health

Earthing

Earthing

My discovery of earthing came about because I was introduced to a pair of sandals.

A pair of Earth Runner Alpha X sandals, to be exact. Michael Dally of Earth Runners offered me a pair to review, and I took him up on it. I’m glad I did.

In the course of testing the Alpha Xs for my review, I became intrigued about earthing. First, I looked at the earthing section of the Earth Runners website (which I recommend you do too). Then I checked out some earthing-related videos on YouTube, and I did more research.

I’ll admit that at first I was sceptical. The corner was turned when I saw this video of how earthing products were used by the Discovery Channel Tour de France team from 2003 to 2005 and again in 2007:

I then purchased an earthing mat from the earthing.ca website.

Put simply, Earthing means connecting yourself to the Earth’s natural, negative surface charge by being barefoot outside or in bare skin contact with conductive systems indoors while you sleep, relax, or work. It’s a simple concept, but one with profound consequences.

Connecting with the Earth restores a lost electrical signal to the body that seems to stabilize the complicated circuitry of our essentially-electrical body. When you ground to the electron-enriched earth, an improved balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system occurs. Your self-regulating and self-healing mechanisms become more effective. There’s better blood flow. Less pain and inflammation. More energy. Deeper sleep.

Even after a little less than a week of using the mat, the effects were dramatic. For the first time in years, I slept straight through the night (numerous radiation treatments for prostate cancer over the past eight years have played havoc with my sleep and urinary patterns), and also lost some chronic pain in a thumb joint.

I noticed a marked reduction in my stress levels. Shortly before starting to use the earthing mat, we started an extensive house renovation, which meant that we had to empty the house, relocate to a condo, and board our two dogs and four cats. That would have been enough to unhinge anyone, but was especially tough on me. I have Aspergers Syndrome, and, like most Aspies, find any change in routine extremely harrowing. Being earthed made a really big difference in my ability to cope with the changes.

I feel like I’ve begun a whole new chapter in life education as I learn more about earthing.

I recently read Earthing, by Clint Ober, Stephen Sinatra, and Martin Zucker. It’s been a fascinating read, especially the more technical appendices at the end of the book.

I sleep on the earthing mat every night, and I also have it under my feet as much as possible during the day (for at least a couple of hours each day). I’m still sleeping soundly, and I’m still managing stress better. Not just day-to-day stress during the house renovation, but also acute stress – one of our greyhounds died a few weeks ago, and I don’t think I’d have made it through that difficult time very well without the help of earthing.

I also find that my recovery from long or intense runs is much faster and more complete.

I plan to buy a full earthing bed sheet in the near future, and probably also a set of earthing patches. And, when the warmer weather arrives, I’ll order a pair of fully conductive Earth Runner Circadians. Earthing makes so much sense as a way of optimizing my health and well-being that I’d be foolish not to.

I urge you to give earthing serious consideration. It may be one of the best things you’ll ever do.

Note: A slightly different version of this post previously appeared on the Earth Runners blog.

Birthday!

1948 Limited Edition

Today’s my birthday. I’m now 66 years old.

Funnily enough, that doesn’t seem old. I’m aware of having lived for a (relatively) long time, but that’s not the same as feeling old. I’ve been through adventures and misadventures, good and bad health, smart moves and some very dumb ones, and I’ve got the scars (physical and psychological) to show for the journey. For all the ups and downs, though, I’ve ended up in a good space. I’m a happy man.

All in all, it seems to me that 66 is a nice number. What surprises me is how much I’m looking forward to 70. :-)

Hipaversary

X-ray, left hip

Nine years ago today, I was run over by a truck while cycling. Somebody called an ambulance, and I was taken away for emergency surgery. The result was that I had some stainless steel grafted into my femur. (Click on the above image to see it in all its detailed glory.) I think of it as my “hardware upgrade.”

The follow-up to the surgery was 14 months of intensive physiotherapy. That brought me to what my physiotherapist called “functional” movement. Getting to “dynamic” movement took a good while longer. But it was the beginning of my return – after an absence of thirty years – to running. So, in the end, it’s a happy story, because it’s brought me to where I am today.

Six days from today, I’m going to run a 50K trail race. Life is good.

Keto-Adaptation

Keto-adaptation is the process of shifting your metabolism from relying mostly on glucose for fuel to relying mostly on fat-based sources of fuel. Not only does that enhance fat oxidation, it also allows your body to start producing enough ketones that they can be used as a significant source of fuel.

This can be an important learning for any endurance athlete, and is one that I’ve used with great success. I’ve been keto-adapted for some months now, and am able to run long distances (30K and up) in a fasted state, fueling only with water, and with no energy depletion, no bonking, and no post-run hunger. It will be my fueling strategy for the Elk/Beaver 50 trail ultra that I’ll run on May 10.

In this video, Dr. Jeff Volek, associate professor at the University of Connecticut and co-author (with Dr. Steven Phinney) of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, offers one of the most comprehensive explanation of keto-adaptability I’ve come across. Highly recommended!

The Sound of Music

No, not that Sound of Music. A different one. My sound of music.

Yurbuds Inspire earphones

I’ve written previously about having Asperger’s Syndrome. It manifests differently for different Aspies, but for me a very large part of it is an extreme sensitivity to sensory input. Put simply, sometimes the world is just too bright and too noisy for me to bear. What would seem to others ordinary levels of sound and movement can make me retreat very far inside myself, and sometimes precipitate a complete meltdown. It’s not pretty, trust me.

About eight years ago, I stopped listening to music completely. That’s hard to do in our society (think, for example, of the music that’s constantly played in stores and other public places), but being in silence has kept me (mostly) sane, balanced, and happy.

All of that changed recently. For the past four months, I’ve been seeing a naturopathic doctor, who’s been treating me with homeopathic remedies for physical health issues around my thryoid and prostate. They’ve been remarkably effective, to the point where I’ve gone from being a complete skeptic to being a strong believer. But that’s another story…

Of course, I told my doctor that I have Asperger’s. Part of his treatment has been making it easier to deal with. To this point in my life, I’ve coped by doing what most adults with Asperger’s do, that is, condition myself to deal with crowds, noise, and busyness as best I can, and move away from them when I have to. Suddenly, things are different. I find that I can function better in social situations. I can tolerate multiple sources and levels of sound without going nuts. I’m not as rattled by, or fearful of, crowds. And I can listen to music again.

I got back to it gently, exploring YouTube for tunes I knew, then trying out new sounds. The link between the two was Terry Riley’s 1969 album A Rainbow in Curved Air, a pioneering piece of minimialist/experimental music and a favourite from my formative years. That led me to the ambient works of Brian Eno.

To celebrate all this good stuff, my wife gave me an iPod Shuffle, a pair of Yurbuds Inspire earphones, and an iTunes gift card for Christmas. (The buds are pictured in the photo at the top of this post.) That may seem like small stuff to you, but it’s monumental for me. I now have a very listenable playlist on the iPod of works by Riley and Eno that totals 6 hours and 42 minutes of listening groove.

So far, I’ve only used the iPod while running. A few times while at the indoor track at my local YMCA, and for the entirety of the 6 Hour track ultra I did a little over a week ago. The iPod, the Yurbuds and the playlist were perfect for the ultra. I wanted to complement my physical preparedness with something that would help me realize the attentiveness and mindfulness that would support running for six hours around a 200m track. It worked a charm.

I’ve turned another huge corner in my life. Psychologically, mentally, and perhaps even cognitively, I’m ahead of where I was before. That’s always a good thing. And I continue to discover new music. The latest is the work of drone-based ambient duo Stars of the Lid. They’re about to go on my playlist.

Running to Enlightenment

Enlightenment

The title of this post may sound a tad pretentious. My apologies for that. But, as much as running has a physical side. it also has a psychological side. (I won’t call it a spiritual side, because I’m not a spiritual person. Instead, I want to look at enlightenment through the lens of neuroscience.)

Here’s a good working definition of the word that I found in a book called Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment, by Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Alberto Villoldo.

“In the language of neuroscience, enlightenment is the condition of of optimal mitochondrial and brain functioning that allows us to experience both well-being and inner peace and the the urge to create and innovate.”

What exactly does that mean? And what does it have to do with running?

I ran my first marathon in 1980, and, since then, have run five more marathons, three 50K ultras, and numerous shorter distance races. At first, I’d joke that running offered the only glimpse I’d ever get of enlightenment. When I started running ultra races, though, I started taking that seriously. Why did running do for me what other forms of study and meditation didn’t do? What were the physical and psychological elements that made running do what it did? And, perhaps most importantly, what could I do that would enhance my approach to enlightenment through running?

Let’s look briefly at the brain and how it works.

The Triune or Reptilian Brain

The first level of the brain, the triune or reptilian brain is all about the basics – instinct and survival. It governs the body’s autonomic functions, as well as species-specific instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays. When we get seized by a “fight or flight” response to external stimuli, it’s the reptilian brain that owns us.

As you can see in the image below, the reptilian brain is buried deep inside the brain. It goes all the way back to the beginnings of our evolutionary history.

Triune brain

The Limbic or Mammalian Brain

The next level of the brain is the limbic or mammalian brain, which includes includes the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus. It’s all about instinct and emotion, particularly the 4Fs – fear feeding, fighting, and fornication. More politely, the limbic brain is said to be responsible for the motivation and emotion involved in feeding, reproductive behavior, and parental behavior.

Brain map

The Neocortex

Next up is the neocortex, which is about the higher functions of the brain, the ones that make us human. The neocortex processes environment signals into coherent messages, enabling speech, writing, and higher-order thinking. In evolutionary terms, it’s the most recent step in the evolution of the mammilian brain, conferring the ability for language, abstraction, planning, and perception.

Neocortex

The Pre-Frontal Cortex

The pre-frontal cortex is where the human brain gets all fancy and high falutin’. It’s where reasoning, personal initiative, and the ability to project future scenarios takes place. It’s where we develop and own our individuality and our sense of self. This is where self-realization happens.

In the image below, the pre-frontal cortex is green.

Pre-frontal Cortex

Now, let’s look at how the four-circuit brain/mind relates to running. (Remember always that “minds are what brains do,” as in Marvin Minsky’s famous phrase.)

Coming to Enlightenment

When we run, we use – at the very least – the first three levels of our brains, the reptilian, mammalian, and neocortex levels. When we run well – whatever that may mean for each of us – the pre-frontal cortex gets involved. When a run goes really well, or when we involve ourselves in a lengthy training or racing series, and so get a “long view,” the pre-frontal cortex comes into play. And when we “hit the wall” or go through the “dark night of the soul” that inevitably comes when both the body and mind are completely exhausted, we go down deep into the reptilian brain, where we touch – or even stay for a time – in the place where “fight or flight” (or even survival itself) are the issues we have to struggle with.

It’s my feeling that only when we experience and integrate all four levels of the brain – from basic survival to self-realization – do we touch the “optimal mitochondrial and brain functioning that allows us to experience both well-being and inner peace and the the urge to create and innovate” that Dr’s Perlmutter and Villoldo describe as enlightenment.

That means that enlightenment’s not going to come easily, or come often. The ability to run to the limit of our abilities – and then beyond them – requires a rigorous training program. It requires meticulous attention to nutrition, to pace, to breathing. It requires a time and place where optimization can happen. It also requires the courage to give ourselves to previously unknown physical and emotional depths. The good news – and it’s very good news – is that all of those particulars are available to all runners, at least potentially.

The task we face as athletes is to apply ourselves to the journey of running to enlightenment. The rewards for addressing that challenge are immense and invaluable.