... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Weeks 3 and 4: SICK.

Day one of week 3 I awoke with a little scratchiness in my throat, dreading what that meant. I mostly ignored it for a few days -- feeling a little run down, a little more sniffly, but able to continue. There was an interval run with some fun, short bursts of high intensity, more bike drills and one goofy ride where I wasn't feeling up to riding on the highway so I just rode back and forth between all the resorts... all was well. The Hilo to Volcano Ultra run was on the docket for Saturday, as part of a 3-person team for a total of approximately 10 miles each.

What happens when I play bicycle tourist
Thursday's swim gave us some hiccups. Sean and I were going to try out the master's swim at the pool in Waimea (at HPA), but by the time we got there and found the pool on HPA's sprawling campus we were 25 minutes late and too embarrassed to start. An let's be honest, it was incredibly cold at 6AM and the pool is outdoors. We then decided to go to Hapuna, but only had 10-15 minutes to swim because it was so late. "Oh well," we said. "We'll drive to Kona Aquatics after work tonight and swim." The joke was on us, however, because after driving 40 minutes to get there after a long day of work we found the pool closed for maintenance. Whomp whomp.

Eager to get back to it on Friday, I did my long bike ride on the trainer despite feeling more and more run down. My work day afterward was miserable and I resorted to drinking coffee (a very, very rare occurrence for me!) to keep myself going. I knew that the Hilo to Volcano race was going to be a push in my condition, but I headed home planning to quickly pack my bag, eat, and go right to bed for as many hours of sleep as I could get.

As soon as I arrived home I knew something was wrong. Sean's truck was in the driveway but the house was mostly dark and still locked. Bent over and wrapped up in every blanket we own, he staggered over from the couch to let me in and mumbled, "I have food poisoning."

And it was, indeed, very bad.

I'll leave out the details for everyone's sake, but suffice it to say we both ended up staying up all night and at 3:45AM, when I would have had to leave for the race, I was standing in our yard in the one tiny area that gets cell reception, googling "food poisoning treatments" and pondering whether or not I should be taking him to the hospital. Much to my chagrin I had to tell my teammates that I couldn't leave my husband in that condition and thus wouldn't be able to do the race. Here I would like to give a big huge shout out to those two amazing women, Barbie Nakamura and Melissa Schad, who completed the race without me (adding 50% more miles to their distances) and killed it!

Around 5AM Sean started being able to keep electrolytes down, but he was very, very sick all of Saturday. I had decided to forgo my workouts for the weekend and start again on Monday. On Sunday we relaxed together at the house, still trying to help him recover, then went to sleep. Early in the morning of Sunday-Monday night, I was woken up by a horrible pain in my stomach, along with nausea. I went to the bathroom three times before it got light, but given that I am prone to stomach problems, I didn't think much of it. That is, until 9Am when I started feeling so sick that I couldn't do anything but lie down. Then the vomiting started. Mine was not nearly so severe as Sean's, but still no cakewalk. I had to call out from work and miss yet another day of training, and I couldn't even think about eating or moving. By evening the stomach symptoms subsided but I was hit with awful body aches that made me feel like all my joints and muscles were on fire.

Kona Aquatics
It took until Wednesday for Sean and I both to feel ready to start training again. I started out with a very gentle jog on the road that runs from Honokaa to Waipio Valley -- gradual hills, and unique and beautiful views of eucalyptus forests on one side and blue ocean on the other. It was quite pleasant, and it felt good to be outdoors and moving again. Then I did a 30-minute swim at the Honokaa pool, which went well except for when I tried to perform the "fast 50's" called for in the workout schedule. My body was not having anything remotely "fast," so I let it go and just swam at a relaxed pace. I did my long ride for the week outside starting from the Mauna Lani resort area, and we finished up week 4 with a long swim at Kona Aquatics. It was the first time I've attempted a 1000 yards set in a pool, and although I've swam much longer distances in the ocean without stopping, the repetitive nature of the pool created its own challenge. It didn't help that there was a large group of people smoking cigarettes right outside the gate so that every time we breathed we got a lungful of secondhand smoke. Overall, though, it was a success and we got to see that lovely little notification pop up on our Garmin watches: Longest Pool Swim to date at 2500 yards!

Now that we are finally back to 100% or very close, so Week 5 is starting strong. I promise a much more interesting post for next week!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The First Two Weeks

It's official: it has begun,

Chilly on our first day!
We started our Ironman training schedule on December 19th with the coldest ocean swim I've ever done! It was cloudy and dark, and there was new snow on Mauna Kea, which did not provide the most inviting backdrop as we waded into the murky water. But we did it!

The second day was less successful. First I couldn't do my bike workout despite having prepped it on the trainer the night before because the one thing I hadn't done -- pumping up the tires -- wouldn't work with our new pump because the seal wouldn't lock. After  swearing at it messing with it for 20 minutes I gave up and headed out to run. I closed our gate and headed out and within 30 seconds one of my dogs, Jena,  appeared at my side, having dug under the fence. I took her back to the yard, but the moment I opened the gate the other dog, her brother Paco, ran like a shot out and down the road, followed closely by Jena at full speed. Having gotten a taste of freedom, they ran OVER A QUARTER MILE down the road, with me chasing them and yelling "FUCK YOU GUYS!" at the top of my lungs. When I finally caught them, they refused to walk and forced me to drag/carry them all the way home in a half-crouch, my legs burning. By the time I got home and finished burying a bunch of big rocks under the gate to stop the dogs from digging, I was already late to work. Great training day.

Beautiful Christmas Eve morning swim
The rest of the week went smoothly. The second swim was less cold and we got to share our swim space with a beautiful manta ray, a lovely welcome back. I got my tires pumped up and did my first trainer workouts on the bike, which was a new experience for me (with the exception of my one attempt at using our old trainer, which promptly ended up in the trash after the lock slipped and I slow motion crashed to the floor as I madly tried and failed to clip out fast enough). I did bike drills for the first time and via Isolated Leg Training (20 seconds pedaling with just one leg, 10 seconds transition with both, then 20 on the other) learned that my right leg is comically uncoordinated! I actually laughed out loud at the level of my right leg's spasticity when I first attempted it. By the end of the drills, however, it was starting to smooth out.

Curious cow on my beautiful run
The runs were nothing short of wonderful, soaked in the golden morning light with snow-capped Mauna Kea towering on one side and the ocean sparkling on the other. The air was crisp and the only other creatures I encountered were horses, cows, and curious goats. Around each corner there was new landscape to marvel over. Since these early run workouts specify fairly low heart rates, I never felt overly fatigued and was free to enjoy my surroundings.

It was also new to do two sports back to back almost every day. By Friday of that week the activity caught up to me and I got tired. VERY tired. (This could also be attributed to the fact that I had worked out for an hour and half and then danced for five and a half hours). The night's sleep didn't refresh me, and I made it through Saturday's morning swim before crashing and falling asleep on the couch for two hours. I woke up and did my long bike ride for the week on the trainer (yay for being able to watch Dexter!).

My new saddle -- less pain!
Sunday was Christmas, which we took off, and Monday of the second week we took our bikes in for tune ups and headed to Kona, where we did our swim workout in the Kona Aquatics pool. On our way back we picked up our bikes and did a 50-minute outdoor ride, which felt great and we did at a surprisingly quick pace. I also got a new saddle, and discovered with great elation that my nether-regions do not have to feel like they are engulfed in flames while riding! Such a relief! Ladies, if you have wide-ish hips, may I highly recommend a Body Geometry saddle!

Just more pretty running pictures
The rest of Week 2 was enjoyable, with no major hiccups. I weighed myself on Tuesday and discovered that I had lost 2.5 pounds in the first week in spite of Christmas candy. I have rediscovered my love of post-workout oatmeal, the latest incarnation being made with steel cut oats, lactose free milk, bananas, ground flax seeds, and chopped pecans. I also discovered a delicious smoothie made with all the same ingredients minus the oats and sub frozen bananas. Food is such a delight when you're working out hard!

I have also discovered that I really love drills, on the bike and running. Isolated leg drills, gearing pyramids, and variable gearing sets work the muscles like crazy while making the time pass quickly. We've never done a training plan with drills before because honestly I was intimidated by them, but I am so glad I finally made the plunge! It feels purposeful and I can tell that this method of training will lead to bigger gains with less stress on the joints and muscles. Win win.

Our Week 3 plan, proudly displayed
This week I made it until after the swim on Saturday before getting overly tired. Again I took a nap, but this week it actually refreshed me enough to finish the long bike ride feeling strong. Today, our day off feels restful and productive -- a great start to the new year! Sean also had the fantastic idea to put a white board up on the wall where we can post our week's schedule to motivate and prepare us, which was fun to write out and hang up.

So there it is, the first 2 of what I know will be a challenging and rewarding 36 weeks of training in preparation for this race. I'm ready

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ironman Year

Almost four years have passed since I first decided that I was going to pursue my secret desire to complete a triathlon. At the time I made that decision, I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t own a bike, and I absolutely hated running. In fact, I don’t really know where my gnawing desire to see if I could do it came from. It floated around in the far reaches of my mind, resurfacing occasionally to remind me that even though I didn’t consider myself even remotely athletic, something in me wanted to try. My first event was a sprint distance – 750 yard swim, 16-mile bike, and 3.2-mile run. Six months later was my second outing – a .93-mile swim, 25-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run. This was as far as my initial goal went. I just wanted to complete a triathlon, and I figured a sprint would get me started and the Olympic distance would really be my big accomplishment. Check that goal off the bucket list! I really had no plans to make this an ongoing hobby.

Then I went to Kona.

Watching two thousand people of all shapes, sizes, ages, nationalities, disabilities, and professions cross the finish line of the Ironman World Championships hammered home for me the most valuable lesson that triathlon has taught me: your limitations are only what you allow them to be. True, I’m not a classically built athlete or a naturally fast runner, but certainly if an 84-year-old woman or a man with an amputated limb and a history of cardiac cancer can do it, so can I. Too busy? The head of a surgery department who has 3 kids under age 8 did it, so what’s my excuse? It lit a fire in me, and I remember the moment when Sean and I looked at each other, standing on the sidelines at the finish, and said, “do you want to do this? I want to do this.”

Well, now is the time. I am officially registered for Ironman Coeur D’Alene and on August 27th, 2017 I will (if all goes according to plan!) become an Ironman! This means a year of intense and focused training with little room for laziness or complacency. Since I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for so long I’ve already picked out a training plan and for the past few months have been familiarizing myself with it and its demands. It covers 36 weeks, so I will begin my dedicated training on December 19th, although I plan on doing maintenance training consistently until then to make sure I’m ready once it’s go time. I’m scared and excited and since triathlon has already given me so much, I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

I am also excited about another project that I’ve been thinking about for a while but finally want to see take shape: I would like really like to share with others the joy, confidence, and sense of strength that endurance sports has given me. Triathlon has completely changed my body image and how I look at myself mentally, emotionally, and physically. Whereas before I felt like I was always in a battle with my body, I now see it as an amazing and beautiful vehicle capable of carrying me through the incredible challenges I’ve given it. I am grateful for it in a way I never was before, and the benefits are not limited to the physical domain: the discipline of learning to feel pain, push yourself, and expand your boundaries spreads into life outside of the sport. Because of this I feel a kind of strength in my body and mind that I never knew I had. I feel happier, more energetic, and less anxious because it has taught me to accept moments of physical and emotional discomfort and anxiety for what they are, quiet my mind, and keep moving forward. I truly believe that endurance exercise is an amazing tool to manage anxiety and depression. 

First sprint triathlon: look at that awkward run!
As I’ve navigated this journey, I’ve had a lot of friends tell me things like, “That always sounded interesting to me, but I don’t know where to start,” or “I’ve always wanted to do a marathon, but I’m not really the athletic type.” Or, the most common, “I’d really like to exercise more, but I’m just so busy.”

So, here is my offer: As I train for my first Ironman over the next year, I would be honored to help anyone who would like to register for a race happening any time between now and August 27th, 2017. If you have ever dreamed of doing a triathlon, considered running a half marathon, or a 5k, or doing a swim or bike race but you don’t know where to start, let me tell you with absolute confidence that you can make it happen and I would love to help get you started and keep your training consistent. I will help you find or create a training plan tailored around your specific race, I’ll help you navigate what type of gear you need, nutrition and fueling for longer races, and I’ll be here to help you stay motivated and on track throughout your training. If you’re a total beginner, even better. I’d be happy to help you with any running, cycling, swimming, or triathlon race up to a marathon or Olympic distance. If you already have experience, I’d be happy to assist with a half-Ironman as well (I’m not comfortable encouraging beginners to do a half-Ironman – better to start with a more manageable distance and go from there!)

First Olympic distance triathlon -- showing some improvement
I don’t want to call this “coaching” because I don’t feel like I’m even close to accomplished enough to provide that for anyone yet, but what I do have is a ton of experience in is starting from scratch, learning all of these sports from square one, researching and learning and finding the right resources to help, finding ways to stay excited and motivated, and figuring out what works for each individual person, and I would really love to help you navigate the logistics of the sport to reach your goal. I am also happy to share what I do know about running form (which has taken me from miserable, tortured, and slow on the run to happy, energized, and average!), swim technique, training strategies, etc. but only with the understanding that my advice in these areas is from personal experience and shouldn’t be taken as cut-and-dry coaching.

First 1/2 Ironman -- practically a real athlete!
So if, like I did, you have that little voice in the back of your head wondering if you can do that certain run, swim, bike, or triathlon that caught your eye, comment below, email me at crystalmbanning@gmail.com, send me a private Facebook message, and let’s figure out how to get you started!

Here’s to a great upcoming year of training, learning, and growth.

Monday, October 10, 2016

It Takes Heart: Incorporating a Heart Rate Monitor Into Training

Back in June I signed up for Ragnar Hawaii, a large team relay race where each runner does three legs, lengths of each leg varying between 3 and 8 miles. Altogether, the race goes all the way from the east side of the island up around the Hamakua Coast to the northern tip, then down the west coast to Kona and back up to finish at Hapuna. It runs all the way through the night from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon! Back in June this seemed like an easy enough proposition, but that was before my unfortunate foot accident and then a subsequent slip on the garage stairs leading to a nasty tailbone bruise. What can I say? It’s been a very clumsy summer for me.
So, 5 weeks out from Ragnar, my tailbone still aching a little, I decided pain or no pain I have to get going on training or I’m going to end up walking all three legs. If this were an individual race I wouldn’t really care, but since I’m part of a team I don’t want to be “that person.” Looking at my Ironman training plan, which uses heart rate zones for almost all of the run training, I decided to keep experimenting with my fancy Garmin watch and begin using the heart rate monitor during this training so that I will be very familiar with it once I get to the official Ironman training starting in December.

What I’m realizing very quickly is that heart rate training may be the solution to my slow running!
Up to this point, I have always done run training by simply trying to keep running for as long as possible without walking. At first it’s a few minutes, and eventually it’s an hour, but I have always felt like my speed hits a wall that I simply can’t push beyond because my lungs and heart can't do any more. My exertion levels are often to the absolute max, and my training is focused on conditioning to that level and learning to push through the pain of it. This new training plan, however, starts out with nearly five months of aerobic run training, keeping the heart rate between 60% and 75% of max with only occasional anaerobic sessions. For running, max heart rate is defined as 220 minus your age, plus 5. I had no idea what range my heart rate had been in during a run until I started using the monitor, and oh my holy hell was I in for a surprise! Turns out, my previous “run til you drop” approach had me working in the 85%-95% range for most of the time! No wonder that I couldn’t get any faster!

One of the things I love about the Ironman training plan I’ve chosen is that it has a Q&A portion, and one of the first questions is: “What if I have to walk to keep my heart rate down?” The answer?  ”I don’t care if you have to lie down in the snow and make snow angels – your body needs to learn how to process energy in an aerobic state and this kind of low intensity training is the only efficient way to get this done. Year after year, my athletes are surprised and amazed at how quickly their bodies adapt to this new approach… you will be able to run at a nice clip – even with your heart rate stuck right at 75%!”

This was kind of an epiphany to me, because the feel of 60-75% of max heart rate is extremely manageable. “Easy” isn’t quite the right word, but it’s close. Right now I have to alternate intervals of jogging and walking to stay in that zone, but if I can indeed train my body so that I can feel that same ease while running, it will be a major, major turning point. If 70% can become a steady run instead of a fast walk, I can only imagine how much speed I can add at the more anaerobic levels added later on in the training plan. I’m excited to see where this goes.

So, for the past 4 weeks, I have been alternating runs in which I do a pre-determined ratio of walking and running (for example, I started out walking 2 minutes and running 1, and now I'm up to running 4 minutes and walking 1) and runs in which I go strictly off of heart rate, walking or running as needed to keep it between 60% and 80%. The first week I did three days on, one day off twice, and when I felt the fatigue on day 5 I realized that I have never in my life run three days in a row, much less 6 times in 7 days! My triathlon training was 6 days a week, but I arranged it so that each of the three disciplines was spread out throughout the week, with no more than 2 days in a row of any one thing. I could definitely feel the difference, and when I reached my day off today I was pretty relieved.

It’s very interesting to run just by heart rate. I’m starting to get a feel for what the various percentages feel like in my body. 70%, or about 136 beats per minute, feels very comfortable, and on flat ground in cool weather I can maintain it at a jog for about 4 minutes before my heart rate gets too high. If there are hills, my heart rate jumps faster. I did one run at Puako around 10AM which means HEAT, and got to see for the first time the havoc that heat wreaks upon heart rate. I see now why so many people struggle and collapse when they face higher temperatures for the first time. I had to walk an embarrassing and frustrating amount to keep it under control, and toward the end of the 40 minutes it was impossible to get it below 68% or so, even while walking! I could have actually used some snow to make snow angels in like it said in the Q&A section of the training plan!
Now I’m up to 6.5 miles, as well as doing a couple of 2-a-day workouts to simulate the 3-leg nature of the Ragnar race. It’s a short time period to train and I know I won’t be at my very best, but I have already noticed huge improvements with the new focus on heart rate! When I first started I had to walk the majority of the time to keep my heart rate in the target zone, with my average pace landing around 14:45 minutes per mile (Yes. Really.) Now I'm all the way down to 12-minute miles and I can run for a mile at a time without my heart rate going above 70%! Plus, when I do pace runs, my pace is improving much faster than usual! It should be a fun, different format for a race so I’m looking forward to that.
As I continue with the heart rate training, I am really excited to see the progress I know is coming. I feel like perhaps I’ve found the missing piece in the “Crystal is just a really slow runner” puzzle and I can’t wait to use it!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bone Contusion Blues

Yet again I managed to hurt my poor right foot, this time falling off (or, technically falling with) a ladder from about 12 feet up. The immediate pain was enough to bring tears to my eyes and dizziness and nausea to the rest of me, but it wore off significantly faster than when I broke my foot before so I was optimistic from early on that it was going to be okay. I immediately put ice on it, and was horrified 15 minutes later when I took the ice off and saw the ridiculous looking egg-sized swelling on the top of my foot where the ladder had landed. It looked like the type of thing that happens to the Coyote after the Road Runner drops a piano on his head in the cartoons.

I got an x-ray the next day (limping badly) and it didn't show a fracture, which I was thrilled about until my doctor examined it, diagnosed it as a probable "bone bruise" (bone contusion) and casually mentioned that it might be a Lisfranc injury. After googling Lisfranc injuries (basically an injury that means you can never run again) the nausea came back and I spent an entire afternoon sitting at my computer at work accomplishing nothing but compulsively trying to find a story of someone, somewhere who had a Lisfranc injury and recovered enough to do an Ironman. The doctor said there was no way to know until it started to heal, and that if the healing stopped, then it would be time to do an MRI.

Now, when I heard "bone bruise" I thought that a bone bruise is just like a normal bruise: broken blood vessels in the and around the bone. It wasn't until 3 weeks in (still swollen, tender, and all kinds of shades of black, blue, purple, and green) that I started freaking out and researched how long it takes for bone bruises to heal. News to me, but a bone bruise is actually a partial fracture of the bone -- some of the bone fibers break but not all of them, so it takes just as long to heal as a broken bone. Oh goody.

So here I am, just over 8 weeks later and finally beginning to exercise again. I've been able to walk normally since about week 4, but no jumping allowed and nothing tight across the top of my foot. So frustrating since I was all pumped and motivated, but such is life...

Anyway, I have been doing some walks for the past 2 weeks with little tiny increments of easy jogging, just to test the waters (and also my Garmin heart rate monitor, since my Ironman training program uses heart rate quite a lot). I've also been starting to swim again, which feels great despite being badly out of shape. It's been really fun to play with my Garmin watch (Forerunner 920 XT) and all the crazy stats it tracks when paired with the heart rate monitor. Granted I was walking for most of my workouts so far, but I can see that once I'm up and running again (get it?) the info will be really useful. It's really incredible to get real time feedback about heart rate. Amazing how quickly it jumps when I jog a little, and how little activity it takes at this point to get me to my target heart rate.

The walk/run itself was beautiful as well, as we went to Mana Rd. in Waimea. The air was clear and cool and Mauna Kea was in full view towering over us. I even ran past an owl sitting on a fencepost and he didn't even fly away, just swiveled his head all the way around to keep an eye on me as I went by.

I also used the Open Water Swim function for the first time, and I'm kind of obsessed with the satellite view of my workout. How bad ass is it to see your track headed through the breaking waves and out into the ocean?! Anyway, clearly my swimming has been very short and very slow, but I'm really just trying to get back into the habit or doing it, reawaken my muscles, and establish a routine so that when I'm really ready to start training, I can skip the whole bumbling-missteps stage. Plus, it's freaking gorgeous at Hapuna in the mornings and there is seriously no better way to start a day than letting the ocean push you around a little.

So far so good with my foot. We'll see how it goes as I add in more running!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Running for Mangos

Officially Mr. and Mrs. Triathlete
I've been itching to get back to triathlon training lately, after taking time off to marry my partner in life (and triathlon training!), buy a house together, move, and change jobs. It has been an extremely busy past 6 months and I know that life comes in seasons, so I fully enjoyed the transitions and didn't worry that we didn't really find time to train. This season was on of change, not of fitness, and that's okay. We had a beautiful and intimate wedding surrounded by the people we love, I started really dancing again (the "ballerina" part of this blog's title had really fallen by the wayside for a couple of years), and we are now settled into *our* home, a little plantation style cabin sitting on 1.6 beautiful acres out in the country.  It has awesome vaulted ceilings and tons of potential, and a quiet, lovely yard surrounded by tall trees that rustle and sway in the breeze. It also has lots of little roads and trails around it that I can't wait to run on...

So a couple of weekends ago, after a week of thinking about nothing but triathlon, I decided it was time to get back out there. My plan was to head down to Hapuna, swim a little, then run. As is customary for my first workout back any time I've taken a break, nothing went smoothly in trying to get ready; having moved 50 miles since my last workout only compounded matters. I didn't know where my running shoes were. Finally found those tucked away in my triathlon bag, which was itself tucked away in the attic. I dug through it hoping to find my swim bag, but of course it couldn't be that simple. It took me almost an hour of digging through boxes in the garage before I found the swim bag, and I was both amused and embarrassed to find my goggles inside, tangled up in lengths of Christmas ribbon, a cruel reminder of exactly how long it had been since they were used.

By the time I made it out of the house I no longer had time to swim, but was still pretty pumped about running. I had already decided that I wasn't going to push myself too much, just get back out there, get moving, get excited. I hadn't really thought about the fact that it was exactly one week before Honu, the half Ironman, so it was an added bonus when I arrived at Hapuna and found it swarming with triathletes preparing for the race.

On a side note, I have finally given in to wearing visor hats. I used to associate them with golfers and scoff a little under my breath when I saw people wearing them, but with the rim blocking the sun from your eyes and the absent back allowing the wind to cool your head, I just can't deny their practicality anymore. They're too damn comfortable! So, although I am somewhat out of shape (not too bad, thanks to ballet kicking my ass) I fit right in with all the spandexed, visored athletes.

My pace, however, did not fit in, and that was okay with me. I had decided prior to arriving that I was going to do 4 minutes walking, 2 minutes running, alternating, so as not to overdue it in the heat my first time out. This comfortable pace felt a little bit too comfortable, so after about a mile I switched to 3 minutes walking, 2 minutes running, which had the added bonus of landing on nice tidy 5-minute increments of time. It was so nice to back out there that it is beyond words. Like returning home I was reminded of all the little things I enjoy so much -- the feeling of breathing deeply and rhythmically, the view of the ocean off to the side, the cute little Franklin grouse scuttling across the road, and the smell of kiawe wood heated up in the sun. It was truly lovely.

I was surprised and somewhat entertained to see an aid station along the side of the road about a half-mile in, as if they had set it up just for me to sustain me through my first run back! In reality, it was for the free practice triathlon they always have the week before Honu (another thing I didn't think about!). For most of my run, the athletes were out on their bikes, but around the 3-mile mark I started seeing them, and at about 4 miles they started passing me. It was fun to see some familiar faces and extra motivating to be out there with them even if I wasn't part of their race.

Sweaty but happy!
Exactly at my turnaround point (2.5 miles), a man working in his yard and carrying a large bucket called out to me, asking if I'd like a mango. Being minorly obsessed with mangos, I said yes enthusiastically. He was wearing a Lavaman triathlon shirt so we talked briefly and before I started back the other direction he offered me another mango which, of course, I accepted. I had to giggle picturing what I must look like, carrying a mango in each hand as I sweated my way back to Hapuna! Some people carry weights while I power walk, perhaps this is just the Hawaii version!

Things felt pretty good up to about the 4 mile mark, when I started to get tired, or maybe just overheated. I hadn't brought water because I was thinking "5 miles isn't that long, I don't need water," but neglected to consider the fact that walk-running 5 miles takes longer than running the whole way, so as the time neared the 1-hour mark I got increasingly uncomfortable. By the time I got back to the aid station, I actually asked if I could have a cup of Gatorade. Luckily, runners are generous people and they were happy to share. I gulped the Gatorade (had to set my mangos down to down to this -- again thinking about how silly I must look), dragged myself up the last couple of hills, and made it back to Hapuna in good spirits.The 5 miles took me 1 hour and 11 minutes.

It was a lovely little reminder of what triathlon always teaches me: even when things start out a little rough and don't go quite as you planned, keep pushing through and you will be rewarded with mangos. Okay, maybe not always mangos. Sometimes you may have to settle for a personal sense of triumph, but either way, it always puts a smile on my face. I am excited for more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Experience With Juice Cleansing

There's a lot of conflicting information and perhaps an even wider range of opinions about anything related to health, and the idea of juice cleanses is hotly debated. Some say they are just a scam made up by companies hoping to sell juicers and pre-bottled "miracle" cleanses, some people swear that they are a life-changing detoxifying experience that everyone should experience to have a healthy mind and body.

I land somewhere in the middle. I think that there is some value to flooding your body with micronutrients and antioxidants and giving it a break from all of the unnatural and processed crap most Americans put into it on a daily basis. I am a little concerned about lack of protein, amino acids, and insoluble fiber, and about slowing down my metabolism. Ideally, everyone should just eat primarily vegetables, fruits, and nuts supplemented with lean protein and whole grains, but that's easier said than done in the modern world so if people need a juice cleanse to change their habits then so be it.

My personal motivation for doing a cleanse has several levels. First, I did a (non-juice) cleanse back in 2004 where I eliminated wheat, corn, sugar and sweeteners, cow's milk, eggs, and meat for 3 weeks because I had been getting sick (common cold type illnesses) nearly every month and I was curious to see if it would change anything. After finishing the cleanse, I didn't get sick again for almost 2 years, which made me think that perhaps there is a little something to the whole idea. Second, I have long-standing digestive issues which seem to be particularly sensitive to starchy and processed foods and I'm hoping to "flush" and heal my system.

And third (and most immediate), I have been dealing with a minor skin issue on my fingers for almost a year where my fingertips are dry and cracked, which they think is due to a sensitivity to something I'm touching. To combat this, I was prescribed a topical steroid cream. No warnings were given by the dermatologist who prescribed it, so I have been using it off and on for the past year with little restriction. What was left out at the time of my prescription was that you should never use a steroid cream for longer than a couple of weeks at a time and never ever let it touch your face, Given that the instructions were to put it on my hands before going to sleep, you would think that mentioning to keep it away from my face might have been relevant, but nothing was said. What I found out the hard way is that long term topical steroid use and face contact can cause steroid-induced perioral dermatitis, a humiliating, angry rash that encircles your mouth and looks like a mustache and beard made of fire. There are lots of tiny pimple-like bumps and the skin between them turns bright red and it feels like your face has been rubbed in fiberglass. Because it happens as a dependency, the second you stop the steroid cream it goes absolutely insane, and such was the case with me. For a week my face felt like it was on fire, and of course to add to your shame it is sensitive to makeup, so you are forced to face the world with no way to hide your horrific affliction. I started taking the prescribed course of low-dose anti-inflammatory antibiotics (Oracea) and using Elidel, a non-steroidal topical cream, but I also wanted to see if juicing could calm the inflammatory process that was wreaking havoc on my skin.

I'm including my juicing journey on this blog because it relates to health and my body, which I believe to be relevant to my triathlon training journey. In addition, I've been forbidden from exercising for a couple of weeks because that, too, can stir up inflammation and so I have nothing else to write about. So here goes, my day-by-day experience.

Day T-minus-2:
Kitty's ready to juice
I started out by slowly introducing juice into my diet. I had juice for breakfast and ate a normal lunch and dinner. I juiced whatever I had around the house: cucumber, carrot, beets, and some lettuce -- basically I had a juiced salad. It tasted very neutral, not bad. Nothing too noticeable about this day. I went to the grocery store and grabbed a few veggies to hold me over until I could make a Costco trip. Because it was Sunday and I had to work the next day, I made the juices for the next day and bottled them in glass bottles so that I could bring them easily to work. Clean up was somewhat of a pain -- not so much the juicer itself, but the piles of vegetables, the cutting boards, the wayward drops of juice, etc. My kitchen looked like a hurricane hit it.

Day T-minus-1:
With one day before beginning the full cleanse, I had green juice for breakfast (cucumbers, cilantro, zucchini, apple, pear, and peppers) and red/brown juice (Beets, carrots, red grapes, ginger, and spinach) for lunch, and as a farewell to solid food I had a chile verde burrito for dinner. I stopped at Costco on my way home and loaded up my cart with what felt like their entire produce section. It cost $130 for what was meant to be a week's worth of juice for two people (my fiance and I). They didn't have cucumbers, kale, or cilantro, so those came at additional cost the next day. Still, it wasn't significantly different than what we spend for groceries per week with normal food (we live in Hawaii, it's expensive.) I was feeling optimistic. I made the same juices for the next day and put the bottles in the fridge. Clean up was still a pain.

Day 1:
The official beginning of my cleanse! Juice as breakfast felt pretty normal. It didn't taste great, but I didn't miss having an actual "meal." I sipped on the green juice all morning so it was finished before lunch, when I switched to the red/brown juice. Not eating lunch felt a little weirder. It wasn't that I was hungry, per say, just that it felt bizarre not to eat. As the afternoon wore on it just got more strange. The body's instinct to eat is very, very strong and it works hard to get food into your mouth. It was so intense that a couple of times I actually had food in my hand before I remembered that I wasn't supposed to eat it. My brain tricked me, bringing up thoughts of plenty of healthy food options that I could normally eat without a second thought and it wasn't until the last second that my consciousness kicked in and reminded me that if it wasn't juice, it wasn't happening. I wasn't hungry, it just felt wrong not to eat. As I scoured my memory, I couldn't come up with a single time in my life when I had gone a day without eating something, That seems amazing to me.
With a lot of mental reminders and about a billion thoughts about food, I made it through the rest of the day and back home. I got home late because I had to stop at the store to get the cucumbers, kale, and cilantro, so I didn't have much time between getting home and going to bed. It took me almost 2 hours to clean my jars, juice my "dinner," juice 2 different kinds of juice for the next day, bottle them, and clean everything up again. I went to bed not hungry but annoyed with the whole process.

Day 2:
The pattern continued and got more intense. In the morning, I felt motivated and ready, but by afternoon I was frustrated and all I could think about was food, no matter how full I felt. My lunch juice was so gross, I could hardly keep it down without gagging. I had thrown in a huge variety of ingredients, and somewhere along the line something hadn't "juiced" very well and was catching in my mouth in the form of pulp and little bits of leaves that made me gag. I actually googled "juice cleanse gross" to try and find someone, somewhere who had shared in my misery. To add to my disgust, my tongue was coated in white and my mouth felt raw, presumably because of all the acid in the juices.
Green juice!
I got home and begrudgingly went through my routine of juicing dinner, then juicing for the next day. I remembered how full and clogged with pulp the juicer had looked before juicing my last juice (the disgusting lunch juice) the night before and wondered if that had contributed to the amount of sediment I'd had to choke down. Because of this, I cleaned out the excess pulp before making the third juice, and it made a dramatic difference. It was juice again rather than sludge. A tiny sliver of optimism...

Day 3:
I weighed myself for the first time since the Day T-minus-3 and found that I had lost 4 pounds. I felt conflicted -- happy to be a little lighter, worried that it wasn't healthy weight loss. After all, I'm not doing this for weight loss. My mouth still felt raw and coated. My office ordered lunch for everyone and I had to leave the building to escape the wonderful smells. It was horribly depressing, until (in get another desperate google search) I found that I was allowed to drink coconut water. I immediately went to a natural food store and bought the biggest carton I could find. It tasted like cake, like ice cream, like heaven. I drank my fill of that before returning to the office. The texture of my juice was better with the between-juices-juicer-rinse but the flavor was still disgusting, if I'm being totally honest. I began wondering if I would have more success with themed juices... maybe that would eliminate the "brown sludge" effect. My first experiment, for dinner that night, was watermelon gazpacho juice, made from watermelon, tomato, yellow peppers, one carrot, mint and cilantro. It tasted great and I was encouraged. I vowed to use color-coordinated ingredients so that they were appetizing instead of brown. I made my next-day juices accordingly, a beautiful vibrant green and a beautiful vibrant red.
I was feeling better about the whole process, even though I had developed a huge, angry zit on my cheek. Apparently this is normal at the beginning of a cleansing process.

Day 4:
Despite the pretty colors, the juices (pear, apple, spinach, celery, cucumber, and peppers for green and watermelon, tomato, beets, carrots, and plums for red) were still disgusting and still made me gag as I tried to get them down. My sense of smell seems to be on overdrive and everything smells like vegetable juice. Although I didn't have any of the headaches, dizziness, or energy depletion problems that some people describe during the first days of juicing, I was not enjoying my experience at all. I didn't feel any different, I didn't feel like there was a transformation happening, nothing... I was having a lot of trouble drinking enough water because my stomach felt constantly full and sloshy. My fiance, who was back on solid food, had pasta with tomato sauce that night and after obsessively smelling his food, I decided to make myself a juice version for dinner: tomatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, peppers, basil, and parsley. The first bite was delicious, and the rest of the twenty ounces of raw, cold, watery tomato saucey flavor was the worst thing I've ever forced myself to consume.

Juices ready to come to work with me
On the upside, my face was getting significantly better. It was less inflamed, and although the bumps were still there the skin between them was no longer red. Because of this, and my pure, stubborn nature, I kept going.

Day 5:
I decided to see if mixing fewer flavors together might improve the taste of the juices. I had also realized that tomato juice and watermelon juice are just not something I can enjoy. For breakfast I had green juice of just cucumber, cilantro, zucchini, apples, and spinach. It was better. The lunch juice was simple carrot and beet, and dinner was peppers, carrots, peach, and yellow beets. This was seeming more promising. I didn't feel quite so frustrated, although my mouth still felt awful. I also noticed that I was sleeping a little more soundly and that my hair seemed softer than usual.

Day 6:
Encouraged by my success with simplifying my juices (also easing the clean up aspect), I realized that I don't really enjoy vegetable juices mixed with a lot of sweet fruit juice. For whatever reason, it just grosses me out, so I changed my approach: vegetable only juices for the majority of my meals, with a small glass of pure fruit juice twice a day. This was so much better for me mentally - deal with the mediocre vegetable juice and then really, really enjoy apple juice or -- my best discovery yet -- the deliciously textured creamy peach concoction that results from juicing a ripe peach by itself. I still felt about the same... not bad, but certainly not "transformed" as so many converts claim, and I was on the fence about how long I wanted to keep going. Also, my body had started putting off a weird, vegetable-esque scent whenever I sweated, so that was a little weird. Not crazy about that.

Day 7:
I had promised myself at least a week, so this was an important day. I ignored the doctor's advice and swam in the ocean. I figured if I had my face submerged in cold water the whole time, exercising couldn't cause that much inflammation! I weighed myself again and had lost another 3 pounds for a total of 7 pounds. I wasn't overweight to begin with, so that's a pretty significant weight loss (whether that is good or bad I will leave open to interpretation.) I had planned on this being the last day since I wasn't really seeing any drastic changes or results, but this was the day when my intestines started gurgling and moving so I got curious about what was going on. The mouth coating had finally gone away, I was sleeping really well, and my outlook felt more positive than it had all week, so I decided to keep going. I must admit that my stomach felt light and clean like it hasn't for a while. My office ordered lunch again and I had no problem saying no. I picked up a few more vegetables (so many cucumbers!) and headed home, telling myself I'd just do one more day and be done with it. I also decided that the green juice was a little to bland and bitter with no fruit, so I found middle ground: half a pear added in made it perfect.

Day 8:
The skin on my face was almost completely healed and I'd been able to wean the topical cream down to once a day without any problem, which I was pretty excited about. The gurgling and such finally culminated in an, um, "elimination" that seemed to include things other than what I'd been juicing, so I was pleased and take that to mean that there was in fact some stuff that had accumulated in my intestines that could stand to be flushed out. I felt vindicated for this whole juicing thing and hope that it will translate into some improvement in my digestion. Thank goodness for that, because other than that, this day was a disaster. I had been excited to try a cold-pressed juice shop in town so I planned on that for lunch, but when I got there, it was closed for no apparent reason. I went to every hippy-ish cafe I could think of, but none had fresh juice. I was 30 minutes from my house and my juicer. I finally went to the natural food store and discovered that they had fresh carrot juice and fresh, fruit only smoothies. I got a small smoothie and a 14-oz. carrot juice and mixed them together. Close enough, I guess. I had planned on starting on vegetable broth that night, but I figured that since I went to such lengths to stay on juice for lunch I may as well finish out the day.

Day 9:
To be honest, this has gotten pretty easy. I see why, at days 8-10, people decide to just keep going for a while. Do I feel some profound transformation? No, I don't. I'm going to be straightforward here. But I do feel good, normal good, like when I eat normal clean food. Mentally clear, energetic, and I really do think my hair is softer and my skin is starting to look really good. However, it hasn't been some big life-changing experience, because I have the same feelings when I eat vegetables, fruits, and nuts supplemented with lean protein and whole grains. I feel even better when I'm exercising regularly, which I'm ready to start doing again. I think the only thing I feel that is unique to a juice fast is the feeling of clear, "flushed" intestines, and that is pretty awesome after years of trouble. My food cravings are also completely gone and either by my recipe tinkering or taste bud changes, the juice actually tastes pretty good to me now.
I will be slowly re-introducing solids to my system over the next few days, with lots of mild, easily digestible food and plenty of soups.

I couldn't bear to take a photo at its worst - this is 2 days
after it started healing (day 3 of juicing) compared to today.
So what did I learn?

Well, I learned a lot about the technicalities of juicing, mixing flavors, and the logistics of what it takes to do something like this. I learned that it certainly does feel beneficial, at least to me, to clear your stomach and digestive system of processed food for a little while. I learned that I still fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between "juicing is just a scam" and "juicing is the answer to everything."

I think that for someone who eats a regular diet of unhealthy food and doesn't exercise, this could be the incredible, life-changing experience that so many people talk about. I know how I feel when I eat junk food on a regular basis, and it makes me feel mentally foggy, tired, lethargic, bloated, and heavy. Going directly from that to this would truly be a revelation. However, because I regularly eat a ton of vegetables, fruits, and healthy foods and limit my "indulgence" food to a minimum for the vast majority of the time, the experience wasn't as dramatic. For me, eating clean, whole foods and exercising regularly are still the best way to find my ideal balance of well-being. However, I totally reject the notion that juicing is a useless scam, because I can see the benefits myself.

Day 3 of juicing vs. today
The only negative thing I have to say about the experience is the possible imbalance in your body -- low protein, low fiber, electrolyte levels... other than that I don't have any major worries. And if you're doing it for 10 days or less, I don't think this is a major issue.

As far as the positives, although my results weren't dramatic, they were definitely there:
Cleared up the rash on my face (along with prescribed meds)
Abundant energy
Better/sounder sleep
Softer hair and skin, less itchiness on my itch-prone scalp
Reduced/eliminated food cravings
Overall feeling of lightness
Knowledge of a new way to supplement a healthy diet

I plan on incorporating juicing into my daily routine, probably for breakfast. That way I'll get my nutrient and antioxidant burst but still get regular food. I'm glad I had this experience, glad to start training again, and most of all, glad to have my face almost back to normal!

Have you done a juice cleanse? Tell me about it in the comments section! Helpful tips for others who might want to try one, thoughts, observations, suggestions, and questions are welcome!