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Beyond Yoga Skiing Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Rehab Badge of Honour

Today is two weeks post-ACL reconstruction surgery. I’ve awarded myself a badge. Just like Instagram pics of babies with a three-months sticker, knee surgery people get to use weekly milestones to gauge progress.

three month baby
The tyranny of progress

Two weeks!

I can…
Bend my knee to 90 degrees
Crutch to the mailbox
Walk upstairs

 I like…
Watching Youtube
Pedalling 1/4 revolutions
Visiting my physiotherapist

milestones
Badge of Honour

And just like new mothers who hear endless advice about how to raise their children; the internet, surgeons and physios and everyone at the gym have opinions about a recovery timeline after surgery.

Where you at? Ten degrees of extension and 90 degrees of flexion? Hmm. That’s not good enough for two weeks post-op. You should have zero degrees of extension by now.

Do you have a cryocuff? You’ve gotta use the cryocuff to get that swelling down. Fifteen minutes on, 45 minutes off.

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Don’t get in the pool until 28 days post-surgery. You’ll get an infection.

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A Facebook Friend triumphantly returns to the pool post-surgery

But it turns out that mothers throw away the baby books because there isn’t a specific formula for raising a child. And I’m skeptical that surgical recovery adheres to precise numbers. Rehabilitation is the aggregate of rest, patience and hard work, but it’s different for everyone.

In his twelve rules for life, Jordan Peterson is clear that instincts dictate the difference between good habits and bad. Just like constantly scrolling Instagram and eating chips for dinner are bad habits, instincts for knee rehabilitation are accurate as well. Don’t just lie around on the couch, but don’t push the trail running too early either. Pay attention to your instincts and don’t be overly prescriptive in your recovery schedule.

We all want some kind of validation that we’re doing enough. Mothers want to be told that the kid is walking and talking at the appropriate age; post-op patients want to know they’re progressing at the correct pace to get back to sport.

Fozski
the singular goal is to get back to sport

But I wonder if measuring specific targets is overly-prescriptive. I wonder if recovery  should be predicated on intuition instead? The medical system is busy. Physiotherapists and physicians hear the same story every day. Oh you were skiing and you blew your knee? Not very original. But here’s a nine-month program to get you from surgery to skis.

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It makes sense that there is a rough guideline and one should refrain from “dangerous” activities like skiing, surfing or soccer earlier than nine months (apparently that’s how long it takes the graft to adhere), but milestones along the way are loosely paved.

Abiding by a tyrannical schedule will create anxiety.  If you can’t achieve 120 degrees of flexion three weeks after surgery, you’re not doomed to arthritis. Trust your instincts! You know if you’ve done enough squats for the day. You know if you wasted a whole day lounging on the couch. Find the right balance of rest and rehab.

Surgeons and physios do everything they can to help, but they can’t know what you’re feeling and they can’t do the work. If the physiotherapist says to do 30 knee bends once an hour, do it. If the doctor says to elevate and ice, then do that. They offer a prescriptive strategy for recuperating, but it’s individual intuition that asks the right questions and guides the appropriate amount of work.

Ice
Doctor’s orders

Mothers know when something “just doesn’t feel right” in their kid’s development. Injured skiers know how much to push and when to back off on the road to recovery. It’s all based on experience and observation.

Judging progress by a weekly schedule is incongruent with skiing. With exception to athletes who are training, skiers don’t mark their progress with checkmarks. Imagine your buddy is just starting out on skis. You aren’t going to give him a schedule that says by day 100 he should be skiing all black runs, by day 200 he should have acquired a backcountry setup and by day 800, he better have ticked off some big ones like Corbets, Cosmiques and Saudan Couloir. This is an arbitrary metric to gauge skiing and fails to account for individual variables. My point is that rehabilitation follows a unique path and is based on athletic ability, personal goals, fitness level, flexibility, strength and appropriate rest.

Hike
If you don’t have a backcountry setup by Day 200, are you even a skier?

So with this, I’m going to stop reading the internet in search of validation. I doubt that having my knee pin-straight two weeks after surgery is critical to long term recovery. I’ll weigh advice from gym people against my intuition. In spite of the guy on the bike saying I must have exactly 120 degrees of flexion by now (but no more, lest I cause laxity!), I’m just going to go with my instincts.

Just like ultramarathoners who abandon heart monitors in favour of RPE and refer to it as “training by feel,” I think rehabilitation by instinct is a crucial part of the process. New mothers eventually reject the baby books, developing skiers abide by their own agenda, and post-op patients should go by intuition as well.

Xterra
not an ultramarathoner, but training by feel nonetheless

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop awarding myself progress badges or start ignoring physio advice. It’s a big deal to pedal a full revolution or finally do a one-legged squat. Those are important milestones and prescribed by professional empirical observation. Intuitive rehabilitation is just relief from the tyranny of the schedule.  It’s worth noting weekly milestones, but the rigid prescribed schedule isn’t the only way back up from the operating table.

MVIMG_20190215_113637
from OR….
10272614_10152608696296260_3907135688837299582_o
….back to skis

 

puppy nine months
apparently puppies aren’t exempt from the tyranny of achievement either
Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Swim Training

Swimming is not my weakest event (running is), but I’m not the leader in the swim field either. My inability to win the swim is incongruent with my confidence and experience in long open-water swims. I swam a lot in high school. Most summers, I do twice-weekly 2000m lake swims. I just don’t seem to have the power or technique to keep up with the best swimmers in the triathlon pack. My intention over the next 90 days is to use crossfit to develop power and to use 6km of weekly swimming to make up the volume and drills necessary to improve swim technique. Here we go….

Offseason triathlon training is for strength building and swimming.

The strength will come from crossfit. (See blog post). The swim volume and technique will come from 6300m of swimming each week. Four-a-week for 90 days.

Cold and dark October is a great time to head indoors to the swimming pool. Training plan here.

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Where crossfit meets training

After critical evaluation of Xterra 2018, I’m making a big change. Crossfit.

My training partner, whose talents and strengths I’ve admired for years, is a crossfit advocate. He’s actually a trainer but his expertise is partially based on his impressive weight loss of 100lbs. But that’s old news. He’s kept the weight off for several years. More recently  he made a dramatic improvement at Canmore Xterra from 2017 to 2018. His remarkable improvement forced me to ask why – our training was more or less the same. Same volume, same type of running intervals, same bike training terrain – but he did a crossfit workout five times per week. I did calisthenics after every run, free weight training in my offseason and a HIIT workout every week, but nothing that resembled the intensity and group setting of crossfit. I was reluctant to join because of the competitive nature of the workouts, the lack of control over the setting and the idea that a “coach” could tell me what to do.

But after a reassuring chat with my partner, I signed up and decided to take his advice and “trust the process.” It’s been two weeks. The workouts range from racing to finish sets of weight-lifting sequences (push press, front squat, hang cleans, etc) to bodyweight workouts done for 30 minutes without rest (box jumps, situps, pullups, jump squats, etc.)

The music is always inexplicably loud, the workouts are relentless, the voice of my partner-now-coach saying “you can do it!” (“Can I?! How do you KNOW that?” my reluctant self silently seethes). Furthermore, there are whiteboards with lists of workouts and rankings of the gym members. All of this – the music, the bossy coach, the competitive squats and lifting – is incongruent with my usual style of training. I prefer to be alone, in silence, and with nothing but my heartrate monitor and a timer to compete with.

Working out isn’t new to me. I started going to the gym after school when I was 16. I researched and fanatically followed numerous strategies. Supersets, HIIT, eccentric (negative) movements, overload, rest days. I have boxes of notebooks and journals filled with fitness goals and plans; all of which I completed to the letter. Triathlon, Ironman70.3, cross-country ski races. Some I’ve excelled at, two I’ve won, several I’ve come in last and many I’ve finished in the middle of the pack. The results are always different, but the common thread is strict adherence to training plans. But always alone. Other people irritate me and after the first workout, my crossfit companions were no exception.

But, with the exception of a 50km Xcountry ski race and a small local triathlon, I don’t win. Solitary training probably has something to do with this. The winners of the big races are often running in packs. Second and third place contenders nip at the heels of the winners. It’s that kind of pressure and annoyance that I hate and the reason why I train alone. I dislike hearing other people’s heavy breathing, smelling their sweat, listen to their swearing or cries of jubilation, acknowledging their opinions. All of it. But if I want to win, I need to embrace that pressure. Embrace the annoying other people and maybe even listen to them sometimes.

Right away at crossfit, I saw it’s the competitive edge that keeps everyone working. It’s the group mentality. “If they’re doing it, then so can I.” Even if I don’t want to, even if it hurts, even if it seems impossible (TEN pullups?!). Because training to win means embracing the pain, accepting the other people, recognizing that a “coach” might contribute useful new suggestions and doing it all in the midst of a group. Racing a triathlon is not a solitary activity. Neither is crossfit.

Every race I enter is a big goal. At crossfit, each workout is a mini goal. Start where you are, work hard and see it through to completion. Some of it’s annoying, some of it is loud, some of it isn’t how I would coach myself. But in order to improve, I need to train my weakest skills. Crossfit challenges even the most reluctant competitors. Its magic is the combination of stuff I don’t want to do (Olympic weightlifting, sprinting) and stuff that I love (box jumps, body weight training). It’s the amalgamation of favourite and least-favourite that generates the strongest training plan. I’ll never improve in triathlon if I only train the stuff I love (long distance runs) and never do the stuff I hate (swim sprints), but to excel, the focus has to be equally divided between both.

My incredibly inspiring training partner said this:

“The only piece of advice I can give is to embrace the suck. I think it’s become pretty routine at Just Fitness to see me lying on the ground in a sweaty, exhausted heap after a workout. That’s because every time, before we start, the last thing I say to myself is to make sure this hurts, because there’s no easy way to meet your goals. You gotta fall in love with the grind.”

He happens to love team sports and having workout partners. So for him, “the suck,” is something entirely different than what I’m explaining. But the sentiment is the same. In order to improve, you’ve gotta train what you don’t want to. You’ve gotta have a well-rounded training plan. You’ve gotta fall in love with the whole process. Crossfit. It sucks for stubborn training loners like me, but the benefit is learning how to compete and excel in spite of the other people.

 

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Set it and Forget it.

I’m a new advocate for treadmill and spin bike training. As an outdoor enthusiast, I never thought I’d say that but lately i’ve started to see the benefits of training on a machine. I can preset the speed intervals. There’s no excuse not to pick up the pace when the belt under my feet starts spinning faster. When the weather is inclement, it’s more efficient to jump on the spin bike rather than figure out what to wear for a multi-hour bike ride and a variable forecast. And finally, when I have to spend 10 hours running and biking each week, it’s nice to be able to multitask and tune in to the news or watch a show while I’m doing it.

Set it and Forget it

Much like cruise control on a long road trip, treadmill settings can be set and then forgotten. I can set my workout plan and then follow through on it. Sixty minutes at race pace is hard, but if I never adjust the controls, my legs and feet will get it done, even if my mind is protesting. The problem with training for something and forever wanting to be better, faster, stronger is that it never gets easier. Even as I get quantifiably stronger and faster, each training session requires a push to get even stronger and even faster. It’s painful. The treadmill keeps me accountable to my goals.

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Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Post-Race Reflection

One week following the Canmore Xterra, here’s a moment to reflect on the race and the six-month season leading up to it. I came woefully short of achieving my goals of 30min swim, 1hour45min bike and 55min run. I didn’t even come close to those times! To be fair, barring several extremely fit outliers, very few people in the race came close to my desired run and bike times (the swim goal was more reasonable). The bike and run course were significantly harder and slightly longer this year, so determining a reasonable goal was unlikely. My unrealistic goal aside, other performance metrics have to do with my place in the pack. Last year, I was 82nd out of 102 competitors (3rd out of three in my category). This year, I was 57th out of 73 finishers (4th out of seven in my category). The former is worse than the latter, so I did improve my place in the pack this year.  Furthermore, relative to the pack, I discovered that I improved in the swim and the bike this year, but not the run.

Improvement in finishing place is encouraging, but my goal times were planned with the intention of winning. Had I achieved those goals, I would have won.  Winning is contingent on who shows up on race day. But if the only thing I can control is my performance relative to my own training and I can’t control the preparation of my competitors, then I am well-advised to do a better job of my own training. My goal is to win. And if that’s going to happen next year, I better be honest with myself on how.

I suspected all along that I’d shortchanged myself during training. I drafted a six-month training plan and followed it almost exactly, but I now know the difference between winning and finishing is what happens during non-training hours. Rest, nutrition and training volume are all critical components of training. But fitting in 14 hours of training during the week so that I can go to the lake with my friends and drink and snack around the bonfire on the weekend is not an effective training strategy. It’s not the friends or the lake that are the problem, it’s the dehydrating effect of the alcohol and chips, the disruptive sleep schedule from the late nights and the stress that ensues from trying to fit in more training after a long weekend of not training.

Following the realization that non-training hours are as critical as training hours, I ask myself what I want from this triathlon business. What’s all the training for? Canmore Xterra 2018 was my eighth triathlon. The first was the Midnight Sun Triathlon in Yellowknife in 2001. If I’m dedicating 12-15 hours per week to training, and fifteen or more years to the cause, I better be clear on what it’s all for. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than an elaborate fitness plan.

So what’s it going to take? Pain. Dedication. Commitment. Sacrifice. The workouts have to be completed, attention to nutrition has to be observed, rest must be prescribed. To be the fastest, I have to be the best at training. There is no luck in triathlon and achieving this goal of winning the 2019 Canmore Xterra will not be a lucky break. It will be the product of commitment, endurance and deliberate attention to improved performance. Even though I didn’t achieve my goals this season, that doesn’t mean I didn’t teach myself how to schedule workouts, dress for fluctuating temperatures on runs, and incorporate strength training. I just have to do all those things combined with specific nutrition choices and adequate recovery.

The winning formula is training hours + recovery + nutrition. My commitment to training hours is intact. The addition of recovery time and adequate nutrition will be the catalyst for changing my outcome from a finisher to a winner.

Some photos from Xterra Canmore 2018:

 

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Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports Travel

Training Break

In a thirteen week academic semester, there’s a reading break somewhere in the middle. Is it a break to read or a break from reading? Is the intention to catch up on missed assignments or a chance to forget academia and go wild on spring break?

Is a two-week bike trip in the middle of a rigorous triathlon training plan a break from training or a break to train?

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The trip was high-volume biking. Nine or ten hours of biking every day. But it was relaxing. The climbing was never particularly strenuous and rarely did I push my heart rate about its lactate threshold. Carrying enough food and choosing the safest rivers to drink from were the only obligations. The long days consisted of pedalling, cooing at the  lambs that gazed curiously at the bike, and gobbling candy and cashews. So was 14 days of high-volume, low-intensity cardio useful?

Ben Nevis
High-volume, low-intensity hike-a-bike

Volume is weekly accumulated training hours. Intensity is time at or above lactate threshold. There is an ideal balance between volume and intensity, and the balance has to do with where in the training program each occurs. In this blog post, Joe Friel refers to two studies that indicate that high volume training does little to improve speed. He refers to a group of swimmers and a group of runners, both of whom increase their weekly training hours over four weeks. Over the course of another four weeks, they decrease the volume, but increase the intensity (i.e. fast intervals). The high-intensity month produced measured improvements whereas the high volume weeks did not.

Friel explains that high-volume training builds ­capillaries and encourages cell mitochondria to expand and multiply. Additionally, the long training hours promote enzymes to convert fat to energy. The result: endurance. But not speed. These benefits – increased capillary density for the delivery of oxygen and fuel to the muscles, increased mitochondrial density for the production of energy from fat, and enhanced activity of aerobic, fat-metabolizing enzymes are very useful for injury prevention, athletic efficiency and longevity in the sport. But the only way to get faster is to go faster. Doing endless hours of low intensity training will not make me faster, but it will allow me to sustain long training hours and long races.

View from another Ben
Pausing to take in the view after a vigorous yet relaxing climb

So now that I’m home and trying to get back into structured training, I’m pondering whether the break was helpful. I didn’t get measurably faster nor did my lactate threshold increase (I test it every four weeks using this test), but nor did my speed or lactate threshold decrease. Everything stayed pretty much the same. So maybe that’s the point. Take a break from training, but choose an activity that won’t erode the training benefits that I’ve worked so diligently to gain. Just like I used reading break as a chance to read a few non-academic books – an activity that neither helped nor hindered my grades – a training break is a time to keep the previous efforts in check but not lose any of the speed and skills I’ve laboured for.

fresh water
fresh clean water and single track
Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Doing it just for the sake of saying I did it.

Yesterday I was asked how many hours a week I devote to training. The answer is 12-16 hours per week. It sounds like a lot! My friend commented with admiration not for the actual activity, but for the dedication to my hobby. Truthfully her praise was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s not just the exercise that I love (although I do love the endorphin high every day), it’s the whole process of planning the training weeks, testing my speed and endurance once a month, eating well so that I don’t sabotage my workouts and above all, organizing my days around swimming, biking and running.

She asked me how I stay motivated. Sometimes I’m not sure. Most of the time training kind of sucks. Yesterday’s ride was over two hours long and the driving wind and rain was bitter. The day before there were several other people in my lane at the pool and their breaststroking antics were annoying. The day before that I forgot my outdoor running clothes at home and had to do my workout on the treadmill because I didn’t have a jacket. Before that I had a pretty uncomfortable run because I’d indulged in chips and candy the night before. Last week I tried compression tights for a long ride and they were so disagreeable and tight they actually left marks on my skin. Yet somehow the motivation to finish what I started carries me through all of the discomforts of actual training.

I create my workouts to the minute. For example,  a 16 hour training week is 960 minutes. Swimming, biking and running is divided proportionally according to my goal time in the race. My goal is to complete Canmore Xterra 2018 in 192min, broken down as follows: 30min swim, 105min bike, 55min run, plus 2min for transitions. The training proportions correspond to the race goal: 16% time spent swimming, 55% biking and 29% running. A 960 minute training week equals 153minutes at the pool, 528minutes on the bike and 278minutes running.

 

Each workout is subdivided into intervals. I might do a 160min bike, which is further divided into 6x20min intervals with a five-minute rest in between. My point here is not to outline every workout but to emphasize that when the training is really demanding (which lately is the case every day), I focus only on the task at hand. I only have to ride my bike for 160min today. If that’s too hard, I tell myself I only have to finish this 20-minute interval. If that’s still too hard, I tell myself that I get to rest for five minutes of easy pedalling. And if that’s still too hard, then I tell myself to tough it out and get the day’s training over with so I can get back into bed.

All this to say that the motivation doesn’t come easily. The training is excruciatingly difficult, painful, boring, lonely, frustrating. But at the end of a session, I get to colour in one day’s block on my calendar. The week is white to begin with, but at the end of the week, it’s coloured. At the end of many weeks, the entire google drive is colourful!

Colourful training plan

So is that what motivates me? Coming home and colouring in some digital boxes on the computer screen? Maybe! These boxes represent the commitment to following through on a plan that I schemed up on a frigid afternoon in March. These coloured boxes represent the complexity of the training and that it’s so much more than just pounding out the kilometres. It’s researching the best training formulas, it’s finding the most comfortable clothes so that I can stay as happy as possible on the long workouts, it’s making enough time every week to fit it all in, it’s learning which food makes me fast and what snacks make me slow. Ultimately, it’s just following through on what I started. So regardless of the wind, the rain, the uncomfortable spandex clothing, the missed junk food, the irritating swimmers at the pool, the skipped parties because of the protracted training schedule, I do it for the simple pleasure of saying that I completed a task.

Leaving their Mark

compression tights – just another thing to add to the long list of discomforts.

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Creative time-saving strategies

The relentless training program continues and I feel like I’m committed to it now. In the struggle to balance training, work, family and friends, and rest time, I realize that there must not be a wasted moment. I know of some triathletes who use their commute to and from work as the bulk of their bike time. My commute is less than ten minute though, so this isn’t the place to get in my training. Instead, I use my commute as my moment to relax and allow my mind to wander. Having a lot of commitments and a long list of priorities means that my mind is always on. I’m constantly thinking about the next activity and ensuring that I’ll have adequate snacks and adequate clothing. Using the ten minutes or so on either end of the work day as a time to let my mind relax, to listen to some music or the radio and force myself not to worry about whether I’ll fit in all my training takes care of some of my designated “rest” time.

In the constant quest for available time, I have a number of time-saving shortcuts. Some more ridiculous than the others. For example, I take a lot of my groceries out of their packages and recycle the packaging right at the store. Not bringing any recycling in my front door means that I save time later by not having to bring any recycling out.

Another time-saving strategy is to only buy and wear clothing that I can do multiple activities in. On any given day, I have to do some combination of the following: ride my bike, swim, teach yoga, work at a formal office, run, fix my bike, go out in my canoe, clean up the yard, do yoga, workout at the gym, pump diesel (to heat my house), fetch water (I don’t have running water), walk the dog and cook meals. It’s a lot of activities that require a variety of outfits, and the best way to manage is to only wear comfortable items that can do most of the above activities. The foundation often starts with yoga tights. For work, I can put on a dress and blazer over top. For the yoga studio, I can put on a comfortable shirt and for all the outdoor activities, I can put dirty jeans and work gloves on over top. The next component, of course, is accepting that I’m always going to look a little scruffy. My hair will never be perfectly coiffed and my nails are unlikely to tolerate a manicure for more than a half day.

Another strategy for fitting it all in is to invite friends to join me on my activities. Unfortunately, when I get really pressed for time, the first thing I abandon is often my friendships and relationships. This is a very short-sighted strategy because not making time for quality time with loved ones means that my mental health starts to suffer. Before long, I get sad and then everything that I was trying to squeeze into my schedule starts to suffer. So the pre-emptive strategy is to fit friends into the activities. Have meals together, ride bike together, make plans to run together. Whatever works.

Another time-saving idea is to shop online. I know.  This a blatant disregard for the adage “buy local” But I just don’t have time to browse endless items and I don’t have the patience to go into stores. Online, I can log on, order exactly what I need and then it will show up on my doorstep in 5-9 business days.

The truth is that I’ve just about taken on too much stuff. The triathlon training was probably unnecessary, but as I was climbing out of the pool this afternoon, I reflected on how much I love having goals and plans. I love working towards something and I love having a plan every day. There are days that I don’t feel like doing the training, for sure, but then I get a chance to test my running or swimming speed and realize how much faster I’ve gotten since I started all this in the summer of 2015. Is it worth it to try to squeeze triathlon training into a week full of work, socializing, resting, weekend camping trips and quality time with family? Most of the time. Do I feel lonely on my bike when I’m out for a 100km ride and my friends are hanging out at a weeknight BBQ? Yes. Am I going to stick with the training? Definitely. The reality is that I simply don’t know what will come of this training. But I do know that I have to keep doing it in order to find out. Maybe nothing will come of it. Or maybe the greatest inspiration and opportunity of my life will reveal itself while I’m doing the training. So I’ll organize my time, take whatever time-saving measures necessary and stick it out until September.

Canmore XTERRA: September Long Weekend 2018

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Hungry? Eat. Full? Stop Eating. Why can’t it be this simple?

Sighhhh. Eating. Overeating. Undereating. Nourishment. Junk food. Dinnertime. Breakfast. Why does eating have to be such an emotional struggle? The formula seems so simple. Hungry? Eat. Full? Stop eating. Wondering what to eat? Food. Mostly plants. Wondering what not to eat? Things in packages. But the reality is that the relationship between food, nourishment and satiation is a complex equation often laden with conflicting information.

I know that I’m not alone in my feelings of animosity against food. Why do all the office donuts surreptitiously disappear when nobody is looking? Why, after parties, do we throw away half finished bags of salad but we never seem to have a problem finishing bags of chips? Furthermore, why do cookbook titles include phrases like “eat clean,” “detox diet,” “keto calories,” “super foods,” “gluten-, animal- and dairy-free fare.” On the one hand, we crave the worst possible replacement for food, and on the other hand we’re being told how to avoid all of those things by eliminating dairy, meat, gluten, salt, nightshades, carbs, fat, sugar, even cooking (see: raw food diet). It seems that we’ve given up cooking food in favour of consuming nutrition (and lack therof). We follow restrictive meal plans but crave everything we’re not “allowed” to have.

Food is allegedly a source of pleasure, nourishment and energy. Yet somehow the junk food and fast food industries paired with the diet and healthy living industries have created despair and anxiety around food. We’re being sold shiny packages of jujubes and bombarded with images of frosty ice cream cones. Meanwhile, the healthy food camp coldly informs us that all that shiny sugar is bad for us and that instead we need to follow the latest fad diet. All of this to say that the information that is available on nutrition is conflicted, to say the least.

I have a veritable canon of literature on cooking and healthy eating. Books and notes and magazine articles that I’ve amassed ever since I was a teenager and first became interested in healthy eating and cooking. At the time, the ideal diet was purported to be low in fat but I remember when the Atkins diet appeared on the market, touting the benefits of a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate, low-sugar diet. I also remember being a young athlete in my early 20s and strictly following Robert Haas’ “Eat to Win” program. Haas’ advocated for a diet high in complex carbohydrates, with attention paid to vitamins and minerals. Diets such as the Zone, and the Macro diet emphasize attention to consuming certain percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Plans that include meal replacement shakes such as SlimFast and Soylent operate under the premise that calorie-control is the only way to manage weight.

While all of these diets propose reasonable premises, the most glaring omission is the acknowledgement that food, nutrition, cooking and eating are central to most aspects of our lives. We gather together to dine at restaurants; we celebrate milestones with cake; we drown our sorrows in beer; we eat for energy and we eat for pleasure; we wake ourselves up every morning with coffee and we look forward to glasses of wine at the end of the workday; we pack picnics and we seek out snacks. Our living spaces are designed around “entertaining,” which is almost always focused on lovely kitchens.

From a social perspective, eating is a cornerstone of community. But from the perspective of an athlete, eating is a source of energy and sustenance. Attention must be paid to nutrition and daily caloric requirements. A prescribed meal plan is normal. But what happens when eating and food preparation becomes a chore, another thing that has to be accomplished in the day? For an athlete, food has to promote athletic endurance. But to ignore the social aspect of eating, the sometimes celebratory nature of meals, not to mention the sensation of delicious food is missing a large part of how food contributes to our well being.  To view our bodies as little more than a science experiment where portions and macros are carefully monitored and ingested at prescribed intervals seems a heartless and overly clinical way to live. 

So what’s an athlete to do? How to find a healthy relationship with food? How to avoid processed foods and nutritionally-void items without obsessing about what is or isn’t “good”? How to socialize while simultaneously excelling at athletics?

First, don’t reward good behaviour with food. Don’t punish bad behaviour with deprivation. Don’t justify eating a bag of chips because you ran 10km earlier in the day. Let go of any guilt associated with food. By letting go of the guilt, you might ease the suffering that comes along with indulging in “bad” food. By doing so, you may find you’re able to escape the reward/punishment cycle.

Next, don’t create impossible restrictions for yourself. “I’ll never eat another cookie!” To do so is setting yourself up for failure. Just make choices at every meal that make you feel good about yourself. And if you notice while on a run that you’re feeling slow because you just ate two cinnamon buns, rephrase the statement. “I won’t eat sugar-laden treats in the five hours before a run.”

Third, learn to cook something. You don’t have to prepare from scratch every dish for a dinner party or BBQ, but teach yourself to create something that you enjoy eating. Contribute your masterpiece to the buffet table so you know there’s something at the party that you can feel good about eating.

And finally, read up on nutrition. Learn about the different diet philosophies. Understand their premises and then notice how  your body reacts to certain foods and the timing of meals. But don’t commit yourself to one overly-restrictive plan. To do so will be social suicide and also completely unnecessary. As long as you understand what makes you swim, bike and run your fastest, you can adapt your meal choices to that information.

If we look at all the diets from a a first principles perspective, the premise is usually good. Beware of eating too much (calorie control), consume an appropriate amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat for your exercise level and pay attention to all six of the food exchange lists: vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and water. Keep track of what makes you feel good (and fast) and let go of the guilt when you eat something that makes you feel uncomfortable and slow. With practice, the emotional attachment to food and the feelings of guilt will give way to the simple formula. Hungry? Eat. Full? Stop eating. Eat food. Mostly plants.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Is recreation a healthy search for inspiration or is it nothing more than conspicuous consumption?

Halfway through the seventh week of Xterra triathlon training, and the highest volume of hours yet, I caught myself wondering what the point of it all is? Is training for a recreational race a selfish pursuit devoid of any kind of altruistic contribution to society? And if it is nothing more than a self-indulgent pastime, where does the desire to participate in such an activity come from? Am I part of a cohort who values recreation above all else? Why have we commodified recreational pursuits to the point that we’re competitive about them? Why am I striving to swim, bike and run faster than the other people?

Is training for a recreational race a selfish pursuit devoid of any kind of altruistic contribution to society?

This week’s training called for 15 hours of swimming, biking and running. I am devoting a part-time job’s amount of time to train for a race! I have so much spare time that I can spend my days running, biking and swimming for no reason other than to do those things faster. Not only that, I’m not alone in this pursuit! Whistler, where I’m currently training, has a triathlon training club. Every day, regardless of what time I go to the pool, there are other people swimming laps, training their bodies to slice through the water faster, more efficiently. Every day, regardless of what time I jump on my bike, there are other people riding shiny and expensive bikes down the trails. We’re racing each other to the bottom and taking photos for social media to prove that we’re so privileged that we can be out biking through the forest at 2pm on a Tuesday. What were once leisure pursuits have been commodified into triathlons, complete with commemorative hats, shirts, bags and increasingly expensive bikes. We have arrived at a place of such privilege that we can afford to fill our days with recreation for no higher purpose than the recreation itself,  and by wearing the hats, we are advertising to the world that we have the money to do so.

Am I part of a cohort who values recreation above all else?

Recreation or leisure occupy a block of free time that is separate from work, survival (sleeping and eating) and education. Leisure activities such as hobbies and sports are done for their own sake and are intended to provide joy, satisfaction and maybe fun. Historically, leisure is the privilege of the upper class because the opportunity to participate comes with the availability of money and time.  Leisure still may be pursued for its own sake but in the contemporary climate of glorifying non-productivity, leisure has been commodified by companies who wish to sell recreation. Sports and hobbies all include spending money on the acquisition of the necessary accoutrements. Everywhere we turn, we are being aggressively advertised to. Bikes, shoes, hats, socks, apparel…it’s all being sold to us through the glorification of athletes and “outdoorsy people.” If, as Hemingway famously said, “there are only three sports – bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering. The rest are merely games,” then why have we glorified the games? Are we so gullible to believe the hype that getting outside, playing games and entering races is an admirable use of our time?

Why have we commodified recreational pursuits to the point that we’re competitive about them? Why am I striving to swim, bike and run faster than the other people?

Is pursuing fitness and playing sports (read: games) just another example of conspicuous consumption and the glorification of non-productivity?  As I was nearing completion of my workout this morning (5x20min in heartrate zone three) I thought about what I was wearing (special bike shorts and clip-in shoes); using (a heartrate monitor and a flashy mountain bike); and doing (training my heart to be more efficient so that I can win a triathlon). The price of the clothing and gear seems incongruent with the value of the activity in my life. So I ask myself again, what’s it all for? I honestly don’t have the answer. I could say that I’m staying healthy; I could say that physical activity and fresh air is good for the soul; I could even say that my recreational pursuits are a gateway to philosophical musings such as this one, but is any of that true? Or is the truth that I’m part of an exclusive cohort who can afford to aggressively pursue leisure? I spend most of my days outside: skiing, biking, paddling and now running and swimming. I embody the advertisements that are plastered in outdoor apparel stores. I love being outside and I devote all my waking hours to figuring out what my next adventure will be. And I’m definitely not alone in this obsession. But are we the recreationalists bankrupting society of further intellectual capital? Are we so busy getting out there that we’re not contributing to society in an intellectual capacity? Or are we setting a healthy example for the desk-bound and car-bound people who envy the outdoorsy lifestyle?

I certainly don’t want to be a drain on society and I would hate to be labelled a conspicuous consumer, but I simply love recreation. Being outside, feeling my heart and leg muscles working hard, that is the place where I feel the most calm and the most inspired. The trick, I suppose, is to capitalize on that inspiration and use it to figure out what my contribution to society should be.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll swim, bike and run in the vain search for inspiration.