I Love To Run Even Though It Could Hurt Me

Hamster in a wheel, running just cuz it's fun. Maybe.

Hamster in a wheel, running just cuz it’s fun. Maybe.

I’ve been running for 27 years.

At least half of those years were “seasonally” around two-thirds of the year or so, in fair weather or around the competitive season. When I was off, I was really off, not doing much of anything for several months (youthful metabolism is what made that tenable for so long). However, the last decade has been year-round training – and not because of slowing metabolism, but rather to be more competitive and get rid of the inevitable training curve/wall after a few months off. I did get faster – and I got skinnier – and how the two are related and not related is another story.

It took many years of those 27 before I had any idea that running was anything but super awesome for the human body. I mean, how could it not be? All that fitness and endorphins and pleasant exhaustion…. Hell, even mice like to run for no reason at all. I looooove this! Some animals, including we crazy humans, like to run just to run. Brain cells grow, stress hormones go down (within some limits), and things are just good. Usually.

Opposition on a running wheel. From https://www.flickr.com/photos/eyesplash/

Opposition on a running wheel. From https://www.flickr.com/photos/eyesplash/

But there’s two sides to the endurance running deal. The benefits of judicious jogging seem to be pretty clear: all the stuff mentioned above like better thinking, lower disease markers, lower stress, better cardiovascular fitness, et cetera. But when you get into territory like many habitual runners – an hour or more every day on average, with more on weekends or race days – that’s when the benefits rocket down to zero or below.

Net Negative Benefits?

Why? Right now I think there are two main areas of concern: atrial fibrillation and movement monotony.

Atrial Fibrillation

In some adults – those with a predisposition, it seems – endurance athletics will bring out their latent Atrial Fibrillation (“AFib” to the cool kids) where it might have been dormant for a lifetime of less vigorous movement. Only a few years ago it was easy to dismiss the folks who collapsed and died during marathons as pure probability given the population numbers. Those fatalities are still explainable by demographics, BUT there are likely a lot more runners out there with ticking AFib bombs in their chests. A google search for “atrial fibrillation endurance athletes” turns up 3190 results. Yowch.

So, this is just like the misconception that running will GIVE you knee problems when in fact it is slightly protective of your knees in general. What happens is that your knees – if they’re normal – will be benefited from running. If you are prone to knee problems like arthritis or degeneration, you *might* notice those issues sooner because you as an athlete are more in tune with your body and you demand more of it. Running does NOT cause knee problems.

Likewise, running does not seem to cause heart attacks or sudden death, but for some people it functions as a very sobering “stress test” and can make their life quite a bit shorter.

Finally, many, many years of running might actually contribute to AFib. That’s the thing that as a runner you should know about. Not necessarily worry about, but definitely consider it if you are actively choosing to be a runner instead of taking up other pursuits. The research is still ongoing, but it does not look like a win for running when it comes to AFib. Aside from the medical research, there are some runners and medical professionals blogging about the nexus of AFib and athletics, like Michael McCullough’s site AFibRunner, a great reading for all endurance athletes. I also like the site Athlete’s Heart by Dr. Larry Creswell – he is looking at the issue as a very interested 3rd party point of view. Good stuff.

Movement Monotony

Trust me when I say I will have a lot more to write about this, so this little paragraph is but the beginning. Here’s the nutshell. Many endurance runners like myself have desk jobs. We move from the coffee pot to the chair to the bathroom and back just a few times per day. Then we sit down to eat. We sit down to read. We go to sleep and we wake up and run for an hour and think we’re OK. We are not OK. I repeat – we are not OK.

In the always spot-on words of Katy Bowman, we athletes are doing the equivalent of saying to ourselves, “Hey, oranges have vitamins! I’m gonna eat 20 and then have some milkshakes!” We are taking in movement nutrients that are vastly inadequate and unvaried. We should be getting up from the chair every 20 minutes to bend and stretch and focus on the wall 20 feet away. We should take walks in the sunshine and squat down to pick up our groceries and kids. And then, maybe if we want, then we can do something as ‘crazy’ as striking the ground at 2.5x our body weight for 6000 reps (the amount of footstrikes in a 6 mile run)!!!

Ok, more Katy to come. Don’t worry.

After all that… why in the heck do I and we run?

Here’s what I know: the main benefit to me is in my inner world. What I mean by that is I get good shots of positive neurotransmitters (the runner’s high) in addition to mental calming and the ability to brainstorm and daydream while out there. This is why I don’t listen to music during 99% of my training time. Now, the runner’s high is real and can be proven by lots of research. But – and this is a big but – the rest of it might just be a self-reinforcing addiction. I get to daydream and clear my head because that’s what I expect from running. It calms me because I haven’t figured out any other way to calm my caucophony.

THERE ARE OTHER WAYS. There’s gentle yoga (not that power/hot stuff – that’s also addictive). There’s just daydreaming while taking a long walk. There’s meditation. All of these involve minimal exertion while having proven mental benefits.

And, I love my running friends, all over the country. I am able to go and experience beauty and connection and soul-crushing fatigue in myself and in those around me, and we get through it. When it’s almost over, we see our families and cross that line and it’s magical. How could you not love my 2 year old niece running to catch me in this photo???

Andrea and Howie finishing Wasatch Front 100 2014, family and pacer in tow.

Andrea and Howie finishing Wasatch Front 100 2014, family and pacer in tow.

I know all of this. If someone new to exercise or fitness or general lifestyle health were to ask me “what should I do?” I would NEVER tell them to take up jogging or running. If one is starting from scratch or starting over, everything I know suggests that we should do three major things with our time. In order from most time spent to least, those three would be: tons of general movement and walking, meditation, and power bursts (sprints, climbing, jumping, weights).

Running is for becoming a better runner. Period. And becoming a better runner all by itself just might make you a more fragile organism if movement monotony isn’t balanced with really well-rounded movement nutrients in the rest of your life. Here’s to a long and movement-filled life.

Kaila on the right, hugging for oxytocin.

Tuesday Tribute: Kaila Prins, vibrant podcaster and hug addict

I invite female friendships into my life because they don’t seem to come naturally, at least not in my history. My tomboy predilictions has made for a small circle of women around me, but once in a while a rare one breaks through – that’s Kaila Prins.

Paleo f(x) 2013: we first meet! Kaila with the LOVE shirt.

Paleo f(x) 2013: we first meet! Kaila with the LOVE shirt.

Kaila (“ky-lah”) and I met a year and a half ago, at a conference in Austin for Paleo-ish folks, called Paleo f(x). Within a day we’d hit it off and spent hours talking about the ideas we had to bring this amazing thing – a lifestyle grounded in real food, real nature, and real movement – to a much larger audience. Podcasting seemed like a good way to start building momentum, and while I languished over the usual ephemera, Kaila used her blog, In My Skinny Genes, to launch Finding Our Hunger in less than two months. She used her voice to tease out the intricacies of women’s relationships to their own lives, whether that was a hunger for change or just for chocolate.

Because I’ve seen the change it’s made for her – how fans will approach and talk about how much they get out of each show – it’s renewed my interest in creating a podcast. THAT’S what personal inspiration is about and comes from: this Tuesday Tribute, human interactions, friendships, everything. When you open up around people like Kaila, you receive equal or more.

Since then she’s just been doing more and exploring what it means to be Kaila, and how she can use what she knows to reach and help as many people as possible. Her physical woes with repeated ankle surgeries means that she can empathize with anyone struggling with chronic pain or limited mobility. Her movement to embrace hugging and promote addiction – to oxytocin – was and is an amazing meme. Play along with #hugsarepaleo – there’s no time limit!!!

Kaila on the right, hugging for oxytocin.

Kaila on the right, hugging for oxytocin.

There are women in my life who have impacted me because of the contents of their life – what they’ve done, how they do it, and how they have succeeded despite a difficult past – or even how they are working toward an inevitable success. Kaila is no exception, and in her I can claim the bonus of being a close friend.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot – lover of life, cheese, islands

Part of a Carey selfie

Part of a Carey selfie

“Did I ever tell ya about this guy I met with the Cuban restaurant?”

“Did you know that the cheese at XX restaurant came from XX weird country?”

“I’m so busy – I have so much to tell you!”

Not long after I met Carey, she began to bombard me with every little interesting thing going on in Albuquerque’s restaurant scene. It was dizzying and awesome. Who was fired, who just opened a new place (and if it sucked or not), which place was doomed…. it’s just her nature to be gregarious while cultivating a wide network of friends. Carey has had her hands in the local food scene for many years – everything from her own gourmet shop to cheese distribution to burger joint mastermind to French pastry seller to chocolatier‘s administrator.

Carey is one of those women who is instantly on your radar, usually in a fabulous way. She’s blunt, energetic, and enthusiatic. She’ll tell you about her drama-filled family shenanigans, point out that you have something in your teeth, and then reach into her purse for the gift she couldn’t help but get for you, all while asking if you’ve had the sweetbreads at some new place in the North Valley.

How did I meet Carey? That’s a story I’m racking my brain trying to dig the nuggets out. Was it email? Possibly. Was it before she opened her amazing Downtown Grocery store (which lasted only a few years before vanishing into the local food nostalgia-sphere)? It doesn’t really matter how we first met. Our friendship is punctuated and enduring. Lately we seem to meet up for an overly long lunch or social hour at least once a year, but boy those months go screaming by.

 

She’s been through a lot – with her spunk and experience you can’t really avoid a vibrant life – but nothing is as interesting to her as what’s next. Plans are her thing, and boy does she have some awesome ones that involve building and travel and new places to live. She’s an island fan, so I’ll leave it at that.

Here’s to a lot more years, and many more three hour lunches.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Katie DeSplinter

Hi kids. I’m back on the posting wagon, finally, with another Tuesday Tribute. The schedule goes back to weekly from now until eternity or I run out of amazing women in my life. That could be awhile. But now, on to Katie DeSplinter, ultrawoman of mystical powers. She doesn’t break bad, she breaks excellent.

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Me: “Holy shit you’re running amazingly fast!” Katie: “Not as fast as those guys!” Me: “No one runs as fast as those guys. Seriously.”

Those guys were Dominic Grossman & Co, screaming down a loose cannonball run of babyhead rocks next to a steep creek drop-off on the way towards Grouse Gulch on the Hardrock Hundred course. It was a training day, but it seemed to me that Katie was getting some serious turnover practice for future racing days ahead.

Katie is a new person in my circle, but one of influence in just a few encounters. She’s learning her way around racing ultramarathons in one of the most open and generous and patient ways I’ve seen. She blogs about her successes, her worries, her failures, and the intersection of all three. Case in point, AC100 this year was planned to be a dream race, sub-24, with everything looking pretty good. Then, worries about training load (too little) and previous issues with kidneys (too much) and finally, she just went and did it. The write-up is pretty spectacular and takes a meandering course through angst, joy, flow, bloody pee, and rain in Los Angeles. Yep.

“The only thing I honestly feel right now is everything.” – Katie

Just read it, already.

Are ya back after reading that? Good. Now, let’s talk about AC in general. She’s part of the overly-feared next generation of young ultrarunners. Young ‘cuz she is only 31 – the age at which I knocked off from ultras and went down the marathon rabbit-hole for 5 years, losing all sense of moderation and some of my bone density in the process – and yet she is capable of winning races. A few for now, but more to come I’m sure. Her generation (really a sub-generation, but whatever) is overly feared by some in the long-standing ultra camp who think youth entails enthusiasm at the cost of respect. But in many young runners, as well as many older runners, the respect and volunteerism and community are part of the ultra life. They give back. They volunteer and crew and pace with abandon. They do trail work. They organize their own races (hello Nick and Jamil), adding to the pool of awesomeness out in the country and world.

But enough about other runners. Katie’s getting the podium today. I ran into her, not quite literally, on the PCT outside of Los Angeles last weekend. She was running with a friend, as was I, in opposite directions. The four of us stopped to chatter about everything under the warm sun, only finally disbanding when we all realized we probably should get back to our respective days. She sported a hat that can only be pictured to be appreciated.

Katie says 25% of people get it. I'm surprised it's that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

Katie says 25% of people get it. I’m surprised it’s that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

It’s a snarky hat from a snarky 2008 youtube phenomenon, but underneath the hat is a good dose of earnestness. Without the dippy video, this could actually be Katie’s motto. Do what you like and give zero Fs to those who stand in your way without reason.

That’s why she is here. Another woman making me rethink what it means to be solid in your own self.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Dreamcrafting: DIY Meaningful Dreams

Running, dreaming. Photo by Vanda Mesiarikova via Creative Commons

Running, dreaming. Photo by Vanda Mesiarikova via Creative Commons

This is a new thing to experiment with – directing the subjects of your dreams. Build meaning into your dreams by some deliberate intentioning.

We’re all familiar with having panicked dreams about work or something urgent going on the next day when that’s all you been thinking about the night before. For example, before ultramarathons I typically spend one or more hours trying to sleep, worrying about the alarm, and such. Then I do fall asleep and only dream about the alarm. When I worked jobs that I hated, I would dream I was caught in a neverending work day full of anxiety and angry/disappointed bosses. On the other side of the coin, when we don’t have stressed out dreams, it seems our other dream-mode is just whatever comes up, because our evenings are often routine or uneventful.

I’ve been trying out a few things with planting ideas or subjects for the night’s dreams.

To make this work well, I have crafted two rules of importance:

1. no depressants before bed (alcohol, sleeping pills, et cetera)
2. intellectually and/or emotionally compelling experiences in the few hours before bed

I am not a nightcap kind of gal and I hate sleeping medications (no matter how hard it is to all asleep), so #1 is no problem.

Number 2 is the fun part.

Let’s say you normally spend the few hours before bed reading random things on the internet, browsing reading materials, watching routine TV shows or movies, or doing repetitive tasks like housework. Let’s say that you do these things in an unattached way.

Here’s how to change that up. For one night, or more, do or watch or participate in something extremely engaging of the mind and/or heart. Read someone’s old love letters. Have a heartfelt discussion with a friend. Watch a movie where you get really really into the characters. Read academic works in your area of passion – the kind of reading that makes you break out the highlighter. In other words, do things that have MEANING to you. Soulful meaning, connection with the universe or people or your purpose. Whatever gives you that cerebral tingle.

THEN. See how your dreams are affected. Does the person you conversed with show up in the dream (or someone that seems to represent them in context)? Do you have exceptionally idea-rich dreams, the kind where you need a bedside notebook? Play with it.

Brainbow from the National Institute of Mental Health

Brainbow from the National Institute of Mental Health

I’m receiving two big benefits from this. From the intellectual reading experiment, I get crazy amounts of idea generation. From the personal conversation experiment, I feel a deepening of the connection that had already started with the other person. The only drawback of this secondary effect is that there is no guarantee THEY also experience that sensation. It could tilt the friendship in a lopsided direction. Of course, there is the possibility that they had the same dream experience in the wake of the evening’s interaction, and all is level. That is ideal and pretty cool to ponder.

Dedicated to a few of the recent sources of rule #2. 

How to Hug For Introverts: The Non-BuzzFeed Way

Do you have friends who give really great hug? I hope we all do – at least one, for cryin’ out loud. One of the best way to up the ratio of meh-huggers to great huggers is to *become* a great hugger. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, the practice of hugging has a terrific load of baggage in our culture – Shane Snow wrote about the dilemma of male/female hugs in a professional setting, and The Wire even has a roundup of different types of huggers (woe to be the “Hug-fectionist” type of hugger – that’s just bad, and you’re a needy person! Or, be careful of those “hug activists” out there – just in it for the oxytocin!)

High schools have even been taking notice of this disturbing trend amongst their students – that of expressing human affection and friendship through touch – and are clamping down on that “very dangerous territory” ASAP, says an article in the New York Times: “Comforting as the hug may be, principals across the country have clamped down.” That’s real, and seemingly the newest example of old time-honored restrictions on physical contact by kids, just like using rulers to judge how far apart they dance. See what I mean? There is so much stigma on what constitutes a good and appropriate amount of physical contact between humans.

I’m calling bullshit, and I don’t even need to invoke bonobos (thanks, Christopher Ryan!). Hugs are awesome and the sooner you get that thought in your head, the better you’re going to feel – and the better hugger you will become. The Daily Love agrees with this idea and has created a wonderful tutorial on hugs – read it as a complement to mine.

Writing a “how to give good hug” crossed my mind about a month ago, for fun and incremental betterment of the world. And then, Buzzfeed came along with their cutesy video demonstration just two days ago. Take a peek:

Their video is cheeky and entertaining, and I can launch off from their overly snarky how-to into something a bit more substantive. Learning how to hug is easier than a properly contextual handshake – boy, that is rife with problems, especially when many of the handshake tutorials out there are how to NOT screw it up.

Hugging is easy

I say that as an introverted and somewhat socially-awkward person. When I was a kid and young adult, I never saw the value in hugging, nor did I give or receive many hugs. They seemed to be special occasion only kinds of things. Not that there’s anything wrong with special occasion hugs, mind you:

Yay! We won! Awesome hug of joy!!!

Yay! We won! Awesome hug of Canadian joy!!!

Three hugging tips

Here is my super easy peasy way to hug like you were born doing it. Go forth and make happiness.

1. Evolve your hug to the receiver. This tip takes a little practice, but the benefits are huge. Essentially, you adjust all variables of your hug moment by moment DURING the hug. Some of the best hugs in my memory are those with people I like and respect, who give me a slightly warmer hug than I was anticipating (see the next tip), and I reciprocate with an even warmer embrace and we both peel away with shiny unicorns singing and farting rainbows. It’s glorious.

2. Be 1% more affectionate than you think you can get away with. This is a way to reassure the other person that you value them, you value human touch, and that you won’t go overboard into inappropriate territory (see #1).

3. HOW TO ACTUALLY DO IT. Use both arms, gently wrap them up, pull in, close your eyes, smile, and squeeze following tips 1 and 2. Go with the flow and giggle if you smack arms or something. That’s it!

Perfect hug: both arms, smile, eyes closed, joy!

Perfect hug: both arms, smile, eyes closed, joy!

Finding practice opportunities (with little social repercussions in your own peer group)

This is super simple but obviously a little weird if you are an introvert. Even I need practice sometimes, as evidenced by this photo-op awkward hug with a dear friend in Austin:

Side-hug. Not very warm or intimate!

Side-hug. Not very warm or intimate!

That’s OK – Juan Mann has been there before you. He’s the guy who created the “free hugs” campaign in 2006. He was a recent convert to the world of hugging, after spending many years as one of those ‘dead fish’ kind of huggers. His free pdf ebook about hugging is seriously awesome and you should download it right now.

Practice on strangers!

Practice on strangers!

Tuesday Tribute: Maren Tarro

Maren, writing, as writers do. Also, drinking coffee.

Maren, writing, as writers do. Also, drinking coffee.

Back for another tribute. Today, one of my early writerly friends and all around badass: Maren Tarro.


It was 2007 and I was in the thick of trying/pretending to be a reasonably good restaurant critic. I was reading lots of other writers and had taken a liking to this overly blunt female food writer in the Weekly Alibi who purported to be from the Midwest. But then, her reviews trickled away and this new girl, MAREN, came into play. Who was she? I wrote to the previous writer expressing my dismay that her work had been supplanted by this upstart with the sassy name.

And then. I read a bunch of her reviews, this Maren Tarro. They were damn good. She was snarky and detailed and gushing when justified – in other words, a worthy critic. In early 2008 she received an email from yours truly that introduced – apropos of nothing – that we collaborate on simultaneous dueling reviews. She sounded willing, especially if we could have a few drinks and really shoot the shit, and we met at Nob Hill Bar & Grill within a few weeks.

Sadly, the whole sneaky double review thing didn’t end up how I’d hoped – hers was delayed and the synchronicity was lost – but after that lunch with Maren, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about her trajectory. Right away I got the sense that she never fucked around with anything halfway – you’re all in or you’re nothing. I loved that; still do. Don’t we love what we want to see manifest in ourselves?

Thinking about all that deep stuff, I just poured a bourbon to goad the writing goat. Also, I just invented that phrase.

Time marched on. After a few parties (including a long and salty 30th birthday bash in Las Cruces), several meet ups, and many many months later, Maren has lept into new places and pursuits. Still with that all or nothing bent, of course. She’s written all over the country on issues like marriage rights, Mexican border crap, even touching back down in New Mexico to write political pieces for independent venues.

She decided to hike the whole Appalachian Trail (that would be called a ‘thru-hike’) with not a whole heck of a lot of previous backpacking experience. Somewhere in the extensive planning, she decided it would be easiest for hygiene reasons to just shave her head before starting. So she did. That’s why she’s been a good nudge for me – in the small things and in the big things, make it count.

Thanks, Maren.

Maren amongst the foliage.

Maren amongst the foliage.


Tuesday Tribute origins: a few months ago I decided on a personal year-long challenge: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook, nudged the course of my life, or given me reason to make a positive change. In September of 2014 I have shifted the criteria to emphasize the women of influence. 

There are only two guidelines: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology.