Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Simple Joy of Running

I have just returned from my first real run since my injury. It felt SO amazing to run! I forgot how much I simply enjoy running. Especially on a day like today when it's in the low 60's and I'm just going out for something very easy.

Wednesday, Feb. 23 marked the 4-week point of no running. The time actually went by pretty quickly. I had been mainly pain free walking around for two weeks, so I decided to give it a shot. I had been to two separate doctors and a physical therapist, and none of them gave me a concrete answer on when to start running again. But everyone agreed that my bone stimulator machine would reduce healing time. Both doctors told me I just needed to really monitor my symptoms and back off if I was feeling pain. But one doctor said it wouldn't be pain free, and some pains during/after were normal. But anything that was more than a minor twinge and I should back off.

I was feeling very frustrated with all the ambiguity. I was very anxious to get back into running, but I didn't want my four weeks off to have gone to waste by my foolishness. So on Wednesday I attempted my first run. I used a treadmill, which was dumb, because that's how I think I got the stress fracture to begin with. But I wanted to do the run-walk prior to my pool run and there are treadmills at the facility where my pool is, so it was the most convenient option. I set the treadmill to a conservative 5.4. I did feel a bit of something. I did two sets of 5 mins walking, 5 mins running and then stopped. Later that day I was having more pain in my shin than normal so I was discouraged.

But the more I thought about it, I remembered what the doctor saying about it not being pain-free, and my 5.4 miles per hour was unnaturally slow for me, which could have contributed to the awkwardness. So I decided to give it another go today (four days after the first attempt) and run outside. It was so beautiful out and I had my husband to accompany me, which was awesome. I was afraid that the run would hurt and that I would become discouraged, so having my husband for moral support was a huge help. I even wore my brand new Pacers Ambassadors shirt in honor of the occasion!

I did three sets of (5 mins walking, 5 mins running). We covered 2.52 miles total, and the run portion was just over 1.5 miles at an average pace of 9:41.

The first run section was a 10:04 pace and it felt rather easy. The next run portion was a 9:38 pace and that also felt really easy. The last run portion was a 9:22, and it still felt easy and pain-free. Yay! I was overcome with joy at the simple act of running outdoors without pain. I was also pretty excited about how easy those paces felt. When I was returning to running after my foot injury in October of 2009, a 10:00 pace felt like an 8:30 pace. But today, all of my paces felt exactly as they had felt prior to the injury. Now, I only ran for five minutes at a time, which is no indicator of where I am truly at fitness wise. But it was encouraging that it felt exactly as it did before the injury.

As for keeping my fitness up, I have been spending a lot of time water running, swimming and using the elliptical. I've actually spent more hours doing these activities then I would have normally spent running. For example, yesterday I did water running for 2.5 hours. This morning, I did water running again for 1.5 hours, and then finished it off with a 20-minute swim. And then later in the afternoon I did the run I just described. As for the elliptical, I have been using that about twice a week and doing it at a tempo effort. Usually I break the tempo effort into two sets, because it's just so unbearably hot in my gym and I need a break. But I think it's been effective. If I take my hands off the machine and use them as if I was running, it almost feels like running when going at the fast speed.

It's going to be a few more weeks until my running is intense enough to have any fitness benefits. And it will probably be another 2-3 months before my mileage can be where it was pre-injury. But I am going to my best to be patient. I want to be one of those success stories of an injured runner who came back stronger and faster! I'll be back in the pool tomorrow and Tuesday, and make another running attempt on Wednesday, so long as the shin behaves between now and then.

Special thanks to Cristina, Cheryl, Kathy and all of the others who have supported me and given me guidance throughout this injury! It's far from over, but I think I am heading in the right direction.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love, Love, Love.

Tomorrow, Valentine's day, will be the six-month anniversary of the day I married the most wonderful man in the world. We will have been married for exactly half a year, and I have loved every minute of it, more than I could have ever expected.

People often ask us if Greg was a runner before we met, or if I got him into it. The short answer was that he was a runner before we met, but here is the long answer.

How We Met
Greg and I met online, on a free site called "Plenty of Fish" in March of 2009. I had tried online dating multiple times in the past and had no luck. I was highly discouraged and cynical, but yet I joined Plenty of Fish just to see what was out in the "sea" so to speak. Greg's profile was one of the first that came up in my search. What prompted me to e-mail him was that he had a photo of himself crossing the finish line of a race.

This photo prompted me to email Greg for the first time!
I wasn't looking to specifically date a runner, but I knew I needed someone who would be understanding and supportive of my obsession passion. I enjoyed running by myself so I wasn't looking for a running partner, but rather a partner who ran. I sent Greg a short introductory message in which I asked him more about his photo and told him that I ran races frequently. He replied back with a thoughtful response, and so the exchange began.

Greg and I emailed back and forth for about six weeks until we finally met in person. Mainly due to his hectic work schedule and a two-week business trip to Spain. Our first date was at Tallula in Arlington. A good portion of our conversation revolved around running. He had run three previous races: a sprint triathlon, a 5K and the Fairfax Four Miler in 2008. I had also run the four miler just 4 months prior to the date, but of course we didn't know each other then. He was registered for the Army Ten Miler, which would be the longest distance he had ever run.

So even though he was relatively new to running, I could tell he was interested in serious training, versus just simply showing up to races. At that point, he was running about 4-5 miles at a time at a sub-10:00 pace on a treadmill. I respected the fact that he was using a heart rate monitor to keep the effort easy and build endurance as opposed to killing himself on each run, which is what many runners do (including myself, before I knew much about the proper way to train). We had a very technical discussion about running and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about heart rate training. My fear was that he was going to perceive me too much as a running "coach" and not enough as a woman he wanted to date.

Our first race, June 2009
The next morning, I completed a 21-mile training run. Greg called me that evening and asked me how the run went. I told him about it and we talked for about 15 minutes. But he didn't ask me out again! The furthered my fear that he might only be interested in my running guidance and not as a romantic partner. We did end up having a second date, of course. I continued to offer Greg training advice but the relationship progressed on a romantic level as well and before I knew it I had an official boyfriend!

Our Races
I wrote Greg a training plan for the Army 10-miler and included some races in it to prepare him. The first of these was the Lawyers Have Heart 10K, which would be the furthest distance he ever raced. This was our first race together and it was nice to have someone to go to the race with. As an out and back course, I got to see him after the turnaround, at which point he yelled out to me "You're Beautiful!" Greg finished in a respectable 54:xx, a time that he would slaughter the following year by 8 minutes.

Greg continued to impress me with how consistently he kept to the training plan I gave him. Over the summer, we started to run together. I often had about twice his mileage, so he would do the first half of my runs with me. For my long runs, it was nice to have companionship for the first half, but then also to have the solitude that I was used to for the second half. Prior to dating Greg, I wouldn't run on the W&OD trail until it got light enough out for me to see. But with Greg by my side, I felt much safer so we ran in the dark. This meant less time on the treadmill and more time outside.

Greg aced the Army Ten Miler with a time of 1:22:xx, surpassing the original goal of 1:25 that we decided upon when I created the training program. Since then, he's been setting PRs left and right! (Unfortunately, I couldn't be there with him at the Army Ten Miler, as I was in Texas on a business trip.) In 2010, he ran the Army Ten miler in 1:14:00. Wow!

Just Married!
A few days before Thanksgiving, Greg proposed to me. I was elated! I was so excited that I didn't sleep at all for the next few nights, which caused me to run a sub-par Turkey Trot. But I was so excited about being married to him that I didn't even care. We decided to get married the following August, and since running was such a major part of our relationship and what attracted us to each other, we incorporated it into the wedding. We used bib numbers from races as our table numbers.

Greg and I typically keep the same race schedule, but we always run our own races. The one exception was the NYC Marathon, which was his first. I wanted to be there with him when he finished, and the logistics of trying to find him afterwards would have been a nightmare. It was a tough race for Greg and I feel partially responsible for making us go out too fast and not respecting the challenging course. But it was a lot of fun running with him, and NYC was something I had always wanted to do for fun, not for a PR.

At the finish line of the NYC Marathon
People often ask us if we are competitive with each other, especially those who know that I am very competitive by nature. The answer is always no for several reasons. First of all, men are naturally faster, so me running a 22-minute 5K is not the same as him running a 22-minute 5K. Secondly, he's much newer to running than I am. Last year, almost every race he ran was a PR, and that just doesn't happen once you have a few years behind you. He's making gains at a much more rapid rate than I am, which is to be expected.

Sometimes he compares the percentile that he finishes in with the percentile that I finish in, and says that he has a long way to go to reach my level. If that motivates him, then it's fine with me! I just don't want the day to come when he's too fast to do long runs with me. But he says he will always do them with me.

This morning was the "Love The Run You're With" 5K. Greg and I signed up to run it as a team. We were secretly hoping to win a team award, but due to my stress fractures, we both sat the race out. My prediction for him was a 21:25, and a 21:55 for myself. Not sure if that would have gotten us anything, and frankly I don't want to know!  I wish there were more races out there with two-person teams. Hopefully next year we'll be able to run it. Last year, it was rescheduled because of the snow and the new date didn't work for us.

And so, on our last day of the first half of the first year of our marriage, I wanted to reflect on how happy I am to be married to Greg. He's amazing in every way!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Lovely Bones

I never ended up getting to talk with my doctor about my stress fractures. The nurse called me again and I asked if she could have him call me directly. I also messaged him through the online message system and got no response. Meanwhile, I requested a copy of the report and the images from the Radiology office. They were reluctant to send them to me, but the moment I mentioned my rights under HIPPA, they were quick to comply.

The official report from the radiologist says "Stress fractures involving the bilateral tibias and left fibula." 

I just think this is so odd. The fracture on the left leg looks bigger than the one on the right and yet I have zero pain over on the left. Meanwhile, the right leg sometimes hurts enough for me to walk with a limp.  From the bottom pictures, it looks like there is something going on in both fibulas, but according to the report it's just the left.

On Monday evening, I started to use my Exogen 4000 bone healing machine. Within just several uses, I noticed remarkably less pain. However, I was highly discouraged when the pain returned this morning. (Don't worry-- I didn't run on it or anything!) I've been using the machine 2-3 times a day, depending on if I wake up early enough. It supposedly reduces healing time by 38% which would mean I could gradually introduce running on February 25 as opposed to March 9. Thankfully my doctor's appointment is on the 25th so I will be able to ask him about it.

If any of you radiologists care to weigh in on what's going on here, feel free. I'm totally clueless about this situation. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bad Things Happen in Three's

Many of my readers already know the punchline from last week's ballad- I do have a stress fracture. Multiple ones, according to the results of my bone scan. Even though it's only my right shin that hurts, the scan apparently detected two stress fractures in the left leg (one on the tibia, one on the fibula) in addition to the one on my right tibia. The nurse called me to deliver the results, so I wasn't able to ask the doctor about the oddity of three simultaneous stress fractures, especially considering that there is no pain in the left leg. I did leave him a message, but he hasn't gotten back to me yet. I always feel like doctors just want to rush you in and out and be done with you, and don't want to really talk you through things. 

I've never been someone to do anything half-way. I've always maintained an "all or nothing" attitude, which often works in my favor, but has sometimes worked against me. So it when it comes to injuries, naturally I can't just have one stress fracture, I have to have three.

My guesses on what's going on:
  • It's only a stress fracture on the right, everything on the left is a stress reaction, or something else going on.
  • They are all three stress fractures, but only the right one is bad enough to where it actually causes pain.
  • It was caused by the introduction of the treadmill after a long period of no treadmill. And they say treadmill running alters your gait.
  • Having lower than normal bone density (I was told I was osteopenic in 2003) was a contributing factor.
The good news is that I am getting them all out of the way at once, and now I know I need to be religious about taking calcium supplements. And the treadmill is a definite no-no. 

Doctor's orders were simple (and once again, I didn't have the ability to ask questions). Make a follow-up appointment for 4 weeks. No running until then, but elliptical and swimming are ok. From my knowlege of stress fractures, it's typically 6 weeks of no running, followed by a very gradual build-up. And after 90 days, it should be healed completely. My last day of running was Tuesday, Jan. 25, which means I should be able to re-introduce running on March 9. I don't expect full recovery until the end of April. Thankfully, I hadn't registered for many spring races, just the Shamrock marathon. I'm hoping that by that time I can run the last 1-2 miles with my husband. 

My friend Cristina used a bone stimulator machine to shorten the healing time of the fracture in her foot. These machines have been shown to reduce healing time, so I purchased one for myself off of eBay. (They retail for $4000 and my insurance won't cover it unless it's a full break). So the way to go, recommended by Cristina, it to get one that has been gently used from eBay. The machine is supposed to arrive tomorrow. My appointment with my doctor is on Feb. 25, at which point an X-ray should reveal the progress of the healing. If the machine works as well for me as it did Cristinia, then maybe I could shorten the whole thing by a few weeks. Which is totally worth the investment to me. The only problem I might run into is that I don't know the exact location of the fractures. I have requested copies of the bone scan so that I can see for myself. Apparently the stimulating device needs to be placed exactly at the site of the stress fracture.

Pool Running
As for cross-training, I am going to be conservative and lay off of the elliptical for another week, even though the doctor said it was okay. To maintain my fitness, my main focus has been deep-water pool running (with a flotation belt) with some swimming thrown in here and there. I've read quite a few articles and blogs on pool running, and there is a great deal of evidence out there that when done at the proper intensity, pool running can help you maintain most, if not all of your fitness over a six-week period. Even with all the evidence, I am a bit skeptical because I just don't feel like I am working as hard on my "easy" pool runs. But we shall see.

Thankfully, there is a pool about two miles from my house. This means I can spend up to an hour and a half in the pool before having to leave for work. On the weekends, I have been going to a pool about 30 minutes away to meet up with some friends. Yesterday, I spent three hours in the pool, 2:30 running and half an hour swimming. Afterwards, I was as tired as if I had done an 18-20 miler. And my legs certainly felt it.

So far, this injury has not gotten me down as much as previous injuries. Mainly because I really think the pool running will preserve my fitness and there is nothing more disheartening than the belief that everything you've been working so hard for has gone to waste. Also, I just came off of a fantastic year of running, setting PRs at nearly every distance. I was fortunate to be injury free for 15 months, so I guess I was due. During that time I really maximized it and I can only hope for another long stretch of no injuries again once this is done with. Of course I am upset about this, but I am trying to focus on recovery, and not think about all the races I'm missing out on this season. The outpouring of support of my running friends has been incredible. Without them, I would know nothing of pool running and bone stimulators!

I'm very determined to keep my spirits high and to preserve my fitness. I also need to be prepared to lose some of it. It will be such a letdown if the pool running doesn't work as good as expected, so I need to be cautiously optimistic.