Thursday, July 31, 2014

After the experiment comes the comeback

In my previous blog post I wrote about the major changes I have made this spring to my training plan. So the question is, did cutting training volume, doing more auxiliary strength work and changing up nutrition actually help? Well,  the short answer is yes. Absolutely yes. The longer answer is still a resounding yes but it took a lot of time, tweaking and patience to get to the payoff. Here's how I got to the yes:

Shamrock 8k. Not a pretty race but a
cool pic!
March: When I wrote my last blog post in March I was still struggling with my odd foot injury. I kept
trying to run but with no success - my foot hurt like crazy. I did manage to string together one good week of training and show up at the Oiselle Team spring meet up in Virginia Beach capable of running the Shamrock 8k. While the weekend was incredibly fun the race itself wasn't much to write home about. I had no speed to speak of and not enough endurance to get me through 8k very happily but I did manage to finish second in the Masters field. Score 1 for being over 40! Unfortunately my leg tightened up after the race and I didn't run again for weeks. I was back swimming 7 days a week and doing core work twice a week for the duration of the injury, but that was it.

My first pain-free run! Cue the
rainbows and puppies. 
April: With the help of my amazing PT's, Shefali and Hannah at Athletic Advantage Physical Therapy I finally got to add some running into the mix. Patience paid off and I had my first "real" and pain-free run in California with all of my fellow LUNA athletes when I was there for our annual Summit. I can't imagine a better time to start feeling like a runner again than running along the San Francisco Bay surrounded by dozens and dozens of ladies who all represent the same amazing company at varying levels. LUNA Summit is undoubtedly one of my favorite weekends of the whole year. I returned from that trip both athletically and emotionally rejuvenated and determined to represent both LUNA and Oiselle well this year. Ironically I knew that the way to do that was to start with a very conservative return to running.  I was up to 7 miles by the time the Boston marathon rolled around so I made the (easy for me) choice to not even attempt the race. (I ended up with food poisoning the night before the race so I would have been out of it regardless so that worked out fine.) Instead I had a wonderful time cheering on my Oiselle, LUNA and Bull City Track Club teammates running the race.  After I recovered from the food poisoning I spent the rest of the month easing my mileage up to 30 miles a week, running without a watch more often than not, ignoring my paces and just taking it easy. It is hard work as a runner to practice patience in a return to running but I knew that if I didn't work back slowly I would pay for it down the road...and I didn't have time for that!
Pre-Boston Marathon Oiselle team dinner. It was kind of like a
junior high sleep over...laughing, discussion of teen
crushes and really bad jokes abounded.
Lots of watch-free running
in April and early May. 

May: May brought my first attempts at speed and tempo workouts. Running fast was pretty tough at first but frankly I was amazed by how much fitness my body had maintained through 4 months of not running consistently. We started off with fartleks and then moved to more structured work. Until just this week my speed sessions have been shorter than they used to be: 4800 meters max as opposed to 6000. During this month I started adding UCan into my pre-run routine on workout days, drinking one serving 60 minutes before a workout. I was surprised to find that it really worked well - my energy was incredibly even during many of my hard effort days with no crash at the end.

At the end of May I was able to pace my one of my favorite people, Carter, through one of my favorite races, the Running Of The Bulls in Durham. This race is a tough 8k put on by our local running store and I had a great experience here last year. I knew my fitness wasn't where it needed to be yet to really race this event so I took advantage of the situation and spent a lovely morning keeping Carter company as we romped around Durham, chatting, catching up and running a better race than she had anticipated (but one that I knew she was capable of!). 

June: With just under 7 weeks to go until my "A" races for the summer, June brought a lot of hard work, my first true racing effort and the introduction of heat training. Speed and lactate threshold workouts continued and on June 7th I laced up my spikes for the Southeastern Masters 5k. I really had no idea at all what to expect, but I knew that the most important goal was to have a good, confidence building racing experience. This is a great track meet but unfortunately this year they split the men's and women's fields for the 5k, which meant that I ended up running the 5K completely solo. Fortunately I had my trusty split timer and photographer, Oiselle teammate Allison Camp, there to make sure that I stayed on pace for 12.5 lonely laps. I spent my time counting laps, running on the conservative end of the race pace spectrum and watching Allison expertly juggle the stopwatch and the iPhone camera every time I passed her. The race certainly served its purpose: I got my pre-race nerves out, ran a hard effort and learned that I was well on my way back to having racing endurance again. The time was nothing to write home about: my 18:43 was 28 seconds slower than my time here last year. This was pretty disappointing to me at first but Allison doggedly reminded me that the time wasn't the goal at this race; the positive experience was. Thanks to her persistence I shed my pace concerns and ultimately was satisfied with the outcome.

I spent the rest of June slogging through the Southern heat and humidity, doing my workouts in the late morning swelter to prep for my July track races. In late June I had finally fine tuned my pre-run nutrition protocol and that definitely helped. While running in the extreme heat and humidity was challenging, I was finding that all but my longest lactate threshold efforts were coming in at my non-heat training paces. I figured this was good news, but I still didn't quite know what it meant!

with one of my favorite people,
Margaret, pre-race.
July: I started July with the Carrboro Four on the Fourth, where my goals were to run sub-6:15 pace, test out my ability to run hard in the heat and, hopefully, place in the Masters division so that I could win a third handmade plate from the race series. (I figured that once I got the third plate my whole family could eat lunch off of matching pottery.) While I had a truly disappointing pace fade, descending from a 6:03 first mile to a 6:15 fourth mile, I did still manage to meet all of my goals. My pace came in at 6:10, I was the first Masters woman, fifth female overall and I won that third plate. Its the little things! The race was also a wonderful, fun morning with my local Oiselle teammates as Ellen and Jolene both raced and Carolyn cheered us on at JUST the right spot on the course.

Oiselle Team NC post-race!

Third plate!

Despite meeting all those goals I still walked away from the race a little dissatisfied with my racing. My pace faded dreadfully and I struggled mentally during the tough spots on the course. I'm guessing that these were related. (I also failed to take my full pre-race gel, which might have factored in.) But instead of wallowing in the disappointment I used it as a wake up call. I have ALWAYS struggled with the mental aspect of racing. I know so many runners who fill their minds with positive mantras and self talk, but I always seem to find myself ruminating on how much pain I'm in. I spend a lot of time just making deals with myself to try to avoid taking a walking break (and I'm embarrassed to admit how often I give in and actually take said break!). But this race was the wake up call I needed. I knew that I had two big, daunting, difficult races just 2 weeks later and I needed to get my mental game together. 

What did I do? Well, not much actually. I just thought about it. But I thought about it A LOT. I nodded off at night visualizing myself being positive during races. I practiced the one mantra I have ever used, over and over and over again. I would say it to myself during speed and tempo workouts, while driving my son to camp, while cooking dinner...any time I thought about the upcoming races I made sure I thought about being positive. I reminded myself that the painful moments in a race often pass if you just ride them out for a few minutes. I channeled my LUNA teammate Kara LaPoint, who is the toughest, grittiest athlete I know. This certainly was no scientific sports psychology program, but it definitely helped. By the time race week arrived I had done all of these things so many times that I was confident that at least SOME of those positive thoughts, triggers and mantras were firmly implanted in my brain. I certainly felt different: I was oddly calm, no big nerves, no racing heart as I tried to fall asleep at night, no queasiness. My last workout pre-race was stellar and my runs felt easy. All of this, of course, totally freaked me out. But I realized that I really had nothing to lose: there was no one putting pressure on me other than me. I wasn't going to let anyone down if I didn't race well. And I only had 10 weeks of workouts under my belt so I wasn't at peak fitness anyway. So instead of my normal basket of nerves I showed up at the races with a lot of respect for the miles ahead of me, a healthy dose of intimidation of my competitors and a strange sense of calm.

These two "A" races were the 5k and the 1500 meters at the Masters National Track and Field Championships. The 5k was run Friday morning and the 1500 meters was run 24 hours later. Miraculously, the Southern heat and humidity took a vacation and we were greeted with cool morning air. I was lucky enough to be joined at the races by my crackerjack Masters teammates from Bull City Track Club. Alison, Nancy and Caren are incredible runners, caring friends and great travel partners. I really couldn't ask for a better group to race the USATF Masters circuit with!

Nancy, me & Alison
Alison, Nancy and I were all registered for the 5k and Caren made the last-minute decision to come along and cheer for us. During the 90 minute drive to Winston-Salem I downed my bottle of electrolytes and Osmo and my bottle of UCAN. Once there we (all track novices still) navigated all the formalities of track racing: pinning bibs all over our singlets, checking in with clerks and officials, sticking the sticky numbers on our chests. After gulping down my pre-race gel it was finally time to line up. Going into this race I was seeded seventh. You will not be surprised to learn that in advance of this meet I had google stalked the entire field and based on this research I figured that if I had a good day I might finish as high as fifth. But as I stood on the line I tried to banish any thoughts of the potential race outcome from my brain and just concentrate on the task ahead. The goal was to go out with Alison in 89 or 90 seconds per lap (that's a 5:56 to 6:00 pace) and then pick the pace up later if I felt strong. Caren was in the stands, watch ready to holler splits at us and cheer encouragement, so (completely out of character for me) I didn't even wear my watch.

When the gun went off there was about 300 meters of total mayhem. I clipped and was clipped by a bunch of women as we sorted ourselves out but I never felt like I was going to go down. By the end of the first lap we had settled into a 90 second pace and the group had strung out a bit. I sat in 5th place for a much of the race: the undeniably super-human Sonja Friend-Uhl was way, way off the front en route to a stellar solo effort and then I was trailing just off the back of a pack of 3 other women. One of them is a local runner who I know is speedy and the other two, I gathered from the announcer's commentary, are former collegiate stars. Over the course of the first two miles the pace dropped consistently: after a few 90's I heard Caren shouting 89's. Good, I thought...I'm confident that I can handle 89's. Then after a few laps of that she switched to 88's. This was my dream pace for this race...the pace I figured I could run if everything went just right. So when I heard the first 88 I checked in with myself. Much to my surprise I found that I was feeling completely smooth, aerobic and in control. So
I just kept cruising along. With 6 laps to go, doubt crept in briefly. I found myself thinking that is usually at this point in a 5k that I start to lose my form, get tired and, honestly, get a little bored. Not surprisingly, just after I had those thoughts my form got a little wonky. But I was even more amazed to find that I was able to banish those thoughts from my head, channel Kara's grit and get my act back together. Caren yelled at me to keep my eyes up on the corners and hollered that I was strong, which were the best verbal cues anyone could have possibly given me as they helped keep my form from deteriorating and kept my confidence up. Somewhere after 6 laps to go I slid up into fourth place and was delighted. I was feeling good and was confident at this point that I could finish the race at this pace and exceed my fifth place finish goal.

And then, just before 4 to go, it seemed like the pace of the 2 women in front of me slowed. I honestly didn't make a conscious move past them, but I felt like I either needed to hold my pace and pass them or slow down significantly. All of a sudden I found myself in second. I had a brief "holy crud, what am I doing here" moment, but again I checked in with myself, found that I was still running entirely within my fitness and so I just kept going. At 3.5 to go Caren hollered out 87 and I freaked out a little bit again. That's my goal 5k pace and I was NOT expecting to hit it during this race. But I just kept going. 2.5 to go and I hit another 87. And then with 600 meters to go Caren shouted "85!" What the what?!?! I just ran an 85 second quarter? I am happy when I hit an 85 in a workout! I honestly didn't feel like I had picked up the pace at all since the second lap of the race. But instead of freaking out I checked in with my body again, found that I was doing fine, had a little positive chat with myself and just kept hauling along. 200 meters to go brought news that my last full lap was one more 85 and from there on in I just kicked for the finish line. I actually had the realization during my "kick" that I could probably go significantly faster than I was going at that point, but I actually decided against it because it sounded like too much work at that point.

As I approached the finish line I realized that the clock was frozen on Sonja's winning time of 17:22 so I had NO idea what my time was going to be. But just as I crossed an official with a watch called out 18:15. And that was it. I was done. I wasn't spent. I didn't have to lie down to recover. I just felt totally...fine. If you know me, you know this is never, ever the case for me after a race. I have sat or laid down just beyond almost every finish line I have crossed in the last 5 years. So this was very, very odd. But once I got over the shock of how much energy I had left I can honestly say that I just felt completely satisfied. I ran a negative split 5k, the first one of my life. I closed with a 5:43 mile. I finished second in a strong field of women. Does this mean that I think I am the second fastest masters runner in the 5k in the country? Absolutely not. I KNOW that is far from the truth. But the placing was really the least of the victories in this race. Placing is external; it is somewhat dependent on who shows up at the starting line. My satisfaction came from the knowledge that all the focused, hard work I had done over the last 10 weeks had completely paid off. Had I known I was capable of running 18:15 so comfortably I would have probably run faster earlier on. But I would have gained what? Five, maybe ten seconds? That would have been cool, but I don't know that I would have had as satisfying of a race experience.
Post-race Bull City Track Club love 

Alison and Nancy finished hot on my heels and, after some sweaty hugs and big cups of water we jogged through a cool down, packed up and headed home. I had a grin plastered on my face for the remainder of the day but I was also a little concerned about my race the following morning. Was I going to feel totally flat when I stepped on the track? Did I even know HOW to run a 1500? Fortunately I didn't have too much time to worry about it; before I knew it I was packing up my son in the early morning hours and heading back to Winston-Salem to meet Caren for the 1500.

Once again we went through the regular pre-race hoopla and finally got called to the line. As I looked around I began to feel completely out of my league. Most of these women were 800/1500 meter track ladies. They looked fit and strong, long and lithe, and I was intimidated. But the gun doesn't wait for everyone's nerves to calm down so before I knew it we were off. The start was pretty dreadful. I thought I was boxed in at the start of the 5k but this was 10 times worse. I was literally jogging for the first 200 meters, trying to get out of the crowd! I finally succeeded and, much to my surprise at 300 meters in I found myself in third place. I was running fast, but I was also pretty darn relaxed. That said, I was petrified to pick it up lest my legs crap out with a lap to go. I just had NO idea where I was in regards to the top end of my capabilities. 400 meters in I heard the announcer say that Caren had pulled into fourth and I was relaxed enough to reach back and give her a thumbs up (I don't think she saw it, but I did it!). I just kept cruising along, but unfortunately my negative self-talk did crop up in this race a bit. The woman in second had a small gap on me and I just was sure that I wouldn't be able to close the gap and catch her so I stayed content with my position, all the way up to the end. I crossed the line in 5:03, two seconds out of second and just shy of my secret, fresh-legs goal of 4:59. Like yesterday, after I crossed the line I was able to just walk away. No sitting down, no need to even really catch my breath. I just walked away, turned around and cheered Caren in to her stellar, strong finish.

As I drove up to visit my parents after that second race, I was acutely aware that I could have run faster in both events. I had 7.5 hours to think about both races, replay them in my head, discuss them with my obliging 8 year old. But unlike past races my "underperformance" didn't make me mad at myself. Instead it gave me confidence that I am doing exactly what I need to do to meet my time goals for both the 5k and the mile this year. Before this weekend of racing I was in the midst of a big training experiment but now I am forging forward with a proven plan. Next stop, 17:59.


Just for fun, here are a few of the pro runners who ran RIGHT by me at Boston. Not being able to race has its perks!

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Alex Varner. Not a celeb runner to all, but
to his NC fans he is! He had just run a 50
miler the weekend prior to Boston. Crazy.

Desi Davila Linden


Shalane, looking fierce and in control

After the layoff comes the experiment

It would appear from my blogging frequency that I'm not particularly adept at this whole "writing regularly" game. That's partly true - I do have a hard time getting blog posts completed and published, but the main issue is that I don't want to write when I don't have something that may actually be useful or interesting for others to read. But, at long last I have something to say today that you runners might find interesting, so settle in for part one of a recap of what I've been doing with my training, racing and pacing as of late and how it is actually all one giant experiment that I'm conducting on myself this year.

To fully understand the nature of this experiment let's start with a quick look into how I have trained during the last few years: I was a high-ish mileage runner (for a recreational runner), logging 60-70 miles a week over 6-7 days of running. I incorporated core work sporadically and often ignored my coach's instructions to do drills and strides within my workouts due to lack of time or proper facilities. I also was happy to do the bulk of my speed work on my treadmill: I'm comfortable in that environment and as someone who never ran on a track until adulthood I've historically found the track to be daunting. (Yes, I just admitted that I was intimidated by a rubber oval. Silly, but true.)

This is where my foot was injured.

But then a few things happened: first, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't going to hold onto my top end speed forever and that I needed to get my act together if I was going to set any more PR's. (I just turned 41.) Second, I got injured. And I remained injured for four long, boring, excruciatingly painful (at times), frustrating months. As a result of these factors, when I was finally able to return to running I made a very conscious decision to step outside of my comfort zone and shake up my training in hopes of kick starting my speed, staying injury-free and hopefully achieving some of the goals I've been (not so secretly) holding onto.

Basically, as I returned from injury in late April and early May the plan was this:

1. Lower mileage. I built my mileage back up more slowly than I ever have post-injury and I'm now topping out in the mid-40's at best. I run 5 days a week now.

I swam so much that I destroyed this
swim suit in less than 4 months!
2. Swimming. I fell back into swimming after becoming bored to tears with aquajogging midway through my injury. My iPod broke and I couldn't stand one more minute of staring at the pool wall while running in place so I strapped on my goggles and went for it. I haven't really swum since my triathlon days (which ended in 2002!) and I'm by no means a talented swimmer but I quickly remembered what I love about swimming: a) it is completely solitary. Yes, I'm an extrovert. But I also love a little quiet time and swimming gives it to me. b) It stretches me out. All my aches and pains seem to dissolve in the pool. c) It increases my aerobic fitness enormously. Aqua jogging does this as well, but swimming is just much more meditative for me. So I swapped out 2 of my recovery runs for swims and have stuck with it.

The tools of my core and strength training
routine: stability ball, medicine ball,
wheel, rubber band and airex mat.
3. Consistent, functional, extremely challenging core work. Twice a week, every week. During the school year I get to do at least one of these workouts with my fantastic running friend Ellen Moss, which means that a tough 20 minute core workout is also a hilarious gossip session. We have fun and we kick our abs into shape. It has been hard to keep this up solo in the summer but I've been diligent. Also, all the work I do is geared towards running fitness. There are no vanity exercises, no crunches; just 12 or 13 really tough exercises designed to help maintain form when my body gets tired.*

mid core-workout with Ellen.
Laughing is a workout, right?

4. PT exercises. I do these in conjunction with my core work and they take 10 to 20 minutes. My injury was having a hard time healing due to the classical runner's woe of weak glute medius so I was prescribed a series of injuries to help with that. Since every single injury I have had in the past few years has in some way involved my weak flute medius it finally sank in that I should probably just do these exercises all the time. Who knows...they may help me avoid some injuries in the future!*

5. Drills and strides. And not just when I feel like it but every time my coach writes them into my workout. These take about 15 minutes and I do them between my warm up and my track and tempo workouts and after my long run. Drills help teach proper form, strengthen muscles and connective tissue and provide a dynamic warm up. Strides help train the neuromuscular system to run faster. Who wouldn't want those benefits?*

In Chapel Hill, even the track is Carolina Blue!
6. Running outside for my workouts. All the time. It dawned on me that skipping workouts on the track in favor of my treadmill just because I found the track daunting was pretty stupid considering my racing this summer centered around 2 track races. So I got my rear to the track and learned how to pace properly so that every workout wasn't a disaster. I also took my LT workouts outside, finding a mostly flat and somewhat shaded route that gave me a controlled environment while still putting me outdoors. I am amazed by how much faster I am able to run these workouts outdoors at the same perceived level of exertion. If nothing else, that fact alone gives me a confidence boost!

7. Finally, I switched up my nutrition. I'm still a huge fan of my LUNA and Clif products and they are heavily featured in my new plan but I have added UCan and an Osmo product into the mix. In the past I used to train on either an empty stomach or on a single LUNA bar. Post-workout I would eat when I got around to it. Sometimes that was right away, sometimes it was hours later. And I actually wondered why I was having a hard time recovering from workouts?!?! I was making the mistake of listening to my hunger cues and, unfortunately, running actually decreases my appetite for a couple of hours. (Not so with swimming!) The change here has been really quite drastic. I now consume a bottle of UCan one hour before any of my hard workouts: track, tempo or long run. If it is going to be extremely hot out I also drink a full bottle of Clif electrolytes with a scoop of Osmo pre-load hydration. I use the same nutritional prep before races, but I also add in a Clif shot espresso gel 15 minutes before the race. The change in my ability to hold my paces has been nothing short of astounding. My energy really just doesn't drop is actually a little freaky. The first time I tried this combo I thought it was a fluke, but week after week during my workouts I found the same results. I honestly still do not fully understand how its all working but its phenomenal to feel so good throughout my hard efforts that I am sticking to it!

As for post-run and race nutrition, I consume another bottle of electrolytes and a LUNA bar as soon as I can after my workouts. This actually stimulates my appetite so I am much better about following up quickly with a healthy meal. Sometimes "healthy" gets swapped out for a BLT or a milkshake, but I do try to keep things balanced.

So there you have it! That's a lot of change, right? The obvious next question is - did it work? Well, in the interest of not making your eyes glaze over too much, you're going to have to wait for that. The second half of this story will be posted later today or check back!

* I want to address why I am not detailing exactly what core work, strength work and drills I do in this post. While I am a NASM-certified personal trainer and a USATF-certified Level 1 coach, I think that this medium, blogging, is a pretty awful place to dispense detailed training advice. I simply don't feel comfortable posting the exercises I am doing here out of concern that someone will read about them or see photos and then perform them incorrectly. It is very important that core, strength and drill movements are performed with correct movement patterns; if not they can cause more harm than good. That said, if you are a local friend reading this and want to talk in person about what I've been doing I am more than happy to meet with you!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fall down 7 times, get up 8

Well, hello there blog!

Has it really been 7 months since I last published a post here? Ack! I honestly cannot believe that blogger hasn't just given up on me and closed my blog down by now, but since they haven't I will do my best to write a catch up blog post and get to where I am today (and the meaning of the the post title).

I wish I could say that I have been absent from blogging because my husband and I had won the lottery and spent the past 7 months traveling the world, but the reality is that my life has just been very busy. Between training, volunteer work with Girls On The Run, searching for, buying, overseeing the remodeling of and moving to a new house, helping my son through some tough challenges at school and trying to keep up my housewife duties (at least keeping us all fed and in clean clothes) while my husband works his 100 hour weeks, well, there hasn't been much time left to blog.

I spent my fall doing a lot of this...

...and this
and this!

Pain face in the final 400 meters of the road mile

The good news is that my fall racing season was, overall, pretty fantastic. I held off on racing as a masters runner until September, which was pretty great because it gave me plenty of time to get fit and gain confidence in that fitness. Unfortunately it also gave me plenty of time to get ridiculously nervous about that first race back. Despite the nerves I made it to the starting line without a) hiding in the port potty, b) barfing or c) having my heart reach its max heart rate before the race even began. And 5 minutes and 20 seconds later I found myself with a new lifetime road PR, a state championship title and a 6 second masters state record. Needless to say, that was a GREAT way to start off my masters running career! I have worried since then that I may have peaked in my first race, but hopefully that won't prove to be the case over the long run.

After the National 12k Champs
With Carter after a dismal,
but oddly successful 1/2
marathon state champs

The rest of the fall was a series of ups and downs, with a some immensely frustrating races (all due to breathing issues) punctuated by a few great results: a masters trail 10k national championships win, second at masters 5k XC national championships (despite breathing woes), second at masters 12k road national championships and a state 1/2 marathon championships masters win. The season ended on a high note as I travelled to Bend, OR as a part of the Bull City Track Club masters women's team where we produced a stellar team performance, finishing 4th at Club XC Championships. Individually my race was the pits (breathing crud, again) but I am honestly far too excited for my 2 teammates fantastic individual races and our team result to give a damn about how I ran.

Nancy, Alison and me at Club XC.
The were both AMAZING on the
crazy hills!

Despite the success I had in terms of placing at large races, I was definitely not thrilled with all of my race times and as the season closed out I was already looking forward to the big goals I have for 2014. But before goals could be chased I first took a solid break and turned my attention to the home renovation I was managing. We bought a multi-generation house built in the mid-1970's and it was, at time of purchase, a pretty awesome time capsule of its era. Consequently my winter break was chock full of design decisions, materials procurement and packing up our family to move. It may not have been the most relaxing break but it sure was exciting, especially for an architecture and design junkie like myself!

As January rolled around and my fitness started coming back I turned my thoughts to the indoor track season and pacing my training partner to a new PR at Boston. And then I rolled my ankle during a Sunday trail run. It wasn't a bad roll at all...I remember saying a 4 letter word but I felt no lasting pain as I continued on my way. The next morning, however, was a different story. Every step of my run was excruciating! I felt like I was being stabbed in the lateral (outside) side of the foot with each and every step. I had hoped that the run would loosen up whatever was tight but it was clearly not going to happen. Once this became apparent I threw in the towel and called my trusty, talented sports chiropractor. Unfortunately he was unable to find a concrete cause of the foot pain. And its not just him! During the course of the past 3 months I have seen my regular sports chiro, a well-regarded sports podiatrist and a second, also extremely talented sports chiropractor. I have taken a 1 week break from running, a 2 week break from running, taken awful prescription pain killers that made me want to vomit for 2 days straight, had X-rays taken of my foot and done tons of core exercises and strengthening and strengthening for the foot and ankle. And yet...every single doctor has not been able to identify why I continue to have that pain on the outside of my foot right where my peroneal tendons wrap under my fifth metatarsal.

Now I spend a lot of time
doing this...
After 11 weeks of this I am pretty much out of patience with my doctors (whom I continue to respect, trust and really like, but who just can't figure this out) and have depleted what funds I might have initially spent on an MRI on doctor's visits, so when my coach suggested I reacquaint my foot with my trusty boot, I honestly didn't complain. Needless to say, indoor track didn't happen, Boston isn't happening and outdoor track, which was my focus for the entire year, is completely up in the air. To say that I am frustrated would be the most massive, monumental understatement of the year. It is one thing to sustain an injury, have it diagnosed and then know that you need to recover from it for a set amount of time. That is EASY and I am really, really good at it. But this is the THIRD injury in under four years that I have sustained that is not easy to diagnose and has no foreseeable end point.

And that is where I come to the title of the post. "Fall down 7 times, get up 8". I have always loved
Hello old friend...
this quote; I discovered it many years ago when I was witnessing my grandmother will herself, through stubbornness and hard work, to recover from a series of strokes that she was told she couldn't recover from. But every single time she dusted herself off, learned to write again, drive again, walk again. And if she can do that then I can tackle this frustrating setback. Honestly, what other choice do I have? At the suggestion of my doctors, I tried running in pain...and it was AWFUL. I had never really tried to do that before and I don't recommend it. I would rather be in this boot and never run again than run with that level of pain ever again. So despite the fact that I smell like chlorine all the time now and my boot is causing my SI joint a lot of grief, I am grateful to be in the boot and doing PT exercises that will, at least, further strengthen my core and hips. With no end in sight to this mess I am choosing to give myself a little pity party every day but to not dwell on the frustration and anger I could be feeling. I'm just going to put my head down, do the work and hope that someday there will be a pain-free run waiting for me when I lace up my shoes. In the meantime you'll find me in the pool singing to myself (hopefully not out loud) and hanging the last of my art work in my house.

For those who are wondering (because I know I would be) here are a few pics of our house before, and now. We aren't done by any means but we are getting there!

The kitchen before
And now. Same cabinets!

Looking from the kitchen to
the living and dining room

Almost the same view now

The new floating sideboard
Looking downstairs towards D's office

There used to be a stairwell there. Now there's
this fab painting of women running,
painted by my grandmother's cousin.
Much better!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How to get back in the (running) game as fast as possible

It has come to my attention that there is a pretty crazy rash of injuries amongst the runners I know right now. Between my Oiselle teammates and my Bull City teammates, I need both hands to count the number of folks who are down for the count/on the DL/benched....whatever you want to call it. The bottom line is, a ton of folks are hurt. And, if you have been following twitter or Facebook or have (gasp!) had a live conversation with me, you would know that I spent a month on the injured list as well. I even missed running with my best friend when she came to town for my 40th birthday.  Luckily I am now back in the game, ready to start rebuilding my speed and returning to racing shape.

This isn't the first time I have been sidelined by an injury. As distance runners we are, unfortunately, prone to overuse injuries and injuries that result from anatomical imbalances. I am additionally prone to injuries borne from total klutziness and bad luck so I have a higher than average experience with injury.  Fortunately this has given me the opportunity to become pretty darn good when it comes to injury recovery. So, in light of the current popularity of getting injured I thought I would share my techniques for getting back on your feet as quickly as possible.

This is the part of the post where I have to include a disclaimer. I am not a doctor nor am I a physical therapist. I am, however, a total klutz who is great at getting injured, a pro at getting healed, a USATF Level 1 certified coach and a lapsed certified personal trainer. So while my recovery secrets are not rooted in medicine they have been tested and refined and retested multiple times on me by me and are rooted in my education as well as in good, old-fashioned common sense.

So, what's the secret? Lean in, really is.......PATIENCE. The biggest secret of all is patience. It isn't the only part of the equation, but it is the most important. You simply cannot rush your body through injury recovery and if you try to, I can guarantee you that you will be out of commission for a longer total time than if you were just patient from the get go.

So what goes with patience? Let me list off all the elements of my formula for successful recovery. If you have questions or feel like I missed anything, please don't hesitate to comment!

1. Patience. Obviously. I know that I already said this but I still can't stress the importance of patience enough. I am not, by nature, a patient person. Ask my husband, my coach, my parents, even my kid. I am seriously lacking in this department. But when I get hurt I turn into a totally different person, if only in this one area. And it has served me well over and over again. So when your doctor says "you are going to be in this boot for 4 to 6 weeks" I recommend that you just suck it up and make your follow up appointment for 6 weeks out. Because you know what? Two extra weeks in a boot isn't going to hurt you long-term. But the demoralization of going into a follow up appointment at 4 weeks thinking you are going to get the boot off and then hearing that you have to stay in it for 2 more weeks is much more devastating than just patiently waiting for the entire prescribed time.

2. Get a thorough diagnosis, both of the injury and the cause of the injury. So, say you develop a spontaneous (i.e. no pain preceding the break) stress fracture in the second metatarsal of your foot 7 and 1/2 weeks before a major marathon. It is all well and good to get a proper diagnosis of the injury ("stress fracture of the second metatarsal") but if you don't get a proper diagnosis of the cause ("patient tweaked their orthotics and ran with an adjusted gait for a week") then guess what? You are likely to re-injure it over and over again. Often times a proper diagnosis doesn't require lots of fancy, expensive tests, it just requires an observant doctor and a patient who is willing to be brutally honest about their behaviors leading up to the injury. I have had many injuries that have healed completely and never, ever recurred. I also have one injury that recurred "mysteriously" for almost a year. Only when I teamed up with a doctor who looked at my biomechanics from head to toe and asked me questions about the incident that led to the injury in great detail were we able to get that injury licked permanently. (And in just a matter of weeks.)

Also in this category I would like to mention the importance of finding the proper medical professional. If you are working with someone, be they a physical therapist, a chiropractor or an orthopedist, and you aren't getting relief from pain or progress towards recovery (or if you just don't feel comfortable with what they are telling you) then do not hesitate to get another opinion. I have worked with plenty of medical professionals who are stars in their field but who just were't the right person for the particular injury I had at the time. Don't be afraid to try out another doc! Now, this isn't suggesting that you just bounce around until you find someone who gives you the news that you WANT to hear (a.k.a. that you are fine and can just resume running). This means look around, ask fellow runners for recommendations, even ask your current medical provider for recommendations, until you find someone who you feel confident is looking at you holistically and who has both knowledge of your specific type of injury and a plan for recovery.

3. Once you have found a doctor/chiro/PT who you are comfortable with, have received a thorough diagnosis and have asked all the questions you can think of, FOLLOW THE DOCTOR'S ORDERS. Again, if the doc says "6 weeks in a boot" don't start testing it out just because the pain is gone after 3 weeks. Pain goes away before healing is complete. If the doc says "do these exercises every day for a month" and you choose to not do them and then re-injure yourself, well, don't blame the doctor. Obviously no medical professional is perfect; they are human and they don't have a crystal ball that can guarantee that their recommendations will be accurate all the time, but you would be amazed by how many athletes I know who have not followed the course of treatment laid out by their doc and have then wondered why they are not healed.

4. Don't take any short cuts. Cortisone shots and anti-inflammatories like advil can be very tempting when you are injured: they reduce inflammation and mask pain. When you are limping around that sounds awfully tempting, doesn't it? Unfortunately these therapies can reduce inflammation so much that they remove the body's natural inflammation response which is a critical part of healing soft tissue and they can mask pain so thoroughly that you may think that the injury is healed sufficiently to train on. Both scenarios lead to one thing, and it isn't good....they lead to testing out the injury before it is healed. Now, I am not saying that there aren't specific situations in which cortisone is the best course of treatment and in which the inflammation is SO severe that NSAIDS are a prudent therapy. But I AM saying that, again, runners tend towards impatience and all too often turn towards these risky treatments more out of desperation than common sense.

5. Have a pity party. Every day. This one is really, really important. The truth of the matter is that it just plain stinks to be injured. I would hope that you all run for the same reason that I do: an irrational, indescribable love of the sport. So when we are temporarily unable to participate in this sport that we have an ongoing love affair with, well, it is miserable. I have found that it helps to acknowledge the degree to which injury sucks on a regular basis throughout the duration of the layoff. I take a few minutes each day to pout, throw (soft) things, even cry. And then I dust myself off and get on with the business of the next part of the plan.

6. That said, DO throw everything that is prudent at your injury. Make it your mission to be the most compliant, thorough patient that ever graced your doctor's office. When I broke my foot before the New York City Marathon my doctor suggested I incorporate the use of a bone stimulator to my arsenal of therapies. After a little research that taught me that bone stimulators can help heal breaks up to 40% faster (than just letting the bone heal on its own) I was all in for the idea. There was no downside, no risk, as long as I used the device correctly. And guess what? It totally worked. Other therapies I have used in injury recovery include the traditional ice and heat rotation, calcium citrate when recovering from bone injuries, crutches, a walking boot, hydrotherapy, active release technique, nerve flossing, stretching, not stretching, specific rehab exercises, Graston and good old fashioned rest.

7. Take the long view, part one. With my most recent injury (caused by mowing my lawn), after 3 weeks of aqua jogging my doc and I realized that even the aquajogging was aggravating my injury and the only way my soft tissue was going to fully heal was for me to take full, complete rest. No cross training AT ALL. Limited walking. Nothing. He prescribed 7 to 10 days of such rest. I took 9 and took it very seriously. After 7 I had healed so well that I was cleared for light walking and cycling, after 9 I was cleared to test run. Guess what? The rest totally did the trick and I have had a successful return to running. Did I loathe the idea of sitting on my rear for 9 days doing NOTHING, especially during my big 40th birthday weekend? Heck yeah. It was pretty sad. But was it worth it? Absolutely. The bottom line is that sometimes rest is the best treatment available. And contrary to popular belief, a little rest isn't going to kill us as runners. (Also along these lines, my 7 year old son wants me to tell you that I took the long view and bought a better [used] lawn mower that will help me not re-injure myself. A little pricy but much, much cheaper than all the doctor's appointments!)

8. Take the long view, part two. If rest isn't the best option then work with your doc and figure out what cross training is safe for you to do. There are plenty of options out there: I have swum laps with a pull buoy between my legs, aqua jogged, cycled, used the elliptical, run on an Alter-G treadmill, even used the hand cycle. The "right" method of cross training depends entirely on the location and nature of your injury. I know, I know...cross training is BORING. And it isn't RUNNING. I can hear people whining about this right now. But you know what is even more awful than cross training? Being totally out of shape when you are healed and ready to return to running. Obviously there is a time and place for full rest (see above) but otherwise there is no reason to lose your aerobic fitness during an injury. Nothing will ever keep you as fit for running as running can but proper cross training will definitely keep the fitness losses to a minimum and will help you get back on your feet faster.

Another thing about cross training: as boring as it is, it can also be the avenue towards keeping a long term goal alive. I have trained for more than one marathon while injured and have been able to successfully complete every one. Two examples: in 1997 I broke my femoral neck (the top of my thigh bone) and was restricted to crutches and swimming with the pull buoy for 8 weeks. It was miserably, mind-numbingly boring to swim freestyle for 60 to 90 minutes a day, but I had a marathon 12 weeks post-injury that I really didn't want to miss. And guess what? I maintained enough fitness to be capable of running, my bone fully healed and I finished that marathon in 3:24 with no ill effects. In 2008 I broke my foot just 7 and 1/2 weeks before New York. The plane tickets were purchased (for my entire family no less!), the rental house was paid for, the entry fee was paid. I was NOT interested in missing out on this marathon. So I worked with my coach and translated all my running workouts over to time and aqua jogged each and every one of them. I did VO2 Max intervals at such effort that I nearly lost my lunch in the water multiple times. I completed long LT efforts that bored me to tears. And I did all the long runs in the pool. Twenty two miles translated out to 2 hours and 45 minutes of aqua that is exactly what I did. And guess what? I finished that marathon too, in 3:37, without a problem and the foot was 100% healed.

9. Use the time that you are injured to improve your strength and your form...and then continue that when you are back on your feet. I learned this one from Shalane Flanagan. When she was forced to take a layoff to recuperate from surgery on her foot she used the time off to work on her core strength. Hey, if it is good enough for Shalane then it is good enough for me! So every time I have an injury layoff I look at it as an opportunity to work on my weak points: my core, my glute medius, any stride imbalances I may have at the time. I find that all too often I let these "little things" slip out of my training program when I am healthy enough to run full time so I actually have come to enjoy having the chance to prioritize these critical aspects of my fitness and strength. Just like the cross training, this part of the recovery equation also helps me return to full training faster and more successfully.

So there you have it. Like I said at the beginning, my method for recovering from injury is nothing fancy, has no super-secret elements and isn't, unfortunately, going to help you recover at a lightening-fast rate. I just rely on the all too elusive methods of common sense, patience and hard work. I'm sorry if this is disappointing to some who thought I was going to divulge some top-secret info here, but I hope that for the rest of you this can help provide a successful path to full injury recovery and a little hope that whatever blip is currently on your training screen need not signal the end of your short or long term running goals.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On turning 40

Tomorrow I am going to turn forty. Those who know me know that I have been looking forward to this birthday for a couple of years now...unlike so many folks, I cannot wait for this milestone birthday. The primary reason for this is that, as a runner, I can finally exit the "open" ranks and move up to "masters". After chasing around speedy, much younger women for the past few years I am really, really excited about this.

There is also another reason that I am excited to turn 40 though, one that is much more private to me but that I think really needs to be discussed more. I am going to do my best here; if I jumble my words, please forgive me.

In short, I am in awe of the fact that I am about to turn 40 for the same reason that I was in awe when I got married and when I became a mother...because there was a time when we (my family and friends and I) didn't know if any of this was ever going to happen. See, half my lifetime ago, I wasn't the healthy, strong, incurably optimistic gal I am now...I was this girl:

I was 72 pounds and I had literally forgotten how to eat. I was in danger of dying, right then.

As you may have guessed, that photo was taken when I was in the throes of anorexia. It was actually taken the day I checked myself into my second inpatient treatment program, midway through my junior year of college. And, fortunately for me, it was taken at my turning point. That was, quite possibly, the greatest day of my entire life. 

But before we get to the turning point, the upswing, let's talk about the downward spiral and the illness.

If you follow popular culture, you may have surmised that I became anorexic because I felt fat or (since I am now a runner) because I wanted to be thinner to run faster. While those are the commonly held beliefs they are simply untrue, both for my situation and for the bulk of women who have struggled with eating disorders. I became sick when my life fell off its axis and I became stressed beyond a degree that my body and brain could manage solo. I needed a coping mechanism and I fell into controlling my food much by accident. 

Every eating disorder has a trigger: an event or phase of life that, for a healthy, strong mind would be tough but manageable, but for someone predisposed to an eating disorder is decidedly unmanageable. For me, the trigger was twofold. First, my oldest, most treasured friend needed to step aside from our friendship to take care of her own stuff. At 17 years old I couldn't understand what had happened and I blamed myself, thinking that the problem was that I had failed her as a friend. I was never angry, just confused. As an adult I now can totally understand the situation but at that point I just became unmoored. Almost simultaneously my family began the toughest period of our existence, one that was overwhelmed by not knowing if we were going to be able to keep our house, the company my dad had built over decades, anything. It was under these circumstances that I went off to college. I was stressed to the max and felt very alone. Heartburn became a daily occurrence and the only thing I could do to combat it was not eat. At the time it seemed so sensible. That said, I felt physically awful all the time. I was intensely confused and afraid...I wasn't eating because I was afraid to feel physically horrid if I did but I began to feel pretty darn awful because I wasn't eating. When I dipped down to 68 pounds my family and I realized we needed to pull the plug and I went home for inpatient hospitalization. 

At this point none of us understood that I had an eating disorder. The explanations we were given made no sense for me. All the professionals I encountered at that time seemed to think that anorexia was for models and runners who wanted to be thinner, not for stressed out, type-A, perfectionistic but always feeling inferior women. I know now that they couldn't have been more wrong, that I was, in fact, the poster child for this psychiatric and physical illness.

Let's skip to the nitty gritty. My first hospitalization was unproductive, and actually pretty counterproductive. No one explained the truth about eating disorders to us at the time, the just kept slapping labels on me and making inaccurate assumptions. Yes, I gained some weight, but sadly I didn't gain any understanding of the predicament I was in. It actually took a few more years to fully understand the truth about eating disorders:

It's not about the food. It's not about being thin. It's about control. It's a coping mechanism.

When I say it's a coping mechanism I don't want to confuse you into thinking that by restricting food I was coping with life well. I really wasn't. I felt pretty out of control and miserable (physically and emotionally) during the years I was sick. But I suppose that my eating disorder distracted me from the situations that triggered it. Unfortunately, once the eating disorder settled in, I didn't really know how to kick it. I think that this is pretty typical: fear or a traumatic event tends to trigger an eating disorder but once the habit forms it becomes very hard to let it go. There is a massive codependency between the patient and their eating disorder. And because the illness itself messes with brain chemistry due to malnutrition it is next to impossible to be reasonable. 

I was stuck in that loop for a good 2 years. Looking back, I kind of lived a double life: I was excelling in school, carrying a dual major and enough credits for 2 minors, coxing the varsity 8 boat, having, for all intents and purposes, a wonderful college experience. But all the while my illness kept me on the sidelines, slightly detached from the whole experience. When one is sick with an eating disorder it is really impossible to fully participate in and enjoy life; the eating disorder just demands too much energy. 

Some of the fab rowers who loved
me dearly when I wasn't doing a
great job of loving myself.
As I limped along throughout college, I was really extremely fortunate that I continued to have the absolute support of my family away from home: my crew coach and all my rowers. Looking back I really can't imagine how frightening the whole experience must have been for them at times. I know that none of them had any understanding of what I was going through, but through it all they saw me for ME: a friend, a coxswain, a teammate, not just as an anorexic. The normalcy of my life as a collegiate coxswain gave me a life-line to the real world that I really believe kept me from spinning entirely out of control and helped give me purpose to take just enough care of myself during the years when I didn't have the motivation or know how to do so for myself.

Fortunately for me, by my junior year of college I was reaching the end of my patience with the existence that I had slogged through for well over 2 years. I wanted to be well again but unfortunately by this point I simply didn't know how. I had forgotten how to eat, I had forgotten how to structure my life without my eating disorder. I came to realize that I needed the illness at that point; I needed the discipline and the focus. And I knew that until I found a better coping mechanism I had to keep forging along with this one and hope for the best. Every night for months I would lie in bed and pray that my body would just hold on long enough, that I would wake up in the mornings until my mind found a better coping mechanism. 

And then, one day, everything just changed. My roommate, whom I barely knew, sat down next to me on my bed and asked, very simply, "what can I do to help?" I realized that I had no answer for her. And in that one moment I knew that if I couldn't answer such a basic question then it was time for me to get myself some serious help. Within a week I had withdrawn from school, again, and entered a month-long inpatient treatment program. Checking into the hospital was the biggest relief of my life. I was, all of a sudden, ready to get better. 

Being type-A, I set out to be the best patient on the planet, but in this case I was doing so because I really, truly wanted to get better, not because I wanted to please other people. I relished the opportunity to have people teach me how to eat again. I had truly forgotten. And I studiously ate everything that was put in front of me. I dedicated myself to repairing my bone density and followed a nutritional program that supported that with incredible zeal. I went to therapy, I journaled, I learned how to meal plan, everything. And one day I literally walked to the end of the driveway, thanked my eating disorder for helping me get through my toughest stretch, and told it that I didn't need it anymore. And I knew, deep, deep down, that I would never, ever get sick again. And guess what? I haven't. By recognizing that at the time I had become sick I had needed the anorexia as a way to cope with stress but that I now had an entire arsenal of better ways to handle the curve balls life would inevitably throw my way in the future, I felt confident that I was never going to need this one deadly, miserable illness. 

Over the years that followed I managed to become physically and mentally whole again. I graduated from college magna cum laude. I got married to a wonderfully patient husband. I became pregnant on the first try and gave birth to a happy, healthy boy who is the absolute joy of my life. With each one of these little victories my years of being sick faded father and farther into my distant memory.

I even finished an Ironman, which to many would sound like a very bad idea for someone who had a history of not caring for their body very well. But I registered for the race with the intention to use it as a very private test: I wanted to prove to myself that I could train for something incredibly extreme in the most rational of manners. For me the Ironman was a fitting metaphor for the stresses that would be thrown at me throughout the remainder of my life. That 10 months of training was like a final exam of sorts in terms of my ability to care for myself physically and mentally; it was physically exhausting and mentally and emotionally challenging. But ultimately I knew that I passed the test with flying colors. Even before the race itself began I knew that I had succeeded; race day itself was a huge celebration for me. And while the experience was nothing but positive for me, I also found the sport of triathlon to simply be too intense and stressful for my tastes so I was mighty happy when that experience, too, was in my review mirror. Obviously as a competitive runner I do still enjoy purposefully pushing myself physically and mentally on a regular basis. But while I love to train hard and push myself to meet goals of time or pace, at the end of the day I run because I love the  camaraderie of the sport, the social aspect of training and racing with a group, and simply the way I feel when I am in motion. 
If I were you, I would wonder what kind of coping mechanism I replaced restricting food with. I was actually asked this recently and I instinctively and immediately replied that I replaced anorexia with optimism. The one phrase that dictates my whole life nowadays is the deceptively simple statement that "everything's going to be okay in the end. If its not okay, it's not the end." My husband recently referred to me as an "unstoppable positive force of nature"; a description that I strive to embody every single day. Just like anything else, there are times when it is HARD to be optimistic! But honestly, this happy, sunny side of the street version of me is just a much more authentic representation of who I have always been at my core. So in a way this is an even more natural way for me to cope with the stressful situations life throws my way. 

I don't want you to think that because I am naturally happy these days there haven't been some really dark periods in my life; there have been. None of the issues that triggered my eating disorder were even resolved when I began to get well. And it isn't even like I bid my eating disorder farewell and was instantly "normal" again. That couldn't be further from the truth. It took years and years of hard work to get back to a place that I think is fairly healthy. But, from the moment I gave up my illness I have had the patience and faith to move through the anxieties and sorrows and angers and freak outs that come with daily life, knowing all the while that, eventually, things will get better. I also want to be perfectly clear: I am definitely not "perfect" when it comes to my relationship with food. I have, and probably always will have, a bit of a skewed relationship with it. The effects of forgetting how to eat have long, long term ramifications on this front. Fortunately I get more and more "normal" every year. That said, I honestly don't know a single person who is "normal" about food. We all have our quirks, but when you know my history mine may stand out more because of it.

Ultimately though, I have to tell you that I am grateful for my experience with anorexia. Granted, it cost me dearly in self confidence and achievement and long term memory (many thanks to my friends who have filled in the holes over the years), and I still have some permanent physical issues (such as high cholesterol). But I am more grateful for what I gained from the experience than what I missed out on. Because of my illness I have an incredibly close bond with my parents; they moved mountains for me and loved me through a situation that was unimaginably frightening for them. I am actually grateful that my best friend and I missed out on each other's toughest years. Obviously I was initially devastated that I had to be apart from her, but I can now look back and see that the wonderful friendship we have today is blessed to not be clouded by having had to go through our darkest times together. I am incredibly blessed by the relationship I have with my husband of 11 years. I nearly married the wrong man and then my inquisitive, philosophical, drive-me-crazy-but-force-me-to-see-myself-more-honestly husband came along. I fought him kicking and screaming for a bunch of years (still do sometimes) but he has encouraged me to accept myself for who I am much more than I think I ever could have without him. And although it is completely cliche, I simply wouldn't be who I am today without having gone through those difficult years. And you know what? You couldn't pay me all the money in the world to trade the person I have become for that version of my self.

Now that you have read through all of this, I want to ask a favor of you. Maybe you can think of it as a birthday gift to me.  When I was ill I searched and searched for success stories, stories of women who really, really beat their eating disorder. I couldn't find any. That was both frightening and demoralizing to me. Because of that it has always been my hope that perhaps someone in a similar position will see my journey as an example that they can become well again, and permanently. Whenever I see a visibly ill woman in the grocery store, out on the running trail, wherever...I want to stop her and hug her and tell her that everything can be alright again if she just has the patience and faith and bravery to work through the process of becoming well, of truly understanding the root of her individual illness and taking the steps necessary to rebuild her life. But I can't hug everyone out there who is struggling. I also wished for my family and friends that they could have known the right words that might have helped them to help me earlier on. So, if you have a friend or loved one who you suspect is ill with an eating disorder, I would like to ask you to be brave and to ask them the same question that was asked to me 20 years ago: "what can I do to help?" And while you are at it, you may throw in another: "what's really going on?" Those simple questions can sometimes be enough to reach through to a person who is suffering. Compassion can move mountains. And someday, when they are on the road to recovery and they, too, are looking for little beacons of hope, please feel free to tell them about what I went through and where I got to. I am far from the only person who has slogged through this illness and made it out intact, but I am offering myself up as an example in hopes that it can help some other folks who are still stuck.

Fortunately for anyone who is brave enough to reach out to a loved one who is struggling, the mental health profession has come a long way in the last 20 years and there are now some amazing resources available for individuals who are ill with an eating disorder. If you or someone you love is in this position, a great first point of contact is the National Eating Disorders Association: When I was hospitalized for a second time I went to the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia, PA. They continue to be leaders in eating disorders treatment and now have multiple facilities around the country:
If you would like assistance finding further resources, please contact me directly.

Thanks for reading this. It is never easy to put an experience such as this into writing and I hope that I did it justice. And as I go off to celebrate my fortieth birthday with my incredible circle of family and friends I hope that this post, hard as it was to write, may someday, in some small way, help another woman to make it through her struggle so that she too can see a milestone she never thought she would see.

With my son throughout the years. Running is great, but being his mom is AMAZING. I am so grateful every day for this life I have.