less layers, more judgement?: bodies in the summer

I have always loved the summer. With it comes so many good things: a break from our routines, extra sunshine, long bike rides, ice cream cones, and tan lines, to name a few. With it too comes less clothes. This week, I stumbled onto this ecard, which I think is a touch on the unnecessary side.

no one wants to see


Today I thought of it when I read an article from the guardian about being fat in the summer. In “Yes, I’m fat, but spare us the cruelty this summer,” the author talks about her experience being big and being told that her body is too big on a seasonal basis. People, in the summer, feel more compelled to comment on her size, which the author admits makes the hot months uncomfortable. She calls for people to give her (and other fat people) a break during the already uncomfortable summer months when it comes to judging them for their weight.

I don’t have a lot of experience being told that my body is too fat in the summer. I do know what it’s like to be uncomfortable in some capacity because of the shape of my body in the hot months (hello, prickly heat from thighs rubbing during a run) and I certainly have experience wishing that it was fall so I could cover up.

No matter what size we are, the summer is a time when there is more of us exposed. Whether we’re overweight, underweight, or just think we’re too much of this or not enough of that, the summer and it’s lack of layers can make us uneasy. I agree with the article’s call for less commenting on each others’ bodies.Our reactions to how someone else looks have more to do with our own relationships with our bodies and ourselves than anything, and I don’t think we should take those out on other people–whether it’s the norm or not.

Where I disliked the article was with the way that the author frames fat and refers to her own body. I think that it’s interesting that this kind of article where there’s a call for people to back off with the body judgement is so harsh towards the fat body of the author herself. Her body–fat or not–deserves her love.

Self deprecation when it comes to our perceived faults–in this case, a fat body–might make it easier to take. But unfortunately, making fun of our own bodies just makes it worse and gives permission to other people to do the same. While I applaud the honesty:

“I suppose the facts of a fat summer are ones I accept and embrace every time I get a Big Mac (which is more often than I should, and yet never enough), and I’m self-aware enough to know that being this big isn’t good for me, that barbs from strangers on the street are mixed with truths.”

…I definitely get why someone would be judgemental. Our culture views health as a personal responsibility and if it comes down to eating or not eating Big Macs, I am not surprised that people think someone “should” be smaller. For the fat acceptance movement, I think this kind of article sends the wrong message. If we don’t change the way we look at “fat” and the way that we think about people’s bodies becoming fat, I don’t think we are going to change the way people relate to their bodies or look at other peoples’.

That being said, I am on the side of the fence where I think people should take responsibility for the way that they treat their bodies. Healthy is healthy whether your BMI falls in a certain range or not. You can’t necessarily judge a book by its cover–or a person by their body size/shape–but you can judge yourself based on your actions. It’s easier not to eat healthy or to exercise and to try to change the way that we feel about our bodies, but I think we’ll feel better about whatever size body we have when we can rest assured that we are doing our best to be as healthy as we can and taking care of our bodies. To me, that’s what body acceptance is about. I feel better about my body when I know that I’m doing things to take care of it. I know that this “It’s OK to have this body if you’re healthy” conditional approach might not win me the favour of some advocates out there, but I also know that if we want a healthier world people need to value their health and that means encouraging healthy behaviours.

In short, I agree with this article and with the idea that in the summer and year round we should back off with the comments and judgements regarding other peoples’ bodies. But I don’t think that in the process we need to normalize that someone who’s fat must necessarily be eating big macs or not taking personal responsibility for their health, nor should we excuse unhealthy behaviour as part of our journey towards acceptance. Skinny or fat, taking care of yourself and taking responsibility for making healthy choices is a win.

What do you think about this article/topic? 



races and paces: Go the Distance 10km recap

Yesterday, I ran a 10km race here in London that just so happened to be in the name of Hope’s Garden, the eating disorders resource and support centre that I’ve decided to bike across the country fundraising for! People who register for Go the Distance can raise money that goes directly to Hope’s Garden and the race is part of a series here in London.


I ran the race on my own, though last year I ran it with a friend (she couldn’t join me this year, unfortunately!). I haven’t done a 10km race since last spring and wasn’t sure how it would go, so I tried to just go in with a goal of feeling good during the run. I think that was a perfect mindset–and I had a great race on that front!

I ran most of the way comfortably and I was pacing along perfectly with a nice woman for the first 8km. We chatted a bit–mostly about running, but also about teaching since she is a high school teacher–and the kilometres flew by. The sun was out so it was hot, but there was a nice breeze and most of the course, which started at Covent Garden Market and went to Springbank Park and back, was flat.

I am definitely giving thumbs up here!

I am definitely giving thumbs up here!

My finishing time was 56:31–not my best effort on a 10km but not my worst. I know that a lot of people said that they were slower than they’d hoped, and I spent a little bit of time thinking “I should have run faster” but got over it pretty quickly when I was reminded (by that awesome boyfriend of mine) that:

  • my focus is on the bike ride anyhow
  • nobody cares about 2 minutes one way OR the other
  • I’m healthier and happier than ever before

I also know that doing the race was important. Exercising–and keeping it enjoyable–is a big deal to me. I know that sometimes people think of running as a sport where eating disorders can thrive–and that might be true. But running a race or just running around the block is a chance for us to use our bodies and to see what they’re capable of–something  I know is absolutely essential in making friends with your body. It doesn’t surprise me that people who don’t move in their bodies have a hard time respecting, appreciating, and loving their bodies, so I think that getting Hope’s Garden into the running community is a great thing. I also know that the more people can hear about it the better–and that maybe someone who needs it will find the brochure about the centre in their race kit and check it out.

I may not have run a personal best, but I had a good morning at the race running for something I care a lot about–and that feels pretty darn good! And, as a bonus, I got some pretty embarrassing sweet race photos out of the day!

This is the best of the bunch!

This is the best of the bunch!

Have you participated in a race in honour of something you care about a lot?


If you want to donate to my ride and to Hope’s Garden, please visit my Giving Page at https://www.canadahelps.org/GivingPages/GivingPage.aspx?gpID=37108. All the donations go directly to Hope’s Garden. If you want to get involved or have any questions, ideas, or other thoughts, please comment below! In the meantime, love your body and be happy and healthy. 


Miss Indiana nailed it, but we’re missing the point

There is a long list of things I don’t watch on television, one of them being the Miss America Pageant. I do, however, watch my facebook news feed and Today Show clips and yesterday, all the talk about one of the contestants, Miss Indiana, and her “normal” body, caught my eye.

If you haven’t seen the news, headlines like “Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl: ‘I didn’t go to extremes’ for my body” (Fox News) or “Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl ‘Blown Away’ by Being Called ‘Normal’” (ABC News). Afterwards, Miss Indiana has been talking about how she chose to maintain her healthy lifestyle rather than starve herself or go to extremes to get ready for the swimsuit portion of the competition. She says that the response from the world of social media, where people have applauded her for her “normal” body, has been positively overwhelming.

But along with the praise for her body also came questions over just how “normal” her body is. The Los Angeles Times included a chart of what an actual “normal” woman would look like and compared that to Miss Indiana’s proportions.  They include her BMI (18) and her height and conclude,” A bag of bones she is not, but she is far from average.”

source: jezebel

source: jezebel

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think all of this is all good. I am all for people talking about body image and for expanding the range of bodies we think are beautiful. But all of this talk about Miss Indiana’s body versus the “normal” body of a woman does something that I think is problematic: it normalizes talking about how acceptable another woman’s body is. Sure, we can say that it’s okay because if she is unacceptable it’s not because she’s too big, but I don’t think it is. Today, though, it’s normal to print and talk about how much someone weighs. It’s also normal to critique their bodies, and this kind of discussion needs to come with a little bit of caution.

I don’t see men’s magazines discussing Miss Indiana’s body. These women are all beauties–they wouldn’t be on that stage if they weren’t. I don’t think it’s as normal for men to dissect and critique each others’ bodies to decide publicly if they’re acceptable. Maybe this is because women know that they’ve spent a long time being told to look a way that is unrealistic for them. But what we need to do isn’t to come up with a new realistic ideal for all women to aim for. Jezebel’s “Miss Indiana’s ‘Normal’ Body is Nowhere Near Normal” makes a point about this reflecting women’s obsession with matching some norm, saying, “…[P]ublic response to Diehl exposes something else about the way that the media has warped people’s ideas of how women should or do look. It reveals how badly we want to see ourselves reflected in society’s ideal, and how much we’re willing to ignore reality in order to seek that identification.”

The more we discuss her body and whether it’s “normal” enough for us to feel happy, the more we normalize this kind of dissection of how other women look and the less we question whether or not we should all be trying to look the same.  We don’t take the time, then, to consider the effects of the pageant itself when we get sucked into discussing whether or not the winner is too thin or now that she isn’t quite as thin, not not thin enough.What if we just didn’t watch it in the first place?

I’ve talked about this before–in relation to “strong is the new skinny:” We will never win when we shift what’s normal without discussing why we think we should all be “normal.” When we talk about her not being average, do we want her to be average? Isn’t the majority of the population, if you believe the statistics, inactive and unhealthy?

Regardless, when we try to make one body type that we unquestioningly assume is healthy (whether or not it is) the new normal, we aren’t fixing things. We are looking at one body type and saying all the others are wrong. We aren’t thinking about all the things that go into having a healthy body and a healthy life:

  • Does that “normal” woman love her body?
  • Does that normal woman move it in ways that make it feel good and function well?
  • Does that normal woman eat enough real food?
  • Does that normal woman get enough sleep?

To that end, Miss Indiana seems to be nailing it. She’s active. She talks about liking her body. Those are two big important parts of living a healthy life, in my opinion.

But this is really about us.

  • Do we love our bodies?
  • Do we move in ways that make us feel good and function well?
  • Do we eat enough real food?
  • Do we get enough sleep?

It’s a lot easier to complain about things outside of us and big that we probably can’t control than it is to address what we can: how we relate to and how we take care of our own bodies. If we can learn to love our bodies, we don’t need to worry about matching an ideal, because we will be our own ideal.

I’m at the point where if I was going to bother wishing I had someone else’s body, I’d be wishing it was one of someone who does something that awes me: how about a pro cyclist or maybe a top CrossFit athlete? And then, rather than feeling bad about not matching up, what would happen if I used those women as examples of what’s possible and started to work on doing the things that would make me more capable like them? I’m still striving, but it seems to me to be in a much healthier direction.

We don’t need “normal” beauty pageant competitors—we need to see that our bodies are normal and are all that we can really control. If we are healthy and taking care of ourselves, we need to rest assured that that makes our bodies good enough, whether or not people on the interwebs agree.

take care

What did you think about the Miss Indiana news and discussion?
Do you watch beauty pageants?
What kind of body do you strive for? One that looks a certain way, or one that does certain things? 


summing it up

This week, I am grateful to have an opportunity to talk with the board at Hope’s Garden about my fundraising bike tour next summer. While telling my story is something that I think gives it meaning, that doesn’t make it easy. So, as I’m getting myself ready for this meeting, I have been asking myself a couple of questions to try to make it easier on myself:

Who am I and what’s my story?

I love it when other people introduce me, but when I have to do it myself, I’m never sure where to go with things. Does someone need to know that I’m a grad student first? A fitness instructor? A writer? That I love riding a bicycle? That I had an eating disorder and I recovered? At any rate, these are all part of who I am.

Why a cross-continent bike tour?

As part of my freelance writing gig, I interviewed a man who rode across the US and raised money for brain and spinal cord regeneration research, blogging about it along the way and raising over $26 000 with his efforts. Ever since then, I’ve had the notion of biking across the continent in the name of eating disorders awareness on my mind.

As someone who struggled with their body, weight, eating, and self-esteem for as long as I can remember, my relationship with exercise has been rocky in the past. So many of us come to see our bodies as our enemies or as problems to be fixed and end up using exercise in a way that’s punishing. The time I spent slaving away in the gym, hating my body speak to this.

Cycling, though, was one of the first sites where I was able to appreciate my body for what it was capable of rather than simply being concerned about how it looks. It seems only fitting that if I were to put myself to this kind of a physical challenge, I would do it in the name of eating disorders awareness, prevention, and treatment—all of which are close to my heart.

The start of a 100 mile in Philadelphia: definitely one of the hardest (and hottest) rides I've ever done!

The start of a 100 mile in Philadelphia: definitely one of the hardest (and hottest) rides I’ve ever done!

What do I want to be able to say about this experience at the end of this all?

Anyone who bikes across the United States in 33 days gets bragging rights. Racking up 3, 457 miles in just over a month—over 100 miles per day, on average—is no small feat. If I just wanted to be able to say that I did it, I would sign up for this tour as a vacation and leave it at that.

But I’ve always been ambitious. I want to start a dialogue. I want that dialogue to change the way that people relate to their bodies. I want to change the way that people look at and talk about exercise. I want people to start to realize how amazingly capable their bodies are. I want them to start taking care of themselves so that they can do all of the amazing physical things that we’re all capable of. I want people to realize that they can come to a place where they enjoy working out and where it is about creating more health and happiness in their lives. I want people who are struggling to see an example of someone who has recovered and isn’t just surviving, but is thriving.

love your bod

Why Hope’s Garden?

During my recovery, Hope’s Garden was an amazing resource to me. I know how important it is to this community and I know how much that the support will be appreciated.

How’s this all going to work?

I have set a goal of raising $20,000 to go towards Hope’s Garden. The tour’s cost is $5 500 and beyond its cost, the money is directly going to benefit Hope’s Garden’s ongoing work with eating disorders. In the process, I hope that I can raise awareness and start to make some difference in people’s lives who hear about the tour. I plan on using online donations—I’ve set up a website where donations can be made directly to Hope’s Garden—as well as things like charity fitness classes, raffling off my personal training and coaching services, etc. along the way and would appreciate any kind of support or spreading the word that people can help with. Like I said, I am ambitious, but I know that this will not only be a physical challenge with a huge sense of accomplishment but something more.

The end.

I think that I’ve summed it up pretty well–and while the perfectionist in me says I can do better, I know what I’m doing is awesome and that people will connect with my story no matter what parts of it I choose to share. I have lots of time to go into more detail, too…

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 9.41.51 PM

I’m already grateful for the encouragement, the words of wisdom, and the energy I’m getting when I tell people about this. The saddle sores I’m already getting from upping my rides, not so much. Thank goodness for chamois butter!

chamois butter


If you want to donate to my ride and to Hope’s Garden, please visit my Giving Page at https://www.canadahelps.org/GivingPages/GivingPage.aspx?gpID=37108. All the donations go directly to Hope’s Garden. If you want to get involved or have any questions, ideas, or other thoughts, please comment below! In the meantime, love your body and be happy and healthy. 

here we go again: more Colorado lessons and thoughts on CrossFit

At the sports history conference I presented at last week in Colorado, I had an interesting experience during the question period following my presentation. I had just spent a lot of time trying to emphasize how the shift from skinny as an ideal to muscular as an ideal (i.e. “strong is the new skinny”) is not all that productive in terms of broadening the way that we relate to our bodies. Even though I know what I was trying to get across, there was one question that I think missed the mark. After commenting on how the bodies of CrossFit athletes and even athletes more generally today are different (more muscular, notably)—and attractive—there was a question about whether or not there are ever competitions amongst CrossFitters based on aesthetics or appearance. Knowing that some people outside of the CrossFit community don’t know what a CrossFit competition entails, I explained that there aren’t competitions that are based on physique—it’s a sport where performance is what matters. I made a point about the ongoing debates (as well as the overlap) between bodybuilders and CrossFitters and moved on, but this left me thinking about what is different about CrossFit and the way, thanks to it, I relate to my body. While these are things that I’ve noticed on a personal basis, I think they’re common thanks to the sport itself and the way that it’s promoted.

CrossFit, even though it’s an exercise program and people who do it do not necessarily care to ever compete, is about performance. As is the case with lots of sports, when people focus on their performance and their success in a sport, they can stop obsessing over the way that an activity makes them feel (even if they may be motivated to start it up because they think the bodies that CrossFitters have are awesome–I’m not going to beat anyone up for wanting to feel attractive). With a white board and a little bit of competition (with yourself and with others), CrossFit invites you to take a look at what your body is capable of. With the absence of mirrors, it doesn’t even suggest that you should care about how you look while you’re in the process of it. With something to be proud of besides a “hotter body,” I know CrossFit, for me, has given me a long list of options when it comes to goals to focus on that make me feel good about working out. Again, this could come from other sports (I have a similar appreciation for the goals I can set when I’m focusing on triathlon or on running or cycling), but I think CrossFit is set up to emphasize it.

My go-to "CrossFit makes me happy about what I can do--deadlift 300lbs" photo.

My go-to “CrossFit makes me happy about what I can do–deadlift 300lbs” photo.

To that end, I think the CrossFit boom has gotten more people to test their bodies and to consider what they’re capable of than most fitness programs could ever hope to. Along with that, I think it’s driven more people to try out new things: whether or not you think it’s unsafe or crazy or if you’re asking for someone to pass the Kool-Aid, there are more people than ever doing things they wouldn’t have been exposed to before. I’d be curious to see the stats on how many people have worked out with barbells and/or hopped on a rowing machine and/or redeemed themselves by climbing up the rope that used to torment them in gym class thanks to CrossFit.

Not bad for a girl who used to skip gym class.

Not bad for a girl who used to skip gym class.

Even with all the negative press around CrossFit, I think there’s a bit of “any press is good press” going on: we are talking about things. Discussions about what makes a sound exercise program (safe, effective, and what those even mean) are more common than ever. While I think the best workout is the one you enjoy and that you’ll continue to do, I think all the arguing over whether CrossFit is good or bad has only helped people in the world of health and fitness. You might not think that the Paleo diet is the way to go, whether you hear about it and get curious about whether or not these bacon-eating CrossFitters are onto something or decide that the approach is seriously misguided, you’re thinking more intensely about what you put in your body and about what defines “healthy” for you as a result. CrossFit challenges a lot of mainstream ideas and that kind of challenge and invitation to consider what you take for granted to be true. If you can’t handle a challenge to what you think is true or to what you think is best for yourself, I’d question how certain and secure of what you think you really are.

To wrap up, I’m not a CrossFit competitor. Other than a few just for fun competitions at gyms around town, I’ve not aspired to do a whole lot with my training. Sure, regionals was awesome to watch and it’s probably natural to think about what it would take to get yourself at that level, especially since some of the people I’ve shared a lifting platform with have worked their asses off and gotten to that level. But I don’t consider myself a hard-core CrossFitter. I go and “ruin my gains” by hopping on my bike for 3 hours on a Saturday, by starting up a fundraising bike tour across the continent, and I try not to don’t take myself too seriously. But even with this kind of casual CrossFitting, I’ve seen that there is a heck of a lot of good to come from the program that is on so many people’s minds these days.

What do you think?
Have you had a similar experience with CrossFit?
When are you feeling the best about your body?



responsibility and health: giving up on the obesity epidemic, but not in the way you think

One thing I realized while I was on my trip to Colorado was that it is okay to say things that someone might disagree with. During my presentation at the conference I was at, I had the experience of being “wrong” amongst a group but still knowing that my points were valid, just of a different persuasion.

At the risk of being “wrong” but thinking something and saying it anyways, I wanted to talk about an article a fellow blogger shared that really left me frustrated. “Obesity research confirms long-term weight loss almost impossible” (from CBC),” which asserted that the “disturbing truth that is emerging from the science of obesity” is that “it’s becoming apparent that it’s nearly impossible to permanently lose weight.” The article suggested that obesity researchers, who were formerly hush hush about the futility of trying to lose weight, are coming out and saying that most people who have lost weight will regain it, that bariatric surgery is one of the only ways to get people to lose weight, and that more people than ever are fat. It talked about the people who are exceptions, managing to lose weight and keep it off, and how we use them as examples to keep trying at it. The closing was the most depressing sentence I’ve read in a long time in a health or fitness type article: “Perhaps, though, the emerging scientific reality should also be made clear, so we can navigate this obesogenic world armed with the stark truth — that we are held hostage to our biology, which is adapted to gain weight, an old evolutionary advantage that has become a dangerous metabolic liability.”


All of the unquestioned talk about “our biology” and “evolutionary” ideas and what we’re “adapted to” do makes it easy to just take this as a fact, but people argue over what we’re adapted to all the time. These are buzzwords and I don’t think we should accept them at face value. Unlike the article suggests, I don’t think that our bodies want to be fat—at least not our bodies if we take care of them and use them. Maybe the way that we live en masse today—sitting around all the time and not exercising, or eating too much of things that are not real foods, etc.—contribute to fatter bodies. So maybe what needs to shift is the way we live, no? Our bodies are efficient, yes. They want to be efficient at what we ask of them. If we ask them to sit around all the time, why wouldn’t we be fat? If we ask them, however, to move (preferably in ways we enjoy), I don’t think we’re doomed to be fat.

The idea that we are “held hostage to our biology” is a fine way to make people feel at war with their bodies. This whole article makes our bodies seem like our enemies and does not help us come to a solution, except perhaps throwing up our hands and quitting. Since people apparently don’t value their health enough to do healthy things without the promise of a shift on the scale, it sure made it seem like living healthy is out. I don’t think so–health is the reason that we need to focus on here, NOT fixing the obesity problem. It might not come up in this article, but the reason I think we have a problem is because we’re all worried about fighting obesity, not about making people healthy. This is where we go on crazy diets, drive ourselves crazy doing the exercise we think we should do, etc., instead of using common sense and doing what makes us feel good and what makes us healthy–and letting our weight settle into its healthy place as a side effect.

This is just a personal observation, but many of those “exceptional” cases where people do lose weight—the ones the article sort of makes out to be the ones that provide us with “false hope”—seem to be people who have realized that they cannot go on living the lives they want to live unless they change their health. The health is our greatest wealth kind of story, you know? I know a handful of people who have lost substantial amounts of weight – through different approaches (from a man who took up running to a guy who went “Paleo” to someone who used Weight Watchers). I don’t think they’re anomalies: I think they’re people who took on the challenge of getting healthy and decided not to give up. I’m sure that they failed along the way and tried things that didn’t work. But they didn’t give up. I hope that no one in their shoes reads this and decides to take it as a reason to give up.

While I’m mad at the person who wrote this article—maybe she has never struggled with her weight—the action that I’d like to see come out of this is on behalf of those readers who read it and let themselves off the hook and on behalf of those people who don’t bother making healthy choices because their weight is fine on some chart. For all of us, it’s time to take some responsibility.

Articles like this that paint weight and obesity as something outside of us and outside of our control—as an “epidemic” like a measles outbreak that we don’t play a part in—miss the point. I don’t think that we should stigmatize fat, I don’t think that it’s entirely our fault that people aren’t as healthy as they could be. But we are all responsible for making ourselves as healthy as we can be, individually. Whether your weight is normal or you’re overweight or underweight, we are in charge. The “obesogenic environment” we live in? We (at least in part) create that environment. We make choices in that environment. We all have a part to play in being a healthy population. It’s not just the government’s responsibility, the school system’s responsibility, etc. to fix it for us—it’s ours. We can change the systems to help us, but it comes down to our actions and our responsibility.

I haven’t lost an immense amount of weight. When I was a kid, I was “obese” on the (silly) charts. After all my ups and downs on the scale, I’ve landed at a weight about 30 pounds lighter than my heaviest, on the line between healthy and “overweight” according to my BMI. Do I count as someone who has “kept it off?” I don’t think it’s that important, but what I do think is important is this: regardless of the number, I am committed to my health. That doesn’t make it easy.

The more I think of my weight as an outcome and the more I focus on what is in my control—what I eat, how I move, how I take care of my body, etc.—the more the power is back in my hands. With that comes responsibility. Articles like this, that make obesity some big, now unsolvable problem outside of ourselves, let people off the hook when it comes to their health choices. Even though that might seem comforting for people who are struggling or frustrated, all it does is take away their agency. We have constraints on us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask people to choose the healthiest lives they can. Empowering people requires calling for them to take responsibility, which means we need to keep thinking of our health as something we all play a part in—even if we’re not, collectively anyways, doing a great job right now.

personal re

Maybe we can take this news that the obesity epidemic is not something we can fight as a wake up call: we need to stop worrying about the numbers–the outcome–so damn much and start worrying about the actions we take and the choices we make on a daily basis, because when it comes to those, we can’t argue with the fact that we have the power, the ability, and I hope you agree, the responsibility to change things.

focus on waht you can caontrol

high wheel racing, mountain biking, and knowing I’ll make it


Hello from Colorado!


en route to Glenwood Springs


The weather here is lovely, the mountains are beautiful, and so far, the sports history conference I’m at has taught me a lot. Sometimes, I feel like I’m walking away with valuable future jeopardy knowledge. Other times, I get super interested in what a person has to talk about. That’s exactly what happened with one of the bigger addresses from yesterday, Ann Hall’s “Muscle on Wheels: Gender, Class, and the High Wheel Racers in Nineteenth Century America.”


She talked about high wheel racing in the 1800s, something I wasn’t even sure I could picture in my mind. Luckily, her talk filled me in on what the bikes were like, what the culture of the races was like, and about some of the people (men and interestingly, to me, women) who raced. She talked about how high wheel races, which were often days in length and saw people racing on their bikes for hours upon hours and miles upon miles around a track, were largely about spectators. Though they were entertainment, they present an interesting case since they’re also a sort of sport. Women, who couldn’t race in sanctioned events by the 1900s, were regular competitors.



One of the points that stuck out to me from the talk was the description of one of the 10 day races that one of these women participated in. Over the 10 days, on a track, one woman rode over 1000 miles (I think the number was 1,050 miles). 1,050 miles in 10 days!


Besides giving me some new background on the history of cycling and on women’s cycling, something that’s a bit of a mystery to me, this also made me feel better about the little nagging doubt that my bike ride next year is going to “kill me.” 3,457 miles in 33 days is a lot, no doubt, and not something to mess with. But 1,050 miles in 10 days on a (strange) high wheel bike in the 1870s? In circles around a track? Sure makes biking across the country seem like an exciting option, doesn’t it? I think I’ll take any “I’m not sure if I’ll make it” thoughts in my head and use them to make sure I take the training and preparation seriously and nothing more. If they could do it back in the day, I can certainly do it now.



In other reasons to feel good about myself, I managed to go for a mountain bike ride without crying or letting myself get frustrated yesterday. One of my classmates who’s here is a fellow cyclist and we decided that we needed to bike while we were out here. The original plan was to rent road bikes (which we still are going to do!), but I let her convince me to get a mountain bike and then followed her up a trail that I probably would have turned away from if I’d been on my own.




Last summer, I tried mountain biking when I was out west with my family. Brent was very patient with me, but I spent the afternoon we rented bikes supremely frustrated with myself for not being good at it (or even capable of it—I think I mostly walked with my big heavy bike, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was at the time I had my stress fracture). Probably exacerbated by my always wanting Brent to think I’m the best at all the things (who doesn’t want to impress the person they love?!), the fact that I want to be good at everything but have never rode a mountain bike made for an afternoon of me taking myself too seriously and crying.


So yesterday, I knew I needed to try a different approach. I went into the ride not expecting much from myself, committed to taking it easy on myself (we’re at altitude, which made it easier to let the “I should be working harder” thoughts go). It really couldn’t go worse than last time. I also asked Erin a lot of questions I was too proud to ask Brent.


Turns out, I had a lot of fun! I still ran with my bike a lot and found myself getting stuck on rocks and such. I fell once, but we won’t talk about it (I’m fine). We took lots of pictures and enjoyed the sun and the scenery. I can see why people like mountain biking, even if it remains mildly terrifying for me!

What makes you feel more confident about doing something that’s scary for you?
If you’re a cyclist, do you ride mountain bikes?
Did you know about high wheel racing?