fashion · feminism · fitness · gear · running · swimming

Bettina’s quest for a multi-sport watch – small wrists and designing with women in mind

Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists.  Very small wrists.

So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.

Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.

One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.

I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.

Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).

So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.

If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?

fitness · swimming

Sam is loving her swimming classes

This is the gold pool, at the University of Guelph. It’s the lane swimming pool to which I aspire!

They’re just two nights a week, for a half hour. But I’m loving it. Monday night I was sitting in my office reading the horrible news about the Quebec election. I could have kept reading but instead, I walked to the athletic centre and put on my new swimsuit and my new goggles and worked on my breathing while doing lengths of the pool. Swim classes start at 8 pm but there’s no one in the small pool before us so I usually get there 15 minutes early and practice. I needed that.

What do I like?

Time flies when I’m learning to swim. Right now swimming takes all my concentration so all the worries of my day disappear. There isn’t room for them. Swimming clears my mind and I don’t work again after. I’m more relaxed after and that’s a valuable thing these days.

I love the learning curve when you start something new. I’m better each week. That’ll slow down and drop off soon but it makes the first few weeks fun.

Learning to swim isn’t about fitness.. It’s technique focused. I’m learning new skills. We’re giving so much attention to skills that I sometimes forget it’s exercise at all.

For me, swimming, in particular breathing takes a lot of concentration. I have to be very deliberate in my breathing.

Also, so far while swimming, my knee doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to have exercise other than cycling that doesn’t involve pain.

I love that there’s so much body diversity in the pool. My instructor is larger than me and also obviously much faster than me. She’s a former competitive swimmer.

I love being a student. My instructor is a fourth year student. The other person in my semi private lesson is a second year student. Here I am the Dean but in the pool I’m the student. It’s fun being a beginner again!

This is the red pool. It’s smaller and warmer than the gold pool and it doesn’t have lane markers. It’s where I take swimming classes.
fitness · motivation · swimming · training

You can love a thing and always suck at it. That’s okay. Also in not unrelated news, Sam starts swimming lessons.

Susan gave me some framed pictures from our cruise for my birthday, photos of me in the water. Such happy memories from our cruise. Thanks Susan! I look really happy. And that’s the thing. I love being in the water. I’m not scared of fish. I’m not worried about drowning. I can tread water and float really well. It feels great moving in the water.

But you’ll never see that smile indoors. And swimming, here in Canada at least, is mostly an indoor activity. Also, my swimming isn’t at a level where it’s a fitness activity. I’m not sure why, bad technique probably, but unlike running and cycling, I don’t seem to get faster with training in the pool. When I trained with the university students’ triathlon club I was the anchor person of the slow lane. New people came and then after a time moved up to a faster lane.

Then last week this article made its way into my newsfeed, Revel in the joy of doing things you’ll never master.

And I wondered, could I enjoy swimming without getting any faster? Does everything have to be about speed and improvement? Couldn’t swimming just be pleasurable even if I remained a slow swimmer?

I begin swimming lessons later in September. I’ll let you know how it goes!

In the meantime here’s me 11 years ago, with Susan, after the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. I was happy but I was also last out the water of those who weren’t rescued. The thing is I was in zero danger. No need to rescue me. But I was just slow, as usual. Maybe that’s okay.

Maybe part of my learning to love swimming means getting comfortable with staying in the same place?

How about you? Do you have a thing you’re not good at but that you love anyway?

Susan and Sam, 2007

fitness · swimming

Working to like a thing, or Sam signs up for fall swimming lessons

I’ve always wanted to like swimming.

I love the water. I’m not scared. But fitness swimming has never felt natural and I’ve never been speedy.

I read about other people’s love of swimming, Tracy’s and our friend Savita’s, our regular blogger Bettina’s, and I think, “I want that.” That’s how I want to feel about swimming.

So I’m working on changing my attitude. You can do that, you know.

Part of my problem is that I love swimming outside, not in indoor pools

Here’s me in Bora Bora!

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Swimming in Bora Bora!

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

A few years ago, I tried it again. See Starting to swim again and the first trauma is bathing suit shopping.

Maybe I should so swimming with Sally. See her post Learning to Swim and Loving My Body in the Process

Instead, I’ve signed up for semi private swimming lessons at the university pool. It’s a six week session, two evenings a week, half hour lessons. It’s not a huge commitment and I’ll report back on how it goes.

Anyway, wish me luck!

Have you ever worked hard to like a thing? What strategies have you used? Did it work?

Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

Guest Post · swimming · team sports

Women for Water Research Swim Trans Tahoe Relay (Guest Post)

Here’s a post by Roberta M on her relay swim of Lake Tahoe (whoa– isn’t that water really cold? Read more to find out).

On Saturday, July 21, I had the opportunity to join five other UC Davis-affiliated women to swim the Trans Tahoe Relay.  The Trans Tahoe Relay serves as a fundraiser for Keep Tahoe Blue, but we also swam to support the  Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) and the Center for Watershed Sciences (CWS).  The day was sunny, the water was cool, clear, and refreshing, the mountains ringing the lake were beautiful.  It was an exhilarating, fun, tiring, and fulfilling day.

Just to give a sense of size of the lake and its surroundings, here I am with my guard poodles at a Lake Tahoe overlook in August 2014.
Just to give a sense of size of the lake and its surroundings, here I am with my guard poodles at a Lake Tahoe overlook in August 2014.

 

The Trans Tahoe Relay is a race that crosses the northern end of Lake Tahoe from east to west at a part of the lake where it is 10 miles wide.  (The lake overall is approximately 22 miles long and 12 miles wide – it’s a very large and deep lake!).  Teams are composed of six swimmers each, with a support boat.  (We owe big thanks to TERC for providing us with a boat and to TERC’s director, Geoff Schladow, for piloting the boat).  The rules are that each swimmer swims for 30 minutes, and then takes turn swimming 10 minutes each, until the 10 miles is completed.  On our team, after our first leg each of us did two 10-minute legs, with two members of the team doing a third 10-minute leg.  So, we didn’t break any speed records, but we were happy with our result anyway!

Our boat for the day arriveth! We were very grateful to have the use of the TERC boat.
Our boat for the day arriveth! We were very grateful to have the use of the TERC boat.

 

We didn’t all know each other before the race, but we were brought together by our love of swimming and our passion for the environment, with each of us doing research in an environmentally-related field.  (My own areas of research encompass philosophy of evolution and ecology as well as environmental ethics).

Here we are, the swim team, plus vital support folks, on our boat, all smiling.
Here we are, the swim team, plus vital support folks, on our boat, all smiling.

I’ve done a number of open water swims, including one at nearby Donner Lake (2.7 miles), but this was my first relay, so I didn’t know what to expect.  In some ways it was very much the same.  You’re in the water, it’s often a little cold (we were told to expect 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but thankfully it was more like high 60s), and you’re just trying to stay focused, keep your pace up, keep going.   In other ways, though, it was very different.  In most open water swims, you feel very much alone, and that can be part of the challenge, to be “in your head” for such a long period of time.  But here all you had to do was pick up your head to see the boat and your teammates, so you never felt alone.

Getting ready for the tag and switching of swimmers.
Getting ready for the tag and switching of swimmers.

 

And whereas my best time for the Donner Lake swim had me in the water for an hour and 23 minutes (and that was drafting like mad), here the swim was broken up into segments.  In some ways that made it harder, as muscles tightened between swims and then were forced to be used again, but it also made it less mentally challenging because you knew that your time in the water was a limited, manageable chunk.

Still smiling, even after my 30-minute leg of the swim. Warm swim coat courtesy of my sister and nephew.
Still smiling, even after my 30-minute leg of the swim. Warm swim coat courtesy of my sister and nephew.

 

But I’ve left out one really big difference between a relay and a solitary open water swim: the time in between swims.  Here whichever five swimmers who were not in the water got to hang out on the boat.  We talked about swimming – how much swimming we’d done in the past, how much we were able to fit into our busy schedules now.  We talked about our research, and learned about the interesting projects that each of us was engaged in.  We ate snacks and recovered between each swim.  And we encouraged each other and cheered each other on.  No one worried about our time or how fast each person was going (something that is in any case impossible to tell without a GPS).  Instead, we enjoyed the day, enjoyed each other’s company, and swam for a good cause.  We were a true team.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.  2019, perhaps?

Almost at the end, now!
Almost at the end, now!

 

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

fitness · swimming

Swimsuit options: the ethical edition

Last week, Catherine explored different swimsuit options beyond the one-piece/two-piece dilemma and our bloggers talked about their swimwear preferences. But what if, on top of wanting something you feel great in for getting in the water, you also want something that isn’t going to poison the environment even further?  As a swimmer, I’m painfully aware that my sport of choice isn’t exactly light on the planet. All my equipment is, essentially, made from plastic. It also doesn’t take a genius to figure out that keeping the pools I train in filled with water, clean, and warm is going to have some environmental impact. And last but not least, I have to drive to the pool (where I train is too far to bike and unreachable by public transport from where I am).

So I started looking around for some options that would reduce the environmental footprint of my aquatic exploits at least a little bit. It’s not easy, but it is getting easier.

Last year, I purchased a bikini made from Econyl, a recycled nylon fiber. It’s produced by a small German startup, INASKA Swimwear, that aims to produce bikinis for women who do water sports (rather than for lounging round the beach or pool), so that was huge in my book. They also sell tops and bottoms separately, which is fantastic (one of my main gripes with bikini shopping is that not more companies do this. I always struggle to find bikinis that will fit both my boobs and my bum). The bikinis are made in Europe.

Beach
Bettina in the far-off distance, sporting her ‘ethical’ bikini on a beach in Galicia, Spain. (There are no other pictures of me in swimwear and I was too busy this week to take any).

The bikini itself… fine but not a 100% hit just yet. Especially the bottoms were cut in a way that still makes them feel like they’re about to slip off when you’re swimming fast. But the nice thing about a small startup is that they’re responsive: at the end of last year, they did a customer survey and it seems like I wasn’t the only one who complained – there’s a new model out this year that promises better hold (I haven’t tried it yet, though I’m tempted – but in line with trying to reduce my environmental footprint, I decided not to buy a new bikini this year). I would also add that their bikinis don’t strike me as particularly plus-size friendly, even the new model. Their advertising is certainly geared towards the thin end of the spectrum. And the bikinis aren’t fully recycled fibre (78% I think). I actually don’t know if 100% recycled is technically an option at this point, or whether something is going on with the fibres that would prevent that from happening.

bikini.jpg
Bettina’s teal-coloured sports bikini.

For training suits, the picture doesn’t look an awful lot better, but again here, this is starting to change a bit. Adidas has launched a collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, a campaign seeking to clean the sea of plastic waste. Among other things, they make Parley swimsuits. I own one, though again if you read the small print, it becomes obvious that it’s only partially made from recycled material (and they don’t say how much, at least not that I could find). It gives the whole thing rather a “greenwashing” taste. But other big companies of swimming gear such as Speedo or Arena don’t seem to have caught onto this issue at all yet, so at least Adidas’s move is something? Also in the big-name range, PrAna and Patagonia have some interesting options made at least in part from recycled materials. PrAna in particular offers a wide range in terms of coverage.

Still, if you want ethical swimwear, in many cases you’re going to have to buy from small businesses. Which has the added benefit of being able to support young, often female-owned, companies. Frequently, they spring up from their owners’ passion for water sports and factor in the needs of women who like to be active.

But it is more complicated than being able to just walk into any old sports shop, try something on, and choose between different options. Some of these small companies produce on demand, so you have to measure yourself first to work out your size, order, wait (after all they still have to make it), and hope for the best. They’re also not cheap. And in many cases, their sizing options are more limited. But it’s an exciting scene, and if you’re willing to put in a bit of extra effort, you may well end up with something lovely.

In addition to the aforementioned INASKA Swimwear, I’ve done a bit of research for options on both sides of the Atlantic. Once you start looking, there are TONNES of ethical swimwear companies out there. I tried focussing on those geared towards more active behaviour in the water. One thing that struck me was that this seems to be a bit of a Euro-centric endeavour. I found more European than North American-based brands (and a lot of Australian ones) that matched my ethical-and-activity-friendly search criterion. There were loads of US and Canada-based ethical brands that make bikinis and one-piece suits in the “cute but not for sporty swimming or movement” range. Without further ado, here are some options, in no particular order:

  • Finisterre (UK-based) – swim and surf gear made partially from Econyl, and they donate 10% of the price to Surfers Against Sewage). Cool stuff, but comes at a price.
  • Davy J (UK-based) – also made from recycled fishing nets (also Econyl, I think). I’m not totally sure their stuff will really stay on (the tops seem a bit low cut), but they claim it will.
  • Josea Surfwear (Germany-based) – bikinis and one-piece suits designed for active women and produced in Hamburg, Germany. I’ve heard great things about their stuff, but their collection is a bit… changeable. I’d had my eyes on a pair of boyshort bottoms that have now suddenly disappeared from the shop. Also, no detailed information about the materials they use, only that they’re “sustainable”. I’d want to know more.
  • Greenswimmers (Germany-based) – I had really high hopes for these guys after reading in a swimming magazine that they were going to start producing swimsuits for women this March. The men’s trunks had received rave reviews, and the preview of the women’s suit was also great. But alas, no swimsuits in sight, and it’s now July. I wrote to them at some point and they said they were still planning on launching them but had some internal issues. The website hasn’t changed since early this year (they still promise the swimsuits for March), so I’m starting to wonder if the whole enterprise hasn’t gone South. Sad times 😦
  • Beefcake Swimwear (US-based) – already mentioned in Catherine’s post for the cool options they provide, this company doesn’t say anything about using environmentally friendly or recycled materials, but they are female-owned and make their suits in the US, so at least that’s fewer production miles and fair wages. It’s a great start.
  • Loka (Canada/Australia-based) – also using Econyl, Loka makes different options, at least some of which look like they might withstand sporty behaviour (like this one).
  • Rubymoon (UK-based) – multi-sports wear that transitions from the water to the yoga mat or the gym. They re-invest all their profits into women-owned micro businesses.
  • Mymarini (Germany-based) – many of their models are in the less practical range, but there are some options that would be quite good for water-based activities.
fitness · swimming

Beyond the one-piece/two-piece dilemma: swimsuit options we’re loving

Hi everyone– in the Northern Hemisphere it’s high summer, which means (among other things), fun in and around water. Swimming, sailing, paddleboarding, kayaking, body surfing, picnicking, splashing and frolicking– for me summer is all about the water.

Which gives rise to the eternal question:  what to wear?

These days, there’s a dizzying array of interesting types of swimwear.  We have soooo moved beyond the tank suit/bikini dichotomy, along with market restrictions on sizes and varieties. Some of our bloggers posted sites with really diverse options, so we thought we’d share them with y’all.

There are some fantastic options for those who want gender-neutral swimwear here.

If you’re interested in bikini looks for all size women, check out this site; it features looks and links to sites selling glamorous and sexy and fun fatkini looks for larger sized women. Here are a few sneak peeks:

 

 

And then there’s the buttkini.  It’s exactly what you think– a two-piece that shows off the derriere in all its glory.  Check them out here (I don’t think Facebook lets us show these in a post, which is of course silly…)

Let me put in a plug for Beefcake swimwear, which has THE SUIT I want– the one on the left, called the ordinary. The one on the right is the dreamboat.  They’re current out of stock but may have more in July.

 

 

If you are looking for more coverage, there are suits out there for you.  Burkinis provide full head-to-toe coverage, and were invented by Aheda Zanetti, a Muslim Australian who wanted to design sports and swimwear for Muslim girls and women that were functional and also comported with their religious practices. You can read more about Aheda Zanetti here.  Now lots of companies make burkinis– here are a few pictures:

 

When I was in Australia a few years ago, I went snorkeling and diving off the Great Barrier Reef.  We were required to wear stinger suits, which are adult-sized onesies that look a bit like burkinis.  Some have a hood, and they even have hand coverings so to avoid being stung by the tiny but potentially deadly box jellyfish (also called stingers).

In addition to protecting you from death, the stinger suit has another advantage, which is that you don’t need to apply sunscreen (except a bit to your face).  Sunscreen has been shown to be destructive to coral reefs, so wearing a stinger suit is a twofer– good for you, and good for the ocean environment. I like the idea of wearing one for ocean swimming, as I get sunburned very easily and would feel more relaxed if I didn’t have to worry about reapplying sunscreen (except for my face, which is fine). Here’s a pic of me before diving in one:

Me in a blue stinger suit with a blue and yellow hood, before scuba diving.
Me in a blue stinger suit with a blue and yellow hood, before scuba diving.

I’ve since learned that there are many prettier ones than this one– the operator joked that we all looked like Teletubbies, which was pretty much correct. Here is a great example of stinger suits gone wild, as made by an Australian company:

A quartet of brightly patterned full body stinger suits with hoods: black and red animal print, pastel circular print, blue reptilian print, and purply geometric pattern.
A quartet of brightly patterned full body stinger suits with hoods: black and red animal print, pastel circular print, blue reptilian print, and purply geometric pattern.

No doubt I’ve missed some new styles of cool, beautiful, functional, funky or otherwise excellent swimwear.  So tell us, readers:  what do you like or not like in swimsuits?  Do any of these options look appealing to you? Tell us what you think.