Figure skating and artistic swimming both made some big changes to their rules this week. In Canada, Skate Canada removed the gender barrier in pairs skating and ice dancing so a pair can be any two people who skate together. Meanwhile, men will be able to compete in the artistic swimming team event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Male artistic swimming has a long history, with the first competition in 1892. Male swimmers were also part of the “water pageants” that were popular in the 1930s and 40s, and the first rule book for artistic swimming, written in 1940, stated that “Competitors may be men or women or both.” However, when synchronized swimming was adopted as a sport in the USA in 1941, men and women were separated, in line with other sports overseen by the Amateur Athletic Union. Men competed against other men through the 1950s, but interest waned as the “aqua-musical” movies starring Esther Williams cemented the image of artistic swimming as a feminine activity.
Artistic swimming teams will be allowed to have a maximum of two men on each eight-person team. They have been eligible to compete at the World Aquatics Championships since 2015, in men’s solo, mixed duet and mixed team events. However, there is still no place for elite all-male teams, This leaves only rhythmic gymnastics as an Olympic discipline without both men’s and women’s participation.
Figure skating also started out as a male sport, though it didn’t take long for a woman to compete against the men. Just six years after the first world championship in 1896, a British skater named Madge Syers placed second, after noticing that there was no explicit rule barring her from competing. At the very next meeting of the International Skating Union, a rule was put in place barring women from the world championships, though they created a women’s category and finally recognized the winner as a world champion in 1924. By 1908, pairs figure skating was added, with a male and female skater at the 1908 Olympics, Syers won gold in the women’s event and bronze in pairs with her husband Edgar).
Pairs skaters are required to perform certain skills according to their gender: the men must do the lifts and throws, while the women (generally much smaller) are the ones lifted and thrown. The new rules simply list which elements must be performed, but do not assign a gender to who must do them. So far, this change only applies to Skate Canada’s domestic competitions and athletes in the high-perform and Podium Pathway program.
It appears that only Canada has taken this step, although there are rumblings of interest in the USA, where pairs skater Timothy Leduc became the first openly non-binary Olympian at the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year. Skate Canada says that the change is to remove barriers to participation in skating, to ensure that all gender identities are accepted equally.
I wasn’t able to find photo images of pairs skaters in anything except traditional roles. If you some, or have news about other countries looking at changing the rule, please pass them along.
Lia Thomas’ recent win at the NCAA swim meet has sparked another round of debate about the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports.
Here is what Sarah Sardinia wrote on Twitter: To all those pushing this false narrative that Trans People have an advantage in sports, and are using Lia Thomas as “proof”, let me lay down some stats here …
1650 yard distance Lia pre-transition: 14:54.765 Lia post-transition: 15:59.71 (lost 65 seconds) Male record: 14:12.08 (Kieran Smith) Female record: 15:03:31 (Katie Ledecky) She was 40 seconds behind the male record, now she is 56 behind the female
500 yard distance Lia’s best pre-transition, 4:18:72 Lia’s current, 4:34:06 Female record (Katie Ledecky), 4:24:06 Male record (Kieran Smith), 4:06:32
200 yard distance Prior to transition 1:39.31 Male record, 1:29.15 After transition 1:41.93 Female record of 1:39.10
See a pattern here? Not advantage, consistency
There’s a reason that with all the Trans Women competing in sports for years, she is one of the only top ranking ones, because she’s always been one of the top ranking. You can read more here about the data.
To put it another way:
And those images really need to be juxtaposed with the next one, which includes a photo of Olympic champion Katie Ledecky. Katie is 6 feet tall, which makes her one inch shorter than Lia, and two inches shorter than Missy Franklin, who set that NCAA 200 yard record in 2015. There is a lot of talk about how height, and size, and arm span give men natural advantages over women. Swimmers like Michael Phelps have natural advantages, including height, huge feet and flexibility, arm reach, long torsos and relatively short legs. That’s true both among men and women.
The reality is that the vast majority of youth athletes of any gender don’t compete at the elite level. However, even as amateur athletes they face discrimination, so few participate, especially trans girls. A recent Reuters article noted that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the Human Rights Campaign has said that, according to surveys, only about 12% play on girls’ sports teams.”.
Some do do compete as boys or men without too much attention, such as Schuyler Bailar, the first openly trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, and Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for Team USA and who competed in the Olympic Trials in January 2020. Others, such as Mack Beggs, the Texas high school wrestler forced to compete against girls even after starting to take testosterone, are forced into the same unwelcome spotlight as Lia Thomas. By focusing so much on biology and physiology, the impact is the dehumanization of those kids.
Lots more research is needed on the impact of hormones on performance, and there are legitimate concerns about putting competitors of significantly different sizes/abilities in the same categories when there is a risk of injury. The Christian Science Monitor has done a decent job of trying to summarize the latest research and how it is interpreted. But the bottom line for me and most of the people I know can be summarized like this:
Recently the Toronto Star ran an article about women’s hockey at the Olympics, with the conclusion that it shouldn’t be there because only the American and Canadian teams are serious contenders. Not everyone shares this view.
I agree with The Gist. I grew up in the era when girls’ and women’s hockey was in its infancy. I wanted to play, but wasn’t allowed. Instead, I have watched the game grow from the sidelines, cheering on the women every time I knew they were playing.
My biggest thrill when visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame was seeing Hayley Wickenheiser’s jersey on display. When my son played in a league during a Winter Olympics year, the motivational speech was to get out there and play like girls. They knew that meant to skate hard, play as a team, and keep their sticks on the ice. And win the game if at all possible.
Women’s hockey is still growing in other countries, but it is getting increasingly competitive as more girls and women take up the sport. We absolutely should not shut down their opportunity to grow the game. We didn’t do that for men’s hockey in the early days, or basketball, which is now completely dominated by the American NBA players.
The Canadian and American teams will meet on Wednesday in the gold medal game. I’ll be cheering for the Canadians, of course. But I’ll also be keeping an eye on Switzerland and Finland as they face off for the bronze. I’m willing to bet it will be pretty great hockey too.
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is still a hockey mom to her grown son, and a recovering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
Nat’s Saturday post from a few weeks ago outlines low, medium, and all out costs for Zwifting and explains why she and her sweetie/life partner Michel made the choices they made. In light of Nat’s post and in the interests of full disclosure, I thought I’d share the details of my home set up and why we made the choices we made.
We’re in the middle of the road group here with a wheel on wahoo kickr snap. We bought it from the Bike Shed where we used to go and ride on Zwift. I had a monthly membership, $100 a month for unlimited riding. A perk of the monthly membership was that I could leave my trainer bike there. But when COVID-19 hit, they had to close. I asked about borrowing a trainer and eventually bought it when the likely length of the pandemic started to dawn on me.
We run Zwift on an iPad which we hook up to a giant TV. Other expenses? A giant honking fan!
The downside of our set up is we can’t ride and race at the same time. I’d love a direct drive set up–wheel off rather than wheel on– except it’s a lot more work swapping bikes. Right now this is a pretty good set up for us and the trainer is used most days for a couple of hours a day between Sarah and me. We leave everything set up and ready to go.
We’re both racing so we need a smart trainer that measures power. What I love about the smart trainer is that it mimics the feel of hills and you need to shift. It gets easier, by feel, when you’re drafting.
Also, another expense, if you don’t already have this from outdoor cycling is a heart rate monitor and way of connecting that to the app. Some of this isn’t necessary for riding on Zwift but it is for racing. See my tips here including joining ZwiftPower which is the official results site for Zwift races.
We both have second best road bikes that we use on the trainer. When not in use they hang on the wall.
My dream set up would be the kickr bike but at $3500 US, I’m not there yet. Frankly we might never get there but I can dream.
The cool thing about it would be that it’s easy to adjust between two riders.
On Saturday, I ran my third half-marathon, the Potomac River Run. Both of the other times I trained for a half-marathon, I was incredibly disciplined about training, driven largely by a fear of collapsing half-way through the course. I had all sorts of rituals: not only an elaborate weekly schedule of four to five runs, but much fussing over the details of my playlist, purchasing new shoes, collecting up the perfect set of snacks, planning out my water breaks, and so forth.
This time was different. Partly it was because for the first time I was not going to be running with my wonderful friends, FFI bloggers Tracy and Anita, so I didn’t have our shared enthusiasm and peer pressure keeping me on track. Two of the four in the group of us who planned to run this race together dropped out. My remaining racing buddy, Joseph, while a dear friend, was a man in his 20s who can run twice as fast as me while drunk and with a giant sea turtle strapped to his back. Partly it was because this year I am commuting between New York and Washington, DC every single week and taking a full graduate course load on top of my full-time academic job, and still training in two other sports, which in New York involves commuting to my boxing gym an hour and fifteen minutes in each direction almost every day. Something had to give. I was overwhelmed.
I ended up doing something like two thirds of my planned runs, and many of those I cut short or did at a slower pace than I planned because I was just exhausted or out of time or both. A couple of weeks I skipped altogether, because of travel, family illnesses and who knows what.
Long story short, by the time race day came, I had given up on any hope of a PR. I felt totally unprepared, and my trial 21K two weeks earlier had been my worst time ever. All was chaos. I forgot my running belt in New York. I woke up the morning of the race and realized I had no snacks to bring, and had done nothing to update my tired playlist since my last race. I had no idea where the course was. Indeed, we got lost three separate times on our way to the race. I wrongly thought that the race ended in the middle of DC, so I left all my things in my boyfriend’s car and planned to take the metro home at the end, but once we arrived we found out the course was actually an out-and-back. We were stranded in the chilly forest with no coats, and we had no way of getting home from the wilds of Maryland where we had been dropped off.
When I looked at the course, my heart sunk further. The promotional materials had promised a totally flat, fast course. I had assumed it would be a smooth running path along the river. One glance showed me that the course was actually a rough, uneven trail, and that the organizers’ conception of ‘completely flat’ was significantly different from mine. Mentally, I adjusted my finishing time up yet farther. We found out there were no bathrooms and no mile markers on the course. We had no water and no snacks. We started to joke about leaving and getting brunch instead. The colder we got, the less joke-y our jokes became.
Finally the race began, and I took off at what I thought was a light slow jog, trying to warm up slowly, as is my practice. After half a mile, my app informed me that I was pacing slightly faster than what was supposed to be my target pace – the pace I had long since given up hope of achieving anyhow. I was surprised and assumed GPS error. But no, after a mile I was still at that same pace. I considered slowing down on purpose so as not to burn out, but really it felt like I was just jogging comfortably. I couldn’t see any benefit to slowing down. I decided that I’d just keep up that pace as long as it was comfortable. I wouldn’t speed up, and I’d slow down or take a walk break if I needed to. I assumed I would need to, since I was pacing just around 9 minutes a mile, which is quite fast, for me. (I have very very little legs!)
I kept running, and I never felt the need to slow down. Water stations came and went, and I felt no need for them. There were some small hills, but they didn’t make me want to break stride. I made it to the halfway mark in just moments under an hour, and decided it was time to re-up my expectations. I had long wanted to finish a half-marathon in under two hours, and I was on track to do it! So I decided to just stay on pace and not slow down or walk unless I really needed to. And I didn’t. My pace was weirdly consistent, mile after mile. I made it through the whole race without a water or a walk break of any kind, and cruised through the finish line just seconds under 2:00, giving me a PR and meeting a goal that had felt totally unreachable a week before.
As I sat with my friend at the finish line, the overly enthusiastic guy with the microphone whose job it is to keep everyone ‘amped’ called out, “And Rebecca Kukla wins a prize!” I was baffled. I went up and asked, “Why, what did I win?” “YOU WIN A HAT!” he bellowed into the mic. “Um, that’s great, but why did I win a hat? What for?” “BECAUSE YOU’RE AWESOME,” he roared back. “Thanks!” I said. “But seriously, I don’t understand what I did that’s awesome. What did I win?” “YOU WIN A HAT!” he yelled back happily. I gave up and took the hat, which I dearly needed, since as I noted we were cold. The next day I found out that I had won second in my age group! I still don’t quite understand how that’s possible, but I did! It was a good day to be a woman in my 40s! I never expected to win any kind of prize for running, especially not yesterday.
What’s the moral of the story? I think just that bodies can surprise you. Who knows why they do what they do. All our neurotic efforts to discipline them and make them predictable are built on an underlying morass of chaos and contingency. I woke up the next morning, post-race, and felt great. I was in the gym boxing by 10 am. I have no idea why that all went so well. But goodness, there’s no better feeling than your body suddenly becoming dramatically more powerful and able than you had any right to expect!
Rebecca Kukla is Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, and also a graduate student in urban geography at CUNY-Hunter College. She is a competitive boxer and powerlifter, a dedicated bike commuter, and a runner of wildly varying enthusiasm. She lives in Washington, DC with a passel of excellent human and non-human animals.
Anita’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon
This race was different. Unlike the Niagara Half Marathon, or the Florida Keys Half Marathon, or others, this time it was just Tracy and I doing a London-based race. In the past a handful of us would make the fun trek to a different city to race. We’ve avoided London simply because it’s a bit dull racing on the same path you train on week after week, but this race was different because the route took us along parts of the path that we’d never been on. There were also some pre-race emotions thrown in as this was the last race that Tracy and I would run together for a couple of years owing to our forthcoming consecutive sabbatical leaves.
We went into the race with good spirits. For this one we’d tried a completely different training approach with a coach. Our weekday runs consisted mostly of speed work, which we found challenging at first but eventually we enjoyed conquering the quick, fast workouts that depended on keeping track of our pace. The weekend runs were not as long as we typically would map out for ourselves. Nevertheless, we both felt that our bodies had responded well to the new training approach. We aimed to shave a couple of minutes off our personal best time.
The race itself was a low key affair, with smaller crowds than the other races we’d done but just as well organized. Bagels, bananas, gum drops, Clif bars, hot chocolate, coffee and water were available before and after the race. Not too many spectators cheering us on but the route volunteers were terrific. We thought the heat and humidity wouldn’t be a problem once we realized that much of the race route was shady. And it was a lovely route with lots of greenery! A bit of flooding too but the organizers had built a bridge over the worse part, plus they warned us about the water with an early morning email.
And now to the punchline: it wasn’t the best race for us…yes, we finished, with a respectable time, but…We felt good for the first third of the race. We held on during the second third. Sometime during the last third (around the 16K mark) the struggle started. Hoping it would pass, I didn’t let Tracy know I wasn’t feeling great until the last 3 km or so. And it wasn’t an injury or ache – it was just a ‘not feeling great’ feeling. Like maybe this feeling might progress to feeling like I need to puke.
It crept up silently because we felt like we were doing well with our pacing the whole time. We were also good to ourselves by taking a few longer breaks during that last bit. Was it the humidity? Maybe (but we’ve run in much worse). During our after race de-briefing I said to Tracy: “I never felt the runner’s high. I didn’t feel the happiness on that run.” After some thought, she agreed. Although we’re pleased that we finished in good time, the joy of running eluded us that day.
Tracy’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon
Despite that we rarely do local races and have never done a local half, Anita and I were both pumped for our local half marathon last Saturday. It would be our last event together for two years. We’d been working with a coach leading up to it and were feeling good about our speed work. As Anita said, we like to travel, so the whole thing lacked the “glam factor” of some of our previous events. And because it was local, we didn’t even think to book off the night before to go out for Italian food (a pre-race tradition whenever we’re at an out of town event).
We were both in a bit of a tizzy that morning trying to decide what to wear. Shorts or capris? Short sleeves or long? I made a good last minute decision to go with shorts and a tank top.
There was a small and friendly crowd at the race site, with ample refreshments for pre- and post-race. The massage therapy students from Fanshawe College had their tables set up under a canopy for post-race massages. It was clear and sunny, but a good portion of the path was shady and we thought we’d be okay.
And at the beginning, we were keeping a fantastic pace, right on target for our simple strategy. Basically, we divided the race into three parts. The first 7K was for finding our rhythm and keeping a steady pace. The second 7K we focused on staying present with the task and maintaining a good even pace. And finally, in the last 7K we wanted to pick it up just a bit, particularly towards the end, laying it out in the last 800m or so.
Like Anita just said, we faltered in the last few kilometres. There’s a part of our long runs that we call Death Valley because it’s a hot stretch with no trees. The turnaround for the out and back for this race was just about half a kilometre or so past Death Valley. And by then it was pretty hot and humid. So no sooner had we passed through DV than we hit the turnaround and had to do it over again.
For me this was the turning point. I started to feel overheated. Subsequent water stations I knew I needed water and Nuun (though I had never trained with Nuun before, I had to drink it for the electrolytes). We had kept up reasonably well with two other women who were running just ahead of us at a similar pace. They stayed steady steady with no walk breaks. We were taking 30 seconds every ten minutes, consistently for most of the race until the last 3 or 4 km when we started walking a bit longer.
I tried to maintain my energy with some energy balls we had made with Linda–oats and chocolate and coconut mixed with syrup and other goodies. But it was hard to chew and tough to swallow. I really needed my shot blocks, which I hadn’t had time to buy. I forgot I had a Vega gel in my belt, so that went uneaten (truthfully, I don’t know if I’d have been able to hold it down).
Most times when Anita and I run together we prop each other up. If one is struggling the other is able to encourage. But this time we both felt our energy get sucked away around the same time. After the race we both confessed that we felt like we were going to puke. I had a definite feeling of wooziness with more than 5K left to go.
I hauled out all the mantras I had, focusing on “fast feet” (which was a lie!) and “perpetual forward motion.” MEC has good signage, with lots of motivational sayings along the way (all of which elude me now).
When we crossed that finish line, later than we’d hoped to, my legs felt stiff and unsteady. I grabbed water and a half a banana. We both made our way over to the massage tables. Anita’s upper body was all seized up around her neck and shoulders. My calves and hamstrings felt hard and tight, so much so that even a relatively gentle massage made me wince. My feet ached. This was not my usual post-race feeling. I was drained.
After our massages we walked slowly up the hill to the car. Having told ourselves earlier that we would treat this as a usual weekend run, we tried not to feel disappointed in our performance. Anita was disappointed that we didn’t get a medal for finishing. But we took a couple of post-race selfies anyway. It may not have been our best event, but we made the best of it.
And as a usual weekend goes, we treated ourselves to breakfast (or in Anita’s case, lunch) at Billy’s.
Now things are really getting under way. Rachel’s been sharing the following pitch on Facebook and Instagram and I thought I’d share it here too.
Good luck Rachel! We’re cheering for you.
Hi there! I’m Rachel. I race bikes. This year, I co-founded a team, Foxy Moxy Racing, with the vision of promoting radically inclusive sport for trans and gender non-conforming people (gnc). That means showing people that trans/gnc people exist, and helping build a community for current and potential trans/gnc athletes. Sport is a human right. That’s in the Olympic Charter as the very first of the Principles of Olympism. But trans and gender non-conforming people have struggled to find a home in sport. I want to change that.
I’ve chosen to race this year as an openly trans woman, at some of the highest levels of women’s cycling in the US and Canada. I’m hoping you can help, though: racing bikes across the country (and across the continent) is really expensive. So I’m reaching out for help funding my summer of racing for trans and gender non-conforming inclusive sport.
I have a full race calendar planned. It started with the Pro/1/2 stage race, the Tour of the Southern Highlands. I was thrilled to win the Stage 2 circuit race. Here’s where I’ll be:
March: Sunshine Grand Prix (FL)
April: USA Crits Speed Week (SC, NC, GA)
May: Winston-Salem Classic (NC)
June: North Star Grand Prix stage race (MN)
June: Canadian Elite Road Nationals (ON, Canada)
July: Intelligentsia Cup (IL)
August: Crossroads Classic (NC)
September: Gateway Cup (MO)
I’m seeking funding to help with travel and race fees. This schedule will cost over $1500 in race fees alone. I live in Charleston, SC, and I drive everywhere to keep costs down. Every little bit you can contribute helps! Thank you!! #thefutureisfoxy
Dan arrived the morning of the fight, which was a very good thing, as I wasn’t allowed to do any working out other than stretching that day and I was far too nervous and uncomfortable from dehydration to do anything else. We spent a few hours hanging out and catching up and trying to help me unwind. Finally, that afternoon, we headed over to Gleason’s for the big event.
I knew, vaguely, that the event was a benefit for something that had sounded benefit-worthy, and also – very unusually – that all the boxers that night would be women. I did not understand that it would be a gala, with piles of fancy food and pass-around amuse-bouches and free foofy drinks. The event was a benefit for Save a Sato, which rescues street dogs in Puerto Rico. This was a group I was very happy to be supporting, but it was heavily gendered as well, as animal rescue organizations tend to be. So the gendering of the space was complex: there were a few of us boxers roaming around nearly-naked, getting ready to be as violent as we were able; there were ever-growing crowds of high-society women in evening gowns and expensive jewelry; there were a handful of fully-clothed down-to-earth dog-type women from the foundation itself; and finally there were a small minority of men, most of whom worked for the gym or were trainers or partners.
I felt acutely self-conscious as well as overwhelmed by the noise and the party atmosphere, not to mention very hungry and thirsty. I was desperate for the weigh-in and the medical exam to be over with so that I could eat and drink (though I’d be on Powerade and energy bars, not champagne and shrimp-and-coconut toasts with sprigs of fennel). Dan and I claimed a small corner of the back of the gym with a well-worn little ring and a single chair, where I tried to hide and wait for my trainer, Delvin Tyler, to arrive from DC. I needed his advice, his reassurance, his help warming up, and his paperwork, without which I could not fight.
We claimed the space successfully, but hiding was impossible. Every time I started to warm up, photographers swarmed me and popped flashes in my face, intensifying my self-consciousness and my impostor syndrome. At one point I was pulled over for a photo session with my opponent in front of a sign reading ‘No Ordinary Girls’ – the official name of the event. Debbie proved to be a fast-talking firecracker with a heavy New York accent who weighed in at 97.5 pounds and was completely adorable. Another thing I hadn’t realized was that Debbie was fighting for the ‘home team,’ representing the charity and wearing its shirt. She was also at her home gym. This was not good as far as crowd and judge sympathy went. I was desperate for Delvin to show up.
But when he did, the whole thing became a comedy of errors. Debbie had been presented to us as having one fight behind her, a loss, but we found out last-minute that her actual record was 2-2; this was not a fight that Delvin would even have let me accept if he had known. I had the wrong boxer’s passbook – I need a masters’ book (since I am over 35), not a regular one. One of the glitches I can’t even put in this blog post as it was patched up under a seal of secrecy. Delvin’s coaching papers were nowhere to be found and the computer listed his status as expired even though he had renewed it in person just for this purpose. I had non-regulation body jewelry that I had to remove, including one gauged tragus piercing that no one could get off: not the doctor, trying a variety of tools, not Delvin or Dan, neither of Delvin’s two other boxers who had showed up to watch and support us, and not even any of the random pierced partygoers who I approached for help. Each of these roadblocks seemed like it was about to keep me out of the ring altogether, and I was near tears. The staff was infuriated with me for all the glitches. A passbook for me was jammed together with a bunch of sticking tape last minute, as was my ear.
In a dramatic development, we found out that Delvin would not be allowed to officially coach me because of the paperwork snafu; instead I would be coached by Sonya ‘The Scholar’ Lamonakis, the 5’7”, 220-pound Harlem public school teacher who was the reigning Women’s Heavyweight Champion of the World. I shit you not. The new plan was for Delvin to sit behind her and pass messages to her that she could convey to me during the fight, but I wasn’t allowed to turn around and look at him or anyone else who wasn’t officially in my corner (who knew?). I thought that Sonya was just going to coach me as a mere formality, but as soon this arrangement was settled, she jumped in full-throttle. She grabbed the mitts and finished my warm-up with me, grudgingly telling Delvin through her irritation that I was ‘well trained’ (ha! score one Delvin and score one me). She also proved to be a dead-serious and deeply skilled advocate for me once I got in the ring. I am a little bit in love with her.
In yet another narrative twist, I found out just before getting into the ring that I could not use the 10-ounce gloves I had picked and trained with. As a geriatric fighter, I had to use the gym’s giant 16-ounce gloves that were basically pillows the size of my head. I was not used to them at all, they slowed me down, and I had no ability to judge what counted as an opening with them on. This also did not bode well.
The evening wore on and fell increasingly behind schedule. Strange events I could hardly process occurred, such as a flaming jump rope demonstration, an auction, and some sort of synchronized boxing show involving women in matching outfits. I hid in my corner. At long last I was weighed, examined, wrapped, head-geared, mouth-guarded, giant-gloved, and it was time to fight. Mine was the first bout.
Frankly, during the fight I was in an altered state of consciousness and I hardly remember it. It was a three-round bout. Almost everyone was screaming for Debbie, though I could hear my little team calling my name. I came out slower than I would have liked, overwhelmed by the giant gloves and the noise, but by the end of the round I felt like I was controlling the ring and had Debbie on the run. She punched more than I did, but her punches glanced off me, and mine felt more precise. Looking at the video now I realize it was an aggressive round but I couldn’t tell that at the time. I also couldn’t tell at all whether I was leading or losing. During the break, Sonya told me to be more aggressive, that I was more powerful and shouldn’t let her out or back off. I heard Delvin and Dan and my boxing friend Shannon shouting the same from behind me, though I couldn’t look at them. I obliged and gave it all I had in round two, and I dominated the round, chasing Debbie to the ropes repeatedly and plunging through her punches and going for her body. When I made it back to my corner, Sonya told me I had won round two, that round one was up for grabs, and that I needed round three to win. Unfortunately by round three I was mentally exhausted and somehow tied myself in knots over the double knowledge that a win was both within reach and by no means a given. I started thinking too hard and slowed down just when I shouldn’t have. The round was still close, but Debbie definitely had the edge.
In the end they called the fight for Debbie, although it was as close to a tie as could be. I strode across the ring to congratulate her, and apparently I looked so intense that her coach thought I was coming over to beat someone up and rushed out to stop me. But honestly, I was (and am) delighted to have nearly tied and won one round solidly against a fighter with so much more ring experience, and given the crowd an enjoyable fight. And I certainly did that! I have to say, tiny and middle-aged and intensely aggressive, Debbie and I were big crowd-pleasers.
A lot of people from both sides seemed surprised that they had called the fight for Debbie; their sense was that I had won the first two rounds and lost the third. I am not sure if this is right. To me, the fight looks like a dead tie, and I really do understand that if it was a tie or even quite close, it made sense to call it for the person who represented the charity and the gym. Or maybe she won fair and square by a narrow margin. I am not sure and don’t care much; I held my own against a five-time fighter in a disorienting crowd after a chaotic day. I am intensely proud and happy with how I did. And she’s already asked for a rematch in November, and I intend to beat her unequivocally then!
I honestly don’t remember getting out of the ring or back to my corner, or who removed my gear. My son (who also boxes) called from Florida, where he’s spending his school vacation with his dad, to congratulate me and tell me what I’d done wrong – he’d watched on the live webcam. I felt fine and energized until about ten minutes after the fight ended, when I suddenly realized I was about to throw up and pass out. I lay down on the floor trying not to submit. Just then Debbie came over and we had a fantastic bond over how much fun we’d had and how close the match had been, and that pulled me back to consciousness.
My little team lingered at the gym until everything was shutting down, and then headed out for (more) celebratory drinks. Over the course of the evening, as we had more alcohol, Delvin’s take on the fight progressed from “I think it was close to a tie, but you maybe should have won,” to “WE GOT ROBBED!!!” shouted loudly and repeatedly in a bar under the Brooklyn Bridge. I don’t think anyone got robbed. But I am so grateful for Delvin’s enthusiastic and generous support, not to mention his incredibly skillful training, which got me within ten months to the point where I could get in the ring against a fighter with a decade of experience and make it through with pride.
On the train home the next morning at dawn, I noticed I had a small but dark bruise over my left eye. I don’t remember when I got it; I didn’t feel any of the punches that landed on me at all. I heal fast, and I was sad to notice that the bruise was gone three days later. It’s almost like none of it really happened.
Last night I was at a party and got to talking about running with a former runner. He said that he used to do 10K in about 30 minutes. 30 MINUTES!? My mind did the quick math — at his prime, he was more than twice as fast as I am. If I can achieve my goal of a sub-65 minute 10K in 2014, I’ll be pretty darn thrilled. Once again, the refrain ran in my head: “I’m so slow.” Nevermind that according to Wikipedia that fastest recorded times by elite women are between 30-32 minutes.
Sam always bugs me (or rather, interrogates me–in a friendly way, not with spotlights or anything like that) about my self-image as a “slow runner.” I’ve often cited this as my reason for hesitating to join a running group.
So it was kind of gratifying to read this article by running coach, Jeff Gaudette, who says I’m not alone:
When I first started working with age group and recreational runners in 2006, one of the biggest surprises to me was the amount of negative thinking and lack of self-confidence many runners exhibited. Almost every runner that joined the group introduced themselves to me by stating “I’m probably the slowest person you’ve ever coached” or “you probably don’t work with runners as slow as I am.”
It didn’t matter what their personal bests actually were, almost all conversations started in a similar manner.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that not much has changed in the last seven years. Many runners, both new and experienced, hesitate to join local running groups or participate in online communities. When asked why, most respond that they are embarrassed by how slow they are.
That’s strong–to feel embarrassed by how slow we are. But it’s exactly how it feels. There is something like a feeling of shame that comes up when I think about being a slow poke. I felt it when I was riding my bike with Sam and her friends–they were always waiting for me.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course–they’re seasoned riders. I was out on my second long-ish ride ever. [ride report here in this post about suffering]
I think this is an important topic because it comes up in all sorts of areas where we track speed. I felt the same thing when I started swimming with a group. The feeling that I am slow — or too slow, to be precise — was so strong that the first time the coach suggested I train in the next fastest lane to the one I’d been training in I refused.
Gaudette makes a number of good points about the “I’m so slow” mindset. First off, it’s quite negative to the people who have it. Very few people embrace it. Rather, they (like me) lament it and feel badly about it. In some cases, it’s enough to dissuade them entirely.
Responding to this, I’ve seen a host of t-shirts and mugs and so on that say things like “No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch” and “There is no such thing as a slow runner. There are just runners and everyone else.” I’m not totally convinced. It’s just a fact that some people are faster than others.
The question is: does this matter?
Having established that I’m not trying out for the Canadian Olympic team or anything like that, why should I care about how fast I am in comparison to other people? So the idea of being “too slow” makes me wonder, “too slow for what?” I’ve written about participating even if you know you’re not going to win here. And Sam has posted about age group medals here.
Of course, there are those naysayers who complain about the way age-group categories and more diverse participation has taken the mystique out of marathons. A New York Times headline asks: “Plodders have a place, but is it in a marathon?” The article reports that there is indeed a lot of judgment out there about slower runners. And that’s because there are lots of them:
Trends show that marathon finishers are getting slower and slower — and more prevalent — according to Running USA, a nonprofit organization that tracks trends in distance running. From 1980 to 2008, the number of marathon finishers in the United States increased to 425,000 from 143,000.
In 1980, the median finishing time for male runners in United States marathons was 3 hours 32 minutes 17 seconds, a pace of about eight minutes per mile. In 2008, the median finishing time was 4:16, a pace of 9:46. For women, that time in 1980 was 4:03:39. Last year, it was 4:43:32.
But back to Gaudette, who says that this fear of being slow plagues even faster runners:
Former professional runner Ryan Warrenburg recently discussed how he’s hesitant to call himself an “elite” runner. Ryan has run 13:43 for a 5k — I’d call that fast and worthy of elite status. Do you know where his time ranks him in the world? I don’t because it’s way outside the top 500 (sorry, Ryan).
But instead of fighting back, the young increasingly are thumbing their nose at the very concept of racing. Among some, it simply isn’t cool, an idea hilariously illustrated in a 2007 YouTube Video called the Hipster Olympics. In those Games, contestants do anything to avoid crossing the finish line—drink beer, lounge in the grass, surf the Web.
Yet something remotely akin to that is happening. Perhaps the fastest-growing endurance event in the country, the Color Run, doesn’t time participants or post results. “Less about your 10-minute mile and more about having the time of your life, The Color Run is a five-kilometer, un-timed race,” says its website.
I think there is a happy medium between not caring about speed at all, and thinking that being among the average or slower runners is something to feel embarrassed about. When I first started running, I really didn’t care about getting faster at all. But now, I like to see increases in my average times as signs of progress. I’m balancing increases in distance with increases in my various paces. My slower runs aren’t quite as slow as they used to be. My faster intervals are stepping up compared to where they were a year ago.
In my swim training, over the 3 months of group training with a coach, I shaved 10 seconds from my 200 metre time. To me, that felt pretty good. In fact, I felt great about it. Then one day we did a relay and I had other team members who are considerably faster. For a moment, I allowed that to discount my accomplishment. But then one of them complained about her leg of the relay. So yes, as Gaudette says, it’s all about your point of reference.
I like to keep my point of reference focused on me. I’m not too slow to do what I enjoy doing. And in fact, despite that I’m getting older, there’s still room for me to get faster and achieve new personal bests.
And as I said in my “Never Say Never” post, maybe I can lose the “I’m so slow” identity. The best way for me to do that is to press myself on the question, “too slow for what?” I remember last summer when I began running with a group. I thought for sure I would be the slowest in the pack. I was shocked to discover I wasn’t. And did I judge anyone slower than me negatively for being slower? Of course not.
If the worry that you’re “too slow” is holding you back from running with a group (or running at all), I recommend that you give it a try. Chances are very good that you won’t be alone at your pace. And if you have any aspirations for running faster, training with a group is a good way to go.
There better be reasons to participate if I’m not going to win, or I’d never have a reason to participate (given that my chances of winning are slim!). I just finished reading a fascinating book called Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run, by Matt Fitzgerald. It’s about the Ironman rivalry between Dave Scott, the first athlete to really dominate the Ironman triathlon (with six first place finishes), and Mark Allen, the one who (after several tries and much effort), eventually dethroned Dave Scott and went on to garner six titles himself.
The Ironman is that endurance race that originated in Hawaii, in the late seventies, with twelve participants in the first year. It’s a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full marathon. At its inception, it was just about completing the thing. But when Dave Scott first took on the challenge in 1980, he wanted to turn it into a race.
Where finishing times in the first two years were over the eleven hour mark, Dave blasted the field, spending the entire race alone and taking first place in 9 hours, 24 minutes, and 33 seconds. The day he finished second to Mark Allen in 1989, he did the course in 8 hours, 10 minutes, and 13 seconds, just 58 seconds behind Allen.
Reading this book, you get into the mindset that winning is everything. It’s not enough to complete the gruelling race. It’s not enough even to complete it well. It’s all about winning, breaking records, pushing as hard as you can so you can beat the other guy.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the book and I got caught up in the drama. I felt badly for those poor dudes who, behind these two, had to settle for battling it out for third or fourth place in the Iron Man race in Hawaii. It was all very macho.
Not that women can’t or shouldn’t compete, of course. I’ve blogged about the competitive feminist here. But, as I mentioned earlier this summer in this post, I’m a big fan of medals for everyone.
One topic that came up in Fitzgerald’s book and that I’ve heard in other circles as well (such as marathons), is whether the people who are aiming just to finish cheapen the race. It is, after all, a race. The rules of the game say that if you’re racing you’re supposed to be trying to finish as fast as you can and, while you’re at it, trying to beat the other competitors.
Sam pointed out quite some time ago that she thinks of her earlier self as her only real competition. See her post about that.
She also shared how she felt when a very competitive team trounced her team in the recreational soccer league she plays for in her post “It’s Just a Game.” The issue was that the team also played in a competitive league. They used the recreational league as practice.
Is there something wrong, unsportsmanlike (is there a gender neutral word for that?), with a team that is high-fiving, going for every goal they can, in a recreational league where they are clearly out-classing the other team? Should a competitive team even be allowed to play in a rec league? Sam thinks yes to the first, no to the second question.
In events like triathlons and marathons and so forth there are often two classes of competitors — the professionals or elite athletes and the “age group” competitors. But regardless of whether you’re pro or amateur, surely there is a place for people in the race who are not the ones who are going to win? Even Mark Allen didn’t win until his sixth attempt, for goodness sake!
So it doesn’t seem fair to say that the mere presence of those who don’t place cheapens an event. What people claim, rather, is that people who are not even trying to win but are just trying to finish somehow take away from the overall achievement of those who finish well.
In the early days of the Ironman, it was routine to spend a fair bit of time walking through the marathon. Remember, it began as a challenge to see if it could even be done, not to see how fast it could be done. In the first Ironman competition in 1978, only one person finished the marathon in under 4 hours. The rest who finished took between 4 and 8.5 hours.
One of Dave Scott’s reasons for not retiring earlier and for continuing to go back to the Ironman was that he didn’t want his legacy to be of the man who dominated “back in the day” when it wasn’t competitive. As an aside, his second place finishing time of 8:10:13 against Mark Allen in 1989 has only ever been beaten five times since.
Since marathons have attracted wide participation, the average finishing time is longer than it has ever been. Is that a bad thing? I don’t see why it should be. At the elite level, we can still see people testing the limits of what the human body can do, breaking records, etc. And at the level of the everyday athlete, we’ve got more people testing the limits of what their body can do, pursuing personal bests, extending their endurance from 5K to 10K to half marathon to marathon. Sounds all good to me.
I want to be a moderate here, and say that it’s possible to be super-impressed with the winners while also appreciating the effort of the finishers. I was totally humbled in my mid-summer triathlon that became a duathlon because so many women in the 60-65 age group beat my time by 20 minutes. It gives me something to aim for (if I can shave 2 minutes a year off of my time…), people to be impressed by, but didn’t in the least take away from my sense that I’d accomplished something just by completing the task set out for me that morning (especially since it wasn’t what I signed up for!).
So why participate if not to win? I can think of a few reasons:
1. It’s tons of fun.
2. It’s a training goal for participants at all levels. I wouldn’t make it out for runs and swims and bike rides nearly as often if I didn’t have the next triathlon on my calendar.
3. There is something about race day that brings out the best performer in people even if they aren’t going to win or place. I know that I’ve amazed myself each time I’ve raced.
4. It’s empowering.
5. Lots of events raise money for worthy charities. So you can pursue your fitness goals and support good causes at the same time. And there are lots to choose from. The Run for the Cure is not the only charity race even if they’re one of the loudest!
6. Finishing is something to feel good about. Look, when I started running, I couldn’t keep going for 2 minutes without needing a walk break. Now I can sustain over 20 minutes of running and I need just a minute or two of recovery walking before I can start up again. On race day, I can even do better than that.
7. It’s exciting to try new things. I never thought I’d get excited about triathlon. I just signed up on a lark at Sam’s urging. But now I love it! I love training for it and I am over-the-moon excited for September 15. Fingers crossed that the swim won’t get cancelled.