Fit Is a Feminist Issue picks up on a conversation we Sam and Tracy have been having for over two decades about feminism and fitness. It started in 2012, two years before our 50th birthdays when we set ourselves a goal: to be the fittest we’ve ever been in our lives by the time we hit 50.
Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short blond hair, sunglasses, earbuds, sweating, leaning up against a white brick wall. Not smiling.
This is going to be a totally practical post where I talk about a badly planned very hot run and how I (and you!) can avoid doing that again.
I went for a really long hot and humid run on Sunday and it just about undid me. I came back feeling worse than I can ever remember feeling after a run. It’s a rare day that I feel worse for running. I had a splitting headache for the rest of the day and even had to nap, which I’ve not experienced from running since I first started to add distance six years ago. I can’t say I regret having gone out on Sunday, but I definitely could have done it better.
What went wrong? First, we had a heat warning that was well-publicized for days leading up to Sunday. Mid-30s (Celsius) with a humidex reading of 40C (that’s the “feels like” temperature). For those who work in F, that’s super hot–“feels like” 112F. My original plan had been to go out at 7 a.m. because obviously it’s more bearable earlier when the sun isn’t high in the sky. But that didn’t materialize and I found myself heading out at 8:30 instead.
My second mistake was to bring only a small bottle of water, the kind that snaps into my fuel belt. It holds three, but I really don’t like when it’s full and I was only going out for 8K and I rarely need much water on 8K. One small bottle seemed like enough. And for ordinary conditions it may have been. But Sunday wasn’t ordinary.
Add to the late start and the inadequate water supply that I read my training plan wrong. After a 15 minute easy run I was supposed to 5x 1 minute intervals at my 10K pace with 1:30 easy in between. But instead I read it as 5x 1K intervals at my 10K pace with 1:30 minutes easy in between. That’s a big difference. By the third one they were kicking my butt.
I’ve been trying for continuous running and haven’t done too badly, but I absolutely had to take walk breaks on Sunday because I was DYING! I do an out and back into Springbank Park from where I live downtown. I don’t mind the out and back aspect of it because it’s a pleasant route along the river. And though there is one especially relentless bit with no shade (we like to call it Death Valley), there are lots of trees along most of the way.
Anyway, I decided to do a little bit extra before turning around because there is a misting thing on the path (they call it a “cooling station”). That was a bad decision because much to my dismay when I got there, it was all bolted up. No mist. And now I had actually added some distance to my 8K, and it had become more like 9K. And my water was running low.
The article promises five but actually only talks about four. You can click on the link to see their pros and cons. I’ve added my own two cents to the suggestions on their list:
single handheld bottle–if you’re doing this go with one that is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in your hand. I’ve got a couple of these and they’re okay for short runs but liquid weighs a lot, and it can feel heavy after awhile. A small bottle if you’re on a route where you can refill it might be fine if you don’t find it too hard on your body. Switching it between hands is a good idea.
multiple bottle belt–I have two different belts. One holds three small bottles and the other holds two slightly larger bottles. They’re okay, but you do feel the weight of the bottles around your waist, and they bounce a bit (with the belt) when they’re full. That’s why even though my belt holds three bottles, I rarely ever take more than two, and on the fateful Sunday I’m talking about here, I took only one. I do like the belts though. And both of the ones I have also have a zippered section where you can stuff some nutrition.
hydration pack or vest–I’ve seen people with these but never used one myself. The article speaks of them as a comfortable and effective no-bounce way to carry a lot of water with you when you won’t have a chance for refills. Weight can be an issue of course, because liquid weighs a lot. But if the water is on your back that’s not the worst place for it as long as the pack doesn’t bounce.
DIY aid station–I’ve had something like this when I used to train with a run club. When we did our half marathon training one of the group leaders set up a van at the half way point of long runs filled with water, electrolyte drinks, fruit, gummies, and I can’t remember what all else (maybe band-aids and sunscreen). It was a great solution for the very long runs when it would have been a hassle to pack all that we needed.
I would add my own fifth, which is to choose a route that has water fountains along the way. Despite that the misting thing wasn’t working, if I had gone still further before turning around I would have hit an actual drinking fountain, and then another not too much further than that. And I could have grabbed more from each of these on my way back. Had a planned for 12K instead of 8K, that would have been ideal AND I could have filled up my one belt bottle before the last stretch that had so very little water.
It’s only June, which means there are a few more hot days ahead of me, where even if I get out at 7 a.m. it’ll be humid and I’ll need to do better than I did on Sunday if I want to feel good, not awful, when I get home.
What’s your go-to hydration system for hot summer training?
Hey y’all– it’s my blog post bicentennial! As I was idly poking around the Fit is a Feminist Issue site, I saw that I am reaching 200 posts as of today Woo-hoo!
Fireworks at night, saying 200!
I started blogging in August 2014. I wrote here about a long group ride I took in western Massachusetts– my pre-ride fears, my during-ride experiences, and after-ride glow and satisfaction. Since mid-2015, I’ve been blogging every Sunday and occasionally mid-week. Looking back, here are some things I’ve learned:
1. Even though I love physical activity, it provokes a bunch of fears and anxieties in me. I’ve written about them in great detail; here are a few:
2. I’ve learned that I am most definitely not alone in having these feelings. You, dear readers, have responded generously and frankly, sharing your own experiences, reassuring me that it gets better, and encouraging me to keep doing what I love on my own terms because that is just fine. Thank you so much for the solidarity and support.
3. I’ve found through writing and reading this blog that there are a lot of fun ways to move on land, sea, and air. There are a lot of fun ways to develop, maintain, increase and preserve strength, stamina, flexibility, endurance, and grace. Here are some activities I’ve tried and written about in the course of blogging here:
Update: I love ropes yoga and still do it when I can. I’ve downscaled my sea kayaking ambitions to paddling in calmer waters for now, but the ocean horizon still beckons. Scuba is expensive and logistically complicated, so it won’t be a regular part of my life, although I hope to continue it when I’m in parts of the world with turquoise warm water and brightly colored fishes. I’m glad I saw the Great Barrier Reef when I had the chance. Skate skiing is also probably not in the offing– I hope to use my regular xc skis in future (although who knows what weather will be like in the next few years).
Thursday was a beautiful day in Toronto, perfect early summer sun and clear crisp air. The wind from the storm we’d had on Wednesday had finally subsided and I was cycling home from work, sailing along, trying to release some of the energy from the challenging meeting I was coming from.
As I rode across a bridge over a major highway, I looked up and saw a woman lowering another woman to the ground, as if she had caught her fainting.
I stopped to see what they needed.
There were two other cyclists stopped, one on the phone trying to call 911. The woman who’d caught the other woman was now crouched on the ground holding her tight, urgently saying “I’m not going to let you do that!”
The first woman — I’ll call her Julie — had been teetering on the top of the railing of the bridge. The second woman — “Rae” — had stopped her car abruptly, leaped out and tackled her to the ground. I arrived about 30 seconds after this happened.
Over the next ten minutes, everything seemed to happen in patches. Rae was holding Julie tight, telling her own story. Two years ago, she was driving on the same highway below us and someone jumped in front of her car. She’d done compressions on him long past the time the police arrived. He hadn’t survived. She spent months in therapy, felt like she had not been there for her kids. She asked Julie questions, found out she had kids, kept telling her “You can’t leave them for your brother to raise. You have to raise good boys.”
In middle of this, she kept lifting her head, asking “is someone coming to help??”
When I’d arrived, one of the other cyclists had been on the phone calling 911, but he didn’t seem to be able to convey the urgency. He kept saying “she keeps asking me for information like my name.” I asked if someone was coming and he said he didn’t know.
A TTC bus pulled up to ask if we were okay, and I got on board and he and I did a faster call for help. The other two cyclists left, the guy saying he had to pick up his kids and leaving me his name.
As soon as I knew 911 was coming, I crouched down and rubbed both their shoulders lightly, exchanging names, reassuring that help was coming. Julie was crying, very drunk, and kept saying she just wanted to go home.
Other cyclists kept stopping to ask if we were okay.
We were, just. Julie was gently crying, Rae was still urgent, trying to get Julie to look into her eyes, asking her where she wanted to go. She named one hospital, refused another. For several minutes, the three of us were alone on the bridge, the bus gone, the driver assuring us help was coming.
When the police arrived, they were kind, very humane. When the paramedics came, they said they couldn’t take her to her preferred place, but the police said they would. Rae walked Julie to the ambulance so the paramedics could assess her physically to make sure she was safe to travel with the police.
When I told the story later, people asked if I was okay. I said I was — that I’d witnessed a profound act of rescue and a surge of community caring, not an act of despair. The despair once Julie was on the ground was familiar, not extraordinary. I’ve seen and experienced deep sadness. What was extraordinary was Rae leaping from her car, her incredible capacity to be completely present, to be completely caring, deeply human.
The police remembered her from the previous incident, remembered that she hadn’t wanted to let go of giving chest compressions. I said to the first one that she deserves a medal, and he said ‘tell that guy.’ I did.
What does this have to do with fitness, apart from my having been on my bike? I think it’s two things: presence and confidence. I think being on my bike makes me absorb the world around me, makes me of it. It didn’t escape me that — other than Rae and the bus driver — cyclists were the main people who stopped to see if we needed help. We are a band of vulnerable humans close to the ground.
The confidence is something different. I think all of my riding, all of my running and goal setting and solo traveling have made me more confident about unexpected situations, more confident about stepping in. And last year I did a wilderness first aid course, which taught me how to assess a situation, keep everything calm, give the help I can, and get people the help they need. I quickly figured out that Julie wasn’t physically in trouble except for being intoxicated, and that she was getting what she needed. But I was also tracking that Rae was okay, and made sure help came and was connected.
I did the first aid course because I do a lot of things that are a bit dangerous far away from help. I learned some important techniques, but also learned that assessment and order are as important a part of first aid as splints and stopping bleeding.
This is a pitch for all fit feminists to get some first aid training. The world is full of extraordinary moments, some of them with people with wounds of all kinds. It’s empowering to feel confident about being able to support in the way that’s needed. And I think that’s a really important part of feeling strong and connected to the most vulnerable moments we encounter in this complicated terrible beautiful world.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and rides in Toronto. She writes here twice a month for sure and more when she’s inspired.
A while ago I had reason to consult with an anaesthetist. We went through the risk assessment and had a chat. The clinic nurse had told me the team might have some questions because of my weight.
Fair enough. I could hardly fault them given what’s involved in going under, so to speak. But I was cautious because context is so often missing when numbers are thrown around, especially numbers relating to the Body Mass Index (BMI).
According to that scale, one originally developed by insurance companies, I am obese. Anaesthetists aren’t fond of having to deal with obese people. So we had a chat and it was actually quite good.
Here’s the thing: I eat reasonably well, with almost all the required fruits and veggies, high fibre foods, lower fat choices, more fish and legumes, less red meat and less alcohol, our health system deems the better diet to follow.
I’m also pretty active. At the time of the chat, I was weight training twice a week, swimming two to three times a week, taking a trail walk lasting more than an hour weekly, and looking to get my steps in on a daily basis.
The doctor asked me about the weight training, and I ran through the numbers: bench was around 48kg, deadlift was around 105kg, and squat was 97.5 kg. So those numbers tipped the deal. If I could do all that, then I wouldn’t have any trouble, they concluded.
It made me think though. For the past ten years, I have acted on the guideline about eating less junk and focusing more on whole foods while being more more mindful about how active I am.
Truth is, I’m not prepared to starve nor am I prepared to add any more hours of activity (in fact I am at the threshold for the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week already).
At the back of my mind I always believe I should be able to do more, and yet I can’t. It bugs me when I hear facile comments repeated in every weight loss inspiration story shared by the media. We all make choices, but some times even the good choices don’t make that much difference.
And I felt vindicated. Despite all my efforts in the gym, in the kitchen and yes, in my own mind, when I ran up against health professionals, who looked at numbers like BMI as reliable indicators of health, I felt my work was not enough, nor good enough, to make the difference society expected in my body shape.
Nor am I the only one. Canadian Obesity Network researcher Ximena Ramos Salas looked obesity prevention policies and messages. She tested the messages with people living with obesity and what she heard was illuminating.
The short form is those messages don’t work. They are neither helpful nor accurate.
“Saying obesity is simply an issue of diet and exercise trivializes the disease. It makes those living with obesity feel like it is a lifestyle or behavioural choice, and therefore their fault. This causes them to feel judged and shamed, and to internalize the stigma of weight bias.”
Ramos Salas also reported that “People told me that the public health messages were not relevant to their experiences. They didn’t relate to the messaging, they felt it didn’t consider other factors that contribute to their obesity that are unique to them, like genetics, mental health, medications and so on. It did not reflect the challenges that they faced while trying to manage their weight on a daily basis.”
I think these are two useful insights that should get more attention. But the best message arising from the research Ramos Salas is engaged in is this: “Not everyone who is big has obesity. People come in different shapes and sizes, so the idea that we categorize people based on their size as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ is not accurate.”
I was fortunate I met with a health professional who was open to hearing about my numbers intead of relying on a flawed indicator to make a decision about my health status. Too many people though do not and some actually close that door themselves because they are not confident they will get the care they need.
For me, my conversation with the anaesthetist helped validate my choices about the fitness path I am on even though assumptions about weight and health by others may have forced the issue. I may never meet the biased image for health and fitness weight stigma imposes, but I know I am doing the best I can given my circumstances. To suggest otherwise is limiting and dismissive.
— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I go back to the very first summer of the blog, back when Sam and I weren’t even 50 yet, didn’t have a book in mind, and weren’t sure what our “goals” for our Fittest by 50 Challenge were. In this post, I consider the shifting sense of goals, some difficulties I had with the concept, and set myself the goal of running a half marathon (continuously) before my 50th birthday. I had forgotten all about that. And in fact, my fittest by 50 goal changed from that to an Olympic distance triathlon (of which I did two before I turned 50). I have done several half marathons since then, but none continuous. I’m working on continuous running now, and have done 10Ks, but not yet a half. Perhaps this is a new goal I can set for my October half? We’ll see. Meanwhile, I like this post a lot, and will undertake an actual “stock-taking” of where I’m at this summer, at 53, next week. Tracy I
We started the blog with a bold public commitment: to be the fittest we have ever been by the time we are 50 (that’s 14-15 months from now).
We’re not even a year into it, and my outlook, goals, and thoughts about this project have changed in some significant ways.
First, a bit about goals:
When we started, I wanted to: keep on weight training, stick with my steady yoga practice, and continue my transition from walking to running. I started (and have since dropped) tai chi, and included swimming only among my summer activities. Biking was (and remains) a leisure activity, but that’s a bit stressful for me right now because of an upcoming triathlon.
I also had an explicit goal of reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass, as measured by the bod pod.
I stopped wearing my Garmin fitness tracking watch after my serious knee injury. I couldn’t walk more than a couple of thousand steps a day and it hurt to be reminded of it. I’m back up there now often logging more 10,000 steps. Thanks knee brace! But I never got back in the habit of counting steps with a watch.
The thing is though my phone also counts steps thru Google Fit. It’s not as accurate because I don’t always have my phone (believe it or not) but who cares. I still get my free movies. What free movies? Free movies through the Carrot app.
Mallory has written about it approvingly. So too has Cate.
It received a big financial boost from the Ontario government last spring, 1.5 million dollars. We’ve just had a provincial election and my bet is that the new government won’t be so fond of fitness boosting measures. We’ll see,
What I like best about the Carrot app is that you don’t need to do anything. You just let your phone count steps and enable sharing between whatever step counting app your phone is using and the Carrot app. In my case it’s not particularly motivational. I just do what I do and collect the free movie coupons. But while waiting in line I’ve done some of the health quizzes and it’s all pretty good moderate messaging. You know, get some exercise, eat your vegetables, sleep 8 hours a night, etc.
Yesterday I got a free movie with popcorn notification. Think I’ll go see Deadpool 2. Late to the party, I know. I’ll report back.
Send movie recommendations my way!
Do you use the Carrot app? Love it, hate it? Tell me your story.
(Oh, and you don’t have to collect the Scene points. There are other rewards. I like the free movies because they are quick to earn.)
Scene benefits. The image is a screen capture of Sam’s phone telling her she’s won a free movie and popcorn.
Image description: Left to right Violetta (black cap, red t-shirt, fine chain with pendant), Ellen (blond hair tied back, bangs, white tank), and Tracy (blue cap and sunglasses, purple and pink tank), all smiling.
As I reported last week, I’ve been prepping for the Guelph Lake 10K and I recruited Violetta and Ellen to do it with me. It was a gorgeous day for a Sunday run, not too hot, sunny with a bit of cloud cover, a light breeze that felt just right at least some of the time.
As I like to do when there’s a group of us doing an event, I asked Ellen and Violetta to write a bit about their experience. We were all in different places with the 10K. I had been prepping. Just a few weeks before, Ellen had never run that distance before. And Violetta has been sporadic in her training and didn’t feel she had time to prep as she would have liked.
So today I did my first 10 k in my life! At 54! Actually, it was my first running race of any sort! No 3Ks, or 5Ks to start out with ….But then again, I have always been the kind of person to “go big or go home” in all areas of life. This has got me into some troubles in the past, such as excessive smoking and imbibing for many years, but I digress. For the past 6 and a half years or so, I have tried to confine this mentality to more healthy pursuits .
I really didn’t know if I could do it. I have been running for a little while and not tracking any distances, but then one day about a month ago, I actually tracked myself doing 8.5K, and my friend Tracy, said no problem, you can do it!
My high school memories are filled with shame of being the last pick for teams, and being next to the end when it came to any sort of running. But, I am a grown up now, and I have met many other personal challenges, so I summed up my courage and tried it out today.
What a feeling of accomplishment! And what fun to share the love of this sport with other like-minded folks! I am grateful to Tracy for encouraging me to overcome the fear and just go out and do my best.
Who knows… maybe a half marathon is now in sight. I never thought I would say that! So, to all the readers out there, I am at my fittest ever at 54…And sky is the limit! I challenge you all to go after your fitness dreams and be your best ever, at any age.
I’ve really let my running slide over the cold, cold winter. So when Tracy let me know about the Guelph Lake 10k, I thought it would be the perfect thing to get me back into running regularly. It didn’t quite work out that way because I wasn’t feeling very well the last couple of weeks. Since I couldn’t prepare physically, I spent a lot of time trying to work on the psychological aspect, telling myself that I can do this and re-reading Tracy’s blog posts about running without prep and quickly regaining confidence.
I’m not going to lie. I was certainly questioning myself. Could I do this? Was I risking injury given my lack of training? Well, I did it! I now know, for myself, that it is possible to complete a 10k without much prep, not much at all. I haven’t run more than 5k in many, many months. I’m not saying it’s advisable or even preferable. And it certainly wasn’t easy. But I was very lucky—the weather was perfect, the atmosphere was casual and laid back and I was running with a friend I don’t get a chance to spend much time with.
I will say I didn’t love the repeated rolling hills (well, I didn’t mind going down them) or the repeated loop. In the end, the race served the function I needed it to, to get back into running, to remind me how much I love it. It’s too easy to lose your rhythm and get out of good habits. This was my first step back.
Thanks Tracy for inviting me to come along and for encouraging me when things got difficult. And what a treat it was to have Sam cheering us on! I’ve taken my first step and now I’m planning my next ones. Maybe another 10k … maybe another half? I’ll let you know.
The race has that local event feel that you get in the smaller cities and towns. I enjoy traveling for events because you get a change of scenery and a slightly different vibe wherever you go. This one was at Guelph Lake Conservation Area, with the course taking us along the lake for awhile, then through the camp ground, and park. It’s not a bad course but any race that involves two loops is always a bit psychologically tough (in my view). There could also have been more water.
I ran with Violetta, and we had committed to keep each other moving forward. She was worried she wouldn’t make it the full distance (I knew she could) and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it without a walk break (I wasn’t so sure). Ellen didn’t want to run with us because, according to her, she’s really slow. She of course came in 26 seconds earlier than we did.
My main goal for this one was to do a continuous 10K, no walk breaks. I did it! Other than a very brief walk through an aid station where I was so thirsty I had to drink a cup of water properly, not letting it fly out of the cup while running, I kept a steady pace throughout the race, averaging 7:00/K for a 1:10:01 finish. That’s slower than my 10K without prep! But I think part of the reason for that is that Violetta and I spent quite a bit of the first 8K chatting, and I can’t push quite as hard when I’m chatting. (not that it wasn’t nice to catch up!)
I would have liked to come in under 1:10. But one second over is alright with me. Linda told me recently that I am not aware of my athletic potential. This may be true — I still feel a rush of skepticism when I think about getting measurably faster. Like I’ll always hover around the same speed no matter what I do. But that is a topic for another post. I mention it now because the doubt sets in most acutely on race days.
Image description: Tracy and Violetta running side by side, smiling, trees in the background.
But the day had many bonuses: Besides getting to do something with Violetta and Ellen, Sarah and Sam rode their bikes to the park to cheer us on and take great action shots! And then, when all was said and done, we went out for a fancy brunch at a lovely shaded patio in Guelph.
It was a great time with friends and it’s got me now thinking of my next goal — 10K continuous AND shave some minutes off of my time. I’m working with Linda again and I’m feeling revved up and ready to go.
Here are the three of us at the finish line, after re-hydrating:
Image description: Full body shot of Tracy (tank top, shorts, cap and sunglasses, bib 219), Violetta (t-shirt, capris, cap, bib 216), and Ellen (tank and shorts, bib 189), standing on grass, trees and people in background.
Greg at KineSophy interviewed us for his blog and he’s having a book giveaway.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Greg: You co-write a blog called “Fit Is a Feminist Issue.” What does feminism mean to you?
Sam: Feminism for me is a commitment to women’s equality with a focus on the values of inclusion and diversity. It’s also about paying attention to intersectional injustice. My feminism is trans-inclusive, body positive, anti-racist, and anti-ableist. That’s not to say I always get things right. I don’t. I make mistakes like everyone else. I try to listen and to apologize when I get things wrong.
Tracy: Like Sam, I think of feminism as a social movement for equality that cares about inclusion and diversity. Feminist analysis recognizes unjust structures of power and social arrangements that privilege some and disadvantage others in systemic ways on the basis of membership in social groups. It’s not just about gender. A true feminist approach has to recognize intersecting social locations such as race, disability, sexuality, economic status, class, and others that generate unique forms of and experiences of oppression.