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

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”

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.

Another “No Excuses” Mom

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To check out the full article on Women’s Health Magazine, just click the photo.

I don’t know if your Facebook feed has been swallowed up with this new “no excuses” mom photo, but mine certainly has.

Those are nice abs Abby. And I get where you’re coming from Maria.

You’re trying to encourage more moms to take control and get active. That is empowering. You might even be considered a feminist.

“Strong is the new skinny,” right?

“Real women have muscles”

“Squat now, selfie later,” am I right?

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Is there even any weight on that bar?

The problem here is not that they are trying to recreate women’s ideas about how their body should look or how fitness can help them achieve “the new standard” if they only drop their excuses.

The problem is that they are reducing the amazing machine that is a woman’s body to a cheap made-in-china “for display purposes only” ideal.

Who cares what your abs look like? Mine aren’t great. I’ve had two children. But you know what, they weren’t all the great before the kids either. I make my living on being fit. Not having sweet abs.

One of my good friends sometimes gets her RDA of exercise by gardening and eats Nutella by the Costco sized jar. She has the nicest six-pack I have ever seen.

But you know what else? I don’t really care how my abs look. I care that they can stay solid while I carry both my kids up a mountain. I care that they are strong enough to help me traverse a set of monkey bars or pull my knees high enough to make the rope climb easier.

I agree that people, and mothers, have too many excuses and/or reasons (whatever you want to call them) in terms of prioritizing their own fitness. And I agree that we are at a crisis in terms of poor nutrition and more critically, low activity levels. I see moms all the time who simply give up after having a baby, or more often, two babies. And I’m a mom. I get why.

But a set of ripped abs doesn’t motivate me. The feeling of utter triumph when I make it over a 10′ wall does. The feeling of standing at the top of a mountain trying to catch my breath from the scenery, and the effort, does.

I have had the good fortune of racing with some of the best athletes (and best six-packs) in the sport of obstacle course racing. When I think impressive though, I have one image.

Waiting for my husband, who went into a later wave at the local Spartan Race, I saw a lady who must have been about 300 pounds hauling herself over the final wall on the course with some difficulty. I was amazed.

And then I saw the reason she was struggling. And it wasn’t the extra pounds.

She had her skinny, fit looking teenage daughter in her free hand.

Tears still come to my eyes every time I think about it.

We don’t need a reason not have excuses, we need a reason not to want excuses.

That reason for me is obstacle course racing.

BTW, if you haven’t read this article by Lauren Fleshman, you need to click the photo and read it now. It’s awesome – just like her.

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And then sign up for the interactive online OCR training community www.mud-fu.com and never lift your shirt in front of a mirror again.

Working breasts prohibited

Working breasts prohibited

I am by no means a breast feeding activist – but I do breast feed my baby and leave my house. As such, that unfortunately makes me a bit of an activist.

So naturally when I read the Huffington Post article on the mother who was originally refused breast feeding her infant on a long flight with no cover, I was in disbelief. Click the link through the photo above to read the article.

What would you rather have on your flight, a hungry baby fighting with a hot cover or a happy baby suckling quietly away? I know when I get onto a plane, the first thing I do is latch my baby on and leave them there for the duration of the flight. Often people in adjacent seats didn’t even know that I had a baby in my lap. Of course, there’s a small chance that someone saw a little boob. Small price to pay for some inflight tranquility for everyone.

I like to think I live in a place where I wouldn’t have to think to ask, forget be rejected.

Ironically the only time anyone said anything was in Las Vegas – where a lady asked me if I’d be more comfortable in the broom closet. Ummm, no. Not so much.

I have two absolute favourite moments when I know things are changing. One is when children come up and investigate. The other, when men who you’d think would be uncomfortable with the whole breast feeding thing come up and chat with me, rubbing the babies head and just being normal. I’m sure either instance would make some women uncomfortable. But for me, it’s just people acting normal – a baby eating. And it’s progress.

My C-Section recovery, week 6… last post!

My C-Section Recovery, Week 6… last Post!

I just passed the six-week mark and I had my postpartum OB-GYN visit – so this will officially be my last blog of this series.

So, thankfully none of my organs fell out. That would have been a very failed experiment.

Getting back into activity soon after my c-section definitely worked in my case – but of course, each case is different. I was really careful to back up when I felt any weirdness or pulling, regardless of what I was doing.

The best news this week: I finally made it across the monkey bars again – which felt impossible last week. It’s nice to see that things are still moving forward even if at times they feel as if they’re not.

Day 1 – Had a much easier time at parkour today. Still avoiding the planks but feeling pretty much healed. I feel like my upper body strength and agility has come back a bit. A bit. Still a long uphill climb ahead but I’m a few yards up.
Day 2 – Did 12 x 100m on the track tonight pushing a double stroller. Ama loved the speed and I loved working a bit on my form and stride length (as much as possible pushing a small SUV).
Day 3 – Short walk today with my folks – and my daily chin-up and push-up routine of course.
Day 4 – St Patty’s 5k in 21:32. It was a bit hilly but since my parents were here to watch the kids, I got to run without the stroller. It felt so good (and so very not good) getting out there to push again. I certainly have a long way to go before I break 20 again… but at least all that stands in my way is a lot of hard miles.
Day 5 – Stair Climb for Clean Air today: a 48 flight race up the Sheraton Wall Centre. I did 6:21 last year but added a full minute to my time this year. Thankfully, it was still good enough for the win. I learned that my legs are much weaker by about floor 10… I had to haul myself up the next 38 flights using my arms and my heart. Still, I am nearly 20lbs heavier than last year – I would be curious to see how I would have managed with a backpack that heavy last year.
Day 6 – Did my bootcamp with the group today save for the sit-ups. It’ll be a while before those feel normal I think.
Day 7 – Ran with my run group and did a few steady miles with the fast pack. My calves need a little love… having thrown them into the fire, they sure are stinging. Finding time for stretching and myofascial release has not been easy – but tonight is a good reminder that it’s critical to staying sound.

And that’s it… not that six-weeks is some magical barrier of recovery – but at least I’m hitting the ground running… thanks to a forward thinking OB-GYN and a fairly active pregnancy.

Movement is Medicine.

My C-Section recovery, week 5

My C-Section Recovery, Week 5

Day 1: Went to my first session of Parkour today. Wow, it’s much harder than I thought it would be. Or, perhaps more to the point, I am more of a sissy in real life than I am in my head. One of my first exercises was to leap across a wide gap and grab onto the top of a wall – the floor being a substantial distance away. All I could think was about the potential ways it might really hurt. I can’t imagine getting from where I am today to where the advanced class is… but I figure signing up for six months ought to help. It scares me in a good way so I figure it’s worth doing.
Day 2: Arms day. Got to get these things working.
Day 3: Trail run day! It was gorgeous out and the mother-in-law had the kids so I popped into the car and headed across the bridge to the North Shore. I had forgotten how much fun it was to bomb down the trail. I turned around just as my back muscles started going into spasms and thankfully, they were debilitating at first but went away quick. Too much hunching and an old back injury is a bad combination.
Day 4: The babies first month celebration was tonight, which meant long hours in the kitchen. Just before the guests arrived though I managed to sneak off for a quick park workout on the monkey bars and some hill sprints in the rain. I took a soggy downhill too fast and ended up sliding down a muddy hill into a chain-link fence on a busy road. Several cars pulled over. I was fine outside of some yucky pants and a wedgie. My run went great… unfortunately the upper body not so much. I sure have lost a great deal of strength and agility – I could hardly hang on to the money bars. I committed to putting it all into my daily chin up and push up routine.
Day 5: Ran a 10k race today pushing both girls in a double stroller. Would have done the 5k but there was a bit of off-roading and I’m only comfortable on smooth paved path with Seren at this point. I started off near the back and was really encouraged by all the people I passed. All but a few of the men even were super supportive. I ended up finishing in just under 48 minutes… which was below my B goal of sub 50. My first goal of course, was to just get back out there and have fun working hard again. And I was happy to feel strong after yesterday’s painful realization that my upper body has gone to pot. Oh and remembered that 10k is actually pretty far.
Day 6: Took the day pretty easy and went down to the beach with the girls and dog. Probably got in a good 5k walking, some meandering with my three-year-old and some carrying both girls at a good clip (better get home in time for nap!) so I figure it balances out.
Day 7: Ran to toddler Parkour gym time with the girls but the gym was closed so we hopped a train to do some errands at the mall and then ran home from there.

My C-Section recovery week 4

My C-Section Recovery Week 4

Day 1: Day off. Just cleaned house and laid low.

Day 2: I ran stairs over my husband’s lunch. Although it wasn’t much of a run nearing the top. Interested to see how I fare in the upcoming stair climb race since these HURT. But I got 100 flights in over his lunch break despite being late – and my legs were pleasantly shaking when walking back to the car. It was also cute seeing my toddler chase me up every time I passed by. At least I’m motivating – if not pretty.

Day 3: I set up our sand bags and bucket carries… did some math and realized my bucket carry of 50kg was over 100lb. Whoops. It felt fine though.

Day 4: My first glorious jog with the double stroller home from coffee with the run group… just about 10k and it was much easier to be back out than anticipated. Definitely less taxing than pushing a single stroller pregnant.

Day 5: I had a morning of personal training clients and no workout of my own save for a 20 minute jog.

Day 6: First time out with my bootcamp! We ran to the track and lunge walked 400m which made my booty hurt in a fabulous way for days. Although I suspect one of them broke in and lowered my toilet seat on me.

Day 7: Today I ran 8k out to coffee with a friend and then 8k home -pushing the double stroller. What a good workout on the hills. Surprisingly I felt great outside of having stiff shoulders and an empty fuel tank by the time we got home (oops – did I forget to eat?) We also stopped at the Parkour gym on the way home for their toddler gym time. I couldn’t believe the struggle it took to get myself up and over the walls. Upper body strength has dwindled.

My C-Section recovery, week 3

My C-Section Recovery, Week 3

Week 3 and I’m feeling better and better. It’s hard to believe I was an absolute train wreck only a few weeks ago!

Day 1: I don’t manage to get out until the end of the day so when my husband gets home I have him watch the girls while I do a quick pre-dinner workout. I end up running at a decent clip to the train station. I planned for 10 sets like last week but 10 turned into 20, and 20 turned into 30. I considered 50 but managed to rip myself away while I was still sensible. I did 3 minutes of bar hangs and 30 pushups with my bum up in the air to round the workout off.

Day 2: It was a gorgeous day so we took advantage and walked the 6k to Science World with the stroller. I jogged a bit on the downhills and was feeling pretty darn good. As a bonus, Ama loves the double stroller bus. At least for now.

Day 3: I have a CPR class this morning. First time away from the baby. It does get easier with the second. I decide to run there… it’s only just over 4k. But the fact that it’s all uphill makes up for it a bit. I manage a 6 minute kilometre pace. Nothing to write home about – but that’s a decent easy run pace. Plus, I feel fine indeed.

Day 4: I head out for coffee with our running group. Both children are snatched from my arms and I have some nice social time with two hands. I plan to walk back with Ama in the rear pack and the baby in the front wrap but I don’t quite get the wrap right. I don’t make it very far before my husband picks me up after he gets off work.

Day 5: My husband spends the day skiing in the mountains and then comes back to get us for the evening. Baby’s first snowshoe! We don’t go very far before I remember that I haven’t fed her. We do only about an hour in total including the time our 3-year-old was walking – in the deepest snow possible, of course. But I enjoy the familiar lung burn of hill climbing. I also get in an arm workout before we head up and since my husband watches the baby and the older one is napping, I get to do 30 minutes of pull-ups, push-ups and weights uninterrupted! I am also surprised by how easily I can do band pull-ups and chin-ups. I guess last time I did them I had a huge belly to lug up.

Day 6: I spend the day in the passport office and taking the train to and from (and to and from again since I forgot my older daughter’s birth certificate). It’s a good walk but I still feel like I have some energy to burn. I do a quick 20-minute stair session after dropping the girls off and before teaching my bootcamp. I only get half the snow cleared from the walkway… but in this case is the optimist’s view that it’s half empty?

Day 7: We go for a hike around Burnaby Lake today. At just over 10k, I can run it in about 40 minutes. It takes us two-and-a-half hours. It has been snowing an unusual amount in Vancouver (so that’s what happens to all that rain when it’s below zero!) and it has covered the trail in half-a-foot of slush. Plus, I am carrying a ten-pound baby in the front and a 30-pound toddler in the back. Still, it’s great to get out and everyone is still in a fine mood when we get back to the car. Just a little hungry… lunch tastes so much better that way.

My C-Section recovery, week 2

My C-Section Recovery, Week 2

Research shows that almost six times the women get post partum depression following a c-section over a vaginal or forceps birth. One theory is that the hormones responsible for preventing post partum depression are suppressed in the surgical process.

To me, it seems crazy to think that someone who comes out with a healthy baby and body would experience such debilitating depression. But depression isn’t rational. And you can’t think your way through it.

I feel the more challenging and isolating recovery process from a c-section is neglected in this explanation. Often these ladies spend a couple months house bound, with little to no activity. Exercise has been demonstrated as more powerful in fighting depression than many anti-depression medications. And to make matters worse, deconditioned post c-section mommies probably have a much harder time resuming activity and find less enjoyment in it. That, and they are way more likely to be lonely, bored and socially isolated.

Just speaks to the importance of taking a walk each day in the fresh air with a friend if you can.

Onwards. Here’s my recap for the second week.

Day 1: My first walk! My daughter decides we should go to the closer park (4k) instead of the more exciting park (8k). I’m glad she did. Pretty pooped by the time I get home and a big hill with a heavy stroller to finish. It was good to get the wrap out and remember how to use it. I feel more free now.

Day 2: Passport photos for the little ones, baby’s first doctor appointment and visit to my husband’s work to show off the cutie. I asked the doctor about increased bleeding with exercise – as all the forums seem to suggest that any increase in bright red lochia means you’ve over done it. He disagreed. He described it as channels being left open that were super active prenatally – and that vigourus activity shakes some blood loose. He said the golden rule of soaking through more than one pad an hour is still the most important thing to note. I’m nowhere near this critical point so I feel better.

Day 3: Baby is starting to sleep bigger stretches in the night and I am correspondingly feeling more human. I clean the house… which feels great! Ah… the simple pleasure of a clean house. I spend rest of the day digging, pushing and pulling… trying to recover all of my regular clothes and putting all my maternity stuff in boxes. Lifting feels fine to a certain size rather than weight. If it’s too big and off my axis I can feel my core engage. Ama and John go skiing in the mountains – and of course, the baby sleeping more at night means more awake time during the day. I end up singing to her the entire time from a fort of boxes.

Day 4: Repeat day 3. I have way too many clothes. But despite being a lot snugger, I can fit into them… which makes me happy. Never complaining about this little piglet breast feeding like a champ again.

Day 5: Today’s the day. The weather is gorgeous, the kids are at home and on the way to the store I run 10 sets of stairs. I am rewarded with a little lung burn (oh how I’ve missed you). I am looking to defend my title in this year’s stair race up the wall centre tower not even 6 weeks postpartum. I also find the stairs are a gentle way to functionally get my heart rate up, since the stairs come up to meet your feet. I focus on staying relaxed and supporting with my transverse abdominus. I also throw in 30 raised push-ups and squats for good measure… which feel surprisingly OK… although my butt is up in the air. To top the day off, some of my favourite friends come visit me in the evening. They bring me organic nuts, soup, vegan chill, organic fruit, homemade muffins, and salad.

Day 6: Due to yesterday’s delicious bounty, we eat like kings today. We wait until the hail stops, and then go for a walk in the heat of the sun. You just never know with the weather here. My husband is sick so I teach my bootcamp. Surprisingly, demoing squat tuck jumps and lunge switches doesn’t hurt. Although I only attempt one or two and land quietly so as to not push my luck.

Day 7: Rain, rain go away. I decide to give the rebounder a try and go back to running as gently as possible. I also throw in some exercises to strengthen my hips in all planes, my calves and my core.

And that’s week 2. Looking forward to getting back into health and fitness. Starting my journey back to my race weight is my big goal for week 3.