Wellness is a Choice

February 13, 2014

Last year my family held a surprise party in honor of my Father’s 80th birthday. The fact that my father reached this milestone is no small thing. His family history is rampant with relatives who died early deaths from heart disease. My Dad has outlived his own father by 20 years and to our knowledge he is only the second one in his family to reach 80; and,  in fact when asked to say a few words at his party, the guest of honor sheepishly admitted that he never  expected to reach 80.

In my mind it’s no accident that my Dad remains healthy at 80. When he was in his early 40s he made a pivotal shift in the way he approached his health. I’ve never asked him, but I suspect it resulted in part from the fact that his father had his first heart attack in his 40s. My Dad began running almost daily and shifted from largely meat-based meals to ones focused on seafood, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. Our family steak dinners became salmon Sundays and his daily bacon and egg breakfasts were replaced by Grapenuts. In no time, Dad’s beer belly disappeared and he became very lean.

I bring up my Dad’s history to illustrate the point that wellness doesn’t just happen. Other than a very small percentage of the population who are genetically blessed and/or  genetically cursed  no matter how poorly or how well they take care of themselves, the vast majority of people are the product of the lifestyle choices they make. Sure most twenty-somethings can get away with late nights, a poor diet and irregular exercise for awhile, but by the time most are in their 40s, these unhealthful choices will likely be taking their toll.

Would my Dad have made it to 80 without the lifestyle changes he made in his 40s? Possibly, but I doubt it. Today he’s as active as ever, running  4-5 days a week, swimming 3 times a week and riding his exercise bike daily.  He’s not as careful with his diet as he used to be, but he watches his weight like a hawk and cuts back his calories or steps up his exercise if he puts on a few pounds.

Many people bemoan the lack of control in their lives, but our wellness is one thing we really do have jurisdiction over. So don’t fret if you’re over or under 40, as it’s never too late (or too early) to choose wellness.  This blog is dedicated to helping you make better wellness choices, so browse through the list of posts and arm yourself with information on adopting healthful lifestyle habits and make your own wellness a priority today.

Be Well,

Carolyn

Healthy Anti-Aging from the Inside Out

October 31, 2013

Aging is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been alive a long time, other times I can’t believe I’m 46 years old!  Where did the time go? I still feel young and though I have more wrinkles and can’t run as fast as I used to, I do believe my healthful lifestyle is helping me  fight the aging process naturally. In fact the top 5 best anti-aging methods I incorporate and endorse are free and already at your fingertips:

1.Get a restful night’s sleep during the week and on weekends:  Besides makeup, what’s the best way to get rid of the bags and dark circles under your eyes?  Sleep 8 hours – it will do wonders for your mood as well as your looks. It’s also great for your brain. Have you noticed that as you age your short-term memory really suffers after a poor night’s sleep? If you’re having trouble either falling or staying asleep steer clear of Ambien and other prescription sleep drugs. Keep lavender oil (uncorked) by your bedside. Try a few drops of a tincture of valerian root in a cup of water or milk an hour before bed. Have a light, sleep-inducing snack of half a banana and a glass of milk an hour before you retire. You’ll sleep like a baby and wake up refreshed.

2. Eat a balanced, whole foods diet: You are what you eat is never truer than when it comes to anti-aging nutrition. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with anti-aging antioxidants. Combine them with some lean proteins and healthy fats and you’ve got balanced, nutrient-rich meals. Avoid all simple carbohydrates with not only increase inflammation in your body but also reduce collagen production – both of which age your skin and your body.

3. Avoid alcohol – or drink only moderately:  Many times middle-aged women come to me for advice wondering why thy can’t lose their “muffintop”even though they’re eating very little. Not only does alcohol lead you to gain visceral (abdominal-area) fat, it also dehydrates you and your skin, while giving you that unwanted puffy appearance. I have an expression I use with clients when it comes to alcohol consumption:  “a glass of wine may be good for your heart (1/2 glass for women), but any more than that is bad for your waistline” – which is ultimately bad for your heart.

4. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise – ideally six days a week. According to the authors of “Younger Next Year for Women: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond”,  the most important thing we can do to turn back the biological clock is to exercise often – preferably vigorously.  Just like a car is designed to be driven, your body is built to move. Not moving can lead to weakness and disease. In fact being sedentary is now one of the top risks for Cardiovascular Disease – equivalent to smoking.

5. Stay Sexually Active:  Yes, having sex on a regular basis, ideally with a committed partner, is great for balancing your hormones – which is in turn good for your skin, your hair and your mood. It’s also great for your relationship!

The good news is that it’s never too late to adopt healthier lifestyle habits that can restore your body to good health even in the later years of life. Healthy behaviors such as quality sleep,  regular, vigorous physical activity, balanced nutrition and an active sex life can all not help reduce your risk of developing many chronic diseases later in life but also enhance your quality of life as you age.

Be Well,

Carolyn

Sodium: An Essential Mineral that Gets a Bad Rap

June 26, 2013

While we don’t need that much of it (a minimum of a quarter teaspoon, or 500 mg daily), sodium has many vital functions in the body. Excess sodium consumption from processed and fast foods is definitely a problem in the average American diet, but researchers are now questioning sodium’s role in causing high blood pressure. A recent research review found no cardiovascular benefits from dropping below 2,300 mg of sodium per day – the current maximum dietary recommendation.  Furthermore, many older adults who fear high blood pressure avoid sodium to the point where they can become dangerously deficient – leading to muscle cramps, brain fog, lethargy, weakness and even osteoporosis, since sodium helps make bone hard. Many health advocates also point out the high blood pressure more often results from a potassium deficiency than excess sodium, since most adults consume too few fruits and vegetables – one of the best sources of potassium.

One of sodium’s primary functions is regulating the water content of the body. Without sodium, you wouldn’t be able to retain the necessary fluid for all of your cells as your body is made up of 80 percent water. Salt also helps balance blood sugar levels and is vital for the generation of energy in cells. Sodium is also alkalinizing to the body, so it is important in the prevention of excess acidity from the cells in the body. It is also necessary for absorption of food particles through the intestinal tract and in the prevention of muscle cramps. This is especially true for athletes training and competing in hot climates such as the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon where it is common for triathletes to consume salt tablets during the long, hot race.

I always thought it was strange that many people living in the midwest and the south salt their watermelon. My mother always claimed that it made the melon taste sweeter, but I’m wondering now if it served a need to help their bodies retain the water from the melon in those hot summertime climates. Salt does indeed bring out the flavor in many foods, but as someone who doesn’t crave salt, I often have to remind myself to salt my food when I’m training hard in hot weather, or taking a lot of Bikram Yoga classes as I don’t eat processed foods.

In fact 77 percent of the sodium consume most Americans consume is in processed foods and restauarant meals – not the salt shaker. On the other hand, if you eat a predominately whole foods diet, you may need to use your salt shaker –  as most unprocessed foods in their natural state contain very little sodium. Natural sea salt is a much preferably alternative to refined, processed table salt. It contains many trace minerals which are normally stripped in the table salt processing. One note of caution, however, be sure to buy a brand that contains iodine – as not all of them do.

So the bottom line is sodium is not evil and in fact it has an important role in your health. Too much of it can be harmful, but a moderate consumption, ideally from sea salt and not processed foods, provides a healthful, delicious accent to a nutritious diet.

Be Well,

Carolyn

Can Eating Healthfully Hurt? Oxalate Consumption and Pain

May 28, 2013

A few years ago a client of mine with fibromyalgia asked what I knew about the connection between joint and muscle pain and eating foods high in oxalate. She had read that eating foods high in oxalic acid can trigger fibromyalgia symptoms. She felt discouraged in that she had been making such an effort to eat healthfully to help improve her condition and her overall health. Ironically, many of the nutritious foods she was consuming may have turned out to exacerbate her pain rather than relieve it.

Oxalates are naturally occurring molecules found in some plants. Normally our bodies are able to excrete oxalates in our urine and feces, but if not, oxalate can bind with minerals – especially calcium- and form oxalate crystals, which are sharp, jagged edged objects that can lodge themselves into joints, muscles and mucus membranes and trigger pain and inflammation.

Most people have no problem metabolizing moderate amounts of oxalate in their diet. For those that do accumulate high levels of oxalates in their joints and soft tissue it can be due to:  Hyperoxaluria, a genetic defect which predisposes one to kidney stones; or  the lack of good bacteria in the gut – often resulting from the overuse of antibiotics ); or a vitamin b-6 deficiency; or a deficiency of magnesium  which binds to soluble oxalate and make it insoluble; or a high consumption of oxalate containing foods.Any or all of these causes can result in the accumulation of oxalate crystals in joints and tissues over time and can lead to problems, such as:

  • painful or inflamed joints
  • achy muscles or muscle cramping
  • burning urine or bowel movements, anal itching
  • vulvodynia – external female genital pain or irritation
  • eye irritation
  • kidney stones i.e. oxalates combine with calcium to form these
  • developmental disorders in children, including autism

In researching the answer to my client’s question, I wondered in the back of my mind whether my lingering hamstring and pelvic pain might be due to my own oxalate consumption which had recently escalated.Six months before my fiance moved in with me. We eat a lot of salads and he loves beets (very high in oxalates) so I started including them. In addition, as the weather grew warmer I began a nightly ritual of eating frozen blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and sometimes strawberries (all high oxalate) with my lactose-free milk. Because they’re so naturally sweet and delicious, I would often have two or more cups of mixed berries. Turns out, combining the high-oxalate berries with the calcium-loaded milk further encourages the crystallization of the oxalates. We were also eating more kale since it was becoming so much more available in stores. And while I’ve used turmeric (also high in oxalates) on my cooked veggies and salads for many years, recently I’d been adding more to my diet thinking it would help the joint and muscle pain I was experiencing because it’s an anti-inflammatory without realizing itI  was fueling the fire. Furthermore, overconsumption of oxalates (or the inability to excrete them) is often responsible for delayed healing as oxalates more easily bind to injured tissues. This might explain my lingering pain even after pursuing my usual healing modalities, including massage, aquatic therapy, acupuncture and rest.

As I dug deeper into the subject of oxalates I discovered that those with a leaky gut resulting form celiac disease or Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome are more susceptible to oxalate buildup and crystalization. A person with a healthy intestinal tract is able to process oxalate and excrete it in their feces. When someone has a penetrable gut, however, oxalate can “leak” into the bloodstream and travel wrecking havoc throughout the body. I think the fact that I had undiagnosed Celiac Disease for so many years has made me susceptible to this condition. So my problem with oxalates is not necessarily a recent development but one that has progressed over time to the point where my recent increase in oxalate consumption finally overloaded my system.

Figuring out which foods are high in oxalates can be confusing as many of the oxalate food lists on the web offer conflicting information. Oxalate levels can also depend on whether a food is raw or cooked. For example, some vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and especially kale and collard and mustard greens are lower in oxalate the more they are cooked (i.e. boiled verses steamed). Here’s one of the most comprehensive and reliable sources I’ve found.

CAUTION:  If you suspect oxalates may be triggering your pain, don’t eliminate all oxalate-containing foods from your meals in an effort to decrease pain.  There’s something known as “oxalate dumping” that can occur when a person abruptly ceases consumption of high oxalate foods and consequently their body starts to excrete stored oxalates at a rapid rate. This can cause an increase in symptoms.  Instead, cut back gradually starting with foods containing the highest oxalate levels.

Read below for updates I wrote after publishing this initial post on the subject back in 2013.

Be Well,

Carolyn

UPDATE:  7/11/13  Well it’s been exactly 8 weeks since I lowered my oxalate consumption – primarily by eliminating beets, berries and collard greens from my meals and reducing my kale and celery intake. I’ve also been eating apples mostly without the skin and boiling my broccoli and brussels sprouts instead of steaming them. I turned a corner this past week and my pain is noticeably less. In fact this week I’ve been able to run as far as I want to with no negative repercussions. I also went hiking for a couple of hours with my sister this week and for the first time in awhile I didn’t even notice my body on the hills – I was able to focus completely on our conversation.  My left hamstring and gluteal muscles are still tight but much better than they were when I began the oxalate reduction I’m also experiencing less pelvic pain in general. I’m still a bit uncomfortable driving or sitting in a car for extended periods, but even that’s improving. Like many people, I did experience a brief honeymoon period when I first reduced my oxalate consumption (perhaps too drastically) and then my pain increased for a few weeks, so I must admit that it was difficult sticking with it when I wasn’t sure if it was helping – and seemed to be making me feel worse. So if you’re reading this and you’re experimenting with lowering your oxalates, be patient, have faith and give it time to see what unfolds. I’m glad I hung in there.

UPDATE #2:  9/28/13 It’s been about 6 weeks since my last update and I’m happy to report that my joint and muscle pain have continued to decrease. I did have a bit of a setback with my Haglund’s deformity in my right foot after I stupidly did a toe stand in yoga class – something I hadn’t done in a long time and was excited I could still do, but I paid for it within 36 hours. My pelvic pain is almost gone and I was even able to sit in the car for a 9 hour car ride to Bend, OR twice in 5 days. The only other strange symptom I’ve had recently is some eye irritation after passing some small granules in the inside corners of my eyes. Apparently you can secrete oxalates through the fluid in your eyes. As a result, my left eye has been bloodshot (something that never happens to me – even after swimming without goggles). I’m guessing it is oxalate-related as my body is probably slowing releasing it through various avenues.

UPDATE #3 4/26/14 I can’t believe that it’s been so long since I’ve updated this post. I’m happy to say that it’s been almost a year since I drastically reduced my oxalate consumption (on 5/10/14). Things are much better than they were a year ago. I still get my “oxalate dump” days, but they’re more manageable and they don’t last as once. One product that has helped me tremendously is Magnesium Malate (I take capsules by Source Naturals). When I feel my symptoms coming on, the magnesium malate really helps reduce or eliminate them. I also still get some oxalate deposits in my eyes in the morning, but not as much as I used to. The best part is my pain level has greatly decreased and I’m back to being able to take long runs and bike rides without pain and without having to urinate frequently.

Be Well,

Carolyn

Harnessing Cycling Saddle Soreness

February 20, 2013

After a 5-week break from cycling, I recently resumed riding. In addition to my quads being out of cycling shape, I experienced the kind of  saddle soreness that I hadn’t had since I first started riding. While I attributed this mostly from the time off the bike, it led me to a closer investigation of saddle soreness – both in terms of causes and preventatives.  Saddle soreness is one of the biggest complaints of all levels of riders -from beginners to experienced distance cyclists. Chief causes of chafed cheeks and sensitive sits bones include:  poorly fitting shorts, improper sitting position on the bike, lack of lubrication and poor hygiene. Fortunately you don’t have to live with a battered behind. By taking a few preventative measures and investing in some fanny-friendly equipment you’ll be sitting pretty for miles to come.

One of the keys to preventing saddle soreness is choosing a good pair of cycling shorts with a chamois (a padded, synthetic insert) suited to your body shape. Because everyone’s anatomy is different, you may need to try several brands and styles to find one that’s comfortable for you. This is one reason why is crucial to “break in” your gear before a long ride or race. Women should choose a chamois with a seamless “baseball” cut preferably make of Coolmax or another synthetic that works to wick moisture away from the skin.

Whatever shorts you choose, leave your drawers at home. Bicycle shorts are designed to be worn alone without underwear. Underpants aside, however, some cyclists protect their assets by placing other things between their skin and their shorts. One rider I know wears a Speedo swimsuit under his shorts and a female rider I know survived a 300-mile bike trip through Italy by wearing feminine hygiene mini pads attached to the chamois of her shorts. With frequent changes it helped keep her dry and friction-free.

Speaking of hygiene….maintaining personal hygiene is essential for preventing saddle sores. Wash your crotch with a mild soap and dry it (a hairdryer set on a low heat works great) before and immediately after every ride. Also, don’t sit around in your dirty, sweaty cycling shorts after riding. It’s the fastest way to multiply bacteria which thrive on hot, moist areas. Wash your shorts (and yourself) thoroughly to remove sweat, bacteria and any greasy lubricants.

Speaking of lubricants, in addition to choosing proper cycling shorts, you might try a chamois lubricant such as Bag Balm, Chamois Butt-R, SportSlick, Body Glide or even good old Vaseline. Apply to your raw areas after you ride or as a preventative measure. If butt discomfort continues to plague you, examine the way you’re riding in the saddle. If you’re straining to reach your pedals, you may be repeatedly rubbing your skin and bones against the saddle nose. If so, consider lowering your seat. Furthermore, make sure your seat is level, with the saddle nose neither tilted up nor down. Also, be sure to place your “sits” bones in the widest part of the saddle and pedal with your waist and your elbow slightly bent. I’ve personally found that saddle soreness becomes less of a problem the more a person rides. This is probably due to both the fact that the stronger your legs get, the less heavy you sit in the saddle,  and the tougher your skin gets after many miles in the saddle. This is another reason to be consistent with your cycling training.

In addition to altering the position of your seat, you may want to consider investing in one of the many saddles designed to prevent saddle soreness.Finally, consider investing in a suspended road or mountain bike which buffers your butt by reducing the bounce factor on rough terrain. Even riding with suspended seatposts can help reduce saddle soreness. If, despite your best preventative efforts you’re still suffering (and laying off the saddle  for a few days isn’t an option), clean your sores and patch them with a non-stick medical pad such as Spenco’ s Second Skin. This will get you through your ride until you can take time to let your body heal. For the future, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a topical antibiotic to have on hand for emergencies.

Be Well,

Carolyn

Mouth Wide Shut: Adventures in Nostril Breathing – Part 2

January 19, 2013

In my previous post I wrote about my past experience with nostril breathing during aerobic exercise and my decision to give it a go again thanks to my fiance’s positive experience with it.

The benefits were not immediately apparent. On the contrary, I actually found myself slowing down in my runs – especially on hills and inclines. But my patience (this time) eventually paid off and after about two weeks I noticed I was able to run longer with less effort and – best of all – with far less joint pain or muscle fatigue at longer distances. I really cannot explain the fact that in the past month I’ve managed to run a 45 mile week, a 50 mile week and a 60 mile week, the last of which included a 2 hour 5 minute run! This mileage is almost double what I’ve been able to run the past 3 years due to injury. Training wise I’ve done nothing differently in the past month except nostril breathe during my runs (and my bike rides and spinning workouts) about 85% of the time. Furthermore, I’m running the same routes 3-4 minutes faster than I was a few weeks ago without making a conscious effort to do so.

Warming up takes a little longer in the unusually cold weather we’ve been having lately – the first mile or so I tend to run slower and my nose runs a bit as it warms up, but the pace gradually increases to where I’m running faster and longer. Another unexpected side effect of nostril breathing is that my mouth doesn’t get as stiff when I’m running in cold weather. I guess keeping it closed keeps it warmer.

Switching to nose breathing throughout the day has allowed me to maintain a state of relaxed alertness even in stressful situations as long as I remember to switch to breathing through my nose. I find my energy levels much more even throughout the day, my muscles less sore, my sleep more sound. It’s also made me more in-tune with my body – perhaps I’m listening to my body more now that I’m not talking as much.

I finally succumbed to a head cold this week after everyone around me had been sick. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to maintain my training while reducing the duration and intensity of my workouts. Nostril breathing with a stuffed up nose is more challenging, but I’ve found that it also helps clear out the sinuses.

As I look back 18 years ago:  between 1995 and 1996 I ran 5 marathons trying to qualify to the 1996 Olympic Marathon Trials. Each race was slower than the last and each race took more out of me. Perhaps if I’d had more patience in applying Douillard’s advice back then I would’ve run faster races with less effort. I did eventually qualify in for the Trials 2000, but it might have happened sooner if I’d kept my mouth shut!

Anyway, if you want to see if nose breathing can help you achieve peak performance – or you want to feel better when you’re exercising, or you’re just curious, – I encourage you to give it a try. But be patient…..the benefits are worth the wait.

Be Well,

-Carolyn

Mouth Wide Shut: Adventures in Nostril Breathing – Part I

January 11, 2013

Eighteen years ago when I was a competitive marathoner and a graduate student in exercise physiology, I picked up a rather unorthodox new book called Body, Mind and Sport, by John Douillard. One of the book’s chief doctrines was that of employing nostril breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) instead of mouth breathing during aerobic exercise. The author believes that nostril breathing is beneficial not only for yoga, but also aerobic activities such as running or cycling. The book contains several testimonials of professional and amateur athletes who made great gains in their fitness and performance after switching to nostril breathing.

Douillard believes it’s possible for anyone who trains using nostril breathing to achieve the effortless “Zone” of peak performance. Indeed there’s some evidence that breathing through the nose during aerobic exercise is beneficial. Apparently it increases CO2 saturation in the blood which allows the body to maximize its ability to absorb oxygen from inhaled air. Nostril breathing can also help warm the air entering the lungs (great for the cold weather workouts this winter). Douillard also asserts that the nose provides a better filtration system, resulting in cleaner air and fewer allergens being absorbed by the lungs. Perhaps most importantly, Douillard asserts that nose breathing has a calming, stress-reducing effect on the body, which, over time, translates into a lower state of perceived exertion during high intensity levels of exercise.

At the time I picked up Douillard’s book back in 1994,  I was a young, somewhat impatient, impetuous athlete focused on racing marathons and qualifying for the 1996 Olympic Marathon Trials. As intrigued as I was by Douillard’s premise, I didn’t stick with the concept after the novelty wore off. Furthermore, I just didn’t see how it was going to translate into a faster marathon for me. As much as I felt good doing it during my training runs, I wasn’t convinced that nose breathing would work during a race and I didn’t want to risk experimenting with it during competition.

Fast forward 18 years and today my main goal is to run for pleasure and without pain – and to keep up with fiance,” Chris”, on our weekend runs together. So several weeks ago when he asked me what I knew about nostril breathing I said I remembered reading a book about the subject. Miraculously I was able to find Douillard’s book on my shelf. Chris became very enthused as he read the book and even more excited about nostril breathing as he began applying it during his runs and bicycle rides. I was surprised by his quick assimilation of it and as during our runs together I consequently became more aware of the sound of his breathing and his lack of dialogue (hey it’s hard to nostril breathe and carry on a conversation simultaneously).

Despite my skepticism, in the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” spirit I decided to give “aerobic nostril breathing” another try.

In my next post, I’ll tell you what happened this time. In the meantime…

Be Well,

Carolyn

Get Fit by Fifty for a Longer, Better Life

November 24, 2012

I’ve always told my older clients that it’s never too late to begin exercising to reap the rewards. According to recently published research, however, it may benefit you more to get fit by fifty. The study found that those who are fit in mid-life not only live longer, they live better in that they avoid chronic diseases longer than those who are sedentary in middle age.

Back in the 1970s researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas assessed the aerobic fitness level of healthy men and women in their late 40s. Later, between 1999 and 2009, when subjects reached their 70s and 80s, researchers assessed their Medicare claims reports to determine their health status. Those who had been fit and healthy in their late 40s remained healthier, (i.e. free from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes) later in their lives than those who were healthy but unfit in the mid-life assessment.

On a personal note, my Dad just turned 80 – only the second person in his family to reach that milestone. Despite a family health history of heart disease and cancer, my Dad is disease-free, looks at least 10 years younger than his age and even has all of his teeth and most of his hair. Interestingly, while he runs, swims and rides his stationary bike daily, he didn’t start exercising seriously until his mid 40s – an age when his own father had his first heart attack. But since that time he’s been a dedicated runner and swimmer, adding the stationary cycling when he stopped riding his bike to work about 10 years ago.

Unlike my Dad, I’ve been very physically active all of my life. Yet in some ways I feel more fit at 45 than I did at 25 because now I participate in a wide variety of physical activities rather than focusing on just one or two. It also keeps it interesting and challenging for me to try to maintain a sufficient level of fitness in multiple activities. I believe cross-training is essential for middle-aged adults. Doing multiple physical activities prevents injuries by avoiding overusing any one muscle group.

For some men and women, training for and maintaining fitness in mid-life is just part of their lifestyle. They take being fit in their 40s and 50s to another level. These competitive athletes know it’s never too late to pursue and achieve their athletic dreams. Let their stories inspire you to get moving.

Be Well,

Carolyn

Tandem Adventures Part II: Paris

November 9, 2012

In my previous post I described my tandem bicyling adventures in Bend, OR at the National Masters Cycling Championships. From the week in Bend we arrived home exhilirated and excited for our next trip – for only 11 days later we were leaving for France where my fiance, Chris,  was competing in the World Duathlon Championships in Nancy, a small city in the north-eastern part of France. During our 3 days in Nancy, we had the pleasure of interacting with world class athletes from a number of nations and enjoying the hospitality of the charming city. Then it was on to Paris for five days of fun, including some tandem riding in this not-so-bicycle friendly city. We rented a tandem on our second-to-last day in the city with the intention of riding the 50-mile round trip to Versailles. We had researched and found a route that not only had us touring some of the more picturesque parts of the outskirts of Paris, it would also allow us to visit the Palace of Versailles and some of the grounds that were harder to reach on foot.  Unfortunately, it rained the morning we rented the bike so we had to forgo our Versailles plans and instead ride around the city. Weather aside, had we known how treacherous bicycling in Paris would be, we might have abandoned the idea altogether. Mon Dieu! In four hours we pedaled on cobblestones along the Seine River; circled the Tuileries Garden located between the Louvre and the Place de Concorde only to find out bicycles weren’t permitted :(; made it to the Arch de Triomphe just as a thundershower hit; and navigated the streets of Paris among cars, buses, taxis, trucks and the dreaded scooters!  Yes, among all of the vehicles on the road, the scooters were by far the most aggressive and obnoxious.  Well thanks to the excellent navigation skills of my tandem captain, Chris, we made it back to the rental shop without incident.  Exhausted (more from the tension than the exercise) but glad for our efforts we continued our Paris tour on two feet rather than two wheels!   Be Well,  Carolyn 

Tandem Adventures Part I: Bend, OR

October 26, 2012

Anyone who reads my blog regularly may wonder why I haven’t written in awhile. Well….I was a little busy in September – away much of the month. The adventures began with a week-long visit to Bend, OR to compete in the  National Masters Cycling Championships  – and what a week it was! My fiance, Chris, and I have been riding tandems together for 2+ years and since January have been more competitively-minded with our training after purchasing a road tandem. But, we had never actually raced together when we showed up for the National Championships. Fortunately there were no qualification standards, but needless to say, I was a bit nervous about our lack of experience. We arrived in Bend the week after Labor Day. After picking up our race packets and  submitting our bike for inspection, we were ready for our first event the following day – the 24-mile time trial. Despite some technical issues (our front wheel kept breaking spokes) we arrived ready to race.

(Don’t worry – I always wear a helmet while riding – this was just for photo ops)

Basically this consisted of pedaling as fast as possible in an out-and-back mostly flat course with a few rolling hills. Each tandem team started the race alone with the clock and then the next team started exactly 30 seconds later. For an hour and seven minutes I felt like a hamster on a wheel pedaling my legs off with my head down, my helmut jutting into Chris’ back, my only view the white line of the road. Fortunately, we had ridden part of the course the day before (before having to turn around after breaking yet another spoke) so I’d seen enough to know that the bucolic countryside was lovely, which made keeping my head down a little easier. Despite the fact that we averaged 23 mph – faster than we’d ever ridden before, we found ourselves being passed by most of the tandem teams who started behind us. I must admit that as competitive athletes not used to being beaten so badly – it was a bit demoralizing for us. Our egos were somewhat assuaged by the fact that after the race we had a chance to mingle with some of the other teams only to discover that their tandem bikes weighed about half of what ours did and most of the teams consisted of  veteran racers.  I must admit, too, that we hadn’t trained for a time trial per se. The training we had done included more endurance riding with a lot of climbing. We had only recently began “sprinting” during some of our rides. Had we the chance to do it over again, I would train for the time trial more specifically. Still, we vowed we would make a comeback two days later in the 52-mile road race at Mt. Bachelor.

As we arrived at the Mt. Bachelor Resort parking lot we had just under 30 minutes to get ourselves and our bike prepared for an arduous 52-mile tandem road race. The race official announced that the opening 3.9 miles would be a neutral zone and the pace car would then green light the field signaling that racing could begin. This is typical of many road races to ensure a smooth, safe start. This was extra reassuring for me (as the “stoker” positioned in the back of the bike) in that the opening 14 miles featured a high- speed descent where we topped out at 50 mph (yikes!).

With 8 other tandems in this race making up a fairly intimate peloton of high- level teams made up of Category 1 and Category 2 riders, we knew the pace would be swift. Such was the case after the terrain flattened out and then rose to the first climbs. As we rounded the first turn Chris leaned back and said to me “be ready for this turn and the quick break away”. Sure enough as the pitch of the road increased so did the pace. The leading tandems began an early attack which revved up the pace of the entire field to a level that felt unsustainable. Thus some spreading out followed. It was like “now you see em, now you don’t”!

Despite our frustration over being dropped, as endurance athletes we knew the race was far from over. We eventually lost sight of the entire group except one tandem that had a half-mile gap. If we could just catch them we knew it would not only put us back in the race, we would have a shot at not finishing last. So we stepped up the intensity and mounted an attack. We noticed them looking back periodically and sensed their counter attack. We didn’t seem to be gaining much ground, but after ten minutes or so we had closed in enough to where we recognized them from Wednesday’s time trial, in which they had beaten us by about 4 minutes. So we rode together, sharing small talk and swapping the lead position. Eventually we dropped them and continued on our mission to catch anyone we could that had likely fatigued trying to keep pace with the leaders.

By the time we reached the final 10 k ascent there were two more tandems in view. They were from different heats: one that started before us, younger and both males. This was no time let up! We dug deep. Painfully deep, caught and passed them like they were standing still. We crossed the finish line at a respectable pace. Our average speed for the entire course, with 52 miles and 3000′ of elevation gain, was 19.9 mph. The competition out there pushed us to a new level, and that really felt good. We mixed it up some of the nation’s most experienced tandem teams… And hung in there!…Wait til next year – we’ll be back.

Next up – a few hair-raising tandem adventures in Paris….stay tuned.

Be Well,

Carolyn