The whole idea of cleansing and detoxing is off-putting to many people. Not just because anyone with a science background can tell you that the human body is well-equipped with natural and effective detoxification pathways and that these pathways work whether you will them to or not and that purposely speeding up or otherwise enhancing these pathways is neither necessary nor helpful to your health. But also because the yoga world of cleansing and detoxing has become enmeshed with the less than healthy world of fasting, rapid weight-loss and body-perfection (read this funny and sadly accurate post about “Thinspiration” on yoga-beast.com)
So about the first point, yes, it is true, your liver works 24-7, performing 500+/- complex biological functions, including moment to moment detoxification. Your kidneys are amazing detoxification/elimination organs too, as is your colon, and to a much lesser degree, your sweat glands and lungs. Daily detoxification is like doing the dishes, sweeping the floor and putting away your clothes. It is a necessary daily task that keeps the system running smoothly.
About the second point. Fasting, cleansing and detoxing are indeed marketed as a body-positive way to loose weight while also getting that slim, fresh-eyed, yoga-glo look. But having tried so many of these (juice fasting, raw foods, sawdust and moss . . .) I can tell you that no rapid-weight loss plan is body-positive or healthy. Juice fasting and/or nutrient and calorie restricting “cleanses” can seriously mess with your metabolism (which takes weeks if not months to recover from). In addition, these fasting detox diets don’t help you develop real-life eating and relaxation skills and they can seriously undermine your own body-wisdom and self-esteem.
Over the last decade I have come to understand that the “cleanse” that most of us need most of the time is a simple, nutrient dense rest and renewal. What we need are a few weeks to remember how good good food tastes and we need a little structure and support to get us back on the vegetable wagon. New, simple recipes, new spices to inspire us and a menu plan to help us prepare more meals at home. A few guidelines to help cut out the junk calories and stimulants so our organs and glands can get a break. That’s it. You might loose weight, you might not. You will very likely feel better either way.
House cleaning versus house resting
It’s not that you need to do more housecleaning. Most of us can get away with several months (even years) of cursory daily house cleaning before the ring around the toilet bowl or the dust bunnies under the bed seriously impacts our quality of living. But if a cursory pick up is all we have the energy for at the end of the day then when do we repair the broken chair leg or the clogged toilet?
A healthy body follows a similar strategy. Regular daily detoxification cleans up most of the mess. If all goes well we get sick once or twice a year and feel pretty good in between. We sleep soundly and feel rested in the morning, our skin is clear, our elimination is regular and our mood and energy patterns are stable.
But if we don’t take regular breaks from the common stressors in our life (diet and lifestyle) we leave little time for restoration and repair. Over time we start to feel the effects. Our digestion gets cranky, we get sick more frequently, our joints ache, our breath smells . . .
A good cleanse is a good break
And that’s when a seasonal cleanse can help. Ideally a Spring Cleanse and Sugar Detox is a way of taking the load off your system so that not only can your body perform it’s normal, natural everyday detoxification, but it can also start to repair and heal your otherwise neglected gut, skin, hair and joints.
The less stressful a cleanse is, the more repair can happen. That’s why my cleanses provide an easy to follow, satisfying, anti-inflammatory diet complimented by stress-reducing daily practices. That’s also why I don’t use a one-size-fits all approach. For some simply eating three regular meals a day is a huge relief for their system, while for others that schedule feels too restricting and causes a good deal of hunger-fear – which totally defeats the purpose. Some love the comfort and simplicity of a Kitchari monodiet while others gag at any mention of the K word.
Probably the biggest obstacle I face when leading my group cleanses is convincing people that it’s ok to make and follow their own rules. We have been trained to rely on experts and we’ve lost trust in our bodies and our own wisdom. It’s tricky because external boundaries and rules are helpful for getting us back on track until we can start to feel our own way again. So yes, my cleanses include rules – they are the rules that I have found help most people feel better most of the time. They are rules to help get you oriented, to provide structure and support, to free you up. They are not meant to be permanent, punitive or self-limiting.
Clear the way for self-empowerment
There you have it, my cleanses aren’t about cleansing or detoxing. I mean, those things are going to happen – if you’ve been eating a lot of sugar or drinking a lot of coffee and then you suddenly stop doing those things, you will trigger a natural detoxification response.
But really, my cleanses are about taking the load off. They are about reducing the “noise” of inflammation and reactive mucous so you can start to clearly feel and hear your own body’s wisdom. They are about exploring how you respond to different stressors in your life and giving yourself the time and perspective to shift those things as needed. I believe that you know exactly what you need to do, and my job is to help you hear it.
If this sounds good you can read more about my upcoming Spring Cleanse here.
(It’s ok to skip the words and scroll down to the pretty slideshow . . .)
Why the desert?
Jerome and I met in Colorado 15 years ago and soon after we went on our first backpacking trip together to the Maze in Utah’s Canyonlands followed by a road trip around Utah and Northern Arizona. We fell in love with slick rock and desert (and each other) and have always wanted to go back to explore more. So, this February we took the kids and headed west for nine days of High Desert and canyon exploration.
“But camping with kids seems so hard!”
The most common thing I’ve heard from my friends since I starting planning this trip is “I could never do that with my kids (and/or spouse)!”. And I understand what they mean, because parenting in a house with a roof and a refrigerator is hard enough. What really helps in my case is that in my pre-mom life I was an outdoor educator and Wilderness EMT and so I am very comfortable in remote areas. Actually, I am more comfortable camping than staying in a hotel, and Jerome will tell you, I’d much rather pee on the side of the road than in a restroom. I have the skills to keep us warm, safe and well-fed in a wide variety of conditions. In addition, before we got married we hiked 2,500 miles of the Continental Divide Trail together- whatever disputes we may have had about how to pitch a tarp, cook pasta, or stuff a sleeping bag are well behind us. Camping for us is a regular, comfortable routine with minimal spousal dispute (unless it comes to getting lost and needing to ask directions . . .)
Turning kids into willing backpackers
As a family we have built up our camping routine slowly – and you can too. We started by sleeping outside in our front yard or friends yards when they were only a few months old. When they were 2-3 years old we graduated to nearby state parks. Over the years we’ve established little rituals, like who sleeps where in the tent, how to pee and poop in the woods and how to be careful around the camp stove. By the time the girls were 3 and 4 we started taking them on canoe camping trips to nearby lakes, and motorboat overnights to islands in Blue Hill Bay. This gave us the freedom to bring more gear without having to carry it on our backs. As a rule, the more confident and experienced you get, the less gear you need. Once everyone can consistently keep themselves warm, dry and fed, back up clothing, food and gear becomes optional.
Planning an Adventure
After a summer of trail running and hiking the girls seemed strong enough for a more strenuous backpacking trip.
The first thing I needed to do was find a cheap way to get the four of us somewhere warm enough to camp during February school vacation. I lucked out and landed a great deal from Boston to Las Vegas – on Virgin Air no less!
Next up, I applied for a backcountry camping permit at the Grand Canyon. It’s kind of a fun, antiquated reservation system where you mail or fax the Park a trip-leader application with your desired dates and camping locations. Supposedly, to beat the crowds, you need to send your fax in on the morning of the first day of the sixth month prior to your desired trip date. After figuring out what that even meant, I was disappointed to discover that I was several weeks past the magical date. I sent in my application anyway and hoped for the best. Fortunately it turns out February is not a popular month to camp in the Grand Canyon. Maybe because it is winter? The Park sent me a permit about a month later with an ominous note saying that because of trail work, there might not be water at the campgrounds. They also included a trail map with elevation totals. It looked like our hike would be similar to hiking down Katahdin in one day and back up in two days. That seemed doable.
The next thing I did was what any ultra runner would do. I searched for trail races in Arizona in February. Ding ding ding! I found the perfect race, Ultra Adventure’s Antelope Canyon 55k in Page, AZ and on the final weekend of winter vacation. I signed up and several days later casually mentioned to Jerome that I might want to run a race to celebrate my 40th birthday . . . Thankfully he’s either the most supportive or most resigned runner’s-spouse ever – he didn’t even blink.
Thus, the next obstacle was finding a cheap rental car. I always opt for the smallest possible ride because I’m stubborn that way. I view cars the way light-weight backpackers view packs. The smaller it is the less you can bring and the easier your life will be. This is more true in theory than reality, especially with kids. [Fortunately when it came time to pick up our car, the guy behind the counter saw Georgia and Lucy fighting over who would pull the luggage in the cart and kindly gave us a free upgrade to a Mazda 5.]
With packing economy in mind I honed in on our gear. I told the girls they could bring 2.5 outfits (in case you’re wondering, a skirt counts as a half, a dress as a whole) and this had to include their camping clothes. We made a gear checklist and Lucy assigned each family member their own color check mark. You can find a complete annotated version of the list we came up at the bottom of this post, and here’s Lucy’s original Camping Checklist.
Keeping it light is harder with kids!
When Jerome and I thru-hiked we kept our pack weight between 15-25lbs depending on the weather conditions. Each day of food added about 2lbs, and since we often carried 4-6 days of food at a time our packs rarely exceeded 35lbs. But with kids our packs have swollen in weight and girth. In order to keep the kids’ packs around 10lbs we parents would each need to carry two sleeping bags and two sleeping pads, plus the bigger tent and extra dishes.
No matter how well prepared we are, there’s ALWAYS last minute craziness
I had to make several last minute gear repairs including relocating the spider family from my ancient backpack, patching a thermarest (after submerging it in the bathtub to find the leak) and sewing up the huge rip in our four person tent that I ordered on clearance from The Clymb (you win some you loose some . . .) Our living room was a total disaster the night before we left. Mostly because trying to organize anything in the middle of feeding, dressing and getting kids to school while keeping yourself presentable for work and fitting in one last training run is a painful experience done best with a bottle of wine nearby.
The afternoon we were supposed to drive to Boston we realized that we hadn’t yet shoveled the 4 feet of snow off our roof. So when Jerome got home from work he spent the last two hours of daylight on the roof while I dragged in several loads of firewood so our neighbors could keep the fire going if the power went out. The kids focussed on enthusiastically preventing the cats from making a last minute escape into the -10 degree snow covered wasteland that surrounds our house. Finally, at 6pm, we headed south to Boston and made it to our park-and-fly hotel well before midnight.
The next morning we squeaked out of Logan just before the next big storm and soon found ourselves under blue skies and flying directly over the Grand Canyon!
In the end all the planning combined with incredible good luck weather-wise made for a wonderful and unforgettable family adventure. We camped free on BLM and Forest Service land, ate from a cardboard box stocked with all kinds of yummy things from the Natural Grocer in Flagstaff and completed an excessive number of Junior Ranger programs.
For a visual tour of our trip I made this slideshow. Enjoy!
For a full race report filled with lots of nice photos of the course, check out Fast Cory’s page.
The Annotated Gear List
___ 1 Short sleeve synthetic or wool shirt
___ 1 base layer (Synthetic or thin wool long sleeve shirt and pants. Often found on Sierra Trading Post or Campmor websites for less than $20 per set.)
___1 Light-weight fleece layer (Shirt and pants. Ours are all hand me downs, but are also often found at second hand stores)
___ 1 pair shorts or skirt.
___1 set rain gear (Jacket and pants. These are annoyingly expensive and hard to get as hand me downs because they don’t age well – I get the ones from L.L.Bean because they are light and comfortable and provide good warmth for their weight).
___ Warm Hat with ear coverage
___ 1 pair light weight fleece gloves or mittens.
___2 pairs socks (wool or synthetic, cotton is blister prone and don’t wear as well in the wild)
___ 2 pairs underwear.
___ 1 sun hat. Light weight visor or ball cap.
___1 pair shoes (my kids are barefoot all summer – even on our mountain hikes, so I know their feet and ankles are strong enough to hike long distances in lightweight sneakers. The bonus is no blisters and a much more agile, less tiring gate than you find with boots).
___1 pair “camp” sandals. We brought our homemade Xero sandals to avoid stepping on cactus spines and scorpions.
___ 1 set of light weight, unbreakable bowl and cup (we love our silicon bowls from Guyot Designs, they are a little on the heavy side but totally indestructible and I swear, Georgia loves hers so much she will eat anything you put in it.)
___ 1 small spoon. Any small spoon will do. Leave the fork and knife at home.
___1 sleeping pad. The girls use our old ¾ length ultra light thermarests, but we’ve also found that once they fall asleep, they’ll stay asleep on any surface and you can steal their thermarest out from under them, if say, yours deflates in the middle of the night . . .
___ 1 synthetic (not cotton) sleeping bag. Ours kid’s bags are mummy bags good to 20 degrees. Basically, the cheaper the bag the bulkier it is (taking up most of your pack) and the heavier it is. So it’s up to you, the parent, to decide how much of your kid’s gear you want to carry and how much you’re willing to suffer versus spend.
___ 1 head lamp or small light weight flashlight.
___ 1 quart water bottle. It was an investment, but the girls like the Camelbak kind and I do to because I don’t have to get their water out of their pack for them every 5 mins.
___ Camera (one between the two of them)
___ Backpack. Finding a good, affordable kid’s backpack is not easy. School backpacks aren’t the best for multi-day trips because the straps tend to made of thick, stiff, shapeless foam that does not feel good on little shoulders after a few miles. They also tend to be heavy and bulky and lack the structure needed to distribute the pack’s weight up against the kid’s body where it will be most comfortable. That said, kid’s don’t need a huge fancy pack. In fact, smaller and simpler is probably better because it will keep them from carrying too much. We lucked out and with a little help from a friend the girls got to demo a pair of very cool Vaude 15 Liter Minimalist packs. This model isn’t specifically made for kids, but it’s smaller size worked well for them. The top flap pocket has two zippered compartments which made it easy for the girls to store their snacks and cameras where they can get to them. We appreciated how simple and light these packs are and they will fit the girls even better next year. The girls appreciated having “real” backpacks, and we all know the more a kid looks the part, the more they act the part.
In addition to the same list of personal gear, Jerome and I also bring:
___2 stacking ~1qt titanium cook pots and lids (left over from our thru-hiking days).
___ 1 butane/propane camping stove, because we find with kids we need to be able to drink vast quantities of tea while camping and we don’t want to mess around with cranky stoves (alcohol, white gas, tin cans, whisper heavies etc . . . ) We carry one 8oz container of Isopro fuel for three days of camping. FYI – you can’t bring filled fueled canisters on the plane – we picked ours up Peace Surplus in Flagstaff.
___ 1 stirring/serving spoon (also serves as my eating spoon). Metal so it won’t melt.
___ 1 four person tent. We like ours, it is simple to set up but compared to our home made 2 person tarp-tent (made of parachute cloth) the tent is heavy and takes up a lot of space in our packs. We’re going to experiment with sewing a 4-person tarp-tent this summer.
___ 1 ground cloth (a piece of Tyvek cut to fit the shape of our tent’s footprint).
___ First aid kit. Fits into one pint sized ziplock: Bandaids, sports tape, gauze, alcohol wipes, steristrips, second skin and tweezers. You can do a lot with sports tape and gauze.
___ Water sterilizer. We use one of the smaller, simpler Steripens.
___ ½ liter metal thermoses. Because we really like our hot drinks.
___ Simple knife – with one blade and a can opener
___ Sports Bra
___ Small plastic comb
___Small container face soap – because it feels really good to wash your face at the end of a dusty day.
___ Small container face oil – because the desert air is cold and dry!
___ Dental floss – endless possibilities.
___ Cellphone/camera. Keep on airplane mode unless you want battery to die before your trip is over.
___ Small LED lantern – to hang from tree or tent so kids don’t have to wear headlamps and therefore won’t continually blind adults with their highbeam.
____ Spices. A few small baggies of spices go a long way to making camp food edible. We bring a few teaspoons of salt, pepper, cinnamon and curry powder from home so we don’t have to buy big containers once we’re there.
Register now for Wild Open Heart’s 21 Day Sugar Detox and Spring Cleanse
In Wild Open Heart news, I will be teaching several classes over the Holidays, be sure to check my class schedule to see where when.
Move Your Body
Balanced action, it’s all about balanced action. Picture the pelvic floor, diaphragm and upper palate as three plates of glass, each with four corners – two to the front, two to the back – suspended like a mobile on a string (the midline). Not only do you want to maintain the square shape of each planes (i.e. keep the back corners as broad as the front corners) but you want the planes to stay in proper relationship with each other and the midline. I often use this image when I’m teaching to help students build body awareness and proper action. You can see from this image that if one tips or tucks one of the planes it will mess with the “mobile” and force the other planes to tip or tuck to maintain balance.
Now, as you move the body into different positions the key is to maintain a balanced relationship between the planes and the midline.
This article is a response to a recent Yoga Journal article that advocates “tail tucking” and explains how diaphragm tipping isn’t helpful either.
You know how I’m always telling you flexibility is overrated? This article does a great job of explaining why, and how not all muscles can (or should) be stretched.
Here’s yet more compelling information about the gut-brain connection and how good gut flora might reverse symptoms of alzheimers.
This is a must-read article about “detoxing” and why I organize my seasonal cleanses the way I do. To be clear, my cleanses are not about detoxing your body in three weeks. I do advocate for “resting” your digestion and taking the load off your major organs (taking in fewer toxins means less work for the liver and kidneys which means more energy to repair and heal other parts of the body). And while I think it can be helpful to periodically support your organs with certain herbs, I never make these herbs a focus of my cleanses. I use seasonal cleanses to teach or re-invigorate good nutrition and daily habits that will last well beyond the three weeks of the course. The point is to shift your diet and lifestyle to match the needs of the upcoming season, not to “detox” the excess of the previous season.
Yoga people, I really encourage you to watch this thoughtful and informative (though somewhat unresolved) documentary about “what is modern yoga doing” from Al Jazeera.
In Other News
I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1999 – just a couple years after Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. I completed the 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada solo (which feels weird to say because like Cheryl, I met many amazing hiker-friends along the way). Cheryl writes about her short hike on the PCT during a time of turmoil in her life. The story is a compelling memoir that has more to do with poor decision making and pulling your life together in your 20’s than it does with wilderness adventure. Now that the movie version has come out many thru-hikers are worried that Reese Witherspoon will inspire scores of unprepared, overburdened young women to head down the trail in search of themselves. Which seems like a great idea to me, just be sure to throw out most of your backpack weight after the first week, don’t wear boots (except in the snowy high Sierras) and be prepared to walk a lot more than Cheryl did if you want to make it to Canada before the snow flies.
Here’s a good book review of Wild by a woman PCT Thru-hiker that nicely sums up my own thoughts about Wild.
And this one is perhaps unnecessarily harsh, but has some great links to stories about other amazing hikers that actually hiked the whole thing and enjoyed themselves while doing it.
And finally, if you are like me and need a little levity this week, here are 19 Family Photos Gone Wrong.
And the photo of the week, not gone too wrong:
In the personal news category I took my first ever trip to the operating room last month. I’ve had plenty of surgeries before to remove skin cancers but those were all done in the doctors office and didn’t require sedation or any major recovery time. Ok, now, fair warning, If you’re squeamish you’ll want skip this blog and head over to this week’s News Roundup. But if you are an athlete or otherwise healthy active person looking into a similar kind of surgery read on because before my surgery I found surprisingly little on the internet about epigastric hernia repair and recovery and I would have appreciated more information going into it. So, I’m putting the details about my surgery here as a public service to any of you fellow yogi/runner types who are looking at a midline hernia repair (I have at least three other friends with similar hernias who are also fit and active, so I know it can’t be that uncommon). In addition to the below information, Katy Bowman said some interesting things on her recent podcast about the related condition of diastasis recti (the separation of abdominal muscles that often happens during pregnancy).
What causes an epigastric hernia?
Epigastric hernias is a loose definition for any holes in the fascia above the navel. I most likely acquired mine during my pregnancies when I spent nine months simultaneously puking, gaining weight and maintaining an aggressive backbend practice as recommended by my former yoga teacher who was in retrospect terribly unqualified to work with pregnant women. Truthfully I was probably predisposed to overloading this particular area of my body as I have always had a strong lordodic lumber curve and only recently learned how to support my abdominal area by engaging some key intrinsic muscle groups. Throw some violent puking and deep back bending on top of that inherent weakness and the resulting forces exceeded the limits of my linea alba. I kind of noticed something funny looking above my belly button after my second daughter was born, but being consumed with the tasks of new parenthood I wasn’t too concerned about my postpartum bikini-figure. A few years later, when I finally had time to look in the mirror I noticed that the a funny lump above my navel was bigger. The hernia wasn’t causing me any pain, but it appeared as though a small bit of fat had squeezed it’s way out from behind it’s protective layer of fascia and was trapped
there under my skin (making the bump). It stayed like that for several more years but seemed to get worse the year I learned to swim – which makes sense because when I was learning to swim I still had a major sway back and my belly popped forward. I remember feeling a lot like a copepod that whole first season. I wonder if copepods get hernias? Then one day this fall I bent over to one side to pick up something heavy and that’s when it started to sort of, just a little bit bother me. I began to wonder, what happens if I’m in the middle of nowhere (as I like to be) or in the middle of a crazy hard training season and all of a sudden my midline just gives way and my insides bust out and there I am on the side of some dusty trail, or worse, the middle of the Gulf of Maine, and my abdominal wall just totally gives way and my liver and pancreas come flying out?
Ok, back to reality.
The trust is, nothing really bad was likely to happen but every doctor I asked about it over the years told me that eventually I’d have to sew it up. No one could explain exactly why, but being surgeons, I think they just feel better when things are sewn up.
I opted to have the surgery the day before Thanksgiving because Jerome had the next five days off and would be available to split and carry fire wood while I recovered on the couch. I was anxious about having general anesthesia because my twin brother has a terrible reaction to it and it can take him a week to recover just from that part of surgery. Plus, I’m scared of intubation, and if you ever had me as your EMT, you are too (sorry about that). Fortunately my surgeon agreed to local anesthesia and sedation. Which turned out to be lovely. So lovely that I don’t remember a thing after getting onto the operating table. For the first time in my life I was happy to be completely unconscious. I woke up soon after they stopped the flow of Propofol (a sedative that also causes temporary amnesia) and I sat in my recovery chair feeling more relaxed and at ease with the world than I have ever felt before in my life. I can see why Michael Jackson overdosed on this stuff, it is lovely. It also left me with the craziest case of cotton mouth and I spent the rest of the day drinking water and trying to choke down little bites of food. My daughter helpfully suggested a green smoothie, but I opted for ice cream. Yup, never going to live that one down.
I didn’t end up taken any painkillers even though they gave me a horses-dose worth of hydrocodone. Yup, they just hand that shit out. There are a million reasons why this is just wrong. Totally wrong. For one, pain, like the kind you have while recovering from a minor surgery, is a good thing – it keeps you from moving too much while you are recovering. For another, if you have so much pain from a minor surgery like this that you need narcotics to manage it, something is wrong. Like maybe they accidentally left a sponge or clamp inside you and they’re hoping that you’ll be too doped up to notice? And finally, supplying Downeast, Maine with a steady stream of narcotics has caused us all kinds of problems – problems that far outweigh the need to help clam diggers, farm workers and injured yoga teachers sleep through the night.
Anyway, it was awkward turning over in bed, and I couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch without assistance. I had to really work to not engage my abdominal muscles, which meant no coughing, sneezing or laughing. Given how hard it is to NOT use abdominal muscles during every day activities, I don’t understand why we don’t all have a 6-pack just from getting in and out of bed, sitting on the toilet and walking to and from our cars.
The third and fourth days post-surgery I started going on longer walks but I had to go slow to keep my gate smooth and keep from jolting my stomach muscles. The fourth day I walked about four miles and was feeling much better. On the sixth day I took a spin class and on the seventh day I went on a 4-mile run and felt no painful sensation at all. Since then I have happily and comfortably returned to my regular 50k training program.
The only noticeable side effect from the surgery that I can still feel is that my diaphragm is “stuck”. I can’t take a deep easy belly breath and as a yogi this is quite maddening. Dr. Sarah helped unstick something last week and I got my breath back for a few days, but now I’m stuck again. The other thing is that I can’t backbend much yet, and I’ve been warned against sit-up-twisty things for at least another 4-weeks. That’s ok, I can live without criss-cross for another month.
Overall it was a much easier and more comfortable surgery than I was expecting. The surgeon said she sewed up three (or four?) holes which she described as a “swiss cheese hernia”. She was a lovely surgeon, but her wording made me think of a study I read about recently that looked at how the doctor’s word choice can affect patient recovery (I’ve lost the link, but if you know the study I’m referring to, please comment below!). Fortunately I believe in the resiliency of the human body and it’s ability to adjust and adapt and I’m not too worried about having cheese fascia. Better than spam fascia right? But just in case, I’m going to give myself a year to rework some old patterns that might have contributed to this mid-line weakness. So, no full-ironwoman, 100km races or crazy acrobatic yoga this year. Though I’d like to work up to a few 50km races and maybe one or two 50milers if all goes well. Oh, and this race. Because you know I can’t resist running up something big at least once a summer.
Move Your Body
It probably comes as no surprise that one of my favorite undergraduate courses was comparative vertebrate morphology. In particular I loved the fanciful (though also sometimes eerily accurate) idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. The idea that we carry within us the fishy memory of gills, the lateral undulation of salamanders or the wisp of a monkey’s tail. And oh, that hyoid bone, what a fascinating floating remnant! Well, here Leslie Kaminoff explains the phrase and how it relates to the primary and secondary curves of the human spine.
Not all of you are Facebook fans. But if you are, and you like Wildopenheart’s page you’ll see videos like this more often. At least watch to the part where he almost drops back from handstand into a one-leg backbend but then comes back up without touching down. It’s lovely to watch in the same way that it is fun to know that Ellie Greenwood can run 100k in 7 ½ hours. It’s nice to celebrate our fellow humans who are able to so beautifully combine physical talent and effort.
If you have participated in my seasonal cleanses you know I am not a fan of vegetable oil. This article explains how refined vegetable are likely contributing to inflammation, heart disease and cancer.
Another one of my Seasonal Cleanse imperatives – don’t eat after sunset – get’s some affirmative press in this New York Times opinion article.
And finally, even if you haven’t done one of my cleanses you likely know how obsessed I am with the relationship between our inner and outer ecosystems – well this New York Times article makes an important point about human microbiomes – there is no one perfect ecosystem. Just like our global ecosystem, the health of the human population likely relies on diversity, adaptability and ultimately, evolution.
Read this commentary on the Ashtanga Picture Project and replace the words “pose” and “yoga” with the phrase “sitting in a chair” and you’ll understand how problematic this post is. Yoga poses are not divine commandments and they are not configurations immune to the limitations of the human form. That pain and suffering you feel when you externally rotate your hip and internally rotate your knee? That is not all in your head, nor is it caused by your flawed anatomy or lack of spiritual development.
The idea that your body is limited by your ego is not new, though one could equally argue that ego-attachment is a necessary condition of embodiment. The idea of mind-over-matter becomes problematic when it is embedded in the context of a striving, power-hungry yoga world and guided by a confused mashup of Karmic teleology, Blavatskian Theosophy, Jungian psychology and the body-ego detachment of the Yoga Sutras. If you agree that a torn meniscus is primarily an ego problem then you must to be willing to see that belief all the way through to its logical end: homeless, friendless, childless, posessionless and ultimately preferenceless. Which (thankfully) means you won’t care if you can do that pose or not.
Now here’s the thing, I totally understand where this author is coming from. I have gotten significant delight from pushing beyond my preconceived, ego-limited notions of what my body can do. But in all cases, where I felt this joy (or freedom) it was because I was feeling that way throughout. Yes, I might be suffering from extreme fatigue, or even pain, but there is no sense of masochism or worse, spiritual striving in that experience. I am not pushing through to attain a higher level of freedom from what I am feeling in that moment. I am not ignoring pain (knowingly) to achieve some kind of post-race bliss that includes an operating room. That’s the key – as householders that have chosen to live in society, to serve our families and communities and ultimately the world, it does not serve us to surrender to the disintegration of the physical body – as yogis, as athletes, as caregivers, we owe it to this egoic world to remain physically functional.
Also, it’s a sweet promise, but I assure you, whatever freedom you find on the other side of that “dark night of the soul” is fleeting. Last time I checked, most modern yogis, having worked through a dozen or more injuries over the same number of years, are not now floating around in a detached state of blissful samadhi. Of course if they are, they wouldn’t be here on the blogosphere to write about it.
We need to think long and hard about why we choose to push our bodies in any particular way – be it running faster or further, sitting for 10 hours a day, or putting a leg behind our head. These things in and of themselves are not virtuous, nor is the striving. So what are they?
If you are as curious about this as I am, you can help Matthew Remski continue this conversation by helping to fund his new book here.
Natural History Musings
When Jerome and I met I (half) joked that he would need to court me by bringing me blue things. Here’s why.
Picture of the week:
I spent the month of October leading my seasonal Fall Cleanse and wrapping up my race season. Just in time too because last week brought a foot of snow and an eight-day power outage. Which means I’ve spent a lot of time shoveling, heating water and cleaning out the contents from my thawed freezer. But I digress . . .
In this week’s news I give you a self-indulgent re-cap of my 2014 training/racing season. But first I need to set the proper context. I think most people who know me greatly overestimate my natural athletic ability, they think they could never do what I do, that I am some kind of uber-human-amazon-woman who thrives on difficulty and discomfort. It’s a funny thing because when I am immersed in a world of fellow-athletes I continue to see myself as a harbor seal/house cat toddling along behind a sleek pack of sharks and gazelles. At the same time, I care less and less about what other people think (about me, my body, or my achievements). I enjoyed this season of training partly because I was much less anxious about my performance. The plantar fasciitis forced me to back way off and put aside any competitive delusions and I began to really enjoy the little bit of pain-free running that I could do. Also, for the first time I fell in love with open-ocean swimming. I explored the entire coastline of Blue Hill Bay and made several open-water crossings on my own (if you’re looking for a lost mooring let me know, I saw several outliers this summer). I love the feeling of total independence and self-sufficiency, it reminds me of the feeling I had hiking alone in very remote places pre-cell-phone and gps. I don’t like the thought of global warming bringing more sharks to the Gulf of Maine. So, moving on . . .
At the end of last season I was in rough shape. My left hip joint was screaming, and I was told by PT’s and MD’s that I’d be lucky to run at all before an inevitable hip replacement in 3-5 years. My calves and feet were trying to take up the slack from my hip and I ended up with variations on plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis on both sides lasting about six months in each case. Then, after a slow steady build up of glute strength and overall endurance, NO hip openers (yoga-type stretches that include external hip rotation), and very little running (10-25 miles per week) my pain started to subside. I frequently switched up my footwear (from barefoot to New Balance minimus to Hokas) to spread the stress across different parts of my body and I spent way more time fast-hiking up and down hills than running on roads.
My goal was to end this season un-injured and un-sick and I totally succeeded. I managed to keep my attitude relaxed but focussed and while I don’t feel at all like an uber-human-amazon-woman, I did get to have some amazing experiences.
2014 Season Recap
March 16, Maine Huts and Trails 40 Km XC Ski Classic, Carrabassett Valley, ME
I started out WAY too fast – sustaining a heart rate of over 160 bpm for the first hour and over 150 for the next two hours. Whoa. It was a fun, competitive race, and I finished in 3hrs 26mins.
May 24, Pineland Farms 5k Barefoot, New Gloucester, ME
The Trail Running Festival and Pineland Farms is family-friendly, scenic, well run and laid-back. This was the second year that Lucy (7) and Georgia (6) and I ran the barefoot5k together and we had a great time. I think it would be great if small trail races like this could add an award category for 5-10 year olds, and offer a more generous family discount. Kids are natural trail-runners and it would be fun to see more of them out there.
May 25, Pineland Farms, 25k Trail, New Gloucester, ME
I dropped down from the 50k to the 25k since foot pain had kept me from running more than 5 miles at a time all Spring. Jerome ran this one with me and it made for a great date! He hadn’t run (at all) since his MDI Half Marathon the year before, so I had to really push him up the last few hills and we finished in just under three hours, happy and humbled.
June 8, Pirate Tri Sprint, Casco, ME
I love this little early season Tri. The swim is generally freezing, the bike course is lovely and hilly, and the run is a totally mundane, fast flat out and back. I generally camp out in the back of my car so I can wake up at the start line. My cousin Sam and my friend Sloan joined me. Sam and I both came in second in our age group and Sloan proved she can rock a triathlon even after a winter of hibernation.
July 12, Norway Tri Sprint, Norway, ME
This is my favorite local triathlon. The swim course is long (2/3 mile) and the water is always warm and lovely, the bike is 6 miles up a hill and 6 miles back down – fast, and the run is a steep 3+ mile course on local xc trails. When the Western Foothills Land Trust started this race 6 years ago it was a small event filled with first timers, retirees and mom-athletes but it is growing and each year there are a few more New England speedsters leading the rest of us around the course in their zippy suits and million dollar bikes. This year both my cousin Sam and her 17 year old daughter Kira joined us (for her first ever triathlon)!
This year Jerome, the girls and I camped out nearby and had dinner at the torturously slow Cafe Nomad, where unbeknownst to us they served Georgia a gluten-filled tortilla. She proceeded to spend the night puking on me in the tent while Jerome and Lucy snored nearby. Every time I opened the tent door to let Georgia puke outside a whole flock of blood-thirsty mosquitos would clamp down on my face, neck and exposed arm flesh. It was a night to forget and I spent the hour before the race in the morning cleaning myself and my gear up, didn’t get to eat breakfast and forgot to pump up my tires. This is all makes a great excuse for why I didn’t compete well this year, but I was also in the middle of a very hard Ironwoman training cycle and probably needed way more recovery time than I was giving myself. By the end of the weekend (which included a 50 mile ride through the White Mountains and teaching at the Maine Yoga Fest) my left foot was hurting so badly I couldn’t walk straight. Live and learn.
August, 8, Long Island Challenge, Blue Hill Bay, ME (2.4 mile swim)
This year’s swim was a bit on the choppy side and we didn’t hit the incoming tide quite right so it took us all a bit longer, but every one who got in the water made it to the Becton’s dock where hot tea and scones were enjoyed by all.
August 10, Granite Woman, Downeast, ME (2.4mi swim, 120mi bike, 10mi hike over Katahdin)
This year to keep the support logistics simple, I swam a 2.4 mile route alone in Toddy Pond and then biked up to Millinocket on my own. I got a late start and was once again racing the sun down the final hill into town where Jerome met me at the Hikers Hostel with a lovely roast beef sandwich. The next morning we got to the Baxter State Park Togue Pond gate as soon as it opened at 6am to try to beat the forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. We hiked up the Helon Taylor trail to Pamola Peak, arriving before 10am, but still the clouds were moving in really fast! As we crossed the Knife’s Edge we watched huge thunderheads rapidly forming overhead. If you know me you know how much I hate electric storms so I was on edge the whole way
up to Baxter Peak. When we got there everyone was acting very casual and all I could think was “how fast can we get down”. Half way down the Tablelands we hit the Cathedral Trail intersection and decided it would be wise to head down from there instead of completing our planned route up over Hamlin Peak. Of course as soon as we made that decision it became clear that there wasn’t enough heat to sustain the cloud build up and I was reminded once again, this is Maine, not Colorado. Even so, the Cathedral trail makes a very fun down-scramble and nobody uses that trail in the afternoon (people only hike up it) so unlike the more popular descent route down the Saddle trail, there is no threat of people dropping shit or kicking rocks on your head.
September 6, Lobsterman Tri Olympic, Freeport. ME
This year’s Lobsterman came right at the end of my peak Ironwoman training and my for some reason I can’t remember now, my left foot was killing me. I shouldn’t have raced at all but I am stubborn. I did end up cranking the bike ride at an average pace of 19.6 mph. But when it came time to run I was practically in tears. Somehow for the first time all summer the temperature soared into the high 80’s with nearly 100% humidity. My foot pain was acute, and I had to wear shoes because the pavement was too hot to go barefoot. I ran-walked myself across the finish line and hoped I hadn’t done any lasting damage. After all, I had an Ironwoman to complete the following weekend!
September 28, Vermont 50, 50k Trail, Brownsville, VT
I was originally registered for the 50mile race, but wisely dropped down to the 50k. I wasn’t even sure the week before if I would be volunteering or running (the most running I had done all season was the marathon at the end of the Ironwoman). I had talked two girlfriends into running their first ever 50k, and I was determined to join them. It turned out to be a lovely day in the Vermont hills, I felt strong if not fast, and finished singing and swearing loudly!
October 5, Cadillac Century Challenge, Bar Harbor, ME
This is not so much a race as a group ride. All my girlfriends backed out the morning of. Probably because it was pouring rain and blowing hard enough to knock down the registration tent. I tagged along with a friendly group of guys for the first 40 miles until I got a flat tire and realized my CO2 cartridge was spent. Miraculously I was a mere 500 ft away from Bicycle Bob’s house. He must have heard me swearing because he eventually he wandered out with a hot cup of coffee and a bike pump. I continued the ride with Maine’s friendliest doctor (who stuck with me throughout my flat incident and realized he also accidentally had no pump or cartridges). After 90 hilly miles around Mount Desert Island we finally pulled ourselves up Cadillac Mountain around 2pm. The sun was shining and I was mostly dried out. The ride down was much less scary than I had anticipated as the wind had really died down. All in all, the bikers I met that day are some of the best men in Maine. Thanks guys!
October 19, MDI Marathon, Bar Harbor, ME
I was still pain free and I hoped to stay that way so I donned my pair of Hoka One One marshmallows and jogged to the Bar Harbor start line to join a few hundred other Thunderstruck runners. Jerome and the girls dropped me off and headed over to Southwest Harbor for the girls “Big Run”. They spent all summer running a total of 25 single miles and today they were going to run their final 1.6 miles to complete their marathon and get their own golden lobster claw medals.
I underestimated how much fatigue I had accumulated over the last month. By mile six I felt like I had already run 26. I had a sudden, brand new sharp pain in my inner right thigh that kept threatening to throw me to the ground with a debilitating leg cramp. And then my left knee decided to rebel, well not the knee exactly but the TFL/IT band along the outside of my leg but it kept my knee from wanting to bend. The result was a very tough mental run. Which you know, I kind of like. I mean, when the physicality of an event is not really happening, when running faster is not really an option and just running forward at all is a step by step miracle, it really takes the pressure off. I downed my Tailwind and Gu, met Jerome and the girls at the top of the hill around mile 24 and finished only a minute behind my time last year (4:42). The best part? My feet didn’t hurt. No plantar fasciitis or tendonitis. Just good old fashioned fatigue. I can live with that.
October 26 and November 9, Down East Double Trouble Trail Race Challenge, the Wildlands and Sullivan, ME
Two little trail races packed with adventure. On the way to the first one I got in a fender bender so my girlfriends and I were late to the start, which meant we had to park and run 1.5 miles to the start line, before actually getting to start the race. But the race director was very kind and let us have our own timed start (once we got there). It’s a hilly course (~1,000ft gain) and with only a week between me and my last marathon those downhill outer leg muscles were pissed. I think I averaged 14 min miles downhill and 10 minute miles uphill.
The real highlight of my season was getting to run the second race of this series with Lucy. She had been looking forward to running with me for several weeks and when the day came she had her running clothes all laid out and her bottle of tailwind pre-mixed. We got there early enough to relax but she was just like any other racer, nervous and ready to go! I can’t describe the motherly delight and pride I had following her down the trail that day. She is light on her feet and kept her own pace. She ran most of the time and walked some hills, but never once complained. She seemed to actually be digging in the exact same way I do, I couldn’t believe it but I swear she was having fun! She crossed the finish line exhausted and smiling. While she refueled with post-race chili the race committee kindly gave her a “Youngest Runner” award which only added to her joy. She was beaming all day and kept saying “that was so much fun mama!”.
It was truly a great way to end a great season.
Up next? The goal is to fit in as much strength work as I can before xc ski season hits. And I’ve got a gorgeous little 50k planned for my 40th birthday in February out in Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.
Photo of the month:
Georgia showing us how it’s done.
Thanks to Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N., this week’s news is brought to you by the word Feminism. Sadly this has become an unpopular word with her fellow Millennials so I appreciate her courage to initiate a generationally appropriate discussion about gender equality. I admit I find the campaign title HeForShe a tad confusing because to me it connotes transgender rights (which I am also in favor of). But being an old-school(?!) feminist I would prefer the name SheForHe for the obvious reason that it puts women first. I was raised in the 1970’s on the Free to Be You and Me soundtrack and when I was Emma’s age I took it for granted that feminism was a universally accepted and popular concept. I took it for granted that feminism meant women would define the terms and agreements by which we would participate in the modern world.
My favorite Free to Be You and Me story was the one about princess Atalanta that I retold to my Saturday morning yoga class a few weeks back. I had no idea there was a cartoon version of this story until I looked it up online just now. Putting aside how disturbing it is to see images of a story that has lived in my head for the better part of 40 years, I have to digress (further) here to note that despite their killer heel-striking both Atalanta and Young John’s physiques appear pleasantly un-photoshopped. Unlike every single yoga teacher that has ever graced the cover of Yoga Journal.
Which is what this post is really about. Yoga and feminism. Or, how the use of women’s bodies in yoga marketing is defining the role of women in 21st century yoga. It seems to me that yoga femininity is a stand-in for Yoga Feminism and that’s not really working for me.
As a yoga teacher I have to constantly acknowledge and remind myself of how dangerous and insidious the yoga-body-ideal is. When I look at the cover of Cover Girl or Cosmo I expect, I know (because I am a smarty-pants X-generation, yoga-teaching, enlightened, feminist) that those images are altered. It is after all a fashion magazine. But when I see the pictures of my friends in Yoga Journal, in clothing, vitamin and prop advertisements, my eyes (and brain) fail me. Instead of seeing photo shopped art I see an ideal that is supposed to be achievable through dedicated hard work, positive thinking (and the right social circles.) No synthetic makeup, silicone implants or crash dieting here, just a whole lot of all-natural, wholesome yoga.
Hah! If you think the yoga-world is immune to the ills of masochistic, body-manipulating marketing you are soooo wrong. While it’s true those women are of course beautiful in real life (because we all are), their images are just as manipulated as the ones in any fashion magazine. With or without manipulation the limited range of figures chosen to represent our business contributes to a dangerous illusory ideal. One that I myself spent years chasing down. Fueled by how much attention I got or didn’t get at various yoga gatherings I pushed myself toward that perfect, slim, strong, flexible, flawless ideal. And what added to my crazy-making chase of perfection is how much the subtle differences in weight and fitness mattered. The years I showed up 10-20 pounds lighter then my average weight the compliments poured-in, I was offered pro-deals and free merchandise by retailers and I was accepted into the pecking order of slim-fit-accomplished yoginis (meaning I was invited to fancy meals and parties and given premium mat space.) But the years I showed up at these gatherings 10-20 pounds heavier than my average I was shunned and or given a ton of unsolicited, concerned-sounding advice (including a few offers for nutritional counseling!). The success of my business as a yoga teacher beyond the confines of my local studio appeared to depend entirely on my weight. I know it sounds extreme but it really was that extreme. In no other community has the size and condition of my body counted for so much.
Four years ago I was teaching at Wanderlust in Vermont when I noticed that I was the largest teacher there. Once I noticed I could not stop noticing. The students came in a broader spectrum of shapes and sizes, but the teachers came in one size and it was not mine. I decided I’d had enough of the national yoga scene. I was sick of trying to fit my body into a business that I didn’t admire and that certainly wasn’t admiring me back.
Now, this isn’t a story about sour grapes. I am very happy living and teaching in a rural community where everyone buys their yoga clothes at T.J. Maxx. I am very happy that when I walk into my studio nobody comments on my body or my clothing, nor do I comment on theirs (even if the crotch of their favorite tights is starting to rip out).
This is a story about the insidious message we teachers send to the yoga community when we agree to sell our looks and our bodies to market a practice that really has nothing to do with either. Really. Either you are born with that ass or you are not and no amount of Warrior II is going to make it go away. I love my body, I love feeling strong and supple. But I don’t agree with the idea that women should be outwardly celebrating and showing off their bodies as a sort of self-improvement trophy. Nor is yoga-adornment ($100 yoga pants and thousand dollar crystal om-necklaces) a self-empowered reclaiming of feminine beauty. It is time for the yoga world to get over the idea that femininity is feminism. It’s not. This generation of yogis is literally shaping the role of women in modern yoga, do we really want that role to be based on our shape?
This is exactly the conversation that Carol Horton, Chelsea Roff and others are having about the confusing (at best) Yoga Journal article titled “Love Your Curves” which gives advice on how to flatter various body shapes with proper yoga attire, and then this month’s response (including what appears to be a mostly un-edited Kathyn Budig on the cover).
I wish I could say I have always been above the marketed yoga-ideal. I wish I could say that I was always content with my body, running faster than the wind like Princess Atalanta. I wish I could say I don’t compare and evaluate my form with others, that my sense of worthiness doesn’t fluctuate with the scale. But it’s not true. Being a feminist does not make me immune to the cacophonous perfect-body, perfect-person message that floods the yoga world. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the popular yoga world (though a great boon to my well-being) that the further I move away from it the better I feel. So much so that these days, tucked away in the nearly media-free enclave of Downeast, Maine, I feel pretty great! Hell, I just finished a full Ironwoman, does anyone really care how big or small my various body parts are? I’m closing-in on 40 and I don’t mind that I look ten years older than I did ten years ago. I trust that my body-mind-spirit in all of its diverse forms has something meaningful to offer the world. That’s a big reason I’m still in this line of work. The world of Yoga and Wellness can use all the Feminists it can get.
And on that note I want to plug my upcoming Fall Cleanse. Because it’s not about attaining the perfect, squeaky-clean yoga-ideal. It’s about you as you are, not as you aren’t. It’s about taking three weeks to focus on taking care of yourself with love and care. It’s about nourishing your body-mind-spirit in a way that allows you to sit comfortably in your own un-photoshopped skin. It’s a cleanse that my feminist, ERA-necklace wearing Granny would be proud of.
Friday morning I packed the girls off to school and headed south. My first stop was Gorham Bike and Ski in Portland where I picked up a nice pair of zippy Zipp rental wheels. I don’t know how much a pair of these cost in real life but driving west on the Mass Pike on a Friday afternoon with these carbon-fiber creatures clinging to the Nashbar discount bike rack on the back of my rusty, dented Mazda was a little like flying Southwest, packing the Hope Diamond into your check-in luggage and expecting to see it on the other side. I made it to the Catskills without getting rear-ended by a tractor-trailer and just when I thought I could start breathing again the road started winding uphill. Really uphill. There were no shoulders, and three cement trucks came barreling down the road toward me. I thought “I will die tomorrow. These roads are insane.”
Just then Sam texted me from packet-pickup “Are you sure you registered and paid, they can’t find your name anywhere”. Several deep breaths later I figured out what had likely happened. Jerome and I registered and paid for the race together in the spring but then Jerome decided last week that trying to do this race, for which he had not even pretended to train for, in the middle of starting a new job at a new school would be stupid. So he deferred his race registration until next year and somehow they must have accidently deferred mine as well. It turned out this is exactly what they did. By the time I got to packet pickup they had re-enrolled me in the race and given me a bib number from one of the many cancelled racers.
As the race grew closer the weather forecast deteriorated. Scattered showers in the afternoon turned to 80% rain starting in the morning with a low of 39 and a high of 53. Apparently many other registered racers looked at the weather forecast and decided to stay home.
But Sam and I were here, we were trained and we weren’t giving into a little fall weather event. I still hadn’t ridden my bike after putting the fancy wheels on so after I registered I zoomed around the parking lot a little bit and then realized I hadn’t put my bike computer magnet on the new back wheel. I put it on and rolled around a little more but my computer refused to cooperate. Fortunately the friendly bike repair volunteer got it up and running and I racked it in transition where I nervously patted it good night, promising to be back in the morning.
With only an hour of daylight left we drove into Hunter and quickly checked into our hotel, where a much-anticipated package was waiting for me. The little square box sent overnight from Washington State contained none other than my dream wetsuit, the Helix from Blue Seventy. Let’s just say that I have some amazing friends that have some amazing friends that made this miracle happen. I was dying to strip down right there to try the suit on but we still needed to drive the bike course before sunset so I reluctantly tossed the box into the car and off we went down the road. Which was looking much better than the road I had come in on. In fact, it looked great! Nice pavement, good shoulders, no sharp turns. Things were really looking up. After reviewing the course we headed to dinner at the Last Chance restaurant in Hunter and though I wasn’t at all hungry I thought it unwise to arrive at the beginning of a race having not eaten since 3pm the previous day. I ordered a grilled portabella, goat cheese pita sandwich – a happy compromise between an all out pre-race carb fest and nothing at all.
We returned to the hotel and of course the first thing I did was try on the wetsuit. It fit absolutely perfectly. The only weird thing about the suit is that somebody at Blue Seventy thought it was a good idea to reverse the zipper on this suit design so that it zips down instead of up. This is somehow supposed to make it faster to unzip during transition. But this also means you need to bring a friend with you every time you go swimming because there’s no way you can zip it down yourself. Or at least I couldn’t figure out how.
We spent the rest of our pre-race evening sorting and distributing gels, water bottles and warm clothes between all the various transition and ”special needs” bags. And finally got to sleep around 10:30pm. I slept well until about 2am, when the pre-race-demons got the better of me and I restlessly and unsuccessfully tried to meditate myself back to sleep for the remaining 3 hours.
We got out of bed at 5:15am, packed the car and made some tea. I ate a few slices of sprouted Mana bread and tried to drink a quart of water but it was cold! I would have loved my usual quart of hot water but the hotel kitchen wasn’t fully functional yet and the tea water tasted like stale coffee. I was too nervous and distracted to notice I wasn’t really eating or drinking. We headed to the start line in Sam’s car when five minutes into the drive I remembered I had left my bag of running shoes in my car. We turned around, I grabbed the bag from my car and off we went, again.
We had 35 minutes to finish setting up our transition areas – barely enough time! I still didn’t have a special needs bag because of the registration mix up from the day before and they wouldn’t let me use my own plastic bag so I had to go up the hill to packet pickup to get one of their bags but they only had the smaller half-ironman bags left which meant I had to repack all my special needs gear and re-label the bags and re-decide what should go where. Finally just as transition was closing I got it all sorted out and ran down to the beach, wetsuit in hand. I met Sam at the beach, wriggled into my suit, applied Glide and she zipped me down as we listened to the last bit of the pre-race meeting. There seemed to be about 100 racers on the beach and it looked liked a third were wearing the dark blue caps for the full distance. Sam and I were trying to suss out the competition but there wasn’t much time.
At exactly 7am we were off! The swim consisted of 4 loops around a shallow lake. The water was lovely and warm though the air was a chilly 41 degrees. Because we all started in one wave the first lap was crowded and I narrowly avoided several foot-in-mouth kicks. By the third lap we were more spread out and I was really enjoying the swim. I kept thinking, “this wetsuit is so unbelievably comfortable!”. I felt like a sleek seal cutting through the water with long efficient strokes. We all know perception is more important than reality. In reality I was way at the back of the pack. But in my perception, this was the best race swim I’ve ever had.
I completed the 2.4 mile swim in 1hr 21mins and ran up to the transition area to change into my biking clothes. I decided that because it was so cold I should put on entirely dry clothes, which was tricky to do with my numb hands and wet body. I used a skirt to cover myself while I put on a dry bra and dry bike shorts. A friend had lent me her wool bike shirt and I pulled on the rainbow arm warmers I wear in honor of my twin brother and Georgia – my two favorite rainbow lovers. I spent 8 minutes in transition, twice as long as I planned, but it’s hard getting dressed when you’re cold and wet!
The bike starts with an uphill so I warmed up and little did I know, it would be the last time I would break a sweat all day. About five miles in the course starts a 20 mile downhill and that’s when it proceeded to dump torrential, ice bucket challenge rain on us and continued to do so for the next seven hours. As I finished the first 56 mile lap I was getting colder, even though I had just climbed back up the 3,300 ft mountain to the turn around. When I got there Mark the race director greeted me and told me I was the second woman (hah! little did I know . . .) He refilled my water bottles and handed me my fleece arm warmers as I headed back out for the final lap. It continued to rain and the stiff tailwind going downhill was lovely but just as I was hitting 42mph I saw something black coming out of the woods and onto the side of the road. I yelled “Oh Shit!” out loud and watched in horror as a black bear ducked under the guardrail and onto the shoulder. The thing about Zipp wheels is they are essentially break-less. Even more so when they are wet. I had literally no stopping power and very little quick maneuverability so I tightened my grip and prepared to hit the mid section of a bear going 40mph. I yelled again, it looked up. I’m always surprised at how fast and agile bears are. Somehow with its back legs still on the other side of the guardrail it whipped a 360 and retreated back into the woods. Ok, now I had some serious adrenaline going.
At the turn around point on my second lap I realized I was running out of fuel. I think I was burning through 1/3 more fuel than I had planned just to stay warm. I grabbed a couple of disgusting Hammer gels. I finished those off in the next 12 miles and still had another 16 miles to go – all uphill and into a head wind. Somehow I must have miscommunicated because Mark had only refilled two out of my three water bottles and the packet of Tailwind powder in my back pocket was useless without water. I could feel my legs hitting empty the last ten miles but I was still passing other racers. I passed one guy going so slow I thought maybe he was injured. I asked if he was ok and he muttered something about running. He was wearing a tank top singlet, shorts and nothing else. I thought for sure he was hypothermic. I was cold too. My hands were so cold I couldn’t shift. I tried sucking my thumbs to warm them up but it didn’t work and I had to get both hands onto one shifter and then lean all my body weight onto that thumb to get it to press down hard enough to shift. I finished the bike in 7hrs and 12min. Far from a personal best but definitely the hardest and most satisfying 112 mile ride I’ve ever ridden.
Once in the transition area I became aware of how ridiculously cold I was. All I could think about was getting dry warm clothes on. I tried to gulp hot tea from my thermos but my hands were numb and I spilled much of it down my shirt. I was starving too and I tried to chew cookies while changing clothes. With two bear paws for hands I kept my compression socks on because I couldn’t figure out how to get them off (that would have required thumbs) but I was determined to get a warm shirt on. Somehow it took me a whole 15 minutes to get my bike shoes off and running shoes and tights on. I have no idea where the time went, I just know that I was really really cold.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that running on frozen brick feet wasn’t so bad. I was excited just to be running. Surely I would warm up now! The first part of the run is on a rocky trail but then there’s a nice two mile climb. I have never been so grateful for a hill. By the top I was no longer shivering and on the way down my hands started to throb and tingle as they warmed up.
The run was the first time I got a handle on who else was competing in the full distance race and I was surprised to discover there weren’t very many of us left! There was a young woman ahead of me by a few minutes and gaining. And there was Sam, a few minutes behind me. And there were about six men in front of me and five behind.I wasn’t going to break any speed records on the run but I was running, I was pain-free and I couldn’t be happier!
I completed the first two loops (13.1 miles) in 2.5 hours. Just three days before I couldn’t even walk my kids up the driveway to school without limping and here I had just run a half marathon. I was psyched! My stomach was queezy but I forced myself to drink a cup of coke at every aid station. A few hours in I was able to choke down some chunks of green banana and with one lap to go I got out my headlamp and a water bottle with Tailwind from my special needs bags. As I started to add water to the bottle from a thermos on the aid station table a volunteer told me it wasn’t water but hot chicken broth. Oh well, nothing like a little sweetened lemon-chicken water to keep you moving!
Sam passed me about 14 miles into the run, she felt bad but I didn’t. She was racing well! She was a little slower on the bike, but she was smart and put her rain coat on at the half way point and so stayed warmer which probably helped her have a faster transition time. That’s what makes triathlons fun, there are a lot of decision points and they all add up. Focus and efficiency count as much as fitness and keeping your head is a big part of triathlon success. Not to say Sam isn’t fit as well! She did a ton more running than me this summer and was keeping a great pace. The 4-loop run course made it easy to cheer each other and the other racers on. I can be a bit of a lunatic cheerleader when I race, hooting and yelling at everyone – even if they aren’t in the race. By the end of the night I had an entire campsite drunkenly yelling my name every time I ran by.
By 9pm I was done eating. Nothing else was going to stay down and I knew the clock was ticking. I had about 3 ½ miles left and it was time to dig in. I kind of live for this point in a race. I start talking to myself and anyone else who will listen (deers, crows) . . . I don’t think about what’s ahead as much as what’s behind. What I have to build on and what I don’t want to loose. I love the pure grit, the focus and single mindedness required to get to the finish line from this point. I’d been racing for 14 hours straight, my legs were on empty (again), but I was still running. It stopped raining. The stars came out. I forced myself to pick out and talk to the constellations, Sagittarius, Corona, Hercules, Cassiopeia . . . The wind picked up and it felt good. It reminded me of all the nights I’ve spent alone camped on the edge of wild lakes, feeling the wind off the water and watching the night sky turn overhead. I felt tremendous gratitude for the freedom I’ve had my whole life to live this life style. Gratitude that I love being outside and that I have the rain, wind, stars and bears to keep me company.
I didn’t sprint to the finish line but I am proud to say I still felt like I was running strong at the end (again, perception is more important than reality!). It took me 5hrs and 45mins to run the marathon for a total of 14 hours and 43 minutes to complete my first Ironwoman distance triathlon and it felt like a real accomplishment.
As soon as I finished I knew I needed warm dry clothes so Sam and I went back to the car to change, then we cleared up our gear from the transition area. We didn’t get to the post-race food for nearly another 40 minutes. Which was a big mistake. By then my stomach was in full revolt. I tried alternating bites of pasta with sips of hot water but I could barely manage a single serving. At the same time my blood sugar was so low I kept thinking I was going to pass out. But at least I was warm – I had put on a full compliment of winter gear including my down coat. We gave up on trying to eat and opted to try to sleep instead. Which wasn’t difficult, until about 4am when I was simply too hungry to go back to sleep.
Even though we had left over gels and race food in our hotel room the thought of even one more bite of sugar repulsed me. Finally at 8am the hotel’s advertised “hardy breakfast buffet” opened and we immediately ordered one of everything. Still feeling queasy, the only thing I could stomach were the various salty breakfast meats and scrambled eggs (I don’t want to talk about it). The starchy potatoes were hard to choke down and the coffee smelled awful. My body was clearly telling me “give me fat, salt and protein, but please no more caffeine or sugar!!”.
An hour later we packed up and headed to the awards ceremony. After all, we were the 2nd and 3rd overall female finishers. Ok, so only four women actually finished, but given the course and the conditions I think all 15 finishers deserved a special award. (31 participants started the full race and 16 finished).
After receiving our awards and taking several group photos with our newly bonded group and the nicest race director ever, we watched a few of the Olympic distance racers cross the finish line. We overheard several of them complaining about how cold it was and how numb their fingers and toes were. Hah! It was sunny, dry and practically 60 degrees out. If only they knew what it had been like the day before . . .
The drive home was uneventful except for a much needed stop at Whole Foods in Portland for a large green juice. I returned my fancy wheels no worse for the wear and got home late that night.
Perhaps the most remarkable outcome of the race is that I am not sore. At all. I was fatigued of course, but not sore. Not only that but my left foot feels better than it has since June. It does not hurt at all. I wish I had a good explanation, a recovery plan that I could repeat next time – maybe one that doesn’t require completing a long distance triathlon? I am so grateful to be comfortable and healthy in my body. Here are four potential causes for the miraculous healing: 1) Dick Bartlett’s help with shimming up my left bike shoe. 2) Gerry Bracht’s ripping my calf fascia apart on Thursday. 3) Boiling my foot in epsom salts every day for a week before the race 4) The two Aleve I took during the run (maybe they disrupted the inflammation cycle and my body forgot to return it’s pre-race pain pattern? I never, ever take NSAIDs, but after this incident, I may not be so reluctant next time!)
I have a few races coming up but nothing I need to specifically train for. The VT50 is in ten days and I promised myself I will only run if I am still 100% pain free. Just to be on the safe side I switched my registration from the 50mile the 50k. The following weekend is the Cadillac Challenge Century which is a 100 mile ride around Mount Desert Island and up Cadillac. I won’t be using carbon brakes on that one. Then finally the Mount Desert Marathon in mid-October and a couple of short fun trail races in early November. Hopefully soon after that there will be snow . . . and you know what that means!