Feminist Fitness Love Stories

Happy Valentine’s Day, Feminist Fitness readers! We love y’all—all 16,000 of you!

In honor of the day, I collected some stories of sports and fitness love from some of our bloggers and readers. I asked these questions:

  • How did you and your sport first meet? Was it love at first sight?
  • If it’s a long-term relationship, how has your love changed over time?
  • Are you polyamorous about your love sports/activity relationships?  How do you manage to keep those different relationships going?

Readers, we’d love it if you would share some of your own sports love stories in the comments section. If we get enough, I’ll put them together for another blog post.

Love and fitness is not a new topic for the blog. Check out previous posts here and here and here   and here.

For inspiration, here are some of their stories below (slightly edited).

J on swimming: It was an arranged marriage when I was 11. My dad decided I needed an event for the Maccabi Games (Jewish junior olympic-style event), and he was a swimmer as a kid. It was the only time he’s been successful as a yenta.
We got really serious from ages 12-21, and spent all our waking hours together in college. Then we broke up when I found cycling and didn’t see each other for more than a decade.

I’ve come back to the sport in the past year after a knee injury, and we’ve fallen in love all over again. Switching from breaststroke to freestyle is a fresh new perspective. Plus, the gear is better now – who knew goggle technology had such room for improvement?  I just have to avoid looking at those (fast!) times from our youth together.

Swimming and I are both major Dan Savage fans, so yes, we believe in ethical [infidelity]. I cheat on it with cycling, kayaking, and hike/ski/snowshoeing on the weekends. And it cheats on me with Michal Phelps (but can you blame it?) The great thing about swimming is having a workout, lane buddies, and coach to motivate me on the days when I’d rather out out with Netflix, instead.

C on running and cycling: My long term relationship is with running, but mostly it’s the lover I am cuddling with on the couch with Netflix, comfortable and familiar and a good affirmation and reassurance from someone who’s known me a long time and still loves me despite my changing body and ebbing and flowing.  The new energy comes from my embracing of cycling, where I’m living fantasies of being the hostage trapped in the hotel with the FBI agent who wants to have their alpha way with me.  I have yet to have the threesome with these two I’ve been planning for years.  Maybe a duathlon in June 😉

A on Taekwondo: I was a child bride. My father arranged it all. Now I couldn’t see my life any other way. We had some time apart in my wild undergraduate years, and things were understandably tempestuous in graduate school, but now we have a mature understanding. I brought in rock climbing as a relatively new but stable partner. It’s more of a summer thing.

K on downhill skiing: A friend of mine invited me to go skiing.  I replied, “I don’t ski.”, which surprised her. I also found it really intriguing that she just EXPECTED me to be into skiing.  I needed to know why.  Her reply intrigued me more, “It fits with your personality.”  That was it.  My skiing crush started.

The first time I went skiing I knew I was bound for a lesson, but at what level? I took one trip up the bunny hill.  I got off the chair lift in one piece, no falls.  Nice.  Then I started sliding down the gentle terrain.  So far so good.   Gradually the speed was picking up.  I don’t know how to brake on these things.  Well, I thought, I know one way to stop.  And, I plopped over.  It sure was fun.  🙂  That was January 1999.  Since then I have gone from being a novice who needs to learn control to an expert who can explore the entire mountain.

I am not a cheater!  I keep things separate by season.  For example, I used to race sailboats.  I got burnt out on that and switched to cycling.  I can only handle one major commitment at a time.  😉

J on cross-country skiing: I flirted with my sport for a few years before committing in earnest. I built a deep relationship during the long winter nights above the Arctic Circle in 2000. Daily (or really, nightly), skiing provided a mental antidote to grueling work hours away from home, and a physical antidote to the other coping method – obscene alcohol consumption.

My love – and it’s really part and parcel of why I love what I love – is a continual process of learning and loving more deeply. There’s always room for growth, and given the nature of my chosen sport this can continue even as I age.

XC skiing is not a new love, but it has retained the passion of a new love. The feeling I get from using my whole body in a coordinated way is unparalleled. I retain many casual relationships, but am faithful to my true love.

Me on cycling, scuba, kayaking, yoga: In life and sports, I’ve had several different loves. Cycling is family—I’ve known it my whole life, starting with my first bike at 4, training wheels off at 5. My real appreciation for it has been in the last 12 years, once I started road biking in earnest, as well as mountain and cross biking. Even when I commute on my beater bike, I can still feel that sense of liberation—I’m moving under my own power, going exactly where I want to! Cycling will always be there for me, and I’m grateful for that lifelong relationship.

Yoga is the friend with benefits I reconnect with from time to time who is very accepting of my busy schedule, and is there to make me feel good. It’s not romantic—never has been—but can be therapeutic when I need some TLC. We’re seeing each other on the side now, and the nice thing is no one ever gets hurt.

Scuba is my new mad crush. We met on a vacation in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef, and I was infatuated right away. I’m now getting certified here in Boston, and am going to Puerto Rico for diving in March. Will a vacation fling survive the cold New England waters of reality? We’ll see.   But I’m sort of hoping it turns into something long-term.

M on cycling: The earliest phase of my long love affair was a yellow and black Murray that I got for Christmas at age 6. My dad took me outside, all set to give me my first lesson in staying upright on two wheels, and giddy with excitement, rode off down the street, no lesson required.

After using my bike mostly as a means to get to my friends’ houses, I was given my first “real” bike – a road bike with impossibly skinny tires. I remember riding it on the wrong side of the road because I was too afraid to have the traffic at my back and I felt no joy in that saddle. It seemed so fragile to me. I quickly traded it in for a hybrid and at the same time, some of my friends started mountain biking. It was 1992 and this was cutting edge where I was from. I joined them on my hybrid and couldn’t get enough of it.

It wasn’t long after that I purchased a mountain bike and proceeded to have lots of fun on dirt for many years until I got the nerve to get back on a road bike.  It was 2007 when I heard of this thing called “cyclocross”. I tried a race and adored it. Now as the sport has expanded, and mixed terrain rides on ‘cross bikes are becoming more popular, I feel I have come full circle to the days of riding my hybrid through the woods. This is what I had been waiting for all along. Recently I was riding my ‘cross bike on some local trails with a goofy smile on my face the whole time, feeling just as I did in those early days of love.

P on cycling: I fell in love with my partner and cycling at the same time. He is a cyclist and athlete, and I knew when our love was new that cycling was going to be important in my life. I didn’t realize HOW important and central it would become. Now, after teaching cycling and riding across country, I still remember fondly the first day we rode the Minuteman Trail together and he gave me a gentle push – a push that propelled me into love with him and the sport.

L on running: My sport/first love is running. It was definitely NOT love at first sight. In fact, we didn’t like one another one bit upon being introduced. I forced myself to engage with running for a long time. Slowly, very slowly, our relationship developed and became stronger. I went from only being able to run with others, to only being able to run with music, to finally, being able to run alone and sometimes even without music. It was then that our love blossomed (though as I note below, we are no longer monogamous).

It’s definitely been a long-term relationship: almost 20 years now. Since our courtship became a solid relationship, we’ve been pretty consistently in love for the whole time.

Though I’ve dabbled with others (biking and swimming, primarily), I’m pretty loyal to running. I confess that I also met Ashtunga yoga over twenty years ago. Though we had a casual relationship for several years (I was so young!), we had a falling out. I don’t think I was mature enough for yoga. But seven years ago we met again and for the past six years, I’ve been dividing my love equally between running and yoga. Because they are complementary and not competing for my love in any way, we have a pretty nice polyamorous thing going!

K on cycling: I fell in love with my bike in the summer of 2013, on a trip to Morzine in the southern French Alps. Until then I’d just ridden a lot and thought, ya, this is fun. In Morzine I learned something more: that my bike and I, together, could climb mountains. Not super fast but faster than most, steady and solid. It felt incredible, liberating.

On that same trip a woman my age, a former racer and now coach, told me how talented she thought I was as a rider; that praise hit home like you would not believe. I’d never been talented at sports, EVER. I’d been teased as fat and inept and uncoordinated as a kid. My high school gym teacher used to call me “retard.” (No, really. Thanks, Mr Elgie.)

Since then I’ve ridden with pride, hugged the road, so grateful for my awesome strong body and my lithe, speedy bike. Her name is Ruby. (No, really. Thanks, Ruby!)

Tracy on swimming: she’s blogged about this here, which will inspire everyone to get in the water very soon.

 and Samantha, on Cycling: A Love Story in 3 Parts:

  1. I fell in love with riding a bike as a kid, as one does. I don’t know how old I was. Maybe 8. The bike had a purple banana seat and sissy bars at the back. It was the 70s. This isn’t me but it looks like my bike. We moved a lot when I was growing up, following my father’s work as a baker across Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. At some point the bike stopped coming with and I stopped riding but I remember that bike. I remember learning to ride a bike and I loved the freedom it gave me to come and go.
  1. After more than 10 years of not riding, a friend was riding from Ontario to Newfoundland and she gave up in Halifax. Too many hills and too much rain and bad weather. She decided to complete her trip by bus and ferry and left me her beautiful bike for the summer. It has gears that worked and you could actually get going pretty fast. I started commuting everywhere by bike and said goodbye to the bus. Shortly before she arrived home I took her bike into a bike shop and said I wanted one like it. I couldn’t afford one like hers, it turned out, but instead I bought a pink Raleigh hybrid commuter bike. It was stolen only a a few years ago after I passed it down to my mother.
  1. After steadily commuting for years, I got into running. Approaching my 40th birthday I started running 5 kms 10 kms, and then training for half marathons. A friend who’d done a half ironman suggested we train for a triathlon and we signed up for the Running Room’s triathlon clinic. I also worked with a bunch of serious cyclists who noticed the running and increasing fitness and who said maybe I was ready for a real bike. I bought my first road bike–a red Cannondale, the first in a series of Cannondales–and took it out for a spin with my triathlon training group. All of a sudden I was at the front, not the back, and chatting with people I never got to run with. My friend had to stop for a bathroom back but he told me to keep going and that he’d catch up. I ended up waiting at the car for what felt like forever. He never caught me. Whee! Zoom! I was once slow (running) but now was fast (on the bike). I’ve never looked back.

So readers, if you have love stories to share, please tell us.  And we’ll keep sharing the love…

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Swimming to beat the heat (Guest post)

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Not a bad way to spend weekday mornings

Mid-December I was struggling with the seemingly enormous task of returning to some semblance of my previous fitness level when I read here about Sam’s run streak. I thought it was a great idea and the concept of ‘little runs’ consistently is quite appealing.

I think on any day I could get myself out of the house to jog for a mile. Multiply that distance by 3 and all of a sudden I build a wall of expectations (too far, too slow, too tired) that create a barrier to getting out the door.

Backing up a little. I was cleared by my GP to return to exercise in August after a long hiatus. Starting slowly I began with regular sessions in the gym, returning to swimming when my local open air pool re-opened in October, occasionally cycling with a local club and becoming a semi-regular at my local ParkRun on Saturday morning.

My long term return-to-fitness goal is a long course triathlon. But for now, I was lost. Standing at the bottom of this fitness mountain looking up and trying to develop a program that would fit all my expectations and needs it was all a bit overwhelming.

My fears were exacerbated by the searing heat of the Adelaide summer. We have already had numerous spells over 40C degrees (104F) and can expect several days over 45C (114F). I am not a little person and I find I get distressed running and cycling in the heat (anything over 30 degrees really). In fact, just thinking about it makes me anxious. So all in all, I didn’t know where to begin. But I knew I wanted to start.

One morning, shortly after reading Sam’s post I was in the pool and I thought to myself. “I should break this down, I always work better with a plan. Breathe, is my stroke okay? Stretch that right arm out. Where was I? Oh yes. Break this down. Breathe on the left, oops, cough, ugh, I really have to work on that. Yes. Break this down. Breathe. I should remember think of this in more detail when I stop swimming.”

Swim-uary was born. My commitment is to swim every weekday in January and February 2016. Focussing on improving my swim technique and endurance through summer seemed like a pretty good idea when starting down the barrel of a scorching summer.

I joined up with a local training group and we have swim squad on Tuesday and Thursday mornings so that will give my fitness and technique a good kick. Most other days I hop in with a tentative aim to swim for 30 mins non-stop. Ultimately my goal here is to swim sub-30 minutes for 1500m. Like running a 6 minute kilometre, swimming 2 minutes per 100m is a benchmark for the also-swims among us.

But I’m not pushing for that every day. The first step each day is to get to the pool, get in and start swimming. In the first few minutes I check-in with how I am feeling. Some days I know that it will be a cruisy 30 minutes and I just enjoy it. Others I’m checking in each 5 minutes – am I still wanting to go on? And reminding myself it is okay to stop if I am tired.

Not setting a specific time, distance or even a program beyond “swim” or “get in the pool” takes the pressure off. On days where I’m just not feeling up to it I can play around and relax or work on something specific. Yesterday was one of those days, so I worked on my tumble turns. Maybe by the end of Swim-uary I will have them mastered? Maybe not.

Breaking my return to fitness down to something manageable has already helped. I no longer feel I am circling the bottom of that fitness mountain looking for the beginnings of the “best” path up. I’ve turned face-on and every day I take another step, however big or small, up.

I already have the next step in mind too – “Run like the win-ter” has a nice ring to it don’t you think?

Swimming with no men– McIver’s Baths and single-sex spaces

Since I’ve been in Sydney on sabbatical, I’ve had the chance to go to a few of the incredibly beautiful rock tidal pools here that are built on the ocean in a protected area for swimming. One of the most famous, Wylie’s Baths caters to serious swimmers, people with kids, and anyone who wants to enjoy sun, surf and sea in a pool where the waves wash over you. Here is a picture from my visit there.

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Right next to Wyle’s baths, in Coogee beach in Sydney, is another pool—McIver’s Baths. What makes McIver’s Baths special is that it is a women-only space (young male children are allowed, as well as female children of any age).

McIver’s is also special in that it has been a women-only bathing space for well over 100 years. It is reputed to have been a historical location where Aboriginal women bathed, and was formally constructed with changing rooms in 1886. The McIver family took over running it until it was taken over by the Randwick Ladies Amateur Swimming Club, which has held the lease on the place ever since.

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There have been objections to the exclusion of males from the pool throughout the history of McIver’s. Most recently, in 1995, a man complained to the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board that he was barred from the baths on account of his sex. The city council responded that there had been no complaints of this nature, and the lessee stated that they couldn’t afford to build changing rooms for men. (It is also true that Wylie’s baths, which admits everyone, is 450 meters away).

A blogger writing about the history of McIver’s added this about the case:

The women’s pool was traditionally used by older women, women with disabilities, nuns and others who preferred privacy as well as pregnant women and older people with arthritis who enjoyed the pool’s private sunbaking area and didn’t want to go to the beach, indulge in mixed bathing, or be bothered by men. Thursday was traditionally married ladies day. Girls’ schools held water safety classes at the baths, which were popular amongst the Islamic community. The club’s free lessons had helped Islamic women and children gain confidence in the water and some Islamic women contended that it was the only place their faith permitted them to swim. The medical profession argued that Coogee’s women’s baths were the only place where women who had suffered disfiguring operations could comfortably bathe.

As I was going in on Saturday I saw some Muslim women in hijabs and tunics, with their full-length swimsuits underneath. They were leaving the bath, carrying inflatable pool toys with their kids in tow. As I changed I saw women of all ages, sizes, and nationalities hanging out on the rocks (some sunbathing topless, some reading), swimming, wading at the edge, and chatting with other women. A bunch of the women were swimming topless, some in their underwear—as if they had decided impulsively to stop by for a swim, but hadn’t brought a bathing suit with them. No suit? No problem! Others (like me), were in bathing suits, long-sleeve rash guard shirts, with goggles and cap, doing laps.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in women-only activities—I play on a women’s squash team, I’ve road and mountain bike raced in women’s fields and I’ve taken a zillion dance classes that were almost entirely women. And I’ve enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie you get in a women’s locker room. Tracy has blogged eloquently about that experience here .

But I really really like this space. I like the friendly vibe, the feelings of safety and relaxation that other women told me they felt here, and the freedom to swim or read or sunbathe unfettered by suits or judgment. In particular, I saw several larger women swimming, hanging out, smiling, and walking around with none of the self-consciousness that I’ve witnessed (in myself and others) countless times at public pools, gyms, and beaches. This is not to say that women are uniformly non-judgmental, but rather than this place—a place for women-only—seems to dictate a congeniality and solidarity in attitude which I wish existed at every swimming pool on the planet. Tracy has blogged here about women-only races and offered some responses to those who think they are unjustly exclusionary.

If readers have qualms about dedicated women-only spaces, let me know—I’d like to hear them. I’ve not offered any arguments here, just said that my experiences and observations were overwhelmingly positive.  But if you’re ever in Sydney you should go. Among other reasons, the entrance fee is only 20 cents!

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My taking it easy weekday triathlon

My plan had been to do a mini triathlon on the weekend. Do all three activities with very long breaks in between.

Two weekends ago I rode the MEC Century. Last weekend the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon.

Now this weekend was gong to be the ice cream run but I decided to give it a miss. There’s also a weekend long heat advisory but that’s not the whole story about ditching the ice cream run. See here for that.

Instead, I decided to make it a triathlon weekend by getting in one bike, one run, and one swim.

Part 1, Saturday morning: Bike 60 km with Jeff and Jacquie

That was actually our Plan B. Plan A was riding with our local cycling club. But their long ride was 170 km, and their short ride was 110.

And here’s what the weather looked like.

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Heat advisory: Temperatures will peak in the 30 to 32 degree range today and Sunday. Tonight will be a very warm night with overnight minimum temperatures in the 20 to 23 degree range. Humidex values will be near 40 during the afternoon hours today and Sunday…

Heat warning: A heat warning has been issued for a swath of southern Ontario from Windsor to York Region as the hottest weekend in three years is expected. Intense heat may trigger strong storms.

Heat and humidity is a guarantee this weekend across southern Ontario and Quebec, with Sunday poised to be the most oppressive day as temperatures reach the 30s while Humidex values approach ridiculous.

In light of all that we decided on a short ride, just 60 km total with our friend Jacquie.

And even though it was an oppressively hot day, I got three personal bests on Strava. Also had a great time catching up with Jacquie.

Part B: Run 5 km in the neighborhood. Fine. Stinky hot Sunday but I did it.

Part C: Swim in the quarry at St Mary’s

That never happened thanks to the loud, wet, wild, and windy thunderstorms that typically follow hot humid weather here. Action plan, weekend triathlon, aborted.

Monday morning I was feeling a bit dispirited by the whole thing. Less riding and running than of planned thanks to heat and no swimming thanks to thunder and lightning. Bah.

But I realized it was still doable.

Instead, I had a taking it easy, weekday triathlon.

I started with dog jogging with Cheddar. I’m trying to teach him to run with me following the advice of our guest blogger here. We got about 3 km of mostly jogging. That was Part A.

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Then my bike commute to work on my cross bike. I don’t race on the bike path but I went pretty fast anyway thanks to being late for a meeting. That’s Part B.

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And Part C, swimming with Nat and friends! Hi Nat, hi Terry, hi Bev, hi Phyllis!

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Thames Pool

An everyday triathlon, in the wrong order, with very long transitions!

Swimming with friends

11709521_10155775162830113_6323445869823567017_nI’ll let you in on a little secret, I probably haven’t done lane swimming with friends in over 20 years. Sure, back in Royal Military College circa 1994, I did laps with the triathlon club under the guidance of our most awesome coach Jake. Looking back though, I’ve mostly done laps alone or with my partner Michel. I love swimming but the whole face in the water thing makes it the least social of all the cardio activities I do. Cycling can offer occasions to chat. Running, well, with running I mostly listen and try to keep my asthma at bay.

I’m a moderately competent swimmer who hasn’t had coaching or training in nearly twenty years but, as I’ve said before I love to swim! This summer the evening lane swim at my neighbourhood pool was cancelled but it turns out the pool in Old South (near Phyllis, Samantha, Mallory and Tracy) has a great swim at 8 pm every night.

I put the call out on facebook and a few friends have joined me in the evening. Some are more skilled swimmers than me and others are looking for some ideas on how to move through the water. It’s a bit weird to be offering ideas to my athletic friends but also fun because I like fostering the joy of swimming in others.

I don’t do speed work when I’m in the pool with friends, I focus on technique, drills and discussing strategies for triathlons. I especially work on feeling comfortable in the water regardless of stroke or technique. I think sometimes, for the sake of efficiency, triathlon training focuses almost exclusively on front crawl to the athlete’s detriment.  I get it. Pool time is in short supply and there’s all those other things like running, cycling and weights to do.But I remember Jake’s sage advice “Train all the strokes, you never know when you’ll need them.” He taught me that breast stroke can be a recovery stroke if you cramp, a competent side stroke can save you from the worst waves and that learning the butterfly stroke improves shoulder strength and flexibility, making you a better swimmer.

So I’ve rediscovered group swimming this season and I really like it. Samantha pointed out it is a way for all speeds and abilities to still be together and she’s right, the hanging out in the lane and encouraging each other is great. I also meet new folks as they nottice my race number on my body from last weekend or ask if they can offer some tips. There was a lovely lady named Alice who helped Bev and I out Thursday night. She really knew her stuff and helped us bring our swimming up a notch with a few key insights.

So, especially if you find swimming challenging, try it with some friends. Sure, go some times on your own, get lessons, join a training group, whatever you need to feel good and safe and maybe you want to blog about it! Right Bev?

 

Starting to swim again and the first trauma is bathing suit shopping

Trauma?

Okay, that’s an overstatement.

I know. It’s weird. I’m happy naked. I wear a bikini without any issues. I’m pretty comfy in my skin. Generally speaking I’m at peace with my curves, my rolls, my cellulite, and even my stretch marks. But put me in a sports store changing room with a stack of speedos and other name brand serious swim suits, and ugh. Just ugh.

I’ve written before about bathing suit anxiety and why it’s different than evaluating and reflecting on the way one looks naked or in lingerie.

And it’s weird too b/c generally I like the way in look in sportswear, in active clothing. I love my bike shorts and jerseys and sleeveless running tanks and lifting shirts. I even liked my rowing clothes. So while lots of women don’t like to play sports for fear of wearing tight fitting sports clothing, that’s very much not me.

I like being identified as an athlete and given my build that’s often not clear if I’m wearing dresses and everyday clothes. But put me in bike shorts and jersey and it’s clear I’m a cyclist.

So why the swimsuit angst? Again, I suspect it’s all about identity.

Consider the comparison class. Women who wear bathing suits like these ones I’m about to try on at Sport Check look long and lean. They’re swimmers. They look like swimmers. They don’t look like me.

With my bikinis I’ve managed to change the comparison class. My newsfeed has so many cute women in fatkinis that I’ve come to see the fat girl in bikini as normal. They do look like me. They’re everywhere on body positive and health at every size websites.

But racing speedos? Scary!

And actually, at the end of the day, I’m not sure my self esteem is any worse. I’m able to say, “It’s not me, it’s them.”

I have a long torso and short legs. That’s part of my preference for bikinis over one piece suits.

Maybe I’ll look for an athletic two piece and make that my lane swimming suit. Or maybe I’ll start to think of myself as swimmer again and think of myself as belonging in that Speedo. Maybe.

The LZR Racer has been limited in length for swimmers.

I love to swim!

Yoga feels really great and I have nice lateral flexibility that makes it fun. I’m a bit better on my bike and feel good in the saddle. Running, well, I run because it is an effective way to meet some goals. I mostly tolerate it. I enjoy walking but I LOVE TO SWIM!

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It’s the deep breathing, the muffled sounds, the splashing, all of it. I’m lucky enough to live in a city with several outdoor pools and the ripples of sunlight across the bottom are mesmerizing, the epitome of summer.

The past week I got out 3 times. Last night with Sam, Mallory, Terry and Phyllis. We each did our own thing in the lane and it was fun to see us bobbing along in the leisure lane.

It’s just a week away until Kincardine and I can’t wait to get out with my friends!