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MN is five!

Five years ago this week, I registered this business with the state and began my much-oxbowed journey into small business proprietorship. When I started Magnetic North, endurance coaching wasn't a thing; Training for the New Alpinism hadn't come out yet; climbers still called their alternate self-flagellation and debauchery 'training'; and running a fifty miler was still pretty out there. 

I established MN out of curiosity. After training for my first hundred miler and experiencing a thriving mind, body, and spirit, I knew there was something different about the way I approached my mountain practice that allowed me to avoid entropy. I started this business because I wanted to share (ultra) endurance as a practice of self-love, an opportunity to plug back in to the Earth, and a vehicle in which to explore the topics that interested me the most: lucid dreaming and performance, pregnant athleticism (even though I didn't have a child at the time), and the new frontiers of mind-body integration I was exploring in the cadaver lab, the scientific literature, and my own movement.

In its fifth year, MN has hit its stride. Given my many doubts and trials along the way to building this successful, change-making business I've learned a lot. I'll share some of what I've learned here.

 

Authenticity, there is no other way: Upon first establishing MN I was totally clear on one structural aspect of running a business that is quite different from other outdoor businesses: I would not accept sponsors. Too often these days sponsors' needs and values override the athlete or business they sponsor and, to me as a consumer, this reeks of inauthenticity. By not accepting sponsors I've retained total ownership of my business' vision and I don't have a boss - except for my dear clients.

Low overhead + loyal clients = creative freedom: A primary value of mine, in business and in life, is total freedom to do and say things that may be different or provocative. In order to be nimble and explore cutting-edge (read: TOTALLY CRAY!) new aspects of the endurance life, I've consciously kept my overhead low. Like crazy low. Like this is my highest overhead month ever and it still is under $100. That doesn't mean this business was free to found (I mean, think of how wealthy I'd be if I'd never gone on climbing expeditions or paid tuition for physiology courses or if I'd spent all my time working instead of running!) but it does mean I am unencumbered by the pressure of debt or the need to 'scale up'. PS: Scale as the measure of impact is a farce. By connecting deeply with the clients with whom I work I've been able to build a sustaining user-base that tends to align well with new evolutions of how I do business.

Not everyone will like you and that's okay: It has never been a challenge for me to be a honeybadger (DGAF) but it is worth noting that in the world of small business, your niche is your claim to fame. When you establish a niche and claim your voice, you will inherently winnow out some potential clients even while you gain credibility with others. Not everyone has to agree with or like you; but you still have to respect one another's work.

Fake it till you make it: This doesn't mean to lie to yourself or others about what you're capable of, this just means that even if you're writing to an audience of three in the beginning (and one of them is your mama) then you should write as though a thousand people are reading what you have to say. This is exactly how I started and now I have an international reach via traditional and grassroots media channels. It still boggles my mind how many people have read my work and have shared it with others - especially given my VERY humble beginnings in 2012.

Work your ass off: No small business ever got off the ground without a good deal of chutzpah. Apply your passion to your mission, people, and you'll see results. This process may take years of rather unrewarding churn and shittons of self doubt but nothing beats good old fashioned dogged persistence.

Imposter syndrome: When I first started this business I was nearly paralyzed by not feeling smart/good/strong/fast/educated enough and I still get imposter syndrome sometimes. The best thing I can tell you to navigate imposter syndrome? Anytime that perfectionistic impulse to do nothing out of fear that it isn't good enough sets in, ask yourself: If I believed in myself what would I do next? Then do it. Send that email, make that coffee date with a bigwig in your field, reach out to that news outlet, fucking go for it. The worst you'll hear back is 'no' - and you better get used to hearing 'no' real quick.

Start small, start now: On the aforementioned perfectionism. It is tempting to start a business only once your idea is perfect, your website is super polished, your clients are already lined up but sometimes the best thing to do is just to leap. While I was still working a day job I started offering weekend mindfulness and running retreats, hosting a 6am trail running group, and blogging weekly. Think up a limited menu of services you will offer and offer them now - even if only one person signs up it is worth it.

Boundaries: Part of running a small business is being vulnerable because the thing you've chosen to do is inherently something about which you're passionate. For me, after a decade working dispassionately for a good cause, starting this business and proclaiming my personal interest in endurance was terrifying. Using my voice in a public forum was something that took years of getting used to. In order to feel like I was establishing real connections through my business but that my unprocessed personal stuff wasn't out for display I adhered strongly to the Brené Brown method. Though my reach has changed drastically and though I review my boundaries of what I share and I what I don't share regularly, my short list of people has remained remarkably the same today as it was five years ago.

Word-of-mouth is gold - and the Nordstrom policy is the best by which to operate your business. Nuff said.

Profitability and taxes: Aim for year-over-year profitability and track your shit people! Don't get hit with a big end-of-year tax bill like I was in 2014 and use Mint or Square or Quickbooks or something to track your ins and outs. Budgeting for a small business can be tough but the least you can do is to stay organized so tax time doesn't take you by surprise. Another interesting thing to note is that I've been profitable since day one - thanks to my aforementioned low low overhead.

Haters and copycats: Kierkegaard’s prescient statement about dem haters: “Showing that they don’t care about me, or caring that I should know they don’t care about me, still denotes dependence.” *boom* When you get your first copycat you know you've really made it. Let them haters and copycats be, if they crop up on social media delete their shitty comment and report them for bullying. And remember: it probably took the copycat a long time to imitate your brilliant work and by then you've already moved on to new, spectacular heights of creative work. It is too bad they are making themselves small by shouting from the cheap seats or undermining their own creative gifts by trying to steal your joy - but that doesn't really have much to do with you, now does it?

My favorite business resource: Being Boss.

 

Now go get em, tiger!

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"Last Stand" film premier in Seattle this Wednesday

Seattle peeps!

My good friend, mountain running buddy, and climbing partner David Moskowitz has finished his film on mountain caribou. You may remember his post on why mountain athletes should be environmentalists from last year.

Over the past two years, Dave and his collaborators dove deep into forest politics and what they mean for this dwindling species. Communicated with great beauty, depth, and hope, they have distilled their experiences into a piece of journalistic and photographic excellence - and it is coming your way.

Be sure to stop by the Mountaineers HQ in Magnusson Park at 7:30pm this Wednesday. If you're curious to learn more before you go (or to share the work far and wide) check out the trailer.

Brittany Raven

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Why I use the pronouns 'ki' and 'kin'

Objectification of the natural world reinforces the notion that our species is somehow more deserving of the gifts of the world than the other 8.7 million species with whom we share the planet. Using ‘it’ absolves us of moral responsibility and opens the door to exploitation. When Sugar Maple is an ‘it’ we give ourselves permission to pick up the saw. ‘It’ means it doesn’t matter.
— Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Nature Needs A New Pronoun"

You may have noticed in my recent Instagram and blog posts that I use the terms ki and kin to describe the more-than-human. 

While reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass as well as listening to her interviewed on my favorite podcast, On Being, I developed a great affinity for her work. Kimmerer is a professor, a community leader, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and a brilliant writer exploring the intersection of science, culture, and intuitive knowing.

We know we're a part of the land with whom we dance. On a cellular level, transcending all politics or spiritual beliefs, we remember ki is a part of us; the physical and experiential representation that we are, indeed, one organism incarnate in multitudinous different bodies yet all dependent on Earth and Source.

These endurance practices that bring me into greater attunement with the natural world with whom, and as whom, I dance are practices of awakening. By assigning a dehumanizing, dead pronoun to them I place myself in hierarchical superiority to kin's unthinkable power and intelligence. That is false.

As we begin speaking and thinking about the natural world in terms permitted by speech that recognizes kin as yet another living being, other antiquated constructs also fall easily away; the paradigm of competitive achievement begins to look unnecessarily extractive to the athlete on a spiritual path of oneness; the notions of 'conquering' a mountain or 'devirginizing' a summit begin to feel as violent and non-consensual as they actually are.

By speaking about the land (snow, ice, owl, dirt, rock, trees, deer, all of them) as our equals, as co-creators in the mountain experience, we create space for beauty, connection, and recovery alongside the more-than-human and between each other.

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Hey you with the desk job, it is time to get outside.

a little weekday Fun, Mazama

a little weekday Fun, Mazama

When I read a recent Seattle Times article on the growth of sitting-intensive jobs I couldn't help but feel sad. Most people I know who have recently transplanted to the Seattle Area have two things in common: a love of the outdoors and a sitting-intensive job.

I can help you desk jockeys reconcile this difference.

After a ten-year career in the non-profit world, much of it spent at a 9-5 desk job in Seattle, I transitioned to being an elite athlete running a small business in a mountain town. During that decade spent working full-time and living in the city, I learned how to deftly navigate the world of training as a mountain athlete in the limited time I had available. These strategies include prioritization, periodization, recovery, and useful tips for business travel as an athlete. 

So, while you try to scheme your way out of the city and into a little cabin in the woods running, climbing, and skiing to your heart's content, engage me as your coach. My clients find our engagements help them get clear on training priorities and reduce their injuries thus spending all of their off-hours enjoying the mountains.

I've onboarded a whole passel of new clients this month so the next openings are in July. Snag one now and I'll be able to support your summer goals!

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the glaciers

lonely glacier, Glacier Peak Wilderness

lonely glacier, Glacier Peak Wilderness

There’s a great intelligence there. We’ve been treating the earth as if it were a supply house and a sewer. We’ve been grabbing, extracting, resources from it for our cars and our hair dryers and our bombs, and we’ve been pouring the waste into it until it’s overflowing, but our earth is not a supply house and a sewer. It is our larger body. We breathe it. We taste it. We are it, and it is time now that we venerate that incredible flowering of life that takes every aspect of our physicality.
— Joanna Macy, On Being podcast

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Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #4

A pregnant athlete should expect to recover more slowly from her workouts.

FALSE.

 

Increased stem cell activity initiated by the fetus in its mother's body has a two-fold positive affect on the recovering pregnant athlete's body: 1. Faster recovery from injuries and 2. Increased rates of angiogenesis.

Something NFL athletes have known, and exploited, for quite some time is that increased stem cell activity reduces their recovery time from injuries and surgeries. In particular tendon injuries seem to see a healing burst as a result of increased stem cell activity. By better understanding the meaning and utility of exercise, one can also extrapolate the importance of a boost in stem cell activity in recovery from particularly strenuous exercise.

Bones and tissue in our bodies are constantly breaking down and replacing themselves. During exercise, bone and muscle tissue breaks down as an adaptation to the applied stimulus and is replaced by stronger material. The faster this process can occur, the faster the athlete can recover, the more stimuli can be stacked close to one another, the stronger the athlete can feasibly become.

By thinking about recovery from weight-bearing and endurance exercise as the need for tissue regeneration it is easy to understand why, when I was pregnant, it was near-impossible to become sore from a workout and I felt my recovery time had decreased. It is also good to note that one major aim of endurance training is to induce higher rates of angiogenesis, or endothelial cell proliferation and an increase in capillary blood vessels.

Enter fetal-maternal microchimerism (also known as fetomaternal microchimerism or FMc). According to Zhong and Weiner's 2007 study on pregnant mice:

Fetal stem cells appear to respond to maternal injury signals and may play a role in maternal tissue regeneration during pregnancy. Massive new blood vessels were formed around the injury site which indicated the incidence of high angiogenesis events during the recovery of the skin injury. 

In an even more mind-boggling turn, the fetus continues to supply stem cell support to its mother even after it has departed from her body.

Fetal cells have also been identified in skin lesions of women with systemic sclerosis, a disease of unknown origin which often occurs in women after their child-bearing years.

This boost in FMc continues for quite some time according to Bianchi et al

In humans, PAPCs (pregnancy associated proginator cells) have been described to persist in mothers almost three decades postpartum.

 

This means that recovery times decrease and the injury-assisting qualities of fetal stem cell activity increase in the maternal body even after pregnancy. Now that is some rad sci-fi shit I couldn't dream up if I tried.

If you're into doing research on this sort of thing, doctors, please do us ladies a favor and dig deeper on the topic than I was able to do in this article. You owe it to preggos everywhere. Those burly NFL players only wish they could be pregnant athletes.

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Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #3

Of all the posts I've shared in the past (nearly) five years of business here at Magnetic North, few have received quite the response as this series. The reactions range from rejection of hard science based on an individual's opinion to hearty support from birth professionals I've never met. This means I struck a chord somewhere in the curiously provocative range which inspires me to continue.

Without further ado, part three in the series.


A pregnant woman should eat for two.

FALSE.

 

In an odd turn of events, What To Expect actually gets this one right! A 2002 Institute of Medicine study advises:

No additional calories for the first trimester, 340 kilocalories (per day) the second trimester, and 452 kilocalories (per day) for the third trimester.

That said, recommendations vary based on maternal BMI and pre-pregnancy nutritional status. It is also interesting to note:

Hytten (1980) estimated the energy cost of pregnancy to be 85,000 kcal.

That is the equivalent of 425 Larabars! Amazing. Good thing the preggo has ten months to eat that much extra food.

Also:

Energy requirements are greatest between 10 and 30 weeks of gestation, when relatively large quantities of maternal fat normally are deposited. Substantial fetal demands (56 kcal/kg per day) are offset in the last quarter of pregnancy by the near cessation of maternal fat storage (Sparks et al., 1980).

In an interesting parallel, premenstrual women have increased caloric needs that outstrip the increased caloric needs of their premenstrual peers. Check out this excerpt from a study on basal metabolic rates throughout a woman's menstrual cycle. In the premenstrual period, scientists found:

RMR was 0.99 +/- 0.16 kcal/kg/h. The energy expenditure while sitting was 1.06 times RMR, while walking it was 2.81 times RMR, and while performing treadmill exercise it was 3.47 times RMR.

This means that your increased interest in ALL THE FOOD is far more (metabolically) appropriate in the days preceding your period than it is during pregnancy. 

So next time someone shames you for how you eat or look, tell them to step off - and share a bit of hard science. After all, science is the most effective antidote to misogyny.

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Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #2

A pregnant woman's immune system is suppressed throughout pregnancy.

FALSE.

 

In sources as diverse as the ever-incorrect What To Expect When You're Expecting to Science Daily, people positioned as experts on pregnancy trot out the same fallacy about womens' delicate immune systems. As you likely gathered from my previous post on this topic, advice that runs contrary to scientific fact (as established by peer-reviewed research) just rankles me.

So instead of continue to allow misogynists such as What To Expect and Science Daily to treat the female physiology as though it were some fragile instrument, I'll allow an excerpt from Gil Mor and Ingrid Cardenas' 2011 paper entitled "The Immune System in Pregnancy: A Unique Complexity" to do the talking:

Is the systemic immunity of the mother suppressed? Although we can find numerous studies describing the factors inducing immune suppression (including progesterone, defined as the natural immune suppressor), medical and evolutionary aspects are against the concept of immune suppression. Pregnancy represents the most important period for the conservation of the species, therefore it is fundamental to strengthen all the means to protect the mother and the offspring. The immune system is one of the most important systems protecting the mother against the environment and preventing damage to the fetus. It is during pregnancy when the maternal immune system is characterized by a reinforced network of recognition, communication, trafficking and repair; it is able to raise the alarm, if necessary, to maintain the well-being of the mother and the fetus. On the other side is the fetus that, without any doubt, provides a developing active immune system that will modify the way the mother responds to the environment, providing the uniqueness of the immune system during pregnancy. Therefore, it is appropriate to refer to pregnancy as a unique immune condition that is modulated, but not suppressed.

This unique behavior explains why pregnant women respond differently to the presence of microorganisms or its products. Therefore, pregnancy should not imply more susceptibility to infectious diseases, instead there is a modulation of the immune system which leads to differential responses depending not only on the microorganisms, but on the stages of the pregnancy.

 

So, instead of continuing to falsely believe in maternal immune system suppression, let's begin to rethink the function of the altered immune system during pregnancy. The changes a mother's body experiences during pregnancy in fact allows a more sophisticated immune response and deeper cellular-level discernment in the face of immunologic threats.

This doesn't sound weak to me, this sounds downright superhuman.

 

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Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #1

Pregnant athletes should keep their heart rate under 140bpm.

FALSE.

 

I'm inspired to FINALLY begin this series after reaching the literal end of my rope while out climbing yesterday with friends.

Picture this: Another experienced athletic coach and mother who lives in the same town as me starts talking with my friend, Matt, and me about my recent talk at Vertical World on pregnant athleticism. During the event last week Matt asked a poignant question about stigma, motherhood, and double-standards when it comes to being a pregnant or mothering athlete. He had more to say about the woman shaming I faced during my own pregnancy.

But before he could finish his thoughts, the other coach cut in and said (in a sadly well-timed vignette of an exchange):

"There's nothing that special about you training through pregnancy, lots of women do it. The only thing you need to do is wear a heart rate monitor and make sure your heart rate doesn't go over 140."

She, being the vastly senior and more respected endurance coach, did not expect what I said next:

"Actually, that is not based in fact and has been rejected by evidence-based practitioners. There is no heart rate limit for pregnant athletes who are well-trained."

And the evidence is on my side - and on the side of any preggo willing to push it on her next run or climb. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic:

"If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, there's no need to focus on your heart rate for exercise during pregnancy."

Further:

"There are so many rumors out there, some started or perpetuated by popular pregnancy books, others the result of old wives' tales or outdated advice, so that many women really are confused about what they can and can't do. People are still stuck on this heart rate issue, and it was never based on anything concrete,"

says high-risk pregnancy expert Laura Riley, MD, spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and author of Pregnancy: You and Your Baby. ACOG is infamous for its overly-conservative views as they pertain to exercise during pregnancy. That rote false-fact nearly everyone who trains or cares of preggos says is wrong. No science. No evidence. Like fake news is to politics, this platitude is manipulative propaganda designed to control and oppress.

I take it as a personal offense when other coaches, especially women, espouse non-evidence-based, misogynistic, one-size-fits-all limits on womens' athletic activity while pregnant without doing the work of educating themselves first. As a coach I am responsible for finding the right balance between challenging my clients and keeping them safe. For me, a core function of being a coach is keeping myself up-to-date on the most recent exercise physiology literature. This coach, in direct conflict with her many decades of experience, merely parroted a platitude she'd heard other coaches and medical professionals say many times before without the critical examination limits such as these deserve.

Expect more in this series of dispelling myths about pregnant athleticism as I continue to dig in to research for the upcoming book. 

Brittany Raven

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Featured client: Kelsey McGill, PCT through-hiker

near mile 100 on the California PCT

near mile 100 on the California PCT

Hey readers,

This past year I've worked with an aspiring through-hiker, Kelsey McGill, and decided to share her story here for you to enjoy.

Kelsey has been a wilderness educator for many years at Outward Bound here in the North Cascades. She is a colorful character who practices excellent self-care, trains diligently, and she's one of my daughter's best friends. Her ultra-light kit is a testament to her thoughtful approach to athleticism. Kelsey's PCT journey began two weeks ago and she recently passed the hundred mile mark.

Read on for helpful packing tips, mental preparations for your own journey down the trail, and how we worked together. You can also follow her journey on her website and Instagram.

Brittany Raven


First things first: what's your favorite trail snack? SNICKERS

What is in your pack? Cooking system: Crotch Pot, titanium mug, Titanium spoon, mini Bic lighter, MSR Pocket Rocket (for purely hot drinks!) 8oz fuel canister, stuff sack. Shelter: Black Diamond BetaMid, 6 stakes, gossamer gear UL umbrella Sleeping system: 15 degree marmot xenon down, polycro ground sheet, Thermarest z-lite. Pack: ULA CDT. Clothing (not worn): nano puff, alpine Houdini, Houdini, R1, Trek pants, baggie shorts, Capilene tshirt, Capilene bottoms, wool hat, liner gloves, 2 pairs Darn Tough socks, bandana. Clothing (worn): tropical fish dress, Injinji socks, desert button up, dirty girl gaiters, Altra Lone Peak 2.5, Black Diamond traverse poles, sunhat, Suncloud glasses. Hydration: 2 2-liter platypus, 4 Smartwater bottles, Sawyer squeeze. Nav: Halfmile maps & compass, Yogi's resupply info. Ditty bag: gossamer gear UL trowel, tooth powder & brush, anti-chafe stick, hand sanitizer, earplugs, mini leatherman, mini light, AAA battery, sunscreen, Dr. Bronners soap, diva cup, arnica salve, sharpie, journal, pen, pocket palette. FAK: arnica salve, weed salve, monkey butt powder, lavender oil, turmeric tincture, tea tree oil, Leukotape, ibuprofen, antihistamine, mini anti-chafe stick, gauze, safety pin. Repair: needle w/ floss, repair tape Tech: iPhone w/ charger, Anker backup battery, headphones.

How did you train for this multi-month, 2,700 mile hike? I believe there are two components to this: physical and mental. Physically, I was skiing and running during the winter several days a week eventually transitioning to mainly hiking into the spring. On top of training, I was in physical therapy for my hip (an injury sustained by years of to carrying heavy packs and repetitive motion as an Outward Bound instructor). This opened my eyes to how intricate the connection is in the body and the awareness I can observe while I'm moving. However, I strongly feel that the bigger focus for me was the mental preparation because this is what it boils down to in endurance events. An 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class was a life-changing experience for me in many ways. This class incorporates various meditations, yoga sequences, and tools to carry with you in everyday life to become more of an observer in life versus attaching to emotions/thoughts that can so easily rule our lives without even knowing. Since I've struggled with anxiety for most of my life, I've also been in therapy which I'm so grateful to have someone to support me in this process! I think back to a year ago and how daunting anxiety was for me, "something is wrong with me" or constantly comparing myself to others was crippling all the beauty in my life. I'm amazed at what I've overcome the past year and how much more confident and grounded I feel, with much thanks to both of these paths.

I strongly feel that the bigger focus for me was the mental preparation because this is what it boils down to in endurance events.
— Kelsey McGill

What has been the biggest challenge as you prepare for your trip? Adjustment is usually the crux for me whether I'm coming back into the "real world" or I'm heading back out in the field for another season. Reminding myself to be patient, have self-compassion, and give gratitude is key. 

How did your coaching engagement with Magnetic North help you prepare for the trail? Brittany was an invaluable resource in preparation. Having a thorough discussion on my self-evaluation including my current self and goal setting. Afterwards, we dove into the physiology of endurance and how to give it what it needs to receive positive results. Having a regimented training plan allowed my awareness to grow on my body's needs and make that connection stronger between the mind and body.

Is there a piece of advice you'd share with others considering a through hike? I would strongly emphasize cultivating meditation as a part of your journey and purchasing Yogi's Pacific Crest Trail handbook while you're at it.

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