‘Tis but a scratch

As athletes we know that the mind and body are capable of more than most realize or acknowledge. We know what it feels like to push ourselves when our body starts to ache and our mind tells us to quit. We pride ourselves on being able to just “suck it up” and get the job done. These are great qualities that help us to achieve our goals, but sometimes that same tenacity and perseverance can lead to trouble.

As a coach I often have conversations with athletes about the “niggles” that pop up here and there. It is important to be able to accurately assess the severity and determine whether it is just a little tightness that can be worked out at home or whether it is the start of something more serious that is or might turn into injury. I will say that the best defense is a strong offense, meaning focusing on prevention (pre-hab) is one of the best things we can do to help remain injury free. In cases where pain does arise, here are some tips to help assess and address the issue.

RICE is your friend
R.I.C.E. which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation is typically a good first line of defense for just about anything. Especially the rest part. Don’t push through pain. Try to manage initial inflammation (and pain) with ice, compression, and elevation.

Stretching and rolling is not a cure all
Stretching warm muscles and rolling is advisable for tightness, but NOT advisable for pulls, strains, and tears because it could cause more damage and inflammation. If you can’t tell the difference, see a healthcare professional before doing either.

Sharp pain, swelling, and numbness or tingling are red flags
For sharp pain, bruising, anything with significant swelling, or numbness and tingling you should see a healthcare professional as soon as possible. If you have pain during normal activities, pain that keeps you up at night, or pain that is significant enough that you need to take something for it, you should probably see a doctor sooner rather than later–meaning make that call within a couple days if pain isn’t subsiding.

Act sooner rather than later
If pain is not getting better with complete rest after a few days, consider seeing a healthcare professional for evaluation. Do not try to run through pain unless you are keen on adding time to your recovery.

Fool me once…
If you have pain that comes back after being “healed” by rest, see a healthcare professional. Don’t try to deal with a chronic issue yourself. See someone and figure out the cause. The more times you trigger the same injury the more likely you are to do permanent damage.

Don’t waste time
If you don’t start to see progress with a healthcare professional after a couple of weeks, get imaging, get a second opinion, or both. Don’t spend months with someone who isn’t helping you heal. Don’t worry about offending the doctor. This is about YOU and your recovery. You have to be an advocate for yourself.

They tried to make me go to rehab…
If you are seeing a doctor who treats structural injuries (ortho, podiatrist, etc) and not a movement specialist (physical therapist), make sure to see the latter once the former “releases” you. Your initial injury may be healed, but you most likely will need some attention to help with any muscle imbalance and compensation patterns that developed while you were injured. This part is the most often overlooked piece and the reason why many athletes will end up in an injury spiral, in my humble opinion.

Treat the cause not just the symptoms
Maybe most importantly of all, once the initial acute reaction has resolved be sure to figure out the cause and treat that. (Unless the cause was just some freak accident.) Otherwise you are very likely going to end up injured again. I see this over and over again with athlete friends. If you don’t treat the underlying cause you are just going to end up back in the same place over and over again. Again, the more times you trigger the same injury the more likely you are to do permanent damage.

As a coach it can be challenging to get an athlete to admit they need help from a healthcare professional and make that first appointment. Once they finally make it into the office, I typically hear from them “I wish I would have done this sooner!” Making an appointment to see someone can be challenging mentally because it can feel like you are admitting that something is really wrong and that you may need to cut back on training for awhile. Let me offer you this alternate perspective, though. The sooner you go to a pro (ortho, podiatrist, physical therapist) the sooner your recovery and rehab can start and the sooner you can get back to training. Worst case scenario you go and they immediately tell you to rest and that recovery period starts at that moment instead of being delayed for weeks because you were stubborn. Best case scenario you go in and they say it should heal on it’s own and you have the peace of mind of knowing that. It really is a win, win.

I’m not trying to say that you should run to the doctor every time you have a little niggle. What I am saying is that it is important to properly assess and to not delay that hard decision. Heading to a healthcare professional for assistance shouldn’t feel like defeat, it should feel optimistic because you are getting help.

Have you ever put off heading in to see someone for something and regretted it later? Would love for you to share your experiences!


Jelly donuts

I’ve been quiet lately. After my second failure to launch (DNS) 50k at the end of May, I just really needed a break both physically and mentally. I took some time off from fitness entirely. Sometime during that month off I decided that I wasn’t going to spend this summer training again. I’ve put in a lot of hard work in the past 3 summers, suffered through some disappointing setbacks, and I’m just tired. I’m tired of trying to fit in the miles during the week, tired of spending an entire day of my weekend training, tired of missing birthday parties, and other such events. I miss my friends. I miss being invited to things. I’m really over talking about training or my injuries and realizing as I am speaking that I am the most annoying and boring person on the planet when I talk about these things (and only these things). Anywho, I debated writing this blog, but I know that future Brandi is going to be pissed if I don’t. So here I am.

I got an MRI on my lower back on Friday and today I got the results.

L4-L5 and L5-S1 broad based central disc protrusions, moderate degenerative changes in associated facet joints, mild stenosis and decreased disc space.

Translation: The jelly donuts in my spine are a little squishy and about to spill their filling. The impending doom is compressing some of my nerves which could and probably does explain some if not all of the nerve issues in my feet.

So I have mixed emotions. I want to be so angry with myself for not getting an MRI back in the winter of 2015 when all this started. Who knows what kind of damage I have done with continuing to train for two 50ks. Who knows how much sooner I could have been recovered from this damn jelly donut situation had I only had a clear picture from the start. But the past is not something I can change so now I’ve said it and I’m not going to focus on it. It’s time to just move forward.

I’m also kinda bummed that this isn’t something that will heal. Like ever. While it is true I may be able to get strong enough to be asymptomatic, my donuts are forever screwed. They will be looming like that one grey cloud off the coast during your beach day. But we can’t let that grey cloud control us, right? Right. So we continue to barbecue and hope it doesn’t rain. As a Florida girl from a family of southerners, I do love me the beach and some barbecue.

But the good far outweighs those potentially minor negatives. As I mentioned, I am tired of training. I want to spend my summer with friends and not feeling pressured about getting out the door before it feels like I am running on the sun. I’ve started with a new trainer that I really like and am establishing good trust with and am really enjoying getting stronger and learning how to lift. He is also working with my awesome chiropractic doctor on my strength protocol. (I feel so super blessed to have such amazing, smart, and caring people taking care of me, btw.) I went back to the rock climbing gym last week and got to spend time doing something I love that I haven’t done in many years with a friend that I haven’t gotten consistent quality time with since before she moved to Berlin for a year. I’ve also been working with a nutritionist–also my chiropractor and voice of reason in big training decisions for over a year–to help me safely reduce my body fat and get me back down to a more reasonable weight. (I know weight can be controversial, but I have my own personal reasons based on health and injury prevention.)

The thought of spending the next few months getting stronger and leaner, lifting, and bouldering sounds like an amazing vacation to me. I think that when and if I go back to endurance running, my approach will be much different. And I’m really excited to take all that I am learning from my focus on nutrition and strength back to my athletes. I would love to run another a marathon some day and would love to tackle that 50k distance, but for the first time probably ever in my life I feel patient. Like Granddaddies says, “Time, patience, and perseverance conquers all things.” I’ve always struggled with the patience part, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.

Ramble on

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.



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.


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.



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.


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.

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.

What would you do?

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 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!


How injury is making me a stronger athlete

So we all know the story by now, right? It started with a pain in the neck about two weeks after the marathon and then a sneeze at the beginning of January that set me back again. It’s been a crazy few months trying to balance my recovery–physical therapy, acupuncture, rest–with the rest of my life including a challenging project at work and several other leadership position responsibilities in other groups. Add to that being a new coach with 2 athletes and I have plenty on my plate!

So how in the heck is this injury making me stronger?

  1. Being injured is a tough mental game. And I’m not just talking about the frustration of dropped races, missed runs with friends, and feeling like all my training gains from my marathon training cycle are withering away. Not being able to workout and especially run, changes your brain. No workout endorphins, no familiar form of stress relief, and a total disruption of routine will have physical effects, for sure. Add a little bit of a feeling of a loss of identity on top of uncertainty of when full recovery will happen and training can resume and there was a lot to wade through all at once. It wasn’t all bad and I did enjoy my social life a bit more, but I did find myself feeling more stressed than usual. In the past couple weeks I have definitely noticed a mental shift as I learned how to adapt. Maybe not so coincidentally, my recovery had a sharp upturn in progress when than mental shift happened!
  2. Consistency in strength and conditioning. During marathon training, I was getting in strength and conditioning about twice a week for at least 45 minutes each session. My physical therapy calls for 10-15 minutes of stretching every morning and evening with a few minutes here and there throughout the day. Additionally, I have 30-45 minutes of strength exercises to get in every day: single leg balances, 60 squats, 60 weighted lunges, 60 single leg bridges, several different core exercises in multiple sets, some weighted upper body work. It was a lot to keep up with. But I learned that I can do strength work every day and it’s not too much. It was also great mental training on the days I just didn’t want to do it. This was especially true for days that work erupted or other life stuff seemed to compete. There were days I had to dig really deep into the motivation well to get that strength workout in! And the results are apparent both in my increased strength and my body composition.
  3. Adding cross-training to the mix. During marathon training, I was also supposed to be getting in 1-2 non-impact cardio (spinning or elliptical) workouts each week. I hate the gym and riding my bike in the city freaks me out. Needless to say, I made it out for 2 cycling sessions at the start of my training cycle then quickly forgot about the 1-2 cross-training days. My physical therapist only wanted me doing elliptical and walking on a treadmill for awhile so I had to work past my gym anxiety if I wanted to recover. I signed up for the rec center gym around the corner from my apartment and have been twice in the past week. When I get back to training, I plan to keep the elliptical and stair climber in my routine at least twice a week.

    I’ve been cleared for elliptical and short run/walk intervals so this morning I signed up for 6 months at the local gym and hopped on the elliptical. Followed that up with 30 minutes of strength and 15 minutes of yoga/stretch. I feel like a totally new person. Not training has been TOUGH. Much tougher than actually training!
  4. Letting go of expectations. For the first 2 months of injury, I was pushing to get back to training–sometimes to the detriment of my recovery. After the sneeze, I resigned myself to taking my time and removing expectations. My desire to plan my entire year’s race schedule (including goal times) faded and I became comfortable with the idea of just getting better and being able to run short distances. My physical therapist told me I can probably train for a Fall marathon, but I’m not even looking. I know there is still plenty of time to figure it out. I can figure out my goals as my recovery progresses. There is no need to declare my goals months or even weeks in advance.
  5. Getting back to basics — and appreciating them. A few years ago, I never thought I would run again. That first and second year back I was just so excited about every small goal — a 5 mile run, finishing my first half marathon. Last year I had a really great year full of PRs, heavy training, and a marathon. When I crossed the line at NYC Marathon, I felt like a real runner and athlete. I was so proud that I felt great for most of the race and was able to make my last mile my fastest. I was ready to push myself to the next, bigger goal. Being injured and not being able to do anything for awhile has reminded me of what a gift it is to be able to run. (Or just workout, for that matter.) To have a body that is able and mind that is willing to move is truly a blessing.
First time running since New Year’s Eve. Only 2-3 lanes cleared on the track after last weekend’s storm. This was mostly walking, only 10 of the 30 minute workout was running and it was only 1 minute intervals. I’ll start increasing my run intervals until I get to 30 minutes of solid running again. It felt great just to be on the track and moving a little!

I’m slowly getting back to running with run/walk intervals and hope to be up to 30 minutes of solid running in the next week or two. Then I will start slowly building my mileage through March. No speed work until at least April, but I will be able to run both Broad Street Run (10 mile) and the Brooklyn Half in May. My physical therapist let me know this week that she is hoping we can wrap up our work together in the next week or two, but encouraged me to continue with acupuncture which I am more than okay with. I don’t know how soon I will go back to group runs, though. Running with friends on New Year’s Eve was fun, but also stressful as I felt the need to keep up with them. I think I will continue to fly solo for awhile until I get back into a comfortable pace for myself.

I’ll save the updates about my new role as coach for another post. However, if you are interested in a personalized training plan based on Jack Daniels (VDOT) philosophy do let me know!

It was just a sneeze

It was Sunday morning and I was getting ready for my longest run since injuring my back and neck–a little 5 miler after which I would meet up with my run crew for brunch. I was bent over the sink, brushing my teeth, when it snuck up on me. I sneezed and immediately knew something was wrong. I was paralyzed in the position for a moment and afraid I wouldn’t be able to stand back up.

But let’s back up. If you’ll recall, about two weeks after my marathon I suffered a back and neck sprain. It was a perfect storm of a few things that lead to it including but not limited to an already tight back from marathon training, being sick in bed for several days, running a trail race in cold conditions, then hanging out for hours in the bitter cold. I saw a physical therapist a couple of days after the race and have been seeing her ever since.

Through November I worked mostly at home so I could stand while I worked. I stretched twice a day and did some short, easy running twice a week. In December, I was able to add some strengthening exercises including some light weights and up my running to longer (4-4.5 miles) easy running three times a week. I was still in pain pretty much all the time, but it was significantly less and there were days when the pain was barely noticeable. Last week my physical therapist told me I could start adding stairs and hills to my training and try going a little longer. She was optimistic that I would be able to run (not race) a 10 mile race that I am signed up for in mid-January.

Another half mile added to my distance was an awesome Christmas present. Getting stronger and really hoping my PT let’s me run 3x next week. Ready to get back to training!

On New Year’s Eve I ran the Midnight Run in Central Park. It was a packed scene and we decided not to drop our bags. My pack wasn’t very heavy (it only contained a jacket), but it wasn’t a running pack so I ended up holding on to the straps the entire time. By the end of the hilly race, my back and shoulders were pretty sore. Disappointingly, I decided to skip my New Year’s Day hike the next day to allow my body to recover. By the next day, Saturday, I was feeling better and able to do my strengthening exercises and on Sunday morning I was ready to run my 5 miler. Until that sneeze.

Happy New Year from Central Park! Rang in the new year with these babes.

Less than 24 hours after that dreaded sneeze, I was in my physical therapist’s office getting a massage, ultrasound, and muscle stimulation. My doctor told me that my back is spasming, likely because I injured a disc during the sneeze. For the next few days I am to stand instead of sit as much as possible, do my stretches multiple times a day, and ice my back. And no running. I’ll see her again on Friday to assess how I am doing.

I’ve had friends express concern about me not having an MRI or X-ray. I trust my therapist and from what I have learned from my own research and she confirmed this morning, the protocol that we would follow even if I got an MRI or X-ray and they saw something would be much the same. My pain, while significant, isn’t something that I want to take pain killers for and my therapist is fine with that. The only thing that might be different if I went to specialist is the option for surgery, but typically a therapy approach is followed first and surgery is only used a last resort. At this point, I don’t think surgery is a route to consider. My therapist and I are both optimistic that this can be healed naturally and as long as I show improvement that will likely be the case. This sneeze situation is coincidental to my current injury and my therapist believes that in a few days the spasming will subside and we can get back to my previous recovery protocol.

The fact is that for this type of injury it will take about 2 years before I am fully healed. That doesn’t mean I will be in pain or active recovery for that long, but it will be that long before the risk of relapse isn’t significantly higher. During that time (and for the rest of my life if I want a healthy spine) I will have to keep a good maintenance routine of stretching and strengthening. This would be the case even without injury as I start to run longer and more technical trail. The fact of the matter is that I am older and have some degeneration, have had poor posture most of my life, and I haven’t been taking care of my back. My massage therapist repeatedly told me through marathon training that I needed to see someone because my spine motility wasn’t very good and my back muscles were always very tight. And in regards to stretching and strengthening I did very little to help myself. Even if I hadn’t strained my back and neck, the sneeze while bent over could have had the same impact because of the condition of my spine and back strength.

So what does this mean for my running? Well, no running for now. I am going to give up my spot in the mid-January race and focus on recovery for as long as it takes. At some point, I will be able to run again. It may take weeks or months to get back to it with any kind of real schedule and I don’t even know how long it will take to get back to technical trail or long distance. Those things don’t really matter right now, though. I know that when I am able to get back out there, I will just be happy to be running. I have always seen running as gift that I am so grateful for. Less than 3 years ago, I didn’t think I could do it anymore. This time I know that I can. It is just going to take some time.

A pain in the neck

After the New York City Marathon, I took a week off of running as dictated by my training plan. I was a little sore for the first couple of days, but by end of week I was ready to get back to running. Unfortunately, I picked up a bug and ended up sick and in bed for the entire weekend plus a couple of days the following week. By mid-week the second week after the marathon, I was back in the office and ready to get back to running despite some glute and hip pain that seemed to surface out of nowhere early in the week.

Headed to Tiffany’s to get this beautiful marathon memento after my first day back in the office.

Wednesday evening that second week, I noticed the right side of my neck was sore. I assumed that it was probably just a little stiff from spending several days in bed, lying on my side, watching movies on my laptop. On Thursday morning I felt fine and headed out for a short easy 30 minute run. I was super excited for a 7 mile trail race that I was heading to with friends on Saturday. My neck pain returned that evening and my hip and glute still seemed to be a little tight and aggravated, too. I stretched and rolled and tried to get things relaxed for the trail race.

The trail race on Saturday was fun. I was there with many of trail running group and the course was lovely. I was a little surprised at how tired I felt, but my neck wasn’t hurting and my glute didn’t seem any more tight than it had been before some of my marathon training runs. I knew the distance may be a little too much to take on so soon especially since I hadn’t been running so I decided not to push too much. I was happy with my race and afterward I stuck around with my trail friends who were volunteering. That evening my back and neck started to really hurt and I got a little concerned, but I decided to give it a day or two to see whether it was just normal post-race soreness since I hadn’t been on trail in months.

Having fun at the Black Rock Races

By Monday morning, my back and neck weren’t doing any better and I decided that I should go get checked out to rule out anything spinal or nerve related. I was lucky that a friend and team mate have a family member that is a physical therapist and they fit me in that afternoon. She didn’t think there was any spinal or nerve injury, but felt that I would need some therapy to recover. She thinks I likely aggravated my neck while sick in bed then really exacerbated it during the trail race and hanging out in the cold after. She gave me some exercises to do with my foam roller and we set up an appointment for later in the week.

That was almost three weeks ago. I saw her a few times before heading to Florida to visit my family for Thanksgiving. She had told me I was okay to run short and easy so while I was there I ran a few times. I got in 12 miles that week via four short 3 mile runs. I took my foam roller to Florida and kept up with my exercises. I felt pretty good despite having a little bit of a relapse the evening of Thanksgiving. I had helped chop and cook that morning and aggravated my neck and back so badly that I laid on the floor that evening for relief. By the time I got back to see my PT last week, I was feeling a bit better, but knew that I had regressed a bit. Sure enough, when I saw my PT she asked me to cut back on the running — only twice a week for no more than 30 minutes of easy running. And no 15K race with my friends on the 12th. She also told me that it would be at least 3-6 more weeks before I was recovered. I was devastated.

Was excited to get a few runs in while in Florida.

I haven’t run since my last PT session on Monday. The week was packed with after-work events and to be honest I was so bummed by the news that I had regressed that I couldn’t bring myself to get out the door. My motivation for doing my PT-prescribed exercises dwindled, as well, but I kept up with them.

Recovery takes time and rest. I think the worst part is feeling like anything I do could potentially set me back. I have to be careful about not only what cross-training I do, but little things like crossing my legs, how long I sit or stand, my posture, carrying heavy things, and I have to be mindful to not tense my shoulders, neck, or back which is difficult when they are aggravated. I have been working from home because sitting at my desk at work all day aggravates my back and neck so much. (I have a standing desk on order that should arrive next week.) There is never a moment when I am not in some kind of pain. Sometimes it just an uncomfortableness and others I just want to lay down on a heating pad. When it’s that latter, I get really bummed that I may have set myself back in some way. For me, being injured is much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I can work through pain. I’m a pretty tough cookie when it comes to that. Being constantly concerned that I am regressing is really challenging.

I am proud of myself for keeping up with the PT exercises especially while on vacation and during the past week when I had an after-work event almost every evening. Here is what she has me doing:

1 minute single leg balance with running arm motion (both legs)
30x standing hip abductions (both legs)
30x  standing hip hikes (both legs)
30x single leg bridges with 15 second hold on last one (both legs)
30x marching crunches (both legs)
30x reverse crunches (increasing these until I have sore abs next day, up to 45 wo soreness)
10x cat/cow stretch
3x child’s pose (center, left, right)
3x 30 second door frame stretches
10 second neck stretches (both sides)
2x shoulder/chest stretches
10x upper back rolling

It takes me about 30 minutes each night. I do the stretches in the morning, too, along with the single leg balance. My PT identified a slight muscle imbalance on the side that my glute/hip pain is happening so I do extra exercises on that side. I can say that the feeling of accomplishment getting these done every day is great. And I am excited that I will be returning to running stronger and more balanced. By the time I get back to training, it may be over 2 months from the marathon which I try not to think about. Just want to focus on getting better and stronger. I am also hoping to use this down-time to study for and take my coaching certification test. And I still need to find my A races for 2016. My 40th birthday is knocking on the door, too. There should be plenty to keep me distracted.

Go your own way

After almost a month off, I tried to get back to running with two super slow and short runs only to have my calf pain return. I was frustrated and ready to head to physical therapy. But something inside of me felt like I should give myself chance and I decided that for two weeks I would try to get back on track on my own with consistent conditioning sessions and a slow return to running. I am almost to my two weeks and I am happy to report that not only has my injury not returned, but tonight I had a great run.

In the past 10 days I have gotten in five solid conditioning sessions and 3 slow and short runs (2mi, 3mi, 3mi, in Z2). The conditioning sessions have included reverse plank, side planks, forearm plank, clams, calf raises, squats, glute bridges, and one leg balance. I have also been doing calf stretches multiple times a day. Each of my runs has been followed with my typical 20 minutes of yoga. I have seen consistent and significant improvement in my pace in Z2 over the past 5 runs this month and my fitness returning more quickly than I anticipated.

I am cautiously optimistic that I am back on track for training. And pretty proud that I was able to get myself back on track with my own program, if that is the case!

On the run
I’ve missed this so much

Recovery and the holidays

Well, it’s been almost two weeks since my last race. After the race, I knew I needed a break and that it would likely be at least 7-10 days before I should run again. I shot an email to the sports doc and never heard back so Dr. Google has been my guide during recovery.

I got a little conditioning in last week, but then did nothing over the week and the beginning of this week. Between holiday prep and not being able to run or climb it was difficult to find motivation to keep up the normal conditioning routine. For the past two nights I have been massaging my calves and doing some calf raises (3×10). They are feeling okay, not too sore, and I think I am ready to up the exercises. According to Dr. Google, once I can do three sets of 20 calf raises without pain I am ready to incorporate some running back into my training. So the plan is to massage and slowly up the exercises until that happens. I also want to get back on track with the rest of my conditioning and possibly throw in some (flat and fairly slow) cycling. I contacted my climbing gym to have them freeze my account until I return so there is no rush to get back on the walls aside from a 10-pack of visits that I purchased to another gym that expires at the end of February.

It’s interesting how not training will affect you. For the first week, I had all kinds of little aches and pains in different places. I have enough experience to realize that those weren’t real injuries, but my body healing itself. For the past week, my body has felt good aside from that melting feeling you get when you aren’t training. Mentally, I was okay for the first 7 days or so. After a week though, I really started to miss running and climbing. Being off of work for the past week hasn’t helped that much either. One of my favorite things to do on days off is to day run or climb. The weather has been so gorgeous excluding Christmas Eve which adds to the longing, I am sure. But I want to do this right and not come back too soon.

I want get some good base training and cross training in over the Winter so that I am strong for marathon training next Summer. I am even considering a personal trainer. According to how base training goes, I am also considering taking on a running coach. I already have a cardiologist referral from my doctor to get my stress EKG and a full panel ordered to make sure I am healthy enough internally to take on this distance. By the time I run next November, it is likely I will have an entire support team! I have plenty of friends that took on a marathon with self-training. There is something about this distance though that makes me feel like some support is a smart thing especially given my injury-prone past.

Luckily I have plenty to distract me while injured. I had friends visit last weekend then spent the beginning of the week doing holiday related things. Next week I’ll ring in the new year with friends which I am very much looking into. My best friend wants me to take her climbing for her first time so I am hoping my calves are up to it by then. If not we will have to settle for a gentle hike which hardly seems like settling!

Hope everyone had a lovely holiday and has a wonderful new year!

Happy Holidays! xo Brandi
Happy holidays! xo Brandi