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All Downhill From Here

I exhibit a lot of quintessentially millennial traits:

  • I remember life before the internet, cell phones and area codes
  • I don’t have cable but my phone’s never out of reach
  • I’ll add avocado to anything, can use a library card catalog and have very strong feelings about Topanga’s decision to enroll at Pennbrook University over Yale

But it’s not my love for the Scholastic Book Fair or my collection of photo albums that I think most identify me as Generation Y. It’s the fact that I really, really dislike doing things I’m bad at.

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(I also dislike having to choose between petting my dog-bear and holding my wine.)

I know, I know, it’s important to try new things and push your limits. But I’ve never much liked flailing or failing, and apparently I’m not alone among my cohort: studies show the generation raised on praise really doesn’t like to crash and burn.

So to avoid the anxiety of trying new things we might be bad at, we tend to do the same safe things over and over, from taking the same gym classes to cooking the same meals. Of course, many of my peers are better at risk-taking than me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who gave up yoga for four years after a first terrifying class where I felt like a failure because I couldn’t pull off a shoulder stand.

(Other things I’ve only done once due to a single defeat: making homemade mayonnaise, taking a Physique 57 class, biking to work.)

So it’s no wonder that after busting my chin open on a high school ski trip, I waited FIFTEEN more years before approaching the bunny slopes again. And you know what? I’ve been seriously missing out.

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Ski bums.

I’m certainly no Lindsey Vonn — heck I’m no Elizabeth Swaney either! — but I spent five hours at Hunter Mountain this weekend and didn’t fall even ONCE. I was so scared to strap on skis again after failing in 2003 that I hadn’t realized all these years of running had improved my leg strength and coordination and balance, making me a better alpine athlete. I mostly stayed in the training area, but those few runs I did down an actual hillside were downright exhilarating. To think I might never have felt that had my fear of failure kept me sidelined.

Now I don’t expect skiing will work its way into my workout regime with any frequency — it’s expensive and time consuming and not that great of an aerobic workout since gravity does most of the work — but it’s still a great cross-training exercise for runners stuck in a rut.

“Runners as a group tend to be much too one-dimensional,” says John Lumley, a skier, runner and owner of the Running Hub in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Any time a runner can work on strength, flexibility, balance, and/or use different muscle groups, it’s a good thing.”

And any time she can leave her comfort zone, that’s a good thing, too.

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Facing my fears from the safety of a helmet.

How are you pushing yourself today?

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Hair of the Dog

Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest beer-drinking nights of the year, and whether you threw back too many because your team won or because your team lost or because watching Steven Tyler reverse-age Benjamin Button-style while racing a Kia Stinger made you painfully aware of your own fleeting mortality, you may be feeling the effects today.

Now I personally didn’t drink too much last night — I was sipping on an appropriate-sized glass of heart-healthy red wine a la Gisele — but there’ve been plenty of previous mornings when I didn’t escape an alcohol-fueled night unscathed.

Unless you’re a teetotaler or some kind of B-vitamin-filled superhero, you know the feeling: headache, chills, rumbly tummy and an uncontrollable urge to order a bacon-egg-and-cheese delivery straight to your bedroom. That’s right, folks: Today we’re talking about hangovers.

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My hangover spirit animal.

It’s pretty well understood what causes a hangover (dehydration, not eating the night before, loss of electrolytes, a poor night’s sleep), but there seems to be little consensus on what cures them.

Sure, most doctors (which — let the record show — I am not) agree chugging a lot of water and keeping down some food is a good start. But supplemental remedies are a dime a dozen: prairie oysters, pickle brine or maybe a little hair of the dog. And who knows which actually work?

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I got your hair of the dog right here, pal.

Now I’m no doctor (yes, I know we already established that but my lawyers were adamant I repeat it), but the thing I find helps more than any of those is something a bit more controversial: a workout. I realize working up a sweat may sound like the worst possible cure when all you want to do is lie in bed and rewatch The Truman Show, but I swear to you: 8 out of 10 times, I feel modestly better after a night of boozing if I make it to the gym the next morning (fine, or afternoon.)

The crunchy granola websites will say that’s because working out makes you “sweat out toxins,” which sounds kiiind of unscientific to me, like drinking bulletproof coffee or eating celery. But exercising does have some proven benefits that could potentially relieve the pain of the morning after. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Exercise makes you thirsty. Your hungover body needs to hydrate, and 30 minutes on the elliptical certainly makes me want to drink. Be careful not to get more dehydrated while you move, but if you’re throwing back a giant water bottle or two during your routine, I bet you’ll get more water in your system than you would have laying on the couch watching Paul Hollywood shatter bakers’ dreams.

Exercise distracts you from your other ailments. If you’re sitting in bed moaning about your symptoms, your headache will be looming large on your mind. But go to a barre class semi-hungover instead, like I did last Sunday, and you’ll soon forget about your aching temples when your glutes start quivering instead. Don’t try something dangerous like rock climbing when you’re feeling rocky, but 100 squats and lunges sure kept my mind off my other problems.

Exercise releases endorphins. Hangover systems aren’t all physical, and some mornings I wake up with what my husband calls the metaphysical hangover. As British writer Kingsley Amis so poignantly put it:

“When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. … You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.”

And while he’s surely right, it never hurts to release some extra good-mood hormones to help drive that fact home. Work up a sweat and you’ll help relieve even the most self-deprecating of symptoms. It’s science.

Of course, some hangovers are crueler than others, so you be the judge of just how far you can push it when fighting the brown-bottle flu. Hang in there folks and remember: you have a full month+ of recovery before St. Patrick’s Day.

How do YOU survive a hangover?