Gratitude

Yesterday morning, I was visiting my chiropractor and the topic of mental health came up.  “When I have competitive athletes,” Sandy said, “I have to watch their mental health.  If they stop running me and they aren’t doing anything else, I worry because that is when they can fall into depression.”

I have seen it.  Years ago, a close friend of mine was injured and flat out refused to go for a walk, come to yoga, start swimming with me (and if I am willing to get back into the pool, you know that I am trying everything to get him active again)….All he wanted to do was run and depression took over.

Ironically, Kelly-Lynne and I were talking about how runners deal with injuries just before Tammy the Hamstring started to complain.  “I’m pretty sure that I would find something else to do,” she said.   I was sure of my reaction.  “I know I would.  After watching my friend suffer….I don’t want to go through that.”

As much as I miss running, I have accepted whatever injury I have and that I need the time off.  When my forced break began, I could barely walk without being in pain, but I looked for things that I could do – or try to do – and, week by week, I find that I can keep adding something else to my list of can’s.  This week, I feel especially grateful for the things that are a part of my healing.

I am grateful to be able to do:

Bridge: so good for the gluteus.

a. Yoga.  For weeks, this was my only outlet.  At the beginning of October, I could not get into a Warrior One pose; now I can.  Two weeks ago, I still couldn’t move into a Crescent Moon, but I did a few on Friday for the first time; I had to work to hold it, but I got into the position and that is progress.  Yoga sets a bar for me and I get excited when I find that I can suddenly do something that I couldn’t in the class before.  I am committed to going three times a week, which I will continue once I am back in my running shoes.

Lunges: 6 x 60 various types of lunges twice a week.

b. Lunges.  Three weeks ago, when the temperature dropped, I didn’t want to do my lunge drill outside because it was too cold; I worried that the cold could be detrimental and I could end up doing more damage to the same muscle group that I have been trying to rehabilitate.  So I turned indoors.  Twice a week, after dropping off my son, I head to school before almost everyone else and stretch and strengthen through the hallways before my work day begins.

c. Planking.  This started off as a bar to measure my strength but it has evolved into a personal challenge.  Two minutes, every day, and anywhere: no problem.  We’ll see how high that number can climb.

d. Indoor Cycling.  I use to ride a lot: I commuted through Toronto by bike; somedays, I felt like I lived on a lifecycle at the gym; Dave and I covered a lot of miles on our rode bikes.  But that was before kids and when the roads were less busy and less dangerous.  Somehow in the past few years, cycling of any kind has become a part of my past.  But my windtrainer is still in the basement.  I walk past it every time I have to hang up laundry and, every time, I tell myself that I need to start spinning the wheels again.  Three weeks ago, as soon as my leg was strong enough, I got back into the saddle.  For now, it is my only form of cardio and it can be as boring as heck, but I am glad to have it.

Boring, yes, but it is saving my cardio.

And I have more options to look forward to: weights, rowing, swimming….As soon as I know exactly what I am dealing with, I can introduce other ways to build and maintain as I transition back to running.  I can’t worry about what I can’t control, but I can focus on the things I can.

 

Tammy Goes To The Doctor

After getting back from Chicago, I knew that Tammy the Hamstring needed to see a Sports Medicine specialist.   But getting an appointment wasn’t easy.   I had to go through my GP, which was a two week wait.  Then, I had to wait another 10 days before I could see the sports doc.  I joked that by the time I would actually see him, I would be almost healed.

Tammy and I drove to Burlington on Friday to see Dr. Elliott at his sports medicine clinic to try to find out what is setting her off and turning her a real pain in the butt.  While waiting, another patient recognized me.  “Cynthia?” she asked.  “It’s—.  So  how is retirement treating you?”

“Ummmm…I am not retired.”  It’s a week later and I still don’t have a good comeback.

It’s a good thing that I have already established a relationship with Dr. Elliott from a previous injury years ago as my first interaction on Friday was with his resident.  When she called for me and I got up from the chair, I stumbled because my hip was sore after sitting while waiting.  She laughed at me and I felt put out.  I wasn’t clumsy; I just have something going on with the right side of my pelvis which is why I was there in the first place.  She took me into the examination room and began to ask questions, one of the first being  “Give me some examples of when it hurts.”  So I did until she cut cut me off: “Okay, I get it. You’re in pain.”  Somehow, I managed to bite my tongue.  After more discussion, she suggested a cortisone shot.  I was, again, taken aback, wondering why she would jump to an injection without examining me first.   When she got around to doing that, she commented “Wow, you are really skinny!  No, you are really skinny!”  I still can’t find the right words to explain how I felt: shocked, angry, upset, annoyed….None of them were positive.

My confidence was restored when Dr. Elliott walked into the room.  He wanted imaging – hooray! – and requisitioned an ultrasound of the entire right side of the pelvis.   As I expected, he wants to see what is going on inside so that we can proceed with treatment.  Meanwhile, he said, I have done all of the right things.

Dr. Elliott suggested that I may be dealing with bursitis, but there may also be a tear somewhere; hamstring tears, he told me, take about 3 months to heal.  Meanwhile, there is obviously a lot of inflammation so I walked away with a prescription for anti-inflammatories.

Getting closer to solving this puzzle has left me feeling positive.  The worst case scenario is a tear and, if so, I’m more than halfway to three months.  I am still not convinced that there isn’t a stress fracture, though, and I am waiting for an MRI.

The logo from the clinic sums up my feelings.

As crazy as it sounds, I am looking forward to racing in 2019.  I have already targeted Robbie Burns at the end of January, crossing fingers that I will be back on the road by mid-December.  Once I get the first set of results, I can decide if I should register.  Meanwhile, I’ll continue with yoga, increase my time on the windtrainer and, when I am feeling gutsy, get back into the pool.  Once this is all over, I should be ready to slowly rebuild my base and get back to chasing my dreams.

The Boomerang Effect: In the day of a marshall

Last Sunday, I marshalled at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Quite honestly, volunteering at the event was about the last thing that I wanted to do, especially after the Chicago fiasco, but my club (Toronto Olympic Club) always helps Canada Running Series (CRS) with its races.  I had made this commitment to help weeks ago and wasn’t about to bail, especially with the prediction of colder weather, which always leads to volunteers not showing up.  Besides, it is always good to give back.

I was up at 5:30 to walk Zeda before heading into the city and I arrived in High Park at 7:45.   A short walk to my station turned into a long detour due to construction next to the park but I made it to the south side of Parkside and Lakeshore, the 13k point, with time to spare.

As the name implies, Lakeshore is along Lake Ontario and, sure enough, it was cold.  I was already bundled up but pulled out my son’s jacket, which I grabbed at the last minute, and added a final layer which left me unrecognizable.   I was warm and ready to have some fun.

I ended up marshalling before the runners even got to me.  One marshall didn’t show so I was moved to the north side of Lakeshore, which was about 300 metres away from the construction zone, that same construction zone that I was not allowed to walk through.   Shortly after I had received an update that the lead runners were about 5k away, a burly construction worker started to move pylons out of his way.

“Um….where do you think you’re going?” I asked.

“Over there,” he said, pointing towards the water station along Lakeshore.

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m not?”

Looking into the construction zone.

“No, you’re not.  There is a race going on along here.”  Imagine saying this while the road is closed and there is not a runner in sight.  After getting a perplexed look from this poor guy who probably just finished the night shift, just wanted to go home and couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t, I continued.  “So you are going to have to turn your truck around, drive back up to Bloor Street and go home from there.”

“Okay,” he sheepishly replied.  Then he put the pylon back, turned around and barely two minutes later, the lead runners came through.

The next real marshalling test came approximately at the same time as the 5 hour marathoners.  I looked east and wondered if I was seeing a fire truck. “Is that seriously a fire truck?”  Within seconds, I was directing hundreds of runners to left side of the road so that the truck could get by.  Then, it turned at the round-about between north and south Lakeshore so that it could go east.  The runners were great and cooperated, as I expected they would, and the truck got to its location – about 500 metres east of me.

The other Marshall and I had no idea what was going on.  Figuring that there should be some kind of CRS presence there, he followed the truck to where it stopped so that he could direct runners around it and make sure that they were safe.  Meanwhile, I stayed back because I figured there was bound to be one or two other emergency vehicles.  Sure enough, an ambulance came through and I was more prepared for the turn it was about to make.  I am still not sure what happened, but I heard that a runner did leave in an ambulance.

The rest of the time, I was busy cheering on runners and playing route director.   Apart from the typical encouraging words, I found a new set of catch phrases to use, including:

Boxes and boxes of Endurance Tap.

**Water station up ahead.  Endurance tap up ahead.  There is a party going on up there.”

** Porta-potties on the left.
No, don’t use those ones (other, grey porta-potties)! Those are for  the construction workers and they’re gross!

Volunteering is good for everyone.  It directly supports the runners which indirectly helps the charities.  And even though I have volunteered  many times, Sunday’s work was different as it came back to help me.  By the end of my shift, I was not tired, but energized.  I left feeling really good.   I loved watching the runners and walkers, and I felt encouraged by their dedication to the marathon.  They gave me hope that I will be able to toe the line again.  They motivated me to keep chasing my dreams.

Cheers for Volunteers

The running community is surrounded by volunteers.  We work with coaches, depend on race marshalls to keep us safe, and look for those handing out water and Gatorade and blankets to keep us warm when we finish racing.  A lot of race directors and their teams are often volunteers.  But the one group that we tend to forget about are the First Aid Responders.

Before I write any more, I should make it clear that some organizations are crewed by paid responders, but many are not.   What is the difference between them?  Basically, none.  They are all trained and kept up to date through practical sessions.  But an event will often go to a less expensive organization first and any payment goes directly into that medical organization to cover its operating costs such as medical equipment and vehicles; since the responders are not earning income, there is more money to put towards those costs.

We need to remember that First Aid Responders are there because they want to be.   It may not their job, and they probably are not being paid, but they are passionate about what they are doing: being there for you if you need help and looking after you if you get hurt.  So when you are handing out thank you’s at your next race, remember to wave to the bike patrol, or stop at the truck or medical tent.  We all know that a thank you goes a long way.  You might just make someone’s day.

Moving Forward

The marathon can be one of the most frustrating road events.  I love the distance, the training that goes into it and the satisfaction from finishing.  For the first time in many years, I changed my focus in this last training cycle from a time goal to simply finishing.  I took on the “whatever it takes attitude” and I was winning.  I was ready.  Then the tides turned on me and derailed me during taper week, days before the Chicago marathon.  Even then, I made it to the start and felt I could finish, albeit slowly.  Instead, I finished one mile – one lousy mile.

I didn’t fail, but I didn’t do what I set out to do.  Was I upset?  Absolutely, and I was angry too, angry about the wasted time, effort and cost (in physio,  chiropractic and osteo treatments).  But I got over it, and now I move on.

Before I can do that, though, I have to get to the route of the problem.  My hip buckled under me when I ran during taper week, and it did again on Sunday morning.  This hasn’t happened before and it has become a cause for concern. Tammy the Hamstring may be playing her games again and partying it up with her friends, but my chiro suggested an x-ray to make sure that there isn’t a fracture.

On Friday night, Dave and I went to the hospital to learn that there isn’t an obvious fracture.  The doctor suggested Advil (3 times a day), physiotherapy and a bone scan. (Why do doctors always recommend nothing but Advil and physiotherapy?). On Saturday morning, my chiro agreed that I should have a bone scan to look for a possible stress fracture.  “With your high mileage, age, and frame,” he said, “I think it is a good idea.”

So now I wait.  I have an appointment with my GP on the 23rd and will, hopefully, get some imaging done a week later.  It’s frustrating as that means I probably won’t get results until a month after the first buckle.

In the meantime, I can continue to strengthen my muscles, try to get back on my bike and maybe, just maybe, get back into the pool.  I may not be able to run, but I can take advantage of the time off running to do other things that I love, as well as focus on what I can do and work towards improvement.

 

 

Chiropractic Care and Running Injuries

I use to have a chiropractor who helped me with running aches and pains, usually my left SI joint or my right hamstring.   When I had trouble with my back three years ago, though, he wasn’t able to help me at all; yet, he kept wanting me to go back for treatments.  I turned to a physiotherapist who had a different approach and it ended up being the right one.  I never did go back to that chiropractor.

This summer, I went through the reverse when Tammy the Hamstring acted up.  I started with physiotherapy which just didn’t seem to be making any difference in how I felt.  I called a friend to ask for her acupuncturist’s name, but she suggested that I see her chiropractor.  “He’s really good,” she said.  He knows muscles too.”  So I took his name, googled him, read that he specializes in running and hockey injuries and had treated some high profile athletes including an Olympian sprinter.  I picked up the phone and made an appointment to see him that week.

Lunging with company is always better.

That Friday, Sandy treated me and gave me orders to run over the weekend, with a long warm-up and a gazillion lunges.  And, since the run/walk combination had been too painful, he told me to just run very slowly.   After my third visit with Sandy, my husband decided that he would run with me that night but he watched while I did my 6 sets of 60 lunges.

A rare run together!

On the run home, Dave exclaimed, “Your form has completely changed!”  I waited for the negative comments to follow, about how sore and lop-sided I looked, but instead he said, “It’s unbelievable!  You are completely symmetrical!  You’ve lost your funny kick.  It’s absolutely incredible!  Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”

“Even though I am so slow?” I asked.

“You look great!  It’s unreal!”

My husband is not one to hand out compliments, so I was shocked by his enthusiasm and support, as well as blown away by the almost instantaneous change that resulted from just a few chiropractic treatments.  It was clear that this was the right therapy for me.

In the past week, I have had a setback, but Sandy’s treatments and fitness plan for me have been effective.  I am in this for the long haul and am going to do whatever it takes to heal.  Between Sandy and my coach, I know that I will be able to come back stronger and faster than before.

To anyone with an injury, this is my advice: don’t fixate on one type of treatment.  What worked before may not another time so it is important to be open to new ideas.  I went in for my first visit with a “let’s see how it goes” attitude and, to my surprise, it was the right solution.  While I feel like I am back at square one, I have every confidence that chiropractic care will help me get to where I want to be.

Bravery

At the expo: feeling ready!

Many years ago, I told my youngest that he was brave.  In his little boy mind, he didn’t understand so I explained that being brave means that you do something that you don’t want to do.

Yesterday, those words flew back to me when my friend, Wendy, posted that I was brave to stop running.  I had thought my decision was tough, hard, smart and even courageous, but not once did I think of it as being brave.   I know this seems odd when bravery and courage are synonyms, but “brave” is just that much more of a powerful word.

I thought back to that conversation I had with my youngest: being brave means doing something that you don’t want to do.   I spent the past three months determined to start yesterday’s race and, in the past six weeks, I rebuilt my strength and endurance to start and finish.  I was excited but also cautious that Tammy the Hamstring could make a reappearance.  Sure enough, she did – and at the twelfth hour – but she also settled down enough to make me believe that I could run 26.2 miles.

Before the start of the Chicago Marathon

Yesterday, I was on my guard as I started the marathon and, barely ten minutes in, I stepped aside.  I got on the sidewalk and I held myself together  while I worked my way back to the hotel.  Feeling like a failure, I didn’t  want any attention but, ironically, I was upset that not one of the hundreds of spectators I saw asked if I was okay.  I wanted to cry, but I had to be brave.

Wendy’s words helped me to realize that bravery was a huge part of this journey.  I did what I had to do, not what I wanted to do.  I am 55 and want to  be running and racing competitively for many more.  As I reflect on the past few months and set goals for the future, I know that there are going to be other tough decisions to make and I am prepared to face them.

 

It Just Wasn’t Meant To Be

Weeks ago, I took on the “whatever it takes attitude” in the hope that I would be able to toe the line at the Chicago Marathon.  I saw an osteopath who worked some magic.  I spent time with an acupuncturist who lessened the pain and improved the circulation in my glutes and hamstring.  And I found a chiropractor who is a gift to runners.

Within weeks, my Chiro got me running from 2 miles a week at the end of August to ending my training with 40+ mile weeks.  When I first saw him, it hurt to walk.  Last Sunday, and the one before, I ran 18 miles relatively painfree.  I had put in the time running, stretching, and strengthening, and I was ready for Chicago – not for a fast time but to finish what I started.

But you can’t underestimate the power of the marathon.  During the final days of my taper, Tammy the Hamstring came back to visit and she was angry.  On Wednesday night, Kelly-Lynne and I went out for an easy 6 mile run and, half-way through, I felt like my back thigh was bleeding internally.  A bit later, I thought a knife ripped through my piriformis.  Minutes later, Kelly-Lynne and I walked Tammy back home, with me holding back tears.

After two more visits to the chiropractor, who felt I was just having a muscle spasm, and an acupuncture treatment, all I could do was hold my breath and hope that I would be able to run.  Tammy needed to settle down.

By last night, I felt much better.  My leg had loosened up, and I made the decision to run slowly for the first six miles of today’s marathon and take it from there. I felt confident that I was going to be able to finish.

So this morning, I left my sleeping husband and boys at the hotel at 6:00 as I walked to the start.  Tammy the Hamstring felt relaxed; she was back under control.  At 8:00, we started to move to the start line and began our marathon.  But just past the one mile point, I felt a twinge.  Tammy had resurfaced.

It was only a few minutes longer before I realized that I wasn’t going to finish.  I was prepared to walk the back end of the course but not 25 miles, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to run.  So I called it a day.

It took almost an hour to get back to the hotel because of the road closures, and I watched runners and walkers of different sizes and speeds pass me.  That was hard.  I wondered whether I made the right decision until I hobbled back into the hotel lobby.   It was clear that I made the best choice.

A nap, a snack and a lot of tears later, I am comfortable with my decision.  I gave Chicago my best shot but finishing today just wasn’t in the cards.  For whatever reason, this just wasn’t meant to be.

I am grateful for the optimism of my youngest who said, “Ya, but we’re in Chicago.  At least, we get a holiday together.”  And he is right.  It is Canada’s Thanksgiving and I am thankful to be here with my husband and boys.  In the end, this time together is what matters the most.

 

 

Running and Parenting (and Finding My Poop Peeps)

Gastro-intestinal distress.  It’s a secret ailment that most runners share and, like childbirth, unless you have experienced it, you really don’t know what it is all about.  Well, for those of you who have been fortunate enough to escape the horrors of GI distress, running means that you are pounding your body’s weight into the ground, which also means that you’re shaking up the contents of your stomach.  The longer the distance you run, the more everything breaks apart.  As everything loosens, it easily passes through your intestinal tract and, sometimes, faster than expected, leaving runners desperately seeking a bathroom, porta-potty or tall grass.  If you aren’t careful, GI distress can be an absolute disaster.

When I run with friends, no one ever argues if someone needs a bathroom; we’ve all been in that situation.  And no one ever complains about the wait.  In fact, none of my friends really talk about GI distress at all – except Kelly-Lynne.  A few months ago, she complained about eating the wrong foods at work so, twenty-five minutes into our evening run, we had to stop for a bathroom.  This time, it was me who was waiting for her, which was so unusual that I teased her about it, and we somehow ended up talking about poop for the rest of the run.  By the time we finished, I asked, “Do you realize that we just spent the last 30 minutes talking about poop?  How many girls talk about poop?  That is unheard of!”  Finally, I had found a poop peep.

Years ago, my conversations about poop were limited to other moms who had to deal with the horrors of poopy diapers and poop that finds its way up a baby’s back and into every crevice of the body, places that I never would have imagined poop could crawl into until I had my own boys, poop that was so gross that Dave would jump to walk the dog on the coldest days of winter to avoid the dreaded diaper change.    But Kelly-Lynne is my first real poop peep, someone to share my greatest pre-race fears: not emptying my gut before the start, getting caught mid-race needing a porta-potty and wondering whether I can ‘hang on’ until the end.

Last night, Tammy the Hamstring derailed my plans to take my youngest and his three friends to the Blue Jays game.  I knew that Tammy wouldn’t want to sit at the game for 2 hours or more, and she would end up complaining about the train trip in and out of the city as well.  When Dave came to the rescue and agreed to take the boys, the other moms (Susan and Anna) were equally grateful and asked me to thank him.  “He still owes me,” I messaged.  “I’d rather take 4 boys to a baseball game than spend all those years changing poopy diapers.  He got off easy.”  Somehow the discussion changed to the joys of teen boys and plunging toilets of their superhuman feats bobbing inside.  Within minutes, I realized that I had found more poop peeps.

Susan and Anna are not just poop peeps, though.  They are peeps with strategies, mom hacks that are so brilliant that they make bathing a skunky dog with Vagisil seem banal, strategies that include using laxatives to break down the most frightening of exhibits or pouring Restoralax (and, yes, you can buy it in bulk at Costco) into the toilet bowl to loosen things.   A Restoralax/Gatorade concoction, they tell me, moves things along quite nicely.  Gatorade in the toilet?  Who knew?!

Everyone needs a poop peep, especially if you are a runner, a mom or a running mom.  My network feels complete but there is always room for more.

 

Taming Tammy

Taking two weeks off running was completely my idea.  I needed to remove the pressure of trying to run and to train for Chicago.  I needed to focus on healing. At the time, I honestly didn’t know if it was a good idea or not, and I still don’t, but it gave me the break that I needed.  It gave me the time to accept that Chicago will not be the marathon that I want it to be; once that happened, my frustration disappeared.

But taking the time off was still hard even though I walked Zeda, I spun my wheel on my windtrainer (because I didn’t trust that riding up and down hills in the great outdoors would be good for Tammy the Hamstring), and I went to yoga.    I survived the first week  without running but, by Day 10, I was getting antsy.  “Four more days will not make a difference” I told myself.  By Day 14, I was quite excited – one more day.   It no longer hurt when I walk, my stability was back and I felt stronger, but I didn’t know if the time off would help my running.

I decided to test the trails on Saturday afternoon instead of in the morning as I felt my body would be more awake and Tammy would be less of a nuisance.  I knew that I had to do 2’s and 1’s, and slowly.   My osteopath also gave me some exercises to do before and after: hip rotations (like using a hula hoop), opening and closing the gates, and leg swings (forwards and sideways).  I could hear my hip popping during the first set, which made me nervous, but I stuck to the plan: go out slowly, on a soft surface, 2 minutes on, 1 minute off, aim for a mile.

Two miles run!

When I left the house, I was able to run along a straight plane but I had trouble manoeuvring corners and turns, even at a 9/10 minute mile pace.  I almost quit and went back home.  “Stick to the plan.”  After 3 sets of 2’s and 1’s, I could feel that my hips had loosened up and I was moving more easily.  After 6 sets, I was able to turn the same corner that I couldn’t get around before.  Success!   Then I went through my exercises at home for another 20 minutes.  In the end, I spent more time warming up and cooling down/stretching than I actually did running, but it really didn’t matter because I ran!

Taming Tammy

Today, I went through the same routine but ran on a mix of surfaces – grass, gravel path, road – and for a bit longer.   As on Saturday, I finished feeling good about running, but Tammy was still a pain in the butt – not as much of a pain as she was before, but still a nuisance.  As my osteopath explained, there is scar tissue surrounding Tammy that has formed a rope and it needs to be loosened.   When Tammy complains to my brain that she is sore, my body reacts by tightening up even more to protect her.  But my joints and bones are healthy, my tendons are strong, and there is lots of fluid flowing through my veins.  So I need to run – slowly and carefully – to start breaking up the scar tissue, to tame Tammy and to send the message to my brain that I am not broken; I am strong.

What does this mean in terms of the Chicago Marathon?  I have no idea.  I will be there and I will be running.  I don’t know how far or how fast but I do know it will be with Tammy, and she will be on a very short leash.