Falling in Love Again

It’s been awhile, and here’s why: I fell out of love with running. Actually, with clean eating, strength training, pretty much just good health in general. Is that crazy? Yes, but look at what I did to myself: I took all of those good things and turned them into a JOB. And not just a job, but a job with an asshole boss.

I spent, oh, let’s call it the second half of 2014 just hating the pursuit of good health. Everything I had done in the past with gusto – cooking at home, enjoying an outdoor run, working up a great sweat at the gym – now all felt like shit. Isn’t that awful? I couldn’t help it, but I had slipped into the ever-destructive “never good enough” state of thinking and living. I can’t speak for others, but this does seem to be a hazard for athletes and people living with chronic health issues alike. I could never eat clean enough. I could never run fast enough. I could never get strong enough. I could never control my blood sugar enough. There was always someone faster, stronger, healthier than me, and always something I was failing at. That asshole boss? Myself. The angry voice in my head that doesn’t just say those things, but yells them. Screams them.

I did take solace in one thing during this time: at least I’m not enduring this crisis of confidence as a professional athlete. We all know what that voice sounds like, and to be certain, some athletes thrive on it. Some struggle with it. Some hear it and scream back! (And god bless them.) But I’m pretty sure that voice doesn’t go away once you start making money and getting attention for your athletic performance – in fact, if I were a betting woman, I’d say that voice might just get louder. So when I read this race report from Timothy Olsen, one of my favorites, some light started to break through the holes in my craggy heart. I wanted to hunt this guy down and give him a hug!

http://www.timothyallenolson.com/author/timmyolson/

And another great article that I remember reading years ago that came quite in handy today as I started to write this:

http://www.runnersworld.com/sports-psychology/mind-gains?page=single

This should give you an idea of how deep I was – I read Tim’s blog post two months ago and I feel like I’m only just now shedding that negativity. But the comfort of reading about professionals that share their suffering and crippling self-doubt was the first thing that started to heal my aching spirit. It wasn’t until this weekend, though, when I ran the Bandit 30K in Simi Valley, that I really felt my heart smile again. Well, anyone that knows what a 30K trail race is like knows that my heart didn’t start to smile until the race was over, but here’s the thing: It was grueling, it hurt, and it took me a long time. But the pain of the run was actually worse than the pain of my crisis. And strangely enough, that made the voice quiet down. And what do you know? Just in time for Valentine’s Day.❤

A Short List of Our Favorite Running Books

On our way to the Santa Barbara 100K this weekend (John had an incredible experience but DNF – more on that to come) we finished an audiobook: “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek. One of the most fascinating things to me about ultra-distance events, whether it’s running, biking, swimming, or all three is the state of mind that the athletes describe being taken to when they transcend the pain, fatigue, desire to quit, and sometimes hellish environments of their endeavor. Scott Jurek, the #1 guy in the world at achieving said state of mind (the 7 times he won the Western States 100, for example), wrote a great memoir about it. He is also an athlete that, you might tell from the title, takes his fuel seriously. He’s vegan, and discusses just how he got there from his Minnesotan meat-and-potatoes roots. I love a good discussion about sport nutrition – being a Paleo Crossfitter who likes to run doesn’t mean I don’t respect a vegan ultra runner who likes to lift weights. In fact, as these things often do, the book has even inspired a little adventure in me and I may just prepare a few vegan meals this week.

The first book I ever read about ultra running was “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami, actually not because I was interested in the subject of running but because, at the time, I was interested in the subject of writing. Murakami is a writer himself, of novels, short stories, and non-fiction, and as he got deeper into his writing career, started running longer and longer distances to move his body and break up the day around long periods at his desk. It was the first time I had even heard of a 50 mile race, and I remember thinking that if you could run that far, you could write a book. Murakami is one such biathlete, the runner/writer. The next ultra book I read was actually a Kindle Single called “The Long Run” by Mischka Salander. These things are great quick reads if you have a Kindle (or, I suppose, the Kindle app on your phone) and this one is actually one of the best sellers; it’s the author’s description of his own climb out of alcoholism and depression and into running, and then ultra running. If you’ve ever gotten involved in any multisport events of any distance, but especially the long ones, I bet you’ve met a  recovering addict or two. What is great about running (or biking, swimming, or all three) is how universal it is, but also how personal. The three books that I’ve named so far are from three incredibly different people with incredibly different stories, but they’re all doing the same thing – running ultras. They all got there different ways, and they each get something different out of it. But they’re all running! I can relate to it, you can relate to it; we can see ourselves in the stories or find something completely new to  be inspired by. Looking for some good reads this summer? Now you’ve got three. A couple of others worth mentioning: “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. This book, it goes without saying, is a must-read for anyone that calls themselves a runner. Run, don’t walk, and get yourself a copy. Also on our shelf is “Run Gently Out There” by John Morelock, a really sweet memoir (or maybe more accurately a collection of essays) that is both inspiring and comforting to all of us who have ever known the need to just be ‘out there.’

And on our list of To-Reads: anything by Dean Karnazes, “Zen and the Art of Running” by Larry Shapiro, “Running with the Mind of Meditation” by Sakyong Mipham, and “The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life” by Amby Burfoot. You can see I’m starting to explore my spiritual side😉 Happy reading!

Where Has All the Full Fat Dairy Gone?

I am seeing some cold, hard evidence of our country’s fat-phobia when I stand in front of the dairy case at most grocery stores. Even Whole Foods! Oh how the mighty has fallen. I wrote last week about the debate I often have with myself about whether to include dairy in my diet or not, and on those times that I am including it, I’m going to eat the full fat stuff. And I would really like it if it weren’t so damn hard to find.

Full-fat dairy, as recommended over non-fat by everyone promoting a Paleo or High Fat Low Carb diet, as well as everyone who knows that our fat-phobias stand on shaky ground at best, has more protein, less sugar, and boasts the slow-food trait of being far less processed than its low-fat cousins, has disappeared from the shelves.

Whether you’re trying to control your blood sugar or reduce your carb intake or not, it’s still pretty shocking to see an entire food product, an arguably healthy one, which I know exists, gone from the landscape. It was only a few years ago that I could buy a Fage Total at the café in the gym I worked in, but that soon disappeared. The grocery store, especially organic-friendly ones, though, never disappointed. I could get my Fage, or some other exotic variety of strained, full-fat yogurt. But recently, and this seems to strangely coincide with how close attention I’m paying, the yogurt I always knew would be there for me are gone! Perhaps this is just a sign that I should give up the dairy already, but if I’ve learned anything through my entire nutritional journey that I have a stubborn, deeply seated tendency to want something that much more once I learn I can’t have it (or in this case, find it.) And so, the search continues.

Buzzword: Motivation

In just the past week or so, I’ve come across two recommendations for the same book that, inopportunely, is out of print: The Blackmail Diet, by John Bear. This book is actually a wildly enlightening story of motivation. The Blackmail Diet starts with Bear, a PhD graduate in psychology, taking on his long-time struggle with obesity and dieting in a completely new and unusual way, by altering his motivation: he puts $5,000 into an escrow account (which makes it under the control of a lawyer, and completely out of his own) with the strict stipulation that, if he fails to lose 70 lbs over the course of a year, the money will be donated to…wait for it….The American Nazi Party.

Yikes! Talk about motivation.

As one can imagine, this was a completely unacceptable outcome for Bear and he – yay! – lost that 70 lbs and kept his money. This experiment certainly makes a solid point about how to drop 70 lbs, but the greater idea here is about your goals, and what kind of motivation it takes to achieve them. Those goals may be weight related, or not. John Bear helps us wonder, if motivation is or has been a goal-block in the past, then what kind of commitment are you willing to make that will be there even if the motivation wanes?

Well. That’s something to ponder for a moment during your busy day, and to feel free to share with your personal trainer who is always willing to help you make those commitments (….within the limits of reason, of course. This is definitely not an invitation to rope your trainer into some legally binding contract involving unsavory political parties and garbage bags of cash. Just so we’re clear.) Whether your goal is to lose weight, to eat more vegetables, to look like the Spartan soldiers from the film 300, or to start and maintain a healthy routine, then start by checking the motivation barometer: is it high? Low? In need of an unpleasant threat? Take a look and find out.

For those of you who feel more comfortable finding your motivation in a more personal and less alarming manner, I’ll leave you with a quote from leadership expert and coach John C. Maxwell from his book, Failing Forward:

“Motivation is not going to strike you like lightning… Forget motivation. Just DO IT. Exercise, lose weight, change your diet, whatever – do it without motivation and then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep doing it.”

PSA: Eat Dairy Responsibly

I am constantly on the fence about dairy. Try as I might to focus my diet on what is included rather than excluded, dairy is one food item (along with nuts) that I often have to ask myself: am I eating this now or staying away from it?

To begin with, what dairy and nuts have in common in this case is that they’re both major domino foods. How familiar does this sound: after buying the economically-sized tub of Greek yogurt with intentions of eating only reasonable, well-measured portions, half of it is gone by the next morning. Don’t get me started on this phenomena with nuts (my newest, strictest rule: no more buying in bulk). And cheese? Forget it. I’m pretty sure cheese is supposed to be more of a garnish than an entrée, but it is pretty stinking easy to put back a thousand or so calories of cheese, especially when eating it in front of the TV.

However, in pursuit of more energy, increased athletic performance, and stable blood sugar, is dairy actually a good addition to the diet? I know lots of CrossFitters who swear by the Icelandic yogurt Siggi’s (or the new one that is exclusively at Whole Foods, Smari). Incidentally, the CrossFit-favored Paleo diet does not include diary. Cheese, milk, butter, and yogurt are among the agricultural products that, along with grains and legumes, don’t fit the Primal lifestyle. But what makes the Icelandic style special (and, Greek, German, Australian…there are more to be found) is that it is strained so many times that it bulks up the protein while straining off the lactose, minimizing the sugar and carbohydrate content. While a typical serving of regular yogurt only takes about one cup of milk, a serving of Greek takes something like two or three , while Icelandic can take up to five. So, when following a low carbohydrate diet, Paleo or otherwise, this is a high-five. These types of yogurt also have the whole homesteading thing going for them – it’s a traditional food that has sustained a culture for generations. Plus, the two Icelandic brands that you can find on your store’s shelves are rather unadulterated as these things go: very few ingredients, no added sugars or preservatives. Bingo. In the end, this quality trumps an extra carbohydrate here or there for me (though I still aim low.) Besides, does anyone else remember the Chobani-GMO-mold mess that got them dropped from Whole Foods? I do.

So, yogurt aside, what about cheese?

The bacteria in cheese eats up the lactose as it ages, so any cheese aged longer than three months, generally speaking, has lost most or all of its lactose, leaving the cheese to be a high fat, high protein, low-or-no-carb snack. But again, the domino effect strikes: the last time I invited cheese into my diet I found myself eating it at almost every snack and meal, and most of my feel-good markers (energy, performance, blood sugar) were thrown way off as a result. Don’t forget that cheese (again, along with nuts) is one of the most allergenic foods. Even if you don’t have a bona-fide intolerance, just because your GI can tolerate 1 oz of something doesn’t mean it can tolerate 10 oz of it. I see alcohol the same way: one drink? Fine! 10 drinks? No bueno!

As for butter: I won’t give up butter. High quality, grass fed, real pretty yellow butter. The picture above illustrates before your very eyes the difference between conventional butter (left) and grass fed butter (right). Even organic butter can be that sad white color, if the cows are fed organic grains! When it comes to butter, yellow means go. That being said, I also don’t use that much of it. Sometimes – rarely – I make myself a nice bulletproof coffee in the NutriBullet with 1 tbsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp butter for a smoother, easier, longer lasting caffeine fix instead of a sharp spike. But I also use butter to cook with and have just started using ghee. Another traditional food (this could be the final lesson learned here today: if you’re going to eat dairy, make sure it’s produces from a centuries-old traditional method) ghee is frequently used in Indian and southeast Asian cooking and is clarified butter from which the lactose and casein have been cooked away. The smoke point is also much higher than vegetable oils, which is a very good thing when trying to avoid free radicals and AGEs in your cooking.

So, like the title says, eat your dairy responsibly. This PSA could actually apply to all food in general, but when you’re on the fence about a particular food and are experimenting with adding it in or taking it out, your best chance at getting it to work for you and your goals is to get the highest quality available, and even better if it’s been made from traditional methods. And for the love of cows (or goats, or sheep), eat that dairy mindfully!

Back to Basics Tip – Write it Down

This Back to Basics tip comes courtesy of a personal experience that recently kind of blew my mind in its simplicity. You’re gonna love it. It is, wait for it…writing stuff down.

I hate to admit that I can sometimes be nauseatingly susceptible to over-competitiveness. You’re probably thinking, “duh, you compete. In sports. That’s the point.” And yes, I would agree that it is, to an extent. There is the healthy level of competitiveness that gets you on the bike or track or treadmill every day and keeps you going in a race even when you’d rather quit and go home, and then there’s the unchecked, soul-eating competitiveness that makes irrational comparisons and stops any progress before it even has a chance to start. I am, admittedly, susceptible to the latter.

Call it perfectionism, call it hard-headedness, call it absolutely crazy for a fully-formed adult to throw what amounts to a temper tantrum when he or she falls short of some imagined standard of success, but it has happened to me and I have seen it happen countless other times to clients as well. Picture this: a successful human being by all reasonable measures descending into a mini-crisis of anger and self-loathing just because he or she can’t execute a proper dead lift. Or is huffing and puffing after half a minute of jumping rope. Or can’t bench press as much as they remember benching in college. Or sees someone much older (or younger) running, biking, and swimming much faster than they in a race. Reading this now, it may seem crazy to you for anyone to measure themselves by such standards, but that is how the unchecked, overly competitive ego acts REacts. And it is a performance killer. In fact, it can be a career killer.

So, before you let such over-competitiveness ruin your chances at greatness (or now that you’ve had a few blinding flashes of recognition in the examples above), what can you do about it? The answer is so simple, you won’t even believe me that it is actually a solution to anything besides helping you remember stuff: Write. It. Down. The purpose here is to always have your most recent benchmark in mind that you are working against. That’s it – instead of seeing what someone else is doing, how fast someone else is going, how heavy someone else is lifting, a written record can help keep your own accomplishments in mind for you to reference with each workout. Your written record keeps your focus on your own standard of performance and helps prevent distractions like ego-fueled over-competitiveness. This is not to say that you can’t use a little healthy competition to chase down someone running ahead of you in your next race, but that’s just the difference: competitiveness acts, while over-competitiveness REacts. So whether you catch that other racer or not, you have your own latest achievements, written down, in ink, somewhere that you can check it easily and often, to keep your standards (and your ego) in check and keep you acting instead of reacting.

And this goes for the new and seasoned athletes alike – if you’re just getting back into shape and getting ready for your first race, or you’ve done countless races before and you’re starting a new cross training regimen, get out your pens or phones and make copious notes of each performance, and the dates that you hit them: run, bike, and swim times based on distance, or various weights based on rep schemes. That way, the next time another racer is smoking you on the trail, or the CrossFit WOD, you will have your own recent accomplishments in mind instead of thinking, “Why can’t I [insert verb] as [insert adverb] as that guy?” Don’t let verbs and adverbs ruin your confidence! Write it down, then get out there and do your best!

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