It’s Ok That it’s Not Ok.

It’s ok to for things to not be ok. It’s also ok to not be ok that things are not ok.

Performance wise, I had a terrible race weekend.

I did get to run with some of the best in the sport, and spend time with some of my favourite people, doing what I love best.

So really, it was a phenomenal weekend. But am I totally ok?

Nope. No I’m not. And I cannot convince myself otherwise.

The Super on Saturday morning featured some added frosty-dewy challenge. I slid off the balance beam and then rig. Then I missed my spear. At the rope climb, I grabbed a rope that was coated with thick gooey mud and shot right to the bottom. 30 burpees at the finish line and my first failed rope climb. I dropped from second to fourth. Sunday in the Sprint Race, I choked on the balance beam and then missed my spear.

So many burpees.

The awesome thing about obstacle racing is that you always go home with homework. Something to improve. A way to make yourself a better athlete.

In that sense it’s these races that teach us the most. These ugly times where we cross the finish line with burnt-out triceps and stains on our chests, that offer us the most.

But they still suck. And I’m ok with that too.

If we jumped the fire 120 burpees down and with any sort of indifference, we wouldn’t go home with the same lessons: the same drive to fix the chinks in our armour.

We need both the sting of loss – and the appreciation for it’s honesty to drive us on.

My oldest daughter starts kindergarten this week. And to be perfectly honest, I have trouble embracing it. But a good friend pointed out how much one-on-one time I’ll have with my youngest and how many great times lie ahead with my growing munchkin.

In the mud, and in life, I guess it’s ok to not be ok… so long as you keep moving forward.

Help! How do I Fuel and Hydrate my Workouts?

You may have noticed that you probably need something a little more than just a swig of water to make it through the longer workouts. Although there is no real hard and fast rules about fuelling and hydration, there are some good general rules of thumb I’ll share with you here.

If the workout lasts less than 60 minutes, water alone should get you through it. However, you should have had a pre-workout snack beforehand if your last meals was more than three hours earlier. But in the case of pre-workout snacks, less is almost always more. When you exercise, blood is diverted away from your digestive tract and too much food doesn’t break down properly… usually trying to claw it’s way out mid burpee. 100 calories less than an hour out or 200 calories 2 hours out generally works.

If the workout lasts 60 – 90 minutes, you might add a little something to your water or have a wee bit of calories. You can make your own energy drink or have a handful of raisins. I advise against most packaged drinks as they are a terrifying mix of chemicals. Seriously, what in nature is that colour? Once in a while in a race situation, OK… but in training it should be reserved to trials to ensure it’s works for you. We are doing this to be healthy right? I personally use NorthStar Organic Sportdrink because it’s made of food yet it’s still convenient. Although, I’d still say that most people don’t need anything but water.

If the workout lasts 90 minutes or more, you’ll want to at least bring something to eat or a drink high in calories. You should aim to take in 150 – 250 calories per hour of easily digested carbohydrate. That becomes increasingly important for efforts longer than three hours, like a Spartan Beast or Tough Mudder for most folks. In this case, you want to start 30 minutes in (even if you’re not hungry) to keep your blood sugar level. I advise you break your caloric intake up into 2/3 times per hour. I literally will “sip” on a gel.

I’m a big dude. Should I eat more?

Unfortunately for big dudes, the limits of human digestion are as such no matter your size. Although, since you expend heaps more calories than us small folk, you have to be way more on top of your fuelling and hydration…. perhaps adding a pre-race gel or energy drink. Your fluid needs and capacity will likely also be higher as you have less skin area for heat to dissipate and a bigger body to power.

What are some ideas for easy pre-workout snacks?

It’s almost always a matter of personal preference combined with general rules. No excessive fibres, spice, fat or protein. Easily digested but healthy sources of carbohydrate include oatmeal, bananas, oranges, rice and the like. Keep in mind again that you should still be eating healthy food since pre-workout snacks still comprise a big portion of your diet.

Is there any value in trying my race day fuelling and hydration strategy before race day?

Yes. Never eat or drink anything that you have not tested in training. Long days make the perfect laboratory to test how your body reacts to everything you plan to race with from gear to nutrition. Keep in mind that weather (and a boat load of other things) also effect your hydration needs so with fluid intake, get to know your body… instead of creating a set in stone drinking schedule.

What should I eat and drink after I run?

On an easy day, you can probably just get away with fuelling and hydrating normally depending on weather. However, if the session was particularly long or taxing, you need to start reloading your muscles right away… both to reap the most benefit from that workout and to ensure the success of the next one. It doesn’t have to be complicated… an apple with almond butter and a big glass of water would suffice. You don’t need to chug 2 litres of chocolate milk after every easy 5k run… but if you’re spent, it’s crucial to recovery (which is where you actually grow stronger).

Does your nutrition strategy change for a two race weekend?

Yes. You need to be extra diligent on taking in a solid carbohydrate based snack with some protein and lots of water. Water is necessary to help you digest the carbs. I also started taking in a gel on the second day regardless of distance since glycogen stores are so depleted, and felt it made a huge difference.

I’m not remotely thirsty, should I drink?

Probably not. The research is pretty clear at this point that thirst is actually a good indicator if you pay attention to it. Your performance will drop dramatically though if you are thirsty. So I like to have athletes check-in with their thirst and get familiar with their fluid needs rather than get used to drinking on a schedule. What is key is that you have access to water and sip at it before you get thirsty enough to chug it (at which point it will slosh around in your tummy instead of quench your thirst). During really hot long duration races, you’ll likely want to add some electrolytes.

I’m not hungry, should I eat?

It depends. Do you plan to be out for more than three hours or is this your longest run to date? I’d say yes. Especially if you are racing. You will be running on the limits of your energetic capacities and your digestive system is very limited in terms of processing power so you really don’t want to go down that hole. If, however, you can run easily for two hours without getting hungry or seeing a decline in your mood or performance, why the heck not? I have seen people who have routinely taken one or two gels over the course of a marathon and see unimaginable leaps in performance once they took in the required amount of fuel. I have also seen people run very well on very little.

Girl Power

OK so this is going to be a bit cheese balls.

But I just have to say it: lately I’ve felt like there has been a shift in female sport towards more fierce fitness.

And I mean fierce and fast at any speed.

A couple weeks ago at run club, I ran 400s with the fast ladies at the track. That’s right… ladIES. For so long, it’s been the other lady – or just me. But now. Now we had a wolf pack. A lady wolf pack. Right in there. Running hard and loving it.

We were all having a great time pumping out 400s … and I didn’t even fully realize our combined estrogen output until someone yelled, “girl power!” as we huffed past.

So cool.

Ten years ago, before GU existed and when I owned a discman waist belt, I ran college cross country with the guys. Not because there weren’t females on the team… but because most of them weren’t interested in vomiting on themselves to shave 30 seconds off their 5k. There is pretty much nothing I wouldn’t have done to shave 10 seconds off… so I’d set my claws into the back of the men’s pack and hang on for dear life like Zellers.

That’s probably where I’ve spent most of my time running… in my bubble, just behind the boys.

I like it there. Don’t get me wrong. You can spit and snot rocket and talk trash freely. It’s probably also been super good training to always be in chase mode (and way more fun.)

But I feel like I see more ladies running in what was once a weird little void… just a few meters off the guys. And with those ladies come community, healthy rivalry: comrades in sport.

I ran a 5k race that Saturday.

There was a strong female pack and I ended up feeling good and pushing off about one mile in. Three of us broke the course record (19:04) and another two just barely missed it.

Would anyone have broken the course record if we weren’t there pushing each other? Probably not. Was anyone thinking about thigh gap or visible abs? Not a chance.

As we approached the finish line I overheard someone from the crowd say, “Wow… the women are coming through already.”

Yeah. You betcha. We’re coming through.

westvan

#ExpressYourStrong

alli reebok talk

OK, so being a part of a major ad campaign for a major fitness apparel company is pretty darn cool in and of itself.

The fact that this brand represents my sport makes it doubly cool. But the message behind the campaign itself is truly the coolest part.

The Express your Strong campaign is based on the idea that people are born with innate strength that is fed in the wake of the challenges and rigours of training. The message obviously resonated profoundly with me since I overcame a serious accident with the same attributes I had forged in training after many years of being sedentary.

Strength is expressed in many areas of our lives: illness, injury, career, family. Hence, training your body really does change you, inside and out.

The kicker for me is that the campaign focuses on women… which I feel is especially important. Those who know me, know I have an inner feminist drilling away at my core values.

Years ago, I fought my way into a dead-end, only to be publicly ridiculed for suggesting that women race the same distances as men in collegiate cross country. How absurd that women be made to run as far as men… even though they are clearly biologically better-suited to longer distance events.

I cringe at the campaigns that suggest fit women are just as sexy at any weight. It’s not that I disagree with the message. And a part of me loves the premise. Every one of those women are sexy. I just feel like we missed the point. Every one of those women are capable and strong. Their bodies and minds are able to express that in different and yet equally amazing ways. I want “sexy” to loose it’s place as the central issue for us ladies so that we can truly transcend the barriers of valuing a body for it’s ascetics alone.

Fitness is just so much more than that.

Part way into my fitness journey, I realized that I was really discovering that I was strong. I wasn’t fast, I couldn’t lift heavy things, I couldn’t throw or catch. I couldn’t express my strong on Track and Field day. But it was there… as soon as I had an outlet, I found it and it made me who I am today.

Many of us women put ourselves last. We let others lead us, make our choices. We lead others down their own paths. We do it all for the ones we love. But in so, we lose ourselves.

I’ve seen it happen. The eyes that flash, “Oh my god. I can do this.” There is no feeling like it. That strength that surges through your body at the top of a rope climb or at the peak of a mountain. That strength that surges through you just the same when you follow your own heart, overcome your demons or come sliding through the other side of a tragedy.

Sure, there’s room for every fit body to feel sexy. But there’s room for every fit body to feel accomplished, powerful… strong. Isn’t that so much more amazing?

In case you missed the ad…

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Off Season


All of the natural world is formed upon cycles.

It’s easy to lose track of that, to quell the cycles that were once such prominent drivers in every aspect of our existence, with our technologically flattened routines. Artificial light, sendentary lifestyles, food-like products, uppers, downers, central heat, air conditioning…

I used to work with horses. I actually lived in a barn. I saw the fields go from barren to lush to barren. I watched the farmers work tirelessly through planting and harvesting seasons. And then nothing. The bright lights that once lit a path late into the dark night for their tractors, now illuminated warm little homes, quiet and still against a backdrop of white snow. They slept, they ate, they recharged.

As it was with us. The training wound down as the ground became frosty and inevitably hardened against the crisp air. Lean muscles pulled taught over bulging ribs hid themselves under blankets of thick fur and a few extra buckets of oats.

A lot of what draws endurance athletes to the sports we live for is a return to simpler, more primal times. To reconnect with nature… it’s cycles… it’s pulse.

We know the warmth of sinking into a soft bed, exhausted. The satisfaction of a full meal into an empty belly. We live these primal cycles every day. We overcome the struggle and find the most profound pleasure in striking balance.

And so it should be.

I’m feeling the full effect of winter. After a long and taxing season of hard training and racing efforts, I’m ok with a few extra bowls of oats and some extra padding on my ribs.

Planting season is after all, right around the corner.

BYO Gym on Vacation

Christmas this year was spent in a small resort on a Philippine island with extended my family.

When I called beforehand they informed me that they had a short running track (500m) but no gym.
So I packed my own.

Here’s what I came up with…

I brought an empty sandbag, a TRX and a skip rope.

I figured that every resort has at least one tree and a whole pile of sand. And my “mobile gym” took up only a small corner of my suitcase.

Turns out the resort neglected to mention their onsite obstacle course… yes, really. So it turned out to be an awesome training ground for the week.

I usually rely a lot on body weight exercise, running and using towels as gliders when I travel. I’ve also tried to cram a door frame pull-up bar into my suitcase… and then ended up using a collection of doors, stair cases and playgrounds.

And I always have a variety of mobility tools like a baseball ball, travel sized roller and bouncy ball in my carry on. On this occasion, security confiscated by baseball stating it was a “blunt force object.” Evidentially they have not seen me throw a baseball. I’d be lucky to hit someone hard enough for them to notice. My husband though made it on the plane with two lacrosse balls in a sock. Seriously.


I’m curious as to what fitness equipment people would pack on their three item list? Leave yours in the comments below.

That Which her Body and Mind is Capable


We were huddling on the still warm pavement, shivering and sopping wet, at the end of the Red Deer Hurricane Heat. We were cold, tired and hungry.

Three people pulled out the 500 word essay on “why we race” as we were asked to bring.

The first two essays were amazing.

The third warmed me the goose bumps right off of me.

It was written by a determined girl who struggled a bit but fought through with a smile and got it done.

And here’s what it said.

Why I Race by Olivia Greenham

My son Noah suffered a severe brain injury at birth. When he was 4 days old we found out that he was essentially “brain dead”. On Christmas Eve 2010, at 5 days old, we took him off life support and prepared to say goodbye.

He ended up pulling through and we took him home 5 days later.

He is now 4.5 years old, has severe cerebral palsy, and is wheelchair-bound and non-verbal.

After Noah was born I suffered from PPD and PTSD. I gained back all of the weight that I had lost from giving birth, plus 20 more pounds. I was a total of 60lbs over my pre-pregnancy weight by Noah’s second birthday. I was severely depressed and actively planning my suicide when I finally got the help that I needed. In 2013 I got a hold of my mental health and grew to accept myself and my body.

In January 2014 I weighed 250lbs. I decided that I was finally ready to do something about it, and Noah was my inspiration and motivation. He will never be able to walk, run, or do anything that a typical child would be able to do. I already have to be his voice… I have to be his arms and legs too. He is only going to get bigger and heavier, so I needed to get smaller and stronger.

I found Crossfit and that ignited a fire in me that led me to signing up for my first Spartan on a complete whim… the 2014 Edmonton Sprint. By all accounts I didn’t do very well, but I did something for ME, and the sense of accomplishment I felt jumping over that fire led me to setting a goal of doing 25 races by the time I turn 25.

Finding a love for fitness and racing has allowed me to deal with my depression in a positive and healthy way.

Throughout the last year and a half I’ve learned that I need to be “selfish” and do things that don’t revolve around being a mom. Noah helps me push harder when I want to give up, and he gives me the strength and purpose to even be alive today. When I struggle I think about seeing my baby in the NICU and all of the emotional pain I went through when we were told we would lose him. I know that I’ve already been through the absolute worst and most painful experience that I could go through…. Any physical pain is nothing in comparison. Noah has taught me to be thankful for the fact that I have a fully functioning body and mind.

The biggest reason why I race is because I deserve to treat myself and my health as the number one priority. I race for the sense of pride I have in myself when I cross that finish line, knowing that I can push my body to limits that I never thought possible.

“It’s a shame for a woman to grow old without ever seeing the strength and beauty of which her body is capable”

How to Run Better without Running

As a running and strength and conditioning coach, I often run into problems with poor lateral alignment and the profound effect that has on power, efficiency and injury.

I wanted to do a quick post elaborating on this rampant runner problem.

And I would know, because every photo of me post accident looks like I’m melting under my own body.

Worse that most, as I damaged the nerve that supplies my glute medius muscle (shown below) on the right side of my pelvis (along with snapping the inner thigh muscles off the pelvis on the same side to make things extra flimsy).

It was like kicking a leg out and expecting the table to stand upright when pounding on it with a sack of hammers.

glute med

Thankfully, I am looking a lot straighter now. And I feel like I owe a big debt of gratitude to strength and conditioning.

good hip

I’ve done my fair share of monster walks, clamshells and lateral leg raises – exercises that traditionally target the glute med. But really, I feel the biggest leap forward was made using the humble squat.

A great many people start out squatting with their knees collapsing in. If you look closely you can see her knees crying. You can also see her feet collapsing inward or “over-pronating”. Any of you runners feeling a little “ah-ha”?

suqat

This pattern is even more pronounced in the one-leg squat patterned, AKA running. And with half the unstable support missing, the pelvis drops noticeably on the unsupported side, causing shear forces on the lower back and pelvis. Gross.

If you’re one that suffers from IT band issues, you might have this going on. Just imagine how much pressure gets put on the outside of your leg (including the wee TFL muscle that holds down part of the top of the band on the outside of your hip).

hip drop

I think in order to learn to fire this small but indispensable little muscle, you need to do the isolated exercises.

But then you need to take it into your big movement patterns: squats, stairs, hiking, running. Pelvis straight, knees over toes. It just might make all the difference in your running efficiency and freedom from injury.

Every movement in your day contributes to your movement pattern and how your muscles need to support your structure and activities. Make em count.

5 Tips for Hiking with a Baby

People, both on and off the trail, are always floored that I take both my girls (1 and 4 years) on the Grouse Grind. It’s a 2.9k hike up some rugged stairs below a tramway. You gain more than 3,000 feet.

But doing this hike regularly has prepared me to take the girls on all sorts of wonderful hikes like the Grand Canyon and around Arches National Park.

I’d like to share some things that I’ve learned along the way.

1.) Being a mama mule is hard work.

Kids are heavy. They need constant attention. You can’t simply zone out in the pain cave and keeping plodding through.

I never push myself so hard that I’m running into the red zone. In fact, I’m usually singing or telling stories… which in a way, makes hiking far more enjoyable.

That being said, start with short easy loops (even just around your neighbourhood) and work your way up. You’ll learn how you, your children and your equipment responds.

2.) Be extra prepared.

I’ve learned from mistakes and from my husband. Boy Scouts have it right. Be prepared for anything (weather, poop explosions, injury, etc.) You’ll need to be fitter to carry the extra stuff so see point #1.

Also, hike with another person and carry the ten essentials, have bear spray accessible in bear country and know how to safely use it, hike well traveled and well marked paths, etc.

Safety is, of course, that much more important when you’re taking little people out.

3.) Snacks save the day.

You’ll be burning more fuel carrying kids around and by spending more time out there. Plus, your kids will probably eat and drink ten times what they normally do.

I always pack what I think I’ll need, times three. And I always have a special snack that they don’t otherwise get like fruit bars.

4.) Games and songs pass the time.

We pick up games along the way or make them up as we go. Some of our favourites are “eye spy”, “the alphabet game”, and “going on a picnic”.

Some of our greatest conversations happen out on the trail, and we sing a lot of songs. Hiking gives us plenty of “off line” time to connect and enjoy nature. Which is probably why my four-year-old still asks me to take her.

5.) Slow down.

I can do the Grind in less than forty minutes but it usually takes about an hour and a half with the girls strapped to me. It took over three hours for my daughter to walk the whole way up.

I remind myself it’s all about the adventure and spending time in the great outdoors. That’s something I want them to remember as happy times so I better model it!

* I use two ergo carriers when carrying both children: the baby on the front and my older daughter on the back. Whatever carrier you use, make sure there are no buckles or plastic bits sticking into the other child. It’s also very important that you are comfortable so adjust and stop as needed. While I don’t recommend carrying two children, these are important considerations.

** Also worth noting is that I try to stick to tramways since I don’t like hiking down with both girls. Too much risk of falling.

We ALL Have Obstacles

Yesterday afternoon we had our first official obstacle course training camp.

John and I have been coaching OCR since 2012 – but in a weekly class format – so we were excited to be able to offer it in a more condensed way. AND in one of the best Crossfit boxes in Canada, Crossfit New West.

spartan training vancouver

We could not have asked for a better group of enthusiastic and determined people… and got everyone from first timers to those who had completed the World’s Toughest Mudder and UltraBeast.

Yet, everyone had something to work on.

We ALL have obstacles that challenge us.

It’s funny. I think of myself as someone who is generally terrible at everything. Especially anything new.

I saw in their eyes what I have felt in mine. At times, insurmountable challenge – at times, staggering accomplishment.

After I had Seren (AKA the baby), I had lost so much grip and arm strength that I couldn’t even hold myself up on the monkey bars, never mind traverse them. I wondered if I should bother trying to get it back.

The other end of the monkey bars was too far literally and metaphorically for someone who couldn’t make it to the next rung.

Fall, fall, fall, fall. Try again, and again, and again. And again.

I had also gained weight, which made running hard. But I kept on picking my feet up and moving forward.

For the first few years in this sport I could not make it two steps across the balance beam. I couldn’t help but wonder how falling repeatedly off the beam was making me any better staying on it.

Walls were always too high to grab and I couldn’t coordinate using the toe kicks.

Things slowly, imperceptibly, started to get easier. And I started doing harder things. In my head, I’m still the same person who can’t hold themselves up on the monkey bars. In fact, more often than not I am surprised by the things consistent training has allowed me to do.

I wanted to put down the top three things I did to get from puttering along and repeatedly falling off a pull-up bar to standing on a podium with super heroes.

1.) Hang every day. EVERY day. Just hanging for as long as you can is a good start. But it’s boring as hell. I have always been a big fan of mixing things up: holding onto one or two towels, changing grip, bending my arms, hanging for different durations. I started back just hanging as much as a could every time I passed by my pull-up bar with no baby in my arms and I tried to make my forearms numb 5 days a week.

2.) Run, hike, walk and loco-mote. Here it is: running sucks when you start out. But it gets SO much better. Just keep doing it and one day you’ll get it. If you lost it, good for you, you’ll have way more faith because you know it’s still there inside you. If you ask me, you cannot spend too much time moving – just switch up the mode so as to not overtrain. Every little bit, like taking the stairs or walking your groceries home, helps.

sandbag training

All aboard…

3.) Play. Go try a new fitness class, take aerial gymnastics, buy a pass to a bouldering gym, chase your kids around the park. Just get moving and get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be ready for anything life throws at you… or obstacle course racing.

Most of all, be patient and trust in the process. It’s cliche but it’s true. Believe.

For April and May I’m going to be launching different challenges on my Yo Mama So Fit Facebook Page to get you ready for anything this summer throws at you.

They won’t take much out of your day but hopefully they’ll make all the difference in terms of what you can do with it,