In lieu of my regularly scheduled Weekly News Roundup I want to tell you about a couple of our recent family adventures. If nothing else I want to remind you how gorgeous Maine is and show you how easy it is to get out ant and enjoy it even if you only have a day or two off at a time.
Like many local families, we make a significant chunk of our income during the summer tourist months. Thus, our family expeditions are constrained to the 36 hours neither of us works during the week. As you will see, this is not usually a problem.
24 hours in Acadia National Park
Don’t let the crowds of summer tourists scare you off. When I worked at Acadia as a Park Ranger part of my job was to hike the parts of trails where I would encounter as many visitors as possible. Basically that meant staying within a half mile of the most popular trailheads (Eagle Lake, Cadillac summit, Sand Beach . . .) Beyond that and the numbers thin exponentially. As a rule visitors don’t like to walk, and they never, ever go off trail. Of course the trails themselves are part of the attraction of Acadia. The rock work is as inspiring as the views they’ve been so carefully designed to reveal. But there are plenty of unpopular trails (i.e. difficult or more than a mile from a concession stand) and I’ve gone hiking for days without seeing anyone else.
Acadia is only a 45 minute drive from Blue Hill which makes it an easy last-minute camping destination for us. So a few weekends ago we packed up the car and headed over for a short family vacation.
We arrived at Seawall Campground around 4pm and paid $14 for a walk-in tent site. We choose Seawall because it’s on the “Quiet Side” of the island and because there’s almost always a few walk-in sites available even in the middle of summer.
After setting up our tent we biked all over the campground, exploring every possible loop. Adventure is easy with a 6 ½ and 8 year old: “Wait, we haven’t gone down Loop C yet!”. After building our appetites we headed back to the campsite, lit a small fire and cooked our sausages over the flames. More easy entertainment. After dinner we headed to the Ship Harbor Trailhead and walked a half mile or so through gorgeous spruce-moss forest to the coastal jack pines and huckleberry bushes that I love so much. At the end of the trail there are some of the best tide pools on Mount Desert Island. The big tide pool that I relied on during my days as a Ranger has gotten too warm for much to live in it, but we got to the shoreline right at the lowest part of low tide and had no problem finding tons of creatures in the lower, cooler crevices and pools. Including the tiniest sea urchin any of us has ever seen.
After hiking back to the car and being forced to identify at least 5 species of birds by song, the 6 year old was ready for bed. The 8 year old was more awake than ever and we spread out a blanket to watch the stars through the treetops. Moments like these are timeless, and if it weren’t for the no-seeums that know exactly what time it is, we could have spent all night chatting quietly while the leaves waved gently overhead.
The next morning Jerome took off early on a bike ride to Bass Harbor Light House while the girls and I cooked breakfast over our trusty little camp stove. We packed up our gear and got ready for a day of hiking and swimming. By the time Jerome returned we were ready to go. We got to the popular Echo Lake parking lot by 9am and there were still plenty of spaces left. The hike up the cliffs is spectacular. The ladders are high enough to be thrilling, especially to kids, and the view of the lake is gorgeous. There was no one else on the trail that Monday morning, and once again I marveled at how well this tiny park handles its 4 million annual visitors. We had a snack of snap peas and nuts at the top and headed back down for a swim. The girls spent a few hours snorkeling around the shallows while Jerome and I hid in the only patch of shade reading our books and people-watching (a great feature of the Park in the summer).
By the time we were done swimming we had run out of provisions. We decided to head to Bar Harbor for lunch, which is a bold move in early July but our timing was perfect. We hit the Side Street Café at the perfectly dead hour of 2pm. We had been there once before right after it opened a few years ago and it was terribly disappointing. But then lately we’ve been hearing all kinds of good things about it so we thought it we should give it a second try. It was totally worth it. My grilled vegetable sandwich was fantastic in so many ways and the they had lots of gluten-free, dairy-free options for our high-maitenance family.
After refueling we took the bikes to the Eagle Lake parking lot for a short spin up the carriage road to Duck Brook Bridge. The girls love family bike rides and would have gone much longer, but I had to get back to Blue Hill to teach my evening class. Not to mention that the tourists are thick here and between their gawking at the view and my girls’ utter lack of road rules, it’s amazing everyone made it out unharmed. We made one last stop at A&B Naturals for coconut ice cream bars (kids) and dark chocolate (adults).
And just like that, our vacation was over. 24 hours in Acadia well lived.
Maine Huts and Trails, a hidden gem
I am a passionate cross-country skier but I rarely get beyond the groomed carriage roads at Acadia except when I make my annual trek up to Carrabassett Valley for the Maine Huts and Trails ski marathon. This past year, after racing all out in the 40k and not even coming close to beating the Colby College ski coaches, I was thrilled to win the post-race raffle instead: a night for two at one of their four huts.
This past weekend we made good on the offer with a trip to Flagstaff Hut. We drove our canoe three hours north just shy of Kingfield, to the Bog Brook inlet of Flagstaff Lake, at the Eastern edge of the Bigelow Preserve. Ok, that’s not exactly true. We missed the turn onto Long Falls Dam Road and drove past Kingfield before realizing our mistake. We also missed the turn onto Bog Brook Road and continued several miles before turning around. This is pretty typical for us and the girls long ago stopped asking us why we make so many U-Turns. Anyway, it took us closer to four hours to get from our door to the Bog Brook put-in. (Which incidentally has no parking, so after unloading our gear Jerome drove the car a 1/2 mile back up the road to park on public land and then ran back down to rejoin us.)
When we left Blue Hill it was hot and sunny but when we arrived at the southern end of Flagstaff Lake it was raining. I had packed the girl’s raincoats but Jerome and I stupidly forgot our own.
As a former NOLS instructor, my greatest fear is that I will need to be rescued from a wilderness adventure and that upon finding me freezing to death on the side of a mountain the search and rescue team will chastise me for not having the proper gear. This fear is magnified by the fact that the girls and I regularly hike barefoot get plenty of tsk tsking from fellow hikers for our obvious lack of experience and preparation.
So there we were, packing our canoe in the rain, preparing for a five-mile paddle to the hut. Jerome donned a trash-bag rain coat and I put on his wetsuit. The plan had been for me to swim a few miles along side while he and the girls paddled and fished their way north. This plan worked for the first hour and then Jerome was cold and worried about us getting to the hut in time for dinner (they had told us dinner is served promptly at 6pm). So I climbed in the boat and we paddled hard for another half hour.
We got to the hut just before six and discovered they are not so strict about mealtime after all and were still waiting on a few other groups to arrive. Many people access Flagstaff Hut via the 1.8 mile trail, and there are closer boat put-ins than Bog Brook. Eventually another dozen or so guests showed up in time for the family-style meal.
We got situated in our bunkroom and the girls were very excited to each have their own top bunk. Dinner was was delicious. There was gluten-free pasta with a creamy cashew and red pepper sauce, garlicky beet greens from their own garden, a huge green salad, homemade bread (including a gluten-free loaf), grilled chicken and homemade (gluten and dairy free) cookies for dessert. After dinner we walked out to the point and watched the sunset over a family of loons. Baby spotted sandpipers peeped around our feet while the girls played on the rocks. After sunset Lucy was very excited to go on the Energy Tour offered by Libby the hut keeper. We learned all about their off-the-grid energy systems which include some very cool and modern innovations. Lucy especially liked getting a first hand look at the clivus multrum’s odorless, red-wiggler filled humanure.
After a restless night of sleep on the crinkly plastic-covered mattresses, I woke up early to go on run. I headed south for five miles on the Maine Huts and Trails trail until I hit the Appalachian Trail which I followed north for a few more miles until I got to the top of a small mountain. Being in the white-blazed emerald tunnel filled me with joy. I ran into several thru-hikers, the north bounders having come all the way from Georgia were wirey and economical in their movement while the south bounders having only hike 180 miles from Katahdin were soft and clumsy in comparison. The trail culture has changed a good deal since I was a thru-hiker (15-20 years ago) but wilderness is timeless and its transformative effect is the same as always.
On my run I came across a set of fresh moose tracks and something loud crashing though the woods (but no good visual) plus at least a dozen snow shoe hares bounding so high to get away from me that they looked like they might take flight.
Jerome saved me breakfast and after my run it tasted ridiculously good. Scrambled eggs with spinach, turkey sausage and oatmeal with chopped apples and nuts washed down by an excellent cup of organic coffee.
After eating I found the girls fishing off the dock. We leisurely packed up the canoe and headed back down the lake toward our put-in. Jerome swam this time and the girls did their best not to cast their lines directly onto him.
As the day got warmer (and life jackets are hot) we stopped a few times so they could jump in and swim along side too. It took us about two hours at this leisurely pace to get back to the beach where we ate the sandwiches the hut staff provided for our lunch. The girls had tuna fish (which, I, their mean mother NEVER make them) while Jerome and I had chosen the delicious curry chickpea spread on gluten free bread.
A family vacation where you don’t have to plan, pack, make or clean up after food. Dang, we could really get used to this.
After jumping off the dock several hundred times we drove to the nearby Safford Brook trailhead. This pretty shaded trail follows a cold mountain brook and meets the Appalachian Trail at the base of the Bigelow peaks. After an hour and half of hiking we made it up to the AT where we turned south and met a few more thru-hikers. A little further on we hit a lovely view point and enjoyed our final meal of the day, the only meal of the trip that I had to plan and pack. Then down we went, through the beautiful old mossy forest and the increasingly hungry clouds of black flies, mosquitoes and no-seeums. We took one last swim at the pretty campground near the trailhead (and made a note to return there someday). It was bedtime and we had just packed the girls into their car seats and gotten them settled in for the long drive home when we came across a sick thru-hiker that needed a ride to town. We moved our gear around and made room for him. Jerome and I got countless rides from the middle of nowhere during our own thru-hikes and we always happy to return the favor when we can.
The day ended with us singing the girls to sleep while we navigated our way through the hinterlands of a Maine that I am incredibly grateful to know.
Once again I find myself at the end of another very full summer week. After such a long, dark, cold winter I think it is safe to say that us Maineacs are universally thrilled with the recent bounty of sunlight and warmth. Despite the fantastic weather, I still can’t figure out how to grow vegetables and my garden looks like an anemic insect haven. I will keep trying, but in the meantime I want to express my gratitude to all the amazingly talented farmers on the Blue Hill Peninsula. How, oh how do you coax so much green out of glacial till and granite bedrock?
Move Your Body
The early, warm mornings have been great for Ironwoman training and I’ve been getting in some nice long rides before I teach my morning classes. Which is a good thing because as I keep telling you, it is much better to stretch after you workout then before. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a bit about why less flexible runners are more economical than us gumbies.
I wish this could explain my dismal sprint triathlon time this past weekend. Alas, I think that had more to do with my lack of sleep the night before. Just in case you think my life is a rosey L.L. Bean cover shot, let me reassure you, I too am wrecked after a night of camping out and tending to a puking daughter while fending off a billion blood thirsty buzzing friends. The effect of sleep on recovery and performance is well established, not just for athletes but for all of us. This New York Times post reveals how sleep helps your daily performance and this Atlantic article shows how adding more time sleeping might be more effective than adding more time training.
No amount of hard work or sleep will allow me to run like Kilian Jornet, the winner of this year’s Hardrock 100 in Colorado’s San Jaun Mountains. And that’s ok. Instead I get to revel in the humility and awe of watching a fellow human do something I never will. This video shows how even the most talented runners look mortal as they follow Kilian the mountain-goat-god down a steep pass.
Speaking of being inspired to move, I admire this doctor’s bold approach of prescribing personalized outside walking routines. Individuals are sent outside to reclaim their health and communities start to reclaim their parks.
What is modern yoga exactly? Carol Horton breaks down the recent Paradigm Shift in her excellent blog post.
And did you catch this week’s Maine Calling on Maine Public Radio? Here’s what your fellow Maineacs are saying about yoga.
The second Maine Yoga Fest happened this weekend in Portland’s East End. It was full of happy, relaxed yogis enjoying each other’s good company and enthusiasm. I enjoyed presenting my class on how to prevent common injuries in yogis and athletes and I’ll be putting together on this important topic soon.
The wild roses have a way of blooming just as the heat of summer intensifies. My 8 year old daughter plucks the petals right off the bush to eat them whole while I prefer drenching a small jar of petals in raw honey to use in my mint water. The sweet, moist, cooling fragrance of rose petals helps balance the hot, dry fire of summer.
Rose oil is also great for all kinds of things, from soothing puffy summer eyes and ocean-water filled ears, to softening the soles of our summer-hardened feet. I make about half my rose oil with coconut oil (it is more cooling and appropriate for summer use) and half with olive oil (more neutral smelling and more nourishing for facial skin).
My friend Stacie Jacques recently wrote these instructions on how make your own Rose Oil. You can find out more about Stacie and her work at her Flowersong Herbs facebook page.
Make some now to use next season . . .
How to make rose oil
1) find amazing, vibrant beach roses – on a dry, sunny day ~ mid afternoon is the best time to gather – the petals will be thoroughly dry
2) breathe in outrageous fragrance and feel the gratitude!
3) have clean dry jars or a dry paper bag
4) fill the jars loosely to the top with rose petals
5) if you only have a bag ~ harvest petals and when you get home you can transfer to jars
6) place jars on a flat surface, slowly pour olive oil over the petals, filling in all the spaces
7) fill to nearly the top, stop and use a chopstick or butter knife to wiggle the petals all around to release air pockets trapped… when there are no more air bubbles
8) continue pouring oil to the top~ making sure all plant material is under the oil!! cap loosely
9) store in a cool, dark spot – check every few days at first to ensure that all plant material stays under the surface of the oil and that you don’t have any mold starting to grow.
10) you may need to add a small amount of oil to keep the jar topped off as the oil can tend to ooze out from the top a bit ( sometimes)
11) if there is any mold – scoop it up along with plant material all around it – compost and add fresh oil to the top again…
12) let soak for several months -
13) strain using cheese cloth ~ compost plant material and jar the strained oil.
14) Make sure to clearly label the jar and store in a cool place
15) I do this same process with all plants and flowers – to eventually make awesome heal all medicinal salves – that is another story
16) My favorite sore/ tired muscle rub is rose oil and st.john’s wort oil mixed together with a little rescue remedy and some lavender essential oil…
ahhhhhhhhhh- it helps stiff necks, and everything really….( a little goes a long way)
17) have fun in the roses – it helps all maladies of mind, heart, body and soul!
18) roses nourish and support us in amazing and unique ways.
Move Your Body
Have you ever noticed that I am obsessed with awakening the gluteus, deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles? Hatha yoga offers several strategies for balancing the upward (prana) and downward (apana) flow (vayu) through the pelvic region. Our good health is dependent on things being held in and let go of at the proper time, and mixing this flow up is the cause of many problems: constipation, incontinence, prostate and erectile dysfunction, pelvic floor prolapse, hemorrhoids, endometriosis . . . need I go on? This week I chose a few articles to get you up to speed on a few of these issues . . .
Katy Bowman has long challenged the emphasis on kegels for treating pelvic floor dysfunction. This article talks about using squats as an alternative to kegles, especially during pregnancy. But it’s information that everyone (of all gender persuasions) can benefit from. And be sure to check out Katy’s iphone app if you need extra support in healing your pelvic floor dysfunction.
Now how about firing up them glutes? Doug Keller gives you some good information on the importance of using your glutes and some exploratory exercises to find out how efficacious your own backside is.
Moving up to the belly, and to the topic of diastasis – the separation of the abdominal muscles along the midline of the stomach that happens during pregnancy. This series of articles written by a doula will help you understand how to best engage your core post-partum.
And finally, up to the ribs. Here a personal trainer tells you everything you every needed to know about how keep your ribs over your hips. And why you should.
After the last few week’s seriously-toned articles, I thought we could use a little breather. First up, “What’s Your Yoga Mats Name”. Mine is Captain Dirty Toes. How did they know?
Next up is one of my favorite yoga parodies. You’ll know why at about 45 seconds in. There’s a little bit of Stressed Out Yoga Chick in all of us. Um, right?
It’s summer. Don’t miss out on the abundance of raw, ripe, crisp and local foods right in front of you. I love the recipes on the My New Roots site, and this Early Summer Abundance Bowl is no exception.
Finally, in follow up to my post about sunscreen last week, here’s a little more discussion about the recent study on the link between sunscreen, the need for Vitamin D and skin cancer. In conclusion, if you are pale skinned living north of Florida or primarily inside, take your Vitamin D.
Have a great week and do let me know what you think and what you want to hear more about. Better yet, come find me at the Maine Yoga Fest on Sunday and tell me in person!
This week’s photo is brought to you by the chickadee that decided to build her nest right on top of a ziplock bag filled with trail brochures.
Sometimes I feel like my entire life is defined by the effort to balance effort and ease, trying to find that sweet spot that is embodied liberation. Here Emelie Forsberg demonstrates her talent for balancing effort and grace.
This episode of Talk Ultra is perfect for a long car trip (or run), and happens to feature two excellent interviews with minimalist/barefoot runners. Also Lisa Smith-Batchen who is about to run Badwater 135 four times.
In that same episode Karl Meltzer expressed his concern about “getting chicked” at Western States 100. Look here boys, the running goddesses hate that phrase and I’m pretty sure that’s why they forced him to drop out of this weekend’s race. Sucks for him, but maybe he’ll be more interested in running like a girl next time? (And watch out, ’cause if you keep calling us girls, this actual girl is gonna pass you too.)
While I’m on the topic of goddesses. Here’s a good article on diastases (the abdominal wall separation that happens during pregnancy).
Being fair and outside for most of my life I’ve been subjected to a few kinds of skin cancer including melanoma so I’m probably not the best person to tell you not to wear sunscreen. But I completely agree with the fact that we shouldn’t be putting anything on our skin that we wouldn’t put in our mouths. There’s more work to be done with optimizing modern sun-saftey, but in the mean time here’s a good homemade sunscreen recipe.
And as a side benefit, I swear putting coconut oil all over my body everyday has kept the deer ticks away (knocking vigorously on wood as I type). For the last four years I’ve found them regularly on my clothes and skin but never attached.
And finally, now that it’s getting warmer, are you balancing the heat with cool, green and sweet? Staying topped-off with anti-oxidant fruits and vegetables will help keep your skin and immune system healthy.
Photo of the week:
The Summer Solstice was Saturday. For those of us living close to the 45th parallel (the Blue Hill peninsula is 44.4 degrees, hence the name of our favorite local coffee roaster 44 North) the sun rose at 4:50am and set at 8:22pm for an official 15hrs and 31 minutes of daytime. However, if you live around here you know that the real day lasts much longer. It is light enough to read by 4am and there is still a glow in the western sky until 9:30pm. I always feel nostalgic for Alaska at this time of year, there is something very magical about the land of the midnight sun. In honor of the summer solstice, here’s a short time lapse video of a summer week in the arctic.
And while we’re on it, you know how I’m always telling you to look up time-lapse videos of plants growing to watch how they follow the sun? Here’s a nice example.
This story from Diane Bruni (via Matthew Remski) more or less parallels the first ten years of my own yoga experience and how it shifted over the next 10 years. This will help you understand why I am so obsessed with incorporating integration, engagement, sensitivity and responsiveness in my practice. Oh, and I why I started teaching Pilates. Glutes are good. So are hamstring attachments and rotator cuffs.
If yoga is a conversation with yourself, how deep should you go? Here’s a Huffington Post interview with Tom Myers on the connection between emotional patterns and fascia. While I’m not sure we should get too obsessed with reinventing ourselves, I do appreciate the access yoga gives me to different depths of my being.
I went to high school with Seamus Mullens so it was extra fun to stumble across his Cooking with a Blender article in Men’s Journal. Just in time for some light-weight healthy summer “cooking”.
I got an email yesterday from a friend who is feeling a bit boggy and bloated despite slowly transitioning to a fresher, greener summer diet. Among other things, I suggested she add more gut-bugs in the form of fermented foods. Which reminded me of this article on probiotics and how or if they really work. For the record I’m big fan of raw, lacto-fermented vegetables as a source for gut-bugs, though I have been known to take pills in a pinch.
This week’s photo is brought to you by our future slug-eaters first swim:
Upcoming community events:
PKMDI (Pecha Kucha MDI) – an eclectic group of local talents come together to entertain you with 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide. June 18th, 7:30pm Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, back yard.
Deer Isle Bridge Fun Run and Walk. Saturday June 21st. The bridge will be closed to traffic so we can cross the scariest bridge by foot. At least you won’t be trapped in your car if the bridge collapses. Pre-registration for the 5k race is required.
Michelle Marchildon makes a good point about the irrational yoga teacher business model. Even the best teachers are not exempt from good business practices.
Once again Matthew Remski takes on modern yogis “unconscious rationalization of neoliberlism” in this funny and insightful article “Tara Stiles in a Glass Box. Dead Guru in a Freezer”.
We have one container of hand soap in our house that gets renewed annually during my mother-in-law’s visit. Otherwise we are a soap-free household. This New York Time’s article examines the potential benefits of a sustaining a diverse skin ecosystem!
It’s the first week of summer vacation in Downeast, Maine. We don’t really need to be told to back off – most of our kids already run amuck lighting fires, cutting down trees and falling off cliffs. But just in case you need a reminder, here’s the Atlantic Monthly article The Over Protected Kid (aka Hey Parents, Leave Those Kids Alone). Be sure to watch the video.
Here’s what I was talking about in class last week – get your little, balancy muscles strong so your big muscles can spend more time moving you forward and less time holding you up.
Photo of the Week
Or, how I ended up wearing hurache sandals next to Silvino Cubesare Quimare.
In case you missed it, here’s the slideshow I presented for the Mount Desert Island Pecha Kucha event at the Bar Harbor Inn on March 19, 2014.
I’m still nursing a pretty serious bout of plantar fasciitis in my right foot, so I’m trying to figure out what fun trail endeavors will be possible this year. In the mean time, I’m open to any and all original advice on how to heal my heel. (I’m a barefoot runner, please don’t tell me to run barefoot, I wear all kinds of shoes and they only makes things worse, I’m a yogi and my calves and hamstrings are super loose, I eat well and I’ve spent the last five months strengthening my gluteus, adductors and outer shins)
A niggling, growing urge to bust out of winter
My daughter and I were just sitting in a sunny warm spot on our couch listening to a lovely story about crocuses blooming (Sparkle Stories are the best!). When, alas, as the story ended our eyes rested on the piles of icy snow that still blanket our yard. With forecasts in the zeros and another big storm on the way our moods are not feeling very springy. The cozy, tucked-in feeling of winter is no longer comforting or nourishing – instead it’s starting to feel pretty claustrophobic and stagnant about now . . .
Emerging from the den
There is a funny paradox during this Spring-on-the-way time of year. One foot firmly rooted in the dark bear-den of winter with the other tentatively reaching out for the soft tickle of green grass. We long for spring but we are reluctant to give up our winter comforts. Maybe it’s the primeval drive to insulate ourselves that keeps us from wanting to swap out the ice cream, meat loaf, lattes and waffles or in my house the fresh out the oven cashew butter cookies and coconut milk cocoa. We long for the promise of bright-green-goodness only to get sucked back into the stale, bland heaviness of winter. We are like grumpy late winter bears roaming the bleak landscape, raiding bird feeder and returning to our dens worse then when we left.
Like bears, humans are creatures of habit and winter is just long enough for us to form some very tenacious habits. For the last 14 years I have done one form or another of a Spring Cleanse and I want to share with you the strategies that have helped me effectively change my habits over the years. How do I break up the winter ice and jump into what can feel like very chilly water!?
Four strategies to help you change your habits
1) Pick a plan and commit to it.
You can juice kale until you pee green, eat brown rice until it comes out your nose or feast on watermelon until you are pre-diabetic but basically any effective cleanse routine is a cleverly disguised way of getting you to give up your beloved processed, packaged, refined flours, sugars, fats and chemical crap. Just by giving up the crap your liver will begin to heal and your gut biota will blossom. Though hotly debated among modern-health-freaks, I would argue that the specifics of what you ingest instead of the crap is less important than committing to not eating the crap.
2) Pick a start and end date and commit to them.
There really is never a perfect time to do a cleanse. Trying to ride the natural momentum during the change of seasons is super helpful but not necessary. No matter which month you pick I guarantee there will be a holiday, birthday, wedding, anniversary, family vacation or race right in the middle of your supposed cleanse time. Pick a start date. Since you are committed to completing the cleanse, you’re also going to commit to navigating those events in a way that they become part of your cleanse success.
3) Have no doubt that you will be able to do what you need to do to succeed.
Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to complete a task or reach a goal. When it comes to seasonal cleansing I have both failed and succeeded. I’ve failed in the sense than I have been miserable enough to quit and fall back (hard) into bad habits. Those experiences significantly lowered my sense of self-efficacy heading into my next round of seasonal cleansing. Instead of skipping out, I simply set the bar lower. I picked a regime that eliminated some but not all crap or I made sure I would have enough calories to keep me calm and out of binge mode. Over the years I’ve succeeded more often than failed. This is because the great thing about cleansing is that you get to set your own rules. Remember, the goal is to eat less crap. There are a lot of plans to help you do this but the best one is the one you will actually do. When I lead my group cleanses I provide a very clear set of rules, but I also encourage participants to add their own rules such that they can start the cleanse with a strong sense of self-efficacy.
4) Set yourself up for success.
Believing you are going to succeed means planning for success. Effectively changing a habit requires actual effort. You’ll need to stop wishing for change and actually get up out of your barka-lounger, take that tub of margarine out of your fridge and throw it out. Along with the chips, popcorn and peanut oil hiding in your cupboard. I pack a box of foods I want to avoid during my cleanse but know I will come back to later (i.e. maple syrup) and put it in storage for the duration. It makes it so much easier to stick to the plan when the only food in your house is the food you’ve committed
to eating during the cleanse. Which also means you’ve planned ahead and stocked your fridge and cupboards with this food. The quickest way to fail a cleanse is to starve yourself the first day because of poor planning and then find yourself mysteriously in front of a plate of cookies or chips.
That’s it. Four strategies that will help you successfully transition from the dark, sucking weight of winter into the bright, lightness of spring. Register now for my April 1-21 Spring Cleanse if you are ready to commit to a start and end date.
Too much of a good thing
I had planned on finishing my 2013 six month ultra running and racing season with the Mount Desert Island Marathon on October 20. But then a couple late season opportunities came up that I just didn’t want to pass up. The main one being the 100k La Ruta Run trail race in Costa Rica. That meant that I had to prolong my season by an unplanned month. A wiser me would have turned that month into a nice long relaxing sauna-session, focusing more on heat training than over training. But the newbie ultra-runner in me didn’t feel confident enough to leave well-enough alone and during the few weeks after the MDI marathon I stacked up a couple 30 mile training runs and then some short fast trail races. It was a really fun month and I figured why take a break when nothing’s broken?
Ouch, that heel pain.
I knew I was in trouble the week before La Ruta when I felt a tell-tale sharp pain in my right heel. Fortunately I had a taper week ahead of me and I spent most of it on a bus toodling around San Jose. The dull achy pain migrated around my heel from side to side and front to back. Not always worse in the morning, sometimes completely gone, and then back again. I don’t take pain killers and I didn’t have any tape so I just kind of hoped for the best during the race itself. Which in the end turned out to be fine and almost entirely pain free despite the 8,000 feet or so of elevation gain. Compared to how Joe Fejes describes his achilles pain during his six day run at Across the Years, I got off easy!
The straw that broke the runner’s tendon
If I had just stopped there I might have spared myself, but noooo, the Crows were planning an early morning Thanksgiving run up and down Cadillac Mountain, how could I possibly miss that? Coming down the mountain I felt an ominous crackling in my Achilles tendon. It’s a feeling no runner wants to feel. That “oh shit, this is going to take a long time to heal” feeling. I limped home and pretended I was fine while standing on my feet all day cooking.
The next day my sister and her kids invited us on a hike up and over Champlain Mountain. Again, how could I possibly miss that? Four hours into the hike my foot and ankle throbbed and burned and I whimpered back to the car, tail between my legs. I know better. Really I do. A week off turned into a month, and then another month started to slip by. I ran 8 miles total in December. I wasn’t too bummed because I had planned to take it easy for a month anyway, but when middle January rolled around and I was still limping I decided it was time to get more serious about healing myself.
1) Identify the obvious source of stress
I had stopped running but my injury wasn’t healing. There must be another source of stress causing the tendon and fascia to stay inflamed. One obvious culprit was my diet. Ever since the VT50 I had really let my diet slip. Gu and Tailwind (or any sports drink) are like gateway drugs for me. Add a few holidays to that and suddenly sugar and grains had crept into almost all of my meals. A muffin here, a cookie there. Here a pie, there a pie, every where a pie pie . . . until a couple of weeks into the New Year I looked in the mirror and noticed a pair of puffy tired eyes staring back at me. As if the Achille’s pain wasn’t enough of a warning sign now I was showing other signs of systemic inflammation. My back ached, my period was painful, my sleep was sucking and my mood was bleak.
2) Take away the most obvious source of stress
Out went all the sugar and grains. In came at least 30 different vegetables and fruits a week, a good amount of super-high quality protein in the form of locally raised and pastured furry and feathered beasts and super-high quality fats like avocado and coconut. Within a week my heel pain had subsided enough to get back to running every other day. The third week I ran 35 miles and this past week I joyfully skied 60 pain-free miles. (Why run when you can ski?).
3) Prevent future occurrence
I’ve been backing up my clean-diet with some other healing strategies. First, I’m trying to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, especially on the days I’m running. I’m not great at this but I’m working on it because there is a ton of evidence that sleep promotes recovery and decreases inflammation. Second, I’m cross-training as much as possible by xc skiing, biking on my inside trainer when it’s really crappy (or dark) out, and swimming, and third, I’m working my ass off. Literally.
Look for other sources of stress or causes of imbalance
Besides treating the systemic inflammation, I need address the obvious alignment and strength issues that I know added extra stress to my Achilles tendon and right foot during that period overtraining at the end of the season. My achilles was just the weakest link in a stressed out chain. To heal that link I’ve got to strengthen the whole chain.
I’m practicing glute and adductor strength routines four days a week (classic Pilates mat classes plus this “myrtl” routine). I’m also consciously working to keep my intrinsic core muscles awake and firing while I run. To help with my alignment I’ve gotten a few chiropractic adjustments though ultimately my left hip is so dysplastic that skeletal symmetry is not going to happen for me in this life time. The adjustments do seem to help me access my glute and hamstring muscles more and I think that helps take some load off my right foot.
Becoming my own expert
Over the last few months I’ve researched a lot of advice about plantar fasciitis (aka fasciosis) and Achilles tendonitis (aka tendonosis). There are “experts” coming from all different angles. Some say you need more arch support, some say you need to go bare foot, some say you need flat shoes, some say you should only run with heel lifts. Some say you just need to align your toes and stretch the front of your ankles while others say you should align your hips and stretch your calves. Some say only run on flat even surfaces and others say trails and hills are the way to go. What all of this tells me is that the origins of pain in the lower leg and foot are varied and complex. Ultimately:
The key to resolving pain is to bring the system back into balance. How you do that depends on what took you out of balance in the first place.
As a yoga teacher and an athlete I have a few generalized templates of balanced alignment and action that I keep in mind as I help people reduce their stress and get out of pain. I often know what I need to do in my own body to get there and I can often help other people move toward balance too, but the reality seems to be that human health is an ongoing experiment. Not all things work for all people, we are biological not mechanical and the attributes of sensitivity and responsiveness are critical in a healthy biological system.
You are the experiment
That’s why at no point in this injury cycle have I been tempted by the quick-fixes of pain killers or shots. I need the sensation of pain as feedback to assess my healing strategies. I need to know if I got enough sleep the night before, if running barefoot or in shoes (and which shoes) is helping or hurting, and I need to know how that breakfast of turkey and spinach is treating me. I don’t need an expert to tell me to avoid lateral standing poses in my yoga practice (side angle, triangle, warrior 1 and 2 . . .) when I have the wisdom of pain to warn me away, and I don’t need a company-funded study to tell me that their $500 pair of orthotics is my only salvation when a cheap pair of boots with the insoles taken out feels great.
The usefulness of pain
Pain is complicated but it’s not that complicated. At a basic level pain provides us with critical information about how we’re managing the stressors in our lives be they emotional, environmental, dietary, biomechanical or other. We think pain is complicated when we’re sure we’ve done all that we can to mitigate the stress but the pain persists. And it’s true, sometimes you’ve done all you can but your pain is in fact a result of a stress that is not under your direct control. When you are in this kind of pain it can really really suck to realize that you are not the master of your own universe. I’ve had this experience too many times (like the time my wrist bone broke and died and then took three painful years to dissolve and in the mean time I couldn’t open doors or slice my own bread. Holy crap that sucked.)
Pain is a sign of stress
The message of pain is “You are overloaded by the amount of stress in your life”. Stress from a combination of sources that are personal to you (accident, illness, birth defect, environmental, diet, life style, relationship etc.) You can respond at the first niggle of pain, or like me you can wait until the pain becomes intolerable. Either way your response should be to systematically remove the stressors that you can, starting with the easiest and most obvious ones. Hopefully for most of us most of the time this will give us relief. For me diet is one of the easiest places to start and that’s why I offer my seasonal cleanses – because it is my experience that by removing dietary and some key life style stressors pain often resolves itself. At best it’s cheap, low risk self-care, at worst it’s a good start.
When a clean diet and rest aren’t enough
For those of you actually experiencing plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis I want to share some of the useful resources I’ve come across. Remember, there are as many ways to get back into balance as there are ways to get out. Some people need to take their shoes off, some need to put shoes on. Some people need to strengthen their feet and some people need to strengthen their butt. The key is to be sensitive and responsive – which means sensible and responsible in your own recovery process. Sometimes pain just needs you to change your socks, sometimes it needs you to change your life.
I’m absolutely loving ROLL Recovery‘s R8 contraption. The cost seems totally outrageous but considering how expensive bodywork is it has more than paid for itself over the past month. Seriously, the ability to work trigger points along the sides of my shins and ankles and get blood flowing to the belly of my calves and hamstrings, plus the targeted work I can do on my ITB (not just smashing and trashing it with a foam roller) is absolutely fantastic. Oh, and I’m using it to tease apart the scar tissue from that old wrist injury too . . .
As a barefooter with good strong feet I found the Sock-Doc’s recommendations for foot and ankle stretches to be really helpful.
If you are a shoe-wearer Dr. Ray McClanahan at Northwest Foot and Ankle has some good thoughts on how poor foot wear and toe alignment can contribute to PF and AT.
And here’s another one geared toward how stiff ankles and wearing shoes with toe-spring might contribute to plantar fasciitis. I don’t wear stiff shoes with toe-spring, but if you do, you’ll want to check this article out.
And finally, if your misery needs company listen to Caity McCardell’s funny and poignant rant about her own struggles with plantar fasciitis and the wide spectrum of remedies she’s tried.
Learn to love the cold
When I raced cross-country skiing in high school and college, -4F was the official low cut-off temp for competition. Because of this we spent many weekends standing around in our thin spandex suits freezing our asses off waiting for the mercury to rise a scant millimeter. I don’t remember any spectators at our races, probably because they were all hiding in their cars wishing their child had joined the swim team instead.
We would take turns zipping out and back on the course to warm up (futile, but better than freezing to death in place) and peeing in the bushes (less effort spent heating the water in your bladder means more energy available to heat your toes). It was during those sub-zero races that I learned the insulating value of nose hair and eyelashes, what real lung-burn feels like and how cold is too cold. I also learned the secret to loving winter:
Get outside everyday no matter what and keep moving.
The key to getting myself out the door is a non-judgmental attitude when it comes to weather. Weather is not good or bad. It is guaranteed to happen no matter what I think about it, so I try not to waste my energy thinking about it. A grudge will only slow me down and make my toes colder. I try to go out the door with my shoulders rolled back ready to receive whatever the day gives.
Dress based on how confident you are that you’ll be able to keep moving
Running, skiing, hiking or walking in sub zero temps is only dangerous if you are forced to come to a halt.How much cold weather gear you choose to bring with you when you head out the door depends on how much you trust yourself to get back to the door without being forced to stop or slow down along the way. As long as you’re moving, you don’t need much. While I might fetch wood mostly naked I wear a bit more when I head out on to the trails for a run. But not too much more because I don’t like to be a sweaty mess, plus I’ve always had a minimalist streak – I prefer light and fast. Partly because I’m cheap and partly because I like trusting my body as much as my gear.
Here’s what I wore and why this morning on an eight mile ran up and down Cadillac Mountain at AcadiaNational Park. I started at 6am, it was still dark and the thermometer read 1˚F.*
• A neck gaiter is a must for sub zero temps. I like my synthetic Buff
because it is thin enough to breathe through but thick enough to keep my nose, cheeks and ears frost-bite free. When it’s really cold it freezes solid with my breath and creates a wind proof layer over my face – which is just what’s needed when it’s that cold. I also wear a thicker fleece neck warmer around my ears and a pair of Swix ear warmers, because I find most hats don’t come far enough down over my ear lobes. Once you’ve had your ears frost-nipped you’re unlikely to let it happen again.
• Thin, wind proof gloves are less sweaty than fleece mittens and good for adjusting laces and clothing without exposing flesh, but they won’t stay warm if you are forced to slow down. Sometimes I stick a pair of homemade waterproof mitten shells in the back of my underwear as backup. (I made them out of the same silicon-impregnated nylon that I made my tarp-tent out of. Buy a couple yards of this stuff and the possibilities for lightweight cheap, windproof, waterproof homemade gear is endless . . . ) This morning I opted for windproof fleece mittens and sure enough they were soaked on the inside and frozen solid on the outside by the time I got back to my car.
• When I’m road running I often wear cheap acrylic leg warmers bunched up around my ankles. They keep my feet warm without having to wear thicker socks (which would make my shoes too tight). This morning I wore a pair of short stretchy nylon gaiters to keep the deep snow out.
• The rest of my body is covered by a pair of Patagonia wind proof tights (the same ones I wore under my spandex race uniform 20 years ago**), long and short sleeve wool t-shirts and a water resistant windbreaker with a hood. I consider the tight-fitting hood part of my emergency back up gear.
I admit I like to play the edge on winter gear. I often ski or run a 15+ mile loop around Acadia National Park’s remote carriage roads with no more than my wind breaker tied around my waste. But a wiser athlete would pack one or two instant hand warmers, a space blanket (I saved one from my last marathon for just this purpose) and something sweet into their waist pack. That way, when you accidently end up sideways in a snow bank or limping home into a 30-knot headwind the local police beat will at least report that you were “prepared”. A friend is great backup too, there’s always the get naked and shiver together strategy . . .
Eat your warmth
I pre-fueled this morning’s run with a nice warm baked sweet potato sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa powder, coconut milk and hazelnuts. I added an extra tablespoon of coconut oil for good measure.
Oil inside, oil outside
Never underestimate the value of a Hot Drink
I also always leave a thermos of hot tea in my car for when I’m done. The first few sips are truly life-giving. I find at 0˚F and below I need nearly twice as much water as I do on an average warm (30-60˚F) run. Warm water is absorbed more quickly and will keep your body warm even as you cool down post run. I also leave a change of dry clothes in my car for when I’m done running or skiing. I change right away and it helps me sustain the post-run glow until I can get warmed up inside for real.
If loving winter and cold weather running is just a matter of attitude and gear, I’m not sure why more people aren’t moving to Maine. But a least maybe after this winter’s polar-vortex, more people will fall in love with the cold?
* Some people really LOVE cold weather running. This morning Gary Allen started chasing down the Polar Vortex on his 500 mile run from the summit of Cadillac to New Jersey and the Superbowl (#maine2superbowlrun). He’s raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Read more here or track his run here.
**Have you seen Patagonia’s short film Worn Wear? It’s a fun look at the special bond we create with our most trustworthy gear.