boats · cycling · fitness · holidays

Biking and boating round two: Sam has a great day on the boat and the worst bike ride of her life

I blogged last summer about combining boating and biking.  It’s part of my effort to spend time seeing beautiful Ontario countryside by boat (thanks Jeff!) while also getting some road cycling in. That’s partly about fitness but mostly about pleasure. I like moving, not sitting, and the bike/boat combo seems like a great way to do that. In Europe there are lots of bike paths that run alongside the canals and there’s a whole tourist industry built around the boating-biking thing. It’s your mobile home on water that you meet up with at the end of each cycling day. No need to carry stuff. It stays in the boat. Got a non-cycling friend or partner? They can stay in the boat too. You’re both going to the same place.

Last year it worked really well. This time it didn’t work so well but the boating part was a lot fun anyway. The basic idea is sound. For us it’s not about following the boat by bike. What bikes allow you to do is go back and get your car and keep your car near to the boat for trip home. With all the locks and no-wake zones the boat isn’t making great time and so mid-afternoon it’s easy to bike back to where you started and rescue the car. That way when you go to leave the car is nearby.

On day 1 we started in Peterborough with the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock and with best of intentions of biking but we started late and Jeff didn’t have bike shorts and instead we motored on up the canal.

We had dinner out that night and stayed in Young’s Point, anchored where we could hear loons with some bonus cottage noises–playing children and personal watercraft. Zoom zoom.

Bikes at rest on the boat

The next day it was raining hard. But now we couldn’t avoid biking as we had to go back and get the car. Biking and boating involves bike trips back to the car and then shuffling the car on ahead. We waited the rain out until it stopped and then went on what was possibly the worst bike ride of my life. I don’t usually write about things that don’t go well. But this time, cottage country, I’m making an exception.

The main road we needed to ride on was busy and had an inadequate shoulder for riding on. Worse though were the people honking at us and passing too closely.

I got home and posted to Twitter

“Dear cottage country, Would it kill you to pave the shoulders? It might kill us cyclists if you don’t. I’m not asking for separate bike lanes, nothing fancy, but paved shoulders, please.”

“Dear cottage country drivers, We’re bikes, riding single file, just two of us. Speed 25 km/hr. You’re cars going 95 km in an 80 zone. You’re passing us and there’s a dotted line and no oncoming traffic. You’re allowed, in fact required, to leave the lane. Please pass safely. #opp.”

(You can follow me on Twitter. I’m @SamJaneB)

Later, we looked at a bike guide for the area and saw this road labelled, “High volume road, use appropriate caution.”

After the busy road there was my next favorite: gravel bike path. And it was followed by a construction zone that had us riding on the sidewalk. Just 3 km from our car I got a flat. Argh!

At first I thought the drivers just hated cyclists but later I drove a car through the area and continued to get abuse. Argh.

Bikes departing the boat. Ominous grey skies overhead.

The next day we could have ridden some more but I looked at the roads and decided to stay on the boat. It was a gorgeous day and we made the right call.

My highlights were the Kirkfield lift lock and Fenelon Falls.

And no one honked at us!

Sam and Sarah on Mazurka with Sarah at the helm

Lesson learned. The next time we plan a biking and boating adventure we’re going to check out the cycling options more carefully.

Check out Jeff’s boating blog here and follow his adventures.

fitness · training · weight lifting

Sam lifts heavy things in the wild

Sweaty selfie of Sam from moving day. Wearing a light purple tank top. Extremely messy hair. Smiles.

So usually I lift heavy things in the gym, either on my own, with a personal trainer, or lately with my son Miles who is starting university at Guelph next month.

That’s controlled and deliberate lifting. You know how much a thing weighs and you make a plan to lift it x number of times for y number of sets. Though sometimes the math is complicated. The other day I was lifting a 55 lb bar with 40 kg weights.

Lately though I’ve been lifting heavy things in the wild. What do I mean?

Well, here are some examples.

Tonight, I needed to move a washer and dryer set from the back lawn into the shed. We had a wheelie thing underneath it to get it as far as the shed so no problem but then there wasn’t enough clearance in the shed to get the thing and the wheels inside. Miles and I lifted it. I was cautious at first to make sure I was okay with the weight and then once I knew I was fine, carried it into the shed and set it down being careful not to trap my fingers.

Earlier this week Sarah and I had to get the Snipe into the water and out again on our own. We use a trailer and cradle and there’s a ramp into the water but the boat isn’t light. It weighs about 381 lbs. We did it!

And then there are all the boxes of books I’m moving here there and everywhere. My books don’t fit in the new house so some are going to my office at university and others are going to Goodwill. Books aren’t light!

Now lifting actual things is in many ways harder than lifting weights in the gym. Real objects are awkwardly shaped and when you set them down on the floor you need to be careful you don’t squish your fingers. Actual things rarely come with handles. You need grip strength to hold them. We’ve blogged about real world strength here.

Sam’s dog Cheddar napping on the top step in front of a giant heap of boxes of books. When it comes to moving, Cheddar is no help!

This everyday stuff is a big part of why I train with weights, I can lift heavy things in the wild, not just in the controlled environment of the gym.

Yes, it’s for bone health. Yes, it’s to maintain muscle as I age.

But it’s also for practical things like moving washing machines, sailboats, and books.

How about you? Do you enjoy your strength in practical everyday ways?

fitness · motivation · movies · training · triathalon

“We Are Triathletes” is an inspiring film but Tracy won’t be signing up for the Challenge Roth

Last night we had a special film event, one night only, through “Demand Film.” It’s an organization that sets up film screenings that only go ahead if enough tickets get sold by the deadline. The film was We Are Triathletes and it followed six athletes from four countries as they prep for and compete in the Challenge Roth, the world’s largest triathlon with over 5500 competitors, held every year in Roth, Germany. 2014, the year the film highlights, was the race’s 30th year.

I went with a group of people who have actually done Ironman triathlon events. I ran into a few people who I used to train with when I was doing the fittest by 50 challenge and getting ready for my Olympic distance events back in 2014. I think almost all the London, Ontario triathletes who weren’t training last night were at the movie.

In addition to following a diverse group of athletes–elite and age-group, men and women, and one para-athlete who had his legs amputated as a child, and the first Chinese competitor in –the film fills in some of the history of Ironman, including interviews with legends like Julie Moss, Kathleen McCartney, Dave Scott, and Mark Allen. It also gives great context for and history of the Challenge Roth, which really does sound like an amazing day for athletes and spectators alike.

Going in I had one worry, which is that I would find the film so inspiring that I would want to do something ridiculous like start training for longer distance triathlons (or any distance triathlons). But that didn’t happen. I did find it inspiring. It’s hard not to feel a little kick of motivation watching determined athletes train hard and hearing them talk about what draws them to the event, what race day feels like, and what it means to them to finish (let alone win).

So what happened was this. I am in total awe of anyone who has ever completed an iron distance triathlon. Whether it was the athletes in the film or the people I went to the movie with, completing a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then running a marathon is an incredible physical achievement. Timo Bracht, who won the men’s elite category at the 2014 Challenge Roth, finished all that in under eight hours (7:56)! Mirinda Carfrae, one of the featured athletes in We Are Triathletes, won the women’s event in 8:38:53. These are incredible times. So yeah: wow.

Despite being in awe and full of admiration, I really don’t have the desire to do that type of training, which the film made clear kind of has to take over your whole life. I mean, I found Olympic distance training tough to sustain, so I can’t even imagine staying motivated to train for an event like Challenge Roth.

But what it did inspire in me is motivation for the training I’m doing now, which is my 10K training. Time is closing in on my September 8th race, where I put my summer of fairly consistent training to the test. I’m not sure if I can but I would love to get my time under 65 minutes. We’ll see.

I think documentaries like this are amazing for showing what humans can do. It doesn’t necessarily mean you want to do exactly the same thing, but it can inspire nonetheless. I remember how Anita used to love watching The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young:

She liked it not because she wanted to do it, but watching the people do it inspired her to want to do her things.

We Are Triathletes was like that for me (but my friend Ed now wants to do the Challenge Roth, so clearly it has a different impact on different people). Here’s the trailer:

What about you? Do sports documentaries inspire you at all? In a particular way? Not at all?

competition · fitness

Wow. Just wow. Sam watches Canadian women’s records being broken.

Sunday afternoon Sarah, my son Gavin, and I stopped by the Fergus Highland Games Festival.

Lots of the competitions are new to me. Tug of war is familiar, of course. But I was glad to realize, after my second or third time hearing it, that this competition was “sheaf tossing” not “sheep tossing.”

We really just wandered in to see what it was all about, hoping to catch some of the women’s competitions.

And we lucked out. We got to see Sultana Frizell, set the new women’s Canadian record in light weight for distance. The record is now 85 feet, 2.5 inches.

Later this amazing athlete set another record in the hammer throw.

I loved watching the different shapes and sizes of the competitors and seeing all of their different techniques too.

I don’t have a photo from the events yesterday but here is Sultana at the Commonwealth Games.

Photo from http://m.zimbio.com/photos/Sultana+Frizell/20th+Commonwealth+Games+Athletics/v0dWPHr0koN

Just as rugby and roller derby and power lifting are on my list of sports I wish I’d tried, so too are the lifting and throwing competitions associated with the Highland Games. This blog’s Sandi does it and I love hearing her talk about it.

It’s also a lot of fun to watch. I recommend it!

Here’s Sultana talking about the stigma of being a woman who throws heavy things. She laments not being seen as an athlete but rather looked at through the lens of normative femininity. People are often commenting not on her throws but on, given her size and strength, how remarkable it is that she looks like a girl/woman.

After we watched the women’s competitions on Sunday we also wandered over to see the animals on display.

They look a little overheated. We were too.

boats · competition

Sam and Sarah’s first night of snipe racing!

Our Snipe!

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

Amid all the moving, new job busyness, and dealing with my busted knee, I’ve also taken up Snipe racing. See Sam tries something new: Snipe Racing

The snipe is a small, two person boat and there’s a healthy racing fleet of them up at Guelph Lake. Jeff’s been teaching Sarah and me how to sail and race the Snipe over the past month or so and Tuesday night we got to make our debut. There was no Jeff. He’s off on his big boat and you can read about his adventures here on his own blog.

How’d we make out?

We didn’t die, capsize, crash into any other boats, or drown.

We (mostly) successfully rigged the boat.

We got the boat into the water, and ourselves into the boat, and vice versa at the end. As with rowing there are times when this feels like the trickiest part of the whole thing.

We made all of the mark roundings.

The winds were tricky. It was great that it was neither dead calm nor blowing all the boats over but the winds were really shifty. Because the weather was unsettled we were happy to see that there were only a dozen or so boats out. Sometimes there can be twice that number and it gets a bit hairy at the start. In the end, it rained but only for about ten minutes. We got damp but not soaking wet.

From my point of view, we safely followed the fleet around the course at a respectful distance. In our last race we nearly came second last but the other boat got by us on the final run up to the finish. It was a confidence building experience. It was fun and we’ll definitely do it again.

Sarah had the much harder job of skippering. I was just crew. But we’re learning to work together, to communicate better, and next time we’re hoping to mess it up with the boats at the back of the pack. It’s good to have something that’s new, with a lot to learn, to distract me from all the things I’m not doing this summer because I can’t.

 

fitness · yoga

Workplace wellness extending to the nursery

Last week I saw this video by the BBC about London’s youngest yogis. A yoga program for small children is being piloted in some London nursery day care centers, with the goal of providing the tots with inner strength for battling the stresses of modern city life in the 21st century.  Here’s what it looks like:

Toddlers on yoga mats, crouching and standing, one with head between knees.
Toddlers on yoga mats, crouching and standing, one with head between knees.

Honestly, to me it looks like any day at any nursery with any group of kids.  When they have a space which allows it, children regularly move around every which way.

But this is movement with a purpose.

The purpose, according to the CEO of a nursery company in the UK, is to address the lack of feelings of stability, of calm, of safety in a sometimes-dangerous and mostly-urban world. She says in the video,

Where do children get quiet? Where do children just get a time to be? Where do children get space, just to feel safe and able to just do a deep breath? 

The idea, it seems, is to institute a playplace wellness program at nurseries to help kiddos identify when they’re feeling sad or mad or upset or stressed, and to teach them movements (kiddy yoga and other things) to address those feelings.

We’ve written about workplace wellness programs on this blog before. Here are some of them:

Work, wellness, and weighty matters by Natalie

Problems with workplace wellness programs: where do I start? by Catherine (me)

There are also numerous posts about team step challenges and other sorts of workplace challenges by Tracy, Sam and others. Here’s a new one:

New job, new fitness challenge?#uoguelph by Sam

What’s the tl:dr version of all these posts? For individuals in particular workplace challenge programs, mileage varies.  Some find that them fun, and others find them stressful or interfering with their regular physical activity routine.

Looking at them in general, though, there are a number of problems.  First, they don’t actually seem to work— that is, they don’t tend to result in increased health among workers enrolled in the programs. Second, and more worrisome, is that many of the causes of stress and ill health are found in the workplace itself– long hours, uncompensated duties, no accommodation for life issues, short vacation time, lack of control over work time, etc.  Fixing those features of work life will make a world of difference (as opposed to offering a 7am meditation class in the conference room before work).

But back to the London tots and the word of that CEO. Where do children get space to move, breath, play, rest, and enjoy life?  How about in their homes, in their schools, in parks in their neighborhoods, in museums and playgrounds and pools and lakes and beaches and woods?  That is what we need to be working on and identifying and speaking out about.  Creating little zones of mini-serenity for children isn’t going to fool them into thinking the world is a happy-go-lucky place. Let’s get working on making neighborhoods safer, housing better, jobs more plentiful and better-paying, and healthcare more accessible for all.

I know, I know– these are all idealistic and massively difficult goals.  But so is doing this:

A woman in a balancing pose with one leg behind her head and the other against her right arm, in the air. Yeah.
A woman in a balancing pose with one leg behind her head and the other against her right arm, in the air. Yeah.

Some goals are very very very hard, but worth working toward. Even small progress in this respect makes a difference.

Guest Post

Failure, Fitness, and Feminism (Guest Post)

By Saba Fatima

Sam recently contacted me and asked if I wanted to write another post for the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog. I felt a bit paralyzed, because I had stopped exercising again. If any of you remember, I had written in May about exercising during Ramadhan, and one of the things I commented on then was how Ramadhan often resulted in me taking an irreparable break from exercise, and how this Ramadhan was different . Well, after Ramadhan, we left for Najaf and Karbala (Iraq) for a religious pilgrimage,

a brown woman standing in front of the entrance of a large mosque at night time.
Me at Masjid-e-Kufa in Iraq at 3 am at the morning, right before morning prayers.

and onto NYC for a wedding.

A man, a woman, and two kids sitting on a flower-decorated swing
At one of the wedding ceremonies in NYC

While I walked a lot in Iraq, I also started consuming high amounts of soda (it was readily available and it was super-hot).

Screenshot of the weather app in iPhone, indicating temperature of 105F in Karbala, Iraq.
the air was super dry and the sun was relentless.

Once we returned, I just couldn’t start again. I don’t have any excuse, I just didn’t want to, didn’t feel like I was in a routine, or something like that. In fact, I have gone back to consuming a soda bottle a day and eating quite unhealthily.

So I thought, what the heck would I write on? Too embarrassed to even respond, I felt paralyzed. Then fellow philosopher and a prominent scholar on disability, Shelley Lynn Tremain, posted this link to an article on her Facebook page Discrimination and Disadvantage, The danger of fetishizing failure in the academy. Something in that article really stuck out to me. “What I was inadvertently telling students with my cheeky art installation was that their failures don’t matter as long as they eventually succeed – and that success is narrowly defined as excellent grades.” Well, that’s how I felt about exercising. Writing a blog about how I didn’t exercise during such and such time would be wonderful, but only if it ends with some triumphant story about being fit and eating healthy, and how I was able to overcome it all.

Well, it’s a constant struggle for me and it doesn’t always have a triumphant ending.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Religious Studies program coordinator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I am always in the process of getting/remaining physically active. I am also the mother of a 10 and 8 year old. I am concerned about social and political issues that Muslim Americans and other marginalized communities face and believe that our struggles have many commonalities. I am currently working on a book on an introduction to Shia Islam. You can find more about me at http://www.siue.edu/~sfatima/