Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Feet!

It isn't so!

I may have pressure, but I do not have stress--at least not a stress fracture. Hooray! If I were one of my daughter's vocab words, I'd be "stressfracturelessness."

With the "run" of bad luck I've had since August (knee problems, PF flare up, bronchitis, flat tires, getting hit by a car) I automatically thought the worst when I went for a run on Sunday and felt a sharp pain on the top of my foot; a pain that was eerily similar to the pain I felt last summer when I did, in fact, have a stress fracture.

If you've never had one before, the best way I can describe it is a sharp, yet elusive pain on the top of the foot. In June 2010 I had been running in my VFFs for a few months and loving them. Apparently, the bones in my feet weren't loving them quite as much. One of my metatarsals literally "cracked under the pressure" of repeated, uncushioned impact with asphalt as I ran my way to a 5K PR and a second place finish in my division at a sprint triathlon. I didn't realize I'd injured my foot until the following week when I tried to run again.

The odd thing was, I could run, but my foot felt off; achy. I attributed it a tendon or ligament issue--not unrealistic as I was just mending from a long battle with PF.

I continued running a few times a week to train for my next triathlon, but the more I ran, the more my foot hurt. But only when I was running. Walking was fine and, with a day or two of rest, I'd be fooled into thinking I could run again.

The week before the triathlon I was only able to run short distances, a mile or less. Still, I figured I'd be able to manage the 5-mile run in the next race.

To my dismay, race day dawned overcast and rainy. The light drizzle soon became a full-blown downpour, turning the transition area into a mud pit. A few minutes before the race was to begin, visibility dropped and there was thunder and lightening in the vicinity. The race organizers decided to scrap the swim and downgrade to a duathlon. I thought we'd simply skip the swim and only cycle and run. Silly me. The swim was replaced by a 5K, increasing the total run distance from 5 miles to 8. I was prepared to attempt five; not eight. Many athletes left. I probably should have followed their lead; cut my losses, tucked my tail and called it a day.

Instead, I tried to tough it out and the only good thing I can say about it is that I realized, without a doubt, that I was not having a tendon or ligament problem. With each step I felt a stabbing pain in the top of my foot. Running on the soggy grass and mud eased the impact a bit, but it still hurt. The next day, I called an orthopaedist and scheduled an appointment.

I felt a little foolish sitting in the ortho's office. My foot didn't look injured. It was not bruised or swollen. (Even when my foot was crushed in a car accident many years ago, there was little bruising or swelling. My immune system is freaky that way.) The top of my foot was tender to the touch, but only if I could locate the precise yet elusive spot that seemed to move about. And I could walk fine. As for the x-ray results? Nada.

So the ortho sent me for an MRI (if you've never had one, it's quite the experience) and, voila! There it was. The teensy, tinsy, validating microscopic hairline crack in my third metatarsal. The only reason the MRI could detect the little sucker was because the injury had occurred three weeks prior. Stress fractures are so small they usually only show up on film once the healing process has begun.

My instructions? Stay off my feet as much as possible. Rest, ice; the usual RICE stuff. And no running for 6 weeks. That pretty much ended my triathlon season that year as I downgraded my final race to Aquavelo.

So there I was, last Sunday, 4.5-miles into a 6-mile run when I was hit with a sharp pain on the top of my foot. I bent down, adjusted the tongue of my shoe, and continued on without a second thought. That night, however, I got up from sitting on the floor and the pain in my foot sang out again. If I hadn't already lost my summer glow, I'd say I turned pale, gripped by fear that I'd suffered another stress fracture; the feeling was so familiar. All I could manage to post that night was "Say it isn't so!" I didn't even want to write the words. PF is much worse in the long run but, with the Iron Man just over four weeks away, a stress fracture would shatter any hope I'd have of finishing that race.

So I rested. Iced. Adviled. I even Aqua jogged (which is enough to push anyone back to the pavement!). I considered seeing an ortho, but knew it would be too soon for an x-ray or MRI to show a fracture. But underneath my panic, I realized my foot was not getting worse and I hadn't felt any more sharp pains. So, on Wednesday, I stopped babying my foot and it felt okay. That night (moved by tears of boredom from my Aqua jog experience), I took drastic measures and wore a pair of heels out to dinner. Still good. I loosened the Lock Laces in my Kinvaras and relaced them. This morning, I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and ran. In the rain.

And it was glorious!

I felt like a gazelle. Who says water workouts are the only way to feel weightless? I glided along at a great pace, my heart and hopes soaring. I just wanted to make it past the 4.5-mile mark which is where I met trouble on the last run. Today was no exception. Right around 4.5-miles my gazelle morphed into an elephant, my birdlike limbs turned to lead, my old friends Knee Pain and Plantar Strain said hello. I realize that, at this point in the game, a 6-mile run should be a breeze. Easy-peasy. It should not devolve into a major achy effort at a mere 4.5 miles. But, ultimately, I was okay with all of those things because, "It wasn't so!" The top of my foot felt fine. Fine, fine, fine!

Looking back, it seems that a lacing error (too tight? misaligned?) likely caused some pain/bruising/compression on the top of my foot that mimicked a stress fracture but, thankfully, it was not one.

So, for now, the show goes on and I am happy. Happy that I did not have to Aqua Jog again!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Backing the truck up

Thanks again for all the well wishes and messages of concern after my "run in" with a car two weeks ago. Several of you asked for more details on what happened . . . I write a column for my local newspaper and had to wait for my article on the incident to be published before sharing here. So, without further adieu . . .

Cyclists facing danger on road

By, Times Fitness Writer

I'd spent the morning repeatedly checking, scrutinizing the hourly forecast and radar maps in search of the best window of time for a bike ride. Finally, seeing my chance, I quickly set off for what was to be a two-hour ride. Instead, just 15 minutes later, I was hit by a car.

As I was making my way along the road, an SUV up ahead attempted a U-turn and was brought up short by oncoming traffic. Idling at an angle and blocking the road, it suddenly reversed direction and backed into me as I was riding by on the shoulder.

When I saw the reverse lights illuminate, I shouted and tried to swerve right to avoid being hit, but the SUV kept coming back and collided with my left leg, sending me and my bike skittering across the shoulder and into a nearby yard where I landed in a heap beside my bike.

My left calf seized immediately, the gastrocnemius turning to stone. As I sat massaging my lower leg, I began to take stock of the situation: Am I hurt anywhere else? (Yes, my left knee.) Is my bike damaged? (Not that I can tell.)

As the driver rounded the back of his vehicle, looking more irritated than concerned, he loudly began defending himself and became angry when I asked for his insurance information. While the driver was retrieving his documents from the vehicle, the passenger finally spoke up, asking if I was

OK. I replied honestly that I wasn't sure.

I found it ironic that the driver had not once apologized or asked if I was OK and I said as much when he returned, which totally set the guy off. He began cursing and swearing, and generally behaving aggressively. Clearly this person was irrational and possibly dangerous. If I ever hit someone with my car, I'd be apologizing and bending over backward to make sure that person was OK. The passenger, who was the only other witness, refused to give me his name. By then, I just wanted them to leave and hoped I'd be able to shake it off and continue with my ride, despite the rain that had started to fall.

When I finished copying the insurance information, the driver got in his car and sped away. With my body still quaking with shock, anger and pain, I readjusted the bent rear brakes, clipped into my pedals and realized with the first stroke that I wouldn't be continuing my ride; my left knee could not bear the pressure, so I slowly made my way home, coasting as much as possible and using only my right foot to pedal.

Ultimately, I filed a report with the police and the insurance company. My knee was swollen and lacking some range of motion, but thankfully the injury does not seem to be serious. In retrospect, the driver's aggressive behavior was just as scary as being hit by a car so, be careful out there: cyclists can easily be victims of road rage and we don't stand a chance against the SUV's of the world.

That was the newspaper version of the story. To add a little more color to the incident, let me tell you a bit more about my "conversation" with Mr. SUV driver:

My first thought after being walloped like a ping pong ball was, "I can't believe I was jut hit by a car!" Total disbelief. My instinct to "survey the scene" (a term familiar to anyone who's ever taken CPR or Live Saving courses) took over and I began to assess the situation. My second thought was, "What was that guy doing?" This is the question that popped out of my mouth when the driver rounded the vehicle, arms in the air, shouting, "I looked. I didn't see you!"

"Well, I was there," was my insightful comeback. "I was shouting. Didn't you hear me?"

"I didn't hear you. You should have shouted louder."


As my calf muscle softened, I struggled to my feet and shakily tried to collect my bike and water bottles from the ground. My left leg buckled, my knee swelling. Other than bent rear brakes and some scratches, my bike appeared, surprisingly, unharmed. But I was concerned about my knee and my mind was racing, trying to figure out what to do as the driver and his passenger just stood there looking at me.

"I'm going to need some information," I said to the driver, "Insurance."

"Oh, you're gonna give me some information too!" he shouted and stalked off to his car. He returned with registration and insurance documents.

"I'll need a pen and something to write on," I said.

"Damn," he muttered, shaking his head and returning to his car. This is when the passenger finally spoke up and said, "Are you okay?"

"Honestly, I'm not sure. My knee hurts." It was then that I realized that the driver had not once apologized or inquired as to my well-being. Anger and annoyance momentarily replaced shock and pain. The passenger went on to add that he'd seen me when they passed but didn't think I would have "gotten there so quickly." (The passenger later told the insurance company that he heard someone yelling as the driver was backing up and he told the driver. The driver continued to reverse without stopping again to look or double check.)

When the driver returned with an envelope and a pen I said, nodding toward the passenger, "At least this guy had the decency to ask if I was okay."

Mistake. Totally set the guy off.

"Aw, hell! I asked if you were okay."

"No, you didn't."

"You're gonna stand here and call me a damn liar?" He shouted. I just looked at him. "Well f*@k that!" he said walking toward me, flinging his arms around. I put my hand up in warning and said, "Stop. Just stop right now. I don't want you to say another word."

At that, the driver leaned toward me and said menacingly, "Don't you put your hand up at me."

I looked over at the passenger and asked for his name, reasoning that he was the only witness to what had happened and how the driver was behaving. The passenger refused to give me his name. "I don't want to get involved," he said. Hmm. I decided not to point out the obvious: As the passenger of a vehicle that struck a cyclist, he was already involved. Instead, I held out the pen to the driver, who grabbed it back, got in his SUV, and sped away. I was left standing in the rain, hurting, angry, shaken and shocked.

Silly me, I thought I might actually shake it off, that my knee would loosen up when I started pedaling and I could continue my ride. Not happening. So, I lamely made my way home, called my husband (voice mail) called my mom (burst into tears) called the police (almost started crying again--and I'm not a crier!) and made a report. Cops came to my house. I had to ID the driver on a screen in the squad car and answer some questions. I was told the driver would not be cited; presumably since the police were called after the fact and not to the scene. I'm sure the sight of two police cars in my driveway had some neighborhood tongues wagging.

My husband rushed right home and took care of fielding other calls and making an insurance report while I soaked in a hot bath, trying to put the incident behind me.

In follow up, my knee was sore and swollen for a few days. Stairs were difficult. Walking was slow-going. Range of motion was about 50%. But I was leaving the next day for a girls weekend. The SUV driver had already taken away my ride and the better part of my day, I was not going to also give him my whole evening while I sat at urgent care or endured x-rays. I believe in holistic treatment and the body's ability to heal itself. If my knee had taken a turn for the worse, I would have sought medical care. But, with rest, ice and ibuprofen, my body did indeed begin the process of healing.

When I finally connected with the driver's insurance company to confirm that I did not have medical bills to claim and would not be suing, I asked that my personal info not be given to the driver. The insurance agent, a local woman, said, "After talking with the insured on the phone, I can understand why you'd say that."

Apparently when the insurance company contacted the driver to get his statement and let him know that he was, in fact, at fault, the driver became argumentative, combatative and defensive with the agent to the point that she ended the call and asked her husband to accompany her when she went to take the required photos of his vehicle.

Fine specimen, eh?

So that's the whole story. Be safe out there everyone. As my mother in law always says, "watch out for the nutsies."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting Bugged

Bug encounters when cycling are nothing new. I’ve had numerous bugs meet their end upon impact with my face, arms and neck, their sharp exoskeletons stinging my skin. The smaller ones that swarm me while I’m huffing away up a hill don’t necessarily meet their demise from the collision with my skin but, rather, drown in a pool of sweat and sunscreen. I regularly end my warm-weather rides covered head-to-toe in dead bugs.

I’ve also had several bee stings and incidents of bugs flying into my helmet and getting trapped inside, their wings beating furiously against my head in their attempt to escape.

Inevitably, there are the little gnats that dart into my mouth on inhalation or get sucked into the back of my throat when I’m gasping for air; these are either quickly spit or coughed out or washed down with a swig of water.

But during Sunday’s 80-miler, I had an all-new “eww” experience. During one of the bigger climbs, I lifted my head from the aero position, sucked in a breath of air and, along with it, a soft, fuzzy critter of some kind. This particular bug was not at all like the small, gnatty variety. No, this one bounced off my upper lip and teeth and landed in a limp, fuzzy ball on the tip of my tongue like the fluffy white top of a clover flower being dropped into my mouth. Ugh! Good thing I got proficient at loogie-hocking during my bout with bronchitis—one big hock and the sucker was launched. I never even saw what it looked like. That’s probably a good thing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Breast Obsessed

Image: Ambro /

“Excuse me, but, how can you be so athletic with those breasts?”

Ok, I am paraphrasing, but this is essentially the question that was asked of me today while I was swimming laps at the Y.

Men have been lambasted for decades for being “breast obsessed.” Perhaps this obsession has finally infiltrated women’s own consciousness because it seems to me that, lately, women are the ones who are truly obsessed with breasts.

Flat chested gals want bigger ones, bodacious babes want smaller ones, and what everyone really wants are ones that no one has (not naturally, anyway)—the kind that are perfectly round and symmetrical and perky and stick straight out into the next zip code with nary a spaghetti strap to hold them in place, never mind that the wearer of this man-made freakishness might otherwise be 90 pounds soaking wet or approaching her sixth decade.

Susan G. Komen-obsessed? Good. Heidi Montag-obsessed? Bad.

I have been dancing around this polarizing, hot-button topic for months, even prompting discussion on Facebook to gauge people’s thoughts on the subject, and one thing seems to be clear: Women who’ve had cosmetic/plastic surgery are in favor of it while women who’ve not had it are opposed.

As someone who avoids doctor’s offices, antibiotics, and even Advil, I am firmly planted in camp “opposed.” The idea of electively going under the knife to alter my body for cosmetic purposes is appalling. I’m far more interested in how my body feels than how it looks; in other words, I’m a “health over hospital,” “fitness over fashion,” “cardio over cosmetics” kind of gal. Does that mean I’m totally satisfied with what “God gave me?” Hell no! I could compose a list as long as my arm of things I’d like to change about my appearance. But, hey, it is what it is and I’m willing to work with what I’ve got.

That’s not to say that the advancements in plastic surgery are without merit. For people who are born or have become disfigured, for women who’ve had mastectomies; this type of procedure can be positively life-altering, maybe even life-saving.

But to suck the fat off your thighs because you want to fit into size 0 jeans and still eat French Fries, or to go from a B cup to a DDD so you look better in a bikini? That’s insane! In the animal kingdom, it’s usually the male of the species that tries to attract a mate with its attention-getting behavior and flashy feathers. In our society, it seems the women have decided to try and outshine each other with unnatural shapes and sizes, though the plumage we sport comes at a much greater cost. You don’t see men running in droves to the nearest knife-wielding surgeon to get chin or bicep or pectoral or penile implants.

So, why are women doing this? Who are they doing it for? What kind of example are we setting for our daughters?

Some women have told me they’ve sought plastic surgery to make them feel better about themselves, gain confidence or enhance the features they have. In my opinion, self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect comes from within, not from a botulinum-filled syringe or a saline pouch. And, since when is a little eyeliner or blush not enough to enhance one’s features?

I am fortunate to have been raised by a mother who always told me, and still does, that I am smart and beautiful, and a father who frequently complimented me, respected my mother and, my favorite, told me that “only a dog likes a bone.” Despite these confidence-boosting entreaties, appearance was never a priority in my childhood home. My mother and I both hate to shop. When it comes to clothes, I know what looks good on me—I don’t need a fashion magazine dictating what’s in style and what I “must” wear; comfort and functionality is my main goal. My parents would never pay extra for designer jeans or shoes when Wranglers, Levi’s and Zips would do. (And if you don’t believe you are being manipulated by the big marketing machine, check out this video: The Story of Stuff:

I’ve never worn a lot of makeup and, unlike some of my female friends, don’t have an issue with going out in public without my “face” on. I didn’t discover an eyelash curler until my late 20s and I stopped wearing lipstick, for the most part, when my babies were born so I could kiss them freely and frequently without leaving little red and pink marks all over them.

But, given the fact that I’m an athlete, having a curvy figure (one that my husband adores and I sometimes abhor) is not always a bonus and, in fact, can be quite a pain in the ass. It’s taken me years to find a sports bra that truly keeps the ta-tas in place when I run and a triathlon top that can go from swimming to sprinting. (Before this discovery, I’d given up many race minutes to my flat-chested counterparts who could simply breeze through the transition area in their one-piece tri suits.)

So, back to the woman at the Y. She thinks what I am doing (training for the Iron Man) is “mah-velous.” She said that I am “thin” and “athletic,” but then awkwardly apologized for being so personal when she wondered how I am able to do these things with “my breasts?” (It’s a bit impossible to imagine doing anything without them; it’s not as if I can unhook them and sit them on a shelf when I want to go for a run!) But, I understood what she meant and I sympathized. In fact, last year I lamented about this very topic in my blog post titled “Looking the part:”

But here is the sad thing. This woman, who is in her 60’s, is beautiful and voluptuous in a petite, Sophia Loren way. She is healthy and outgoing and athletic. Yet, she is thinking about getting a breast reduction.

I wanted to plead with her not do it. Instead, I tried to convince her that she is truly lovely and perfect the way she is. I hope she will consider the fact that a breast reduction is a major and invasive surgery. We commiserated over the challenges of being athletic women with hourglass figures. She confided in me about developing early and being teased as a kid, and about all the women she sees now who obviously have fake breasts because they “aren’t proportionate with the rest of their bodies.” My response? “The way I see it, all those women are paying for what we’ve already got!” (Minus the gravity-defying element.) She declared that I am in a good and positive place about it and I guess I am.

I hope our conversation will help her to embrace the body she has, realize there are other solutions, and not proceed with surgery, though I will not judge her if she ultimately goes through with it. Electing to alter one’s self through surgery is an intensely personal decision and I wouldn’t pass judgment on any woman who felt it was the right choice for her. As the saying goes; “To each his own.” We must each find our own path to happiness.

I just hope women realize the path does not have to be paved with scalpels.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

PF hurts; gravel can help?

Wow. I'd been thinking I'd already hit a low point and here I am, falling lower still.

Forget taking the "road less traveled." I am now headed to the "roads more graveled."

The warning signs have been there. And I've paid attention. Shortly after the Luray Triathlon in August, I started feeling some "soreness" in my feet. Then, as the Savageman Half Iron Man approached in September, there was some occasional "stretching." I sacrificed that race to the plantar fasciitis gods hoping that, if I walked that race instead of running, that my feet would be spared. And I thought they had been. I got up the day after that 13.1-mile walk/run at Savageman, put my feet on the floor, and felt . . . fine.

Training continued and I've stayed tuned in and focused, listening for cues from my body. I've done everything I was supposed to. I took the time to heal. I changed my shoes, changed the way I ran. I religiously stretched my feet and iced them after every run, even the 3-milers.

On Saturday, I ran 12-miles. During the run, I felt some "tightness" in my arches and stopped to stretch them every 3 miles or so, but I felt great after the run. That night, there was an ache. And when I rubbed the soles of my feet, I could feel the little pebble-like knots under my heels; lumps of knotted, injured tissue. I've felt them before. And my heart sank.

While cycling on Sunday, I could "feel" my heels. No pain, just awareness. Aware of a "stretched" sensation. When your feet feel fine, you don't notice them.

A deep foot massage on Monday and my heels felt the tiniest bit better.

Then came today. I had rested my feet for two days. The run was only supposed to be 38-minutes long. Easy-peasy. The first five minutes were fine. I thought, "no worries." Then, 10 minutes in and a knife of pain sliced down the left side of my foot and lodged in my heel. I stopped, stretched, walked, hoped . . . and tried again. Two more minute in and zap! Fireworks going off in my heel. Pain stinging my feet, tears stinging my eyes.

Frustrated, discouraged, defeated, I grabbed my things from my locker at the Y and bolted. Walking hurt by then. I didn't want to stand on my feet long enough to shower so I beelined for home, and for my friend's gravel driveway.

I've done everything I'm supposed to do. I've tried everything to keep this monster away and yet here it is. It took me 2 years to heal from this before. How am I supposed to rest and heal and still be ready to run 26-miles in just two months?

The only thing I've never tried is walking on gravel. In Danny Dreyer's book, Chi Running, he lists all the things to do to prevent PF (been there) and all the things to do to treat it (done that) and I've done them all; except walk on gravel. Barefoot. For 10 minutes a day until symptoms disappear. In Dreyer's words: " . . . those of you with plantar fasciitis will 'love' this one. It hurts, but it gets rid of PF faster than anything else I've ever tried."

Danny, you had me at gravel. Or maybe it was faster.