Standing Taller

My personal trainer did an assessment on Friday, and my hard work in the gym is paying off! My left hip only drops slightly now when I do one legged squats, my core strength is improving and my upper body is getting stronger as well.

When I first started the training sessions, my posture was not what should it be. Slowly over time, my lifestyle of sitting in the car, sitting at a desk and sitting at home had become more rounded and my back muscles had become weaker. I already had read about how too much sitting can cause your hip flexors and hamstrings to tighten and glute muscles to weaken  (and I’ve had issues with these as well). In fact, sitting has been described as the new smoking in terms of negative health effects, even for runners.

My sessions with the trainer have really opened my eyes not only to my body’s weaknesses, but my lack of balance and coordination. We’re not just doing crunches or squats — everything has an extra twist or complexity to make it difficult. I’m not only training my muscles, but my brain and its communications with different muscles. I’m amazed now that I ran all the marathons I did. I’m amazed sometimes that I’m even able to walk at all, let alone stand! Somewhere along the way, the communication between my brain and certain muscles has broken down, for various reasons. I can see parallels now to how communication can breakdown partnerships, including marriages and friendships, or companies, causing the people or entities involved to stop functioning as they did.

I see the strength training now as a means of rebuilding connections, not just building muscles. My posture when I’m walking around is MUCH better. I feel taller now — when I’m sitting and walking. My posture is even better when I’m doing lunges. I still have work to do, but I feel that I am on the right course.

I’m sure you’re going to ask — are you running yet? Well, I’m planning another test run this afternoon or tomorrow. I did a test run last Saturday, and was still dealing with some tightness in my right calf. I got some work done on it and have been foam rolling and stretching, which is helping. Hopefully, I’ll have some good news to report from my next run.

Overall, the recovery has taken longer than I planned. But I realize now that, mentally, I also wasn’t ready to run. I think I was a little bit afraid — I didn’t feel like I could trust my body to do what I used to. And I wanted to first try and correct some of the issues that might have caused all the problems I’ve had before I jumped back in. I have put a race on the calendar, however — a local 5K later this spring. It’s a short race, but I thought it might help to have something to work towards.

I’ve also been enjoying yoga much more than I thought I would. On Friday, I stopped at Target on the way home from work and bought an actual yoga mat. I’ve been using a generic exercise mat, but noticed my hands and feet would slip at times. I decided to invest in a yoga mat before I tear the other one up. I went to a fantastic yoga class last Thursday, where I do some moves I didn’t even know existed, and wouldn’t have thought I could accomplish. I don’t think I’ll ever be limber enough to tie myself in a knot (or put my ankles behind my shoulders), but I am feeling better. It wasn’t running, but for the first time in a while, I felt that same sense of achievement that I had after completing a tough track workout or a 20-mile run. It felt good to be confident in my body’s abilities again.

So, I can say I have been busy exercising, but not running yet. But between the strength training and yoga, I’ve been busy! But I’ve been thinking about the trails in George Bush park, and about friends who are training for spring races (I was envious of one friend who’s signed up for a spring marathon, but since it’s right before a major industry conference for work, I couldn’t go anyway). I’m looking forward to hopefully joining them soon.

Stormy Weather

The stormy afternoon weather matches my mood perfectly today.

Before my surgery, I was told that I had met my deductible for the year, that all I would have to pay was a $300 deposit fee with the surgeon. After that, I didn’t hear anything else about any other bills. Since the surgery, I haven’t had a co-pay for other medical-related visits. I even got a nice refund back from the center that did my shot and through which I was doing a different round of physical therapy from the one now. I thought I was in the clear.

Yesterday, I received a letter that dispelled that notion. Apparently, the bill is from the anethesiologist (I’m guessing that’s it — it doesn’t really come out and say it). When I saw the amount, I did a double take, almost stopped breathing, and nearly dropped the letter. It’s not like we have sacks of money laying around (and who does, except Scrooge McDuck). The amount is way more than what’s in my savings account.

I enclosed a letter with the receipt in the return envelope, saying that there must be a mistake and referring them to my insurance company. My husband told me I shouldn’t worry about it, but I can’t help it! My fear is that it’s not a mistake, and of course, how on earth would I get the money? By robbing Scrooge McDuck?

I think the real reason it’s bothering me so much is that I’ve been wondering if the surgery was worth it. When will I be able to run again? Am I hoping for something that’s not to be? I’ve been stretching and doing my physical therapy exercises, and biding my time, waiting for that moment that I’ll feel fabulous again. I know that I’ve always tried to put on a brave face, especially for this blog. I want it to be about running and the positive steps I’m making to get back to running, not a never-ending pity party! But it’s hard to be brave all the time. And I’m thinking that the improvements will come gradually, not in one shining moment, like clouds suddenly parting in the sky. The changes may occur so subtly, they may not fully register.

Saturday mornings are still strange to me, with no long runs. I’ve been missing my running group, and missing out on a habit that has become a lifestyle to me. I find myself floundering at times. I have attempted to distract myself with things, but I’m still feeling the void left by not running. Yet it would be too easy to let myself get mired in the muck. So I persevere on, still stretching, still doing my exercises on the ball, and still waiting.

I’m also keyed up today because I’m doing the opening and closing remarks for a work event Tuesday morning. Now, I did volunteer for this, and I think it will be something that will benefit my career at my company. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I spent Saturday at my parents, rehearsing my speech, and going over YouTube videos to gather tips for public speaking. I feel like I’m prepared, though I do plan to run through it a few more times before Tuesday.

So I’ve got a lot on my mind, which has created for my stormy mood on a stormy day. But hopefully, the clouds will disappear soon.




Cross Training

I had a great time in California this past weekend, catching up with my oldest and dearest friend and college roommate. Like we always do, we packed a ton of stuff into a long weekend — great food and wine, the Katy Perry concert, quality beach time, museum exhibits, grape stomping (which my friend says is how they cross train in California) and a movie.

My visit started with breakfast in Hermosa Beach (like we have the past few visits), and finished with me shaking sand from my feet before we left Zooma Beach in Malibu so she could drive me to the airport. I actually was wearing my swimsuit under my clothes for the flight home, but it was definitely worth it! I always take an extra day since I usually fly home late and need time to recover, but the marathon of fun is one race I’m always up for.

As promised, I have pictures! Here are a couple of my favorites — my first time every stomping grapes at Lorimar Winery in Temecula, California, and seeing the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Museum.


Grape Stomping

We also caught up each other on our lives. I’ve gone to visit her every year since she moved to California eight years ago, and we always just pick right back up in terms of conversation. We can laugh and joke as we always have, and talk about everything. Or we’re fine just driving in the car, listening to our iPods. That’s the mark of a true friend — someone you can talk with about anything, but with whom you can also enjoy moments of silence.

She got engaged over the summer, so we talked about plans for her upcoming wedding (I’m one of her bridesmaids) and toured some wineries where she was thinking about holding an exchange of vows ceremony/reception. I talked with her about my recent major surgery, and about some major decisions I may have to make in the next few months.  In addition to getting married, she may have a major change on the horizon with her work later this year. So it was great to be able to speak with someone who’s also going through major changes.

It was good to vent, and it was just good to have fun — to stomp grapes, to go on a hayride, to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, to sample macaroons at Bottega Louie (apparently, they’re very well-known for their macaroons — even my co-worker said she wanted to visit them someday). I also got some Vitamin D and color at the beach — since I haven’t been running, I haven’t been out in the sun as much. It’s funny that I’m finally getting more of a tan with fall officially underway, but better late than never!

In short, I got caught up with some quality friend and vacation time. I’m still behind with other things (including getting my car inspected — I was driving home from church, and suddenly realized it expires on Tuesday), and October will be a busy month for work, but I definitely got a good dose of fun and relaxation. I’m back to my physical therapy and cross training, but it felt good to ‘cross train’ with some grape stomping and fun.

During one of our talks, as I wondered aloud about the choices I had made, I lamented the fact that I’m 41. But I loved the perspective she had to offer — sure, we’re in our early 40s, but we’re likely only about halfway through our lives. It made me hopeful for the future. That, and the fact that my back feels like it is slowly but surely healing, is making me confident that the second half of the marathon called life will be filled with good miles, good friends, and plenty more good times.

Building a Better Core

I’m in California this weekend, catching up with my dear friend and college roommate (and I’ll have pictures to post the next time I blog, I promise!). But I did meet with my physical therapist this past week and have started on the program of prescribed home exercises.

The routine includes stretches and exercises to strengthen my core and left hip. As part of this routine, I get to dust off the exercise ball in my home office for back and core work. I went through all the exercises on Wednesday night for the first time, and was sore today! But that’s to be expected.

In the past, I haven’t always been faithful with doing core work and other dreaded exercises (especially burpees). Why can’t I just run, I ask myself? And I should know the answer by now — it’s the core exercises and dreaded stuff like burpees that will keep me running. It’s easy sometimes to cut corners, especially during fall marathon training season. Some days, it’s a rush to get to the track, and by the time the track workout is done, I’m cold or starving and just want to get home. And I’ll tell myself that I’ll do core when I get home. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes not.

As part of this healing process, I’ve made up my mind to do things right. That includes making sure everything is healed and strengthened, especially the core. I definitely don’t want to be sidelined this long again!

Now, you’re probably asking, how is she doing all this while she’s in California? Well, the answer is that I’m doing some of the exercises, but not everything. I tried to pack light (since I have to be careful still with bending and lifting), and decided I wouldn’t have the space for the exercise ball in my bag. But I plan to hit the ball again once I return from my trip.

You may not think of visiting an old college friend as a core strengthening exercise, but it just dawned on me that it does count as core work, in its own way. I’ve gone to visit my friend every year for the past several years. By doing so, I’m maintaining the strength of our friendship, which will hopefully endure for the rest of our lives. It’s the same with going to church, spending time with friends and loved ones, taking the time for doctor’s visits or to prepare a healthy meal. Sleep is another way of building core (and it also allows the body to heal itself, according to my reading). It’s all about building a better core within ourselves, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally.

During my hiatus from running, I’ve been looking at ways to build my core in other areas of my life. This includes working on my marriage, spending time with family and friends, and devoting time to things such as reading for pleasure. I love running, but it’s amazing how much time it can take, especially marathon training. And while I miss running, it’s nice that I can use this time to build a better core — in more ways than one.

A Big Decision

Earlier this summer, I had a steroid shot in my back that was supposed to relieve the pain I’ve experienced in my lower left back (and which is pinching on nerves and causing other issues). Unfortunately, the shot did not have the intended effect, and the follow up sessions of physical therapy only brought temporary relief. Rather than try another shot or more therapy, I am opting to have surgery. I was given the option of a less invasive procedure (which the doctor said wouldn’t clear up all the issues I have) or to have a degenerating disc replaced in addition to cleaning up a second disc that is bulging. I’ll have to stay overnight in the hospital and take a week off from work; after that, it will be another month to six weeks before I can run again.

I never thought I would be having back surgery – I used to hear how back surgery procedures used to be horrible, with long recovery times and uncertain outcomes. And even though the technology has improved, the idea of someone tinkering around with the spine makes people nervous. I would be nervous, if I weren’t so ready to get rid of the problem once and for all! I imagine I’ll be nervous when the surgery finally arrives – just like the moment when the roller coaster leaves the loading ramp, and you’re strapped in with no escape.

I’m trying to think of the week and a half I’m taking off for the surgery as the introvert’s dream staycation. I’ll have a couple of days before the surgery, and won’t be able to drive for the following week, so I’ll have plenty of time to read. I read a lot in my line of work, but I still need to recharge my battery with some good fiction (or non-fiction unrelated to oil and gas) on the weekends. It will be nice to have a built-in excuse not to go anywhere for a change!

I have done a little run-walking, but decided to hold off until I feel like I’m in shape to train the way I want. I did go out for the group run this past Saturday – mainly to see people I know and just to feel a sense of normalcy – but I could definitely tell I’m not in the shape I was in January. It’s sad how quickly you can lose fitness! My Slo-Mo Snail Pace and the hot humid weather made for a long five miles. A comment from a fellow runner about how I wasn’t running my usual pace made me even more self-conscious about my current state. I found myself wanting to run faster than I should — I realized later that the comment was harmless, and that people were not judging me for not running at my usual speed. It was the critical voice in my inner head, the one that says I need to keep up and won’t accept imperfection, no matter what.

I decided to skip the run this past Saturday to swim (and believe me, I wanted to be running and enjoying the rare August cool front). Instead of sleeping in on Saturday morning (and lying on the couch watching reruns of home renovation shows), I’ve decided to maintain the schedule I have in the past – getting up early on Saturday morning to do something active, whether it’s the elliptical at the gym or swimming.

I met a fellow runner friend who’s been dealing with injuries, and we caught up and commiserated over laps and breakfast at Starbucks. We talked about what a big role running had played in our lives, and how it can be difficult to relieve stress and even make big decisions without our running. This injury has really shifted the balance I used to have in my life – things that used to not bother me can set my teeth on edge, and work and issues that I’ve been dealing with in my personal life loom even larger without the release I get from a run at the park.

I know that there are no guarantees, but I’m hopeful that the surgery will take care once and for all of the issues I’ve been dealing with. I will likely end up running the half at Houston (and will definitely not be shooting for a new personal best), but just to be able to run with no issues with be a welcome treat. This experience has been a reminder to me to never take the basics – particularly the ability to run and my health – for granted. Hopefully, the surgery will allow me to reestablish the balance in my life that I’m sorely missing.








The Final Deadline

I don’t know if it’s my age, or the fact that I’m just busier, but the days seem longer and fuller as I move along the journey of life. From the moment I get up to the moment I put my head on my pillow, my mind is constantly moving down the list of things I need to do that – interviews for work, errands, prescriptions to pick up, gym clothes and lunch to pack, emails to answer. It’s almost like I’m never really in the moment – I’m either thinking ahead to what comes next, or I’m thinking about what I should have done, in order to meet the next deadline, whether it’s a feature for work or a running workout or getting my car inspected.

When I passed the 4-0 mark last year, I started evaluating what I had done with my life, and what I really wanted to do with the rest of my time. Like everyone, I don’t know how long I’ll live, but I started thinking, if my eventual life span is 80, then I’m at the halfway point. Out of all the things I wanted to do, what will I regret the most if I don’t check it off my list? What are the things that I thought were important, but realize now that I’m happy never came to fruition?

To steal a quote from The Shawshank Redemption, I suddenly felt like I needed to break out of my rut and either ‘get busy living or get busy dying’. The dying part may seem overly dramatic, but in a way, it’s true. I once heard that we’re born dying (I think even in the biological sense we are dying as we live, our cells breaking down and die as we age), and it’s easy to think you have all the time in the world when you’re 20. But the gap between 20 and 40 almost seems like a blur now. Two decades is nothing, when you think about it.

The bottom line is, we spend so much of our time rushing around, trying to meet the various deadlines we are tasked with meeting, that it’s easy to forget about the biggest deadline of all – the final deadline. The deadline where we take our last breath and move on to heaven (or whatever you think the next stage is after we die). Unlike other deadlines, we never know what the exact date or time of this deadline will be. Will it come suddenly in an accident, or slowly as disease ravages us? Will the deadline come too soon, in our youth, or will we pass the century mark?

Like other deadlines, we should be thinking ahead about what we need to accomplish to meet our own final deadline. Did we accomplish everything we set out to do, whether it’s writing a book, running a marathon or climbing a mountain? Did we take time to show our families we love them, to let our friends know how important they are to us? Did we take the time to call our loved ones, to spend time with them while we could? Were we true to ourselves? Did we listen to our inner voice and take the road less traveled, or did we stay on the main path (and do we regret it?) Were we honest with ourselves about who we were and what we wanted? Was there that special someone who got away, or you were blessed to have found true love and a true partner in life?

It’s easy to get caught up in life and think, I can always do these things tomorrow. But the final deadline may be sooner than you expect – it may be tomorrow. So take the time to think about what you want – pencil it into your planner, if you think it will help. But as you plan your life around all the deadlines, make sure you’re working to meet the last and most important of all.