The Torture Chamber

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Is it physical therapy or is it torture disguised as support?

Discuss.

Seriously, even I know that the best way to treat tendonitis is to stop the offending activity and treat the problem, then return slowly to the activity.    My physical therapist definitely knows that and suggested it.  Problem is, I’m not a strong enough runner or far along enough in training to take the break required, and then catch up enough to complete the marathon without really hurting myself.  Further complicating the training plan is a 2 week break I will take next week when I am in China and not able to maintain Trouble1’s training plan.

So, I had a heart-to-heart with Dusty, my PT.  My feet were on fire. What to do?

Dusty: “I’d like you to take time off from training and come see me a couple of times a week to work on healing.”

Whitney: “Negative. Can’t be ready if I take a full 6 weeks off (healing plus China trip).  I need to keep going.”

Dusty: “Not what I’d recommend.”

Whitney: “Pleeease!?”

Dusty:  “Ok. We’ll get you taped, cut back your mileage, ice, exercises, come in twice a week. We’ll work to keep you going.”

Love him.

And then he started to work on me. First – calf massage.  True, the word “massage” sounds restorative, but calf massages are brutal, agonizing experiences.  Breathing exercises and trying to think of a grocery list were the only things keeping me on the table.  He stopped. I started to get up. But then, “No, please stay there. Just a second – I’m not finished yet.

And then this happened:

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Yes. That’s what it looks like. Massive suction cups that are pulling the tissue on my legs all the way to Timbuktu.  If you think it’s the curve of the plastic making it look like my skin is half way into the cup, you would be wrong. My skin WAS that far.  TORTURE. Those things stayed on for eternity.  Evidently, the massage pushes in on the tight muscle tissue, so the suction counterbalances and pulls out. Ick. and OW!  I didn’t enjoy it.

This what my legs looked like after the suctions came off.

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And this is Dusty, looking pretty satisfied post-treatment, don’t you think?  🙂

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Oddly, though, there was a tremendous relief in my legs.  Of course, getting those things off was immediate relief, but within 15 minutes, I could feel my legs release.  It was amazing.  But, since I have real bruises on my legs from two treatments in one week, I begged him not to get near me with those suctions this week. So far, so good. Though, I do have another appointment on Friday, so we’ll see.

The good news is that despite the increase in my training mileage, Dusty is a master PT and I am actually feeling better even though I’m working harder. I’m PT believer. And I’m grateful.

And… Dusty said the nicest thing of all to me when I reported how I was feeling after an 8 miler and wondering whether he wanted to have me come in or wait.  “You should come in.  Marathoners become great friends with their PTs.”  Did you catch that? “Marathoners”.  That’s me!  I haven’t even done it yet and he still bestowed the honor, with all the confidence that it will happen.  Much better than another friend who, in the same week, said, “When I saw your email subject that you were training for a marathon, I thought it was spam. ” 

(I’m still friends with him because, truth is, my friends – even close ones – would not expect a marathon out of me  So, he’s forgiven.)

Meet the Team

There are so many fun things to write about.  But this post is really important.

Earlier, I mentioned that I’m part of a threesome. One third of a team of three.  I think I mentioned I wouldn’t be doing the marathon at all if it weren’t for the persistent pestering of the other two teammates.  We all worked together, all lived close to one another. Easy friends and workout partners.  But Margaret took a new job this summer – a huge job – and it involved leaving her workplace of 17 years, moving her family to a new state, and establishing herself in an avalanche of newness.  I think she was feel especially powerful with all the big decision making because in the same week that she accepted the new job, she signed up for a September half-marathon near her new hometown *and* the Philadelphia marathon. She  just went and signed up. Then she said we had to do the same so that she wouldn’t be all alone. And she kept saying it.  I was one margarita in to a plate of loaded nachos when I realized she was saying it to ME, too.

In early July, after a particularly good 10 mile run all together, Janet asked me to meet her for a mix-in (my favorite ice cream delight after torching 1,000 calories on a run.)  I went and met her. And there I am, innocently eating my ice cream, when Janet reveals that she’s caved. She’s going for the Philadelphia marathon. She’ll sign up that afternoon.   But, I stayed strong.  No giving in. I didn’t need a marathon!  Janet could go and run with Margaret and I could cheer. Perfect.

One week later, I quietly filled out my registration form and forwarded the confirmation to them. They’re my TEAM. My running besties. They are inspiration for work, and life, and goals.  MY. TEAM.  I had to agree to the marathon.  The three of us don’t just share miles, we share life. The marathon is a huge life goal for Janet and a personal goal for Margaret in the face of so many new challenges. So, for me, it was clear that I could not hold back – I had to go in.

First is a photo of Janet and me after the awful, hot, agonizing Old Port Half Marathon, July 2013.  We’re friends, so we’re smiling despite the pain. (Plus, we finally were in shade)   Second is a photo of Margaret and me after completing a half marathon in Newburyport, MA,  last November (great course, great weather – we were happy.)

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Since Margaret is now living in PA, we are virtually training with her. She’s a pretty versatile athlete, so while Janet and I are sticking to the running plan, Margaret is running, plus swimming, trail running, biking, and learning to play squash.  She also signed up for some other local race, just to get the lay of the land in the Amish country, so to speak. Here is her report:

1. More hills than flats. My calves are going to be obscene.

2. Amish couple in first race with long pants/dress

3. Being passed by a horse and buggy–who has right of way?

4. Dodging fresh horse poop

5. Entire Amish families out watching by the road,the Super Bowl of sports events here. I’d smile at the young sheepish boys and they would just burst in to the most gorgeous grins.

So, that’s what Margaret is up to.

As for Janet and me…today, Sunday, we ran 9 miles together, and I should mention that both of us were in new shoes and we were super fast. Janet was in her Mizunos and I was in the Hokas.  Margaret is in Washington, DC this weekend. We’re not sure why she’s there, exactly, but she was planning to run around all the monuments, which I’m sure she did. SUPER FAST.

Footwear and running style.

I’ve already confessed my obsession with gear as a way to manage any potential problems. But footwear deserves a lot of attention because bad footwear can really ruin the whole project.  In my case, I have a long list of legitimate and illegitimate worries and footwear needs to get fixed first.

I’m searching for the magic footwear – the shoes that will lift each foot and land it again with renewed energy and without concussion, shoes that will allow my legs and lungs to work without the relentless hit of foot to pavement.

My last post noted three pairs of running shoes.  That’s probably two more than anyone needs for this kind of training, but I bought each of them with purpose.   I *was* running in Asics Nimbus – fairly traditional – some good squish in the sole, plenty of heel cushion, medium stability.  These shoes were very comfortable for the way I ran, heel-to-toe.  Evidently, heel-to-toe, the way in which your body naturally swings your foot forward with momentum, landing on the heel and rolling off the toe, is not right.  Of course, it’s natural. It’s the way bipeds have moved since the beginning of time. Yet, according to the latest opinions from those that know, it’s bad.  Bad, as in “it will hurt you.”  Or, in my case, it did hurt me. My IT band was out of control.

So, what options are there if not putting your feet out in front of you the way they want to go? The only option is to have to actually think about each step and, effectively (the way my mind processes this,) run “backwards.”  Yes, that’s right.  Move forward while putting the front of your foot down first and bring it down toward your heel, and then push off.   Let me explain again.   The running motion, going forward, involves front-to-back movement with your feet.  I was already so focused on my socks, and my shorts, and who knows what else, that having to think about where to put my feet was a real brain bender. Oh, and then, for this to all work and keep pace, you have to take more steps per minute.    For the first couple of runs, I had a headache just due to the concentration and frustration as I bopped along, lifting my knees and landing on my toes. I looked ridiculous (still do.)  I have figured it out enough to land on more of a flat-ish foot rather than always on the ball of my foot, but it’s still strange.  Janet recently told me I looked “dainty” running. Bummer. I’m planning to run a marathon. I want to look like a badass athlete. Dainty is a bit of a let down.

Here is a photo of me running with the new method:             running cartoon

I digress.

This “new” method of running is called “mid-foot strike” (versus “heel strike”) and is at the center of the minimalist running effort – barefoot running, minimalist shoes, the works.  (See informative links below if you are interested.)  But I’m not here to educate you on all that it means. I’m here to show my shoes!

For the mid-strike movement to work, you need flat shoes – no big heel cushion in the way. Flat.  So, when I began this new running technique in January, I bought the Altra Zero Drop. These are as flat as pancakes. Basically barefoot with a sole to protect you from the pavement but no real cushion. Definitely no heel cushion. So, no chance of landing heel first (or at least not more than once!)

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In May, the arches of my feet were so tired from all of their new effort that I went back to running store, complained of my foot cramps, fatigue, and general frustration with trying so hard to master the mid-strike method.  I came back with Newtons. Evidently, Newton’s are the hot new thing. They’re not *quite* as flat as the Altra’s, but are still pretty flat, acceptable in the minimalist world and… (get this)  – have a special foot pad under the ball of your foot which is supposed to capture energy and give it back to you on each step! GIVE IT BACK!  Sold. I whipped out the credit card and bought those puppies, waiting for the miracle.  I can’t say that I felt the energy return, but my calves seized up and I got a small muscle tear in my left calf.   It’s not really the shoes’ fault though, because I was so excited about my next run with “energy return” that I neglected to read the instructions that suggested easing into mileage with the new shoes to avoid transition issues.  My bad.

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July 14. Old Port Half Marathon. 1,000 degrees with humidity drenching the air, and I had to pick shoes to get me through. I picked the Altras. Definitely didn’t need to aggravate my calf with the Newtons on a long, arduous run.  But at mile 9, along with the lack of water and building heat exhaustion, my feet gave in and my arches went on fire.  Major case of tendonitis lit up in miles 9 through 13.  A week later, after 2 physical therapy sessions, tape, and ice, and the marathon training in jeopardy, I sulked back into the running store and begged for help. “Please, please, please,” I whined, “look at my feet!  They hurt so much. I can’t stop training but I have to feel better. Help me.”   In a running store, these words are loosely translated into “Please fleece me. I’ll give you all my money.”  So,  after I rejected several models that just didn’t feel right, the sales guy said,  “I think you need the Hokas.”    The Who Whats??!!  The HOKAS.  He disappeared and came back with Muppet sneaks, or at best, Stride Rites for adults. Honestly, they are just too much.  Too much money, too much to look at.  But, as you can see, there they are on my kitchen counter. I did it. I own them. And I have actually run on public roads for about 15 miles so far and… they feel pretty good!  On the upside, they add about 3 inches to my overall height, so I feel powerful.

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I’m pretty sure the Hoka’s get me out of the dainty category, but I doubt they’ve transported me to the badass category.

I’m headed out for 9 miler on Sat morning. I’m going to try it in the HOKAS. 🙂

Fear and Gear

I’m the kind of runner who sports stores dream about.  I get anxious about the distances and so I focus on all the potential obstacles in my control, and then try to obliterate them.  Clothing and footwear are at the top of the list.

For example, if I’m worried about how far I have to go, my thoughts go like this:

I think my socks are too tight.  Or maybe my shoes are too loose. Or too tight.  I can’t tell. Something is wrong in the foot department.  And my shorts. I think they might chafe. A lot. Everywhere.  I think I need new shoes. And shorts. And socks.”

Since most published info on the topic of running footwear suggests replacing shoes after extensive mileage or time, I didn’t have to feel guilty that my anxiety was sending me into retail therapy.    I felt justified in going to the local running store and buying new shoes. And also new socks. And different shorts.   I needed them.   No point in putting in the mileage without the right gear, I say.

But let’s just focus on the footwear a little more closely.  I was running in pair of shoes that were a free bonus when signing up for a race.  Free is good! So that’s what I used, but honestly, running was just really uncomfortable. After a lot of procrastinating, I did finally go to a reputable running store and they analyzed my gait – very modern stuff – they watched me run on a treadmill, measured me, watched me walk, and all sorts of other things I don’t remember, but they pulled out a pair of Asics (Nimbus) and slipped heaven onto my feet.  Those shoes actually made me feel better! Worth the money.

Then, when I needed replacements, Asics had modified the Nimbus and the new version was a little different, so I had to get a different size, which was almost OK except that I started getting a permanent blister.  No problem. I’ve got grit. I can run with a perma-blister.

Then, my left knee just rebelled. After the Sept and Nov half marathons, I had a serious IT band issue – my left knee hot, angry, and unwilling to support anymore running.  I stopped running for a couple of months and I didn’t even feel bad about it.

Then, I went to get help. And the physical therapist did a full-on gait analysis.  The running store’s eval was child’s play compared to the physical therapist’s.  He started with strength and balance tests, then put me on the treadmill, with shoes, barefoot, with video, and replay, and discussion, and supportive conversation about how I was running ALL WRONG and no wonder my body hurt! I had to relearn how to run.  (This is totally worth it’s own posting, so I won’t go into more details now.)

New running technique required new shoes.  So, back to the running store.  I now own three pairs of running shoes – different brands and different sizes.  Actually, I suppose there are bunch of runners who own lots of different shoes, but I was fine with the one pair, until I was sure that my shoes were causing my problems and I was persistent in trying to find better shoes.   Since I have the tendonitis issue in my FEET, my shoes are still my primary suspects for the pain problem. We’ll see. More on that later.

And undergarments.  At the beginning, I owned two running bras and I’m not even sure why I originally bought them or even when.  But, they were comfy and I thought they were getting the job done until one day, after a particularly sweaty 8-miler, I hopped into the shower and cried out in pain when the water hit sores.  Sores! The kind that you can’t feel happening because of the pressure of the clothing, but then when free and clear to air and water – watch out.  So, with a credit card and a sad face, I was back at the running store. I now own multiple running bras. Different brands and different sizes.  I still haven’t found the right one, though, because the ones I have are snug enough not to move at all, and therefore don’t chafe me, but it also means that when I’m wet with sweat, they are glued to me. I’ve  thrown my back out trying to get out of them. I am still on the lookout for a running bra I can get in and out of by myself but otherwise does what it should.

All it takes is one chafing attack to initiate constant worry about friction.  So, I now am a believer in Body Glide and Dr Scholl’s Rub Stick (really meant to prevent blisters in fancy shoes,but hey, it works where you need it.)  Yet, even with all my preventative measures, I still managed to get a new blister on my right foot.  And, if you recall, my feet are already having issues, so the blister was really just too much. Back to the running store last weekend where I laid out $12 for one pair of super socks, and then also bought a new sports bra because maybe it will be the one that keeps me safe AND I can get off without ending up in a neck brace.

(One of the nifty things about this blog set up is that while I am writing, a selection of other online articles that share words with my words show up as available inserts. On a whim, I opened one about blisters.  I’ve dropped it in at the bottom of the posting. If you read it, you’ll see that I am not being a sissy. Chafing is real and I am right to be fearful of it and will be on the quest for proper gear until I am safely outfitted for a 26.2 mile haul. )

T minus 18 weeks. The Training Plan:

Ok, training is underway.  Before I can lay out the training plan, let’s go over a few key details of how I plan to tackle this entire thing – not just the mileage.

MY EXPERIENCE:  I’m married, mom to two teenagers, and have many pets. I have full time job which requires a lot of office time and a lot of travel, and cyclical crunch times.  The marathon will conveniently happen right in between two crazy crunch times at work, but heavy mileage training will happen during my busiest travel season. (Logistics of that predicament to be determined.)   For about 6 yrs, I ran 1 to 3 miles at a time, a couple of times a week, when the weather was good, if I had the time, and if I felt like it. More recently, I’ve run two introductory half marathons – one in September 2012 and one in November 2012.  Most recently, I ran a half marathon on July 14, 2013 (though this one was a bit discouraging – read below.)

MY PACE:  at my fastest, I managed to maintain a 10 min mile in my first and second  half marathons. That is my *fastest* pace.  That is me pushing myself.  That is me running as if I am on fire.    Fast = 10 minute mile.  My comfortable running-by-myself-enjoy-the-scenery-not-late-for-work pace is more like a 10:30.   Or, in tough conditions like a mid-summer half marathon on July 14 in 85 degree heat and 10,000% humidity with water stops that ran out of cups and raging tendonitis in both feet, it was a miserably slower pace (that I will not document in writing – but it was pretty slow.)

MY TEAM:  I am part of a threesome. I’m not clear on how this got started, but my two running buddies (also colleagues from work) are the pair that brainwashed me into thinking that there was something *good* about running more than 1-3 miles at a time.  It will be impossible to write about this effort without including references to Janet and Margaret (or, on days when I’m really tired, really hurting, really second guessing this whole thing, they will be a.k.a Trouble1 and Trouble2.  Since I’m just getting started, they can be Janet and Margaret in today’s posting.  🙂 )  Margaret is a seasoned triathlete and marathoner, a wife, a mom, and professional administrator with a huge job. And she just moved far, far away to another part of the country. (But she’s still in the team!)   Janet has had a life goal of running a marathon and already has lots of experience in distance running with multiple half marathons and a 20 mile race behind her.  She’s also a wife, a mom, and professional with a huge job. When the two of them gang up on me, I end up with a marathon registration in my name (and drinking margaritas and swallowing a whole plate of loaded nachos.)

TRAINING SCHEDULE:   Well, the training schedule sounds a little different depending on which team member you might talk to.  Janet (Trouble1) seems to think we don’t need a Novice/Beginner training schedule since we’ve run half marathons. She thinks we can do the intermediate schedule. I disagree.  Margaret (Trouble2) is trying to convince us that if just ran 13 a mere two weeks ago, we can just keep adding two miles to our weekend runs …  I disagree.   I am a beginner to the marathon. I like the beginner schedule.  I have 18 weeks.  In the beginner schedule, that means that I need to run a total of 14 miles this week with distances of 3 or 4 miles. I LIKE THAT. I’m going with the beginner schedule.

OBSTACLES:  I have tendonitis in both feet (right in the arches of my feet. I’ll find out the technical term.) Basically, this means that after about 4 miles, it feels like I am landing on hot knives.  Yes, I am seeing a physical therapist. Yes, the PT would like me to take time off.   In the meantime, he’s taping my feet, I’m doing the icing, the exercises, the fish oil (PT recommended for the healing aspects), ibuprofen if I can’t bear it, and the shorter runs. Let’s hope that’s enough to heal.

Thanks for reading my first post! Stay tuned for more…