Biking for Newbies

Do you remember the first time you actually rode a bike without training wheels? It’s a rite of passage for kids. Those first few rides which felt a bit dangerous and thus exhilarating at the same time are so freeing! And the sense of independence that comes from being able to travel to a friend’s house on the other side of the neighborhood is awesome!

This is my bike, a 3 speed Electra Townie. It’s very versatile, with a comfortable seat and wider tires, making it both road and trail worthy.

As an adult during this pandemic, my bike has been my escape from isolation in my home. It’s taken some time for me to adjust again to riding on rural roads. It can be a bit unnerving to be passed too closely by a car. And it’s also a bit humbling to be passed by a “real” cyclist on a fancy road bike.

Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed taking to the streets in a different way than running, and have quite enjoyed exploring my area by bike. Even though I’m a novice, I’ve learned a few things already. I’m going to share some tips I’ve learned over the past few weeks, and I hope this helps you to feel more comfortable biking, too. I’ve got a few friends who have some tips for you as well! And if you don’t have a bike, maybe you will be inspired to borrow, rent, or buy one, and try biking yourself!

This is a graphic I created with Bike Walk Hanover to highlight some safety suggestions when you take to the roads by bike:

I have a few more suggestions for your comfort that I’ve learned through my own experience:

  • Yes, really, wear a helmet! Having treated patients following traumatic brain injury, it’s super important to protect your noggin in case of a fall. The cost of a helmet is far less than your ER copay, too.
  • Dress for the temperature. For running, we always suggest dress for 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature, but for biking, I’d say dress for about 10 degrees cooler. You generate more airflow on your bike!
  • Wear form fitting shorts that are longer, like bike shorts at least 7” long or capris/tights for cooler weather. You do not want loose clothing getting caught in the mechanics of your bike! And the longer shorts help prevent chaffing.
  • Wear clothes that will protect from the sun. I feel like I’m exposed to more sun on my bike than with running, so I wear short sleeves, even when hot, to keep my shoulders covered.
  • Invest in some padded shorts for longer rides. It will definitely keep your backside happier! If you have a road bike with a smaller seat, they also make padded covers. I can find these occasionally at stores like Ross.
  • Invest in some type of pouch, whether it’s something that you wear or something that attaches to your bike, so you can keep your phone with you and have a place for snacks, etc. I’ve used mine to store an extra layer when I’ve dressed to warm for a ride, too.
  • Keep a quarter with you on your ride, that way, if you need to inflate a tire, you’ve got the change to pay for it.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands for longer rides. I use an old pair of weightlifting gloves. You don’t have to get fancy!
  • Keep your tires properly inflated. This will make your ride safer and more comfortable!

I asked two of my fellow MTT coaches who are also accomplished triathletes for their advice for newbies. Here’s what they said:

“My biggest piece of advice is a helmet!!! You should ALWAYS wear a properly fitting helmet, and you should research safety ratings before buying! It’s your brain! I’m always on a soapbox about this issue!”

Lisa Zirapolous

“Be aware of the rules of bike riding if you are on the road. And trail. Like right of way and courtesy. Don’t ride alone, don’t not have ID, and have your phone. Know the area where you are riding.”

Kelly Hall

I also queried my fellow Bike Walk Hanover members, and they suggested the RABA website as a resource. This link provides tips on safety for group runs, too.

Don’t have a bike, but still want to ride? Finding one to purchase can be tough right now, so renting is a great option. A fun day trip from Richmond is into the Town of Farmville. You can rent a bike in town and ride the High Bridge Trail. It’s about a 12 mile round trip on flat trail from town to the bridge and back. Check out a brewery or one of the many restaurants in town when you’re done! Restaurants are now open in Phase 2 of Covid-19 recovery.

Looking for more motivation for biking or an activity for you and your friends? Check out these virtual events with Sports Backers: the Virtual Virginia Credit Union Moonlight Ride and the Great American Ride. Taking part in these virtual events will not only keep you working toward a goal, but will also help support a great non-profit in the Richmond area so they can support community wellness programs.

Checking out one of the trails in the Town of Ashland.

Hopefully you are inspired to dust off your bike or try a new adventure! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy!

Grocery Tour Series for Vegans: Ellwood Thompson’s

Since we have begun to re-open in Virginia, at least for now, I will go ahead and continue on with my grocery tour for vegans series. This week, I’m taking you to one of Richmond’s locally owned organic grocers.

My younger daughter is always up for an adventure, so before our visit, we took a drive down Monument Avenue to soak in a bit of history in the making. We weren’t disappointed, and were quite moved by the experience. It’s one thing to see pictures on the news. It’s quite another to go and see things in person, to feel the energy of the area, and to see others experience the same.

The Lee monument. This statue and the surrounding land is controlled by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our governor has declared his intention to have it removed. There is currently an injunction by a federal judge to halt this action temporarily. I have literally run past this statue hundreds of times on training runs in the city.
Another view of the statue with the RVA unity sign created by local artist Jake Van Yahres.
Lots of people were posing for pictures!
There were memorials all around the base of the Lee statue for Black lives taken by police or by hate crimes. This one for Ahmaud Arbery is significant to me as a runner. I will never ever again take it for granted that I can run any street I want without fear of harassment because of the color of my skin. I have thought about him every run since I found out about his life and death.
Memorial for George Floyd.
J E B Stuart statue.
Stonewall Jackson statue at Monument and Arthur Ashe Blvd. This is another one I have literally run past hundreds of times. I would always say the only time I’m happy to see Stonewall Jackson is on a run, because that means I’m almost done! This one is about a mile from the Sports Backers stadium, which is home base for the Richmond Marathon training teams. This was taken waiting at the stop light from our car.

Now back to our tour.

When my husband and I first became interested in cleaning up our diet and buying organic, Ellwood Thompson’s was one of the only stores in town to reliably purchase quality, organic food.  Since 1989, Richmond has been lucky to have this store in our community!

I realized that I neglected to take a photo of the storefront, so you get the bag instead!

Located in Carytown, it’s still a pioneer in our market for sustainably and locally sourced goods, even with so many other stores in the RVA market. What keeps Ellwood Thompson’s relevant is its real connection to local farmers and makers, extra services like health coaching, and its community events. It is through one of their programs that I found my functional medicine chiropractor! But they still carry all of the familiar organic brands of middle aisle and frozen foods, plus some specialty items you can’t find elsewhere. Basically, if you need something weird, organic, or vegan, you can typically find it here. And if you want a good, quick meal, their hot bar and juice bars are wonderful. Admittedly, I don’t shop here often, mainly because it is quite a distance from my home. But if I’m spending time in Carytown, I typically stop in for some vegan treats!

ET’s Juice Bar

What are my recommended must-haves from Ellwood Thompson’s?

  • Vegan baked goods
    • So many varieties. So much deliciousness! I never leave the store without at least a cupcake. This week’s choice? Vegan Samoas cupcake.
This is the samoas cupcake. It was delicious!
One of their baked goods cases. About half of these items are vegan.
Another case, this one of grab and go goodies, most made in house. I almost brought home a vegan strawberry rhubarb pie! Again, many vegan items in this case.
  • Supplements/Personal care items
    • If you need to tweak your regimen, they have experts who can help.
    • They carry a wide variety of goods, including locally made products.
  • Bulk foods.
    • They have a rather extensive selection. You are encouraged to bring your own containers under normal circumstances.
    • Included in their bulk foods selections: BAKER’S YEAST!!! There is a sign in their baked goods aisle indicating as such, so I had to go back and check! So if you are in need, now you know a place to get it!
One third of the bulk items.
Another third of the bulk items.
If you’ve been on the hunt for yeast, they have it in bulk here!
  • Local produce
    • If true sustainability is something that you value, this is your place.
Produce section. You can see the start of the bulk foods at the back of this section.
  • Prepared foods
    • All of their in-house prepped meals I’ve tried are delicious! Lots of vegan choices here, including those from the hot bar and packed to go. I almost picked up their vegan Carolina style BBQ.
    • Note that their hot bar is closed at this time due to the pandemic, but they do have a cafeteria style line for hot foods open at certain times of day.
  • Craft beers, wine
    • They have a generous selection, including single serve beers, so you can try a variety.
    • Hard kombucha is included here. They have several varieties.
    • Non-alcoholic varieties are also included here. If you are cutting back on your intake, but still love craft beer, they have a large selection of regionally sourced choices.
Craft Beer!
Wine section. Note the emphasis on locally made wine and ciders! There is typically an expert in this area who can direct you to vegan choices.
  • Vegan cheese
    • They have all of the national brands as well as locally and regionally made “cheeses” here, including Rooted Delights brand.
Vegan Cheese!

If you’re in the RVA and have never been to Ellwood Thompson’s, you should check it out! Lots to do in Carytown, too, once the City of Richmond moves into phase II next week.

Not from the RVA? You may still have a local organic market in your area if you live in a larger metro area. These independent groceries are worth checking out and supporting!

Have you shopped at Ellwood Thompson’s? What are some of your favorite purchases here? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

The Garden Still Grows…

Garden Update!

Life has been interesting the past few months, that’s for sure. The activities which center me and allow me to process life’s uncertainties the most are endurance cardio and gardening. So, as we figure out how to stay safe from coronavirus while simultaneously fighting the ongoing plague of racism in our country, there are these things which allow the time and space to grieve, let go of anger and anxiety, and determine courses of action. And despite the challenges of life this year, the garden was planted, and it continues to need attention, weeding, and watering. And it continues to grow.

Taken with my iPhone with a cheap macro lens attachment

My existing flower beds have moved on from the columbine from early spring to the coneflowers and St. John’s wort of early summer.

Coneflower
St. John’s Wort

My collards are ready to be harvested. I’ll pick the larger leaves this week.

One pair of my raised beds. Collards in the foreground. You can see two squash plants and a tomato plant in between the beds which are directly in the ground.

Some of my tomatoes have babies, and my jalapeño plant also has blooms and babies!

This is an heirloom yellow variety. My mother in law loves yellow tomatoes, so I planted a few varieties with her in mind! The first of my big tomatoes to grow babies!
A macro shot of a baby tomato on one of my cherry tomato plants. This one is a yellow variety as well.

My squash… well, that’s a mixed bag. The ones I planted directly in the ground are not flourishing, but they are surviving. I had one in a bed that died (it was replaced with the jalapeño plant) and another one in a bed that is doing very well with multiple baby squash.

One of the squash plants which are in the ground.

The potatoes are looming large. I’m waiting for blooms and dying off before harvesting, and my butter beans are climbing the trellises I provided for them.

The second pair of raised beds. The bed to the left is all potatoes. I have tomatoes in the middle in the ground, a couple also in the bed on the right, and the rest of that bed is butter beans.

Here’s hoping that the wildlife will leave some of the fruits of my labor for us!

Macro shot of a tomato bloom.

Sorry I don’t have anything more thought provoking to offer this week. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

On the state of things…

It’s been a rough few months for America. On top of the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected people of color, we’ve seen yet another surge of violence against blacks, including at the hand of police brutality. It’s so overwhelmingly sad, incomprehensible, and distressing. I feel insignificant in the struggle to fight for what is right.

Most days, there’s a song playing in my head. My inner soundtrack is my brain’s way of helping me deal with life. All weekend, I heard four songs consistently. I’ll begin by quoting the first:

My own artwork

“Well, darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable. And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I’ve sailed my ship of safety ‘till I sank it. I’m crawling on your shores.”

The Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine

While I normally think about this part of this song in relation to struggles with depression, I hear these words in a different way. The darkness is injustice. The light is hope. The darkness has always been here. And white people have benefited from this, whether we realize that or not. If you pay attention, the privilege will smack you in the face. If we accept the safety of the status quo, we are giving in to apathy, and apathy wins. Apathy allows the darkness to fester. And, thus, we are complicit in its spread.

I feel a tremendous amount of guilt about this. And I’ve wrapped myself in that guilt and fear of inadequacy in bringing light to the darkness. And now I’m here to listen. But the less we speak, whether it’s sticking up for Black neighbors when we see injustice or staying home and not voting, the more that darkness invades our society. The more elusive that light becomes.

And now, after our leader essentially declared that he has the right to invoke martial law after years of stoking division in our country, our democracy seemingly hangs by a thread. Our world is now even darker. And most of this post was written before #blackouttuesday. I fear some of us may actually find ourselves in the position to seek refuge if we become a military state. Now is not the time to sit back and do nothing.

“Now apathy is happy that it won without a fight.”

The Housemartins, Think For a Minute

Apathy is a funny thing. We think if we hide from doing the right thing, it doesn’t affect us. Our inaction is also an action. Not speaking up for what is just opens up more opportunities for injustice. It spreads. Like a virus.

“I said, Hey! Old man! How can you stand to think that way? Did you really think about it before you made the rules? He said, ‘Shut up. That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.’”

Bruce Hornsby and the Range, The Way It Is

It’s time for things to change. I’m not exactly sure how to make change happen, but I have allies who are more informed than me on how to invoke transformation. I will listen to them. There is a plethora of information available to educate ourselves about systemic racism to help us develop empathy. We can reach out to our elected officials in support of true equality. I am confident that we will figure this out.

I’ve started with phone calls to my lawmakers. I’ve read books to educate myself and develop my empathy toward people not like me. I’ve reached out to my friends of color to check on them. I will continue to vote. It’s not enough, but it’s a beginning.

“In the end, only kindness matters.”

Jewel, Hands

The road to real progress will be long, but it will be worth it. We’ve had protests for racial equality before, but it feels different this time. Lots of my friends feel the same way. We need to make sure we don’t give in to apathy again. We need a new normal, not the status quo. I want my kids to enjoy a much different world than we have right now. A world where kindness really matters and where everyone feels safe and equal.  This is not politics. This is human decency. Let’s not leave all the work for them.

#nojusticenopeace

#blacklivesmatter

Three of my favorite books about racial injustice that I’ve read so far are Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Today, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the Mayor of the City of Richmond Levar Stoney declared that the confederate statues that line Monument Avenue will be removed. This is remarkable progress for what was once the Capital of the Confederacy. What was once thought impossible is, indeed, possible. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

*Updating to add that several Confederate statues have now officially been removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond. The first to go was Stonewall Jackson.*

It’s Time for Summer Camp for Grownups!

“I dare you to train for a marathon, and not have it change your life.” -Susan Sidoriak

Attention RVA runners! Our summer camp for grownups is set to begin next week! Just in case you haven’t heard via social media or email, the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team will begin June 6th and 7th. It goes without saying that this season will look much different from previous years. And although we will initially meet virtually, we anticipate meeting for smaller group runs beginning on July 11th as state ordinances allow.

With the Sports Backers MTT in front of the Virginia State Capital before the Richmond Marathon in 2019. I’m on the front row, second from the right.

I can tell you from experience that training for and running a marathon will, in fact, change your life. Sports Backers is responsible for my success in training for and running 7 marathons!  I have found their program to be extremely supportive and comprehensive, with education including, but not limited to, what to wear, how to fuel, and how to prevent injuries. There is hill work and speed training. And besides the training, there are the friendships. My running family has been solidified through these programs. Yes, we are one big team, but we are split into sub-teams by long run day, speed, and start times; we can accommodate anyone from the back of the packers, like me, to 3 hour marathoners.

Last year, I was asked to coach for my sub-team, the Pink Nation. I am coaching again this year. We have been working diligently behind the scenes to ensure your training experience will be amazing. And although I’m hopeful we will get to run our race in November, I can understand the apprehension in signing up for the program based on our current situation with regard to the pandemic.

Quoting our Pink Nation head coach, Blair Just. The flamingo is our unofficial mascot!

That’s why I’m excited to tell you that Sports Backers has extended their deferral decision option. Anyone who signs up for 2020 MTT has the option to defer their MTT registration, with all its perks, to 2021 MTT through September 1st  at 11:59:59pm at NO additional cost! It’s essentially a risk-free trial, which is comforting with so many ongoing changes this season. Also know that your training team fees generate funds for all of the wonderful community programs that Sports Backers produces that help promote an active RVA, like the Fitness Warriors and Kids Run RVA.

Now, hear me out. I know that with Boston now canceled after being postponed, Berlin canceled, and other earlier fall marathons on the brink of succumbing to the same fate due to the pandemic, you may wonder why we should bother to train at all. But for many of us, a fall marathon is now a part of our DNA. We have sacrificed group runs for months and really miss this human connection we get through group training. I personally have been in maintenance mode for weeks. As of now, the Richmond Marathon is still on the books for November 14th, 2020. Getting back to a training program may help us battle quarantine fatigue and help us return to some semblance of normalcy, even if training looks a bit different this year.

Many of you may have had your heart set on running your first marathon in 2020. And although we may not be certain of the fate of fall races yet, you can bet there will be some virtual options. And there will be many of us veterans who will be more than happy to help you reach your goal, including me.

If you are not in the Richmond area, or if you want to continue to avoid group runs but still have excellent guidance, there is a completely virtual team available which has been a part of our program for a couple of years. You will get support from your own team of coaches, regardless of what marathon you are training for, but note that your training team fee includes entry into the 2020 Richmond Marathon, dubbed America’s Friendliest by Runner’s World Magazine.

Looking for another way to stay motivated with running? Check out Sports Backers’ new virtual event, the Great American 5000k team race! In teams of 12 or 24, you collectively run the mileage across the US (3,107 miles). You do not need to be a resident of the Metro Richmond area to participate! Sports Backers has partnered with Feeding America, raising funds for this worthy charity.

As our world begins to re-open and as the height of the pandemic seems to be passing, perhaps it’s time to return to organized training. I hope you will consider joining Sports Backers MTT this year! #letsgorva

Happy running! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

About Empathy

I read an article a few years ago about the phenomenon of catching yawns. This is something I’m quite prone to, so I was intrigued. The premise of the study was that people who spontaneously yawn at the suggestion of watching someone else do the same is that these people have empathy.  Those who don’t not only lack empathy, but they may be more prone to exhibiting sociopathic behaviors. I often reference this article when I’m working with a patient and we spend part of a session yawning back and forth. It always gets a chuckle… realizing that neither one of us is a sociopath.

Last week, I came across a quote I posted on Facebook a while ago by one of my favorite authors. It was worthy of re-posting; I even made it my cover photo.

Indeed. If we are guided by our ability to relate to the feelings and needs of others, human or otherwise, and not just ourselves, our world would be a far better place. So in the spirit of chasing wellness, let’s talk about empathy.

Miriam-Webster defines empathy as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner and also the capacity for this.

In a very simple sense, at least in American society, there seems to be a struggle between entitlement and empathy. I’m at my wits end with what I see in the media about how people are treating others these days. I hope you are, too. I’ll give you a non-political analogy:

As a runner and cyclist, I often get rattled by rude drivers. My knee jerk reaction is to yell at someone who gets too close to me in their car, which is obviously not a good idea. To my fellow fitness enthusiasts, I’m sure you have just as many stories as I do about near crashes. If I’m following all of the road rules, signaling turns on my bike, minding my own business, wearing bright colors so I can be seen, etc., am I not entitled to carry on with my activity without fear of being hit by a car? Or is the driver of the car entitled to speed along without the annoyance of a several second delay because of my presence? We’ve all been the one in the car. But not all of us have taken to the streets for exercise. I can usually tell who else has by how they treat me on the roads. What if everyone had to experience what it’s like to ride a bike or walk/run on the streets while sharing the road with vehicles? Would their behaviors change knowing what it’s like to experience a close call?

In my studies to become a physical therapist, one of the things we did was to participate in disability day. On this day, each first year student was assigned a physical disability, and we had to carry out our day as if we had that functional limitation. I was a paraplegic, meaning paralyzed from the waist down, and I was confined to a wheelchair. The idea was to give us the opportunity to develop empathy by walking in someone else’s shoes. We had specific tasks, too, like to attend class all day and to go to the store and make a purchase. My biggest challenge physically was getting in and out of my second floor apartment. I had to rely on my roommate and neighbor to hoist me down the stairs in the chair, which is scary if you’ve never experienced this. I rode a bus in the wheelchair, strapped into the floor like I’ve now done for so many others in wheelchairs. I visited the grocery store and had to get something off the top shelf by myself. A woman was horrified that I used a wooden spoon I found hanging on strip to slap an item off the top shelf. She looked at me in disgust and almost wailed as she ran away from me. Would it have killed her to ask me if I needed help? I also ordered a coffee drink from their coffee bar. The barista asked me in a very slow, loud voice if I would like whole milk or skim milk, as if my apparent physical disability was an indication of my mental capacity. I thought I had empathy toward folks in wheelchairs. After all, my grandfather became a quadriplegic in his later years. But the assignment did its trick. I don’t treat people in wheelchairs the same way as I did before this experience.

Let’s get back to prevailing news of the season, the virus. I find it disturbing that people are crying “my body, my choice” when asked to wear a mask. Isn’t it ironic that some of these same people crying about their choice to wear a mask don’t want women to have the same privilege? Do they even think about the health and well-being of others? What about your grandma or grandpa? The healthcare providers who continue to fight the virus? Those who are more susceptible to infections? You can’t look at statistics of the categories of people who are succumbing to the virus most and think, well, they don’t look like me, so I’m good. Wearing a mask or social distancing aren’t political statements. Those actions show that you have empathy toward others. That’s it.

Empathy is something most of us are born with to some extent. But we can also work on fostering  this behavior. None of us are perfect. Even if we consider ourselves empathetic, we can still work on thinking outside our comfortable bubble. I’ll go back to my wheelchair experience. I thought I knew what it was like to rely on a wheelchair for mobility, especially since I essentially grew up watching my grandfather do this. But until I actually had to use one, I really didn’t get it. I didn’t expect people to treat me with disgust or assume I was also mentally impaired. And that was just for one day. Imagine the cumulative stress of dealing with that treatment day after day after day… and now think about that using any other appearance that is different from yours. And even then, it still might be difficult to grasp the significance of how much more challenging life can be.

As we in America are struggling to deal with the Coronavirus and “quarantine fatigue” in addition to everything else going on in our country, let us not forget how to be empathetic toward our fellow humans. It seems this is a behavioral quality lacking in our society on many levels right now. There are so many very simple ways we can show empathy toward others. Besides wearing a mask while running errands, you can start by thanking the people working right now for you so you can buy groceries or get take-out. A small act like this makes a big difference in one person’s day. So try to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and be kind.

It never hurts to work on developing empathy. Try reading a book about a different culture or experience. Travel to another country or even another part of your city and see how others live. Talk to someone who doesn’t look like you; this could be someone of a different color, religion, physical ability, gender or sexual identity, or age. See the world from someone else’s eyes. I dare you to step outside your bubble. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Book Review: Good to Go by Christie Aschwanden

Back in my home health days, I listened to lots of NPR. I especially loved the program Fresh Air. I was lucky enough to catch Terry Gross interviewing Christie Aschwanden, the author of the book Good to Go, in February 2019. She was speaking my language… scientific but well explained rationale behind the industry of recovery. You can hear the interview here.

As a marathoner, especially an older one, I’ve come to realize that success and avoiding injury in my sport lies mostly on how I care for my body; more specifically, in how I choose to recover. I haven’t met an athlete yet who doesn’t have some type of recovery ritual for tough workouts, whether it’s a protein shake, stretching, or my favorite, the Epsom salt bath! The recovery industry is huge and growing. Much of what Christie discussed really resonated with me and what I’ve learned from recent research regarding the management of inflammation, which is really what recovery is all about.

You see, there used to be this giant push to halt the inflammatory process in recovery, but science is proving some of the old, comfortable ways to recover from hard work really don’t work at all. This includes ice! I’ve never been a fan of ice baths. Not because it wasn’t scientifically proven to work, but because I hate being cold! I was thrilled to read an article stating that it might actually impede recovery. And when Christie reaffirmed this new, evidenced based finding, I was thrilled. She does note that if you are performing several tough workouts in a row, there is a place for those ice baths.  She also discussed with Terry Gross her avoidance of taking ibuprofen after exercise for the same reason. You see, our bodies create an inflammatory response to exercise when we perform at an intensity to force adaptation. If we halt this process, we could, in theory, impede our physical progress. Our bodies use the inflammatory response to rebuild what we’ve damaged. You halt the process, you delay recovery and, perhaps, improvements in performance from all of that hard work. So the shift is toward helping to move this process along instead of stopping it, since inflammation = repair.

I bought her book off Amazon that night.

My copy of the book!

This is a well-researched, excellent overview of various modalities most of us use to improve exercise recovery. Christie hooks you in by telling the story of the “beer study,” a study in which she participated. Initial test results indicated that women may actually benefit from drinking beer to recover, and that this could subsequently improve our athletic performance the next day. Sadly, this was not true for the men. But before you can gather all of your girlfriends to go drink beers on the patio of your favorite craft brewery for the purpose of improving race PR’s, she bursts your bubble. She breaks down the flaws in their research model and why this isn’t true. She literally teaches you how to critique scientific studies, which is exactly what I spent half of earning my MS, PT doing!

Christie divides discussion by electrolytes/hydration, supplements, physical modalities, and sleep. She cites research that supports a paradigm shift in some of our old recovery rituals. And since she is an athlete herself, she tried all of the physical modalities herself, described her experiences with them, and what works for her. She gives you the science behind not only why but when to use these modalities. She also tells you things like real food can help you recover just as quickly as a protein shake, and that a walk can improve circulation as much as those fancy compression boots. She admits that much of what makes us feel better as recovery tools may have a huge placebo effect, but notes that this is OK. Some modalities, like massage and related ones like foam rolling, have limited research to support logical theories as to WHY it works, for example, but we definitely feel better after experiencing these!

As a physical therapist, I do take pause at some of the recovery tools she no longer supports. For example, she no longer includes any stretching as a part of her prep or recovery. I know she cites research to support not doing this, but I happen to enjoy stretching and how it makes me feel as a means to reduce all sorts of abuse to my body from activity. Is it a placebo effect? That’s your call. I’ve read plenty of research over the course of my career to support it both as prehab and rehab when performed correctly. But I also know plenty of runners in my circle who are terrible about taking the time to stretch, so her views might make them feel better about their recovery choices!

All of Christine’s research is cited, so you can go look up the articles yourself. In many cases, she actually interviewed the authors of these studies. In addition, she also interviews top athletes and their feelings about recovery. It’s interesting to see so much variation in what works for athletes. This book is more of a discussion with anecdotal stories than a dry summary of everyone’s research.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you are confused by all of the recovery tools on the market and you appreciate geeking out over the science of the whys, like me. You may find something new to add to your arsenal. And as marathon training season is set to begin next month, albeit virtually, I’ll once again be looking for the best tools to recover from my weekend long runs!

Have you read this book? I’d love to know what you think! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Trail Running: Pocahontas State Park

I’ve taken you to the James River Park System trails in an earlier post, dreamed with you about the potential Ashland to Petersburg trail, and have shared on my Instagram all the cute little trails in the Town of Ashland. Now let’s begin to explore some other trail systems in the metro Richmond area!

With Virginia starting Stage 1 of its reopening process in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, I think even more people will take to the great outdoors for exercise. In fact, gyms can officially conduct small, outdoor classes now!

On Friday, I joined my husband at his CrossFit box for a workout. We did Karen, which is 150 wall balls for time. This WOD appropriately has the same name as a noisy, entitled white woman… and my quads still hate me for doing this workout.

That evening, my sole sisters decided we should hit the trails Saturday. So Pocahontas State Park it was. I was actually grateful to mix it up a bit; my long run day is typically Sunday, and my trail shoes are fresh, unlike my road shoes! It’s been ages since I’d run with anyone, especially more than one person. We kept our distance, but it was still so great to see friends!

Pocahontas State Park is in south Chesterfield County. It’s almost 8,000 acres with two lakes and over 64 miles of trails! It was once the largest State Park in Virginia. There is a parking/admission fee of $5 per vehicle, and at this time, the public restrooms are closed, although they do have porta potties. There is also no camping, and the pool will remain closed this summer, all due to the pandemic. But I’m grateful the park is still open!

Shortly after finishing our last leg of Ragnar, April 2017, with most of our team, Pretty in Pink! It was SOOOO HOT!

Now, the last time I really ran at Pocahontas was back in April 2017 for the Ragnar trail event. It was the weekend after I chose to go vegan. It was also a weekend of hot, humid days and limited sleep. Who ever heard of 97 degrees and 87% humidity in the middle of April in Virginia? That’s August weather! Ragnar was a one and done event for me. I still shudder at the memories from my night run where I didn’t see a soul for over a mile and was certain I’d lost the trail. And did I mention the commotion that unfolded in front of me because of my headlamp? The light attracted moths. The moths attracted bats. And there’s nothing quite like bats flying into your face at 2:30 in the morning while you are running technical trails!

This is the bridge leading to the Swift Creek trails.

Even with all of those memories flooding back, we had a nice run! We had planned 7 miles, but it got hot quickly, and we were all pretty much done after about 4.5 miles. The trails we used were not the single track bike trails we were on for Ragnar, but the Swift Creek trails and fire roads on the other side of the park. But they were lovely and hilly with nice views of the water and wildlife. There are enough trails here to make a day of it if you are doing some serious training for an ultra, for instance!

On one of the trails!
There were a couple of creek crossings. So pretty!
Thanks to Patty for taking this picture of me on a giant rock on the trail!

The most startling surprise we encountered Saturday? Snakes. We saw 4 on our run. The first was a copperhead who seemed to be guarding the trail entrance. Two of my friends ran right past it! It almost looked like a pile of leaves, but then its head moved! We also saw 3 black snakes, one of which crossed the trail right in front of us! But we left them all alone. After all, we were visitors in their home. They were probably not prepared to see so many people after reduced human traffic for so long. So be prepared for some company on the trails if you venture out!

This beauty was guarding the trail entrance! This was taken with a heavy zoom…. you do NOT want to get bitten by one.
One of the three black snakes we encountered. These are good, non-venomous snakes who keep the rodent population under control. They also love chicken eggs… my husband is quite the snake wrangler and used to pull them out of the chicken coop for me when we kept chickens.

If your runs need some mixing up, try venturing out to the trails and taking in some nature! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Vegan Goodness: Gravy Edition

Besides cheese and my mom’s potato soup, what is one thing I have mourned the loss of since eating vegan? I missed gravy. I am the gravy maker for our big Thanksgiving meals. I am adept at creating this magical potion to add deliciousness to the most ordinary foods. It’s more of an art than science. A throw it together, add a bit of this and a bit of that kind of operation. And adding a helping of this instantly morphs any dish into comfort food.

Creating gravy is a process that it quite forgiving, really. It’s a mix of fat, flour, and broth. You can also sauté veggies like onions and mushrooms to add flavor and texture to the gravy. So simple. So good!

In honor of the art of the process, here’s my guide, rather than recipe, to making gravy:

Ingredients:

  • Oil or vegan butter (roughly 2T. I like olive oil)
  • Flour (roughly 1T. I use a heaping normal spoonful from my silverware)
  • Vegetable broth
  • Spices (salt, pepper, onion salt, thyme, umami are all good choices!)
  • Optional: onions, mushrooms, peppers cut to desired size for sautéing

Directions:

  • If you are adding veggies to your gravy, cook these first! Sauté over medium heat in a bit of your fat of choice and a bit of salt in a non-stick frying pan. Once caramelized/browned, remove from the pan and set aside.
Browning the onions
  • To the same pan over medium heat, add your fat of choice and allow to warm or melt. Add the flour, sprinkling over the surface of the pan, and STIR. A non-stick whisk works well here, but if you don’t have one, use a spatula safe for your pan. The trick is to keep things moving in order to form a roux. If your mix seems dry, add a bit more fat. Allow to cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. It should look like a thick, bubbly mixture, almost like a thin pancake batter.
Adding flour to warmed olive oil.
Sprinkle in the pan, trying to avoid large clumps to ease creating the roux.
The roux should look a bit like pancake batter, bubbly and thick.
  • Add your broth, about a half cup at a time, stirring frequently. If you’ve ever made risotto, the adding of the broth is similar; add a bit, see how the mixture thickens. The flour will continue to cook and thicken as you add broth. You want your gravy to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but thin enough to drip off of your spatula. (For this batch of gravy, I added about 3 cups of liquid between broth and water, as my mix had become too salty!)
Adding broth.
  • Problem solving: taste your gravy. Is it salty enough? No? Add a bit more salt. Add your other desired spices to taste. Too salty? Add water. Not thick enough? Mix about a tsp. of flour with about 1/3 cup water until smooth, and slowly add this mixture to your gravy while stirring constantly.
  • Once your gravy is your desired thickness, return the veggies to the gravy. Stir to combine. You may need to add more liquid to the mix once the veggies return.
Gravy served over rice and broccoli
  • Serve over your favorite carbs, protein, and/or veggies!

If you try making your own gravy, let me know how it goes! Hope you are all safe and healthy.

The Squat: What You Need To Know: Pandemic Edition

Without the gym, those of us who exercise on a regular basis or are so bored at home that we want to start exercising are now forced to rely on body weight movements and cardio to fill these needs. If you happen to have an awesome home gym, good for you. I’ll try to hide my jealousy! (The good news for Virginia is that gyms are allowed to provide outdoor classes potentially starting this Friday!)

Of all the body weight exercises, the squat is my favorite. As a physical therapist specializing in geriatrics, the one functional movement that determines someone’s ability to live independently the most, in my opinion, is their ability to transfer. And if you look at a squat, it’s really just standing up and sitting down without a chair. If you lose your ability to stand up and sit down independently, you typically have to rely on a caregiver for help. This is what our elders fear the most… losing their independence. So this is a perfect exercise for healthy adults who want to get a lot of bang for their buck with an activity. And if your grandma has a lift chair in her house and uses it to help her stand up but doesn’t need to, you have my permission to lecture her on not using it this way. Use it or lose it!

All of my patients do some version of a squat as part of their treatment or home program if they are able. Their squat may look different than the ones younger adults do, but the activity is scaled to their capabilities. More on that later. First, let’s look at the basic squat for a healthy adult.

The squat works on building your quads, hamstrings, and glutes primarily, but you will also need help from your hip adductors (inner thigh muscles) and abs for stability. Start in standing, feet just wider than shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly out. While keeping your head and chest up, drop your butt down past parallel, keeping your knees tracking in line with your toes. (If you drop to the bottom and feel your heels rising, you need to work on your ankle mobility. Stretch those calves!) From here, simply return to standing.

This is me in the bottom of a squat. Notice that my heels are on the floor. My knees are in line with my toes. My chest and head are up.

You’ve got the basic idea now. And you can do this movement anywhere. You don’t need the gym.

Do you want to make it more challenging? Although I can tell you from experience, you will feel it if you do enough reps of the basic air squat, especially, and perhaps surprisingly, in those hip adductors. (The most common form error I make is when performing back squats at heavier weights; I will let my knees turn in. It’s the hip adductors that prevent this). But to up the difficulty, you can hold a weight in your hands near your chest or on your shoulders to focus on strengthening. This can be a kettlebell, dumbbells, a full detergent bottle, bag filled with cans, backpack filled with books, whatever you have. Of course, once you get back to the gym, you can try working on back or front squats with a barbell.

Would you rather focus on stability? This is especially important for runners since we encounter variable terrain on a regular basis and must make split second reactions to accommodate. To do this, simply change your surface to one that is less stable. This can be a pillow, sofa cushion, or, if you’re lucky to have one, a Bosu ball, either standing on the dome or on the platform with the Bosu ball turned dome side down (my favorite stability variation and in my regular rotation of accessory work in the gym.) Everything, but especially your feet and ankles, must work more to help you complete the movement.

Bosu ball

Want to focus on turnover with running? Make it a jump squat to incorporate plyometrics. (Plyometrics is another topic that deserves its own discussion.)

With any of these variations, try performing sets of ten mixed with two or three other body weight movements.

So, what do you do if you have limitations in performing a squat? This could be restricted range of motion at your hips, knees, or ankles, maybe from tight muscles or other limitations like arthritis, or could be muscle weakness. There are multiple ways to scale a squat.

I mentioned before that if you drop to the bottom of your squat and your heels rise, you lack ankle range of motion in dorsiflexion. Focus on some calf stretching to try to improve your flexibility here. Or, a favorite weightlifting cheat, wear shoes with a higher rise. Most standard running shoes have a 10-12 mm drop from heel to toes. For some people, this is enough to compensate for the range of motion limitations and are fine for basic air squats. (Look at powerlifting shoes. They have a “heel” for a reason! But if you are back in the gym and using weights, it’s better to use a shoe with a firmer sole. I lift in Reebok Nano’s).

If your movement is limited at your hips or knees, you can accommodate for this by not dropping below parallel. Use a chair for a guide, touching your glutes to the surface as the bottom of your squat. Do you get to that point and then drop to the chair, unable to control the movement? You also lack strength. Now what do you do? Your squat can simply be a sit to stand. Try to do this without using your arms. If you can’t, use your hands to help. I would suggest sets of 5. This is a great “commercial break” activity! As another option, you can perform a mini squat, merely performing the first part of sitting down and the last part of standing up, holding onto the back of a chair or the counter for support if needed. I have given my parents and my in-laws home programs with both mini squats AND sit to stands. That’s how much I love them!

Everyone needs squats as part of their workout rotation, from seasoned runners to grandmas. It’s an essential exercise that helps maintain flexibility and functional strength. I can’t tell you how much I miss doing back squats with a barbell and using the Bosu ball in the gym, but in the meantime, I will stick to working on variations of the air squat at home!

As with any exercise program, make sure you are healthy enough to begin per your doctor’s guidelines. I am giving you this information without assumption of risk if you become injured. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy!