Training Journal Entry: Wedding Day

Five years ago today I wrote this. At the time, I was living on the mountain who was my teacher while also being pulled to nearly snapping by a daily commute to the city. Looking back, this moment of marriage to my true lover, the forest, was the moment I committed to the life path I am on now.


trees and vines relieved themselves of the dead summer’s progress
throwing their pieces at me in a happy volley of red and brown
green to black
as I marched in brave and wild spectacle newly joined to my Self

and the wind blew a strange dirge
in honor of the one who passed and joined the source

I wed myself this morning on the familiar hill
as it danced to the tune of a storm
I felt as cool
blustery
thin
and quick
as the swaying trees around me
caressing me as I moved with the force of a gust

all my fingers and skin belong to the forest
and me
an infinite growth and total submission

Transitioning into training

Following an event such as a birth, ultra, guiding season, or alpine epic, the body requires extended rest followed by a strategic re-immersion into the mental and physical stress of training. For most mountain athletes the transition period happens during November and early December given cycles of weather and optimal time for events. This should be a timely piece for you.

What constitutes an event? Great question! As the athlete grows over a series of years or decades (this does not happen quickly), what you once perceived as an event will become an intermediate training milestone. The best example I can think of is during my own training for my first hundred miler I ran a fifty miler and a thirty miler on back-to-back days - and my body did not perceive this sequence as an event. This is due, in part, to the way my body’s paradigm of work had shifted over years of ultra running and speed climbing and in part to how I conducted those long runs. The distance that once felt so taxing to me had become a simple training run. Sign up for coaching with me to learn more on these specifics as they are quite intricate.

When is best to begin training again? Short answer: it depends. I wrote a post for new moms on the infamous six-week wait and I advocate for a similar strategy when it comes to training again after any event or break from training. You are the best gauge of your body’s readiness to re-enter the stress (even if it is positive) of training. You can also begin to train at a time that you calculate back from your next big event - this time necessary for training will range from three to twelve months depending on the athlete, the event, and the amount of time you’ve been away from training. If you have not been sleeping well or have been under heavy amounts of life stress, you’re not rested and will not benefit from structured training.

Recreational period: Following every event I am a huge proponent of my athletes (and moms) taking time to train simply for joy and for mental wellbeing. These sessions will all occur at Zone 2 or lower, last for less than ninety minutes, and, if they involve a component of weight bearing, will not require the athlete to bear down (i.e. grunt, alter breath patterns, excessively engage the core). During this time, the athlete is well-advised to focus on nourishing foods but not going overboard or continuing to eat the volume they ate at the height of the peak period. Nutrition in this period of training is perhaps even more important than the training you conduct in motion. Instead of focusing time on gym or trail sessions, renew your commitment to your seated mindfulness practice and, heck, to your sleep.

Preparing for training: With as many overworked guides with thyroid imbalances as I’ve seen in my practice, as many new moms with iron deficiencies, as many alpinists with food allergies, you’d think it would be common knowledge among athletes to get their blood and food allergy testing done prior to engaging in another round of strategic training. It isn’t! Here’s what you’ll need: full bloodwork including thyroid panel and a food allergy test if your hematocrit/hemoglobin appear low or if you have digestive symptoms. These are vital markers for any athlete to have at their disposal as they indicate both your body’s readiness to begin training again as well as its ability to properly integrate said training.

Introducing structure: In the first month or two returning to structured training, the volume, compared to your peak in your last peak, will feel deceptively low. A few phenomena are at play here: First, your body has the nervous system capacity for two to three physiologic events per year and, second, following what it perceives as an event it requires time to recharge not only the musculoskeletal system but the nervous system. Don’t rush the first month or two back into structured training as this is a key time for your body to do its hypercompensation thing and to regain some strength you might have neglected in peak training for your endurance event.

There is a lot I have not touched on here as it pertains to re-entry into training such as re-testing your heart rate zones, structuring your mindfulness practice, and how to shift your athletic paradigm over time. I hope this article has been of use to you and, if you’re curious, sign up for coaching with me to fill in the blanks.


Andrea Laughery client interview - Becoming An Athlete

It is all about breaking down our predetermined stereotypes of what an ‘athlete’ can be. Of course I can be a 34 year old mom of two kids and an athlete at the same time.
— Andrea Laughery

Readers, this is a special one. Andrea and I had a rich conversation about beginning (over and over), healing in the hills, and how she went from not being able to run five miles to completing a half-marathon and contemplating the ultra distance.

So often, I hear from people who are interested in working with me as a coach who tell me they aren’t a ‘good’ enough athlete - or not an athlete at all. Honestly, working with Andrea was just as rich and challenging an experience for me as working with elite athletes and guides on my roster in the past. She found examples of her own successes and built on them with more diligent hard work in typical Virgo fashion.

Enjoy a listen over coffee on your autumn porch!

Brittany Raven

The mountains have become a physical place that I tether myself to that helps me heal greatly.
— Andrea Laughery

1:32 Athletic background

3:00 Bringing her kids into the outdoors

5:00 “You can learn how to run properly”

6:45 Someone to believe in you

8:30 Redefining herself

9:55 The turning point

11:25 Running her first half

13:00 What’s next?

16:00 Building confidence in her practice

17:15 Healing in the mountains

GUEST POST: Prenatal mental health

Dear readers,

As I prepare to work with another cohort of the Pregnant Athlete E-course, I’ve been wrestling with how to approach the topic of prenatal mental health. Most of us, by now, understand that many new parents struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety but we often don’t talk about mental health during pregnancy.

I had a significant bout with prenatal anxiety and, while I’m not yet ready to write about it, I wanted to share something on the topic. When Leia posted on her social media about her own work through prenatal anxiety I asked if she would pen her story for you, reader.

She DID and it is raw, beautiful, relatable, hopeful, and honest. Some of us use medicine, therapy, coping mechanisms, or other ways to manage our mental health; here’s to de-stigmatizing the decision to employ medicine as a means of supporting a healthy pregnancy.

Brittany Raven

PS: I care about your wellbeing. If you are having suicidal thoughts or are engaging in self-harm, please click the button below to find emergency support.


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Prenatal Mental Health, by Leia Anderson

There are lots of ways that we can self-identify. I identify as a mom - with a three year old son and another boy on the way. I am a runner, which is a huge part of my identity as it branches into running coach, race director, and instructor. I am a wife, who has a spouse that supports me on my running and momming adventures. These are the identities that I latch onto.  They’re positive and offer fulfilment. Unfortunately there’s also a large piece of me that struggles with anxiety. I do not enjoy identifying as a person with anxiety, but if I don’t own that piece, it risks the other positive identifiers that I claim.

Anxiety and depression are often hand holders. For me, anxiety is the largest struggle and it manifests in different ways. When I am at my worst, all of those positives, the things that I love, don’t make me feel good. I become what feels like a bad mom, a bad wife, and I stop enjoying running in the same way. I worry about everything. I over-analyze conversations and things that most people would never read into. I physically manifest symptoms like tightness in my chest. When I decided to seek out some help, it did not come naturally to me. Partially because I didn’t understand that the way I felt wasn't it normal. I’d always felt like that. I also listened to a lot of voices telling me that “nothing was actually wrong, and just stop worrying so much.”

About ten years ago I decided to start seeing a psychologist as a first step.Though even though it helped, it wasn’t quite enough. I had started running, and it became a great help, but also still not enough. After some time I was referred to a psychiatrist to discuss medicine.   This is one of the hardest things for me to accept. I do not want this kind of help. I want to be ok on my own. I want to find coping mechanisms that I can hold on to and that will fix everything for me and make me feel better. However, I am a much better, mom, wife, and runner on medication and I have had to come to terms with that. I still incorporate talk therapy as I need to. It’s not a constant, but it’s helpful to have when I need a little extra.  

A major struggle with medicine is determining whether or not to take it while you are pregnant and nursing. We talk a fair amount about postpartum depression, but we often don’t acknowledge how hard it is to actually just be pregnant.  There are the hormonal changes that can cause moods to alter or stress to rise. Then you may have coping mechanisms in place that no longer work to ease your stress, depression, or anxiety. For my first pregnancy I chose to get off of the medicine that I was taking at the time (Citalopram). I had a comfortable pregnancy, was thrilled to be able to run and work out as much as I was able to, and managed fairly well. I even thought that I might be able to stay off of the medicine once I had the baby.

I was so in love with our little boy and managed for several months. Then I started to struggle again. I stopped enjoying things like running, particularly group runs, which are a big part of my life. I was worried about keeping up or taking time away from family in ways that were completely disproportionate to the concerns. I talked to my doctor and started taking Citalopram again. I felt better, like myself.

Fast forward three years and we are expecting again. One of the problems is that there really isn't a lot of research out there that clearly outlines SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and their impacts on pregnancy. Google becomes a tool for stirring up emotions. I was struggling with the balance of how I felt being off medicine with how worried I was about being on it. Again I decided to get off of medicine.

It did not go well.  Right before I got pregnant I ran a forty-eight hour race; it was one of the most successful races I have run and it was also the longest. So even though I was still running and strength training throughout this pregnancy, it was a huge let down from what I had been been doing right before this. I had a couple of stressful events happen and I was not handling things well.  I was pregnant and not eating or sleeping enough, which was causing another layer of anxiety because I was worried about that too. I was sucking it up to teach classes and work with my clients, and was a mess at home. I started seeing my psychologist again, and though it helped, nothing was really making me feel truly better. At around five months pregnant I talked to my doctor about getting back on medicine. She was kind and empathetic (I could also go on and on about why it’s important to find a doctor who you truly trust and connect with during your pregnancy) and recommended Zoloft during pregnancy.  

After a couple of weeks I started to feel better, and after about a month of being back on I was like my old self. I initially felt guilty for needing this. I know so many women who feel so broken asking for medicine. I totally understand. It’s the feeling that you are out of control or can’t manage on your own. For some people talk therapy and coping mechanisms are enough, but not everyone. When I am on my medicine, I feel like myself, or how I really identify.

I’m always amazed by how many people thank me for being open about this. I choose not to be ashamed, not to feel broken, but to feel stronger because I’ve asked for and gotten the help that I need. I’m far more excited about this pregnancy now that I’m in the third trimester because I feel better; I’m enjoying my family more and am okay with what I can manage on my runs. I’m glad that I didn’t try to wait until after I delivered to ask for the help that I needed. I believe I’m having a happier healthier pregnancy because of it.  


read more:

Expectful meditation app

Pregnant doctor/alpinist/skiier

Pregnant Athlete E-course

 
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Leia Anderson is a running coach and co-owner of Team Sparkle Productions in Kansas City. Team Sparkle coaches individual runners, has group training programs, workshops, and races. She’s passionate about helping people find their love of running and safely grow in the sport.  

Find out more about her work here and follow her on Instagram here.

<— that is Leia during her forty-eight hour event!

Emily Carlson client interview - Slowing Down To Speed Up

My goal this year for myself was to pursue quietness of mind.
— Emily Carlson

Happy Monday, readers,

Emily and I began working together early spring 2018 on her project of running her first fifty miler. Her reputation as a total speedgoat preceded her and I knew what my task would be: getting this talented runner to slow down.

I LOVED talking with Emily this morning about the contrast between her training before we began working together and when we were working together, how she dignified her athletic practice with committed time to herself, and learning a bit more about her fifty miler experiences.

Anyone who balances family and training, anyone who has ever doubted themselves as an athlete, anyone preparing to run a new distance, and anyone who doesn’t see the value in being slow, give this a listen.

Thank you, Emily!

Brittany Raven


Topics discussed in this episode:

2:00 Emily’s training before our coaching

5:30 Benefits of being slow

6:45 Balancing family and training

11:30 Listening to your body

13:00 Resting instead of peak weeks

16:00 Being with what is

23:00 “I never saw myself as an athlete until this summer”

I felt completely ready and prepared. My curiosity was less on performance and more on: “How is this going to feel?”
— Emily Carlson

Episode resources:

Emily’s Instagram

 

Related posts:

Client interview series

Mindfulness

Photo credit: Andrea Laughery (instagram.com/laughclan)

Pregnant Athlete: when to stop

Clients often ask me when they are exercising during pregnancy what the concrete indicators are that they would be well-suited to stop.

Usually, I recommend that each client check in with their midwife or OB to discuss this but I’ve wanted a comprehensive resource to give my clients and followers on this topic. Despite the flaws in the rest of the report, the recently-released 2019 Canadian guidelines for pregnancy exercise has a great list on when to stop exercise to share here.

Reasons to stop physical activity and consult a healthcare provider

- Persistent excessive shortness of breath that does not resolve on rest.
- Severe chest pain.
- Regular and painful uterine contractions.
- Vaginal bleeding.
- Persistent loss of fluid from the vagina indicating rupture of the membranes.
- Persistent dizziness or faintness that does not resolve on rest.
— https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1339

This list will still leave pregnant athletes puzzling at the difference between pre-term labor and Braxton Hicks (which, for the record, are not caused or alleviated by exercise). Though this list is useful and is a clear indicator of when to stop, my coaching equips my clients with the self-knowledge and personal monitoring tools so that their bodies are not in so much distress that they experience heart palpitations or membrane rupture before they know to curtail their workouts. Building tools of mindfulness benefits the athlete and their baby.

Brittany Raven

Pregnant Athlete E-course registration now open

Pregnant Athlete E-course
200.00
Quantity:
Buff Bump

Pregnant athletes!

It is time to drop the fear and to start training guided by evidence - and your own self-knowledge.

We will specifically cover tactics and exercises for progressing in your mountain running, climbing, and backcountry ski practices all ten months. I’ll weave in anecdotes from the pregnant clients I’ve coached, peer-reviewed science, and tales from my own pregnant to postpartum journey with my daughter, Rumi - including running two ultras, skiing the steeps, and sending my longtime sport climbing nemesis all while pregnant.

Using a mindful approach guided by science and practical exercises, we’ll develop your skills of self-assessment and your knowledge of how a healthy pregnancy progresses.

I’m looking forward to growing and training together.

Brittany Raven

Featured in Tenkara Angler's autumn 2018 issue

Late summer in the Okanogan is a slow dance with high country trees barely holding on to green, wishing the song won’t end but knowing soon the snow will dampen all sound save for a high-pitched whine of the north wind leaning on nude branches. As such, I spend more time sleeping on the ground, touching stone, and casting flies in September than any other time of the year––and these hallowed highlands will be some of the first claimed by the cold white so I had to prioritize our goodbyes.

I am honored to have my work featured in Tenkara Angler’s fine publication for a second time this year! Want to learn how fishing teaches me to listen? Want to go on a journey with me, uncertain and on foot?

Use the buttons below to read online free-of-charge or order a physical copy of the publication.

Brittany Raven

 
 

My clients do incredible/brave/laudable shit

Though they are many, I'm admittedly not great about highlighting my clients' accomplishments. In truth this is because I regard each of their journeys as spirit-athletes to be so sacred, so individual, that I have a strict non-disclosure agreement between me and them. Their stories are theirs to tell—and theirs alone.

However, I felt a quick roundup of their work was long overdue. This list is not comprehensive but I thought it useful to share a few successes emblematic of the athletes I coach.

So, some cool stories from 2018 so far:

  • Recovered from septic knee injury to run longest run ever while six months pregnant.

  • Completed the X-Pyr event, flying a paraglider and running the span of the Pyrenees.

  • Ran first ultra—while four months pregnant.

  • Climbed first outdoor lead successfully at eight months postpartum.

  • Ran ten miles in the mountains, joyfully.

  • Completed first fifty miler—and fast.

  • Used mindfulness practice and personalized training plans to recover from guiding-induced hyperthyroidism.

It is also meaningful to me that none of my athletes sustain overuse injuries or become overtrained while under my coaching. They all report that lessons on mindful movement are their most treasured takeaways. This work brings me great joy—I am honored to work with every single one of these humans and the ones I didn't mention, too.




Featured on Trail Sisters

Many athletes tread into the high country on a mission, seeking to conquer the living environment with whom they move; this is false. The athlete can never conquer the land, it is the other way around: the land owns us and our job as spirit-athletes is to attune and to allow ourselves to be formed by forces much greater and enduring than our singular bodies.

For those of you who don’t follow along on social media, I recently had a piece featured on Trail Sisters. Check it out to learn how and why to run-fish-run. Also: the product of a recent video project I worked on with Tenkara USA is embedded in that post.