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.

 

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.

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.

$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.

Plumpy’nut Is Not Food; Also Not Death

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumpy’nut

500 kcalories of processed survival food

More than a decade ago, a European researcher noticed how darn tasty and fattening Nutella was, and realized that with a little tinkering, something like it could be created for famine sufferers in Africa, who needed something to get them through to better days. He used a bit of creativity and technology to create a super food. This “super food” has a two year shelf life and contains protein, carbohydrates and some fat as well as a bunch of added vitamins. As a category, this kind of food is known as a RUTF: Ready to Use Therapeutic Food.

No, it’s not Pop Tarts, it’s Plumpy’nut. (Though as you can see below, the ingredients are not that different from Pop Tarts, after all.)

Ingredients in Plumpy’nut: peanut paste, vegetable oil, powdered milk, powdered sugar, vitamins, and minerals

Manufacturer: Nutriset, in France. Plumpy’Nut was Invented in 1999 and recently more visible with articles by well known folks like Dr. Sanjay Gupta (“The Funny Sounding Nut Paste That’s Saving Children’s Lives in Somalia“) and websites as big as Huffington Post (“Just How Much Can This Peanut Paste Reduce Hunger?”). I do disagree somewhat with Dr. Gupta’s assertion that the ingredients of Plumpy, as it’s called locally, are “nearly the perfect ingredients for the starving  human body . . .”; I could come up with a better formula in a heartbeat with slight change in cost. The New York Times is similarly cautious about the future of peanut paste supplementation due to some (seemingly petty given the cause) patent and copyright concerns.

Box for Plumpy’Nut Challenge

Campaigns also exist to raise awareness like The Plumpy’Nut Challenge by the British charity Merlin, which asks otherwise well-off westerners to eat nothing but Plumpy’Nut for one day while Tweeting about their experience and pledging money for charity. Not a bad idea, and ONE DAY is easy. Really, really easy – despite what most participants say. A week or a month would be harder, but no one would sign up for that. Shockingly the success rate for this one day challenge is not 100%. People are wussies, but I digress.

For those kids that consume Plumpy’Nut as a means to NOT DIE, the situation is different, obviously. Later, when death is no longer a threat, one hopes – one REALLY hopes – that a return to traditional foods is the final step. This is a topic I will continue in another blog post – how vastly different a grain-based traditional African diet is from the grain-based stuff that is eaten every day by Westerners.

Stay tuned, and don’t worry about the stress of signing up for the Plumpy’nut Challenge – there isn’t another one until 2014.

Prison Food Ain’t What it Used To Be: Bechamel, Croquettes and Cupcakes at Alcatraz

Even in 1946, one of the most notorious prisons in the world was serving what would be considered real, homestyle, quality food. Check out this menu and see if you can tell just from the name what “Puree Mongole” is – I can’t. Sounds kind of . . . dubious. And if not dubious, then a little bit strange. (In reality, Puree Mongole is a soup made from split pea and tomato soups put together with more veggies.)

Despite being an obvious attempt to use up leftover soups and minimize waste, it was a favorite dish in high-falutin’ restaurants in New York in the 1920s. Apparently it trickled down to become prison fare.

Alcatraz menu, courtesy of sfgate.com

Alcatraz menu, courtesy of sfgate.com

Notice the variety of foods, however. Three squares a day, with coffee twice a day, desserts that actually sound good (spiced crab apples!), and “fresh milk”, which may very well be RAW milk.

Let’s compare that to this month’s menu at my local school district: Albuquerque, NM:

aps-school-lunch-2013

So we are looking at the Albuquerque Public School District’s high school lunch menu. High schoolers are as close as we get to prison age, hence the comparison. Where the Alcatraz inmates were getting homemade soup, breaded cod, broiled tomatoes and mashed potatoes for lunch (that’s ONE lunch), growing and thinking bodies are getting CHICKEN SMACKERS with potatoes, white bread, jello, gravy, coleslaw and fruit. Yipes. At least there’s fruit. I guess.

Now I am absolutely not forgetting that the quality of regular civilian food in 1946 compared to today has slid down the same mass-produced slope. Chicken Smackers are normal food that grown adults purchase and eat themselves at home all the time. That’s not the point of this rant. Grown adults, while battered from all sides with conflicting dietary advice to the point of weariness and ultimately rebellion, still pick and pay for their own food. Kids in school and prisoners do not.

And in school, it gets worse for the kids that need good food the most. The kids whose family situation makes it hard for them to get breakfast before going to school? They get extra-shafted, coming up in my next post . . .