Yesterday evening held its own tiny magick. No one was around save for a passel of chickadees, a choir of frogs, and the pair of great horned owls hooting at one another. It was quiet; it felt quiet; I walked to the river. As Joan Shelley once said: "If you know what you're going to write when you sit down, don't bother." So, too, on this walk I had not a clue why I was walking so that is why I kept moving. When I arrived at the overlook above my crystalline trout hole, instead of taking a left down the well-worn summer path to the river, I took a right down a game path studded with granite mini-boulders to a balcony in the duff with a direct view of the Pasayten up the Chewuch. Sitting there on a damp boulder I tuned in to how the air moving in one languid mass was tepid around me, how wearing yoga pants and no socks in my clogs I wasn't shivering. At once my thoughts gathered on one idea: endurance as a daily practice is the anti-epic; it is, instead, durable and divergent.
▫️ATTENTION FELLOW GUN OWNERS OF OKANOGAN COUNTY▫️
Pick up your trash. Out on a run today, which began on a remote Forest Service road, I came across over a hundred discharged pieces of ammunition in the road. I cleaned up, carrying the jingling ammo out in my running pack for a few miles.
For future target practice, we have a fantastic gun range available for use free-of-charge just outside Winthrop. It has a view of the mountains and there is rarely more than one person there at a time - the locals who use it are all friendly and helpful.
If you find you must shoot up a stump (God knows why 🤨), know the laws pertaining to discharging a firearm. It is illegal to shoot from, along, across, or down a road or trail (WAC 332-52-145). It is also illegal to litter (RCW 70.93.060), you're subject to up to a $5,000 fine if you do.
You never know when a lone runner will sneak up on your illicit target practice/littering bender and report your dumb ass to the local WDFW Enforcement Officer. I have his number in my phone. ✌🏻Be a good ambassador for the rest of the hunting community and clean up your shit.
I am currently amidst a garbage cleanup project in the Chewuch River Drainage near my home. Follow along as I document it on my Instagram account.
Spring in the Methow is a shoulder season for the alpinist: the sage steppe is wet, the ice isn't in, and the pass is closed to snowmobiles.
However, the forest is alive with movement and bursting with color this time of year: Seasonal creeks flow back to life after a winter asleep. Mud runs heartily down the trail and splatters up the legs. Raindrops make the salal dance. Worms drown in puddles.
Here are a few ideas to help you get out to play in the wetness.
Logistics: Use the wet days to build hearty strength. In your gait, focus on keeping centered over your feet. Be sure to choose a route that allows you to keep running the entire time with little if no walking or stopping. Especially if it is windy and rainy, hypothermia sets in fast.
Wear: The chilly air might make you want to cover up, but all those layers will turn into vehicles of damp against your skin. Down to about 45F, wear as little as possible (tee and shorts). A baseball cap will keep the water from lashing your eyes. Between 45F and freezing, or if it is also windy, add thigh coverage and a shell. Don't wear GoreTex shoes (they only trap water near your feet) or jackets (unless it is windy as well as rainy). Run with just a hand bottle as most packs will absorb water turning them into heavy sponges squeezing down your butt.
So above: With the load of precipitation, boughs and brush bend to greet you. Give them a high five as you pass - and mind your head. With the first storms of the season, the winter's rot and rootless snags will fall. Beware the cracking of a falling birch or a dart-like branch plunging from above.
And below: Even a trail you know well will change considerably in the mud and saturation. Trail-shaped rivers take the place of the hard-packed snow ribbons of winter. Skirt puddles you can't see the bottom of but splash through the rest - you're not going to stay dry anyway.
Animals: Your furry mountain neighbors can't hear you or smell you coming as acutely in a storm as on a still day. Scan the saturated earth for their sign, sniff for their dank fur smells, and watch for their little rumps up ahead. Make a bit of noise so you don't scare them. Wild animals are becoming more active this time of year.
After the run: To prevent the cold from sinking too deeply into your core (read: quads) change immediately out of your wet clothes into something layered and cozy. I reserve my synchilla pants for ONLY post-run or -climb recovery. Remember your post-run snack. Once home, try downing some hot liquid in the form of bone broth or chai tea to restore circulation and promote the healing process. For the ultimate in post-run luxury indulge in full-body contrast therapy.
Enjoy: Gulp in the dank air, savor the mist rising off a sun-heated wet leaf, watch the branches dance in the chaos of the storm. Embrace the incongruity of padding through cold puddles; cover yourself in mud. Relax into the wet and remember: humans are waterproof.
"Did I just run or swim?" Who cares, it was fun!
When I first sat at my favorite table to work, an insincere snow squall poured through The Narrows, its evanescence belching from a nearly-cloudless sky. Again finding myself in the land of my project, I seek for this summer’s expression to bring about greater balance for me, my family, and for the people who are uplifted by my spirit-work.
So much process goes into this work, that were I an ‘end justifying the means’ kind of athlete I would have given up long ago. Perhaps that is why some of the things I have done, looming obvious in plain sight, no one has ever done before. Surely, I cannot credit this fact to sturdy limbs or ten-gallon lungs - I have proved to be quite proletariat at the human monkey tricks around which much of ‘sport’ (and how I loathe to call it that) revolves. Only when I engage the body as simply a willing vehicle of gnosis; the living, moving, always-shifting manifestation of the beauty I sense pushing up through the land and reverberating through my watery flesh; do I achieve the postures and places I set out to become.
There is no hope, nor volition, in me to ever subjugate the more-than-human with whom I move to some insecurity-placating notion of ‘conquering’ a mountain, ‘adventuring’ on a trail, or ‘finishing’ a climb. Even the goal itself falls away as a superfluous finger-pointing-at-the-moon when I am in the throes of creation, the act and beingness of no-self.
Any drive one might observe as an element of my mountain practices is simply my reverence for what it takes for me to form myself into a tool capable of a tight twirl; the positions my body takes in nature among my omniscient rock, tree, and animal friends; and the invisible path of travel that I leave behind as paint if only in my body, mind, and soul after the event for which I had trained is complete. It is not the satisfaction of having done so I do not have to do again. In fact, this year’s top summer project is to re-do something I have already done while in a style, in a physical form I find more aesthetically and ethically pleasing.
Always solo (never alone); always unsupported (never without).
Trigger alert: If you have a history of disordered eating and/or body dysmorphia, skip this episode. I care about your health.
Topics discussed in this episode:
3:20 The great generalist
4:30 Nutrition + hormone balance
6:25 “How long did you go without menstruating?”
8:57 On processing trauma
9:25 How Meg and I worked together
11:25 Yin practices while in motion
More about Meg:
Hey mindful movers,
My first collaboration with Meg was when she hired me to coach her through her recovery from HA (read more on that below). I loved collaborating with her as an athlete because of her deep knowledge of the physiology of endurance and her sincere dedication to getting her period back in shape by addressing her issues with chronic overtraining.
Meg is a functional nutritionist and mountain athlete based in Squamish, British Columbia. Finding her place in the performance wellness world at the intersection of what we eat, how we move, and hormone balance, Meg informs her client work with her long career as a midwife - she has caught hundreds of babies. Needless to say, Meg and I found a common interest in evidence-based wellness and performance coaching for mountain athletes.
Through the last six years of business here at MN, I have worked with so many clients who struggle with maintaining the health and vitality necessary for regular periods - especially clients who train for ultra-endurance events. For all those women who struggle and don't know how to change it, Meg and I have put together a guest post, collaborative coaching packages, and other resources for you.
I am greatly looking forward to ongoing collaborations with Meg and so excited to introduce you to her with this post. Enjoy.
Happy Hormones for Athletes
Guest Post By Meg Reburn BScH RM
The other day I was sitting around a campfire surrounded by a pack of rad mountain women. Naturally, the conversation went from, skiing, climbing, and running to poops, cake, and periods. These women had many things in common, besides the unanimous love of chocolate cake, about eighty percent of them had lost their periods at one point or another or had experienced menstrual irregularities, myself included. This got my wheels spinning: “WOW, everyone is having hormone issues WTF? ”
What went wrong?
Recently, I’ve been working with a number of women, mostly athletes, who have lost their period. Fuelled by my own struggles with HA (hypothalamic amenorrhea/secondary amenorrhea or loss of your period) my functional nutrition practice has morphed a bit over the years to focus not only on pregnancy nutrition, but also hormone balance, especially for female athletes. So, let’s dip our toes into the turbulent waters of hormonal regulation and explore this topic a bit further.
Not having a regular period or having periods longer than thirty-five days can signal that there are some pretty big imbalances going on in your body. Our monthly cycles involve a delicate interplay of many different hormones including sex hormones, like estrogen and progesterone and the hormones that originate in the brain such as GNRH, FSH, and LH.
While there are SO MANY amazing benefits of being a female athlete that Brittany has talked about a number of times, female athletes are way more sensitive to hormone imbalance than their male counterparts. Physiologically, women are more hormonally sensitive to nervous system stressors than men and take a longer time to recover from these events.
When you think about this from an evolutionary perspective, it does make sense, it was the man’s “job” to hunt and chase lions using short bursts of maximum power and then cycling into total rest. This was stressful. From an evolutionary perspective, if women are under piles of stress the body surmises it is probably not a good time or safe place to add a new baby to the tribe, thus, ovulation and fertility shut down. (Cause let’s be honest, we don’t stop having sex especially in times of stress!) Both of these reactions to stress are adaptive given how we evolved as a species but can be problematic with all the stressful inputs we have in modern life.
As I mentioned before, mountain endurance sports, when done unskillfully, can have a similarly negative impact on a female athlete. If we continue training in an aroused nervous system state, our bodies interpret this as an environmental stressor and shuts down our fertility to compensate. As a quick nerdy run-down here are the body’s responses to inappropriate training:
The body perceives training and/or sport as a stressor and produces cortisol (the stress hormone);
If there are significant life stresses and/or this training is not balanced with rest, recovery, and properly-timed nutrition, cortisol levels never go down and you find yourself in a chronic state of cortisol domination;
Chronically-elevated cortisol signals to the hypothalamus to down-regulate hormone secretion and as a result levels of growth hormone, thyroid releasing hormone, and gonadotropin releasing hormone all take a nosedive;
Without GH you won’t get stronger or recover properly; without TSH your thyroid hormones go down making you tired and sluggish; and without GnRH your pituitary fails to initiate reproductive activity and signal the release of LH and FSH which are the backbone of a healthy menstrual cycle;
Low levels of GNRH mean your estrogen levels fall, you stop ovulating and your progesterone tanks and then you have HA;
Without proper sex hormones your risk of osteoporosis, and some studies suggest dementia, goes way up.
While this is the simple version, everybody regardless of gender is unique. We all have our own special needs for rest and recovery that can change from day to day and year to year. It’s also important to note, as we get older, we need more good ol’ R&R.
How to fix it.
Proper nutrition is the CORNERSTONE of HA recovery and prevention.
Properly-timed training, recovery, and periods of rest are critical. (Talk with Brittany about this one!)
Stress-management techniques also help a ton but you can’t meditate your way out of HA, you need to eat and rest. Period (pun intended).
I’m an open book. If you want to learn about my very personal journey with HA you can read about it here. I also consult with athletes combining my decades of experience in nutrition, midwifery, and mountain athleticism; you can book a consult with me here. I work together with Brittany to help athletes plan custom training, recovery, and nutrition programs, so if you’re curious ask how we can all work together to keep you doing what you love while you stay healthy.
Happy Monday readers,
So many of you reached out after the last post from Dr. Liz that I decided to release the interview we recorded a wee bit earlier than I had planned.
I hope you enjoy our conversation about what 5 Elements is and why it is a useful tool for any athlete trying to decode their training (and rest) needs. In this episode I share how Dr. Liz guided me through my own process of self-discovery and -reflection during a time when I needed it most: when I was working a desk job.
2:00 What is Five Elements?
9:04 How do you know what your elements are?
11:20 Finding insight then balance
16:40 Favorite springtime recipe
Happy Friday readers,
In 2012 I was a full-time athlete and full-time desk job haver and I was out of balance. My gut was pissed after a recent trip to the Andes and Patagonia, my mind was mush because of my over-programmed life; I felt like I was constantly stealing time from one activity to give to another and I had no concept of self-care.
Upon discovering that I had brought yet another amoeba back from South America, I began seeing Dr. Liz for weekly treatments. Together, we applied every medical trick in the book to squash the little gut demons. Along the way, through our journey involving acupuncture, herbs, pharmaceuticals, counseling, and osteopathic work, I began to contact my internal balance point for the first time. Dr. Liz likes to say that once you get a glimpse of your balanced self it is really uncomfortable to be out of balance again and that certainly rang true for me.
The beginning of our treatments in 2012 also marked the beginning of this business and my slow transition away from my harried life in the city. My days of working hard at a desk job for a few years to save for an expedition, going on said expedition, and returning to the desk sick, tired, and broke were over; I was determined to find a permanent way to be in the hills while making time to grow a business and, eventually, to have a child. Together Dr. Liz and I discovered some amazing ways to work with my Metal constitution in order to bring my over-worked body into balance.
I will be forever grateful for her gentle, thorough approach and I'm so excited to share an informative guest post from her with you today.
Use the Wisdom of Chinese Medicine to Improve Your Training
Guest post by Dr. Liz Carter
A sure-fire way to up your training game is to learn more about yourself. Specifically, your own internal motivations, behavioral tendencies, and stressors. The 5 elements of Chinese medicine - wood, fire, earth, metal, and water - are the perfect tool for the deep introspection and growth that’s necessary for self-improvement.
Chinese medicine posits that we are reflections of nature and nature is a reflection of us, so it is possible to look to our natural environment in order to understand more about ourselves. If we are Metal, we’re like the mountains, if we’re Water we’re like a river or the sea. Pretty amazing, right? It’s even more amazing when you realize how accurate it is.
We each have two elements that influence and shape us the most (MN Note: I am Metal/Fire!), but we are able to access all five to a certain extent when we’re in a healthy state. The elements can show us so many things about ourselves, like how well we can go with the flow of life, why we’re awful or awesome and planning, and what kind of athlete we are.
How do you find out your elements? You might be able to tell what you are just from my descriptions in this blog! For a more professional option, you can see a 5 Elements acupuncturist who will diagnose and treat based on your elements. Make sure they are trained in 5 Elements, as the majority of acupuncturists are trained in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine which is not at all traditional, but that’s another discussion).
You can also check out my 5 Elements Personality Test that will tell you your two elements and provide you gobs of fascinating stuff about your core self, like what motivates and depletes you, what belongs in your life and what you need to let go of, and how to stay true to your foundational values. Use this link for $20 off.
All right, let’s get into these elements and what they mean for your performance and recovery.
Wood elements are workhorses and generally very robust in terms of athletic ability. They’re naturally drawn to movement because it relieves this angsty, frustrated, irritable feeling they are the prone to (more than any other element), so they’ve most likely been physical or athletic from a very young age. Movement acts as their main coping mechanism for stress and they often prefer more intense forms of exercise in order to really break up their stagnant energy. Wood elements are very logical and great planners, so they can stick to routine easily (sometimes a little too easily) and they love problem-solving and new, intense challenges.
Rest and recovery ability: challenged
Wood elements are not good at rest and recovery. With movement as a primary mechanism for stress relief, they turn to it often, even when they’re depleted. There’s a lot in this world that causes them to be irritable and stressed -- crappy foods, environmental toxin exposure (fabric softener should be banned!), alcohol, people who don’t think in a logical manner, and more. Wood people can become addicted to movement as a result because it gives them such relief and if something feels good they may ask themselves, “Why would I stop?”
The key for wood is to find balanced movement because it’s very easy for them to overdo it and make themselves vulnerable to injury. They’re used to feeling invincible with movement, so they really have to stay in touch with themselves and their abilities and not get wrapped up in assuaging this daily irritation with movement as their only tool. It’s crucial that they explore other ways to generate movement in their lives, like journaling or creativity, and start reducing the mental, emotional, and physical irritants that cause their unrest in the first place.
Fires love freedom and spontaneity, so they’re jazzed to take on new challenges in almost any realm. They’re very lighthearted, free-spirited people that like to collect experiences. They have a relaxed and casual attitude about life, which often means they’re excellent athletes. They don’t have preconceived notions about their abilities many times and they’ll try anything. Fires are definitely a “why not?” type of mindset rather than a “why?” type of mindset. The key for fire is fun. Something has to bring them joy and offer them connection to others for them to want to participate. Fires love to be around people (even the introverted ones) and get great joy from social experiences, athletic activities included.
Rest and recovery: detached
Fires tend to lose their ground easily. They get caught up in the moment, especially if there are other people involved, and they stop paying attention to their own internal signals. They’re the type who jump first and ask questions later. This can get them into lots of pickles, including massively overdoing it with training or events and injuring themselves. If they had stopped to consider the consequences for a second they could have averted the mess. But with their go-with-the-flow attitude they can usually recover gracefully and will absolutely love telling the crazy story later to their friends.
Fires have to stay grounded and in touch with themselves, otherwise they open themselves up to injury. If they’re chronically scattered, either on the trail they’re running or in their training schedule something’s bound to take a turn for the worse. Speaking of schedules, fires are not a fan. They feel stifled with too much structure, so a healthy training plan involves switching things up a lot and trying new routes and activities. While exercising, it can be helpful to set a timer every 10 minutes as a mental checkpoint to assess what’s happening in your body and make sure it’s still within your limits. Another way to ground is by communing with nature. If you’re running on a trail, stop at the large trees, feel their bark, take a moment to wonder and check in with yourself.
Earth elements aren’t typically drawn to ultra-athleticism, but they can certainly be talented athletes. Earth enjoys comfort and nurturing others. So they often like to stay in their comfort zone and will only push themselves out of it if they’re doing it for someone else. So if a good friend is really into ultra running, maybe they’ll consider it. Earth is also very sensitive, in-tune with themselves, and grounded, so they can push themselves hard, but they’re not going to make progress as fast as other elements who might regularly push beyond their boundaries. Earth’s training would naturally include more down time and rest. Earth people are very uncomfortable with conflict so they generally dislike competition. They’d rather have everyone get along and they’ll extricate themselves from situations where people don’t.
Rest and recovery: good
Earth knows how to stay grounded and in touch with themselves. I mean, they are literally the ground in the natural world! So they understand how to rest, recover, and nurture themselves better than any other element. But athletic culture doesn’t really support these traits so they often don’t feel particularly welcome. They don’t need to be first or the best, just supported and in harmony with others.
Earth elements need to make sure they are training for themselves, not a friend or a trainer/coach. They need to feel good about what they’re doing for themselves, otherwise they’ll grow to resent the others they feel are pushing them too hard. In essence, they have to learn to speak up for their needs. And sometimes earth needs a kick in the pants to push themselves out of their comfort zone to make progress.
Metal elements are very adept athletes from the structured, regimented, very focused perspective. They love details, planning, and analysis, so they’re the data nerds, tracking everything meticulously. Wood can do this too, but not usually to the same level. You need discipline, structure, focus, and determination to be a great athlete and metal elements have this in spades. They also have a very strong spiritual side and tend to find great meaning in the pursuits that deeply define their life. They have an affinity for beauty and aesthetics so being active outside in nature can be very soothing.
Rest and recovery: challenged
Metal elements can get very rigid and dogmatic about their schedule because structure is their comfort zone. They start paying more attention to their schedule than they do their own internal cues. They are also perfectionists, so they put immense pressure on themselves to stick to their schedule and make sure their data is trending the right way. Their determination and focus can blind them to what they actually need.
Metal elements need to back off the internal pressure they put on themselves to achieve and allow for ups and downs in energy and training. We are not linear robots; the body has natural rhythms and we need to respect them. Metal elements have to learn to listen to their bodies rather than adhering to an arbitrary training schedule. In other words, if you’re tired, rest.
Water elements are drawn to extreme sports and adventure because they are thrill seekers. They really enjoy pushing their limits and finding that adrenaline rush. For a water, there is a deep-seated fear of their ability to survive, so they will push harder and harder to prove that they can. There are a lot of water athletes out there because the athletic mindset and community mirrors their natural tendencies. It builds them up and praises their extremeness, their love of competition, and their daringness. Water elements also seem to have massive energy reserves, like a wood, and can push beyond normal limits. All elements can do this, but water does this routinely and pathologically. At the base of all the bravado is fear and insecurity.
Rest and recovery ability: most challenged
Waters more than any element don’t know how to rest. They will push themselves to the brink of collapse. I’ve also seen other elements do this, but because water people live in the extremes, they tend to crash harder and take longer to recover. Water’s don’t want to admit their own limitations so they try to control their bodies. They are the essence of the “push through the pain” mentality of athletes because they truly believe they are the masters of their body’s signals.
Water elements have to learn to slow themselves down and listen. The body is wise and is always sending you information and you have to pay attention. You can’t always overrule it. Take a step back from the push and try slower activities. Let go of the fear that’s pushing you and embrace more calm and joy. Fear is our most powerful driver and has the strongest grip on water elements out of all the elements. But it can’t be turned on 24/7 otherwise waters will burn out and injure themselves. Work toward a sustainable practice with slower, more gentle and peaceful activities integrated in.
I hope this post gave you a little more insight into yourself and what you need for rest and recovery. As you may have noticed, most elements are challenged in their ability to slow down and recover. This difficulty is highly influenced by our own cultural biases and especially the athletic culture of pushing-doing-going-never-stop-until-you-die.
When your elements are balanced, it’s much easier to disengage from these behavior tendencies (which are actually defense mechanisms) and toxic cultural influences and really get to the core of yourself and your own needs. When the slate is cleared, you start to see yourself in the mountains, rivers, trees, ground, and sparks of life surrounding you in nature and the universe.
You must wait six weeks after birth to return to exercise.
"I've been cleared to exercise!" are often the elated words of a new mom who is an athlete. This statement always stumps me: Is someone besides you in charge of what you do with your body? What good does abdicating responsibility for your own health do for you or your baby? Further, what does 'cleared' actually mean?
Oftentimes, new moms, following the word of their well-intentioned medical practitioner, remain relatively sedentary throughout pregnancy until six weeks postpartum when they get the magickal approval to return to training. Then they re-immerse in their training as though no time had passed since the last time they trained in earnest resulting in prolapse, exacerbated abdominal and pelvic floor weakness, general frustration, and a loss of confidence in their athletic ability postpartum.
According to a 2014 peer-reviewed article:
Despite this motivating statement about the importance of exercise soon after giving birth, most women wait until their six-week postpartum checkup to discuss exercise with their doctors. According to the ACOG, about 40% of women decline a postpartum visit at all leaving them to wonder about when they might be ready to return to exercise. Additionally, the ACOG advises that women seek their postpartum visit between four and six weeks which means that many if not most women under the current model would be "cleared" for exercise much sooner than six weeks if they heeded these new guidelines.
Curiously, the ACOG cites no scientific evidence to support the timing of that postpartum visit instead relying on "cultural traditions" which, in my opinion, are a sorry means by which to govern health care.
Let's put aside the current model of care for a moment and think through empowering ourselves to make decisions about our bodies. Whether your care provider deems you ready for exercise or not, you are the ultimate authority on your body. Depending on your birth, your level of fitness throughout pregnancy, and how you feel your recovery is going, you might not feel ready to start training again until ten or twelve weeks postpartum or as early as the day after giving birth. I went into labor while climbing and returned to take lead falls a couple days after birthing my daughter which sped rather than hindered my recovery.
When I coach athletes through pregnancy and postpartum, they all perform differently but they all return to training much sooner than six weeks postpartum. They do this of their own accord, not at my urging. They learn through our coaching engagement to listen to the subtle cues their bodies give them about wellness and readiness to train which is a vital skill for endurance athlete whether pregnant or not. Most new moms I work with return to the gym within two weeks postpartum. They first test their bodies by doing brief, light, low-commitment sessions before progressing on to more intense or longer sessions. Precisely zero of my postpartum clients has experienced a negative outcome to their health or their breastfeeding status by returning to training this soon after giving birth. The key here is a phased reentry into training, not being sedentary for six weeks then overtraining.
So often women are conditioned by the medical system and other women (mom shaming much?) to adhere to a socially-accepted range of normal. The reality is that pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are likely to go differently for a professional athlete than they are for a weekend warrior, different as well for a mindful mover versus a dissociative athlete. The point is that the range of normal is huge spanning the luxuriously slow pregnancy some women dream of to the ultra-endurance pregnancy I had - and they are all correct and healthy ways to conduct pregnancy.
What women deserve is evidence and options so that they can make their own informed decisions about what is right for them. So before you wait to return to exercise until some doctor tells you it is 'safe', check in with your own body and ask it what is appropriate. A gradual return to training might make the difference between positive mental health and a dive into postpartum depression.