Healing power of nature

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Urban forest
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Wild and Well Festival in Bristol.  It offered four different themes: Move, Explore, Connect and Eat, with workshops, panel discussion, fitness classes, and demonstrations across five venues.  For me, the theme of nature and being outdoors kept cropping up as I thought about my happiest moments, what calms me, and why I take on crazy fitness challenges.  I also learned about the Blue Mind movement, which has sparked my interest as marine biologist, personal trainer and health coach.  After the NYC Marathon, I will be reading up on these in my down time and sharing the highlights with you here on the blog and on social media (click on pink circle to the right to follow me).

It absolutely makes sense to me that being outside and connecting with nature can have healing powers.  This really became clear to me after visiting Cape Town in February 2017.  Two weeks in the sunshine and one week along the sea changed my outlook on life.  I now know I need to be outside as much as possible, with a good dose of Vitamin Sea to be content, as well as ample sunshine.  I found a sense of calm and enjoyed being alone in my thoughts while visiting South Africa.  Part of this was due to a semi-digital detox without a SIM card to stay connected when away from my hotel.  Think about how much time you spend each day being bombarded with emails, phone calls, text messages, meetings, and personal space invasions while on public transport.  Removing technology can make a big difference in how you experience your free time.

Taking the path less traveled
As I spent Sunday outside in the chilly sun of along Bristol's harbor side, I realized how hard it can be for people living in cities to find ways to be in nature and/or unplugged.  Available green spaces in cities might be small, with audio stimulation from traffic and visual stimulation from people walking by. Areas with water, such as rivers, streams, canals or reservoirs, are even harder to come by when landlocked.  When was the last time you sat alone in the woods or a field and took in your surroundings?

Walking wild
If you make an effort though to visit nature, maybe not daily, but at least once a week, (and leave the phone at home), it will help calm your body and mind.  City life is overstimulating.  Being alone in nature can help combat the effects.   Here are some tips on how to find and enjoy the experience of nature healing:
  • When you get to an open green (or blue) space, turn off any music you might be listening to and silence your phone.  Listen to wind, trees and birds around you.  Breathe deeply and listen to your breath.
  • If you live in London, walk along the towpath in the early morning when it is least busy.  Look at your surroundings rather than down in front of your feet.
  • Flotation therapy, such as that offered by Floatworks in London, is where you float in super salty water in a pod which allows for sensory deprivation in a meditative state.  You will experience physical and mental relief of life's stressors that occur outside the tank.  This is a great option to try if you cannot find green space or water near where you live.
  • Consider a train or bus journey to the woods or coast for a day trip off the grid.
  • Book an active holiday where you bike, hike, swim, run, or camp.
Capri length can be a good options in the spring and autumn
  • Dress appropriately so you enjoy the moment rather than worry about rain or temperatures.  I know I can be miserable if I am too hot or too cold!  The Jack Wolfskin tank show in the photos is great for warm days and for layering in the autumn.  The cut is very flattering for someone who has wider hips, like me.  Capri length trousers (such as the ones in the photos by Jack Wolfskin) are helpful too when the seasons are changing and you aren't sure if the temps will be the same in the afternoon as they were in the morning.  You never know what will happen so have some layering options in your bag if you can, including hat, gloves and rain jacket.
  • Look at the plants and wildlife as you explore.  See what you recognize and what you need to learn more about.  You might want to pick up a flora or fauna guide to help you identify what you saw during your time in nature.
I love having my dog with me on my walks
Do you ever feel the urge to be explore in green space?  How do you feel when your phone is off and you are alone in your thoughts?  What is your favorite part of being out in nature?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

Thanks to Simply Hike for providing me with the Jack Wolfskin kit to review.  All opinion are honest and my own.

Preparing my feet for desert running

Friday, October 19, 2018

Preparing for a desert ultra like Wadi Rum Ultra takes a lot of planning and organization.  Slowly you need to build up miles, gather the specific kit you will need, try out said kit, research camping food, try said camping food, and prepare your feet.  Then, in the last three weeks before the race, you need to add in sauna or Bikram yoga sessions, make sure your luggage doesn't go over the weight limit, and finally go see a chiropodist/podiatrist for a “medical pedicure” one week out.  This bit of advice can from my friend, Becs, who has done countless ultras, including Marathon Des Sables.  I don't usually get cosmetic pedicures unless I am going on a beach holiday.  Turns out “medical pedicures" are very different.

Using my Simplyhealth Active Plan, I found a place in London that meets the criteria for reimbursement under the chiropody/podiatry benefit of the Active Plan.  I went to Margaret Dabbs for a “medical pedicure” at cost of £85 for a 45 minute appointment.  I traveled from work to Marylebone on a sunny afternoon at the start of October and wasn't sure what to expect. “Medical pedicures” are performed on dry feet by a podiatrist or chiropodist.  The purpose is to thoroughly exam the feet, addressing any issues (such as nail fungus, ingrown toenail nails, dry skin, bunions, calluses, etc), shape/file the nails, and remove dead skin.

Using the drill to buff off skin around my toe nails
When I arrived at the clinic, there were several women having manicures with nail polish on the ground floor of the clinic.  My podiatrist, Laura, brought me to the basement into a small private room. She began by disinfecting my feet while explaining what she was going to do as it was my first time.  She examined my feet very carefully, looking in between and under each toe. I am lucky as my foot condition was 'mild' according to Laura.  She said my feet don't have a lot of fat on them (they are quite narrow) and I didn't have too much dry skin built up.  She proceeded to cut, then file, my toe nails.  She also buffed the nails before she put oil on my cuticles and explained that cuticles should never be pushed back as they compromises the protection around your nail bed.  Cosmetic manicures and pedicures have got it all wrong. Who knew?

Laura took a 'drill' (which it kind of is) to file down the rough skin around the bed of each nail. She used a scalpel to carefully scrape off all the dead skin on my feet and heels.  Next, she used a big rough file to further smooth the skin on my feet.  The treatment ended with the application of lotion to leave my feet feeling super soft and smelling fresh.

Laura taking a close look at my tootsies
Although Laura was not a runner, she had seen many runners for the same reason I was there.  She told me that it was good that I came in at least a week before my race.  To keep my feet in prime condition, I was to continue to moisturize in the lead up to the race but not to file (if I wasn’t racing, I was supposed to file every day).  We discussed black toenails (touch wood I have never experienced this) and she said that if I get one, I am to leave it alone unless it becomes painful.  She assured me if a black toenail falls off, it will grow back, although perhaps a little differently.

Scraping dead skin off with scalpel
Because me feet were in good condition, Laura said I could come back quarterly for a “medical pedicure” or sooner if I had any problems.  She was easy to talk to and I am very happy with how soft and smooth my feet were.  It did seem like a bit of an indulgence so I am glad my Simplyhealth Active Plan will reimburse me for the cost.  I think if my feet had a lot of issues, it would be something I would want to do regularly.  Although it didn't prevent me from loosing any toenails, I think I would definitely do it again if I signed up for another desert race.

The clinic emailed me the receipt the same day, which I will submit to Simplyhealth.  I did contact the clinic prior to booking to ensure their staff were registered with HCPC in order to meet the Simplyhealth criteria.  Hopefully I will have time this weekend to make my claim online.

Final result
Have you ever had a "medical pedicure"?  If so, why?  Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks to Simplyhealth for sponsoring my 4x4 Challenge and allowing me use of their Active Plan. All opinions are honest and my own.

Medical sign off for my first ultra

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

When you start running bigger and more challenging races, the organizers want to ensure you are in tip top shape to compete.  Some countries, such as France, will ask for a doctor to sign a release form stating you are fit for each and every race you run.  I had to do it for the Paris Half Marathon, which meant an appointment with my GP, taking time off work, and a £30 fee for a signature on a form.

Pre-race weigh in
Wadi Rum Ultra, race 3 in my 4x4 challenge upped the ante a bit and asked for an electrocaridogram (ECG), in addition to a doctor's note saying I was fit and healthy.  The race didn't provide an official form for the doctor to complete so I looked at what the Marathon des Sables form covered.  Included was a medical history, blood pressure, resting heart rate, allergies, and current medications.  I forwarded the link over to the Walk-In Clinic when they invited me in for my medical sign off.

I thought it would just be an ECG because that was included in my original wellwomen appointment in 2017 as that is all the race asked for.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised for a full physical, ECG, and urine analysis which in total lasted just under an hour.  The Walk-In Clinic have their own sports physical form which made it a bit easier to send the required info over to the race organizers.

Low blood pressure
The doctor is the one I have met in my past visits (including travel vaccination) so we have already built up a bit of a rapport.  She asked relevant questions about the race (how far, how long, what is the environment, how have you been preparing).  We had plenty of time to discuss these answers and much more.  I asked her about hydration strategies as I was still trying to figure that one out.  She talked to.me about my anxiety medication and how I might experience hallucinations under these extreme conditions.

Hooked up for my ECG
The ECG was painless although a bit of a faff to connect to all of the wires.  I think I moved or took a deep breath during the first measurement because my graphs showed a bit dip.  We repeated the process and my resulting ECG was normal. Hurrah!

ECG results
The clinic receptionist offered to scan across my letter and ECG for me even though also they give me the original.  The team is always helpful and efficient.  I love visiting their clinic as the appointments run to time, are long enough that you don't have to rush any conversations with the GP you see, and the customer service is superb.  If you ever need something for a race (ECG, physical, travel vaccination, etc), I recommend booking in. This private practice offers more flexibility than a GP office with a central London location, next to the Gherkin.

Thanks the City Walk-In Clinic for the complementary service.  All opinions are honest and my own.