Monday Musings: on listening to your body

Today, my body felt sluggish and tired. My muscles are often sore these days as I try to incorporate more strength training, with more weight and increased complexity.  Some days, I just don’t feel like I have it in me to work out. Today was one of those days.  I contemplated taking an extra rest day for recovery, but something didn’t feel quite right about that decision either.

When I really stopped to listen to what my body was saying, it wasn’t saying that it needed a day off. It was saying ‘I don’t want to run’. It was saying ‘I don’t want to grind it out at the gym’.  But it was also saying ‘I still want to move today’ just not at any level of intensity. The first thing that usually comes to mind for me is taking a long walk, but today my mind was screaming ‘yoga!’.

For many, this would be a perfectly natural choice, but I haven’t done yoga in well over five years. In fact, I have never really practiced yoga in a meaningful way. I’ve done my own thing, without instruction, and mostly at times of my life when I was experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. In those situations, I found yoga to be surprisingly calming. However, as soon as I found myself in a more balanced headspace, I’d inevitably abandon yoga in favour of more intense workouts.

For whatever reason, and though I don’t consider myself highly anxious nor stressed right now, yoga felt like the only suitable option for me today. And for once I found it easy to squash the inner voices that usually tell me to run anyway, to get a better workout in, to push through the muscle discomfort. I am generally a fan of this pushing through the discomfort, but I also believe that sometimes our bodies are telling us to slow down for a reason.

What I can tell you is that my body was undoubtedly craving a gentler form of motion today, not that yoga movements are easy for me, mind you.  I have the flexibility of a 60-year old. Actually, scrap that, I’ve known some supremely flexible 60-year olds. I have the flexibility of an 80-year old.  My balance has suffered tremendously since my injury. I struggle to quiet my mind.  I was ready for all of that today. When my flexibility interfered with completing the most challenging variations of movements, I was kind to myself and stuck to the basic or modified versions. When my balance wavered, I avoided getting frustrated with myself and simply started over until I was in balance again. When focusing on my breathing, my mind, quite miraculously, was able to flush my running hamster wheel of thoughts right down the drain. I achieved inner quiet and felt completely rejuvenated.

Afterwards, my body felt noticeably less tense, my muscles loose, and my mind calm.  Even if these feelings turned out to be short-lived, what I had was certainty: listening to my body worked today.  I find it incredibly tempting, and actually consider it a point of personal pride, to force myself to work out hard even when I’m tired or sore or just plain don’t feel like it. In doing so, I sometimes bulldoze right over what my body is telling me.  I have to remember that sometimes those inner voices are telling me to slow down for a reason. I have to remind myself that exercise comes in many forms, not all of which leave your body feeling exhausted, or that an extra day off is not always a sign of laziness or lack of willpower.  It sounds so obvious, and yet I am highly experienced at ignoring what my body is telling me. Today has been an excellent reminder that listening deeply and letting go of self-imposed expectations is sometimes the best course of action.

TWIR # 63: SI, allergies and errands, oh my!

Where did this week go? It’s something I’ve rarely wondered since I left my last job. I mean, when you’re able to take a lengthy work hiatus, I think it’s poor form to complain about time flying by. But I’m gonna do it anyways. This week felt short!  I spent most of it feeling like crap care of allergies and supposedly non-drowsy allergy medication, but I also felt like I was constantly either running from thing to thing or trying to get a whole bunch of life crap in order for some maybe-big-changes-that-I’m-not-ready-to-talk-about-yet-thank-you-very-much.  Translation: I’m glad it’s Friday. Let’s take a look at this week in workouts:

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: roadside bear sightings: one
Observations: We took a quick trip up to the Okanagan, complete with wildlife sightings. My main goal on Saturday was to hit Tickleberry’s for ice cream and fudge on the way to our destination. Sadly, I forgot that summer season is upon us, which turns this roadside ice cream stand into a hellish tourist trap. The lines were insane. I love me some ice cream and fudge, but not enough to wait for half an hour.  I walked away empty handed and sad. Don’t feel too sorry for me, though, there may have Dairy Queen later that afternoon. Even though it felt like sloppy seconds, it was still pretty damn tasty.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: sedentary, sedentary, sedentary
Observations: Well, Sunday was a day of very little motion. Aside from walking to and from restaurants and a seemingly never-ending mission to find healthy road snacks, I basically did nothing active. I sat in a car, then got home and sat on the couch. It was laziness at its finest and I regret nothing.

Activity: hike
Relevant Stats: 11 km, 400 m elevation gain
Observations: Once again, a formerly easy hike felt like my own personal Everest. I was dying on the way up. My legs were tired, my lungs couldn’t get enough air. I wanted to turn around.  And then it all went to hell. Whatever allergens have been unleashed lately attacked me and I turned into a congested, snotty, sneezing disaster. Damn you, nature.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: I barely got my ass out of bed for this session. Let’s just say that 5:45 am felt particularly awful while on allergy meds. Though the workout was still tough, my trainer gave me the most wonderful gift: I did not have to do negative pull ups or push ups.  She told me at most I’d get that once a month. I’ll take it! Just don’t tell her that I sort of missed having them as part of my workout…

Activity: hike
Relevant Stats: 4.4 km, 400 m elevation gain
Observations: I braved the pollen and hit the trails for a short and steep jaunt up the Abby Grind. My energy felt moderately better than on Monday’s hike, though my legs still felt like they were trying to power through quicksand. On top of that, my SI was not loving this hike. By the time late afternoon rolled around, my lower back had stiffened up nicely and my SI was feeling some sharp pains with certain motions. Ugh.

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 80 min.
Observations: In efforts to calm my SI, I focused on strength and stability. it seemed to help. I had a great strength workout, and even forced myself to do negative pull ups and push ups on my own. In hindsight, it was probably my trainer’s secret goal to make me feel so guilty about not having to do either exercise in our session that I would feel compelled to do them on my own. She’s a crafty one.

Activity: run + epic cleaning
Relevant Stats: 6 km test run + 3.5 hours of deep cleaning mode (yuck)
Observations: I’m calling today a test run because my SI hasn’t been happy with me the last week but it’s so off and on that I wasn’t sure if running would affect it.  The good news is that running felt fine, aside from it being brutally hard after yet another week a half without running. The bad news is the crouching over shower enclosures and scrubbing the crap out of them was not so kind on my SI. You win some, you lose some. Also, yes I know that cleaning isn’t really a workout, but I’m going to own it today because that scrubbing was hard work and lugging our giant vacuum up and down multiple flights of stairs also sucks.

At this point, I want to say a big TGIF and dive  into a bottle of wine. I feel it’s worth noting I won’t drink the entire bottle myself.  I could, mind you, but I won’t.  All in all, and pardon the language, this week gets a big:

I mean, any excuse to use a picture of an alpaca, right?

Real Talk Thursday: non-drowsy is a lie

I haven’t suffered from seasonal allergies in years. Years. The last time I remember them being an issue was probably a decade ago, during a Spring when Mother Nature deposited a visible layer of pollen on my car every single day. Since then, sure I get the urge to sneeze here or there, but I haven’t had what I consider to be seasonal allergies, nor have I needed to take antihistamines.

Until Monday.

In general, I’ve been sneezing a lot more this Spring than in years past but Monday, Monday is when the shit hit the fan. I went out to the valley for a hike, during which I was fine, but after which I started sneezing uncontrollably. By the time I got into my car after stretching, my nose was super congested. On the drive home, I had to blow my nose roughly every five minutes. Sorry, I know that’s gross. No one wants to read about nose blowing. I’ll move along. Five hours later, I couldn’t breathe through my nose at all, the skin around my nose was already raw from blowing it so often, and I continued to sneeze with a vengeance. I’d had enough.

I broke down and bought non-drowsy antihistamines, or so they claimed to be. After three days I have only one question: what are those things made of?????  For the last three days I have been beyond exhausted and my head a sea of fog. Sure, I can breathe, but what good is that when I can barely stay awake?  I took a two hour nap Tuesday morning. I went to bed before 10pm the last two nights and, even though I sleep in until 7:30, I was still exhausted in the morning. Should this really be the cost of clear nasal passages?

I checked the package at least five times to make sure that I had, in fact, selected a non-drowsy variety (I had). This only heightened my level of irritation, so much so that, for quite possibly the first time in my life, I read the entire paper insert  that came with my antihistamines. Let me tell you, that is not an engaging read.  But lo and behold, what did I find deep in a sea of dry, medical terminology? This: “[undisclosed brand name] is non-drowsy…however, some people can experience drowsiness” followed by this: “the most common side effects…are headache, sleepiness and dry mouth.”  Ah yes, the classic “non-drowsy” medication that may cause drowsiness, why didn’t I think of that before taking them? I suspect this is the case with many drugs, which is precisely why I don’t usually take them and why I never, ever read their fine print. Suffice it to say, I was not impressed.

Thankfully today’s rain seems to have sufficiently settled whatever nasty allergens were stirred up earlier this week. Still, even if the sun returns tomorrow, I think I’m done with supposedly non-drowsy allergy meds for now.

Mid-Week Tangent: Gelato Repeat

Okay, so if you read last’s week post you know that my goal is to try as many different gelato places as possible this summer. And then today, just one week later, I went and messed it up already by going right back to Dolce Gelato in White Rock. Can it sort of count as a new place if I at least forced myself to try different flavours? Not really, right? What makes matters worse is that I totally would’ve had the meringa flavour again if it had been there today.  Also in my defence, I was wooed by the beach and my nagging desire to take advantage of what appears to be the last sunshine we’ll see for four or five days.  I’ll stop making excuses now. Let’s just move past this, though, and accept that I’m failing in my gelato mission after just one week.

Professional food photographer I am not. This was not an attempt at an artistic backdrop. This was our beach blanket and my attempt to take a picture as quickly as possible so I could eat.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

What I Had:  I sampled the black sesame because I have an unabashed love for those little balls you get at dim sum stuffed with black sesame paste, and used to be on a stalker-like mission for black sesame bubble tea. In the end, for my actual order, I went with the Cassata and the Ricotta with Caramelized Pecans.

What stood out:  I was actually disappointed in the black sesame. It wasn’t as strong a flavour as I was expecting, which is precisely why I didn’t order it.  Maybe nothing can be as good as black sesame paste at dim sum, or black sesame bubble tea.  Or maybe, maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me to just try another gelato place already.

The Cassata, on the other hand, was way better than I had expected. Like by leaps and bounds. I mentioned last week that I didn’t order it because the girl behind the counter said it tasted strongly of candied orange which, let’s be honest, isn’t really a flavour any candy-holic craves.  Still, I walked away last week wondering if I’d made a mistake. Indeed, I had. It was the best of my flavours today.  The orange was there, but perfectly subtle and complimented by candied fruit, nuts and chocolate. Would I get this again? Yes.

The Ricotta with Caramelized Pecans, dare I say it, was tasty but underwhelming. The challenge here may be that ricotta is a notoriously mild cheese, so it’s hard for its flavour to stand out.  That said, I had a fig and ricotta gelato in Cinque Terre that was identifiably (and in the best possible way) cheesy. And I must say, more pecans please! To be fair, I’m one of those people who never feel like there’s enough stuff in my ice cream. I get enraged by the final quarter of Blizzards because there is never enough candy mixed in near the bottom. Seriously, how have they not figured this out?!? But enough about Blizzards and back to gelato. I wanted more caramelized pecans, plain and simple.

I suspect that today’s relative lack of enthusiasm for Dolce Gelato really may be the culprit of my strategy to make gelato my lunch. I am not sure that it’s wise to arrive starving and rely solely on gelato to curb one’s hunger. I ate faster than I normally would have (think inhaling), which meant less pausing to notice smoothness, flavour and texture.  Note to self: eat a real lunch before gelato. Also, clearly this means that I have to return again.

Trail Tuesdays: being bear aware

On a mini road trip this weekend, had the good fortune of seeing a fuzzy little friend from the safety of our car. There, directly on the edge of the highway, munching on a rather large clump of grass, was a juvenile black bear.  We slowed down enough that he wouldn’t get frightened and potentially bolt onto the highway, and we drove past him so slowly that I could see how very large and very terrifying his claws looked. Eek! It got me thinking about being bear aware in the mountains.

I have a deeply rooted fear of bear encounters, coupled with an absolute fascination with reading about bear attacks. It all started with watching a supposedly educational short film in an outdoor amphitheatre in a relatively secluded campground in the Canadian Rockies at night. Why they would show these types of films to campers at night is beyond me, especially when it featured a bear attack survivor who had quite literally done everything right.  What did he get for his bear savvy? Half of his scalp was torn off in the middle of the night, and the bear accomplished this feat through the camper’s tent fabric (!!!!!). And so, my healthy fear of bears/bear attack fascination was born.

I’ve spent all of my hiking years since desperately trying to avoid running into bears while hiking, which included a lot of reading about what does/doesn’t work. Today, I share the wisdom of my years of hiking, research and reading. The goal is to keep you from unintentionally surprising a bear on trail since the element of surprise is most closely tied to bear attacks.

Full disclosure:  I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve also never been attacked by a bear so…I must be doing something right.

Don’t let this adorable-ness fool you. Mama bears need their space! Be bear aware!

Do’s and Don’ts: Keeping Bears Out of Sight (but not out of Mind)

Don’t rely on bear bells: This is likely one of two controversial statements I’ll make in today’s posts. I think bear bells are a waste of time. Not only is the incessant tinkling annoying as hell when you’re trying to enjoy nature, but there is a lot of research that suggests they are not loud enough nor jarring enough to warn bears of your presence. This is particularly true around rushing water.  My father insists on using his bear bell often, and sometimes I can’t even hear it one or two switchbacks away from him even without running water. They just aren’t loud.  If you choose to use one, fair enough, but know that you may need to make extra noise in certain trail environments.

Don’t rely on bear spray:  Yup, this one’s probably controversial too. But hear me out: I am not saying don’t carry it if it gives you some peace of mind, but I am saying don’t rely on it so much so that you’re not following other bear-aware basics.  Personally, I don’t carry bear spray. It’s partly because I’ve tended to hike relatively popular and well-travelled trails, but it’s mostly because I know myself well enough to know that I would not be able to hold my shit together well enough to deploy it if it were necessary.  If a bear is charging me, I’m going to panic. My better option is to do everything I can to minimize an encounter. The reality is that bear spray is a last resort and works to the extent that you can calmly aim and fire at the right time and distance. If you’re cool under pressure, you’re a better man/woman than I.

Do use your voice:  Loud, frequent human voices seem to be widely recognized as the best way to avoid unwittingly surprising bears.  This isn’t just talking to your buddies, though. It’s actually yelling. Back when I worked at a mountain lodge, the hiking guides were trained to get their groups making noise by yelling out “heeeeey bear” to which the rest of the group would yell at the top of their lungs “bear!”.  Is it embarrassing? Hell, yes. Is it louder than a bear bell? Also, hell yes. I used to be mortified at the thought of someone hearing me yell to myself, but I just remind myself of things like the scene in The Revenant where my dear Leo becomes a chew toy for a grizzly.

Do heed bear warnings and closures: Bear warnings and area closures are put in place because there have been bear sightings and potentially even bears exhibiting aggressive behaviours. It’s best to wait until warnings and closures are removed. If you choose to hike anyway, make sure you’re fully prepared and, preferably, travelling with others.

Don’t assume that a lack of bear warnings means there aren’t bears:  A couple summers ago, the rest of my family was out hiking on a very crowded, very popular trail on the Icefields Parkway.  Despite hordes of people, they rounded a bend only to see a giant grizzly up ahead. They were able to back away slowly and safely, and no other hikers were harmed that day.  The moral of this story is: bear encounters can happen any time/anywhere, even when there are no posted warnings.

Do pay attention to your surroundings: Keep an eye out for diggings, scat, bear prints, or carcasses. Any of these signs could mean a bear is in the area. Depending on the how fresh the signs are, you may want to hustle a bit faster or even retreat. I was once hiking a slightly more remote trail with zero other cars in the parking lot when I encountered one pile of fresh-looking scat, followed by another, followed by another, the last of which was literally steaming in the cool morning air. That was the end of that hike. Also be extra vigilant when hiking through berry bushes, particularly when berries are in season.  It’s not just obvious signs, though.  Anywhere you could unintentionally sneak up on a bear warrants some extra caution–shoulder high scrub, sharp turns in the trail, or hiking alongside raging creeks and rivers are all good environments in which to make some extra noise and keep an eye out.

Do hike with others as much as possible: There’s safety in numbers.  A lot trails in Banff National Park actually have restrictions for groups of 4 or 6 hikers because attacks on groups are much less common. Even when restrictions aren’t in place, it’s better to hike with others (not just for bear safety, either!).  People are natural noise makers, and even two humans looks more physically intimidating than one human.

I likely sound like a paranoid bear-phobic (I’m sure there’s a correct term for this, but I’m too lazy to look at up). I assure you that’s far from the truth.  My fear of bear encounters has never caused me to avoid hiking and, really, as much as I call it a fear, it’s more of an incredibly healthy respect.  Still, I’m going to do whatever I can to avoid ending up like that guy from the campground amphitheatre video…or poor Leo in the Revenant. Yikes.

Hike safely, friends.


TWIR #62: these weak arms will be the death of me

Welp. After nearly four months of carefree, injury-less living, I tweaked my SI this week. It was bound to happen, I suppose. Still, I was irritated by it.  I’m not in a lot of pain this time around. It’s really only sharp and random movements that are causing aggravation and even that’s pretty minor.  Plus, it was raining all week so I had little desire to hike or run anyway. Look at me, finding silver linings.  Let’s bring the rambling to an end and see what I got up to this week:

Activity: hike
Relevant Stats: 12 km
Observations:  Sunshine! Warmth! And on a WEEKEND (!!!)…uh, not that every day isn’t a weekend for me. I got up early and hit the local mountains for a relatively easy jaunt on the trails, combining a few partial trails for a total of 12k. My early start allowed me to escape nature before it got hella hot. By mid-afternoon, we were on the lookout for a way to escape the heat, so we hopped in the car and headed to our campsite, where we swam for a while before walking way, way, way too much and attempting to play tennis against a wall with a wiffle ball (not easy). My legs were done by night’s end. Thankfully roasted hot dogs and wine eased the pain.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: delicious gelato discovered
Observations: On the way back from the campsite, we took a swing into White Rock for an ocean front stroll and gelato. I remember nothing else from the day because good gelato trumps everything.

Activity: hike
Relevant Stats: 11 km
Observations: I thought a day off would refresh my legs, but it did not. I hiked a trail I’ve done a million times and one that’s pretty damn easy, if I do say so myself. It killed me. My legs felt dead and I was literally dripping sweat (okay, it was also really warm out). Clearly, at my current fitness level, three hikes in four days, no matter how easy, is too much.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 45 min. legit workout/15 min. sad, pitiful workout
Observations:  This is when my weak arms and shoulders let me down. After sets of hanging exercises, negative pull ups and full tricep push ups, my arms were done like dinner. Then we, and by “we” I mean my trainer, upped the weights on our deadlifts. It turned out to be a bad combo.  My tired arms and shoulders lost their form and I tweaked my SI. I seriously wonder at what point my arms will stop feeling like jello from activities that seem like they should feel easier over time. I would like it to be soon.

Activity: cardio warmup + strength
Relevant Stats: 15 min. stairs + 60 min. strength
Observations: Even though my SI tweak was minor, running was out of the question for the rest of the week. It was back to basics instead. My goal was to focus on form, reduce the weight load, and get in a good strength workout. It seems to be the cure-all for my temperamental SI and, sure enough, I felt better after my workout.

Activity: cardio warmup + strength
Relevant Stats: 15 min. stairs + 60 min. strength
Observations: Another day of cautionary strength training was on the menu. This time around, I started to increase my weights again and incorporated more stability-focused, single-leg exercises, all completed sans SI aggravation. Win! I rewarded myself with extra peanut butter M & Ms, because I firmly believe that any success, no matter how small, should be rewarded with fat and sugar. This is also why I need to work out on the regular. Sigh.

Activity: spin + strength
Relevant Stats: 30 min. spin + 30 min. strength
Observations: Good God, I haven’t spun in ages and I forgot how hard it can be. Then, in efforts to make negative pull ups not feel like death, I forced myself to do some on my own. They were even less enjoyable at the gym where I’m certain anyone around me was horrified by my face progressing from pale to red to purple care of my excessive upper body exertion.  I have to keep believing that these will get easier one day…

Now that I’ve survived the week (relatively) unscathed, it’s time to enjoy the return of the sunshine, a couple days of arm recovery (because, seriously, my arms are dead), and a glass of wine or two (or five). Happy weekend!

Real Talk Thursday: my new (and embarrassing) morning routine

It’s time for another confession. I’ve actually mentioned this once before, but only briefly and in passing when discussing some of my lazier unemployed moments, and at a time when I was doing it so infrequently that I couldn’t classify it as a routine. But now I’ve crossed the line. I do it every day. On purpose. And, even worse, I sort of look forward to it.

Every morning I tune in to Live with Kelly and Ryan.  I don’t understand my attraction to this show.  I used to despise Regis and Kathy Lee, and I couldn’t stand Kelly Ripa when she and Regis co-hosted. Now that I think of it, I may be having an epiphany as I write this that perhaps it was Regis that brought out the worst in everyone all along! As for Ryan, I didn’t watch American Idol, but I never understood how Ryan Seacrest became famous hosting it, nor how it parlayed into hosting a New Year’s Eve special.  And yet, somehow Kelly and Ryan together are enough to get me hooked.  Ryan Seacrest has somehow toned down Kelly’s manic level of enthusiasm to a more personally palatable level.

No matter what’s caused the shift, the horrifying part is that I now find myself organizing parts of my morning around the show. I’ll pause it when I go to check on laundry or refill my coffee mug.  If I’m watching another show on Netflix around the same time, my internal alarm clock goes off just shy of 9am, and I’ll pause what I’m watching–even when it’s good stuff like the new season of Master of None–to get to Kelly and Ryan. I scan the digital guide to see who the guests will be before the show starts, even though I’ll watch regardless of who’s on the show. I’ve even Googled the backstory of hosts and how Ryan and Kelly ended up as new(ish) and permanent co-hosts. Yikes.

It’s concerning for a number of reasons, the most alarming of which is that the show is just not good.  Despite both hosts being veterans in the business, there’s this sort of awkward and not-very-polished vibe to their conversation.  It’s sort of like watching a train wreck, but also sort of endearing like watching kids in a school play who are trying really hard even though they really suck.  Their guest interviews are so incredibly short and sometimes it’s like they haven’t done the legwork to prepare properly. They have flubbed the title of TV shows that their guests star in, and they’ve even said the wrong last name of one of their guests. They read questions from paper.  At times I’m horrified that I’m still watching, and I contemplate changing the channel, but I never pull the trigger to select another show.

Sure, you might say that 9am isn’t exactly prime time for other television viewing options, so maybe I’m just settling for the best of what’s available. The reality is that there are about a million other things I could be doing, like looking for work, writing, reading, watching Netflix, cleaning the house, going for a walk, researching prospective employers and clients. The list goes on and on. But no, instead I find myself truly engrossed in and hopelessly addicted to Live with Kelly and Ryan.

I hang my head in shame.

ps. Except you better be sure I’ll still be watching on Monday when their guest is our very own Prime Minister Trudeau…

Yes. This.