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.

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.

Tuesday tidbits

We had a really great weekend, and Katja got to go on her first road trip.

Apparently Katja travels very well. She fussed a little when she got put into her carseat, but she settled down fast and went to sleep. We had to wake her up to be changed and fed. She seemed to enjoy meeting everyone, even though there were a lot of new people.

I was very happy to be able to catch up a little with people who matter to me. These are big-F family, people who have become Family because they are important to me and vice versa. We also got to see quite a few people in Xander’s family, which was nice, and they were all happy to meet Katja. My dad happened to be in the Bay Area during our visit, so we got to see him. I also got to meet one of the other IndieInk editors. None of us live very close to each other, so it was neat to actually be int he same room as one of them. Hopefully she wasn’t too overwhelmed. (Hi, Grace!) My godmother and her husband came, too, and they brought a beautiful, colorful quilt for Katja. It’s on the back of the couch in her room right now, and she often just stares at it, fascinated. I’ll be using it as one of her tummy time blankets soon since she likes the pattern so much.

We didn’t get quite enough sleep, but we managed to avoid getting crabby. I got to go running one morning, which is much easier when there’s some humidity and it isn’t freezing. I love running near the ocean. It’s much easier to run there than it is in the desert. My mouth doesn’t get dry, it’s easier to breathe, and my toes don’t go numb. It was pretty funny that I didn’t see anyone else out on the sidewalks or on a bike, but I suppose 6 AM on a Sunday is not prime time for exercise for most people.

It was a busy weekend, but I came back feeling refreshed and reminded of all of the wonderful people we are lucky enough to have in our life. We will try to get down more often to keep those connections strong.

Running again

I went running yesterday.

For much of last year, running was a normal part of my life. Since Katja was born, though, I’ve had difficulty finding time to run. I did half mile jogs once in a while, but there was no way to consistently fit in exercise because her schedule in the mornings was so variable.

Xander is starting his new semester this week, so there are times that I can force myself to run. He’ll park the car away from my office twice a week and I will run to get it at lunch. Saturday mornings will be my third run of the week, and I will try to at least go walking other days.

The first day I picked to go running was, of course, during a storm. I had declared that I would go “come hell or high water”, though, so I was determined to go anyway. I got dressed in normal running gear, added my winter coat (it’s blue, very long, and I’m short, so it is referred to as the Smurf coat), and headed out.

I am restarting the Couch to 5K program, so I walked and ran for half an hour. My toes were cold and wet by the time I got home, but after a nice hot shower I felt great. The snow was not the best beginning, but I did it. I’m a little sore today, but I feel much happier for having this back in my life.

A good place to be

Once in a while I hit a point in time in which everything is just good. I’m in one of those times right now, and it is very nice. We have been stressed over infertility and adoption over the past six years; now we have a daughter, and she’s quite wonderful. Our sleep schedule has become predictable enough that I can start running again. I’m at work full-time now, after a couple of months of part time work, so I am catching up there. I do miss getting to be home with Katja in the afternoons, but we have weekends and evenings together as well as that odd, half-asleep time for her middle of the night feeding, so I feel like I’m still involved enough. For the moment, Xander is taking good care of her. Once he goes back to school, she will be with a very dear friend, her honorary grandma, half time for childcare. I think Katja will be very happy in that environment.

I took Nyx running yesterday morning. We only did a mile and I walked a bit of it, but it was very pleasant. She has a harness specifically for when she’s working. She is not allowed to mess around while wearing it. I use it when we’re running or going for walks with Katja. When we run, she just settles into her funny gait that adapts to my short legs and doesn’t pull or try to check out much of anything. I’m not sure how true that would be during the day with all the neighborhood dogs out, but at 5:30 in the morning she does beautifully.

The endorphins help me a lot, too. If I can’t exercise for whatever reason, it is difficult for me to not end up feeling a little unhappy. When I have the time and energy to exercise, the world seems like a much better place. After two and a half months of not running, getting back to that steady push is good for me both physically and mentally.

There are still things to worry about, mostly money, and things we need to figure out how to do. It isn’t that life has suddenly become perfect. I am just being constantly reminded that there are good things that considerably outweigh the worrisome bits of life, and I am trying to enjoy everything as much as possible.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am content, as I doubt I will ever manage that. I have several projects going, including learning Russian, working on a somewhat serious piece of writing, and reading a challenging (well, challenging for me, anyway) book about mathematics. I am enjoying re-learning Raffi songs and folk songs my mother used to sing to me so I can sing them to Katja. I don’t, however, feel unhappily driven. I don’t feel like there is any constant irritation in my life. I like what we have and I am happy.

It’s a good place to be.

Relationship with food

I do not go on diets. They aren’t healthy for me. Not so much physically, but mentally. When I was dieting, I got extremely obsessive about counting every single calorie, and my well-being was predicated on the number the scale showed every morning. Worse than that, though, was that I would get frustrated and angry. If I ate a few too many calories in a day, I’d decide it didn’t matter and eat more because I was so angry about having to be so careful. I don’t want to be obsessed, and I’m not pleasant when I’m angry. I did not like who I became while I was trying to diet.

That being said, I have lost seven pounds in the past six weeks.

I am not dieting, at least not the way I think of dieting. I do not pay attention to calories. I am trying to change how I approach food and exercise, and I am not getting angry or obsessive.

Michael Pollan, an author of several books about the relationships that people have with food, came up with this: “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” I add to that “exercise more” and you get my whole approach to eating at the moment.

In general we do not eat a lot of meat. Maybe once a week we will have dinner with meat, and we try to have fish fairly regularly, but meat is not a huge part of our diet. Also, we do not eat out very often, and when we shop, it is from the outside edge of the supermarket, not the inside rows with all of the processed food. This is not a moral decision, mind you, and we will not lecture anyone on how they should eat. We both like to cook and eat, and the processed foods take much of the fun out of it. We do buy some canned goods, but not even a lot of those. We have canisters of different kinds of flour, many types of dried beans, a few kinds of rice, and various other odds and ends that we have purchased for various recipes. In other words, the “real food” and “mostly plants” parts are not very difficult for me. We already do that.

“Not too much”, on the other hand, can be a significant challenge. I like food. I like eating good food. Portion control is not my strong suit. I mostly need one meal a day with some snacking the rest of the day, which I only recently learned. I am switching from having that main meal be lunch to having it be dinner because I think it is important to have dinner together. It is something that was very important to both of us growing up, and we would like to give that to our child, too. Considering how difficult it will be to set new habits with a new baby, we are working on setting that habit now. That did not work if I had already eaten my main meal for the day, however, so I am shifting to adapt. I eat fruit and popcorn throughout the day, but not too much. I am less hungry now, which makes it easier, and eating more slowly keeps me from eating too much. Also, if I want two eggs, I’ll have one instead. I end up pleasantly full, and the next time I think about two eggs I remember being content with one. It is getting easier.

The piece I added, “exercise more”, is another habit I need to form. I decided that I would spend the summer exercising in ways that did not require me to spend money to do them. That means running, for the most part. I am not doing Zumba, swimming, or belly dancing at the moment. I hurt my shoulder earlier this year and running does not make it worse, which is good; it is most of the way healed at this point. I do best when I exercise in the morning. I get up and climb into running clothes almost before I am awake. If I wait until I have fully woken up, I will often talk myself out of it. I had the same problem with swimming, so I know this problem. Once I am dressed, though, I feel like I might as well go and get it done. My running clothes are always on the floor next to the bed and I can put them on in the dark, so I do not have any excuse for not going running.

I do not count calories. I am tracking my weight on the Wii, but only the simple test because that way I don’t get commentary on whether or not I’m doing well enough. There are days that I eat too much, like last night – we went out to dinner. With this approach, though, I don’t care. It’s okay to have gone up a little bit in weight over a day as long as the general trend continues downwards.

I’m trying to build these habits so that once we have a child the habits will be sustainable. I would like to lose weight, but I refuse, at this point in my life, to spend the energy to obsess about it or to let it affect my moods. I need to be stable and happy as much as possible. There is enough other stress in my life; why add to it? This lets me adjust my eating and my approach to food and exercise without the guilt that comes with diets or goals or any of that.

I’m changing my relationship with food, and so far it is going pretty well. Guilt-free weight loss without weird chemicals! I’m actually having fun, which I never thought I would say in any way associated with losing weight.