aging · beach body · beauty · body image · fitness · swimming

Take your batwings and fly far far away

There’s an ad in my newsfeed that seems to greet me each morning. It’s an ad for very modest bathing suits targeted to older women. Each morning it makes me grumpy.

The bathing suits are fine. They’re not to my taste. (That phrase makes me smile because it’s what my kids used to say, when young, and served with a dish they didn’t like.) So no judgement, you wear one if you want, I won’t say a thing. They’re just large and drape-y and cover a lot of skin.

I’m not the only blogger getting such ads in their social media newsfeed. It’s almost as if active women over fifty were their targeted demographic. Catherine blogged in September about women over fifty wearing whatever we want in the water. And just last week Martha blogged about an ad campaign that shows naked bodies of all ages and shapes moving in a variety of ways. She also commented on the bathing suit ads.

Writes Martha, “It’s sad because not ten minutes after I started searching for a link, I got an ad in one of my news feeds for Bathing Boomers swimwear, swimsuits marketed to mid-life and older women to camouflage their “lives well lived.” The web copy says the goal of the company is to help women feel dignified, stylish and confident by hiding all the problem areas (the jiggly bits and bumps).

Here’s a newsflash: you don’t make women feel confident by saying parts of their body are a problem. I think I’ll add Nova’s ad to my happy video stream just as a reminder that all bodies are beautiful in their own way and we don’t need to hide anything regardless of how we are shaped.”

Now there are all sorts of reasons for preferring more coverage, protecting against sun exposure being an excellent one. But that’s not the reason this company offers. Instead, their pitch is making life more relaxing by covering up our aging flesh.

The ad reads: “It’s a long overdue gift for women of a certain age who are ditching the denial and diets and now can look at a glass of wine without seeing 300 calories in every pour. We are all on board for a concept that embraces aging bodies, bat wings and all.”

A gift? Last I checked they’re for sale and we buy the swimsuits.

Bat wings? Older women don’t have batwings. We have arms. Some are large and some small and they come in different shapes. Arms don’t need labels. They’re arms. That’s all.

See Cankles, more broken body parts you can feel bad about, or please let’s just stop and Bingo wings and dinner plate arms: Let’s put our wit to work elsewhere.

Also Let’s label all the body bits and have fun with it! and Sam rejects your ‘amazing arm shapers!’

I am not going to buy anything that use body shame as a marketing tool.

Unless you meant bathing suits for actual bats.

That I’d like to see.

Bats, sleeping, upside down, as they do. Photo by Rodrigo Curi on Unsplash
fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Being Underestimated by the Lifeguards (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

Over the summer, I started lane swimming as one of the few socially acceptable fitness activities. Our outdoor pools were open with restrictions and it was almost impossible to book a lane. But once you did, it was fantastic! One swimmer per lane, booked in advance so you could schedule your time, masks worn in the changerooms and the pools themselves were outside!

Once September hit, I moved to the indoor pools. Now, I’m not going to say indoor lane swimming is risk-free since nothing is these days BUT I will say, for me personally, it is within an acceptable level of risk. One person per lane, pre-booked time slots, minimized time spent in changerooms and masks worn everywhere except in the pool itself. In addition, the gym I’ve been attending has two sets of changerooms and has dedicated one of the them ONLY to swimmers with specific lockers set aside all very distanced from each other. Once you get onto the pool deck, each swimmer has their own space on the bench marked off for you stuff and the lifeguards are diligent in reminding you to wear your mask until you are about to enter the water.

One of my favourite exercises when swimming is to tread water with a brick. For those of you who don’t know, lifeguards often train using a brick to create additional weight. These bricks come in either 5lbs, 10lbs or 20lbs and treading water with a 20-lb brick is equivalent to carrying a 200-lb person. This is the standard that all lifeguards (in Canada) must be able to meet.

These bricks are kept in the lifeguard office and you must ask politely to borrow them. Most lifeguards are slightly flummoxed by this request since most people don’t know they exist let alone want to use them for exercise! When I first started swimming at this gym, I had to explain myself and the lifeguard had to check with her supervisor before I was allowed to use the brick as they don’t normally let people use them due to risk of injury. Now it’s not an issue and so far, it’s been the same lifeguard on duty who remembers me.

This morning, it was different lifeguards on duty and when I asked, they were clearly flummoxed by this request. The following conversation took place:

  • “I’m not sure if you can use the bricks, I’d have to check with my supervisor and she’s not here right now”
  • “I was here earlier this week and the lifeguard on duty checked with your manager, it wasn’t an issue.”
  • “Okay”. (Goes to guard office and audibly asks the other guard to pass out the 5-lb or 10-lb brick).
  • “Actually, I was using the 20-lb yellow brick last time. Can I use that one today?”
  • “That one’s only for lifeguards, I’m not sure we are allowed to give it out to people”
  • Other lifeguard comes out and looks at me: “Are you a lifeguard?”.
  • “Yes although my NLS expired over the summer”
  • “Just give it to her”

And I got the heavy brick! I will admit, there was moment of pleasure watching the initial lifeguards face as I cheerfully started my exercises with the 20-lb brick. Following 15 minutes of drills with the brick, my legs feeling rubbery I exited the pool area and went on about my day.

Bricks

Mallory is human, currently doing graduate study in Community Music. She loves traveling and spending time outdoors and prefers not to wear shoes when possible.

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,

fitness · swimming

Water water everywhere: what wetsuit to pick?

Swimming is fun. Swimming in summer is double-fun: hot days, blue skies, refreshing (or maybe bracing) water, and the feelings of exertion and weightlessness, all in one glorious package.

But after summer comes fall. And fall means cooler days and colder water. But, intrepid swimmers have options, and technology has provided us with a good one: the wetsuit.

Women in triathlon wetsuits, waiting for the start of a race.

My friend Norah swims at Walden Pond as often as she can in the summer, and it’s one of her favorite things. This year, we’ve been speculating about what life will be like come fall, when our access to outdoor activity starts to drop off. I suggested she think about buying a wetsuit to extend her swimming well into October, maybe longer. There’s a lot of variation in temperature, but who knows.

Temperature ranges for Walden Pond, in Concord, MA, USA.
Water temperature ranges in the fall for Walden Pond, in Concord, MA, USA.

Seems like an obvious thing to do. I offered to do some online research and also ask around to get advice. Turns out, buying a wetsuit is complicated in a bunch of ways:

  • wetsuits vary by sport (swimming, diving, surfing, kayaking)
  • wetsuits vary by thickness
  • wetsuits vary a lot by price (fair enough, so do bikes…)
  • wetsuits come in different styles– shortie, full length, sleeveless, etc.
  • and then there’s the sizing
  • Who is in charge of this? I want to speak to them

Here is a sample size chart for women’s wetsuits:

Wetsuit lady sizes. None of these sizes are coming close to fitting me.

Just in case you think, oh, that’s just some wacky off-brand wetsuit site, here, Orca’s wetsuit size chart for women (Orca is a major brand of wetsuits):

Oh, Orca-- no sizes for me here, either. What up with that?
Oh, Orca– no sizes for me here, either. What up with that?

I’m actually not looking for a wetsuit for myself (at the moment). But I am looking to help Norah (who would fit in an Orca wetsuit) navigate the treacherous waters of wetsuit shopping. So:

Can you help?

Readers, do you have tips on how to buy a swimming wetsuit? In particular:

  • Do you tend to order multiple sizes online and then return them?
  • Do you go to a local store to try some one, and order from there or online?
  • How did you get help in getting the right fit for swimming?

I’m posting on some triathlon groups and getting some info. Any tips you have would be most welcome. Thanks!

fitness · swimming

Pandemic swimming: more fun than the regular kind! (Say what?)

Like others on the blog, I enjoy a nice splash in the pool. And like others on the blog, early in the pandemic my regular swims were probably the thing I missed most (after hugs). Here in Ontario we’ve been able to get back in the pool for over a month now, but that doesn’t mean things on the swim front have been back to normal, exactly.

To my great surprise, I’m totally ok with this.

(Two photos of Thames Park Pool in London, Ontario. One shows kids splashing under a waterfall in the kids area; the other shows the detail of a 50m lane, with a kids’ wading entrance and waterslide in the background.)

I am a hyper-competitive human; I really like going fast and beating others when I’m pedalling or swimming or even yoga-ing. (NB: I realize this is Not At All The Right Attitude in yoga; I’m working on it, I swear.)

I am also, however, not a gifted swimmer. I like swimming, and I can do almost every stroke (butterfly eludes me, alas). But I’m also bottom-heavy, and I struggle not to drag my lower body through the water on an angle. I’ve never trained as a swimmer, so my stroke ain’t anywhere near perfect. For the last few years, I’ve been swimming twice a week with more gifted swimmers than me, and that’s helped a lot. But I’m not exactly going to be Michael Phelps-ing my way up the lanes anytime soon. Or ever.

So swimming, in the before times when lots of people could share a lane and swim together and overtake each other (or creep up behind one another and tap the slowpoke’s toe, what I like to call The Bop of Doom), was a mixed bag for me. Splashing in water = YAY! Swimming with fast people while Type A = performance anxiety and stress! Fretting about why my split time is slower than last week FFS = more anxiety and more stress, plus a soupçon of disappointment in self.

And swimming in the after times? Well I’ll tell ya.

I’m incredibly out of practice on the stroke front, and sore from head-standing with the amazing Alex and bouncing around the countryside on my road bike, and yet – IT IS SO MUCH MUCH MUCH MORE FUN.

swimming-holes-feature
A young girl in a purple stripy swimsuit blasts into a swimming pool. Her eyes are closed, she’s blowing bubbles out of her mouth, and her arms are splayed. SHE IS HAVING AN AMAZING TIME IN WATER!

When the world crashed to a halt for me on 12 March, the day after my last shared lane swim, I had no idea it would be until mid-July when I’d get to freestyle up the lane and breast back again. But that’s how it rolled out.

My home city decided to open a limited number of pools this summer, after we entered Stage 2.5, and to make all swims “open”; that is, great fun for kids, but no real lanes to speak of (unless it’s a rainy day or you catch the pool at exactly the right time, and the one sort-of lane is mostly empty of frolickers).

Meanwhile, my work city crafted a booking system that lets registered users book themselves into both lane swims and open swims exactly one week in advance; this means swimmers are guaranteed their preferred time slot, but you have to be really quick about it – lane swims in the two large pools book out within a minute or two of registration opening. Given that I travel to my work city irregularly right now, that’s meant I’ve only had one opportunity to book into my beloved former neighbourhood pool, Thames Park.

lfp20190621mh24_72182512-e1593616284821
A white male swimmer breaststrokes up a 50m lane at Thames Park pool while a lifeguard watches. I was so excited to go for a swim I forgot to take any pictures of ME!

It was a warm early morning in late July when I rolled out of bed and threw the dog in the car to make the 1.5 hour journey up the highway; my swim was booked for 9am, and I had work meetings and a haircut following. I dropped the dog with my folks, aka her besties, and drove to the pool. Thankfully, we were permitted to use the toilets in the change room, where I pulled off my dress to reveal my swimsuit underneath. We were also permitted to bring our own gear with us, so out onto the deck I marched with my pull buoy, my kick board, my goggles and my training fins.

Once on the deck, I found I was nervous but everyone else was chill; I sensed a lot of “regulars”. When the announcement came that it was 9am we chose lanes and jumped in; there were exactly enough spots available for two people to share a 50-m lane. This was a huge treat; morning swims at this gorgeous pool are super busy under normal conditions, and I usually end up swimming there alongside the Phelps-types. Cue stress response.

But today? Under sunny blue skies I took off up the lane; much too fast to start, I realized when I got to the other end and was winded. I breasted back, enjoying the feeling of stretching my sore, sore quads and hamstrings, and then tried to moderate my thrill on the way back up, preserving air for the return trip.

In the before times I’m hard on myself in the pool; even though swimming is cross-training for me, I like to push to ensure I’m getting good cardio along with a range of movements. On this sunny morning, though, I gave myself a “first swim in four months” pandemic pass and let myself do all my favourites: lots of kicking, goggles on my forehead while I took in the happy sights of my fellow swimmers and the guards, the children’s play area and mini-waterfalls all around; lots of pull to practice my stroke gently and give my shoulders some love. I breasted more than usual – I love breast stroke! – and decided not to care that I wasn’t pushing myself to improve! improve! improve! my rusty freestyle crawl.

I mean, who cares? It’s a pandemic! Nobody in this lane to compete with. And see above re not exactly Michael Phelps anyway. Why not just enjoy this amazing, sunny, body-hugging time in the cool splashy water? Especially after the spring and summer we’ve had.

Back at home, I’ve been practicing a similar attitude in one of my local outdoor pools. The sweet little 25-yard job in my neighbourhood park isn’t open for the summer, but the slightly bigger, newly renovated number over the highway bridge is, and after long rides on my bike I drive over, queue up for a few minutes, and then jump in the water just to stretch myself out. I love doing figure-four stretches at the deep end ladders, or star-floating on my back and grabbing my ankles to do a water-supported bridge. I swoop and dive, stand in the shallow end to stretch my quads, and take in the sight of happy kids developing and nurturing the deep love of water that I cherish, too.

4652.float
A stripy beach ball floating on sun-dappled water. BLISS!

Isn’t it weird that it took a global pandemic for me to remember that swimming is about joy? How about you, friends? Have these strange times helped you reconnect with movement that you’d forgotten brings you joy, too?

 

swimming

Back in the water again! A guest post in four joyful voices

Monday morning. Back to work after a holiday in Prince Edward County. One of the things I loved about my time on Sarah’s family farm was the swimming pool and playing in the pool with her 6 year old nephew who just loved the water so much. I think he could spend all day in the pool and when I wasn’t riding my bike or reading books and patting Cheddar, I could too.

I got home to so much doom and gloom in the news. But also there in my Facebook newsfeed were the happy faces of four London guest bloggers, including my daughter Mallory, all swimmers, all so thrilled to be back in the pool or the lake. I just couldn’t resist sharing their happy stories with you. I know one of the regular bloggers Bettina has written about this too. See her post Fish Back in Water to add to the chorus of happy voices.

Enjoy!

Mary

There is something about moving in the water and something even more about swimming outdoors, that cannot be replaced. It was with great delight that I was able to book a lane at Thames pool in London Ontario. Social distance, two per lane, advanced booking, for one hour.

The sun was shining, creating magical reflections in the water. It was quiet and I was in my happy place. For one hour, all was well in this crazy world, in my world.

You can read Mary’s past guest posts here and here.

Savita

There’s a saying: you’re one swim away from a good mood. In these pandemic times, it’s more like you’re one swim away from…overwhelming happydancing joy! At first I was both excited and nervous. Excited because Swimming! Nervous because COVID19! But once I got to Thames Pool, the nervousness dissipated. Screening, distancing, 2 people per 50 m lane. Everyone was on good behaviour. So I could focus on finding my movement through the water. I struggled through 900m and it WILL hurt tomorrow. And that will feel awesome!

Thames Pool! Oh, darling, I’ve missed you so!!

You can read Savita’s past guest posts here.

Mallory

Pride flags on a sandy beach

Morning Dip Traditions

This summer, for the first time in a very long time, I am staying in Southwestern Ontario. Normally I would be spending my summer in Northern Ontario working at Rainbow Camp, a summer camp for 2SLGBTQ+ teens.

One of my favourite camp traditions is morning dip. It’s a wake-up call, a way to start your day feeling fresh, renewed and sometimes cold! Even when no campers join me or in between sessions when we have no campers, I still love starting my day in the lake.

This year, we are running a virtual camp called Rainbow Online Connection. Monday morning was our first full day and it also happened to be the first day of lane swimming at a nearby outdoor pool so guess how I started my day? Morning dip! A little more athletic than I’m using to starting my mornings but still a great start to my day. (And for those of you interested, our first day of online camp went amazing!) See Rainbow Camp for more information.

You can read Mallory’s past guest posts here.

Amanda Lynn

Smiling in the sun, with water and beach in the background

Summer just isn’t summer for me without getting into the water. Outdoors. At the height Ontario’s COVID isolation, my biggest fear was that summer would come and go, and I wouldn’t get to float in Lake Huron. When they opened the beaches at Pinery Provincial Park, we went up the first day. The water was a brisk 59F, but I still dove in with relief.

We’ve been back to the lake three times since then. On calm days, the sun shines through the blue water and I look up to the sky from below the surface. I bob back up and drift gently, and I feel whole.

You can read Amanda’s past guest posts here and here.

covid19 · fitness · swimming

Fish back in the Water: Bettina’s first post-lockdown Swim

You all, I am back in the water! As mentioned in my post on Saturday, my lifeguard club has started training again this week. Tuesday was our first session and it was… somewhere between glorious and very, very strange.

A picture of swimmers doing laps in a pool. It seems like it will be a while until my club will be back to swimming like that.

Glorious because we were back in the water after almost exactly three months. I have really been missing it, especially now that I can no longer run because of my pregnancy. It felt great to swim again and even though I’m noticeably slower (due to three months without training and being a lot less – what’s the water equivalent of aerodynamic, aquadynamic?) I’m pleased to report I didn’t drown. I felt a lot more graceful in the water than outside!

And this is where we get to the “strange” bit, because we spent a lot of time outside. Because of distancing regulations, and because our pool is very small, we can’t swim laps back and forth once there are more than three people in the pool. The pool has three lanes, so we swam up one outside lane, back down the middle one, and up the third. Then we’d get out, walk back to the beginning, and do it all over again. One thing that you definitely can’t get into this way is the flow that I love so much about swimming laps, which is a bit sad.

We also can’t:

  • overtake each other,
  • swim closer than two metres behind the person in front,
  • shower after swimming (we’re allowed to quickly rinse down before getting in),
  • have a conversation that goes beyond very simple instructions,
  • linger in the changing rooms,
  • walk around the common areas without a mask (unless it’s to go directly to the pool deck and get in the water),
  • and many more things that I’m currently forgetting.

It feels truly bizarre, and some of the rules don’t make all that much sense to me, like the not showering – I get that we’re supposed to minimise time spent in the common areas, but if we can shower before, surely we could at least wash the chlorine off after, even if we can’t take a full-blown shower? And the “no talking” rule, which is… impossible to implement among a group of people who are friends and in some cases haven’t seen each other in three months.

It also wasn’t terribly efficient in terms of actual swim practice. We swam about half of what we would normally do in a session, and because of the “no overtaking” and distancing rules, we swam very slowly.

It did feel safe. Between all the regulations in place and infection rates in our area being extremely low now, I was definitely comfortable.

Overall, I’m grateful to be back! But I do hope that we can get back to more “normal” training conditions soon.

Have any of you been back in a pool or practicing a team sport? Did you enjoy it? What were your regulations? If you can’t go back yet, would you if pools were to open up in your area? Feel free to share in the comments!

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!

Black Hustory · Black Present · fitness · hiking · racism · swimming

Exercising while black: a few women’s stories

As a white woman who wants to be a better ally, advocate and collaborator for racial justice, the number once piece of advice I’m hearing is: get yourself educated! Read and learn about the history, politics, economics, etc. of systematic racism. Read about the experiences of people of color as recounted by them. Learning is necessary for white people to acknowledge, be aware of and look for situations where racism harms people of color; these situations are everywhere, and happening all the time. Then, learn how to respond. Learn to be uncomfortable, and accept that others will be made uncomfortable by your responses.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about discrimination against cis and trans women, against older women, fatter women, women with disabilities, and women of color.

Today’s post offers you a few sites and stories of African American women, in motion in a racist world.

I am asking you, dear readers, a favor: if you could add any suggestions in the comments about women of color doing physical activities whose stories we ought to know about, we’ll publish them in a follow-up post. Thanks as always.

First up–Black Girls Trekkin’. this is a group “for women of color who choose to opt outside”. Tiffanie Tharpe, one of the founders, was interviewed in the Guardian about the need for support and safety for women of color in the outdoors:

I feel like it’s important for black girls to hike. When I was young I would have loved to have had someone encouraging me to get outside. To not be afraid. I’ve decided to apply for a master’s degree in parks and recreation management, and a friend and I set up a hiking group for women of color in LA called Black Girls Trekkin’. I want to be a model to other young girls.

Here’s a photo from their Facebook page from one of the events they sponsor:

Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.
Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.

Second: Outdoor Afro. Founded by Ru Mapp, Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization based on Oakland, CA. They have local leaders and sponsor events in 30 states, organizing hikes, kayaking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities. In their stories section, you can hear from Taishya Adams about the ways being in the outdoors and organizing and leading outdoor groups has helped her develop skills for community organizing and political action. She says:

As an Outdoor Afro leader in Colorado, I build on their 10-year legacy of reconnecting black people to the outdoors and our role as leaders in it. I believe that human relationships are at the center of our work towards justice, the foundation each of us can build upon.

Taishya Adams, in Colorado.
Taishya Adams, in Colorado.

Third: The Howard University women’s swim team. Howard is the only historically black university in the US that has both men’s and women’s swim teams. The BBC spent time with the Howard women swim team to create a documentary podcast called Black Girls Don’t Swim. The swimmers talk about their early experiences with swimming and the barriers they’ve encountered. One of the obstacles is the harmful effects of chlorinated water on their hair. The team discusses hair care, competing in a white-dominated sport, tips on being a successful student athlete, and how much they love swimming in this video interview, conducting by blackkidsswim.com.

Howard university women's swim team member in the water.
Howard university women’s swim team member in the water.

There’s a long and complex and racist history of the relationships between swimming and black communities all over the world. This article in The Conversation by University of Toronto PhD. student Jacqueline Scott provides a short introduction and starting point for learning about these issues.

Finally (for now), there’s Jacqueline Scott’s excellent blog, Black Outdoors. She writes about all sorts of activities from birding to snowshoeing, has published widely and also been interviewed for her research and her passion for the outdoors. Bonus for Torontonians: Scott also leads 2-hour Black History Walks (currently paused), which you can read more about here.

Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking  about Black History.
Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking about Black History.

So readers, any suggestions for stories and sites to visit to learn more about women of color in motion on land, sea or air? I didn’t cover much here, so I’d welcome input. We’d love to see them, and will put them together for another post. Thanks!

fitness · swimming

Missing my DAM workouts and my DAM teammates (guest post)

(Today’s guest post is by friend of the blog, reader of the blog, and sometime swimming blogger Roberta Millstein. Full bio at the end of the article…)

I started swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, better known as DAM, shortly after I moved to Davis in 2007.  I was thrilled to have coach-led sets and a group of people to train with – so much more fun, and ultimately much more productive, than trying to swim on one’s own. 

I quickly fell into a routine and decided that, rather than constantly reciting to myself all the many physical and psychological benefits of swimming, I would just understand that swimming three times a week was A Thing That I Would Do.  Period.  Only the most serious of reasons would cause me to miss a workout.  And I stuck with that.  Travel, serious illness, a grad student’s exam that couldn’t be scheduled at any other time – those were about the only things that would cause me to miss a workout.

Until, of course, we finally started to realize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 16, DAM strongly recommended that seniors stop going to workouts.  I watched several people leave sadly.  It was an eerie, surreal practice.  I remember I went home and said to my partner sadly, “I think that might have been my last DAM workout for a while.”[1]  And indeed, by the end of the day, DAM had sent out an email cancelling workouts for everyone.  Even though the County and State official stay-at-home orders wouldn’t come for a few more days, that was really the beginning for me. 

I quickly made a new vow – on the days and times that I would have swum, I would now use the stair stepper.  It’s a workhorse of a thing that my partner bought used for me many years ago, and over time we’ve both used it on and off.  Most recently, I’d stopped using it because of a knee injury, but I thought maybe my knee felt well enough to start again.  I have rather a strange routine with the stair stepper – I listen to the same four playlists over and over, playlists that morphed from mixed tapes that I had made decades ago.  Probably most people would have long ago tired of listening to the same music, but I find that it focuses me: these are the songs that I stair step to.

A perfectly serviceable, if not beloved, stair stepping machine.
A perfectly serviceable, if not beloved, stair stepping machine.

I also decided to try something I’d always been meaning to try: yoga.  DAM sent around an email with a link to “Swimming Specific Yoga.”  I figured I’d do that on most days when I wasn’t using the stair stepper.  I added in a few dumbbell exercises afterward to keep my arms strong.  I’m sure that’s some sort of yoga violation, but I’m not really aiming for authenticity here.

In retrospect, keeping my time schedule was exactly the right choice.  It has kept me grounded, along with the usual morning and evening dog walks, weekly class and lab meetings, and local political meetings.  I’ve not experienced the “I don’t know what day it is” or “I slept in until 11 AM” that others have reported.  If anything, I’ve found myself too busy because I find it hard to be productive with so much looming uncertainty, so my to-do list has lengthened.  But getting exercise is all the more important for that, not less important.

I tell myself that, much as I might like to think I am a water mammal, it is actually good for me to be getting a bit more land exercise, and that is no doubt true.  I tell myself that this is an opportunity to work on some other muscles and skills, and that is also true.  I’ve definitely enjoyed the yoga and find it relaxing and energizing, even as there are some things I can’t do.  I try to be careful because I don’t want to get injured.  My knee still isn’t quite right so I am taking it easy with the stair stepper too.

But it’s not the same as the cool, clear feeling of entering the water and feeling it glide over you.  It’s not the same as the satisfaction of a hard workout that you only did because your teammates were there suffering through it with you.  And no one is there asking where you’ve been if you missed a few workouts, or telling you about a trip they took or are about to take, or commiserating about coming back from an injury.  Swimming, despite appearances, is actually quite a social sport.  I miss my lanemates and hope that they are well.  (The DAM coaches, for their part, are working very hard to make sure that we still feel connected).

The latest word is that DAM is going to try to re-start in some fashion on June 14, County regulations permitting.  I imagine social distancing swimmer-style: fewer people in the pool at once, maybe with signups, maybe fewer hours per week? We shall see.  I look forward to it no matter what form it takes. 

Roberta Millstein is a professor in the Philosophy Department at UC Davis, specializing in philosophy of biology and environmental ethics. In ordinary times, she enjoys walking and hiking with her poodles, swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, and her 10-minute bicycle commute to campus.

[1] We should all be so lucky to have this be the worst of our problems.