Slow Running

I love running. I’m back to it despite hip surgery. When I thought I’d never be able to run again, I cried. When we were told that surgery could make it possible for me to run again, I had to think for a long time about whether major surgery and up to a year of recovery time, with, of course, possible complications, was worth getting rid of pain and moving freely again. The final decision was not just about running; it was also about not living with constant pain. Running was a part of it, though.

I’m running again. I’ve never been fast, but I’m more comfortable with being slow this time. I’m running at a pace that doesn’t hurt me. I’m still doing intervals, so I don’t know where my pace will settle out. I was running at four miles per hour last time, though, so I’m sure I’ll get back to that, if nothing else. My cadence is settling at 180 steps per minute, my breathing is okay, I’m doing core and strength work, and when I’m done with a run, I feel tired and centered. I’m still a little worried that my hip will break, but every run that I come back from without pain lets that fear back off a bit.

Being slow does not mean I’m not a runner. It just means I’m a slow runner. I run three days a week and cross train with strength and core work two more days. I’m working my way back to a half marathon. I know myself well enough to need a goal, so I have picked one and signed up for it. Next February I’ll be running the second half marathon of my life. I won’t be fast, though I expect to be faster than I was when I ran the last one. I expect to be neither first nor last and I’m discovering that I’m quite happy, in this particular area of my life, to be in the middle of the pack, probably somewhere near the back.

I am a perfectionist. I’m learning to curb the tendency, but it still rears its ugly little head on a regular basis. Running helps. I know I won’t be fast. I have short, stubby little legs, but they’re strong legs and, once I’m comfortable with running without intervals again, I can keep going. While we were growing up, my dad compared me to a Clydesdale at one point because I just kept chugging along. I was never fast (and, to be honest, when I was younger I really didn’t like running at all) but once I have a reasonable level of fitness, I can just keep going. I have decided that I am happy, finally, with not being fast, but being steady. Stubbornness has always been one of my stronger traits, and now I am applying that to running. I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be myself, a runner, though not a fast one. I run. It makes me happier. It calms my brain. It eases my stress. It settles my anxieties. In running, I have found one of the very few places in my life where my body can work hard and my brain can stop niggling at everything. If I start worrying at a problem, I count my cadence as long as I can. By the time I’ve counted for a while, I’ve forgotten what was worrying me.

As far as I can tell, except possibly at the elite levels, other runners really don’t care how fast I’m going. They’re kind. We’re all part of a group of people who are just a tiny bit nuts. We go out and run in weird, uncomfortable weather. We push harder than we should sometimes. No matter how slow or fast, we know that bad days will be made better if we can just get a run in there somehow. I’ve run in races, slowly, and never had anyone say anything unkind. On the contrary, I get cheered on, all of us do, almost as much as the first runner. Sometimes more, actually, since the people ahead wait at the finish line to yell encouragement.

My run on Tuesday was immediately after a very windy night. I spent some of it jumping over downed tree branches and stepping on twigs. It was a very odd experience in the dark of 5 AM. It was a good run, which is defined as one that doesn’t leave me hurting afterwards, and the rest of the day, stressful as it was, went much more smoothly because of that run. Sometimes I struggle, especially when I run with other people who are much faster than I am. My approach to life is drastically better when I run, though, so even if I will always be a slow runner, I am a runner.

Sleep adjustments

For too long, I have allowed myself the luxury of having an awful day after not getting enough sleep. I’m working on changing my mindset, accepting that some days will be hard, and not allowing my exhaustion to color my interactions with everyone around me.

When Katja was tiny and she had a bad night, I could grumble and complain and it didn’t really have much of an effect on anyone except Xander. He knows me well enough to tell me to go take a nap or to go to bed early when I’m too tired. He also is good at ignoring my complete lack of a sense of humor when I’m short on sleep. Katja is bigger now, though. If I snap at her for something minor, it upsets her. I can accept getting irritated for something that really is a problem, like when she was in a foul mood and smacked me. I felt justified at sending her to her room for that one. If I end up in the depths of irritation because she won’t stop touching me, though, I am hurting her feelings because I’m letting myself react irrationally when she needs attention.

This isn’t to say that she always gets what she wants. I’m just trying to learn to moderate my responses when I know I’m having a bad day.

Yesterday was one of those days. Today is likely to be one, too. Katja is going through a phase where she has nightmares. Sometimes she’ll be fine for days. Sometimes, like this week, we’ll have a couple of nights in a row broken by a screaming toddler running into our bedroom. That gives me a huge rush of adrenaline which is not exactly conducive to getting back to sleep. I have learned to handle it at work and to not snap at co-workers, but I’ve let myself be crabby at home.

I think being a parent is forcing me to grow up in a lot of little ways. I’m capable of holding it together, of being careful of my reactions, and of being kind even when I don’t feel like it. If I’m willing to put forth that level of effort at work, I need to also be willing to do it for the people I love most in the world. If I need a break, I can ask for one, go wash my face, take a few deep breaths, and try again to be more careful of my words and my tone. If I can’t stand being touched for a few minutes, I can use my words, as we’re often encouraging Katja to do.

It’s easy to forget sometimes how much of an effect my words and tone have on the people around me. When I get tired, I get wrapped up inside my head. My ability to have empathy is severely limited. I can decide to break out of that, though. If I end up exhausted at the end of a long day, well, I would have been exhausted anyway. At least this approach won’t leave anyone else with hurt feelings.

I’m not going to be perfect at this. I woke up this morning, much earlier than planned, and realized I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep. I started feeling angry about being forced to be up, and then I realized (again) that my reactions are my choice. Yes, it’s a pain to be woken up an hour earlier than I expected. Yes, I’ll be tired today and my stomach will likely be upset because of sleep deprivation. How I handle it is my choice, though, and I’d prefer to be able to give Katja her kiss and hug at the end of the day and feel my usual upswelling of love for this little person rather than feeling residual irritation.

Today I will work on being very aware of how I’m reacting. Tomorrow is Saturday; if I still need a nap, I’ll take one then.

Job hunting

I’ve been job hunting in preparation for our move later this year. Job hunting is one of my least favorite activities, but there are a few things that are actually kind of fun this time.

I get to think about a new job. I’ve been with my current employer for about five and a half years. I have held three very different positions in that time and have enjoyed all three, but it’s rather nice to think about getting to learn new systems, adjust to a new culture, and getting to know new people. It’s always a little scary to start over, but the excitement definitely overrides the fear in this case.

The other nice thing is that I’m forced to look carefully at my strengths. I tend to focus on what needs work or adjustment, not on my best qualities. While job hunting itself is hard on my ego, being able to look at the positive changes I have wrought in my current job certainly helps.

Right now I’m feeling impatient. I want to move somewhere new. I won’t have to scrape ice off of the car this winter! Morning runs will never involve negotiating through piles of unshoveled snow! The new city is extremely bike-friendly, which will be a huge, positive change. We will also have access to a much wider variety of foods. I’m sure it won’t be perfect, since nothing ever is, but I am focusing on the positive aspects. I have lived here much too long and my wanderlust is making an appearance. We will be in the new city for at least five years, so we’re not becoming nomadic, but there is so much to explore there that I’m very excited. I have decided that Katja and I, at least, will do a lot of exploring, and Xander is completely welcome when he has time.

In terms of running, my intervals are now two minutes running and two minutes walking. This morning’s run was not the best, but it’s done. Since I’m doing most weeks twice, I know that I have another few runs exactly like this one to get more comfortable with the intervals. I always feel better after a run even if the run itself is miserable. I had forgotten that side effect; I will try to remember it the next time I feel like I am slogging.

Back to running!

Slightly over a year ago, I ran a half marathon. It was slow, but I did it. I got all the way through.

About ten months ago I had hip surgery for femoroacetabular impingement. It was not exactly pleasant. I spent a while on crutches, another while moving very carefully, a ridiculous amount of time at my physical therapist’s office (it’s surprising how easy one-legged squats get when you are doing them every day!), and a lot of time at the gym. It was winter for a lot of those months, so gym workouts weren’t bad, especially while I was terrified of slipping on ice. I swam. I worked on the treadmill and the elliptical trainer. I did lots and lots and lots of strength work. Finally I achieved my goal: 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer with no pain the next day. I was ready to run again!

Mentally ready and physically ready were different things, though. Rattling around in the back of my brain were the physical therapist’s warnings. “If you do too much, too fast, you can actually break the bone in your hip because right now it’s remodeling.” “Don’t fall on it if there’s any way you can avoid it.” This, of course, was being said to a klutz!

I finally decided I needed to just start. I rejoined the Facebook group for my 0-13.1 training. If you want to run a half marathon, start with Nicole. Her program is very good. I started reading about training, good runs and bad, the normal swirl of questions about various injuries and treatments, and ongoing discussions about shoes and tracking and other small things. I started remembering that I liked to run.

I got a new pair of Vibrams, since I’d run holes through my last pair, and a few new pairs of Injinji socks.

I started the program again.

I’m doing each week twice. It’s going to take me a long time to get back to a half marathon, but I will get there. The first couple of weeks were walking because I wanted to make sure I had actually healed enough to do this. I found myself facing my first run with a certain amount of trepidation. I set out my gear, got up early, packed myself into my Enell bra (if you are well endowed, these bras make sure nothing goes anywhere it shouldn’t!), got into running gear, did my warm up exercises, and started running.

I had decided that I was going to switch my cadence from I’m-not-paying-attention to 180 beats per minute. It was a little hard at first. I run with a metronome, 3/4 time so I’m not emphasizing the same foot every time, and I’m mostly keeping pace with it. I’ll be doing intervals for a while. The first weeks were 60 seconds jogging, 90 seconds walking. I’m working on 90 seconds jogging, 2 minutes walking right now and I’m very ready to be done with jogging by the end of the interval.

It has been surprisingly anticlimactic. My hip aches when I’m tired, which is hard since sleep is in somewhat short supply right now, but I haven’t had a problem with it while running. I’m working on the mantra from the book “Born to Run”: easy, light, smooth, and fast. I’m running faster than I did last time around and I’m happier with how it feels.

I was really angry when I found out I couldn’t run. I’m still struggling with remembering being able to run miles without much stress and being limited, now, to 90 seconds at a stretch. On the other hand, I’m running again, and I was afraid that might never happen.

I’m not all the way back, but I’m getting there.

Being enough

I spent ten days on my own in December. Xander and Katja went to visit his family in Arizona. I didn’t have enough paid leave to go, but it seemed like a good thing for Katja to get to spend time with her grandparents and aunts and uncles on that side of the family. I wanted to get a good start on organizing the shed, too, which is rather difficult work when a two-year-old is helping. I also, completely selfishly, wanted to get some sleep, which I did. Katja has good nights and bad nights, but she has had colds and ear infections lately so there were more bad nights than good ones. The lack of sleep had taken its toll and I was somewhat short tempered and not enjoying life very much.

I caught up on sleep. Life is much better now! I also cataloged 31 boxes, gave away nine bags of books to the VA hospital, another four bags of books to the library, and gave away some things we will not use again to a local charity. All of that was very good and made me feel accomplished, satisfied, and organized.

I also learned a few things. The primary one is that I can relax some. Between the two of us, Xander and I have the house running pretty smoothly. I like making lists, but I feel bad if I don’t finish the things on the list in the time frame I set for myself. It all gets done eventually, though, and adding guilt to my life is not useful. I can run laundry during the week and have more time on weekends that is stress-free to hang out with Katja. I have a job that doesn’t require me to bring work home; I should take advantage of that. Once Katja is in bed, if Xander is home, I can go to the gym for my 20 minute workout. I don’t have to get up really early to work out because I can’t work out for very long at the moment. Sleep is much more important than I thought, too. Life got a lot better after a couple of days of actually sleeping eight unbroken hours.

I’ve been thinking about all of the changes coming up in the next year. We’ll be moving somewhere, so there’s a new beginning in some ways. With any luck it will be somewhere it rains more than it does here. Katja is growing and changing, talking a lot, singing and dancing and climbing and running, and she’ll keep getting more interesting. I’m focusing on the good things by writing one good thing about every day because this helps me remember those things instead of dwelling on things that irritate me or make me angry. Yesterday, for instance, Katja and I went for a long, leisurely walk, had lunch, and walked back to the car. We watched ducks and geese, stomped in ice, and pushed lots of buttons. We didn’t hurry at all and it was incredibly nice.

Much of my life I’ve tried to be perfect. I was angry at myself for my SAT score, which was not as good as my older brother’s score, but I didn’t know that it was actually quite high. I got smacked upside the head by a couple of friends of mine for that one. There is always someone better, someone smarter, someone stronger or faster or something. In the past year I started getting through this. I ran a half marathon. I wasn’t anywhere near first, I wasn’t last, and my main goal was to finish, which I did. While I was lying on the couch recovering from hip surgery I thought a lot about my need to be perfect and organized and on top of everything. I realized, slowly, that it wasn’t actually making my life better. Yes, it’s good to be organized, but I was getting very stressed about it if things didn’t go exactly to plan, if I got behind in the morning or forgot something in Katja’s bag.

It’s okay. I’m enough. Xander and I together are enough.

When Xander went to England for ten days and I stayed home with Katja, I was worried that I wouldn’t be very good at being a single parent. It ended up being okay. We both missed him a lot, of course, but we didn’t get too frustrated at each other and we mostly enjoyed each other. While he and Katja were in Arizona, I missed them, but I also knew that they were fine and having fun.

I’m working on building a life with less unnecessary stress. It’s great if I lay out my clothes the night before, but if it doesn’t happen, I don’t have to get out of bed to handle it. It can wait. If I have a bad day, I can stay home that night instead of pushing and going to the gym anyway. I took a nap with Katja yesterday, about an hour and a half, and because we spent most of the day out of the house and I was busy last night, the kitchen wasn’t perfect this morning. I almost twitched about it, then remembered that no one really cares. It will get done tonight and it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It was more important to go for a walk with her, get some rest, then have fun running errands than it was to stress about whether there were a few dishes that needed to be done.

This year I will try to remember something my mother says a lot about parenting. “You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be good enough.” I’m not perfect. I never will be perfect. That’s okay, though. No one expects perfection except, perhaps, me, and I can work on getting over that. There is a website/series of interviews that is helping me here, which you might want to check out.

I hope this year you are enough for yourself.

FAI: update

Almost four months after the surgery and life is pretty good. I’m off crutches. I’ve been released from physical therapy. I’m no longer under a doctor’s care, though I have my physical therapist’s email if I have any questions. I have a list of exercises to do to get my left leg back to full flexibility and usefulness again.

I should, barring anything else going wrong, be running by the end of next year. Hopefully sooner, of course, but that’s a very safe bet.

At the moment, I’m allowed to walk half a mile and see how that goes. I did ten minutes on the elliptical trainer tonight and will see how my hip feels about that in the morning. I’m doing my balancing squats (on this thing with the round side down: http://amzn.to/1dzC7nI) every time I’m at the gym and I’m slowly getting better at them. I’m allowed to take Nyx for a walk, though I’ll wait until all of the ice has melted before I do that.

My hip still aches, especially when I’m tired. There’s one rotation that still hurts a lot to do, so I ease into that stretch every day and sit with the pain for a little while, then let up. I don’t push too hard, but I’m allowed to push a little bit.

I can only swim for about 20 minutes before getting tired. My stamina took a huge hit from not working out much for six months and it will take a while to work back up to it. After ten minutes on the elliptical tonight, I was ready to be done and sweat was dripping down my back. I am working hard on not being frustrated because now, at least, I am getting better.

I met a lady at the gym tonight named Sara. I was doing my balance squats and she was doing lunges; she had to move so I could get the balance ball out. I said I was doing physical therapy and she responded that she was supposed to do the same squats but didn’t always. I told her I was recovering from hip surgery and we got to talking a bit. Turns out she recently found out that she has FAI, too. I knew I was lucky to be diagnosed so quickly, but I didn’t know how lucky; she’s been putting up with this pain for six years. She said her doctor was very firmly against the surgery and wouldn’t do it if at all possible. Physical therapy isn’t helping. I gave her the name of my doctor who specializes in hips and has a lot of experience treating FAI; hopefully she will be able to get some help and eventually get it fixed soon. Living with constant pain is draining. I would hate to have lived with it for years without knowing what was wrong. The problem with FAI is that it can only be diagnosed with an MRI and some doctors don’t want to do one unless they have exhausted all other options. At least she knows what she has, now, which will help her figure out what to do next.

It’s nice being on the recovery side of the curve. I am feeling very lucky about where I was treated and who treated me. It took a couple of months to figure it out, but that’s a lot better than six years!

I will be running again eventually. Swimming butterfly may take longer. Bellydancing will take longer yet. Eventually, though, I will be able to do the things I love.

Our holiday feast!

We have created our own holiday to celebrate; ours is four days long and begins two weeks after Thanksgiving. We both enjoy cooking, so one thing that was important to us was to have a feast day where we can make delicious, beautiful food and share it with people we care about. This was our first year doing this and we had a wonderful time. I wanted to share it with all of you, too.

First, the menu. We printed it on nice paper. A lot of thought went into it and there were multiple drafts before we settled on these foods, but we were both very pleased with the outcome.

menu_cards1Xander put a lot of work into making this look nice; I love it.

The amuse-bouche was an idea that came from my mom, which she had at my aunt and uncle’s house. It was an excellent idea. The beets were roasted, then sliced, and softened goat cheese was spread between the layers. The colors came out beautifully. There was a concern that the chevre would turn pink, but we decided that we rather liked that idea. Beets are one of those foods that people either love or hate, so not everyone loved them, but they came out nicely. They were topped with creme fraiche.

amusebouche

The hors d’oeuvres were fun to make. Popovers look impressive but are quite easy to put together. These were especially good because a small cube of Gruyere cheese was put into the batter for each popover right before they went into the oven. The cheese melted into the popover, then extra grated cheese was added to the top just as they came out of the oven. The wine, a Pinot Grigiot, was good; I don’t know enough about wine to comment on it much.

horsdoeuvres

We both like soups, so this seemed like a nice addition to the meal. We have some very nice smoked Hungarian paprika which balanced the sweetness of the butternut squash. It was smooth and complex. The wine, a Gewürztraminer, was sweet to start and then dry.

entree

The trou normand was Xander’s idea. Pear and hazelnut salad with blue cheese. The blue cheese was softened by the nuts and the pears, and the sharpness of the endive was really good. It was quite beautiful; I am not sure that the picture caught it well.

trounormand

The main dish was vegetarian this year because one of our guests did not eat meat. I made the raviolis. It’s the first time I’ve made pasta. It was a pain, but once I got into the rhythm of it, I ended up really enjoying it. We have square cookie cutters, so I used those to make sure the size was consistent. The filling was mushrooms, onions, oregano, thyme, and a little bit of salt and pepper. Xander made the brown butter sage sauce. A dollop of creme fraiche and toasted pine nuts rounded it out. The wine was a burgundy, strong enough to stand up to the mushrooms and sage.

platprincipal

The fruit and cheese plate was the most beautiful of the courses, I think. Xander chose a wide assortment of cheese and we had fun choosing fruits that would both taste good and be pretty. The ice wine was sweet and cold. Many people don’t know much about ice wine, so this was the first time a few of our guests had ever tasted it.

fromageetfruits

The dessert was a rich chocolate cake. It may not look quite as impressive as some of the other courses, but the flavors were surprising – not just the chocolate, but the stout and the frosting, which was rich in its own right. A deep, dark flavor to end the main meal.

dessert

The final course did not get pictures. People picked coffee, tea, or hot chocolate (made with good chocolate and heavy cream, among other things) to drink. The biscotti was Xander’s idea and my creation: cardamom and candied ginger. Something to drink, something light and crunchy to finish off the meal, and another half an hour or so of chatting and enjoying excellent company.

We both enjoyed doing this. It will definitely happen again.

FAI: three months

I’m off of crutches!

I have been released from the care of the surgeon and am almost done with physical therapy. I asked my physical therapist to sit down with me for my last appointment and go through exercises for me to use to build up to running again. I know it’s likely to be up to a year before I can run, but I want to know what I can do and how and when I can push.

There’s still pain. When I’m tired, my hip gets tired and painful, too. I still can’t do a whole lot of breaststroke because rotation is still an issue. There are things I can’t do easily, like sit cross-legged. I can sit that way with a pillow under my left leg, at least for a little while. My exercises include single leg squats. They’re still hard. They may be hard for a while. Single leg lifts are getting easier, though.

Overall I’m much better. I’m better than I was before the surgery, finally. I feel like I’m almost back to mostly normal. It still hurts to do certain things, but most days, most of the time, I’m okay. I know (and am frustrated by the fact that) it will still be a long time before I am fully back to normal. I have a hard time with not being able to exercise. I’m getting to do a little, of course, but I get tired fast. I want to push, but I just can’t.

It’s better. It’s amazingly better. As the surgeon said, I was miserable when they first saw me and I’m actually happy now. That’s much, much better. It’s just hard to know how much longer it’s going to take before I can be as active as I’d like. It will get there, though!

FAI: 2.5 months

Big news: I’ve spent the past four days completely off of crutches! My hip still aches by the end of the day, but it’s more a gentle reminder to sit down than the crippling pain it used to be. I can pick up Katja now, too. I can’t carry her far without getting strong “Quit it!” pain, but at least I can pick her up if I need to.

I was very concerned with the pain I was still feeling with the front leg lifts. Everything else seemed to be working out well, getting stronger, less pain, all the normal things, but that one exercise was still really hard for me. I asked the physical therapists to help and they gave me a bunch of new exercises (including single leg squats and single leg bridges – ouch!) which, while difficult and painful, did what I needed. I can do the front leg lifts now and only have an ache at the end, which is a lot better.

I was out with Katja today and we were watching people jump up and down. Katja joined in quite happily. My hip twinged at the thought of it, which I know quite well is psychosomatic but made it very clear that I’m not all the way better yet. Swimming is getting easier, though breaststroke still has limitations on how far I can go using the kick as well as the arms. That particular movement still causes pain. Other than that direction, I don’t have flexibility problems in physical therapy right now, which is good.

I’m healing. I’m back to almost mostly normal. I won’t be running for a long time yet; even walking fast is not a good idea right now. I am getting to the point of being able to swim, though, and I can bike for ten minutes at a stretch, which is a start. I can’t twist or turn in certain ways and I sometimes catch myself right before I move my leg wrong, but it’s clearly improving.

I think it will be a while before I take the 130 pound dog out for a walk, though.

Anniversary

Seven years ago, Xander and I got married. I still think it’s the best decision I have ever made.

Over the last seven years we have been through wonderful and awful things. I don’t feel much like detailing them at the moment, but it has certainly been an interesting experience. Through it all, we have managed to face the world together, bound by love, bad puns, silly jokes, and a deep appreciation of and for each other.

I’m happy. Much of my life, I have struggled just to get to content. Anytime I stop and think about it these days, though, I’m actually happy. Life isn’t utopian, if course, but even on my worst days Xander can make me laugh. Watching him with Katja is amazing; he’s a wonderful father and she adores him.

He’s not perfect. Neither am I. I won’t claim that we are perfect together, either, but the life we share is a good one and the love we share is the best thing I have ever experienced.

Happy anniversary, Xander. Here’s to many more years of silliness, love, and putting up with each others’ foibles.