club.” We spend about fifteen minutes doing a circuit. The “machines” operate using body weight and the ground is covered with a slightly springy substance, making it a nice surface for pushups and such like. Then I do one more set of stair hops (topping the workout with a cherry) and run the less-than-a-kilometer home.   

The health club is what I miss most when I get back to NYC. I’m not a member of a gym, so I don’t have much chance to do formal strength training. Instead, I rely on aerial yoga, the little bit of weights in spin class, and a few lunges and pushups at the end of most runs. I long for such an exercise yard somewhere in Central Park or Riverside Park. An adult playground! If anyone reading this has clout with the New York City Parks Department …

It’s such a treat to have the special extras of my Paris running routine.  I look forward to the different pace. The change recharges my energy.

I’m back on my home turf in Central Park now. Relishing how the familiar routes feel fresh and exhilarating.

What are your new routines for “away” workouts?       

fall · running

Bettina tries orienteering: an exercise in priorities

Yesterday, I was supposed to go on an orienteering run during lunchtime. Two members of my workplace’s running club had organised it to see if this was something people were interested in doing more frequently. It sounded cool, so I signed up. In orienteering, you try to find a series of waypoints marked by little flags that are indicated on a map. The goal is to find all waypoints in as little time as possible.

I rocked up to the start already frazzled: this week is the busiest week of the year for us in terms of work – we have a very important conference next week – so the days are currently long and packed. I was given a map and shown a photo of what the little flags looked like. My colleague also explained that each flag would have a little needle punch hanging off it with which to punch a control marker on my map to indicate that I had indeed found the respective waypoint. Each waypoint had a number. Here is a picture of the map (I was supposed to find control points 1, 7, 4, 6, 8, and 9):

Bettina’s orienteering map: a criss-cross of lines on a paper with the pink lines indicating my intended route and the control points (the control points outside of the pink route were for a longer course that was also on offer).

Then my colleague marked my starting time on a paper and off I set. I found the first waypoint well enough (they made it easy). Here it is:

Control point 1: an orange and white orienteering flag dangling off a fence, with a red punch stamp attached to it.

But then things got tricky. I wasn’t exactly sure how to read the map: were all the tiny trails in the forest on it, or only the bigger forest roads? Was what I was looking at the trail we usually took? Because I was generally stressed, and I didn’t have a lot of time, I was impatient. At some point I suspected I’d missed a turn, so I went back on myself. I started losing confidence in my ability to read the map. Then the next people caught up with me (they ran as a pair) and we tried to find the marker together. We thought we knew where it could be, but we were wrong.

At that point I decided to give up. I would’ve loved to go adventuring in the forest, but I just didn’t have time today: I had to get back into the office. And I wanted to get at least a bit of a speedy run in: all this back and forth looking at the map, doubling back on my way, and trying to find markers that weren’t there was stressing me out more rather than giving me the distraction I needed.

Three fellow runners in the distance, on an autumnal forest road strewn with fallen leaves. These three went just for an ordinary run without orienteering – maybe I should have just joined them!

So I decided that getting a good run in, even if it was going to be short, was my priority, and to stuff the orienteering. I left the other two guessing and looking for the control point and set off on my own. Initially I was frustrated with my inability to get the map right and with the time I had already lost: why the hell hadn’t I decided to just go for a normal run in the first place? (Answer: I had wanted to try this because it sounded fun, and also, I had committed to writing this post 😉 .)

But as I settled into a rhythm and ran on through the foggy autumnal forest on my own, I calmed down and started enjoying myself again. This is why I run: the fresh air rushing into my lungs, the regular rhythm of my feet, the focus on maintaining that rhythm – it clears my mind. I’m happy I made the right choice. Had I continued to try and find the control point, I would have gotten more and more stressed and frustrated, and felt guilty about taking too long of a time away from the office on top.

On my way back, I also found another flag (number 8), at which point I finally understood exactly how the map worked: even the tiniest almost invisible trails were marked on it and I hadn’t expected that, which is how I lost my way in the first place. When I got back I had a quick chat with the organiser who promised we’d do it again. I’ll be there – hopefully with more time and a better experience!