Post Ultramarathon Funk And How it Sucks Balls

It is pretty well known that the more a person does ultramarathons or marathons, for the most part, the quicker one recovers. Recovery from one’s first 50 miler is nothing like the 10th or the 20th or even the 5th. The body figures out, bit by swollen bit, just what in the bloody hell was laid down upon its bones and joints and muscles and skin and how to look around and pick up the pieces. You’ve Humpty Dumpty’ed yourself over and over again and the king’s horses and the king’s men are getting quite good at this game.

However.

The rest of it, the head stuff, is weird and troubling and kind of common.

After an ultra, I have a day, maybe two days, of a kind of awesomeness. I’m tired. Blissed out. Exhausted. Content. And then, things happen in the brain and it all goes kaflooey. It doesn’t happen to everyone. A few studies have even “debunked” the whole idea of feeling like crud after endurance races. I’m not convinced by one study – maybe familiarity with a mood test taken daily for weeks on end makes you feel better about your life in general, who knows.

At any rate, a scholarly search on this phenomenon gives me some great stuff to work with like theories about amino acid depletion and such, but that doesn’t tell you the STORY. The story of feeling like a old bloated whale with arthritis who never lived up to Moby Dick’s expectations and is likely to end up as lamp oil ASAP. The story that digs into why it might happen, with a little science as background but a lot of first person experience to bring it together in the flesh. I’ll run through the stages, best as I have known them.

Stage One: Finish Day

So here we are. It’s that first day, the day of the finish. There’s a few hours of just shock. You walk around a little bit, making sure you’re warm and fed (if hungry, though that can take hours to come back normally, too) and not bleeding all over the place if you took a trail stumble or bashed up your feet. Mingled with that shock is some bliss, coming from endorphins and a general sense of accomplishment. People are probably telling you ‘great job’ and ‘nice to see you out there’ and stuff like that. What happens from here on out varies, depending on the length of the event and the time of day you finished. After a 100 I generally fall asleep mid-day, often during the awards ceremony. After a 50, it’s evening-ish already and all you need to do is try to eat something and get back to where you’re sleeping.

Stage Two: Sleeping

That night of sleep can vary as much as any night of sleep can. You could toss and turn in pain and get little rest at all, or you could sleep like a baby on benadryl with possible short interruptions for a muscle cramp here and there.

Stage Three: DOMS day(s)

The next stage is a lesser version of immediately after the event. You’re sore, a bit stiff, a bit hungry, and still basking in the congratulatory glow. Maybe you’re back at work with a tan and some trail wounds and someone there actually gives a shit about your weekend. But at this stage, the glow is fading. The muscles are beat all to hell and while they feel better by the hour, the real damage will take weeks to repair.

Stage Four: FML

Ok, so now you’re in the place we came here to talk about. Song lyrics appear in your head full of melancholy: My head is an animal. It’s empty in the valley of your heart. That kind of stuff. Your body is well on its way to repair, though it has a long way to go. You get out for a run, or two. It feels ok, or it doesn’t. Sleep is better. Legs aren’t as twitchy. But you, in your head? You feel like that event was a mirage. It barely happened, the pain was barely perceptible, the joy was fleeting, and it seems like you won’t feel that excited about something again for a long time, maybe ever. THAT’S IT. It’s a funk, or its depression, or its the suck, and you’re in it.

Why does it happen? Here’s a theory, cobbled together from research and experience (my own and others‘). Firstly, some people are more prone to this than others, and those people often seem to have general issues with “lower” moods throughout their life. They aren’t necessarily what you’d call full blown depressives, worthy of medication. I’m simply talking about us who get a little anxious, get a little nervous, get stomach pains, get a little obsessive. The sensitive people. It seems we get that post-event funk/blues/suck moreso than others.

So that’s the correlation, but the causation could be something more real and simple: amino acid deficiencies. See, brutal and prolonged exercise really hammers on a few key amino acids like choline, but depletes them all to some degree, including tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine. Those three are required to make your happy chemicals serotonin and epinephrine. So there’s one of the big theories. The combination of a person with melancholic tendencies coupled with a huge hit on key nutrients = FUNK. Serious funk.

we got the funk

Now what? Basically, wait it out. Feed the amino acid machine – eat great quality food: eggs, sustainable organic meats, cheese if you want, sardines. Get your levels back up to normal, the real food way.

And, don’t beat yourself up if you engage in guilty pleasures. I’m known to abuse a little of the chocolates during this time, and snack food in general. I just need to remember to eat good protein and sleep lots. And it will end. Really.

 

40 Is The New Something-Other-Than-40

40-signpost-outside

It’s a great headline: “[insert sort-of old sounding age here] is the new [insert younger age here]!!!” It’s been used by marketing agencies, greeting card companies, and social media acolytes for many years. See what things look like when you just search Google:

40isthenew-googlesearch

There’s certainly the desire to embrace better health insights, younger fashions, and a little bit of silliness. Fashions tend to veer a little bit too young – I’m old enough to have grown up when what your mom wore in her daily life was NOTHING like what her teenage kids wore. Nothing. And both groups were pretty happy with that demarcation.

We also know a ton more about health than we used to, mostly by finally beginning to ignore a lot of the bullshit fed to us (sometimes literally) over the last few generations: that margarine was good, that cholesterol was bad, that low fat was good, that animal-anything was bad, that relaxing in front of the TV was good, that cleaning your own house was bad (or a waste of time), that gyms were good, that getting sunshine was bad . . .  and on, and on. Health is finally beginning, just a little bit, to look more natural. Eat real food. Go outside. Don’t buy all the things. Sit quietly by yourself. Sleep in. We’re starting to get it, and it will only get better. I just hope it gets better before we go broke from healthcare.

Now, the silliness. I cannot tell you how many people in my own life that have stepped out of the woodwork (women, mostly) to reveal that they, like me, have gone through a major life and/or relationship shake-up at the age of 40 or so. Is it a midlife crisis? Is it reaching the end of childbearing years and realizing you’ve got a lot more to squeeze out of life than an 8-lb human through your vagina? I have no clue. Ok, I do, but that’s for another day. Starting “over” at 40 is refreshing even when it is scary. I (we) are still young. Maybe we spent the last decade kind of spinning our wheels psychologically. By cleaving off and pulling up the anchor it can feel like you’ve shed that previous chunk of years. At 40 a person can feel both young in body as well as empowered as all get out with a bunch of young adult wisdom acquired.

Which leads me to . . .

“40 is the new . . . ” works both ways.

Life – your life, everyone’s life – has been happening, even if certain aspects of it were stagnant. Now we have an alternate way of looking at things, something more like:

40 is the new 60!

40 is the new retirement! (If you were lucky and did something smart like Mr. Money Mustache)

40 is the new golden age!

Think of the possibilities when you combine a healthy corporeal space, an optimistic outlook, and the insights from a past that you’re sad to leave behind but couldn’t see it any other way forward. It’s gonna be awesome, this life, and it’s gonna be real interesting.

40isthenew-successkid

How to Write More: Insomnia and a (non) Tuesday Tribute

Insomniac Bears

Image courtesy of Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig: https://flic.kr/p/aUMTi8

Tuesday Tribute: Insomnia, and Two Months of Life

Here’s a new Tuesday Tribute for y’all: Insomnia. How it can be a muse and a curse, rolled into one.

It’s common that people with problematic insomnia stress about the insomnia itself. Because my insomnia is typically sporadic and directly tied to psychological background noise, it’s less of a worry that “I’ll never sleep a full night again!” or “I could never survive the next few months/years like this!” Because I am a general worrier, I can see how that kind of insomnia about insomnia would be terrifying. For now, it’s a muse and I’m using it. Writing can flow with more guts and insight when in that 5 a.m. wired state, watching the slow glow of the pre-dawn sky, keyboard tap tap tapping away.

This is why I find myself up at 4 a.m. on a night that I really needed sleep, itching to ruminate and write and pay bills and get stuff “done”. Marking off the checklist for the next few days. Googling for things that stressed me out enough to wake me up. Writing a blog post, this one right here, posting it before too much editing will get in the way of the flow.

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

I’m shocked to see that my last iteration of the Tuesday Tribute series was a whole two months ago. For that, I apologize. I’m personally both flummoxed and OK with how fast those two months have gone. Time in general speeds up as we age, most often it seems when we are trying to get things done or figure out our whole tangled lives or something profound in that regard.

And yes, I’ve been figuring out that tangled stuff for quite some time now, with the snowball finally rolling over me about two months ago, taking me along in its wake. Of course, it was a snowball of my own creation. I am the the one who makes snow. I am that thing that makes it possible to ski in New Mexico in November. I accept this, philosophically and metaphorically.

iamtheonewhomakessnow

I like quietness. In my head, typically. I used to think I liked it in my heart, too. Not too many complications, not too many things external to me to rely on or need to worry about. It’s part of why I don’t have kids – I would probably make a good parent but dear GAWD the pressure and stress and all that would drive me to either really screw them up or just put myself into an early health decline from all the freakouts in my own head. If nothing else, I think to not screw up a child in my care I’d have to meditate about 2 hours a day. I wonder how many parents attempt to modulate their own stress directly in that manner – with mindfulness and calm – rather than just suffer and slog through it, sleepless and stressed.

The quietness in the heart? That’s something I question lately. Perhaps that’s a midlife crisis sort of thing – the slowly awakening realization, sometimes over years, that you just might want to crank up the volume knobs on one’s own experience – not just the good and the not-so-good but rather the extremes of AMAZING and (potentially) DEVASTATING. Or, perhaps the midlife crisis so enmeshed in our culture is not so much a volume adjustment as it is a swap out of the walkman constantly strapped to your head for a window-shattering car stereo you can ride off with into the sunset. Or some B.S. analogy like that. I apologize. Usually my analogies are way better.

So here’s my real Tuesday Tribute, posted on a Wednesday but thought up the night before: my own insomniac muse. May she continue to spur little writing jaunts, bursts of productivity, and displays of heart-on-sleeve that seem to only result in long-term good in my life. Cheers to the muse.

2014-11-03heartonsleeve

Tuesday Tribute: Erika Napoletano

Today’s Tuesday Tribute is Erika Napoletano. There are a lot of ways to summarize her personality, from ass-kicking public speaker, motivational coach to Gen X laggards like myself, esquisite and judicious potty-mouth, and heart-forward strong woman.

Erika doing something she does really well - not having a lot of f*s to give.

Erika doing something she does really well – not having a lot of f*s to give.

Technically, including Erika is a little bit of a cheat – I actually have not met her in person, but we have conversed over email and I’ve devoured much of what she’s wrote in the last 6 years.

So, who the fuck is she? (Yes, for this installation I’m bringing out the bombs.) Her bio lists off her attributes: the things she can do for her clients like get people UNstuck in whatever thing their life is presenting, her choice in bicycles, her appreciation for warm coats in Chicago winters, and her published works both online and in hardback.

BUT. To me it is the last bit of her About page that is actually important and what makes her work so useful:

And she is happy.

Ridiculously happy.

Because it is happy people who ooze that juju out of their pores, out of their sparkling eyes, out of their manners and way of speaking. Watch her TEDx talk in Boulder. At the end she does a spontaneous victory dance – the only indication in the whole video that she was terrified all along.

How do people become happy? That’s a ridiculously difficult question that occupies many a writer and thinker. Many people seem to have a default happiness “set point” that they come back to even after periods of trajedy or prosperity – that is, if you lose your job you’ll come back to the same level just like you will if you win the lottery. The “amount” of happiness that set point represents varies from person to person. But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to your default level – I believe that a measure of grace and happiness can grow from terrible loss. We all know someone who only really started living after their cancer diagnosis or scare.

For Erika, it was the death of a new love, a potential soul-mate, if you believe in such things. When she first met him, he was a fan of her work and they became quick friends. Then, she says, “And that night, a friendship began that grew into something I never expected: the beginnings of a relationship where I never had to be anything but myself.”

Jason died four years ago, on Halloween, after two months of joy building that relationship with Erika. Two months. But here is why Erika is here on this post – it is what she did publicly – the very next day, in fact – when it happened. She ripped her heart open bare on her blog, grieving in real-time for the world to see.

Today is day one. Tomorrow is day two. I’m scared shitless of days three and four. Five is horrific. Six – incomprehensible.

She had nothing to lose and – perhaps – had a glimmer of a thought that in the long-term this kind of vulnerability would help someone who chanced into reading it. She was right about that, even for people who didn’t suffer as deeply as her. I felt sorrow reading her Jason story, even though I’ve never lost someone in that way. It drew me in and added to the respect I’d already built for Erika’s work.

That’s why I chose her, this week. She along with writers like Brene Brown and Ella Francis Sanders and Cheryl Strayed (in her Dear Sugar days) are all trafficking in pure openness of heart. You gotta love that.

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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. Almost every week. Always Tuesday.

On The Primal Importance Of Less Stuff

The past week's haul. Lots of paperwork and ephemera.

The past week’s haul. Lots of paperwork and ephemera. And the closet is still full.

For months I’ve been slowly purging the unbelievable amounts of crap I own, because it had started owning me. So far I’d estimate I’m down 10-15%, if that. Right now I’m only counting things in the actual house, not the skis in the garage or the rotten box of gawd-knows-what next to it. I know for a fact there is a box of 15 year old MREs, too. Don’t they last through the apocalypse? Anyone want them?

I don’t know what triggered it – likely some long-held rebellion against my own pack-rat tendencies plus some schooling from The Minimalists – but it has been snowballing and now I feel almost desperate to have a manageable footprint. It’s a little Tyler Durden creeping into my mindset.

This is not how to be human.

Fixing this does not necessarily need a business trip with the gas stove left on.

Not everything he said was crazy man talk. The idea that our consumer culture is a toxin to much of what is really human, has big resonance for me. I don’t think we’ll go to Tyler’s ideal final society where cityscapes are just barren places where people in leather clothes lay out meat to dry on the freeways.

But dear fucking god we do not need all this stuff.

Some things are unbelievably easy, though somewhat time-consuming. This would be CDs that are already ripped, weeding out paperwork from the filing cabinet, trying on clothes that I probably don’t need to see if they even still fit, that sort of thing. To get to the things ready for disposal, there is a little homework to be done. This will get more labor intensive with things that need to be archived first: photos, un-ripped CDs, the hundreds of greeting cards from friends over the years. These will all be digitally saved through ripping or photographing, then tossed.

Some things I get rid of have minor sentimental value but no real use or actual daily value. Today was a few plaques from things I’ve done: coaching a high school cross country team, and my Wasatch finisher’s plaque from 2012. I still have 2014 – guess I’ll wait until the race report is done so there’s closure.

The really sentimental things are harder. The cubic foot of heavy scrapbooks my mom deposited on me last xmas. She took decades (obviously) to make those. Hard to just toss them (not to mention digitally scanning them would take a long time, too). Gifts from close friends, like books or jewelry or kitchen dishware. But a lot of that can go, too. If the friend is important to me, THEY are important to me. Their gift has already been acknowledged and used and appreciated. That’s OK.

Gee, you think I grew this pack-rat thing? Nope, been there all along.

Age 15 bedroom: you think I grew this pack-rat thing recently? Nope, been there all along.

Julien Smith’s 16-step guide to horrifying yourself about how much crap you have is amazing. It’s one of the best, funniest, most heart-wrenching things you’ll read if you have any bit of Tyler Durden in you.

Next weekend (the 14th), I hope to be spearheading a MASSIVE yard sale at a friend’s house. She lives on one of the most busy residential streets in Albuquerque and always gets much of her yard sale offerings sold and gone. There, I’ll purge books and CDs and kitchen appliances and clothes and way more stuff that I haven’t yet been able to just give to a thrift store for fear that I might be missing out on some needed cash. (No, I’m not selling all my stuff because I can’t hack it as a freelance writer, but it’s a lean life.)

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. 

Running Ruminations (a fancy way to say daydreaming)

I joke that there should be an implanted audio recorder in my body so that I can take notes while I run; it’s not really a joke that great thoughts often spring out of the kind of unfettered rumination repetitive exercise allows. In childhood they called it daydreaming. In adulthood it is trampled out of existence by cell phones, family, television, radio, and an iPod in every ear when working out. (In certain cases, using music to enhance a workout experience is desired and OK – here I’m just talking about the default headphones mode that many runners and joggers revert to for every single outing.)

For many, the only chance at quiet consciousness is when unconcious. We dream, we wake up, we might recall that something in the dream was good and it should be written down, but then we forget.

Go take a walk with zero electronics or friends to talk with.

Don’t listen to music.

Allow your mind some unfettered time.

See what develops.