The Challenge of Fun

I once again find myself playing the waiting game. My surgery is scheduled for the last week of August, and the day can’t come fast enough for me. Of course, this past week dragged at work, especially the afternoons. I wasn’t the only one who was watching the clock, trying to mentally move the hands until Friday afternoon finally rolled around. But for me, it was especially long, waiting for August 27 — a day that I hope will bring a new beginning for me as a runner. It also seems to be passing quickly as I try to wrap up work projects before I leave for my time off. I’m still wondering if I’ll get it all done.

I’ve spent so much time training for races, I’m used to having a schedule to follow and a big goal ahead. It’s strange to feel like I’m adrift, headed to a new and hopefully great horizon. Like when I’m at the starting line of a race, waiting and anxious to see what unfolds.

To distract myself (and satisfy the Type A overachiever side of me), I’ve found myself trying to challenge myself with new sources of fun. One major fun challenge I’m pursuing is a book challenge. Reading as always been a way for me to recharge and escape – now I’m pursuing it like a sport.

I got involved in the challenge after reconnecting with a high school acquaintance. She now lives in Australia, and decided to host a book challenge among her friends and family on Facebook. People from almost every continent are involved – it’s good to know there are still lots of people out there who like to read for fun!

From July 1 to October 31, each participant must read 10 books, one for a different category. The categories range from a book that is at least 200 pages long, a book with a color in its title, a biography or autobiography, a book in a series, a book by an Australian author, and a book with a one word title. Each category is worth a certain number of points.

I read constantly when I was younger. Many times in the summer, I would stay up until nearly dawn, caught up in a book I was eager to finish. But the older I get and the more time I spend at a desk each day, it gets harder and harder to muster the enthusiasm or energy to read for fun at home. Other times, I’m so busy playing catch up on chores, laundry, or bills that I don’t have time. I still read a lot compared with people I know, but my days of marathon reading are definitely behind me until retirement!

I’m proud to report that I’ve read five out of the 10 books I said I would read.  The girl hosting the challenge is beating us all, I think. In fact, she just released a bonus category – if I remember correctly, it’s the same categories again, but you can also get bonus points if you select books that other people picked for their original challenge lists. Let me put it this way — if you could qualify for Boston by reading, she would be a shoo-in.

My Challenge of Fun is a way to distract myself from running (it’s sort of working, but at least I’m not going as crazy as I was before). It’s so easy to get caught up with the list of must dos, that I find myself not planning for the fun things I want to do, including reading for fun. For the past few years, running has been a way to exercise, have fun and relieve stress, but given my current issues, I’m looking for other ways to fill these needs. The challenge has been a fun way of ensuring I get my fill of reading stuff other than oil and gas, and to connect with bookworms around the world.

I hear people talking about needing to challenge themselves in terms of fitness, work goals, or other things. Why not a challenge of fun? It’s not the same as the spontaneous fun I had when I was a kid — playing outside all day with the neighbors kids, playing hide and seek or hanging out on the jungle gym or in the treehouse. But I’m okay with extending my to-do list to get the fun I need.

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.