Down But Not Out

I don’t know if it was the weather, or withdrawal from being off work between Christmas and New Year’s but I was feeling low. In addition to the weakness in my left IT band and right calf, the lack of sunshine made me extremely cranky. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep. It’s too bad we can’t hibernate (or less to do so we can sleep more) in the winter, like bears do. My stomach has been strange (probably from all the chocolate and sugar plums dancing around the work breakroom), and I had a huge megazit on my chin. On Friday, my nose was so stuffy I almost couldn’t breathe. I took a rest day from training and managed to avoid getting a full-blown cold. But I may not be so lucky next time if the cold, damp weather continues.

I also made the mistake of weighing myself one day last week — I thought I heard the
scale gasp! I spent most of that Thursday in a cloud of depression because of that. Being out for the surgery and the usual holiday goodies have caught up with me. So it’s back to watching the calories. I’m going to try out an app to track them, and see how it compares with Weight Watchers.

I went back to my doctor today to discuss some concerns I had about why my calf and IT are still giving me issues. I did get a shot in my left hip, which hopefully should help the IT band. It turns out that I should have been icing — for some reason, I just haven’t been doing it. The doctor also suggested trying some other stretches for the calf.

She did remind me that what I’ve been going through is normal following the type of surgery I’ve had. I am getting stronger thanks to the personal training, but I’m still weaker on my left side due to the left nerve that was giving me grief. It was comforting to talk with her — she has been through back surgery and abdominal surgery, and could sympathize with my frustrations over wanting to heal faster.

Luckily, I’m able to continue with the training, but will need to stay off the bosu ball for a while. My trainer has had me stand on the curved side of it while doing upper body weight exercises.

I decided to take the advice of friends on Facebook, and enrolled in unlimited yoga at a local studio this month. I’m going to try it out and see if it can help. I plan to make the most of my time there while I decide if I want to continue with it through 2015.

I know I said last time that I hadn’t blogged much because of work and the holidays. It was true that I was busy. But I also think I was in a funk. I was scared that I would never get back to normal, that I would never get in the shape I want to be in. I worried that maybe I was being foolish (and that maybe everyone out there thought I was crazy). I was pretty down for a while. But after realizing that I need to make some adjustments to my recovery regime, I’m feeling down, but I’m thinking that I’m not out of the race either.

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Back to Basics

Sorry for my absence! I left last weekend for a work trip to Amsterdam. From the time I arrived early Sunday morning in Amsterdam to when I reached my driveway Thursday evening, I was busy, and ended up not having time to blog. I did take pictures, which I will share along with some my experiences on the trip. I have been sluggish all weekend — I think I’m still not over the jet lag, but hopefully, I’ll be feeling back to normal when I go to work tomorrow.

But the biggest news is that I had a successful test run on Saturday. Granted, I only ran two very slow miles, but it was the best two miles ever. The weather was perfect for it — temperatures in the 40s, low humidity, sunny with no clouds. It felt great to be out on the trails again! I can definitely tell that I’m out of shape, and it will take time to get back to the shape I was in at Houston. I know I’ll have to be patient, but it can’t come soon enough!

My plan is to slowly ramp up the miles. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make the Houston half-marathon in January, but I will find another race this spring if Houston doesn’t work out. I’ve been reading about friends and people I know who have run the Marine Corps Marathon, the New York Marathon and other races in the past few weeks, and it’s making me itch to train for something. Maybe I’ll look at doing a triathlon this spring, I’m not sure. But I’m excited at the prospect of being able to sign up for a race and to actually do the race.

As part of my back to basics approach, I’m also going to start working out with a trainer tomorrow. We’ll meet three times a week for the next two and a half months. I’m also going to start watching what I eat, which might be tricky, given that we’re entering the holiday season when even more candy and sweets are available than usual. But if not now, then when?

Knowing I’ve been feeling down about not being able to train, my husband emailed me this article this morning. I thought the article not only gave some great advice, but had some great travel photos (I would definitely love to run in some of these spots). He always knows how to cheer me up.

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.

 

 

 

My Real Masterpiece

A friend posted this Huffington Post blog article on Facebook this past week, and it really struck a chord with me. I turned it over in my mind as I finished up the workweek and while I lounged on the couch Saturday morning, enjoying coffee and bingewatching the finals of American Ninja Warrior (I had no idea it would be so addictive!)

The blog, Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece, urges women to stop obsessing over perfecting their bodies, and that our bodies are not projects, but paintbrushes we use to create real art, whether it be through our spirituality, our relationships or our work.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with accepting my body for what it is. I’ve gone through periods of being chunky (like when I first went away to college and didn’t have mom’s cooking or her watchful eye against junk food) and out of shape (like recently). Around ages seven to nine, I also went through a chubby phase, and I think that my mother worried that I would grow up to be fat. She enrolled me one summer in aerobics, which I hated. I felt humiliated to have to leave my friends and playtime to go sweat it out with a bunch of middle age ladies (who seemed ancient to me at the time). I also remember how hurt I was when the girl down the street called me fat and told me I needed to lose weight. I remember not being able to wear the designer jeans that other kids wore, or not being able to have certain foods that my friends could eat (most types of cereal were off the menu, except for Cheerios – when I saw the cereal bar at the college cafeteria, it was like dying and going to heaven!)

Once I turned 10, I grew out of my chubbiness. Today, I look at pictures of me in junior and senior high school, and I see what looks like a normal, healthy, sometimes pretty girl. But in the back of my mind, I saw myself as not thin enough, and therefore not good enough. Problems with acne, haircuts and clothes that I deemed not cool enough compared with others, and self-esteem issues due to the cruelty and indifference of so-called friends just exacerbated my negative feelings towards myself.

I’m not saying this to hurt my mother — like all of us, she did the best she could, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. And I know that I’m not the only woman who feels this way (given the dozens of diet programs and pills advertised on TV that promise to deliver amazing results, the plethora of exercise programs out there, as well as plastic surgery and other beauty enhancements available.) Combine these with the magazines that feature models with figures the majority of women will never have (and the airbrushing of photos to make these women even more perfect), and clothes in a number of stores that seem to be made for women with no curves at all, and it’s no surprise that women today have body issues. Even when I’m shape, I never feel like my thighs are thin enough (and trust me, running doesn’t make cellulite go away. I’ve tried!).

For a long time, running and exercising were a way for me not only to mold my body, but a way of addressing the insecurities I felt about myself. Like I’ve mentioned before, being sidelined with an injury has given me time to examine other areas of my life, and I realized that I was so focused on running, I had neglected other areas of my life, such as a deeper relationship with my husband and friends, as well as nurturing other areas of interest. The idea that I should stop obsessing over the shape of my paintbrush (my body), but what I paint (the relationships I build, the work I do, my spiritual life and other interests), really hit home with me. I also realized that I’ve spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME obsessing over what my body should be, and not what it is, and learning to love what I have.

It’s ironic that I was thinking about all this while watching American Ninja Warrior, a show about people who push their bodies to the limit to do incredible things – run, climb, jump, and crawl up tower walls like a spider. They’ve made the bodies and their athletic abilities projects — one contestant even quit his job to focus on training for the American Nina Warrior finals in Las Vegas! I found myself really getting into the show, cheering, yelling, knee bouncing with anxiety as I watched people struggle on the course. I don’t see myself actually competing on the show, but would love to be in the shape that some of the contestants are. But the article made me realize that my body is not the ultimate project, nor my hopeful future marathon times, but what I give to others and to the world in other areas of my life. And that is the real masterpiece that I can contribute.

 

A Bucket List of Bucket Lists

This week is my last full week in the office before I take time off for my back surgery. I have my pre-op appointment early Monday morning, and then I get to go into the office and try and cram in some of the assignments I have to turn in before I leave. I suspect I won’t finish them all, and will likely have to haul my laptop home so I can finish things up for this month.

Not running has been frustrating, particularly when I receive my weekly newsletter with the group training schedule. It’s strange not to be rushing to the track after stopping at home to change and have a quick snack or preparing my fuel belt and laying my clothes out Friday night before the long run Saturday morning. I have found ways to occupy my time during this forced break (including the book challenge I wrote about last week and my return to piano lessons, which I’ll blog about in the future), but I’m still finding I don’t have time to do everything I want, like start outlining the novel I want to write during National Novel Writing Month this November, and should want to do. For example, I should spend more time cleaning house, but frankly, I’m not that good at cleaning, and the house just keeps getting dirty, so why bother? I do the basic necessities, such as laundry and running dishes through the dishwasher. I actually swept the downstairs floor today, but didn’t feel like I made much of a difference!

I am riding the exercise bike and doing some swimming, but as any devoted runner will tell you, it’s not the same, not by a long shot. This is the first time in my life that I have been so sidelined with an injury (and I suspect it won’t be the last, given that I’m getting older!) It’s given me a newfound appreciation for not only being able to run (even if it’s a crappy long run or track workout) but made me appreciate just having good health, something I think I have taken for granted.

It’s also gotten me thinking about bucket lists. I’ve kicked around different ideas about places I want to travel, marathons I want to run, and other things I want to accomplish during my life. A friend I had lunch with this weekend told me that I’m too young for a bucket list, but given that the first 41 years of my life went by in a blink, I’m thinking I should actually type up the list.

My desire to be super-organized (which I don’t always live up to in real life), is to have a bucket list of bucket lists – top travel destinations, top marathons, and a list with miscellaneous items, such as my goal of appearing on the game show Jeopardy before I die. I think I may start working on it now, and perhaps post the lists on my blog in the future. Maybe I might actually achieve some of these goals if I make myself accountable to my audience! (I’m also thinking of just starting a Bucket List savings fund so I can actually pay for these goals). After all, this blog is intended as a chronicle of my hopeful comeback to running marathons (and running pain-free is definitely high on the bucket list!)

I’ve also decided to use the blog as a way of examining my life – what is actually going to make me happy, and what goals do I really want to achieve. There are a few things I’d previously wanted to do that I’m more than happy to leave behind, such as sewing (that damned bobbin thwarted me every time), knitting (I really think I have four thumbs instead of two) and skydiving (I’ve had friends rave about it and say I should jump, but I just keep seeing myself panicking at the last minute, and someone having to push me out). Renewing my scuba diving certification and writing a book are still high on the must-do list.

I realized the other day that I’m finally making progress on something that hasn’t really been a bucket list item, but something I needed to learn for my own well-being: Making peace with imperfection. I’d read about it in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (mom gave it to me, hoping I’d finally get the message). I’ve always been hard on myself in terms of my achievements and shortcoming – someone told me it stems from being an only child, which may be true. To be honest, I think I’ve used running in the past as a way to escape, not just from problems in my life, but from my imperfections. There’s nothing wrong with using a run to blow off steam from a bad day, but I think I sometimes used it as a way to block things out. Not running has forced me to look at myself and my life, and I’ve come to a realization: I can beat myself up for gaining weight and not being in the shape I was in January, for not saying the right thing at a social function, for fumbling something at work, for this or that so-called shortcoming, or I can let it go. I’m also not going to get down on myself for not getting everything accomplished that I hope to in a weekend, or for watching mindless reality TV on a Friday night (like I did after another LONG week).

In short, there’s always going to be deadlines or something that needs tending around the house. Even when things are going well, not everything will go according to plan. I don’t think I’ve yet had a good race day where I got everything exactly right; perfection, I’ve realized, is a never-ending pursuit. And while I still hope to keep pursuing more great race days, I’m learning to be more accepting of myself and the challenges I’ve been facing.

 

 

 

 

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 Waiting Game

Earlier this month, I had a steroid shot in my lower back. The idea was to try and quiet the two bulging discs that my doctor believed not only have been giving me back pain on the lower left side, but have been causing all sorts of mischief in my left side. If one section of muscles isn’t angry, it’s something else – the IT band, the hip flexor and groin area, the lower back. Sometimes everyone’s irritated, and sometimes they’re quiet. It seems like it’s been one thing after another – an angry cacophony of muscles that won’t seem to shut up, and have stopped me in my tracks. Apparently, they’re fed up with me, and I’m fed up with them for not cooperating. I’m also getting fed up with the pool – if I spend much more time swimming, I swear I’ll grow gills! I don’t think that will be a good look for me.

Feeling old and achy is getting old, and the desire to be out on the trails as marathon training season starts up – and not feeling ready to do so – is frustrating. The seemingly unending rounds of physical therapy – first from my sports medicine doctor, then with the spinal specialist to whom I was referred – and the co-pays that go with them are mentally wearing, and just add more to my seemingly non-stop schedule. I just finished my second round of PT to go with the shot, and while there has been some improvement, I thought I would be feeling better than this. Monday, I’m consulting with a surgeon about possible surgery. I’m anxious to get things over with, but anxious about what he’ll say. Is surgery the answer, or is he just going to send me back for more shots and physical therapy?

During my last round of therapy, I started thinking about my journey to try and heal, to find the key that will literally unlock the angry muscles, is like a marathon in itself. It’s also like a game. I started thinking of Shoots and Ladders – the ladders where you make progress by finding the right doctor and the right treatment, and the shoots, where a relapse of pain or your insurance company saying you’ve reached your limit on the number of therapy visits they’ll pay for – sends you sliding back down. Some days, it’s a step forward, the next day, you feel like you’ve gone two steps back. Or you roll the dice and land on a space where you find out you’re getting a refund, or learn that you have a stress fracture and have to skip a turn. I’m wondering how many avenues I’m going to have to cross, on how many doors I’ll have to knock, to get an answer. And maybe there’s no one solution, and maybe the real solution is time, but the waiting game definitely does not appeal to me. Even with the 20 milers I’ve run, you always know the end is in sight when you’ve crossed back into Terry Hershey Park and are running the winding tree-lined trail back to the start. Who knows when this unwanted journey I’m on now will end.

For a long time, running was a way for me not only to exercise, but to blow off steam and center myself. I find myself now trying to de-stress and re-center myself in other ways. But nothing beats the running. At times, I think I used to take it for granted, but now, I would give anything for a bad running day – a humid day where I run low on fluids or have to make an emergency pit stop in the woods. I would embrace it all, even the blisters.

My mother – who still sends me home with coupons, newspaper clippings and articles with advice, and leftovers – gave me for my last birthday a copy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. My mother, knowing that I’m being tested in a lot of areas of my life right now, thought it would help. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book with some great gems of wisdom. But what do you do if there’s just so much small stuff? And what if the best way to deal with the small stuff is by working up a good sweat? I’m still working on that answer as the waiting game goes on.