Thursday, April 17, 2014

Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon: Race Report

Ten weeks after I ran the Clearwater marathon, I returned to the same race site for the Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon. Of course, the plan was never to take all of those ten weeks off; in fact, I don't know if I would have even raced this past weekend's half if I hadn't been injured at BDR and gotten suckered into signing up for Iron Girl at the expo. But I did, and I'm glad.

I wasn't feeling wonderful in the days leading up to this race, and all along I said I wasn't going to "race" it. I really just wanted to prove to myself that I could push myself through the distance and not get hurt doing it. Also, I was adamant about going by myself; if I fell apart, I didn't want any invited witnesses present.

So on race morning, I got myself up, got dressed, headed out the door on time, and after driving away realized I'd forgotten my GPS watch. I panicked for a moment, as I've come to rely so heavily on my watch during both training and racing. I started to turn around, but then decided I didn't need it. If I wasn't really racing, it didn't matter whether I knew what my pace was at every moment. (On the other hand, not having the watch could have made me run faster than I intended, which could have caused re-injury, but I wasn't banking on that.) I parked relatively easily, in a parking garage whose fee had been lifted for the event (hooray for small victories!). I was a little chilly in my tank top, which was good; the only other time I'd raced Iron Girl was in 2010, and I recall that it was deathly hot. So I was glad for the nice weather; while I knew we'd spend some time in the sun once it rose, I also knew it wouldn't get too hot or humid.

I lined myself up in the starting corral between the 2:00 and 2:10 (finish) pace groups, to give myself an idea of what pace I was running, as I didn't have my watch. While waiting in the corral, I saw long-time runner, coach, and organizer Debbie Voiles (of Run Tampa) in line ahead of me, who took this shot of a still-sleepy Lee:

A peculiar thing about women's races: I get very emotional. Maybe it's the abundant estrogen floating around. I always think about Katherine Switzer, which makes me think about the Boston Marathon, which made me particularly sappy, given the close proximity to the anniversary of last year's horrific event. And then the "Star-Spangled Banner" played (or was sung; I couldn't see or tell), and I started thinking about the lyrics. Then I was reminded of when I learned about the lyrics and creation of the song in a middle-school history class, which made me think about war and triumph and inspiration. And I almost started sobbing, all before the horn blew.

But thankfully I was able to hold it together once we started. The course was basically an out-and-back, with two bridges, which we repeated (so four times running on a bridge). And these bridges aren't meager; especially the Clearwater Memorial Causeway (a.k.a. the Clearwater Bridge, 75 ft. high), which is where we started and finished the race. I started out feeling just so-so, which kept me from trying to go too fast--that simply wasn't an option. I was actually grateful for the bridges, because they gave me a challenge to focus on since I couldn't really focus on racing hard. I was feeling pretty stable in whatever pace I was at--I knew it was faster than a 9:55 min/mi, because I made sure to stay in front of the 2:10 pace group, but the 2:00 pace group was out of sight, so it was slower than a 9:23 min/mi.

See how there's lots of blue surrounding the green? That means BRIDGES.

After finishing the second bridge, Sand Key Bridge (65 ft. high), what felt like the longest part of the race ensued, which was mostly a straight-away on Gulf Blvd. During this part I was just anxious to turn around and go back over the bridges again. I guess they were giving me anxiety, just sitting there waiting for me. I didn't know how much energy I'd have once I got back around to them; I had barely trained for this race and was afraid I'd give out toward the end. But that didn't happen. In fact, I found some reserves to use, and because my foot and ankle were feeling pretty good, I decided to push a little bit once we did get back to Sand Key. I knew then it was a short distance over, and then the next and final bridge would be just around the corner. And once I got to the top of that one, I knew it was literally downhill from there. When I had the finish sign in sight, I gave a big final push and blew past a couple of other runners. I actually hate when other runners hold out throughout a race and then do that same thing to me at the very end, but because I was being cautious, it was the only chance I would allow myself to full-out race (so I forgive myself that lapse in etiquette).

I finished in 2:04:18, at an overall pace of 9:30 min/mi. I was very happy with that. It's a ways off from my PR of 1:53:29, but everything considered, I'm still proud of my effort. This was by no means a PR race for me. And on the plus side, I totally beat my time for the 2010 Iron Girl, which I ran, uninjured, in 2:13:41.

Other stats that I don't really care about.

I didn't waste much time getting back to my car, where I took this selfie in the parking garage to prove I survived:

I was as happy as I look.

In the few days that have passed since the race, I biked one day, rested (i.e., napped through my run) another, and did bootcamp last night. Because I blew off my run on Tuesday, I got up this morning to run with Tim (OK, Tim got me up). It didn't feel wonderful, but that was to be expected. It's also tough to run the morning after bootcamp. Plus, there was fierce wind. Etc., etc. I still have some mild pain in my left foot, but the more nagging problem now seems to be in my right ankle, which I think is from the time I spent in the boot, walking unevenly. I know I need to be careful and still take it easy when I do run. I've got a marathon to start training for in a couple of months, and I want to feel good starting out.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Joe's Oat Patties

I should note up front that I'm not getting reimbursed or anything for this product; I just happen to love it. I first discovered Joe's Oat Patties in pre-mix form at a downtown sort of "gourmet" grocery store. It was an easy solution to dinner -- nutritious, vegan, gluten-free (some flavors are, at least), organic, and fast and easy to prepare. Oh, and delicious! But then, last weekend while at Whole Foods (which I must say is less of a nightmare to shop at because of the new grocery-shopping nightmare that is Trader Joe's), I noticed the product in the freezer section., for even lazier people (like me) who don't want to go through the hassle of mixing a few things together in a bowl. So of course I bought them. And then on Tuesday night, after running at Four Green Fields, all I had to do was slice and season my potatoes, pop them in the oven while I steamed the green beans and put these pre-made patties on the stove for a few minutes each side, and voila! Dinner was served:

They really don't taste like meat burgers, and they aren't trying to (nobody likes a poser). So I'm not sure how much Tim (a meat-lover) liked them, but he seemed to enjoy every morsel. And one more great thing about the product is that it's local! Out of Apopka, actually, which is the little-known Central Florida town where I went to high school for four trying years.

That's the end of my unsolicited product plug. I hope you'll try them out!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Little Faith

I've been reluctant to write anything about my continued progress in the past weeks because I'm afraid of cursing it. But now I'm ready to write.

First, an anecdote:

Sunday I went to boot camp (I don't know what to call it anymore) for the fourth time in three weeks, which is a great accomplishment considering I wasn't able to go at all for about seven weeks straight. And of course I'd lost some strength during that time away, and I prepared myself for that fact, initially. But after being back for a couple of classes, I expected to be able to do what I could do pre-injury, and when I couldn't, I got really frustrated.

I had a rough start to the morning: I woke up late, almost didn't go because I felt like crap and had no motivation, but Tim talked me into going, even though I made us both late for the warm-up run. So when I then tried to jump into the first team drill, going head-to-head with a woman who was stronger and faster than me--injured or not--I got flustered. Add to that the fact that during this drill we had to run--no, race--backward, and toward the end of the backward run was a pile of leaves, and the next thing I knew I slipped and fell back on my butt, hard, while my team was all watching and waiting for me to get back into place so the next person could do the drill. Embarrassing is a start at describing how I felt, but mortified is better, and raw and defeated help give an even fuller picture. It's not like I've never fallen; I am a times a spectacularly clumsy person. But to do it when I was already feeling down and out, in front of my peers who'd been making gains in class while I'd been getting weaker, made it all the more difficult to recover from. But that's all I could do; jump back into line and move on. Boot camp allows no time for tears, thankfully.

We moved onto the next exercise, for which we remained in two groups. First, I couldn't get my jump rope to clear my feet. I tripped on it continuously. Next, my calf was impaled by a wayward tire from the other group's activity. I just couldn't get into a groove and felt defeated over and over again. Then we switched teams and I realized why the tire had hit me; our task was to lift a tire from the ground and flip it up and backward over our heads (ideally with nobody in the path behind us). OK, done this before. But all of the "light" tires were taken, and the lightest that remained was about 22lbs. Seemed light enough to me (I still can't gauge my strength after a couple years of doing this), so I took it. But the coach, Allen, saw what I took and offered instead to accommodate me with a lighter medicine ball. I looked around and thought, no. I'm stronger than that. And I got mad. And I snapped at him. I said I'd take the tire (thank you) and then told him he needed to have a little faith in me. So then I knew I had to fling that tire over my head, every single time for the entire length of the exercise (which was only a couple of minutes, but it felt longer). And I struggled, but I did it. I'm not saying my back did or did not take the brunt of the flip, which was Allen's concern--just letting you know I did it. And so when we next took our tire and ran with it up and down a set of concrete stairs, Allen came up next to me and said, "Just so you know, Lee, I have more faith in you than you realize." And I knew he was right; in fact, he probably had more faith in me than I had in myself at that moment. After all, he was the one who'd gotten me to do box jumps after years of being too afraid to do them--even though I physically was capable.

In the midst of a GTO (ground to overhead).

Like my new accessory?  

So what's the point of this long, whiny story? When I got upset and told Allen to have faith in me, I think I was actually talking to myself. I'd become so negative about my ability to perform well--whether in running, biking, boot camp . . . life--that I felt self-defeated going into everything. Just a few weeks ago all I wanted was to be able to do the active things I enjoyed, and as soon as I could, it wasn't enough. But, as Tim pointed out in our car ride home from boot camp that morning, if I were able to just jump right back into the shape I was in, all that work I'd done before wouldn't have meant much. This actually gave me not only a more positive perspective but also a tangible sense of progress; all the hard work I'd done prior to the injury created measurable results, even if the measurement was my now decreased strength.

So moving forward, I have to trust that over time I'll build up to the ability I was at before, and maybe even surpass it. Last weekend I ran 10 miles. It was a sort of test run to see if my foot could handle the mileage. If it could, then I'd plan on running this weekend's Iron Girl Half Marathon; if it couldn't, I wouldn't. But my foot fared well, even though the run was slow and difficult. And that's just how this "race" will have to be, slow and difficult. And that's going to have to be OK with me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Life in the Boot, and After

It sucked--I'm not gonna lie. I wore my "cam walker" boot for about three and a half weeks, minus a couple of weekends. That doesn't sound like a very long time, but it felt like ages. Getting dressed each day was a new and interesting challenge. I couldn't wear just anything; many of my usual clothing items didn't fit well with the boot, so I often opted for leggings (that part I loved). Also, I had to wear a running shoe on my other foot to approximate the sole height of the boot on the other foot so I wasn't lopsided. This never made for a cute look. I even purchased a custom-made decorative fabric to go on the boot to make it less clinical-looking. But when said fabric arrived, it seemed to make the visibility of the boot nearly triple. (I never actually wore it this way in public.)

Cute, no? No.

I don't see anything diff--oh, there it is.

Also, I wasn't entirely sure the boot was helping my foot get better. I originally got it on the advice of my doctor, who said it would help in the meantime while we waited to get an MRI to determine my actual injury. We thought I might have a metatarsal stress fracture, in which case the boot would definitely be helpful, but it took some time to (1) get insurance approval for the MRI, (2) schedule the MRI, and (3) get the doctor to review the MRI and call me with results. After a couple weeks of wearing the boot (which took time to procure in itself), I got my MRI results: bursitis at the head of my third metatarsal--and a bonus diagnosis of arthritis at the base of my first toe. I could've done without the arthritis diagnosis; that area wasn't bothering me, and there's nothing really to fix arthritis. 

Bursitis, I've learned through Internet research and not from my doctor, is inflammation of the bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that prevents bones from rubbing against other bones/muscles/tendons. We have bursae all throughout the body (shoulders, hips, ankles, knees, elbows--all the joint areas). Metatarsal bursitis, also called metatarsalgia, is a common overuse injury, especially for athletes of high-impact sports. (By the way, if you're at all squeamish, don't do a Google image search for bursitis. Take my word on that. I even tried to tell the Internet to only look for "normal metatarsal bursae," and those results only gave me comparisons to abnormal, extremely swollen, or surgically removed bursae.) This is the best, unoffensive picture I could find of where the bursae are in the foot, and it's not very specific (as they are actually individual sacs between the bones and muscles, and not one large fluid sac encapsulating all the bone heads, as this picture implies):

My inflammation is in the green area below that third toe.

This is a general depiction of bursitis, on an nondescript body part.

So what does this all mean? Well, like any "itis," or inflammatory condition, there are degrees of inflammation, and the prognosis depends on response to treatment. And treatment consists of (1) not doing the activity that caused the inflammation--check, (2) RICEing--check, and (3) taking anti-inflammatory medications, or herbs and food, as I prefer--check. I haven't run since February 13. And even prior to that, I'd only run once or twice a week, low mileage and low effort, since the Clearwater Marathon on January 19. So I'm getting antsy. I've also gone through athlete's depression, which is a term I'm making up for the sake of distinguishing it from other, more serious forms of depression. I would go to races to support Tim and see friends, but these were all races that I was supposed to be running, too: Best Damn Race (x2), Gasparilla, Bolt Run. All of them great local races. It became too hard to go to these races and put on a happy face, and I wasn't all that supportive in the end, which didn't serve anyone. 

In response to my feelings of frustration, I stopped wearing my boot. That may sound illogical, some may say stupid, but it has already made me feel better. And, oddly, my foot is feeling slightly better. I'm still wearing supportive shoes, and I've learned throughout this process that the feet actually have three arches--internal longitudinal (the "main" one), external longitudinal (parallel to internal longitudinal), and the transverse arch--right where the metatarsals are.

McDonald's has nothing on the human foot.

So I am trying to make sure that my footwear has all of this arch(es) support, and if not, I'm wearing foot inserts, or orthotics, but not like the heavy-duty kind. If it comes to that, though, I will. 

That's the end of my foot anatomy lesson for now. I may try a little jog later this week. If so, I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day at the Fair

This past Sunday, I visited the Florida State Fair. I have to admit that I wasn't too enthused about going, but Tim had free tickets, as he works for the New York Yankees, and they are a sponsor of the fair. What I didn't realize is that Cracker Country was a part of the fair (it's a museum that's actually there year-round, but it's on the fairgrounds, so you can visit it with fair admission). When local friends first told me about Cracker Country, I thought it sounded offensive and certainly not celebratory, let alone educational. But then when I learned about the the origin of the term Cracker and the history of Florida Crackers, I was pretty fascinated, as I love learning about historical living, especially regarding day-to-day activities.

Upon arriving at the fair on one of the most beautiful days in recent memory--sunshine and cool, breezy temps, but warm enough for flip-flips (in true Florida fashion)--and got in with ease because we came in the morning and had free tickets. Cracker Country was the first attraction as we entered, and I was excited just upon seeing it. I could see it was modeled like a town square, with a school, general store, governor's house, and other necessary buildings we'd soon get to enter.

The classrooms at the state university I work at aren't this nice.

Neither are the bathrooms. Just kidding (sort of).

Now this kind of church I like! This was a wonderful bluegrass gospel band.

The excruciatingly slow process of extracting cane syrup from sugar cane.

Behold: the printing press.

Replicated old-timey newspaper.

After leaving Cracker Country, we went on to the main fair exhibits, which included any kind of food (or non-food) you can imagine fried or on a stick:

No, we didn't try it.

And animals in captivity:

Florida panther. S/he looks so . . . comfortable?

I wanted to go for a ride on this guy. But he wasn't one of the rides.

Who doesn't want to kiss a llama?

And a bear show that we didn't actually watch because we were too early, but because Tim works for the Yankees, we got to visit the bears before their show:

I think she likes me!

We're feeding them dog biscuits, btw.

They really were very cute and cuddly looking. From behind the gate.

Tim got his much-anticipated fair food, a giant turkey leg:

This is what kings ate, he told me.

After walking around the midway for a while, past the rickety rides that I wouldn't endanger my life on and the "freak" shows that were surely shams, we began to walk toward the exit. As we were leaving, we came upon the arts and crafts building, so I thought we'd just pop in to check it out. 

At one of the stands inside I came upon this magical jewelry, made from hematite. Here are its unsubstantiated claims (from the vendor):

But did I buy it anyway? You bet. It was actually very reasonably priced, and I liked the look of a couple of pieces:

This anklet is going to heal my foot injury.

These earrings will fix my sinus problems and cure my TMJ.

And thus our fair day was complete. If you've never visited the Florida State Fair, I recommend it--if for no other reason than visiting Cracker Country and observing the bizarre foods and people that only come out at the fair.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I've been dealing with foot pain since completing the Clearwater Marathon, over a month ago, and while I surely thought I'd be past it by the time the Gasparilla race weekend rolled around, I am not. My meager attempts at resting my foot (in between little trial runs every few days) have not been sufficient. So I decided this past weekend to let go of my hope to run the Gasparilla half marathon. It was a really hard decision, as I look forward to this local race each year. It's my favorite. The Gasparilla 15k was my first long(er than a 5k) distance race, and the half marathon has been a great PR (personal record) course for me in recent years. But I knew that if I ran it, I'd want to run hard and try to PR, and that would possibly seriously injury my foot and certainly set my recovery time back even further.

So I emailed the Gasparilla folks to see if I could get a deferment of my race registration for next year, almost entirely expecting a firm "no" but hoping for a "yes" nonetheless. Most races these days don't offer deferments, especially this late. But to my delight, almost within an hour of sending my email, I received the following positive reply:

I was so happy that I didn't have to lose yet another race registration fee because of this injury, and it made me appreciate the GDCA even more. So you know what I did? I signed up to volunteer for registration and packet pick-up. That's what I'll be doing tomorrow (Friday) from 1-5pm. (Yeah, I'm using annual leave time from work. What of it?)

Next, I knew I needed to go see a doctor. Based on my experiences with previous running injuries, I had an idea of how this appointment would go. I'd get an X-ray, it probably wouldn't show a fracture, and I'd need to get an MRI. And that's what happened. So while it's good that the X-ray didn't show a fracture, meaning if there is one it's not major, my doctor still was "concerned" that I have a stress fracture and encouraged me to get an MRI, which I went ahead and scheduled for next week (I love insurance, but I hate waiting on authorizations).

Somehow this is my left foot; I can't figure it out. But no obvious fracture.

The other possibility is that the pain is from tendinitis. If that were the case, I'd be able to run through it, as long as I could tolerate the pain. This makes me think it's not tendinitis, because I actually don't feel the pain when I'm running; it's the days afterward when I'm just walking around that I feel it the most.

In the meantime, while I wait to get my MRI, the doc suggested that if I wanted to be proactive about healing (I do), I should go ahead and start wearing a "cam walker," or a boot, as it's most often referred to. Here's a simple 10-step process to putting the boot on, from the brochure my doctor's office gave me:

Nothin' to it, right?

Luckily my insurance plan fully covers this designer footwear, although I did have to call the doctor's office to have a prescription faxed over to one of the accepted retailers on my plan. I *can't wait* to go pick it up . . .

In the meantime, I've been doing lots of yoga. It's a practice I always return to when I can no longer run; it's good for my body and soul. And while it doesn't keep me in the same cardio shape as running does, I think it's okay to come down from that intensity for a little while, let my body heal, and refocus my energy.

So this weekend, when many of my friends will be running in the various Gasparilla races, I'll be in the crowd, spectating. I'll be the one wearing the boot.

Friday, February 14, 2014

100 Runs

This past Tuesday, I ran my 100th run at the Four Green Fields Running Club. I joined this club as a newish runner some time back in 2011, in a effort to get to know other runners (which didn't really work out the way I expected it would, but actually led to greater experiences). At first I attended religiously but then petered out in the summer time, when 6:00 p.m. in Florida is just too hot to run. I'd come back when the weather cooled off, and then go away when I was injured. And so forth. So while 100 runs would normally be completed in under two years, with regular attendance, I've finally achieved this benchmark after close to three years. All of this said, earning 100 runs in this club is still not common. Many people come and go and never come back. So I was still greatly anticipating this evening, even though I wasn't sure I'd even be able to run, given my recent foot pain.

But I was able to get my 5k run in without pain, and a couple of friends stuck around with me afterward until "t-shirt time," when the organizers announce the names of those who've earned t-shirts and patches for 10, 25, 50, 75, and 100 runs. I actually wasn't even expecting a t-shirt--that must be something new. From what I understood, they just gave a patch (in the upper left-hand corner of the picture--another glass of Guinness) for 100 runs. But this t-shirt is new and updated from the old one, so I was extra happy to receive it.

As this t-shirt depicts, one goal of the club is to run and then drink and socialize afterward. I'm not so great at the after part, but I still really like this club because (1) I almost always know somebody there, (2) it's not very rigid; runners can show up when they want and run whatever distance they want--although the main distance is 3.1 miles, (3) employees from the local running store Feet First (my favorite) regularly come out to the run along with shoe company reps and allow runners to demo the newest shoes on the market, and (4) the club provide incentives for regular attendance. I like anything that helps keep me accountable.

If you're in the Tampa area and haven't yet checked out this pub-sponsored run, here's your invitation to give it a go. Every Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. Membership is a one-time fee of $3. Hope to see you out there!