Fear · racing · running · training

Bettina doesn’t run a half marathon, part 1: imperfect training and disappointment

All of this summer, I’ve been so excited about my new bike and getting into cycling, I’ve only mentioned half marathon training in passing. I’ve done a bunch of shorter races by now, mostly 10k. After the last one, a 10k in the sweltering heat in July, I decided that maybe it was finally time to tackle the half. If I could run 10k in 30C and survive (though just barely), perhaps there was a chance I could run twice as far?

To be honest, I was super intimidated by the sheer distance. I could do 10k, but I’d end up exhausted, and at races that included a half marathon option, I always wondered how the hell it was possible to double my distance. But plenty of people were doing it, and some of my running mates were egging me on: “if you can run 10k, you can do a half marathon, no problem!” and “anyone who runs a bit regularly can do a half!”. They meant well, I know, but this sort of encouragement made my anxiety worse. What if I was the sort of person who could run 10k, but not 21? Or who could run more or less regularly, just not very far? I was really quite scared of the idea of trying to run 21k.

Photo of an unsurmountable-looking, ice-covered mountain face. This is how Bettina felt about the half-marathon distance when she first started training.
Photo by Stas Aki on Unsplash

I’ve always been one to avoid a challenge rather than risking failure, but it’s something I’m trying to work on: getting out of my comfort zone and push myself to take on things that are a bit of a stretch. Learning to maybe fail.

And so I scoured the web for an autumn half marathon with a flat course that was close enough so I could get myself there on the morning of the race. There was no way I was starting out with a hilly half. I settled on a small race around a former US Army base called the Franklin Mile Run. The US Army left a lot of its German bases in the 2000s and these areas are being redeveloped now, and the event website promised an entertaining and – I noted with relief – almost completely flat course. 29 September, I was on!

I started training “in earnest” following the aforementioned 10k race in early July, so I had ample time to prepare. I didn’t draw up a particularly sophisticated training plan: the idea was to run two to three times per week (ideally three), with one long run on the weekends, gradually increasing the distance up to 18k a few weeks before the race, repeat that a couple of times, and then taper the week before race day. I mapped out the long runs on the calendar, knowing I would hit my first 18k at the end of August. Then we’d go on holiday, during which I would do a couple of shorter runs and one more long run before tapering.

Initially, the long runs were tough. I had this mental block caused by my Fear Of The Distance (FOTD): I wasn’t going to be able to do it, it would be too hard – essentially all the negative self-talk that was trying to protect me from failure by sabotaging me, as Cate recently pointed out. It was also really, really hot. And so I would go out, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to complete my run, and any difficulty I’d run into – it still being too warm, being slightly uncomfortable in my gear, etc., would compound that feeling and leave me starting out jittery and nervous. There was one particular run, my second 14k, during which I hit a wall at 10k and spent the final 4k shuffling along in suffering, convinced I would never be able to run a half marathon. In hindsight, it was really just too warm that day. I should have taken something to drink and taken it easy. But at the time, it was quite discouraging.

And then one day, I ran 16k and was fine. I’d taken a water bottle and decided not to sweat it (haha!), and it really helped. A friend of mine, who has done several half marathons, had also given me an amazing pep talk the day before. Not the “anyone can do this” kind, but the “you, Bettina, can do this, I know how much you train, you’re clearly in great shape”, kind. After this successful run, I was much more confident. I even knocked my first 18k out of the park. By early September, I was ready. I was feeling strong, doing great for speed, the temperatures were finally coming down, and my FOTD had subsided. Then, we went on holiday, and I got sick. Not ideal, but at this point, two weeks out from the race, I still thought I’d be able to do it.

I got back, went to work almost recovered from my cold, and immediately picked up a stomach bug that was going around. A week and a half out from the race, it was getting seriously worrying. The week before – I hadn’t run in almost three weeks at this point – I was still not feeling 100%. The race was going to be on the Sunday. On the Tuesday, I had planned to do a trial 10k but didn’t manage to get out of work on time – it was also one of the busiest weeks of the year, of course. I finally got myself out for a run on Thursday. I did 10k, which went alright, but it was abundantly clear I wouldn’t be able to do the half marathon. I was gutted. I had been ready! And now, I clearly wasn’t.

It was especially disappointing because I knew I couldn’t just sign up for another half a few weeks later once I was fully recovered. Just two days after the race I was going to have a hyperactive parathyroid removed, which would keep me from exercising for several weeks. By this time, the season would be essentially over and I would likely have to wait until next spring for another go at the half-marathon distance. (There are of course winter races, but none of them meet my criteria of ‘no overnight stay required’ and ‘mostly flat course’.) But there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I had just been unlucky. I now know that I can do it, so training myself up for another go will be much easier. Still tough, ARGH. Double-, nay, triple-ARGH!!!

Luckily, the race had a shorter option and it was possible to downgrade on the day, so I decided that at least I was going to run something, even if it wasn’t a half marathon. Read on this upcoming Wednesday for the race report…

Have you ever had to bow out of a race (or another challenge you had worked hard for)? How did you deal with the disappointment? I’m curious to hear your experiences.

blogging · fitness · training

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 1: Why Tracy is stepping away from the blog

Image description: head shot of Tracy, smiling, in running tank, ear buds, sunglasses, and a blue ballcap that says “Around the Bay 125th anniversary” with a painted landscape mural in the background.

In August 2012, both 48 years old, Sam and I decided to become the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we hit 50. That gave us two years to make and execute a plan. We decided to blog about our fittest by 50 challenge and also about feminist issues in fitness–stuff that bothered us, made us feel strong. Along the way we brought some more bloggers on board. First as occasional guests. Then as regular contributors. Our fiftieth birthdays came and went. We hit our goals. We wrote a book about it.

And we kept blogging. And blogging. And blogging.

And after seven years and hundreds of thousands of words of training updates, race reports, posts about doing less, posts about intuitive eating, rants about this and that outrageous sexist sport incident thing, post after post about what’s wrong with dieting, missives about putting away the scale, more race reports, more posts about getting back on track after falling out of routine, travel fitness logs, justifications and defences of rest, telling everyone why hormone replacement therapy was a life saver for me, … I’ve run out of steam for these topics and issues.

The clarity that it is time to step away hit me when I was away on my ten-day meditation course a few weeks ago. It’s not as if I’d even been toying with stepping away. But I have been feeling uninspired (and therefore, uninspiring) lately. Since Around the Bay I’ve had no end of setbacks. Though I felt strong the first day back, I soon had debilitating back pain that kept me almost immobile for weeks.

Since then, I’ve traveled enough to interrupt my training schedule. Then, as I’ve tried to ease back into running, my Achilles has been acting up. My physiotherapist has told me not to run. That makes the window of opportunity to train for the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon on October 20 ever-shrinking. I should not have signed up for it before seeing my physiotherapist. The clock is ticking and I don’t know how I can go from zero to 21K — and without injury — by race day. I don’t really feel like blogging about that.

The clarity came so strongly during my meditation course –it was like a full-body knowing set in and said: it’s time to take a step back and make space for others on the blog and for other things in my life. I think feminist commentary on fitness still matters. And hearing personal stories of triumph and struggle and getting on task and falling away and getting motivated again still matters. But I don’t feel I’ve got anything much left to say.

Not only that, we have built a diverse and energetic team of amazing regulars over the years, along with a huge group of guests. So I can easily leave without so much as a missed beat on the blog. Though Sam and I co-founded it and it grew up around our own challenge, the shape of the blog has changed over these past seven years and it really is a team effort now. I’m enormously grateful to everyone who contributes to the blog’s success by creating smart and relevant content on regular basis.

I’ll be writing a short series over the next couple of weeks as my way of saying “good-bye for now.” In part 2, on Thursday, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite posts by the other authors. In part 3, next Tuesday (August 27th), I’m going to reflect on the posts of my own that I like the best. And finally, in part 4 (August 29th), I’ll reflect a bit on how the blog has shaped, influenced, and forever altered the way I engage with fitness pursuits in my own life. It has meant a lot to me, not just as a way of motivating me to stay on task and try new things, but also by creating a sense of community and camaraderie that I had not anticipated.

On the 29th, it’ll be almost exactly seven years to the day since my very first post. That seems like a fitting date on which to call it a day.

Dancing · health · training

If You Stack A Cord of Wood, Do You Still Need to Workout?

Functional fitness (aka functional movement) is a thing now. That’s exercises that train our muscles for regular life activities, like squatting to pick up something we’ve dropped, or reaching for something on a high shelf (or even climbing onto the kitchen counter to reach something, as I did a few days ago). But, do our regular life activities support our workouts? Can movement with a function substitute for a workout? 

I asked myself this question a couple of weeks ago, when a cord of wood was dumped in our driveway at 8 a.m. Just looking at it was pretty daunting. Even though I knew from previous years the stacking wouldn’t take more than an hour (for two of us), all those logs in a giant, jumbled mound sitting in a bed of dust and bits of scattered bark said, “Cancel anything else you planned for the day. I’m the boss of you today.”  

60% of a cord of wood stacked in the garage. My mountain bike resting against the logs, for some scale perspective.

Sorry to break it to you, bossy logs, my day was actually a lot fuller. It went like this. Meditation for 30 minutes. Trip to the farmer’s market to stock up on spectacular veggies and fruit. Breakfast with my partner at the local coffee shop on our way home. (Tried a new wildberry paleo muffin with honey and finishing salt. Not bad. Plus the hard boiled eggs I’d brought with me to supplement the baked goods.) Stacked all the wood in the garage. Filled one plastic tub and the ash can with bark and wood remnants to use as kindling. Swept the garage floor, finishing touches with the shop vac. Swept and hosed the driveway. Cleaned the house. Removed, washed and wrestled every slip cover back on to couches, benches, chairs and stools. Caught up on email. Had a work call. Went for a tempo run in the mountains. Collapsed on the couch and watched German television (Dark-– a great mind game of a show). 

Technically, I did “only” a 50-minute workout. Even though I pushed on my run, it was a lighter day in the arc of my current training. Except … I also stacked wood for another hour, which is physically demanding. And I cleaned, a lighter physical demand than the other two, but very taxing (plus, dishpan hands—can anyone recommend a truly effective hand cream?). 

How should I count my workout for the day? 50 minutes. Some percentage of wood stacking and cleaning, plus 50 minutes? Why does it matter? 

Three reasons: First, because if I don’t account for all that activity, then I wonder why I’m so tired during my workout the next day. Second, because actual movement makes you stronger. Why not give myself some credit, instead of partaking of the female tendency to downplay accomplishments?! And third, instead of doing a series of functional movement exercises, I engaged in the actual movement that the exercises prepare us for. And by the way, no functional fitness exercise is going to fully prepare me for the incredibly awkward and disparate shapes and sizes of logs, with all their sharp, pokey bits, plus the arm and chest abrasions, not to mention the wood dust in the eyes. 

How incredibly satisfying to finish the task.

I gave myself another 50 mins of workout credit for the day. Added it to the tally in the back of my mind. Felt good about my strength. Decided I’d done some next level functional fitness. 

Biking around New York City is another place this actual movement vs workout question comes up. Some days I might bike from place to place for an hour or more. Though I’m not pushing, as I would in a workout, the activity is not nothing. I’ve developed a personal algorithm for Citibike. I count 30% of the time toward my total workout time on that day. A bonus. My movement serves a function.  

Functional movement is an excellent concept. Or as this article in Women’s Health puts it, “your butt isn’t there just to look pretty.” Our health is a resource, not simply an end goal in itself. We want to be healthy so we can participate in and contribute to the world (and get the chores done). Also, to have fun, as Catherine pointed out in her piece about functional movement and parkour.  

So, how can we think about actual movement’s contributions to our workouts? 

Like this: Our daily activity strengthens and prepares us to be better athletes. 

Here’s one life activity that prepares us for everything (and that a lot of us here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue like to do): Dancing. I love it. Not for a workout, not choreographed, just turning up the volume, drowning in music and dancing my not-just-pretty butt off. A woman described to me recently being bored on a treadmill, loving the music she was listening to and wanting to get off the exercise machine and dance. She asked, “What should I do?” She was worried that dancing wouldn’t count as a workout. I said, “Dance.” Dance is uncategorizable. A daily activity. A workout. A practice of freeing the mind and body. Others here have written buoyant posts about dance. Catherine’s a dancing queen, Christine is dancing for 100 Days and Sam’s looking for more no-regrets opportunities to dance like a sexy Muppet. 

Dance is the ultimate functional movement, preparing us for joy. And if you’re dancing for no functional or workout reason, my personal algorithm says—give yourself time and a half bonus credit (150%) in your workout log!   

fitness · fitness classes · training · weight lifting

Fitness on the cheap: Sam joins a discount gym

Our group of regular bloggers is pretty privileged. Between us we pay for spin classes, CrossFit style studio memberships, rock climbing, coaches of all sorts, yoga classes, monthly access to indoor bike trainer facilities, Zwift memberships, personal training, and more. We try new things, like Orange Theory. I tell people I don’t have other hobbies and it’s my my form of recreation. But still, it’s costly.

(We’re not even going to talk about gear or clothing or bikes or boats, just the places we work out.)

Does fitness have to be expensive?

Recently I joined a discount gym. It’s not a chain fitness studio and it’s not $10 a month. But it’s close. It’s $20 a month and it’s open all the time, 24/7. I joined because I like to work out with my son sometimes and he’s got an all hours kind of schedule. It’s my personal trainer’s home gym and also the gym my physiotherapist goes to so I figured it must be okay.

What’s the price contrast? Let’s see, an hour of personal training costs twice as much as one month at the discount gym. A month at the gym costs the same as one session at the bike studio. Zwift is $15/month and that’s just a virtual world. You still need a bike and a trainer.

What I love so far:

  • When it’s staffed (regular hours) I can bring a friend anytime. It can be the same friend every time. And there is no pressure on them to join. After hours, there’s no staff and you use your card to get in. If you’re nervous, there are emergency call buttons on lanyards you can keep with you. 
  • It’s got every piece of workout equipment possible. It’s enormous. There are three big rooms and one is set up CrossFit style with room for ropes, tires, etc. There’s a sled to push and pull. There’s also a fitness studio with an app and workout videos to choose from to display on a big screen.
  • The other customers are an incredibly diverse bunch. I love the range of clothes people wear to workout. There are Italian grandmothers in cardigans, elastic waist pants, and flat dress shoes. There are serious powerlifters in all the gear. And everything in between. I love the high school students who come in after school in pretty much what they are wearing. Ditto the guys in construction boots and nurses still partly in uniform. There’s zero pressure to look all matchy-matchy in nice workout outfits. People are doing lots of different kinds of work outs and it’s all good.

What’s not so great?

  • Unlike classes and personal training and coached cycling/rowing workouts and boutique fitness studios like Cate’s feminist CrossFit or Tracy’s body-positive boot camp, or Orange Theory, you need to have a plan. It’s on you. You need to have a plan for what you are going to do when you get there. I cheat. I follow my son’s workout at about half the weight. But on my own I’m sometimes stuck and go back to old favourites. Lat pull down and bench press and deadlift, anyone? You also need to get there. When there isn’t a group and things start whenever you get there, I sometimes have a harder time getting myself out the door. Without a person whose expectations I want to live up to, sometimes it’s challenging to push yourself. 
  • Also because you can go anytime–24/7!–I can tend to put off going to the gym until later. I sometimes think what I need is a series of workouts on my phone that I can follow along with at the gym but my bad knee means I have to pick and choose. I manage. But I could be more thoughtful and deliberate about it.

Okay, now about you? Are your fitness activities all planned by you or by a trainer or by the agenda of group fitness? Do you go to pricey boutique studios or the generic discount gym? How much do finances and cost play a role in your choices?

people in gym exercising
A photo of a gym, lots of free weights, by Mark Bertulfo, Unsplash.

 

body image · femalestrength · training · weight lifting

Tracy’s first day at a body-positive gym

Image description: Block letters on dark background that say: “BODY-POSITIVE FITNESS & PERSONAL TRAINING GYM” (from the BPM website: http://bpmfitness.ca

I’ve just started in on one of the most wonderful privileges of an academic year: sabbatical and admin/study leave. This time around, I have accumulated 8 months of administrative leave (from my four years as Associate Dean Academic) and another 6 months of sabbatical leave that I postponed from four years ago when I took up that admin position. That means I have the next 14 months to focus on my research.

It also means I will rarely be going to campus. I’ll set myself up mostly to work at home. This is a long way around to saying why I decided to join a gym again. I have been doing personal training for my weight training workouts for almost four years now. It’s been great and I’ve definitely gotten stronger. But as much as I enjoy spending time with my trainer, Paul, I feel that on my leave I would prefer to have some community. I already have a bit of that with yoga and running. But yoga is only once a week (maybe I will increase it during my leave) and other than my Sunday mornings, I usually run by myself.

My friend Tara has had a great experience at a small gym that does personal training and group fitness. BPM claims itself as a body-positive gym. Tara started going to classes there in January and she has really committed to regular training since then. So it made sense for me to consider BPM, based on her recommendation and also that I already know (and really like) one of the owners, Chelsea. Added bonus, I can walk there from home in under ten minutes.

Yesterday was my first class, day one of my two week free trial. They have at least six classes a day, starting at 6 a.m. Then 7, 9:30. 12:15, 4:30, 5:30 and some days also 6:30. They are 45 minute workouts where you do a series of timed sets of various exercises. Each set is 35 seconds with a 10 second rest before moving on to the next exercise for 35 seconds, then the next and the next. After three rounds of those, you switch to another group of exercises that you work through the same way — timed sets for three sets.

Finally, we ended on a brutal set where we built from one, then two, then three, up to a sequence of eight different exercises, then pyramided down again until we were back to where we started. We followed that with a cool down.

At personal training I’m used to taking a bit more rest between sets and also lifting heavier. But the endurance and strength required for today’s workout really surprised me. I don’t know why it surprised me as much as it did — maybe because I consider myself to be strong. But the repetitions with little rest in between forced me to push hard to keep up. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up at all and needed to take a time out for a few seconds before resuming.

It was a humbling experience and I felt kind of weak, actually, In personal training I’ve been doing 3×13 pull-ups. Today we did something similar (she called them chin-ups) and I could hardly even do 6, with a band for support. I think it’s because of coming in the second part, after I’d already done three taxing sets that involved push-ups and burpees, among other things (lunges and some shoulder presses). Anyway, it was tough. I worked up a sweat and I am sure that I will be feeling it.

There were only 8-10 people in the class, all women. It’s not the kind of gym I’ve ever attended before. It’s very basic. You turn left at the top of the stairs and boom: you’re in the studio.

Besides being a tough workout, which I like, the body positive message felt good. Honestly, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to a gym class, but my memory is that there is a lot of talk about losing weight and “getting in shape” and looking good. This class wasn’t like that at all. It was focused entirely on doing the exercises at your own pace and strength. I felt encouraged and challengged the entire time.

I’ve already signed up for three more classes this week, as well as one dedicated strength training session for next week. The strength training classes are smaller than the “fitness bootcamp” that I attended. Strength sessions max out at eight people and I couldn’t find one with space in it until next Tuesday.

It feels good to work out with a group again. And it’s nice to be going to a gym where I can sometimes go workout with Tara. I’m attracted to working out with my peeps — I’ve got my running crew, my yoga crew, and may potentially get a little gym crew going. In any case, I appreciate the free two-week trial — that seems a rare thing these days, but it’s a great way to get to know a new gym. And knowing that all the classes I do over the next couple of weeks are free, I feel motivated to do as many as I can. I’m excited and hopeful that this is a going to be a nice element of routine in my leave, helping me add a bit of structure along with the benefits of a fitness community.

Are gyms with an explicit body-positive message showing up in your area these days? Have you tried one?

martial arts · training

Christine’s Kicking It Day 3 – plot twist

I can feel that this kicking program is helping. I’m not testing my kicks every day so I can’t report back on that per se but I can feel a definite difference in my hips.

I even feel a bit more mobile when I’m walking or crouching down to get something.

Today’s exercises introduced the frog stretch. Now I’ve done this before in yoga but I hadn’t really thought of it in relation to helping me with my kicking.

My challenges with the frog stretch, and with some of the other stretches over the past few days, are making me wonder if overly-tight adductor muscles are a bigger factor in both my kick height and my overall tight hips than I realized.

I’m going to do some extra stretching for those muscles over the next while and see if it helps.

Today’s workout ended up being a bit strange because something weird happened.

I woke up with a stiff neck this morning and I thought that I had managed to move and stretch the stiffness out. However, when I started to do one drill that involved holding onto the wall with one hand and practising my kicks while my foot was looped into a strap, my neck muscles spasmed and I got very dizzy.*

I took a break to recover and then, since it didn’t seem to be related to exertion,I went back to the exercises. I took it easy, and lay on the floor to do the remaining work in case the dizziness came back.

It did.

So I called it quits for today.

A white woman with light brown hair is visible from the shoulders up. She is wearing a black shirt and a blue headband. She is smirking.
You will notice that my smirk is more grim than mischievous today. I felt horrible while taking this.

I have to say that while I expected to have some hip issues or at least some tight muscles in that area, I did not expect a problem with my neck to interfere with me completing a set of these exercises!

I’m still calling today a success though. After all, I returned to my practice for the third day in a row, I can feel progress, and I can identify specific things to work on. That’s all good.

*To be clear, I am not ignoring a serious injury or a major health event. I don’t have any symptoms of anything else and I have a history of feeling dizzy when this specific muscle gets tight. I will check in with my doctor if things don’t improve.

fitness · motivation · training

On overcoming FOMO: How Tracy got over it without even trying

I had an amazing moment a couple of weekends ago when I went to cheer on my nephew, Cameron, do his first triathlon. In the car on the way to Welland very early that morning, I started to wonder if I was going to get there and start wishing I was doing it too. I mean, I had a few summers where triathlon was my “thing,” and despite giving it up because of my road phobia that made me dread outdoor bike training, I did love the events.

Image description: headshot of Tracy in run tank, ball cap, sunglasses, wearing ear buds, smiling, road and trees in background. Happy to be doing exactly what she is doing.

The amazing moment came when I arrived and saw everyone checking in and going for body marking and racking their bikes and setting up their gear in the transition area. No FOMO!

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has made me do many a thing. I did the 100 days of step counting the year after I said I would never do it again because of FOMO. I stuck with triathlon a bit longer than I probably needed to because of FOMO. But as I cheered on Cameron and his friend, Ahmed, I was truly excited for them. And proud of them. And the only thought I had that had anything to with me was: “I’m glad I’m not doing this.” This was despite recognizing that it’s a nice swim and an apparently flat and fast bike course, and an equally flat run.

This week Sam, Cate, Sarah, Susan, and David are all on a bike trip in Newfoundland. It’s a hilly bike trip and they cover lots of ground every day. There is a lot of climbing and some zooming fast down hills. Cate commented that I would hate it. I replied that I knew I would hate it even before they left. Hence the reason it never crossed my mind to go and it never crossed their minds to invite me. I only thought how fun it would be to meet them for meals.

In the past I might have actually signed up because hey, people I like are going riding together for a few days and wouldn’t that (maybe?) be fun. I have enjoyed watching their progress reports as they come in on social media, with lots of photos of colourful mail boxes and houses and beautiful scenery. And lots of complaints about the hills that reinforce my view (and Cate’s) that I would not like this trip.

This evolution out of FOMO is a big deal for me. I have recently heard of JOMO: the Joy of Missing Out. Christina Crook wrote a book about it. I like the idea a lot. It goes well with my commitment (or is it a yearning?) to do less.

I think what it means to me right now is that I’m feeling good about my choices. They make me happy. And I’m accepting that I cannot do ALL THE THINGS. And I would rather miss some of them than try to get excited about things I don’t actually want to do just because other people are doing them.

I am less than six months away from my 55th birthday. I am really done doing stuff I don’t want to do. Yes I realize that it’s not possible always to do only what I want. But when it comes to my leisure and fitness stuff, I am privileged to have choices. When it comes to travel, I am privileged to I have choices. And that means setting stuff aside when it doesn’t draw me in. Others doing it is not a good enough reason.

So there you have it. I have either overcome or outgrown FOMO. It is no longer a big motivator in my life.

How much or little does FOMO motivate you?