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Let’s talk nutrition

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.

Macronutrients

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.

Micronutrients

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.

Minerals

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.

Vitamins

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.

Natural anti-inflammatories

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.

The scale

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

In review

  • 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
  • Don’t rely on the scale to tell the whole story

Distance Traveled Endurance

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.

 

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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.

The Sub-30 Club: More than a club, a family

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.

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Tiny (Destroyer of Worlds) and Lulu (Don’t Give a Damn)

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?!

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New York City Marathon

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!

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Running in Paris
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Running along the Palisades with my trail team pals and my best running friend and fellow Subber, Jeremy

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!

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Adventuring in Mexico. From clockwise from top left: Blessed by a Mayan shaman, rappelling into a cenote, sitting on top of a pyramid, pyramid climbing

Streams of running inspiration

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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

Vimeo also has great running videos some of which are free and some are Vimeo on Demand which you can rent or buy. I have two collections setup: Running (free to stream) and Running (Vimeo on Demand).

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!

My top 10 exercises for a strong runner body (1-5)

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!

 

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.

Push-ups

“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.

Planks

“(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!

Dead bugs

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!

Bird Dogs

“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!

 

The longest year ever

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.

The Great New York Running Expedition

A few weekends ago, I had the honor of aiding runners completing the The Great New York 100 mile Running Expedition. “The Great New York 100 Mile/100KM Running Exposition is an informal, small, low-key event that nevertheless promises to be an unforgettable running experience. It is an urban adventure, a running tour of New York City, beginning and ending in Times Square.” The 100 miles takes runners from Times Square to the Bronx over to Queens down to Coney Island back up through Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan to finish where they started in Times Square. It is supported by volunteers every 5-10 miles and by the entire city as runners have access to many restaurants, retail stores, and bodegas along the way.

tgnymap

Back in January, I proposed to our local officers group for my trail running club, Trail WhippAss, that we sponsor one of the stations. The later stations tend to be harder to staff so we agreed to take mile 80 which wasn’t being staffed by it’s typical crew because one of them was running the race. I was super excited to contribute, but having never organized an aid station and never having run or even witnessed a 100 miler I was also little nervous. By the week of the race things started to fall into place and by Saturday I was confident that we were going to have the best aid station ever!

Mile 80 Stock List
Water
Gatorade
Coke
Flat Coke
Mountain Dew
Beer
Watermelon
Oranges
Potato chips
Boiled potatoes with salt
Pickles
Twizzlers
M&Ms
Salt tabs
Baby wipes
Paper towels
Sunscreen
Bug spray
Aquaphor
Tiger balm
Basic first aid supplies
The stick
Foam roller
Yoga mat
Foot roller
Tennis ball
Music (until 9:30pm)

The morning started out a little bumpy as my Zipcar was defective and most of the cars close to me weren’t available for the time I needed. It took almost 2 hours to get it sorted and skipping my run, but eventually I found a car and made my way to it then out to Kmart in Queens to pick up some supplies. Then it was down to Sheepshead Bay in crazy NYC traffic. Our station was to start at 4:20 and I got down there around 3:30, but didn’t find parking until just after 4pm. My two teammates that were meeting me had similar issues so I hung out on the sidewalk while they unloaded their cars then went off to park. We were soon joined by Mariele, Michael Wardian’s sister, who was going to be pacing him for the last 20 miles.

Wardian was blowing through the course at lightning speed and we were a little concerned about getting setup before he got to us. We also weren’t exactly sure where the RD wanted us to setup and I had been told he had a specific spot that he wanted us. As time ticked on, we got more and more nervous that we wouldn’t be ready. I sent a photo of the area to the RD and by 5pm we had received word on the spot and started to setup. The RD stopped by with water and gatorade and we fully were setup by 5:30pm with the help of Mariele. Around that time, some fellow teammates who were crewing Wardian showed up and gave us some information on how he and our other teammate, Otto, who was pacing him were doing. Soon after we saw them crossing the footbridge and heading right for us. Wardian was in and out pretty quickly about 10 minutes to 6pm.

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Setting up the Trail WhippAss mile 80 aid station. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Trail WhippAss ladies stocked and worked the mile 80 aid station. From left to right: me, Anna, and Helen. Wonderful ladies to spend a day with! Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Receiving water and Gatorade for our aid station from Byron and race director, Phil McCarthy. From left to right: me, Byron, Anna, Phil. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Me, Anna, and Mariele. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Team mate Otto assisting Michael Wardian (TGNY100 winner) with his ice bandana. Otto paced Wardian to the mile 80 aid station where his sister, Mariele, then paced him the last 20 miles.
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Michael Wardian receiving aid from team mate Louisa as I (white singlet & TWA hat) and his sister, Mariele (left, in hat), watch. Wardian was blowing through the course so fast that we were concerned we wouldn’t be setup in time. Photo credit: Helen Clark.

After the excitement of Wardian, we settled in for a bit. We were expecting to see other runners soon, but as it turns out we had a couple hours to wait before that would happen. We enjoyed the sunset, took turns walking across the footbridge to Macy’s to use the ladies room, snacked, and talked about running. Around 7:45pm we were joined by some family/crew of the next runner who was in second place. He was through and out by 8:38 and right after we got our third place runner, the first female, who was out by 8:46. Another runner came through at 8:58. He was a little disoriented in regards to directions on his turnsheet and we were a little concerned with him finding his way to the next aid station. I was in contact with the aid station after us and let them know to look out for him. As the hour hit 9pm, our only known bathroom closed and it was starting to get dark. The area was still pretty populated by pedestrians, though.

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Anna hamming it up in her TGNY100 tee and newly purchased tights. Anna was our potato expert and pusher in the later hours.
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Anna aiding Ryan Thorpe, our second runner and the TGNY100 third place finisher. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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First female, Charlotte Dequeker, smiling and looking strong at mile 80. She was our third runner through the station. Charlotte took fourth overall in the 100 mile race. Photo credit: Helen Clark.

As we went into the night hours, we were supposed to have a male join us at the aid station for us safety reasons. There was only one dude that volunteered and I had let him know that we needed him overnight. As we got close to end of shift, I let our other female teammate, Helen, know it was fine for her to go. I was confident that our teammate wouldn’t let us down. If he was running late, it was probably because he was looking for parking is what we figured. She headed off and it was just me and Anna left.

It was about an hour (10:15pm) before we got another runner and I still hadn’t heard from our missing teammate. I sent several messages and reached out to another officer who knows him and he messaged him, too. Nothing. The area was still pretty populated so we felt okay, but knew it would die down at some point and we were on the opposite side of the inlet from a nightlife area by a residential area so we knew we get some drunken partiers heading by is in the wee hours. I tried reaching out to other male teammates, but no one could join us. I didn’t want to bother the RD and volunteer coordinator unless I absolutely had to and since the area was still pretty busy I felt we had a little time. Around 11pm a guy showed up that was hoping to bump into some friends that were running. He had swung by this aid station last year and was familiar with the race. By 11:45pm when his friend came through, he had offered to stay with us as our overnight guy. Relieved, we got ready for the overnight hours which promised to be busy.

Between 11:45pm and 3:30pm we saw runners every 10-20 minutes in varying degrees of exhaustion and pain. Another teammate, Jürgen, came through around midnight and was happy to see we had stocked the beer he had asked for. He was looking strong and it felt great to be able to help a fellow WhippAss. As we got to the later hours runners were more deteriorated and our chairs started getting more use. The 3 of us turned into a sort of pit crew attending to runners in various regards. I was responsible for tracking and time and was also communicating with the aid stations before and after us. Additionally, I played the role of nurse/caretaker–offering recovery tools, salt, aquaphor, wet wipes, etc. Anna was our resident nutritionist and perfected the art of squishing and salting potatoes. She was also very good at talking the runners into eating. The three of us all chipped in on filling water bottles, serving soda and gatorade, and helping with runner morale. The road next to us had some pretty crazy drivers so we also took turns guiding the runners across the street. For the almost 4 hours in the overnight hours, we never really stopped moving because the runners were coming in so regularly. Between runners we restocked, tidied the area, and prepared for the next round. It was chilly and Anna and I had to pee for several hours. I eventually I ended up wandering off into the neighborhood to find a bush.

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Team mate Jürgen (yellow tank) checking out the spread while I (on right) track time of oncoming runners. Photo credit: Jürgen Englerth.

Around 2:30am we had a runner come in who none of us realized was a runner. He looked as though he was wearing street clothes and had no pack or bottles. He sat down and gave me his number and told us he was going to take a nap. We all laughed and thought he was joking, but it was no joke. He instructed us to wake him up at 3:30am, but our station was scheduled to close at 3am so we compromised. Anna happened to have a pillow which she gave him (it was cold and she had pulled some pillows and blankets from her truck earlier while we were waiting for runners) and he wandered over to a bench to sleep. At 3am, we delivered his wake up call and it was timely as our last group of runners, a fairly large group, had just arrived. They were all quite delighted to see him and they all took off together.

The sweeper was running a little behind and let us know that there were still 2 guys out on the course. We started to clean and pack up anything superfluous. The next to last runner arrived as we were starting to clean up and looked a little rough. We attended to him as we loaded our cars and the sweep arrived. Next thing I know, the poor guy was emptying his stomach all over the ground. He was so apologetic and I felt so badly for him. We poured extra soda and water for him and the sweep grabbed the quarter of watermelon that was left and tried to get him to eat. The sweep had let us know that the last runner was still quite a ways back and that we should go. He was going to be circling back to him with supplies as long as he stayed on course so he wouldn’t need our aid. As our last runner (next to last on course) headed off, the sweep walked with him. He wandered off with that entire quarter watermelon–a piece as big as his head–into the night. I was very excited to check the results on Monday and see that he made it to the finish. At 3:30am we signed off our aid station.

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Mile 80 signing off at 3:30am. So many thanks to the dude in the middle for sticking around to help us out in the overnight the hours!

Exhausted from almost 12 hours of volunteering, I hopped in my rental for the 30 minute drive home. I had my rental until 10am so I decided that in honor of these amazing runners, I would test my own abilities in the morning. I’m not adapted to functioning on little sleep and will typically put off a run if I haven’t gotten enough. But the next morning, on 4.5 hours of sleep, I returned my rental car and ran 6 miles in warmer weather than I typical venture out in (mid-80s). It was nothing compared to what the runners I had seen the night before had done, but it was my own little tribute to them. (And a good confidence builder for Hood to Coast.)

Later that afternoon as I rested, I reflected on the night before and how much the experience changed me. I felt sad that I would have to wait another year to do it all again. If you ever get the chance to work a late aid station for a long race, I highly recommend it. It’s such a rewarding experience. I’ve already spoken to the volunteer coordinator about coming back next year and he is happy to have us back at mile 80 again. Though, I may have to find a few more races to volunteer at in the meantime because a year is just too far away!

When running isn’t therapy

Sunday morning I awoke to the same horrible news as you probably did. While I was sleeping, a man entered a gay club in my hometown of Orlando and opened fire killing 49 people. I was devastated. And concerned for my friends. I decided that I would go ahead and get in my 14 mile trail run. As I headed to the trail via subway, I had time to think. The more I thought, the more upset I became. The longer it took for friends to check in, the more concerned I became. By the time I hit the trail, I was a mess of emotions and choking back tears. I spent the next 3 hours stopping every 5-10 minutes to check my phone. I was checking to see if my friends had checked in okay, but at the same time was fielding replies to some of my posts calling for friends to please stop blaming guns at this sensitive moment and shift their attention to supporting the LGBT community which, for good reason, was reeling. My emotions went to some very dark and painful places on that trail.

I have not run since that morning. I just haven’t had the motivation. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been trying to process this insanity and have been grieving for my communities–both Orlando and the LGBT community. It is a “cut back” week in terms of mileage so I’m not really doing any damage aside from losing some conditioning. But when I think about running now, especially when I think about returning to that trail this weekend, I cringe a little. It’s like the trauma of that morning is now directly associated with running. I’ve had this happen before to a much lesser degree when I’ve had an exceptionally horrible run, but never to the point to where I start to question if I want to run again. Yes, in the past day, I have questioned whether I want to run again. Despite knowing that the best possible thing I could probably do for myself right now is get out there and work through this and make running my safe space again, my therapy.

And this is why I love running. I questioned whether I should follow my Saturday post with this because they both likely read fairly negative, but I think it’s important to document these emotions. This is all a part of the journey of being a runner for me. A part of my distance traveled. I don’t run to win races or even PR. I run because of how it changes me. How it makes me stronger not just physically, but mentally. I run because it allows me to know myself better, to help me acknowledge aspects of myself that I may not have otherwise realized, and to push through perceived limits. I run because it makes me a better me.

Vulnerability

This morning was tough. I had a pretty crazy week after a packed weekend and I woke up this morning after 9 hours of sleep, exhausted and full of doubt about my 14 mile long run. I did 14 miles last weekend, but it was along a towpath and this week I was going to be hitting the Long Path which is more technical (though not very at parts) with much more up and down than I did last week. In addition, it was going to be heating up pretty quickly and with a storm on the horizon for early afternoon the humidity was high, too. I made the call to flip my runs opting for 5 miles this morning and 14 tomorrow when it should be much cooler and I have another night to bank more sleep.

I actually ended up going back to sleep for an hour and a half this morning after getting up and eating. I had some friends running a 10K and had set up tracking, but a few minutes after the start had passed out. Upon awaking, I realized I had missed all of their finishes and felt like a jerk. Then I saw their times. I struggled during a 3.2 race last week that I had unexpectedly decided to race and some of them did quite well and at almost double the distance. It was late enough in the morning that other friends were posting about their long runs that they hadn’t decided to skip. I was feeling pretty low and like a failure. And the last thing I wanted to do was run. Especially now that it was late morning and the heat of the day was setting in. Luckily a friend was available to run with me and willing to take it much slower than she typically does so the 5 miles ended up being not as miserable as they could have been.

It’s interesting to me, mornings like these. I like to think that I don’t care what others do because all of my goals are personal and not externally driven, but I can’t help to look at my peers–especially those who I have typically been aligned with in regards to performance–and use them as some form of a measuring stick at times. I know my training and goals are completely different as is my life, but when it comes to being critical it is certainly easy for me to feel badly when I don’t measure up despite the reasons. I am training for my first 50k for goodness sakes and recovering from an injury that kept me from running for a month. Sometimes it is hard to keep things in perspective. And if I am being completely honest, I am still not 100% confident that I can even complete the training plan that I have selected for myself. It scares me a little. (Which is part of why I picked it.)

“Teams would be advised to put their strongest runner on this leg of Hood to Coast. Leg Nine’s runner encounters a scene from the Great Dustbowl in his or her second stage, and the third stage is eight miles long, which is, well, just plain long. Stamina, fortitude, and confidence are essential for this runner.”

I saw this in a blog post and texted it to a good friend (who is also a badass runner) in regards to my legs for Hood to Coast. Oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned yet that is happening. I got an offer to join a team last weekend and took them up on it. I asked to be runner #9 based on mileage without realizing the difficulty of the individual legs. (I will post soon about this particular race so don’t worry if you don’t have all the context.) Anywho, this person told me that not only am I the strongest runner in our van, but on our team. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but it made me realize something. Despite knowing that I am strong based on my own circumstances, I in no way have confidence that I am the truly strong especially in comparison to others. And I would say for the most part, I think everyone else is way more badass and strong than me. With all of my silly little health issues, injuries, and peculiarities, I sometimes feel like this frail bird or like I need to overcome being this frail bird. I totally discount the fact that it is exactly what makes me strong. If there is anything that I can do, it is persevere. And I think tenacity is one of my strongest qualities. (Tenacious B!) But it’s that deficit that makes me feel like I am always operating from that plays games with my head. I am starting behind y’all, not with, so I will always be behind.

This is something that I have identified as needing to be worked on and I find myself in the unique position of coaching myself here. What would I do if an athlete were to have similar issues? How would I help them to realize not just how strong they are, but how to disassociate that with their perceived deficit? I don’t have the answers yet, but I do know that this will make me a better an athlete and coach.

The long road to (injury) recovery

I was going to post a quick little update about my injury rehab appointment today then realized I haven’t checked in about it since February! So a tiny bit of updating seems necessary.

Catching up

In January, that dreadful sneeze knocked back my progress and I had to stop running for a few weeks. By February, I was able to start back with run/walk intervals. I worked up to 3-5 miles, 3 times a week by the end of the month. As I started to get back to running, my physical therapist decided that I was well enough to continue without her so we stopped our sessions. I was doing PT stretches daily and strength 3 times a week.

By mid to late March, I was starting to try a little speed and was disappointed that it seemed to aggravate my back and neck. I really needed to start getting my mileage up to train for Broad Street Run and the Brooklyn Half so I decided to stick to all easy running and just focusing on upping my mileage. I was still seeing the acupuncturist once a week and I think that was the only thing holding things together. I continued to have back and neck pain regularly which he relieved enough weekly to keep me functioning and running about 20 miles a week by the end of the month.

By April, I had worked my way up to 90 minutes of running on trail. I felt like I was still battling my back and neck and barely holding it together so I scheduled a weekly massage in addition to my weekly acupuncture. Things seemed to be getting better with the first session, but then it was just a steady decline. By the time I got to Broad Street Run on May 1st, I was still running about 20 miles a week, but felt like I was on the verge of relapse. I was at my wit’s end.

While at Broad Street Run, I had three teammates talk to me about seeing a chiropractor. I was hesitant, but desperate. I scheduled an appointment the day I got back to NYC. I found one in Midtown that had treated an elite marathoner and has massage therapists, acupuncturists, and trainers on staff. I saw her 2 days later.

A new approach

The first appointment didn’t have me so convinced this was the right route, but she made enough sense that I was curious. She gave me a number of interesting exercises to do including a gait retraining exercise because evidently my left side isn’t “firing” as I run. I did the exercises religiously and was excited to get a little relief for some of my issues. I was able to work my way up to 30 miles a week, but my neck continued to bother me. I started to wonder if maybe the massages were doing more harm than good since my neck seemed to be bother me most in the days after the massage. I decided to cancel my next massage. On my next visit to my chiro, they recommended the same without me mentioning that I had cancelled!

My neck started to feel better but the Sunday before the Brooklyn Half I headed out for my last long run and ended up cutting it short because of what I thought was achilles pain. I was really apprehensive about seeing the doc the next day, concerned that the gait retraining may be causing other issues. But after just 10 minutes in the office, they had figured out the issue, gotten me relief, and adjusted my plan. By the time I got the Brooklyn Half five days later, my calf pain was gone and my back and neck felt fine the entire time. My longest run since my marathon and my injury. And I felt great!

Today’s news

So that brings me to today and my initial motivation for my post. Today I saw the clinic trainer for the first time. I saw the doc first and she analyzed my gait again. Improvement! I am now loading the lazy side at 15-20%. Amazing. My back and neck have been feeling great, too.

Next I saw the trainer. We went over all my chiro stretches/exercises, PT stretches/exercises, and my marathon strength training. He was able to point to a few exercises that could have been aggravating my back. He also suggested some replacement exercises. He corrected my form on a few things to engage more muscles. (I wasn’t really doing anything wrong, but there were improvements that could be made.) He also complimented my plank form and mentioned that I was lean with good muscles. He took some video of me performing exercises and played them back so I could see my form. I’ve never seen myself workout! It was kind of cool to see my muscles being all strong!

He encouraged me to add back some of my strength work since I had dropped all of it when I started with this new doctor. I am so excited to be well enough to strength train again! I finally feel like I am closing in on full recovery and may actually be able to really train for this 50k. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic so that I am not too bummed if things start heading in the other direction again. Just being able to run 30 miles a week and do strength training is amazing though considering I wasn’t even able to run three and a half months ago. So grateful to have so much support not just from my doctors, acupuncturist, and now trainer, but all of the wonderful friends who have offered advice, an ear, and a shoulder. I feel so blessed and hope to look back on this time proudly after I cross the finish line of my first ultramarathon in October as a masters runner!