Tuesday Tribute: Jamesina Simpson – engineer, mom, runner

I’m back with another Tuesday treat, your current Tribute of the week. This one comes from a close personal connection – my sister-in-law, Jamesina.

TUESDAY TRIBUTE: JAMESINA SIMPSON

Part of Jamesina's herd - the kid, the dog... all perfectly under control

Part of Jamesina’s herd – the kid, the dog… all perfectly under control

She’s a PhD in Engineering, a university professor, a sub-3 hour marathon runner, and, perhaps most potently, the wife of my brother and mom to my niece (soon to be 2nd niece!). But there’s a lot more going on – things that have taught me much about myself and how to interact better with other introverts. You see, I’m a shitty communicator, make no bones about it. I’m like Sheldon without the witty t-shirts. When I want to talk about something, I do. When I don’t want to interact on a subject, I don’t. I, in general, have not been communicationally housebroken.

When I first met Jamesina, she was hard to read – quiet, reserved, but serious. She and my brother hit it off immediately at a party we all attended and alighted off to chat alone after I tried to occupy the conversation with talk about running. I was jealous of his time, of course – he had only recently “finally” moved to New Mexico and I was enjoying getting to spend time growing our post-college sibling friendship. On the other hand, Jamesina was really exciting to me – we were both geeky, quiet, and runners. We did training runs together that proved to be key in my own brief road racing stint – easy runs to her, but crazy hard tempo pace for me. It was perfect. She also got me into Bikram yoga (which turned into hot flow yoga), a habit that lasted three years and gained me literal balance that I still retain.

Then there were her life accomplishments: the PhD, a professorial position before 27, a house before 25. Yowzers. Oh, and we both loved Greg. This couldn’t go wrong! Yeah…. well there were some bumps in that road.

In a nutshell, we’ve had some serious miscommunications over the years. However, I’ve learned a TON about being a better conversationalist and listening to other people’s emotions instead of just the words they are saying, and we’ve ironed out nearly all the remaining kinks. She’s shared knowledge with me about her own ups and downs with athletics that has proven insightful and is appreciated. This gives me the same hope that I had when we first met. I’ve only grown in my admiration for what she’s accomplished. I mean, a sub-3 hour marathon a year after your first kid? Seriously impressive.

Not much has changed in the intervening 7 years – she’s still serious, quiet, driven, and always happy to share a joke with Greg. They don’t live here in New Mexico any more, so my visits are more infrequent. But when they are both happy, that’s awesome. I hope the two of us continue to grow as people, communicators, and athletes.

Thanks, Jamesina.

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Tuesday Tribute: Krista Scott-Dixon

Tuesday Tribute #3: Mistress Krista (Krista Scott-Dixon to the ‘real’ world)

Krista Scott-Dixon rocking the back squat, circa 2003(?)

It started with squatting. Doesn’t it always? If you think about it, a lot of things start with squatting, like childbirth, a good start to a day, et cetera…

OK, I digress. Back to the squatting that involves iron. It was around 2003. I was reading a few different blogs about weight lifting and female strength training in general. Then I found HER. This petite but fart-joke-loving strong diva of a woman named Mistress Krista. She used an old nickname – something about her diminutive size, I imagine – to adorn her blog: stumptuous.com

On that site she catalogued her thoughts on strength, eating, training, and more – all with a laser focus on women. I read a bunch and then some more. Then I noticed her series on how to squat, and how she broke the HUGE commandment drilled into anyone doing squats in the 1990s – never, ever let your knees go past 90 degrees. Krista came right out and said that is bullshit – IF you have good form and you feel no pain. Anyone with bad form and/or pain need to adjust accordingly, but for many folks, going ass-to-the-grass is totally great and fine and normal. Toddlers do it every day. We’ve forgotten how.

It's actually natural. We forget and tighten up.

It’s actually natural. We forget and tighten up.

Once I learned how to actually squat correctly, I got myself OUT of the stupid Smith machine contraption I was using to try to do squats, and did them like a ‘grown up’. It took about 6 months and my 10 years of runner’s knee went POOF. Gone.

But Krista is oh so much more than squat technique. She’s a powerhouse of information about women in many dimensions – as workers in Information Technology (and wrote a book on it), as athletes, as 40 year olds, and as powerful creatures.

She’s a coach, a writer, a no-bullshitter, and damn funny, too.

Krista, bravo. A zillion times.

P.S. About “TUESDAY TRIBUTE” and the why: a few weeks ago my mind went off a-wandering during my run. As it often does, it strayed into the realm of wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if ideas. Ideas like memes and tributes. It is refreshing to see gratitude posts directed at a certain person or community, someone that made a difference even if they didn’t know it. I thought about those 52 week challenges to leave little notes for strangers or smile more. I decided on a new challenge for myself: 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.

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. 

Pernicious (or persnickety?) Anemia: Round One

I’ve felt fat and slow for a long time now.

Years. Part of that is not that I’m fat, but that I do actually weigh more than I did 4 or 5 years ago. What happens when I run is just physics: it feels different to hit the ground at 2.5x your body weight with an extra 12 pounds. Strength and experience can get through a lot of that. Good weight training, endurance work, neuromuscular development – all of these contribute to performance even when not at the featherweight category.

And yet. Feeling like you’ve strapped on a soggy wetsuit when going out for a run or trying to bound up a hill and gasping like two decades just jumped on your back ain’t fun.

So I turn to my red fluid of life: blood. Specifically, the known condition deep in my tissues that has lie in wait for years without too much bother: anemia. Uh-Knee-Me-Uh. Sexy, huh?

What is anemia?

Anemia (or anaemia for the fancy) means a lot of things, just like being overly warm can mean a lot of things. You might have a parka on. Or it might be 100 degrees out. Or you might be feverish. Or you might have just eaten Thanksgiving dinner.

With anemia, generally there’s something going on with the available red blood cells and/or their ability to give you oxygen when you request it, either by bounding up a hill or by getting out of bed.

I’ve learned craptons by reading the overview on the Merck site, which delineates different kinds of anemia and how one might get them. Anemias that I am extremely unlikely to have: excessive bleeding, sickle cell disorder, certain other genetic diseases.

Candidates for my own anemia, from lifestyle and bloodwork:

  • footstrike hemolysis (basically when my feet hit the ground the red blood cells get smooshed and die)
  • B12 deficiency (mine is low-ish but not that low, also I get numb fingers sometimes like Reynaud’s)
  • “simple” iron deficiency (caused by malabsorption – gut issues)
  • G6PD deficiency (genetic mutation, can be triggered by infection or fava beans. Yes, fava beans.)

So…. there are a lot of moving parts. But one thing I can start with is to try to increase nutrient absorption. I eat in a manner that does not explain my low nutrient levels – seriously I should be super high in damn near everything, and I’m not.

First experiment: HCl

From scdlifestyle.com – an awesome HCl resource!

Poor absorption of nutrients can be simply because there ain’t enough acid in one’s stomach. Supplementing with Betaine HCl will increase stomach acid and lead to better breakdown of food. It’s not crazy. (In fact, LOW stomach acid, not high, is the most common factor in heartburn and GERD. Weird, huh?)

I’m excited to try this, even though I’ve known for years about HCl. No time like the present, I suppose. I’ll follow some good guidelines about how to do it right, and let’s see how it goes.

Seth Roberts’ Final Column: Butter Makes Me Smarter

As a tribute to the world-changing man Seth Roberts I am re-blogging his final column, submitted to the website BetaBeat.com just before he unexpectedly died while hiking last weekend. I met him over a year ago and he was shy yet child-like in his curiosity and wonder. Seth is already missed but has helped so many people take charge of their own health by tenacious self-experimentation and the philosophy that in our own “experiments of one” we can find something close to a happy and healthy life. Seth is NOT in a better place. He should be here, still doing his beloved work. -Andrea

Betabeat

(Wikimedia Commons) (Wikimedia Commons)

Note: Seth Roberts submitted this column to Betabeat before his untimely death. We publish it now with a heavy heart and per his request will be making a donation to Amnesty International.

A few weeks ago my sister sent me a link to an article (“Butter is Back”) by Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer. I told her I’d clicked on a link to the article but had forgotten to read it. She was incredulous. How could you not want to say “I told you so”?

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Watch a Man At His First Yoga Class to Understand Success

They are a most curious specimen, those first-time dudes at yoga class. They often come at the behest of a friend or perhaps out of curiosity.

yoga-mat-man

They seem willing to give it a go and be amused by the whole thing if that’s what is needed for them to participate. Maybe they pretend they are a super hero to get them in the mood.

yoga spidey

Poses are undertaken with an element of skepticism and, if they don’t work well, an uninstructed tweak might be tried. This results in poses that, to the trained yogi’s eye, are somewhat . . . interesting. This ain’t no Warrior I:

a-lunge-not-warrior

Then, if asked to get into a pose that is actually a bit painful – or just uncomfortable – and they’re asked to hold it, hold it, hold it – they might not. If they’re really really tired and need a break, they will take one. They are willing to abandon what is not working.

They are willing to abandon what is not working.

Persistence. Tenacity. Follow-through. All perfectly valid practices in many parts of our lives and projects we undertake. However, that doggedness can also be a huge roadblock or time-waster if we don’t recognize the other side and know when to move on. If you find yourself in one of those ruts, unable to let go of a seriously draining project or something as simple as that bag of clothes that no longer fit, think of the guy in yoga class, and ask yourself, “how is that working out for me?”

Eating Disorders Can Kill Your Body OR Spirit

Pop quiz: which clinical mental disorder has the highest mortality rate? It’s not bipolar disorder. It’s not schizophrenia. Rather, it’s that heady place where out-of-whack brain chemicals meets up with out-of-whack societal beauty standards and renders a person incapable of eating enough to maintain their physical existence: anorexia nervosa.

Everyone knows that anorexia is horrible-tragic-shocking, but one thing it does have going for it – it is VERY visible.

Do you have any doubt that this person (who is in their 20s, by the way) has a problem?

Ilsa Paulson

That’s Ilsa Paulson, who looked pretty normal in high school, only to turn pro after college and got lean. Really, really lean.

On the other hand, how about this person?

Hollie Avil

Yep. That’s Hollie Avil, who retired from triathlon at age 23 because of trauma from eating disorders, depression, and general breakdown.

That’s the rub – in a strange and bizarre way, anorexia is easier to spot and therefore intervene. I’m not saying that such interventions are successful – there’s a good reason why those mortality rates are NOT falling – but for some sufferers who have hope of recovery, it can make a critical difference to hear someone say, “I really care about you and I think you might be harming yourself. Please know that I love you and want you to not die.”

But for every obvious case, there are likely hundreds who suffer almost in silence. Ironically, they can suffer more because if they don’t look the part of the eating disorder patient it can be internalized as a failure – a failure to successfully execute this disease that they identify with control and perfection.

That’s the gist of this post, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, to get you to contemplate people in your life who might be on that edge. Those who could be slipping into habits that lead to a real problem, or those that simply spend years and years and years just under the threshold of a real diagnosis. They can eat just a tiny bit less than they really need (instead of eating a LOT less than they need), while bones are weakening, muscles are atrophying, organs are shrinking (!!!), metabolism is shutting down, the brain itself is undergoing structural changes under one’s skull.

This is not as ludicrous as it sounds – I have weighed 25 pounds less than I do now, and honestly you could look at me and be like, “Ok, yeah, she’s a little smaller, but 25 pounds smaller? She’s not scrawny, like real eating disorder scrawny!” Those pounds came from skin and fat and muscles, yes, but they also came from my organs, and my bones, and my glycogen stores.

Here’s the thing: you can’t help if they are not ready. But I do believe, strongly, that if you care about someone and you tell them you care enough about them to want them to stay in your life, at absolute worst, it CANNOT HURT. Awareness of self is one of the first steps if recovery will happen.

I lost someone recently who “successfully” managed their level of disorder for more than 20 years. It’s true that you can ‘get away with’ a great deal of abusing your body with lack of food – we are remarkably resilient creatures. But not forever. She was a talented runner and no doubt helped by a very low weight (a subject for another post), but in the end her systems were too beat down, taxed, and on the edge to make it through acute dehydration due to the flu. It’s a fucking shitty way to die. My friend loved helping other runners achieve their goals and loved helping kids get excited about running. If a car came barreling down on them while on a run, I have no doubt she would have gladly shoved them aside to take the impact herself. That would have been an O.K. way to go, especially at 46 years old. How she did die should not have happened. But. It. Did.

Finally, she was not just some anonymous friend that I need to hide. She was Susan “Sus” Brozik.

Find your little-bit-skinny, little-bit-obsessive, little-bit-food-paranoid friends and tell them you appreciate every part of the good things they do. If you think it’s not too much, also tell them that their healthy body is the thing that lets them do those awesome things, and you’d love it if they kept their body around for a long time.

Yoga: Gateway [Drug] To Eastern Religion

“Are we teaching yoga in public schools now?” he asked. “Are parents notified?” – New Mexico state representative Alonzo Baldonado (R, but like you couldn’t guess THAT). He said these comments and more in a meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee where he is a non-voting member, during a session meant to demonstrate things that educators are doing to combat obesity and assist in the general health of schoolkids. The committee studies current educational metrics in New Mexico and makes recommendations for funding or changes to educational law.

During the meeting, a local PE teacher was describing her stretching routine to help warm the kids up before engaging in other sports, and this is when Mr. Baldonado chose to speak saying that he, “didn’t go looking for a discussion on religion. It just came up.”

Never mind the fact that the state representative’s own children are home-schooled, far from the overly influencing realm of regular classrooms and gym class and stretching. Good for them (?). However, Mr. Baldonado is extremely concerned that other people’s kids will be exposed to non-Christian religious practices without their knowledge or consent of their parents.

Yoga for Westerners = Stretching in Tight Pants

Never mind the fact that yoga, as Westerners know it, has approximately zero to do with its own traditional roots. According to Mr. Baldonado, who has “nothing against Buddhism or Hinduism”, “yoga could be seen as a gateway to Eastern religion.”

I won’t spend this post talking about what might happen if, indeed, some kids became interested in Eastern religion, whether that interest was sparked by a book they read or a conversation at school or a television show or gym class stretching. Conversion from one religious thought system to another is rare and not my topic for today.

Instead, my topic is on yoga: Mr. Baldonado could use just a wee bit of schooling himself. On eastern religions, on Christianity’s hold on upbringing, on yogic traditions, and on physical activity as a contributor to mental/academic performance. But mostly on what in the heck it means when a person says, “yoga”.

Do YOU know what yoga’s traditional roots are? Do you know what yoga really means? Let’s do a brief overview, keeping in mind that I am not a trained scholar on the history of yogic practice. So this will be quick, and it will be assisted by other folks online who are better experts than I.

Yoga – the Driving Analogy

Calling the stretching and exercises that we as Westerners call yoga, “yoga”, is like calling your ignition key your car. The key is a tool, used in the whole process we call “driving from one place to another”. Other parts of the process are things like the car itself, the roads, your knowledge and experience with driving, how much you know about your destination, the traffic along the way, and even the mental decision that made you choose this destination and this day and this car to take you there. Whew.

Similarly, the whole system and concept and world of yoga is a journey and an education, with goals along the way, rules, guideposts, and teachers. A yoga teacher of mine likes to say that we “will never have a perfect pose or session or day – that is why you call it yoga practice!”

Yoga: the four letter word with eight parts

Eight limbs of yoga

What that tiny four letter word YOGA encompasses is EIGHT areas of focus that ultimately touch upon all of a person’s life:

  1. Yama: self-restraint. Otherwise known as not going overboard in a Western consumer kind of way.
  2. Niyama: introspection, self-study.
  3. Asana: activity, stretching, body alignment.
  4. Pranayama: breathing, study of breath.
  5. Pratyahara: quiet sitting, detachment from distractions.
  6. Dharana: calming the mind, preparing for #7.
  7. Dhyana: contemplation, meditation.
  8. Samadhi: bliss or enlightenment, or just plain feeling at one with everything.

THAT – all of it – is “the yoga”. What looks familiar? The word “posture” should have been a sign – it’s number 3 on the list. That is what most of us – we humans who go to yoga class and bend and twist and say hello to our friends and their new shiny yoga mats – do and call it yoga. From now on I will call what Mr. Baldonado and everyone else refer to as yoga by its name on the list: asana. (Asana is also referred to as “hatha yoga” – so if you go to a yoga studio that says they practice Hatha Yoga you can be sure that you’re getting…. yoga. Just like you expected. As opposed to a meditation studio or such.)

There is nothing wrong with asana all on its own. Physical movement, especially habitual daily patterns as is common with asana practice, is extremely good for us.

Most of the other steps and practices are also helpful in our cluttered lives: steadying your thoughts, breathing in different ways to enhance your desired goals (slow to calm down, forceful to awaken, et cetera), meditation. These are practices that would benefit nearly every human on the planet. Ok, I’ll go on a limb (har) and say it could benefit EVERY human.

And that’s nothing that a schoolkid’s parent should have to sign a consent form for.