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Pain and pleasure

my Source, Cougar Mountain 2016

I find the pain
and make it look at me
it turns to face me and says
"you are worthy"

I become the pain
it consumes me
it travels through my muscles, fire and acid
heavy limbs dipped in concrete

I validate the pain
and I become it
I remember it
I'm still moving

I step through my pain
it transforms me
the wind blows through the low angle of the sun breaking golden second growth bearing a springtime clean scent
and there they coexist:
pain and pleasure in my present

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Parenting at the Vertical World

at the gym, Rumi is nine months old

at the gym, Rumi is nine months old

i went into labor nine months ago while climbing at Vertical World Seattle. now #RumiWren likes to join me for fitness and climbing sessions here.

early the morning of 23 May 2016, I felt the excitement of the early stages of labor. stoked to dig into the work of laboring and birthing at home, I set about finishing the last details of my work and training before the contractions intensified. that morning I met @laurelfan for a coaching appointment. by timing my questions for her between contractions we made it through the meeting - a few times we even paused to feel my belly tighten with contractions and to ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ with amazement.

after walking home from the cafe where Laurel and I met, I gathered my gym climbing kit, put on yoga pants and top, and wrangled Babydaddy for one last pregnant gym session. knowing I’d soon be in too active of labor to climb well, we sped off to Vertical World which was a ten minute drive from home.

we had a surprisingly good session. I climbed eight pitches between contractions, belaying him uncomfortably because at that point it didn’t feel awesome to stand still. after the eighth pitch we paused so I could spend some time in the lead cave visualising my first postpartum leads. knowing my next lead would be just days away, being that I was already in labor, I sat for ten or twenty minutes looking up at the route on which I’d begin. I bouldered the start, I tried to remember the feeling of whipping, I envisioned myself confidently clipping draws, and I remembered the distinct mixture of fear and exhilaration inherent in leading at my limit.

during my ninth pitch of the day a whopper of a contraction hit. I asked Babydaddy to dirt me, quickly peeled off my harness, and announced I was ready to give birth so we should go home. Rumi was born twenty-four hours later on my bedroom floor, 24 May 2016.

on 27 May 2016, I tied in to the sharp end for the first time since November 2015. as I sailed happily off the wall, whipping a good fifteen feet, I giggled maniacally and thanked myself for the faith I had in myself to continue my upward progression throughout pregnancy.

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The two wings of adrenal fatigue for athletes

As I dig in to work with yet another chronically overtrained client, I'm compelled to share my simple approach to coaching through adrenal fatigue. 

First, let's back up. What is adrenal fatigue? Adrenal fatigue is an amorphous set of symptoms resulting from a chronically-taxed adrenal system. When the body lives in its fight-or-flight (sympathetic) nervous response for too long without a break, it exhausts its hormonal response to stress thus becoming disregulated. This disregulation can cause chronic fatigue, extreme weight gain or loss, thyroid disorder, increased propensity for musculoskeletal injury, and a suppressed immune system. On a subtler level, those suffering with adrenal fatigue might report a lack of appetite, increasing anxiety, less motivation to train, and emotional volatility. Essentially, the body in this fatigued state becomes unable to cope with stress.

The athletes with whom I work generally have adrenal fatigue originating from one or both of the following:

  1. Trauma
  2. Overtraining

Clients with a heavy load of multigenerational trauma or with a history of abuse, neglect, or other attachment issues often exhibit signs of adrenal fatigue - even without having overtrained. This happens because people with a higher nervous system set point often have a hair trigger response to stress. These athletes are victims of sexual assault, descendants of genocide survivors, those raised in extreme poverty, those who were adopted or fostered as children, and people with absent or uninvolved parents. Though they might maintain a reasonable training load, they are often functioning in an activated nervous state without knowing it. 

In our work together, clients exhibiting this wing of adrenal fatigue learn the tools and tricks of controlling and calming one's autonomic nervous system. Over a series of several months these clients begin to report increased awareness of their surroundings, reduced phobias of being alone/in the dark/etc, and they begin to heal long-term injuries and nagging yet unspecific illnesses.

As I've written about extensively before, overtraining in our yang athletic culture is all too pervasive. Pushed by Western society to 'conquer', to 'push through it' we lose track of our body's intelligent cues to rest. Clients dealing with long-term overtraining often present with adrenal fatigue - the condition that finally makes them stop and rest. Overtraining is often coupled with dysmorphic body image issues and/or eating disorder. Would you believe that about 75% of my clients, male and female, self report having had or are currently amidst an eating or exercise addiction? 

In order to recover, these clients work with their mental health professional concurrent with me. We begin to reframe the concept of yin athletic practices as part of the athlete's job. Again, over the course of several months, these athletes begin to dig themselves out of their deep energetic hole to rise again like the Phoenix.

By partnering with Seattle-based acupuncturist and ND, Dr. Liz Carter, and bodyworker, Alex Sollek, I work closely with my clients to allow them to simultaneously rehab their adrenals AND continue to progress on their path of mountain endurance.


 

Limited monthly coaching slots are available beginning in March.

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Running In Snow: the ebook

It is here! Your no-excuses guide to running in snow.


As mountain runners we seek communion with the natural environments with whom we move. Winter can be a disconnecting, unmotivating time for many mountain athletes - you are not alone.

Through trial by fire, or ice as it may be, I've used myself as my own test subject trying every obscure traction system, every faulty layering tactic, and all imaginable snowy and icy surfaces during my first two winters living in the Methow Valley. I now use this knowledge to coach other runners on maintaining their practices in the snowy months—and to inject a little more joy in my winter training sessions.

This book encapsulates the most necessary information to get you trained, packed, hobnailed, stoked, and tired in those discouraging months without subalpine single-track romps. Guest posts from nutrition and training specialists augment my knowledge, nicely contributing to this as the only all-in-one running in the snow resource out there.

Buy now and keep moving intelligently in the winter months.

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Work is magick: part 1

Back in this post, I outlined the benefits I’d receive as a result of my athletic pregnancy. Written in my thirty-seventh week of pregnancy, making this list public was a bold move. Of note, an ‘athletic’ pregnancy is dissimilar to a ‘fit’ pregnancy on many fronts: during a fit pregnancy one might attempt to maintain movement throughout pregnancy by doing light yoga, taking gentle walks, or swimming recreationally - all the things a medical doctor tells most women are safe. During an athletic pregnancy, the athlete continues her progression in a given discipline, mine is alpinism. 

In case you just started following along on this journey, prior to pregnancy I’d run twenty-three ultras, climbed at high altitudes on all media (rock, ice, glacier), and skied since I was a toddler. During pregnancy, I not only ran two more ultras solo and unsupported in the wilderness, sent my hardest sport climb yet, and skied my most intimidating couloir, but I maintained my hard training during all forty weeks of pregnancy. Though I experienced some nausea, mild fatigue, and a small of a lack of motivation in my first trimester, I chose to reframe these experiences. Rather than thinking of them as inevitable ‘symptoms’ to be endured, I chose to think of the first trimester of pregnancy as a purposeful acclimatization period - afterall the first trimester 'symptoms' we all hear about are strikingly similar to those experienced by a high-altitude climber just adapting to altitude and for good reason.

On every high-altitude expedition I've undertaken, the strategy upon immediately arriving in the high mountainous zone is the same: regular, slow movement on easy terrain. It is well understood that this strategy best allows the athlete to build her blood's ability to transport oxygen in the new paradigm of thinner atmospheric pressure. Symptoms of initial altitude exposure, prior to acclimatization, are:

  • shortness of breath during exercise
  • decreased VO2Max
  • frequent urination
  • headache
  • nausea

Does this sound a bit like the first few weeks of pregnancy? Well, it should.

But unlike a pregnant woman, a high-altitude climber understands that these symptoms will resolve as the body adapts. The means by which this adaptation happens is two-fold: the body decreases total plasma volume and increases hemoglobin (learn more about that process here and here). Then, upon returning to sea level after a period of weeks at altitude, the athlete experiences an increase in performance because she has increased her body's ability to efficiently transport oxygen in her blood and has again increased her blood plasma levels - this equals an ever-sought-after increase in VO2Max.

During pregnancy, physiologic conditions mimic those of an initial ascent to altitude except the oxygen-deprived state that renders her symptom-ridden is due to an initial increase in plasma volume (source); the acclimatization during those first few weeks must be focused on increasing the hemoglobin in the new blood (source). To increase hemoglobin in pregnant women, in order to decrease their first trimester symptoms and to allow nutrient-rich blood to flow through her placenta into the growing zygote, medical doctors prescribe folate- and iron-rich prenatal supplements. Essentially: more hemoglobin equals less morning sickness and other 'pregnancy symptoms'.

These doctors somehow completely miss one very important part of increasing hemoglobin that a high-altitude alpinist would never neglect: moderate to strenuous exercise. Going beyond alleviating commonly-accepted pregnancy 'symptoms', strenuous exercise in the already-conditioned pregnant athlete will manifest a host of other superhuman adaptations, most of which I listed in my previous post (Pregnant Athlete: benefits) but will recount here:

  • Increased VO2Max
  • Increased pump volume of the heart
  • Mitochondrial adaptations for improved endurance for both mother and baby
  • Higher hemoglobin and hematocrit
  • Higher anaerobic threshhold
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Increased power-endurance
  • More resilient joints
  • Balanced TSH levels
  • Balanced qi

Now that we can see adaptation to altitude and to pregnancy are quite similar, a number of questions present themselves. Why do climbers choose to acclimatize to altitude, anticipated improved athletic performance, and pregnant women do not choose to acclimatize to pregnancy? Why would a medical doctor advise a pregnant woman to reduce her activity levels even though increasing her athletic training would alleviate her symptoms and increase her lifetime fitness? Having spent many weeks in my twenties preparing for high-altitude expeditions by sleeping in an altitude tent and Cheyne–Stokes breathing then taking costly expeditions in places that made me sick, the performance increases I experienced from those trips is quite a bit more effort than those I experienced being pregnant and training at an elite level.

In the second part in this series, I'll break down the science of another well-known performance-enhancing trick: blood doping. As it turns out, the physiologic conditions of pregnancy are quite similar to what made Lance Armstrong the king of the Tour de France. In part three, I'll reveal the hard numbers: my bloodwork results pre-pregnancy, mid-pregnancy, and postpartum. There, we'll begin to answer some of these questions about the pregnant athlete and put forth a new concept of the female body as ultimate endurance machine.


I COACH PREGNANT AND POSTPARTUM ATHLETES SO IF YOU LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ HERE, SIGN UP FOR COACHING SERVICES MONTHLY OR A LA CARTE.

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🌋

I am here to remind you: you are an animal. you may think your sentience, bipedal gait, or ability to make and use tools makes you special or somehow different. they don’t.

politics bore me as one side plays martyred victim helpless to the other side who keeps throwing trillions on the Orwellian war bonfire. before you start believing in the military meritocracy our government wants you to think controls you, introspect.

once we can rise above the distracting blather, we begin to wake up. we are in the process of exposing myths that no longer serve us; we cannot ignore the psychic dreams any longer and force ourselves back into the blissful sleep of the ignorant. we must use all of the tools at our disposal to re-create our origin stories so we can truly own our futures.

conscious seeking, goalless intention, diligent diffusion, broadened awareness. I hesitate to make this didactic but wake the fuck up to the faltering falsehood of the separate self. in honor of the peaceful before us who so wisely paved the way, disembowel the institution by: mountain running in a state of self-love, painting as an act of gnosis, earning your turns as an affirmation of unity, child-rearing as an expression of purpose. 

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Ferocious

sometimes I am a frothing beast plowing quads-first in new directions. on this particular day, we had just parted seguaro, cholla, and decaying granite with three and two points planted. gaining over 3,000 vert in just under an hour left my internal compass spinning as I set foot in the shelter of the first manzanita groves. the feeling that I was in a sacred tunnel traveling toward the barely-lit core of the land came over me. it tucked itself snug around my shoulders, dampening the desert’s few harsh sounds. climate’s heat eased, the scrub became forest which enveloped me deadening the roar issuing from the mouth of a storm growing on the western horizon. the tunnel closed around my head.

I peered out a clearing of what had become mid-sized trees at the break between deciduous forest and familiar ponderosa and tamarack stands just ahead. I’d be there soon. altitude thinned, though, taking from my once-bawdy pistons some of their verve and Nature kept reeling the pine forest away from me - some cosmic bait on a gigantic hook inciting a return to the violence I do to my bones and organs on these long runs.

the path could just as well require not-movement just as it does no thought and no speech. I could take the freeway route to this altered state of being, and I have in decades past, but the afterglow of chemically-induced states of wisdom feels cheap. 

I perceived a subtle pressure shift from right ear to left, WNW to ESE, and knew the force of the storm had shifted. each step for a space of a mile or more I shaped my toes into proboscis capable of feeding and feeling off the land; I moved away from miosis on the endless beat of legs turning and into our conversation. .though I am barely worth or even capable of forming a question for the desert, I did and asked for its will in the moment. unequivocally it uttered its response. with a tank full of oxygen, a pack flush with water, legs certain of their ability, I chose a diving granite slab as the high-point of the day’s run - 8000 feet above the valley floor where I began.

conversing with a greying ceiling of clouds I thought of how I’ve aged, how ashamed and proud I am of the woman I’ve been and become. hearing the clouds' response I rose and began the long float back down. not five minutes after beginning my descent the rains began (an aside: this storm was not forecast. it turned epic: flooding LA and bringing heavy snows to the slabs on which I’d just lounged.). feeling gradients of raindrops begin and cease as I passed through diminishing manzanita tunnels, I found my power.

my power belongs wholly to the Earth, she spurs every moment of genius I’ve ever had - including this one. my power lies not with achievement, ticking some meaningless goal off a list; my power lives with vulnerability, with giving up hope, with trust in the media with whom I dance. my power is in the acceptance of my constant defeat in the hands of my broader body, in nature. my power is found by tuning in to a sacred landscape, animate with cacti, mice with big round ears, ravens, and the cougars hiding in the brush. power is trusting our tiny voice. my power makes my endurance perpetual; I am ferocious.

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solstice

many years ago I was bounding through the Rocky Mountain powder, delicately lifting alternate heels and licking fallen snow off my upper lip. it was brisk, well below zero, and my spirit lit brightly from the inside.

characteristically glad for the work, the cold, the burn, I grinned and as I crested a minor rise my tiny wise voice, who speaks so judiciously, said: 

the way, the truth, the light.

in this time of reconsideration, reconfiguration, and deepening of attunement I wish that you make like the sun, shining brighter every day.

 

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Postpartum climbing in eight steps

Rumi in a basket, Babydaddy belaying, a couple weeks postpartum, cr. Aaron Vargas Rourke

fueling up before Rumi's first outdoor climbing session, ten days old, Exit 38

Go early, go often: Because many women experience a decrease in the plasma that lent pregnant climbing unpumpability, tell your body you still need that plasma by returning to the gym soon after birth. Once your body and mind feel ready, head to your local climbing gym or crag. Even though you're super-motivated and well-rested, keep your first session postpartum at a recovery pace.

What about the six week wait?: Though many people, professional or peanut gallery, insist on a strict six-week wait before training postpartum, this is not a universal requirement. I went into labor while climbing at the gym and returned to climbing three days postpartum - all while recovering at a clip. Others may want to wait to train postpartum for much longer than six weeks based on their birth experience and level of fatigue. Listen to no one but your own inner voice when it comes to recovery and training.

mobile pumping at an obscure crag, Marcus

Sahrmann exercises: Before bearing down on tough crimps, I was sure I'd completed my Sahrmann abdominal rehabilitation exercises. These simple exercises challenge and evaluate the status of the postpartum athlete's deep core - including pelvic floor and transverse abdominus.

Mobile pumping: In order to extend your session beyond the brief intervals between feedings, get a manual pump. This one worked great for me. You're welcome. 

first postpartum trad lead, Joshua Tree

Find a third: If your babe will join you at the gym or crag, it will be easier to have a third climber/belayer/baby holder present. Only close friends who enjoy babies qualify. Pay them with gratitude and a few extra laps.

Or get thee an IKEA bag: If said babe is rather docile, as Rumi was as a newborn, get a big, blue IKEA bag, pack it with blankets, tuck it away in a safe spot (out of risk of rockfall or other hazards), and let your kiddo nap while you send. At the first sign of fussing, lower and give her the boob.

Climb without your child, too: However convenient and cost-effective climbing with your baby might be, for you to truly focus and progress as an athlete you'll need sessions sans baby as well. I give you blanket permission to treat your child-free training sessions with as much importance as your paid work. Go on, leave that little chub to your partner, your parents, or a friend and go drop a knee or two.

Release expectations: But not for the reason you might think: your postpartum performance WILL impress you beyond expectations. Afterall, you've just taken off the progressive weight vest you wore for ten months. 

 

Read more:

The postpartum athlete

Pregnant rock climbing how to guide

Postpartum running

pregnant ultra running post two

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running in the dark

this morning was spitting and blustery upon stepping out in shorts, cap 1, and hoodless nylon. I cranked the mantras loud and ran persistently uphill. the first three miles brought intensely increasing deluge and wind until it crescendoed and kept tossing in its peak. I moved through the birch stands listening to trees and large limbs crack to the forest floor as I went thinking "this is a squall, it will lessen before I descend," picked efficiently through the rooted rollies rejoicing in the pocket lakes my feet displaced and noting how my pace developed since first scouting these dark morning runs alone last winter--thanked my legs. 

then, as I rounded the old clay pit and bared myself on the precipice ridge that falls toward Squak, the wind gusted with extra force and the birches listed against a greying sky. I felt momentarily trapped and stopped running; turned my headlamp off and assessed the situation. no further assessment necessary than stopping and realizing that I was just as likely to be struck by a falling rotted birch while joyfully bounding through the storm as I was stopped, petrified, with my light out. 

the sun doesn't rise this time of year more than it glows in varying shades of this putrid purple, indicating an indistinct horizon and suggesting day. I ran so fast on the descent that my knees were smoking as the mud dropped off my legs in the shower. thanked everything as I made breakfast. my hands are still cold.

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