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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Clearing the pipes

It's been a while and every time I try to write a post, I get stuck on the long list of little things that i need to write about before I can get into anything good. It seems silly, but it seems like other bloggers go through the same thing --> due to life circumstances, they take a little break from blogging and then, instead of being able to pick up where they left off, you have to do a "pipe cleaning" post that blows all the junk out of the pipes so you can dive back into the creative process of blogging without being distracted.

 So here we go. Hold on folks, because it's been a fast and furious ride since I posted last.

During the last couple months of school, I signed up for semi-private agility lessons with a local (Davis) agility training, with Tess. After 2 lessons, it became apparent that even though at over a year old, and the foundation training Tess SHOULD be ready for formal instruction, AND even though we had some of the more advanced mechanics down, like weaving 12 poles and a contact behavior, Tess was not mentally mature enough for the stress that comes with lessons. I'm quite proud of myself. I have a history of being impatient, trying to stick to arbitrary timelines, even when there isn't anything but an internal pressure to do so, and then paying the consequences of pushing too hard. I don't want to ruin/burn out my first dog like I did my first endurance horse. And after doing some some reflective thinking I wrote an email to the instructor, thanking her for her time and explained that Tess needed a bit more time to be a puppy. And then I stopped training. For months. She's been getting all her kibble in her food dish - I haven't been using it for training. Any praise and reward for a job well done has been my excitement and joy and body language. Individuals mature at different rates, and I think Tess's breeding tends to be slow maturers (especially considering that at a year + she still hadn't had her first heat cycle and her brothers and sisters and mom were similar) and although she may have been physically ready for the demands of agility, she was showing classic stress behaviors that showed me that she was not.

There's going to be a trend in the next couple of posts, and that is BOOKS. Now that I'm on break from school, I've been reading a lot more and it feels GOOD. I need to give a shout out to the book "Control Unleashed", specifically the "puppy program edition". During the second agility lesson the instructor recommended that I look into getting the DVD called "Really Reliable Recall" and use that to reinforce Tess's recall. While I was on, I saw that they offered Control Unleashed as an ebook, a book that I had seen a lot of discussion about on some email lists I belong too. I buy very few books, but from the discussion on the lists, I felt like it was a book I needed to read. It has COMPLETELY changed my way of looking and interacting with Tess. It was like the author had me and my dog in mind when she wrote the book. Ever since reading and putting the CU principles into practice, it's like Tess has breathed a huge sigh and relief and amazement that I can finally speak her language. The biggest change in our interaction has been looking at the environment as a source of reward for Tess that I can give her, instead of a training challenge where Tess can only be successful if she ignores it. Working on the CU tasks, which are much more about mental readiness and stress management, is what we've been doing during our months off, and I saw immediate improvements in my relationship with Tess. Now with her at 16 months, she's finally starting to really mature, and she has some coping skills for managing stress (and I have a much bigger dose of patience) I think we MIGHT be ready to start reintroducing some formal training concepts very slowly, in low stress situations. The biggest thing I've learned over the last couple of months is to enjoy Tess as a DOG and for who she is, and realize that she's bonded to me and likes me and wants to be with me, even if don't have treats or I'm not being especially fun and exciting. She loves me for who I am.

Speaking of patting myself on the back for a new found patience and a "there's a right time for everything" attitude, there were two MORE situations in the past couple weeks that highlight how well I've learned this lesson. When I got back from AZ, my intention was to restart Farley's conditioning program. However, when I got to the stable, I found out that she had been getting 50% of her ration in the form of oat hay. As most of you, grain hays are very high in sugar. Bad. For a horse that is doing aerobic work, who is an arab mare, who has had a prior tye up. I probably would have been OK to start her --> she wasn't super fit coming off of a hard race. We would have started slow anyways etc etc. But why take the risk? Why not give her another week or so on 100% grass and not risk a potential problem? Because of my silly arbitrary schedule? So, I walked away and let her sit for another week or two. In the past I probably would have pushed it, and although I might have been OK, there's a really good chance it would have bitten me in the ass. Just because I'm anxious to get on my horse and ride (Tevis coming up, all the chatter as my friends finish 50's is KILLING ME!!!!!!!) doesn't mean there's any reason to push. I've started 5 100's. Finished 3, including Tevis. I have a great horse who's healthy and blast a ride. What do I have to prove?

And then there was my other plan that was to start as soon as I got home --> marathon training. Or at least, "regular running that would lead to 1/2 marathons in the fall". I had all my runs mapped out and they led to a certain race the beginning of November. Obviously it was imperative to follow the schedule or I wouldn't achieve my (all-too-important-and-the-only-reason-I-exist) goals. And then I tried waterskiing for the first time at AZ, and took a weird fall, and made my achilles (the one with the chronic overuse injury) rather grumpy. Considering that I was in pain when walking, it would have been foolish to try running. Trust me, that hasn't stopped me before. How do you think I ended up with that damn chronic injury in the first place? In a remarkable display of maturity and self control I walked for a week and a half. And didn't obsess over my running schedule, or even redo it a million times for when I "thought" this injury "should" be ready for running. My new "there is a season turn turn turn" philosophy seems to be working. This morning, I felt like it was ready for a run and turned in a rather speeding interval work out and it feels GREAT. Goodness knows I've been through enough soft tissue rehab periods with horses that you would have thought I would have got it before now --> hand walking only, even longer than you think necessary, and THEN, SLOWLY return to regular work. Right. Check. I think I've got it now........

Speaking of running....let me introduce you to another life-changing book that I'm in the middle of reading. "The first 20 minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer". It's like all the reading I've done about exercise physiology over the years has been condensed into a solid, one stop, book. I'm less than 1/2 way through the book and here's how it already changed my work out, as evidenced by this morning's run.
-I exercised in the morning (rather than the afternoon)
-I warmed up slowly for 3 minutes (before: what warm up?)
-I did some dynamic stretching: skipping forward and backwards, butt kicks, and toy soldiers (before: stretching?)
-I did some high intensity intervals
- 1 minute at 85-90% max, 75 seconds walk/jog at perceived effort of ~3. Repeat 6 times, will eventually work up to 12 reps. (before: 3 minutes of running at ~60%, 1 minute of walking, repeat for 30-60 minutes)
-I had a glass of milk and square of dark chocolate (before: I KNOW about the 2:1 carb: protein refueling, but it's always difficult for me to remember exactly what food have that natural ratio and I'm not hungry after exercise anyways, and I probably ate right before the run anyways.....)

 Some of the concepts, even though based in solid science are going to be hard for people to swallow. I pride myself as an endurance rider, for being able to evaluate the evidence and be able to kick out beloved concepts that do not hold up to scrutiny and integrate new concepts that do, while evaluating how these concepts work together for ME, the individual. That's what all of us as endurance riders do, and I think it's one of the most important foundations of our sport. We've tested and evaluated protocols for our horses for years, now it's time to do it for ourselves, the riders. This is the book to get, as a starting point. Some of the information was new to me, some was old hat, and some was stuff I had suspected based on my experiment of one, but didn't have any evidence before.

To give you some tidbits......
-chocolate milk is the best post-work out refuel drink that naturally has the ratio of carbs to protein that is ideal for the physiologic state your muscles are in after exercise. -20 min a day of exercise (brisk walking) is what you need. You can split the 20 minutes any way you want and it counts. Don't have the equivalent 20 minutes a day? 30 minutes 3 times a week of high intensity interval training is equivalent.
 -exercise is a very inefficient way to lose weight. It's about diet. However, exercise will help your body to accept it's new "weight point" and stop sneeking compensatory measures your body WILL take try reach it's old, heavier set point. This only works if you aren't exercising to the point where you are contributing significantly to the negative balance of calories from your diet....BTW, another way to significantly burn more calories during the day is to stand. Remarkably, even though you are in a negative energy balance because of the calories burned, calories burned because of standing don't activate the body's "compensatory" mechanisms like running or dieting.
-If you are going to eat low carb, high fat diet, EXERCISE. You'll have the same parameters as those high carb people when it comes to heart health. I believe in the low carb, high protein and fat diet, but I'm also active and exercise. From my opinion and not the book: If you plan on remaining sendentary, perhaps the more carb heavy diet is more appropriate.....but since you SHOULD be exercising anyways, IMO this is not an excuse to say that low carb doesn't work....
-stretching isn't all it's cracked up to be. If you are going to stretch, than do dynamic stretching, like I did in my run today. Stretching can be detrimental to athletic performance and the key is to do dynamic stretching that activates muscles and joints within the range of motion that you will be doing for that activity. FYI, this is one my boyfriend absolutely balks at. I don't see him changing his "reach for the toes" routine before runs anytime soon.
-Nothing solves the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Not NSAIDs, not ice baths, not massages. And BTW, that ibuprofen we take before exercise to stave off soreness? Not only does it not work, it's actually hindering our body to be able to adapt to exercise. Same with any vitamin antioxidants we may be pouring down our gullets. I think this is enough for now. Coming up: My new job, more books, and why I have a smart phone.
-Thirst IS a good indicator of when and how much you should drink.


  1. Mel--Loved your tidbits. Especially that thirst is a good indicator of when and how much you should drink. THANK YOU for that one. I have been irritated for years at the insistence we must all drink more water than we want. Glad you're blogging again. And I'm going to see Cavalia!

  2. GOOD FOR YOU! Not 1 but 3 recent examples of conquering the inner goal/timeline monster! I struggle with that as well, so good job.

  3. Loved the post! I've been working on getting a good routine going with food and exercise, it's just so hard to sort through all the garbage sometimes to find useful information. Definitely going to check out the book! And I second Laura on the drinking thing.

  4. Glad you're back! I enjoyed all your tidbits. I have to say that I think the diet info is good. I lost 30lbs this past year by eating a low carb/high fat diet. I can't say that I exercise much though. I am needing a knee replacement, so mostly I walk when I'm not having a painful day...and I do barn chores everyday. If I eat carbs-even good whole grain stuff-I gain weight like crazy.
    I also gave up all soda. I have my horses on a low sugar why not me? lol

  5. A friend recommended Control Unleashed to me when we got our young dog and it blew my mind. I so wish that I'd had it ten years ago -- I think it would have really, really helped my now-old-man dog. We've barely scratched the surfaces of the exercises, but just the framing has been super-useful. Our training place offers a CU class that I cannot wait to sign up for soon as we get our pre-requisites squared away!

  6. Woah, you're so grown up! That exercise book has an atrocious title (I mean, honestly, it sounds like a fluffy stupid article in Cosmo) but it sounds excellent. I'll have to look it up and see if I can get a Kindle version!


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