Saturday, January 30, 2016

Choosing (and Defining) Happiness

I'm enjoying this blog post from Kaleo and want to share.
"A simple Google search of the terms ‘diet’ and ‘fitness’ reveals that fat loss is THE defining goal of virtually every fitness and diet program. Try to find a ‘success story’ that doesn’t hinge on the visible reduction of body fat. Fat loss is, quite simply, THE barometer of success in this world. When fat loss is achieved, the program is deemed successful. Most programs are marketed specifically as fat loss plans. We are, as a culture, myopically obsessed with fat loss.
"Choosing to end the relentless pursuit of fat loss is not an admission of defeat, it is not a failure. It can be a very healthy, very positive statement of self-respect.
"I can’t tell you which body you should like better, but I CAN tell you which one eats ice cream, kills workouts and has more sex. The overweight one."
Prioritize your life as best suits you. Mine will include more happiness, satisfaction, and celebration with food and friends, less obsession over calories and appearance, and more concern with action and experiences.

No one will remember my dress size when I'm dead, but they will remember my attitude and smile.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Who Run The World? GIRLS!

Women dominate the sport of running, in terms of participation. This has long been the case.

"Females account for 10.7 million finishers nationwide and continue to represent 57% from event fields."

Here are some interesting statistics broken down by age groups:

Age Group Distribution of U.S. Timed Race Finishers 2014
Age Group

  6-17 yrs

18-24 yrs

25-34 yrs

35-44 yrs

45-54 yrs

55-64 yrs

65+ yrs

I wonder a bit whether senior women outnumber men simply because women live longer or if there are other factors at play.

Race Demographics of Timed Finishers in 2014

Median Time
Average Age

Median Time
Average Age

Median Time
Average Age

Median Time
Average Age

Here we see that women make up a large majority of participants in all event distances except marathon, though women frequently perform better than men at such long-distance events. Many factors contribute to the disparity: Marathon training requires a much larger time commitment than other events and women still carry unequal shares of household work and family time expectations. Equipment and coaching is notably expensive as well while the gender pay gap persists. 

And while women's participation in triathlon has surged from 27 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2014, the sports' organization is stacked against them in regards to gender equity in Ironman competitions.

We've come a long way since women were first allowed to participate in 5 Olympic running events in 1960 and were banned from competing in all U.S. road races from 1961 to 1972.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Photo Appreciation, Movement, Realism

This post comes from a two-year-old unfinished draft I dug up.

How interesting/twisted is it that I'm happier with grungy, awkward race photos of me than professional photos of me during a dance performance, because my body looks so very different to me through binding athletic wear versus revealing belly dance costumes?

My race photos show me posing awkwardly, grimacing more than smiling, covered head to toe in mud, wearing an ugly bandanna, and looking like something the cat dragged in under terrible lighting conditions and I'm thrilled to post them publicly and tag myself. My performance photos show me beaming and in motion, with gorgeous stage makeup and hair, brilliantly colored costumes and floating silks glowing under spotlights in a dark theater. But because my belly hangs roundly, I recoil in dismay that I don't have the same perfect lines of professional dancers.

Top: Zoe PhotoShopped. Bottom: Zoe in motion

Warming up to my performance photos always takes work. I remind myself that still pictures can never do justice to the full breadth of movement in a performance and that people who know me, who saw me, don't see my body as rotund as I think it looks.

"Isn’t it amazing we can see the beauty in our best friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts without the slightest thought to their flaws . . . but can obsess for hours on our own imperfections? We fixate on our flaws to the point we shirk at any documentation that our round faces and curvy bodies ever walked the earth. No pictures to show how we LOVE, how we laugh, how we are treasured by our families." Click here to read more.

It does say a lot about the messaging I've internalized and still need to deprogram concerning constructed beauty standards.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Parkour Class

Inspired by a rad Fit Fatty’s parkour photoshoot and a close friend’s recommendation of the local instructors, I attended my first parkour class last night, and I LOVED it.

I was really nervous about trying something new with a high likelihood of falling but ultimately enjoyed warming up with the kids’ class (which included one little girl!) and having a semi-private lesson with one other adult. The instructor was great—friendly and approachable—and gave clear, positive, actionable feedback, whereas I’ve had some poor experiences recently with an intimidating pro coach teaching a recreational class.

I'm glad I asked the instructor whether he was wearing minimalist shoes and will be more comfortable next time in my VFFs than the sneakers I wore in ignorance yesterday. I learned a few things I can play with on the equipment on the fitness trail near my office after it dries out and am probably going to take more classes this year and attend an upcoming competition as a spectator.

Part of me says it’s silly to get excited or even attempt such a difficult sport at this point in my life and fitness journey, but I remind myself that literally everybody—not just me—has physical limitations that impact their performance. What I have going for me are STRONG legs and a solid understanding of body mechanics rooted in a base level of fitness.

Parkour basics support my goal of building a lifetime of functional fitness, and the courses break down the fundamentals into very manageable pieces. Cross training supports my running and triathlon training. Maybe I’ll learn to get over a wall for my next obstacle race. Maybe I’ll learn a cool party trick. But I definitely want to get strong and have fun.

I never thought I could (or should) do parkour. I’m pretty excited to prove Past Me wrong.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Granbury Getaway

My aunt invited me for a weekend getaway in Granbury because she loves antiquing and there happens to be a fairly well-known local brewery there.

We left Saturday morning and arrived at Revolver Brewing shortly before noon. A $10 per-person fee got us a Revolver beer glass, samples of everything on tap, and four full (8 oz) pours. My aunt didn't finish her first pour because she's not much of a beer drinker, and I only managed a glass and a half myself: first Mother's Little Fracker stout and then their Blood & Honey American ale.

The brewery also offers some pretty cool gear, and I couldn't resist a new gray hoodie for myself. They run SUPER small, though, and I had to go up two sizes from my usual. By 1 PM the place was filling up with people there to enjoy the live band. I can see how it would be a fun all-day event with friends, but we'd had our fill and left before the brewery 1:30 tour.

We checked into our hotel and then set out for the historic square to browse the shops. Unfortunately, many of the shops were much too warm, their proprietors seemingly ignorant of customers' heavy coats and warm layers, so we left some quickly. About halfway around the square, my aunt needed a rest, so we stopped at Farina's for a late lunch. We ordered the Muffalletta sandwich, piled high with prosciutto, ham, salami, banana peppers, and olives. I definitely recommend it.

We had a great haul that day. After splitting a slice of birthday-cake-flavored fudge, I got two pairs of leggings, a purple cropped peasant blouse, a mulled cider candle, and a cute mouse figurine. My aunt snuck back to a shop and bought me a handmade doll I'd been eyeing and a little glass bunny for my dollhouse. She also got some soups, trinkets, and a cool Santa for her collection.

That evening we saw A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline from the front row of the Granbury Opera House, a lovely venue. The lead was an amazing singer and the show was fantastic. We were both surprised at how much we enjoyed it, not knowing what to expect going in. The program listed some pretty good shows coming up this year, so we might have to go back for those.

After retiring for the night, I got up early to squeeze in a long training run and was confronted by a thick, soupy fog, setting the perfect unsettling scene for my Zombies! Run mission that morning. The 7 a.m. Sunday jog was more eventful than I'd have liked, but I'll tell you about it next time.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Workplace Wellness

Today at the first meeting of the company safety and wellness committee, we discussed purchasing AEDs (defibrillators) and holding CPR and first aid classes but did not get to the part of the agenda labeled “Physical and Intellectual Wellness Programs,” which included cool ideas such as lectures and workshops on stress management, meditation, and yoga in addition to the shitty fucking idea of a company weight loss competition.

As the meeting dispersed, a coworker friend suggested programs to the facilitator that might reward employees for wellness achievements over time, such as smoking cessation, which created a segue for me to tell the facilitator I’d be emailing her with similar ideas so I wouldn’t spend an extra hour talking her ear off on the spot.

Hi [person in charge],

I enjoyed our discussions today and am excited to participate in these safety and wellness initiatives going forward. I especially want to offer input on the suggested wellness programs on the agenda that we didn't get to cover today.

The concern with weight loss programs/competitions is that they lend themselves toward under-eating and overexercising in order to win rather than focusing on actual health habits. They are also problematic in that they can be triggering and outright dangerous for people who have or are in remission from eating disorders, which is honestly a much wider-spread issue than anyone wants to talk about. Further, they set up competitions that reward a select number of people but exclude many who cannot participate in the first place due to health concerns and limitations, low initial weight, and differing personal health priorities.

However, there are many types of wellness challenges that can eliminate all the above issues. I’ll do some research on specific program setups, but for example: allowing participants to choose a healthy behavior to pursue from among a handful of options is more inclusive* for anyone who is interested. Behaviors that are shown to improve health outcomes, unlike intentional weight loss efforts, include eating more vegetables, smoking cessation, getting enough sleep on a regular basis, and adding or increasing enjoyable physical activity (e.g., setting up step-counting/tracking goals, beginning a 5k training program, moving from a sedentary lifestyle to exercising X times per week, from an active lifestyle to increasingly challenging goals or adding strength training).

Thanks for your time and interest in these issues, and I look forward to further discussion and planning.

Warm regards,

The reply I received:

Fabulous input!  Really important to give thought to such issues.  Thank you for looking into this for us!  Love it and really appreciate your support and participation!

Since I was on a positive roll, I sent in another idea:

Last summer we collected a petition/list of names of at least 50 employees who were very interested in using the business complex’s new fitness center on a regular basis (several times a week) in exchange for company assistance with the membership fee. Though the $120 yearly fee is very inexpensive when one thinks of it as $10/month, there is no month-to-month payment option, and it’s difficult for many of us to find or justify spending a lump sum like that on non-essential recreation. We submitted the petition to [HR] but never heard anything after.

In truth, there are myriad studies linking employee wellness to better gains for the company due to fewer sick days and increased focus and productivity as a direct result of engaging in regular fitness. With so many interested [OurCompany] employees and with  [OurCompany] comprising such a significant portion of the business complex, [OurCompany] is also uniquely positioned to negotiate a lower membership rate for us as a bloc.

This might be something worth following up on or reopening.


I’m keeping my fingers crossed. That fitness center is GORGEOUS and has a full lockerroom with showers I’d love to access after my mid-afternoon runs, as well as a squat rack, kettlebell set, and other weightlifting equipment that my city rec center lacks.

*I know these ideas alone fail to address all barriers, but I’ll expand on that in another post.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Define "Transformation"

Transformation photos are highly problematic because success and human worth are not size-dependent, nor should happiness be. Intentional weight loss is not shown to improve health. Intentional weight loss efforts are most likely to result in weight regain.

Transformation photos typically consist of at least a pair of side-by-side photographs of a person purported to display their "progress" or "success," but which almost universally display weight loss over time. Sure, weight loss can be a kind of progress, even if that means progression through an eating disorder, physical illness, cancer, depression, or poverty. But the reasons for weight loss never seem to matter since becoming smaller is so widely viewed as a positive change.

You cannot determine health based on appearance.

In my case, any transformation photos I could post would show obvious weight gain. What they don't show is my recovery from disordered eating habits, untreated depression, over-exercising and under-fueling. Nor do they show that I've completed two half marathons, a 15-mile obstacle race, and several triathlons since I've begun running. They can't show that I've become stronger, fitter, faster, and far healthier since gaining 15 pounds (half muscle, half happiness) over the last 5 years. 

Weight change does not show wellness.

It's not petty envy at being unable to effectively participate or receive feedback and admiration that fuels my irritation with transformation photos. It's frustration that body size is used as a measure of success without regard for any person's actual health or positive changes in wellness. It's the widespread belief that weigh loss is the ONLY measure of success and that without seeing numbers on a scale decrease, one can only be a failure. Even moderate weight loss is seen as a failure if one hoped to achieve more. This is the message blanketing so-called "health" and lifestyle magazines, TV ads, "inspirational" fitness memes, gym walls, and "fitness" forums.

Body size does not indicate health.

What if instead of posting weight change and body measurements with "transformation" photos, we captioned them with accomplishments such as strength increase, distance goals met, increased energy levels, lowered blood pressure, and improved emotional health? These are things more people can pursue and control, goals more inspirational than statistical outliers largely dependent on genetics and starvation-levels of caloric restriction. Actual measures of health and wellness rather than shallow and false substitutes for health.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New trail

Last week it suddenly became unbearably cold. I hate treadmills and I couldn’t bring myself to go out and run before or after work. The forecast showed 3 p.m. would be the warmest part of the day, so I brought my gear to work and ducked out for an afternoon jog. I’ve been working here 4 years, and it was only on this run that I finally discovered a short rubber track near my office building that connected to a lovely little fitness trail that wound around ponds nestled behind several apartment complexes.

It was wonderful, and I decided then to make the afternoon run a regular occurence. I just wish I could hang my Enell sports bra to dry instead of stuffing it back into my gym bag all wet. Probably no one would notice if I laid it out on the floor under my desk.

I wasn't sure I'd get to run today because rain was in the forecast and rain + cold is beyond my tolerance levels, but it ended up being warmer than expected and dry while I was out. It was a dreary gray day, and the trail was unusually quiet and beautifully peaceful with far fewer people than I usually see there.

I'd worn a compression sleeve on my knee yesterday because it was considerably sore from Sunday's long run, but I couldn't stand to stay off it entirely. Today the sleeve caused more discomfort than it ameliorated, so I pulled it off early and cautiously set a slow, smooth pace with many walk breaks. It was good.

This week (Sunday-Wednesday) has been an interesting experiment in toeing the line between acceptable soreness and actual injury. I probably overdid it by a half mile Sunday. Since Monday, I struggle at the start of each run but at the end feel that movement has been beneficial and aided my knee's healing.

The fitness trail has miscellaneous boards and bars along its length and plaques describing exercises, so I've been dabbling on a few of the pieces. Today I surprised myself when I successfully traversed the length of two parallel bars overhead while hanging. (Think: monkey bars without any short crossbars.)

I also saw some enormous koi in the ponds, easily 18+ inches. I look forward to taking more pictures out there in the coming weeks.

I finished my run and came back into the office to find the last cookie in the break room calling my name. It was great.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 Wellness Goals

I don't typically set New Year's resolutions because it feels like a cultural practice of setting one's self up for failure. I set a few race goals each year but don't really keep track of them. However, this year I am inspired by a friend's "habit cultivation" framework for setting and tracking goals and am going to do that. The key is setting goals that focus on creating healthy habits rather than focusing on outcomes.

In keeping with my usual goal-setting, I decided last year that I wanted to try for an Olympic-distance triathlon this year, and more specifically determined in November to run a 10k by the end of January. Needing accountability, I registered for a January 31 10k event and am well on my way training for that. Last week I went ahead and registered early for a late-May Oly tri to make sure I do it. The weather will probably be terrible, but I'm trying to view the silver linings as having more time to train and not needing to invest in a wetsuit for cold water.

As far as cultivating habits, I'm setting quantifiable goals for developing regular meditation and yoga practices, things I tried but did not follow through on doing in 2015. Although I ought to stretch daily, any amount is better than the almost none that I do now, so I'm aiming for a dedicated stretching or yoga session 100 times this year, approximately twice a week. I told myself over and over this fall to practice meditating again because I was so constantly stressed out, but I only did it once. And though I ought to meditate daily, I know that is an unreasonable "all or nothing" goal that I'd definitely fail, so my plan is to meditate for a minimum of 5 minutes (I usually like 10 or 15) 250 times in 2016.

I'm using a rainbow spreadsheet similar to my friend Bethany's to set and track these goals. These may sound like a lot, but I'm basing them on my current habits and performance and believe them reasonable.

My fitness goals include hitting my weekly step goal every week, barring injury or illness, since I can't do it every day with a desk job but have no excuse not to hit it weekly; running and walking a total 1,000 miles, since I managed more than 700 this year and only started consistently  wearing a Fitbit tracker in July; trying 10 new fitness classes; and getting to the gym for an assessment soon so I can set any weight-lifting goals. I ought to set some swimming and cycling goals but don't yet know what is sustainable for me.

I also set a few brain goals for myself such as reading academic articles and other pieces on oppression and social justice issues (I have lists of nearly 200 articles that I keep meaning to read) and completing one online course, since I frequently start them but do not finish. I'm not ready to set any nutrition goals because I dislike cooking, have picky tastes, am limited for time, and do not do well with restriction, but I may later in the year. I will try to cook 10 new recipes this year. That's a lot for me, but once a month seems a modest goal. I want to add a goal for blog writing but worry about how I usually tend to stop writing for several weeks at a time. I'll think about it and revisit that one.

What are your goals and techniques that help you achieve them?

Friday, January 1, 2016


I stopped shaving my legs a couple years ago and my underarms last year. It's too time consuming and makes my skin irritated and scabby, and I'm just not that hairy in the first place. It's visible, but my boyfriends of the time didn't notice until I'd mentioned it.

Though I confess, I feel like kind of a weirdo being the only participant (as far as I can see) with hairy legs at triathlons. But I have no doubt that the egregious amount of time I might spend shaving is much better applied to training and technique. I certainly don't race with any intent to meet conventions that dictate female attractiveness, and a speed improvement of microseconds just isn't worth the effort (or pain). I've read that one purpose of shaving for sport is to remove dead skin cells, but I exfoliate regularly as is.

Is there anyone else?