Viewing entries tagged
climbing

Who I don't coach

When I niched down authentically in this here small business, there were a lot of potential clients I either started saying “no” to or who were turned off by how I communicated my brand. And that’s a good thing.

Of all the varied athletes I DO coach from ultra-runners to alpinists to mountain guides to wingsuit BASE jumpers to US Military Special Forces to your regular ol mom/athlete getting her grind on at her local trail system and at the climbing gym, there are a few groups I don’t coach. Here’s that list and a brief reason why.

  • Cyclists: Y’all have your own brand of crazy and a lot more specifically-trained and -qualified coaches (uh: Zones 5a, 5b, and 5c? Who comes up with this kind of torture?). I’m just not right for you unless you want to talk mindfulness, the nervous system, and visualization. In that case, I’ll totally coach a cyclist.

  • Nordic skiers: Similar to the above and I’ll add to that that I’ve tried to get into Nordic skiing and I just can’t. Like sold-my-skate-setup “just can’t”. Also, I find Nordic skiing (especially skate skiing) to be not a true mountain sport as you must have a human-maintained trail on which to move in order to conduct these sports. Simply not a great alignment with my values, skills, or interests.

  • Triathletes: Similar to cyclists, triathlon has a whole host of highly-specific coaches, trainers, and very deep peer-reviewed evidence base behind it. Of the very few triathletes I coached prior to screening them out in my client selection process, all of them had an active eating disorder, strayed from my well-crafted training plans built specifically for them, and thus we’re not a good match. My coaching doesn’t work unless my clients heed my advice and, while I’m happy to coach those in recovery from an eating disorder, I’m not qualified to coach athletes through their eating disorders.

  • Competition addicts: You know who you are, Strava user who thinks corporations and comparative models of achievement define what an ‘elite’ athlete is. Though I coach many athletes for competitive events (Emily! Jeff!) these athletes are process-oriented and actively seeking to quiet their minds and turn down the volume on their egos. These athletes understand that the event for which they’re training is only a finger pointing to the moon - and they don’t mind when I ask them to ditch pace-based training. If you want your coach to only help you go faster or harder, I’m not the coach for you.

Authentically yours,

Brittany Raven

Solo and unsupported: more than a matter of style

daily sessions on my private trails bring me peace and balance, Summer 2017

My relationship with being alone in the forest as a tool of self-discovery and intimacy with place goes back as far as I can remember. When family gatherings as a child or, heck, my own birthday parties would get too stressful for me I’d retire to the sturdy limbs of the nearest cedar with my journal until all the guests had departed. Often I’d invite friends over for play dates as a kid to appease my mom then spend the entire time they were at my house evading and spying on them or constructing makeshift tents out of the brown tall grass, whiling away the afternoon alone and daydreaming. At recess during elementary school I spent my time making concoctions of whatever plants grew on the playground or I stayed in the library and read, invariably alone and not at all miffed. This behavior continued into my teens as I made my first forays into the mountains solo.

The first time I remember conducting an endurance activity alone in the mountains I was sixteen and on snowshoes. There is a minor ridge to the north-northwest of Mount Rainier––the trail was near my home and where I’d worked as a volunteer with the Department of Fish and Wildlife so I felt comfortable there and I admired the mountain whose milk had nourished me all through childhood. Though the entire hike was less than eight miles long, I saw no one the entire way up. When I doubled back on my path of ascent, I began to note cougar tracks laid in to the square patterns made by my snowshoes. That was the first time I felt the now-familiar mix of fear, responsibility, and wonder that comes standard with each of my solo ventures into the wilderness. That snowy day I also realized that, by putting myself at the mercy of the more-than-human yet remaining aware and not dissociating by arming myself, I felt the natural order of things in the woods and my heart was tender, my ears were sharp, my attention diffused itself to perceive the slightest movements and sound in the silent understory.

Following that first time in the mountains alone, I began hiking to my favorite alpine lakes alone that summer; this was less because I preferred being alone and more because I found my friends were less reliably available to join me than I’d have liked. When I was twenty I took up mountaineering; that same summer I rode the train then hitched in to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park on a ten-day backpacking trip alone. On that trip I interacted with my first moose in the wild and I coped with fear so profound that at night it felt like a hand pressing on my chest as I tried in vain to sleep. 

This quickly devolved into runs from Camp Muir to the top of the Cleaver solo as a twenty-two-year-old climbing ranger on Mount Rainier. Once the slowest and most cautious person on the mountain (literally, not hyperbolically) I surprised myself by striding out alone, unroped across the Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers in my lightest crampons. I liked the feeling of efficiency, traveling without so much as a pack to slow me down, and the way that my lack of safety devices demanded that I use my mind to discern subtle bumps in the snow that might be collapsable snow bridges and to take note of the speed at which I traveled downhill in different consistencies of snow. In 2010 I set the first female speed record on the mountain, simul-soloing next to my late partner, Chad Kellogg, and ultimately deciding to tell no one about the day’s activities. The feeling of total awareness combined with complete relaxation, the giddy action of leaping over gaping crevasses next to my soul mate, is one I only replicated with the homebirth of my child five years later.

Together, we also climbed solo on alpine rock and waterfall ice. The most indelible of these experiences came one day just before solstice on our yearly trips to Canmore to ice climb. We climbed a multipitch waterfall unroped and in perfect synch next to one another. This took a lot of trust, not only in my own technical abilities, in the ice and in him. Climbing together that day, feeling the ringing of my solid sticks in plastic ice and the vibration of his tools landing in unison, goes down for me as one of my favorite moments in the mountains. We found safety in moving fast together but still solo.

Chad’s boldness in his solo endeavors and the elegant simplicity of his alpine aesthetic poured fuel on the loneliness-seeking fire inside me and solidified my own stylistic leanings as a spirit-athlete. When we parted ways, I began to run ultras solo and unsupported as a way to feel less confused by other people and more in the company with the beings with whom I knew I belonged: the trees and the animals. Over the next couple years I ran distances from 50k to 100 miles, some that I had never run before, solo and unsupported adding up to twenty-seven ultras alone at the time of writing.

I taught myself to rope solo the summer of 2014 but didn’t begin to rely on that tool as one for regular training until the summer of 2015 when I moved to the Methow. I realized that, alone, I could knock out a ten-pitch session in less than a quarter of the time it would have taken with a partner. Sure, I didn’t get the opportunity to lead given that I was top-rope soloing at the time, but if fitness and simple movement on the rock were my intended outcomes for the day then rope soloing was the vastly more efficient way to get it done. I continued rope soloing through the first two trimesters of my pregnancy with Rumi and, as a parent, rope soloing has often been the only way to get in a few quick pitches as parenting compresses my schedule.

These days, in the summer and autumn I rope solo and run alone six days a week; in the winters I run and ski alone six days a week - many of these days include two solo sessions in a day (climb/run, or run/ski, or on the best days run/climb/ski). I have never been late to check in with my safety people and have self-evacuated after my two injuries alone in the mountains - one evacuation had me run/walking twenty miles alone and hypothermic, the other bleeding from four orofices with bursa in my knee deployed and a shattered pinkie knuckle.

These days, solo and unsupported is my happy default - rock, snow, and trail. I’m no Honnold, nor do I ever want to be, but here’s this introvert’s guide to the ethic of the solo, unsupported athlete.

Brittany Raven

 

on a speed climb on Rainier conducted simul-solo, Summer 2011, cr. Chad Kellogg

 

What is soloing for runners? For running this can encompass a broad spectrum of what is considered “solo”. This begins, in its mildest form, as a fully-supported run completed alone. The runner’s crew might maintain aid stations, refill the runner’s water, provide bodywork on the fly, and do course marking or navigation for the runner. But why deal with the annoyance and distraction of other people clogging your spirit work and complicating your plans? In its most extreme, solo running takes the form of solo, unsupported, onsight runs in the mountains. This is the same for skiing except in ski mountaineering where a pair of skiers can solo by simply choosing not to rope up or a single skier can go out alone.

What is soloing for climbers? Climbers can rope solo, either top-rope or lead, on a variety of terrains from sport crags to alpine multipitch climbs, to glaciers, to big walls, and on aid pitches. There is a lot of complexity between and among these varied types of roped solo climbing. A climber can also simul-solo, solo alongside a partner on rock, ice, or glacier, which is a common practice for a team of experienced climbers wishing to travel swiftly through easy terrain between harder pitches or steeper, more broken terrain. Sometimes unroping in this environment is the safest decision for the team. The most risky soloing a climber can do is to free solo (climb without ropes though sometimes still in a harness) on a bigwall or mulitpitch route - especially one she or he has never climbed before. The levels of risk, experience, and judgement involved in decisions about soloing while climbing range widely from top-rope soloing to free solo bigwall climbs.

 

I go alone because I want to be free, Autumn 2018

 

Why? For athletes for whom comparative, patriarchal, capitalist models of alpinism originating in whiteness ring hollow, there exists an alternate path: going alone and sharing your journey only out of joy, not conquest or personal gain. This path is little-discussed, stigmatized, and old as time. Every spiritual tradition has, in its structure, a wisdom-seeker who goes into the wilderness alone to seek or construct situations that alter their ordinary perceptive reality into one of non-dual awareness and psychedelia. It is my personal belief that this is where most mythology springs from. Some athletes choose to solo simply because their need for movement outstrips the availability of partners. Some go because they like to be quiet, as a break from their lives of constant social obligation.

Internal risk factors: Reserves, physical and emotional, are the first consideration in choosing whether or not to go solo. If it has been a stressful week at work, if you’ve not been sleeping well, or if you’re in emotional distress, either choose to not solo or choose a solo activity with less objective hazard or one in familiar terrain. Risk assessment capacities are vital to develop and maintain as a solo athlete and they can be compromised if you are observed, if you’re tired, or when you’re stressed. Medical training for solo athletes is a must. Attain and keep current at least a Wilderness First Responder and become familiar with the types of self-rescue systems you might need to employ if you are rope soloing in any sort of terrain. There are creative ways a soloist on a glacier can protect herself when crossing a crevasse and important knots, hitches, and pieces of equipment a climber must learn to use to release the load on a rope or to lower themselves safely back to the ground. Be sure you have solid navigation skills before venturing into the mountains alone. Pregnancy is not necessarily a risk factor in the solo endeavor rather the person’s individual health and skill level should be the determining factors.

External risk factors: Objective hazard comes in many different flavors depending on your mode of travel: avalanche, crevasse falls, wildfire, rockfall, tree wells, adverse weather events, falling off a wall or trail, and deadfall in historic burns all make the list. Other people in high-traffic areas are a particular concern for female mountain movers. Animals rank lowest for me on my list of external risk factors.

Mental training: Part of being solo and unsupported that refines me is the component of total commitment. If shit hits the fan, I am the only one out there to resolve things––I have to let go of any sense of being the victim of my circumstances and take responsibility for what is in every moment. The athlete should have a sober and realistic assessment of her own abilities including technical skill, planning, and fitness before venturing out alone. Fortitude, the quality of persisting either stoically or softly under pressure, is vital for the solo athlete and going alone will cultivate this in you. Rather than allowing yourself to bonk hard at mile twenty or thirty-six or sixty or at hour twenty-four when you’re out alone, transform those lulls in the event by implementing grace windows instead, walking and feeding your way into them so they hit in a less-acute way. Cultivating any sort of mindfulness practice - sitting, visualization, lucid dreaming, or astral projection - is an invaluable tool for the soloist. You stop being a hero or a martyr the moment you eschew outdated dualistic thinking and instead move in a gnostic paradigm.

 
alone in the Bob, Summer 2007

alone in the Bob, Summer 2007

 

Physical training: When first embarking on solo endeavors, I advise athletes to choose their local training grounds and routine places for alone training sessions. The solo sessions can increase in complexity as the consistent fitness and boldness of the athlete increases. If you want to go alone on new terrain, at a new distance, or under any unfamiliar circumstances, you must first attain an ample endurance base, be in perfect mental and physical health, and accept that additional degree of risk. For some, this level of risk is motivating and exhilarating; for others it is distracting and debilitating. Also choose your solo activity in each discipline in alignment with your skill level at each. For example, I might be comfortable running a solo, unsupported ultra in unfamiliar terrain while I’m only comfortable soloing on alpine rock in places with which I am intimately familiar and whose rock is quite stable.

Safety (or “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”): Leave a plan for your outing with a local safety person. This plan should include a map, where you’re parking, when you anticipate being back in contact with said safety person, and instructions for that person to get in contact with the relevant Search and Rescue professionals in the area if you’re not out on schedule. Carry a satellite GPS tracking device, preferably one with the capability to send and receive messages. These are two important safety concerns and I’ll note here that I’m a hypocrite: I do neither. Though I usually leave a plan with a trusted safety person when I ski or climb alone, many of the trails I run are secret, unmapped trails whose location I won’t disclose to even my best friend. I simply don’t have the $500 to buy a sat phone or pay for the annual subscription. The latter I hope to remedy in the coming year; the former will likely remain the risk it currently is because solitude is solace.

Contraindications: Solo wilderness travel is contraindicated for those people without adequate training, those who lack a clear plan, and those who have experienced the need to be rescued in the past as a result of poor decision-making. Soloing for an audience, whether your friends or a camera crew, is additionally reckless and negates the ego-transcendent properties of true aloneness. Additionally, people in dissociative relationship to their pain and fear are not qualified to travel peacefully and uneventfully alone in the wilderness. People with poor mental health might think of a rash solo trip as the only balm for their pain, this is incorrect. Whether alone or in a group, your most effective safety tool is the mushy, grey one between your ears.

Communion: Alone, I am vulnerable and unguarded - in stark contrast to my daily life among unpredictable two-leggeds. Alone, I am creative and ferocious, forgiving and alive, attuned and magnificent, grotesque and tired. Alone, I realize the emptiness of all things. Above all, going it alone is about connecting with the people with whom I most identify: the trees, rocks, snow, and animals. In this sense, solo and unsupported is less a romantic notion of accessing the unsullied, the undisturbed, the placid and more the practice of plugging in to a subtler frequency without the fetters of ropes, partners, or coordinating plans with someone other than the moon, the snow, and the weather.

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

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.




Jeff Shapiro client interview - The Process-Oriented Athlete

I have the most pure adventures when I’m in an arena where no one is watching and no one cares.
— Jeff Shapiro

Mark Twight obviously had not met Jeff Shapiro when he famously criticized the idea of being a Renaissance man as 'dilettante bullshit'. Jeff's incurable curiosity has led him to the highest peaks of the world to establish first ascents, took his desire to fly to the extreme by learning to wingsuit BASE jump (establishing many first exits), hunts in the company of a hawk named Cirrus, and loves the heck out of his family. It has been a joy to collaboratively coach Jeff - especially to witness how quickly and humbly he integrates new information whether about his gait or his recovery practices.

In our interview Jeff talks about why he is training for this summer's X-Pyr event, a paragliding and running event that traverses the entire length of the Pyrenees Mountains, and how he maintains his praxis as a process-oriented athlete even during competitive events. Listen in and get stoked.

Brittany Raven

3:31 Nested goal-setting

4:43 “My place means nothing to me”

6:12 Goal-setting and motivation

7:30 “Doing more with less”

8:50 Beauty and mindfulness

11:27 Collaborative coaching

13:20 The goal of recovery

 

Resources:

Jeff's Instagram

X-Pyr Event

Mountain Project

The secret magick of pull-ups

some crimpy pull-ups, 38 weeks pregnant

some crimpy pull-ups, 38 weeks pregnant

I was surprised the other day how much interaction happened the other day as a result of a simple video I posted of me doing post-climb pull-ups. 

The basics: A pull-up is the range of motion from a fully-relaxed hanging position to the chin level with the hands done with palms facing away from your body. No kipping, no starting with bent arms. When done properly, the pull-up is an excellent exercise for your abs (hello transverse abdominus!) and promotes good posture.

They help you climb: Though no single exercise is going to make you a strong climber, the strict pull-up (and any number of more challenging or more permissive variations) has a permanent place in the climber's training repertoire. Pull-ups have a direct translation to alpine and ice climbing as well as a more indirect translation to sport and shorter trad climbs. When an outdoor session does more of a job on your fingers than on big muscles such as your abs and lats, hit the rock rings post-crag to get an alpine-esque fatigue going in your forearms.

They help you run: More so than supporting one's climbing, pull-ups are excellent for mountain runners. Too often the runners I coach focus solely on building endurance in their lower bodies. There are two reasons this is not the best strategy. First, the athlete needs to build muscle in order to increase Vo2Max after a certain level of fitness is reached. Second, strong lats and abs support the upper body while the hip flexors and legs work away transferring all of the power into turning of the legs instead of into unnecessary movement in the upper body.

Most people don't do them right: Most climbers I see doing pull-ups at the gym either start with their arms slightly bent or kip slightly when they pull. Both of these mistakes negate much of the hard work done in a strict pull-up. Learning how to do them correctly is invaluable - and time saving.

The pelvic floor: I've said it before and I'll say it again... the pull-up is a wonderful ab workout. Any workout that strongly recruits your transverse abdominus, the band of muscle wrapping horizontally around your middle, translates directly into pelvic floor strength. Pull-ups are an extra good exercise for already-strong preggos and postpartum women alike - though not an exercise a woman is wise to begin during pregnancy.

The towel and dowel: One excellent thing about pull-ups is the amount of creative variations an athlete can devise given limited resources. While traveling for work in Sub Saharan Africa, I began slinging a hotel towel over a sturdy tree limb and holding one end in each hand for an effective training exercise for ice climbing. You can achieve the same effect in the gym by using the hanging dowels often provided. 

Weighted: For those of you trying to up the number of pull-ups you can do in a set, weighted pull-ups can be useful for breaking through a plateau. Simply clip an alpine draw around a kettle bell and attach the draw to the belay loop of your climbing harness. Instant self-torture machine!

Negatives: For those of you just learning to do pull-ups, negatives can be a friendly way to start. Though many trainers advise beginners to do static holds in flexion, this can lead to overuse injury and simply does not translate well to the movement associated with climbing, running, and, well, pull-ups. To do a negative pull-up, jump up to the top of the pull-up and focus on lowering your body down in a controlled manner. Begin with one or two then progress to a full range-of-motion pull up when you're able.

Recruit a friend: Skip the crutch of using a chair, a wall, or a band for support (those props build bad habits) and, instead, get a friend to help you. If you need a bump on a pull-up, bend your knees behind you, cross your feet at the ankles, and have the friend gently lift up on your crossed feet while you pull like mad.

 

I coach endurance athletes of all stripes - even those who just want to do their first pull-up - or their first set of ten pull-ups.

What types of athletes does Magnetic North work with?

Magnetic North has five years of experience working with novice to professional alpine climbers, through-hikers, mountain guides, marathoners, pregnant athletes, ultra runners, backcountry skiers (okay, and some split-boarders), recovering triathletes, and US Military Special Forces. My clients experience resolution of long-time overuse injuries, completion of their endurance goals, and increased connectedness with their natural surroundings.

Basically, if what you do is in the mountains and requires any level of endurance I'm your coach.

 

Since the inception of this business in 2012, I've worked with first-time 5k runners to first ascentionists who have been at it since before I was born. My clients and I have partnered during times of adrenal fatigue, pregnancy, intense ambition, rewarding rest, pursuit of a lofty goal, and in review of the annals of a beloved daily routine. 

The athletes who benefit from engagement with Magnetic North choose different modes of ambulation - foot, ski, split-board, bike, ice, and batholith - but we work on the same thing:

 

the actualization of their full potential as spirit-athletes.

 

If you're looking for a quick fix, if you want me to do the work for you, if you don't believe in your own inherent magick, if you think bodywork is for fools, if you lack motivation then this coach is not for you. 

If you wake up after five hours of fitful sleep in a trench on a glacier with the full moon boring a hole in your eyelids and ready to charge, I'm your coach. If you've ever failed in the audacious pursuit of a big peak, you'd value my services. If you've ever hiked to the top of the Issaquah Alps and wondered what it would be like to walk on a glacier, your money would be well-spent here. If you love to run but think your knees/hips/IT bands/pelvic floor can't handle it anymore, I can get you back to a happy lope.

I believe in the endurance athlete's ability to thrive in the alpine environment. This belief in you knows no bounds of age, physical abilty, size, reproductive status, heritage, or place on the gender spectrum. I believe movement paired with yin is medicine, my medicine to deliver through this business to you, dear athlete.

 

Most importantly I believe in you.

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 Rumi Wren likes to join me for fitness and climbing sessions there.

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 Laurel Fan 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.


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.

Before getting pregnant part 1

two weeks before getting pregnant vs. twenty weeks pregnant, 2015

It isn't an accident or by sheer luck that I am still running fifty mile weeks in the mountains, alpine climbing, training brutally in the gym, and backcountry skiing at my limit at six and a half months pregnant.

Contrary to popular belief, a set of beliefs that teaches women to fear their own bodies, an athlete during pregnancy will reliably get out of her body what she puts in. Want to feel comfortable running while pregnant? Run a shitton before you get pregnant and listen to the body's subtle cues. Want to avoid bloating, excessive weight gain, and general pregnancy discomfort? Continue with your self care, good nourishment, and movement practices. Preparing to have a pregnancy in which the athlete continues to thrive is simple cause and effect logic; the body is a reliable machine uniquely built to attend to the load of athleticism and growing a new human. 

Smoothly transitioning into life as a pregnant athlete takes years of preparation: building positive habits, spending time getting to know oneself, and attending closely to physical health. In order to get the most out of your glorious ten months of natural blood doping, I compiled this list of rather personal lessons. 

 

Stop believing in competition: Pregnancy, just as any other important life event, does not function on a competitive continuum. Before I got pregnant I recognized and disarmed the destructive, distracting power of competition and chose another way to gauge my athletic progress. One cannot safely and optimally push her limits (pregnant or not) judging oneself in a competitive paradigm - nuance and uniqueness of practice will be lost irretrievably - and intimacy with self dampened.

Ego familiarity: Years ago when I began running I heard the confident voice of my ego sharp against my accomplishments or goading me to do something I didn't really want or need to do. Every twenty (or thirty-six or sixty) mile bonk window, every final week in a training cycle, every late-run hill that came to me slowly provided an opening for my ego to rail against me. Every success, every send, every time I felt falsely superior (comparison is the theft of joy!), gave the ego an opportunity to strengthen its false identity. Though I can never abolish my ego I have learned to recognize its voice - and take its words with a huge grain of salt.

a quiet morning at home, 3 years before pregnancy

Conservative decision-making: This is a biggie. I am a timid athlete; not particularly bold or risk-acceptant. Every dynamic move on unfamiliar vertical terrain or push deep into the night alone is a decision I calculate consciously using my wells of experience to make a decision. I often chicken out, decide not to turn onto an avalanche slope everyone else is riding, or walk away from rotten ice (even if I desperately need to climb). If I had the habit of taking every risk offered me by the media with which I practice it would not be smart for me to continue on my athletic path while pregnant. Thus, boldness would cost me my greatest physiologic window for increased fitness: pregnancy.

Deep self knowledge: By knowing my abilities, trusting myself implicitly, and being entirely intrinsically motivated on my athletic path (read: no sponsor nor race is pulling my strings) I know it is appropriate for me to keep pushing my physical and psychological limits while growing a new human. Since I do not rely on the support of others to motivate me on my path and am not daunted by unkind words or actions of others my practice is still available to me through the intense and silly phenomenon of mom shame. 

Regular self care practices: As I've written about before in this space, my athletic progression is, in part, dependent on regular massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. These modalities have allowed me to learn about my bodily systems and how my psychology and physiology are intertwined. The energetic and psychophysical balance these (and other) self care practices afford me have allowed my body to store up the valuable reserves it needs to have a pregnancy free from discomfort and full of physical power.

Learn how to rest: Listen to yourself no matter what you have to say. Listen when your body and spirit together say 'faster' just as you listen when the body is ready for rest. Learn how to harness windows of power and respect your need for yin athletic development. By learning my body's clues when running I've been able to thrive while pregnant and running very long mileage and climbing hard grades. 

rock guiding, 7 weeks pregnant, Goat Wall

Eat a lot of whole foods: In my dirtbaggier days I liked to tell friends "I spend more money on groceries than on rent." And for years and years that was true. What you put in your body is what you get out of your body, just as what you do not put in your body is not what you get out of it. Since I became very serious about my athletic practice seven years ago I've not been drunk, have not eaten the foods that I am allergic to (gluten! whey!), and have spent hours every day preparing nourishing meals. Committing to this expensive, time-consuming aspect of health is surely one of the reasons I feel so damn good right now as I grow a new human.

Ruthless prioritization: Between 2010 and 2014 I woke before five AM five days a week to run or climb before work. I turned down dates with friends and prospective partners as a matter of course. I relentlessly lopped off aspects of my life that did not serve a direct purpose: FaceBook, social activity, even holidays with family. This comfort with putting my needs first will allow me to love and parent from an emotional well brimming to the top. Big thanks to all my loved ones who understand my need to run like a racehorse and sleep ten hours a night!

Personal alchemy: Upon first beginning this practice as a mountain athlete a decade ago I had total clarity on my vision. Since then my lifelong athletic goals have become very specific - and consequently daunting. These big goals impress upon me the necessity to maintain my grueling training and allow me to tangibly plan for it. As I prepare to co-parent I know exactly how much childcare I'll need to continue on my path as a spirit-athlete, I know exactly how to optimally use the physiologic state of pregnancy to most effectively continue (not just to maintain) my progression, and I know that once this baby comes I'll be able to most efficiently allocate my training hours to the most useful activity. 

 

Look forward to part 2 in this series illustrating some concrete exercises and practices to build in to your pre-pregnancy preparations of mind, body, and spirit.

MN

 

Read more:

Rock climbing guide

The postpartum athlete

Pregnant rock climbing how to guide

Postpartum running

pregnant ultra running post two

one of those diligent morning runs, 1 year before pregnancy, Cougar Mountain