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.

 

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

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. 

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

That's the smile. See what I mean?

That’s the smile. See what I mean?

In a way, this is not only a Tuesday Tribute but a “throwback thursday”, because this week’s story was one of the highlights of all of my weeks during junior year of high school. I only wish I had some photos from that era…. somewhere in a box, I suppose.

This had to have taken place junior year because pretty much everything I remember that was awesome about high school happened that year. I could drive (though I had only periodic access to vehicles); I started a new/awesome/serious relationship; I had tons of friends in the SENIOR class. Whoa. And the reason I was friends with many of them was through DRAMA – something I never took to and thus it ended for me after high school. But that fall, we did Jesus Christ Superstar and whoa was it fun. The energy of a production is crazy – frenetic and happy and stressed all at once. You’re busy for hours into the evening after every school day. Everyone is tired but excited and the camaraderie is intense – maybe even more than in sports.

That all being said, it might have been one night after rehearsal that I gave Gretchen a ride home. I recall it being cold because the car took some time to warm up. We had gotten into a conversation that I’ve long forgotten but it was VERY IMPORTANT. I only know that because it was one of those should-stop-too-tired-can’t-stop-too-interesting discussions, the ones that lead you to keep the car running because you think you can wrap it up in a few minutes, and then it’s 20, and then half an hour, and more…

Something Gretchen and I were talking about was awesome, and I wanted to keep it going. That’s all that matters.

I remember how I felt about her in high school, how she was just a bit more of everything that was cool to me. We traded back and forth with several others in the circle a stolen Heathers VHS (stealing? me? how rebellious!). We went to a pizza joint in town and had “usual” orders (spending money for prepared food? preposterous!). We bought KMFDM and Greenpeace t-shirts and wore both with equal pride. Gretchen had (and still has) a smile capable of powering a Tesla and a kindness that radiates from her pores.

So this is for Gretchen, who changed me by showing me that being a little bit of a rebel could coexist with being a happy and generous person, and that burning a little gas to keep one excellent conversation going in the dead of winter is an OK thing, too.

[this is also a sort of Tuesday Tribute to the memory of Robin Williams, and Gretchen knows why. I love you, sweetie!]

Tuesday Tribute: Edward Arroyo

Tuesday Tribute: Edward Arroyo of FloatSpace in Los Angeles

Edward Arroyo, evolving

Edward Arroyo, evolving

Though I’ve known Edward for approximately one day, he’s already helped guide the course of my journey in this cranium on my shoulders. Today, I floated. I had neither the traumatic Homer experience, nor the trippy Lisa Simpson romp, but it was a start of something good.

You see, it was at Ed’s facility, floatspace, that I had my first sensory deprivation tank session. It’s near Pasadena in a remarkably tranquil lot for greater L.A. – the only time a disturbance of a noise came through it was the trash truck on its rounds. Other than that, I lounged around reading a book, watching squirrels bark at me, and listened to the wind. Yeah, I had already floated and was waiting on my brother to emerge from his.

Floating???

Floating. It’s coming. It’s been around for a long, long time, but only had a spike in interest a few decades back that didn’t blossom into a full movement. Now, we have Joe Rogan out doing god’s work (and I’m moderately serious about that) by podcasting the shit of out things that people ought to know about. Floating is one of those things. It’s in the same price vein as massage or cheaper, and has the potential to be far more impactful than a ‘mere’ rubdown at your local day spa. No disrespect to massage therapists – there is a time and a place for massage, and my opinion is that it is of more limited scope than floating.

You can read all about floating all over the interwebs, but my own introductory testimonial came from Christopher Ryan and his Tangentially Speaking podcast. I saw him speak at Paleo(fx) this spring and adored his style. Soon after I listed to a few of his podcasts and realized that he was off on a float during that weekend in Austin – his first – only to do an impromptu recording with the owner of the float space because Dr. Ryan was so impressed with the session.

If you’d like to hear a story about Ed’s place specifically, here’s a young guy describing their first float: http://blog.ancientlasers.com/why-nothing-really-matters-my-trip-inside-an-isolation-tank/

Thanks, Edward.

$12K For 25 Stitches: American Healthcare is Broken (Part 1)

Part One of several posts about how health care can be a heck of a lot better in this country.

It’s about the least surprising thing to say when talking about health and medicine in the western world: it’s totally fucked up. The system doesn’t serve people in the best way for their health, opting instead in many cases for pure survival. And that’s just the actual medical establishment, the place folks end up when something is going really wrong, whether it’s emergency trauma or the culmination of a chronic illness.

The pieces of health are not just what it takes to not “spend your last 10 years in a diaper and a wheelchair” (a genius post by Chris Kresser, who lured me into a lot of this research about 5 years ago by those very words). No, the pieces of health are far larger than just showing up at the doc’s office or the hospital when things are really wrong (or even just somewhat painful).

Emergency medicine in our society is extremely effective (and expensive), so if you are in a car crash, even if you don’t have money, you can and will get “fixed”. That means you’ll have bones pinned together, skin sewn up, fluids replaced, and (hopefully) infections prevented or addressed.

Original source: Broken Heart Source Image

Original source: Broken Heart Source Image

But even if you are faced with a relative trauma, the current state of the system can take down to slivers the savings of most average adults. Take, for example, something that happened just a few days ago at a massive health conference in Austin, TX called Paleo f(x). Darryl Edwards, one of the activity gurus, ended up with a mis-timed head butt and split open his eyelid. He didn’t think it would need intervention at first, but then he was convinced it wasn’t just a scratch by folks who kept noticing the bleeding gash.

Once he finally figured out that he really did need stitches, someone wanted him to get an ambulance. BUT. Because Darryl is from the UK, an ambulance would be about $4K right out of his pocket. Ok, so he should find someone to drive him to the ER. BUT. Emergency rooms have pretty long wait times. It was suggested, “go to urgent care”. Finally, word got around to the wife of a local dermatologist. He was taken right to their office and was taken care of, sewn right up to the tune of 25 stitches as a favor to a fellow health guru for no charge. The dermatologist told him that it would normally cost about $12K. TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Even before the ambulance when it was looking like $4K out of his pocket, Darryl considered getting on a first class plane back to UK so that he could walk into a local doc and get things taken care of for free. The fact that someone without insurance considers a transatlantic flight in order to NOT spend about $16K on stitches is, a little, crazy.

In the next few blog posts I’ll go from panic-inducing examples like this to somewhat of a means to a solution. It involves the word OWNERSHIP. And we’ll get there.

Loss Changed Me, and You, Too

I went a long time without tragedy or loss in my life. Almost 40 years; how’s that for being lucky?

Sure, I had fights with friends, I lost grandparents, I saw friends of mine lose loved ones. All of that was somewhat detached or expected, so it was manageable.

Friends that I’ve known for many years have been through their own losses whether or not I was aware; surely they must have changed as a result. Some of those friends are very private, with well guarded emotions. Did they get that armor after suffering or was that part of their makeup all along? If something terrible happens to them, do they cope on their own time and put on a good or neutral face when out in the world? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I did that – stuffed it all in – with all of the mundane hurts and disappointments that came my way. I fought outward displays of emotion for many years, and still have a hard time with it. No one – NO ONE – got to see me cry in public. That was not OK. But then that changed.

Losing a close friend last fall, and then a beloved pet very suddenly over the holidays (where I felt at least partly culpable), and now another friend at a far younger age than is right or fair, changed me. The magnitude of those losses meant that the bottleneck had to give, and it has helped to not just show that “I’ve been crying all day” face in public but to reach out and ask for support from my wide network of friends and acquaintences. It really helps, despite any doubts I had.

What has changed in me?

Love.

I love more. I use that word more frequently. I used to think you can only use that word for someone you would step in front of a train for or devote your life to. Now I see that love is that big, and can be that powerful, but it is much more encompassing. Saying “I love you” to a friend takes nothing away from the big loves in my life like family or my partner.

All I can see for myself is that the more loved ones I lose, the more love I have and show. Of course, I’d not choose to lose anyone else. But loss clarifies emotion and helps to grow the bonds between the survivors and that is nothing but good.

The Way to Know Life is to Love Many Things