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Pregnant Athlete: "You're so small."

In learning how to connect with other athletes, I realize that telling more of my story is vital. I'm an introvert and tend to be careful with whom I share my journey, believing it to be rude to 'vulnerability spotlight' you dear readers with my internal process. I also rely heavily on evidence to validate the recommendations I make to my clients, rather than relying on my own lived experience as a mother/athlete and my experience as a coach.

Storytelling is how we connect, stories give flesh to the hard structure of good data. So here I'll share a short reflection I wrote back in April 2016 when I was thirty-six weeks pregnant. Look forward to more personal stories - and a continued dedication to the science of endurance.

Brittany Raven


I look 'small' (whatever that means) to most people. I'm thirty-six weeks and most people just started being able to tell I'm pregnant. the baby measures large on ultrasound, my fundal height is normal for my place in the pregnancy, and I attribute this to my elite athleticism, strong abs, and really long torso (I'm 5'10"). I'm one of those freakish moms you see on TV who has a six-pack at full term. this is not because I starve myself or even really care to have abs at this point, it is only because my life, my job, all of my time is spent as a mountain runner, backcountry skier, and climber.

yesterday something pretty awkward happened. another woman approached me in a coffee shop in my hometown - really small place - and said how neat it is that we're both pregnant and about the same due date. after chatting for a while I mentioned the upcoming birth and how excited I am. she looked shocked and told me she thought I was seventeen weeks pregnant like her. I reinforced that we all carry our babies differently but felt simultaneously judged for my appearance and as though my smallness had automatically judged her beautiful, round belly.

this sort of comparison feels terrible to women like her and terrible to women like me. anytime someone exclaims: "oh you're so SMALL!" I feel my effort building this baby over the last nine months is invalidated; somehow if I'm not bigger I'm not actually pregnant. it makes me feel judged and even if others may perceive this as a positive judgement it doesn't feel good to me. 

I wish we could embrace each woman's unique way of incubating her baby. whether she is huge or tiny, has visible abs or cellulite; as long as she is healthy, feels good, and is caring for her baby we should all just celebrate. or mind our own business.

 

read more:

Dispelling Myths Series

postpartum climbing

Seattle Times feature

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Why I don't create one-size-fits-all training plans

Bottom line: they're irresponsible.

Many endurance and running coaches out there make a pretty penny on the passive income source they call 'training plans'. Though passive income sources are enticing, my top priority is to support my clients and community on their path to a more sustainable, nourishing endurance practice.

A few reasons to shun pre-made, mass-marketed training plans:

  • It is much easier to over train than to under train an ultra endurance athlete - and overtraining is costly. Without knowing your specific fitness level (to a scientific degree of specificity) your online 'coach' runs the risk of colluding in your overtraining. Train smart, not rigid, by hiring a coach rather than buying a plan.
  • All athletes begin training for each event at a different starting place. Consider these two athletes training for their first 50k: Jill is an experienced alpine climber having had many successful climbs lasting longer than twenty-four hours. She doesn't particularly enjoy running, but believes running an ultra will be great cross-training for alpine climbing season. On the other hand, Mark is a regular 5k runner. Though he's never moved longer than ninety at a time he's confident his good form and recovery practices will carry him through training. These two athletes need, and deserve, coaching tailored to the factors they will struggle with throughout their training.
  • Ultra-endurance training often requires course-correction. As the athlete settles in to her training plan, whether for a climb, run, or ski event, she is bound to notice places where she could push harder and places where more active recovery will suit her. This is why, at Magnetic North, we check in at regular intervals throughout our relationship. During check ins we can up your strength training, dial back your mileage, and shuffle the schedule around to accomodate a vacation or illness.

I offer single-hour consults on the topic of your choice, gait analysis on trail, and multi-month goal pursuit coaching packages.

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Natural performance enhancements for female athletes don't stop with pregnancy

As with pregnancy, the pre-menstrual time is the other most maligned time to be in a female body. The pre-menstrual time is also one of the two most opportune times to reap the rewards of our legal, natural ability to blood dope as female-bodied athletes.

Let me explain a bit about the physiology involved here: The only two adaptations I work with my clients to achieve as an endurance coach are increased VO2 max and increased neuromuscular connection with slow-twitch muscle fibers - that's it. All the mindfulness, nutrition strategies, cyclic training, laboratory testing, and lifetimes of training boil down to this. 

Let me fast forward a bit to the pre-menstrual body. Low levels of hormones in this phase of our cycles increase total plasma volume, the amount of fluid available for the body to use as the basis of blood and bone marrow. When we increase total plasma volume, it can feel like we're sluggish or we perceive as the athlete that we're slower, lethargic, or less strong. As with any performance enhancement, natural or artificial, being in a state of optimal performance often doesn't feel good and we must get over the perception of decreased performance because that perception couldn't be farther from the truth.

During the pre-menstrual phase of an unmitigated menstrual cycle (one not inhibited or altered by hormonal birth control) the body is actually capable of higher resistance to stressors (better temperature moderation because of increased plasma) and higher VO2 Max (because the increased plasma is able to transport oxygen and nutrients in the blood). Pretty cool!

The way I transform this science into strategies for my athletes is by employing a strategic training theory that harnesses the menstrual cycle's inherent strengths in movement and cues for rest. Learn all about that by signing up for individual coaching with me

Whew! All boiled down to say: pregnancy AND an unmitigated pre-menstrual time are the only periods during which an athlete can legally, naturally blood dope. Performance enhancement doesn't necessary feel good but it works. Read more on the evidence behind this here.

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Buddhism, parenting, and hunting.

my first child and my first bird, Autumn 2016

I am a Buddhist, a parent, and a hunter; I harvest food from the streams, the trees, the highlands, and I like to do it with Rumi Wren by my side. taking first fish and now birds allows me to learn about the pure sustenance that fills my belly and graces my cells.

after moving waaaay up the Chewuch, I’ve come into close contact with my cycles of use, reuse, and refuse. all things I consume I must hand-carry onto my property, all things I wish to dispose of I must remove from my property. I drink and bathe with water from a well - this makes me understand the limited nature and pure miracle of drawing the stuff up from deep in the belly of the earth. I make medicine from the few plants whose wisdom I’ve learned in my short time on this land. I gather the wood that will keep Rumi and me warm in the winter then begin the two-year cycle of curing it, cutting it, splitting it, and stacking it. I eat the berries, I drink from the springs, and even my house is built from beetle-killed pine logs felled to clear make way for my cabin. I’ve always wanted to live closer to the earth with my ear hearing kin’s pulsations at night while I sleep and now I’m here. the learning has only just begun and I am nowhere near my lifetime goal of total animal product self-sufficiency.

it is important to me to understand the full cycle of life, conception to death, of all things. hunting, fishing, and gathering my food and medicine is a part of that. I do this because I believe in compassionate understanding of all living beings, much in the same way a city-dwelling vegan might abstain from purchasing hunks of disembodied flesh from the supermarket. I take Rumi to the hills and on our land so that she might never forget she is an inalienable part of our shared body, this beautiful earth, and that we are mutually entrusted with the care of the other.

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Attention Seattle peeps! In-person coaching spots available in November.

Hey Seattle peeps,

I'm making a business-related trip to the Wet Side 7-9 November - and I'm offering up a limited number of in-person gait analysis sessions while I'm there.

Gait work is square one for a runner of any level who seeks to become more efficient, injury-proof, and look more graceful to boot. Think running far (or near) has to be painful? Think again.

Expect an hour-long run and a short debrief for our first session. I'll follow that up with some 'homework' reminders and exercises on a private webpage created for you. Then, in ideally another month or two, we'll do another run and debrief. Put on your propeller hat for this run: I'll be sure to thoroughly equip you with all the scientific knowledge of your gait.

It doesn't have to hurt. Apply to join me on the trails below.

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Intro to Trail Running E-course

Intro to Trail Running E-course
200.00
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I've teamed up with run coach extraordinaire Sarah Scozzaro over at Drty Runner to offer this Intro to Trail Running E-Course. Sarah holds a Master's in Exercise Science and she's also an RRCA run coach and NASM performance enhancement certified - and she LOVES running on trails. 

The program we've devised is useful for all you athletes transitioning from city running to the mountains AND from hiking to trail running - distance is immaterial as the same strategies will apply. We'll cover safety concerns, help you gear up, as well as get into the nuts-and-bolts of building a sustainable and injury-free trail running practice.

You can choose to participate live (and join in the Q&A) or watch our recorded sessions at your leisure (and pre-submit relevant questions beforehand).

photo courtesy of David Moskowitz

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Myth busting on The Expectful Podcast

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with The Expectful Podcast's host and community leader, Anna. Though this was the first time we'd met, we had a blast geeking out on the amazing science that is the female body on pregnancy (the ultimate performance enhancement). 

Give it a listen by clicking the logo above and rate it on iTunes!

Brittany Raven

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Pregnant Athlete: postpartum

only known time KCT, photo David Moskowitz

only known time KCT, photo David Moskowitz

I'm presenting this piece to you again after it was so popular the first time I posted it. Now, over a year out from Rumi's birth, I updated some information and wanted to re-share.

 

As an athlete I consistently hold unrealistically high expectations for myself. I am often guilty of goading myself, not feeling good enough, or chiming the word 'failure' into my own ears. After the experience of birthing Rumi at home and recovering ridiculously fast, I can for once say my body has exceeded my expectations.

Near the end of my pregnancy I expected my recovery to be fast and to leave me stronger than I was before pregnancy. What I did not expect was for that process to take place in a span of less than a week. 

Here's how it went down:

After the birth: After laboring for twenty-two hours and pushing for three and a half, one might expect that I experienced tearing or needed stitches. None of the sort! My tissues were entirely intact thanks to my excellent partnership with my midwife team, level of hydration, and general good health. 

Blood loss: My midwives remarked with surprise that, during and after birth, I lost a sixth of the blood they normally see their clients lose. Aiding in this feat was a quickly-involuting uterus: mine shrunk from even with my ribs to just above my pubic bone before Rumi was cut free of the placenta.

Recovery snack: Yet another plus to giving birth at home was the gin and tonic Ryan brought me in bed after showering. After I'd downed that, he brought me my first placenta smoothie. Yum!

Abdominal separation: Curious after hearing many gloomy tales of diastasis recti I checked my abs for separation at about one hour postpartum. There was not even a finger's width between my rectus abdominus. Being mindful of engaging my transverse abdominus throughout pregnancy paid off.

Placental processing: Knowing all the benefits of ingesting one's placenta, I learned how to process my own placenta and for months looked forward to it as a closing ceremony to the rites of pregnancy and birth. A day after Rumi was born I set a ritual tone to my kitchen, examined, cleaned, trimmed, steamed, dehydrated, ground, and encapsulated my/our placenta. I've enjoyed putting to use the organ that I worked so hard to create - seems silly to throw it away.

Contrast therapy: After big events in the mountains, I've benefitted considerably from full body contrast therapy. By alternating a minute in ice water and three minutes in hot epsom water the body flushes taxxed tissues of their waste products permitting the organs to more quickly process them out of the body thus aiding in a speedy recovery. Why not apply this athletic trick to postpartum? Dang it felt good. 

Postpartum box: In the weeks before birth I did everything I could to make myself feel cared for knowing that charging up my tank of yin would aid in an efficient recovery. To that end, I prepared a postpartum box for myself. In a beautiful round tin I placed my favorite lace underwear, arnica gel, postpartum spray, my favorite menstrual pads (screw those crappy generic brand ones that come with birthing kits!), a fortifying smoky quartz wand, my favorite trail mix, rose face lotion, nipple butter, and a dose of immediate postpartum supplements to kick off the healing process. In the first few days postpartum I adapted the contents of this box to contain all the items I need to keep my busybody self in one place for a few hours (journal, snacks, breast pad, pump parts, headphones, lip balm).

Supplements: In collaboration with my ND, acupuncturist/massage therapist, and an herbalist/nutritionist friend I compiled a postpartum supplement pack that worked well. In it were curcumin, arnica homeopathics, a high dose of iron, prenatal vitamins, and high-quality fish oil.

The practice of rest: As I've mentioned before, I'm not only an expert at movement I also spend a lot of time and energy developing the crucial skills of rest. Intentional rest skills are super handy in the postpartum period. Among them are meditation, yoga, and everything else discussed here

My first walk: The morning after Rumi's birth Ryan, Rumi, Nason, and I took a walk around the block. It took ten minutes and I was tired at the end of it. A movement session this trivial in duration may seem worthless to most athletes. Au contraire! Movement in recovery is what stimulates the body to heal. This experience made me recall the first two days' walks around my neighborhood after I ran the Wonderland Trail, my legs felt like mush and my lungs heaved. I spent the entire postpartum walk focusing on consciously aligning my hips with my legs and stacking my spine tall like a cairn.

My first run: Two days after my first walk, and feeling much more energetic, I took my first run. Despite being a mountain runner who loathes the treadmill and pavement I ran on the treadmill - just in case. When that run felt great the next day I went outside and returned to the trails the day after that. A progression, even a quick progression, is a prudent recovery strategy whether postpartum or just coming off a big climb or run. On these first few slow runs I took great care to be conscious of my form, telling twangy muscles and fascia to release and thanking myself for continuing my practices the last ten months.

My first climb: was pure joy. At three days old, Rumi headed to the bouldering gym with me. We climbed five problems in the V1-V2 range, stopping when I still had plenty of energy and felt no pain. The following day I returned to the other climbing gym to take my first lead falls in six months. In the weeks leading up to birth I spent a few minutes at the end of each tedious top rope session visualizing clipping bolts and freefalling again. I knew that, after 36 weeks, it could be less than four days between a pregnant climbing session to a postpartum lead session and I wanted to be prepared.

 

At one week postpartum I felt like a fraud calling my experiences 'postpartum' anymore - I felt normal again and my midwives agreed I'd already managed a full recovery. Thanks be to hard, consistent work, self knowledge, and attention to meaningful rest! Now, a year later, I am running, climbing, and skiing stronger than I have my entire athletic career and I recover more quickly, too.

MN

 

I COACH PREGNANT AND POSTPARTUM ATHLETES. HIT THE BUTTON BELOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MY PREGNANT ATHLETE E-COURSE.

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Sign up for my monthly newsletter Dispatch From the Hills. I include a seasonal missive, insider tips, current Magnetic North happenings, and a blog highlight. There's a lot of exciting news coming up and I wouldn't want you to miss out on the events, media, and services I have to announce.

Psst, last month's is here. You can sign up by scrolling to the bottom of my website and using the signup box.

Brittany Raven

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