Friday, December 31, 2010

Paleo Challenge for 30 Days, Who's In?

I am planning on re-dedicating myself to a strict paleo regimen in the new year after a few weeks of indulging in Christmas cookies and candy canes. I don't feel bad about the indulgence, mind you. For me that's part of the joy of the holiday season and with kids who love to do the holidays up big, I don't feel like being the Paleo Grinch who won't eat a bite. I also don't think a couple of weeks of eating a few cookies here and there is going to kill me. Still, I can feel that it's starting to wear me down (for one thing, I got my first cold in about 10 months, and I don't think it's any coincidence that it comes after two weeks of eating stuff like sugar and grains.)

With my new-found optimism about my improved thyroid function and the fact that even my lifelong battle with anemia rarely rears its head any more, I can see how much my health has improved during the months that I've focused on a more paleo-centric diet. Plus, I have a couple of friends who want to do a Paleo challenge, so this seems like an appropriate time to start.

Luckily, the folks over at Crossfit Love are doing a 30-Day Paleo Challenge starting on January 3. It's always nice to have some support and enthusiasm when you're challenging yourself, so I'm going to participate. They're doing to have interviews, give-aways, and recipes to keep us motivated. So if anyone's interested in joining me and seeing how the Paleo lifestyle can improve on your own health and fitness, let me know! Last year I started in Feburary after breaking my arm, figuring that since I couldn't exercise at that point, the best thing I could do for my fitness was to eat very very well. It made a huge difference in how I was feeling, so even when I could go back to exercising like I used to, I've kept most of the eating habit changes I made.

Here's the challenge details. Take a deep breath and jump in with me!

Simply, 30 days of eating real food. Along with your high quality eating, you will have the ability to be a part of great giveaways, daily Paleo blogs posts, expert video interviews and much more. Expect to learn awesome knowledge, be ready for sweet giveaways and get an inspiring start to 2011.
Get Some.

On 1.3.11 you accept these challenge rules (Whole 9 Inspired):
1. Do not eat dairy. This includes butter, cheese (hard and soft), yogurt (even Greek) and milk (including cream in your coffee or tea). Dairy Penalty = 100 Pushups 2. Do not eat grains. This includes bread, rice, pasta, cereal, oatmeal, corn and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa and sprouted grains.  Grain Penalty = 100 Burpees
3. Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (soy, black, kidney, etc.), peas, lentils, and peanuts. (No peanut butter, kids.) Legume Penalty = 150 Walking Lunges
4. Do not eat or add sugar of any kind, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Sugar Penalty = 200 Situps
5. Do not eat processed foods. This includes protein shakes, processed bars (like Zone bars), dairy-free creamers, etc. Processed Penalty = 100 Air Squats
6. Do not drink alcohol, in any form. Alcohol Penalty = 50 Pushups
7. Do not eat white potatoes. It’s kind of arbitrary, but one, they’re a nightshade, and two, sweet potatoes and yams are a more nutrient-dense option, so go for those instead.  (On that note, if you have serious inflammation issues like arthritis, you may want to consider avoiding all nightshades for 30 days.) White Potatoes Penalty = 20 min run

Each category has a separate penalty, if you break that rule please preform your penalty before rejoining the challenge. Penalties are cumulative. Ex: If you eat bread with butter, the it is a 100 burpees and 100 pushups.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Does Paleo Eating Improve Thyroid Function?

I'm a case study of one, so this isn't like a big medical survey or anything, but here are some interesting facts about my thyroid condition and its response to my paleo diet.

Background: I was a vegetarian for 20 years, went vegan, ate a lot of soy, started having all kinds of problems with my thyroid (did you know that soy is a thyroid inhibitor? I didn't!) which ended up with me having surgery to remove a large growth that had embedded itself in the thyroid gland so much that they had to remove half of my thyroid. Since then, I've been on Armour Thyroid medicine to replace the missing thyroid hormone.

Fact:  Since 2002 I have been on the same dosage of Armour Thyroid

Fact: The only problem I've had with my medication is when Armour changed their formulation a couple of years ago. Along with many other people, I experienced hypothyroid symptoms for a few months as my body adjusted

Fact: Other than this time when we had the medication glitch (and my weight shot up and I had to battle it back off), my weight has also stayed very stable. Basically, I weigh the same as I did when I met my husband 18 years ago. Also my exercise levels, sleep habits, etc. are very similar from year to year.

Fact: My thyroid lab results have been consistent through the entire time I've been on medication, until this year

Fact: I started eating Paleo in February 2010, and did my first post-paleo thyroid lab test in October 2010.

Fact: The lab work showed that we were hugely over-replacing my thyroid hormone. In other words, maybe my thyroid started producing more on its own.

Fact: The only thing that has changed in 2010 is my eating habits, changing from heavily carb-based to Paleo.

Conclusion: Could eating Paleo have suddenly caused my thyroid to start functioning better? My doctor has decreased my dosage by 25%. I would be so happy to get my dosage lower or even eliminate it altogether. I wonder if that's possible, given my change in nutrition.

Stay tuned and I'll pass on the results of my next lab (with my adjusted medication levels), which I'll be taking in six weeks. Also, if anyone else on thyroid meds has experienced a difference after switching to Paleo, I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Does Santa Wear Woolie Boolies? Sock Review

Do you think my hubby told Santa I was borrowing his socks all the time? Maybe that's why I got a pair in my Christmas stocking this year. Or perhaps it's because Santa wears Woolie Boolies himself up there in the frozen north and therefore knows that every good little trail runner deserves some to keep their feet toasty in the muddy mires of winter. These are the warmest and best socks I've ever found, so they went straight from my Christmas stocking and onto my feet, where they've been ever since.

Why are these socks so great? Here's a few reasons:

1. They Are Not Itchy! Though even the word  "wool" makes my skin crawl, these don't feel like any wool I've ever worn. The wool of my childhood was scratchy and miserable but we are lucky enough to live in a time when fabric technology has made clothing more comfortable than at any point in human existence. DeFeet has hit the perfect match of fibers to make a sock with the properties of wool but the comfort of your normal running socks.

2. They Are Just As Warm Wet as Dry: I accidentally put one of these into the wash and missed the other one, so when I went to wear them one of them was nice and dry and the other was still in the washing machine. I took the wet one out of the laundry and put them both on. Within minutes, you couldn't tell the difference in warmth between one foot and the other. When running on wet muddy trails where your shoes get soaked in an instant, this means your feet stay warm through the whole run.

3. They Keep Your Whole Body Warm: We try to keep our thermostat at about 60 degrees in the winter, and that means dressing warm enough around the house to be comfortable. I couldn't believe what a difference these socks meant in my overall body temperature. They're way better than even my fuzzy slippers at keeping me feeling comfortable and warm.

4. The Fit is Phenomenal: They fit really well, and they keep their shape. They don't bag, sag, or bunch up. When running, I don't get any hot spots or blisters with these socks on, even though they're slightly thicker than other running socks.

5. They Have Cute Little Sheep On Them: Okay, I know this isn't the world's biggest selling point, but I like a little cuteness and humor in my day. Who can resist socks with this cute little wooly fella and the word "Baah."? That's no "Baaah Humbug" by the way.

Made by DeFeet, the Woolie Boolies are the perfect sock for anyone who runs through the worst of the winter weather. Even though they didn't appear in my stocking, I happen to know that Santa is sending a pink pair of the cycling/running variety as well. I can't wait to try those out too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Snap: The Ultimate Christmas Gift

A year and a half ago, my daughter lost her lovely cat Bandit to antifreeze poisoning. She had raised him from a tiny kitten and as she tearfully said "I told him all my secrets". Since that horrible day, she has slept with a framed photo of him by her bedside, and maybe she still does tell him all of her secrets even though he's now gone.

So this year when I found the world's friendliest orange tabby abandoned in the brushy wildlands by the running trail, it was our good fortune and his. He and Asa have become inseparable, and despite the fact that his kitteny behavior has led to the wreckage of several drapes and assorted pieces of furniture and clothing, he's turned out to be a well-loved member of the household. As we celebrated Christmas and he spent much of the day lounging on Asa's lap, it occurred to me that he was a great symbol for the true meaning of Christmas: the giving of love, unconditionally. In his first few weeks with us, Asa was worse than any helipcopter mom I've ever met. She was so terrified that something would happen to him, she would hardly let him out of her sight. She was afraid he would choke on his own cat food, yet also reserved her feelings and didn't really fully give him her love either. I knew that the trauma of what happened to Bandit had affected her deeply.  Over the months, that has melted gradually away and they have developed a bond of their own.

I think by staying by Asa's side all of Christmas day, purring loudly in her ear, Miguel was saying how grateful he is to be in our household. To be receiving food, shelter, warmth, and above all  love. The ultimate Christmas gift.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lighting Up a Holiday Tradition

On the spur of the moment, we gathered some friends and neighbors last night and went caroling through the neighborhood. In a stroke of genius, I brought hubby's mountain-biking light. It's made to illuminate a wide swath of trail and did just great lighting up my old hymnal with Christmas songs so we could all see the lyrics. I just had to make sure not to accidentally point it upwards and blind the folks we were singing to.

Our neighborhood has several families that are new to our country, from places like Korea and Ecuador. It was fun to hear them say "No one has ever caroled for us before!" Maybe it's a tradition that's dying out. Sure, it's a bit old-fashioned, but I always remember caroling when I was a kid. It was just part of what made the holiday special. Last night was especially beautiful: cold but mild, with nothing falling from the sky. We had a chorus of about fifteen voices by the time we were done, and got to see some of our older neighbors who don't get out much and bring some holiday cheer around. The only problem was that everyone offered us homemade cookies. I think I ate about five or six too many.

At every door, we usually opened with something the kids know well like "Jingle Bells", but we asked if the people had any requests. "Silent Night" is hands-down the favorite song to hear, such a simple melody but it always brings chills to me when I hear it.

So in this holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or "Festivus for the Rest of Us", I wish you love, joy, and peace. If I could sing you a carol, I would.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Light Run For Two

Hubby's running group does this fun thing every year where they run through a neighborhood known for it's holiday light displays, then they meet for coffee and do a t-shirt exchange of old race shirts. He missed the run this year so he and I decided to go for a Christmas light run together. It was cold but pleasant outside and we ran through an area of town that we never run in, which always livens up a boring old running routine. There were so many lights that we didn't even need the flashlights we brought. We were both wearing our Illuminite jackets, so if a car came by, we probably lit up like Christmas trees ourselves!

This house was the highlight and was timed to music (should've thought to bring MP3 players). But it was still spectacular all on its own. Luckily, there weren't too many cars pulling up while we were there, there's nothing worse than running through a cloud of car-idling exhaust (you can click here for my anti-Idling, manifesto). One big Hummer limousine pulled up though.

Afterwards, it was coffee together (real adult conversation! for over an hour!) and we bought the kids their Christmas books which we give them on Christmas eve. It's getting harder and harder to find a book for the teenager. Most Christmas books are for kids, of course, and the ones that are for adults (A Christmas Carol) are few and far between. If anyone has suggestions, I'll add them to my list for next year. Maybe I need to write a young adult Christmas book, I bet it would sell well! But fortunately it was Lemony Snicket to the rescue. The author of the Unfortunate Events series has written a couple of very funny holiday books.
The Lump of Coal
Last year I  got The Lump of Coal which is just the most hilarious Christmas book ever (at least our family thought so) and Mackenzie has a HUGE sense of humor so that was a big hit. This year I got him The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming which looks pretty cute as well. For Asa, the perennial animal lover, I got The First Dog's White House Christmas. It looks cute, with all kinds of dogs from other countries visiting the White House for Christmas (cattle dog from Australia, chihuahua from Mexico, etc.).

So with that, all of our Christmas shopping is done and we can settle back and enjoy the holiday. We're having friends and neighbors over to go caroling tonight.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Welcome Back Light

Solstice. Shortest day of the year. Return of the light. For many people, this day passes by unnoticed and uncelebrated. But I noticed something interesting yesterday: among my friends this day was important. People were celebrating. One friend had baked her yearly traditional "sun cake", another had gone for a long run at noon in the forest, another had hung out pinecones with peanut butter and birdseed as an offering. No, I don't live among a tribe of pagans, holding hands in a ring in the forest (though I'm sure in my town there are plenty of folks doing that as well). I'm talking about fairly traditional people, for the most part.

The thing is, if you're active, if you're aware, if you're out in nature, if you care about how many minutes of light you have left to run in after you get home from work, you notice this day. You celebrate it. It's about living in tune with the seasons, with the way the outside world around you works. In a way, it ties in to what I was talking about yesterday, about experiencing the elements. If our lives are so controlled by artificial daylight, by climate-controlled living, we might not notice what the sun is doing. After all, you can watch TV or read a book or knit a sweater in the dark or in the light, it makes no difference if you have indoor lighting. But you can't go for a bike ride or easily run when it's pitch black outside Though I will pause for a moment here to thank my city for the lighted running trail in my end of town. It's only a one-mile loop of bark trail, but this time of year sees it packed with people in the dark afternoon hours.

In years past, we've baked sun-shaped cookies on this day, or made felt sun-ornaments or pinecone feeders to hang on trees. Yesterday was a busy day for us, it started off with me coaching swimming at 5:15 am, went through the kids classes and activities and ended up with me driving home from kickboxing at 9:00 at night. So there was no time for making anything special. As I was standing at my refrigerator, starving after all that activity, I did take a minute to think about what I could nourish myself with that would nonetheless pay homage to this special day. So I took out a bag from the freezer of last summer's blackberries. Perfectly preserved due to the modern miracles of refrigeration, we ate them and tasted the sweetness of long hot days in July and August. As I closed my eyes, I could feel the sun on my skin and the seasons turning around again.

Sure, we still have all of winter to go (and I can't wait to get up to the snow and enjoy some wintertime sports), but the light is returning and for that I am very thankful.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Am Not Climate Controlled

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. That's the way the song goes. As humans, we strive for comfort. That's why we have recliner chairs with cupholders. No, with coolers built-in. That's why we have "room temperature" and down comforters and towel racks that heat your towels. Not that I have those, mind you. My towels are usually clammy from being dumped on the floor in a heap by whatever child took a shower last and "forgot" to hang them up. Simply a dry towel would be a luxury around here. Did I mention that I really hate soggy towels?

So why should we make ourselves uncomfortable? Why should we go out in the pouring freezing rain when a room temperature room beckons us homeward? I think it's a good idea to occasionally push ourselves to be uncomfortable (and I don't mean just using soggy towels). To experience a greater range of existence than a narrow band of clean, dry, climate-controlled living. What is it like to feel the rain on your face? Dripping down your back? A cold breeze across your neck? Your feet sloshing through ankle deep puddles? It's a sensory feast that's not entirely as unpleasant as it sounds. Just like our muscles aren't very strong if they're only worked in a narrow range of motion, our brains and our mental resilience don't get worked very hard in today's easy existence. Perhaps it is worth building up a great range of tolerance to stimuli outside the range of normal.

When I'm out in the less-than-ideal weather and I feel my brain starting to get into complaining mode, I use a technique of sensory "noticing" that helps me focus on what I'm really feeling instead of just being miserable about it. I start with a series of open-ended sentences and fill them in as I go:

"I hear...."
"I smell...."
"I see...."
"I feel..."

So on a day like today, it might go something like

"I hear birds in the trees"
"I smell wet leaves and fir needles"
"I see the three golden leaves left on a bare tree"
"I feel a light breeze coming from the east"

When I get to the end of my sensory inventory, I start over again at the top, marveling at how things change as I go along. Sometimes we barely even notice our surroundings, especially when we're too busy wallowing in misery at the fact that the weather had the gall to rain on our Sunday long run. When we turn our attention outward instead of inward, what might at first seem simply miserable can turn into an opportunity to actually fully experience the world around us.

The next time you're tempted to just go to the gym when the weather outside is frightful, stretch yourself a little and see what it feels like to suffer the elements. After all, we can always come home to that delightful fire (or hot shower, or warm cup of tea), a luxury that most humans throughout time have not had.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Snap: Just Ducky

My worst nightmare didn't happen: I didn't trip over my own two feet, knocking down several rows of dancers, being captured by fifty-three amateur videographers who then went home and immediately uploaded to Failblog. I did not become an overnight viral internet sensation by being a Dancing Epic Fail. I did not eclipse Light Saber Guy in the land of laughed-at internet people. For this I am eternally grateful.

Also this: the Flashmob was fun. No, more than fun. It was awesome! There's something so energizing about being with a huge group of people dancing the same dance to some great music. The energy was huge, and since we did several takes I'd say it even qualified for a strenuous workout.

Today's Sunday Snap isn't one of my own photos. I couldn't bring my camera along to the Duck Fan Flash mob because I was dancing. My daughter Asa is the one with the black sleeves at the left of the photo in the 2nd row. You can only see my arms (also in a black shirt, several rows back) in this photo. This was taken by Chris Pietsch, a photographer for our newspaper, the Register-Guard.

I think my take-away from this whole experience is that we need to do more than just "exercise", we need to PLAY. To laugh, to jump, dance, run, skip, ENJOY. Sometimes workouts need to be serious, sometimes you have a serious goal. But sometimes you need to cut loose and do a ducky little dance.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Karate Made Me Swim Faster

Due to our crazy family schedule, plus all the karate and kickboxing I'm doing lately, I've only gotten into the pool once a week (and not even that in the last few weeks). So how is it that I'm getting faster? How is it that I just made a move up to our fastest Master's lane? How could I be coming in on 2:30 for the 200's and not even feeling like I was pushed to the limit?

It's very simple: skills transfer. The skill of swimming fast largely depends on being able to fire your core muscles in a carefully choreographed series in order to propel your arm outwards from your body and into the glide. Then you need to use the core muscles in your back to haul your arm back toward you, carrying all of that water with it. These are the same muscles and almost the same sequence it takes to throw a really good punch.

You throw a punch from your hips, not from your biceps. Likewise, you swim from your hips, not on the strength of your arm muscles. People who say "I did a hard swim workout today, my arms are really sore" are missing the larger part of the swimming stroke. All of that punching I've been doing has made my stroke stronger, because I'm learning how to fire my core muscles harder, faster, and longer. Likewise, all of the conditioning I've been doing to make my karate better has helped not only my punching and kicking but my swimming.

So you want to swim faster? Go punch a bag! Learn how to throw and retract a hard punch, and see how much that tranfers to your stroke. Not only that, I guarantee that it's terrific stress relief!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hob Nob With the Mob

I'm off to the Flash Mob dress rehearsal. Cross your fingers for me that I remember the choreography. Asa has, of course, been asked to be up front with her dancer friends. But in a mob of close to a thousand, that means I have to be...ulp... up front as well! This is where I put that "Ironmom" will to the test. You know you're fit if you not only have endurance, strength, speed, etc. but have coordination and grace and can make your body go where you want it to go. So here's the ultimate test.

UPDATE: Other than stepping on my friend Rebecca's toes once when I zigged instead of zagged, I did not embarass myself at choreography rehearsal. This was SO MUCH FUN!!! Everyone in my town is so excited about the Ducks going to the National Championships, it's going to be like one big party tomorrow, plus of course the fun flash mob in the middle of it all.

Also, doing that choreography five or six times counts as my workout for the day. Now I know why Asa is so tired when she comes home from all of her dance classes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Sugar-Free Dessert for a Winter's Night

In the middle of a cold and rainy winter's evening, there's nothing better than some comfort food. But let's face it, most foods that come to mind are full of sugar and grains. In the last couple of weeks, I've been gleaning apples from trees around town that are just hanging with fruit. Getting to them before the real frosts set in is a must, since after that the apples will be useless. So far I've gotten about fifty pounds worth.

Applesauce may not be what springs to mind when you think of a comfort food, but the way I make applesauce it's more like a warm apple pie without the crust. I like to serve it steaming hot, with just a bit of fresh cream on top. Yumm! I don't add any sugar when I make it. I core and peel the apples, then dice them and throw them in my crockpot with a bit of water and some cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg or other spices. I cook it down until the apple pieces are tender, but not mushy like store-bought applesauce. As my kids say "this doesn't taste like anything you can get in the store!" Best of all, you can freeze it and eat it all winter long. I usually run out just about when the first spring flowers start to poke through. By then, I'm ready for early spring veggies and fruits.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Do You Know When Too Much Is Too Much?

If you're reading this blog, chances are you may not be completely sane. C'mon, tell the truth. On more than one occasion your friends have told you you're insane for whatever it is you happen to be doing (swimming, biking, and running more than you work, eat, or sleep for instance). And chances are you leap at the opportunity to push yourself beyond your known boundaries. So the question is, when is it too much? And if you're the classic type-A overachieving nutter, how do you know when it's too much?

I've been asking myself this question all week. Lately it just feels like I've added one too many things to my stack, and like an overwhelmed juggler I can't keep everything in the air. So last night I told my kickboxing class I am regrettably going to not be teaching anymore right now. Yep, my career as a kickboxing instructor is over (temporarily at least). I think the canary in the coal mine was when I was teaching last week and I got a call from my daughter. Her Nutcracker dress rehearsal was over, and somehow she had missed getting a ride with the person she was supposed to go with. She was at the Performing Arts Center and they were closing it down for the night. Here I am in the middle of a class, hearing her little voice on the other end of the line. It's usually poor form when you're the teacher to walk out in the middle of class, no? So I felt stuck. Luckily her instructors were still there and she hung out with them until I could get over there, but the situation was far less than ideal, and I had to juggle it with music blaring and people kicking bags in the background.

Meanwhile, three nights a week, my teenage son is either hanging out at the dojo or is home alone. If you know teenagers, you know the absolute worst thing is to leave them alone to get into trouble. Especially at night. Luckily, he's not the trouble type (at least not yet), but it's getting to the point where I don't think that's a good idea any more.

So I looked at the disappointed faces of people in my class, including one gal who just started getting into it and is really having amazing leaps of fitness and I felt SO bad. SO SO BAD. But. But but but but but. At some point, enough is enough and I have to put my family first. Ugh. I'm still coaching swimming, training for my karate black belt, coaching a high school robotics team, homeschooling the kids, writing a screenplay with my son, trying to keep up this blog, and training for some trail runs. It's enough.

How do you know when it's all too much? How do you deal with feeling like you're failing someone by quitting? How do you say No when you want to say Yes to everything and everyone?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Snap: What She Does Best

She can do this. I can't. If anything brought that home this week, it was when we started trying to learn our Flashmob choreography together. Quite simply, she picks it up on the first viewing, while I have to watch the detailed instructions over and over. The ones where the instructor counts out each beat loudly and slooowwwwwly. She looks like she steppd off "So You Think You Can Dance" while I look like a partially paralyzed moose trying to do hip hop moves. She's going to be in the front row near the cameras, I'm going to bury myself in the middle of the mob and hope I don't wave my hands in the wrong direction.

She can get on a stage and shine, shine, shine. Doesn't matter the dance style. In the top photo, it's tap: something I didn't even know she could do that well. I mean I know she loves tap, and I know that she asked to get into the more advanced tap class, but until she came out onto that stage with all of the 15 - 18 year old girls looking like a midget among them and did these unbelievably amazing tap moves, I had no idea what she was capable of.

Asa performed last night in the "Nutcracker Remixed", a modern retelling of the Nutcracker using ballet, jazz, hip hop, tap, lyrical, and many other dance styles. She was totally in her element, appearing in eight dances. Her costume changes backstage were unbelievable (I had to help her out on Friday night, how she got it all done on Saturday night when I was in the audience is a mystery). Her big moment was as the Peppermint, and she helped out all of the little Mints on stage as well (they were so cute, took me right back to when she was a wee little ballerina).

In Pajamas after the show, getting flowers from Grandma
She got all her moves from her dad and I'm glad she did because Snap! I love to see her shine!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Paleo Rodeo is up

There are some great posts on this week's Paleo Rodeo. It's a Blog Carnival showcasing people writing about paleo-related topics, including recipes, exercise, and inspiration. Check it out here!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ironmom's Tough Shit Policy

"It's too cold and rainy outside to go for a run."  Tough shit.
"I'd rather eat pasta than vegetables." Tough shit.
"Pushups are too hard for me to do." Tough shit.
"I don't have time to cook for my family and fast food is so much easier" Tough shit.

My son told me I should blog about what he calls my Tough Shit Policy. He thinks it's hilarious, except of course when he's being subjected to something he doesn't want to do. The Tough Shit Policy is simply this:

Taking what you know is right, and applying it with no exceptions. 

There are always easier ways out. It's easier to pretend you didn't do something wrong than to apologize. It's easier to stay inside than to take the dogs for a walk in the pouring rain. It's easier to tell your kids not to do something than to show them by being a good example. It's easier to grab a burrito on the way home than to plan a meal. We all know where those easier ways get us:

Taking the easy road gets us in long-term trouble. The easy road in reality equals the hard road.

Not apologizing will wreck your marriage. You may face a divorce months or years down the road. Treating your kids to the "do as I say, not as I do" parenting style results in a teenager that you battle with daily. Not exercising or eating well leaves you in a wheelchair from diabetes when other people your age are still running marathons.

You know what the right thing to do is today. No excuses. Tough Shit. Just Do It.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

What Does Chocolate Cake Have to Do With Swimming Efficiently?

My swimmers are always accusing me of using food metaphors. Gee, I wonder why that is? In today's drill, I was having them focus on using the hand and arm efficiently to catch water, using the HVF (High Vertical Forearm) drill from GoSwim.Tv .

One reason that I like this drill is that it can be done slowly and allows you to isolate and concentrate on just this one aspect of your stroke. I've also used a variation on this drill to help people learn the breaststroke catch. When swimming breaststroke, a lot of swimmers use what I call a "keyhole" stroke: they bring both arms out to the sides, then curve back together and then push them down toward their thighs, making the shape of a keyhole. In reality, the breaststroke hands should catch and move outwards slightly and back, then "turn the corner" and come back together to push out into the glide. Your elbows should never travel back behind your shoulders. So this HVF freestyle drill can be done with a more breaststroke-like pull in order to remind swimmers to return their hands to the front without pushing back and down.

What does that have to do with chocolate cake you might ask? I call this drill "scraping the inside of the bowl", which would be a bowl filled with chocolate cake batter of course. You wouldn't want to leave the last bit of chocolate cake batter in the bowl, so you use your arm to go around the inside of the bowl and get it all out. At least, that's how I see it in my head, but I admit that visions of chocolate frequently percolate to the top of my thoughts so you can visualize anything you want in the bowl.

You can see what I mean if you watch this video:

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

My War With Fat

Fat. It's the stuff that makes butter and bacon taste so damned good. It's a four letter word in a thin-obsessed society. It's dead weight that makes you 3 seconds slower per pound per mile when you're running a marathon. It's defined as a group of compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents and largely insoluble in water.It's a suitcase full of emotions that most women drag around with them every day of their lives, whether or not they are actually fat at all.

I am at war with Fat.

I don't want to be. I want to be completely content to be a healthy, fit, vigorous individual who just so happens to carry a few extra pounds here and there. I don't want to look at women who are less fit than I am but far skinnier and feel envy. But I do. I don't want to have only half a Thyroid gland that decides on a daily basis whether or not it wants to do the work it's supposed to be doing to keep my body in a healthy range.

I don't often talk about Fat on this blog. I don't often talk about weight. I try very hard to keep my focus on health and not on numbers on a scale. But I have to admit that lately I am losing the battle of self-contentment in my own head. And I know why. My doctor is adjusting my thyroid medication again. This always means that I gain weight. I gain weight even though I'm working out exactly as much as I was a month ago. Even though I'm not eating any differently. Even though nothing at all has changed other than that damn little pill I have to take.

And really, it's only a few pounds so far. The guys reading this are probably rolling their eyes. I can hear you thinking "Hell, I gain fifteen pounds every winter and just take it off when I start up my spring training. Big deal." Well, I got news for you fellas. It don't work that way for 44 year old women. My husband eats one less piece of pizza a week and he loses fifteen pounds. To take off the fifteen pounds I gained the last time my medication went wonky on me it took me a year of killing myself with Crossfit and eating strict Paleo. For me, it's less about the few pounds that I've gained (heck I can still wear my jeans) but more about feeling out of control.

It's even worse when you coach and teach fitness for a living. This compounds the fear from just "I'll have a muffin top in my tight jeans" to "People will come to my class and wonder why they'd take fitness advice from me". It just seems so ridiculous that a healthy fit woman can have nightmares about a few pounds of fat. I won't go into the whole sordid history of being the fat kid in grade school, eating disorders in high school, blah blah blah. I bet many of you have the same story. But I know that whole history of interactions with Fat and the notion of Fat that we get from our society, they all contribute to what we feel about ourselves.

I just need to bust myself out of this Fat Funk (wish it was a Phat Funk, that would be better). What do you do to keep yourself focused on health, fitness, vitality, and all of the things that matter more than a dress size?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Bust Out Of Your Fitness Rut! Five New Ways To Keep Your Mind and Body Challenged

Are you in a fitness rut? Are Sundays always your long run, and Tuesdays always your gym night? I know I tend to do the same types of workouts on the same days, day in and day out if I don't catch myself and change it up. Some of that is schedule-related, it's hard to fit in a long run or bike ride on a weekday. Some workouts need to be done during hours the pool is open, or hours of outdoor daylight. But whenever possible, we should shake things up and change our routines around. It's not only better for us physically, but mentally as well.

We already know that exercise in itself causes you to grow new brain cells:

In experiments in which mice were timed running through mazes or recalling patterns, the rodents that broke a sweat on a hamster wheel performed better. After slicing into their brains, scientists discovered why: The exercising mice had grown new brain cells.

But varying mental challenges also goes a long way toward keeping you mentally and physically stronger.Both the connections between brain cells and the strength and tone of your muscles depends heavily on getting out of your ruts. You can challenge yourself in small ways: Move your kickboard and water bottle to the other end of your lap lane when you swim, run clockwise at the track. You might be surprised at how much this shakes up your workout!

Here are five good ways to shake up your workout routine, build new muscles and connect those brain cells:

1) Do It In the Dark: Are you used to going to the gym or only running or biking during daylight hours? Do it in the dark instead! Of course, safety precautions are a must, and a good headlamp goes a long way as well. Fortunately, with lightweight LED technology and reflective clothing like Illuminite, being well-lit doesn't mean carrying fifty pounds of flashlight and clothing covered in reflective tape. My favorite items are my Illuminite headband, and a couple of reflective wrist and ankle bands. They cheap, and because your arms and legs are moving they draw attention to you as you move through the darkness. You can continue your bike commute or even something dramatic like nighttime mountain biking through the woods if you're well lit (by that I do not mean by a thermos of the hard stuff). My husband swears by his mountain bike lights from GeoMan Gear. I've used the smaller one on my bike commutes and I always get comments from other cyclists about how bright it is.

2) Do It At Different Intensity: How many different tempos and durations do you use for your workouts? Chances are you have a few fallbacks: the 45 minute run. The 30 minute Ab Lab. The hour in the weight room. Try something new. Try a ten minute run as hard as you can for those ten minutes (with appropriate warmup of course!) Try using half the weights that you're used to and going twice as many reps, or twice the weight and only doing one or two reps. This guy did a spontaneous marathon one day on his treadmill. He just had his family keep bringing him food and drink! Shake it WAY up and see what happens.

3) Do It Someplace New: Does your jogging route always go down the same street? Go one block over instead. Drive to the next town and start your bike ride from there.Go to another pool (I recently took my kids to a wave pool in the next town and swam laps in the pool there. It felt completely different than my normal workout.) Visit a new gym (most will give you a week's trial membership around this time of year).

4) Do It With Someone Else: Are your workout buddies stagnant? The same topics of conversation keep coming around? How 'bout them Ducks? Okay I had to throw that in, as a UO alumni, I never thought I'd see my Duckies as #1 in the country. Find a new running group, a new yoga class time or instructor, an all-woman's hiking group, my mom even found a "Kayaking and Poetry" group. They each bring a poem, kayak to a location and take their lunch and share their poetry. Now that's keeping your brain and body engaged!

5) Do Something Completely Different: I just signed up for a Flashmob online. Yes, a Flashmob. No, I'm not a very good dancer. But I'm going to learn the choreography, I'm going to show up, and I'm going to make sure I'm standing behind at least three or four rows of better dancers! How about Parkour, Geocaching, Night Orienteering? Organize a midnight game of tag on your local soccer fields. Go on a snipe hunt. Re-enact a civil war battle, go inner tubing without a rope tow and hike up the hills. Tie your dogs to your scooter and practice dog sledding. Just shake it up and your brain and your body will thank you!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sunday Snap: How I Was Almost Killed By Marauding Cattle on a Trail Run

All's Well That Ends Well, at least that's what the Bard tells us. It was true for today's trail run, I did in fact make it to the top of the mountain on a day when a break in the weather gave me spectacular views all the way around.  Unfortunately, I couldn't lug my big beautiful camera around with me, so for today's Sunday Snap you'll have to be content with what I took on my cell phone. You can get a little taste of the dramatic sky and view however, just from this photo I shot at the top.

 However, here's what I had to slog through to get there! Background: I've been tossing around the idea of signing up for the "Mt. Pisgah Frozen Trail Run Fest" in two weeks. Doesn't that sound appealing in mid-December? The run I'm thinking of entering is "only" 14.6 miles, a decent distance for my first official trail running entry. I was thinking it would take me somewhere around three hours, since I've been timing my trail runs and found I'm averaging about 12:00 miles on anything with significant elevation gain. After today's "dry run" (note to self: there was nothing "dry" about this run) on the trails in question, I am revising my finish time estimate to closer to four hours or more. The trails aren't frozen, they're foot-deep mud bogs! It took me 37 minutes to go the first 1.4 miles. No, that is not a typo.

Even worse, after slogging uphill through these slimy slidy mud-slushees, I smelled the distinct aroma of cow manure. It actually smelled like I was running through a cattle wallow instead of just a trail-turned creek in the wintery rains. So it was no great surprise when we rounded the next corner and my dog Sophie surprised a..... Cow! I took this photo and then realized that there was more than one cow. Lots of them in fact. I was running right through their stomping grounds. A scenario flashed through my head almost as gruesome as the night I was almost arrested in my underwear: Being stomped to death on an obscure trail on the side of the mountain by a herd of cows, and being discovered face-down in a bog of cow manure several months later by some hunters (notice that it's always hunters who discover people like this?). This is when I begin to be grateful that my dog is the Best Dog in the Universe. One stern command: "Sophie! No Chase!" and she mercifully did NOT stamped the entire herd of cattle right over the top of me. It was close though. I had a moment of real panic there. That's okay, I'm rusty on panic.

After that, I turned back to the main trail and headed for the top of the mountain, an uneventful if challenging climb to those gorgeous late-afternoon views out over fog-shrouded valleys.

And so for today's Sunday Snap, I'll leave you with a photo that was not taken by my cell phone today, but one that I took from this same trail with my real camera on a New Year's Day hike last year. It's one of my all-time favorite black-and-whites.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sweat and a Smile

You should leave every workout with "sweat and a smile". That was the message today from Sensei Morris Mack, the head of the American Shudokan Association, our line of Shudokan karate-do. Before going to their karate recital, I impressed on the kids how lucky they are to be able to train under our Sensei, who was a student of Sensei Mack's, and also to be able to listen to Sensei Mack's advice and watch his demonstrations when he comes down from Yakima for our testing days. He is a great storyteller and keeps the students spellbound as he demonstrates techniques.

Today I got a real laugh out of his demonstration, as he told the students he wanted to teach them the six-step karate punch. My kids thought they were going to learn something very new and special, mysterious and powerful. And what he taught them was..... the same punch they learned on our very first day as white belts! Ha ha. But, Sensei Mack explained each step of it and why each individual element was important, before having them practice it over and over slowly. And then, he did some demonstrations and let's just say that he is one 72-year old you would never want to get punched by. I don't think you would even see it coming. Let's put it this way: I couldn't press the shutter button on my camera fast enough to capture one of his punches. The closest I got was the photo above, where he's already in the recoil.

For once, I was just in the audience at their recital, since I won't be testing again until I go up for my black belt (hopefully in three months), so I could just watch them do their stuff and be the proud mama. My son was testing for second degree brown belt, he will be about nine months behind me in testing for black belt. In the photo above, he's defending against a knife attack. My daughter is going for her black stripe on her green belt, after that the brown belt will be next for her. In this picture, she's doing a wrist-grab takedown. I love watching them move with confidence through their kata and their techniques.

I love how every class leaves them with sweat, and a smile. Isn't that how all of our workouts should end?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Do Toe Shoes Make Your Feet Stronger?

"It's better than Disneyland!". That's what my then-eight-year-old son said at his first sighting of the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain. It has to be noted that my kid, like me, is just a wee bit of a history geek. We had come to Segovia largely to see the aqueduct, still standing and carrying water for 2,000 years.

And what does this have to do with my feet, and running, and those strange toe shoes I keep going on about, you might ask? Like your feet, the miracle of the aqueduct is the arch. In the case of the aqueduct, many arches. Constructed without any mortar (my son went up close to the stones just to make sure), bearing the weight of all that rock and water, standing through centuries of storms, earthquakes, and human civilization, the arch is the miracle of weight distribution. If I remember my notes from the dusty old Architecture lecture hall in college, the arch distributes weight into both downward and horizontal thrust, supported by the columns below. If you put a wooden form underneath an arch, all of that weight would have to be borne straight down without being distributed sideways. Such an arch just might collapse.

Our feet are no less of a miracle, our arches are perfectly constructed to bear the weight of our bodies through all ranges of motion. Our arches are, as the title of Christopher McDougall's popular book says "Born to Run". So why do we insist on putting "supports" under them, when the very notion of supporting an arch can cause the collapse of such a perfect structure? Ask the modern running shoe industry that question. Oh wait, the barefoot runners already have, and running shoe companies are all quickly backpedaling into "barefoot-like" shoes which will be hitting the market this year.

Luckily, we can take steps to strengthen our feet without spending much money on shoes designed to mimic the barefoot experience. First of all, we can start going barefoot as often as possible. In the town where I live, most homes are shoeless by choice, frequently with a sign by the front door asking visitors to remove their shoes. This not only saves hardwood floors and carpets from dirt and wear and tear, but it saves our feet from spending more time than necessary in shoes. We can choose to walk barefoot whenever we can, giving our feet time to strengthen all of the necessary supporting structures that may have been weakened by a lifetime of imprisonment in shoes. Before attempting any barefoot running, it's important that your ligaments and muscles are accustomed to long periods of standing and walking without the support of shoes.

Barefoot strides are a great way to start gradually introducing barefoot running into your repertoire. When I started barefooting, I would run down to a local well-groomed soccer field in my running shoes. Then I would remove them and run a series of 100 - 200 meter strides up and down the field. I would start slow and build to faster and faster speeds, trying to hold good form. I could immediately tell that my feet ran completely differently without the shoes.

Eventually, I transitioned to the Vibram Five Fingers, or "toe shoes". This let me extend my barefoot runs into areas where my feet might be in danger from rocks, glass, and splinters. Gradually I was able to run longer and longer until a barefoot run of five to eight miles did not bother my feet in the least. I also started wearing them for weight lifting, other indoor exercise, and kickboxing. The perfect structure of the feet I was born with was finally able to support my weight in all of the activities that humans are meant to do.

The next time you're tempted to buy over-engineered running shoes, think about the perfect arches of the Roman aqueduct standing the test of time. Your feet are no less perfect, it's time to let them do their job!

The Ironmom Extra Mile:  Some barefoot running inspiration: and Barefoot Ted's Adventures . Barefoot Ted makes some terrific looking minimalist running sandals that I'm dying to try out. Next time I go to Seattle I want to visit the factory up there and I'll let you know what it's all about.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How I Avoided Being Arrested In My Underwear at Three A.M. Wielding an Umbrella

It all started a couple of months ago when we were woken by a godawful racket outside, and hubby and I rushed out with flashlights in hand to find a chicken flopping around on the ground and a raccoon staring at us from a nearby tree. The chicken coop hadn't been closed up properly, and one of the cute but vicious little furry thieves had gotten Gloria, one of our hens. Unfortunately, she wasn't dead. This is the moment that all hen-keepers fear, at least wimpy ones like me: the chicken is not dead. One look at her told us that she wasn't going to make it though. It's never a good sign when your head is on sideways. So did I do the brave thing? Of course I did: I yelled at hubby to kill the damn thing already.

Hubby grabs the nearest chicken-killing implement, which happened to be a hoe, while I kept the raccoon at bay with a rake. Unfortunately, killing a chicken with a hoe at three in the morning is a lot harder than it sounds. For one thing, remember the whole "chicken with its head cut off" cliche? This chicken was flopping around like crazy, I mean like three to four feet with every flop. Meanwhile hubby is running around in hiking boots and a bathrobe hacking madly at it with the hoe and I'm yelling helpfully in the background. Feathers are flying and even the raccoon is starting to look scared of the crazy people. But we did it. I cornered the chicken and hubby beat it into submission. I didn't have the time at the moment to be sad about the fact that this was Asa's favorite chick from last year, one she rescued from being the last baby chick at the Feed-n-Seed store and hand-raised.

So, fast forward a few months and I am once again awakened by some sort of loud noise at three in the morning. This time I didn't stop to even pull on a bathrobe, just rushed out in my underwear and cami, quickly grabbing the nearest raccoon-fending devices that came to hand, namely a big-ass flashlight and a long-handled umbrella. Luckily, this time all was serene in Happy Hen land and there were no fuzzy bandits to be seen. This is where my bad luck began however. As I was trooping back up toward the house, a patrol car pulled slowly into our cul-de-sac. Uh Oh. Maybe what woke me up was a prowler? And maybe he was somewhere nearby in the trees next to our house?

Even worse: the cop car was shining its spotlight around the cul-de-sac and I was nearly naked and carrying two large weapon-looking devices in my hands. Awful scenarios flashed through my head: My kids in tears as their underwear-clad mother is hauled off in a patrol car in front of throngs of neighbors. Even worse, the cops accidentally shooting me thinking I was an armed would-be burglar. Being taken down and tasered before I could even explain what I was doing out there (don't laugh, police in my town recently Tasered an unarmed exchange student in his sleeping bag because he couldn't communicate in English to them that he wasn't a prowler).

So I did what any reasonable underwear-clad chicken defender would do: I hid behind a tree. It felt like a surreal scene from a thousand movies. The searchlight playing along the trees surrounding me. Holding my breath to prevent it from steaming out into the night air. My heart pounding a thousand beats a minute. And then, after what felt like an hour or two, they were gone. I crept up our porch stairs and gratefully back into bed. No one knows what I sacrifice to keep my family fed with wholesome local eggs!

The Ironmom Extra Mile:  Perhaps I should carry a Samurai Sword-handled umbrella next time? Or maybe a light-saber umbrella to fend off the dark side? Check out the Twenty Coolest Umbrellas you'll ever see for more cool gadgets to carry when hiding from police and defending chickens.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My Mom's Paleo-Inspired Success Story

For those of us who have started eating a more paleolithic diet, it can be like a religious conversion. Of course, we want all of our friends and family to feel as good, as full of energy, as healthy as we do. Especially if you've got loved ones in your life who suffer with weight issues or any of the myriad health problems that can be brought on by insulin resistance or gluten intolerance, you might feel compelled to share the good news about paleo with them. But let's face it, they're not all going to throw their hat in the air and yell "yippeee! you're right! I'm going to start eating nothing but meat and vegetables!"

Most people are understandably skeptical. Plus, who wants to give up toast, potatoes, pasta, ice cream?

The good news is that even if they don't take a running jump onto the paleo bandwagon, becoming what I call "paleo-inspired" can bring about positive health changes all on its own. My mom decided to make just a couple of changes in her eating habits after I started talking about paleo (okay, after I started raving about it and probably going on and on and on until she decided to change something just to get me to shut up about it already.) My mom has always been a healthy eater, with lots of fruits and vegetables in her fridge and only whole-grain breads in the breadbox. But carbs were a huge part of her daily calorie intake, and our family already tends toward extremely high cholesterol, something heavily influenced by insulin.

So she gave up potatoes, which was a staple of her daily dinner. This might've been due to me saying something like "you might as well have a cup of white sugar on your plate", since potatoes spike your insulin levels like almost no other food is capable of. She also cut down from 2 - 3 pieces of whole grain bread a day to just one. That's it! Just a couple of small changes. The result? 9 pounds total weight loss, but the real kicker is that she lost 15 pounds of fat. At 5'2" tall, that's a dramatic change in overall body composition.

I guess my point today is that you don't have to change everyone's mind around you. But by eating healthily, by talking about the common misconceptions (one might say lies) about nutrition that have been put forth by our nation's "experts", and by being an example of health, fitness, vigor, and energy, you can have a dramatic influence on the health of those around you, even if they don't choose to follow the whole-hog paleo dietary path. And who knows, as they experience the effects of making just small changes, they may also be inspired to make more changes down the road.

The Ironmom Extra Mile:  Here's another real-life Paleo testimonial from Robb Wolf's most excellent site. These are my two main go-to sites for nutrition information:

Robb Wolf
Mark's Daily Apple