cycling · Guest Post · running · swimming · triathalon

Why Will Writing Make You a Better Triathlete? Or Ten Maxims of Writing for My Students (Guest post)

by Şerife Tekin

I turned 40 last Friday. To celebrate my efforts to become a triathlete in my late 30s I went to the beautiful Canyon Lake with a super-triathlete friend. With no actual race or scheduled event in sight due to pandemic, we executed our very own choose-your-own-adventure triathlon. We swam for 40 minutes, rode our bikes on high hills for 40 minutes and ran for 40 minutes. I would have never considered waking up at 4am and pushing hard nonstop for two hours a kind of celebration but, hey, maybe that was what 40s were for. I suffered with so much joy. It was the fittest I’ve ever felt; I could have probably gone for another round of 40+40+40 (after having snacks!)

How come it felt easy and fun even though triathlons are still so new for me? Two reasons: First, the foundational triathlon training program prepared by my awesome coach and my ability to stick with it thanks to pandemic’s side effect of no travelling. Since March, all my work-related trips (averaging 2 per month) were cancelled and I stayed put with a solid uninterrupted time to dedicate to my research, writing, and training. The second reason was me discovering that triathlon training and writing have so much in common. Since March, I have also been thinking about the graduate course I was going to be teaching this Fall, on Philosophical Research and Writing. As I contemplated on my own research and writing process to find the best way to pitch the course to my students, I realized how much in common (academic) writing and triathlon training have. I started transferring my attitude to writing to my training. Triathlon training, just like writing, I realized, involves a lot of suffering and joy. Here are the ten maxims that have been working for me; perhaps they will work for you too!

1. Do a bit everyday

Noone ever wakes up one day to find themselves transformed into a strong athlete or a prolific writer. It takes a lot of consistency. Develop a routine and do a little bit of writing/training each day.

My habit of writing by using the Pomodoro Technique – in 25-minute chunks – served me well in my tri-athletic endeavors. Even when I don’t feel like writing (I almost never do!) I convince myself to do it just for 25 minutes. Most of the time that one 25-minute chunk turns into 4 or 5 because I eventually start enjoying it. Similarly, I started taking a look at the training I have for the day and dividing it into 25-minute chunks. It helped me overcome the mental obstacle of say, having to run 70 minutes in the summer heat of Texas: It was only two chunks of 25 minutes with a 10 minute warm up and 10 minute cool down.

2. Track your progress

Tracking your progress enables you to celebrate small victories or think about what you can do to improve. In other words, don’t wait to finish the project you are working on to celebrate – your dissertation is not going to be done in four Pomodoro sessions. Instead, give credit to how much time and work you’ve already put into it. As a bit of a productivity technology junkie, I use an app called “forest” to track my writing time; after each 25 minutes the app plants a tree. It is so fun to see a forest emerge out of nothingness. Similarly, it is motivating and sobering to see how many hours per week I spent running, biking, and swimming on my smart watch and Strava.

3. Don’t worry about perfection; allow yourself be awful.

Accept that every day is going to be different. Sometimes you spend eight Pomodoro sessions just writing random sentences with no sense, logical coherence, or whatsoever; sometimes you pump out a well-argued paper in just four. Similarly, sometimes (often!) running sucks all the life out of me; everything hurts, I am short of breath even after 10 minutes. I learned to accept the pain and carry on. As my coach always says, it will always hurt, regardless of how fast you can go; even the elite athletes suffer. Just plow forward. You need to be really bad at it before you can be good at it. If you need more inspiration listen to Ira Glass on storytelling.

4. Read or foam-roll if you feel stuck.

Sometimes, you just can’t write, you are stuck. After hiding under your blanket with your eyes tightly closed having a panic attack (this is a very typical process for me when I start a new project), get up, wash your face and read. Just relaxing into reading will help get back to writing. I think the reading-equivalent of triathlon training is foam-rolling; when everything hurts and I “can’t even…” anymore I get on the foam roll, it relaxes my muscles as they get stronger.

5. Rest. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

Take at least one day off per week. Get enough sleep. Take naps. Eat. These all fuel your writing and training. Always keep snacks around.

6. Balance between sprint and endurance workouts.

Sometimes work on multiple projects simultaneously in one day: 25 minutes for that article revision, 25 minutes for that conference abstract, etc. Make sure to also work on a single project for a long time in a given day, such as your dissertation or book. Endurance writing is necessary for big projects. Similarly, do multiple sports in one day (combining cycling and swimming in a day is always a good idea; or a bike-run brick) while training but make sure to do one long session per week on one of the three sports.

7. Enjoy solitude

Get comfortable being alone, in your head, for hours at a time, both for writing and triathlon training. Yes, you need to spend time, writing, by yourself. That is the only way you improve. Similarly, you need to run, ride, swim, by yourself, for hours at a time, to make progress. It will get uncomfortable at times, be ok with it.

8. Find your peeps

Yes, you need peeps. You need them to feel inspired and motivated but you also need them for the honest and sometimes brutal feedback they will give you. Get comfortable with sharing your work with your peers, supervisors, or anonymous referees and receiving feedback. You might hate it at first but taking the feedback seriously will make you a better writer. I love receiving feedback; someone took the time to challenge you, that’s just so precious! Similarly, get comfortable training with other people and getting feedback on how you are doing. You might be the slowest in the group (I often am!), or you might have no idea about the technicalities they are talking about, but listen, learn, enjoy. Try to incorporate their recommendations into your training.

9. Listen to yourself but not too much.

Listening to yourself is a double edge sword: acknowledging how you are stuck in your writing or you really don’t have time because you have to fulfill x,y,z, responsibilities are important; you can work on addressing these so that you can dedicate time to writing. But don’t always believe yourself– these thoughts might be your mind making up excuses to avoid the discomfort of writing. When you feel this way, go back to advice number 1, do it for 25 minutes. Similarly, while training, listen to yourself: if your knee is stabbing in pain, be sure to skip the run that day, but maybe try to drag yourself out of bed and go for your run-meet even when you really feel like sleeping in.

10. Showcase your progress

Whether submitting a conference paper or sending articles to journals for publication, get out there and see how you do. You will learn a lot and make solid progress. Similarly, do races or group events once in a while to see how much you’ve improved and what else you can do to push your limits.

Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Medical Humanities at UTSA. When she is not moving around she can be found petting her kitty cat Cortez. Her website is www.serifetekin.com,

aging · athletes · fitness · racing · running

Older women runners are the fastest growing running demographic

While I’m not able to run, it’s exciting to read about the changing demographic of the running community. In cycling I’m often the oldest woman rider and I spend a lot of time riding with men my age and older. That’s been true for be since I started riding. It’s true even in Zwift.

It’s okay. I like riding with men. But still I wonder, where are the women my age? Clearly, they’re running

Running, or at least the race community, is doing something right. Or women runners are doing something right. They’re keeping at it as they age which is lovely to see

40+ demographic takes lead in largest study of runners

“Among other things, the research revealed that the United States has the highest proportion of female runners; that the 40-49 year-old age group is fastest and most popular; that Slovenia, Iceland and Ukraine are fastest countries; and that the Boston Marathon boasts the fastest average run time of “popular races.”

“But perhaps the most encouraging finding for older adults is that those in the 90 to 99 year-old age group are the fastest growing population of runners today, increasing 39% from 2014 to 2017. Researchers called that particular finding “staggering.””

How demographics are affecting the running scene

For decades — a century, almost — road racing was a world of competitive men. Since emerging from the first running boom, however, the sport has quickly evolved. The competitive core is still there, leading the pack. But now that core is being chased through the streets by thousands upon thousands of new runners, many of them motivated by very different factors.

The numbers really began to change in the early 1990s when aging running boomers filled out the masters ranks. By 2000, 44 percent of marathon finishers were 40-plus. Growth of the women’s division was even more dramatic. Just 10 percent of marathon finishers in 1980 were female. That figure is now 40 percent, while women now make up more than half the finishers at many shorter distances.”

Running demographics

More women than men (53-47%) and the average of women runners now 38.6

fitness · running · training

They’re All Good Runs: A Case for Autoregulation

When you go out for a run or ride, how do you decide how long you will go, how hard, or how fast? Less time lifting weights these days has meant more time running for me, and I’m approaching it a new way–I’m using autoregulation to determine my goals for each outing. For any activity, autoregulation is allowing data from the experience in the moment to determine your outcomes for that event.

Choose your datapoint. Autoregulation does not mean “go for as long as you feel like.” I’m not just running until it doesn’t seem fun anymore. Honestly, for me, the first mile has always been rough, with my body telling me all about how I’m making it do something it isn’t well-designed to do. It can take even longer for my breathing to even out. If I were to use these cues to tell me when I’m done, I’d never run more than half a mile.

What I have learned, though, is that while I may sound like a freight train as I puff down the middle of the road, my pace can remain pretty steady. I start my runs these days around an 11-12 min/mile pace. If I get feeling really loose, maybe if there’s some downhill bits or someone annoys me and I get a surge of adrenaline, I can speed up for a while to perhaps 9:30-10 min/miles.

So, that’s the datapoint I use to autoregulate my runs; I check my pace. As long as I’m running faster than a 13 minute/mile, I keep running. And when I see my pace drop below 13 minutes/mile for a couple checks, I’m done. Usually, my pace drops off really fast. Sometimes that happens after a shorter run, maybe 1.5 miles, sometimes it takes longer. However long I go, I know I’ve gone a distance that challenges me without overdoing it and without cutting myself short.

Choose your route. Obviously, a potential downside to this method is ending up some distance from home and needing to walk quite a ways back. Until my distances become consistently longer, I’m keeping pretty close to home. I started my runs as loops around the perimeter of a beautiful, historic cemetery a few blocks from our house. I can run one loop, about three quarters of a mile, or any distance longer than that without ever being more than a few blocks from home. As I’ve gotten stronger, to mix it up, I also run through the neighborhood along a 3-mile loop. If I can only run one side of the loop, I’m still only a little over a mile from home, which is a nice walk to cool down with.

Celebrate each run. I think the best part of this strategy for me is that it’s reduced the stress of feeling like I need to accomplish something specific on my runs. When I first got back into it at the start of Stay Home Save Lives in March, I gave myself the “add 10% to the distance” rule and tried to adhere to it week to week. It was fine at first, but then, maybe 5 or 6 weeks into it, I hit a wall. I couldn’t run further. I’d try to push through it, and my stomach would start to roil, my legs would ache, my heart rate would spike, and my pace would slow down to slower than if I’d been walking. It felt bad, and I didn’t feel successful.

When I started to give myself permission to just run until my body said stop, the distances run to run varied more, but each run felt better. I didn’t push myself to having a sour stomach all day. My hip didn’t ache for the next week. I had energy for my lifting the following day. It was better. And after a while, the distances started to tick upwards again. It isn’t linear. Every run isn’t further than the run before it. But the trend is slowly becoming longer and longer, and there are moments when it really feels good again to be running. That is why I’m out there in the first place–I want it to feel good, I want to feel good.

This week, I ran just over three miles for the first time in years. There were periods during that run that it actually felt easy. I’ve always laughed at the advice to keep it at a “conversational” pace. Running and conversation have never been in the cards for me. However, for a block here and there, I think I COULD have had a conversation! When I checked my pace, I was surprised to note that I hadn’t slowed down, I was still trucking along around 11 min/mile. So I kept running.

Autoregulation has been a welcome tool for me to enhance my running endurance during these challenging times. It allows me to listen to my body; it gives me a goal that I can pursue without judgement. It has taken away a stressor (externally derived goals) while still allowing me to challenge myself and improve over time. I am so grateful that I can run, and now I am really enjoying it again.

Photo description: Feet in grey and orange running shoes, ascending concrete stairs.

Your turn, dear reader: How do you decide when you’ve gone far enough? Do you predetermine distances or use autoregulation to decide how far to go? I’d love to hear from you.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found ignoring her ragged breathing, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · health · motivation · rest · running · schedule · strength training · training · walking · yoga

220 in 2020: goal achieved, now what? Hint: keep going

image description: Tracy selfie. She’s smiling, wearing a Buff on her head and a workout tank, upper left arm tattoo of flower visible, home workout equipment (e.g. running shoes, cans of beans, chairs, blanket, bin with resistance bands, yoga mat on floor) in background.

A few of us have blogged about participating in “220 in 2020,” which is basically a group where you keep track of your workouts, with a goal of working out at least 220 times in 2020. Cate and Sam started talking about it back in 2017, when they did “217 in 2017.” It got Sam to think more explicitly and more expansively about what counts. And Cate has talked about the motivating power of this type of group and how it’s altered her relationship to working out. I jumped on board last year, with the 219 in 2019 group that spun off of the Fit Is a Feminist Issue Challenge group that Cate, Christine and I hosted for a few months in the fall of 2018.

Reflecting on “what counts” is not a new thing for me. Way back when Sam and I started the blog in 2012, I was already wondering what a workout actually is for me. I revisited that question when I joined the 219 in 2019 group. Then I concluded that “if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.”

I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.

Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.

By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!

But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.

Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.

The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.

This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.

When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).

As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.

So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]

So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).

fitness · running · swimming

Switching one sport for another, or: some stops and some re-starts for Bettina

Content warning: discusses pregnancy

A couple of weeks ago, I went out for a run and it felt great. I did my usual 6k loop in the same amount of time I’d managed to keep up throughout the second trimester of my pregnancy. A few days later, I had to cut the same run short after 5k because I was getting uncomfortable. And then, last Sunday, I got as far as the bottom of the hill from my house before having to stop. The muscles and ligaments in my belly were uncomfortably tight and I was in more pain than I was willing to push through. As I was walking home, the pain went away, but I realised that perhaps running was over for me. I’d made it to what was officially the first day of my third trimester.

I was a bit bummed and sad, I’ll be honest. Given that just a week and a half earlier, I’d been able to run just fine, I was surprised at how quickly things had changed. There was a sense of loss that I hadn’t been quite prepared for. I consider myself a runner, but running isn’t my main sport, so I was astonished how much the thought of not being able to run any more bothered me.

The thing is: in times of Corona and pregnancy, with both swimming and bouldering out of the question and cycling to be approached with some care and trepidation, running had become my main sport. It was now the thing I turned to for clearing my head and getting peace of mind, and now it’s gone for the time being. I may still give walking with running intervals a try just to see how it goes, but I’m fully prepared to have to stick to walking.

A person (not Bettina) doing laps in a pool. This is also probably not what Bettina will look like doing laps in a pool after three months of no swimming at all!
Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

But it’s not all bad news! The same day, I learned that pools in my area were going to open back up. Next week, 17 June, is opening day for the first public open air swimming pool in our town! And then the next day, I learned that my lifeguarding club was getting back into action this coming Tuesday! We have a mind-boggling set of hygiene and distancing rules to follow, but I’ll happily obey them. Most (though not quite all) of them make sense. And it actually feels safe. We’re lucky enough to have so few cases of Covid-19 where I live now that I think it’ll be ok. Who knows, I may yet end up eating my own words, but for now things are looking up.

I’ve missed swimming so much, I’m beyond excited. I. CANNOT. WAIT. to get back into the pool!

I haven’t swum since mid-March, which was when everything around here closed down. That was early in the second trimester for me. I had only barely begun to show. The last training session before the lockdown was when I told all my teammates I was pregnant. So things will certainly be different when I get back in the water. But I’m so excited! Considering that a few weeks ago there was a real possibility I wouldn’t be able to swim at all before I’m due, this is an immense improvement. And it’ll give me an outlet and a way of being active instead of running, hopefully right up until the end. I’ll report on how it went next week!

covid19 · cycling · fitness · health · running · walking

Multi-use pathway: tough to navigate at the best of times

In my little city of London, Ontario we have a fantastic system of pathways–The Thames Valley Parkway– that run mostly along the river, through parks and wooded areas. It’s long and lovely, covering over 40 km of ground.

Image description: Map of London, Ontario’s pathways and bike routes. A yellow line snaking alongside the river indicates the Thames Valley Parkway.

Not surprisingly people use it a lot, not just for leisure but also for commuting from one end/side of the city to the other, for walking their dogs, for exercise. But that’s not the sense in which it’s “multi-use.” That refers to the modes of moving along the path — people walk, run, ride their bikes, travel on their inline skates and skateboards and non-motorized scooters, and in wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The posted speed limit is 20 kilometres per hour. At the moment, there are signs asking people to respect the covid-19 physical distancing guidelines to remain at least 2m apart.

Our local CBC asked the following question recently: “Between cyclists and pedestrians on the Thames Valley District Parkway, who gets the right of way?” They posted the same question on their FB page. As someone who has been using the pathway for a long time, not just during the pandemic, I wasn’t surprised that most replies didn’t even mention the pandemic.

Yes, the physical distancing guidelines raise a whole new set of issues about giving others their space. And (apparently), COVID-19 restrictions have increased the use of the pathway system because our other options, like gyms and yoga studios, are all closed. Plus, kids are home and many adults are either working from home (giving them in some cases more flex in their schedules) or not working. With outdoor exercise being touted (rightly) as an effective way to nurture your mental and physical health at the same time, health experts have emphasized its importance for us during the isolation of the pandemic.

Most people who commented in the thread said that the usual rules of the road should apply, not just during the pandemic, but all the time (how it should be “all the time” was a recurring theme). That would mean pedestrians have the right of way. But not all agreed. Some thought, for example, that since pedestrians can more easily duck out of the way, cyclists should have the right of way. The fact is, the TVP is not a road and the city has not spelled out any guidelines for its use other than “share the path.” The convention is that on the two-lane pathway, pedestrians and cyclists alike use the right-hand lane.

The CBC London comment thread had the usual complaints about cyclists from pedestrians — they don’t ring their bell or say anything to let you know they’re approaching, they pass too closely, they go too fast, they ride in packs (or side-by-side). And there were the usual complaints about pedestrians from cyclists — they take up too much space instead of keeping to the right, they are wearing earbuds so they don’t hear you when you call out, they are sometimes erratic.

The path itself is anywhere from 2.4 to 4 metres wide. That makes it logistically impossible to maintain a two metre distance from everyone you might encounter, whether you’re on foot or on a bicycle, regardless of how much you’d like to keep a safe distance at all times.

Remember too that not everyone on foot is walking. I use the path as both a walker and a runner, and have also used it a lot as a cyclist. My view of what’s irritating, because in general that is how I would describe my reaction when other people’s use of the path creates friction for my use of it, depends a lot on what “mode” I’m in. As one person said to the CBC, “When you’re a pedestrian, you want to think the faster people should get out of your way, but now that I’ve been biking a bit more, I realize I have the opposite mindset when I’m on a bike.” Similarly, when I’m riding my bicycle (or even when I’m running), I get grumpy when people are walking together and taking up the whole lane. But of course, walking in the park together is a thing. An enjoyable thing. And now that we are physical distancing, walking with a friend required that you be further apart than usual.

The other morning when I was out running, I kept as far to the right as possible (I always do that for my own sense of safety from the fast cyclists). Most cyclists who needed to go around me gave a wide berth, but not 2m. I had the easiest time with the people who were running or walking in the other direction because I could (and did) just step a few feet onto the grass as I passed them. Indeed, when possible, I enjoy running on the softer edges beside the paved part, but it’s not always flat enough to do that without risk of turning onto an ankle. The most challenging obstacle I faced was the group of four people walking their large dogs. Between the people and the dogs on leashes, they were literally spread out over both sides of the path, creating a real blockade for cyclists. I did my usual thing and ran off the pathway to navigate around them, but I was annoyed.

I think the worst thing cyclists do besides passing too closely happens when there are pedestrians or runners coming towards me in the other lane and a cyclist approaching them from behind who wants to pass them. It has never been clear to me why it makes more sense from the cyclist’s point of view to ride straight into the path of a pedestrian or runner (me!) in the other lane instead of waiting for a clear passing opportunity. It would be as if you were driving on a two-lane highway and you just kept going at speed, passing cars in front of you without any regard for whether there was on-coming traffic. It wouldn’t even occur to you but quite honestly, 9/10 cyclists do this as if it’s the most reasonable choice in the world.

I’m sensitive too to the issue raised about being in the “slipstream” of a runner or cyclist who passes me (or vice versa if I pass someone). I don’t really know what to do about that, so I just hope for the best. Did that slipstream thing get debunked or at least, did someone say it was overly simplistic? Regardless, it’s hard not to think about mini-droplets hanging in the air and how long they may linger there. Sometimes I try to hold my breath but I have considered that possibly that makes me then gasp for air with an extra deep inhale at exactly the wrong moment. On a related note: I have noticed that some people sort of turn their head away and fewer people say “hello” (we live in a city where the norm is to say hello to others on the path). Thankfully some data show that being outside reduces transmission risk a lot.

I am sort of onside with the view that there is no clear right-of-way rule that can easily apply in every case when it comes to the pathway. This is unfortunate because clear rules would be helpful. But I am aware that just because something annoys me doesn’t make it wrong. For example, I have been the cyclist too, and if there are lots of people walking it is exhausting to continually ring your bell or say “on your left.” Indeed, “on your left” can sometimes confuse people or startle them (though typically they will thank you for letting them know).

On the water, when boating, there are clear rules about sail boats having the right of way over power boats. But there is also a sort of convention that the boat who can easily maneuver out of the way should do so if it would be more difficult for the other boat (that’s the reasoning behind why a boat under sail typically has the right of way), even if the other boat technically has the right of way. And really, from the safety point of view, you need to be sensible — if you’ve technically got the right of way but holding your ground might mean you’re going to get run over (like if you’re sailing and a freighter is coming up behind you at twice your speed), then you get out of the way.

I operate kind of like that on the pathway. And most others do too. And as several people on the CBC London Facebook thread said, usually it goes pretty smoothly. And that is amazing considering how busy the TVP can be at times. But I have also taken to going as early in the morning as possible if I’m going to be on the path. And sometimes I don’t have the energy to put up with the added stress, so I just avoid the pathway altogether. I’ve adopted a general policy, that I expect I will maintain for as long as the physical distancing guidelines are required (read: until there is a vaccine and most people have been inoculated): I run alone.

I am still experimenting with physical-distanced walking with friends and I have to say I don’t love it. I need and like to connect in-person with a friend from time to time. But it’s hard to keep proper distance (some people disagree and say it’s easy — that’s not been my experience) and I feel like a jerk if I keep dwelling on it. It also proliferates the navigational challenges of encountering other pairs or larger groups of people walking, running, or cycling together. So, personally I have found it stressful, especially on the pathway. To be quite honest, my preferred way of doing physical-distanced visits with friends is to each bring our own chair and set them up at least six feet apart whether at the park or in someone’s yard. No navigating required. Public health recommendations uncompromisingly followed.

What’s obvious is that in the absence of totally separate pathways, like on the Vancouver seawall where the walking path is distinct from the cycling path, we will need to find a safe way to enjoy these spaces together. The safety and health issues of physical distancing are just one more thing to add to the mix this year. If we’re mostly out there to improve our sense of well-being, and we are truly all in this together, then the both the individual and public health benefits are best achieved by being chill instead of annoyed.

covid19 · running

I Don’t Want to Let COVID Take Spring Away

I almost didn’t write this post, because I feel guilty about not being as cooped up and resource drained as so many people are by this pandemic.

Normally this time of year I would be home in New York City. But when COVID hit, I was in California’s Sierra mountains, where my partner and I spend 5-6 weeks in the winter and then again in the summer. We’ve never spent spring in the mountains. The new season felt slow in coming. Back in early April, friends in NYC were sending pictures of cherry blossoms and we were still cross-country skiing. The ski area was officially closed, but we could still beat around on the cruddy snow, safely distanced from other people. But I was sick of skiing (I never thought it was possible) and I missed the flowering trees. Actually, I missed everything about the city—friends, theatre, movies, restaurants, wearing fun shoes and so on. I knew that what I longed for was on a giant PAUSE for who knows how long, still I wrestled against the restrictions.

I spent weeks resenting the lingering snow, the leaf-budless trees and my solitude that was supposed to be over. To compound things, I knew that I was in a very lucky spot compared to many. I could go outside without worrying I’d be shamed or run afoul of all the conflicting information about whether exercising outside was safe or not. (Thank you, Cate, for giving us some medical insight into the dangers of outdoor exercise yesterday.) So I piled judgment and guilt about my lack of gratitude on top of my resentment. Like many women, I’m an expert at self-criticism, that great pleasure destroyer.

Then the daffodils popped up (they seem to be the only perennial around here, other than the wildflowers, which are still mostly under snow). The bare tree branches started to bud and now the leaves are emerging, in all their dazzling early spring green. The birds came back in droves, singing all day long. On Saturday morning we were lying in bed listening to the birdsong when we heard a familiar rustle below our window. The deer were back, looking scruffy and winter shaggy, browsing in the wild shrubbery on the slope below us.

The snow withdrew enough from the mountain trails to make running possible. On my first run in the woods, I spent a third of my time picking my way through the snow piles searching for the continuation of the trail. Every time my foot broke through the surface crust, spikes of old snow stabbed my winter-white ankles. But something else happened too, my resentment started to leak away. I adore trail running. The smell of the cold, damp pine needles went straight to my head. The blast of joy started to clean out the cobwebs of frustration.

I realized that my psyche could keep on fighting against all the restrictions that COVID had imposed on my life. And I could then dump judgment on top, because those restrictions are fewer than many are enduring. I can feel guilty that about running without a mask, about the privilege of running period (no stealth required, as Nicole described in her piece about being a devious runner). And I can feel guilty that what I’m doing outside feels joyful, in a moment when joy feels unseemly.

But why should we diminish the pleasures life continues to offer, despite the pandemic? COVID takes and takes and takes things away from us. I don’t want to let the virus take away spring, in all its hopeful glory. Guilt and self-condemnation don’t serve anybody. So, even as I continue to miss the city, my gratitude is blooming again alongside that sadness.

This morning I ran for an hour on the trails, through dirty old snow and mud, over a fat log across a spring swollen stream and through tall pine forest on a soft carpet of needles. I wore too-light gloves and my hands felt like little fists of ice, my arms sheathed in frost. But with every breath, the heat of my pounding heart met the crisp air with a thank you, thank you, thank you.  

covid19 · fitness · online exercise · running · swimming · yoga

Exercising while pregnant: the second trimester (so far)

CW: discusses pregnancy

As I type this, I’m almost 21 weeks along, so this week the little bean and I successfully passed the halfway point of this pregnancy. The second trimester so far has been a steady improvement from the first in terms of how I’m feeling. The extreme tiredness and the not-too-bad-but-niggling nausea have gone away and I actually feel like doing things now. At the moment, I’m really enjoying my pregnancy. The little one is quite active and I get a lot of kicks, which is very cute. And I’m not so big yet that it’s becoming an issue.

At the same time, I’m facing new challenges: I’m definitely showing now, so I’ve had to invest in some maternity yoga pants (so comfy!), looser tops and sports bras in a larger size as my breasts have grown. There are definitely some yoga poses that are no longer comfortable. Running is slower and slower. Last Sunday, I went on the first longer bike ride (that wasn’t a commute) of the season and while my bike shorts still fit, I felt a bit like a sausage in my cycling kit. Unfortunately so far, I haven’t been able to find maternity cycling shorts, at least not from a European vendor (if I were to order something from the US now I’d worry about delivery times). I have, however, found a workaround for now: folding the front of the bike shorts down helps accommodate the bump a bit.

Bettina running down a hill in a blue flowy running top and black capris. You can’t really see the baby bump from the front but trust me, it’s there! (In the background, there’s another runner – she was doing hill reps and it was v impressive.)

And then of course, well, there’s the global pandemic that keeps us all from living our normal lives. I’m very privileged, so I won’t complain. But it’s having an impact. I miss swimming so much! Under different circumstances, I would have purchased a wetsuit and taken up open water swimming: in Germany, we are allowed to exercise outside, and that includes swimming in many lakes. But now that I’m pregnant, I’m not throwing my valuable Euros at a wetsuit that would fit me for all of a few weeks, or problably not at all, seeing as they’re not usually constructed to accommodate pregnant bodies. The first maternity clothing item I bought a couple of months ago – before the pools closed – was a swimsuit, and so far I haven’t used it even once. I really, really hope I’ll be able to return to the pool before the end of August, but I’m also trying not to get my hopes up.

I move a lot less than normal as I work from home, and I’m also finding that it’s really easy to become sedentary. Normally, I often go to my workouts directly from the office or as I’m out and about, so I don’t give myself the chance to sit down and get too cozy to work out. I find it harder to motivate myself these days, though when I do get out, I really enjoy it. So here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Yoga. I have switched from Yoga with Adriene to prenatal yoga videos now. Even better though, I have a colleague who is training to be an Iyengar yoga teacher, and she is giving me and my work mates classes over video conference at lunchtime twice a week. She is very thoughtful and makes modifications for me. The classes are challenging but I really enjoy them. I’ve also started playing with the new Downdog pregnancy yoga app, which is currently free due to the Covid-19 situation, and am enjoying it so far.
  • Running. Slow and steady, I try to get out for my 6k loop a couple of times a week during times when the paths aren’t too busy.
  • Hiking. The weather has been glorious here (though I won’t lie, in my darker moments the fact that it hasn’t rained in three weeks and we are having nearly-25°C temperatures in mid-April gives me major anxiety about bringing a baby into this climate catastrophe). So my husband and I have been doing some hiking, again trying to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, when there is nothing else to do, the sun is shining, and your government allows you to go outside, everyone else does the same thing. The woods are a busy place these days. Still, most people are responsible, keep their distance, and stick to immediate family as hiking partners.
  • Biking. I feel like this is going to be the next thing to go on account of my growing belly, so I’m trying to get as much as possible out of it while I still can. See the aforementioned sausage moment.
  • Other prenatal workouts. I’ve found some that I like on youtube, particularly this list by BodyFit by Amy. They’re varied (there’s a strength one, cardio, TRX…) and I can pick what I feel like on a given day, and they are also challenging. She gives different options depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness level and how far along you are, which is great.

So by and large, it’s going ok and I keep moving. But, have I mentioned how much I miss swimming?

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.