Sunday, August 9, 2015

Boot Chronicles: How I Really Feel

I've been wearing my fracture boot for nearly 14 days (minus the 1.5 days I didn't have it during the Great Flood of '15), and I'm having a hard time with it. Not just the boot itself--its clunkiness, stuffiness, heaviness--but I'm reminded of how much longer I have to wear it and, more than that, I'm afraid the fracture isn't my only problem. I feel pain where I don't think I should, based on the location of my fracture (first metatarsal). More and more, I'm concerned that I also have a neuroma. I feel pain very specifically on the ball of my foot, around the third metatarsal head. My doctor said this could be "referred" pain from the fracture, but I'm not so sure.

It's hard to know the timing of everything; I avoided getting a new MRI for weeks and weeks after initially feeling the foot pain in April, so I don't know how old (or new) the fracture was at the time of diagnosis. My hope is that, at my follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks, assuming I'm still feeling the ball-of-foot pain, my doctor will give me a cortisone shot with the intention of curing the neuroma--if he agrees there's one present. Then I should be able to determine whether the pain in that specific area had been caused by the fracture or a neuroma. That's my own medical opinion, though. And I'm only an obsessive hypochondriac, not nearly a qualified medical professional.

One perq of wearing the boot: my niece loves to push the "nose."

Making a new foot-impaired friend.

I'm becoming concerned that I'll never have full use of my feet again, that I'll never be able to run again. This is how my mind works; I jump to extremes, I catastrophize. But I also feel I have to consider all possibilities. All of this worry--we'll call it anxiety--keeps me from doing things. It's killing my spirit, my motivation to keep on going and doing what I know I can still do: swim, bike, strength train (on the floor). It's wearing on me, after several months, and at least a couple more to come. 

I realize this is quite a downer post, but this is how I feel, under the rose-colored glasses.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Lucky One

I was going to make this post an update on my foot, and then the weather happened, and suddenly my foot seemed completely insignificant. So I'll make the foot prognosis brief.

I met with my orthopedist last week to review my MRI results and plan for recovery. I already knew I had a stress fracture, so I'd prepared a long and detailed list of questions to ask the doctor. The main takeaways are these:

  • I would need to wear my fracture boot again, for two to three months (!)
  • I could not run or walk or use the elliptical or do anything weight bearing, including standing exercises, such as air squats
  • I could, however, continue to swim and even bike, as long as I didn't feel pain or stand on the pedals (as in a spin class or to climb hills--no problem, I live in Florida)
  • Icing would not help, nor would NSAIDs (like ibuprofen), and in fact my doctor said NSAIDs could actually do harm, so I should avoid taking them
  • No type of therapy would help; I just needed to rest the foot and stabilize it
Fashionable, no?

I left my appointment feeling pretty good; I was still able to do two endurance sports, and I had a plan for recovery. But later in the day, perhaps after spending a few hours in the boot, the reality of two to three months set in, and I got depressed about my situation. But I had already been thinking about getting a road bike to enhance my cycling experience, and now that I had the go-ahead and would need the extra motivation to continue "training," I decided to look forward to my new purchase.

I'd pretty much had my bike picked out, so I went to Outspokin Bicycles in Tampa to try it out on Friday and loved it!

My new friend!

I got my first ride in on Saturday, and finally got 30 miles in, which I'd been aiming to do for weeks but just didn't have the stamina on my other bike. I need to get used to this particular bike; my hands hurt a bit in new places, but they didn't fall asleep like they'd been doing on my other bike, thankfully. And I don't know if my seat was a little crooked or my butt was, but I realized after my ride that I'd really hurt a deep gluteus or pelvic muscle, but only on one side. I had a hard time bending over and sitting down afterward, but the soreness has since diminished (whew!).

My ambitious break-in ride.

That was the morning. Then the rains came, and they didn't stop for hours. I had plans to meet my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces for my brother-in-law's birthday, on my side of town. I live in South Tampa in a flood-prone area. I've known this, and I've seen the streets get flooded before. But in over 13 years of living in Tampa, throughout the worst of hurricane seasons, I don't recall the streets flooding as badly as they did later that day. I waited until the rain had let up some before I went out in it, thinking the waters would recede fairly quickly like they usually do. But after I started driving, the rain came down again, harder than before, and suddenly I found myself trapped. It didn't matter which street I turned down; one was as flooded as the next. So I pulled into an alleyway I thought was safe and told my family not to come to my part of town. I was stuck where I was and knew I had to just wait it out.

But the rain was persistent. I couldn't stand the sound of it anymore, and yet I couldn't avoid it. All I could do was sit in my car and wait. And I waited for over an hour. When I saw that the water on the pavement beneath me was rising higher, I grew concerned that I wasn't on high enough ground to keep the water out of my car. So I decided to try to drive home, which was only a few blocks away. I'd seen other cars passing by, though most of them were trucks and SUVs. I felt like I had to make an attempt to get out of the location I was in. So I went for it. Only, I had no idea which direction to go. There was no telling which road was flooded more than another. I made my best guess and tried to plow through, and that's when I realized I was in too deep, and I turned off the road as soon as I could, into another alleyway. But it was too late. I could feel my car starting to stall. I got it to as high a place as I could, hoping that I hadn't done too much damage.

My second "resting" place, with the front end elevated.

I was scared and alone and upset with myself for moving from what might have been a better spot to stay parked in--though I'll never know. At this point I had no choice but to get out and walk home, a couple blocks away.

I started out with shoes on, thinking I didn't want to cut my feet on something I couldn't see on the ground, but I left my boot in the car to keep it dry, and obviously because it would've been a hindrance to drag through the water. When I started my trudge home, the water was only up to my knees. But as I got farther down one street, I kept rolling my shorts up higher and higher until they were as high as they'd go, and the water eventually came up to my hips. All of that effort to keep my clothing dry proved pointless when I stumbled over a curb I couldn't see and tripped and fell all the way in the water, also losing one of my shoes. By then I felt so degraded that I didn't care about trying to find my shoe in the brown, exhaust-filled water, and I took my other shoe off and left it behind.

I still had a sense of humor when I took this photo.

This is right about where I fell in.

More scenery.

I finally made it home and was relieved that at least my condo unit was completely dry. However, right outside the main entrance was another story.

My neighbors, out to watch the show.

I knew there was nothing I could do about my car until the flooding receded, so I decided to drink wine and watch the most recent season of Homeland.

I never drink at home alone, and for good reason.

After a couple glasses of wine (which is one too many for me), I was feeling the urge to go find my car. So I asked a friend if she could drive me to where I thought I'd left it, but as I was outside waiting for her, I ran into a neighbor who had parked his truck on high land and was about to drive it home, a few blocks away. I asked if he could take me to the cross-street I remembered leaving my car at and told my friend not to worry about coming for me. The neighbor dropped me off as close as he could get without entering a still-flooded area, and I hopped out into the murky waters once again to trudge through to my car. Only, it wasn't quite where I thought I'd left it. I must have walked around for the same four-block radius for 30 minutes before I finally found the nearly hidden alleyway I'd turned down and left my car. I felt pretty confident that it would start, and that's all I wanted to know. So I walked through some mud to get in my car, stuck the key in the ignition, turned it, and heard the most devastating car noise--the dry-heaving of an engine that won't turn over.

I called AAA to see if anyone could help me, and they said they'd try to get a technician to me as soon as they could. So I waited on the curb in the dark by myself for about 45 minutes. When the technician came, he tried to crank the engine and then looked under the hood and said he couldn't help me. It wasn't the battery or spark plugs. He called AAA to try to get me a tow truck as soon as possible, which still meant it could be a couple more hours. He asked if I could go home and wait, and I told him my foot was fractured and I should be walking back and forth, especially without my boot, and so I said I'd just sit on the curb and wait. Then he asked me how my battery was on my phone, and I told him--now through sobs--that it was low. He told me to sit tight and be safe and left. I sat and cried, feeling pathetic. Then it started to rain, again. And, as it was already close to 11 p.m., and I had nowhere to go nearby for cover, I decided I couldn't really take anymore and went home and canceled the tow truck.

The next morning, I woke up and called AAA to re-request a tow truck and was told the expected arrival time would be 12:45 a.m. the next morning, Monday. But I didn't have much choice, so I accepted it, not having any idea what I'd do once the tow truck actually arrived. I spent a lot more time crying, calling my family, texting with friends, unable to think clearly about how to fix my situation. My sister suggested that I get a rental car that day, Sunday. I rejected the idea at first but then realized I sort of had to. Not knowing the exact status of my car--how doomed it was or wasn't--I was unable to utilize my auto insurance's rental coverage, so I decided to just pay out of pocket.

A great friend offered to take me to get the car (one of a few great friends who really showed up for me during this event), and as I was waiting for her to pick me up I missed the call from the tow truck driver while I was on the phone with my dad. I had no idea I was going to get the call that early, about 12 hours earlier than quoted--and by the time I called him back he'd already moved on to the next ticket. So I had to reschedule. And when I did, I made it clear that I was not home and would not be home for another half hour while I was picking up my rental car. So of course, just as I'm driving home from the rental car place, I get the second call from a tow truck driver. I explained that I wasn't yet home and didn't expect to hear from them so soon and was trying to get home ASAP. This one took pity on me and said he'd wait.

When I got back to the location I'd left my car, the tow truck driver walked with me to the car, spent about five minutes assessing it, and told me my car was totaled, that I'd flooded the engine. He pulled out the dip stick and showed me the water that was on it where oil should have been.

So, yeah. Some water and other nature got in there.
The "water" mark on my car.

Soaked book that was sitting on the floor behind the driver seat.
Knowing that my car was ruined, even though I still needed the insurance adjuster make an assessment, I pouted for a while and tried to figure out what to do. Not having a plan is incredibly frustrating for me. But since I had this rental car now, and I knew I'd probably be in the market for a new car soon, I decided to go out and look around for what my next car might be. Even if the insurance adjuster doesn't total my car, it won't be worth putting a new engine in. I've had her for a good nine years, and it was getting close to the end of our time together anyway.

I looked at some decent options but didn't decide on anything for certain. However, just getting out and doing something about my situation made me feel better. I went to bed last night feeling better.

Then this morning happened. I awoke to a text from my sister telling about storms in the area and cautioning me to stay home if at all possible. Well, home to me meant flooded roads all around me, so I thought instead I would try to beat the flooding and go into work with the intention of going to my sister's house afterward. But as I was heading to work, the roads didn't look good, so I made a last-minute turn to go to my sister's, who lives in a higher area. I was so, so close to the interstate--where I would have been home free--when I saw deep flooding up ahead. I was in a rental and too afraid to risk flooding out yet another engine, so I pull off the road into the nearest parking lot, which I later discovered was a funeral home. A few other cars had done the same thing. I sat and watched as the rain continued coming down relentlessly. I once again felt helpless and stranded. But I knew I was on high enough ground that the car wouldn't get flooded.

I eventually fell asleep for a while, and when I woke up, nearly four hours had passed. Even though the rain hadn't stopped, it had lightened up for some of the time, and the street didn't look as flooded as it had before. I got out to get a closer look at the cars driving toward the interstate, and they were all making it, some of which were smaller and lower than mine. So I decided to go. There was one deep section of the road in particular, and as I drove through it my heart raced and I could feel the blood rush through me. But I made it. Once I was on the interstate, I was so ridiculously happy that I probably cried again, but out of joy.

I got to my sister's house and saw my nieces' smiling, excited faces and felt so very lucky to be in a safe place with loved ones. Even though I spent a large portion of the day trying to work out logistics about the old car, potential new car, insurance, etc., I got some much-needed bonus time with the people who make me the happiest these days, and it seemed as though everything was not only fine, but actually good.

My loves.

I know that others who've been affected by the floods have endured much worse damage--to their homes and properties and possessions--and I know there are raging wild fires in the western U.S., not to mention human travesties continually occurring across the globe. I had a rough time and lost my car and developed some new anxieties about the rain, but throughout everything I never had to look far for supportive family and helpful friends. Despite writing this really long post, I don't feel I can adequately explain how grateful I am to have these people in my life. So in the end, I guess I'm the lucky one, and I thank everyone who has shown me that over the past few days.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Diagnosis: Stress Fracture

This time around, I've felt this wretched, annoying, on-and-off foot pain since my last race in April, and all along I thought the pain was caused by bursitis, which was the last diagnosis I had--over a year ago. Even though the pain I've felt this time is different--on the ball of my foot versus the top--it's in same region, around the third metatarsal head. So I saw a few doctors (orthopedist, podiatrist, physical therapist). They all went along with the bursitis diagnosis and gave me recommendations accordingly. No running, no impact, biking OK, elliptical OK, etc. But after my last attempt at coming back to running, which was woefully short-lived, I decided to see a fourth doctor, an orthopedic doc touted as "the best" in Tampa, Kevin Elder. He was quick and to the point and recommended a new MRI. He said I could have had bursitis last year but a new stress incident this year. Or I could have a neuroma. But he wanted to rule out a stress fracture first.

Well, it turns out we couldn't rule that out, because the MRI showed I did in fact have a stress fracture. I was--and still am--surprised. This was the obvious diagnosis all along, the fairly common occurrence in runners, but I'd come to believe that all of my ailments aren't ordinary, are mysterious and unfixable. In fact, I'd often said I wished I had a stress fracture, because (1) it's a freaking diagnosis, and (2) they heal. I guess my wish came true.

I only received the results over the phone, from the nurse, so I still have to meet with the doc on Monday to go over the MRI and my recovery process going forward. I may need to wear the clunky boot again. But I really, really hope I'll still be able to bike and swim, though I can see how he might not want me pedaling. But something. I need to keep something. I can give up the elliptical (easily), some of the weight training I've been doing, but please leave me with something. For my sanity. Perhaps I should have a better perspective on this, like, This is a time for me to look inward and heal. What can I do for myself that's not exercise-related? How can I find peace through stillness? Well, I can't. Or at least I don't want to. That's my brutal honesty. Quiet stillness is maddening to me these days. But that's a post for another day.

Update on dos and don'ts to come!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

New Loves and Beginning Again

In my two months off from running, I'd gotten into a decent pattern of "other" training. Not that I was training for anything in particular--more training to stay in shape for my return to running. In a good week, I would dedicate two days to biking, two days to swimming, and two days to cardio and strength training at the gym. Although frustrating at first, I honestly have come to enjoy all of it--especially the diversity of new activities.

Initially I told myself I wanted to avoid running for six weeks, which I thought would feel like forever. And while it did feel that way for the first three weeks, I found that I got so absorbed in the other activities I was doing that I practically forgot about running. Then six weeks passed. Then seven, then eight. I was afraid to run again. My foot felt good, but I feared that if I went out to try to run, I'd set myself back and have to take more time off.

During my time off, I saw a podiatrist. After my first appointment, he had me wear a support pad that stuck to the bottom of my foot, cut out in a "U" shape and surrounding the metatarsal joint where I was experiencing pain. Its purpose was to offload the pressure on that joint. But it's not been without its nuisances. For one, I have to remember to put it on--and take it off. I can't wear it in the water. When I do take it off, I have a sticky residue on my foot that I have to clean off, or pick up all of the fallen hairs and dust mites from my floor (which is one way to clean the floors). After a follow-up appointment, when I'd been doing considerably well, the doctor cut out part of my running shoe insole and inserted one of these U-pads in it, a sort of rigged custom orthotic. So then, all I had to do was run.

A little less than two weeks ago I tried my first run. I aimed to do three miles, what seemed like an appropriate coming-back distance. But, as Florida summers would have it, my run was cut short by an intense and immediate downpour. So I only got about half my distance in. And oddly, the pain I felt was not in my bad (left) foot; it was in my right ankle. Something new. Great.


The next attempt was at the gym, on the dreaded treadmill. And I was successful in getting a 5k distance in. What's more, my foot didn't seem to hurt. So the next week, on this past Monday, I tried running outside again, with my friend Nicole, who is signed up for the same November marathon as I am. We got four miles in, and I was feeling pretty good. So I thought I would try for a longer run on the weekend. So I planned to go to a group run at the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. But I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get up in time for it; I've had a really hard time waking up in the morning any earlier than I absolutely have to. So I committed to it on Facebook and on Meetup. This would surely help me be accountable. But sure enough, I slept through my three alarms and woke up at the time I was supposed to be at the run, 6:30. But I stayed up--a huge victory for me--and ran by myself near home. And I did the eight miles I'd planned to do. I felt a bit of pain in my foot from the start, but I wanted to see if it would wane after I'd gotten some distance in. And by the time I was four miles in, I wasn't feeling much pain, so all I had to do was make it back. But toward the end of the run, my foot was hurting fairly significantly, but I ran through it and finished at a decent pace.

This would have been perfect if I'd felt no pain.

I really loved the feeling of running again. But I can't continue to do it if I feel the pain I felt toward the end of that run. I'm not sure the rigged orthotic is providing enough support. I may need to do some further rigging and try again, perhaps with less mileage.

In all of my off-time,  however, I've learned that I can still be fulfilled, athletically, without running. That has been a good lesson for me. And what's more, I've come to really love swimming, and I've realized I'm not so bad at it, once I got the breathing down. Perhaps what I love is the freedom I feel surrounded and supported by the water, which allows me to flow gracefully (sort of), removed from the outside world, fish-like. Although I'm still far from having "good" form, I've swum as far as 2,750 yards in the pool without feeling burned out. I used to only be able to last 15 minutes, and now I'm nearly up to an hour. And I feel stronger every time I go in the water. It's nice to feel the confidence of getting better at something; in a way I felt I'd lost that with running (although that's not true; I just stopped trying new ways of training).

The bike, though, is a different story. I'm getting better at that, too, but I still feel rather clumsy on it. I've fallen several times now while clipped in, and I foresee numerous more opportunities to fall in my future.

First fall.

Second fall--no skin lost :)

Third and fourth falls. That's one giant bruise across my lower leg.

I think I will ride out this hybrid bike for a while and, assuming I still want to keep riding, eventually trade it in for a road bike again. I'm still giving myself a chance to truly enjoy the sport. It's challenging--that's for sure. Right now I embrace the challenge.

For the coming weeks, I hope to continue biking and swimming and strength training while still working in some more trial runs. And I hope they are largely without pain. The fact that I'm still hopeful, still motivated, can carry me a long way.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Swim, Bike, ... Gym

So this no-running thing has its advantages. I went from almost solely running to branching out into other activities I previously ignored because (1) they seemed burdensome (equipment, etc.) and (2) I would have to learn how to do them more efficiently. It was easier to stick to my solo sport--until I had to deal with an injury.

After a recent appointment with my favorite orthopedist (only a very injury-prone person gets to claim a "favorite"), Larry Collins, I was convinced I needed to get clip-in pedals and cycling shoes for my bike, and ride "clipless." I don't understand this terminology; it contradicts itself. But whatever. The point is, I need to keep my foot flat, rather than bending it and putting pressure on the ball of my foot, and cycling shoes don't really bend. So despite the expense, I decided it would be a good investment for longterm cross-training. One thing that has always put me off about cycling is the cost of everything--bike aside (which can be exorbitant), there's the padded shorts, which I resisted until I understood the need for them; the gloves; the helmet; the lights; the pocket shirts; the bike computer--odometer or GPS, depending on how fancy (and pricey) you want to get; and now, the shoes, pedals, and cleats. I remember when I used to hesitate over the cost of a pair of running shoes. Such simpler days!

My "shoes of the future," as my sister lovingly commented.

But I'm embracing this new adventure. Yesterday I went for my first clipless ride. And I get it now. Many people told me how much better of a ride I'd have clipped in, and, fear of falling aside, I did feel stronger in my riding. I was able to use more of my legs (and less of my feet). I almost regret selling my road bike for the hybrid. I didn't think I'd be doing all of this; I didn't think my foot issue would return. I still love my new bike, and I can use it for in-town riding more easily than the road bike, but I know I'll never get as much speed or mileage out of it as I would have the road bike. Lesson learned.

Post-ride success--no falling!

Something else I've taken an unexpected liking to is swimming. Actually, I've always loved being in the water, but I never quite learned how to lap-swim, without just flopping my head from side to side on each stroke. So I talked to some triathlete friends and watched a YouTube video to make sure I understood proper technique, and after a couple times in the pool, I felt a lot more comfortable swimming laps. I'm sure there's tons of room for improvement, but at least I'm not swallowing gobs of water on my breath strokes--for the most part. And my endurance has improved a lot after just a few times in the pool. But my main issue the last couple times in the water has been my ears. I have very sensitive ears to begin with--I have some hearing loss, some recent tinnitus, and I get a "clogged" feeling when I do a lot of exercises changing levels (like moving back and forth between standing and floor exercises). Water also bothers my ears. And the earplugs I was using--the waxy, moldable kind--weren't molding very well and so they weren't sealing off my ears, which allowed water to trickle in every time I would turn my head to breathe. Every time. I think it's because I bought them years ago when I thought I was going to get into swimming (I've had a lot of starts and stops), and they lost their malleability. So that's what has kept me from staying in the pool longer. But now I'm armed with new ear plugs and ready to get back in the pool and keep trying to be better, stronger, faster. Or at least last longer than 20 minutes. Baby steps.

And while I'm still not running, I learned from Larry that can use the elliptical at the gym (yay), as long as I keep my feet flat and don't push into the balls of them. It's not running--by far--but it's about the closest thing I can do right now. So on my non-bike, non-swim days, I'll go to the gym, do 20-30 minutes of permissible cardio, and then strength-train for about 30 minutes. I tend to do more body-weight exercises than weighted, though I try to mix it up now and then. I'm trying lots of different exercises that I see online and pin to my Fitness board on Pinterest. And I usually have to write out my workout on a sticky note beforehand and put it in front of my face while I'm working out. But hey, whatever gets it done.

So I'm not running, but in a way I'm doing more than I ever did before, when I was just straight running five days a week. Not to say that I don't miss running terribly, but I feel pretty confident that I'll be able to get back to it in a couple of weeks. And I plan to keep these other activities in my rotation. And who knows? Now that I have the makings of a triathlon under my belt--or at least in progress, I may not have an excuse not to do one in the near future.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Victory and a Challenge

Iron Girl Recap

A few weeks ago, I ran the Iron Girl half marathon in Clearwater. This was the last "big" race I'd planned for the spring, so I wanted to do well, but I also hadn't been training to PR (I guess I never really do). And since my sister had planned to bring her family out to spectate, we decided we'd attempt to have my four-year-old niece, Evie, run across the finish line with me. (We tried this once before, but I was too close to a marathon PR to slow down, so I left her trailing behind me.) Because this was a smaller race and a women's-only race, I wasn't too worried about being a disruption to the race.

So my focus during the race was on Evie--and it's a good thing I had a focus other than time, because, as it turned out, my watch wasn't charged, and it wasn't going to last my whole race. But in my experience, this lack of knowing, of constantly monitoring my pace, has served me well during races. (In fact, during last year's Iron Girl, I forgot my watch entirely and still did well.) The watch served me well in the initial miles, kept me from going out too fast, and before it died, I felt I had established a good, level pace, so all I had to do was maintain it for about the second half. Without the burden of having to monitor my pace, I instead focused on just going for it, getting to Evie at the end. I had to get to Evie, I kept thinking. I played out how it would go in my head. It would happen fast; I'd have to be very alert and prepared to slow down--not a natural instinct at the very end of a race.

But it all worked out beautifully. I saw them on the sidelines, my sister lifted Evie over the railing, and I held my hand out to her. She moved her little legs as fast as they would go, and together we crossed the finish line, as the announcer praised "mom" for a good finish. I think Evie was startled by it all; she'd never experience anything quite like this. She's seen me race before, but it's a different experience being thrown into it at the most climactic point, with a bunch of strangers yelling at you, as encouraging as their words may be. I was very proud of her, and this was one of the most special races I've run because she finished it with me.

Look at her determined little face!

My little champ.

Abstract art by Evie and Eleanora.

So, while I was as pleased as I thought I could be with how this race turned out, it turned out that I had actually run a PR! I didn't know my time when I crossed the finish line, because my watch had died and I was so focused on finding Evie. I knew I was close, but I didn't find out my actual score until the next day. I shaved more than a minute off of my previous PR. Perhaps it was the fact that I didn't have my watch; perhaps it was my drive to get to Evie. Probably it was both. This otherwise wasn't an easy race--it contained four bridge runs, big ones. So now I'll have to take Evie with me to all my races and keep her at the end as my secret weapon.

The Aftermath

So, after having struggled with bursitis in my left foot for over a year, and then having a successful fall and winter/spring season, I thought I was in the clear. But about a week after I raced Iron Girl, I was on a regular five-mile run one weeknight and felt the pain again. I took a few days off, ran some easy runs the next week, and realized it was only getting worse. I knew I had to stop running--for how long, I wasn't sure. But I also knew I needed to keep up a good level of fitness; I would need to start marathon training in a couple of months, and I was afraid of losing all the endurance I had built up. Also, I had been going through some ups and downs in my life (perhaps a few more downs), and I knew that regular exercise was essential to my emotional, as well as physical, well-being. So I swallowed my pride and joined a gym--something I was normally opposed to; I preferred utilizing the outdoors for my exercise, both with running and the bootcamp class I attended. But I needed to have ultimate control over my exercise, now that I was limited. A gym offered cardio equipment, a pool, and plenty of space and equipment for strength training, in whatever way I needed to do it.

So I've been challenged to find new ways to maintain my physical fitness. Nothing can really replace running, and I miss it terribly, but I'm proud of myself for pushing to do different things. It's easy to fall into a habit of "mono-exercise," and perhaps this was a wake-up call that I needed more diversity. Maybe my body was sending a message.

I was a little aimless at first when I went to the gym; I was overwhelmed by the machines, intimidated by the weights area, and afraid of the pool. Now I feel fairly comfortable with some machines, but I stick mainly to the "abs" area where people go to do mat exercises, mostly using body weight. I've been brave enough to also bring over some weights from the big-guy area, dipping in and quickly out with my two 10-pound dumbbells. And the stationary bike. I start out on that, trying to stay on for as long as I can, but honestly I do not like it; I just know it's necessary. And twice now I've gone into the pool. The first time I was very unsure of myself, not really knowing how to breathe efficiently, and confirming my doubts as I awkwardly turned my head and took in gobs of water on every third stroke. I got some advice from triathlete friend, watched a YouTube video, and came back a second time for a redo. It was a better experience, for sure. I still can't last very long, about 15 minutes' worth of laps. But it's brand-new to me as a sport, so I have to give myself time to adapt. And this morning I finally got on that new hybrid bike I got after trading in my road bike. It had been sitting in my closet for months. It felt good to ride. I may need to consider some clip-ins in the future, as my feet are just free-flying on the pedals now, but we'll see. It is a better experience for me than the road bike was. I still have speed on this bike, but I feel more secure on it, like I don't have to be so fragile with it.

I have an appointment with an orthopedist next week to hopefully assess my foot condition and figure out what I should be doing--other than not running. I also have an appointment with a podiatrist scheduled a week later, in case the orthopedist can't help. I'm ready to know what the outlook is on this condition, hopeful that it's not completely hopeless. And in the meantime I have some other activities to continue to explore.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Winter Wrap-up: Unexpected PR, Age Group Placement, and Brewery Run

Now that we're well into spring, I may as well post about winter. That is, Florida winter. So here's a three-in-one.

I missed the Gasparilla half marathon--the local race I look forward to all year. And it was for a silly reason. I had trained well and felt good the week prior to the race, but at a bootcamp class the Wednesday before the race, I did an exercise the totally killed my hamstrings, only I didn't know it until the next day. And they weren't just sore; I could hardly straighten my legs to walk, let alone use my hamstrings to propel me on a run. But feeling this kind of extreme soreness is not unusual for me after this particular bootcamp class; it's certainly happened before. So I thought by the time Sunday rolled around, I'd be fine. But then as Friday passed, and soon Saturday, I was far less confident that I'd be healed in time to race Sunday. I did everything I could think of to expedite healing: massages, smelly muscle rubs, foam roller, static stretches--in fact, I probably overdid it, when what I really needed was rest (but what runner ever resorts to that in a panic?).

But when Sunday morning rolled around, and I drove to the race site, I got out of my car to try a warm-up run and knew immediately that it just wasn't going to happen. I could probably have jogged the race, but in the end I would have only hurt myself more, and I would've had a crappy race. So I bailed on it and went home and back to bed. I did, however, decide to sign up for a half-marathon the following weekend, the Best Damn Race in Orlando. I wasn't entirely sure I'd be healed in time for this race, but it was worth the chance; I wanted redemption.

I spent more time resting in the week leading up to the race, which made me a little nervous; I wasn't sure how much training I might have lost with what felt like so much time away from running. But it turns out, it did me good. I went into the race not expecting to PR, but when I realized I was able to hold a good pace for half of the race--about 8:36 min/mile--I decided to try to hold that pace until the end. And despite, or maybe because of, some inclement weather, I didn't have the sun to contend with (just some slippery cobblestone). As I approached the finishing chute, having seen both my parents there to support me, I was ready to make my big push. But it seems my big push prompted another woman's big push, and suddenly we were battling each other to cross the finish line first. She got me by a hair, I admit. But it was a fun push.

Some friendly competition.

Not as bored as I look.

Next was a five-miler, the annual Bolt Run, hosted by the Tampa Bay Lightning (believe it or not, we have hockey in Florida!). I hadn't done this distance race in quite a while, and I wasn't even sure of what my PR was. So I went in with no expectations. I'd been training at decent paces, but nothing like what I was able to pull off at this race: an average 7:55 pace, 39:31 finish time, and--here's the real surprise--second place for my gender/age group (out of 46). 

And, done.

And this was just the start to a long day of running. And some drinking. Later that afternoon, I jumped into the already-in-progress first annual Tampa Brewery Run, which was not anything "official" but something that a group of running friends planned--an approximately 20-mile route around the streets of Tampa, coordinated around nine different local breweries as stops along the route. For the hardcore in the group (not me), the rules for successful completion were to (1) start from the beginning, and (2) drink a pint at each brewery. Since I had no ambition to run 20 more miles that day, and I couldn't drink a single pint of beer let alone nine, I decided to jump in with a couple of girlfriends at what seemed like a more reasonable point, giving us about nine miles total to complete. Here are the breweries (I jumped in at Ulele):
  1. Start: Angry Chair 
  2. Florida Ave
  3. World of Beer
  4. Ulele 
  5. Copper Tail
  6. Tampa Brewing
  7. Cigar City Cider & Mead
  8. Southern Brewing
  9. Finish: MERMAID!

Just getting started! Yes, the river is green behind us.

This was mid-March, which means pretty warm in Tampa. And we were running in the middle of the day. And drinking. It seems like a really bad idea, and I don't deny that it was. But it was also a ton of fun. Once we got past the first five-mile leg from one brewery to the next, things got a little bit easier. But I wasn't really drinking, save for the cocktail I split at the first location and sample I had at the second, so I can't speak for others. One place I did indulge more at was Cigar City Cider and Mead. I probably had half a glass of cider, which was pretty tasty--better to my palate than a traditional beer.

The cider place. Everyone looks quite happy!

By the time we hit the second-to-last brewery, it was getting dark out, and some folks who'd been along for the whole ride--including the Bolt Run that morning--were clearly worn out, and just about everyone was a little woozy, but not terribly drunk. So the final push to the finishing point required a lot of effort (but since I'd cheated and abstained from drinking very much, I felt pretty strong). The experience overall was a fun time for bonding, urban running, and sampling some local Tampa flavor. In the end, I think maybe five people finished the course properly--and I give props to them. I would definitely do it again, maybe even with more mileage, but still without much drinking.

Speaking of running and drinking, in a few weeks some of these same friends are hosting a Margarita Mile. The rules involve drinking a margarita, running a quarter mile, and repeating three more times, all for time. I signed up to do it, so if I actually go through with it, I'll be sure to report on it.