Friday, June 24, 2011

Solstice run under the summer sun

Fueled by the heat of a solstice sun on my back, I climbed higher into the muskeg. The boardwalk was dry and the moist meadow in full bloom. Bog violets and pink shooting stars stood out polka-dotted against the green of sedges, mosses and low-growing bushes. Closer to the trail, dwarf dogwood (or bunchberry) huddled close to the wooden planks and bog laurel bloomed in bright fuschia every few feet.

I’d parked my car at the top of Blueberry Hill and run up to the Treadwell Trail before taking the turn toward Dan Moller cabin.

It was an ambitious outing for late in the afternoon. Typically, a round-trip run/hike to the cabin is an hour-and-a-half investment and I wasn’t sure how my pregnant body would handle the climb. But as the time ticked by and my muscles warmed, the elevation became less of a constant challenge. My legs felt strong and the cushion of the boardwalk was a welcome change from pounding packed dirt.

A large group of schoolchildren bounded down the straight section of boardwalk that cuts through the lower muskeg meadow. They gleefully hopped on and off the planks, clutching the long and prehistoric-looking “flowers” of skunk cabbage. Further up, the sounds of summer air traffic — helicopter flight tours and float planes — where drowned by songbirds in the shrubbery and streams bubbling by.

I only climbed to the cabin this day. My body and soul wanted to continue into the bowl, to hike above the ridge beyond and take in the scenery of Douglas Island’s backside.

Photobucket

But, alas, time was running out. It had taken me 47 minutes to climb to the cabin and I wasn’t certain how slow I’d have to move on the way down. Moving downhill has become quite a challenge these days.

A mountain descent used to be filled with pure bliss. It was a guaranteed adrenaline rush and hands-down my favorite part of every run. But now it promises to be a solid stretch of touch-and-go as I meticulously plan foot placement and speed. Of course, the last thing I want to do is fall. So, between scratching speed and slamming to a dead halt at the first sign of green slime, my downhill experiences are often anything but exhilarating. To complicate matters further, I’ve developed a sobering case of shin splints on both legs.

Photobucket

For those who don’t know, shin splints occur when tissue fibers separate from the tibia (or shinbone), mostly as a result of overuse. Other causes can be poor posture, flat feet, inadequate footwear, or a quick increase in the intensity or duration of exercise, to name a few. In my case, I know this minor injury is a result of running with an increased body weight. It’s an ailment I know well and one I suffered from for many years when I raced cross country in high school and college. For me the treatment is a new pair of shoes, ice and lots of time away from pavement or concrete.

As I eeked my way over each stair-step, along each boardwalk plank, my tentative steps turned more confident. The pain was gone. The boardwalk, rooted into the soft blanket of muskeg moss, flexed under my weight and bounced back like a springboard.

Ahh, the bliss was back.

In 20 minutes I was back at my car — sweating, smiling and feeling everything but pregnant.

On this day, a summer solstice outing had proved both surprising and invigorating despite the odds.

In other news, I have gestational diabetes on the brain. Next week I will chug a concoction made of nothing more than sugar, flavoring and orange food dye — as far as I can tell — in an effort to determine if I have the pregnancy-induced equivalent of diabetes. During my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed with the condition around 26 weeks. And, through diet and exercise, I managed it perfectly. My son was born 100 percent healthy weighing 7 pounds, 1 ounce. But frankly, the finger pricks four times a day got old. The dietary restrictions, while not far off from my normal food choices, felt confining. And most of the time it was one more stress I really wished I didn’t have.

This time around I truly hope things will be different. In an effort to prevent the condition again, I started counting carbohydrates, spacing meals and trying my best to avoid anything refined. But research shows that women who develop the condition with first pregnancies are more likely to suffer from it in the future.

I’ll share the results next week. In the meantime, my fingers are crossed.

This week’s trail of choice is (yes, you guessed it) the Dan Moller Trail. This trail is one with historical significance in the local ski community. In the 1930s, the first skiers began clamoring around in the valley that extends above West Juneau. The U.S. Forest Service constructed a trail, a rope tow and a pair of warming huts for winter enthusiasts. As the years passed, skiers wanted more elevation. By the 1950s, efforts had moved into the Douglas Ski Bowl just beyond the Dan Moller cabin. Oola, the snow cat, would carry 40-50 skiers up to the area and before long the area boasted two rope tows. Oola didn’t last forever, and was ultimately replaced by a Snow Master snowcat that ran up until the opening of Eaglecrest Ski Area. Today, the official Dan Moller Trail begins off of Cordova Street on Douglas. It climbs roughly three miles up to the Dan Moller cabin and continues into the bowl above. In the summer, the trail is mostly boardwalk and a great choice during a dry spell of weather. The cabin itself is a public use cabin maintained by the USFS and was recently remodeled in 2010. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
---

Week-by-week
This week's mileage: 25.09 miles.
Runs: 5.
Pregnancy stage: 27 weeks.
Trail of choice: Dan Moller Trail (Length: 5.5 miles roundtrip).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sweet child of mine

After a 7-mile run with David and me on Father's Day, a 2-mile hike to the beach and a long tide pooling session, Elias finally succumbs to a nap.

toddlerhood,running

Friday, June 17, 2011

The blah, blah, blahs of being in the middle

The mid-point of anything is not always easy. It’s like the middle of a long road trip. There’s sure to be a lot of pretty country, but there comes a time when the “are we there yet?” mentality sets in.
That’s how I feel about this point in my pregnancy. “Are we there yet?”
Nope. With just over three months left, the biggest moments are still to come. Literally.
I’m finding it harder and harder to hike up the hills on my favorite trails. I can feel the extra weight taking its toll on my joints and the baby is making its presence known more with each stride.
It’s nice to reflect on how much progress has been made, but it’s also easy to feel daunted by the things that lay ahead.
So this week I headed out in search of motivation. After a week of higher-than-normal mileage, I have to admit I was tired. As a result of my increased efforts (I blame all the sunshine, by the way), my pace had slowed substantially and it now takes me over 20 minutes to warm up. Once I’m on step, things get great. Once in the groove, I settle into a pace that feels as comfortable as an old pair of pajamas. It’s getting there that’s the hard part.
So, I turned to Merry Ellefson, a local outdoors woman who knows a thing or two about motivation. She’s been inspiring athletes for years as a high school cross country coach and as an avid competitor.
It’s not surprising to find out she too ran while pregnant with her son Arnie.
“I went on a 45-minute run up Perseverance the day I went into labor,” she said.
But running wasn’t all she did to stay active during those 10 months. Ellefson also mountain biked, skied, hiked and went berry picking.
“I just got out,” she said. “I knew it would help my spirit, that it would put me in a good place. I just kept thinking, ‘this is good for my baby.’”
It was. Ellefson enjoyed a healthy pregnancy and gave birth to an equally healthy baby boy that November.
To keep herself moving out the front door and up into the hills, Ellefson believes strongly in the persuasiveness of people.
“It’s powerful to have other people around us,” she said. “Call on people who will get you out. Because once you’re out, you never regret it.”
People tend to engage in activities also shared by friends. We too often hear of the negative influences of peer pressure: smoking, underage drinking and drug use. But peer pressure can be an amazing thing, as well. Try surrounding yourself with individuals who are active and positive. It’s safe to say you’ll soon be following in their footsteps.
What are some other ways to cultivate initiative?
As a coach, Ellefson asks her athletes to find something that motivates them, and to bring it to a team meeting.
“You’ll get pictures, quotes, a cross, something that reminds them of a friend or sister … it’s easy to see the collage of things that motivates people,” she said.
It’s also good to shake up a stale routine, she said. A solo bike ride can turn exciting when it’s mixed with the right people and a new trail. Think of it as a new recipe — ideal ingredients can make for an unforgettable experience.
These are all great ideas for finding harmony with the demons of de-motivation. But there was something else Ellefson said that struck a much more personal chord. She talked about the idea of getting out into the sun and fresh air for the spiritual instead of the physical. She talked about the idea of cultivating calm, which is a vital part of creating a holistic healthy lifestyle. Ellefson said the “calm,” which can only be found by being fully unplugged from our iPods, iPhones and social devices, resides nearly anywhere — the edge of a brook, on a beach at sunset, or along a lush trail through the rain forest.
“(Finding the ‘calm’) is crucial to being a healthy person,” she said. “It’s also important for clarity. I remember that about being pregnant, I slowed down. I listened to things a bit more. And just think, all those sights and sounds you’re seeing, hearing and feeling as you run or even just sit, your baby is experiencing the same things. What a good place to be for your child.”
I realized my calm is in the monotony of my breath as I move down a trail, the sound of my shoes hitting the dirt and the cacophony of Mother Nature in the woods.
It’s no longer important to run even when I don’t feel like running. What is important is to smile — to laugh, even — at the fact a 45-minute loop now takes me nearly two hours. After all, it’s only temporary and it’s all part of becoming not only a healthy person, but also a good parent.
Later that afternoon, as I tightened my laces, slipped my iPhone into my hip pocket and reached for my ear buds, I stopped. A bird song in a high spruce piqued my interest and the laughter of children at a nearby playground floated like cottonwood seed in the wind. That day, I chose to unplug from the digital world and instead leave my ears open to the sounds of Southeast. That day I found my “calm” and my motivation.
This week’s trail of choice is the Lower Loop trails at Eaglecrest Ski Area. Last summer, crews completed the hardening and widening of the trails that make up the Nordic ski loops in winter. These loops vary in distance and eventually drop down to intersect with the Treadwell Ditch Trail on the northern end of the area. These trails are a great choice for a summer stroll. And, if you’re looking for a bit more elevation, head up the maintenance road on the downhill side of the resort. The road winds all the way to the top of the ski area and offers spectacular views of the backside of Douglas Island and Stephens Passage.

•••

  • Week-by-week 
  • This week’s mileage: 21.6 miles. 
  • Runs: 4.  
  • Pregnancy stage: 25 weeks. 
  • Trail of choice: Lower Loop trails at Eaglecrest Ski Area (Length: varies).

Packing on the pounds: Not just for mommies

Gaining weight during pregnancy is like the flab that comes with old age — it’s inevitable.
But there’s another side to this coin. Dads-to-be and significant others seem to suffer from a phenomenon commonly referred to as “sympathy weight.” Think the “freshman fifteen” in college — it’s absurdly common yet totally avoidable.
Take my husband, for example. During my first pregnancy he seemed to match my weight gain pound-for-pound. Relishing in a freezer unusually full of vanilla bean ice cream, a pantry stocked with dark chocolate and dinners crammed with protein, it was easy for him to indulge right along side his pregnant counterpart. Plus, according to him, there was a distinct increase in beer and wine consumption on his part. He blamed stress.
“I was coping,” he said. “Preparing for the fact a tiny human will completely rely on you can be daunting.”
(Insert sassy rebuttal about the pain of childbirth here.)
As a result my man packed on about 15 to 20 pounds.
My husband was not alone. It’s not uncommon for men to experience a variety of feelings and physical changes while their significant other is pregnant. These are lumped into a condition called Couvade syndrome. Experts in the medical community dispute the cause of the syndrome — some believe it is purely psychosomatic, while others believe it has biological causes. But they do say it’s common. Mild symptoms include mood swings, increased appetite and disturbed sleep patterns. In more extreme cases, some men report morning nausea, labor pains and post partum depression. While conducting my own poll of local moms, nearly all reported their men gained weight over the course of their pregnancies. Some said the guys in their life cached extra pounds as a result of frequently cooking large meals, while others said their men just couldn’t resist joining their lady in an extra bowl of evening ice cream.
In the case of my husband, he swore things would be different with this pregnancy. For every pound I gained, he promised to lose one pound.
For him, it was a good goal — one that, if met, would leave him with a “healthy” body fat percentage and perhaps the chiseled abdominals I would surely be lacking post-pregnancy.
So far I’ve gained 20 pounds. My husband has lost exactly 4.6 pounds. He might be 15.4 pounds behind, according to his guidelines, but he has four months to catch up — er, lighten up.
With 16 weeks left to go, a few quick calculations show he could lose the remaining poundage if he shed just over a pound a week. With a healthy diet and regular exercise, this is absolutely doable.
But I’m due to really tip the scales in the third trimester, when the majority of weight gain typically happens. According to the American Pregnancy Association, a woman in the second the third trimester of pregnancy typically gains between 1 and 2 pounds per week. Hence, I could pack on another 30 pounds by week 40. Frankly, I hope it hovers around 16 pounds — 1 pound for each remaining week.
It’s unlikely my husband will be able to keep losing at the same rate I’m sure to gain, but there is little harm in trying.
So what can those dads and significant others do to fight back against the bulge? Be the motivator. Help that beautiful pregnant woman stay active by engaging in exercises you can enjoy together. Take a family outing to the beach. Bring a Frisbee or a kite to stay moving. Take a walk in the rain forest, a bike ride to the grocery store or a stroll downtown. Local tours often offer discounts for locals. Try out the zip lines on Douglas Island, take a flight out to Taku Lodge or enjoy a nature outing with one of the many sightseeing outfits in town. As I’ve mentioned before, every little bit adds up.
Dads can also strike up an exercise plan of their own. It will be beneficial mentally as well as physically. Let’s face it, the thought of kids can be scary. Sure, it can also be amazing, enlightening and rewarding. But for some, it can be downright terrifying. Hence, it may be nice to take a little “me time” after dealing with the emotional ups and downs that can plague a mom-to-be. A good sweat on a regular basis may be all a guy needs to de-stress and reduce feelings of anxiety.
This week’s trail of choice is the Herbert Glacier Trail. This rolling trail is catered to a variety of users. Often runners, bikers and hikers will frequent the trail on a sunny day and it’s wide enough to give ample room for all users to enjoy the path easily. From the trailhead, located just beyond mile marker 25 on Glacier Highway, the trail extends 4.6 miles toward the Herbert Glacier. It provides scenic views of the Herbert River and of the glacier itself at the trail’s end. If hiking, plan for about four to five hours round trip.

•••

  • Week-by-week
  • This week’s mileage: 32.7 miles. 
  • Runs: 6.  
  • Pregnancy stage: 24 weeks. 
  • Trail of choice: Herbert Glacier Trail (Length: 9.2 miles, round trip).

Putting the Pride aside

The stitch low in my side radiated down and around my belly. It was too low to be a traditional side ache, too high to be a muscle cramp and it wasn’t the first time I’d felt the tell-tale pinch.

But I kept jogging. The day was glorious. It was one of those spring days bathed in sunshine and fragrant with the smell of damp earth. My legs felt strong and the cool breeze wiped the sweat off my brow. Each turn of the trail seemed to reveal a path more beautiful than the one before. Those who live in Juneau will truly understand when I say, it was just one of those days ...

Yikes! There it was again.

“Ok, ok I get it,” I thought.

My legs slowed to a walk. For a minute I sulked, took a deep breath and reached an arm over my head to stretch my side.

I knew the pinch, a Braxton Hicks contraction, was a harmless one. I knew these infrequent contractions of the uterine muscle could be brought on by a variety of things. Exercising is known to increase the frequency and intensity of the contractions. Frequent fetal movement, dehydration, a full bladder, or even sex can also trigger these types of contractions, according to the American Pregnancy Association. They show up in the second or third trimester and are typically nothing to worry about. Braxton Hicks contractions, which were first described by John Braxton Hicks in 1871, rarely have adverse consequences. In fact, some doctors and midwives believe they actually stimulate blood flow to the placenta, which makes sense, as any contracting muscle needs extra oxygen and fuel to do so. Other experts say they are “practice” contractions, which help tone the uterine muscle. As mom gets closer to her due date, some experts believe Braxton Hicks can help to soften the cervix in preparation of dilation and effacement.

The best thing to do when they hit, if you’re exercising, is to stop, take a deep breath and try to relax. They are a bit uncomfortable, after all. I often feel them on one side or the other, so I’ll raise the corresponding arm over my head to gently stretch my side. Sipping water can help, as will a little break in the shade.

Keep in mind, however, if the contractions do not dissipate, increase in frequency or intensity or become rhythmic, it’s important to contact your health care provider. Better safe than sorry.

In short, they are a red flag, of sorts, to the mom.

On this day, during this glorious run, the last thing I wanted to do was take it easy. My legs easily had ten miles in them. The endorphins were pumping.

Regardless, I put my pride aside and took it slow.

I wanted to go leaping down the trail, but instead I walked.

Putting pride on the back burner isn’t easy. It’s like walking away from the second-to-last fudge brownie at a party. It’s like doing chores inside when it’s sunny in Southeast Alaska.

But that’s what being pregnant is often about and it’s important. From the moment of conception, life becomes about the “we” instead of the “I.” Everything the mom does is for two.

This way of thinking doesn’t happen overnight. Like most things, it takes practice. I’ve had a hard time watching my average pace slowly increase. I used to fly down trails at around 8 minutes per mile. Now, if I break 10 mpm, I’m happy. It's not easy hauling around 20 extra pounds. My mantra for finding peace with gaining weight and getting slow is simple: It’s for the best and it’s worth it.

Take building a house, for example. The best houses are build with a strong foundation, a solid exterior and the framing, electrical and plumbing to last decades. During pregnancy, I’m creating the foundation for life and now is the time to build it using the best materials I can. This means nutrients, rest, fresh oxygen and a mental outlook of clarity and peace. If I’m concerned or stressed, those hormones reach my baby. If I fill my body with junk food and sweets, I’m depriving myself and my baby of the vital nutrients needed to thrive. So, why bother? If you’re going to do it, do it right. One thing is for certain about being pregnant: It doesn’t last forever. Those skinny jeans will be waiting.

This week’s trail of choice is the Dupont Trail. It begins at the end of the Thane Road, south of downtown Juneau. The trail begins as a well-traveled track that traverses a hillside providing views across Gastineau Channel to Douglas Island. A few well-built bridges provide crossing over streams and the forest canopy above offers cool shade for hikers. As the trail heads southward, it becomes a bit rooty and earlier this spring a few downed trees slightly obscured the trail. Even with a soccer ball belly, I was able to sneak under them. After about 1.4 miles, the trail forks — the right fork heads to Dupont Beach, where relics from the mining days remain and the left fork heads to Point Bishop, which is just over 6 miles down the trail. The beach at Dupont is rocky, but on a sunny day lends itself well to a seaside picnic lunch.

•••
  • Week-by-week
  • This week's mileage: 26.6 miles.Runs: 5.
  • Pregnancy stage: 23 weeks.
  • Trail of choice: Dupont Trail (Length: 3.6 miles round trip).