Monday, June 30, 2014

Small Victories

Yesterday was a bad day!

I woke up at about 4:30 in the morning with some really bad pains in my lower abdomen around into my low back. I figured it was a pulled muscle or something and tried changing positions.

Pain. Pain. Pain.

So I got out of bed and went to the bathroom. No change.

Walked around the house for a little while. No change, in fact, worse.

I called my sister. It's convenient having a nurse in your pocket. She gave me her usual advice after the barrage of questions, "If it's the worst pain of your life, go to the ER." Now I have a severely skewed pain scale not entirely attributed to my endurance activity habit. A few years ago I managed a bout of meningitis which is by far the worst pain I could ever have imagined so my pain scale is often 1 to meningitis. That scale puts a broken leg marathon at a 3 if that gives you any indication of my perception. I try to use a "normal" pain scale when appropriate and that would make broken leg marathon a 10 which put last night's pain at a 9.5.

To the ER we go.

I try to make it a habit to avoid unpleasant places and the ER has to be on top of that list. I'd rather be just about anywhere else. I'm going to spare you the details of my misery including but not limited to the drunk man snoring, farting and screaming NURSE as he wandered shoeless around our little pod, the elderly woman moaning incessantly because she's constipated from refusing her laxative and stool softeners and has approximately 5 POUNDS OF POO sitting inside of her, the man on vicodin who was unnervingly conscious and didn't understand why he couldn't drive himself home (side note: I was on vicodin with the meningitis and slept for about 2 weeks straight and don't remember any of it), and the other elderly woman who ate a lot of peaches and now felt sick with gas.

Long story short, I still don't know where the pain came from or what caused it. Maybe a kidney stone or ruptured cyst. I have to do some follow ups with my normal doctors and maybe we'll get it figured out.

So what was the small victory? My vital signs were amazing! The triage nurse told me as she hooked me up to all kinds of things that my pulse and blood pressure might be elevated since I was in some pain. I managed a blood pressure of 112 over 70 and pulse (heart rate) of 60! Those numbers actually are a little elevated from my norm but if you'd like to better understand blood pressure, here's some info from the American Heart Association. Basically you want the first number below 120 and the second below 80.

The best news is that I also don't have any pain anymore so I guess it was a fleeting, random occurrence?

I'm getting better at finding those silver linings :)

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Earlier this week I tweeted a question to my followers (p.s. You should be one!) asking how I would spend my last free Saturday before inviting in the marathon monster.

Upon further investigation I found that since I ended up changing my mind about which race I was going to do I was already a week behind.

So last Saturday was my last time to sleep in. Which I didn't do, if you'll recall that little swim I did. It was mildly disappointing but last night I decided to suck it up and spent a few minutes updating my play list so I could actually enjoy myself. What is it about new music that makes you really excited to run and listen to it? I mean, realistically I could just listen to the songs whenever I want.


Anyway, in an attempt to do it right from the start this time I was up around 5 am so I actually had time to eat before I ran. I didn't do a great job at it today but at least being awake early will serve me well when I really need to eat. 

I got out to the park around 6:45 and actually warmed up with some dynamic stretches (see: doing it right this time) and was ready to run by 7. I only had 5 miles on the schedule but considering I've been averaging 5 running miles a week for the past several months (thanks swimming) I wasn't terribly optimistic. The humidity was oppressive but it was overcast and only in the 70s so really the best I could ask for at the end of June in Louisville. It wasn't pretty but I made it through and saw way too many people I knew out running too including my briefly hired former triathlon coach, my chiropractor, a woman I know from dailymile and another woman I volunteer with. I guess I really am part of this running community.

Post run I took my very first true selfie I think.

Then I did a little video recap so I can look back on this experience fondly in a few months. I've never really done any kind of film work aside from a dance party video montage DVD in high school so I think this will be a fun little project. Follow along if you'd like :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

To Run or Rest...When it Comes to Injuries

How many of you have had a training injury or a chronic injury that impedes your training?

I'm sure there's some kind of statistic that says the likelihood of injury among those who participate in regular physical activity is relatively high and actually it's probably not too far off from the statistic of those who are injured performing everyday activities. Our bodies are not invincible despite their ability to endure repeated punishment in various forms. Perhaps the best part about our bodies is their adaptability followed closely by its ability to repair itself. Everyday, cells are dropping dead and even the healthiest of people are experiencing some kind of harm to their bodies whether it's just breathing in toxins or aging yet we still manage incredible feats every single day. There's no way to completely shield yourself from harm but what's more important is to not further the damage or let your ego be its cause.

No athlete likes to rest. It's true. The majority of the social communities I find myself a part of consist of people who are regularly physically active and it seems that almost daily there's a post in a Facebook group or a paragraph of a blog post that asks about injuries.

How do I know when to push through an injury?

Should I take an extra rest day or just do a quick 3 miles?

Am I injured or just tired/lazy/slow?

Before any big race I see pictures of taped and wrapped shins, ankles, feet and hips. I read questions about whether or not to take medicine before or during the event to "push through the pain". These are all valid questions and I know everyone who responds to them genuinely believes in their advice and doesn't mean any harm. Unfortunately, none of us want to give the advice we should be giving. Nobody wants to say rest, ice or the dreaded words see a doctor or take more time off. Athletes don't rest until they're done! No pain, no gain right?

Last year I wrote this post about excuses and it still rings true today. There is a point where exercise can flat out hurt. There are those times when your face is tense and every part of your body is screaming at you to just sit down and eat a doughnut. Those are the times when "listen to your body" doesn't apply. Our bodies are designed for survival and that means expending the fewest amount of calories possible to perform any given task. Parts of us have yet to evolve from fight or flight into this isn't life or death, it's just voluntary exercise.

So what's my point? It is crucial to recognize the difference between fatigue "pain" and true injury. No one can tell you the difference so it's your duty to learn it for yourself. Ever since that broken leg marathon incident I've been studying injury prevention obsessively and although I'm not a certified trainer (yet) or medical professional I think I have a few words of wisdom to help others avoid some of my past mistakes.

  1.  ALL sudden pain should be taken seriously. If you are running/walking/swimming/biking/stretching or really doing anything at all and feel a very sudden pain, STOP DOING THAT. You have likely just injured yourself. Now the severity of said injury can vary greatly, but at that moment your body has done something it probably shouldn't have. If you're out for a run, ease up, walk it out a little and see if it helps. If it doesn't, STOP RUNNING.
  2. If a pain makes you verbally curse or cry out, it should be taken seriously. Before my first triathlon I had my first ever shoulder injury. But the problem probably wouldn't have become a matter of taking time completely off from exercise if I'd just not been a stubborn idiot. I repeatedly reached for things which would make me squeak or suck in my breath because it hurt so much. I carried things and worst of all "just kept swimming" because my precious ego didn't want to admit defeat. It wasn't anything serious and only required a week or so off but had I recognized the pain that first time I cursed picking up printer paper I would have taken a day or two off and probably been in a better position.
  3. New pain should be taken seriously. There are some things you learn when you begin a regular exercise program and one of them is that with increased intensity you'll increase your chances of something hurting. My biggest excuse when I ignored my broken leg for so long was that since I was training for a marathon something was always hurting. And that's true to some degree but pretty constant fatigue or muscle soreness is very different from a new pain. Especially since I'd done a marathon before, I should have recognized that my new leg pain wasn't normal. Having sore glutes after running hill sprints or tired quads after increasing your distance is one thing. Having a hip that won't flex without considerable effort and discomfort out of nowhere isn't normal.
  4. Chronic pain should be taken seriously. Some of the most common chronic issues like low back or knee pain pretty much become a way of life for those who suffer from them which can cause them to be easily ignored. Particularly if you are starting a new exercise program, it is very likely you will aggravate these nagging issues and potentially make them much worse by stressing them in different ways if you fail to address the real issue.
In my humble opinion, one of the most overlooked treatments for injuries is simply starting back at the beginning with mobility and stability training. We'll use running as an example because I do it and recently had to see a chiropractor about nagging hip pain. What I learned was that running is done in an entirely linear movement. People (typically) don't train for races running backwards or sideways and runners are notoriously guilty of not cross training or weight training. This quickly leads to muscle imbalances from constantly working the same muscles and ignoring others. My hips didn't have the stability or mobility side to side they needed and especially after weeks of compensating for a broken leg those tiny little muscles were being stressed beyond their capability. Just like a movie with a great leading lady can still suck if the supporting cast is terrible, having big strong quads and hamstrings mean nothing if stepping on a rock will break your foot. Maybe a bad analogy but you get what I mean.

In the end, I can't tell you whether or not to push through the pain. But I can tell you from experience that pushing through is usually not the best idea. Also, professionals are not the bad guys. Doctors, PTs and other medical professionals want to help you. They want you to get back out there, but they're paid to say the things we won't say to ourselves. I understand a week before a race taping up a sore ankle and pushing through, I mean, I attempted to tape up a stress fracture. BUT after that race there's no more excuses, get it checked out.

And remember sometimes taking time off can be fun!

You know that feeling right after the race before you hit the sad post race blues state where you come home from work and sit down instead of lacing up the shoes for a run? Yeah, you can have that feeling. And you know what they say about those who can't do. If you can't race, cheer! Or volunteer! Pay it forward because there will always be another race.

*Disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR ANY KIND OF MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. All of these thoughts are just opinions gained from my personal experiences with injuries and consults with chiropractors, physiologists, physical therapists and my own readings and studies. This should all be used as advice on when to seek medical attention.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Etown Open Water Swim Recap

Hello again!

We all obviously know that I've been away for a while so let's just move on shall we?

One of the things I've been doing in my absence has been swimming...a lot. Or at least a lot more than I ever have. I signed up with a relay team for Ironman 70.3 Muncie and I was dumb enough to be the swimmer so I spend about 4 days per week in the water in hopes to not be pulled from the race due to not making the time cutoff (which is a very real possibility). Since it's warm enough to be wetsuit free I'm trying to take advantage of as much open water time as possible and that included signing up for a 2k swim at Freeman Lake in Elizabethtown (just like the movie, except this was real life and we were all less attractive).

This wasn't a race, it was officially called an open water swimming clinic so very few of the people there had the normal intensity that can be seen in races. There were the serious athletes of course but I think we all knew we weren't really out to "win" anything and that made the atmosphere a little more relaxed. The Colonel and I got there nice and early so I could attend the pre-swim meeting and get some time to warm up. I was hoping since I'd done open water before I wouldn't have those same jitters as that time I swam in the river. I'm not sure it was quite that bad but I was still stupidly nervous.

We had the opportunity to warm up for about 20 minutes before we were off so I made my way down the dock and just sort of stood there. One of the local coaches talked to me a little telling me I would be ok and to "swim like an alligator".

*Side bar: "Swim like an alligator" refers to the need to see where you're going in open water. The idea is to swim with your head more forward than down and bring your eyes just above the water's surface to see when you take a breath.

I sat on the dock for at least 10 minutes just wiggling my feet in the 81 degree water and trying to talk myself in. The only thing that really helped me was talking to a guy possibly more terrified than me about how to sight and the differences between a lake and a pool in my humble opinion. Once I talked him off the ledge (literally, he jumped in the water soon after we finished talking) I felt like an idiot to not get in and take my own advice so I slid in, holding onto the dock and held on for a few minutes. I finally let go and just bobbed in and out of the water practicing my breathing and then finally took a few strokes out and a few back. It was going to be an in water start so I tried to spend as little time as possible treading water for a couple of reasons. First, the obvious, who wants to expend extra energy? Second, I just generally hate treading water. Lastly, I can tread for about a minute before I suddenly panic that I'm drowning, then I have to flip to my back and float, then I have to talk myself down, then I can tread for another minute. It's quite ridiculous.

I stood on the steps in the water with a few other ladies some of whom happened to be in my tri club! It was nice to meet them and have some people to chat with for a while. They were all doing the 2k option too. Before long we made our way out to the start line and the 4k swimmers were sent off. About 30 seconds later the 2k swimmers were sent.

I got a really nice spot right along the buoy line and since there were only 25 in my wave and I happen to be slow, I had pretty clear water with no contact the whole way. 3 strokes in I realized I forgot to start my watch so I paused and took care of it then started on my way again. It took probably close to 250 meters before I found my rhythm and could manage more than fast shallow breaths but once I got it everything was smooth. My sighting was solid and even though I was in last place in my wave I was feeling really good and still positive. Near the turnaround point at 500 meters my left shoulder really started to feel tight and sore. It had been bothering me for a few days but not enough to do much about it other than rest a little. I also could feel the inside of my arms chafing against my tri top which I'd never worn for a real swim before. I made the decision to stop after 1k at that point since it really wasn't worth hurting myself more. The course was a 1k loop so it was easy to just swim to cut it short.

I told one of the volunteers I was coming in early and they told me I was doing great. For a second I doubted my decision to call it early but knew I was doing the right thing. I made it past the finish line and after face planting trying to walk up the incredibly slick boat ramp was told I was the winner! It was funny since there weren't actually any winners and because I was kind of a cheater. Since I understand priorities I immediately grabbed the fruit and drink before my towel.

Overall it was a beautiful day, great swim and I'm really glad I did it. For anyone local or semi-local I'd definitely recommend this swim and check out their triathlon they're putting on in September! I learned a lot, including but not limited to:

  • My tri top chafes....a lot
  • My tri shorts are too big when weighed down by water
  • I still hate treading water
  • Open water swimming is significantly more monotonous than pool swimming but still significantly more fun
  • Helping others (i.e. giving advice to more nervous people) is a great way to help yourself
In the evening after the swim I went to our monthly tri club social and had a ton of fun and then got really wild and had a cucumber cocktail at Drake's at 9:30 p.m! So what about you? How was your Saturday? Oh yeah, and did you miss me?