Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I am not an addict

My diminishing miles this year and impending surgery have given me lots to think about.  There are some consequences to the decreased miles: my legs are a little softer, I don’t feel my oblique muscles quite as well, and I take a breath every four strides instead of six.  It is starting to cause some concern, since although I’ve scaled back, I am still running.  What is going to happen when I stop running altogether for the winter?  How will I cope?  My friends warn me to find another hobby to fill the void, because addicts need to get their fix.  What?  I am not an addict.
        Friends, do-gooders, those that mean well, and cynics all sneer at me for continuing to run on a heavily damaged hip.  (Except for Scott, who encourages me to keep running no-matter-what.  I’m pretty sure this is either because he lives in Missouri and can’t see me limping, or…)  When people question why I would continue to punish my body and I try to justify, they quip: You’re an addict.  I am not an addict.  
        Although I know I’m not an addict, I decided to lay it all out on the line and demonstrate how my behavior is in no way similar to an addict.  I researched addiction behavior at, and then inserted my actual behavior. 
Symptoms of addiction
“Tolerance – the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect”.
My behavior: When I first started running, it was a quarter mile at a time.  I eventually worked up to running 20 minutes in a row.  Then I started 10k races.  When I conquered the 10k I moved up to 15k.  Since I can do a 15k, might as well do a half marathon.  With three half marathons under my belt this year, I had my sights set on the Boston Marathon next Spring, until this injury sidelined me.
“Withdrawal – when a person does not…engage in the activity, and they experience unpleasant symptoms, which are often the opposite of the effects of the addictive behavior”.
My behavior: When I run often my muscles are solid, my mood is positive, my sleep is sound.  When I don’t run as often I feel lumpy, which makes me feel grouchy, which makes for a lousy night’s sleep.
“Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior”.
My behavior: Cutting down running is difficult indeed, since it would jeopardize my upcoming races!  I also find that I sometimes can’t control my running very well.  For instance, sometimes I dream of running a 7:30 pace, but my body only gives me a 9:00.
“Social, occupational or recreational activities becoming more focused around the addiction, and important social and occupational roles being jeopardized”
My behavior: A lot of my friends are running buddies, which keeps things pretty social.  I also belong to a running club, which keeps me motivated.  My lunch hour at work is almost never spent eating or socializing with non-runners.  It is used to sneak in a few miles with my running pals.  On rare occasion we may sneak in a couple extra miles, making me a tad bit late returning to work.  I have also been known to blow off important social events due to running.  I couldn’t go out New Year’s Eve because of the New Year’s Day 5k.  Same with Thanksgiving Eve.  Last Saturday I blew off my cousin’s summer bash in New Hampshire so I could kill myself in a 10k race.
“The person becoming preoccupied with the addiction, spending a lot of time planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior”
My behavior: Last year I put together a running log, in lieu of using Nike+ or Daily Mile or any of those applications.  I listed out all of my race accomplishments, and started tracking miles, time, pace, weather conditions, etc.  Towards the end of the year I put together a new one for this year.  At that time I also planned out all of my 2011 races (with wiggle room to add more if exciting ones popped up).  And finally, I mapped out all of this information, along with my wild and crazy thoughts, into this silly blog.  When I’m not planning my runs I’m engaging in them, and when I engage in hard effort runs, I spend a lot of time recovering from them.
The article goes on to describe some of the specific signs of addiction.
·         Extreme mood changes: Yessss!  I’m leading!  Shit!!!! I got passed!
·         Sleeping a lot more or less than usual: The night before a half marathon = less sleep due to anxiety.  The night after a half marathon = coma
·         Changes in energy: Really, need I explain this one?
·         Weight loss or weight gain: Again… self explanatory
·         Seeming unwell at certain times: “Jill, you can barely walk.  Are you okay?”  Yup, terrific!  This is my normal gait.
·         Pupils of the eyes seeming smaller or larger than usual: This usually comes right after I exit a trail run onto the road
·         Secretiveness: Telling nay-sayers I ran only 4 miles when I really ran 7
·         Changes in social groups (my running club) new and unusual friends (Todd is both new and unusual) and odd cell-phone conversations: Sample of average text message: WANNA MEET AT NOON? Yes, did you bring soap? YES, BUT I NEED TO BORROW YOUR TOWEL.
·         Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency: When the lunch runners hit the pavement, we are generally running before the door closes behind us.
·         Stashes of drugs, often in small plastic, paper, or foil packages: I have been known to stash sports beans, GU, and Hammer Nutrition packets discretely in my pocket.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Gritty 10k

Hopedale 10k race report
        I had tentatively planned to run this 10k but acknowledged it would be a game-day decision, since I never know how my hip is going to treat me in the morning.  Since this race was put on by my running club, I signed up to volunteer before and after the race, and if I was up to it I’d join the run.  I almost got Kerri to run the race with me, but she had other plans so I went alone.
        I arrived at the Hopedale boat house at 7:15 and we got to work setting up registration tables and organizing the layout.  Charlene and I took control of the pre-registration table and handed out racers’ bibs and t-shirts.  I like this part of volunteering the best, because I get to meet people all morning!  Once the post-registration table was set up I whipped out my cash and filled out an entry form, sealing my fate!
        Just before the start of the race, John asked about my hip and looked surprised I was running.  He said, “have you seen this course?”  I mentioned that I planned to take it slow, and I’d walk on any hills if I had to.  That’s when he mentioned the mile and a half hill I was about to climb.  That shook my confidence a little, but since I really didn’t have a time goal in mind (yes I did, hoped for under 60 minutes) I was okay with just walk/jogging the hill to chip away at it.
        The first mile was great.  I ran with Marie and Charlene and we chatted away on a nice flat to downhill stretch.  When the hill started it wasn’t too bad and I chugged along, but it got progressively more difficult.  I wasn’t the only one struggling, and passed a number of runners huffing and grunting their ways up the hill.  My legs were burning, and only 2 miles into the course I was ready to give up.  I refused to let myself walk on this long hill because I knew if I did, I’d never start running again.  Eventually I reached the top of the hill and immediately headed downhill, only this side of the hill was very steep.  My hip is just as bad on downhills as uphills, so I had to carefully shuffle down the hill as well, frustrated by the other runners that were able to gain momentum and make up time.  This race just seemed to have no recovery section.  Once we reached the bottom of the steep decline we entered a trail, which lasted about 2 miles.  It was on the trail that I finally gave in and walked.  Some of the hills were a little too gnarly for me, and my legs were as heavy as lead.  Finally I exited the trail and saw the 5 mile marker, and thought there was a chance I could actually finish this race!  I continued on, and the road finally leveled out but the heat was tough.  The humidity was so high that all of my clothes were dripping as though I had swam across the pond rather than ran around it. 
        This race was certainly a test of grit, because around every corner I was looking for the finish line or an opportunity to stop.  Even passing the 6 mile marker, knowing the finish was within sight, I still considered walking.  One last high-five from Frank, and cheers from my running friends, and I mustered enough energy to finish strong.  I was thrilled when I crossed the line, thinking “Thank God that’s over”, and was very satisfied with my 59:39 finish.  That may not be a great time, but I have to put this in perspective.  This is by far the hardest 10k course I’ve ever run, and I actually ran it faster than the Harvard Pilgrim 10k at Gillette Stadium, which is about the flattest race I’ve ever run.  I’m giving my hip a few days to recover, and then I’m crossing my fingers that I can run the final trail race of the year, the West Hill Dam 5 miler on Thursday.  I know some people think I’m crazy to keep pushing myself, but hey…I plan to get my money’s worth out of my surgery in October!

Slow Motion

My, my… where has the time gone?  A few weeks ago I wrote about my surgery in October and how optimistic I was, and how I was going to stay active and run all the way into the surgical ward.  And then… silence!  Was I just all talk, no action?  Well… sort of, but for good reasons.  I spent a solid 10 days this month in Vermont, riding my horse over hill and dale and having a fabulous time with friends.  Like a dutiful quasy-runner, I packed my Garmin, running clothes, and mountain bike with dreams of spending every afternoon tackling the trails and hills of Vermont.  The actual results were slightly dismal, but I probably did more than 99% of the other campers I was with, so I guess I shouldn’t beat myself up too much.  That 1% I couldn’t live up to?  Well that would be Diana, a blog follower of mine, athlete supreme, and fitness Oracle.  She doesn’t saddle up her horse for a ride under 30 miles, lace up her running shoes for a run under 10 miles, or hop on her bike for a ride under 40 miles.  She is bona-fide Type A-Mazing, and married to someone just as insane impressive.  Diana is a goddess and role model of mine, and I had fun catching up with her and gaining fitness insight over some drinks, while she wore a skin-tight dress in cow print as only Diana could. 

But back to me….
        I snuck in a couple mountain bike rides while on vacation (those hills are murder!) and a 6.2 mile trail run with Ronnie (double murder!!)  All of those activities occurred in the first half of the week.  By Wednesday my motivation to run slipped, and I fell into a comfortable pattern of: wake up, ride, drink, sleep, repeat.  By Sunday my body cried foul, and I knew it was time to pull myself together.  My hip got progressively crankier throughout the week, and the first half of this week was pretty painful.  I had pretty much given up any hope of ever running a substantial distance…until…Monday, when we got a message from my running club reminding us about the 10k race on Saturday.  I had completely forgotten about this.  I pondered whether or not I could do it.  I couldn’t see why not, since I had just run a trail 10k in Vermont last week (I won’t tell you how long it took me though) (Okay I will: 1:07!!!)  Armed with this new motivation, I decided to run at lunch on Wednesday.  I know I said a while back I wasn’t going to run at lunch over the summer anymore because I look like a sweaty sopping mess at my desk all afternoon, but due to scheduling issues this week, that would be my only chance to test out my hip.
        It seems like it had been forever since I ran with my lunch buddies so I was really looking forward to a reunion.  Apparently it had been a while indeed, because there were new signs posted outside the locker rooms warning employees that it was for shower use only.  I got a good chuckle out of this.

I mentioned the signs to Jaimee.

Jaimee was right.  The signs don’t work, as at least half a dozen folks popped in while I was changing.  Personally I don’t like the intimate feel of a 2-stall restroom, and I’m hoping that over time I can make people feel very awkward so that they’ll start avoiding the locker room altogether.
So...Wednesday I recruited Todd and Kerri, but Jaimee was out of commission with an IT band/Glute injury.  So, it wasn’t the full original group but still fun.  We plotted about what juicy, off-color, wildly inappropriate topics we would cover in our run, since we had some making up to do.  This all sounded great in theory, but when the three of us hit the pavement, it was Kerri and Todd that took off at a good pace, while I lagged far behind.  We hadn’t made it out of the parking lot and I was already out of earshot.  The run ended up being fairly lonely, with occasional visits from Todd as he would backtrack to check up on me.  My body fought every step and was shocked at being yanked from retirement.  Still, I managed a 4 mile run in the 80+ degree heat, and didn’t even care that I was a sweaty sopping mess at my desk all afternoon.
        Wednesday night I was still high from the running endorphins, but the hip was very angry.  I settled into bed with a Vicodin and dreamed about running again the next day.  Thursday morning my hip didn’t feel too bad, so I packed up the bag again and went off to work.  This time I recruited Kerri and Jaimee.  Jaimee had a killer PT session Wednesday night and wanted to try to run. Todd had other commitments and couldn’t run.  I won’t say what they were.  (Okay I will: He thought he was having a heart attack so he went to the doctor; it was just strained muscles from swimming).  So the girls went out for a run, Kerri breaking away while Jaimee and I shuffled along behind her.  Jaimee made it almost a mile before her injury flared up and she had to head back.  Kerri and I finished the run together, doing an easy 3 miles.  In some ways the run was easier than Wednesday.  My body wasn’t fighting me anymore and my breathing was regulated.  My hip wasn’t too bad, and I even managed to tolerate the 86 degree heat and high humidity fairly well.  But my quads were SORE!  I couldn’t believe it.  I generally have pretty strong legs and was shocked that a 4 mile run from the day before had left my legs feeling so heavy.  It amazes me how little time it takes for the body to lose fitness.
        So today I have rested up, legs are feeling good, hip is so-so, and I’m committed to run/jog/shuffle the 10k tomorrow.  I would love to come in under an hour, but once again I have to throw all time goals out the window because of this ripped hip.  I’m happy just to keep going.  I have to take advantage of this excuse I have for my slow running, because next year it’s going to be a mad rush trying to keep up with the likes of Todd and Diana.  Just don’t ever expect to see me in a skin-tight cow dress.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Surgery – Prepping for my biggest speed bump

After hobbling, limping, and shuffling around for three months I finally got to meet with a hip surgeon today.  I didn’t know what to expect, but tried to compile a good list of questions and dragged my mother along in case I got tongue tied.  The biggest questions were: How soon can you fix me, and how soon can I run again?  The orthopedic specialist that originally diagnosed my injury had informed me that this particular surgery isn’t all that common, and is generally reserved for athletes.  My biggest concern was that he was going to take one look at me and write me off as a has-been, not worth the effort of fixing.  I’ve spent the last few days working out some scripts that would make me sound athletic.  Like maybe I should bring up my award-winning performances in some local races, and hope he assumes it was the Boston Marathon.  Maybe I could casually mention my “club” affiliation and hope he assumes it’s the Mammoth Track Club.  I went there today armed for battle.
                I barely had time to sit down in the waiting area before I was escorted into the examination room.  While I waited for the doctor to arrive, I scoped out the pictures on the walls.  There were endless photographs, posters, newspaper articles, and even a surfboard with autographs of accomplished athletes thanking the doctor for making them better.  Three things were clear to me at that point.  1. I was in good hands, 2. No one is immune from injury, and 3. He wasn’t going to mistake me for a Boston Marathon winning member of the Mammoth Track Club.  As I fawned over the pictures the doctor made his entrance.  I wouldn’t say I had made any assumptions about his appearance, but I can say he definitely surprised me.  His charming demeanor and good looks made him look more like a movie star than a surgical star. 
                After quick introductions, and after I untied my tongue, we got to the root of the issue.  He explained to me that in addition to a labral tear, I also have what’s called FAI, or Femoral Acetabular Impingement.  You can click on the link for a detailed and graphic description, or for a brief summary: the bone in the hip has some rough edges that are damaging the cartilage.  This problem results in pain, loss of range of motion, and labral tears.  In my case we know that my labral tear was caused by specific trauma and not necessarily the FAI, but the reality is that both problems need to be fixed.
                Once the diagnosis was clear and we discussed the length of time that has passed since the injury and the current state of my hip, he stated that “at this point you’ve exhausted all non-surgical options without success, and the good news is, no one dies from a labral tear”.  I flatlined for a moment, sure that he was going to say there was nothing that could be done and I would have to live like this forever.  But then he continued, “The only way this can be repaired is through surgery, and there’s a very good chance that this will completely correct the issue”.  Jackpot!  I didn’t need to beg, cry, or tell him how important I was… he was a reasonable man that understood the toll this was taking on my life.
                The conversation quickly turned into a discussion of math: statistics, percentages, and calendar dates.  Here are some key facts:
·         88% of all hip repairs are successful, and that includes all types of hip repairs.  Labrum repairs are a subset of that percentage and have an even higher success rate.
·         After surgery I will be on crutches for 3 weeks, and because this is my right leg, I won’t be able to drive for at least that long.
·         Overall recovery is long.  Although I will be feeling somewhat better after a few weeks, full recovery is a 3-5 month process.  Absolutely no running until 4 months.
·         No riding my horse for a minimum of 8 weeks, and that’s if I can figure out how to get in the saddle.
This was a whole lot of information to process.  My first question, after doing some quick math, was, “How will I be able to run the Boston Marathon?”  His response was, “You won’t.  Not next April.  But you can the following April”.  I have a few memorable quotes from him actually.  His phrases were smooth and well rehearsed, like a movie star, but somehow genuine and comforting.  He said, “I only want to do this surgery once.  I’m not doing it so you can run a race next April.  I’m doing it so you can run races for the rest of your life”.  (I think I developed a little crush on him at this point).  He then said that if I truly wanted to run Boston in April, I would have to load myself up with cortisone and painkillers, hobble through the race, and have my surgery after that and be immobile for all of next summer.  Or, I could have the surgery this fall, be immobile all winter, and start running again in the spring.  I didn’t need more convincing that surgery was the right option, but I liked listening to this guy and let him keep going.  He said, “You’ve rearranged your life for your hip for the last three months.  It’s time to rearrange your hip for the rest of your life”.  (Yep, I’m smitten with this guy). 
        When all my questions were answered, I headed out to the front desk to make my surgical appointment.  I had the option of late October or late November.  I was afraid waiting too late would push me back too far into Spring to start running, and there was a chance I’d be on crutches in the snow, so I opted for the October date.  The secretary gave me all sorts of reading material about the injury and the surgery, but cautioned me not to spend too much time researching because I might end up scaring myself with the gory details. 
        I’m reacting to all of this with mixed emotions.  It is undoubtedly the biggest speed bump I’ve ever had in my active life, and hopefully will ever have.  I’m excited at the prospect of making a full recovery and being good as new next spring.  I know in my heart that I can’t live with this injury forever, and I look forward to the day that my hip doesn’t burn and throb with every step or slight re-positioning of my leg.  There are some real drawbacks too though.  Some of my favorite, must-do-every-year races will get skipped.  These include some fun 5k’s in the fall when PR’s are achieved, the Wrentham New Years 5k (let’s face it, I just go for the breakfast buffet), and my favorite: the Hyannis Half Marathon.  I’ll miss the Newport Bridge run in November, which looks like a total blast.  I’ll miss New Bedford, the half marathon I choked on this year and desperately wanted a do-over.  I’ll miss Boston, the race I watched enviously this year from the sidelines and swore I would run next year.  The great part about these races though, is that they are all annual events.  The pool of races is never dry I’ll be back at it when I’m healed.  Who knows, I might be better than ever!
        I’m already starting to get some advice about how to handle the upcoming surgery and downtime.  The doctor gave me some unexpected advice.  He said, “Go live your life and enjoy your summer.  Run, bike, and ride your horse as much as you can tolerate until the surgery.  Because after that surgery, you won’t be doing anything for 4 months.  You have to get it all in now while you can”.  That is of course great advice in theory, but the reality is my options are quite limited since I am still in a significant amount of pain.  My mother said I should start thinking about what hobby I will pick up during those 4 months.  Maybe a big project I can focus on, like writing a book, or making an afghan.  Something that will be time consuming and give me a sense of accomplishment.  Kerri, who knows the most about what this is like after breaking her hip about 8 years ago, said to start putting some goals and races on the calendar for next year.  Something I can look forward to during the recovery.  I expect to be running again by March, so I’m already thinking that the Boston Tune-Up 15k in April might make a good racing debut next year.  It’s one of my favorite races (I don’t know why, it’s brutal!) so it would be a great carrot to dangle in front of me.
        So, it’s official.  I’m on the disabled list.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to run as much as I can, or think about running the Harwich half marathon in October (doctor said live it up, right?).  Although I’m bummed out about what this means for the short term, I’m anxious to get this under control and move on with my life.  One thing I promise, is that I will be a good patient.  It won’t be like the time I stress fractured my foot and instead of taking 8 weeks off, I took off 4 ½ so that I could run Hyannis.  This injury is just a speed bump, and I don’t plan on making it grow into a brick wall.