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Physical therapy

If I have to go through this, I suppose I might as well document it.

I saw another doctor today, Dr. Z. He’s a surgeon who has a lot of experience dealing with hips. I am assigned to do physical therapy twice a week for the next month and then I have another appointment. Sometimes physical therapy can strengthen the muscles around the hip enough that surgery isn’t needed. I’m not laying bets. I will do my best, I will work hard, but I have a very hard time believing that I will be able to run again with a malformed bone in my hip, even if the malformation isn’t big.

I have what’s called a cam impingement. The femoral head, the ball of the ball and socket joint, isn’t round. I also have a labral tear, which is probably where most of the pain is coming from. The doctor said that a lot of people who have hip impingement don’t ever know about it; it only becomes an issue once people exercise hard. I guess that’s a good thing since it means that I was actually working hard enough to make a difference, but that’s not the best thing when working really hard causes damage instead of making my life better. I also am having some issues with pinched nerves, which is not terribly pleasant. None of it at this point is awful, but I’m not where I want to be.

I can’t just get up and run. I got used to that. Now I get up, get changed, get in the car, and drive to the pool. I’m very happy that there’s a 24 hour pool here, but there is something limiting about a pool, about swimming back and forth for as long as my hip puts up with it. I want to be able to run in the cool air before the summer day heats up. I have run in the winter and the spring, but not the summer, and it would be nice to have the memory of the cool mornings to hold me through the heat of the day. I haven’t been running long, but it has hooked me. I think that may be even more true because I know now how much it matters to me. If I’d just been able to keep running, it wouldn’t have been a big deal and I might have tapered off some. Now, though, even if I never run another half marathon, even if I can only run short distances, I want to run again. It matters to me.

Physical therapy is a beginning. At least they know what’s wrong, which is good, and I can swim and work out, and at some point I’ll be able to consistently walk without a crutch.

Staring down the dreaded what-ifs

Ever since running the half marathon, I’ve been having hip problems. At first the doctor thought it was a stress fracture in my left hip due to my symptoms. An X-ray and an MRI ruled those out and I was left with tendonitis and cartilage damage. I didn’t know what to think about the cartilage damage, but tendonitis is something I’ve dealt with before. It requires rest and icing, basically, and it eventually goes away and I work with someone to balance out the stressors on that tendon.

After two and a half weeks on crutches, the pain wasn’t gone. I had two kinds of pain, which was odd. One was down the front of my thigh and the other felt like it was inside the joint. I was in pain pretty much constantly. I was allowed to swim breaststroke and sidestroke. No running, no biking (that hurt a lot!), and no walking.

At my follow up visit, the doctor said that the cartilage damage was due to something called hip impingement. This basically means that the ball of the ball and socket joint is not shaped correctly, so when it is overused (in, say, half marathon training) it can start grinding up cartilage and pinching other things around the hip joint. I was expecting to be told that I needed to be patient and the tendonitis would improve, and instead I learned that my hip didn’t develop quite right and that it’s been damaged.

I made an appointment to see someone who is even more of a hip specialist so we can go over my options. As far as I can tell from limited reading, my options are to live a more sedentary lifestyle or get my hip surgically repaired.

I’m not very good at sedentary, especially not after feeling as good as I did during the half marathon training. My brain works better when I’ve been exercising. On the other hand, I’m terrified of general anesthetic; my two experiences with it have not been good. Of course, staying sedentary would be a lifelong result and the anesthetic would only last an hour or two and then I’d be done with it.

This decision shapes how I look at my life and how I want to live the rest of my life. I have a lot of questions that won’t be answered until later this month when I meet with the specialist. In the meantime, I’m on one crutch as pain requires and I’m working on wrapping my head around not running for a while, at least, and getting as much out of the gym (open 24 hours and it has a pool!) as possible despite not using my left leg.

I have been very crabby and tired because of a combination of the pain I’m dealing with and the stress of what-ifs. I made a decision this morning that I hope will help. I’ll exercise as much as possible five days every week, since two rest days worked very well during my training. If it turns out that surgery is required, I will have some lead time, I’m sure, since this isn’t an emergency. I’ll work with a personal trainer to get myself as strong and in shape as I can before the surgery so recovery will (hopefully) not be too bad. If I don’t require surgery, I’ll have to start from there depending on what I’m allowed to do to keep from injuring myself more. I don’t have to plan for anything until my appointment, I don’t have to worry about it; all I have to do is keep exercising so I don’t snap at people unnecessarily or feel unhappy and awkward all day.

This morning I swam 50 minutes. Last week the longest I managed was 30 minutes, but this week I was smarter. When my leg got tired, I just used my arms and let my legs drag. It isn’t much, but it’s a start. It’s good for my mental health, too.

Half marathon recap

On June 8, I ran my first half marathon. I made some mistakes, but my primary goal was to finish before they closed the course and I managed that. I’m pretty happy about it.

I didn’t quite know what to expect. Despite the fact that I knew a lot of people were running, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of human beings crammed into the park waiting for the race to start. I was there witha  friend who is a serious runner and she was completely calm. I realized that I needed to consider races as events rather than as long runs, since the feeling is hugely different. My long runs are solitary times, not masses of people.

I started out too fast. It’s a rookie error, a normal thing. I wasn’t watching my watch and I was witha  friend. It was much warmer than I expected – Alameda doesn’t usually get up to 80 degrees this early in the year – so I was drenched in sweat. I kept up with my friend through mile 8. We talked about anything that came up, nothing terribly important, but it was nice to have time to catch up. At mile 8 I decided I wanted to go at my pace for a while. Her overall pace was faster than my normal pace, but she was doing intervals and I generally just jog, though slowly. I jogged ahead of her for two miles and then she caught up. By mile 10 I was dripping sweat and tired. At mile 11 I ran out of water and food.

There was a water stop at mile 12, so it wasn’t completely awful, but it made the last three miles a lot harder. I told my friend to go on ahead. I was sore, more than I expected to be. I didn’t have blisters (well, none that I noticed – there was one on my toe that I found later in the day) and I didn’t feel awful, but I was out of energy. I walked much of the last part of the race and ran when I could. Xander and Katja met me about half a mile from the end, so I jogged that bit while they paced me; that was really very nice. I got across the finish line, they gave me a medal (it said “I ran for chocolate” which amused me no end), and we got a few pictures. I was, in a word, knackered.

I’m very proud of myself. I didn’t finish fast, but I finished a half marathon. I worked hard to get here, and my two favorite people in the world were there to meet me at the end.

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Surfer’s ear

I went to the doctor today to deal with the cold that I’ve had for two and a half weeks now.

He did the usual asking about symptoms and looking in my mouth, nose, and ears. He asked if I grew up near the ocean and if I’d surfed a lot. I said I swam a lot; I forgot to mention that I spent a fair amount of time scuba diving in very cold water, too. He said that when I start losing my hearing, it will be because I have surfer’s ear, or exostosis, but the good part of that is that I can get my hearing back with surgery.

I was somewhat more focused on the possibility of pneumonia, the need for X-rays, and the doctor saying that if I do have pneumonia I won’t be able to run my half marathon in a few weeks. I did manage to ask a couple of questions about surfer’s ear, though.

Apparently exposure to cold water and wind causes the bones in the ear to grow. This, in turn, can cause increased ear infections and eventually close off the ear canal. It can be dealt with surgically, and I’m very glad of that. Apparently it isn’t too bad yet, not requiring surgery, and I still have my hearing, but it was a somewhat startling diagnosis, as I had never even heard of surfer’s ear before today.

I am amazed that water and air can cause bones to grow. I tend to think of bones, at this point in my life, as fairly static, not growing or shrinking.   All of a sudden there are little bones in my ear that are growing and changing and I knew nothing about it.

Life is very weird sometimes. I learned something new today, anyway, and now I am much less likely to be worried if my hearing starts to go.

The danger of stopping

I’ve been running a lot. I will be running a half marathon in less than a month. Training is going well, though I periodically have bad run days. I often write notes about runs and I’ve noticed that if I have a bad enough time that I actually stop instead of just slowing down or walking, it’s very hard to get started again and the rest of the run is a struggle.

This is something that shows up a lot in my life, but every time I’ve noticed it in the past, I’ve forgotten it. I know that mornings are much easier if I make lunches and lay out clothes the night before, but I stopped, got out of the habit, and it has taken me a few years to get back to it. If I completely stop something, even if I intend to start again, I often stop entirely.

I decided to work with Nicole’s goal setting program. I’ve been feeling scattered lately. There are many things I’ve started, stopped, and never gotten back to that I feel bad about every time I see them. I worked through what I want to get done over the next six months. I have lists. One shows daily, weekly, and monthly items which need to be done. It’s in a sleeve so we can write on it in dry-erase marker and change it if needed. It’s much easier to keep track of things when they are all laid out neatly.

When I run, especially on long runs, I don’t mind walking. If I walk, at least I’m still moving. It’s slow, yes, but I don’t lose my forward momentum completely.

Some people can stop and restart without a problem. I am not one of those people. If I stumble, if I’m tired, if I’m just not feeling it, and if I stop completely, my ability to start again is extremely limited. I need to learn how to slow down rather than stop so I can keep going.

You know those runners who stop at crosswalks to wait for a light and keep jogging in place? I have become one of those people.

Reframing life

I’ve been doing some things differently recently. Running is one, and I love that I ran three miles on Sunday without stopping. I just kept going and it kept feeling good. My pace was reasonable and I was happy with my time, so it’s going well.

Another thing I’m working on is reframing how I think about things. On weekends I am often catching up on housework and spending time with Katja, and the overlap between those two things has caused me some problems. When I’m playing with her I feel like I ought to be doing other things and when I’m, for instance, doing laundry, I often feel like I should really be paying more attention to Katja. This constant pull on my attention is frustrating and I often end the weekend feeling tired and stressed out.

I thought a lot about how I want to be able to enjoy the time I have, whatever I’m doing. I don’t mind doing laundry, but I don’t like feeling as if I should be doing something else. All of last weekend when I caught myself feeling bad for not doing something else, I thought, “Is there anything else I should be doing that’s more important than what I’m doing right now?” The answer was always no, and I could let go of feeling like I ought to be doing something else. By the end of the weekend, almost all of the normal things had gotten done. All the necessary things were done, at least, though the sheets, while clean, were not folded and put away. I ended the weekend feeling happy and relaxed, and if unfolded sheets are the price, I can live with that. They’ll get folded at some point during the week and we don’t need them to be folded right now.

It’s hard for me to put things into perspective. Making sure everything runs smoothly in our busy household is sometimes challenging and I have been letting myself get caught up in the minutiae. I get stressed when things are left undone, but it doesn’t help anything. I have lists of what should be done, but the world won’t end if one doesn’t get done immediately. I need to enjoy what I am doing while I am doing it, and the only limitation to that enjoyment is what goes on in my head.

Reframing everything seems to be helping. I like spending time with Katja. She’s a neat little person and she’s learning and growing so much that it’s fascinating watching her develop personality and curiosity. I also enjoy running, and she loves spending time with Xander while I do. Running is good for me physically, mentally, and emotionally. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, clears my head, puts things in perspective, and is something that I’m doing just for myself, which feels very good on many levels. I like cleaning house, too, strange as that may seem. It’s nice seeing something go from chaos to order and I enjoy seeing the results of something I have done.

There are very few things in my life right now that I dislike. That’s important. I just have to keep holding that in mind and enjoying life as it comes. I cannot walk away from the work that needs to be done, but the work is not drudgery and there is joy to be found there.

Every time I feel impatient or irritated at where I am and what I’m doing, I think, again, “Is there anything else I should be doing that’s more important than what I’m doing right now?” It’s quite impressive how often the answer is no. So far it hasn’t been yes, and life is much better since I started asking that question.

I think I might be a runner

I started a training program a few months ago and I’m getting rather excited about it. I didn’t think I’d make it through when I started, but I have learned that I am enough of a cheapskate that if I put money into something, I will almost definitely use the service. I do not like to waste money. As a result, very soon after I joined Nicole’s 0 to 13.1 training program, I also signed up to run a half marathon in June.

This is not something I would have imagined myself doing a year or even six months ago, but Katja has changed my perspective on a few things. I’m 38 this year. I’m not a young mother, to say the least, and people have actually asked if I’m Katja’s grandmother a few times. This amuses rather than offends me, but it does bring the point home that I’m older than many women who have a very young child. I could also stand to lose some weight, which I’ve been rather successful at so far (twenty pounds in six months and working on the next twenty now). I want Katja to have a healthy, happy mother. I want to see her graduate from high school. I want to get to enjoy her company as an adult. That means I need to take care of myself now.

In addition to all of this, I’m a happier person when I’m exercising regularly. Some people in my family have issues with depression. I am lucky enough to be able to control it in two ways: exercise and get enough sleep. For a while right after Katja was born, I wasn’t getting either one of those things. I decided it was time to get back on track and do what I wanted with my life, and Nicole’s program showed up at exactly the right time.

The program is interesting in a few ways. Nicole built it thinking about people, like herself, who wanted to run despite not being currently active. She also included a trainer who helps answer questions as they come up, and both of them have been extremely responsive. There is a Facebook group where we can share the highs and lows, which is really nice. I have made a couple of friends there.

It is an online community, which works well for me since I usually run at times that normal people are tucked comfortably into nice, warm beds. Nyx and I have run in cold weather (my limit is ten degrees Fahrenheit, below which I will find a treadmill at a gym), snow, rain, fog, and once in a while really nice weather. Nyx has taken a while to settle into running, especially since my speed is a trot for her. She still sometimes gets distracted by a scent, but she’s getting better at not stopping, at least. She is also much better at not responding to other dogs than she used to be. I like having her as my running buddy, though I worry a little about how the longer distances will work for her.

I ran a 5k race a couple of Saturdays ago. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I did walk some, but I’m comfortable with that. My speed was faster than I’d been running in prior weeks. That made me very happy. I didn’t come in last, though I did get lapped twice. Most of the people in the race were high school students. I wanted to know what a race would be like and now I know that I can hold my pace despite being passed. I learned a few things, too. I need to bring my own food for the end of the race. They had Quaker chewy granola bars which were much too sweet and made me a little sick to my stomach. They had bananas, too, but they were very green and difficult to peel. The orange slices were a good idea, though.

I think I might end up being somewhat picky.

I have been reading a lot about marathoners and ultra runners, and one of the comments that showed up in a few of them was that they eat real food while they run. I really like this idea. I have a hard time stomaching the gels. I’m sure I could learn how, but pita and hummus sounds like a much better way to go, especially since I know exactly what goes into that food. There’s a mountain biker, Gary Fisher, who eats things like burritos, nuts, and bananas. I will experiment as I run longer distances to see what my stomach can take and what works best for me, but I think that gels are not really my thing.

I have made one other decision since I started this program. I will run a marathon by the time I’m forty. It’s a somewhat scary declaration, especially in a public forum, but I’d like to do it and I think it’s a good goal.

Running does not come easily to me. I spent much of my life with patellar tendonitis. That has gone away because I’ve been running in Vibrams, referred to in our house as toesy shoes. I’m not fast, I am probably not graceful, and I sweat a lot. On the other hand, I keep going. I’m on week ten of the program now (I had to take a break and then go back a week due to the gallbladder surgery). I like running most of the time, even when it’s cold and nasty out. I come home feeling like I’ve accomplished something. I also come home in a much better frame of mind, more likely to be cheerful and helpful. Nyx is happier, too, because she gets regular exercise, even if she isn’t quite sure if there’s a point to running around in circles.

This is good for me. Strangely enough, it is even kind of fun. I ran 1.6 miles this morning, which isn’t far, but it’s 1.6 miles farther than I would have run had I stayed in bed, so that’s something. It was 22 degrees out, too, so I felt just a tiny bit smug about being tough enough to run when it was below freezing. Once I get over my latest cold I should be moving a little faster. Even if I don’t, though, even if I stay slow, I’m getting to the point that I can settle into a rhythm and just keep going. That’s something I have never been able to do on land before. I could do it while swimming, but this is a first for running. It is starting to feel natural, easy, and comfortable, even on days that aren’t good.

Running has never been my thing, but I think I am beginning to think of myself as a runner. That’s kind of cool.