Saturday, December 31, 2011

Elliptical Sabbatical

Ok, so maybe the elliptical trainer isn't so bad. I really have been badmouthing the elliptical lately, and I shouldn't.  After all, it's not the elliptical's fault I am not running.  It's my fault.  Why blame a dumb machine for a problem I brought on myself?

In fact, I should be thanking the elliptical for being there to pick up the pieces of my current fitness program - for being there for me in my time of need.  It doesn't know it is sloppy seconds, that while I spend time with it, I long for another.  The elliptical can't help that it is trapped indoors on beautiful winter days, that it is lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with other ellipticals, or that it just doesn't give me the "thrill" of a good run.  It just soldiers on, putting me through my non-pounding paces, allowing me to elevate the heart rate, sweat out the negativity, and hopefully keep somewhat in shape - all without pounding the crap out of my joints, which seem to to need a break right now.

So, for all that, I should be celebrating the elliptical machine and whoever invented it.  Without it, I would be reduced to biking or - shudder - swimming or some such.

One thing I don't understand about the elliptical, however, is all the people I see hanging on to it for their dear lives.  For myself, I just let my arms swing free, but I am obviously in the minority.  I have to admit to feeling slightly superior to the death grip crowd - well, until those moments when I almost fall off and I have to quick grab on to keep myself from splatting on the gym floor.  (Luckily, a quick look around usually reveals that no one has noticed.)  It is at times like that that I wonder if I am supposed to be hanging on.  I guess I always thought letting my arms swing free copied more the motion of running and worked the smaller balancing muscles.  Maybe a mistake?  Don't know.

In any event, what has become clear is that I do need to introduce some type of cross-training activity into my routine.  I think it would make me a more well-rounded "athlete," and it would then be available for those times when I can't run.  Andy rows on his non-running days, but I can't seem to get into it.  And, while I like biking, I don't get out and do it too much in the colder weather, and I don't like being on the bikes inside.

So, as I start to develop a grudging respect for the elliptical trainer, I can't help but think that maybe introducing it into my fitness equation wouldn't be a bad idea - maybe once a week or so?  It really seems to work my quads - even more so than running - and it is a great, non-pounding workout.  Food for thought.

What is your favorite cross-training exercise?

Oh, by the way, Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Not running is making me a B.....

...etter person, no doubt.  (What did you think I was going to say?)  If not getting what you want builds character, then watch out.  Once I get past all the whining, I am going to be a noble person indeed.

So, I was hoping to head out on the trails today for a short run to see how life was treating my poor, sore leg.  Unfortunately, trying to crawl across the floor last night to get a toy for my kid, I realized that I am still really favoring my left leg.  So, it would appear life has other plans for me and no trails are in my future today.

I have not run since last Saturday - so six days.  Instead I have done the elliptical twice and rested on the off days.  I have been using heat on my shin twice a day instead of icing.  The results?  Well, instead of things feeling 80-percent crappy after exercise, I would say they are feeling more in the 35 to 45 percent range - so not miraculously better, but certainly not worse.  In fact, I am hopefully optimistic that I am headed in the right direction.  I only question now if I am doing enough.  Thoughts still go through my head that I should just completely take time off from everything for a week or so, but so far I cannot bring myself to take that drastic step.

Boo Hoo ... Why Me?

Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the image I must make with my little injuries and dramas.  I mean, the title of this blog is Tales from an Average Runner, not Tales from an Elite-Hoping-to-Get-to-Boston Runner.  I keep thinking to myself, I should not be having these issues.  I am not an elite runner packing on a zillion miles a week, nor am I a beginner or weekend warrior.  To my mind, I should be in that sweet spot of running: just an average runner who runs enough to keep in shape but not so much that they are hurting themselves.  I don't get it.  I guess it just goes to show that the average runner can deal with injury, too.  Who knows, maybe it is just bad genes or mechanics.  Maybe I'll figure it out one day.

In the meantime, I am left with a lot of time to think about this, and it's hard to put into words the feelings and thoughts that I am experiencing right now.  "Frustrated, anxious, impatient, annoyed" are just a few of them.  And, you may notice not one of them is particularly positive.  I have never been a very patient person, and I have an extremely hard time taking the long view of things - especially when it comes to running.  It is KILLING me not to just head outside and do what I want to do right now, which today means a trail run (one of the first I would have done in a long time).  I have to keep reminding myself that this isn't that bad.... some folks are sidelined for months with injuries (and how I don't want to be one of them).

The only positive thing - or maybe this is adding fuel to my frustration - is that I know I could go out and run if I wanted to.  After all, my shin doesn't actually hurt while I run.  It's after running that it gets ugly.  It hurts when I press on it (I know, I know, so don't press on it), and when I kneel on the floor with my kids.  That last one bothers me the most.  When something like this gets in the way of everyday life activities, I start to get pissed off.  That's what sent me to physical therapy (finally) with my hip earlier this year.  I was having pain so bad it got in the way of everyday life.  (It was fine while I ran.)


Doing yet another search for information on the all-knowing (sic) web last night, I came across a post that most closely sounded like what I have been experiencing: tender to the touch at the top outside of the tibia, hurts when kneeling.  The "diagnosis?" Patellar tendonitis.  Gee, that is what I was diagnosed with about four months ago, given exercises for, and never followed through on.  In a way, I feel I could bang my head against the wall.  Seriously?  If that diagnosis is right, then I blew things in a big way.  So, by not following through on the exercises I was given months ago, I may have made things worse.  It's funny how that works.  At the same time, in a weird, round-about way it is comforting to know that this is not a new injury but rather the same old, same old.

Alright, I know, I know.  A self-diagnosis from the web is probably one of the worst things a person can do.  And, I guess it probably seems like I am spending a lot of time worrying about this, when in fact I could just go to a doctor or physical therapist and get a true diagnosis.  But, the problem I have with that, is that if they are just going to tell me I need to RICE it anyway, then I feel stupid if I haven't given that a try on my own yet.  So, that's where I am at.  I am giving it a try on my own ... trying VERY, VERY hard not to sabotage things by saying, "just one little run won't hurt..."

Meanwhile, my husband is out on the trails this morning for an easy, two-hour run, testing out some new shoes.  Grrrrr.  I think I need to head to the elliptical and work out some frustration.

Happy ellipticizing!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Squishable, moldable comfort

I started trying something new yesterday on the advice of a PT friend of mine - heat.  Twice a day now I am putting heat on my poor afflicted shin in the hopes of maximizing the advantage of the healing powers of increased blood circulation.  So far I can't tell if it is working - it's too soon for that - but I have to say that applying heat to my legs in winter is proving to be just cozy comfy anyway.  I could get used to this.  Of course, the downside is that it makes me feel like an old lady.  All I can think of while I am doing it is the heating pads I remember seeing at my grandparents' house as a kid.

I don't even own a heating pad, so it was suggested I use a sock filled with rice microwaved until warm.  However, before I could even give much thought as to which type (white, brown, Basmati, etc.), Andy reminded me that my souvenir Lakefront Marathon cold pack actually goes both ways - cold and heat pack.  So, I set that puppy out on the counter to thaw and then proceeded to microwave it to get warm.  Soon it was bringing its squishable, moldable comfort to my shin.  Again, probably the best "happy" you could get in a marathon goody bag.  It's a nice reminder of the race I ran, even as I can't help thinking that particular race is probably also the reason for the shin injury in the first place.  Ah well.

So, I heat my leg and think about all the races I have thought of doing in 2012, including the two marathons I have already bought and paid for.  I also think about the great running-related gifts I got for Christmas - a running skirt and top, arm warmers, and gift certificate for new shoes (yes, I cleaned up!) - and when/if I will be able to use them.  Soon, I hope.  In the meantime, I am enjoying another running gift, reading Amby Burfoot's collection of essays The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life.  It's a nice reminder at this time that running, like life, is a series of ups and downs and to keep my mind on the fact that I hope to be in this for the long haul.  Patience here is key.

Speaking of running-related gifts, here is a picture of one I made my husband - a medal holder.

Yes, you read that right.  I made it.  I am quite proud of that.  My actual intention was to buy one, but when the online store I was perusing sold out of its stock, rather than scrap the idea I decided to go the scrap wood route.  I went to Home Depot, got a free piece of scrap wood and then proceeded to buy over $30 in supplies to make something that would have cost me $29 plus shipping to buy.   Anyway, I think Andy actually liked the gift, especially the fact that the kids and I made it ourselves.  (My little helper elves painted the base coats.)  And, I have a new respect for products that look simple to make.  They aren't.  This project was more involved and took more time than I could have imagined.  In any case, regardless of how amateurish it might look, I am hoping that getting the medals on there will beat the pile on the shelf that we previously had.  Maybe not.  We'll see.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The art of getting injured ... and family frivolity

I am really proud of myself.  I think I have really brought injuring oneself while running to a higher level - an art form even.  Seriously, I always bemoan the fact that my running is not that good, but this part I think I am close to perfecting.  I am really good at hurting myself.  In fact, I have gotten so good that I feel there must be a breakthrough coming here soon.  I mean, isn't that what you always read - about that person who kept getting injured but then they converted to ChiRunning, Galloway, minimal shoes, barefoot running and that saved them, changed everything?  Well, if that's the case, I have got to be really close to reaching that magic point.  I am waiting for the breakthrough, waiting, waiting....

Time off or Time OFF?

So, while I wait, I have decided to take a week off from running and just try doing the elliptical instead.  I can't seem to shake off that nagging shin injury, although I have to say my maintenance efforts on the off-days (the icing, massage, etc.) have been a bit half-hearted.  After running last Wednesday, I took Thursday and Friday off and then ran six miles with the running club on Saturday morning.  The shin's been sore ever since.  I've iced regularly the past three days, but I just can't seem to make it completely go away.  Now I am (finally) starting to second guess whether running on it is wise or not.  I never know if continuing to run with an injury is just slowing recovery down or completely preventing it.  Today I got frustrated enough to throw in the towel and just do the elliptical.  I will try this for a week, and if it doesn't help things, I guess I'll go to just doing nothing for a week or so and see what that does - besides drive me crazy.  (I can't remember the last time I just completely took a week off of running, and maybe that is my problem.)

My husband never seems to understand why I never just take time off when I seem to have a running boo-boo anyway.  Aside from the insanity thing, I guess the only reason that I can think of is that I just don't really believe that time off will help. That's all.  There have been two times in my life when I have taken time off from running, once for a month due to illness and once for two months because I was tired of a knee injury I had.  Both times, the nagging aches and pains I had at the time went away, and both times they came back again in a different form.  I have this weird feeling that I just have to hold onto stress somewhere in my body, and until I can figure out how to get rid of that, I am just stuck with the issue du jour until such time as it works its way to another part of my body.

Hmm, now that I think of it, maybe it is working it's way out of my body.  Originally this year, I had a hip issue, then it became a patellar tendon issue, now it is in the shin and my right foot.  Could it be that it is literally working its way out of my body?  Ok, I think that glass of petit syrah is going to my brain.

In any event, the elliptical was fine.  Did 40 minutes and really felt it in my quads - way more than running would impact me, so we'll see how it goes.  Good stretch session afterwards, too.

Christmas Recovery Mode

So, our family is recovering well from Christmas this year.  There are not enough words to express how grateful I am for my family.  We had a great holiday.  It was a lot of fun with the kids.  Both were so hyper aware of it all, that it made it that much more fun.  This year Christmas hit the Little Guy like a Mack truck.  He was so involved in the new toys and games he got yesterday that by evening I felt I had hardly seen him at all.  E. was much more circumspect and seemed to have a hard time taking it all in.  Today both were much recovered from their crazy day of overload, but L.G. was still wiped out.  Early to bed for both of them, which was kind of nice.  Of course, for E. early to bed has taken on a new meaning.  After learning that she was reading to herself before sleep by the light of her clock, mom and dad got her a small lamp for her room to read by.  Now the battle of "turn off your light" begins.

A Hike Well Played

I took the kids out to the local state park for a walk today, and that turned out to be great!  We walked for about a half hour or so - if not more - before heading back to the car for an impromptu picnic of hard rolls, cheese, fruit and ginger cookies.  The kids did great on the walk, and the bonus came later in the day when E. wrote in her scrap book, "I love hiking."  This is the kid who we had to drag kicking and screaming (okay, not "literally" kicking and screaming; more like dragging heels and whining) on two hikes in Colorado.  Either she is maturing a bit, or she just prefers winter to summer hikes.  In either case, I will take it.  Score one for the fitness-fanatic mom.  Yay!

E. has also said she wants to do a two-mile run now that she has successfully conquered the one-miler a month ago.  I hope she means it because Andy and I jumped on that one.  There just so happens to be a two-miler in three weeks at an area zoo.  If she didn't mean it, I guess it's never too early to learn the value of the phrase "careful what you wish for."

A New Year's Wish

On a final note, I have to say, as the new year approaches, I will not be setting a New Year's Resolution.  I know a lot of folks do, but I never have.  I don't feel important goals benefit from having a start date.... To me start dates imply end dates, and that's not what I want.  That being said, I do have a fervent wish for the New Year (aside from world peace, of course, which is always hoped for) and that is to get my body into injury-free shape so that I can start piling on some miles.  Aside from the fact that I just miss running with abandon (i.e., not worrying about hurting myself), I got a boatload of chocolate in my Christmas stocking (thanks, Andy!), and if I can't run those calories off, it ain't going to be pretty.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fa la la la la, la la la la

So, it's been a while since I have been out here to write something, and, no, I have not thrown in the towel on the whole blogging experience. Rather, with the holidays it has been hard to find time to write.  As my husband is fond of saying, every time you add a new hobby/thing to do, something has to give way.  Happily, for me this holiday season, what has given way has been the writing.  I say "happily" because at least it hasn't been the running - which has always been the case in the past.

Everywhere I look lately magazines and online sources are telling me not to give up my exercise or diet routine during the holiday season - that that will guarantee I skate through these few weeks stress-free and with my health relatively intact.  Hmm, I don't know if that is true or not, but for the first year ever I am actually not abandoning my running routine due to holiday obligations.  I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, as my legs still do not feel great.  My left shin still is unhappy after almost every run, so I am left with icing it and doing cross-friction massage on my off days.  My right foot, too, has decided to whine, so I have started icing that as well.  I recently went to see my physical therapist for a consult, and so far no red flags have appeared, so I will continue running through it for the time being.  I guess the good news is that running doesn't bother either leg or foot.  Like most things with me, it's mostly afterwards that they complain.  As my PT noted, I do have a tendency towards "itises" (i.e., tendonitis), so I guess maybe this is just the cross I have to bear if I want to continue running.

In any case, after my last great whine-post, I had an epiphany of sorts.  I realized that in all the long-distance training leading up to the marathon, I had followed a Galloway run/walk method.  I further realized that directly after the marathon, I threw caution to the wind and decided to scrap the "walk" portion of the run/walk.  So, all in all, I am not surprised that I might have hurt myself, seeing as not only was I no longer taking walk breaks, but I had also increased the speed of most of my runs - and my weekly distance.  Duh!  I guess that is the problem with following your gut - well, at least my gut.  My gut is not very smart and will lead me into trouble every time.

So, it's been back to the run/walk for me, and that has been enjoyable.  I have really liked the group runs, but with the run/walk I have been able to get my runs in, spend some time thinking, just cruising around looking at the holiday lights.  That's not to say I haven't done ANY group runs, because I have managed some.  I ran the NilleB - backwards Bellin on December 10.  The Bellin 10K is one of the country's largest and I have run it a couple of times.  The NilleB, which of course follows the Bellin course backwards is simply a fun run put on by a local running store and running club.  I had a lot of fun running it, despite the fact that it was one of the coldest days of the year so far.  (It took about two miles for my fingers to warm up and three for my toes - ouch.)  I did the run/walk for that and forced myself to go slow. For me, that meant four-minute-run and one-minute-walk intervals.  I came upon a trio of runners doing about a 10:30 pace in the first mile, so I decided I would run with them on the running portions.  So, basically, I would walk, run to catch up with them, and then tuck in behind them to maintain a slower pace while running, walk, catch up, run.... over and over again.  I think that could have been considered pretty obnoxious, but I started chatting and joking with them early on and we seemed to get along famously.  What a kick that was!  I mean, when did 10:30 pace become "easy" for me?

Other group runs included the wine run last week - a three-mile run followed by a glass of wine at a wine bar - and yesterday's Wednesday morning group run.  Yesterday's run took me a bit out of my current comfort zone actually, but it was good.  I really just intended to do my run/walk for an hour and catch up with the group later for coffee.  However, when I got to the coffee shop they happened to still be standing around, so I decided why not and ran with them.  We took it a bit slower, but we did do 6.3 miles - a bit more than I would have thought to go originally.  It was a lot of fun, though, and I am glad I had the chance to run with my friends before Christmas.

So, the holidays have been hectic around here - in a good way. I have always loved this holiday and I make no apologies for it.  Having the young 'uns now just makes it that much better.  They are so excited it is hard not to catch their excitement.  Two days until Christmas and it is hard to believe I still have things to do.....cookies to bake, a card to buy, a couple little gifts yet to buy.  Despite best efforts, I can never seem to get everything done ahead of time.  Of course, I figure even if I did get everything done ahead of time, that would just be an excuse to find other unnecessary things to do.  So, I'll take things as they are, I guess.

To wrap up, I will wish the few of you who actually read my blog Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!  Hope you all are keeping to your health-promoting routines, and if you aren't - no worries!  That's what the new year is for.  Everyone needs downtime sometime.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Boo hoo for me. Or, why I want to either quit or run myself into the ground.

Well, there have been several times this week when I have seriously considered throwing in the towel on running.  After an amazing year of running experiences, I feel ready to say I am done with this fine sport.  It's been fun.  Better luck next time.  You see, I think I am too stupid to continue running.  No, really.  I think I lack the brains it takes to figure out how to make running a lifelong, working commitment for myself.  Why so harsh?  Well, it appears I am injured - again.  And, although I know this happens to everyone every once in a while, this would be about the fourth time it has happened to me this year alone.  I am finally coming across even to myself as someone who is in serious need of intervention, like a drug addict in rehab once again.  I seem incapable of helping myself.

It all started about five weeks ago when I went for an eight-mile run without compression socks on. (I only mention the compression socks because since training for the marathon, which I ran on October 2, I had gotten used to using them for long runs.)  While the run itself felt great, I noticed right after that something wasn't right with my left shin.  A point along the shin bone - about where my patellar tendon would connect - was really sore to the touch.  I didn't think too much about it; I iced and stretched and it went away.  A half marathon the following week (with compression socks) didn't exacerbate the problem. In fact, if it bothered me at all in the next week, it did so without much fanfare; I barely noticed it.  Six days after the half marathon, though, I ran a seven-miler faster than I am used to without walk breaks, and five days after that another 6.5-miler also faster than normal.  It was after that last run that I really started noticing the shin.  In fact, it's been bothering me for the two and a half weeks since.  Oh, it's not every day, and it is not while I run.  No, that would be too easy.  My problem is that the running is more or less fine.  If anything, my calves are a little tight.  However, later on the day of the run and the next day or so, it really bugs me - to the point that I cannot kneel on the floor with my kids.  It feels inflamed and irritated.  So, I stretch and I ice and I use the foam roller.  By the time the next scheduled run rolls around, though, it generally feels better, so I am lulled into thinking running again wouldn't be so bad.  And then the whole cycle starts over.

Now, what's so irritating about this situation is that whenever I talk to anyone who has had true running injuries, they always say that whatever hurt them hurt really badly WHILE THEY WERE RUNNING.  That doesn't happen to me.  It's always afterward.  How am I supposed to interpret that?  When I had my hip injury earlier this year (the one that sent me to PT for almost two months), it wasn't because it was bothering me while running, it was because it was tightening up to such an extent when I wasn't running that it became excruciating.  My physical therapist at the time actually told me that if I weren't athletic (such as it is), I probably wouldn't have this problem.  Sedentary people don't have to deal with such things.  (Of course there would be other problems to deal with, to be sure.)

So, where does that leave me - besides frustrated?  I am not sure.  Unfortunately, I am not a very organized individual.  If the devil is in the details, then I must be fairly pious-minded, because things for me tend to be black and white, all or nothing, there are no gradients.  For me, the clear solution is to either scrap running altogether in complete and utter disgust or to keep running despite the pain and discomfort until I eventually injure myself to the point of needing professional help.  In the past, I have been known to do one or the other of those.  This time around is different.  I don't really want to play to the extremes.  So, I guess all that means is that I need to collect myself somewhere in the middle and figure out - methodically - how to solve this problem.

That's where the "too stupid to" part comes in.  I don't think I have the wits or the patience to work this out - seriously.  So, let the waffling ensue, ... and... to be continued, I guess,.... once I figure it out.