Monday, July 23, 2012

Patience, Young Grasshopper

I have often said that being injured is more time consuming than being healthy.  Furthermore, coming back from injury takes even more time out of your day.  Returning to competitive running from a case of IT Band Syndrome as severe as mine is a science.  It must be done delicately and with just the right amount of running, cross-training, stretching/massage and strength exercises.  In fact, this is my fourth attempt and it is drastically different than the previous three which obviously failed.  Gone is a timetable.  Gone are goals with the exception of one: get back to running pain free.  To remind myself why I should never again neglect to do necessary maintenance and to warn others of the dangers of skipping such an integral part of training, I am going to chronicle the process.  Remember, I am embarking on this endeavor nearly three months after the injury sidelined me.  Before I got to this point, there were hours upon hours of cross-training to maintain aerobic fitness, stretching routines, massages, three doctors, an acupuncturist and 10 weeks of physical therapy which I am still doing.  I won’t got into the details as I have already written about them ad nausea and if you make it through this Tolliken-length tale, you’ll  just be plain nauseous.  

Monday: After working until just past midnight, I dragged myself out of bed before 8 with the intention of hitting the pool for 2,000 meters before my physical therapy appointment.  Instead, I ended up laying on the couch for an hour and a half before sliding to the floor to do 10 minutes of rolling my IT Band on the foam roller and then headed to PT.  At PT, Jason continued ASTYM treatment on my right leg and did some new stretches.  Then, I walked to the pool to find out lap swimming ended at 10am.  I guess that is why I put it on the calendar for 8:30am.  Back-up plan.  I hopped on the elliptical for a quick 45 minutes.  Usually I do an hour, but I was short on time today.  I got off the elliptical and spent five minutes stretching and then five more minutes doing hip and glute strengthening exercises with the resistance band.  I put on my flats because super-awesome marathon runner Camille Heron told me she found success converting to flats only after battling IT Band Syndrome. Then, I headed for the West Side Highway.  The plan was to run for 15 minutes and if there was no pain by the end, I could run 20 minutes on Wednesday.  If there was pain, I’d stick to 15 minutes.  I’m happy to report that the 15 minutes was a smashing success.  When I got home, I iced my IT band as a precaution, guzzled a protein shake, showered and was out the door just in time to make it to work.  I did another round of foam rolling and icing when I got home.

Tuesday:  I was well into my day before I learned that it was not Wednesday.  It was only because I tried to sign up for the 12:30 spin class at the New York Sports Club on 62nd and Broadway that I know now that today is in fact, Tuesday.  My inconsistent schedule has the tendency to eliminate the “feel” of a certain day of the week. I had taken the train up to the Upper West Side early after another failed attempt at swimming.  This time, I actually arrived at the Chelsea Rec Center during lap swim hours, but when I looked in the pool and saw each lane had no fewer than five people in it, I decided to bag it.  You can’t get in a rhythm when the water is that congested.  Once again, I searched for plan B.  I wanted to get in a solid workout today, preferably with some intervals, so I looked up when spin classes were offered on Wednesdays at the NYSC locations near my house and office.  The 12:30pm at 62nd and Broadway was the most convenient.  With time to kill, I got home and did some stuff around the apartment before spending some quality time with my foam roller, and doing most of Coach Jay Johnson’s Myrtl Routine.  I was at the gym by 11:30 with plans to do some light elliptical work then go to spin.  But, since there was no spin, I improvised an elliptical workout.  75 minutes total with 20X1 minute hard in the middle.  I gradually upped the resistance from 7 to 9 and kept the incline between 10-11.  The one good thing about spending so much time on the bike and elliptical is that I get to catch up on episodes of All Songs Considered and This American Life.  When I was done, I did my every-other day core routine.  In the locker room, some meathead referred to the elliptical as the “machine for females.”  Asshat.

Wednesday:  Today was the day I wanted yesterday to be.   I woke up five out of six days deep into a very long work week and was definitely feeling the effects.  I finally started making my way toward the NYSC on 16th and 8th following roughly 15 minutes of hemming and another 15 minutes of hawing.  My plan for today was pretty straight-forward:  Light stretching, one hour of easy elliptical work, hip and glute strengthening and a “longer” run.   The only thing worth re-capping is the run.  I upped my time to 20 minutes today, a five minute increase over the previous four runs.  It was another success with no sign of pain whatsoever.  However, I am well aware that I am far from being out of the woods.  I will do one more 20 minute run Friday and then up it to 25 minutes if that goes well.  I continue to do all of my runs on the pancake-flat West Side Highway and in flats.  I am off work tomorrow, so I hope to get in some solid work beginning with physical therapy in the morning.

Thursday: Today was my Saturday, so I figured it would be as good of time as ever to get some solid work in.  I got up early to head to an 8am physical therapy session.  I am hoping these are winding down.  It’s not that I don’t love the treatment that I get at Finish Line PT.  It’s that my insurance company is growing weary of paying for it.  Jason added some dynamic work into my routine, most of which involves jumping and all of which involves me looking like an idiot.   Around 11:45, I headed to the gym to do my core circuit and stretch/strengthening drills before a 12:30pm spin class.  I take spin because it forces me to work hard in a group setting, but I don’t enjoy it.  There are times when it is made marginally better by the instructor’s choice of music.  This was not one of those times.  It was all songs you might here at a rave DJed by Delilah of Delilah After Dark.  Following what may have been the longest 45 minutes of my week, I put in another 45 on the elliptical with much better music and then called it a day.   Following a quick lunch, I headed to Brooklyn for a much-needed massage.

Friday:  The bad: I had to get up at 7:30am.  The good: It was because I was meeting Michelle to RUN!  I haven’t run with another human being in quite some time, so I would have made this happen no matter what the time.  We did an easy run up the West Side Highway.  This was another 20 minuter for me, so it was brief, but still rewarding.  I ended up running 22 minutes by the time we got back home with no pain.  It looks like I am graduating to 25 minutes for my “long run” on Sunday.  After a 10am showing of “The Dark Knight Rises”, lunch and a nap, I logged one hour on the elliptical to get in my full cardio for the day.

Saturday: With the memory of Thursday’s spin nightmare still fresh in my mind, I signed up for another spin class at the same NYSC.  When I am working the overnight shift like I am now, the structure of a timed group activity is beneficial for two reasons.  1) If I sign up, I am sure to go.  2) I can’t be lazy and slowly pedal along when others are watching so it ensures I work hard. Of course, before the spin class I had 30 minutes of circuit work to complete.  Jason has added a hopping exercise to my routine which unfortunately requires way more coordination that I possess.  But I try really hard so that has to count for something.  The spin class was remarkably better than the last one, except the instructor seemed to be suffering from some affliction that makes it impossible to control the volume of her voice.  She had a microphone on, but for some reason she kept yelling.  The good news is, I pedaled faster and harder out of fear.  When the class ended, I tacked on 15 minutes on the elliptical to get in a full hour of cardio.

Sunday: Another big test today.  When work ended at 10am, I walked down to Tavern on the Green where I was meeting Michelle for a 25 minute run.  For those of you who made it this far, that is a five minute increase over the last run.  I did some deep stretches, then we headed toward the reservoir on the Bridle Path.  It is always good to spend some time in the park.  Logistically, it’s a little tougher with the runs being so short.  For the most part, I felt good but there were a few pains in the IT Band, so I’ll have to see how Tuesday’s 25 minute run goes before making the next step.  I had thoughts of skipping today’s yoga class, but with the ITB feeling a little tight, I figured the stretch would be an investment.  Thankfully, Lauren went with me so it didn’t mean missing any time with her.  I was on my toes for the first 45 minutes of the class, but I always have to keep myself from falling asleep when the yogi has you lay on the mat and close your eyes.  One day, I am going to wake up in a dark empty room hours after a class has ended wondering where I am and how I got there.  I decided to take the rest of the day off and eat ice cream (it was after all, National Ice Cream day.). 

The hardest part of adding running back in is that it is the opposite of marathon training.  When you are ramping up mileage for the big race, you push your body even when it doesn't want to go any farther.  Now, I am forcing myself to stop even when I want to keep going.

If you thought reading this was mind-numbing, you should try to keep up with this kind of schedule. I ended up putting in 10 hours of cross-training and an hour and a half of running.  To compare, eleven and a half-hours is exactly the amount of time I spent running during my highest mileage week of the Boston Marathon cycle.  I spent absolutely no time cross-training or strength training during that week.  Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t be sliding on my shorts to go ride the bike again.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's the Sauce

In this blog, I write about running, or more recently, ellipticalling (spell check tells me that the word “elliptical” does not have  a gerund form.  I will ignore it).  This is an entry about food.  As a runner, nutrition is a vital part of training.  Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken (officially called “Trader Ming’s Mandarin Orange Chicken” which may or may not be racist) is a vital part of Lauren’s and my diet.  That is, until this week. 

Here’s the back story.  I discovered this convenient meal in 2008 during my first ever visit to a Trader Joe’s in Charlotte as I cruised the aisles looking for snacks to fill my bachelor pad.  Above it in the freezer case was a sign that said --  and I am paraphrasing here -- “voted most popular frozen food item in the universe.”  Considering the size of the universe and the number of frozen food items available, I thought it was worth a shot – the logistics of conducting such a large poll, notwithstanding.  When I made it for the first time (18-20 minutes in the oven on 400), I was not disappointed.  Not only was it delicious, it was relatively nutritious:  Seven grams of fat, 190 calories per serving. I’d generally eat two to two and a half servings.   

After that fantastic first impression, I bought the orange chicken on every trip to Trader Joe’s, a tradition that has continued on my transitions from bachelor to husband and from North Carolina to New York City.  That brings us to this week.  Lauren was out for the evening, and I was going to make an easy dinner.  I grabbed the bag of frozen chicken from the freezer and as I did, something caught my eye.  “16 grams of fat, 320 calories per serving.”  What?  I looked again.  I was not reading it wrong.  The chicken was all of the sudden worse for me than going to McDonalds.

Following a brief Google search that yielded no answers, I fired off this email to the Trader Joe’s customer service team:

“My wife and I are long time Trader Joe's customers.  It's the only place we shop in New York City. One staple product in our household is the Mandarin Orange Chicken.  We found it to be a relatively healthy and incredibly easy dinner option.  I became accustomed to it and I never looked at the nutrition facts.  However, as I pulled out the chicken for tonight's dinner, I was startled to find the nutrition information had changed dramatically.  While there was once 35 grams of fat in the bag, there is now more than double that amount.  When did this happen and could someone please explain to me why?  Thank you!

This afternoon, I received this response:

Thank you for your feedback and sharing your concerns.  We did recently have to update the nutritional information on our Mandarin Orange Chicken.  Unfortunately, the sauce had not been included in the overall nutritional factors so we had to make these corrections.  Your concerns have been shared with our Product Steering Committee.

The sauce?!?! How did they not include the sauce in the nutrition facts?  Without the sauce, is it not Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken.  It’s just chicken. One thing is for sure, this kind of egregious mistake would never happen at Wegmans.

There will be no more orange chicken in our household.  I imagine a brief but painful chicken withdrawal period, but there are other frozen meals out there, regardless of whether or not they are the best in the universe.  Or maybe I need to stop looking at the nutritional facts and eat on in blissful ignorance.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Injury Hierarchy, Lessons Learned and My Review of the New Smashing Pumpkins Album

I would much rather have a stress fracture than IT Band Syndrome.  I'll let the five or six of you who were patient enough to read through my incessant whining about my broken ankle take a second to scream, curse my name and/or hurl your computer through a window.  Finished?  Now, let me explain why.  A fracture is a cut and dry injury.  You get an x-ray.  You get a boot.  You stay off it for six to eight weeks. It's healed.  Does it suck?  Yeah.  But, at least you know the treatment and the timetable.  There is comfort in a definitive diagnosis and prognosis.

IT Band Syndrome on the other hand, is an anomaly.  It can last for six days or six months.  I know runners who did nothing but rest and got better.  I know runners who relied on intricate stretching.  I know runners who relied on strength training.  There are studies and web pages to support the merits of all three methods.  Believe me, there isn't an article or message board post on the subject that I have not read.  This of course can lead to information overload which can lead to an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach. 

I took it a step further.  I included the kitchen sink and remodeled the whole room with too many contractors.  10 weeks into the injury and well on my way to going crazy, I had only marginally improved. The problem is, any program like this needs to be sustainable.  Obviously, once the injury is gone, you won't be rehabilitating anymore.  However, to stay healthy you will want to do some of the exercises in the interest of prevention. So, with the help of a pep talk from my beyond supportive wife -- who has somehow resisted strangling me despite the money and time I have spent -- I have finally settled into a program that I hope will have me pounding the pavement pain free and that I can pull pieces from once I am running again.

Research as well as consultation with very smart doctors and physical therapists has helped me put together a more structured and consistent plan that involves cross training (a mix of swimming, elliptical and spin classes every day to maintain aerobic fitness), yoga (one to two times a week to enhance flexibility), strength training/physical therapy (At home stretching, band exercises, this routine to strengthen hip and glute muscles and two visits to the PT per week to work out scar tissue and loosen muscles) and even a little bit of running (more on that in a second).  Yes, that is five things, but I left out the kitchen sink and laid off some of the contractors.  I have taken acupuncture and the Alter G treadmill out of the equation.  It's not because they are ineffective.  I got treatment from one of the best athletic acupuncturists in New York City.  However, I believe acupuncture works when you go consistently and often.  With work and physical therapy, my acupuncture visits were a sporadic afterthought at best.  As for the Alter G, I stand by my belief that it is the most important running invention of the last decade.  However, for me it provided too much false hope.  I'd have a great run on the Alter G and feel like I was ready to get back to training.  Then, I'd go outside and blow up.  This would not be a problem if access to the Alter G was more frequent and I could run on it every day.  There are very few of these expensive machines in the city and understandably, the one at my PT's office is in high demand.  That meant I was only getting a slot twice a week at best.  I see no point in running twice a week.  In fact, I think for me it's mentally tougher than not running at all.  So, I stopped signing up for it.

There are several schools of thought on how to add running back into the routine when recovering from IT Band Syndrome.  Some say to simply run through it.  Others say just to run really fast for all of your runs.  And others say not to run at all.  I don't think any of these theories is wrong.  But like everything else surrounding this injury, there are a number of right answers.  Running through it was not an option for me.  When it flared up, it hurt to the point that my gait was severely altered and then it hurt for the rest of the day.  My attempts to start running again have all started at 30 minutes and would include running on back to back days,  which I now know is too ambitious.  For the next couple of weeks, my runs won't last longer than 20 minutes.  While it is not even enough time to get your heart rate up, it is allowing the body to adjust.  With no races whatsoever on the calendar, I can take as long as I want to build back to base mileage.

I am not going to say when I hope to be doing workouts again.  I don't even have a time frame in my head because it's not up to me.

I wrote this entire blog while listening to the new Smashing Pumpkins album, "Oceania" streaming on YouTube.  It's decent, but not worth buying.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Let's be real

Here are three colloquialisms: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  The third time is NOT a charm.  I altered the third one, but all three phrases would be an appropriate way to describe the conclusion I reached last night.

This IT band injury isn't getting any better.  It's tricky because three times now it has fooled me into believing I was ready to gradually ease back into running only to get me to a place where I felt optimistic and started to make a game plan before flaring right back up again.  Once, it let me go an entire seven runs before coming back with a vengeance.  This most recent go-round, I made it to the end of my third untimed, slow, easy trail run and with the car in sight, that familiar pain shot through the back and side of my knee.  Despite the proximity of the vehicle, it was a long enough walk back for me to empty my curse word arsenal.  It hurt the rest of the night.

I'm driving myself and my wife crazy trying to get better.  I spend every minute that I am not at work doing some sort of stretch or strength exercise.  I eat dinner with ice somewhere on my leg.  I spend a lot of money and time on physical therapy, massages, acupuncture and doctor's visits.  I take an epsom salt bath before bed.  I sleep in very restrictive compression tights. I have taken time to cross-train.  I have taken time to not train at all.  Naproxen.  Arnica.  Topical NSAIDs.  Cortisone.   I'm a man obsessed.  The result of nine weeks of this madness?  A new full time job and my leg still hurts.

I had really hoped this week vacation at my parent's cottage would be a chance to redeem my summer.  I love running here and always find clarity in doing so. The day after my sister's wedding, I logged 25 minutes on the trails along Keuka Lake.  The next day, I got 30 minutes in along Seneca Lake.  Yesterday, what started as a promising jog on the grassy athletic fields in North Rose ended in heartache. 

But I suppose I did find some clarity. It's time to face reality.  The status of my injury has hardly changed.  Best case scenario: I can run 40 miles a week by August.  That gives me the least amount of time possible to prepare for the race I want to run in Philadelphia in November. But, self-imposed time tables hanging over my head are probably working against me.  So, I'm going to consider my entry fee into the Philly Marathon a generous donation to the race director.  Instead of doing this on my schedule, we are going to do this on my IT band's schedule.  Maybe it will decide it wants to play ball tomorrow.  Maybe it needs a few more months.  I'll continue to treat it aggressively and keep relatively in shape via less exciting and more stationary forms of exercise.  This morning, I reeled in a 14 inch large mouthed bass.  It's a start.  I'll live vicariously through Lauren's training for the New York City Marathon, covering the marathon from a news perspective at work and by watching my teammates in local races. 

Right now, I am going to go kayak around the bay and not think about my leg for the rest of the day.