Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey now available in audiobook format!

You can buy your copy and listen to sample here.

Tracy and Sam
Photo by Ruthless Images
cycling · equality · gender policing

Heavy weight racing and gender

This bike jersey keeps popping up in my social media newsfeeds. I don’t mind the “heavy weight” label. It’s me. But it’s striking that the jersey only comes in men’s sizes.

There’s this phenomena I’ve noticed about gender and size and athleticism. I know men don’t always have it easy when it comes to size and body image. I’ve blogged lots about that. See here and here.

But sometimes big men get to own their size in a way that big women just don’t.

See Fat Lass at the Front? for one company’s efforts to extend that way of thinking to women cyclists.

health · nature · snow · winter

Sam Goes to a Spa. Yes, Really.

So I went to a spa. First time ever. First pedicure a couple of years ago (never since!) and now the spa.

What next? What’s the world coming to?

I’m just joking (sort of). In my mind spas aren’t meant for me. Like pedicures, I think of spas as a THING RICH PEOPLE DO.

It’s not that I don’t spend money on luxurious things, like expensive bicycles, I do. And it’s not like I don’t spend $60 (the price of spa admission) on meals or concerts pretty regularly. I do.

But for reasons of family background in the first part of my life and resisting normative feminity, in the second, spas have never been on my radar. I’m the kind of person who didn’t have nail polish or make up for my own wedding. I did my own hair and it was touch and go whether I’d shave my legs.

I resisted getting a hot tub at our old house for years but then loved it and used it lots. I love sitting outside, in the heat, surrounded by snow and ice. I loved soaking after long rides and tough Aikido classes. My highlight of my holiday in Iceland a few years ago was soaking in a hot river after a long hike.

We went to the Scandinavian Spa on the Sunday of our weekend at Mount Tremblant when it was too cold and icy to ski or fat bike. I loved how much of it was outdoors. I really liked the steam rooms and the sauna and the hot tub but probably my favorite thing was relaxing in front of a fire outside wearing a bathrobe while covered in a giant warm fuzzy blanket. I loved basking in the sun, surrounded by trees and snow.

Some quick observations:

I loved wandering around outside in a bathrobe and bathing suit in the middle of winter. I love the outdoors and I’m almost always happier in the sun.

I’m so glad it was a silent place. I realize that I’m quiet anyway but I was so glad I didn’t have to listen to other people’s conversations. I found that really relaxing. I didn’t mind the other people there with everything quiet.

There are a lot of beautiful bodies out there. But it’s mostly the women who are on display. That’s no surprise but I forget that sometimes. I saw a lot of women in thong bathing suits with men in baggy board shorts. What’s with that?

I loved the idea of swimming in the river in the freezing cold water between hot things but I couldn’t make myself do it. Instead I settled for the cold bucket of water over the head a couple of times. That actually felt pretty refreshing.

I didn’t count the spa time as a workout though it turns out that time in hot water does have similar health benefits to exercise.

I’d definitely go again.


Yann Moix can kiss my ass, but he’ll have to catch me first (guest post)

By Alison Conway

Image description: Alison Conway, short blond hair bouncing as she runs a race, wearing race bib, shorts, tank top over short-sleeved t-shirt, other runners in the background.

The French author Yann Moix made waves when, in a recent interview with Marie Claire, he announced his sexual preference for young women. “The body of a 25-year-old woman is extraordinary,” he said, “The body of a woman of 50 is not extraordinary at all.” The response was swift and ferocious. French women, notable for their public celebration of the sexual pleasures they continue to enjoy as they get older, sent witty and biting responses to Moix’s Twitter account. He was reduced to begging women to stop sending him pictures of their asses and breasts.

The picture I would send along, if I could find a punchline that would translate well into French, is a photo of me running. These days when I find myself listening to a jerk, I want to say, “Let’s take it outside and put on our sneakers.” This fantasy has a pre-history. Once, a long time ago, my neighour responded to her son’s teasing of his sister by having the children race around the block. The younger sister won, handily, and her brother stopped teasing her. Twenty years later, upon hearing I’d won my age group in a triathlon, my friend’s son asked how it felt to win the “old lady” category. I looked forward to running with him in a half marathon a couple of months later, where I made sure I beat him.

It seems particularly important to hold on to this fantasy as I pace myself through my fifties. Now is the time when, apparently, I become invisible. Now is the time when no one on the street will catch my eye or give me the stare from across the bar. I might as well be a house plant at the dinner party. Funny thing is, I don’t feel like a house plant. More like the fire blazing in the hearth. 

When I line up for a race, I am jumping out of my skin with excitement. The rush of adrenaline has a lot to do with it, of course, but there’s a more intimate moment occurring, as well. When I stand at a start line after training for weeks or months, I am finishing something I have started, a journey filled with good days and bad days, self-doubt and hope. I have made myself vulnerable, opened myself up to my body’s needs and pleasures, and I have listened. I’m not sad about my desires, as Moix confessed he is about his. I take delight in them and understand that I am where I need to be, at the right time, whatever the outcome of that particular race on that particular day.

I know that for some people, running is about mastery, about disciplining the body, turning it into a tool for achieving some kind of cultural ideal of performance or appearance. But for many of us, I’m convinced, it’s more like good sex than a plunge into the cold pool. I see the pleasure in the bodies of my running friends, the sweaty grins and ferocious appetites. I love the way runners carry themselves, their strong legs eating the ground they cover. Sexy!

Recently I finished a half marathon, then circled back to the finish line to cheer for a friend. There, I watched younger men raising their arms in victory as they crossed. And I was happy for them! But I was also happy to think that, at 54, I had beaten them. It wasn’t a point I needed to make to anyone in particular. It is a point that needs to be made more generally: The body of a woman of 50 is extraordinary. It has covered so many miles, and it knows so much. It has lived in the crosshairs of cultures that want to demean and control it. Nevertheless, it remains a force to be reckoned with.

“I’m a bit too dangerous,” sings Lion Babe, “treat me like fire.”  Yann Moix, when you’re ready to lace up, I’ll meet you at the start line.

Alison Conway teaches English, and Gender & Women’s Studies, at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. She spends her free time running the beautiful hills of Kelowna, BC.

commute · cycling · snow · winter

Happy belated winter bike to work day! #WBTWD

Friday was Winter Bike to Work Day but I missed it. I was in Toronto for a concert Thursday night and took the Greyhound back to Guelph Friday morning. No bike for me!

I said on Friday, I’d ride today. And then the forecast. More “special weather.” Snow, blowing snow, winds. All this on top of ice from last week’s “special weather.” On the upside, only -7. Whee!

I was still on the fence when the Finnish embassy shared this photo.

Image may contain: bicycle and outdoor

“1000 out of 1200 kids in this school in Oulu, Finland, arrive by bicycle, even in winter. 100-150 walk, rest by ski, kicksleds and car. This day it was -17°C. “

My Finnish friends all shared it approvingly in light of Ontario school and university closures last week.

So in the end, I rode my bike to work. I figured the worse that would happen is that I’d walk my bike and walking was my back up choice anyway. The side streets were too slippy, snow over ice. The bike path on the main road hadn’t been plowed. So I took the lane and rose with traffic. It was fine. No one was going anywhere fast anyway.

And here I am at work.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses, outdoor and nature
cycling · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays · trackers · training

Her digital assistants are tracking and watching over Sam

So last week I was in Clermont, Florida riding my bike. Instead of my super short commutes and running errands by bike, I was logging 50+ km a day in some pretty hilly territory.

I use my Garmin bike computer to track rides. It uploads rides to my phone where both Garmin Connect and Strava provide analysis. See above.

I’m also letting Google Fit track my activity. It counts steps and active minutes, sets goals, and provides commentary. See below.

What’s amusing is the different tones they take. Strava is all about bike training. In serious tones I’m told that my mileage has taken a substantial jump and I should be cautious about overtraining. That was even after our rest day!

GoogleFit is all positive thinking. “What workout! You deserve a break.” But that sounds like it would also be okay if I didn’t take one. It’s just cheering me on.

My own ‘rest day’ motivation was something else entirely.  I wanted to enjoy all 5 days of riding. For me that means taking a break. I wasn’t really worried about overtraining. But I also didn’t take a break because I’d earned it. I’d rather ride more.  If I were a stronger rider in January I’d rather ride all 5 days.  But I’m not and so I didn’t and I’m okay with that.

fitness · food

The pressure of cooking

First there was food.

Produce at an open market.
Produce at an open market.

Then, there was food porn.

Soon after came food morality.

Now, there’s emergency cooking advice. Not for the kind of emergency that requires baking soda or a fire extinguisher. No, I’m talking about how cooking advice has taken on a high-stakes life-or-death tone. That is, we are told that if we don’t buy fresh/organic/local/etc and cook it in healthy (to whomever’s doling out the advice) ways, we and our families and friends will suffer the consequences. So for goodness’ sake, don’t ever fry chicken. Why not? Check this out.

Caption reading– Research: eating fried chicken increases your risk of death by 13%.

In a new book, Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It, the authors take a look at the advice we are given to grow our own food, buy it from the most local and fresh sources, cook it in specific ways with specific spices, and make sure that we and our families and others eat it the way this complex (and time-consuming and expensive) process intended it to be consumed. Here’s what one reviewer said about it:

[In the book]…the anthropologists Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott do not deny the value of healthy, home-cooked dinners. Instead, they argue that the way our food gurus talk about dinner is fundamentally disconnected from the daily lives of millions of Americans, especially but not exclusively low-income Americans.

… When Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Jamie Oliver preach their influential, well-compensated sermons about how you—yes, you!—can (and should) improve your family members’ lives by buying healthier food and preparing it at home, they implicitly frame the quality of our dinners as something over which we all wield a considerable degree of control.

If you aren’t doing dinner right, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough for your family: not shopping smartly enough, not doing the right prep work, not using the best recipes. In addition to creating a lot of angst and guilt whenever we fall short, this censorious approach shifts our collective attention away from the bigger forces shaping our lives and meals, blocking the way to more realistic solutions located beyond the kitchen.

The authors interviewed 150 women in North Carolina, most of them with low incomes. What did they find? Of course the women wanted to cook healthy meals, using fresh food. But they were constrained by:

  • food budget
  • time
  • family food preferences
  • local food traditions
  • did I mention money?
  • oh, and time– worth repeating

How do we respond to the pressure to cook, come what may?

Often, the way we talk about food makes it sound like fixing our meals will fix everything else: heal our bodies, save the environment, restore our family bonds. The proposed solutions in Pressure Cooker flip this equation on its head: Fix the big stuff—reduce poverty, recognize food as a human right—and families will figure out their own dinners just fine.

This makes sense to me. Taking the pressure off cooking to solve all the world’s problems is a good idea. Even better, taking the pressure off (mostly) women to tackle all the world’s problems by making the perfect meal and force-feeding it to their loved ones and friends is a good plan. We all have much bigger fish to fry.

Readers, do you feel pressured to cook certain foods certain ways? When? What do you do about it? I’d love to hear from you.