Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What We Do For Health, Part 1: The Salt Cave

In a turn of luck, I've recently had the opportunity to try a few different non-traditional care treatments. While runners can certainly benefit from a range of treatments, the same can be said for everyone. Life is stressful and can be hard on the body, and since it's the only one we get, we should be good to it.

Try something for me. Get up out of your chair and try to touch your toes. How does that feel?

Now, stand up straight, put your right hand over your head and reach as far to the left as you can and count to 15. Now switch arms and bend to your right. How did that feel?

Chances are you felt some tugging and tightness. Maybe you couldn't touch your toes. Maybe your back cracked or your neck felt heavy. Maybe it was the easiest thing you've done all day.

We tend to carry a lot of stress in our bodies, I know I certainly do, but we don't have to live in pain or feel mildly uncomfortable all the time. 

Fact: as I write this I have a tight knot in my neck that's making my head feel like a million pounds.

I'm always looking ways to lower stress, relax, stop my shoulder from hurting, and support my running, that will work consistently and hopefully last longer than a few hours.

5 Star Salt Caves in Denver

When a local bike shop turned into a place called 5 Star Salt Caves, we were curious what it was all about. And then the Groupon offers started. So needless to say, we decided to give it a try.

Several different services are offered, but we went for the main attraction - the salt cave.

In addition to stimulating deep relaxation, Halotherapy (or sitting in salt) is the use of salt vapor to treat or prevent respiratory ailments and skin irritations, and to help combat headaches, dizziness, nausea, indigestion, and more.

What it's like:
In reality the cave is a room with several inches of pink Himalayan salt covering the floor, blocks of the salt covering the walls, several salt lamps placed throughout the room and the dark ceiling has strategically placed twinkle lights to resemble stars in the sky.

When we were led into the room we were directed to one of eight or so lounge chairs - more of the outdoor type than the lay-zee boy type - with a blanket and a small basket for personal items.

This is not a private treatment, nor does it involve any strenuous movement, so comfortable clothing is recommended and clean, white socks are required. All I can assume is that dirty, colored socks can change the color of the salt. But that's just a guess.

After everyone was settled in the lights were dimmed. Since phones aren't allowed and it's not a place to catch up on the latest gossip (silence is golden), the only option is to just lay there for 50 minutes and take a little nap if you'd like.

5 Star Salt Caves in Denver

My take:
It takes a lot for my mind to slow down and for me to stop obsessing over my to-do list, so the music and twinkling "stars" were welcomed distractions. After a while I was able to switch my focus and relax a bit. While I may have fallen asleep for only a flash, the fifty minutes did go by more quickly than I expected, which I was thankful for, but also not quite ready to get back to my day.

I was really hoping that it would help clear my sinuses and relieve congestion, and while I was able to breathe freely after a few minutes, the effects quickly dissipated once we left.

Will I go back?
I think so. It seems like a type of experience that you have to experience a few times to get the full benefits of. If nothing else, it helped me relax and I was in a pretty good mood the rest of the day (although, the fact that it was also my birthday may have had something to do with that!). Five Star Salt Caves in Denver often has Groupon offers, so I'll try and take advantage of that again, as $35 for 50 minutes would be a bit expensive on a regular basis.

Sound off: If you've tried Halotherapy before, what did you think? * What's the oddest treatment you've tried to cure or prevent an illness or injury?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Knowing When to Take a Break (And Being Okay with It)

If you happen to follow me on social media, you've already heard the news that my running streak came to an end at 115 days. I have a lot to be thankful for. Running every day got my body moving, cleared my mind or allowed me to focus, encouraged me to explore new places and new ideas, and realize that my body is capable of more than I thought.

I didn't hadn't planned out when I was going to stop. It had been in the back of my mind for a few days but it wasn't until sometime between 4:40am when the alarm went off on Friday and we arrived at the gym 20 minutes later, that I made the decision not to get on the treadmill that morning.

Running in Washington Park Denver

It was surprisingly easy, but still a difficult decision. My weekly mileage hasn't been extraordinary, but for me it's been really solid the last few months. Long runs have been a bit longer and logging 80+ miles per month in my Compete journal on a consistent basis has come with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Not to mention the faster times on my watch.

The reason I'm taking a few days off is because I've had a nagging ache in my right shin for a little over a week, which I'm pretty convinced is actually connected to tightness in my right calf, an issue I dealt with last year. It took me out of the BolderBOULDER and resulted in downgrading from the 10 miler to the 10k during the Garden of the Gods race. With two races coming up in May - including the Colfax Marathon relay with my Oiselle teammates - it was clear a few days off was necessary.
I did what's often so hard for us as runners to do. I listened to my body.
With the end of my running streak I don't feel like I've failed. I'm not ashamed. And I don't feel like any less of a runner. In fact, after this experience I feel more like a real runner than ever before. (Let me be clear here: in no way, do I think it's necessary to run every day to be a 'real runner'. If you run, you're a runner!)

Rocky Mountain National Park valley view

It does sting a little to know that I'll log less than 10 miles this week, and maybe next week too, but I'll get over it. I've seen it before and I'll see it again.
I prefer to focus on the longterm. My goals for this year (as nebulous as they are right now) and healthy running in the years ahead.
The intention I set last week in my journal was "Do what feels right." So in making this decision, I don't feel badly or like a failure in calling it quits. I did what felt right.

What I'm focusing on during my little break:

  • Cross training (bike, elliptical, hiking)
  • Strength training
  • Core work
  • Rolling out and stretching
  • Resting 

Whether you're pursuing a run streak or only running a few days a week, it's important to listen to your body and take a break if you need one. In my experience, pushing through rarely works in my favor. Usually, it ends in a stress fracture or other overuse injury. And usually at the worst time.

South Table Mesa group hike

A group hike at South Table Mesa near Golden was the perfect diversion from running on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Amanda Brooks (of Run to the Finish)

Five reasons why you might need a break from running:

  • You have a nagging ache or pain that doesn't go away after a few days of extra rolling out, stretching, or ice
  • Running has become a cause of stress or anxiety
  • You've had several unusually difficult workouts in a row
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy is an every day occurrence
  • You're nursing an upper respiratory illness

With our Type A personalities, always going after goals and not wanting to divert from training plans, focusing on the long-term and setting new, short-term goals (like getting healthy and stronger) and leaning on your support system can help get you through your break.

When have you had to take a break (of any time period) from running? * What goals are you focused on right now?

Reminder: I am in no way a professional, all of my advice, ideas, and recommendations are rooted in my experience as a runner and through research. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

It was 75 degrees and sunny in Denver, but there were five feet of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Choosing to skip the holiday traffic and crowds of the free parks day, we headed up to Estes Park Monday afternoon and were surprised to find green grass in and around town. That evening, we visited a local brewery, filled up on Mexican food, then spent the night in an historic lodge built over 100 years ago on the side of Prospect Mountain. The next morning we woke up early, ate some breakfast, packed up our gear, and put on our layers and boots, before heading into the national park for an adventure.

View of Rocky Mountain National Park with snow

My parents gifted us an annual parks pass for Christmas and we were excited to put it to use. Our goal is to visit Rocky Mountain (RMNP) at least four times this year, as well as other national parks. The annual pass is only $80 and helps provide much needed support and funds to the parks system. In this one day alone we got nearly 5 hours worth of entertainment, adventure and physical exertion thanks to the pass. Not bad considering a single night out of dinner and a movie can cost just as much.

According to an official press release, RMNP received more than 4.5 million visitors in 2016, an 8.7% increase over the year before. While they attribute some of the increase to the centennial celebration of the national parks system, the population boom along the Front Range likely also played a role and will continue to do so in the future.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain

While I love that more people are enjoying our parks, breathing fresh air, and getting their heart rate up a bit, the surge in visitors has put a lot of stress on the parks. There's a shortage of rangers, maintenance costs have increased and there's a lot more wear and tear on the trails and other infrastructure in the parks. Passes and visitation fees can help, but as visitors we also need to make sure we're being respectful of the environment, leaving no trace, leaving wildlife alone, and speaking up when others aren't doing their part.

Okay.... back to Tuesday. After talking with a very helpful and energetic park ranger at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, we took his advice and headed to the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot. We saw only a few other cars driving through the park and there were only a handful at the trailhead when we arrived. In other words, it was perfect.

Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park

The route we took left from the Bear Lake trailhead and immediately started about a half mile descent (we did not realize this was going to be the case and instantly regretted the decision because it meant the last half mile of our trek would be uphill.) This connected into the trail to, and past, Alberta Falls near the Glacier Gorge trailhead. We hiked a good section of this trail back in 2015, but this time there was snow and we split off and went to The Loch instead of Mills Lake.

There are several solid climbs throughout the trek to get our heart rate up and lungs burning, but also a good number of easier segment to just enjoy the scenery. The wind was blowing pretty strong all morning, so we appreciated the cover from the trees when we had it.

Unfortunately the trails aren't marked for winter use like some trails are in Colorado, so we did get off track a few times and we never did find the winter trail bypass. At one point we followed a well worn path until it became windswept and turned into tracks from a single skier. This took us through more than one questionable section, but we (Matt, more than I) had faith that this crazy person knew where they were going and thankfully that turned out to be true when we connected back in to the main trail.

Lisa Alcorn snowshoeing

The ranger had warned us that the last section before The Loch would be a pretty steep climb but that it was "fairly short" in length, "fun," and well worth it. (please take note of the quotes) This section called for us to use the heel lifts on our snowshoes, which made it much easier than it would have been otherwise, but I still stopped a few times to catch my breath.

There was a bit of a leveling off at the top, around a bend and then The Loch was in front of us. We had checked with the ranger and knew the lake would be sufficiently frozen, so we walked out a bit onto the ice and Matt finally got to see it in person.

As we were leaving The Loch and heading back down, we ran into a couple who had camped out in the woods just below the last big ascent. They had hiked up to the lake around midnight, decided it was too windy (it was howling when we were there) and decided to make camp a little lower down in the trees. A good reminder that even though we though we were killing it on this snowshoe, there are so many people in this state who are hardcore to the point that I can't even imagine. Nevertheless, we were proud of our effort.

The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

Out on the ice in Rocky Mountain National Park

All in all, our snowshoe trek ended at 6 miles with a visit to Bear Lake at the end. The parking lot was much more full when we got back to the car, and while we did see a number of people out on the trails, most seemed to be hanging around Bear Lake which is just a few hundred feet in from the trailhead.

Snowshoeing is no joke. It's a really great workout and, at least for us, the miles go a bit slower than they do when we hike, so we were out on the trail for several hours. It was beautiful and fun, and we stayed pretty warm with several layers, thick socks, waterproof boots, and a thermos full of hot green tea.

Unfortunately my physical exertion didn't end when the snowshoes came off. It was day 99 of my run streak, so on our way out of the park I had Matt stop at a pull-off along the roadway and let me out. Thankfully there was another pull-off exactly a mile later where he waited for me. It was the hardest mile of all the miles I'd done over those 99 days, but I got it done and my 3 mile run the next day was much better.

Running in Rocky Mountain National Park

What's your favorite winter sport? * Have you tried snowshoeing?