cycling · fitness

Missing my pack (guest post)

(Michele A is a fitness and nature enthusiast. She likes dirt, most things with fur and feathers, and tasty plant-based food. In her free time, you’d most likely find her playing outside or in her kitchen. This is her debut blog post for Fit is a Feminist Issue. Let her know what you think about her love story about a cyclist and some goats.)

It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have my own pack. They consist of a group of women ranging from their early 30s to mid-60s who are almost always willing to partake in local adventures. I can send a group text or email asking if anyone wants to join me for a particular activity that following weekend and am almost always met with a positive response. 50-mile road ride followed by mocha lattes? “Sure!” 65-mile gravel ride in the hills of northern New England? “I’m there!” Nighttime trails on a chilly autumn evening under a full moon with post-ride ice-cream? “Absolutely!” Snowshoe trek on a single digit day in February? “Wouldn’t miss it!” Some version of this happens at least a couple of times during an average week, and I’m always in great company. These women have as much appreciation as I do for getting outdoors on bikes, and occasionally by foot. It may mean something a bit different for each of our minds, bodies and spirits, but I don’t think there’s one of us who could go long without being out there.

Being out there often affords us with other, sometimes unexpected, soul-lifting experiences. One example is meeting a local herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats. I first interacted with them a few years ago while riding trails in a nearby town. Over time, I learned more about my ruminant friends. They live in the backyard of a house in the center of town, but get out for walks most days year round, so they too, can get some exercise, and also have access to a variety of grass, moss, bark and other vegetation to supplement their basic diet.

Each time I see them, I feel a twinge of excitement, and stop to say “hello”. As it turns out, I found another reason to be grateful for my riding partners because they are just as happy to stop for a visit with the ladies. The herd is also made up of all women, now spanning five generations with their most recent births.

In these last few months, the goats have taken on larger significance. These days, I’m doing only solo rides until it’s safe to ride in groups again, which may be a while. I’m sticking close to home and staying on terrain I’m familiar with. When I happen upon the goats, I linger for longer than usual. I live alone and have had very little in-person interaction with other humans. The goats used to be a fun sighting during a ride, an adorable pit stop in the midst of a multi-hour social excursion. Now, they are a meaningful source of comfort and joy. They are the main event, not just the popcorn while watching the feature film. They don’t know it, but they made quarantining and social distancing more tolerable for me.

When I see them, I stop and have various kinds of interactions:

Sit and pet:  Sometimes I find a cozy spot to sit in the tall grass or along a rock wall. The goats do things on their terms. If one wants some attention, she will come over and plant herself sturdily next to me, and then I will rub her ears and stroke her head and sides. This is most often Mei Mei. She is the most equanimous of the bunch. Usually once she has gotten my full attention for several minutes, either Eia or Luna will follow and try to intervene. I often end up petting two goats at once, which is like brushing your hair and your teeth at the same time. It takes coordination, and I am getting better at it!

Discreet goat petting.
Discreet goat petting.

Foraging:  Other times, I search for things they like to eat. I have learned what they deem as the perfect acorn and how to prepare it for them, by cracking off their shells and removing the meat. I find a large flat rock to spread out the acorns, and another hand-sized rock to crack them. Sometimes I have an audience while I do this. I often feed these to Lycian. She is the great-great-grandmother and is now in her 80s in people years. Getting the acorns out of the shell on her own has become difficult for her.

Cuddling:  In the last month, my heart has been completely taken by Lydia. She is one of the two kids born to Lyra. When she is in the mood, I can pick her up or she’ll come sit in my lap. She will settle in and enjoy the attention. Sometimes she nibbles my shoulder, shirt, pants or wrist with her tiny mouth, mimicking the eating of the adult goats while she is still mostly drinking her mother’s milk. From her tiny mouth also comes the littlest bleats when she is chasing after the herd, reminding them of her presence. When she plays, she hops erratically about and returns head butts to her sister, Lyla.

These are all-absorbing and satisfying activities which allow me to forget life beyond the pasture. For the time that I am with them, I am immersed in their world and focused on their needs and behaviors. There is nothing but the goats.

Whether or not you have your own pack or flock or covey of companions that you’re missing terribly, it’s likely that your activities and routines today are different than they used to be, and you’re feeling unsettled or yearning for aspects of your former life at times.  Comfort and joy can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be goats. Finding your own special Red Beech tree to sit under its canopy, leaning on its enormous, smooth trunk can be grounding. Perching on a bridge overlooking a creek where you can toss in sticks and watch them float downstream can feel serene. Walking the same path regularly to watch it change throughout the weeks can remind you that life is going on all around you. Identifying the birds outside your window and watching them go about their eating and gathering can be calming. I’d love to hear examples of how the outdoor world has brought you peace.

Idyllic still life with goat and bike.
Idyllic still life with goat and bike.
fitness · swimming

Missing my DAM workouts and my DAM teammates (guest post)

(Today’s guest post is by friend of the blog, reader of the blog, and sometime swimming blogger Roberta Millstein. Full bio at the end of the article…)

I started swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, better known as DAM, shortly after I moved to Davis in 2007.  I was thrilled to have coach-led sets and a group of people to train with – so much more fun, and ultimately much more productive, than trying to swim on one’s own. 

I quickly fell into a routine and decided that, rather than constantly reciting to myself all the many physical and psychological benefits of swimming, I would just understand that swimming three times a week was A Thing That I Would Do.  Period.  Only the most serious of reasons would cause me to miss a workout.  And I stuck with that.  Travel, serious illness, a grad student’s exam that couldn’t be scheduled at any other time – those were about the only things that would cause me to miss a workout.

Until, of course, we finally started to realize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 16, DAM strongly recommended that seniors stop going to workouts.  I watched several people leave sadly.  It was an eerie, surreal practice.  I remember I went home and said to my partner sadly, “I think that might have been my last DAM workout for a while.”[1]  And indeed, by the end of the day, DAM had sent out an email cancelling workouts for everyone.  Even though the County and State official stay-at-home orders wouldn’t come for a few more days, that was really the beginning for me. 

I quickly made a new vow – on the days and times that I would have swum, I would now use the stair stepper.  It’s a workhorse of a thing that my partner bought used for me many years ago, and over time we’ve both used it on and off.  Most recently, I’d stopped using it because of a knee injury, but I thought maybe my knee felt well enough to start again.  I have rather a strange routine with the stair stepper – I listen to the same four playlists over and over, playlists that morphed from mixed tapes that I had made decades ago.  Probably most people would have long ago tired of listening to the same music, but I find that it focuses me: these are the songs that I stair step to.

A perfectly serviceable, if not beloved, stair stepping machine.
A perfectly serviceable, if not beloved, stair stepping machine.

I also decided to try something I’d always been meaning to try: yoga.  DAM sent around an email with a link to “Swimming Specific Yoga.”  I figured I’d do that on most days when I wasn’t using the stair stepper.  I added in a few dumbbell exercises afterward to keep my arms strong.  I’m sure that’s some sort of yoga violation, but I’m not really aiming for authenticity here.

In retrospect, keeping my time schedule was exactly the right choice.  It has kept me grounded, along with the usual morning and evening dog walks, weekly class and lab meetings, and local political meetings.  I’ve not experienced the “I don’t know what day it is” or “I slept in until 11 AM” that others have reported.  If anything, I’ve found myself too busy because I find it hard to be productive with so much looming uncertainty, so my to-do list has lengthened.  But getting exercise is all the more important for that, not less important.

I tell myself that, much as I might like to think I am a water mammal, it is actually good for me to be getting a bit more land exercise, and that is no doubt true.  I tell myself that this is an opportunity to work on some other muscles and skills, and that is also true.  I’ve definitely enjoyed the yoga and find it relaxing and energizing, even as there are some things I can’t do.  I try to be careful because I don’t want to get injured.  My knee still isn’t quite right so I am taking it easy with the stair stepper too.

But it’s not the same as the cool, clear feeling of entering the water and feeling it glide over you.  It’s not the same as the satisfaction of a hard workout that you only did because your teammates were there suffering through it with you.  And no one is there asking where you’ve been if you missed a few workouts, or telling you about a trip they took or are about to take, or commiserating about coming back from an injury.  Swimming, despite appearances, is actually quite a social sport.  I miss my lanemates and hope that they are well.  (The DAM coaches, for their part, are working very hard to make sure that we still feel connected).

The latest word is that DAM is going to try to re-start in some fashion on June 14, County regulations permitting.  I imagine social distancing swimmer-style: fewer people in the pool at once, maybe with signups, maybe fewer hours per week? We shall see.  I look forward to it no matter what form it takes. 

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

[1] We should all be so lucky to have this be the worst of our problems.

fitness · Guest Post · hiking

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Volcano (Guest Post)

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Image description: A landscape shot of a section of the track. The earth is mostly rocky and is a light brown colour. Steam is coming from geothermal vents on the mountain. In the bottom right corner of the photo is a shadow of the photographer and the ridge she is standing on.

I recently had the opportunity to tramp (that’s what New Zealanders call hiking) the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the Central North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The TNC is a four-day, three-night 43.1 km loop that partially overlaps with the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The TNC takes place in the shadows and volcanic fields of the mighty active volcanoes Ngāuruhoe (which you may recognise as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) and Tongariro. While I had done plenty of day hikes and a handful of overnight trips before, this was my first multi-day trip, and I decided to do it solo. Aotearoa New Zealand has several tramping tracks that are billed as Great Walks, which means they are well-maintained, monitored by rangers, and usually well-equipped as far as huts and campsites go. The TNC is one of those walks, and as such, is well-populated with trampers and rangers alike. That made me feel fine about going solo. I had previously spent a long time wishing I could do something like this, but it wasn’t until I saw these wise words of a kid from the hilarious blog Live From Snack Time that I decided it was time to go do it: “You can make a wish, but then you have to do the wish. It doesn’t just happen.” I decided it was time to do the wish.

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Image description: A 360-degree panorama of a section of the track. It is the very early morning and the sky is still dark. Large rocky formations stretch along the length of the photo and they are backlit by a small patch of sunlight peeking up on the left side of the photo.

Here’s the thing about tramping in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to other places: pretty much nothing here will kill you except the weather. There are no large predators like bears or mountain lions, there are no snakes, there are no particularly venomous spiders. The water is usually clean and plenty of trampers just go ahead and drink it without treatment and are usually fine. (Note: that’s risky. Don’t do it. Or do. But also, don’t.) What puts people at risk in the New Zealand backcountry is when weather closes in quickly—particularly common in alpine environments—and natural disasters like avalanches, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. (There are also risks like falling and breaking your leg and being unable to get to shelter.) Those are serious risks, and I don’t mean to be flippant about them. You must prepare for them as much as you are able. Now, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot you can do if a pyroclastic flow is headed your way, but I’m of the mind that life is inherently risky, and if the only thing that ever figured into your decisions was how risky an activity was, you’d never get off the couch. That’s not the life I want, so I’m prepared to accept some calculated risks. I went to an outdoor equipment shop and asked for advice from them and from experienced friends, rented and borrowed the gear that I could, bought what I couldn’t borrow, and set out.

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A closeup of small, white flowers growing between stones. Mount Ngāuruhoe, a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano, is visible in the background.

The track was absolutely incredible and the trip was well worth it. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to make it happen. The photos don’t capture the scale and vastness of the landscape. They don’t capture that mixed-up feeling of achievement, relief, and “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” that rises up when you arrive at the hut. It’s hard to explain the introspection that goes on when it’s just you, your boots, your pack, and a volcano to keep you company. It was transformative. Really.

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Image description: a landscape shot of a part of the track. On the left of the photo is a 29-year-old white woman with short blonde hair. She is wearing grey shorts and a white shirt. In the distance is a cliff and a thin waterfall coming off it.

But a peculiar thing kept happening while I was tramping, and kept happening after I returned and told people about having gone. People seemed very concerned that I, a woman, was doing this tramp solo. At first, I thought it was a bit funny. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it reflected some weird assumptions people have about women’s ability to manage risk. When I told others about the experience and wondered whether people would have said the same thing about a male soloist, a male friend was quick to tell me that “it wasn’t about gender” (a bold assessment from someone who wasn’t there) and that going solo was “potentially foolhardy.” He’s right, in some sense: the risks of tramping—things like avalanches and volcanic eruptions—aren’t about gender. The volcano does not care about the genders of the trampers walking on it when it erupts. Dehydration and hypothermia don’t care about your gender. Venomous snakes don’t care about your gender. Flash floods don’t care about your gender. I’m totally with him on this one: the risk is not about gender. But if that’s the case, then why were the comments? Why were so many of the comments of the scandalized “A woman, alone?” variety? What is it about being a woman that leads people to assume you can’t look after yourself? (If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am.)

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Image description: A photograph of two of the famous Emerald Lakes, one behind the other. The earth in the foreground is golden brown and rocky. The lakes have vivid green water. A slope rises up behind them. The sky is blue with wispy white clouds.

I want to be clear about something: I certainly don’t think I know everything about tramping. I’m still very much a novice and will be for a long time. But I’m a sensible novice: I consulted experts while planning my trip, followed their advice, and did every single thing I possibly could do to mitigate my risk. I left detailed trip and route plans with a trusted contact, and I carried a personal locator beacon, a first aid kit, emergency shelter, all-weather clothing, an extra day’s food, and so on. I also respect the power of nature and know that ultimately, sometimes things go wrong and no amount of preparation can save you from that. Nevertheless, I did what was, by any reasonable metric, a good job of making sure I was going to be okay, barring a volcanic eruption. (And let’s be real, having a buddy isn’t really going to help you much in that situation.) It struck me as odd that my friend immediately concluded that what I was doing was foolhardy, when he knew nothing about the precautions I’d taken, and made no effort to ask.

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Image description: A panorama of a volcanic landscape. The earth is reddish-grey. There are two lakes with green water on the left of the photo, and an uphill scree slope to the right. Three distant people are standing at the top of the slope. The sky is blue with a few long white clouds.

A couple of women tramper friends of mine say they’ve had similar experiences. One says she, too, finds that people are either amazed or concerned when they find out she’s tramping alone, and that something about it rubs her the wrong way. How about you, fellow women soloists? Have you had this kind of experience? How does it make you feel?

I’ll finish off with this photo of sunrise on the ascent to the Red Crater of Ngāuruhoe. I left my hut dark and early to catch this special sight, all by myself. It was glorious.

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Image description: A panorama of sunrise on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. The sun is peeking up on the left side of the photo. The lower section of the photograph is dark rocky earth, not yet lit by the morning sun. In the distance are two peaks (one is Ngāuruhoe) that are a deep rusty red in the sunlight.

fitness

Turquoise and berry and lime, oh my! (Guest Post)

A friend of mine and I like to joke that if you’re buying women’s athletic gear (that is, workout or sporting gear targeted toward women), your only colour options are turquoise and berry, a certain shade of sort-of-pink-and-sort-of-purple. On a good day, you might be able to find something in lime, too, but that’s it! Those are your options! Whenever we see any gear in these colours, we send photos of it to each other.

A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, "I actually don't understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options" with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says "Right???"
A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, “I actually don’t understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options” with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says “Right???”

Here are some ski helmets she showed me:

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.

And some socks I got for free with a recent hiking boot purchase:

A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name "Bridgedale" is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads "Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker."
A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name “Bridgedale” is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads “Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker.”

And look at the huge range of options on these Vasque hiking boots. I would go for the turquoise, but there’s always berry if turquoise isn’t your thing. (Admittedly, the berry option here is more purple, but the colour is actually called “Blackberry,” so I think it technically counts.)

Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name "Vasque" is visible next to the laces on each boot.
Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name “Vasque” is visible next to the laces on each boot.

And some maximally lady-suitable Dachstein hiking boots, if you don’t want to decide between turquoise and berry:

A single hiking boot with black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name "Dachstein" is displayed next to the laces.
A single hiking boot displayed in profile. It has black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name “Dachstein” is displayed next to the laces.

And some ski jackets, available in both lady colours! (“Silver/teal” is highlighted in this photo, but the other option is called “Berry/coral”.)

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on  the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading "Colour: Silver/Teal." A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading “Colour: Silver/Teal.” A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.

As with most gendered things, the problem isn’t the options themselves. It’s the restrictions. With women’s athletic gear, the problem isn’t the colours themselves. If you like turquoise (which I do), great. If you like berry (which I do), great. If you like lime (which I do), great. The problem is in the limited range of options, as though all women (and only women, as it’s hard to find men’s gear in these colours) will only like these colours. Where is the burnt orange? Olive green? Smoky grey? Dark red? Of course, sizing and fit and assumptions about women’s bodies when it comes to clothing are another issue altogether!

Here I am in my most turquoise/berry workout outfit, complete with berry backpack and turquoise shoes, with socks that are berry and turquoise and lime. (I’ve also got a turquoise iPod for working out. But I did that to myself.)

A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.
A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.

And another of me on my turquoise mountain bike with berry shorts, with a grey helmet with turquoise and berry stripes, and a grey shirt with turquoise accents.

The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.
The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.

How about you, readers? What do you make of the colour options available for women’s gear?

 

fitness · research

Getting Fit at the Library (guest post)

This post is by Pamela Hayes-Bohanan: friend, colleague, and librarian extraordinaire. Read and enjoy, and don’t forget to check out the reference (properly formatted, of course). -catherine w

So, what does a librarian know about fitness anyway? Just as she doesn’t need to be an expert in chemistry to find the boiling point of iron (2750.0 °C; 3023.15 K; 4982.0 °F btw) she likewise doesn’t need to be an expert in exercise and nutrition to assist someone with locating the best information to help them help themselves.

As a reference and instruction librarian for the past 25 years, I have helped people do research on more topics than I can possibly remember. Sometimes I’m helping with a course assignment, but often the information is for personal use. It is hard to balance between helping someone simply find what they’ve asked for (a trendy new diet book perhaps) and wanting to do some real education with them about where they can find better or more evidence-based information on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss. Ultimately, however, it is my job not to judge, so if someone wants a recipe for a Paleo Shamrock Shake I will do my dangdest to find it, and I won’t roll my eyes or smirk, either. (And if I piqued your interest, here’s the recipe. Do trust me, though, that no caveman ever drank one of these.)

What I can do via this blog post though is provide some guidance on how to navigate the proliferation of information that one will find on just about anything, whether they ask for it or not. How can you tell if the advice you’re receiving is something to heed? There are several things you can look for to help determine its worthiness.

The first thing to do is to check your own bias. Are you only looking for information that supports what you already believe, or want to be true? If you want good information start with an open mind and be prepared to broaden your horizons.

Once you find some information consider the source. Remember that just because you trust the person who shared the link, tweet, or blog post, it does not necessarily follow that the information is trustworthy.

Look for an author name and organization attached to the site. Then LEAVE the site and start sleuthing. See what else you can find out about the person and/or organization. Once you start your investigation look for things like: What are the authors’ credentials? Do they have other publications? Do they have a medical degree? Or is there something (anything) else that leads you to believe they know what they’re talking about? Are there news stories, or reviews of the people or organizations you are researching?

Don’t take shortcuts. Often people are taught simple rules regarding domains. (e.g. It’s okay use .org, .gov, or .edu sites; don’t use .com). Organizations each have their own biases and need to be researched. For instance the National Rifle Association and Moms Demand Action both have .org domains, and each provides a very different view on gun control from the other. Government information is influenced by lobbyists (many of whom represent commercial interests), and government sites are vulnerable to the whims of the head of state as well. Not all educational institutions are created equal, and even scholarly research published on university websites may be influenced by religious, or political motivations. Commercial sites shouldn’t not necessarily be dismissed. Aggregated subscription databases found at your library are commercial websites. So, my rule of thumb is: eschew facile rules of thumb.

Another question to consider is whether the website is collecting information about you. Are you required to provide personal data in order to access the site? If so, the site may be more interested in gathering information than providing it. Also be aware that sites that appear to require you to enter more information may give you a choice to not provide it, but may make the opt-out button hard to find. Keep looking, it may be below the scroll line, or placed on the left side of the screen rather than the right side where more people look for it, or it may be timed to appear only after a few seconds have elapsed.

Finding information is as easy as typing some words into Google. Taking some time to determine its veracity is a not only worthwhile endeavor, it is, as Daniel Levitin says in his book A Field Guide to Lies, part of a deal we need to make with ourselves:


We’ve saved incalculable numbers of hours of trips to libraries and far-flung archives, of hunting through thick books for the one passage that will answer our questions. The implicit bargain we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some [emphasis in original] of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification (p. 253).

If you want to give your brain a real workout, visit a library and ask a librarian for more information on evaluating information, and using it wisely.

Reference
Levitin, Daniel. A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age. Dutton, 2016.

A person doing a handstand in a library.
fitness · Guest Post · walking

Posting one step at a time (guest post)

(Here’s a guest post by blog reader– and friend of Catherine W: Fernanda F— on taking her relationship with Fitbit public. CW: very brief weight loss talk.)

Last year I decided that I wanted to be more fit and lighter. Okay, I am lying. I decided that a long time ago, but only in March 2018 did I start walking and posting my daily steps. The big difference was that I was posting my daily progress on social media. I didn’t think anything of it, except it was a way to make me feel better and boost my morale by getting the inevitable “likes”. Along the way I started feeling that I _had_ to walk, because gosh darn it, I have to post my goal for the day. So I walked.

Here’s an example of one of my “goal” days:

Fernanda's step count for a sample day, posted on Facebook.
Fernanda’s step count for a sample day, posted on Facebook. This one is 10,136 steps.

Now of course, if you are a bundle of insecurity and self-doubt like me, you don’t want to look bad. So sometimes I would skip the days I didn’t hit goal (note: my goal progressed and is now 10 thousand steps a day.) It’s not like there is an imaginary Facebook God keeping track of when you skip your posts. Or, your friends are not going to say, hey, what happened to Monday’s step goal? Did you have Wi-Fi problems or something? Of course not, people have lives. But I needed to practice honesty in all of my affairs, and I asked myself what would happen if I posted a non-goal day. I would give it a try.

Here’s an example of a “non-goal” day:

Sample step count for a "non-goal" day; this one is 5,630 steps.
Sample step count for a “non-goal” day; this one is 5,630 steps.

Then a funny thing happened. I got the same “likes” as with the goal days. On top of it, I also got encouraging comments. People would write “it all counts!” or “don’t give up!!”

So I kept on walking. And posting. The thing about Fitbit (and this is not an endorsement of any particular brand, that’s just the one I use) is that you can post either to their own platform or you can click on “elsewhere” and post to your social media. I tried posting to their platform but did not get anywhere. The few responses I got would invariably be from people whom I did not know. So by selecting the place where I usually go to (admittedly way too often) I was able to get the incentive and the feedback I needed. The very neat thing is that there is a way to post your daily progress with a picture instead of just a green background.

A screenshot of Happy Fernanda, reporting 10,334 steps, a nice lunch of lemon poundcake, and a nap. She is proud of enjoying the pound cake! Yum.
A screenshot of Happy Fernanda, reporting 10,334 steps, a nice lunch of lemon poundcake, and a nap. She is proud of enjoying the pound cake! Yum.

Because I did not want to bore people with my daily posts, I tried to write something different every day. I would write something simple like the exclamation “Boo Yah!” of something longer, explaining how I got to goal that day, writing about how I just walked in place in front of the television to get to ten thousand steps.

Most of my friends on social media are also colleagues at work. I was walking down the hall one day and someone I only see occasionally said to me “getting those steps in?!” I replied, “Yeah, I am walking down to the copy center…” and it took me a second to understand what she was saying. She was taking about my posts. Seeing my frown (those who know me understand that I do not have a poker face) she explained that she was inspired by what I was doing, and that she herself had decided to walk more, seeing my daily progress. I was stunned and a little embarrassed. I didn’t realize that this simple act of being accountable was having some sort of impact on others.

Then the “non-goal” days became more frequent. I was sick for about three weeks with a viral cold that would not go away. I didn’t walk some days or had very few steps each day. It did not stop people from being supportive, either on social media or in person. I found that to be even more amazing and supportive.

One stunning example was when I was mowing the lawn last summer, and a person stopped her car in the middle of the road in front of my house and yelled “get those steps in!” It was my neighbor, who is also a Facebook friend. It’s entirely possible that I have way too many “friends” for my own good. But in this case, it was indeed for my own good.

(Fernanda F is a professor of Foreign Languages, a determined and exploration-minded soul, frequent traveler, and fit feminist.)

clothing · cycling · fitness · winter

Vintage Works for Winter (Guest Post)

Get out your old gear and get outside! The German winter brings cold, rain, fog, ice and occasional snow to Berlin. Relocating here from Tucson, Arizona, I don’t have all the latest greatest weatherproof cycling gear. But do I really need it?

In Berlin, the serious roadies and triathletes speed along in high-performance, black outerwear from the trendiest brands, and everyday transportation cyclists wear their regular clothes and coats. I fit somewhere in between, but my helmet generally gives me away as a roadie.

I have clothing from 15 to 20 years ago when I lived in Virginia and rode in the winter. (I hear the Canadians chortling at the thought of a Virginia “winter.”) I also own what is now considered a vintage or classic bike—my first racing road bike, a steel frame LeMond from 1994. This is the beater bike I ride in Berlin, rolling over cobblestones, pavement, and occasional dirt roads. Because the default condition of Berlin roads is wet, I added a small plastic fender that sticks out like a stiff tail from my saddle.

To stay warm, I choose a blend of natural and unnatural fibers from the olden days. Yes, polyester and neoprene are bad for the planet, but they last for years as you will see from my riding outfit described below. And it’s better to use old stuff than buy new stuff, right?

From toe to head, staying warm the vintage way:

  • Neoprene toe covers (relatively new, that is, from 2007)
  • Hand-me-down wool socks that reach to mid-calf, sometimes accompanied by silk sock liners from 2005
  • Bike shorts, covered by discount brand polyester wind/water proof warm-up pants from 2002
  • Discount brand long sleeve undershirt from 2005 that wicks, but also smells after a ride
  • Long sleeve polyester Virginia cycling team jersey from 2001
  • Insulated rowing vest, a gift from the early 2000s
  • Polyester Virginia team jacket from 2001
  • Neoprene headband, year unknown
  • Yellow lens sunglasses, circa 2007, for brightening dreary days

OK, I concede that I wear a few newer items:

  • High visibility yellow waterproof long sleeve windbreaker
  • Neck gaiter
  • Insulated gloves

I generally ride two to two and a half hours, with my air temperature limit of 0 degrees (32 F). I wait until mid day to ride when it’s generally warmer with occasional shafts of sunshine. I unzip and zip assorted layers as I climb or descend hills, or in response to the wind. I have good luck with timing, with only 2 partially rainy rides out of 28 this winter.

The old stuff works for me.

When donning vintage gear and riding a vintage bike, be prepared for comments from other cyclists. “You ride a steel bike,” said the roadie, after giving me and my bike the once-over. I had stopped and offered my bike pump for his flat tire. I responded, “Yes, it’s a classic!”

What vintage gear are you using this winter and early spring?

Mary Reynolds splits her time between Berlin and Tucson, and blogs with her partner at https://laschicasinberlin.wordpress.com/

fitness · Guest Post · running

Running and the ties that bind (guest post)

Image description: Alison Conway (right) and Karis Shearer (left) dressed for outdoor running, with light jackets and hats, outside on a beach with water and mountains behind them. Alison is giving a 'thumbs' up and both are smiling as they look directly into the camera for what is clearly a selfie.
Photo credit: Karis Shearer. Image description: Alison Conway (right) and Karis Shearer (left) dressed for outdoor running, with light jackets and hats, outside on a beach with water and mountains behind them. Alison is giving a ‘thumbs’ up and both are smiling as they look directly into the camera for what is clearly a selfie.”

by Alison Conway

Haruki Murakami is a contemporary novelist, famous for his blending of America crime noir conventions and Japanese culture. My first Murakami read was The WindUp Bird Chronicle, which I highly recommend for anyone interested detective fiction and/or the legacy of WW II in Japan. But the work by Murakami that captured my heart was not a novel, but a memoir titled What I Talk About When I Talk about Running.

I came back to running at age 50 with all the enthusiasm that anyone setting out after years of double-shifting full-time work and childcare brings to her new hobby. Which is to say, a lot. Reading about running is almost as much fun as running itself, with hearing about other people’s running following close behind. Murakami’s prose reads like running shoes hitting the pavement, carefully measured in its pacing, but also graceful, poetic.

Murakami claims, “I am no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary—or perhaps more like mediocre—level. But that’s not the point” (10). To be an ordinary runner is a wonderful freedom. I run and race for myself and have only my hard-earned, middle-aged personal best times to show for my efforts, times which will soon slip away from me as I approach my sixties. “I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together,” Murakami writes (172). I take perverse pleasure in thinking of myself as racing toward the grave.

But running, for me, isn’t about simply enjoying exercise in middle age. I train for races, and I spend a lot of time thinking about them. “Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits; that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life,” says Murakami (83). Pushing myself, physically, reminds me to push myself in other areas of my life, especially those where I might feel insecure. Indeed, the mind games I play when heading to a finish line are the same games I play when dealing with difficult situations at work. Avoiding negative self-talk, keeping in mind that the pain is temporary: these strategies help me keep moving forward.

Where Murakami and I part ways is in the company we keep while running. Murakami likes to run alone, and I like to run with other people. I particularly like to run with women friends. On our runs, we can process the challenges we face at work and in our personal lives. Kinship grows as the miles pass, as well as the confidence that we’ve got each other’s backs. When I run down the street with my friends, I feel secure in my pod. And I am proud of the company I keep.

Recently, I was introduced to the work of Victoria Pitts-Taylor, author of The Brain’s Body. Pitts-Taylor is interested in the social brain, furthering the work of feminist materialism, which “explores biology as both agentic and entangled with social meanings and cultural practices” (19). The chapter that got me thinking about women running together is titled “Neurobiology and the Queerness of Kinship.” Here, Pitts-Taylor examines how scientists talk about the role oxytocin plays in forming bonds between mammals. Most commonly associated with mother-infant bonding, oxytocin, Pitts-Taylor reveals, appears in a wider range of bodies than science tends to examine: “Across species of mammals, varieties of social arrangements may reflect different underlying patterns of oxytocin receptors and related circuitry” (105). It is the bonding activity, rather than genetics, which establish kinship ties fueled by oxytocin, Pitts-Taylor argues: “Being biologically related does not have to mean genetically related; it can mean having a biological investment in another, in the form of an intercorporeal tie to another, that is the product of interaction, intimacy, or companionship” (117).

Back to running. Running, various studies show, produces oxytocin.[i] My theory, based only on subjective experience, is that the production of oxytocin in a group already primed by social context to value friendship and community contributes to a feeling of kinship among the bodies that run together. My sense that I belong to a pack or a pod when I run with women may, in fact, reflect a mammalian truth rather than my propensity, as an English professor, to think metaphorically. I like to think of my running friends as my “other” family; it may be that science proves me right in claiming kinship with them.

Works Cited

Murakami, Haruki. What I Talk About When I Talk about Running (2008). Trans. Philip Gabriel. Anchor, 2013.

Pitts-Taylor, Victoria. The brain’s body: neuroscience and corporeal politics. Duke University Press, 2016.

[i] Trynke, R. de Jong, Rohit Menon, Anna Bludau, Thomas Grund, Verena Biermeier, Stefanie M. Klampfl, Benjamin Jurek, Oliver J. Bosch, Juliane Helhammer, Inga D. Neumann,  “Salivary oxytocin concentrations in response to running, sexual self-stimulation, breastfeeding and the TSST: The Regensburg Oxytocin Challenge (ROC) study,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 62, December 2015, 381-388

Alison Conway is a Professor of English, and Gender and Women’s Studies, at UBC, Okanagan. Her favorite workout is running the streets and trails of Kelowna BC.

fitness · Guest Post · running

Competitive streak (Guest post)

I work on the campus of a research institute with lots of scientists working round the clock to get out their next, hopefully highly-cited, paper, knowing full well that their career hinges on being faster, better, more hard-working than the person next door.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of these people aren’t just competitive in research, but in all aspects of their lives, including fitness. One colleague of mine referred to it as a “cesspool of incredibly fit people”. Personally, I’ve left research in favour of a career in research management. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a competitive streak of my own.

I exercise quite a lot, swimming, running, and bouldering mostly. I love hiking, kayaking, and surfing, although I don’t do much of the latter two these days, mostly for want of a large enough body of water nearby. I enjoy all of it immensely most of the time.

The problem is: I’m not good at any of it, or at least not what people generally define as “good”. I’m not strong, or fast, or well-coordinated. And I constantly compare myself to others.

The reason I mentioned my workplace before is that I sometimes go running with a group of colleagues at lunchtime. Our campus is located outside the city on a hill in the forest, which is perfect for that. Most of them are faster than me, in fact I’m frequently the slowest member of the group by some distance.

I boulder with a group of people a couple of times a week. Most of them can do harder routes than me, even the ones who have started bouldering later.

And in the pool, I compare myself to the people who are faster, not those who are slower. Every so often, I come home from exercising feeling frustrated and bitterly complain to my husband.

Why can’t I be better at sports? What’s the point of doing it if I won’t ever be any “good”? I like the social element of exercising in a group, but I can’t seem to stop comparing myself to others. And so my competitiveness sometimes gets in the way of my enjoyment.

I sometimes wonder if this is related to the way society expects women to give 150% in order to be considered “successful” (or even adequate). Or is it just my own personality? Am I intrinsically competitive, or have I been socialised to be that way, through the environment I grew up in and the academic training I’ve received?

As usual, the answer is probably “a bit of everything”. The thing is, in sports I don’t owe anyone anything. As long as I enjoy doing it, it shouldn’t matter if I’m any “good” at it. And yet.

So I’m interested: how do others cope with their own competitiveness? Does it affect your enjoyment of exercise if you work out with people who are better than you?

Bettina is a political scientist-turned-science-manager and feminist from Germany, where she now lives after stints in the UK and Spain. She enjoys sports, reading, food, and travelling.

Picture of Bettina in a green running shirt after completing an 8k race on New Year’s Eve 2017, during which she couldn’t stop comparing herself to other runners, but had fun nevertheless.

fitness · Guest Post

Big Fat Myths, Or, Why So Many of Us Avoid the Gym (Guest Post)

by Weronika

I’m here to tell you that you can be both fat and fit. read it again. fat and fit. not fat to fit. not fat but fit. fat AND fit. that’s right. and yes, i have read the articles (including the most recent one from across the pond – it wasn’t peer-reviewed if that’s something that matters to you) that argue that fatness and fitness cannot co-exist. i’ve read them, internalized them and spent years unlearning the things they claimed to know about my body.

i also spent years avoiding the gym (and fitness in general) not taking care of my body because the measures of success too often involved scales and shame (so much shame) and a focus on weight loss. well i’m calling bullshit. and i’m asking that we start focusing on measures that make sense for our lives, whether that be having an easier time getting out of bed in the morning or struggling less with our groceries or lifting twice our body weight at the gym. we need to focus less on the numbers on the scale and more on what healthy means to us.

fitness (to me) is about taking care of myself which happens to include my mental health. it’s about listening to my body and loving myself at every size despite what the world tells me. fitness to me is about self-love, whether that be lifting heavier and sweating more at the gym or staying home with a pint of ice cream because the world feels like too much that day. gym culture can make all of this hard because fitness so often seems to equate to thinness in workout spaces but i’ve been figuring out how to take up space at the gym with my fabulous fat (and fit) body, exaggerating moves and turning the whole experience into some kind of performance. but i still totally get why some people avoid it. i did for a long time too. it can be such a toxic place which seems to care about everything but health.

the gym can really suck (especially for those of us who do not fit fatphobic and racist beauty standards) but i’m going to spend my time there trying to make it a space that can not only be fun but also shame free while also totally getting that you can be fit (and fabulously fat) without spending time or money on a place that can still make so many feel like utter shit.

now i’m spending time unlearning fat shame and learning to listen to my body and what feels good for it. and now i can say that my fat body gives me strength and i love it. so much.

Weronika is a white queer working class libra who wakes up way too early, way too happy. They are ambivalently working on their doctorate while distracting themselves with other projects like developing a trauma-informed therapy practice. They are into reading books, lifting heavy things, and making food for and with people. They are also a body positive personal trainer working with those who hate the gym. You can find out more by emailing them at fatandfitinthesix@gmail.com