Wednesday, May 30, 2012


When I last left you riveted by the Chinese water torture that is the story of rehabbing my back, I was feeling down in the dumps because it still hurts, more than I think it should after almost three months of physical therapy, no outdoor running or spin class and lots of strengthening exercises for my abs and glutes.

It's like one of those never-ending video games, where you achieve a new level or find a new token....only to learn that the ultimate Holy Grail remains elusive.You start to wonder if you'll ever get there, or if you should even be bothering.

Well, no video game addict would ever stop looking....and neither will this running addict. Yesterday I received a new token, a new tool in the quest: a one-on-one Pilates lesson with Patty at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, who is also one of the physiotherapists who supervises me on the Alter-G. I don't want to be overly optimistic (that's not really in my nature anyway), but I'm feeling good about this for two reasons:

1) Patty is not only the only Pilates instructor that Cathy, my physical therapist, wants me to see, but she is also a Boston Marathon qualified runner, a mom and a recovering sacro-iliac joint issue survivor herself. She understands this problem not only academically, but personally (in fact, she says hers still bugs her if she overdoes it working in her garden). She also has a good sense of humor and hung up my kid's picture of a train at her desk at work.

2) Jessica of Pace of Me and Dimity of Another Mother Runner both say Pilates done right was THE magic spell that freed them from the curse of their own back and hip issues. First-hand endorsements from athletes I can't beat that.

Patty had me warm up with some Kegals. Pregnant and formerly pregnant ladies will remember those. Apparently, not only do they help with incontinence issues (thankfully I don't have those, though I know some runners do), but they improve pelvic floor strength and thus support the back. I need to be doing them all the time, boosting them as I go by imagining my sit bones moving closer to each other with each squeeze.

As I lay on my back doing Kegals, we talked about which exercises in my current routine seem to exacerbate my pain. This was easy for me to answer: the standing glute exercises and the seated-on-a-Swiss-ball leg raises. Patty counseled me to do only one of the standing glute exercises per day until I identify the one that truly makes my pain worse. She suspects it's the one where I swing my leg out to the side--but time will tell.

She then modified one of the exercises Cathy had given me for my abs. For the "laying on my back marching" one I am supposed to slow down and really concentrate on two things: 1) using my abs to lower the leg as well as raise it (this already makes a HUGE difference in how this feels to my back) and 2) exhaling on the raise and inhaling on the lowering. I'm supposed to do the Swiss ball lifts (carefully) with the same focus. She said to think of there being a puppet string from my lower abdomen to my knee. I have to really concentrate on this--my quads really wanted to help.

Patty also suggested I do this exercise lying length-wise on a foam roller. This makes it harder, but also more obvious when I arch my back.

I also have one new ab exercise: the Pilates Hundreds. If you Google this exercise, you'll see the more advanced "real" version, done with legs straight and elevated. That's not the one I'll be doing. My version has me on my back, knees bent in sit-up position and feet on the floor. I then raise my torso to about bra level and do the pulses. I'm also not doing a hundred pulses. Right now, I'm to do four sets of five inhales and five exhales.

The breathing is key for all of this--and I'm very bad at it. Patty says learning breathing control will help my running, too. That makes me more likely to stick with these latest modifications. I've gotten really good at visualizing finishing a strong marathon, or crossing the finish line in Boston with my new abs and buns of steel. It's still a fantasy, but with each squeeze I feel a tiny bit closer.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Impossible to Be Sad

Today was the Bolder Boulder 10K. I ran this race in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. This year I couldn't run it due to my back issue. But, aside from a few twinges of regret on seeing the buses and the bibs as we drove through Boulder, I was OK with the DNS (for once). Why? Well, because exactly seven years ago today, this is what I was doing.

Walkin' down the aisle with my brand new husband Dan, May 28, 2005. Yes, I did wake up that morning at 4 a.m. to run!
Cheesy pose......Note that I am wearing make-up, a rare thing reserved for weddings and other such special occasions.
We're not Jewish, but our Jewish friends made sure we had a hora. We had break dancing too.
So given that today was our 7th anniversary (with nary an itch in sight!), we decided to commemorate it with 2,700 feet of elevation gain: a hike up Green Mountain, an 8,100-foot landmark in Boulder's foothills. (Ultrarunner Anton Krupicka is famous for running this trail almost every day of the year. We didn't see him today.)

With many of Boulder's badasses down below, burning up the streets with Deena Kastor and company, the trails were emptier than they usually would be on a crystal-clear and cool holiday morning. We made it to the summit in an hour and a half and took our time up there soaking in the views of Indian Peaks.

The Indian Peaks, looking west from Green Mountain.
On the way up, with Boulder in the background.
We got a nice runner wearing a Barr Trail Mountain race shirt and a worn pair of New Balance minimalist shoes to take our photo at the top, but apparently he's a better runner than he is a photographer because the photo was so blurry it's not worth posting. We took our time getting down, stopping to watch the military planes whose flyover always concludes the Bolder Boulder festivities. Unlike in the past, this time we were actually higher than the planes! And once down, we retired to an Indian restaurant and stuffed ourselves at the buffet. Bucking my usual "Sunday-only" rule for sweets, I let myself enjoy chocolate and rice pudding and some jelly beans.

Afterwards, we took the kids over to the home of Karen, the family friend who watched the kids for us as we hiked....and has a swimming pool. I took this picture of Dan, Ruthie and Will:

It was a great day NOT to be sad about not being able to race.

Next year, the Bolder Boulder isn't on my anniversary. It's the day before. Hmmmm.....race on May 27, 2013, and an 8th anniversary hike the next day. Sounds like a plan!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Latest from Alter-G and Recumbent Bike Land

My time crunch continued on Thursday, which is one of the days I'm home with the kids. My Alter-G appointment was at 5:15 p.m., but Dan didn't want to leave work early again (I don't blame him).

So, being a flexible mom of twins, I assembled a Boredom Bag (crayons, paper, books and some graham crackers)--and took Will and Ruthie with me. I figured, how bad could it be? It's only 30 minutes.

Happily, they were so fascinated with the Alter-G that they barely cracked the Boredom Bag (they did eat all the graham crackers; I mean, these are MY children). And fortunately Patty, the physiologist, proved good with kids. She joked with them. She let them circle the machine and put their hands inside the bag when I was finished. Will made a drawing of a train for her. Turns out her son went to the same preschool that Will and Ruth attend. He's now 17, but apparently the director and the cook are the same people who were working there when he was there.

I don't expect this to work every time. Familiarity breeds contempt with little kids. But I got it done, and much more easily than I had on Monday. My kids, it turns out, are more forgiving than my job.

The session itself went well. I got closer to 3 miles for the total (sweet-talking Patty into letting me cut the cool-down short) and stayed no lower than 85% body weight the whole time.

Yesterday I took it easy, with a 30-minute walk (featuring some good break-up music--thanks to everyone for your excellent suggestions) and PT exercises. Then this morning I went to the gym and knocked out a 1-hour bike session with 55 minutes of intervals, followed by a 30-minute hill walk on the treadmill and then more PT exercises.

I'm not going to lie to you. My back is still unhappy. It's definitely not where I need it to be to start really running again. I've been trying to track when it bugs me the most, and it appears to be the leg raises on the stability ball and the glute exercises that irritate it. This doesn't surprise me, because attempts to do core work (and doing it poorly, I guess) are what sent me into PT in the first place. It IS frustrating that this still happens after nearly three months of work. It's also frustrating that most mornings getting out of bed I am still painfully stiff. Sometimes I want to run because, well, why not suffer AND run instead of....just suffer?

Patty, to whom I told all this, still seems to think I'm doing well. She's a runner herself, a Pilates instructor and has had SI issues. She said the move she recommends for glutes is more subtle than some of the ones I'm doing. It involves (when sitting, though she says you can try it walking or running, too) contracting the muscles that you imagine could bring your sit bones closer together. She says this brings not only the glutes but also the pelvic floor muscles into play for back support. I've been trying this any time I'm sitting down (and under her watchful eye also on the Alter-G), and I will say that while I'm concentrating on it, it does immediately reduce my back pain. The problem's hard to concentrate that hard all the time.

My next plan of action will be to get permission from Cathy, my physical therapist, to make a Pilates consultation appointment with Patty. I'm not due to see Cathy again until the middle of June, so I'm going to call and ask. It may not happen right away, as Patty has a vacation planned too. But I like Patty and I feel like she will be careful, so if I can get in and get a new exercise routine from her this week, I'll feel like I'm still making progress while not ignoring the plain sad fact that I still have too much back pain.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Angry Break-Up Playlist

I am happily married. I want to say that before I get into the meat of this post.

Dan with his second-biggest fans after the race. They ate more pizza than he did.

Last night the kids and I watched Dan do his second Dash n' Dine 5K. It was hot and windy, that dry oven-like wind we often get here in the summer, and he didn't feel great. In fact, he was a minute slower than he was on the same course last month. But we all still had lots of fun. Now this series is over, so I have to find some other races for him to do, so I can continue to live through him.

That's what husbands are for, right?

So now that I've established that what I'm about to say has nothing to do with Dan or our marriage.....

I'm really into angry break-up songs lately.

I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm injured and starting to feel like running has broken up with me. Plus, reading all the great race reports lately makes me feel like the freaky girl who never gets invited to the school dances. Or maybe it's because, with the exception of my college boyfriend, a truly nice person, all the guys I dated before Dan were losers. Maybe it's because my sister went through a break-up recently, and while it wasn't particularly angry, she's sad and I've been trying to think of ways to buck her up (so far she's ignoring my suggestion that she take up running). Maybe it's because I find anger motivating when I'm trying to push myself. Maybe it's because I really like Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know." Maybe it's because I'm getting a little tired of my current recumbent bike playlist (music is an absolute must on the recumbent bike).

So I decided to put a list of songs together that are all about breaking up, hating the person you broke up with, getting stronger post-break-up. Here's what I came up with:

Somebody That I Used to Know
Don't Come Around Here No More
Better Man
Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
One More Minute
I Hate Myself for Loving You
These Boots are Made for Walking
I Will Survive
The One I Love
Goodbye to You
It's Not Right But It's OK
Far Behind

Anyone else find this kind of thing motivating? What are your favorite angry break-up songs?

Monday, May 21, 2012


One great thing of many great things about finally being allowed to run outside again will be no longer being in thrall to my gym's schedule and the uncertainty of how many others will want to use the recumbent bike there. And now that the Alter-G is in the mix, my training schedule (if that's not too lofty a phrase for it) has gotten even more ridiculous.

Don't get me wrong: I am NOT complaining about having access to the Alter-G. But after this crazy morning, I do feel compelled to complain about SCHEDULING the Alter-G. See, it's not like I can just march in there, pull on the crazy shorts and get myself going any time I want. I have to have a physiologist on hand to help me get into the thing, and to track my progress and monitor my pain while I'm on it. There are three physiologists I can work with. And their working hours....pretty much correspond with my working hours, or the hours I'm with my kids. They don't have 5 a.m. kids-aren't-up-yet work's-not-open-yet appointments, or 8 p.m. kids-are-in-bed I'm-off-work appointments, or weekend husband-home-with-kids hours.

This leads to days like today. Here's how it went:

4:30 a.m.--I wake up, dress, sneak through the creaky-floored house and drive to the gym.

5 a.m.--The gym opens. I find a recumbent bike (had I arrived an hour later, this could have been a problem) and get my 45-minute interval/hill workout done. The sessions on the Alter-G just aren't long or hard enough for me to start scaling back the bike yet.

5:50 a.m.--After changing out of my sweat-soaked pants, I stretch my pissed-off piriformis and foam roll.

6:05 a.m.--I head home.

6:15 a.m.--Arriving home, I gather up the milk delivery and the newspapers and go inside. My son Will bursts out of his room about a millisecond after I open the front door. Dan and our daughter Ruthie are both still asleep.

6:30 a.m.--Will and I eat breakfast. Dan gets up. Ruthie is still asleep.

6:45 a.m.--I take my shower. At 7, Dan wakes Ruthie up.

7:10 a.m.--Dan and Ruthie eat breakfast. I start some tea for the road.

7:25 a.m.--I leave for Boulder, clutching tea, backpack, water bottle, and purse.

8 a.m.--Traffic was bad, but I arrive at my library when I wanted to. On Mondays, I'm the opening reference librarian, which means I get the reference desk ready for the day by changing out the newspapers, starting up our circulation and catalog software, printing the desk schedule for the day (damn!, I said on seeing today's schedule--I'm due on at 10 a.m.!) and noting any phone messages. I do this an hour earlier today than I usually do, because I couldn't get an earlier Alter-G session.

8:45 a.m.--I head over to Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. My appointment isn't until 9:15 a.m., but I'm hoping to get on earlier. Double damn! My physiologist is with an earlier client when I get there, so no early start for me.

9:15 a.m.--Jaclyn comes to get me. I change into the Alter-G shorts as quickly as possible, and we get the machine going. My tailbone feels a bit uncomfortable, but I'm happy to be at 80% body weight this time (up from 75% last Thursday). I also jack the incline up a little, settling at 3%. But with that 10 a.m. reference desk shift looming, I have time for only 20 minutes. I cut my warm-up short and do some "intervals" at 8 minutes-per-mile to get more for my money. Thanks to this, I'm able to get my heart rate over 150 by the time my limited session is over.

9:45 a.m.--I climb off the Alter-G, get out of the shorts and shower quickly. I throw on my work clothing, forgetting to put on my earrings.

10 a.m.--Lucky thing BCSM and the library are close to each other. I just have time to dump my stuff in my cubicle in the office and grab another cup of tea and some crackers as the morning's first library patrons climb the stairs and approach the reference desk. My first shift there is two hours. Thanks goodness for those crackers.

Now, it's my lunch break...and I'm s-l-e-e-p-y. I'm also g-r-u-m-p-y. Things I normally take in stride on the desk, like the incessant ringing of the phone, made me want to kill someone today.

Yes, I am very lucky to have access to the Alter-G, and yes I will continue to jump through hoops to use it. But yes, yes, yes.....I'm really looking forward to those mornings (they will come, won't they?) when I merely open my door, step out into the morning's cool and start putting one foot in front of the other.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alter-G Part 2 & Other Updates

Yesterday was my second rehab session on the Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill.

I felt very lucky to be there at all, as 24 hours earlier I had been in the throes of a freak virus that sent my temperature up to 102.9 and made my head feel like some alien was trying to break through my skull. The sickness came on me at work Wednesday in the form of violent shivering and nausea. I managed to haul myself home and collapse in bed. At that point I thought there was no way I could make my 5:15 running date the next day.

But in the morning, after 14 hours of sleep interrupted only by a trip to the bathroom around midnight, I woke up with NO fever and only a slight headache that faded to nothing by noon. It was the briefest illness I think I remember having, if also one of the more intense. I took it easy in the morning, did a few of my physical therapy exercises in the afternoon, took Will and Ruth to the annual Art Show at their preschool and then Dan took over so I could make my appointment.

Fever aside, I was curious about how the session would go this time. My calves were SCREAMING on Tuesday and Wednesday after the first session. I think this was mostly a "Whoa, what is this running thing all about?" reaction (after all, they haven't had that kind of intensity asked of them for over two months), but my new Pure Flow shoes probably contributed too. I actually looked over old racing pictures of myself to make sure that, yes, I generally do have a mid- to forefoot strike. And I think I really do--even in the finish line pic of me in Houston last January (see the right-hand column), where I was doing what passes for sprinting for me at the end of a marathon, shows me landing neatly in the right place on my foot.

Yesterday's Alter-G session was apparently just what the doctor ordered for the calves. I wore the Pure Flows again, and while there's still some calf tightness, it's quite run-of-the-mill now, and fading--whereas on Tuesday and Wednesday they felt like I had just run a marathon on them.

And what about the back? My sacro-iliac support belt got in the way of the machine's calibration yesterday, so I did the run without it. My back's left side definitely bothered me more this time, but it wasn't alarming. In the end, I managed another good two miles of running, this time at 75% body weight (yay for the increase!). The exercise physiologist in charge this time was Patty, who will also likely be the person I'll go see about Pilates once Cathy (my physical therapist) thinks I'm strong enough for that. At the end, she loaded me up with a giant bag of ice for the back and on my way I went.

My back definitely hurt this morning, so I've been wearing the belt a lot today. But I did get my recumbent bike session in (I'll keep doing those until I can run a lot more than I'm allowed to right now), and I did a few stretches and some PT exercises afterwards. Things are definitely feeling more normal now.

My next Alter-G run is on Monday morning. This time I'm going to bring my Garmin to see how my heart rate looks at the various paces and percent body weights, and how that compares to what I'm used to seeing on the bike at this point.

Sleep Update: So this month was supposed to be the month where I got in the habit of getting eight hours a night on a regular basis. I even enlisted a handful of others to go along with me on it. Well, for me, it hasn't happened. The month's only half over, so I'm not giving up, but my bad habits in this area have proven much more deeply ingrained than I thought. I love sleep! So why is it so hard for me to get myself in bed when I should? Life's just too interesting, I guess.

Weight/Eating Update: At least I'm still doing well on this front! My weight this morning was 128.4, and I'm still going strong (stronger every day, in fact!) on having no processed sugar of any kind any day but Sunday. I've found not only am I no longer craving sugar during the week or wanting to graze from treat trays brought into work, but that when I do have my Sunday treat, I appreciate and enjoy it much more. Last Sunday, I rode my bike over to the Dairy Queen on Main Street and picked up a chocolate dip cone for myself and a plain vanilla one for Dan, then rode home where we enjoyed our little treat together. That cone tasted awesome! That might be what I have to do this Sunday too.....

Could I still eat better? Definitely! I've found myself dipping into the tortilla chips I buy for our Friday night taco dinners much more often than I should. I don't eat regular potato chips at all--but corn chips....they've got my number. So I feel like they might be the next thing I eliminate, or at least bracket into just one day of the week.

That's it for now! I'm thinking of my friends Cynthia and Kathy, both of whom have big races this weekend!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Best Day in a While

Really, I don't have a lot of bad days...but today was damn good.

Wanna know why?

Well, it started out as Mondays usually do: a 5 a.m. alarm, some 50 minutes on the recumbent bike and some glute exercises. When I got home, I got the kids their breakfast and took them to school.

But after that, things were different. I went straight from preschool to.....

This wasn't my first experience on the Alter-G. It wasn't my fastest. But it was much more meaningful. I warmed up walking at 100% body weight for five minutes. Then my exercise physiologist, Jaclyn, ratcheted me down to 70% body weight (the 50% prescription Cathy had suggested apparently isn't a good idea). And then I ratcheted the speed up until I was running. Yes, running!

How was it? The first few steps were, as my daughter says, "Ouchie." I felt them instantly in my tailbone. But as I got accustomed to the motion and warmed up to the speed, the pain disappeared (this took about 20 seconds). Soon I was able to increase the speed. In the end, I ran for 20 minutes, starting at 12 minute miles, working up to 10 minute miles and doing the last five minutes at 8:27 minute miles. At no time was I out of breath (thank you recumbent bike!) and though I had some tightness in my right hamstring and hips by the end, I felt no pain apart from those first few steps. At the end, I walked another five minutes at 100% body weight.

I estimate I ran a grand total of two miles (total miles with the walking amounted to 2.52). This brings my sad little annual grand total for 2012 up to 252 miles (it's been sitting at 250 since March 6). They weren't real miles, in a way, because of the anti-gravity boost. But trotting along at the end of them I felt that old joy, the old pull at my sternum to try to go faster and harder. I can't tell you the bliss of being able to push that speed button higher at last. Tonight my back is definitely stiff. I've given it a good foam rolling (along with that hamstring) and a good icing. I'm going to take it easy tomorrow, doing only my PT exercises and a short walk. My next date with the Alter-G is Thursday and I'm feeling optimistic.

Another fun thing: I debuted some new shoes with this little return to running.

The Pure Flows in my favorite color! The shirt was a gift from Kathy late last year. I wore it today for my modest return.
I decided that since I can't run very far anyway, I'd use the chance to get used to some lower-profile shoes. After trying a whole bunch on over the last few weeks (wishful running retailing!), I settled on the Brooks Pure Flows. It took me a while to find a place that had my size in stock (we had a little overnight with Kathy and her family on Friday, and a Saturday trip to one of her running stores finally resulted in a purchase--thank you, Kathy!). They just feel good--not too narrow for my bunion-y feet, cushioning in the right place under my forefoot, light as a feather. And on today's run they and I agreed nicely with each other (at least at 70% body weight).

My fun day wasn't over yet, though. After showering and running some errands, I drove down to Denver and met up with Jill and Kathleen for lunch. These two ladies--both of whom are seriously generous people and admirable runners, with one being a road goddess and the other a trail goddess--had run together down in the south suburbs but kindly drove a ways north afterwards to hook up with me.

Jill, Kathleen and me.
Between my night hanging out with Kathy over the weekend and this lunch today (and thanks to a comp day off work that allowed me to do all of these things!), I had a really nice Mothers' Day weekend "girl talk about running" fix, something that's too rare for me.

Am I "back"? I can't really say that yet. I need to have pain-free running, and have it with full gravity pulling on that tailbone of mine. But it's a step in the right direction. Two miles of steps, in fact.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review: Running With the Mind of Meditation

I do not have an Eastern mindset.

I remember going to a one-off book club meeting with a bunch of women, all acquaintances of my boss, about two months after Will and Ruthie were born. Other than some "dates" with my husband, I hadn't been out much. I wasn't back at work yet, and my overachieving breasts made so much milk that being far away from the babies and the breast pump for any length of time was a recipe for misery. But I longed for adult conversation, so when I was invited to this group's meeting, I jumped at the chance.

Which book we read eludes me now. But what I do remember is that we had a great discussion. At one point, someone mentioned how she needed to learn more to "live in the moment." (In Boulder, you hear this a lot, mostly from people who are so Type A they twitch with restlessness during yoga.) My response was, "People say that to me all the time. But the truth is, I don't like the moment at all."

People did say that to me all the time back then. Well-meaning folks were constantly telling me to live in the moment with my twin newborns, not understanding that the vast majority of my moments were like Chinese water torture. Most of the other women in the group were silent when I said this. My boss said, kindly, "Thank you for that honesty." And then the discussion moved on.

Five years later, I still have trouble living in the moment, even though the pleasant ones vastly outnumber the unpleasant ones now. My Western head is full of checklists, plans and goals, and the older I get, and the faster the passage of time seems to me, the more I realize that living in the moment, at least a little more than I do now, would be a healthy outlook to adopt. (I can't promise that I'll ever learn to love the moment when the afternoons with the kids get long.)

It wasn't until I picked up Running With the Mind of Meditation, though, that I realized this applies to my running, too. I'm always saying I want to run for the rest of my life. This book has actually given me an idea of why my current goal-driven, failure-anxious approach might need to be altered for that to be the case.

The author, Sakyong Mipham, is the leader of Shambhala, a group of meditation retreat centers including one in Northern Colorado not too far from where I live.

Yeah, I could run there.
Sakyong is also a 3:05 marathoner and leads running/meditation workshops with the same name as this book. (My friend Michael Sandrock has attended the retreats and got me a copy of the book.)

As accomplished a runner as Sakyong now is, he's been meditating for much longer. So as he got stronger as a runner, it was natural that his first calling would begin to deepen his understanding of his running. The result: first the workshops and now the book.

Many passages in this book spoke to me, but, with my Boston Marathon goal looming over everything I do from injury rehab to racing, the passages I most appreciated were in the "garuda" section, which is how the author characterizes the third phase, in which the runner has passed from beginner (tiger) to exultant born-again (snow lion) and now feels like moving into tougher challenges (the garuda, in Tibetan mythology, is a bird with human arms that hatches ready to fly).

Here's a sample:

In both running and meditation, one needs focus, determination and a goal. At the same time, that determination and goal can become a disease. We are ambitious and are therefore plagued by hope and fear, which destabilizes our training and practice. Thus the garuda phase is letting go of hope and fear--not as a technique to achieve our goal, but as a genuine recognition that hope and fear stifle our potential and infringe deeply on our well-being...Both hope and fear result from the inability to appreciate what we have and what we have accomplished.

The man could have been writing just for me. Earlier he had written:

Without patience, people try to run again too soon and complicate their injury. Waiting out an injury is an excellent time to work on our meditation. I have found rehab to be a practice in itself, determining day to day how we feel and responding with the appropriate action--which may mean keeping still. We can use the time recovering from an injury to train our mind in gentleness and firmness.

Other things Sakyong advocates and/or emphasizes throughout the book:

  • The beginning of anything will always be the most challenging time; you can and will get through it with the right mindset.
  • Running without headphones focuses your mind and improves both your running and your experience of your running.
  • Pay attention to your posture as you run.
  • Learn to meditate when NOT on the run. Learn to be still. Stillness helps the mind in the same way movement helps the body. Then bring the focus and present-moment attitude of "real" meditation to bear on your mindset while running.

There's much more, of course. I did a lot of underlining and starring the margins while reading. There was true compassion in this book (and compassion is often lacking in the Boulder version of the Zen attitude, which is usually just Western Type-A driven-ness in Eastern monastic clothing). There was also a sense of humor. I feel that Sakyong is someone I would trust, someone whose suggestions would actually help me both as a person and as a runner. I recommend this book to all runners.

(Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book to review. My good opinion of it is my own. I don't finish books that bore me, and I don't mince words if I think a book is a piece of tripe.)

For more information about the book, visit its Web site. The upcoming retreat dates are all on there. Wouldn't it be fun to attend one of those?!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Physical Therapy Ch. 8: GOOD NEWS!

This morning, I lay on my right side on the exam table at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, my right leg bent on the bottom and my left leg straight on top. Cathy, my physical therapist, asked me to raise the left leg just a bit, then told me to do whatever I could to prevent her from pushing it back down toward the table. She pushed. I resisted. And for the first time since I started this physical therapy odyssey she was unable to push past my resistance.

She then ran me through some other tests. I had to jump up and down on a trampoline, monitoring the pain in my sacrum. So far so good. Then she had me jump onto the trampoline from the floor, landing on one leg and stabilizing myself. I did just fine with those, feeling no pain in my sacro-iliac joint and only a little pain in the left hip.

Then I had to do the same thing on the floor, which means a harder impact. Still no pain! I wobbled a bit when landing on the left leg, but I caught my balance fairly quickly.

Finally, she put me on a leg press sled and had me push with my top leg while swinging the bottom leg in a running motion. This actually felt good. I could feel my glutes working, but without any accompanying hip pain. Too bad there's no leg press machine like this at any of the rec centers I frequent.

After I passed these tests, Cathy took me back in to the exam room for some needling (my piriformis, QL and glute medius on the left were really tight).

And when she finished with that, I got my good news:

I'm now allowed to do two sessions per week on the Alter-G--starting whenever I want!

Of course the sessions are limited. I will warm up for five minutes, run for twenty minutes at an easy pace and at 50% body weight, then cool down for five minutes. If I have any joint issues (as opposed to mere protesting muscle pain), I must stop. So most of my cardio will still be on the recumbent bike and walking on an inclined treadmill. But my first appointment for a real run is Monday morning.

I'm nervous. After all, it was just two weeks ago that Cathy said I was probably in for no running until July. And I know these things have their ups and downs. If my SI joint hurts, I'll need to stop.

But for now I'm letting myself be happy.

California Here I Come!

In other good news, I registered for my winter marathon. It will be the California International Marathon on Dec. 2. I will be rooming with Tricia--this will be her first marathon!--and possibly Kathy (if she decides she's OK with doing a winter marathon). Hopefully we'll all be healthy, relaxed enough for some fun meet-ups with other bloggers--and ready to run fast.

I haven't decided how to work this with the Detroit International Marathon on Oct. 21. I may take a step back and run the half-marathon. But I'm not going to make that change until I see how my back is doing going into June.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Running: I Get It

Do you ever unleash a rant as a comment on someone else's blog?

I never had until late last week, when Jeff at The Logic of Long Distance put up a post lamenting the influence of corporate money and mega-races on the sport of running. I agree with most of what was in the post....but a sub-point about the de-emphasis of winning and winners in the true and absolute sense of "this person ran faster than everyone else" in favor of participation by the masses poked at what (I realize now, in the clear and charitable light of a Sunday morning) is still a sensitive spot with me.

Jeff wrote: "Are we ready for a culture that is pitched at every moment to the mass? For business models that are more about appealing to numbers than to quality? Is this the culture we want for ourselves? A culture in which everyone participates, everyone understands, but no one does anything special?" He also refers to the book Once a Runner as the work that best captured what running is at its best: "a community of friends who wanted to do something different from everyone else: namely run a ton and have fun and do it with like minded weirdos." (I wrote a review of this book a year ago, and I mostly liked it.)

I don't really believe that everyone is "special" in every way, nor do I want to believe that. I believe we all have to find the ways in which we truly are special. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. My running *isn't* anything special in the absolute sense. Really I should put all the energy I'm putting into running into something I could really excel at or that might help someone else in the world. And were I truly generous, I'd trade my own potential for paltry personal records for a shot at witnessing the pinnacle of the sport achieved again and again by our most talented runners. If I'm honest with myself, though, these lonely, very personal wins are more important to me than whether world records are ever broken again.

I'm glad there are other runners like me, people of varying degrees of talent, people who would never be admitted to the "culture" described in Once a Runner, but people who do love the sport and find their own personal quests as compelling as I find mine. They are my fellow travelers, and in my opinion we are as noble a clan as the band of brothers Jeff refers to in his post. One reason we are noble: we accept anyone as long as they share the passion. Records....speed....these are nice (and some of you other folks I'd include in this group *are* pretty fast). But we are people with families, jobs, faith, other interests--and to call ourselves runners we don't feel we have to be so different, so apart from and above, those who don't run.

Jeff is a gentleman. He replied to my little rant with kindness and his usual dose of logic, saying he wasn't intending to say that I and those like me aren't real runners, nor was he writing about fast and slow. And I realized that a lot of what I said in my comment was the kind of thing you write when someone gets to you and it's 11 p.m. and you have your own hang-ups about whether you can really call yourself a runner (even if you think you've gotten over them--maybe I should rename this blog "The Emotion of Long Distance," since I lack clear-headed logic). Jeff is absolutely right about what happens when corporate interests start moving us away from the soul of the sport.

But the implications about fast and slow that I read into Jeff's post were there. He wrote, "Once a Runner is built around a still magical idea: the goal of running under 4:00 in the mile. It's a goal that only a few can dream of, and that even fewer can accomplish. It takes everything: natural talent, commitment, heart, courage, relentlessness, character. It can only be achieved through an extreme form of excellence, and therefore is simply logically unavailable to the mass of people."

Of course "the mass" can never expect to run under 4 minutes in the mile. But don't our own goals require those qualities--commitment, heart, courage, relentlessness, character? The only thing we don't share with Jeff's clan is the natural talent--which in a way is my point. It takes tenacity to chip minutes away from a personal best to achieve another personal best only you will ever see as anything special. It takes guts to run a 5-hour marathon.

In his reply to my comment, Jeff wrote: "....maybe I have to bite the bullet and say that one thing that brought me into this sport was its 'order of rank.' I wanted to be one of the kids that 'got it.' Maybe that's not the most noble aspect of human character. On the other hand, sport is one place where this sort of elitism that might be native to our character is sanctioned and safely expressed. After all, it's just running."

Is it ever "just running"? I was never on a cross-country or track team, and none of the kids who were thought I was anything special. Those kids were right. I'm one of John Parker's "night joggers." I'm a nearly-40-year-old librarian with two kids, a spare tire, a shitty lower back and a 22 1/2 minute 5K personal record set seven years ago.

But I get it. I do.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Oh, Our Aching Backs--Part II

My high-tech system for tracking my physical therapy and other exercise.
Two posts ago, I detailed how two strong runners came back from sacro-iliac joint dysfunction, the injury I'm currently working through. In this post, I'm going to detail my own ongoing program, which I hope will result in my own successful comeback. All of these things, big or small, were either prescribed by Cathy, my therapist, or discussed with her.

Some basics:

1. For the first eight weeks, I wore the Serola Sacroiliac Belt pretty much every waking hour of my day--exercising, sitting at my desk at work, hanging out with my kids, you name it. Its job was to fill in for the support my largely absent abdominal and glute muscles are supposed to render to my pelvis. Here it is modeled by someone much more attractive than I:

No heavy lifting for me!

As of two weeks ago, I am weaning myself off the belt. I find I really need it only first thing in the morning (my back is always stiffest then), when I'm doing my PT exercises and when I'm sitting for a long time in the car or at work. For walking and light work around the house or yard, it's actually nicer to have it off. I consider this a good sign.

2. In the last two months, I've adjusted two other habits that sound piddly, but have made a big difference in how my back feels. First, I have weaned myself off of being a stomach sleeper. This was not easy. I bought a *huge* body pillow (it's like having a third adult in the bed with Dan and me) and at first I couldn't stand it. But now I find I like sleeping on my side if I can wrap my arms around that sucker. I'm still not much at sleeping on my back, which would apparently be even better, but I'm getting there. In addition to my back being much less stiff in the morning, my neck and shoulders feel looser. Making this change has taken me about a month. I'd say it's only this week that I am sleeping well on my side.

The second change has to do with our cars. Dan and I are both standard-transmission people. I've been driving a stick since I learned on my grandparents' dark-blue '69 VW Beetle (God, I loved that car). Both of our current cars are standard, and I still much prefer this kind of driving. But driving a stick means lots of raising and lowering both legs, and that motion *should* be handled by your lower abs--exactly the muscles I had forgotten how to use, to the detriment of my back. Now, when I'm driving (which is far too much, but that's another issue), I pay close attention and engage my lower abs whenever I shift or adjust the pressure on the gas or brakes. I know it sounds miniscule, but believe me, it's helping.

The Exercises:

This list includes all the exercises I'm doing now. I didn't start out doing all of these. In fact, the first week, when my back was really bad, all she wanted me to do was wear the belt and get the inflammation down (more on how below). But gradually over the weeks we've added these, and this is my current program. More may come later, too, but I feel I'm in a good groove.

Equipment needed: Swiss ball, Theraband, Bosu ball (I don't own a Bosu ball--I use the ones at my rec center)

Abs (mainly targeting the transverse abdominus)

1. Knee lifts--I lie on my back with my knees bent and feet flat on the floor (traditional sit-up position). Engaging my lower abs (usually I put my hands on them so I can feel them contracting), I raise one foot off the ground, lower it and then raise the other, alternating legs, keeping my low back flat on the floor. I'm up to 50 of these now, and I feel the contraction in my abs quite strongly. When I began, getting 10 done without arching my back was very difficult, and the motion of my transverse was more like a twitch than a contraction. This was the very first exercise I was given.

I now also do some step-outs, one leg at a time, where I start from the same position, lift the knee in the same way, but step out with my heel three times, then step the leg back in. I still sometimes feel a back arch creeping in with this, but it's getting better.

2. Bicep curls & rowing on the Swiss ball with a Theraband--A Theraband is a stretchy piece of latex. I got one from my PT. For this exercise, I sit upright on the ball, feet flat on the floor, back straight, abs engaged. I hold each end of the Theraband, and my husband holds the middle so that it's stretched taut (if you have a stable pole or bannister, you can also wrap the band around that and pull it out). I then do baby bicep curls and rows. The object isn't arm strength. It's stabilizing with your abs while you do the exercises. I try to do 3 sets of 10 of each.

3. Kneeling twist--Do this one next to a wall or table in case you need some support. Kneel on the floor in genuflect position.

Tebowing works too, except you hold your torso straight instead of bowing over your leg.
Engage your lower abs, then put your front foot (the bend in the leg should be at about 90 degrees) more toward the mid-line of your body, deliberately making yourself unstable. You will wobble a bit (if you don't, move the leg further in toward your other side). Once you can stay upright, up the ante by lifting your arms straight overhead. And once you're stable with arms raised, slowly rotate your torso from side to side.

4. Swiss-Ball Knee Lifts--I still can't do this one unassisted, but I'm a lot closer than I was. Sit on the ball as you did for the biceps/rows. Make sure your back is straight, and rest your hands on your thighs. Engage your lower abs and raise one knee straight up WITHOUT leaning to the opposite side (leaning even a bit means you're using your back, not your abs). Right now, I do this one next to a table or wall, using the pinkie of the hand on the same side as the lifting knee to give my abs a little help. I'm hoping this week that I'll finally get the knees up at least one time without the assist.

Glutes (baby needs back)

For the first seven weeks, I did side-lying leg raises and clamshells only. Once I could do these without increasing my back pain, I graduated to the following exercises.

1. Side kicks with support--Stand straight up, engaging your lower abs. Hold a tall ski pole or other pole in one hand for support. Plant the leg opposite that hand firmly into the ground--don't lean or hike the hip. Then take the leg on the same side as the pole hand and do side leg raises with it. Do not lean to the supporting leg side. You want that leg's glutes doing the work of keeping you straight. I do 50 of these on each side.

2. 45-degree kicks with support--Same set up as above, but instead of kicking out to the side, you kick behind you at a 45-degree angle. I like this one. You really "feel the burn" in the kicking glute as well as the stabilizing leg. Again, I do 50 on each side.

3. Running kicks with support--This is my favorite glute exercise because it's the one that gets as close as any of my exercises to actual running motion. Set up like in number one, but instead of kicking to the side you lift the pole-side knee in a high march motion, then swing it back behind you in a runner's kick. Be very careful with your back on this one. Your range of motion may not be great at the beginning. Remember NOT to hike the hip on the planted leg or lean that way--this strains your back (and is apparently what my body was doing when I was running because my glutes weren't doing their job). I'm supposed to do 50 of these, but that's hard. I often have to break it up to rest the supporting leg.

I see this exercise as super-important. Cathy (my therapist) told me she wants to see me to do 100 of these WITHOUT the supporting pole before I'll be able to run again. You can imagine how I attack this one.

4. Mini squats on a Bosu ball--Stand on the flat side of a Bosu ball. When you've got your balance, lift your arms in front of you so they are straight out and parallel to the ground. Then do mini squats. You don't have to go low (and at first you shouldn't). Squeeze your glutes on the up motion. I do 3x10 of these.

5. Supported mini lunges--Rest the ankle of one leg on a small step or other support behind you. Place the other leg in front of you. Do mini lunges with the front leg. Don't put that leg too far in front (you will be able to move it out later when you're stronger), and don't go down too low. Squeeze your glutes on the up motion. I do 3x10 of these, too.

Also in my repertoire for glutes are the leg press machine at the gym and step-downs (I don't use a step as high as the guy in this video--Cathy told me no larger than the Boulder phone book--nor do I use weights--yet). Again, when I do these, I do 3x10.

How often do I do these exercises? I try to alternate days so that one day I do all the ab ones and the other day I do all the glute ones. I also do the lying-down knee lifts and/or step-outs even on glute days, and I try to do at least one glute exercise on the ab days.


I'm still doing the Pete Pfitzinger plan that I think I linked early on in this process. I'm currently on week seven. It's really for water running, but I apply the durations and intervals to the recumbent bike (hoping to graduate from that soon, too, maybe to a stair climber or elliptical-type thing, but I'm waiting for Cathy to suggest that). I watch my heart rate the whole time I'm on the bike, making sure it stays above 120 for as much of the time as possible (I prefer the 130s and 140s). My average HR at the end of a session on the bike seems to be around 130.

I freely admit I can't face the days when I'm supposed to just go steady for an hour or more on the recumbent bike. The intervals go fast, but I get really bored doing one pace or heart-rate range for that long. So on days when I don't ride the recumbent, I always take at least a 30-minute walk that incorporates hill climbing of some sort, and when it's possible I do an hour walk or at least one 30-minute walk while at work and then another after the kids go to bed in the evening.

Supplemental Therapies

My back is responding well to all of the above, but it still gets sore if my form slips during the exercises or if I tweak it bending down. And sometimes my glutes or legs feel tight for reasons I don't understand. So here's what I do when that happens:

Massage--At the beginning, when things were very sore, I saw Kate for a 45-minute massage every week. Now I'm spacing these out more. I'll probably do them on the weeks where I don't have PT with Cathy, and only when I need them.

Dry needling--Cathy didn't do this the last time I was in because I was feeling good and she didn't find any tight spots. But when needed, it really helps, especially my piriformis and my quadratus lumborums (QLs).

Ice--The first couple of weeks I iced a lot. Now it's on an as-needed basis. I keep a bag of frozen peas just for icing my back. I stuff it in my pants right over the SI joint when needed. Sexy...and effective.

Heat--One of my wonderful co-workers, Lisa, made me a special pillow that I can throw in the microwave for two minutes. When it comes out, it's toasty warm but not burning to the touch. I can stuff it in my pants above the SI joint just like the ice bag. I often do this after needling or massage, and also right before I go to sleep at night to loosen up the back before rest.

Ibuprofen--The first week, when I was really inflamed, Cathy had me take 1,200 mg of ibuprofen for four days straight. Now I take it on an as-needed basis. I haven't needed it at all in recent weeks.

Tennis ball (for the piriformis) and foam roller--These implements will probably always be part of my post exercise stretching routine. They hurt so good.

Hamstring stretches--The hammies get tight with the glute exercises and the walking. I realize now I wasn't nice enough to them when I was training for races. I won't make this mistake again.

Where Will I Go From Here?

I've already mentioned I'll be doing some running on the Alter-G. I will also be doing Pilates! Cathy calls Pilates an "end of therapy modality." I'm not strong enough yet, but she says it's really great for people in my state once the necessary stability is in place (Jessica in the prior back post swears by it, too). When Cathy tells me I'm ready for Pilates (and she has a teacher in mind for me already), I'll know I've reached the end of this tunnel.

And now you've reached the end of this massive post. If you're still with me, your back must bug you often enough that you feel you need some help. My advice? Don't ignore it! See a therapist or other practitioner you trust! I wish I had done all of this before beginning my BQ quest. But better late than never.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Winter Marathon Query

I am queuing up Part Two of my little "Aching Backs" series. This will be the one in which I detail my physical therapy program as it stands right now.

First, however, I need some educated opinions.

Right now, I am signed up for this October 21 race:

I'm not exactly training for it yet, but I guess I'm training to train.
Though I may not be allowed to run at all until mid-July, I'm still planning to run Detroit. But it's probably not realistic to think I can run it fast enough to beat January's Houston Marathon PR of 3:53:28 by at least 10 minutes--which is what I need to do to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2014.

So I need to sign up for at least one more marathon before I turn 40 on January 21. Given what's going on with my back, BQing before that date (which was the entire premise of this blog) may not work out. But I'm not going to quit trying. (And if I don't make it this winter, I'm STILL not going to quit trying, so don't think that of me!)

My question is this: WHICH winter marathon should I sign up for?

As a sub-4-hour marathoner, I am granted early and guaranteed registration for the Houston race next year on January 13, a week ahead of my birthday. Early registration opens next Tuesday. But a lot of smart runners are signing up for the California International Marathon, a month and a half earlier on December 2. Looking at the course, it's tempting:

Hard to beat that profile....
Here are the pros and cons:

Houston Pros:
1) Six extra weeks to recover from Detroit and train
2) Familiar course--this would be my third time at it
3) Lots of friends in town; the support in January was amazing
Houston Cons:
1) Remember that weather in Boston the other week? Yeah, that's quite possible in Houston, even in January.
2) Not as fast a course
3) I'd have to train over Christmas again; I was hoping not to have to do that this year
CIM Pros:
1) Great course--see that chart again; according to Runners' World, it's in the top five of Boston Qualifiers
2) Good chance of nice weather; average temps are in the 50s
3) No training over Christmas
CIM Cons:
1) Not as much recovery/training time after Detroit
2) I know no one in Sacramento, though I'm sure I'll know some other bloggers running it

Of course, I could sign up for both races. This is also tempting. But it's a lot of money out of my family's till, and I'm not sure I can expect to do three marathons in four months and do any of them well. With my back an unknown variable, I need to do the right thing with this.

What's your opinion?