Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I ran with headphones in listening to music this week. For the first time, ever. 26 years of running, I have never run while listening to music save the occasional band or stereo system playing at a race or radio station blasting at the gym. It was bizarre. I never realized how much the sound of my breathing determines my level of perceived effort. As soon as I put in those headphones and cranked that music I felt completely cut off from myself. It was as if I no longer had any way of knowing how tired I was. I was doing a tempo run at what passes for a reasonably hard pace these days. Occasionally there would be a pause between songs and I would hear the familiar god-awful, gaspy wheeze that is the very un-sexy sound of me working hard and then, and only then, I would suddenly feel exhausted and realize what an effort I was putting in. Then the next song would come on and my breathing would become inaudible and the perception of fatigue would be gone. So weird. I can see this being a really effective training and even racing tool. If, in the absence of my own bio-feedback I don't feel fatigue, perhaps I can push harder (or just wind up falling off the back of the treadmill). I have to say though that the next day I went for a run outside without headphones and I could never give up the musicality of the squeak of freshly fallen snow underfoot.

The other bio-feedback I have been interested in as of late is temperature. I alluded to the fact that I am trying for baby #2 in a previous post. Towards that goal I am making adjustments in my training based on the small amount of research I have done. Essentially for the first half of my cycle I do whatever I want, from ovulation onwards I train in such a way as to prevent over-heating. This, as far as I can tell from my reading, is the only compromise that needs to be made in training while trying to conceive assuming that one's menstrual cycle is regular and the woman is ovulating. According to the bible i.e. Clapp's Exercising Through Pregnancy, the motility of s*p*e*r*m is reduced above 38.8 deg C, in addition, heat can be problematic for the embryo/fetus in very early pregnancy hence the need to stay cool. I am surprised by how easily my body seems to heat up, here are some stats:

-running on treadmill at a very easy pace - 38.6 deg C
-running on treadmill at tempo pace in front of wide open window - 38.8 deg C
-hard, hilly run at fast pace outside in -18 deg C weather - 39 deg C (WTF??)

So essentially I am training hard for two weeks and then running easy for two weeks. Occasionally I try to do a tempo run during the latter two weeks of my cycle by running outside and really under-dressing for the weather or else by running in the gym with ice packs in my bra and shorts. Neither option is super comfortable... then again neither is trying to take my temperature while running on a treadmill.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Theory of Mind

La Cocotte made her first contribution to science today. She participated in a study at a local university the goal of which is to evaluate whether babies and toddlers can perceive that other people may have desires and motivations that are different than their own and what is done with this information. There were a series of fun activities in which she participated. My favorite was the snack activity. She was offered two bowls - one containing cauliflower and one containing goldfish (i.e. the cheese flavoured crackers, not the best selling piscine pet from the local pet store). She was allowed to pick which snack she wanted and eat as much as she wanted. I was surprised that she went for the goldfish as she is a huge fan of cauliflower but she has never had or seen goldfish before so maybe the novelty won out. Anyway the researcher then took the bowls back and proceeded to taste a piece from each bowl. The researcher tried the goldfish and made a very sour face and exclaimed that it was bad and yucky! She then tried the cauliflower and smiled and pronounced it very tasty indeed. La cocotte was then given the bowls back and asked to offer the researcher a snack (the bowls were placed equi-distant from her). The idea is - does she realize the researcher's preference for cauliflower and therefore offer the researcher the snack of her choice or does she (la cocotte) offer a snack based on her own preference. The exercise was repeated several times to control for hand preference i.e. make sure she wasn't just offering the snack closest to her right hand. It was also repeated with green beans and cheerios. In all cases* la cocotte offered the researcher the snack for which the researcher had shown the preference despite it clashing with la cocotte's preference (no one will be shocked that she preferred cheerios over green beans I suppose).

*Ok, in one case she offered no snacks and just kept eating the cheerios herself.

So... on one hand we could say I have a very empathetic baby who grasps theory of mind i.e. she understands that different people have different desires and she tries to fulfill those desires. On the other hand, maybe she was just thinking "Sucker... you get the green beans, that leaves more cheerios for me!".

But then the exercise was repeated with the researcher having a preference for the same snack as la cocotte and sure enough... la cocotte ponied up the cheerios and goldfish so there you have it, empathy and sharing in the toddler set! Which wasn't a huge surprise, la cocotte has been sharing tons of things with me since about the time she hit one year of age. Sometimes it is a coveted blueberry, even when the supply is scarce, she'll still reach out and pop one into my mouth. Other times it is something slightly less desirable, usually something pre-chewed, but it still counts as sharing in my book.

It's a fascinating sometimes frustrating stage in her development. Her verbal comprehension has clearly exploded in the past few months. We can ask her to do small tasks and she obliges (if she's in the mood, which is fair enough) but she still does not have much language yet. So we know there's a ton going on behind those big, blue eyes but we're still missing the rosetta stone to allow us to interpret. We get by with the pointing and grunting, but oh what I'd give to know what is going on in that pumpkin head of hers. I sometimes feel so ill equipped to understand and interpret her needs, desires and motivations. Other moms seem to KNOW every grunt, half-formed word, cry, squeal their child makes and attribute a specific meaning to it. Do they really know or is it mostly projection?

Her pre-verbal days will soon come to an end and with them so will end some of the wonderful, frustrating mystery. While I look forward in great anticipation to being able to have a conversation with her, I know I will also feel nostalgia for these mysterious times.