Wellness Practice: The Wim Hof Method

I’m not sure how I first got interested in the Wim Hof Method (beyond curiosity about how the more amazing feats of ‘The Iceman’ were accomplished. It was either the desire to take on a breathing practice that would be a meditative ‘downtime’ and increase mindfulness (being in the moment) during the day, or the idea of reducing inflammation in my body through cold exposure. Figuring out which came first is a chicken and egg problem since I partake in it for both benefits, although I can’t say I’ve gone ‘all-in’ on it… I don’t really go all-in on anything as I like to keep my wellness practices diverse and maintain a healthy dose of skepticism.

Introduction

If you’ve never heard of The Iceman or the Wim Hof Method, let me explain. Wim Hof is a man from the Netherlands who is known for his ability to withstand the cold. He holds the record for the longest swim submerged under ice, has climbed 7200m of Mount Everest in nothing but shorts and shoes as well as climbing Kilimanjaro similarly dressed. He has run the fastest half-marathon barefoot in ice and snow and was a previous record holder of the longest period of bodily contact with solid ice.

After losing his wife to suicide, Wim Hof found that exposure to the cold gave him a relief he was unable to find in any other way. He studied several Eastern meditative and yogic practices until he developed his own method which consists of 3 components: Breathing, Cold Exposure and Commitment/Meditation.

The Wim Hof Method, or WHM for short as I’ll be referring to it going forward, can be accessed in several ways. The main way is through a full-on online video course with supplemental reading materials that costs on the order of $200 (depending on promotions and the exchange rate with the Euro); I haven’t made that commitment, but there have been smaller promotions and versions, and my favourite is an app that has expansion packs for a small fee, available on iTunes and Google Play (search for WHM).

The 3 ‘Pillars’ of the WHM are Breathing, Cold Exposure and Mindset/Commitment.

Breathing

The basic breathing technique is diaphragmatic breathing with a focus on the inhale. You fill your lungs starting with expanding your belly before your chest, then release the air without using effort to expel it. Wim’s frequent coaching phrase is “Fully in… letting go”. You do this about 30 to 40 times, and on the final exhale, you keep your mouth closed (I sometimes plug my nose to keep from cheating) and try to hold for as long as you can (they recommend at least a minute).

Sounds hard? It is… sometimes I don’t make it for a full minute. Usually, the more I can still my mind, the better I do, but I don’t think I’ve exceeded 2 minutes more than a handful of times and certainly not in the past few months. Obviously, this should only be attempted in a safe space – they specifically warn against doing it while driving or in the shower or otherwise in water. I usually lie on the floor, sometimes in bed or on a couch. I’ve never lost consciousness (you would start breathing immediately if you weren’t consciously trying not to, but why take the rest? I’m most relaxed while I’m lying down anyway. Apparently some tingling sensations can be felt during this stage, but I usually get them at the next step. What I do experience is the need to swallow saliva (which usually signals the beginning of the end of the breath retention phase) and contraction of my diaphragm muscles.

When you can’t hold any longer, you take in a big lungful of air and hold for 15 seconds. During this period I have felt some light euphoria and pleasant tingling in my arms and legs. After those 15 seconds, you’ve completed one round, and you can repeat as needed. 3 rounds in the morning on an empty stomach are recommended. When I’ve done it later in the day, I often don’t last as long in the retention (breath-holding) phase.

A fun thing to try is rather than just holding empty lungs during the retention phase, try to do as many pushups as you can. I find I can usually do 2-4 more pushups after the breathing exercise than I could without.

Cold Exposure

The path to resisting (or embracing) the cold seems to be to try taking cold showers. You start with hot water and switch to cold, gradually increasing how long you can last. You might start with as little as 5-10 seconds. I can usually do a good minute, though I move around under the showerhead so it’s not just one part of my body getting cold. If you do the diaphragmatic breathing (without holding your breath) a little before going under, you can experience the sensation of your body warming from within and it makes it easier to withstand. Keep in mind, we are warm-blooded creatures and our bodies stay at around 37.5 degrees Celsius regardless of what your skin is feeling.

I played around a little with cold immersion last autumn when our new swimming pool had a broken heater (temperatures in low teens), but only once or twice with an ‘ice bath’. Even then, I only used a single bag of ice in a large soaker tub and stayed in for one minute. The more hardcore adherents put in a lot more ice and verify that the temperature is truly close to freezing.

Overall I do enjoy the sensation I get after the cold shower. My blood is flowing in my muscles almost like the middle of a workout, and there’s a mental clarity that you don’t get with a hot shower, in spite of how many of us use hot showers to ‘wake up’ in the morning.

Mindset/Commitment

I confess this is the ‘pillar’ I have spent the least time with. Within the app, the exercises available are Forward Fold, Reverse Balance, Headstand and The Shelf. These are all Yoga poses including 2 inversions and an arm balance. The justification for these seems to be mostly a way to track your overall progress and health. If you have Netflix, you can see an episode of Gwyneth Paltrow’s The Goop Lab where they explore the method, and the Goop team is seen doing a ‘horse stance’ with some quick punching and breathing to prime themselves for cold exposure including Yoga in the snow and jumping into an icy Lake Tahoe. The show doesn’t delve deep into the science and nor do I – there is plenty of medically dense terminology in the supporting literature you can find, (Wikipedia is almost never a bad place to start), I just didn’t want to get too bogged down in something I mostly dabble in. I will say that I’ve gotten through the cold/flu season (so far) relatively unscathed – some coughing and sneezing that only lasted 3 days.

The WHM is one of the inspirations (and foundations) of Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece’s XPT, which I hope to explore in a future post.

Hawaiian Cruise with NCL Pride of America – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

We were finding it hard to make use of the bunk bed set-up in the room. Shark Boy found the safety railings uncomfortable, but given how he thrashes in his sleep they were completely necessary.

Luckily, every day tuckered them out so much, we came up with a solution that worked better for all concerned and made for good bonding.

Kayaking in Hilo

For our day in the port of Hilo on the Big Island, we had scheduled a Kayak to Waterfall excursion. This was one of the shortest bus rides to an excursion, and Hilo doesn’t seem like much of a town, but small and quaint can be good. Our guides were friendly, but we found out later that ours was the second-last tour they would be operating! Apparently the tour operators were closing up shop. My wife took Shark Boy in one kayak while the Lightning Kid and I were in the other. It was important to keep your strokes in sync, which made it a challenge when quick responses to “Left!” or “Right side!” were called for (I can only imagine how it would have gone to use “Port” and “Starboard”…

We paddled outward from the shore through the surf and needed to hit the mouth of the river from an angle, coming in from further out in the bay rather than heading in a straight line from the shore to it. This allowed us to avoid a nasty break in the surf that would have been hard to handle. Unfortunately that longer paddle through the surf was taxing and tiring for our family, but luckily the overall level of our group wasn’t much more fit or advanced than us.

We got into the river’s opening and found a place to rest under some trees, while everyone got caught up. We held ourselves fast on dangling vines. There was a part of the river where rapids would have prevented us from getting further but the guides were able to get out onto some rocks and pull us using a rope.

Shortly beyond that point, we reached a waterfall area where we could swim, but we were tired and it didn’t really feel safe – it would have been difficult to climb out and back into the kayak. Paddling our way back out of the river and to the shore was a somewhat tiring affair, but the weather was beautiful.

We returned to the ship and I had time to use the running track around the ship (each lap approximately 1/3 of a mile) as well as the fitness centre to do some rehab exercises for my shoulder. I found it fairly well outfitted. We also had our first meal in the Liberty Dining room which is one of the included restaurants, but not a buffet. The food and service were excellent. We wrapped up our evening with a ‘Close-up Magic Show’ – it focusses on sleight-of-hand card tricks (no sawing people in half or whatever). It was a little cheesy, but there was a trick or two that really still boggle my mind. It was actually New Year’s Eve, but jet lag was enough that we didn’t make it to the local midnight – although we did see it observed for those in Central Standard Time

CANCELLED – NO TRIP TO KONA

Kona is the only port where the Pride of America can’t dock – a ‘Tender Port’. That meant taking smaller boats to shore and with the seas being too rough that day, all shore excursions were cancelled. It was too bad as the ‘Captain Zodiac Raft & Snorkel’ trip was the first excursion we booked – the only one that had been formally planned prior to leaving for Hawaii. We had to fill our day with onboard activities like voting on a Gingerbread house contest, board games in the games room, mini-putt and oversized chess. The latter was difficult because the wind kept blowing the pieces over, and there was a lot of demand for any onboard activities – the basketball court was also closed from that day forward. The ship navigated a more scenic route past the islands of Maui, Lana’i and Moloka’i, and the view did not disappoint.

My wife and I enjoyed French Cuisine at the Jefferson Bistro for our date night, and the kids had a blast at the Splash Academy that evening.

Port of Naiwiliwili on Kaua’i

We hadn’t found an excursion that suited us for Kaua’i (the only contender was yet another waterfall/kayak expedition) so we opted for a beach day at Anchor Cove. We had some time to throw the ball around and swim in the waves, but the highlight for me was the surf lesson I booked for Shark Boy and me.

This would be another of those occasions where a GoPro would have come in handy. The lesson was great, and though it was a little nerve-wracking not have a continuous line of sight to my son (due to waves), never mind being far out of reach, we were both able to get to standing on each attempt and had some good runs. It got a little crowded, and once Shark Boy got knocked by a surfboard, while I had a near collision with another surfer and a canoe, overall we had a great time. I did feel the paddling in my shoulders and my back hurt a little when I tried to stand quickly but it was a small price to pay for a once in a lifetime experience.

Did I say we had no excursion booked for the first day in Kaua’i? I forgot the Luau! We gathered in the onboard theatre and were grouped into buses that took us to a plantation where the Luau would take place. The meal was rice, pulled pork (traditionally prepared in a pit called a Lua), Terriyaki chicken and fish. Everyone was encouraged to try some Poi (a paste of mashed taro root) – I found it a little bland, to be honest, I think you’re supposed to add something to it.

The Lightning Kid and I took a chance to volunteer for a dance performance. Then it was time for the show to begin the show. The story of a family separated but ultimately reunited in a journey from Tahiti to Hawai’i was compelling and had great songs, dances and a fire show, but I couldn’t really take it all in, because the Lightning Kid found the drums and chanting terrifying to the point of physically shaking. I took him outside to comfort him. It was really weird to see him react like that, but he had been scared by a theatre performance of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ when he was much younger, and I wonder if there was some kind of flashback going on. The Luau was an enjoyable experience, but we were eager to bring tired kids back to bed as soon as possible.

Our second day on Kaua’i was spent on the beach (with a little shopping and ice cream mixed in). The chop of the surf seemed rougher and neither kid was interested in trying out the boogie boards I rented, so we were content to swim and play catch. We decided to re-board before lunch so that we could save money and use the buffet. The rough seas also caused the onboard pool to be closed – for a while there it looked like a fun wave pool, but I’m sure it got dangerous. Our cruise was coming to an end, and there was packing to do.

Departure Day

We got up early and enjoyed our final buffet breakfast – everyone on board had the same idea. We had arranged a shuttle to the airport, but it seemed a little foolish since our flight wasn’t till 11:30 PM, we had the day in Honolulu to spend. NCL wouldn’ let us cancel our shuttle charges unless we booked an excursion with them instead. We took our luggage to the airport and paid for storage, then made our way to the Ala Moana Shopping District. We saw the movie Frozen 2 (long overdue, since the Lightning Kid is a huge fan of the first one), we played in a local playground and we did some more shopping and ice cream.

Our last meal was a Shabu Shabu restaurant – you choose your own broth, meat, vegetable and seafood and prepare in on an element at your table. We filled up so quickly the all-you-can-eat aspect was wasted on us, but ending our big Hawai’i adventure with a culinary adventure was a nice way to go out before a long flight.

Hawaiian Cruise With NCL Pride of America – Part 1

Since our Disney Cruise 2 years ago, we wanted another Disney experience, and the intention was to visit the Aulani resort; unfortunately, it was entirely booked up for Christmastime by September so we decided to stick with Hawaii and try our luck with cruising again.

Shark Boy is a veteran traveller…

Arrival in Honolulu – Hilton Hawaiian Village

We flew into Honolulu with a pleasant, direct flight from Toronto and checked in to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It’s a huge resort, and our room in the Rainbow tower had a lovely ocean view. There are several swimming pools and access to the beach as well as a sheltered lagoon where stand up paddleboards can be rented. I’m going to try and hold back from complaining about how expensive everything was throughout these stories, as this seemed to apply to Hawaii in general. Let me just say that Starbucks was the most reasonable breakfast option, and it wasn’t that reasonable.

Rainbow in Waikiki
So many rainbows in Hawaii… this one had the most intense colours I’ve ever seen.

Scuba Dive

The day after arriving I went on a 2 tank dive with Aloha Scuba. This was quite possibly the best dive I have ever been on, and while I always regret not being able to get good photos of my dives, this was the day that made me vow to get a GoPro before my next dive. The first dive was the Nautilus reef off Waikiki beach. The reef is beautiful, and I seemed to have a talent for spotting Moray eels, in fact, it was the first time I saw one swimming in the open rather than poking out from a hole in a reef. We had discussed the common hand signals for wildlife found in the area, and the one for dolphins struck me as weird – you point to your ear. During the dive, I found out why; you hear dolphins squeak before you see them. They were beautiful black and blue and seemed to fly across our field of vision like a flock of birds. This dive was about 45 minutes at a depth of approximately 54 feet.

The next dive site was a wreck known as the YO 257, though we managed to look at another called San Pedro on the same dive. Our dive group managed to co-star in the cellphone videos of passengers aboard an Atlantis Submarine tour – if you were on that vessel, the dork doing an underwater floss dance was me. In addition to getting a great up-close view of the vessel, I was within 15 feet of a white tip reef shark and I saw a trio of beautiful eagle rays. Apparently a tiger shark has been seen nearby, but I’ll tell you I was fine missing out on that. We spent 24 minutes at a depth of approximately 95 feet. The divemaster was very generous with advice on controlling my buoyancy and being more efficient with my energy which leads to less air use and longer dive times, but I was still the first one low on air. We snacked on fresh pineapple between dives and on the way back, and I’d recommend Aloha Scuba to anyone who is diving the Waikiki Beach area.

Last Night In a Hotel…

Once I got back to the hotel, I took the boys swimming in one of the hotel pools. We found the water cold, but we didn’t care too much since we’re Canadians just happy to be able to swim outdoors! I took Shark Boy to one of the little tuck shops and sprung for a little ball that we could play catch with; it served us well on every subsequent beach we visited. We had a long wait for service at our dinner restaurant and the jet lag was kicking in. The Lightning Kid fell asleep at the table while I waited for dessert, and my wife and Shark Boy went back to the hotel room to watch a fireworks display. I was still waiting for dessert when the fireworks went off and nearly scared me to death – hearing fireworks without seeing them isn’t really fun in my books. I still managed to enjoy a night-time walk on the beach with Shark Boy though.

Knocked out.

That same Jet Lag had us up early and to the beach after breakfast, but not for too long because we were checking out and boarding by noon. We tried to game the ideal boarding time – the sooner we arrive, the sooner we can take advantage of food we’ve already paid for, but by coming later, I wonder if we could have avoided the longer line-ups to clear security etc.

The overall route/itinerary

The mood on board was very friendly and festive, and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying the feeling of the seas rolling beneath our feet. We managed to book almost every excursion we had wanted on board that evening in spite of being shut-out of them when trying to book online.

Port of Kahului on Maui – Day 1

Our first excursion was to board a catamaran and snorkel the famous Molokini Crater and a site known as Turtle Arches. The cruise was operated by the Pacific Whale Foundation (which is apparently non-profit) and it made considerable effort to be environmentally friendly including providing reef-safe sunscreen and controlling/reducing garbage. The guides were fun and friendly (especially with kids). They provided extra floatation gear including pool noodles or vests or whatever you were comfortable with. At Molokini, the Black Triggerfish were the most friendly fish; even though you are not permitted to feed them, they live long enough to remember when they would get fed and swim right up to snorkelers. I think we also saw Yellow Tang and Parrotfish.

Turtle Arches was the second stop on the catamaran cruise. We were enjoying the snorkelling but weren’t seeing any turtles, and we were about to return to the boat when Shark Boy said he had seen one; I was skeptical because the last near-sighting turned out to be a rock. Sure enough, not 50 feet from the boat’s exit for snorkelers was a giant sea turtle – it must have been at least 5 feet in diameter. I was able to dive down and get a side view of it (from a respectable distance, we are not to disturb them), and while I was telling another family about where to find it, I noticed it coming to the surface for air! They are really magical creatures – those black eyes seem to exude this calm wisdom.

When we got back to the ship we had some downtime and put the kids into the onboard kids’ club called Splash Academy. Shark Boy was a little underwhelmed by it at first; as the week went on he found it improved because they had more ‘active’ activities, though I suspect it was also because he started making friends. He also expects to be given free rein instead of being roped into structured activities (on the Disney cruise of 2 years ago, the kids club had video games and screens if he didn’t want to participate). My wife and I enjoyed a date night at the onboard Churrascaria, where you are served select meats (usually from a skewer) until you turn a little card over from its green to the red side to say ‘No More!’. The kids club called us just as dinner started to let us know the Lightning Kid was falling asleep (again). I had asked if he could just lie down on one of their mats but they apparently reserve that space for active play and couldn’t accommodate that. Still, I refused to leave our date just as it was getting started and asked them to manage him till we could finish – what else are we paying for except for them to keep our kids safe for a little while?

Port of Kahului, Maui – Day 2

Our second excursion was a Rainforest and Waterfall Hike. I’m very happy that our family has evolved into hikers over the last year or so – all we needed was for the Lightning Kid’s legs to get strong and long enough! A bus took us on part of the Hana highway till we reached the trailhead – apparently, the trail is on a private farm property, but the owners allow hiking tours because they are “hippies”. We hiked through the rainforest and learned about the local ecology – Hawaii seems to be dominated by invasive species (at least when you look at it from an evolutionary timeframe – a few thousand years ago even the wildest parts would have looked entirely different). We saw the Bird of Paradise flower, bananas, and other plants.

The most amazing botanical sight was the Mimosa Pudica or ‘shy’ Mimosa. This plant actually shrinks and ‘shies’ away when touched.

Of course, we are a family of action! So the best parts weren’t plantlife, they were the waterfalls where we got to cool off with a swim! We visited 3 distinct locations with waterfalls and pools to swim in. On some, you could climb the rocks and jump in.

Back on board, we took time out to find out how to navigate the ship’s internet plan. Internet access is limited by time and not usage (megabytes) and you have to formally log on and off to stay within your time limit. There didn’t seem to be very flexible options to increase or adjust the access so for the most part, we stayed offline. Our date night dinner was in the Italian Restaurant – I think this was the best food of the entire cruise but somehow I got too full to finish. I must have filled up at lunch – overall the food was excellent and varied on the Pride of America.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we visit the Big Island of Hawaii and Kauai.

2020 Vision

This site hasn’t had a post since May of 2018; not a single post in 2019. What happened?

Short answer, this blog has generally been about the things I do for fun and exercise, and it feels like there hasn’t been as much of that to write about. Of course, the short answer leaves a fair bit out of the story.

I guess the long answer would have to be broken down a little. Let’s move from the outside in: We moved in August, and we love our new house (and pool!) and the neighbourhood seems to present all kinds of new adventures. I even wrote a list of things I want to try in the new neighbourhood.

My wife has launched her career as a mental health professional, and it’s one of the biggest joys in my life to see how she’s really in her element helping others. Mental health is becoming something we are starting to pay more and more attention to in our society, and I hope to use this blog platform to be part of that increased awareness and education… more on that in a bit.

One of the things I used to brag about in this space was how I would balance parenting and exercise/training, but I confess that had gotten harder. I used to find ways to train with the kids (perhaps by pushing/pulling them in the Chariot – we have since handed that down to family with younger children than ours). I found my time being monopolized by chauffeuring the kids to their own hobbies and activities. Mind you, I couldn’t be prouder of them – Shark Boy is a competitive gymnast with a top ten ranking in the province, and the Lightning Kid is currently participating in Hip Hop Dance and a ‘Ninjaz’ class that combines gymnastics, obstacle course work and martial arts. Earlier this year he played soccer and was a Beaver Scout while I was the ‘contact Scouter’ of that Beaver Colony.

My old injury, the herniated disc flared up in a really terrible way, probably due at least in part to my declining strength and fitness. It got so that I couldn’t ride a bike or even sleep on my side without painkillers, and when I finally started physio after trying chiropractic and massage for relief, I did start to see improvement in the pain, though I experience intermittent tingling in my left arm still. My exercise efforts are mostly about rehab, and those exercises aren’t terribly exciting. I’m reluctant to add much load to my upper body until I know things are stable and solid.

I haven’t mentioned my struggles with depression on the blog, but as I mentioned the increased awareness about mental health issues is something I want to take part in. The way depression robs you of motivation (both to exercise or create blog posts) has been a contributing factor in the decline of the Iron Rogue – lately, “lying down is my favourite” is practically a catch-phrase for me.

What is to come?

Moving forward, there will be some changes around here. The first thing will be less triathlon content – I haven’t lost the love of it, but I think my more immediate goals in endurance will be simpler – more running, possibly some trail running.

I’m going to look at that list of neighbourhood adventures I wrote and start ticking things off the list. I have already had some classes at Free Run Inc. (an obstacle course racing fitness club) including Boxing!

Family travel reviews will be a part of the blog; we have an upcoming cruise to Hawaii and I will post an incomplete memoir of our Disney Cruise from 2 years ago for contrast and comparison (last year’s vacation was a trip to Jay Peak Ski Resort – I doubt I have enough material recorded to do it justice, but we’ll see).

On the mental health front, I hope to discuss some treatments I have used to manage stress and depression, even if they are just productivity/motivation hacks and self-care methods.

I hope to have you as a reader of my next chapters.

Disney Eastern Carribean Cruise on the Fantasy (2018) – Active Family Travel Review

This trip occurred in late April 2018.? I am posting the unfinished draft, with the knowledge that I’ll never finish it, and my memory of missing details isn’t good enough to fill them in.? Stay tuned for a post about our 2019-2020 Cruise of the Hawaiian Islands.

In my head, my ideal vacation involves adventure of some kind, like trekking through a rain forest, or surfing, but in reality, what a vacation destination is something to keep the kids out of adult hair for a portion of the day, which is how we ended up in all-inclusive resorts like the ones we visited in Jamaica, Mexico and Turks & Caicos.? If we can get the kids looked after and they don’t pull faces as a result, we generally call it a win.? The evolution of this trend was to go on a Disney Cruise – especially while our kids are young enough to get more out of character experiences.? So the decision was made.

Disney as a sub-culture is something that scares me frankly.? We joined a Facebook group that was devoted not to Disney, Disney Cruises, or our specific cruise route, but our actual cruise dates, and it was one of the busiest FB groups I have ever been a member of, which means too many notifications (until you turn them off) and way too much hype.? I’m not a big fan of overscheduling or “over-researching” vacations – I feel that it leads to second-guessing yourself and your decision and creates anxiety.? I don’t want to knock those that want to squeeze every last drop out of their vacation experience, it’s just that it’s antithetical to the kick-back-and-relax vibe I want running through my?own vacation experience.? So I won’t break down all the craziness that seems to be part of this cult and I’ll stick to what we did, and what we experienced and what we learned.

Getting to and on the ship was quite painless; in the Orlando airport, there are Disney signs everywhere, and as long as you know that you’re going on a cruise as opposed to Disney World amusement park, you’ll end up on the right bus.? The staff are highly organized and friendly – this would become a theme throughout the trip.? We had our essentials packed in a daypack, since we knew our luggage would not be accessible till later, and wanted to get changed into swim gear and start enjoying the facilities.? Unfortunately, we took enough time getting oriented, including a tour of the kids’ club (known as the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab) that by the time we got to the pool deck,?they had temporarily closed the pools.? Cue tantrums from over-tired kids.? We knew the first day and transition would be a taxing adjustment.? I think we did get settled into the onboard routine fairly well.

We had a late dining rotation (8:15PM, when the kids’ nominal bedtime is 7:30), that concerned us, but ultimately we got through our meals well and the kids were good and ready for bed.? Speaking of bed here was my first unexpected fact of cruise life:

1.) You sleep like a baby on a cruise ship.? We had fairly rough seas but the rocking of the boat and the sound-proofing of the stateroom really enhanced the ‘getting-away-from-it-all’ isolation and peacefulness.

The assigned dining rotation kept us with the same server and same table-mates every night.? Our server Jaithip (from Thailand) was wonderful – she learned the boys’ favourite drinks and had them ready by the time we sat down every night.? One time I wanted to order a lobster pasta and she steered me away from it.? I was a little irked because I figured I know what I like, but she brought me a small sample of the pasta alongside the alternate main course I ordered.? She was right – the pasta was garbage.? Now having said that, the food varied from good (the fast food on the pool deck) to very good (in the dining rooms) to excellent (in the paid restaurants).

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The Lightning Kid with Mickey Waffles

Our table mates were a nice family that was celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary (as we will be in July) with blond boys aged 8 and 5 (to our 8 and 6), and enjoy running and triathlon.? Thus was born our theory that Disney is spying on us at a level that would make Mark Zuckerberg blush.? It can’t be a coincidence that Mickey Mouse’s sign-off is “See ya real soon!”…

On our second day, we got to access the pools.? The kids really like just hanging around in the water, and they have movies playing on the big screen all the time so even when they aren’t splashing around, they can just hang out and watch the screen.? I liked that the lifeguards would periodically? clear everyone out of the pool for about 10 minutes at a time; it gave parents a chance to apply sunscreen to the kids or take them to the washrooms, or any other needed transition and we got to blame the staff/rules rather than be the bad guys ourselves.? There were splash pads (which I confess I used to wash melted ice-cream off of faces and chests) and a small warm-water pool that was flush with a window overlooking the ocean (a surreal view), the “Mickey” slide was useable for 4 year-olds and up (but no adults), but the ‘Aquaduck’ was the biggest and boldest water slide.? It actually hangs out over the edge of the ship and has some tunnels with lights, open-air sections, ups and downs, and generally traverses the entire perimeter of the ship.? The Lightning Kid was too small to go on it, and Shark Boy needed some-one 16 or over to accompany him on one of the 2 seated dinghies – usually my wife or myself, but on at least one occasion he managed to rope the older sister of a friend he made into the job.? The problem with the Aquaduck (beyond long line-ups) was it would be closed in high winds, which we had plenty of.? Speaking of wind and weather, we did have some rough seas, and though I can’t say I got seasick really, it leads to unexpected fact #2:

2.) Seasickness is like being drunk.? I’ve been seasick only once in my life (a tall-ship cruise on Lake Ontario – think pirate ship), and that was from continuous rocking.? The rocks on this voyage came fairly unexpectedly – not a constant rhythm – and I’d sway this way or that as if I’d had too much to drink.? At first, I thought it might make me throw up, but it was more like a flashback to having had that much to drink and expecting the next most obvious result than actual nausea.? Once I realized that, I was pretty much out of the woods.? I had some landsickness for a few days after returning.

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Pool Deck with the Aquaduck water slide

The pools were a little disappointing from an adult perspective.? The kids’ pools were too packed for an adult to swim, and in fact the only pool deeper than waist height was the ‘Donald’ pool right in front of the screen, and of course, that pool was the most full at any given time, which meant getting kicked and swum over by children.? There is an adults-only area, but the pools there are also about waist height only – though there is a swim-up bar.

When we wanted to get away from the pool and not have to worry about what the kids were getting up to, we took them to the Oceaneer’s Club/Lab.? This is two halves of their kids’ club; from what I could gather the lab had more autonomous time while the club had more structured activity – Shark Boy preferred the lab.? There were various alcoves that had different kinds of activities and themes like crafts, or superheroes, and computer terminals and tablets and screens for movies.? In some way I was hesitant about all the screen time, but between the pool deck and our excursions, the kids were probably getting enough activity and fresh air.? There was even a floor of screens that could run games, straddling the line between screens and physical activity.00100009

My kids seem to prefer free unstructured play to organized, scheduled activities, and this seemed to hold up in the time they spent in the kids’ club.? Still, we tried to find special activities onboard that we could book in advance.? One of these was the Royal Knight package which is like a Princess make-over for boys (traditional gender roles – whaddyagonnado?).? While I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a photo of the Lightning Kid in an Elsa (from Frozen) gown and wig, I will say that? I wouldn’t consider my sons?to be good candidates for make-over type activities like you find in the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique.? Yet the ‘fairy godmothers’ did such a great job staying in character and selling the whole concept (the hair gel was ‘dragon snot’ that would keep dragons from being able to smell the princes), and of course, the sword and shield part of the costume was?very well received by the boys.

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Live shows are something that everyone raves about – I believe the Aladdin one was specifically recommended by everyone we spoke to.? We only made it to one, and that one took place on the pool deck rather than the indoor theatres.? Still, it was a fun spectacle with song and dance, Mickey, Goofy, Captain Hook and Smee as well as one stunt involving a rappel down the ship’s chimney stack!? It was part of a whole pirate theme night that everyone dressed up for – our room was provided with bandanas, but I had packed some with eye-patches and ear-rings.

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I should mention that I did go to the theatres to watch a couple of movies: I saw Black Panther once alone, then deemed it OK for Shark Boy to watch and saw it again with him.? I also got to see Avengers Infinity War on its opening weekend without standing in line!? It was too intense for younger kids, in my opinion.

We had 3 port stops, the first on the Dutch side of St. Maarten.? We were booked into a catamaran cruise with snorkelling and a beach visit.? We disembarked in Phillipsburg and with an hour or so before the Catamaran was leaving got a chance to get in the water a little bit, which I thought was a good opportunity to test out some full face mask snorkels that we had gotten at the Cottage Life show.

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While they worked well initially, it seems like Shark Boy struggled with his when it came time to snorkel from the catamaran at a wreck site.? I was dealing with the Lightning Kid and I hadn’t gotten a proper life vest for him; the normal vests that they hand out for snorkelling provide some floatation when inflated, but aren’t rated for non-swimmers.? In the ensuing chaos, nobody could really enjoy themselves and from what I could tell there was poor visibility anyway.? Luckily, the beach visit afterwards was a lot more pleasant and relaxed.

Our second port stop was in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.? I went scuba diving at a wreck site that had a sordid history of drug smuggling, and the sunken ship being moved by human action and hurricanes.? I got within 5 feet of a sea turtle, and saw stingrays that were at least 5 feet in diameter.

Race Recap: MNP 10K (Mississauga Marathon Weekend)

It’s been a long time since I ran a road race.? Running this one was actually my wife’s idea – I think she’s missed training or even just running in general.? We were both under-trained going into this one – our training wasn’t regular and the longest run we had done was 7 km for her and about 8 or 9 for me.? Still, the run promised to be scenic and not too hilly, and for our part, we promised to take it easy and walk when necessary, so we figured we’d be fine.

My biggest problem with this race based on past experience is that the starting and finish lines are not in the same place – they use shuttle buses to get people back to the starting line.? The 10k race takes place on Saturday evening (with the marathon and half-marathon on Sunday morning).? The start was further from our house than the finish line, and to avoid parking and line-ups for the bus we decided to take Uber to the start.? With the road closures and traffic conditions, we ended up sighting the start line with 3 minutes to spare.? We ended up being the last ones through the chute, though we got passed by some faster runners who must have come several minutes late.

 

The course starts on Lakeshore Boulevard and goes eastward.? We got spattered with rain on and off through the course, but only once did I think we might have to quit if it got any worse.? Just as I began to wonder about whether the course would take us through the main strip of Port Credit, the course turned South towards the water and through the residential neighbourhoods.

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Spectators were few and far between on a rainy Saturday night in a quiet suburb, but those that turned out were loud and positive enough to make up for the missing noise.? We even had a volunteer refer to us as the ‘blue and red tag team”!

 

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I think rain on the lens made many of my photos blurry/grainy.? Or maybe I need a new phone…

I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of people’s houses, but some of the architecture was beautiful (I’m a sucker for Scandinavian architecture).? Soon we linked onto a waterfront trail.

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We took plenty of walk breaks, but we couldn’t help but be pleased with the perception that the kilometre markers seemed to keep accumulating.? The waterfront trail gave us nice views of not only the lake itself but the downtown Toronto skyline.

 

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A little foggy, but you should be able to make out the CN Tower.

With less than 2 km we could hear the band and PA system of the finish line area.? We must have been close, but we discovered that there was still an out and back to be done.

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The path out towards a point into the little peninsula?was narrow, and sharing it between out and back traffic meant being careful, but it eventually split off into a little loop.? The rain strengthened and our remaining endurance and pain tolerance was getting a little low.? It felt like we were the last ones to finish as we saw people exiting the race site by going back along the course; we knew we weren’t last, but with the lousy weather, no-one was sticking around and the exodus was in effect.

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The “blue and red tag-team” finished with a chip time of 1:29:21, and we were happy to finish in less than 90 minutes.? We helped ourselves to bananas and some yummy chocolate macaroon type snack (that I now can’t track down the name of), and it’s the first time in my memory that I’ve ever taken advantage of those emergency blankets they give out at finish lines.? Wrapping yourself in one of those when winds are heavy is an art unto itself!? We then had to walk around 2 km back out of the park (near the Port Credit Yacht Club) to be able to call an Uber.? We subjected this poor driver’s car to our damp bodies, and even made him hit a McDonald’s Drive-Thru on the way home – with the race start at 6:30, eating a meal beforehand didn’t seem prudent.? We ate at home, and never did fast food feel so well deserved as we had finished a race that was out of our comfort zone from an endurance perspective, under pretty bad weather conditions.

Does completing a race under less than perfect training and environmental conditions make for a sweeter victory?

The Death of the Etobicoke Creek Trail (?)

I’ve sung the praises of the Etobicoke Creek Trail many times in this space.? I use it for running, burbathlon, mountain biking and access to Centennial Park.? It even figures largely into my route when I bike to work.? When it was announced last spring that they would be doing some major construction to pave it, I should have been happy.? I steered clear for the period of the construction, and like this blog, I wasn’t being that active anyway.

When I was reminded that the construction was scheduled to end in the spring of 2018, I decided to take an exploratory run.? ?Where the trail begins from Fleetwood Park it has become a paved trail, which I have mixed feelings about.? I guess it’ll be safer for bikes, and cleaner, but the gravel was appealing to give an off-road, in-forest experience very close to home.

 

I guess the good news is that this would give me a paved path to Centennial Park, and when I want to bike to work, I could connect to Eglinton Avenue, where they have expanded and improved a separate bike path.? That means I could take a road bike which is lighter and faster than the commuter bike I’ve been using to avoid flat tires caused by gravel on this path and in my traverse of Centennial Park.

A little further up (i.e. going North) the trail there used to be a part that was not traversable by bike; you’d have to dismount and walk your bike past roots and stumps, etc.? I always liked this part because it offered a great challenge to navigate and was good training for the coordination needed for off-road running.? It looks like this part has been made more accessible by creating a smooth path by the creek shoreline.

After that, it used to be a gravel path all the way to Eglinton Avenue.? It actually still is, but the construction seems to be intended to widen the trail, and its made a real ‘moonscape’ of the area.

The trail’s access to/from Eglinton is still closed due to construction, so I guess there may still be work to be done to improve the look of this stretch of the trail (photos were?taken March 24th).? ?Still, I feel a sense of loss, because I know running or riding this trail won’t be like the way it used to be.? I have a lot of good memories from the trail the way it was – many of which have been captured in this space.? ?I can only be hopeful that the end result will continue to make this an enjoyable space; the best case scenario is that the changes make it more accessible to more people, and help people be active and even aid in ecologically friendly transportation.

 

Has ‘progress’ destroyed/altered one of your favourite?green spaces?

5 Peaks Heart Lake Trail Race Recap

After missing the Albion Hills event in July, and no events in August, everyone was glad to see the return of 5 Peaks to the Heart Lake Conservation Area in September.? And what a September!? The summer heat came in late, and everyone needed to prepare.

The kids 3k timed race starts first.? As a ‘Trail Crew Leader’ and slowpoke, it made sense for me to bring up the rear in case of stragglers.? ?I spoke with another volunteer who helped sweep and learned that not only was the race centred around a different site within the park but naturally the course had been altered from previous years.? That meant my favourite hill, which I always climbed like Spider-Man wouldn’t be there.? Oh well, the heat would make it plenty challenging.

Dig the hat.

Photo courtesy of Sue Sitki Photography

The Kids course was an out and back, and I encountered Shark Boy a little later than I expected.? He had the company of one of our Trail Crew Leaders, and I found out later that there were tears at the finish line due to an encroaching headache.? It seems his late nights in competitive?gymnastics catch up with him.? A little more water and he was good to help his brother in the 1k fun run.

The Lightning Kid has been getting faster and faster on his feet but he also likes to use those feet to dance with Buffy.

As I had mentioned, Shark Boy got his second wind and wanted to keep his brother company.? The Lightning Kid didn’t mind a big brother chaperone but dismissed his mother from the job.? Apparently, he took a little spill but the community spirit at 5 Peaks is always huge, and he ended up picking up an adult guardian anyway.

 

For my part, the new Sport Course provided lots of shade, so I didn’t feel the heat too badly, and there were some nice views of Heart Lake along the way.? I’m pretty proud of the cruising pace I maintained, though I forgot to stop my Endomondo app for tracking.? My paces varied between 6:20/km to 7:16/km.

 

Courtesy of Sue Sitki Photography

 

The final race of the season is at the Kortright Conservation Area on October 28th.? If you live in the area, consider signing yourself, your friends and your little ones up! Use the code ‘IRONROGUE’ when registering.

Welllness Renewal – Part 1

This post is sponsored by Swanson Vitamins. ?I received free products for my consumption in exchange for a review.

I’m not the first person to propose the idea of New Years’ Resolution goal setting and renewal in September, but I’m surprised that it isn’t a more widely accepted theme. ?After all, if you’re a parent or a student yourself, back-to-school season is a much bigger transition than one winter month into another (with all due respect to Christmas).

I’m more focused on fitness within this blog than most other facets of wellness like mental well-being or nutrition. ?And while I have some new ideas about fitness activities I’ll be trying, I will save that for a future post.

I am not ‘Mr. Supplement’ and I never will be, but between trying to stay healthy, recover from workouts, raise two boys in a less than hermetically sealed environment, there are a few things I consider adding to my imperfect diet.

As a family, we’re on board with the idea that the microbiome in your gut aids not only digestion but your immune system. ?The kids get a little pro-biotic powder in orange juice or applesauce (to combine it with Vitamin C), but I didn’t have my own till I started taking Rainbow Light Men’s One.? I had tried other Men’s Multivitamins but so many gave me heartburn. ?This one doesn’t and the 25,000,000 CFU of Bacillus coagulans?is a nice bonus.

My wife likes Magnesium supplementation to help combat insomnia and to aid with workout recovery, so if you have hard workouts (or like me lately, infrequent ones that feel hard). According to this article,?people are generally not getting enough magnesium in their diet and not getting the anti-inflammatory benefits. Whether it’s workouts or stress, inflammation is something you want to keep at bay, and there are bone strengthening and blood pressure lowering benefits to?taking magnesium that are of interest to those of us feeling the years add up. ? We picked up this one, which has magnesium in more than one form. ?I’ve been taking it in the mornings because that’s when I’m most likely to remember, but it’s easy to take and seems to go down easy any time of day.

 

I first became interested in Chromium as a mineral fat-burning aid; i.e. something that would help me burn fat without being some crazy hormonal drug or anything along that line. ?It’s early days with this one and I haven’t been taking it regularly or long enough to judge its effects, but the Swanson website says chromium helps with appetite and feeling full between meals.

On the other side of the coin of probiotics are digestive enzymes. ?I don’t really have that many complaints about my digestive system (and if I did, I think I’d hesitate to share gory details in this space), but I wanted to try and be completist about attempts at aiding the gut microbiome and have the best immune system I can. ?Like the Chromax above, I’ve been struggling to take this one consistently, as they are recommended with the ‘biggest meal’ which is not the breakfast meal in my case, and during the later meals, I tend to forget about vitamins and supplements.

 

The Swanson Vitamins website is excellent. ?The selection of any type of product you can think of is a bit boggling, honestly. ?Each product is laid out with its ingredients, uses, reviews and even a size chart comparing the tablets to a penny – Canadians might need to use their memories (or find a supplement that aids memory to remember pennies. ?Speaking of Canadians, some products you might be looking for might be subject to export restrictions and not available, so look for this sign on a product page before you commit it to your online shopping cart.

I’ll be continuing the Wellness Renewal series in the coming weeks.

Do you use September and back-to-school as a reset point for your health and fitness journey? ?Are multivitamins, minerals, pro-biotics or other supplements part of your routine?

5 Peaks Trail Race Recaps: Terra Cotta and Rattlesnake Point

Well, the summer is almost over, I guess I should break the radio silence. ?I had previously recapped the 2 Kids’ Triathlons we did this summer, now it’s time to tackle our favourite trail races.

The season started at the Terra Cotta Conservation Area. ?This April race tends to have cooler weather, but on this particular day, I think we’d had some of the nicer weather of the Spring season. ?It was also my first race as an official Trail Crew Leader, so while I was nervous about fulfilling duties, it was exciting to deepen my connections with the 5 Peaks community, especially those excellent people who help make these races so fun.

Shark Boy did very well for himself and got himself all the way to the podium for the 3 km Kids Timed event; I think the concepts of pacing yourself and racing strategy (which at his age is mostly not looking behind yourself too much) might be getting through to him.

The Lightning Kid participated in the 1 km fun run, which he might think is some kind of parade considering how much he likes to ham it up for the crowds.

I hadn’t gotten a lot of running training in during the winter months so I limited myself to the Sport Course (5.4 km). ?Not only did I have a lot of fun (with a back of the pack finish time) but I got the sweet convertible running gloves to take home.

The Rattlesnake Point race took place in June, and I have to say the highly technical clambering involved on that course makes it one of my favourites. ?Of course, I did commit to the difficulty of the Enduro Course – at 12.7 km it is well over double the distance of the Sport Course on the same day (and most other races) – so I had plenty of time to rethink my decision on the trail…

But first, let me talk about the kids’ races. ?I volunteered to ‘sweep’ the kids’ races to make sure no one was left behind… and I got to witness the sweetest little girl (who was no bigger than the Lightning Kid) and was tackling the timed Kids’ 3 km. ? She was accompanied by her mom so my presence was mostly superfluous, but you know, safety first! ?Anyway, she completed that course with nothing but smiles, and I heard her chirp “I love this because of the challenge!”, or something along those lines. ?My heart nearly burst.

My own kids were no slouches either, of course.

Credit: Sue Sitki of Sue Sitki Photography

We had hot weather and plenty of exhausting climbs, but the scenery is gorgeous along the Niagara Escapement – don’t mind the Turkey Vultures… they won’t feed on you unless you run really?slow. ?I slowed down enough to take in (and photograph) some beautiful wood sculptures.

 

If some of this (fun for kids, beautiful scenery, hustling your butt along a trail…) looks like fun, the next race is at the Heart Lake Conservation Area in Brampton, ON on September 16th. ?Please consider joining me by clicking on this link and using the code IRONROGUE for a 10% discount. ?There’s even a free water bottle as take home swag!

And if you can’t make that one, the Kortright Centre Race is on October 28th. ?Register here with the same IRONROGUE discount code.

 

Will I see you there?