Party Run: 2016 Mudmoiselle London (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

(Shown above: Team “Slick Chicks” post-race)

This is a follow up to my previous blog post on party runs, which I published in anticipation of the 2016 Mudmoiselle London fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. In my previous post I had signaled some concerns about party runs, highlighting examples of runs that are currently available in North America. So, here’s me reporting back on where the Mudmoiselle stands in relation to these concerning issues.

The corporate issue: The event was well-organized and fully stocked with smiling volunteers; cheerful music; and a series of tends for registration, bag check, and changing. The Mudmoiselle “template,” with standardized pink/yellow/teal colours, was used for signs and medals. Registered participants received modest draw string swag bags with a shirt, trial-sized protein bars, and assorted gift certificates. About the only noticeable corporate branding was a guy at the photography booth dressed up like a Best Buy ticket.

What I think I liked most about the run was the camaraderie it inspired. There were some cooperative obstacles, but it was the occasion itself that brought out our team’s support for each other. That’s something no amount of sponsorship could buy, and perhaps it was in part because there was little corporate presence that we could focus on motivating and having fun with each other.

The “dress up” issue: Our team chose “business slick” attire: white men’s dress shirts, ties, sunglasses, and lipstick. Our costume was determined less by gender norms and more by what was comfortable but also ironic for a mud run. At our after-run lunch back at the captain’s house, our team was already talking about next year’s costume. Most seemed to like the idea of formal gowns.

The health issue: The course was not competitive, or even timed. An announcer warmed up teams at the start line. The obstacles were challenging, but not insurmountable. And some were quite amusing. Our team particularly liked the diagonal pole we had to slide down (with the aid of applied lubricant) to avoid falling into a mud pit. We encountered encouraging signs (“It’s just a hill; get over it”), water stations, and cheers from by volunteers and medical staff. So, it was a healthy activity, but afterwards we chose to have pizza and beer.

The environment: On this well-marked course we ran up and down a local ski hill on a beautiful, sunny day. We pulled jeeps in neutral, flipped large tires, and navigated through strings pulled taut across woody bike paths. Other than the water and soap to make a “slip ‘n slide” down a larger part of a hill, most obstacles seemed to use existing spaces well, and did not seem environmentally damaging.

The fundraising issue: The London Mudmoiselle met its fundraising goal—nearly $80,000—and our team met its own goal as well. I took my fundraising seriously, and through asking friends and family for donations raised almost $900. While I may have ran the Mudmoiselle run, it’s those who donated to the charity who are the real champions of the day. So, I’m listing below those who donated for me to acknowledge their generosity.

I had only one family member refuse to donate to the CCS because he thinks they aren’t transparent about how they manage their funds compared to other charities. And while the day served the purpose of fundraising, at the starting line there was no explicit mention by run organizers of the charity or its efforts (at least none that I had heard).

Overall: As an event that emphasized fun, friends, and health, but without over-the-top competitiveness or a barrage of corporate gimmicks that undermined the run’s social purpose or personal benefits, Mudmoiselle’s pros and cons netted out pretty evenly for me. It was a party run, but it was fun and it promoted an inclusive type of “partying” that many would find to be a welcome alternative to a traditional booze bender on a Saturday (complete with ties around our heads).

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Getting Equipped

By Martha Fit at 55

My sneakers died last month. I loved them, my bright turquoise and green shoes that always perked me up, but they gave up the ghost after a rather epic hike.img_3072

Luckily I have another pair, as a result of acquiring some proper lifting footwear.

My beloved walking shoes, fabulous as they were for walking through miles of bog and barren as well as unevenly paved urban streets, simply weren’t suitable, even when brand new, for the heavy work I was now undertaking in the gym environment.

After a winter spent rebuilding my fitness foundation due to a misbehaving knee, I started working on gaining more depth with my squat, and also establishing more stability for my deadlifts. Fortunately, my trainer realized I needed proper squat shoes as well as deadlift shoes, so I could get closer to the floor, literally and figuratively.

I am the first to admit they are the oddest things I have put on my feet. The squat shoes are inflexible, while the deadlift shoes are a souped up version of ballet shoes. Both involve complicated laces, and they are rather dull in colour (one is black and the other is a dark grey) and as an added bonus, the squat shoes come with Velcro.

But they do the job they are meant to do. And I love them. Plus they were way easier to acquire than any of my other workout gear. Take my search for a swimsuit last month. It was, admittedly, not an ideal time to be looking. Nonetheless, I had hope. At the very least, I thought I could pick up a cute pair of gym shorts and a tank, and call it a day. After all, spandex is spandex.

No such luck.

After trekking through multiple stores, I had to ask: where are the cute prints, the funky suits, and the sassy, saucy tops I see all over Instagram and Facebook?

They’re not in my hometown, that’s for sure.

Nor are they to be found all that easily online. If you are lucky enough to find something in your size, there’s little variety, it’s often uninspiring in design, and if it is actually pretty, it’s totes expensive.

So why do I embrace the solid, frankly unsleek, squat shoe and its equally uninspiring-looking companion the deadlift shoe, all while chafing at and whining about the miserable selection of available pants and tops? Why do I love my unpretty lifting shoes that have changed how I work in the gym? Is it because no one cares what’s on my feet? That it doesn’t matter if you are a size 8 or a size 18 when it comes to shoes?

I’ve been thinking about the contradictions my desire for new workout gear poses for me, and I don’t yet have a lot of concrete conclusions. As I get more assertive with my lifts, more committed to my training, and more confident in my results, I want a bolder exterior to match the inner changes I’ve made these past three years. After all, outside the gym, I’m not one to shy away from advocating, arguing, and persuading, so why skulk around the corners, metaphorically speaking, in the gym?

Because it’s not always that simple or easy to walk into a gym when you are so often surrounded by norms for attractiveness and appropriate size that do not reflect your own experience. Nor is it comfortable to always be told “I’m sorry; we only carry clothes that go up to size 12.”

However, lifting has taught me something worth remembering: when you commit to picking up heavy things and putting them down, you take up space, and there’s no running away from that. Quite simply the strength you bring is visible, unavoidable, and yes, audacious. And just like my much-loved sneakers, there comes a time when you have to say goodbye to old ways of thinking/seeing, and say hello to something so new, it will take you further than you have ever imagined.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s who finally caught her reindeer last week, and is now looking for a new target to aim for in her deadlift.

Do you see what I see?

by MarthaFitat55

When I started working with a trainer, I really didn’t think much about why I was doing certain things in the gym. Most days my goal was to execute the drills as required and not make a fool of myself in front of all the other gym goers.

As time went on, I realized those who train seriously aren’t really paying attention to who else is doing what except to make sure no one is moving into a working area to avoid collision or to negotiate access to a piece of equipment.

Working out in a gym where lifters practice has been quite different for me from your average commercial gym. It’s not that people are working harder in a performance training gym – anyone who hauls their butt to a place filled with tools to make their bodies move hard gets my respect – it’s that people there look differently.

Talk to any woman and they will tell you about the look. We’ve all had it happen one time or another. Some describe it as being undressed or stripped; some will say they are being measured and found wanting, either in body shape or what they are wearing. In fact, there are some gyms that address forthrightly the need to keep eyes to self to avoid making their female customers feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their workout spaces.

Perhaps working with a trainer has, over time, insulated me from looks; that is, it’s not about whether I meet an ideal of womanhood, or if I am wearing the latest gym fashion (plain tee shirt and capris over here), but whether or not I am performing the exercise properly.

I learned very quickly that form is the beginning and the end, the be all and end all of working out. Without paying attention to form, you risk injury, or you overlook the first signs of a problem, or you fail to get maximum benefit from a particular action in the program.

I’ve recovered twice from new injuries, recovered from a couple of relapses, and a recent trip in the gym and in every case, the focus on form is what has helped me get back on track and strengthen those areas that need support.

Here’s the thing: focusing on form invites scrutiny. Intense scrutiny. Muscles are being looked at and being poked at. How you move is being looked at: the start, the execution, the finish.

That level of scrutiny without the baggage of the “male” gaze is a different experience all together. Having worked with a male trainer and a female trainer, each applying the same level of intensity to the gaze, has been hugely helpful in unpacking some of my earlier, less positive gym experiences.

Yes, there is judgment. After all, by training with someone whose expertise is movement, fitness and workout programming, I am inviting scrutiny and critique. And there is the key difference.

Most times women don’t want the look. They just want to do their work in the gym and get their fit on. And my friends have told me they can always tell when the look is not of appreciation for their great skill at the bench but for their other physical attributes.

When you train though with a trainer, you invite the gaze, and it is one with a specific purpose. There is more power for me in that relationship because I am working collaboratively with someone to acquire new skills and techniques, and to improve. When the gaze is uninvited, the power is all in the eye of the beholder, with none in the object of the gaze, and that is not a good thing.

And I have found, for me, when you train in a gym where most people are aiming for huge goals, the appreciative look feels differently. I think it is because I have had to learn how to look critically myself so I can replicate the movement, and when I am waiting my turn, and I see someone else execute a move beautifully, all I can think of is “wow, I want to learn how to do that.”

Because when someone is working hard and doing great work, it doesn’t matter what they look like or what they are wearing. What only matters is the beauty and power of their form.

— Martha Muzychka is still learning all the ways to be strong and fit.

Are “kick-ass” martial arts movie heroines empowering – or not . . . ? (Guest post)

 

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Training in the martial arts can be incredibly empowering for women, as Sam and Michelle have testified. So surely watching movies about female martial arts experts who kick ass must be a truly inspiring and liberating experience?

Well, not necessarily . . .

Balmain Colette

Dr Colette Balmain

I was lucky enough to see Dr Colette Balmain from Kingston University speak on this topic recently. Her lecture was called:

Chick Kicks: Bad-ass heroines of Hong Kong Cinema

Colette’s presentation focused on the question:

Are the “kick-ass” women in martial arts movies liberational – or ultimately constrained by patriarchy?

Colette explained that although she was focusing on Hong Kong movies (to fit in with the theme of the conference this was part of), this is a wider question relevant to all martial arts movies.

Colette has analysed a huge number of female characters in martial arts movies. Her conclusion is that:

Female characters in martial arts movies can certainly be transgressive – but it’s always within limits.

Here are the limits she’s identified:

  • The women in these films tend to be defined by their sexuality – which is typically either very over-stated, or very repressed – there’s rarely anything in-between. For example, in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Michelle Yeoh’s character (Yu Shu Lien) has been tragically denied her love. Colette argued also that when Jen leaps into the abyss in the final scene, this represents the fact that there is literally no space for her, or her desires.
  • There are often undertones of male castration anxiety within scenes of women fighting men. This might sound extreme, but Colette played us a stunning movie clip from Kung Fu Girl (1973). And because she’d said that, I guess it had primed my mind, and it now seemed startlingly obvious (to me anyway!)
  • Images of Asian women tend to fall into just two simplistic categories: the Lotus Blossom Baby or the Dragon Lady. Even many supposedly transgressive martial arts heroines ending up falling into one group or other. The typology comes from Renee E Tajima who explains that the Lotus Blossom Baby can also be presented as China Doll, Geisha Girl, or Shy Polynesian Beauty. The Dragon Lady can appear as Fu Manta’s various female relations, prostitutes, devious madams. But there is little in between.
  • The female characters are often portrayed as being stymied by their out-of-control emotions. Either the woman’s crazy emotions prevent her from reaching Zen-like enlightenment; or the emotions fester inside her, and render her a “poison woman”. A typical example of a “poison woman” is Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Jade Fox is actually played by the same actress as in the clip above –Cheng Pei-pei)
  • “Bad-ass” heroines are very often either “rehabilitated” by the end of the movie through marriage – or “punished” through exile or death.
  • The movies often fetishise women’s bodies in a stylised way – Colette explained that The Lady Assassin is a typical example of this.
  • Carol J Clover’s notion of the Final Girl in horror movies can also be useful for analysing some martial arts films: A common plot line in many horror films is one in which a series of victims is killed one-by-one by a killer amid increasing terror, culminating in a climax in which the last surviving member of the group, usually female, either vanquishes the killer or escapes.

Colette explained that the Final Girl figure has to be asexual and female. This allows the male viewer to vicariously enjoy the feelings of terror, without losing his own sense of masculinity. So the Last Girl is generally not an empowering figure – she is just a symbolic plot device, there for the male spectator. And in any case, she is often helped out at the end, and does not win the battle in her own right.

During the questions afterwards, one audience member asked Colette if it might be productive and healing to just stop talking in terms of gender, and think only in terms of human beings or martial artists, and their respective skills.

Colette and Dr susan pui san lok (another presenter at the conference) advised that this was indeed the ideal they’d like to reach ultimately. But that all the time unhealthy tropes keep repeatedly appearing in these movies, discussions on gender will need to remain out in the open.

ColettKungFuryBCUe said that she has only just started to skim the surface of this fascinating topic, and intends to go into it more deeply for her next project. I for one will be looking forward to her conclusions very much . . . !

Colette was speaking at the conference: Kung Fury: Contemporary Debates in Martial Arts Cinema organised by the Martial Arts Studies Research Network.

You can read more about Colette’s work at: https://kingston.academia.edu/BalmainColette


Kai Morgan is a martial arts blogger, with a special focus on women’s experience of and participation in the martial arts. You can read her blog at www.budo-inochi.com. She also writes stories and other articles for the Good Men Project:http://goodmenproject.com/author/kai-morgan/ 

Conversations with Gran on nutrition, dementia and euthanasia 

My paternal grandmother, known to me as “Gran” and my kids as “Great Big Gran” (when they were little they thought a great-grandmother was also big, it stuck, names are funny like that), lives in her hometown village in New Brunswick and is my last living grandparent. 

 

Anj, Gran and Grandad around 1985

 I got to spend quite a bit of time with Gran as a kid. She seemed to always need my sister and I to go stay with her for a week over Christmas, March break and summer break. I didn’t realize she was a part of my parents’ childcare strategy, it just felt like a holiday. 

Gran has always been an active person. In her teens she played high school basketball, cross-country skied and loved to walk. 

I looked for pictures of her but they are far and few between, her story is not documented in photos like mine is. 

When she looked after Anj and I walking was exercise, entertainment and how we ran errands to the post office, pharmacy, grocery store and, most importantly, got ice cream. Big heaping scoops of ice cream and lots of desserts. 😀

 

I’m on the left, Anj on the right as we practice racing

 In the winter visits we’d cross-country ski, snowshoe and even go to Mont Farlange to downhill ski. After my grandfather retired and they moved back to McAdam the skiing and snowshoeing were along the perimeter of thier 100 acre wood lot. Our job was to clear the line of limbs and freshen the blaze markings. It was done by hand because gas and a chainsaw were a lot of lugging compared to axes and buck saws. Anj, Gran and I would spend a day trekking as my grandfather cut down trees. 

Gran continues to be in great shape. She shared with me that at some point she was getting stiff, achy and losing mobility. Her doctor suggested stretching as soon as she got up. That was 30 years ago and she still does her twists, stretches and forward bends to touch her toes every morning. She is the kind of person to stick with what works. 

She still gets up early and loves to walk, although now it’s just for 30 minutes instead of the 2 hours she did in her 60s and 70s.

We chat on the phone about once a month and her thoughts turn what her end of life will look like. Her biggest fear has always been to “loose her mind”. We’ve had friends and family with dementia and, given her sharp wit, Gran fears loosing that the most. 

She’s been following the euthanasia debate in Canada. It’s surprising how often we talk about it but she’s seen many people die in many different circumstances. I think the idea of having more control over death is comforting and she hopes the laws will be in place soon. 

Recently Gran received a letter from a former neighbour who is 93. Gran told me how great the penmanship was and how her much older friend always ate meat, not the toast and tea many seniors default too. She’s certain her own weightloss is due to not eating as much as she should, cooking for one seems a bother. 

When I look at Gran I see a woman who has been active her whole life. Her footware of choice are athletic shoes. She dresses in bright colours, a trait we share. I think about how her fitness has served her well, through many challenges, and that sense of vitality still shines through. She bucks the stereotype of the staid little old lady who doesn’t do much and I’m very thankful for that. 

Anj, Dad, me, Grandad and Gran my first year of military college.

(Updated) Plus sized endurance athletes, we exist!

Just added, Louise Green, fitness instructor, author, and blogger.

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Today, I still weigh more than 200 pounds. I work out regularly. I am fit enough to run half marathons and I hold my own in athletic training programs. My metabolic health is in line, producing healthy numbers across the board. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke and I eat reasonably well. My body is free of disease.

But regardless of my internal health and fitness, certain people will always judge me by my outward appearance, and that is wrong.

And it doesn’t stop with everyday people. We are also seeing professional athletes who carry extra weight subjected to the same unfair projections.

From an interview here.

Here’s Leah Gilbert, http://www.sportette.com.au/im-plus-size-im-athlete/

So why is it that I am in a rather unique position when I present myself as a Plus Size Endurance Athlete? Why aren’t we all out there seeking sponsorship or promoting our roles as athletes? It’s easy – most of us don’t even acknowledge ourselves as athletes because we know that physically we don’t fit the mould of what society believes an ‘athlete’ looks like. We have a tendency to what I call ‘cheapen’ or ‘discount’ our athletic or fitness pursuits because people can’t seem to marry the fitness with the body shape. So instead of saying “I just finished a tempo run where I worked at 1km race pace intervals for 11km with a 2km warm up and 2km cool down”, we may mention quickly that we had ‘just been for a run’, usually adding “but I’m not very fast” or “oh I just plod along!”

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And Ragen Chastain, https://ironfatblog.wordpress.com/

I’ve done a lot of athletic things in my life including sports and dance, but always stuff at which I have natural talent.  I decided that I wanted to push outside of my comfort zone and do things at which I seem to have absolutely no natural ability. I did a marathon and I sucked pretty bad at that, so I basically thought – what could I suck at that’s even more terrible than a marathon – and this is what I arrived at.

Jill Angie, Running with Curves

When I first started running in 1998, I wanted to lose weight. Running was simply a means of efficiently burning calories. It wasn’t fun, and it felt like punishment. And of course, I didn’t stick with it.

Over the years I started and stopped a number of times. Finally, in 2010, weighing close to 300 pounds, I started again, and this time I stuck with it. What was different? I stopped thinking about running as a means to offset calories, and started looking at it as a way to build up my confidence and strength. Soon, running became a source of joy, even when it was difficult (which was most of the time in the early years!). I became a triathlete and then a personal trainer. I also lost weight along the way.

But still, there was something missing. Although I felt like a runner, I didn’t see much representation in the running world for larger athletes. That’s when I knew it was time to start spreading the message that you can be a runner at any size, shape, age, pace or distance. That the very fact that you run makes you a runner.

 

Laura Backus, A Fat Girl’s Ironman Journey

I’m a 41 yr old, stubborn (determined?), short,  married, sarcastic, no kids (furkids, one named ATHENA),  fat, slow, medically challenged, IRONMAN.   I really enjoy the sport of triathlon and found you can do great things if you believe it, then put the work in to do it.

I have a genetic disorder, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which among other things makes my body unpredictable day by day. I dislocate many of my joints on a frequent basis and it is nearly impossible to build strength like normal people. I quickly atrophy, and many muscles just do not work on their own without conscious engagement of each contraction.

Running is especially difficult and my arches usually collapse within 45 min of any run.   I have to worry about many other medical issues, such as migraines, but these are the big ones.

I don’t want my disorder, or my weight to define me, however.  I’ve learned that I can speak for those with EDS, or any invisible illness, as well as the larger  or slower athletes.

(From an interview here:  http://www.runningwithcurves.net/january-rockstar-runner-laura-backus-fat-girls-ironman-journey/)

Sheila Ashcroft, Fat Broad on a Bike

What’s a fat broad like me — 200 pounds of flab squatting over skinny tires — doing on the road? I’mcycling just like everyone else. And regardless of your size, you belong here too! If you like cycling, don’t let your mind cheat your body out of doing something fun and healthy.

Being overweight and being a cyclist is not contradictory. I’ve been both for 22 years. Too many women are psyched out by those lean bodies dancing on the pedals up the Gatineau Hills. Cycling does not require a skinny body, it helps if you want to go fast, but it’s not necessary to enjoy cycling.

And me! See Big women on bikes

chubbyme

Resources

The fat girl’s guide to running

The big triathlete

Fit fatties forum

Athena Triathletes on Facebook

If you know any other good resources, please share them in the comments.

You might be wondering, why don’t larger/fat/plus sized athletes just lose weight? I’m blogging about that next.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Co-ed Team Sports (Guest post)

The blogger in her early days playing coed team sports with her elementary school

The blogger in her early days playing coed team sports with her elementary school

Spring!!! As soon as I see the first patch of grass, I’m itching to get out and play… soccer, basketball, ultimate, football, I’m up for whatever. These past few summers, I’ve been playing pick-up soccer with a meetup group… They’re awesome, super well organized, they meet three times a week, and there’s usually a pretty good turnout. But, despite my eagerness to get out and kick a ball around (finally!), there’s also a part of me that’s hesitant to head out and play. And, really, if I’m going to be honest, a big part of what’s keeping me away is the worry that by the end of the game, I’ll feel upset. There’s a bitterness that tends to well up in me when I’m playing co-ed team sports; a sort of dense multi-layered sludge that keeps on giving, even once the game is over.

Here’s how it goes: I show up and notice how few women there are, if any. We start playing, and I quickly pick-up on this pattern where I’m often not covered and still rarely get the ball. It’s like I don’t exist. And when they do interact with me, the guys feel like they can coach me, like give me “helpful” hints. I get this feeling like my calling for the ball (“I’M WIDE OPEN!!”) is just seen as obnoxious, especially if I get at all insistent, after the fifth missed opportunity. Then, when I finally get the ball, I feel like I have something to prove. And, I might make a good play, which is nice, or, I might mess up, which is less nice, and leads to the confirmation that I’m not a reliable player, even though everyone messes up now and then. “All this because I’m a woman”, I privately fume.

But, then, this immediate sort of frustration gets processed through self-doubt and self-reflection: Am I really getting the ball less often than I would if I were a man?  Maybe, the other players have just played together for a while and have a good rapport… Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am… Maybe they’re just not that good and aren’t aware of good passing opportunities… I’m probably just being oversensitive… And, if playing co-ed sports makes me so upset, why do I insist on participating and putting myself through these unpleasant feelings, and possibly even making the game less fun for the others… Why can’t I just get over it and have fun?

As a counter to this self-doubt comes the dredging up of the past. While, it may be that I am being over-sensitive in this particular case, I have reasons for being watchful for cases of differential treatment. Ever since I can remember, I have been treated differently in team sports. Early on, boys (uncensored, as kids will be) voiced their prejudices about not wanting girls to play, or not accepting that girls could be better than them. It often took adult intervention for them to take me seriously, such as a coach telling the boys to pass the ball to me because I was a good player. And, in my grown up years, I’ve experienced the more obvious type of discrimination in leagues that require teams to have a certain number of women on the field. The gameplay can sometimes become centered around the men, and the women become human pylons.

Finally, there comes the meta-frustration, or, anger at “the system”. I consistently get the message that women and men are not on equal footing when it comes to team sports. For one, when I’m paying attention, I notice a near absence of women in pickup sports. Also, women can be given conditions that make a sport “easier” (if not easier, just different) for them, such as a smaller ball in basketball, lower volleyball nets, shorter matches in tennis, no tackle football games… or, remember girls’ push-ups in high school?  And, truth be told, I know that even I perceive women and men differently on the field. All this just leaves me in a funk, thinking about how pervasive and entrenched these systematic divisions are.

But, then this weird thing happens, where I remember that, sure, sometimes I end up feeling pretty down after playing co-ed team sports, but, still, there are other times, where I meet awesome people who both play hard and encourage each other. And there’s this added bonus where I get to be a woman playing pick-up sports, which changes things just a bit. So, this weekend, I’m going to play soccer with the meetup group, and, damn it, I will have fun running my guts out, trying to set up good plays, and generally just letting my aggressive and competitive spirit run loose.

 

Jeanne-Marie just got her MA in philosophy at Tufts University, and is now giving computer science a go. She loves team sports (all of them), biking, swimming, and has not yet learned to love running.