Thursday, February 25, 2016

If it fits, I sits!

After struggling so much on my ride last week, I scheduled a year-overdue bike sizing session at the local bike store. I'd been putting it off because the low-end service is $75, which is pretty steep for me even though it's all part and parcel of this sport. I now know it's worth every penny.

The tech asked first what my problems were, and I told him I was having a lot of pain down here *gesturing* even on short rides. He nodded and asked if I had any other soreness or stiffness in my neck or shoulders or if my hands and toes ever went numb. My hands did once, but I switched gloves and was fine. He was surprised that my neck and shoulders were mostly okay, mild to moderate soreness within the range I expect as a novice. My toes in my right foot sometimes go numb. He explained part of the problem is that I'm wearing athletic shoes (trainers) and using toe cages instead of clips. I'm not ready to make the switch yet but will think about it this spring.

He then put my bike up on a trainer facing a mirror and had me get on and spin a bit so he could see my alignment. If you've never been, it's important to wear snug athletic pants or your usual bike shorts and a fitted shirt so your spine, shoulders, and hips are more visible. As I spun, he stood behind me with a measuring stick held horizontally touching near the base of my spine so he could see whether I was balanced right to left. I was close. After his making several adjustments to my bike, I was straight.

He moved my saddle forward a couple inches and then used a weighted pendulum on a string to note the alignment between my feet and the pedals and my knees and my feet. My left foot was spot-on, but the right was a bit off. He dropped the seat a bit, and that straightened me right out. Still a hair off, but vastly improved.

I learned that my saddle is really good for riding low and fast but less suited to the base building that I need. It's also a little wide for me and touches my thighs, which could cause a lot of hurt as/if I get into greater distances. I actually won the saddle in a raffle October 2014 and then decided to purchase a bike the following spring and start triathlon, so I did not initially shop around for a good one as one ought.

I learned that my bike frame is a little too big for me even though it's 50 cm and I had been advised to purchase 49- to 51-cm frame when I went into a store and asked. This is because it's a man's frame with a higher and longer top tube than a woman's frame of the same measure would have. The tech explained it's because between men and women of the same height, men typically have shorter torsos and longer limbs. We addressed this issue by replacing my 100mm stem with a 70mm at a higher angle. How on earth does this tiny piece cost $50 after discount, I wonder? It made a world of difference, though.

After that, the tech wanted me to try a few different saddles, but the shop didn't have any of his top recommendations available in my size. Apparently my pelvis is a very common shape and size; I often have the same problem with shoe shopping. From the saddles we tried, I learned that I want/need a little more padding, because riding on the one he most recommended felt like riding on hard edges rather than a seat. I got to try one that was a little too small but I liked the padding, so the store is going to order it for me, and it should arrive next week. I didn't want to have to spend more money on a new saddle, and knowing the one I have is valued at about $150-200, I braced for the worst. But he said the ones he showed me were in the $80-120 range, which I can manage. Having the saddle I need for base building, that is, many long slow miles to build strength, is really important.

There was a small worry floating in the back of my mind before I went in that it might be impossible to avoid mental discomfort around having a strange man peering at my body and measuring to adjust my equipment because my vulva hurts, but I worried for naught. The whole session lasted 90 minutes, partly because he spent several fruitless minutes scouring the back room for the stem and saddles he really wanted me to try, and I never once felt uncomfortable. Way to go, pro!

I was even delighted to suppress a squee and happy wiggle when, while measuring my knee-to-foot alignment and watching my quads flex, he said something to the effect that he thinks my future improvement will be based largely in the "power" I'm able to create; and while comparing my shoulder-head-neck alignment before and after adjusting the stem, said it looks like I have good/strong muscle tone in my arms. It was neither awkward nor deliberately complimentary but a professional's objective observation of the way my body moves. Hearing it did make me very happy.

That was two days ago on a nasty, cold, wet, rainy night. Today dawned clear and bright and a lot less windy. I put in 7 miles at the lake and felt pretty good. I have the expected soreness on my sit bones but my vulva FINALLY feels good! Huzzah!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Don't Drop Weights

This morning a man in the rec center dropped his dumbbells after every set, which, sadly, isn’t uncommon among men in weight rooms. Today was especially egregious, though. It’s a small space without padding, so he was dropping 60-pound dumbbells loudly on carpet-covered cement barely a yard from my head while I used the adjacent bench.

It’s a city rec center not a professional gym, it’s against the rules, it’s in your membership contract, the sign on the mirror right there says DON’T, and the equipment is already torn up enough with many dumbbells missing sizeable chunks of the rubber coating.

I sort of wanted to work up the nerve to say something next time, so I asked in a few fitness forums: “Do you ask men to fucking quit it when they're dropping weights? If so, how?”

Several people recommended simply asking the people who work there to take care of it, since that is part of their job.

It’s a small rec center and there aren’t employees actually IN the weight room to monitor these things, so I do have to stop my workout, go downstairs, and leave the area to reach the front desk to say something. I did cut my workout short to ask the women at the front desk if anyone could speak to him, but they seemed reluctant themselves. I don’t fault them for it; their expressions mirrored my own feelings.

A friend pointed out that such aggressive behavior is dangerous in more ways than one:

“Men doing dominance displays with throwable objects, men being negligent with things heavy enough to be dangerous… Those are red flags that confrontation from a peer is unlikely to go well. People who work there are authority figures who should have the clout to tell him to follow the rules or leave.”

Hopefully I won’t encounter him again. But if I do, I’ll think twice about saying anything to him directly and will not hesitate to speak to the staff and return to finish my workout. I’ve every right to be there and to feel safe there, moreso since I’m behaving appropriately and not damaging equipment.

“Dropping once or twice, it happens,” another friend explained and went on: “Dropping every set, or every rep? Someone is lifting too much and anyone pointing that out is threatening Captain Butterfingers’ peen. Throwing the weights down is a hazard to others, self, and property, feckin dangerous, and feckin stupid. Report to the desk. If they don't take action, go up the chain. And if the desk staff seems reluctant for their own safety, include that in your escalated complaint so staff isn’t unfairly disciplined.”

WHAT THE HELL, MEN? Where did you get the idea that you should drop weights every freaking set?

I’ve often seen the rebuttal that “dropping heavy weights is necessary to prevent injury.” Let me stop you right there.

Dropping weights isn’t necessary 80% of the time, maybe more. Dropping weights evolved as weightlifting became more popular around the world, especially in Eastern Europe, and more and more weight was being lifted, which was naturally more difficult to lower to the platform. As dropping weights became more accepted, something had to be done because the metal plates were tearing up platforms and destroying the flooring underneath. Someone invented rubber bumper plates around the middle to late sixties. They certainly have been a big plus in sparing damage to platforms and floors.

“Now it seems that all lifters, from beginners to elite, think that dropping all weights, from warm-ups to maximums, is the way it should be done. This situation has perhaps evolved from watching the world championships and Olympic Games where lifters certainly drop weights, some from overhead even, and yet never have a lift disqualified as a result—even though the rules state clearly that you aren’t supposed to let go of the bar until it is at waist height. I think it’s unfortunate that this has been allowed to escalate to this level because now beginner and intermediate lifters think that is what is done in order to lift the big weights.”

(Boldface emphasis mine.)

So we’ll acknowledge that dropping is useful and necessary in barbell-lifting contexts and heavy-weight competitions. The city rec center does not even have any of that equipment! You should NEVER drop dumbbells; they aren’t made for it, and this is why the set of them is so torn up. Sure, I was lifting half as much as him this morning, but I could very probably use a 60 for a goblet squat, and likely will within the next month.

“The dumbbells cost around $.50 per pound, so they’re pretty expensive to replace. More importantly, if a dumbbell is dropped on the edge they can actually break in half. I’ve seen it happen twice, where the handle broke in half. Fortunately, it occurred when they hit the floor and not in someone’s hand. It would have been worse had they stayed together until the next person used them, and then broken in the middle of a set.” Tom Nikkola, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer

This absurd display doesn’t make you look strong. It proves YOU AREN’T STRONG and need to choose a smaller weight that you can safely manage. Nikkola agrees:

“Unless you’re performing Olympic lifts, if you’re not sure what those are, you’re not, there’s no reason to drop the weights. If you don’t have the strength to set the dumbbells or barbells down, then you’re using too much weight.”

To borrow the words of Jim Schmitz, “Lowering weights properly won’t weaken you.”

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Hard Ride

Training has a lot of ups and downs. I had a rough bike ride today, and Lizard Brain is really letting it get to me. This morning I found myself woefully under-dressed for the chilly lake air and cut my ride short due to an under-inflated tire, the cold, and the perpetual pain my vulva feels whenever I ride.*

This is the second time I've touched my bike since that godawful Labor Day triathlon.

Logic Brain knows a 30-minute ride "ain't nothin," I'll be better prepared next time, and I've got enough time before my races to get where I need to be (a mid-March Sprint and late-May Oly). And, remember, I had an AWESOME 5-mile run last night.

But feelings don't listen to Logic Brain.

There is no small bit of fear floating around in here that I've bitten off more than I can chew by signing up for that late-May Olympic-distance triathlon (1-mile swim + 24.1-mile ride + 10k run). I can comfortably swim and bike 1/3 of those distances and do 2/3 of that run.

Putting them all together, though? I've got a long way to go.

And now it occurs to me that my emotional responses may be wrecked by this Sunday's and Monday's migraines, and I'll probably be okay soon enough. That would explain . . . a lot of this week.

*I have an appointment Tuesday for a bike fitting. I should have done it a long time ago, certainly before my 15 miles of tears at the Labor Day tri, but the "cheap" service is a whopping $75. I don't know how anyone can afford this sport.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Been Beaten, Assaulted, or Raped

I copied this long ago into a draft and cannot now remember the original context. If you recognize it, let me know so I can add attribution.

(Real examples from our NTX communities)
A dude recently told me I was too vague in my "checklist" of things men can do to support women-- concern for respect, consent, and equality. I know women who have been harmed by men. I have been a woman harmed by men. I have personal friends who have been beaten, stalked, sexually assaulted, raped. If a woman tells you a story about this, how will you respond? These are ACTUAL things that people have told friends and me. These are things, if I may be so opinionated, never to say.

Note, I use 'woman' here broadly in the place of {person who has been harmed in these cases}, because women were the vulnerable people is who suffered the abuse in these real life stories. I am aware that people of any gender can and do suffer these things. But again, these are real responses that *women* I know, here, have received from *men*.

  1. Never say, "Well, if you hadn't had so much to drink." Nope. Dude assumes that there was drinking. Actually, in the case in point, only the man committing the violence was on drugs and drinking. She was not altered in any way. But if she had been very altered/intoxicated, she would not have been capable of consent, and it would still have been rape.
  2. Never say, "You could only expect something at an event like that." Nope. It doesn't matter where I go or who I'm with or what I believe. Anything that begins with "What would you expect when--" is an internalized version of "She was asking for it." Nope.
  3. Never say, "I try to stay out of drama." Nope. Rape is not drama. Battery is not drama. Sexual assault is not drama. It is a crime. And unfortunately, the women in these radical communities are not protected by the law as equally as we would hope. The police and courts do not support people like us, and calling it drama is extremely trivializing to what would merit jail time if perpetrated against a women in polite society.
  4. Never say, "What more could you want than to put out these vibrations of conversation?" We would prefer justice, but we'd also settle for known abusers to be banned from events and your friendship. And our own healing. Vibrations, really??
  5. Never say, "I like to think that just because they hurt one person doesn't mean they'll hurt another." Nope. While this may be true, this line of thought shields perpetrators of violence and allows them to keep preying on vulnerable people in the communities. Fuck "radical inclusion". Would you be inviting a known pedophile to your child's birthday party because his ongoing history of molestation doesn't necessarily mean he would hurt another child?
  6. Never say, "I'd prefer you didn't name names, because an accusation could ruin someone's reputation." What? Are we more concerned with the rapist, in this case, than the woman harmed? Would we say this about a murderer?
  7. Never say, "I think this could all be resolved if you just sat down together and talked." Nope. A woman is never required to make peace with a man who beat, assaulted, or raped her. No one is. If she never wants to speak him again-- he has not "earned" a conversation with her ever again. Have you ever heard of retraumatization? A woman's goals may be justice, healing within herself, and finding solidarity with friends. Not some feel-good story about making friends with her abuser.
  8. Never say, "You just really need to let go. You're letting him win by not 'letting go' of this." There's that trivialization it again. This is a battle against an entire rape culture that keeps assaulting my friends and me, over and over. If we don't talk, we stand for the status quo.
  9. Never say, "I've had my dick groped in a club. It wasn't that big of a deal. It's not my fault you have internal genitalia." This man thinks that when something is forced in a woman's vagina, it is equal to someone brushing by him and grabbing his penis. You'd be surprised how common this idea is. False analogy.
  10. Never say, only, "That sucks." This is equivalent to relating a painful story about illness and death, and the response is an emoticon. If you don't know what to say, say that. Trite, underwhelming responses send the message that you don't care about major injustice and harm.

If you recognize something you've said to me or a friend here, this is not an indictment. It is a request that you consider the underlying suppositions associated with what you said, in pursuit of more respect, consent, and equality. All my love. -J/G

Feel free to copy/paste share.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Too Cold to Hold 10k Race Report

Sometime late last year I decided I wanted to train to run a 10k by the end of January but worried about holding myself accountable, so I signed up for the January 31 Too Cold to Hold 10k race at White Rock Lake.

I've been putting off writing a race report because the experience was less than stellar.

A lot of races offer event shirts in the price of registration, but a lot of them don't offer them for women, and it is endlessly irritating. Women make up over half the sport, closer to 60 percent in 5ks but are ignored as having different body shapes than men. I don't want to hear theories about men's shirts being cheaper because they're cut differently; I ain't buying it, because women's sizes require less fabric, and I'm sick and tired of maleness being treated as the default human norm. It took me two hours to alter the last small men's race shirt I received down to fit me, and it's still not very good because I AM NOT A SMALL MAN.

Some events offer unisex shirts instead, which means a men's cut in slightly smaller sizes. That was the case for this event, so I ordered an XS unisex shirt since it's the next closest thing to having a women's cut shirt that would actually fit my body.

I arrived at packet pickup to find that the shirt size I'd ordered was not provided at all. I have 20 race shirts cut up and displayed on my bedroom wall and another dozen sitting in a pile in the sewing room awaiting alterations because these events don't offer women shirts. And they don't offer discounts on the registration price, either, for people with breasts and small waists. It's insulting.

So I didn't get the shirt I paid for, and then the accompanying Too Cold to Hold beanie appeared to have been designed for giants, so my race swag is fit only for the garbage bin. After complaining publicly on Facebook, the event organizer reached out to me and said they were also surprised and disappointed in the quality of the hats ordered, so they ordered finishers' shirts including women's sizes. . . .

Guess what WASN'T at the finish line. There were piles and piles of only men's shirts for an event which the organizer herself said has about 64 percent female participation.

The race itself? It was nice. There was no seeding or separate waves, so it took more than a mile for the crowd to thin enough to run at a comfortable pace; I don't envy anyone trying to hit a PR that day.

I was a little bit sick and a lot sluggish, but I finished. And I looked badass in my Wonder Woman costume, for which I'd found blue shorts only a few days prior. I got a lot of compliments and cheers and one, "Look, it's Super Woman!" from some dude. ONLY men mess that up, you know; this is the second time it's happened. Fake geek guys.

The weather was unexpectedly warm, nearing 65°F before I finished, and many runners struggled since they'd trained in cooler temps for so many weeks. I was SO glad not to be running the half marathon that day. The course around White Rock Lake was pretty as always.

Because parking was limited, we were encouraged to carpool and take public transportation and were told there would be a place to put bicycles with the bag check. I took up that offer, took the DART to White Rock Station, and rode my bike the extra mile and a quarter to the start. I felt speedy and clever whizzing by everyone who'd had to park as far as the train station and walk. I was surprised to see only two other bicycles at the event at all. At the end, feeling irritated, icky, and hot, I was VERY glad to retrieve my bicycle and roll out instead of staying for any post-race activities.

I know the summer event by the same organization offers women's shirts, or at least that's what the race organizer said to me, and I know they have in the past from the one time I volunteered at it. But after this experience, I'm not super keen to spend my money there.

It's great that they support local charities, but Dallas is a big city flush with racing events and several to choose from every weekend of the year, even holidays. I'd rather support a company that recognizes I AM NOT A SMALL MAN.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

If I were a boy . . .

From as early as elementary school, I often wished I had been born a boy. I was somehow cognizant that boys had a power that girls didn't, though I couldn't have put that feeling into words. I only knew that boys had greater freedom, got to do more and better activities, got to have really cool toys that I didn't, and were interesting and different from girls.

But I've always been a girl, and now I love being a woman . . . except for all the times I don't. It's literally soul-crushing (pause to imagine this feeling) every time I'm accused of being too emotional/irrational after making clearly articulated arguments based on reason. I second-guess myself and reread everything I wrote, searching for the shrill screeching he alluded to when he called me an idiot, but I come up empty-handed. And there is nothing I can do about it. I can't make my voice heard. I'm as clear as can be, and I can't be any clearer.

I base much of my self-esteem on my knowledge and ability to be articulate, but I'm told that I am wrong, that I'm ignorant and stupid, overemotional, oversensitive, and irrational and that the logic and skepticism I value and apply are wrong. That my brain is worthless and a failure, has betrayed me, is a traitor. That nothing I have to say can be heard over my gender. That I am voiceless.

I'm a liar because I'm ugly, and, simultaneously, I deserve harassment because I'm young and conventionally attractive in public, and, still, I'm worthless because I'm not pretty enough or fuckable, and, too, I should be grateful for leers, jeers, propositions, and assault. I'm not exaggerating; these things were all said to me in a single thread on the topic of—ironically enough—how to recruit and retain more women in an organization after a handful of women had shared their experiences of gender-based harassment in that organization.

My world is very small, and I am ever aware that I am only as safe and as free as men allow me to be.