Sunday, November 8, 2015

The 50-Day Challenge: How To Get Rid of Allergies and Injuries

         Well, that’s it.  50-Day Challenge is complete.  At the time of this writing, I’m actually on Day 52.  I feel good.  I may keep it going indefinitely.  For the stipulations you can read a previous post here.  I also plan on posting the 50 workouts later this week. 
         Here are some raw stats:
         --Total Miles Run:  370.1 miles
         --Total Calories burned during workouts (approximate):  42,350.
Also regarding the 50-Day Challenge I have received several questions regarding the two following topics:  Allergies and Injuries/Overtraining.  Below I will cover each topic in a little more detail according to my experience.

Allergies:   Yes, I attempted this 50-Day Challenge in the midst of a major season change in Central Texas where the weather already suffers from multiple-personality disorder.  Allergies did not play a part in slowing me down one bit, because I do not get allergies.  Once upon a time, I did.  Itchy eyes, dry throat, itchy skin, unexplainable rashes and chronic inflamed sinuses were my norm.  Not any more.     

Here’s my take on allergies.  We get allergies because our bodies are out of balance.  The term “allergy” denotes that there are “allergens” or an “allergic” reaction happening in our body.  We (as individuals) and Western medicine have the tendency to treat only the symptom, or in the case of an allergy, the reaction itself.  We never get to the root of the issue.  From my study and experience all allergies are the result of inflammation.
         In this regard, treating allergies is pretty simple:
         --Get rid of the inflammation, and you get rid of the allergy forever.
         Make sense?
        To put it another way.  Let’s say I’ve been suffering from itchy eyes.  I put in eye drops and they work sometimes.  I take an anti-histamine to help mitigate the symptoms, but even then, some days my eyes are still going crazy.  That’s because the cause of my itchy eyes could be residual toxins stored in my liver from a bad diet, chronic stress, etc.  Because there are toxins in my liver, my healing system is trying to catch up, so my liver becomes slightly inflamed as a protective measure, but the resulting imbalance has to be relieved somewhere else.  The result:  my itchy eyes. 
             --But if I rid myself of the source of toxicity to my liver, I will no longer have itchy eyes, nor will I need to take allergy meds.  Toxins gone=inflammation gone=allergies gone.
            As a side note, strenuous physical exercise actually provides an excellent detox measure as it shakes loose residual toxins that are stored in organ tissues and joints.

         3 Recommendations to Stay Allergy Free:
1.    Acclimate Your Body to Outdoors:
The typical Western lifestyle has us plastered to chairs, glued to screen and stuck inside simulated environments our bodies weren’t designed for.  The more time I spend outside, the more I’m convinced of our body’s abilities to adapt and thrive in any environment.  I mean seriously, how big of a bummer is it when spring finally rolls around and we’re all stuck inside on the weekend because the pollen is too high and we’re sneezing and coming down with a fever?  Stop the madness!  Your body needs to acclimate to its natural environment which is the outdoors. 
     Here’s the issue:  Because many of us spend so little time outdoors, our immune system is on over-alert and recognizes everything that is not the perfect temperature controlled sit-fest we’re used to as a foreign invader.  What does our body to foreign invaders?  It goes into defense mode.  Spending more time outdoors re-awakens our body’s healing system to the degree that it stops seeing pesky villains such as pollen and sunlight as foreign invaders. 
     For further study on your healing system I highly recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s book SpontaneousHealing.

2.    Wean Off Of Allergy “Meds”:
     We pop allergy “meds”, Tylenol, ibuprofen, naproxen and other “anti-allergy” and “anti-inflammatory” substances like it’s going out of style.  There’s no telling what this stuff is doing to our internal organs, but that’s a discussion for another time.  Meds should be looked at as a type of intervention, not a part of our standard operating procedure.
      Here’s how we should look at the use of Meds:  Pretend we have a friend who has become addicted to meth and is out of control.  The friend needs rehab.  So we, as friends and loved ones, stage an intervention so our friend seek the help he/she needs.  The intervention is how meds should be used.  Imagine having an intervention every time a friend or family member drank a glass of water.  This is the equivalent to how we use meds.
         Another point to be said about meds as related to allergies is that the meds dull our sensations and mindfulness about what is really happening in our bodies.  Pain and irritation are not bad things that need to be mitigated, they are teachers and important signals notifying us of imbalance.  By stuffing ourselves full of meds, we become blissfully unaware of these signals and the root causes to which they are pointing.
         Weaning off the meds is important in fostering the ability to listen to our bodies, identifying the source of inflammation and eliminating the inflammation and allergy entirely.

3.    Eliminating Inflammation:
     I’ve done this with diet and exercise.  I think the types of food one should eat are different according to each person.  While I do better on a high fat diet, others may do better on high protein, or high carb.  A lot of this depends on blood type and what health issues we may be facing or improvements we may want to make.  One general principal does apply:  Eliminate as many processed foods as possible. 
       The purpose of this elimination has profound effects because unfortunately, most processed foods have chemicals and substrates in them that our bodies cannot break down.  Thus our bodies recognize these substances as foreign entities and begin auto-immune responses, one of which is inflammation.  And guess what?  Chronic inflammation has been linked to many auto-immune diseases.  But I’ve got great news:  We can control our immune system, we just have to take back the reins.  Eating a proper diet is one of the first steps to this empowerment.
       Oxygen is also very important in releasing your body from inflammation.  Overloading on fresh fruits and veggies is one way to hydrate our cells and flood metabolic processes with oxygen.  Studies have also shown that cancer cells cannot exist in an oxygen rich environment.  Drinking alkaline water is another method of oxygenating our cells.  Though with the alkaline water I would recommend a gradual introduction because doing it do quickly causes a pretty gnarly detox.  Proper breathing is also a brilliant way of ridding our bodies of inflammation and promoting long term health.  I utilize a technique called developed by Wim Hof and I highly recommend it for a variety of reasons, but especially for the anti-inflammatory benefits.  Click:  HERE for another link to the method.

Injuries and Overtraining:  I’m 52 days in with no “rest” or “recovery” days and I haven’t had an injury.  I think the whole idea with overtraining is highly specific to each person.  Douglas Ernst has written an excellent article on the subject.   There is some “adult” language in the article, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. 
        Personally, I think “overtraining” is a highly personal and can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.  What might be a light day for me, might be another person’s threshold.  The type of exercise is also important.  Someone who has been powerlifting for the past five years, isn’t going to be able to start running 50+ miles a week with me cold turkey.  In the same vein, I’m not going to be able to hit the gym and rep 200 clean and jerks everyday like some guys can.  All in all, it comes down to listening to our bodies and raising our level of belief.
       Although improving fitness has physical effects, in my view, the mental side of fitness is 98% of the game.  My experiment running the Austin Marathon last year on a minimal training plan proved this point to myself.  I ran the course in 3 hours and 50 minutes on a training plan that incorporated speed and HIIT training with no runs longer than six miles.  With that previous experiment, I listened to my body and I did what I set out to do. 
        Ultimately, our bodies are made to move, and we are designed to be moving most of the time.  As we push the envelope, we continue to find that our minds and bodies are capable of much more than we think.  Take for example Dean Karnazes who ran 50 marathons in 50 consecutive days, or James “The Iron Cowboy” Lawrence who completed 50 Full Ironman Triathlons (that’s 170.6 miles total) in 50 consecutive days in a different state each day.  Both of these men completed their challenges without injury, and actually reported feeling stronger and faster on day 50.  In the case of Karnazes, he actually ran his fastest time on day 50.  Although these seemingly insane challenges go against the grain of conventional fitness wisdom, challenges like the ones detailed may be key in opening up a new realm of raw human potential.
       On a personal level, the more I train, the quicker I recover, which narrows the gap between “necessary rest” and optimum performance.  I believe our bodies will tell us when we truly need rest.  That’s what the challenge has been about for me.  Finding my body’s true threshold and blasting through old paradigms regarding my mind’s relationship to my body.  Becoming more mindful of the relationship has been the keystone in completing the challenge, though there are a few practical rituals I adopt that have been very useful.
        How have I stayed injury free?  One thing is that I’ve been doing this for a few years now.  With endurance training, the more one trains, the quicker the body adapts and facilitates recovery.  Consistency in training has been key.
        Diet is also huge.  About 70% of my diet is raw vegetarian or fruitarian.  The other 20% is supplemented by whatever my wife cooks.  About 10% of the time we have cheat days where we eat junk (A pizza once a week or a plate of enchiladas.)  Nearly 100% of my diet is a whole food diet.  I don’t count calories.  If my body is telling me to eat more I eat.  Some days I hardly eat anything.  Typically I have a small breakfast, which is usually a smoothie or mixture of different fruits.  For lunch will be some type of raw fruits and veggies with hummus or salsa.  Dinner is usually my big meal and varies according to the day.  As a family, we eat a lot of legumes, rice, avocado and veggies stews for dinner.  Keeping diet in check aids in making training easier and prevents inflammation, which…is also the culprit in most injuries.  (See a theme here inflammation-allergies-inflammation-injury?)
        Variation also helps in staying injury free.  If I run the same route everyday for the same distance, my body and my mind will get bored.  Also my body will get seriously out of balance.  In order to stay injury free, particularly for athletic performance with a bent toward endurance, workouts must be varied.  When all your systems are strong it’s virtually impossible to suffer an overuse injury.  See an older post I wrote here for more detail: The Fitness Balance Scale.  

         I hope that answered a few questions and demystified the process for some of you.  What challenges are you going to take on?
        Success stories and further questions are always welcome. 




Friday, October 23, 2015

The 50 Day Challenge

The 50 Day Challenge

          What is this 50 Day Challenge?  It’s simple:
           -50 Days of consecutive exercise.
           -No rest days.

           -Each workout or combination of workouts must be a minimum duration of 30 minutes, although I aim to make each one an hour.
            -I will go longer than one hour if I have the opportunity.  

          Why the 50 Day Challenge?

          50 was a number that occurred by accident.  I was actually in the midst of a 21-day workout cycle with zero rest or recovery days.  This 21-day cycle I completed four times the previous year and found it was a great method for me to get in shape for longer races and events specifically when I did not have the time in my schedule to complete long runs.  Long runs are a key component to training for any endurance event, and my work schedule last year did not allow me to implement as many long runs as I needed to be ready for my event(s), specifically 60 days out from the race day.  For me, I had registered to run the Austin Marathon, then life got crazy and my long runs went out the door.

          So I had to crunch and figure out a way for my body to be forced to be under stress in a manner that would encourage me to recover quickly.  One of the essentials of doing a long run (I term a long run--a run of two hours or more), is that you reach certain physical threshold which your body then has to adapt to and learn how to recover from.  One type of recovery is the recovery your body undergoes while exercising during a long training session.  The other type of recovery is the after-training recovery, which is much more substantial after a long training run.  The typical runner will take a day or two days of rest after the long training run.  So I put my brain in a blender and thought: what could I do to facilitate pushing my body to a threshold and facilitate quick recovery on my crunched schedule? 
That’s how I came up with the 21-Day Cycle.  My logic was that if I train without any rest days for a short burst of time, I will reach a threshold and my body will have to learn how to recover quickly.  With the 21 day cycle, I aim for an hour of activity daily although some days may only be 30-45 minutes.  On the shorter days, I up the intensity, which means running faster or adding more weight if I’m cross- training in the weight-room.
The 50 day challenge actually began as one of the 21-day cycles.  In the midst of working full-time, building a house and spending time with family, I wanted to get my fitness level up for a possible event later this year.  Well, the 21-consecutive training days passed seamlessly. b, I was at day 32 and felt like I could keep going.  So I’ve set the goal for 50 days…just to see what my body will do.
At the time of this writing, I’m on Day 37.
In the coming two weeks, I will highlight a few epic days and include some statistics.
Stay tuned. 
Have a fitness challenge you want me to try out?  Let me know.


Monday, October 5, 2015

What Did I Sign Up For?

What Did I Sign Up For?  A Reflection on Marriage and Adversity.  


                Seriously, I wouldn’t have.   Don’t misunderstand.  I don’t mean this in a negative way.  I’m just saying if you would have told the plucky mancub standing at the altar smiling, beard blowing in the wind, what the three years of marriage would entail, he would have promptly grabbed his ball and went home.  That’s right.  He would have tucked his tail between his legs and made a quick exit.

                 In the same vein, I love being married.  I love my wife and my daughter.  I love our growing family.  In all honesty it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  But, tbh, the mancub standing at altar had no idea what it was going to be like...and here’s the shocker...that’s actually a good thing.
               The mystery is much more delicious than knowing.
               Having it all planned out can be advantageous.  Having expectations for how things are going to pan out or are supposed to be are all well and good, but, and here’s a quick tip for all of you soon-to-be-hitched or are in that I-really-wanna-get-married-so-bad-I-can-hardly-stand-it phase:  1. You never know what to expect.  2.  What you think is reasonably foreseeable isn’t going to occur the manner in which you think it should.
Here we are on our wedding day, looking hot!...
Blissfully unaware of the road ahead.
              But that’s ok.  Take the plunge.  If you’re about to say those vows and tie the knot, then you’re in this for life.  If you believe in immortality and incorruptibility then that means 100s upon 1000s of years.  Get used to it.  There is no turning back.  Who you were when you were dating is gone.  Who you will be six months from now will be different than who you are now.  The same goes for your spouse.  
             That’s ok.   
             Enter day 6 of our union.  We are driving from West Texas to the Hill Country for what is supposed to stop No. 3 of our honeymoon.  It’s raining, I’m driving fast.   The red and blues start flashing.  I’m pulled over.  The cop is threatening me and I’m in the middle of nowhere so of course my idealism kicks in and I start lecturing the cop on the finer points of constitutional law, the difference between administrative procedures and laws that apply to living persons, how since he couldn’t prove that the STRAWMAN, MATTHEW MONK wasn’t the same as the living man Matthew Monk, then he had no jurisdiction in the matter and had to let me go and if he didn’t he would be violating several of my inalienable rights and thus subject to penalties…well…he pulled me out of the car, beat me up and took me to jail.  There I was, sitting in a cell while my wife dealt with the cops by herself…and I thought I was being a hero and protecting her.  Then she had to shell out all of our wedding money to post bail.  Moral of the story:  I was still thinking like a bachelor idealist.  Getting arrested didn’t bother me…but now I had someone else to think about.  I spent the next year paying fines, going to anger management classes and trying to find steady work with a resisting arrest (Class B Misdemeanor) charge on my record.  Let’s just say this is not the best foot to start your marriage on.  I’m lucky.  My wife is a trooper.  She handled it all gracefully even though she should have let me have it.  She should have walked out the door.  Honestly I almost expected her to.  But she didn't.  
             A little more than a month later I got one of those phone calls no one ever expects to get.  I had finally landed a reasonably steady job.  Stef had booked a long term gig at her job too, so things were stabilizing and we were getting things sorted out after the arrest.  I woke up that morning and had a call from my friend that was made about 3 A.M.  He left a message and said I needed to call him back ASAP, and I quote, “It’s that bad.”  I called back.  He was asleep.  It was a few hours later, at church, I was in the middle of getting blasted by El Shaddai at church when my phone rang.  I stepped outside.  My friend said some words that didn’t make any sense.  Then I saw the new article.  It still didn’t make sense.  But there it was in black and white.  One of my best friends was in the middle of it all…something so twisted and bizarre that it belonged in a Stephen King novel.  Then the phone calls came.  Hundreds of them.  People asking me questions about my friend.  Questions I couldn’t answer.  Questions I didn’t know how to answer.  Investigators.  Reporters.  Accusations.  Assumptions. Presumptions.  Emotions that there aren’t words for and words there aren’t emotions for.  My wife stood with me through it all.  She gave me all the space I needed to process.  And let me talk her ear off to process when I knew she was tired of hearing about it all.  She was there to comfort me through all of it even when I thought there was no coming back from it.
Now we are 3 and we still got it!
             We weathered that storm.  The truth came to light.  Things settled.  Then someone got murdered a few yards from our front door.  All of the sudden our cute little ethnic neighborhood is being patrolled left and right for cops on high alert for gang-activity and narcotraffickers.  Protecting my wife took on a new light.  What was I thinking moving into this neighborhood in the first place?  It was cheap.  Close to my wife’s job and in a nice central location.  (She worked on the northside while I worked on the southside.)  Suddenly none of that was good enough.  Suddenly we needed more money and a better place to live.  Maybe the mancub was learning.
              We had a plan, we had an exit strategy.  Then I got laid off.  No warning.  A measly $200 as severance.  Now we have not enough for rent and we have to vacate.  Luckily we have a place to go.  It was tough.  We didn’t know where the $ was going to come from.  But everything got taken care of.  We got settled in.  Some new work started.  Then the best news we’d ever received happened!...Stef was pregnant!
             And the day after that I got laid off again and told to vacate the premises within a week.  I filed for unemployment.  Our great State Programs awarded my a grand total of $0 in unemployment benefits because I'm too old/too young caucasian and male.  

             Some friends took us in.  I started job hunting.  Things were looking up.  I had some leads and some interviews.  $ materialized out of nowhere.  Then one day, in the middle of the afternoon, Stef started bleeding, bleeding a lot.  We go to the ER.  They tell us she’s losing the baby.  Worst day of my life so far.
             We don’t lose the baby.  Miracle time!  I start a new job.  I get a promotion.  I get another promotion.  I get promotion number three and a company car.  We have enough money to get back into our own place.  We move. 
            Day one in our new place, Stef is cooking dinner and I thought she peed her pants, but the water keeps coming.  This isn’t normal.  This isn’t supposed to happen.  She’s only 20weeks.  We were preparing for this only…5 months down the road.  We go to the ER.  They tell us there’s nothing they can do.  At this point it’s a coin toss.  Worst day of my life.  Period. 
            I start a new job.  We’ve made it to 23 weeks.  They said if we made it this far, then our little girl has the best chance of making it.  I know she’s going to.  It’s the strangest thing.  I know my daughter already.  Tough like her mom.  Stubborn like her dad.

           We know Olive will spend some time in the NICU.  She's there for 149 days.  1 day shy of five months.  She comes home on oxygen support and a feeding tube.  She spends 10 hours a day hooked up to a feeding pump.  Every sign of a cold, or bug is news for alarm because her immune system is underdeveloped.  She made it.

            We made it.              
            The mancub that stood at the altar over a three years ago is not the person I see in the mirror right now.  And that’s ok.  Like I said, if I would’ve told him what was going to happen, he would’ve ran away scared.  But I’ve made it.  It hasn’t been easy, yet it has been easy.  The peace which has followed our little family in the midst of less than ideal circumstances is nothing short of supernatural.  Surely the Lord prepares for us a feast in the midst of our enemies.  The war is over.  
            When you stand upon that altar and present yourselves as living sacrifices to God and to one another, there really is no turning back. You have entered the threshold to a brand new reality, a new world entirely. And that’s ok.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Fitness Balance Scale

      One question I get rather often, is, “What does fitness mean to you?”  In a word, I would say:  Adaptability--Move more.  Sit less.  Eat better food. 

This usually leads to a discussion on what specifics I advocate.  I must state this clearly, I am not a medical professional, nor a personal trainer, so all suggestions must be taken with a grain of salt.  All of the following suggestions are based on my personal experience and the results they have yielded for me.  Each person is different.  In kind, our bodies will react differently. 

This is why having a goal is important.  Having a goal will alter your fitness needs.  But to answer more generally…here is how I scale and define fitness.  I call it the “Fitness Balance Scale” and it is comprised of three parts:

1.    Endurance

2.    Strength

3.    Balance

1.     Endurance
For a quick definition endurance training is any lower intensity exercise engaged for a sustained period of time.  

Endurance is a key component to the Fitness Balance Scale because of its long term effects.  The endurance aspect of fitness facilitates mental focus, resilience in the face of tragedies and flexibility during major life changes.  On the mental side of endurance, this type of training has also been linked to calmness in the face of adversity and increased mindfulness in everyday life.  Martin Paulus has begun a landmark study on the subject, you can read about it here   

On the physical side endurance training will:
--melt white fat (the bad fat) off your body
--is one of the quickest ways to detox
--encourage the body to store brown fat (the good fat)
--facilitate quick recovery and muscle repair
--increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis
--regulates/produces consistent energy
--increase sleep quality
--increase insulin sensitivity (reduces the chance you’ll get diabetes)
--increase the production of white blood cells
--makes you a certified badass.

Personally, I would also argue that endurance training also helps develop greater empathy and compassion.  I don’t have any hard science to back this up, but this aspect of endurance training has been one of the most prevalent in my own life. 

2.     Strength
As weird as it may sound, strength training mixed with endurance provides a much needed balance to the body.  Too much training of one specific movement without variation can cause injury.  (I.E. all the data shows if all you do is run, or bike, with no cross training or movement variation, you are more likely to get injured.)  Strength training when mixed with endurance training helps build lean muscle and keeps all areas of your body strong.  Strength training also keeps fast twitch muscle fibers in order, which will help you maintain speed and explosiveness.

For my purpose I incorporate HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for most of my strength workouts.  HIIT workouts are just what they sound like.  You train in intervals for a set amount of time, or set amount of reps, have little to no rest in between and continue until the time runs out or all your reps are complete.  HIIT training also aids in quick recovery while you are exercising--a term often named "active recovery."  It is my preferred method because I can build strength without adding bulk.  In my book, being too huge exceeds your bodies natural state of balance and puts you into the realm of diminishing returns in terms of overall health.   What's the point in being able to bench press 450 when you can't chase your kid around the park without getting winded? 

I include speed work and tempo runs into the strength category because both provide similar benefits to a strength training workout.  The intensity is turned up and different muscles are utilized when speed or maintaining a certain pace are required. 

3.     Balance
Balance is the glue that holds strength and endurance together.  While strength and endurance form a balance of their own, since you need both to reach optimum performance, balance itself aids in reaching peak performance in both areas.  How does this work?
Coach Monk says, "Add balance drills
to your regimen...NOW!"

In a nutshell, incorporating balance work into a fitness program fine tunes the efficiency and effectiveness of micromuscular movements.  Micro muscles are responsible for numerous processes our bodies undergo.  From adjusting your posture, to adjusting the way you stand up, to changing your gait because of that annoying callous on your left toe…all of these are effected by micromuscles.  Micromuscular movements are also greatly embedded by our muscle memory.  Balance training can reprogram bad muscle memory systems and optimize other good muscle memory systems.  Thus when the micro is more aligned and attuned so is the macro, i.e. strength and endurance.

What are some easy and common examples of balance training? 
--Planks and bridges            --Squats
--Running downhill.            --One-legged squats
--Any type of hold               --Conscious breathing
--Agility drills                      --Wall sits
--Jump roping                      --Handstand pushups

Add a couple of the above (there a tons more a quick google search will yield) into any workout regimen and you will see and feel the results quickly.


Below I’m going to list my general fitness goal, my basic weekly training core and how it incorporates this “Fitness Balance Scale.”

My goal:  To have a weekly core training program that will allow me to run a marathon in under four hours.  To be able to add on extra training in case I want to tackle different events.  To have sustained energy and focus throughout the day.

My Weekly Routine:

Monday- Easy 6 mile run (Endurance)

Tuesday-Crossfit or HIIT Circuit Training + 2 mile Run.  (Strength)

Wednesday-8 mile tempo run or 10 mile easy run  (Endurance + Strength + Balance)

Thursday- Crossfit or HIIT Circuit Training + 2 mile Run or agility stations and jump-rope.  (Strength + Balance)

Friday-10 mile run, hill repeaters, or speed work (Endurance + Strength + Balance)

Saturday-1/2 marathon or HIIT Training with Pool Drills or a rest day.  (Strength + Balance) 

Sunday-Planks, stabilization and balance drills, freestyle hike or run/walk (Balance)

This is a core training plan I have developed for myself over the past two years. I have utilized this plan to maintain a training core that allows me to run a marathon in under four hours with no additional training.  This cycle also allows for room to add more rest time when necessary or add additional training for other goals or events. 

Again, this is what I’ve developed and catered to my fitness goals.  But the “Fitness Balance Scale” applies to whatever goal you may have in mind. 

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

I know you’ll knock it out of the park.