Chronicles of Less Urban Living, Fresh from In the Night Farm

Primal Fitness

What Women Want

TBFitness12-12d 
Screw pretty. I’d rather be strong.
Pretty fades over time. Strength gets you through the bad shit.
 
~ Thea Harrison in Oracle’s Moon
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Five Days

I’ve been busy.  It has been all I could do to jot down my food journal, which you’ll find below.  You’ll see how I navigated the ubiquitous “work food” problem, elected for less physical stress in the face of other stressors, and thoroughly enjoyed a week of food and motion despite the frenzy.  I’m finally learning.

PBC Day 7

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Grassfed burger (no bun) with grilled tomatillo salsa, sauteed onions, and cotija; sweet potato roasted in coconut oil; grilled asparagus.  Grilled lamb ribs with homemade barbecue sauce; baked sweet potato with butter; squash ribbons with sizzled garlic and sage leaves.

Workout:  None whatsoever.  I was busy checking out my new camper, plus I was dealing with a minor cold on top of seasonal allergies.  AaaaCHOO!  It’s nice that farm life requires at least forth minutes of general activity per day, no matter what else is going on.

PBC Day 8

Fuel:  Scrambled eggs with hot sauce.  The meat and lettuce off a Quiznos sandwich (I was at an all-day meeting, with lunch provided.  In anticipation of the usual lunch boxes, I brought a plastic fork and was able to dissect my sandwich with relative grace.  I donated my chips and cookie to my endurance-athlete friend and colleague, wincing sympathetically as I did so.)  Nuts and dried cherries.  (Supplementary lunch supplies!)  Kippered herring.  Primal enchiladas (beef and sauce, no tortillas, topped with cheese); plantains oven-fried in grassfed butter.  Shiraz.

Workout:  Bodyweight.  4x rotation of pushups, thrusters, pullups, planks, side planks.  Toss in some farm chores and an evening walk with my staghound, Wyrsa.

PBC Day 9

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Eggs over easy with primal enchiladas (beef and sauce) topped with grassfed cheddar.  Watermelon.  BBQ lamb ribs, roasted sweet potatoes, grilled asparagus and garlic.  Blackberry, mango, and banana with cinnamon and heavy cream.  Gin on the rocks.

 I find it interesting that I’m eating more fruit lately than I normally do.  Usually, I come in around 2-3 servings per week — not per day!  I’m guessing it’s due to the end-of-summer abundance of fresh, local fruit combined with an uptick in my workout schedule.  No biggie.  Fruit isn’t the devil, especially for individuals who are already lean, but it’s an observation worth noting.

Workout:  Heavy day!  5x rotation of backsquats, military presses, deadlifts, and bench presses.  Also, a generally active day as I prepared for next weekend’s 5-day endurance race and moved around some hay bales to make way for another delivery.

PBC Day 10

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Four scrambled eggs with hot sauce.  (Easily ignored pile of bagals and sweetened cream cheese at staff retreat.)  BBQ pulled pork, potato salad, fresh fruit, and a few veggies.  (Passed on the buns, chips, cookies, and brownies.  Relatively easy to navigate, as catered lunches go, though I’m sure there was plenty of sugar in the pork.)  Raw nuts and a few dried cherries.  Ground lamb curry and coconut-roasted sweet potato.  Gin.  (Ahhh, so nice to be home alone after all that slow-paced, touch-feely team-building, tools-for-idiots-who-don’t-know-how-to-plan stuff.)

Workout:  Just farm chores and a long, barefoot walk with Wyrsa.  Wore as little clothings as possible to soak up the evening sun.

PBC Day 11

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Breakfast (at 11:00am — back on my own schedule, thank heavens!  Leftover bagals in the breakroom held little appeal.  The addiction is broken!) of leftover sweet potatoes and enchilada sauce with ground beef.  A few nuts and berries in late afternoon.  Lamburger with onions sauteed in butter, sliced tomato, sweet and yukon oven fries with seasoned salt and primal barbeque sauce.  Gin.

Workout:  Just chores and another walk with Wyrsa, again barefoot-ish (with Soft Stars) and wearing Vitamin D gear.  Part of me wanted to do more, but the other (smarter) part recognized that I’d had quite a stressful day at work, less-than-ideal sleep, and a weekend of hay stacking ahead.  Just walk, dummy!  So I did.


Real Work

I started bodybuilding a few years ago, when I saw a possible divorce coming down the pike.  I reckoned that if I was going to have to manage my farm — including stacking 25 tons of hay annually, breaking ice on troughs, repairing fences, rototilling, hauling feed and salt, etc. — singlehanded, I’d better get busy getting strong.

I started out with 6 pushups, no pullups, and only bodyweight to work with.  So I worked with it.  Five days a week.  Hard.  I pushed the pushups to 35 on a decline and pulled the pullups to 9.  I added a backpack full of sand to get me through most of a year before I could afford a barbell set.

By the time hay season rolled around, I was able to stack thathose bales.  And break the ice.  And repair the fences.  And rototill.  And all the rest of it. 

Take yesterday, for instance.  I trimmed all four hooves on each of six horses, one after the other.  If you’ve never trimmed hooves, just trust me — it’s hard work.  It leaves a body sweaty, bruised, and sore.  But it’s real work, my favorite kind.

For all that I love getting under the bar, real work is more satisfying.  Farm labor is the fruit of my gym labor.  The bar is the means; the hooves and hay are the ends, and I can make them meet.  I am farm strong.

I often wonder what city folk do for real work.  There must be options.  What are they?

PBC Day 6

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Eggs over easy with grilled tomatillo salsa, bacon, coconut-roasted plantain, and blackberries.  Grilled gassfed beef burger (no bun) with grilled tomatillo salsa, sauteed onions, and cotija; grilled asparagus; sweet potatoes roasted in bacon fat.  Whiskey.

Workout:  Nothing official.  Nothing needed!  Those six sets of hooves were plenty.  Ironman and I also took a short walk after dinner


Embracing Discomfort

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted something to the effect that, in order to achieve optimum health, people need to learn to be hungry.  That is, they need to accept temporary hunger as a natural and even beneficial state. 

The thought stuck with me.  I tossed it around for a couple weeks and eventually realized that I believe my friend is onto something with regard not only to hunger, but other physical states as well.  Modern society seems determined to disconnect us from the world, with its attendant unpleasantness, as much as possible. 

We have vehicles to minimize the obstacles of terrain and distance; convenience stores, refrigerators, and plastic wrappers to ensure immediate access to food; heavily padded furniture, floors, and shoes to minimize our contact with natural surfaces.  We have high-tech clothing and HVAC systems and insulated homes to shield us from weather’s whims; machines to dig our holes and raise our beams; drugs to quell the unpleasant side effects of our own immune systems hard at work.

I’m not saying we should all go live in the woods.  I like my automatic dishwasher and flush toilet as much as the next guy.  I’m just saying that, given the extraordinary ability of our bodies to adapt to adverse conditions, perhaps we would be healthier if we actually asked our bodies to deal with more discomfort than our modern environment strictly requires.

Which leads me back to hunger.  Just because food is available on every corner doesn’t mean we are best adapted for a lifetime of full bellies.  Even if we take Chik-fil-A and Peanut M&M’s out of the equation, and assume a squeaky-clean paleo diet, we still don’t need to nosh constantly.  Like many paleos, I have discovered the unique pleasure (yes, pleasure) of hunger.  (I’m talking intermittent fasting, people, not anorexia or Auschwitz.)  It’s a kind of fasting that comes naturally when you really start listening to your body.  I talked about appropriate IF in this post.

But hunger is only one form of healthful discomfort.  What about physical effort?  I once read a Fitness Black Book article hypothesizing that fitness levels tend to correspond with pain tolerance.  That is, elite athletes have an unusually strong ability to push through pain (not injury, ideally) while unfit people are prone to “wimping out.”  Interestingly, exercise may increase pain tolerance over time.  Even if you’re the type that hates physical effort, whether it be occasional white-buffalo-in-the-sky hill sprints or 1RM tests under the bar, it seems you can improve your feelings about exercise by doing more of it.  You can certainly improve your health.

How about temperature?  I’ve mused lately over a series of posts at Critical MAS, in which the author experiments with cold exposure and its role in improving leanness, adaptability to stress, and more.  It’s interesting stuff, particularly since the nights are dropping into the 50’s now and I’m sleeping with the windows open, waking to invigorating chill, choosing to head outside with fewer layers than would keep me perfectly cozy.  Doing so encourages physical activity and, over time, broadens my comfort zone.  I behave similarly in the heat of summer, eschewing air conditioning in favor of letting my body experience the seasons in all their (ahem) glory.

There are other things.  I choose to sleep on an unusually hard surface.  I often avoid backrests in favor of core-enhanced posture.  I delay dinner for an hour or two while I do the farm chores and take an evening run.  I carry a box of tissue instead of swilling Dayquil.

It’s nothing major.  Certainly nothing dangerous.  And as discomfort goes, it feels surprisingly good.

You see, physiological benefit notwithstanding, we stand to gain mental and emotional fortitude by bearing up under — even seeking out and embracing — discomfort.  Call it “building character” ala Calvin and Hobbes, if you will, but it seems to me that improving our ability to deal with stressors makes us stronger.  And I really like being strong.

Just something to think about.

PBC Day 5

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Eggs over easy, bacon, spaghetti squash fried in bacon fat, blackberries.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Tomato-cucumber salad topped with cotija, oil, vinegar, and dill.  Ground lamb and onion cooked in coconut milk with garam masala; sweet potato roasted in coconut oil.  Chardonnay. Apple with almond butter.  (And wow, that apple did me in.  Waaaay too much sugar.  I went to bed early, feeling as though I’d eaten a pint of Tin Roof Sundae.  Ugh.  I haven’t eaten a whole apple in so long that I’d fogotten how they affect me!)

Workout:  Barefoot trail run.  I also rode 16 miles on two horses and generally kept moving most of the day.


Hoofing It

I have weird feet.

It’s an unfortunate fact that severe bunions are not particularly attractive.  I’ve had mine so long that I remember when I didn’t realize that my feet were the abnormal ones, and all those people with people with perfectly straight feet weren’t cursed with an absurdly boring podiatrical condition.

It’s another unfortunate fact that severe bunions typically result in early and severe arthritis, as bones jammed together in unorthodox ways wear through the cartilage that is intended to slide between them.  I remember many nights during my undergrad work when my late-night studies were accompanied by burning pangs in my the large joints of my big toes.  There was nothing to do but grimace and let it pass.

Years of running (nothing impressive, just 4-6 miles most days, and a half-marathon in my early twenties) did the arthritis no favors.  It continued to stab at me almost daily, growing worse in winter and at night.  Fortunately, I have a high pain tolerance and didn’t figure the fiery pangs compared to the 3-month incapacitation associated with bunion surgery, which involves the chiseling away of large amounts of scarlike calcification, plus the intentional severing and re-setting of several  bones.  No thanks.

So here’s the cool thing:  I’m 33 now, I’ve been primal/paleo for over two years, and the arthritis pain is gone. 

Erm…isn’t arthritis supposed to get worse with age?

I still run sometimes.  In fact, I ran yesterday — just a couple miles along the rutted and rocky irrigation road that runs along the downhill side of my farm.  And get this:  I did it “barefoot.”  (I wore Soft Stars, which are comparable to the better-known Vibram Five Fingers  but lack the toe-shoe feature that I suspect would not accomodate my bunions.)  Barefoot running requires a toe-first landing that I would have dreaded three years ago.

While I’ll never be a yogi, I now make a habit of performing exercises that require the kind of extensive toe flexion that was impossible in my twenties.  Walking lunges.  One-legged barbell squats heavy enough to make my glutes sore for days.  Planks.  Pushups.

Winter still comes and goes.  I’m very active, spending entire weekends and weeknights on my feet.  I wear heels to work, though nothing steep or featuring pointed or narrow toeboxes.

And I hardly ever feel the arthritis.  Maybe once every 4 months.  Really.

Super.  Cool.

I don’t fully understand this.  Alleviation of rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory condition related to autoimmune problems, is a well-documented benefit of paleo nutrition.  However, osteoarthritis caused by a mechanical defect, like bunions, would seem to present a different challenge.  My bones are still crunching past each other at awkward angles, right?  So why is the pain gone?  Decreased inflammation?  Improved healing capacity?  Mark Sission shares some ideas here.

Whatever the details, I’ll take it!

PBC Day 4

Fuel: Coffee with heavy cream.  Grassfed ground beef sauteed with bacon and onions; eggs over easy.  Grassfed ground lamb in coconut milk with onions, garlic, garam masala, and sundried tomatoes served over sweet potato roasted in coconut oil.  Chardonnay.  Banana with almond butter and coconut cream concentrate.  (Yes, I often carb up a bit on Friday nights.)

Workout:  Nothing official.  I took a dog and my nano (yay!) for an hour’s walk/run along the canal.  Barefoot running is amazing for calf development.  You gotta try it.


(Not) Too Common

I’m thinking about entering Wednesday’s MDA contest.  It involves submitting my Primal success story, with photos.  The thing is, my success story isn’t dramatic.  I didn’t lose 100 pounds or put MS into remission or reverse type II diabetes.

On the other hand, I did get strong and sexy, and I solved a bunch of minor-but-persistent health issues that I was previously conditioned to accept as “they way things are.” 

So many people accept eczema, GI issues, heart disease, diabetes, acne, arthritis, hypoglycemia, mood swings, cravings, and myriad other conditions — not to mention the supposed age-induced creep of bat wings and spare tires — as “normal.”

These things are not normal.  They are common

My story is about being the exception.

Is yours?

PBC Day 4

Fuel: Coffee with heavy cream.  Grilled lamb chop and shrimp with pesto (no dairy) and garlic butter; herb-roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.  Buttered spaghetti squash; stuffed pasilla.  Grilled grassfed burger (bunless) with smoked salt, avocado, bacon, and sauteed onions; cucumber-tomato salad with olive oil, vinegar, and dill.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Red wine.

Workout: 5x backsquats, bench presses, one-legged barbell squats, and military presses.  Feels fantastic to be back under the bar!  I also scurried about the farm for a while as soon as I got home from work, preparing for tan incoming thunderstorm that lasted half the night.  Rain!  And, I did a Feldenkrais lesson before bed.


I Didn’t See It Coming

…but I’m going!

By lucky coincidence, yesterday’s MDA post broke through my ongoing status of Paleo on Autopilot.  Lo and behold, the annual Primal Blueprint 30-Day Challenge is just getting underway, and I’m on board.  I was already planning on a Whole 30 from October 20-November 20; the PB Challenge will just be a warmup.

It’s time.  As is typical, I’m at my lowest fitness level for the year (in terms of strength as measured by weightlifting) because I’ve spent the summer being active in other ways — farm work, endurance riding, horse training, whitewater rafting — instead of officially “working out.”  That’s all well and good.  It gets “play” points from Mark Sisson and “periodization” points from Robb Wolf.  But I’m ready to shift into a higher gear.

The PB Challenge sets up a perfect opportunity for this transition.  In my contribution to yesterday’s mini-contest, I committed to the following:  1 bodyweight workout, 1 heavy lifting workout, and 1 sprint workout per week, plus 100% Primal eating.

Sure, it’s minimal.  That’s the idea.  I still have some decent horse training weather ahead, and I still have 150-250 miles of races to ride.  I’m not giving that up in favor of my full-on, winter workout schedule.  This is just to prime the pump.

As for the food, check out the PB Challenge link above for the rules.  They’re standard Primal, which is rather more hedonistic than Paleo.  (Note particularly the inclusion of moderate alcohol and dairy.)  I’ll simply steer around the rare exception (like corn tortillas) and eat as I usually do.  Finally, I’ll try to keep a little food and workout journal going here, for those who like to see examples of what this lifestyle looks like in practice.

Who else is doing the challenge?  Why not give it a shot?

PBC Day 1

Food as Fuel:  Black coffee.  Pulled pork with grilled tomatillo salsa and cotija.  Ceviche.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Grilled sirloin tip with grilled onions; roasted sweet potatoes; cucumber and tomato salad dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and chopped cilantro.  Gin on the rocks.

Workout:  Bumped to another day due to errands and extra farm chores.  Did a couple sets of pushups (max 33, which isn’t bad considering how long it has been) and pullups while cooking dinner.


On Hold

I am currently on hold with BCOR Fitness. 

I have been on hold for eight minutes now.  I have not spoken to a live body yet.  Their hold music seems to have been obtained by holding a cassette recorder up to the speaker in a Hilton elevator.

…nine minutes…

According to the company’s website, I’m supposed to talk to a representative to “schedule my first class” now that I’ve created my online account.  Of course, none of this information was posted clearly up-front as part of the Living Social offer or the BCOR site, which basically says “just show up!” 

I decided to call to make sure “just show up” was right.  Apparently not.

…ten minutes…

I hope they let us start on December 2 as planned.  Later would probably be better for me, actually, since I’m just now healing up my stress-fractured foot (too much barefoot running without adequate preparation).  But, my mom has travel planned for January and may not be as flexible on when our 30-day voucher deal starts.

…eleven minutes…

Ooh!  Someone picked up!

“Alex” has me scheduled for 6am Friday.  Go Alex.  Do I want to add a BCOR Diet Program to my order?  No, Alex.

I’m supposed to bring water and a towel.  No need to come early for any kind of orientation.  Hmm.  This is slightly alarming.  I’m not worried about myself, because I know enough about form and reasonable programming to keep myself safe, but what about a beginner?  Maybe that’s figured into the instructor’s style.

________

AAAAAND…rewind.  Just as I was about to hit “post,” I got ahold of my mom.  We agreed to delay our start date to December 28th so my foot can be fully recovered.  I think this is a very good idea.  It took 3 months of healing time to get to this “slightly tender” state; the idea of a major setback is not appealing.

Fortunately for me, “Chad” answered BCOR’s phone after only 2 minutes on hold.  He was very nice about making the switch.  So, Wednesday the 28th it is.  And my opinion of BCOR’s customer service is somewhat mollified. 

Someone should give Chad a raise.


Re-Starting Strength

This injury-recovery business gets tiresome at times.  (So does my day job, which is in government and therefore absorbs more than its fair share of time and energy during the legislative session; hence my dirth of posts lately.)

I can walk normally now, but sudden stops still send an unpleasant jolt through my hip.  I can jog a few miles, as long as I ice afterwards.  I have full range of motion for most lifts, though little strength in my newly-knit lumbar and hip tissue.

Having just stepped back under the bar a few days ago, I decided this is a perfect time to break out the new copy of Rippetoe’s Starting Strength that his been tapping its fingers on my bookshelf since I ordered it last spring.  As long as I’m rebuilding slowly, why not double-check to make sure I have the details right?

The first line caught my attention:  “Physical strength is the most important thing in life.”

Really?  Being at least as much an intellectual as an athlete, I questioned this — and was amused to encounter the end of the paragraph, which read, “A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong.  This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence.  It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.”

Hmm.  Shades of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  And this post, which resonated with me enough that I shared it on In the Night Farm’s Facebook page.  I wonder whether Rippetoe would agree with me that development of all three elements — intellectual, spiritual, and physical — is imperative to ultimate happiness.

Anyway, I particularly like Rippetoe’s observation that physical prowess (particularly strength) is our natural state:

“We previously were physically strong as a function of our continued existence in a simple physical world.  We were adapted to this existence well, since we had no other choice.  Those whose strength was adequate to the task of staying alive continued doing so.  This shaped our basic physiology…

“Over and above any considerations of performance for sports, exercise is the stimulus that returns our bodies to the conditions for which they were designed.  Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard physical effort.  Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem — it is…a thing without which there will always be problems” (emphasis added).

Amen, brother. 

I’ll admit it’s fun to impress people with my strength relative to my size.  Just about everyone is surprised to see what a small female is capable of — not to mention interested in — when it comes to moving heavy things.   People regularly comment on my “guns” and even my glutes(!).  I’m sure many of you readers share my experience.

To the modern world, we’re weird.  Good weird, but weird. 

To Rippetoe, we’re just normal.

If everyone pumped iron, they’d be healthier and happier.  More confident.  Safer.  Better. 

Normal.


I Can Squat! and Other Amazing News

Eight afternoons ago, I was coiled in a ball on frozen ground, dialing 911 while my horse bucked off into the sunset.  I couldn’t walk the length of my ER gurney without breaking into a cold sweat and battling nausea from the pain.  I couldn’t even lift my own feet to recline on the sofa.

Today, I did air squats.  5 sets of 10, perfect, ass-to-grass air squats.  Yesterday, I walked 2.5 miles.  The day before, 1.5.  The day before, I climbed stairs without crutches.

What is going on here???  I’ve done some major soft tissue damage before (the most notable incident involved an aggressive border collie and a torn hamstring, and then there was the time I parked my raft on a rock in a major rapid and slammed into the oar with my thigh) but this is my first trauma since going paleo in August 2009.  And let me tell you, I have never experienced this kind of recovery.

8 days out from incapacitation, and I’m squatting?  And doing planks?  And messing about with dumbbells?  This paleo schtick, to borrow from Robb Wolf, is potent stuff. 

Okay, they’re only air squats.  Big deal.  But I didn’t expect that have that range of motion back for weeks.  It has occurred to me to wonder whether the injury wasn’t as severe as it seemed.  Those who saw me in the first 48 hours, however, insist that’s not the case.

More than one person has pointed out that had I not been so fit, I would likely have suffered even more upon impact; and, had I not been so well-nourished, I’d probably still be on Vicodin and crutches.  As for intense workouts, I reckon it makes sense that a body accustomed to frequent, minor repairs is better equipped to handle major repairs when necessary.

Nerd that I am, I spent some time searching for information on paleo nutrition and injury rehabilitation.  I didn’t find much, but Dr. Loren Cordain’s comments in this Q&A are worth a read.  Anybody got more for me?

Now, don’t worry.  I’ll still be spending plenty of time on my ice pack.  I’m taking this slowly. Hey, I could have gotten under the bar today…but I refrained, like a good little invalid.  Day by day, I’ll do what I safely can, and nothing more.  It surely feels good to have pumped biceps again, though.

Go forth and eat well, my friends.  Lift heavy things.  Sprint occasionally.  Be strong.