8 Books to Run Happier

My favorite books to inspire, run smarter, blow your mind, and find more fulfillment in running and your life.

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory by Deena Kastor I’m not going to say this was my *favorite running book of all time* because it would be insane to make that claim about any book, but I am putting it first on this list for a reason. What’s so great about this book is, it’s somewhat educational, it gives you a glimpse into the glittery and exciting world of the elite, it’s wildly inspirational, and the takeaway is bringing more positivity into your life and running. No book has had this big of an impact on my life since the first time I read Once a Runner! Big time.

you can buy this graphic quote on stickers or whatnot in my Threadless shop here

The Science of Running: How to find your limit and train to maximum performance by Steve Magness. Okay, Steve Magness is a genius, and this book is the ultimate nerd out for us science minded runners (which obviously isn’t for everyone, even I had a hard time following a couple of the chapters and I studied biochemistry, although I listened to it and I don’t know that was the right format). It’s intensely informative, and it makes the other running instruction manuals look like those learn to read books with Nan and Sand. I just saw when looking up a link for this post that Magness has a new book. the Passion Paradox, about the joy and unbalance of intensity and I am so stoked to read it I might put this post on hold until I have.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall I resisted reading this for a long time, it was so popular and I had this conception that it was all about the whole silly barefoot running fad. It’s actually awesome, it’s a great story, there’s tons of research and conspiracy and science and history. Classic. Must read.

you can buy this as a sticker or magnet here

Strong by Kara Goucher The Amazon reviews are absolutely right, this is not a memoir or an instruction manual, there’s some but not a lot of meat to it. It’s the jumping off point for you to learn to write your own confidence journal and it does that perfectly. The contributions by other prominent women are the icing on the cake, this is an inspirational workbook!

Run or Die by Kilian Jornet Is it too obvious to include? I couldn’t exactly make a list of favorite running books without it though. I handwrote out the Skyrunner’s Manifesto and had it taped to my door for years. Kilian doesn’t give a lot of interviews [but when he does it’s a must listen, here’s Kilian’s episode of Rich Roll], so this is a rare and delightful look inside his wonderful head. His new book, Above the Clouds just came out, and I’m not all the way through it yet, it’s beautiful and mature, but it doesn’t have the same rawness as Run or Die. I relish in when they all lived in one studio apartment, called their skis and bikes their “girlfriends”, and dropped their rent on race fees. Speaking of girlfriends, I’m going to include Skyrunner here, Emelie’s book is delightful and inspiring, just like she is.

you can buy this as a sticker or graphic here

Run the World by Becky Wade Becky Wade was an elite college track runner that eventually moved on to marathons and in between she got a prestigious fellowship that paid for a year long odyssey visiting great running cultures of the world for a year and then she wrote a book about it. What a fun exploration of culture and community and why people run, beautiful and brilliant.

Meb For Mortals by Meb Keflezighi I loved this deep dive into Meb’s world but not everyone wants to “Run, think, and eat like a champion marathoner.” There’s chapters on inventive strength moves, he gives you the nitty gritty of his training schedule and eating (although it infuriates me when he says many runners think they can eat whatever they want but it’s just not true, paraphrased), recovery, mindset, just everything. He wasn’t one of the great runners of our time by accident or talent alone, he devoted everything in his life to it and he lays it all out in this book. I think his somewhat arrogant tone is delightful here (but not in his autobiography) but I’m sure not everyone will agree. 🤷‍♂️

Once a Runner by John L. Parker I know there’s folks that haven’t read it yet. We used to consider this the Bible. I’ve read it probably, 80 times? I read single chapters over and over sometimes. The flip side of getting too intense about it is it might lead you too far into the rabbit hole. It’s a fictional story about the pursuit of perfection and world records and Olympics with a cast of some technically fictional characters [universal avatars that you’ll recognize in folks today] and some real life historical heroes.

you can buy this as a sticker or magnet here

The graphics I designed for this post are all in my Threadless shop if you’re interested! Want to read more? I’ve just started writing about yoga again here. The Amazon book links are affiliate links. If you use any of the links to buy anything, it doesn’t cost you extra but it helps support this blog! xo

Winter Vanlife Essentials

When I started writing about the winter buildout considerations, I realized I had way too much for one post so here’s its companion post, a list of things that I found made my life a lot easier and more comfortable after spending last winter in the San Juans. I read a lot of vanlife essentials lists when I was starting out a year ago, and these I think are all things I haven’t seen on other lists (a weather station is something that was super useful to me but you’ll find on everyone else’s lists too). img_20191216_0926485743063206493550429.jpg

Forgot to put the cover on my bikes before an unexpected storm 😦

Down Booties I had always wanted these anyway, for winter camping (or backpacking in the mountains when it’s not even winter), or mountaineering, because my feet are always cold, but I never wanted to spend the $$$. Nowadays, you can buy cheaper versions of everything down, and while I wouldn’t recommend cheaping out on your belay parka or sleeping bag, down booties is one place where the $20 version serves the purpose fine. Of course, are the Western Mountaineering ones nicer? Duh.

The Sun Something I had never considered in the camper was the direction I was parked relative to the sun. You’re probably familiar with this concept in the summer, because your windshield is a powerful and undesirable heat source. When you’re parking somewhere for the night, if you can, face the direction the sun is going to come up.  You will honestly not believe how much heat you get from doing this and it will melt the interior ice buildup on your windshield quickly.

A Long Pivoting Snow Brush Look, I didn’t even know this existed until someone saw me trying to clean off my solar panel and brought theirs over to help. I’m short, van windshields are tall, and clearing off your solar panels is a necessary evil that’s difficult and dangerous when the van is buried in snow and you’re crawling around on the roof with a mediocre brush. There are a lot of variations of these super brushes, but the crucial qualities both for clearing the windshield faster and easier, and the ability to clear your panels while standing on the ground, are a pivoting brush and an extendable reach. It will make your life So. Much. Easier.

van at s elbert

Clip on Oil Diffusers for your heating vents I was always concerned about the van developing a smell, and winter is harder because you’re going to be keeping the van mostly shut up. When it is warm enough to drive with the windows down to get some airflow, do it. The other golden rules of keeping stink out are: keep it clean, wipe down surfaces after cooking, odor absorbers, and essential oils. At first I was just randomly dumping oils around the van, in the bedding and rug and whatnot. Then I found on these clip on dealies, you put oil on the felt pads, insert them into the little clips, and clip them to your heating vents so while you’re driving, they heat up and spread lemon or eucalyptus or cedarwood or whatever delightful scent you choose all around. They work better and are much cheaper than a standard diffuser.

Windshield Insulation Last winter I used Reflectix that I had sewn a blanket to one side of. You’re looking for the opposite effect than the summer, any reflector you want on the inside, and you want the outside to be a dark color that draws heat in. I had hoped the blanket would absorb some of the moisture that collects and freezes on the windshield, and that hasn’t worked yet. But covering the windshield and any exposed windows while you’re parked and they’re not in direct sunlight with ANYTHING will make a huge difference heat wise. I am definitely making nicer ones this year that velcro on and are more heavily insulated. This couple makes really nice ones if you have the $$ and don’t want to make them yourself. These nice folks made their own and posted here about it for some guidance if you’re going to diy, but there’s a ton of ways to do it from very cheap to very spendy. I’m going to use some of their ideas and but do it cheaper and spend less time for this winter.

Rubbing Alcohol in a Spray Bottle I don’t remember how I found this out, but rubbing alcohol melts ice. The only moisture I really had trouble with was the inside of the windshield and front windows. Whether I was just existing and breathing, or especially if I was cooking or running the heater, there would inevitably be a layer of ice in the morning. The best way to deal with this is to park in the direction of the sun and not have to drive anywhere until the sun came up and melted and dried the windshield ice itself. But I worked at the ice park last year and had to be in before sunrise. Melting ice off the windshield takes FOREVER if it’s cold and you’re just waiting for the defroster to do it, so I’d first use my ice scraper on it, then spray rubbing alcohol on it and wipe it with a towel. This is why you see towels on dashboards in the winter, ps, to collect all the melted ice water when the windshield defrosts in the morning.

Electric Blanket & Electric Gloves I was actually gifted an electric blanket for Christmas one year, I can run it off solar and it’s much more efficient to warm you up than running a heater to heat the space, and I absolutely love it. For comfort level, it is the biggest difference, and if you’re part timing or not going to be in horrifically cold temps, I would go this route first before getting a heater. I also bought these cheap gloves with heating elements in them, the heating elements are removable and you can put them in socks or boots or other gloves or anything. They only take a tiny bit of electric to run and produce a small amount of heat, but it was a big comfort level difference when I was doing computer work in the morning.

Sleep Setup I had a variety of pieces that I tried together in different combinations and what I ended up really liking was a regular comforter and a very heavy sleeping bag (flannel on the inside, heavily insulated, and some type of plastic outside, the kind you car camped with as a kid) unzipped as a top layer. I considered buying a really nice down comforter, but it would’ve been spendy and it wouldn’t have been versatile enough for summer. I also didn’t want to use my really nice and expensive UL down bag on an every day basis. In the summer, I still sleep with my medium weight comforter or nothing, and have the big heavy sleeping bag put away. This set up was warm enough to sleep comfortably in in all temperatures, the variations being that sometimes I went to bed with my down coat and booties on. I only ran the heat at night if it was below zero, preferring to sleep with Pip in our cozy little den then turn the heat on when I woke up.

Hydroflasks and Yetis I was never a hot drinks person until I started ice climbing. The same principle applies to winter vanlife. Hot bevies completely change your quality of life. I boiled a lot of water on the stove, and every time I was at a coffee shop, I’d have them fill up one of my big Hydroflasks with hot water that I could save for later. Pips and I both drank mostly warm water all winter. You can put emergen-c or tea bags in it, you can use Better Than Bouillon to make broth, lots of options. Klear bottles are identical to Hydroflasks but cheaper. Yetis do keep stuff hot for longer, it’s noticeable, but they’re so $$$ (save money and get one free at the Ice Fest).

Rugs I mentioned this in the buildout post, but just in case anyone’s on the fence (I was), you NEED RUGS if you’re going to live in your van in the winter. No matter how much insulation you have (I have 2″ of foamboard and a 1/2″ of plywood AND laminated flooring), the floor will be unbearably cold to the touch at all times. You also need rugs because you will never be able to keep up with the mess you track in with snow, and at least a rug will absorb it and dry out later.

Hope you got some good ideas from this post, how do you stay warm in the winter??

Positivity Roundup

In tragedy phase? Me, too, this morning. Hopefully this helps. We’re all in this together! xo

Sun Dog: the Happiest Dog on Earth (video)

This image search of Quokkas, the cutest and happiest animals on earth

I’ve never had more hope for the world than when I was watching this video about a guy who was tired of getting security alerts from a little kid who kept riding his bike in the guy’s driveway.

This stoked mountain lion (30 sec video)

Surf Dog Ricochet, the wonderful golden retriever therapy dog that surfs with children, veterans, and folks with disabilities

& Kuli the cat that loves swimming and surfing (1min video)

In case you somehow missed UltraRunning Memes

This happy lab’s fantastic sprint to the ocean (30 second video)

One of my personal favorite pick me ups, Emelie Forsberg being her delightful and adorable self in Running the Farm (same video from the Survival Guide post)

Dexter, the dope dog from Ouray (vid) who walks upright like a person and who I only wish I’d met in person!

A compilation of animals smiling

Deena Kastor’s memoir, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking Myself to Victory, not a quick fix but such an inspiring story about using positivity and gratitude to be a better, happier person and one of the best runners of all time.

Survival Guide for OTS & Injury

I was thinking about the phases I’ve gone through of OTS, it’s a lot like having a long injury. If we can talk about what we go through, it won’t be so scary, and I have tons of tips to help you get through it, because none of us are alone. Here are the five stages of grief:

  1. shock/denial
  2. anger
  3. depression/detachment
  4. bargaining
  5. acceptance

The five stages of OTS/injury are:

  1. bingewatching Netflix
  2. obsessive attachment to every new/funny/interesting thing. see: Strange Planet or that time I got obsessed with seamounts and polar cyclones
  3. the furor: I was reading a book during this time about developing a healthy psychology around your sport, and they said it’s natural to feel angry when you’re injured, and one idea for coping is to assign yourself an amount of time that you can be as angry as you want, then after the time is over you must let go. They suggested 2-14 DAYS, depending on severity. I had been angry at that point for about THREE MONTHS. Needless to say, I never picked up that dumb book again.
  4. watching sports movies/reading about others rad pursuits etc and weeping [in related news, Kilian Jornet has a new book, and Nolan’s 14 has seen at least eight finishes already this year, including new men’s and women’s FKTs][less than 24hrs after I published this, Megan Hicks set yet another women’s FKT, amazing]
  5. the epic search for a new identity: experts and most regular folks agree, if your identity is intertwined with one endeavor, and it’s taken away from you, you will probably have a breakdown. Which is why you should suddenly start applying yourself to OTHER endeavors. Perhaps you’ll spend days making a new resume and applying for a job, sign up for college courses online in grant writing or physiology, write a novel, blog endlessly, or start your own nonprofit.
  6. the final stage is obviously just when you’re better again. This isn’t the Great Riddle Gate in the Neverending Story, where I expect that we’ll all have supreme confidence in ourselves and can walk through unscathed. Maybe you will have a healthy relationship with the thing that’s holding you back by now and you can call it acceptance, but maybe not, and that’s okay. btw, I recommend a lot of stuff in this post and NONE of it is sponsored in any way.
From Mt. Abrams this year, a day I made it up something but felt particularly bad physically

So how to survive? The most helpful thing to me was understanding specialization, and how that was never going to make me happy. When Steve House says, “Avoid this at all costs, because you will lose everything,” I at first was like “F***! THAT IS THE TRUEST THING EVER.” But upon months of reflection I’ve realized, what’s so f***ed about it is that if you can lose everything so easily, you didn’t have enough to lose. And THAT is the key to it all, my friends. Here’s a couple thoughts on specialization that I’ve gleaned from all this reading and thinking:

If you spend all your time trying to be the best at something, you will probably fail, and that won’t make you happy. If you succeed, which if your sights are set that high, you probably won’t, the fulfillment you feel will be fleeting. And one more really important thing, by nature it is almost impossible to specialize in something and not let it become your identity. If you sacrificed everything else for running, and then you’ve lost it, WTF do you have? Nothing. I’ve been working on building an identity outside of running basically every day and it is not easy but it is WORTH it. So here are my thoughts on making it through this shitty time.

It is completely okay to veg for a while. You probably need to, and you definitely deserve to, and right now I’m absolving you of any guilt. Bingeing Netflix seems to be America’s pasttime of choice, but you could also spend this time playing Candy Crush, sleeping, reading, daydreaming, or staring at the wall. Actually that reminds me that sleeping is the best way to spend your time now, as it is the absolute best way to heal whatever is wrong with your body and if you have OTS, you’ll be sleeping excessively for a while anyway.

Once you’ve distracted yourself for a suitably long time, you might start feeling more energetic and be ready to focus on other things. You might start devoting yourself to other pursuits, or your might need to spend some time in a gray area of slightly more stimulation than rewatching Avatar but less than starting a college course. Here’s an list of ideas to cover the spectrum of not completely mindnumbing to pretty interesting and involved:

  • Google Science: I’m not going to recommend staying up on the actual news because you’re probably already too depressed/stressed/fragile but the latest in science and technology is generally pretty exciting and mostly positive.
  • Take a deep dive into the Semi-Rad archives. Friday inspiration will give you all sorts of things to do, plus it’s somewhat outdoorsy without drowning you in FOMO. usually.
  • Learn a new language. This might not have fit in the fun/not overwhelming category before they made all this game-based app languages stuff. Now with sites like Duolingo, it’s free and easy and fun. I’ve been working on Spanish because as soon as I’m better (and the world isn’t on lockdown) I’m buying those plane tickets to Mendoza for Aconcagua! In a similar category, I also was hooked on Lumosity, which is like brain games that are also fun, so you can at least imagine you’re bettering yourself while playing free, addictive games.
  • Watch documentaries that aren’t about sports. Even if it’s not your sport, I promise it will make you feel tragic, so hold off until you’re really ready for that phase. I was going to recommend some but the internet does a good enough job of that on its own.

I also want to tell you that during the other phases, I reverted back to the veg phase a few times, and I think that’s okay because it was apparently what I needed at the time. Once I got hard into this app game Animal Restaurant? It was weirdly fulfilling (until it wasn’t) and I have no shame about it, and you shouldn’t either.

Nourishment: It’s not exactly a distraction, but I think it’s the right time to mention that you should also take really good care of yourself, that can only help you. Remember when Kilian posted that his broken leg healed miraculously fast and he was back to racing in like two months or something and it was all because of spirulina? For folks with OTS, adrenal supplements to help your body regulate especially cortisol production is super helpful. Mushrooms like cordyceps are great for healing. I went to an acupuncturist in the winter and she was like, “You BADLY need nourishment!” And prescribed me this Chinese medicine just to help my body get back to homeostasis. While it’s on my mind, acupuncture helped a lot. There’s no one size fits all recommendation here, just a jumping off point for you to look into how best to take care of yourself when your body is maybe undernourished and could use some extra support. And it’s not just what you consume, it’s a good time to do things that make you feel nourished, like spend time with friends and family, have rituals that make you feel taken care of, maybe think of some affirmations that make you feel good, sleep tons and tons.

I had one of the best runs of my life this day, but it unfortunately caused a minor relapse that I’m still dealing with weeks later.

The furor phase. Two things: I don’t think everyone will go through this. My friend was recently hit by a car while biking and broke both of his femurs, and I don’t think he ever felt any anger about it, because that’s just not his way. He also recovered in record time, blowing everyone’s minds, because science tells us that hope and optimism, after sleep, are the best things for healing. The other thing is, I do think if you enter the furor phase, it’s only fair to let yourself be furious, at least for a certain amount of time. I let mine go on for WAY too long. I actually think I agree in retrospect with that book I mentioned earlier, but I wasn’t ready to hear that yet. Assign yourself a certain amount of time and just let yourself be pissed. Yell and scream about it, be super obnoxious, get it all out, burn it all up. Then move. the fuck. on. I saw another friend go through a long term injury who got stuck in self pity for too long, and that’s not going to help you either. Pity and Anger will prolong your recovery, that is proven, it’s science. No shame about going through these phases, but you MUST move on at some point. That’s coming from someone who really knows, you can sabotage your recovery this way. I tried a variety of types of meditation to help me with stress and attachment, but ultimately I think you just need to soldier on to the next phase.

Feeling the tragedy. You can definitely skip over this one, but I included it because I feel like it’s inevitable that you will do it, even if you’re not trying to. [And it can happen at any time. Currently, the morning after I posted this, I’m mid-tragedy spiral after deep diving Ryan Hall’s IG. There’s more hope now than sadness, but I’m still crying my eyes out]. Like one day you’ll be three hours into a loop of those mini docus that Salomon and North Face and everybody make, and you’ll be soaked and all hoarse from the sobbing and you’ll be like, “Dammit! Why am I doing this to myself?!?” The real worst part of this is isn’t even wallowing, it’s that you’ll get to the end of the Barkley: The Race that Eats its Young or Running for Good or Made to Be Broken or whatever and you’ll get all stoked and inspired and be all, “I’m going to start training for the Barkley!” Then you’ll remember that you can’t, and that will be the worst. THE WORST. [if you can’t help yourself, watch Emelie be the happiest most adorable mtn runner in the world here]

The best side effect of OTS is spending way more time with other people since I wasn’t buried in serious training. This was two days ago, when we rode our bikes Ouray to Purgatory (supported), PC Dan Chehayl

Now this is finally the fun part, when you start looking for other things to work on and use your energy for self betterment and good in ways that hasn’t occurred to you yet. Another thing I did wrong that resulted in tons of suffering and probably prolonged my recovery is, I vehemently believed for at least six months that I was like, almost better and on the verge of being able to start training again and would be back to my normal self any second now. Then I would feel slightly better and be like OMG I CAN HAZ TRAINING! And then I’d feel terrible and realize that was a dumb mistake. Then I’d do it again. This is a difference between injury and OTS, if you have OTS your training will never be the same again, and the sooner you realize that the better. And it doesn’t have to be bad, I’ve come to terms with that I might be healthy enough to train and run hard again some day, but when I get there, it’s going to have to look a lot different. And that’s okay!

So maybe not everyone had their entire identity wrapped up in their running and can use their newfound time to devote it to all their other existing endeavors, work or hobbies or whatever. But I’m guessing that a big part of how you got here is that you were specializing, like I was, and with all my research into specialization psychology and just plain seeing it in my friends, I definitely think finding a healthier connection to your identity and sense of self, and building a life for yourself that’s rich in lots of different things, is going to be how you not only feel better NOW, but prevent this in the future.

I used to be heavy into yoga, and my old teacher would always say, “You are not your body, you are so much more than that.” And it helped me build a healthy identity. Then all sorts of other things happened in my life and I lost that. Say this with me, I am not my running, I am so much more than that. I am not my running, I AM SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. [here’s a fun and related read if you want to get scientific about it that I found by accident] That said, this is the perfect time to find other things you care about and devote some of your energy to getting good at other things. Remember, being the best at something was never going to make you happy anyway, it’s the endeavor that gives you a sense of fulfillment. So what else can you get up to that’s meaningful to you and will help you feel fulfilled?

  • Play and practice an instrument. This IS the right time to finally learn how to play ukelele or violin or harmonica, and music is a very satisfying hobby that you can see progress in quickly.
  • Take courses online in basically anything. There’s websites that are totally free, like Khan Academy, and ones that charge you to hop in on actual college courses in exchange for certification like Coursera (you can still audit on Coursera for free), there’s job sector sites like Nonprofit Ready with tons of free courses in fundraising and management and grant writing. I had a multi-month injury a few years back and I wrote a book about Pet Sitting that still sells decently on Kindle, and took a bunch of graphic design courses, and both of those things still serve me regularly.
  • Start writing your novel, or children’s books, or YA fiction, or blog, or journal, or memoirs, or nonfiction about some obscure snake in the Amazon, or lists of streaming movie or TV recommendations (the world NEEDS more of those) or whatever.
  • Explore new ways to get involved in your community by volunteering or starting a book club or just spending more time with your friends (safely, OBV). This is a great idea for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list them all. I’ve been thinking about putting together ski lessons for kids this winter, and maybe some kind of girl-focused outdoorsy nonprofit since we don’t have any of the big name ones here in Ouray, and I’m only just starting to investigate those things but it feels great to be investing my time in something more meaningful than *myself*.

Was this stuff useful? What helped you get through? Calling for comments, let’s get through this together. XO

finishing off with Pips being massively stoked, running alongside the bike

Winter Vanlife: Buildout & Heat

Tis the season for making winter preparations, for those of us choosing to live alternatively (ooh good euphemism). I woke up to snow on the mountains this morning!! One year ago, after two years in the camper, I sold it and bought a van, and I did my buildout (with an extreme amount of help from my dad) last September with the intention of spending the winter mobile in the mountains and after a year in Sisu the Skimobile at high altitude, here’s part one: insulation, heat, and other winter buildout considerations.

early winter ’19/’20

Insulation

I did the buildout with winter in the mountains CLEARLY in mind. There’s 2″ of foam board insulation on the floor and ceiling, foam board in the windows, there’s spray foam and fiberglass insulation stuffed into every nook and cranny and hole in the frame, there’s a layer of Kilmat (I got that for free, it’s sound deadener that’s already sticky on the back, awesome) and Reflectix (used a lot of spray adhesive for that) on every bit of metal, and some of the panels I used to cover the camper’s windows stuffed in there too (those were made of cardboard, Reflectix, and quilt insulation).

There’s paneling on the walls, the ceiling is made of paintable wallpaper spray adhesived to the foam board, so that doesn’t have really any extra insulative effect (and it was a pain to put up but turned out REALLY cute). There’s 1/2″ plywood on top of the foam insulation floor, then a friend gave me some leftover laminate flooring, then I put rugs on top of all of it because regular floor is TOO COLD in the winter. When I went to Ikea with a friend, he did not believe me that I expected to get a floor rug to cut up for $12 (but that’s just true!). I did not want permanent carpeting because I knew it would get trashed with snow and mud and boots, and I wanted to be able to pull it out and clean it, dry it, or replace it, easily.

Here you can see the closet full of jackets and Gore-tex pants, the rugs, the bins, and just barely my skis hanging above my bed.

Heat

I’ve mentioned before, and I’ll do it again, I was not trying to do an expensive buildout and made a lot of decisions with the mindset of, if I spend too much on the heater, I won’t actually be saving anything by not paying rent. You can pay A LOT for a heater. The forced air propane furnaces that are reviewed so well by vanlifers start around $745 (for a Propex, which are dope heaters, they don’t create moisture, but they do have to be externally vented which is a complicated job and a permanent change to the vehicle’s frame)

Alternative ways to spend $745:

  • Lou Harvey flew to 4 continents in two weeks and only spent $745 on airfare. Coincidence? I doubt it. That’s maybe not the best example of what you could buy for $745 but it’s an excellent point.
  • Almost 75 Pizza Hut dinner boxes, but only if you live near a Pizza Hut.
  • Rent in lots of places, two months rent if you have a roommate.
  • This donkey https://westslope.craigslist.org/grd/d/loma-paint-mini-donk/7188386466.html

I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews, as usual, looking for a combination of most affordable and effective/safest. I settled on a catalytic heater, which are very efficient and very safe, as compared to the standard (and cheap) Mr. Buddy. The Camco Olympian was consistently well reviewed both on Amazon and by copious vanlife youtubers. I went with a Wave 3 because it was cheaper basically. It’s the smallest version, thus lowest output. It would be fine for the limited space, except that I was going to be up high all the time and altitude affects their functioning. I read a variety of complaints about altitude and decided to do it anyway, and the reality was, it doesn’t have as much output at altitude but it still works fine. It was a lot better in Ouray (7,900ft or so) than in Leadville (10,150) or the pass (11,018), but in all of those places it kept us warm, possibly (probably) thanks to all the insulation.

Not a great pic, you get the gist though. The heater is put away for the summer so I had to use this old one, it’s actually pre-laminated floor.

A lot of people worry about the carbon monoxide possibility, my understanding was that with a catalytic, it’s unlikely, but I can tell you all the time I ran it, the carbon monoxide detector never went off and I did test the detector once by putting it next to the Biolite so I know it worked. The moisture thing that people talk about also wasn’t a problem, there was more moisture buildup (frozen) on the windshield when I was running the heater than when I wasn’t, but it wasn’t significant and I never had any problems with dampness (I’m going to do another post with winter essentials that will cover the windshield probs). In fact, after a day’s work at the ice park or a day of backcountry skiing, Pip and I would both be soaked from the snow and running the heater dried everything up. I used approximately one propane tank/month in the coldest months, December and January.

The heater is mounted on wood that’s installed behind the passenger seat, I wanted it off the floor for better circulation. It’s connected to a propane tank that sits in the passenger seat foot well but is movable if I’ve got a passenger besides Pip (or what actually happened is, passengers sat side saddle with a Pip on their lap).

a surprise snowstorm caught me unaware and I didn’t get the cover on my bikes 😦

Other Winter Buildout Considerations

Roof Vent: I did not want to do this, after all the problems I had with the camper’s roof in the winter. Snow is EXTREMELY PERVASIVE, I was constantly re-waterproofing the roof of the camper and no matter what I did to the screw holes that held the solar panels on, I could never get them not to leak during snow melt. The van’s panel is held on by the roof racks, the ONLY structural change I made to the body of the van was the two holes that the panel’s wiring runs through to the controller inside. This was a calculated risk, and I take a lot of care removing snow around there and there’s piles of caulk and waterproofing around it.

Water: I also chose not to do a sink or pump and only have portable water storage. I don’t heat the van when Pippa and I are not in it, so there’s too many times water can freeze. I used gallons and Nalgenes and Hydroflasks, and got water at the coffee shop, the gym, the hot springs, the public bathroom, or the grocery store. If a gallon freezes, you can melt it out pretty quickly either in front of the heater or on the dashboard in the sun.

Organization: I have two pairs of skis (an AT setup for backcountry and skate skis, I actually sold my Nordic classics because three seemed to be TOO MANY in the van. Nordic skis are very light and good for hanging, so they hang over my bed. The AT skis, being so heavy, go under the bed behind my gear/clothes/boots bins. Unfortunately, I bought a ski box from some guy for cheap and it didn’t occur to me that it might not be long enough for either pair of skis (d’oh!). Ski and climbing boots (and crampons) go in a big Rubbermaid bin underneath the bed during winter, while they’re in use, and in the roof boxes in the summer.

I badly wanted a closet because my various jackets (down puffy, down midlayer, soft shell, hard shell, etc) and pants (insulated hard shell, work bibs) wouldn’t sit in a box very well and I thought they’d store better hanging (they do, and the other upside is when they’re wet, I can put them away and they’ll dry there). My axes hang on a hook, then are secured by a velcro strap that I screwed into the side of the closet. Gloves of all kinds pretty much always live on the dashboard. You can definitely pick out a winter vanlifer by all the many things drying on their dashboard.

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’ll do another post with Winter Vanlife Essentials for like, windshield stuff, bedding, miscellaneous comfort things, etc.

Overtraining: The first few months

I was climbing Hope Pass from Clear Creek. I had wanted to put up a hard effort in Missouri Gulch, but while riding my bike from camp to the TH, a Subaru stopped me to ask if I had happened to see their bikes anywhere, or anything related to them getting stolen off their rack in the parking lot while they were hiking. I hadn’t seen anything, and it put a sour taste in my mouth for MO Gulch so I kept riding on to the Sheep TH and hid my bike in the woods there instead.

I could see the top of the pass, I was on that last long switchback, and I was feeling like I really might’ve pushed it so hard that I might actually explode this time when I looked at my watch for my heart rate. I had put on a heart rate monitor today finally, in an effort to find more data that might explain why I felt so bad. I had felt bad for over a month. It read 201. I finished the final steps and collapsed. I had put up a solid time, but at a price. Later that night, I was relaxing and watching TV. My heart rate monitor read 110. Something was really wrong, and I had the evidence now but no actual understanding. This was one year ago.

I actually had a photo from that very night on Hope Pass

Once again, I’ve done a poor job of lightening up this experience and this post is not very funny, but I think it’s important to get more information about OTS out there for anyone who needs it. Check your heart rate, people! It’s preventable.

My first clue was when I arrived in Provo, Utah the day before the Speedgoat. I walked Pippa around the campground and went for a short swim. I was exhausted. After a three week progressive taper. I knew something was wrong then, but it was easy to explain it away. It’s just that heavy feeling after taper, I told myself. I didn’t keep it sharp enough this week. It’s from the drive. I’ll be fine. Once I get started, I’ll be fine. The first steps off the start line, I was exhausted. The first mile ticked by, I was exhausted. I descended and was exhausted. By the time I got to the second big climb, I wanted to give up. I wrote about it after. I said I wasn’t strong enough, that I didn’t train hard enough, that I didn’t want it badly enough and I mentally gave up. I told myself every disparaging thing I could rather than getting curious enough to look into that something was really wrong with my body.

Pip modeling how I felt

This is a common problem with OTS and it’s how it goes so far so fast, that you start underperforming, you start feeling bad, and instead of backing off and looking into what might be wrong, you push harder. You blame yourself. You train harder, you try to dig deeper. Is that cultural? Dig deeper, dig deeper. Show your soul. What are you really made of? I am made of blood and bone and skin and muscles controlled by a failing nervous system, but I don’t bother to look into it, because the only reason I could fail is that I didn’t try hard enough.

Random picture from this year actually

I arrived in Jackson and I didn’t want to run. I was depressed. I assumed it was because I failed at Speedgoat, coming in 10th. It is not a natural state for me. Actually, depression is a symptom. I slept 12 hours every night, also a symptom. [bingeing Netflix and Lofthouse cookies is not a symptom though, it’s an American pastime] I half heartedly tried to train, but I felt so bad. I raced Rendezvous and slipped back to 8th, running five minutes slower than the previous year. I felt like I was losing my gears, like I couldn’t push. Like an ’89 trying to drive up Teton Pass. I had run 1,400 miles in 2019 by the end of July, and I thought I still must be undertrained.

Shadow Mountain, I did some running in the Tetons in ’19 but a lot of biking to get Pips out

I went back to Leadville and tried to run twice a week. I was aware that I wasn’t recovering between runs, and I guess I thought that would be enough time to make it up. It wasn’t. I felt worse every day, whether I ran or not. One day, I slept all day and woke up in the afternoon at like 3pm, I saw my sister had texted and I started tapping out a response, but I couldn’t hold my phone up with my arm long enough. I collapsed back onto the couch and slept through till the next morning. I hadn’t learned the difference yet between like, tired from running versus full body fatigue. Fatigue makes your fingernails and your ears feel tingley and brutally exhausted, along with every other piece of your body. I put a heart rate monitor on.

When I got back that night from my Hope Pass run, I pulled out Training for the New Alpinism. There was something in there, I knew it, I had read it, about heart rates and if your heart rate won’t go down between runs. What was it? “Avoid this at all costs, you will lose everything.” It said. I would eventually get confirmation, but I knew it the moment I read it and reread it and reread it. The parasympathetic nervous system symptoms, the heart rate, the sleeping, the depression, the underperforming. He said overtrained runners would try to compensate for their underperformance by training harder and pushing more. He ain’t kidding.

Nez Perce and the South Teton group from the lower saddle

Later I would learn about the hormone production imbalances, particularly that I would have no cortisol in my body, then suddenly my adrenal system would just dump it and my heart would rush like it was really going to explode and I would suddenly feel this whole body tightness. And what a relief to find out what was happening because it happened for about the first three months and it was TERRIFYING! I would be watching a rom com and suddenly my heart rate is 185, and it comes on like a wave in your whole body. Like something is definitively happening, but wtf is it?

Hope Pass was my last run until November, I think it was. Steve House said the only cure is complete rest until your nervous system sort of resets itself and everyone and everything else I could find agreed. It was hard to believe I might ever feel better. I would wake up every morning and my resting heart rate was in the 90s, then the 80s for a while, then eventually got stuck in the 70s. After a few months, it got back down to the low 60s, and that was around the same time the other symptoms started going away. I could feel the depression leave like an evil spirit peeling out of my body.

Looking for pictures for this, I realized before I was fully better I tried to go ice climbing bc Lincoln Falls was in on Oct 15th. The 500ft hike up just about killed me, but the morale boost was probably worth it (photo by Chris Jewell)

I progressively slept and ate less, [inflated appetite was also a symptom, and since I was filling in at the coffee shop during that time, I had no shortage of quiche and scones available]. After a couple months, I was basically eating and sleeping like a regular person, even dipping below eight hours naturally sometimes. The full body fatigue went from being constant and pervasive to in and out, and that would continue for another six months or so, fatigue being a definite signal that I had overdone it either physically or stress-wise.

I say I was on complete rest, but I was walking and biking w/ Pip still to get her out, just taking it EXTREMELY easy and only a couple miles here and there.

I had read things that had hinted that you would wake up one day and feel better. I had been tracking my symptoms and noting such significant improvement, then one day in November I did wake up and feel better. They say to stay on complete rest until you suddenly have the strong desire to go out and do something, and I did suddenly have the desire. I went for a short, easy skate ski. It was amazing to move again. A song came on by Tokyo Police Club that I’d never heard before, “And I’m still amazed you made it out alive, after what you did / It’s good to be back, it’s good to be back, it’s good to be back.”

It’s good to be back, says Pippa

Thinking About Luxuries/Alpicool Fridge Vanlife Review

I’ve been without refrigeration for three years, unless you count the ability to put a can of Coke out in a snowbank. I had the opportunity though, right? In the camper, I had a small fridge that worked initially but used SO MUCH PROPANE, I just couldn’t stand the waste then later when I tried starting it up again, it had stopped working. I could’ve purchased a Yeti cooler or a small fridge at any time but I had a dangerous combination of misconceptions and aversion to luxuries that kept me even from doing the research.

And looking back on it, I’m like, WHY? I think the ultimate answer is, along with being a dirtbag comes the spartan philosophy of, I’m sacrificing a variety of luxuries and comforts in order to fully pursue my passions. Like this existential pride of frugality, minimalism, living off the land, simplicity. I remember when I hit the road in May of ’18, I was unplugged and now fully reliant on solar power, solar showers, and cooking on the Biolite.

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Last week we used the Biolite’s grill attachment for the first time to make tin foil dinners!

 

Many times, on bike tours or backpacking trips, or just backcountry running trips, I’ve thought about things like indoor plumbing and it just stopped making sense. Like how absurd that someone had to build all of this infrastructure and it cost SO much money in order to run underground pipes and have water treatment plants and sewage treatment plants, then there’s the folks who manage an individual’s accounts so they can pay for someone to manage their plumbing in and outputs. And then there’s whoever invented the toilet and now whoever designs and markets all the different toilets and sinks and there’s specialty stores and websites for all of this STUFF and it’s expensive and it feels like the absolute opposite of simplicity.  If that wasn’t bad enough, how about all the accessories you need for your bathrooms and kitchens, and all the cleaning supplies.

Meanwhile, I’m drinking creek water that’s been gravity filtered. My newfound simplicity blew my mind, and I was full of pride. Plus, without all that energy wasted on such trivial matters, and the expense, of course, I could focus on what really matters: mountains. And training. I also had transitioned to a new ideal of working, where I would work enough to cover whatever particular expenses. I’d been gearing up for this for a while, starting to think about consumption not in the way of like, can I afford this? But in sort of an inverse, is it worth working more upfront in order to be able to buy this thing? And what about the opportunity cost of that work?

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Just including recent photos, here’s my sister on Hayden trail last friday

So here’s the practical reasons of why I didn’t buy a fridge sooner:

  1. I believed I would need a larger solar setup, both in terms of panels and battery storage, and possibly a bigger inverter, in order to run a fridge. OR, I have friends who have added a second deep cycle marine battery to their setup that they’ve set up somehow to be charged by their car’s alternator while they’re driving. This sounds cool, and I imagine I’m capable to have figured it out, but it sounded outside of the realm of me wanting to deal with it. Plus, another panel would cost about $100 and another battery something like $160 if I remember right.
  2. I believed the type of fridges that you might be able to run off solar in a van, without knowing ANYTHING about the type of fridges (except possibly one reference in a vanlife buildout video that his fridge cost like $900?)  would far exceed what I’m willing to spend. I was very frugal with both the camper setup and the van buildout, because if I overspent on either, I wouldn’t ultimately be saving on rent, and of course, I would’ve had to work more to make the money to spend in the first place, and that would take away from something more important.

So there’s my practical misconceptions, then when you combined that with what I realize now was this stubborn need to resist luxuries because I’m some kind of dirtbagging martyr, all you have is three years of wishing I had cold Coke to drink, and a lot of complications related to buying groceries that aren’t going to keep long and unfortunately watching too much stuff go bad, especially now that it’s in the 90’s, even at 8,000ft. I had lots of workarounds, including the many times I’ve brought empty hydroflasks way up high so I could transport snow back down to camp so I could have “alpine Cokes”. Obviously in winter it’s as simple as keeping your refrigerated stuff in the snow, but I’m not going to say that system is without complications either.

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random picture of Sisu the van

Here’s something I hadn’t realized until writing this, I had a lot of pride specifically around resisting climate controls. You know when you live in a house and it’s cold and instead of turning up the thermostat you put on a sweater or a blanket and you pat yourself on the back because you’re so environmentally conscious? I have that times 1,000. Maybe I should be embarrassed by this realization of how righteous I’ve been?

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The idea that I could be free from the waste of using fuels to change the temperatures of things delighted me. Have you ever used a solar shower? I actually am in love with solar showering just in general, but how fabulous that you need no hot water heater, but only the sun? (disclaimer, let me also admit that how much I loved staying at my parent’s house or housesitting for friends because I also delight in using a hot water heater and a fridge, I may be righteous but I’m not crazy).

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Solar shower hanging from a crack in the rocks in the Alabama Hills, CA

But those things are luxuries, right? And of course I enjoy a good luxury here and there, but I don’t want to make it my life. Anyway, the point of this whole post is, I BOUGHT A FRIDGE AND I LOVE IT. Like I already mentioned, it’s 4,000 degrees in Ouray and I was tired of limiting what I buy and strategically planning groceries in order to use up whatever perishables I bought before they went bad, then failing at it and watching stuff go bad. Which, of all of my pet peeves, food waste might be the biggest. I just vaguely thought I’d do some research about fridges and what I learned was that small compressor fridges use an incredibly minimal amount of energy, so minimal, in fact, that one could run them entirely off of their solar setup, even a solar setup that was not that big.

[Just a quick note you guys, I’m trying Amazon affiliate links. Nothing in this post is sponsored in any way, I researched and bought this fridge myself, but if you were interested in fridges or if you bought anything on Amazon after clicking through the links in the next 24 hours, I would get a small commission and would love your help to support this blog]

I found a study in England, I think, where a company who makes a compressor fridge put it into a rental campervan then ran it continually for two months, all day every day, that only had one 55 watt panel and one 35amp hour battery, and even with cloudy days mixed in, the fridge never exceeded the capacity of that rather small solar setup. I watched video reviews where other van lifers of just enthusiastic folks ran the same fridge that I bought, the Alpicool 15 liter, off their Goal Zero setups or plugged them into those things that measure draw, then they tested the temps inside. And I found that there is a category of these compressor fridges that are reasonably priced! And a category of them (looking at you Dometic) that is so expensive I would never consider putting it in a van because then you would be failing at saving money by not paying rent. I was definitely on a mission to find the cheapest compressor fridge with tons of great reviews.

Does anyone else remember in Free Solo when Alex Honnold is fridge shopping and Sanni’s looking at all these big, fancy fridges, and he finds the cheapest, smallest one, the little white one, and he says something like, “This is so adequate!” Like, that’s what I was looking for. Not the fanciest, I definitely would be okay with giving up some features, just wanted a compressor fridge, so it would have a low draw, that had a lot of great reviews so I would know it generally did the job of refrigeration.

Day one, I picked up the fridge from my personal mailbox in Montrose, unboxed it and plugged it in in the Walmart parking lot, set it to 40, and went in to buy frozen and refrigerated things (with glee, you guys). I came out like a half hour later and it was already at 40, despite that it was probably 96 degrees outside. And I’ve been living in the lap of luxury ever since. Drinking cold brew and almond milk, eating bagged salad, making smoothies with frozen blueberries.

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New fridge in action! Actually quite a bit of stuff in there.

I also want to point out that for someone who thought she was being so above simple luxuries, I bought a lot of luxury items then had to find out they went bad the hard way. All the many times I had to test almond milk in the mornings, by smell and intrepid taste testing, should have been good enough reasons to buy a fucking fridge. Now I definitely feel like, I don’t know why I took so long.

There’s already a ton of information on compressor fridges in general, and the specific one that I bought, the Alpicool, on what their draw is on different setups and with different settings so I’m not going to dive into that. I can tell you that day one with the fridge, I was parked in the shade, it was almost 100 degrees, and I was running my laptop and the fridge off of the inverter at the same time and it wasn’t even noticeable until about two hours later, when I could start to see the battery fullness decreasing on the solar controller, which isn’t super surprising because my laptop by itself has a noticeable draw. I also had the fridge set on like 34 which is pretty cold (BUT was the tradeoff of higher draw worth it to get a can of Coke that was slightly slushy? I think it was)

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Stock picture of my new fridge

 

I know that theoretically, I could program the fridge to adjust its energy draw on whatever battery it’s pulling off of, but I haven’t tried to do that, I’ve only been manually adjusting the temperature which is super easy. The digital screen gives a readout for the current temperature, which tends to vary from whatever temp I set it to about 1-3 degrees in either direction. I thought it was unclear in the listing and reviews what kind of plug it came with, turns out it came with a cigarette lighter plug and a regular outlet plug, both of which are super long. I can put the fridge in the back under my bed if I wanted to and it would reach the cigarette lighter up front.

So how do I feel about this newfound luxury? Have I made peace with the part of myself that delights in frugality and non-wastefulness? Well, I love it so much. I see it as a lifestyle gamechanger, that hasn’t compromised my values to that big of an extent. I got it on an Amazon Warehouse deal, and I had an Amazon gift card from Bing rewards, so I feel good about the expenditure. Plus, if you factor in the $$ value of food that was wasted and the fountain Cokes I buy at gas stations to feed my habit, the price of less than $200 I think will ultimately pay for itself.  So far it lives up to its reviews, that it only sips energy and runs silently.

 

Cass, Hope, & Tetons

There was a fox running alongside the road. Trotting, really. The perfect combination of spry and delighted, wiry and self satisfied. He was incredibly glossy, his fur rippling against the sunlight like a shampoo commercial. He carried a dead vole. His eyes twinkled. I swear he smirked when he caught us checking him out. At that moment, he caught wind of another prey. He discarded the vole and dove into the forest in pursuit, limitless.

I am not strong anymore. I think about it all the time: what it felt like, to feel powerful. To know you could go anywhere, and fast. To believe I was limitless. I wrote down affirmations after I read Deena Kastor’s book, and Kara Goucher’s. I am powerful. I am fast. I still don’t believe them. I keep telling myself that every time OTS pushes me back down and I fight to stand up again, to run again, that it’s making me in stronger in a different way. That when I am recovered, I’ll be stronger than ever. I do believe that.

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me on Teewinot

The other day I really overdid it. We went for a run up to Alaska Basin, hoping to see the west side of the Tetons and Ice Lake. It was inspiring to be on new terrain, a new trail. It was beautiful. Mostly, I’m grateful that I can do things again. That I can dig in, blow past people, climb. I splash water on my face and arms to cool off, I watch Pippa cavort. Pip is full of delight, even when she’s tired. I started feeling really bad at the end of the climb. I’ve noticed that it’s right around 2,500 feet of climbing that the fatigue begins to be overwhelming. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I started heading down. Usually, I can go down okay, but that day the fatigue was pervasive. I shuffled back and laid down, barely able to lift my arms.

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Middle Teton

Two days earlier, we climbed the Middle Teton. I was uncharacteristically spry after a week of Grand Teton recovery. Some days when I’m fully recovered, I get a hint of what it used to feel like to blaze up a trail. To push, to even have another gear. It never lasts past 2,500 feet. But after that, I can feel the fatigue in my whole body but I can keep going, slowly. When it takes us three and a half hours to reach the saddle between Middle and South, I’m still disappointed in myself. Even though I understood that of course I’m not strong like I used to be, I haven’t been able to train properly. And I’m so grateful that I’ve come this far, to even be able to climb 6,000 feet, to do a 16 mile day. That I can stand on top of something. I downclimbed quickly and gracefully. When I reached the trail, I nearly sprinted the last four miles. I felt fast. I cavorted. I was full of delight. Then I paid for it.

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Exum Ridge

The last time I climbed the Grand Teton was two years ago. I remember it being just hard enough sometimes to keep it interesting. I remember the exposure being extreme, the climbing beautiful, the downclimb long and exhausting. In 24 hours I climbed the Middle Teton and the Grand, then two days later I raced Rendezvous and got fourth, then attempted the Grand the next morning. It feels amazing to think I could do that. This year, it took a week for me to recover from the Grand. I also really struggled on the Exum Ridge. I was scared of everything. It’s embarrassing, but it’s not something people tell you about OTS, that you can’t process fear very well. It’s because it’s all tied into your nervous and adrenal systems. With the slightest bit of stress on my system, it floods with cortisol. It was surreal, to do something I’ve done before, something I found easy the first time, but this time to feel scared. It’s illogical.

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Top of the World

I suppose the silver lining is that I still was able to do it. I do believe that the positive that comes out of this is mental strength, resiliency. Forgiveness. Nourishment. Priorities. So much more knowledge about my body. This year in the Tetons, I haven’t been able to do as much as I wanted but I still got to do a lot. I made great strides in downclimbing, in skill and comfort level. That was obvious even on our first summit of this trip, Teewinot. I got a lot better at mountain biking, and particularly at taking risks. I’ve learned that single minded devotion isn’t always a good thing, and that if you can lose everything so easily, you should’ve had a lot more to lose. And I think I do now.

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Tim coming down Middle

I was really worried feeling so bad on Saturday after Alaska Basin, but my heart rate variability returned the next morning, and my heart rate’s been going down steadily each day since. It was under 60 this morning. Taking a deep dive into understanding the science of recovery and owning all these tools to evaluate it in myself will be infinitely valuable when I can actually train again. For now, I check my heart rate, I drink more water, I take supplements prescribed by my acupuncturist, and I binge on OTS success stories, people who recovered and came back stronger than ever. We named that fox in Teton Canyon Cass, after Quentin Cassidy. As disappointing as it can be sometimes, in equal measure I am full of hope.

 

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Middle

Overtraining Syndrome: I lost everything, but I gained more

“The winner is never determined by better muscle tone or better shoes. No, the winner is determined by what’s in the heart and what’s in the soul.” BULL SHIT. I’m doing this file for work and this random guy says that about when Usain Bolt won the 100 meter in the London Olympics in 2012 and typing that out just pushed me right over the edge.

You win races by being perfectly trained, I don’t know much but I know that. Leading with your heart is how you end up overtrained and 10 months out, here I am, lying around because I rode my bike twice this week and I’m too tired to do anything else. And honestly, as far as I’ve come mentally being more positive and accepting the situation and my body and trying to take better care of my self and the hundreds of hours I’ve spent trying to better understand physiology (because I have come SUCH A LONG WAY), some days it still feels like garbage because the only thing I want to do is train.

 

It is not work ethic that’s keeping me in bed. It’s not heart. When my legs are still fatigued and my heart rate is still elevated, like it is right now, if I try to go for an easy jog I’ll start to feel dizzy and get these weird heart rate rushes that I don’t totally understand but I’m fairly sure it has something to do with my adrenal system failing to regulate cortisol. And the only thing I can do is fully rest until the fatigue passes and my heart rate goes back down. I don’t recommend using this time to find out exactly how bad the Atlas Shrugged movies are. They are so bad.

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Mostly pictures from July & August ’19, when I had OTS and didn’t know it yet. Tetons! I didn’t climb a lot of mountains on this Tetons trip because I was so tired

Don’t fucking tell me that what a great athlete has is heart. What they actually have is a coach that organized and scheduled their training and recovery carefully to maximize gains without pushing their muscles and cardiovascular system and eventually their nervous system too hard and thus causing it to unravel. And there’s my rant. Don’t worry, I am angry sometimes still but I’ve done so much to learn about why this happened and find good things that have come out of this, too.

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Did a lot of biking to get Pips out

One of my big complaints during this process is that nobody talks about it. It’s so hard to find useful information. (It is so validating when you do though, like when I found this old article https://www.outsideonline.com/1986361/running-empty), or when I was listening to that recovery book Good to Go on audiobook and they talked very briefly about Ryan Hall and his coach and the stages of recovery. I had previously found the most info about the complete rest stage, and that you’ll know when you’re ready to come back. But six months into recovery, I was still really struggling as I tried to ramp up my mileage because I didn’t yet know that for the next six months or so I could train but I’d have to restrict volume by a lot. That was also the first time I heard that the one year mark is the typical time frame for a full parasympathetic OTS recovery.

 

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Me and Pips on Missouri in August last year

Anyway, but then, as numerous people have pointed out to me, I haven’t written about it either. And I’ve really tried. I’ve written about it in multiple stages then not shared them with anyone. I actually think it was a big step when I started alluding to the fact I had OTS on Strava. I guess I kept thinking that one day, I would have this big turnaround. One of the posts I wrote and never published, I re-read it and realized that it’s so overwhelmingly negative still, and I thought, I have to wait until it’s all positive. But it’s not all positive and it probably never will be! It’s good and bad, like everything else. But I just had this thought today, if I write about it, even when it’s not pretty or funny or inspiring yet, I’m doing my part to change the lack of information and stigma about OTS. I think about what a relief it was when I was able to dig up each small piece of information I’ve even been able to find. More information is better.

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Elbert

July 4th was the one year anniversary of when I’m sure I had OTS (although I wouldn’t figure it out until September). I can remember feeling good after Broken Arrow in late June, I ran a good time (6:28) but wished I could’ve placed better (14), and thinking all I had to do was work my ass off for a couple weeks until I tapered for Speedgoat. I drove straight through to Leadville and jumped back into big days of mountain runs immediately, pushing hard. I was doing 4,300-8,000 feet in 9 to 20 miles every day that first week and feeling worse and worse by the moment, until I could barely stagger into the coffee shop and complain “I am so exhausted. The altitude is killing me.”

Because just like every other runner who’s had OTS, I was already in the spiral and every day I didn’t perform the way I wanted, I had to push harder the next day. And I had no concept of OTS. My friend responded to my plight, “Don’t you think you’re overdoing it?” Gosh I think my dad said it, too, and he didn’t even see me. But I couldn’t have understood what overdoing it meant at that point. Because people who have a lot of heart believe that whoever works the hardest is the best.

So I kept pushing and pushing. I do think the high altitude was a factor, it’s a big physical stressor on your body and on your nervous system, I understand how all that works much better now. Steve House says in Training for the New Alpinism to rate your workouts A-D to prevent OTS (he also says to prevent it at all costs, because OTS will make you lose everything, which was how I felt for a long time). A if you felt great, B if you felt good but not great, C for you felt bad, and D if you had to stop the workout early because you couldn’t physically complete it. Every workout was a D. With the combination of all the things, I was literally running myself into the ground.

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Got tired of cycling photos back a year, this is recently on our way to Hayden

To top it off, on July 4th, despite feeling constantly exhausted and just having done an 85 mile week with 30,000’ of climbing, I got up in the morning and left for the Hope Epic Zombie Loop (the one thing that wasn’t highly physically and mentally stressful about that was the Cranberries song). I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t too late before the Zombie loop, that maybe I could’ve recovered if I had caught it then, but looking back, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the heinous 50 mile high altitude loop that broke my nervous system). From then on, I would feel exhausted every day until at least mid November and often after that, no matter how much I rested, and I did start complete rest in September.

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The map before my watch died of the Zombie loop

 

I raced two more times and kept running despite feeing bad and having 0 motivation (depression and loss of motivation are also symptoms), but even taking more and more recovery, I was feeling worse and worse and worse and I knew something was wrong. In September I finally thought to start monitoring my heart rate. I put a hard effort on Hope Pass and my HR went over 200. I left the chest strap on and monitored my heart rate 24 hours a day for the next few days and realized that my HR rarely went below 90, even first thing in the morning. This is the key to catching OTS that I figured out too late, if you monitor your heart rate even fairly regularly, you will see that it’s not going down and know that you need to rest. I can’t emphasize that enough, check your heart rate!!! You can take 30 seconds to check your heart rate.

One of the best things I’ve learned from all this is how integral your nervous system is to literally everything you do. On our bike ride yesterday, Ang was telling me about how your brain uses sensory cues to start the digestion process. And I added some stuff I’ve learned about the Central Governor theory, about how your brain decides how much anaerobic capacity you can use and how many muscle fibers you can recruit based on all sorts of factors, like how much longer you have to go and how important it is to you. Totally fascinating stuff. Actually, just in typing this I’m realizing that I was not ever going to write one perfect post that sums up my whole OTS experience, because it’s so much bigger than that. I needed to jump, and now I can begin the process of sorting through all the amazing things that have happened and that I’ve learned since then.

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Me on Engineer taken by my sister 

Here’s a few more things I did find to read that helped me a lot:

Geoff Roes’ perspective: https://www.irunfar.com/2013/04/one-story-of-overtraining.html

Scientific Info from studies done by NIH:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435910/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5019445/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23667795/

An easier to follow scientific breakdown of OTS:

The overtraining syndrome

 

Things we learned from that giant hole in Antarctica

The discovery of the hole in the ice of Antarctica that quickly grew to the size of Ireland sparked international mystery and intrigue, and an eventual solution that indicates global warming is causing more and worse polar cyclones that cause giant holes that then affects global ocean circulation. Climate change aside, I want to bring some attention to three super interesting things we learned from this (besides just the general fact that the earth is more spectacular and AWEsome than anything we could think up our own selves).

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1. Polar Cyclones: now you’re thinking, of course it’s possible to have hurricanes in the arctic. But had you really thought about it before? They don’t tend to be as ferocious as the ones that destroy the east coast, but consider 1,000 miles of -45 degree C wind spinning about and creating a hole the size of Rhode Island then eventually Ireland. In this particular case, scientists speculate that the GIANT UNDERWATER MOUNTAIN caused warm currents to move up towards the surface, which triggered the polar cyclone in the first place.

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borrowed this from NBC News

2. The Maud Rise Seamount: aka GIANT UNDERWATER MOUNTAIN. For someone who loves mountains, I was pretty disappointed to read the word Seamount for the first time after 33 years of ignorance. They’re earth’s illegitimate kids: big, secret mountains that are entirely underwater, rising from the sea floor and never breaching the water. We’re pretty familiar with underwater mountains, because that’s what islands are made of, and I knew about the mountains in Greenland that are being uncovered by global warming, but I just hadn’t thought all the way through to mountains that only exist underwater. Maud Rise is 3,400m tall, that’s around 11,200ft, and it’s still 1,600m below the ocean’s surface.  There are taller seamounts, like Koko Guyot, an underwater volcano near Hawaii that’s 16,000ft tall (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koko_Guyot), but most seamounts are under 13,000ft.

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this photo is from Science

3. Polynya: is a Russian word for natural ice hole. It was originally adopted by explorers to refer to navigable areas in polar seas, basically water that’s not ice, even when it’s surrounded by ice. Polynya is now the geologic term for “unfrozen sea within the ice pack.” These are fairly common but not nearly as big as this famous one was (hence the notoriety) over the Maud Rise. Apparently, there was a big giant hole over Maud Rise in the ‘70s. Now that we’ve unraveled the mystery of polynyas is global warming, we can go ahead and expect more, bigger polar cyclones and more, bigger polynyas.

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More polynyas, photo by the National Institute of Weather and Atmospheric Research