October 31, 2012

A 7-day cleanse to help runner's body heal

As part of my ongoing battle with a mysterious heel/foot injury, I am doing a seven-day cleanse this week. I am enjoying it so much that it may well become my new diet. I use the word "diet" in the sense of nutrition, or the sum of food (and drinks) I consume; I am certainly not trying to lose weight.

Encouraged by my supportive sponsors Drs Paul Fleming and Leah Stadelmann of Chief Chiro (which recently joined forces with Squamish Therapeutics to form Squamish Integrated Health) I looked into the inflammatory qualities of food and decided it was time to adjust my diet accordingly, particularly when it came to bread and pasta, of which Tim and I have been eating copious amounts for years.

In the past 18 months, Tim and I had made some key changes to our diet inspired by my work with Teresa Rider on her book Reconnect With Food: Eat Your Way to Triathlon Success and a subsequent IMJ Coaching training camp run by Teresa and her husband Scott Jones in Boulder, Colorado. The two key nutritional changes we made as a result was our daily breakfast and the meat we eat most nights.

Breakfast changed from Alpen no-sugar-added cereal with milk, to a homemade Bircher muesli, while the meat we eat most often changed from lean beef to buffalo (both the mince and steak varieties). Another key change was using extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for salad dressing, rather than the low-fat ready-made bottled Italian-style dressing.

Teresa also highly recommended chickpeas, and they have become a staple in our diet since. (We are eating somewhat less tofu now than previously and have cut out canned tuna altogether. We eat chicken a few times a month and fish, usually fresh salmon.)

But now, as I desperately search for a solution to the problem that is keeping me from running -- something that has affected me deeper than I allow myself to realize because it's too hard to deal with -- I have revisited my diet again and am making some more changes.

The Squamish Public Library has a copy of Anti-Inflammation Diet for Dummies in which I learned more about the impact food has on the level of inflammation in our body. I haven’t yet read the entire book but the sections I have provided an incentive to act. It may have a positive impact on whatever my running injury is and at least, if nothing else, improve the way I fuel my body.

This book also mentions this website where you can check the Inflammation Factor of a food.

Recently I came across this article about foods that ease muscle and joint pain, and have since made an effort to include one of them in each of my meals, which is not hard to do. They include cottage cheese, ginger, turmeric, kale, walnuts, and extra virgin olive oil (I was using the latter already but have become more generous with it).   

Scanning Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness by Kathy Freston, chapter five titled A Jump Start for Your Body: Doing a Cleanse caught my eye.

"Of course the bedrock of wellness is feeling good in your body and being aware of what helps and hurts it, and one of the best ways I know to jump-start the process of feeling good in your body is through a body cleanse," Freston writes. "A cleanse is a short-term fast, during which you give up certain foods (or sometimes all food) for a period of time."

"It's not just good for the body, it's also a very important part of a general clearing and lightening that can have a considerable effect on our moods, our outlook, and our sense of spiritual connectedness. Again, this is all about body, mind and spirit. They rarely act or react alone."

The cleanse is aimed at giving the body a break from all the hard work of digesting our food. She recommends giving up sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten and animal products. I opted to give up four of the five for one week, though with caffeine I have kept one cup of coffee in the morning (that's down from my usual 3-4 cups, and up to five cups of Red Rose (black) tea with milk throughout the day).
I did not want to give up animal products; I thought that cutting out the other four will be drastic enough -- gluten in particular as I eat a lot of bread and pasta for example. Now into the third day I am glad with that choice.

Sugar is not that hard for me to give up, though I consume more of it probably than I realize including in the generous helpings of peanut butter I tend to put on bread, as well as of course that bag of Twizzlers or Snickers bar. Still, I love fresh and dried fruit so that's easy to turn to.

Alcohol is not that hard either, though I do love having a glass of red wine with dinner. However, a "common sign [of a weakened liver] is greater sensitivity to ... alcohol -- you might be called a lightweight. Your liver may not be strong enough to filter out toxins from the bloodstream completely, and so they effect [sic] you more powerfully than they would someone with a healthy, fully functional liver," Freston writes.

Caffeine is by far the hardest one for me. "[C]affeine stimulates the central nervous system by tricking the brain into the release of excess adrenaline," says Freston. "This excess adrenaline in your body builds up in your muscles, creating body tension, headaches, and muscle spasms."

While I rarely suffer from a headache, I have plenty of body/muscle tension. As Freston writes, giving up caffeine might cause withdrawal symptoms including headaches, irritability, lethargy, nervousness, and depression; that's a key reason I decided to simply drastically reduce my intake to 1 cup of coffee a day.

Gluten is not something I have previously considered as something that was negatively affecting me. "A gluten-heavy diet may contribute to osteoporosis, anemia, and vitamin and mineral deficiences, primarily because the small intestine is too inflamed to perform its duty of absorbing nourishment," according to Freston.  

My diet certainly was gluten-heavy with lots of pasta and bread. "Each individual has a different sensitivity to gluten, but almost everyone suffers some irritation from it," Freston writes.

As mentioned, I am not forgoing animal products this week. Perhaps another time, perhaps not.

So, what am I eating?

Breakfast is now: organic apple, raisins, walnuts (or almonds), shaved unsweetened coconut, greek yoghurt.

An alternative breakfast, which can also serve as lunch or dinner, is a large omelet with veggies, here's a meal I made the other day. You need a couple of ‘regular-sized’ potatoes, 4 eggs, extra virgin olive oil, 1 onion, ginger (ideally freshly shaved), a dash of turmeric, 3 small tomatoes, and fresh cilantro.

Peel the potatoes, slice them before cooking them until done.
Cut the onion as finely as you like.
Pour generous layer of virgin olive oil and heat in frying pan, then add the onion.
Meanwhile, crack and mix the four eggs in a bowl, then add the potatoes, ginger, turmeric. sliced tomatoes and fresh cilantro, and add this mixture to the pan.
When done, add (sea) salt and fresh black pepper to taste, and serve with cottage cheese.   

For dinner last night, I made a salad with buffalo and goat cheese (a variation of a recipe from Teresa's Reconnect with Food); I used fresh organic spinach, tomatoes, avocado, and sunflower seeds. I also added a bit of organic kale and fresh ginger.

Another lunch or dinner I am having during this cleanse is a brown rice curry with chickpeas and veggies. The curry paste I'm using has been a staple in our diet for a while: Aroy-D red or green curry paste, as all the ingredients are natural. I use extra virgin olive oil to fry an onion, before adding a tablespoon of the paste, then chickpeas, veggies, and finally coconut milk. Serve with brown rice.   

October 29, 2012

National Novel Writing Month 2012

It's almost November, which means it's time for another National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

If you've ever considered writing a novel, I highly recommend trying this annual nonprofit event that encourages kids and adults to tackle the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in one month.

The writing challenge begins on November 1 and finishes on November 30. To participate—free and open to everyone—register at http://nanowrimo.org/

I'm planning to participate for the third time. In 2010, I wrote the first draft of what turned into From my Mother -- my first novel -- during NaNoWrimo.

Like last year, I asked the Squamish Public Library if they were willing and able to support NaNoWriMo by offering a space for local participants to work on their masterpiece and they again agreed enthusiastically to host two so-called Come Write In events next month.

So, if you're doing NaNoWriMo and find yourself in the neighbourhood on Saturday November 10 and/or Sunday November 18 any time between 10am and 2pm, join me at the Squamish Public Library  to complete our daily word count together.

Praise for From my Mother

October 23, 2012

Return to Ironman: Whistler 2013

"I thought you never wanted to do one of those again?" my dad said on the phone.

Well, that's not quite true; I had thought more of it as, you know, maybe, possibly, one day.

Since finishing my fifth Ironman in New Zealand in March 2005, I decided to focus on running, never looking back as I slowly and surely improved; earlier this year, at the age of 41, I ran personal records for the 10K, half marathon and -- most importantly -- the marathon at 3:00:29 (on a course that was later declared up to 400 metres long for the top finishers including me).

What's more, I knew I could run faster.

On a high from these results and greedy for more speed, I began a 10-week high intensity program with a coach 2-1/2 weeks after the Vancouver marathon in early May. Bad move. Disaster struck within a month, though it has taken me four months and counting to to realize the extent of it.

In my 16 years of running (and including six years of triathlon) I have only suffered one previous major injury, an ITB problem in 2003. In the nine years since that injury, I have done three Ironmans, 12 marathons including 11 in 3:15 and faster, and completed five ultras without any issues that couldn't be fixed with a couple of treatments.

So this mysterious pain that prevents me from running, even walking at times, and doesn't seem to handle driving well either, has been tough to deal with. While the symptoms are clear, it has proven hard to pinpoint and I still don't have a diagnosis.

I do know that it hasn't responded to the Active Release Technique, Trigger Point massage and IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation) treatments I have received in the past four months; all were done by qualified and experienced professionals whom I'd recommend highly without hesitation.

This week I am seeing a physician who specializes in sports medicine, in particular field hockey, football and running, and I am scheduled for an MRI on November 6 (it will be eight weeks since that request was made).

The last few months have been challenging, and I've had to keep my mind in check. By and large, I remain optimistic though have found it hard to motivate myself for cross training, with swimming and cycling high on the list of recommended activities.

I am a runner, I love to run. But I can't at the moment and have no idea when I'll be able to run again.

Finally last week I got on my bike because I wanted -- needed -- to doing something. I realized that the last time my Argon 18 had been used was in Ironman New Zealand 7-1/2 years ago. Wow.

I did my first triathlon, an Olympic distance in June 1999, and my last in March 2005. I now have been away from the sport for a longer period of time than I was in it.

In 2005, I simply stopped riding my bike and gave up swimming without too much regret to focus on running. As my passion for running grew it erased any interest I had in a return to triathlon, though I have remained closely involved in the sport through Tim's training and racing, friends, and my work as a writer and editor.

While I certainly wasn't compelled to swim or ride, I have kept all my triathlon gear (bike, wetsuit, clothing) except for my Zipp race wheels; Tim discouraged me from selling the carbon bike used only in preparation for and racing at IM NZ, even as it simply sat there gathering dust.

"It's unlikely you'd ever buy a bike of that quality again," he'd say. "Besides, you'll never get your money back in selling it."
"But what if I never ride it again?"
"Don't sell it."

Then Ironman Whistler was announced. An Ironman around the corner. With 100 Kona slots. Of course Tim signed up on Tuesday, as did a neighbour and other friends both locally and overseas who had registered for priority entry. The thought of signing up had crossed my mind, though I dismissed the idea very quickly. Or so I thought.

When general online registration opened Thursday at noon, I found myself filling out the entry form; my fingers were typing even as my brain was thinking, No, absolutely not, NO WAY.

Fear is powerful. Fear can be paralyzing. It also can propel you into action, and disappear when you challenge it. I couldn't deny the excitement I felt; the familiar thrill of wild abandon in committing to a clear goal that is as electrifying as it is terrifying. Giddiness that trumps all reason and rationale; a gut feeling that something is completely logical in its inherent craziness and that, despite trying very hard, is impossible to ignore.

I paid my $736.31 accepting that I may discover over the next few months that I am no longer cut out for triathlon, that the desire and excitement for Ironman training and racing remains overshadowed by the fear of mass swim starts and riding big downhills, fears that I dealt with in each of the five Ironmans I did between 2002 and 2005. Or, as I hope and expect, I may find myself a triathlete again, loving the feeling of supreme fitness that comes with training in three disciplines.

IM Whistler is here, now. And so am I. So why wait? What would I be waiting for? Turning 45, 50, 55 or 60? If I don't want do Ironman now, why would I want to do it later? Let's do it now. At least I'll finally have some powerful motivation to get back on my bike (the windtrainer until next spring) and into the pool; if nothing else, there will be good crosstraining ahead while I search for the answer to my running injury.