Sunday, 26 January 2014

How to be injured

Knitting needles - the new cross-training

I haven't run for a week and a half. This might not seem long (because it is not really long) - however, injuries have a different type of time, more similar to dog-years. So, in injury terms, sanity terms, and general melodramaticness, I have been not running the equivalent of 8 weeks at least.

I am lucky enough to be able to swim and do some easy stationary biking. I am not lucky enough to know what the hell is going on with my ankle (though I am still trying to find out). There has been huge silver lining in that I have an amazing physio and equally amazing friends who have volunteered to brave the pool with me. I have also had a couple insights as a result of too much time thinking and not as much time sweating.

I have no actual hobbies
I have friends who are amazing knitters and sewers. I have friends who grow vegetables and raise livestock. I have friends who make pottery. I have friends who volunteer for political causes or things they believe in. I do none of these things. I tried to list my hobbies for Lucy: I run, I write about running (or general running-related neuroses), I read about running, I cook so I have food to eat after running, I enjoy music so I have songs to listen to while running. This all works great when I am training 10-15hours a week. When I am not training as much, it means that I end up at 11am on a Sunday, workout already done, chores done, vibrating with energy and generally being obnoxious. (Partly out of self preservation, I think, Lucy is going to teach me how to knit).

What I see as being competitive other people see as being an asshole
In racing and training, it is helpful to have a single-minded and competitive focus - that desire to win. Outside of running, it is somewhat less healthy. The person who tries to win the grocery line-up, the getting-on-the-bus-first, the going down the escalator is not a staunch competitor. That person is an asshole.

I am trying to find a healthy outlet for my competitive urges. So far, trying to win my job has been going pretty well: things get finished ahead of deadlines, and the "other" section on my to-do list goes down. The side effects of drinking more with accountants are entirely manageable, even enjoyable. Trying to win at cross-training is going somewhat less well (athletic cross-training - my co-workers inform me that they cross-train by drinking both beer and liquor).

The West Vancouver community centre at 6am on weekdays on a stationary bike involves not offending the 70 year olds surrounding me (if I switch to a spin bike I would likely get rocked by the 2 very fit and sweaty guys in their young 50s). Swimming...thank god I really enjoy swimming (and will soon have the large upper body to prove it). The main issue with swimming is not doing it so much that I incur another new and exciting injury. My competition so far has been: the people breast-stroking in the medium lane (they passed me), the 7am youth swim team in the next lane (they passed me while doing kicking-only), the pool runners in the "recreational" lane (I passed them, but it might not be a fair competition).

My ankle is part of me and also deserves love
This part is actually from Ramsey, but I am trying hard to embrace it. Seeing Ramsey on Wednesday, I pointed at my ankle: "It hurts. I hate it." I was gently reminded my ankle is part of me, so any annoyance towards the ankle is actually annoyance at myself. This has at least prevented me from nicknaming the left ankle "Frankenfoot" after getting inconclusive X-Ray results. As additional self-love, I got a pedicure, as I will likely not be beating the crap out of my toenails for a while (but I got the nails painted dark purple, so if I miraculously can run soon, the polish will match the colour of my dying toenails).

Normal-people life
Three years ago, I swam three times a week, biked once or twice a week, did some weights, and ran a couple times a week. That was my normal exercise. I was in a relationship, I went for drinks with friends, my weekends had non-running trips, wandering on Commercial Drive, laying around reading, watching TV, family dinners. It was nice, and comfortable.

Part of me wishes that was a type of life I could slip back into - to be content getting what is actually a healthy and completely normal amount of exercise, to be balanced. To dress up (even with heels), go out for drinks, go to a movie, get in my hour of working out, and be happy. Sometimes I wish I wasn't the type of person that feels most alive after running hard for an hour an half by 7am. The type of person who wants to get out, for hours, and go hard, to climb up something, to suffer a bit or a lot. As much as I want normal, I fail at normal.

I don't want it to be easy
I have friends who have stories about living in the woods under a tarp when younger, of hitchhiking up to the Yukon on a whim, of driving to the Okanagan with no cash and a breaking down car. Stories about what having nothing, and building from there. About the confidence that comes with being in a hard situation - no roof, no money, no job - and making it out okay. About bringing that certainty to the rest of their lives, that deep trust in their ability to be okay when things aren't actually okay.

I've never quit 12th grade to hitchhike across Canada (like my Dad did in 1967). I've never traveled with an open ticket and no return date. I've always had a job, always had savings, always been comfortable. I think there's a part in me, the part that wants to run and run and run, that is looking for something harder, something to beat up my body and grow teeth in my mind.

There are runs I have done that were hard - really hard. Where there were far too few highs and so many lows. I remember the Sunday after running Juan de Fuca - my first 10hr run. We stopped off on the drive back to walk along a beach. It was bright cloud, the sun trying to break through. I struggled to walk in the wet sand, looking out on the flat ocean. There were no endorphins, it was the opposite of endorphins - I felt empty, with tears ready to come at any moment.  I felt like that for a couple days after - going to beautiful places is wonderful, but it can be difficult for me to come back to real life. There is part of me that is always searching, scratching, and striving. There is the part that doesn't even want to slip back into a normal life, doesn't want it to be that easy. The part that wants to face something down, to come out on the other side, to have the peace that going to a scary place and making it out brings. So the next couple months are finding an uneasy truce between swimming, and biking, and enjoying the good parts of life - but still keeping the fire going for the next adventure.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

My Left Ankle

The last two years, I have been pretty lucky with injuries. Lucky in that I was never told: "You know, swimming is a great, low impact cardio workout." Lucky I did not have to discuss the merits of pool running with a belt compared to without a belt. That might be about to change.

A month ago, when my ankle hurt, I was able to think it away - I had just started up running again, and the body tweaks. A couple weeks ago, I thought the joint was stiff, maybe needed some more loosening up. A week ago, I stopped mid-run and hobbled back to Lucy's.

The ankle is a sneaky little guy, as it will hurt sometimes when I walk, and be sometimes painfree when I do 20km semi-trail runs. It will be unable to hop one moment, and then capable of intense yoga balancing the next. If I didn't read so many runners' blogs with all the gory details of 6-months-off injuries, I might not even be too concerned.

I am not good with injuries at the best of times, and this might not be the best of times. I am lucky to be under the very watchful care of Ramsey, who is doing his best to keep me both healthy and sane. Unfortunately, as the patient is occasionally batshit crazy and doesn't always take the advice ("Don't use Doctor Google. Stop thinking about whatever you are thinking about relating to your injury."), this job is fairly intensive.

The job also entails pretty much saving me from myself. When assigned to do stationary bike, it involves capping me at 45minutes (not the 90min of intervals I did my first day "off"), or keeping me from getting a new exciting injury from excessive swimming.

There are pretty much two ways the injury could go. I am either crazy, or have a somewhat legitimate and fairly serious injury (I hope my Mom isn't reading this right now).

I am a type-A virgo redhead
Basically, my kinetic redhead energy is sufficient to cause pain in my ankle. This isn't the first time I've had an injury that was mostly healed my meditation, so it's a fair cause. We had a mindfulness session on Sunday. At the end of it, Ramsey tried to send me home with the meditation CD, with instructions to do a "loving kindness" meditation. I told him that I had a similar one already, nothing else needed. He informed me that I didn't have a 48-minute one (fair point).

I have a stress fracture of my ankle or something else involving chlorine
Oh man, I need to stop doing google searches for this at 1am. The little guy hurts enough I got both and X-Ray, and a bone scan, which ensure any children I have in the next ten years will be born with an extra leg or with gills.

Things that have helped

  • Seriously, the 48-minute loving kindness meditation (or any form of meditation). I have never been so nice to my clients. It also kept me from google for at least half a day.
  • Yoga. Sometimes. The classes where I am not surrounded by people doing handstands. The classes at 10am on a weekend where the instructor doesn't congratulate people on getting up "early".
  • Wine. It hasn't actually helped, but I don't think it has made things worse, so it goes here.
  • Biking. I do exactly 45minutes at the West Van Community Centre. As I can't stand up or go too hard, I watch "American Horror Story" on my phone as I bike to help elevate my heart rate. I do not know how comfortable my fellow 6am bikers (average age: 70) are with this
Things that have not helped
  • praying to the ankle gods, offering to give up my biggest vices (chocolate, wine, men, bad TV).
  • google searches of "recovery time ankle stress fracture".
Welcome to the human (athlete) race
The thing is, pretty much every one of my friends has been injured at some point. I distinctly remember how I would smugly send over pool running programs (the same one I am now studying), say how swimming "wasn't so bad", and talk about how biking is a good workout...actually, who am I kidding...biking is the bane of my butt and uterus and the most uncomfortable cross-training activity out there. But the thing is - it happens. And I'm lucky enough to have friends who will swim with me, pool run with me, yoga with me, drink with me, until this whole thing is figured out. And in the end, I'm grateful to have this clarity: I love to run, I love to sweat, I love to hurt. 

And in a week or half a year, I'll be doing it again. And in the meantime, I'll do what it takes to get to the place I want to be. My legs burning as I see the light through the trees, close to the top of a mountain, or the last 400m of a race, or an easy Wednesday as the sun sets on the seawall. In the meantime...well, who wants to join me in the pool?

Monday, 6 January 2014

"Stupid Run" Contest Winner

The winner is....Samantha Nelmes!

Sam is training for a half-marathon this spring in very chilly Calgary weather, and this story happened as part of the training.

Notable mentions - one very funny anonymous story (which will hopefully be posted later, with permission from the submitter).

It was the last long run before my first half marathon and I woke up to nothing short but a blizzard. Armed with fall running gear I go to meet my friend at the Glenmore Reservoir. What is usually a beautiful run was covered in snow. I put on my fall jacket (since I forgot a running jacket) shoved socks onto my hands as mitts and headed out. 

Being our longest run to date and my first time running in snow the first couple kilometres were surprisingly okay besides the snow in my eyes. By the 8th km my shoes were soaked and my feet freezing but with two more kilometres to the turn around we kept at it. 

The wind blowing off the Reservoir we finally get to turn around. I pulled out frozen GU chews and chipped my front tooth on the first one. Bummer. We get to the washrooms around 13km that are to be open during the weekend hours in winter and someone did not come in that morning to unlock them. We both hoped for extra water as I was only carrying 14oz and was running on empty. So that means we had to rely on eating snow. 

Being -16 with the wind chill and the snow not stopping was chipping away at my sanity and my friend and I stopped talking as all of our effort went into finishing this run and not slipping and hurting ourselves. It is the little things that keep you sane though like the bike that passed us and left a trail so I could stare at it and not keep looking at the blank white path ahead. 

We reached our cars and promptly got in them (after wiping off all the snow). This was my hardest run mentally and physically to date. It was insane, stupid and crazy of me to attempt this run seeing how little I was prepared but when I look back at it I am glad that I did it because it shows that most things are possible and to quit complaining. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014


2013 was the year I went big - I took risks, trusted my gut, trusted my heart in life and love and work and running. I wish I could say my year turned out like every inspirational fridge magnet I own said it would. I wish I could say that now, at the very beginning of 2014, I am some shinier, skinnier, faster and more loving person than I was a year ago.

Except - I am writing this at Lucy's dining room table. I took a lot of risks this year, and they didn't all work. Big risks - and with them comes some big sadness, disappointment, embarrassment. And for all this, for the first time in a while, I didn't have words.

So, instead, I'll talk about running. This blog is supposed to be mainly about running, anyways. Not big, road-race winning, Olympics-going running. Not big, 100-mile-plus, FKT-setting, seriously rugged ultrarunning. This isn't a motivational blog about how running transformed my life, cured me of cancer, taught me confidence - my life is more or less the same, with more physio bills and fewer sleep-ins. This isn't a blog about weight loss, as the only substantial weight loss that ever occurred was when I threw up for the last hour of a 50-mile in July 2013. Running hasn't taught me zen or stopped me from feeling sad or anxious or scared - but I have learned to breathe more.

This is a blog where, in a good race, I might place in my age group and not mess up my ankle too badly. This blog is about a smaller scale of running, and all the ordinary day-to-day moments: the early wake-ups, the rainy mornings, the miraculous one-in-ten days where my mind stops and my body floats. And, most of all, the wonderful and quirky people who do these things with me.

The last year I ran a 3:03 marathon, a 50-miler, a 6-day race in the Rockies. Those were all intense times, and I felt each kilometer in my bones and my head. But in the end, my running in 2013 was the hundreds of small moments with the people I love that added up to more than any one-race goal. My running was the foggy and pitch-black December morning with Katie heading towards UBC, where the fog made a single garbage can look so sinister that we turned around and bolted for home ("Alex! Does it have eyes?'). My running is the weekly mindfulness sessions hosted by Ramsey (which occasionally turn into guided napping sessions when I attempt to meditate lying down). My running is somehow convincing Craig "I love the treadmill" Dale and Shannon to join a beautiful and icy trip up the BCMC at night. My running is 6:10am and fresh snow on a Friday morning, ghostly under the streetlights, around False Creek with Angela and Shannon and Amy. My running is tempos with Allison and Shu. My running is every day I go to the google homepage and resist looking up 'What the fuck is my ankle doing?"- knowing at least a couple other friends have unsuccessfully resisted the same urge.

My running isn't even running - it's attempting to appreciate a glass of bourbon with Lucy and her husband Chris. It's hearing Chris explain to Lucy's daughter why she might have to do more annoying chores than her stepdaughter ("It's because she has other living options and you don't.' 'Dad!"). It's my mom calling me to download a country song for her CD ("Mom, you realize that this is a song about one-night stands?" "It's an upbeat song - that singer knows what she wants!"). It's Christmas dinner with our family friends, where mom and almost-aunt Millie discuss the boundaries they have with their respective cats (Millie is able to close the bedroom door so the cat doesn't join her and her husband when they sleep. The Lea family cats join my parents in bed, under the covers, with a special spot on the pillow. Mom thinks Millie judges her, and Mom might be sort of right on this one). It's my brother's dog, who I have bonded with to the point that he has urinated when he saw me (out of enthusiasm, and I am told this is a very big compliment from the dog).

Does it almost feel like you've been here before?
On New Years Day, I did the same thing I've done since I moved to Vancouver - headed out for a run. This morning I ran up to the Cleveland Dam with Shannon on misty trails. We talked about boys and injuries and food. I have done some variation on this route for almost seven years: it's not particularly hard or high or long. At the turnaround point is the dam. On one side is a lake, with mountains rising all around. On another side, wave after wave of water crashing down, trees spilling over on the canyon sides. I've seen the dam on hot summer days, in the snow, in the rain, hundreds of times - it's always beautiful. It was beautiful when I was 23 and 29. I don't know what 33 or 39 will look like, but I still hope to run somewhere familiar and beautiful with people that make me smile.

How am I going to be an optimist about this?
In the end, it's the little things, the daily getting up and onto the seawall or the trails that, sometimes, on the right day with the right brain, add up to a good race. More than that, they add up to a life. And when the big things really completely don't work out, when I have woken up in the dark (because it's winter and it's always dark or getting dark) I feel the sadness like a physical ache in my chest, stomach, head, the little things keep me going. 10k, 15k, someone waiting for me at the Inukshuk or at the start of the BCMC. E-mails to return at work. A good book or a really trashy graphic novel. A glass of wine.

Was it worth it?
About a month ago I was running on the Sunshine Coast with Katie and Meghan. The trails had huge chunks and eddies of ice, where streams and puddles had frozen solid. We ran in the pale December sun through trees, winding up to the top of clearcuts for glimpses of ocean, of more hills in the distance.  At one point, we were winding alongside a frozen lake. I was so entranced by the light on the lake, through the trees, that I didn't see a root in front of me and I face-planted. I broke my fall with my left hand and my knee.

After the run, I could barely change clothes, my hand hurt that bad. All through the afternoon and evening, I poked at my hand, tried to rotate it, wincing each time at the pain. It wasn't broken, it wasn't sprained - just bruised and sore. At times, the pain was immediate and a bit scary - I wanted to put my hand in a cast, ice it, stretch it, poke it - I wanted to do anything right then to make it feel better. But there was nothing I could do. I would wake up some nights and just feel it throbbing.

Little by little, the wrist healed on its own - even though it still twinges from time to time. It hurt like hell - and the run was still totally worth it. The cold, muted light, the frosty trees, the glint of the ocean, us the only people on the trail for miles and miles. I got hurt, but that's the price of going to beautiful places. I think the two things go hand-in-hand. And I wouldn't change a thing about it.