The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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Triathlons – Blame it on the 7R

Early morning light before the triathaMOM began.

Early morning light before the triathaMOM began.

No, 7R isn’t the newest ultra-heavy base layer from Patagonia. It’s a genetic mutation (the variant is DRD4-7R for the really geeky) tied to dopamine, which is that addictive learning and reward chemical in our brains. According to the January 2013 issue of National Geographic (so I’m a little behind in my reading…), 20% of us have this variant. It’s linked to curiosity, restlessness and makes us more partial to movement and novelty. And here’s a not-shocker: it’s closely associated with ADHD. Ladies and gentleman, ski towns inhabitants in a nutshell.

But what happens when the restless gene meets up with something demanding a bit more stability, like pairing with a partner (marriage) and even offspring? In my mind, this explains the recent boon in adventure races, triathlons, trail runs and the like. Tough Mudder, an 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces, had 460,000 + participants last year. I just participated in my first sprint-distance triathlon and it seemed designed to coax a few 7R’s that have paused to bear children into action. It was fully supported, non-competitive, women only triathlon, or as they like to call it, a Triathamom. I’m sure if you grabbed DNA from these participants, 7R would appear in more than 20%.

The event itself was highly organized and incredibly enjoyable. My husband commented on the girliness of the body marking, which occurred the night before the event. Instead of conventional permanent marker, they used fun large stamps. As a side note to newbies- they stamp your AGE on your left calf. I was unprepared for this and found myself obsessing with the number on the calf in front of me. The calves starting with a “2” particularly irksome. But back to the event.

The 300 meter swim was indoors at the Kearns Olympic complex and I found myself wishing for open water because I knew it would give me an edge. I’m extremely comfortable in water and waves, wind, etc don’t really bother me, but had to rein in my competitive streak to remember that I was only racing against the clock, even if I would perform better with a shotgun and mass splashing. Since I had never done a swim, bike and run in quick succession (way to train, I know) I tried not to go “all out” in the swim and finished smiling and easily loped back to the transition area where my bike was waiting.

I thought I was relatively fast in the transition, but the clock showed otherwise. Apparently 4 minutes is quite a long time to spend downing a Gu and putting on my helmet. Oh well. I was a superstar on the 10 mile bike ride, or at least I felt like it. Feel free to copy my strategy: Only ride your race bike with knobby tires. The week before the race, get slick tires. Don’t ride the bike until the race. Whether you’re flying or not, you will be convinced that you’re incredibly fast. Ignore the clock and go with that feeling! The sign below was also posted along the bike path. Awesome.

Ryan, you are so right.

Ryan, you are so right.

Last was 3 mile run. As I began running, it occurred to me that I have never gone from a bike ride to a run. Why would I? And something was definitely wrong with my legs. They were leaden. The run was HARD. I knew that eventually my legs would loosen up, and the only way to get to the food at the finish line was to continue moving. So run I did. After a mile, glorious blood began to flow through my leaden legs and I could pick up the pace. When comparing my times with others, this appears to have been my strongest area by far. I wasn’t fast, but I pushed HARD through the suffering because I’m a mountain girl deep down and it’s a skill learned early on.

I’m so glad the 7R made me do it and can highly recommend this event to anyone wondering if they might have a bit of the variant themselves. I’m inordinately proud of the necklace I got after crossing the finish line, too.

Further-reading-book-of-the-day: The Scientist in the Crib by Alison Gopnik

“Normal” and a minor retraction

Lest you think I’m all gloom and doom, I can assure you I appreciate my beautiful backyard and the amazing fall weather!

What is it about the human psyche that relaxes when things are “normal”?  Sure, “exceptional” might be sometimes desired but mostly worries are assuaged by the term “normal”. At a point in my life (pregnancy) where nothing fits my old definition of normal, I find this particularly fascinating and frustrating.

My old normal is unattainable. That whole “if you did activity x before pregnancy, you can continue it during!” is total crap. I am an aggressive single-track mountain biker. I don’t crash every time I ride, but definitely every season and sometimes every month. Of course this isn’t a good activity to continue during pregnancy. And I have no clue how a climbing harness would fit me now – my normal harness certainly wouldn’t and I don’t see a rapid weight load around my waist being a good idea right.

In the past, I have been critical of mountain athletes that lose their entire sense of self when they can’t ski after a blown knee, for example. They lose their identity as a person and often fall into a deep funk. I now have more compassion for these people. And it turns out it’s not all physiological.

The IMAX film Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk (which I have yet to see due to the utter lack of IMAX theaters near anywhere I have lived) notes that humans are the only animals who seek danger and risk their lives for fun. According to a synopsis of the movie, many extreme athletes have significantly lower levels of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase B. These people have a higher resistance to arousal of certain sections of the brain, meaning that it takes a higher amount of stimulation in order to get the same level of excitement and pleasure others get out of less extreme activities. This makes a lot of sense to me as it would appear that my mother-in-law and husband get this excitement from seeing me stand on the countertops (which I have yet to fall off thank you) while I need a nice exposed arete to get the same high. And of course, we can’t forget about the oft quoted sensitivity to dopamine also present in thrill-seekers.

So for now, I can’t think of a single way to get my monoamine oxidase B OR dopamine fix. My normal has also been changed and I for one am glad to say that this whole “sharing my body” thing is temporary. Yup, I said it – and the “pregnancy is wonderful” police are welcome to beat down my door. If I don’t answer, it’s because I’m cleaning projectile vomit off my shower curtain again. And that’s just not normal.

A Home Away: Steamboat Springs, Colorado

That’s one hard-working tank top. Hiking at Steamboat Ski & Resort at 21 weeks pregnant.

For the long holiday weekend we met up with friends in the resort town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While I had visited the ski town before, this marked my first warm weather visit, and more significantly, my first visit since I’ve been a non-resort town resident. My how perceptions can change.

On my previous visits I found Steamboat’s gentle rolling mountains flat in comparison to the stark majesty of my beloved Tetons. While the ski resort stats are not quite as drastic as my blanket statement (Steamboat clocks in at 3,668 vertical feet and Jackson at 4,139), there is no denying the the younger Tetons make a more dramatic rise out of the valley floor. Obviously the mountains haven’t changed much since my last visit, but I have.

At over five months pregnant, I found the rolling green hills to be comforting. Somehow they just seemed more approachable and the lush green valley had an overall welcoming appearance. But the hiking at the ski resort was nothing to sniffle at with more than enough vertical to get my heartrate up in a hurry. However, my real excitement was directed at the dedicated downhill bike trails zig-zagging the mountain. The beautiful banked turns and one-way traffic had me drooling for my bike and a chairlift up the mountain, but since it’s not a biking season for me I was content just to know the option exists for future visits.

Old Town Hot Springs in downtown Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Another HUGE plus? The hot springs. Not shocking given the name of the town, Steamboat boasts a number of natural and developed hot springs. Since I need to be wary of water over 100° (it can fry the babies brain cells), the developed pools with handy temperature guide fit the bill for me. More than just a solitary pool, the Old Town Hot Springs has a number of very warm “adult only” tubs with a larger more moderately heated pool, a 25-yard lap pool, two water slides and a complete workout facility indoors (with child care!). The copious flowering baskets and landscaping was absolutely breathtaking and the convenient downtown location can’t be beat.

Final assessment? Steamboat is a pretty nice place to visit and maybe even a nice place to live.

Diet-Breaker-Of-The-Day: Want a cupcake? No? You will now.

 

The Cautious Gene

What is it that makes some people crave safety and control, even in athletic situations (my husband), while others are having the most fun when they’re just on the edge of a complete and total blow-up (me)? Is it something we’re born with or something we develop?

I have one athletic friend who expressed a desire not to have children. When I asked why, his response entailed his mother (Freud, anyone?). His mom was an aggressive biker, skier and all around play-mate with his father. However, after they had kids, she stopped skiing the steeps and toned the biking way, way down. She explained that the consequences seemed too severe. My friend was knew that his eventual partner would also be an athletic woman and wanted her to stay that way.

So is that the key? An understanding of consequences? If so, wouldn’t all the pro skiers who have broken clavicles and femurs tone it down after their injuries? Instead, those that can seem to aggressively tackle physical therapy and often return to heli-ski another day. I myself have broken a few bones and torn a few ligaments, yet those pesky little things have done little to cramp my go-fast style. Instead, I think this comes down to a basic economics concept: cost benefit analysis.

We all have different lines for what we are willing pay for a good or service. Is someone cleaning your house worth $5 to you? How about $500? Is the best cancer treatment worth $10,000? What if it costs $1,00,000?  $500,000? For me, the benefit (adrenaline rush, focus, feeling of accomplishment) of riding my favorite single-track faster and faster is worth the potential cost of crashing. Usually (not always), I find the fear of crashing is worse than the crash itself. But even I have lines, and I’ve drawn that at class V whitewater. The risks are high and my enjoyment is not, so I just don’t go on it anymore.

So will this change after I have kids? It’s a possibility. But what will be even more interesting is to see what happens when a cautious and non-cautious gene combine. Stay tuned…

Places Less Known

Until recently, I’ve made my adult life about living in truly amazing places (now it’s about love… insert groan here). At least, places that were amazing to me and other like-minded people. These people would not include those that value big box stores and convenience, but rather huge ski bowls and epic whitewater (Vail), endless mountain bike single track with incredibly steep ski terrain (Jackson) or amazing and accessible climbing (Bouder). Not shockingly, these places were also frequented by tourists – lots and lots of tourists. But now I live in a decidedly non-tourist town, yet we just had the biggest friend gathering in any one place to-date. What gives?

I think the answer would be good friends. We hosted a backyard BBQ to celebrate our nuptials last winter, which was an immediate family only affair. But last week, an almost overwhelming number of friends and relatives flooded Casper from Seattle, Virginia, Michigan, Telluride, Boston and reason driving distances such as Denver and Jackson. While this may not be shocking to you, it was a valuable lesson to me. It’s relatively easy to see friends and acquaintances when you live in a place like Jackson, where 4 million people visit a year just because it’s that awesome of a place. And while Casper does have a few merits (many of which have been previously highlighted by this blog), it mostly takes a strong desire to spend time with people and a concentrated effort to get here. Which is why we extra appreciated the effort. There has to be a lesson somewhere in here about the important things in life being people over skiing/climbing/biking. Maybe?

Tiny Houses and Hungry Ghosts

Manufacturer and provider of floor plans for tiny houses.

What would you be willing to give up to ski/bike/fish/hike/play five days a week and work two days a week? Your daily latte? Sure, that’s probably a no-brainer. But unless you drink really, really expensive lattes, that’s probably not enough to make up for the three (or five) missing workdays. What about your house? Your car? Would you share a $3,000 car with your spouse if it meant a significant lifestyle increase? Now we’re getting into the hard questions.

Like it or not, our default pattern for the American lifestyle is not to “give up” things. In fact, it might even be focused on getting more things. But at what cost? Do we have a choice? I say we do, and I would like to promote more of us exercising our choices (including myself).

The biggest investment most of us will make in our lifetime is a home, and our homes are getting bigger by the decade. Home theaters, once the bastion of the rich and famous, are now commonplace in middle-class American homes. Homes are bigger and families of five can easily spend weekends “together” in one home not interacting with one another, much less the larger community outside the front door (if a nearby community exists at all).

This phenomenon is sometimes known as the lack of the “third place”, a point where Americans in particular seem to lag. We have work (where we spend A LOT of time) and home, but community gathering places like cafes, pubs, bookshops, etc are on the decline as we spend more time in our spacious homes. One of my least spacious fixed homes (this does not include summers in cars/tents) was a cabin on Fish Creek in Wilson. It was probably all of 600 sq. feet and I had a neighbor on each side in a similar size abode. Because of the tight quarters and scenic location, we often had inpromtu gatherings based on the fact that we were all meeting in the yard, which was basically a share public (or “third”) place.

What if we all had smaller homes that encouraged us to get out in the community AND saved us a ton of cash with lower utilities and, of course, a lower total cost. There are a few companies peddling houses as small as 65 sq. feet to as large as 874 sq. feet (check out some tiny houses here). For less than the cost of a new car, you can get a complete house, which begs the question: what would you do without a mortgage or rent payment?

 

Ski Cheap at Winter Park

While grandma was on mountain to knit and visit, the rest of us represent three generations of skiers.

It’s no secret that skiing is an expensive sport, so any savings can be a big help when it comes to getting a whole group on the slopes. So what do you have to do to get this deal at the ticket window? Ski for a long, long time. As in, be over 70-years-old and still tearing up the slopes.

And how many people make it past age 70 at a level of health that allows them to enjoy alpine skiing? My grandpa, for one. And not just to 70 but 10 years past 70. That’s right – Grandpa is now 80-years-old, riding a train from Holland, Michigan to Winter Park, Colorado and skiing intermediate runs at altitude with enough energy left for an apres Fat Tire beer at the days end.

And if you’re no where near 70-years-old and feeling ripped-off by this blog post, I have a solution for you, too. It’s called liftopia, and I bought my lift ticket for around $70 after tax the night before I skiied Winter Park. Since the tickets typically ring in at $94 during holiday season or $85 during regular season, I thought it worth the effort to hop online and pay for it the night before. And picking up the ticket was as easy as buying one retail – I just went to any lift ticket window, gave them my name (bring your I.D.) and they cheerfully handed it over. It’s not as smoking of a deal as my grandpa’s tickets, but after introducing three kids and four grandkids to the sport (two of which became ski instructors), I’d say he deserves a little street cred at the ticket window.

How to be like Grandpa: Eat whole foods and have a varied, active lifestyle. Drink in moderation. He’s proof that it works.

Get your own liftopia deal by clicking the banner below.

 

 

Learning Humbleness

Ice

Image from my photography class, offered through the Continuing Education department of Casper College.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re an ‘expert’ at, well, anything, and find yourself in the teaching capacity (even if it’s an informal situation), you owe it to your students to learn something new. Why? Because it’s incredibly humbling/frustrating/rewarding AND it will make you a better teacher.

So what have I been learning? Oh, where to start? I took my first Pilates class a few weeks ago. It was a mat class, which means that the only equipment used was a yoga mat and, of course, our bodies. Confession: I kinda expected to be “good” at it. After all, I’m relatively young, in very good shape with a strong core and I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years. I was wrong. From my limited, one-class experience, Pilates is an exercise in subtleties and micro movements that are learned, not inherent. While the same could be said of yoga, I’ve committed much of it to muscle memory to the point where many of the less-obvious yoga movements are blissfully ‘built in’. It will take a while to get there with Pilates.

And I’ve blogged about my recent escapades skate skiing. It still strikes me as odd that I can transition from a scenario where I’ll turn around, fish out chapstick or generally not pay attention to an adrenaline-inducing OMG-please-don’t-fall-scenario based merely on the type of skis underfoot.

Now, there’s a third scenario on the scene. It’s a sport I know and love in a new format. My favorite sports (skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, etc) are decidedly individual, but I’m struggling in my new home to find places to bike (I get lost) and trails to run (again, I get lost). Enter Windy City Striders and Fat Fish Racing. The Striders have running races pretty much every Saturday and I enjoy having a preset distance to run and the subtle peer pressure from running in a big group, as opposed to my typical “run until I feel like turning around” style. Fat Fish Racing is a group of mountain bikers with a monday night race series running throughout the summer, and quite frankly I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. My biggest rides to date have been in groups of eight friends that typically involve more margaritas than ribbons at the end of the ride. I entered myself in the intermediate “sport” category based mainly on the intel that the people in the beginner “rec” category can get a little agro. I am opposed to agro, unless it’s me versus hill. But me versus other bikers sounds like a losing proposition based on body mass. I’m just hoping my times will be a mild lesson in humbleness rather than a severe smack in the face. The first race is May 21, so stay tuned.

Over and out.

 

All’s Well That Ends Well

Beware the water bottle that arrives with multi-page instructions. Read them.

I’m not totally convinced that Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. Although my last foray into the wonderful world of skate skiing did end well, certain body parts are not screaming “all’s well”.

My first “not well” clue came in the form on an innocuous water bottle. I won a handheld, Ultimate Direction water bottle from a raffle of a 10K I ran on Saturday and brought the bottle along based on the fact that it was sitting on the counter. Halfway up Casper mountain, with a manual transmission and 10 mph switchbacks, I was screwing the entire lid off to get a sip of water. Beware the water bottle that comes with instructions.

I didn’t bring the bottle along for my ski or I would blame the water weight for what happened next. The flat-ish area where I first learned how to skate ski was a bit melted out and some incline was obvious, but not enough to concern me. I started down the incline and gained more momentum than anticipated. Focusing on my form, I over weighted my right ski and crashed hard. Naturally putting my hands out to catch myself (note to self: work on “tuck and roll” form), I luckily kept my semi-injured thumb in close to my hand to no avail. Instead of hyperextending my UCL (ulnar collateral ligament, aka “skiers thumb), I jammed it back hard. Too hard. It’s super sore today and a little swollen – just enough to remind me to wear the thumb brace I bought a while back to prevent such an injury. But I digress.

Pull HARD on the red nipple to drink from said water bottle. It's not intuitive.

Since my beginner area wasn’t seeming so beginner, I set off to explore. To me, “exploring” is roughly defined as “attempting to get lost while meandering in whatever direction seems like the most fun”, and is really easy and maybe more exciting if you’re directionally impaired. And this was the best kind of exploring as following a groomed track ensured that it wouldn’t escalate to a survivalist situation.

Setting off on Bishops Loop, I was pleasantly surprised at the occasional scenic overlooks and snowed in A-frame cabins sprinkled throughout the forest. Intense cardio ensured I got several lungfuls of a heady pine scent and eventually, my route dead-ended into a T. One thing was certain: the left trail went one way, while the right went the other way. I went left, ended up spotting a “Braille Trail” sign posted by the Lion’s and the irony of my semi-lost state hit rather heavy.

Eventually, by looking 360° around me at every intersection, I made it back to the car. I had spent an entire hour in cardio land and actually enjoyed myself. So maybe Shakespeare was right after all.

 

Helmets – Why I wear one and you should, too.

All helmet sales increased 23% in units 2008/2009 to 2009/2010. Junior helmet sales shot up 32%, and adult sales increased 21%.

Helmets are a big part of my life. By my last count, I own six (bike helmet, kayak helmet, climbing helmet, snowmobiling helmet and two ski helmets), and I have a nagging feeling that I’m leaving one out. But today, I’m going to tell you why you need to wear one skiing – all the time.

The year is 2002, and it’s a Colorado bluebird day. I met up with friends off and on for a few runs, but I was cruising Vail’s backbowls and enjoying the slush bumps. Towards the end of the day, I decided to make one last run before making my way down the resort and choose a blue  (intermediate) bump run, which was an easy slope for my ski ability. On my way down, I crossed my tips and predictably ate snow. While I wasn’t going fast I did bonk my head on the way down. Feeling a little dazed, I finished the run and got back on the chairlift, only to realize that I set myself up for another run before I could start to get out of the resort, which was surprising and frustrating. How could I have forgotten?

The next day I was back on campus at the University of Colorado and I got lost trying to find my next class. I called a friend for directions and started bawling. Apparently my snotty phone rant included my ski crash, feeling like crap, being extremely tired and general frustration that I could get lost a month into classes. My rugby-playing friend asked if I might have a concussion. Yup, that made sense.

“You wouldn’t play football without wearing a helmet – same rule applies for skiing. Plus helmets are way warmer than hats.”

— Lindsey Vonn

I was already out of the “danger” window for sleeping and whatnot (during which I slept – oops), but I ended up getting CAT scan, just in case. Nothing abnormal showed up (keep snide jokes to yourself, please), so I slowly coalesced at home. Going upstairs to the kitchen to get a drink of water made me winded and I slept more than when I had Mono in high school. Overall, I was lucky and the entire ordeal could have been entirely prevented by wearing a helmet.

I often see parents of young children cautiously lidding their kids while they themselves wear only a hat. This makes no sense. Part of the welfare of a child is taking precautions to ensure their parents stay alive. Even if you’re skiing well with your ability, my little analogy shows that accidents can happen – and don’t forget about the “everyone else” factor.

I had another ski instructor friend who was skiing green (beginner) runs with his class and slowly skiing a cat track on the way to lunch. An out-of-control boarder came flying out of the wooded section above the cat track, went airborne and crashed into the instructor, knocking him down with enough force to break his clavicle. His helmet cracked in two, but doctors said without his helmet, he’d be dead. Instead, he fully recovered. So wear a helmet – it may not look the coolest, but neither does a coffin.

For more helmet information, check out www.lidsonkids.org.

 

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