“If I were to end up in the hospital on my death bed tomorrow, I would regret never seeing the Grand Canyon.”
I said that seven years ago during a discussion about life and direction. That moment snowballed and a year later my life was completely different. I was on my way to NYC–single and unemployed for the first time in 4 years. I’ve thought about that moment and those words a million times since then. It was a moment of clarity as much as it was a declaration of truth.
To be honest, I probably put too much emotional weight on this trip and this race. I made it into this monumental life moment. I even had this plan to get words from my Granddaddies’ favorite saying tattooed on me in his handwriting after I finished the race. Those words that have guided me most of my life, “time, patience, and perseverance conquers all things” will guide me again now. If only I had more time to be able to nurse my poor sick baby back to health before I had to leave. I can change many things, but not time–and patience has always been my hardest lesson. But I know it will all be okay because for some reason the perseverance comes naturally. Perhaps it’s all the practice I have had.
All of this is to say that I will not be running Grand Canyon 50k nor will I be taking the trip out there. It’s a large, tough pill to swallow letting go of not only the race after my second training cycle attempting to get to that distance, but knowing that I also won’t finally get to make that trip. I believe it is the right decision, though. I wish it didn’t feel so difficult or dramatic. But the fact is that this trip and this race have become so important to me that it feels like something that needs to be mourned. I will be patient and persevere, and know that in time I will eventually conquer my 50k. I will have my Grand Canyon moment.
I’m not even sure where to start. It’s been since November since I’ve written any kind of update about my own training. I was just starting with a new physical therapist then and starting to unravel the issues with my pelvis, sacrum, sural nerve, and starting back to running really slowly after a month completely off running.
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The new physical therapist has been such a blessing and by February-March I was starting to get back to really training and focusing on Grand Canyon 50k. My training took a little longer to pick up than anticipated when I signed up, but I felt confident with how well things were going by March that I wouldn’t be undertrained. In Mid-March I ran NYC Half as a training run and felt strong pacing a teammate to a new PR. By the end of March it had warmed enough that I was able to head out to my local trail. I had some little twinges here and there–in my hip, my hammie, and my back–but PT was keeping everything in check for the most part.
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Eight weeks to Grand Canyon
The first weekend of April I went down to Georgia to crew a friend running Georgia Death Race. I did 2 runs in the Georgia mountains that weekend. I ended up rolling both ankles and my left ankle in particular pretty badly on the second run. I was able to run the rest of the run, but knew it was going to take some care and rehab. I made a plan with the PT to cut weekday trainings short and just focus on getting in my long training on the weekends which seemed to go okay. I had developed some foot pain in my left foot on some of the longer runs, but we assumed it was too tight shoes and made adjustments.
Five weeks to Grand Canyon
I headed out for my 20 miler at the end of April on a rainy morning and by mid-way through the five hour run the trail become very, very muddy. By the end of the run not only was my left foot aching, but my right ankle had gotten pretty aggravated from the mud running. I limped home and skipped my long run the next day.
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Three weeks to Grand Canyon
In an effort to save my foot, ankle, and my training cycle I took 2 weeks off of training before my peak weekend of training which was going to be 22 miles on Saturday followed by Broad Street Run 10 miler the next day. My left foot was still a little tender by that weekend so I decided I would run for time instead. I got in 4 hours of training and had some slight shin and foot pain, but all-in-all I felt okay going into the 10 miler the next day. During the 10 miler my foot hurt a little and at one point I walked for a half mile, but I was able to finish it in under 2 hours and was feeling pretty good about being able to finish Grand Canyon 50k. I’d use taper to rehab my ankles and foot and hopefully line up at the start feeling healthy and ready to go.
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On the way home from Philly, my right foot had a really sharp pain that came out of nowhere and it hurt a lot to walk. (The left was the one had been bothering me to this point.) I limped home and a couple days later my chiro popped my foot (cuboid) and while it didn’t completely calm it down right then, within a day the pain was gone. I again skipped my weekday runs and got in my 14 miler that weekend. Then I had to skip the following day’s 90 minute run because I woke up with a cold.
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Two weeks to Grand Canyon
That was this past Monday and the plan this week was to run a few times at low mileage in some new shoes and incorporating a dancer’s pad to offload the 5th metatarsal joint on my left foot. But when I woke up Tuesday, one of my cats was very sick and my cold had worsened significantly. By Wednesday, my cat was at the emergency hospital. Long story short, I did not train all week and was under a lot of stress. I still planned to do Brooklyn Half Marathon and my 90 minute run on Sunday, though. And hoped that my kitty would recover in time for me to head out to the Grand Canyon.
One week to Grand Canyon
Yesterday I lined up at the start of the Brooklyn Half Marathon. I had taped my left foot in hopes of it holding together and didn’t really think about my right foot because it hadn’t bothered me since my chiro popped it. I noticed my right ankle felt a little sore and wished I had taped that ankle, too, but it was too late at that point. I crossed the start and glanced at the clock. 22:22. I took it as a good sign. I’ll spare the details, but by the 10k mark I was walking with considerable pain in my right foot and by mile 8 I had dropped from the race. Later that evening my kitty got to come home. She needs medication twice a day and I have to monitor her eating, drinking, a bathroom breaks. She is still showing some symptoms and if her condition worsens, she will need to go back to the hospital.
So here I am, six days out from Grand Canyon 50k with two injured feet and a sick cat. I can arrange for care for my cat, but will be at least 18-20 hours away from home if anything happens. I’m not sure if I will even be able to walk around the Grand Canyon much less run 33 miles with the current state of my right foot. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon and this was going to be a bucket list trip for me made even better by the fact I have friends coming out, one of them I am coaching and this will be her first ultra, and I planned to stay a few extra days for adventuring out there and back in Vegas. To say I am conflicted about what to do would be an understatement. Staying home to take care of my baby and myself seems to be the most logical answer, but I’ve invested so much in this race and this trip. Not to mention not wanting to let my friends down. I have no idea what I am going to do.
As I have mentioned before The Sub-30 Club is like a family and races where there will be a good amount Subbers feel like a family reunion or party. This weekend was no different.
The expo and pre-race dinner
It all started on Saturday around noon when I headed to the race expo in the city. I met up with my girl, Jennie, and crossed paths with fellow Subber and NYRR coach, Daphne. We listened to Daphne give the course strategy talk a few times while other Subbers streamed in and out. Chelsea, Susan and her husband, Vinnie, and Nicole all stopped by to say hi and sign our black Sub-30 Club flag. It was about 2:30pm when my tummy reminded me that I hadn’t eaten yet and food became a mission. Jennie, Chelsea, and I headed out for a yummy brunch before parting ways for a few hours to run some errands. I hit Old Navy for a tossable sweatshirt, Jack Rabbits for some Honey Stingers, and Rite Aid to kill some time before heading over early to our dinner meet-up spot The Happiest Hour. Subber Sonyah was already there so I joined her at the bar. I typically don’t drink the day before a race, but since this was going to be a training run I decided to have just one. Jennie arrived and we joined Bill and Sandra at a big table. It wasn’t long before Nicole, Vinnie, and Chelsea joined us. We had a fun dinner and parted ways around 6. Somehow I had ended up spending the entire day in the city, didn’t get in my little 2 mile run, and when I got home I still had quite a bit to do to get ready for the next morning. I finally managed to get to bed around 11pm with an alarm set for 5:30am. It wasn’t an ideal amount of sleep, but again, this was only going to be a training run. NBD.
After an hour of being woken up every 10 minutes by the cats, around midnight I started to have some severe GI cramping and realized it was going to be a long night. After an hour and a half of pain, bathroom trips, and running out of toilet paper, my tummy finally decided to settle down for the night. It was around 2am by the time I was finally able to fall fully asleep.
The alarm at 5:30am came too soon after just 3.5 hours of sleep. My tummy seemed to be doing okay, but the thought of food was scary. I opted for a banana and protein bar that I have used before long runs. Out the door by 6:15am and at the Apple Store for our pre-race Subber meet-up and photo at 7am. It was cold out (in the 20s) and bag check was going to close an hour before our wave started so we were all dressed pretty interestingly. Kathy won best dressed in her robe for sure, though! A quick photo and hugs and then Erin and I headed off to drop our bags.
Bag drop was a little bit of a walk, but quick as was getting through security. The porta-potty line was super long, but went by pretty quick. I did end up in one of the grossest ones I have ever been in and for the first time ever forgot to lock it and got walked in on! Our pit stop done, we made the long walk to our corral. On the way, Erin mentioned that she was going to try to run a PR. Even though the pace was faster than my typical long run pace, I knew it was a pace I could run comfortably so I offered to pace her. We devised a quick strategy: take it easy in the park and assess the timing when we hit Times Square then shift if we needed to. Erin felt pretty casual about it and was okay not hitting the time, but in my mind we were getting her that PR!
After some shuffling of layers in the corrals, Erin losing a glove for the second time, and my bladder whining, it was finally time to start. I was a little sad to say good-bye to my super stylish layers, but I was optimistic the faster pace would warm me up quickly. The race starts right before Cat Hill so the warm-up was pretty quick! I was surprised how easy Cat Hill felt and a little sad to run past the bathrooms at The Boathouse. I definitely needed to go, but there was no way I was abandoning Erin so early so I just tried not think about it.
Miles 2-4 went by pretty quickly. We ran up East Drive north through Central Park past the Obelisk, Fred Lebow checking his watch, Engineer’s Gate, The Guggenheim, North Meadow, Lasker Rink, and finally out of the park for a series of out-and-backs that ran north, south, west, and east before finally heading south back into the park. Just before mile 4 we got our first water stop and we stopped to fuel. Then it was the long slog down the west side of the park, up and down the hills until we finally passed Tavern on the Green where the NYC Marathon course ends. As we hit the 10k mark and started to head out of Central Park and down 7th Avenue to Times Square we were feeling great and couldn’t believe we were practically half done!
Up until the point where we left Central Park, the course was super familiar. I’ve run Central Park so many times now for both races and training runs and while it IS my favorite place in the city, running it doesn’t feel super special. Like most other runners, the really exciting part of this course for me was running through Times Square. As soon as we exited the park and started seeing the lights of Times Square, it was amazing. There is something about being in the middle of 7th Avenue taking in that view that makes it feel even bigger. And the crowds were great. Nowhere near the crowds of the NYC Marathon, but plenty enough to make you feel like a rock star. There were also bands playing every few blocks so it had that same party atmosphere you get while running parts of the marathon course. It was a blast and we were feeling really good. We scoped out the photographers and did our best to get some good potential holiday card photos. 😉
As we turned and headed west onto 42nd Street, we talked a little bit about strategy again. Erin’s goal was still in reach, but we had a little time to make up. So the plan was to get past 8 and try to pick up the pace on the West Side Highway where we were hoping for a tail wind. We would reassess at mile 10 and if her goal wasn’t possible then I would find a porta-potty. My bladder was feeling quite full at this point, but I knew I could hold it since I did for 17 miles during my marathon. I wasn’t about to abandon her during this critical time in her race. Once we had a plan, we spent the run down 42nd Street having fun taking in the sights and waving and hollering “Good morning” to the cars stuck in traffic going the opposite way–which were close enough that we could high-five drivers. At the last aid station before mile 8 and our turn onto West Side Highway, Erin noticed there was no one waiting for the porta-potties, but I refused to leave her. She was getting that PR if I had anything to do with it!
As we hit the West Side Highway, a DJ played some familiar pop tune that I can’t recall, but we both knew the words and we sang aloud as we celebrated the fact that there was indeed going to be a tailwind for the next couple miles! Time to work the plan and knock off some of the time we had accumulated in the park at the beginning of the race.
During the course strategy they warned us that many runners find this part of the race boring. I’ve run along the Hudson River many times on long training runs and am familiar with the sights and didn’t think it would be so bad, but it did feel a little like a slog despite the flat course and tail wind. At this point, Erin was starting to feel some aches and I wasn’t going to tell her this, but I was starting to have some tightness in my right hammie. I also had to pee so bad that I really didn’t want to drink any more water, but I knew I had to. We would stop at every aid station to drink our water and let her stretch for a few seconds. I kept doing math in my head and had been letting her know where we were at every mile, but around mile 9 she let me know that she didn’t think she could keep the pace we needed. So I told her I wasn’t going to tell her anything about time anymore. The plan became she was going to push as much as she could and I would keep us moving and keep doing the math in my head. We would reassess at mile 10. At some point along the West Side Highway I started speeding up as we went into to the aid stations to bank a few seconds of time because I knew we would stop for a few seconds to drink and stretch. As I continued to monitor our pace, her breathing, and do the math in my head I knew the PR might be out of reach… but a second best finish was still a possibility.
When we hit mile 10, I gave her the news. We would need to make up 3 minutes over the course of the next 3.1 miles to make it a PR or we could try for the second best. She was giving all she had so the new plan was to shoot for second best, but I also really needed to pee. We ran what felt like forever (a little over a mile) before the next aid station. I told her I wouldn’t stop for water and would run ahead to the porta potty and try to find her after. So off I went at a slightly faster pace directly into a porta potty even worse than the one before the race. How you hover and get your BM all over the seat, I have no idea, but I was not waiting for another toilet. So I hovered cautiously and got out of there as quickly as possible which seemed impossible after 11 miles of holding it and hydrating every mile! Finally back on the course, I realized that I had to be at least a minute if not two behind Erin. How in the hell was I going to find her and catch up to her?!
Determined to catch up to Erin, I picked up the pace. I pushed for quite awhile questioning if I could even catch up to her when all the sudden I saw her little hat bopping in the distance. I tried to just keep the pace telling myself that as long as she was in my sights I would catch her eventually, but I lost my line of sight a few times for a few seconds and decided I was just going to push the pace until I caught her. My Garmin says that I was averaging ~8:50 for a half mile as I looked for her then chased her down. Definitely not long/training run pace! LOL. As I pulled up next to her casually, I was like “Hey girl, hey!” I couldn’t believe I made it back to her and I was excited to help her for the last miles.
The last mile
It felt like forever to get that second half of mile 12 done, but once we did I knew we were really close to sub-2:20 which would be her second fastest and a great little break of a time boundary. Most of the last mile is through a tunnel underpass around the southern tip of Manhattan. So we had a nice little decline going in and once we were down there, I picked up the pace and started weaving between runners. Erin stayed with me and I could hear her breathing shift. I knew she was working hard and I knew her body was in pain from the miles. I asked her if it was hurting right now and she could only nod. I told her that was good, she was giving it her all, and she was crushing this last mile and just needed to hold on a little longer. We were literally almost there.
Almost there, but not before what went down into the tunnel had to come back up out of it. Once we could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel and the incline out of it, I told her there was no hill. We were actually taking a ski lift up! There is no hill. There is no hill. There is no hill. You’re doing great! There is no hill. She kept pushing. She was crushing it. I was so excited I could scream. I just kept telling her how great she was and telling her follow me as I weaved us through runners. I would turn my head and holler behind me at her. Other runners would look over and I’d just smile. Yep, she has her own pacer and she is absolutely OWNING this finish!
We hit the 400m mark and I hollered it out to her. She hollered back, “Just one loop of the track!” That’s right! So let’s go! We turned a corner and could see the 200m mark… just one more turn to be able to see the finish. As we turned the last corner I swung wide out into the middle of the course and looked back to see her face. She was pushing it hard and the finish was in sight. I picked up the pace more and just kept hollering, “GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO!” As we got close to the finish I reminded her to not hit her watch and SMILE through the finish for photo… HERE WE GO!
We sprinted right through the finish and after crossing the two timing mats hit the brakes abruptly to not hit the crowd of finishers. A volunteer was right in front us and told us we were awesome and as Erin caught her breath she hollered back to him, “YOU are awesome!” I told her our unofficial time–2:20:40–and took a mental photo of her face in the moment then gave her a big hug. She did it. Second best half marathon time. Official time: 2:20:23.
We walked through the finish area and I pulled up the tracker to check on our Subbers still out on the course. It looked like we had a little over an hour until they would finish so we decided to hit the post-race meetup spot to meet her husband who was already finished and to change into dry clothes. It was mid 30s and I was soaked! As we turned out of the finish area, our post-race meetup spot was not even a half block away. It was packed with runners, but I had made a reservation for 20 of us. We took turns hitting the bathroom and I ended up making multiple trips to change clothes.
One of my friends that I also coach had texted while I was out on the course that she had unexpectedly PRed by 2:34 so I was also texting with her and also sending texts to our Subbers still out on the course (including another of my athletes) encouraging them as I tried to get ready to head back out to cheer their finishes. But before I could head back out, other Subbers started to show up and after greeting them I checked the tracker and realized there was no way I could make it back down to the finish in time. (The finish areas for these big NYRR races are quite long.) So I shot a few more texts of encouragement and hollered out their finishes to the Subbers around me as they finished. As each of them streamed into the bar, they got group cheers and hugs and within a few minutes had a celebratory drink in their hands.
Somehow 3 hours passed in that place and it felt like 3 minutes. Subbers slowly trickled out and the final three–Sonyah, Chelsea, and myself–had one last round before heading back to the subway. Sonyah and I rode together to Union Square and I was so sad to give her a hug good-bye and head back to Brooklyn where my friends from inside my phone go back to living in my phone.
I don’t intend for the Distance Traveled Endurance to become in any way political, but I will say this–I believe in inclusion. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I believe that for the most part people are inherently good and that love, positiveness, and inclusion is a better approach than hate, negativity, and exclusion. I believe that caring support is the best way to cultivate growth and success. I also believe that problems are solved by listening to all sides and facilitating a plan and solution that encompasses all, not some information and circumstances. A plan or solution that does not take into account all of the information and circumstances is doomed to fail eventually.
No matter your politics, I hope that you can remain open, positive, and inclusive. I hope that you will take the time to truly listen to people without judgement and be open–not defensive. I hope that you will take the time to realize that we are all connected and that the world is a complex place full of all kinds of intricate connections. And that we all have an opportunity every day to influence our environment in a positive or negative way. I truly believe that no matter your politics, you want the best for yourself, your loved ones, and the world as a whole, and that even if we may differ in our perspectives on how to get “there” we can coexist and respect each other.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein
As a coach and fellow human who cares about you, I really hope that through challenging times you are able to take good care of yourself. I had someone when I was younger ask me, “If you were on a plane that was crashing, would you put the oxygen mask on yourself or your loved one first?” At the time, I had never traveled on a plane so I didn’t have the benefit of the flight attendants safety briefing and answered, “my loved one” which of course is the wrong answer. You put it on yourself first so that you can stay alert and help others. If you pass out, you are no help to anyone. It’s a great metaphor for self care and one that has stuck with me for over 20 years. Please remember to put your “oxygen mask” on first–self care is so important. It’s very easy to neglect nutrition and replace healthy stress relief like exercise with unhealthy things when we become stressed or fatigued.
In my recent travels and adventures, I have had opportunities to at least partially if not completely disconnect and immerse myself in activity and nature. I truly believe that nature is one of the best medicines. As a matter of fact, there is science to back up that being in nature has mental health benefits. (Google “Nature is the best medicine” or similar for studies.) In today’s modern society we are hyper-connected and bombarded with information all the time. It’s really important to give your brain time away from the internet, television, and other digital noise and just “be” so that it can process everything and reset itself.
And in my humble opinion, it’s always great to get into the wilderness and cross paths with all of the other life that shares the planet with us and the processes that support us–like plants that filter our air, the cycle of organics returning to the Earth once they have expired, and the outdoor community which always seems to be open to a “hello” on the trail. In the end, we all have to share our time on this planet together. It’s our choice as to whether we help facilitate that being a positive experience or a negative one for ourselves and our global family.
Recently I have had a few athletes mention to me that they are interested in losing a little weight while training. As a coach, my perspective is that athletes need to be cautious when trying to lose weight and train and my main concern is that you as an athlete are supporting your body for all the work you are putting in. Your focus should be health, not the scale in most cases.
Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor and none of this should be interpreted as prescribing a certain diet or supplements. You should always consult with your physician before beginning any supplementation or dietary regimen!
Okay, so now that we have gotten that out of the way…
The importance of calories
First and foremost, you need to be sure to be getting enough quality nutritional calories. You want to make sure that you are losing fat and not muscle which is what is going to happen if you cut your calories too much. One of the best ways to ensure you are getting the right amount of calories is to track your food. In my experience, this has been the most effective way for me to lean down. Using a platform like MyFitnessPal will also allow you to track you macros (protein, carbohydrates “carbs”, fat) and your micros (vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients). The amount of calories you need is personal to you and you can find many online calculators including in MyFitnessPal to help you determine what your baseline is and figure caloric expenditure for your different activities.
Once you get the calorie thing figured out, you are going to want to focus on your macros. There are many schools of thought on macros. I’ve done the standard USDA recommendations, high protein/fat and low carb, high carb. In the end, I think somewhere between 55-65% carbs, 25-35% fat, and 15-25% protein is where you will likely want to be. Focus on more protein when you are doing more strength, stamina, and speed so you can repair and build muscle. Focus on a little more carbs when you are in your endurance phase. And of course, don’t forget the fiber to keep things moving! For all of your nutrition it is best to be getting these things in the least processed form–meaning REAL food. And for your carbs particularly, you should be focusing on complex carbs–quinoa, beans, lentils, oatmeal, brown rice–not simple and refined carbs. And for the record, alcoholic beverages do not constitute a quality carbohydrate. Don’t validate your post-run beer as your carb replenishment. You still need quality carbs.
Okay, so now you know about macros. What about micros? Should you be supplementing? Well, that depends. I recommend tracking your typical diet for a few days then starting to make some changes to get your macros in the right zones. Then take a look at your micros. What are you deficient in on a rolling (few day) basis? Can you make some more slight adjustments to get you to where you need to be? If the answer is no–and it may be based on what food you are able to eat or have access to–then you may want to consider a supplement. If you do choose to supplement, you should be choosing quality supplements and discussing them with your doctor.
For micros, I want you to be paying particular attention to your minerals–calcium, magnesium, and iron–especially the ladies. Women tend to be deficient in these and they are super important for runners. Guys, you need to be aware, too. For iron, I eat a medium rare steak or burger once a week. You can also get iron from other sources if you aren’t into that type of thing. It is really important that you are getting your iron from food and not a supplement so pay particular attention to this one and adjust your diet. For your calcium, if you are like me and can’t do dairy it can be a challenge. I do supplement with a quality, nutritionist prescribed supplement. Calcium is super important because as we add more stress to your bones they are going to be doing something called remodeling. Your body needs calcium to do that. If you are not getting enough calcium, you are putting yourself at risk for a stress reaction or fracture!
Calcium has a best frenemy–magnesium. I say frenemy because you need calcium and magnesium in balance with each other, BUT you shouldn’t take them at the same time because they impact the absorption of each other. It’s super important that you are paying attention to this balance because while calcium is in there helping to build some bones it is also likes to party a little bit and can cause inflammation unless you send in magnesium to calm it down and to tell it is drunk and to go home. One of my favorite ways to send in some magnesium is through epsom salt baths. It is absorbed through the skin AND you get a nice little relaxing treat. Be aware that magnesium also likes to party a little–in your bowels. Too much of magnesium could have you catching up on some reading, if you know what I mean.
Are you still with me? We just have a little more to go… vitamins! A through K to be exact. You should be getting most of these with a balanced diet. One that you may need to supplement with seasonally is D. D is calcium’s best friend and is needed for your bones. It also helps keep your immune system strong which is important because your immune system becomes depressed as you accumulate training load. (Remember that cold you got during or right after marathon training?) You get vitamin D from sun exposure–10 minutes of direct high sun on your full body a few times per week is what you need. Unfortunately for those of us in places that get cold during the winter, we may end up seasonally deficient. D is actually what is responsible Seasonal Affective Disorder or Winter blues.
B6 and B12 are also important vitamins for runners as they help with metabolism, energy, and play a role in hemoglobin / red blood cell production. RBCs/hemoglobin are the little guys responsible for oxygen delivery from the lungs to your body’s tissues so they are super important! B6 is available in a variety of foods, but B12 is found mostly in meat and eggs. It also found in seaweed and some fermented foods. If you are a vegetarian or don’t eat much meat you should be looking to fortified foods (cereals) for your B12 intake.
Lastly, I will say that anything you can eat to help reduce inflammation is going to be great for your runner’s body. I do a quality Omega 3-6-9 supplement and try to eat plenty of ginger. Turmeric can also be good for inflammation and it is recommended to take it with black pepper to help with absorption.
It would be remiss to not point out that the pounds on your scale do not tell the whole story. Lean mass (muscle, organs, blood, bones, skin), body fat, and hydration play a role in what your scale reads and are all important considerations. I’ll use myself as an example.
When I ran my marathon in 2015, I weighed 128 pounds and was about 24-25% body fat according to my body fat scale. This is about 97 pounds of lean body mass. Last summer while I was training, my weight was 135 pounds and again I was about 24-25% body fat. My lean mass was 102 pounds. This means I put on about 5 pounds of lean mass which we can assume was mostly muscle. My weight now is about 145 pounds and I am about 28-29% body fat. That puts my lean mass at 104 pounds. As an aside, on any given day my weight fluctuates between 143-145 based on when I weigh which accounts for fluctuations in hydration and glycogen stores. I always go with the higher number because that reflects good hydration and glycogen storage. So at 145 pounds, if I wanted to get back down to 24%-25% body fat and keep my 104 pounds lean mass, my target weight would be 138 pounds–10 pounds more than my marathon weight of 128 pounds. If I were just to take into account the scale and lose down to 128 pounds again, I would be giving up 7 pounds of hard earned muscle (lean mass)! And for those of you who are curious, I haven’t bought a whole new wardrobe since the marathon. I’ve sized up in some of my slim fit pants, but now if I get comments on my appearance they are about how fit and strong I look. #strongnotskinny
Consult with your doctor before you any supplementation or dietary regimen
Focus on health not the weight
Make sure to account for the calorie expenditure of your activities
Make sure you are getting the right balance of macronutrients including fiber
Be sure to be getting quality nutrition including complex carbs
Make sure you are getting enough iron from real foods
You need to be getting enough calcium AND magnesium
Consider supplementing with vitamin D during the winter according to your sun exposure
Keep an eye on your B6 and B12. B12 is especially a consideration for vegetarians who need to eat fortified or fermented foods to get this vitamin.
Anti-inflammatory foods can be a good consideration for a runner’s diet
When I first started The Distance Traveled blog and my related social media accounts I was training for the NYC Marathon. I started it as an opt-in channel for my loved ones to follow my training so I didn’t drive everyone nuts with my running posts. I never expected to have hundreds of followers including strangers on the other side of the globe! Or to be coaching for that matter. The Distance Traveled comes from one of my favorite Pre quotes, “Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.” I still love the quote and feel like it is appropriate, but The Distance Traveled doesn’t feel like it fits anymore.
At the beginning of the year I started to shift my online presence to Distance Traveled Endurance. I will still be blogging about my personal training, but in addition will also be posting about all kinds of running, training, and adventure related things. There may even be some guest posts!
Along with the name shift I have designed a logo for Distance Traveled Endurance and created a merchandise store. I have also redesigned the site including adding some new imagery and updating content so take a look around!
I’m really excited about this next chapter and look forward to hearing from you on how you are liking the improvements. If you have something that you would like for me to write about, please let me know in the comments.
A little about the animal in the logo, it is a pronghorn antelope. They are the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere and are the second fastest land mammal behind the cheetah. They can sustain fast speeds longer than the cheetah and it is said that the pronghorn evolved its running ability to escape from extinct predators such as the American cheetah. (The pronghorns are the last of their family that used to hang around during the last ice age.) They complete one of the longest overland migrations that covers more than 160 mi. And compared to their body size they have large hearts. So in short, these animals are fast, but also have great endurance–enough to outlast the speedy cheetah–and have big hearts.
When I started running, it was a pretty solo endeavor. I did all of my training runs alone because I lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was pretty far out and I didn’t know any other runners. When I moved to North Brooklyn, I joined a local running group, but unfortunately was too slow for most of their group runs. In August of 2014, I read an article in Runner’s World about an online running group that was focused on sub-30 minute 5k and immediately joined. I had no idea how much that one decision would impact my life.
Two and half years later, I have not only been to several club meet-ups but have organized a few and have developed close relationships with several Subbers (Sub-30 Club members). Many of the athletes that I coach are from the group. I have run Runner’s World Fest, Broad Street Run, Hood to Coast, and VIA Relay with Subbers. In May when I run the Grand Canyon 50k, at least 5 other members who I also consider dear friends will be with me.
Life at the Back of the Pack
The group has grown a lot since I first joined and at our annual meet-up at Runner’s World Festival we are well known for our”Back of the Pack Party” and for our faster runners “running in” those who are on the course alone. “No Subber Left Behind” is a constant theme with the group as is “B.E.A.S.T.” which stands for “Be Awesome and Strong TOGETHER.” Because of this, it was no surprise to me when our executive director let us know that our group was being featured on The Runner’s World Show podcast. I highly recommend checking out the “Episode 36: Life at the Back of the Pack” podcast.
Coincidentally, I was also featured today in the group in their weekly “Spotlight On” series. Here is copy of my interview for the series!
Spotlight on Brandi Cole
1. Give us the basics: Age? Married? Kids? Job? Pets?
I’m 40, in a serious relationship with adventure, and have 2 furbabies (Tiny Destroyer of Worlds and Lulu Don’t Give a Damn). I consider my job to be an adventurer, knowledge seeker, and student of life, and am also a certified distance running coach, but I make my living as a Lead Designer at McKinsey & Company focused on User Experience.
2. How did you get involved in Sub 30?
I joined in August 2014 when I was still chasing time goals. I have fluctuated from very active to almost leaving at points. Something magical happened at BSR 2016, though, and now I am stuck with a bunch of incredible friends–some I talk to multiple times a day. ❤
3. How long have you been running?
I have been running consistently as an adult since September 2011. I ran as a very young kid and attempted to start again in 2010, but street harassment (in Florida) and a heart scare caused me to push pause for awhile.
4. How has running changed you?
It has helped me to recognize and in some cases amplify some of my better characteristics: tenacity, strength, and (surprisingly) discipline. I live for that moment when a run has been really tough and I get a surge of strength and push through stronger than before. I believe finding strength in adversity is really powerful.
5. Do you have a specialty/specific interest? What’s “your thing”? (roads, trails, triathlons, obstacle course racing, etc.)
I like to run long in the wilderness. In a perfect world, I would get to run trail most of the time, but living in NYC makes that a bit of a challenge. I’d never completely give up road, though, because running is my favorite way to explore a city!
6. What distance do you prefer, and would you like share your PR?
I like long distance. I don’t have a preference. The longer I can play outside, the better. I’m not really motivated by time PRs anymore. Why would I want to cut my time on the trail short?!
7. Do you follow a training plan created by someone else or do you make your own or do you not follow a plan at all?
It depends. Now that I am a coach I find that I am less motivated to write plans for myself for some reason. I do tend to experiment on myself to confirm benefits of training before asking the same of my athletes.
8. Guilty pleasure after a long run/workout?
I have no guilt over pleasures. Post-run I will splurge on a beer even though I have a gluten allergy. (yes, it’s a legit allergy) This summer I started indulging in Coke with ice after a run.
9. Coolest place you ever ran? (bonus points if you can add a picture)
Paris! Running along the Seine with all of the landmarks was magical. Stateside I think DC is my favorite place to run aside from my home trail along the Palisades. Can’t wait to run in Berlin, India, and the Grand Canyon in 2017!
10. Who/ What inspires you?
People who push out of their comfort zone, tackle big challenges, or make a leap of faith or significant investment to follow their passion. And I mean that in a broad way–it could mean pushing yourself physically for a new PR, embarking on a journey to regain health, doing something adventure related like skydiving, moving to a new city, or telling someone that you love them. I feel strongly that life should be LIVED so anyone who is pushing themselves to do that regardless of actual or perceived limitations has my utmost respect.
11. When not running, what is your favorite thing to do?
A lot of my travel and vacation centers around running and I am also coach so there is still plenty of running stuff in my life outside of actually running. I love good food and a good bourbon especially in the company of my favorite people. (Even if they don’t really like bourbon. 😉 ) I also love music, singing, and dancing so live music, singing karaoke, or a spontaneous living room dance party tend to top my list of fun things to do.
12. Tell us something about you that we don’t already know.
I had never traveled out of the country until 2010 when I went to Mexico for a friend’s wedding. I was 34. On that trip I did an adventure day where I was blessed by a Mayan shaman, rappelled into and swam in a cenote, and climbed a few pyramids. That was the day that I decided to move to NYC. A little over 4 months later I was here. None of my loved ones believed it was happening at the time! Since then I have seen and done some pretty awesome things. It is never too late to change your life and follow your dreams!
I absolutely love running in the snow–though I prefer it to be on a mountain–but I know a lot of runners would rather not brave such weather. If you happen to be snuggled indoors this weekend and are looking for something running related to watch, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Vimeo, and YouTube have you covered. And I have taken the time to curate some helpful lists!
If you are wanting to go the free route, YouTube is your best option. I have created a few playlists on my channel with full length running documentaries and Runspiration shorts. You can access those here: Coach Brandi’s YouTube Channel
If you have a subscription to Netflix, there are a handful of movies available. Netflix rotates titles so something that is available today may not be available next month. I have collecting what is available now on a Pinterest board here: Running Movies on Netflix Streaming.
But the real mother load of movies is available on Amazon Instant Video. Some are free with a Prime Membership and others are available for rent or purchase. Amazon rotates titles as well so some of these may not be available for free with Prime or in some cases at all, unfortunately. I have a collection of all the movies I could find on a Pinterest board here: Running Movies on Amazon Video.
So there you go! Hours of running inspiration to keep you entertained this weekend. Did I miss anything? Leave a comment and let me know if there is something you think I should add to any of those collections!
Here are my top 10 picks for strength and conditioning exercises for runners. This doesn’t encompass all you could or should be doing, but these 10 will give you a lot of “bang for your buck”, require little space, and most require no equipment. Using just your body and a hallway’s worth of space you can keep your body strong for all those miles!
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You have heard it before and it is worth stating again, a focus on form and quality over quantity is important for all of these. I tend to subscribe to the “rep until fatigued” model and if it is taking too many reps then it might be time to add some weight. For most of these I will do multiple sets (2-3) to fatigue. (Read: until I can’t hold good form anymore.)
As a reminder, I am a running coach and not a personal trainer. I highly encourage you to work with a certified trainer to tailor a specific program to your needs especially if you have special considerations like injury. At the very least you should consult with a certified trainer to confirm your form is sound before performing these on a regular basis. Performing some of the exercises incorrectly especially with weight could lead to injury! Since I feel strongly that you should consult with a trainer on form, I will refrain from giving detailed instructions for how to perform each exercise and just share some of my thoughts on each.
“an exercise in which a person lies facing the floor and, keeping their back straight, raises their body by pressing down on their hands“
Seems simple, right? Push-ups are one of the most valuable body weight exercises when performed correctly as they engage your entire body. Haven’t been feeling your glutes and legs in your push-ups? You should focus on your form. Ground your toes, engage your core (suck your belly button into your back), engage your glutes and hammies, and flatten your back so that your entire body is straight. This should also mean your pelvis, shoulders, and neck are neutral. Make sure to keep this straight and neutral position all the way down and back up. Do not let your back arch and hips dip! I find focusing on pressing up through my entire body as opposed to just my hands to be helpful in keeping form on the way back up. Keeping your elbows tucked in and at 20-40 degrees to your body puts less strain on your shoulders than flaring your arms to 90 degrees. It makes the push-up more difficult, but remember quality over quantity!
One of my favorite things to do with push-ups is to lose the momentum by slowly lowering towards the ground and holding a few inches above it before pushing back up. If you are unable to do a full push-up, you can place your upper body higher than your lower body to make the exercise easier. So instead of putting your hands on the ground, you use a chair, table, or bench.
“(also called a front hold, hover, or abdominal bridge) is an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a position similar to a push-up”
I would argue that a plank can and should also be a full body exercise in the same way that push-up is and I would include forearm, full, and side planks here. Your form for the full plank is going to be the same as a push-up in the up position. For forearm planks, you are just down on your forearms. Not letting your back arch and hips sag is important here. It is also important to not let your butt drift too high as that is going to “turn off” some of the key muscle groups that you are trying to work. Video yourself with your phone from the side or use a mirror to check your form for these to ensure you are getting the value out of them! Once you have worked up to a reasonable amount of time, you can sweeten the deal by moving from full to forearm and back again during your hold or try doing some single leg lifts during your hold. Make sure to keep your form and keep the lifted leg in line with your body.
Side planks can be performed with a fully extended arm, on your forearm, and with the bottom leg fully extended so your foot is the point of contact with the ground or with your leg bent to 90 degrees at the knee and your knee as the point of contact. Important things to consider here are keeping your hips in line with your body. So hips and pelvis should be square with the upper body and hips should be stacked directly on top each other. Watch for dropping towards the floor at the hips, sticking the butt out too far behind you, and your top hip rolling forward or back. Mastered the side plank? Trying lifting the top leg up and holding or you can shift the top leg’s foot back behind you a bit and do slow leg lifts in this position. Height of the leg lifts should be a balanced counter to your grounded leg. No need to kick the foot to the ceiling!
No definition found for a dead bug?! These are a deceivingly complex and a totally underrated exercise in my humble opinion. If you have ever done these and felt they were easy, you were probably doing them wrong! Key points to performing deadbugs properly are maintaining a flat back, not hyperflexing the knee, and speed of the reps. To get into proper starting position, exhale to bring your ribcage down and flatten your back to the floor. This should rotate your pelvis and allow you to engage your glutes and core. Your knee should be at about 90 degrees and arms extended directly in front of you towards the ceiling in the starting position. From here, you should focus on slowly lowering one leg and the opposite arm while continuing to engage your core and keeping your back flat on the ground. Arm should not stray out from your body and should be directly above your shoulder, next to your head, and close to your ear. Foot can be pointed. Now hold for a few seconds before SLOWLY coming back to starting position. Again, keep your core engaged and your back flat against the floor. Ten of these should be enough to get you shaking. I do these to almost completely fatigued which for me is about 10!
“a classic core exercise that emphasizes lower back strength and balance”
Alright, now I am just repeating myself–form and speed are key components to this exercise! For this exercise you are on hands and knees so the first part of form is correct placement of those. Be sure to have your hips and shoulders in the correct position and weight evenly distributed through your four limbs. As with all of these exercises, your hip, pelvis, and overall back alignment is really important. Suck in that belly and tuck your tailbone to engage your core and tilt your pelvis into neutral. Back should be flat and not rounding including they shoulders. As you raise your arms, think about that dead bug positioning — arm should be straight in front and close to your head and ear not straying out from the body. Your leg should lift to be in line with your body and straight behind your glute so foot is in line with your butt cheek. If you don’t have the strength to lift the leg and arm at the same time, you can do just legs and then just arms. Your raises and lowers should be slow and deliberate and you should focus on keeping your pelvis, hips, and back in proper alignment. You can hold the raised position for added intensity.
Squats, deadlifts, and pistol squats
“a compound, full body exercise that trains primarily the muscles of the thighs, hips and buttocks, quadriceps femoris muscle, hamstrings, as well as strengthening the bones, ligaments and insertion of the tendons throughout the lower body. Squats are considered a vital exercise for increasing the strength and size of the legs and buttocks, as well as developing core strength”
Phew! That’s a lot. So why didn’t I put these amazing exercises first? Because these are next level exercises, in my humble opinion. Get the form wrong on these and you can end up with ill effects. All of these are in the same family and have the same general form and motion, but have some important unique benefits. At it’s simplest form, a squat, when performed correctly improves strength in the posterior chain. (All that stuff on the back on your body instead of the front.) A strong posterior chain is super important for a runner as this is what stabilizes you and helps to propel you forward. Squats can be performed as a body weight exercise or with weight. Squats (with a barbell) and deadlifts may seem like the same exercise with just a shift in barbell placement, but they actually work the muscles in different ways so are both important to include your routine. Pistol squats add balance and really test your unilateral strength. I will refrain from giving pointers on form for these as I do feel it’s really important that you consult a trainer for proper form and weight recommendations here!
The first 5
So that’s my first 5 exercises! These exercises are great at improving your strength through body weight and movement. They can be performed without equipment, in very little space, and many of them can be done every day without fear of too much fatigue or soreness. I’ll be sharing my next 5 soon. In the meantime, let me know what you think of these 5 and I loved to hear what you think my next 5 will be!
I’m not a big crier, but last night I cried a little. They were tears of relief.
This past year has been stressful–and painful. Ever since my back and neck pain started last November, I have been in some form of pain. I seemed to have gotten the back and neck pain maintained to a point to where I could train, but then my shin flared up and I was diagnosed with a tibial stress reaction. I had to drop my goal race–my first 50k–after the most intense training cycle I have ever done. I was running 8-9 hours (40-45 miles) a week and that doesn’t include time for yoga and strength.
My last real run was September 27th. After a month of dealing with lingering foot issues after the stress reaction diagnosis, I decided to just bike for awhile to try to let everything heal. The foot issues got worse including a nerve flaring up causing constant pain and eventually my hip joined the party. I stopped working out completely for a couple of weeks and that didn’t seem to help either. In the past few weeks, determined to find answers, I’ve seen an orthopedist, a podiatrist, my chiropractor, and 2 new PTs (same office). I feel like I am finally starting to get some answers.
It seems that my pelvis and sacrum have some issues. They are rotated in weird ways. I don’t understand all of it, but evidently in addition to causing a slight leg length difference, it is also contributing to one side not activating and being weaker. I also have a weaker ankle on that side from a roll earlier in the year. All of this has put more stress on my back and that hip/leg/foot that is freaking out.
I finally feel like the mystery of my injuries is starting to be unraveled. And I’m relieved. Not just to have some answers, but to finally have some confirmation that this was not overtraining. This wasn’t my fault. Some of my choices likely contributed–my shoes and nutrition–but the underlying cause was structural and not something I could have known about. Several doctors missed it over the past year. And even if I had been in the right shoes and nailing my nutrition this all probably would have happened eventually anyway.
2016 has been tough. (For many reasons.) But it has also been an awesome year in that I know I have gotten so much stronger physically and this diagnosis is going to make me even stronger. I’ve also become much more confident in my running and my coaching knowledge. I’m proud of myself for not just taking a diagnosis, treating the symptoms until they were manageable, and moving on. I chose to stop running and chase down an answer.
All of this has made me realize that running is no longer just a hobby for me. Running has become my lifestyle. I am a runner. And I can’t wait to get back to it and see what happens in 2017.
Timeline of injury and rehab
(For future reference for myself and my doctors, but feel free to dive in if you are interested)
April 12 2015: Ran a trail race and hit the downhills hard. Had lower back pain a few days after that went away with some ibuprofen and rest.
July-October 2015: Marathon training. Had some lower back/glute pain isolated to one side which was (mostly) relieved by my sport massage therapist when I saw her once a month. Therapist told me a few times that my back felt really stiff and that I should get some deep tissue massage to loosen it up.
November 1 2015: NYC Marathon. Ran pain-free until mile 24 where the downhills aggravated my knees was fine on the flats and sprinted to the finish. Felt good the next week. Post-race cold had me in bed for a few days and I had neck pain on right side after that.
November 14 2015: 8 mile trail race with some light back pain. I didn’t stretch and was out in the cold for hours after then in a car for a couple hours for the ride home. The next day my right shoulder and right side of back hurt enough that I thought I had a pinched nerve. Saw a PT two days after the race who told me I just had some muscle tightness.
November 2015 – February 2016: PT. Focus was on treating symptoms, strengthening the core, and stretching the back and neck. Progress was slow and after a sneeze in early January, I was set back and had to stop running again. By late January, I was getting back to running.
January – May 2016: Started acupuncture once a week. This brought me some relief and kept me maintained as I started to build my mileage back up and started training for Broad Street Run and building a base for 50k training.
April 24 2016: Ran a trail race with lots of mud and rolled my ankle. It felt fine to continue running on and there was no pain by the finish. Pain returned the next day and hung out for a week. RICE resolved it in time to pace at Broad Street Run on May 1st which I ran with no pain.
May – present: Started seeing a chiropractor. This was the most promising treatment yet. They noticed that I was not rotating equally when running and walking and that my left side wasn’t activating like it should. I was also diagnosed with a breathing issue. Homework included breathing exercise, some strengthening, and some rotational drills.
May 15 2016: Random calf pain made me cut a run short. It was fine within a few days and I paced at Brooklyn Half (5/21) with no issues.
May – August 2016: 50k training. Mileage climbed to 35-40 miles by June and remained pretty consistent aside from a few planned cutback weeks.
July 2016: I ran out of calcium supplements and all of my running shoes were over mileage. I was suspicious of my shoes being part of my back issue and wanted to research new ones. I started running my longer long runs (20, 22) on road instead of trail in an effort to be on my feet less time and for a little easier terrain. Ended up buying the same shoes on August 4th.
August 2016: Continued to run long on road. Still no calcium and I started to struggle with getting enough calories based on the mileage that I was running.
August 13 2016: On my 22 miler, I started to have shin tightness around mile 14. We took a few breaks to stretch and hydrate (it was super hot that day) for the rest of the run.
August 14 – 25 2016: No running. Saw an orthopedist who did an X-ray and diagnosed me with stress reaction. He said I can run HTC based on pain. Got a second opinion and MRI that confirmed the original diagnosis. Doc prescribed oral and topical anti-inflammatories and said I can run HTC cautiously.
August 26 – 27 2016: Hood to Coast relay. Shin felt fine for the first 2 legs of the relay. I made sure to ice directly after each run and didn’t push the pace. On the third leg–my hardest and longest, almost 8 miles of hills–the outside of my lower leg started to hurt, then my inner lower leg, then the top of my foot. I ran the last mile through the pain. It hurt a bit as we ran to the finish and the next day, but the foot seemed to be better by a few days later.
September 2016: Headed back to PT for help with my shin per orthopedist’s recommendation. My foot pain returned when I start running again after Hood to Coast. PT diagnosed me with extensor tendonitis and treated my symptoms for that, as well. Attempted a long run on 9/5 with run-walk intervals and made it about 2 hours and 15 minutes before pain set in. Three days later, I started to notice ball of foot / big toe pain. PT taped me and I ran a marathon relay at a nice pace with no pain a few days later. Iced directly after and I seemed to be okay. I started cutting back on mileage and using elliptical and bike to supplement in an effort to speed up the foot healing. Bought a pair of Hokas and ran a few times in them. My back and neck started bothering me again from sitting to work so I start standing to work again by the last week of September. Purchased an exercise bike during last week and noticed my left hamstring going numb after about 15-20 minutes of riding. Started taking new calcium and other supplements that last week, as well. By end of month, I was able to do planks in shoes without foot pain.
October 2016: First week of October I traveled to Portland for a week. I wore converse all week and didn’t tape at all and my ball of foot pain and some arch pain returned. I didn’t run at all on my trip or when I returned. Traveled to Florida the second week and did a mile test. Afterward while doing yoga, I had sharp pain in outside my foot. I also noticed for a few days that my big toe was swelling and wouldn’t bend. I was able to restore mobility and reduce swelling with massage. Back home the third week, I start riding the bike again and after a ride while doing yoga the nerve pain returns very sharply. My ball of foot pain and arch pain also got worse. I booked an acupuncture appointment and he discovers a lot of tightness in my shin and ankle which relieves the pain in my foot. The nerve pain starts to aggravate me all the time. I started to have painful hip tightness on the same side as all my other leg issues and my back on the opposite side was acting up again too. A few more sessions of acupuncture provided some relief, but I still didn’t know why all this is happening and was frustrated that I didn’t seem to be getting any better.
November 2016: Saw my orthopedist who referred me to a podiatrist for the foot issues and recommended physical therapy for the residual shin pain. Podiatrist diagnosed me with sural neuritis and sesamoiditis. He prescribed NSAIDs and an anti-seizure med and recommended no running for a few weeks. I had a horrible reaction to the anti-seizure so I stopped taking it. Went to see new PT who did some tests for alignment and believes I have some pelvic issues. Prescribes a nerve flossing exercise, metatarsal pad for my sesamoiditis, and some stretches. On my second visit a sacral issue is discovered and some strengthening exercises are giving. On the third visit I get a gait analysis in 2 pairs of shoes and my pelvic/sacral issues are confirmed as well as my old shoes being not ideal for me. Pelvic issue is causing a slight leg length difference and one side to not activate causing it to also be weaker. Protocol will be piriformis and glute strengthening and some neuromuscular training to bring the pelvis back into alignment. This should help with both the back/neck pain and my leg pain which are both being stressed by the pelvic/sacral issues.