femalestrength · feminism · skiing

Give Girls the Opportunity to Fail

Out cross country skiing the other morning, I came upon this mother-daughter scene at the intersection leading to one of my favourite trails, a winding climb:

Frustrated daughter, who looked about nine-years-old, laying in the snow across the classic ski track (that’s the two parallel grooves), scuffing one ski into the track. Exasperated mother on skis, standing a couple feet away on the corduroy groomed trail.

As I made the right turn onto my favoured trail, the mother shot me a look of complicity, saying, “…” I don’t know what. I couldn’t hear her, because I wasn’t expecting her to speak to me and my ears were focused on the podcast in my ears. On another day, I might have just smiled, as if I’d heard and carried on with my ski. Instead, I felt myself in the girl’s insistent scuffing. The intensity with which she was destroying the track resonated with my own inner girl’s desire to be and do more. I stopped.

Me: “Pardon me? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

Mother: “I just don’t understand why she’s upset. She can’t ski up this trail. It’s too steep. I can barely ski it.”

Me (interior monologue): “The trail’s not that steep. Oh Mina, stop being so judgy. Also, the trail is actually pretty steep right at the top.”

Me: “Couldn’t she do the herringbone?”

Mother: “No. She can’t do it. It’s only her third day skiing.”

Hearing this, the daughter’s ski scuffing gets more vigorous and defiant.

Me (interior monologue): “What’s the harm in letting her try?”

Me (to the daughter): “Great skis. Look, they’re the same design as mine.”

I extended one leg and put one ski next to the daughter’s much shorter one, highlighting our matching black and red Atomics. The daughter glanced at me briefly with curiosity and then continued scuffing. With that, I smiled in what I hope was a consoling way at the mother and carried on with my ski.

For the rest of my time on the snow, the feminist brigade inside my head talked over each other in increasingly louder voices.

Why can’t the daughter at least try? What the worst that will happen if she tries and fails? That she will be discouraged? That she will never want to ski again? Never want to go outside again? Well, that seems unlikely. And why do I feel certain that this scene would not be playing out this way if the daughter was a son? Or if the mother were a father? A father would tell his son that he could climb the hill. Yes, true, sometimes that goes too far in the other direction. I don’t think the whole boot camp desensitization approach is the right way either. But isn’t there a supportive, middle ground? Somewhere between get-the-fuck-up-the-hill-on-the-double and oh-no-this-is-too-hard-to-even-try.  Are we so fragile as girls that we can’t even be allowed to attempt something seemingly insurmountable? Why can’t she be allowed to try and be frustrated and defeated and supported in that struggle? How will she grow her resilience?    

I so wanted to encourage that little girl to take on the hill. I wanted to contradict her mother, take the girl’s hand and let her know that she had all the courage she needed to take on this hill and that I’d be right behind her. And if she didn’t make it, so what, she’d have tried and that’s what counted and next time she’d probably make it. 

Mina at the top of Drifter, her favourite high trail at Tahoe Donner Cross Country (and where she was inspired to ski after the encounter with the mother-daughter)

There were other voices in my head, who told me that I had no right to even weigh in on the topic, because I’m not a mother, so what do I know about daughters; plus the just plain civil voice who pointed out it was not my place to say anything.

Yes. And.

I still know a little something about girls. I was once a girl who encountered frustrations. And I am a woman who has learned a lot of new things, some of which I’ve failed at and some of which seemed insurmountable when I took them on, and at which I did okay. I don’t have specific memories of my parents preventing me from or encouraging me to take on difficult tasks. There was a general ethos of try-and-try-again throughout my childhood. My parents also sent to me to an all-girls summer camp, run by a fierce woman who both cared about our safety and encouraged us to try hard things. I balk at lots of things, but I want to make my own decision about when I choose not to try or to stop trying. When I look around, I see how, even now, boys have bigger self-confidence than girls. Boys are quicker to claim that they are good at something (even when they aren’t really). I really (really) want this for girls, too.

I dream of a world where all genders are offered equal opportunity to fall down (literally and metaphorically) and be supported as they get back on their feet. So, I dare to write this piece, as a non-mother, to ask mothers: “Please give your daughters a shot at the hill, even if it feels too steep, even for you.”   

femalestrength · sex · skiing

Sex and Breath Can Fuel Our Sports

Some mornings I wake up with a buzz of desire fluttering around my nerve endings. When our enthusiasm matches up and time allows, my partner and I indulge our pleasure. Inevitably though, there are mornings when that is just not possible. Until very recently, my response would be to shelve the buzz in corner, so that I could focus on the practical to-do list for the day.

Or, less productively, I’d be grumpy.

Until three weeks ago. That’s when I started taking an online course on the history and practices of tantric sexuality from the Centre Summum. I’ve been intrigued by tantra practices for more than a decade, but could never work up the courage to actually sign up for anything.

A brief and necessarily incomplete description is that tantra is a spiritual practice (across many traditions) of gathering and harmonizing our feminine and masculine energy. So, yes, tantra is about so much more than sex. And, it’s about sex.

Thanks to the pandemic, the class about sex is online. Thank you zoom for the ability to enroll in classes that would be logistically complicated or psychologically daunting, if they were in person. How much easier is it to show up from home? No one can really see when I blush, nor are there those awkward moments before and after class where we talk about … our sex lives?      

We get homework. The first and second week (the third class is tonight, after this piece posts) one of our assignments was to notice those buzzy moments that I mentioned earlier (the class is in French and I love the French word for the buzz—frissons). Instead of setting the frissons aside, as I used to do, we learned to pause and simply savor the sensation of our life force energy. That’s what tantrism calls our sexual energy—our life force, the root flame of our vitality. Well, that was fun homework. Enlivening.

neon sign reading “and breathe” against leafy background, .by Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash

Another delightful assignment is practicing Kumbhaka breathing to cultivate our vital energy. Breath practices are key in tantra. As explained in the class, Kumbhaka breath is to cultivate our life force energy. It goes like this:

Ideally (but not necessarily!) done in seated meditation position. Take a deep breath in, moving the breath down from your heart into your pelvic floor. Hold the in-breath for a moment and then breathe out, moving the breath through your root chakra at the base of your spine. Allow the out-breath to continue up your spine, flow over the crown of your head and back down to rejoin the in-breath at your heart. Hold your breath at empty until you feel the urge to breathe. Repeat the breath pattern. Repeat again. You may set yourself a breath count or an amount of time, or you may just do it until your vitality is buzzing.

An online search yields a variety of slightly different descriptions, with prescriptive advice on when and how long to do the breathing. Our teacher, Stéphane, has a permissive spirit, much more about flow than structure. My personal approach is to try out different ways of doing the breath and feel into what works for me. In that spirit, I have a visualization that manifested with the practice. The in-breath is to anchor my life force (my power). The out-breath straightens my spine and as the breath flows over my head and past my face, I imagine putting on a warrior’s helmet. That’s my courage. Finally, as the breath reaches my heart, I tap into love. I’ve been doing Kumbhaka during my meditation, where it feels energizing and helps me focus (not on sex, but on what I need to focus on for the day).

Where I’ve really noticed a difference is when I do the breathing in bed, as I’m waking up on those buzzy mornings when I have to get up and start the day, no time for dalliance. When I go for my workout, which is cross-country skiing these days, I feel extra strong. The first time I felt this abundant energy during my ski, I just chalked it up to feeling happy.  After all, spending a few extra moments to breathe into the frissons is happiness-inducing. The second and third times I felt the kick of vitality on my skis, I thought—hey, there’s a pattern. First, I searched around online to see if there was anything specific about my experience. While there is lots about tantric yoga and about other breathing practices and sports performance, there wasn’t anything specific about the particular connection I am experiencing. So, I asked Stéphane, if I was imagining the connection or if the Special K-effect (as I think of it, a reference to the breakfast cereal, not the drug) was a known result? He wrote me back (oh, right; because I did not have the courage to ask the question in class, live on zoom, I waited to ask in writing!): “Yes, whenever we channel our sexual energy there will be a tendency to increase all of our internal energies. It (*our sexual energy) is the source of all our strength.”

Yes! I’ll have what she’s having. Oh wait, I’m the she who is already having. That sentence may have been nonsense, but you get the picture. I’m grooving to this class, even on my skis.

Interestingly, at the risk of over-sharing, but hey, I’m already in pretty deep here: when I actually have sex in the morning, that does not make me feel stronger for my workout. The more likely result is that I am more at ease with however the workout goes. That’s an equally great outcome, since I can get caught up in performance-busting narratives in my head.

And, in case it isn’t super obvious, these practices are intended for all people with sexual energy, whether or not you are in a relationship or solo and whatever gender creates the sparks.

There’s more personal, anecdotal research to be done on this front. I plan to be very diligent about my homework. And if you’ve been wanting a new kick of energy to supplement your morning coffee, check out the Special K-effect for yourself. You can’t fake the deliciousness.

femalestrength · habits · motivation · new year's resolutions · skiing · training

Just Trying—For A Zesty Start to 2020

A few years ago, my cross-country ski mate moved to Montana. We had developed a relaxed, yet ferocious, approach to our shared ski workouts—lots of hard work and lots of chat time. My perfect workout partner. After she left, I lost my mojo.

I almost didn’t notice. For the first couple of years I was dealing with the run up and the aftermath of surgery for a neuroma in my foot. Not that I had to take any significant time off; it was more that the pain prior to the surgery dampened my enthusiasm and then I didn’t quite trust the absence of pain. Even as I write this, I know that my diminished energy for skiing was more to do with losing my partner-in-energy-for-fierce-workouts than it was related to the surgery.

When the ski season started this year, I noticed for the first time how many moments I told myself that I wasn’t fit enough anymore to do a workout from years past. For example, I used to ski up certain gradual hills using V2 (the most powerful skate ski stroke; think of it like the hard gear in the big chain ring on a bike). Now, I was intimidated by the prospect. I told myself that I shouldn’t even try until I got in better shape. Now, that’s a vicious cycle.

Then, skiing on December 31st, I suddenly realized—what am I doing? Just try, I told myself. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? You can’t finish the effort you started? What does that even mean? I’m the one who decides when the effort is done. I’m the one who decides whether I made a good effort or a not. And, if I never make the effort, then I can definitely keep telling myself I can’t.

So, in the middle of my ski, I just tried. I alternated V2 with the moderate ski stroke I normally default to. The next day, January 1, as I was finishing my ski, I got inspired. First day of the year, more, first day of the new decade, try on a new attitude. Plus, I was buoyed by my effort the day before. As I approached the hill where I used to do V2 intervals, I decided to throw in one interval. Just one. Just try. The hill was SO hard. I almost coughed up a lung, as a friend used to say. I got to the top. My technique was a mess. I was done in. I felt that nice glow of accomplishment.

I’m starting to thread back in bits of workouts from the days with my ski pal. It feels good. Fresh. Exhilarating even, as I feel the fizz of enthusiasm returning. As always, the experience makes me question, where else in my life can I just try more? Just try feels forgiving. More about the intention than the outcome. I’m less daunted. I’m less likely to judge myself, when trying is the key to my pleasure, not accomplishing a certain speed.

On January 3, I did the whole interval workout I used to do. V2 up the gradual hill. Fast as I can around and down the other side. Double pole on the barely-discernible-uphill back to the start of the loop. Six times. Just enough energy left for some ski dancing in celebration.

I feel an uptick of overall life optimism from my new and renewed attitude on skis; a zesty feeling I wish I could bottle for the less pleasant days. But life’s operating instructions are pretty clear: Best Enjoyed Now.

Will do.

What’s on your Just Try list?

fitness · skiing · winter

Jennifer’s Pro-tip: Find a thing you love! (Guest post)

by Jennifer Tamse

Jennifer cross country skiing

Canadian Protip #1: Find a winter sport that you love, and each snowfall will be met with a renewed sense of fervor and spirit. And if you’re still looking for that special something, go into the attic, dust the dirt and cobwebs off grandma’s skis, and join me. 

#canadianwinters#xcountry#xcountryski#touring#adventure#warmupwithastout#canadian#winterwonderland 

Jennifer is an amateur philosopher, self-described Trekkie and craft beer aficionado, Jennifer has close to a decade of experience driving innovation and change in the hospitality sector and beverage industries. In her spare time, she enjoys x-country skiing, hiking, antiquing and progressive rock music.

fitness · Olympics · skiing

A flurry of feminist fitness: one evening watching the Olympics

I have a love/hate relationship with Olympics TV coverage– it’s thrilling to see such a wide variety of sports, but annoying that shows focus on the #26 American competitor at the expense of seeing a great final that doesn’t include any US athletes.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that this year’s coverage is better; we get to see more big chunks of events, rather than just snippets of individual performances.  Here are some tremendous victories from female athletes that just blew me away:

Marit Bjoegen of Norway skied to victory in the final leg of the women’s 4 x 5 (km) relay cross country ski race, winning her 13th career Olympic gold medal.  That ties the Olympic record (with fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen).  Here she is, crossing the line:

Marit Bjoergen of Norway, crossing the line to victory for her 13th Olympic gold medal.
Marit Bjoergen of Norway, crossing the line to victory for her 13th Olympic gold medal.

Bjoergen is 37, a fact that was mentioned by the commentators approximately every 17 seconds during her final leg.  Sweden’s Stina Nilsson, who is 24– “13 years younger!” the commentators kept exclaiming– was hot on her heels, but couldn’t hang on up the final hill.  The Norwegian team is a powerhouse, and Ragnahild Haga set up the team for victory by erasing a 30-second deficit in the third leg to set up Bjoergen.

What a race!  I was moving my feet in unconscious solidarity with the skiers, and marveling at their stamina and strength and technique and speed.

Speaking of speed, how about Korean short-track speed skater Choi Min-jeong?  She’s 19 (it’s very important we know how old everyone is, it seems), and just blew the doors off of her competition in the 1500-meter final.  I don’t know much (by much, I mean anything) about short track speed skating, but it seems balletic and also impossible– the skaters create an instant pace line, with some of them occasionally moving to the front.  There’s all sorts of strategy (completely unknown to me), but it continues on, so graceful– they are fluid and consistent in their motion.

Olympic women's 500-meter short track speed skaters in motion.
Olympic women’s 500-meter short track speed skaters in motion.

Then all hell breaks loose, and I’m a bit confused, very excited, and trying to look everywhere at once.  Choi Min-jeong had made her move, skating on the outside with explosive speed to take first place, and continued accelerating as she crossed the finish line.

Choi Min-jeong, winning the gold in the women's 1500-meter short track speed skating final, with the rest of the pack way behind her, wondering what happened.
Choi Min-jeong, winning the gold in the women’s 1500-meter short track speed skating final, with the rest of the pack way behind her, wondering what happened.

Speaking of wondering what happened, how about that Ester Ledecka, the Czech world-champion snowboarder who also competed in super-G giant slalom? She WON the competition, using someone else’s skis– apparently she borrowed them from American competitor Mikaela Shiffrin.  Whoa.

Ledecka (along with the announcers and the entire crowd watching the event) was initially confused about the outcome.  Here she is, trying to parse the information:

Ester LEster Ledecka, looking at the results board.
Ester Ledecka, looking at the results board.

When it became clear that she had won, it finally started to sink in.

Ester Ledecka, her arms up in a V for victory gesture.
Ester Ledecka, her arms up in a V for victory gesture.

By the way, she’s 22.

All this enormous effort– a tiny show reflecting years of hard work and privation– and the joy it brings makes me happy about my own movement triumphs. And it motivates me to get out there (wherever there is…) to set my own records, however I see them.

Does the Olympics affect you in your plans and feelings about your own movement?  I’d love to hear from you.

injury · skiing

Sam survives Tremblant without skiing or fat biking and suffers a mild identity crisis

A picture of the ski village and shops around Mt Tremblant. It’s snowy. It’s late afternoon and getting dark. The photo is looking downhill and you can see shops and restaurants.

This weekend I went on a skiing holiday with a group of friends who meet and rent a large house at Mt Tremblant

I went knowing I couldn’t ski because of my knee. (The good news is that skiing is on the list of activities I can expect to be able to do in the future, unlike running which is forever off the menu.) I thought I’d be able to fat bike but the rental shop was sold out.

Instead, I got out for some walks. I enjoyed the pool and the hot tub. I read some dissertation chapters and had fun visiting with people.

A picture of the Tremblant Living pool and hot tub

Why’d I go with my busted knee?

Partly, I suppose, optimism. I’m relentlessly optimistic. Partly because I’d planned this in the early months of last summer before my knee had even started to bother me.

Also, of the couples that come, not everyone skis. Some people just enjoy the weekend away, the beautiful scenery, the deer, the mountains, etc.

I was okay not skiing. But I was sad that I couldn’t go fat biking. I got some much needed reading done in a great environment. Nothing like thesis reading in front of a roaring fireplace.

But the thing that was the hardest was my self image. Like the elevator I felt the need to constantly explain. Yes, normally I’d be out there. I’m not skiing, or snow shoeing, because of an injury. I’m not one of the non-active partners. Really, I’m not.

Yes, I’m just learning to ski. But normally I cross country ski. I also ride my fat bike in the snow. I snow shoe too. But then there’s this knee.

Lots of people had their stories of bad knees and ankles and hips and shoulders. There was a lot of commiseration

It’s interesting to me how much that matters and how much physical activity is part of who I am. Especially as I’m getting older people think I’m giving up activities because of age. I’m not. I’m not!

Mt Tremblant, I’ll be back.

Here’s me in my pink parka, staying toasty warm in the snow.

fitness · skiing

Women to women information? Or just mansplaining marketing about athletic gear?

We love our Fit is a Feminist Issue readers and Facebook followers– they are always letting us know about interesting, vexing, puzzling or useful stories.  One of the latest involves the Womentowomen site for Blizzard skis.  It purports to provide women with needed information so they will feel less intimidated when going to purchase skis.  Here’s their blurb on Facebook:

This is a post from the Blizzard Facebook page offering to help women understand what skis they should buy from Blizzard, and showing a variety of pastel colors of ski offerings.
This is a post from the Blizzard Facebook page offering to help women understand what skis they should buy from Blizzard, and showing a variety of pastel colors of ski offerings.

The responses from women skiers ranged from eye-rolling and sighing to comments that showed that no, they don’t need any terminology breakdowns; they got this.  The main thrust was that Blizzard offers no terminology tutorial in its men-specific or general information sites; why target women particularly when it sells to all levels of skiers of all genders?

I looked a little more at their marketing, and the soft-soap/hand holding approach for women seems popular in their marketing department.  Let’s take a quick look at the copy for two sets of skis, both designed for expert skiers.  First, the men’s skis:

Ad copy for men's ski Rustler 10-- "the ski of choice for those looking to have fun while pushing themselves to ski better and explore all corners of the hill in any snow conditions".
Ad copy for men’s ski Rustler 10– “the ski of choice for those looking to have fun while pushing themselves to ski better and explore all corners of the hill in any snow conditions”.

Yeah, alright!  Let’s do some shredding, dude.

Now to the women’s ski, also designed for expert skiers:

Ad copy for the women's expert ski, including thes snippets: "fun and forgiving, while offering up stability and versatility... confidence inspiring, elevated skiing experience... Who wants to work hard when you can play harder?"
Ad copy for the women’s expert ski, including these snippets: “fun and forgiving, while offering up stability and versatility… confidence inspiring, elevated skiing experience… Who wants to work hard when you can play harder?”

Argh.  Really?  The expert women skiers are supposed to respond to “confidence-building”, “fun and forgiving”, and buy a ski because they don’t want to work hard?

I don’t think this woman is looking not to work hard; do you?

A woman skiing in deep powder at Alta in Utah.
A woman skiing in deep powder at Alta in Utah.

This woman doesn’t need any forgiveness from her skis– she is telling them exactly what to do and is in charge.

A woman in an orange ski jacket carving  turn down the side of a mountain.
A woman in an orange ski jacket carving turn down the side of a mountain.

 

Of course not all ski marketing treats expert women skiers as in need of confidence-building.  Here’s an ad I would definitely respond to (if I were a downhill skier):

A female skier headed down a very seriously steep descent; the ad copy reads "the Lange RX 110 is for an expert skier who pushes her limits in the steeps."
A female skier headed down a very seriously steep descent; the ad copy reads “the Lange RX 110 is for an expert skier who pushes her limits in the steeps.”

Yeah!  That’s what I’m talking about.  I want to see women skiing down scary steeps, taking air, navigating drops, and pushing their limits.  We want adrenaline rushes (at least in aspirational marketing material) as much as the men do.  Or at least we want it as an option.

So enough already with the namby-pamby “this is easy” and “let us explain this to you” business.  Give us thrills and chills and hard-driving rock soundtracks.  And less pastel-colored gear, while you’re at it.

competition · fitness · racing · skiing

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.”

IMG_9174

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.

Aikido · athletes · competition · cycling · martial arts · racing · running · skiing · swimming · training · weight lifting

Weight training only?

weights versus cardio cartoonI’ve written before about mono exercisers, advocating instead for an account of fitness that includes multiple components. See Is there life after running? and Fitness, yes but fit for what?

It used to be that I spent time with runners who only ran, cyclists who only rode bikes, and triathletes who wildly mixed it up a bit on the endurance exercise front. But none of them, or almost none of them, lifted weights. Maybe on the off season, maybe. But even then only reluctantly in service of their chosen sport.

These days I’m hanging with some weight lifters who eschew cardio. See comics above and below!

Is it really true that the efforts of one work against the other? (Tracy is going to post later about endurance exercise and the goal of fat loss.)

It seems obviously true that at the outer limits it’s true that these goals can compete. Marathon and ultra-marathoners are small people usually. Extra weight, even in the form of muscle, just makes the job harder. Upper body muscles have no place on the bodies of cyclists who specialize in hill climbing.

Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times piece on size and athletic performance. Note though that a fair amount of this is self-selection. It’s true that elite runners are small but not necessarily true that running made them small.

“The rules of physics say that distance cycling and distance running are for small people. Rowing and swimming are for people who are big. The physics is so exact that when Dr. Secher tried to predict how fast competitive rowers could go, based only on their sizes and the weights of their boats, he was accurate to within 1 percent.

At first glance, a big rower (and elite male rowers can weigh as much as 250 pounds) may seem to be at a disadvantage trying to row hard enough to push a boat through the water. But because water buoys the boat, weight becomes less of an issue compared with the enormous benefits of having strong muscles.”

The same reasoning explains why elite swimmers are big. Great male swimmers often are 6 feet 4 inches tall, and muscular. And because of the advantage that large muscles give for sprints over short distances, the shorter the distance an athlete must swim, the greater the advantage it is to be big.

Tall swimmers also have another advantage: because swimmers are horizontal in the water, their long bodies give them an automatic edge. “It’s the difference between long canoes and short canoes,” Dr. Joyner said.

Distance running is different. Tall people naturally have longer strides, but stride length, it turns out, does not determine speed. Running requires that you lift your body off the ground with each step, propelling yourself forward. The more you weigh, the harder you have to work to lift your body and the slower you will be.

The best runners are small and light, with slim legs. “If you have large legs, you have to move a big load,” Dr. Secher said. “The smaller you are, the better you are.”

See Bigger is better, except when it’s not

Here’s Fit and Feminist blogging about regretfully losing muscle while marathon training:

I will also cop to feeling frustrated that I’ve lost some of my upper body muscle, even though I made a point to lift at least twice a week and to increase my caloric intake to compensate for the calories burned off by my runs.  In fact, I ended up actually losing weight, which is basically unheard of during marathon training. The fact that this happened has led me to another realization, which is that while I really love and admire well-developed upper bodies and would love to have one of my own, I have come to the realization that I am not one of those people whose bodies can accommodate a lot of running AND have big, beautiful muscles.  So I am still focused on lifting, but it’s also with the understanding that I might not have gorgeous muscles to go along with the strength I build.  *sad trombone*

And for people interested in growing muscle, whether for strength training for body building, it’s true that running, biking, swimming marathon type distances can work against your newly built muscle.

But happily most of us aren’t performance oriented ultra-runners or only interested in the size of our muscles. Most of us are middle of the pack athletes, running middle distances and lifting weights for strength and health reasons. For us, it’s a mistake to be distracted about what’s true for those with single minded fitness goals.

I’m a  Jill of all sports and I’m okay with that even if it means I don’t do as well in any one as I would do if I did only that thing.

See you in the weight room, on the soccer field, out running, biking, or rowing, in the dojo, or on the cross country ski trails!
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running · skiing

Cold fingers and female athletes

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There’s a line that makes me want to punch people. “You know what they say, cold hands, warm heart.” Yeah, that line.

For many years, I was just fine with winter. I love the snow. My first years in Canada–my family moved to this country when I was four–were spent in cold, snowy Newfoundland. I didn’t even mind, as a young person, the shorter days. I mind them now.

And then I started to get seriously cold and for a few years I spent most of winter inside. That drove me a little bit bonkers. I love the outdoors. So I started running. And cross country skiing. The really neat thing was that exercise kept me warm in a way down coats never could. I love being active outside in the winter. I love the outdoors and moving fast meant I was warm enough finally.

But then a new problem emerged, Raynaud’s phenomena. Or that’s what my doctor tells me it’s called. Since they can’t do anything and it’s more an inconvenience than a danger, modern medicine doesn’t have much to tell me other than a name. Thanks doctors. But I’ve been poked and prodded an investigated and that is what I have.

I’d start skiing and work up a good sweat but then my fingers would start to get really cold. They’d get lumpy and hard and I knew frost bite would soon happen. I had a few really scary run ins with frost bite. I’d be skiing and find myself with hard frozen hands miles from anywhere. I’d be running, even with the best gloves on, and start to get pain in my hands. Once I considered knocking on a stranger’s door and getting in out of the cold.

Now it happens even in just a few minutes, in the walk in from the parking lot at -5 for example. I’ve even had it happen indoors.

I have battery operated mitts for skiing. Oddly, the mitts themselves never feel warm but your hands never ever get cold. I also started skiing in loops around a fixed point so I’d never be too far away from warmth.

What is Raynaud’s phenomena?

A condition of unknown cause in which the arteries of the fingers become hyperreactive to the cold and go into a spasm. It is more common in women than men, and may affect up to 10% of otherwise healthy female athletes causing them great difficulties in cold environments. Warm gloves and calcium-channel blocking agents may relieve the condition. Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/raynaud-s-phenomenon#ixzz2lVB3LK7c

Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon and sometimes simply Raynaud’s, is a condition that causes some areas of the body to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or emotional stress, caused by a problem with the blood supply to the skin. Raynaud’s disease is a vasospastic disorder – spasms in the blood vessels lead to vasoconstriction (narrowing). What is Raynaud’s?

There’s not a lot you can do. My doctor’s advice: Plan to retire somewhere warm. Gee, thanks.

There is some concern that outdoor, winter exercise makes the condition worse. See here.

“Exercising may shift blood away from the skin to the muscles. During exercise, body parts, including the hands, are in need of more blood. Even though you may feel warm, if your skin is sensing cold, then the shift to the muscles and other parts of the body may be exaggerated.Exercising in a warm environment is recommended for people with Raynaud’s, and people with severe disease may not be able to safely exercise in the cold. To help, it is important that the central body and brain sense that it is warm, even if you are in a cold environment. This is done by using layers of warm clothes, including a hat to cover the head as well as gloves and socks for the fingers and toes. After exercise, it is critical to warm the central core temperature, and not just the fingers. Swinging the arms in a wide rapid circle can force blood to the fingers.”

I now spend more money on mittens that just about any other item of clothing. Maybe footwear is the only thing that costs me more. I read online reviews of mitts and I have alerts set up for medical literature on Raynaud’s.

I’m not going to stop playing in the snow. The photo below is from a trip to Algonquin a few years ago. Love it.

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