The very fine folks over at Catapult Magazine have released their newest issue today, Health & Wealth Gospel, and one of the articles features yours truly. (Thank you so much for including my article!) Head over to their site to check out the Heath & Wealth Gospel issue of Catapult.
Remember how I got injured at the end of April? Yeah, I was in physical therapy for much of May. Instead of spending six days a week training and working on my speed, I spent three days a week in physical therapy and the rest of the week doing my exercises and stretches. At first the PT was really painful, but then it wasn’t so bad. All the time off, though, combined with a shit-storm of stress in May made it really tough to get back to training.
I probably could have returned to training last week, but I didn’t. I watched a lot of tv and had several dinners/pool nights with friends. Over the weekend, I recommitted to my training. This time, though, I’m doing it without the fabulous help and support of my coach at Knoxville Endurance (yes, I’m concerned about that). I’m almost a week into it, and for the most part, it’s been a complete failure. However, instead of beating myself up over it, I’ve faced the situation for what it is, and I’m moving forward. Here’s my step-by-step process:
First, assess the situation. I need to return to running for anxiety management and weight loss.
Second, establish goals, both long term and short term. Long-term, I still want to complete the Bluegrass Half Marathon on September 22nd. I also want to lose 30 pounds by then. Short term, I want to complete two weeks of my training plan without deviating. I also want to detox from sugar, carbohydrates, and alcohol until further notice, but most likely until September.
Third, identify specific ways of achieving those goals. I have developed a training plan that will get me back up to running long distances. This training plan includes four days of running each week, one day of yoga, one day of elliptical or Get Fit with Mel B cross training, and one rest day. I have also committed to tracking all calories consumed and burned with My Fitness Pal. This way I can see where my calories are coming from and make adjustments to my diet accordingly.
Fourth, stick to the plan and be flexible only when necessary. It’s easy to tell myself that today is not a good day to (fill in the blank). But that’s not true. Today is always a good day to be active, meditate, eat right, drink enough water, (fill in the blank). Rain or shine, humidity or not, I need to stick to my plan. Building good habits is just as hard as breaking bad ones. It takes a daily commitment and considerable time to change, but the only way it’s going to happen is with consistency.
Fifth, have someone hold yourself accountable. It sucks that I’m doing this on my own. It sucks that I don’t really have a “training buddy,” because having someone else actually sweating balls with you is hugely motivating. But both because of my schedule and my location, that’s just not feasible for me, so I’m turning to my blogging community to help me out a little here. This is why I’m posting all of this here. Please feel free to click on my Daily Mile icon to see if I’ve run or logged elliptical mileage. Check my Twitter feed for my Plank-a-Day challenge posts. And when you don’t see anything, call me on it. If you know my phone number, call me or send me a text. If not, I’m not giving it out, but you can email me, comment on my Facebook page or Twitter feed, or leave a comment here.
An Infographic for Perspective
I found this over at Fit for a Year. Man does that guy have great infographics! Check it out, y’all. Here’s the link to the actual hosted site, though. I’m definitely NOT going to take any weight-loss pills (shown at the bottom of the infographic). In my experience, the best way to make long-term changes with diet and wellness are to do it the old fashioned way: healthy diet and adequate exercise. Aside from that, everything else covered here definitely motivates me to get my butt in gear. I’m committed to cutting my calories, sugars, carbs, which should take care of the processed foods. I’m a little concerned about protein, though, because I can only eat so much chicken and fish before I want to return to vegetarianism; but legumes don’t like me nearly as much as I like them. Having enough variety in my diet is a huge challenge. Also to be considered in my diet is carbohydrate storage. I need to eat GOOD carbs to help me fuel through work outs, and I need something for refueling on long runs; but again, a lot of high-fiber carbs just ruin my GI tract, and I need to not rely on sugary nutrition like Gu during long runs. Finding the right carbs and the right endurance nutrition will require effort.
And without further adieu:
It’s been too long since I’ve put up a proper post. Sorry about that. My hiatus can best be explained as follows:
April 1-7: Week leading up to the half marathon. Not a great week. It took a lot of energy to actually get myself motivated to look forward to the race. Perks of this week included all of the encouragement from my coach, my yoga teacher, and from my friends at church.
April 7: The half marathon. See recap below.
April 8-14: Recovering from the half marathon. See recap below.
April 15-present: Getting back in the swing of things. Busy with PIET work and the final push to Shiloh’s graduation.
2013 Knoxville Half Marathon Review
On Sunday, April 7th, I completed my first half marathon. The week before the event, I wasn’t nearly as excited as my coach and other runners. In the fall, I was looking toward this event as my goal, but training on my own was getting me injured; and I didn’t actually start training with my coach until February, which isn’t enough time to train properly. But, at this stage of my regular training plan, building a base running ability, I was scheduled to do almost 13 miles for my long run anyway. It was perfect timing to do a practice race, too.
Before this event, I’d only ever run 9 miles total; and I was mostly nervous about essentially adding on an additional hour of running without working up to it. Then, when I returned to Facebook and saw everything my husband had done in developing an “entourage,” I started to freak out a little. (My beloved refers to these moments as “onion” moments because I’m apparently layered like an onion. Thanks, babe.) But then my yoga teacher gave me a small dose of common sense. I focused on the running only, and didn’t think about any of the rest.
Of course the first time you do anything, it sets a record, but I set a few personal records at this event, too. For people not in the running world, my time is not impressive at all. For reference, a 91-year old man finished about 10 minutes before I did. He set a world record.(Side note: If I even make it to 91, I’ll want a medal.) What IS impressive is that I did it. I did it with ovarian cyst pain. I did it overweight. I did it as a former asthmatic. I did it as someone who used to be so crippled by depression and anxiety that I’d only ever leave my home to work (and sometimes not even then). So yeah, that’s pretty impressive to me.
3/20/13 Time: 14:28 Ran my first complete mile.
4/6/13 Time: 28:20 Two miles that included walking breaks. Faster than my 1 mile of consistent running.
4/7/13 Half Marathon Records set:
Overall time: 3:18:48
Fastest mile: 13:00 (First mile)
Time: 39:40 Fastest 5K (3.1 miles/First 3 miles)
Time: 14:47 Fastest Finishing mile; I finished way stronger than I thought I could.
Overall, I finished about 20 minutes faster than I anticipated based on my previous long-run performance. I’m pretty proud of that. But I’m also looking to knock at least 30 minutes off my time before my next half marathon, so I’m focusing on ways to improve.
I’d already seen my recovery week plan, so I knew it was going to be a light week. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be so exhausted for so long, and that I’d hurt for as long as I did. When I came home from work almost every night that week, I did restorative yoga and went to bed at least 2 or 3 hours before my regular bedtime. Even though I’ve been getting enough rest, since the race I’ve been waking up exhausted and feeling incredibly run down. My coach told me that it’s typical to have an immunity zap after endurance events; and I’m confident that’s true, but all the pollen doesn’t help either.
As far as pain goes, I know it’s just something that has to work itself out. I know I’m not injured, and I know that I mostly just have to learn how to tolerate a different kind of pain. I can help things along by eating right/frequently enough, drinking enough, sleeping enough, and being mindful while exercising. The week immediately after the race, I was scheduled to log 10 miles, but I only did 2, and I walked it at that. I didn’t stick to my plan because I knew my body was telling me to be gentler than the plan had detailed. So I did restorative yoga and foam rolled like a boss.
Back on Track
The thing about taking time “off” from running is that it sucks coming back. I’ve been “coming back” for the last 10 days. I remember posting something like “2 miles today seems like nothing compared to 13.1 tomorrow” the day before the race. And now, it’s everything I can do to complete a 4-mile run. My body is still kind of recovering, and I know I can push through this; but I have to keep moving to do it. If I take two rest days in a row, I’m such a wimp on the next run. So now I’m back to working the plan. It’s harder because I have a different kind of pain to deal with in the process, but it’s still worth it.
As I mentioned earlier, this event was a training run for my goal event. As you’ve noticed my race countdown in the margin, I was set to participate in the first ever Mountain Mommas ½ Marathon in Sevierville, TN on Mother’s Day (May 12th). Unfortunately, the race was canceled due to low registration, which is certainly a wrench in my plan. I asked my coach if we should focus on 5Ks and 10Ks over the summer and set another goal for the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Johnson City on September 22nd. That’s exactly what he wants to do. We’re going to continue to build a base running fitness and start working on speed. First step, reduce the walking breaks to 30 seconds, and walk more briskly & upright.
In the meantime, I’m updating my countdown for the September event because that’s my goal, but I’ll actually be participating in several smaller events before then. If you’re local and want to hang, here’s my schedule:
Saturday, April 27th Dogwood 5K
Saturday, May 11th Run for Clean Air 5K
Saturday, May 25th KTC Expo 10K
Saturday, June 1st, Run for the Rose 5K
Wednesday, July 3rd, Pilot Fireball Classic 5k
Saturday, August 10th, Color Me Rad 5K
Room for Improvement
Clearly, I expect to improve my performance over time; and to do that I’m sticking to the training plan because it works well. But I need to focus on at least two other areas, too: diet and yoga. Since February, I’ve significantly increased my cardio work as well as general fitness (pushups, core work, leg strengthening). The result has been a change in my metabolism, which affects my hormones and my ovarian cysts. These changes are good in the long-run, but any changes with hormones are difficult to endure even if the end result is positive. I’ve been advised to focus on a diet of low-glycemic foods to help regulate my metabolism, so that’s where I’ll start.
With yoga, I just need to do more of it. So far I’ve been focused on running and strength training geared specifically for running. I’ve done yoga, but it’s mostly restorative. I’m not knocking it because clearly my body needs it; but my mental health balance needs regular, moderately challenging yoga. I’m noticing the twinges of easy irritability and difficulty with meditation. I’m noticing more resistance to change and less mindfulness of the moment. Yoga has been the best thing for me in conquering these challenges. Like being thirsty though, once you recognize it, you’re already dehydrated. While I’m also working my way back into running, I also want to focus more on working back into a challenging yoga practice.
Realistic Goal Setting & Scheduling
So far I’ve mentioned three areas of focus (running, dieting, and yoga), and putting time and attention into this many things is a lot for someone who also works full time and volunteers part time. I’ve learned through reading Zen Habits that making lifestyle changes requires focus and action on small, frequent habits as opposed to large goals. Fortunately, my running plan is something my coach puts together. I don’t have to think about it; I just do it. I’ve also already got an awesome yoga practice; I just need to do it, too. Putting together a detailed diet plan takes several hours of research, planning, shopping, and meal prepping. If that’s the only thing I need to do on my own, it doesn’t seem like much; but the challenge lies in finding the time to do it all.
Because it’s starting to get hot, I’ll be returning to early morning practices. I hate waking up so early, but it’s the only way I can feasibly see myself running through the summer. It’s more of an environmental constraint than anything, and I just have to accept it. With early morning practices, I can focus on doing my restorative yoga on those afternoons/evenings. On cross training days, I’ll do the elliptical and yoga instead of either/or. I’ll be building the near-daily habit of exercising early every morning (cardio/endurance) and every evening (yoga). I’ll still take my weekly rest day, too.
So, I need help with the diet. Do any of you pay attention to glycemic index? Have you researched it? I’ve done the cursory Google search, but I’d like more than that. If you have any low glycemic index meals, please share the recipes! I’ll spend some time researching/planning on my next rest day, and I’ll check back here for any tips you want to leave.
Thanks for reading and come back for more on my Knoxville Half Marathon experience in The Friends Who Waited.
In a comment on my most recent post, Comfortably Numb asked for more information about ovarian cysts, and because that was my first post dealing with that topic, this post is my attempt at providing her with more information. This is much more personal than I ever envisioned being on my blog, but I think women should be as informed as possible about their reproductive health.
My Personal History of Reproductive UNhealth
My struggles with reproductive health have existed since I was 11 years old. To give you some perspective, my “first” period was waking up with severe abdominal pain while being covered/soaked in so much blood that my mom thought I’d been stabbed. I’ve always had pain and been irregular (e.g., three months straight of menstruating to the point of anemia from that initial experience). I also had considerable weight gain and hormonal imbalance. At 11 years old, my doctor put me on Premarin (a hormone treatment for menopausal women) to shock my system with hormone therapy, and that was disastrous after only three days on the drug. My only other option at 11 years old was a surgery that could have potentially left me sterile, and my parents left it up to me to make the decision on whether to go through with it or not. I chose to take my chances with the pain and did not have the surgery. Since then, I’ve been on more birth control pills than I can remember, changing each time to address my body’s changing hormones. I’ve missed school and work because I’ve been crippled with painful menstrual cycles. I’ve had to spend entire summer breaks mostly confined to bed or limited movement also due to the pain. I lived like this for 17 years. Inescapable pain is a prison.
When I started having digestive issues a few years ago, I kept complaining of either sharp, stabbing pain or dull, soreness in my lower right abdomen. Thinking it was related to the digestive issues because of the unbelievable nausea that accompanied it, I went to expensive extremes to resolve it. Some of my nausea and stomach pain actually was related to digestive stuff, but my doctor referred me to a reproductive specialist in my city, and she found a string of cysts, some of them measuring 3.5 cm in diameter around my right ovary with an ultrasound.
In my case, the cysts dissolve on their own, though it may take several weeks. I have noticed reduced frequency of cyst-related pain since I started practicing yoga & added running, and because I now eat foods that are less processed with less sugars. I actually started taking yoga in October 2010 as an alternative to the physical therapy my doctor prescribed to me for the cyst pain, and it’s been the catalyst for the lifestyle overhaul I’m living in right now. However, even with reduced frequency, the pain level hasn’t changed when I do get them. It’s severe, and it wipes me out.
Because repeated, multiple cysts are typically linked to a hormone or insulin-related imbalance, it is treated as a precursor to diabetes, and many doctors prescribe medicine like Metformin, (which is traditionally used for Type II diabetics) to help cyst sufferers lose weight and manage cyst formation. I have NOT been prescribed Metformin because my cysts do eventually dissolve on their own and because I have been losing weight with diet and exercise, though it’s an unbelievably slow and arduous process. I have, however, had to change birth control several times to address the hormonal aspect of my condition.
Symptoms & Dangers of Ovarian Cysts
Symptoms that are red flags for me are (in the order they tend to appear): bloating and more density in my lower abdomen especially, soreness (like cramps), and severe sharp pain (like being stabbed) with nausea. For me it either happens the week before or after my cycle, and sometimes it can make my cycle much worse, even considering that I’m on birth control. Additional complications of ovarian cysts include urinary incontinence and frequent urinary tract infections as well as pain during sex or even during sexual arousal.
Dangers of repeated and multiple ovarian cysts include: cyst rupture, which can cause the ovary to rupture along with it, consequently resulting in internal bleeding and a necessary trip to the ER; twisting the ovary, which can essentially “kill” your ovary; and infertility (because the eggs that are released are too hormonally imbalanced to be fertilized).
When to See the Doctor & What to Bring
If you are experiencing frequent, sharp lower abdominal pain, usually (but not exclusively) limited to one side, I’d start making a log of it, especially in relation to your cycle. I’d also include in this log what you’re eating and drinking. Be specific: Does the pain interfere with your daily life? If so, how long does it last? Do your cycles change (get heavier or lighter, skip or last longer)?
Take the log to your reproductive health doctor and discuss it. He or she will most likely conduct a pelvic exam and a trans-vaginal ultrasound, both of which can be painful with ovarian cysts present, but these exams are necessary because a regular abdominal ultrasound doesn’t always pick them up clearly. If ovarian cysts are present, your doctor will then determine what kind they are and make a plan accordingly. Some people require laparoscopic surgery to burn the cysts off and clean up any scar tissue that may have developed on the ovaries or fallopian tubes; others in danger of becoming diabetic may need to take Metformin; or people like me need to switch up their birth control to manage the hormone imbalances.
Fertility & Ovarian Cysts
Issues like this have made trying to conceive quite challenging. If I have to stay on birth control just to manage my hormonal imbalances, then what happens when I go off it to conceive? Well, I personally have a three-month window off birth control before my symptoms get too severe for daily life. If I can’t conceive within three months, then I have to go back on my pills to prevent cyst/hormone overload on my ovaries. This back-and-forth with hormonal birth control is enough to make me think I’ve lost my mind, and it kills my husband to watch me go through this without being able to do anything about it.
With hormonal imbalances, unavoidable and hard-to-lose weight, crippling pain, and embarrassing facial hair, issues of infertility seem (to me) to be icing on top of the torture cake. While I have suffered beyond measure for almost two decades, I have to face my culture’s pressure to have children (which I absolutely want), and I have to see all my friends and family members fill up mini-vans and SUVs with their ever-expanding families. I have to face questions about why we continue to wait as we are, as well as horror stories of waiting too late to have children. At one point I had 14 friends on Facebook who were simultaneously pregnant and sharing their “baby trackers” online, and I had to unfriend them because I just couldn’t take the frequent updates without feeling sorry for myself. These issues are usually silent struggles shared between couples behind closed doors and in exam rooms, and I would typically say a person’s health issues (reproductive or otherwise) shouldn’t be a matter for such public conversation as this. But clearly people don’t feel they are crossing a line when they repeatedly ask me these questions in public; so I’ve been quite (embarrassingly) forthcoming with this post.
Aside from birth control, laparoscopic surgery is also an option for me (though an unaffordable one right now thanks to the medical debt from troubleshooting these issues). Within three months of having laparoscopic surgery, I’ve been told I’ll be a “fertile Myrtle” very much able to conceive, but the danger then lies in increased complications with pregnancy and increased likelihood of miscarriage. Because being off birth control is obviously necessary while pregnant, the cysts can return while pregnant and cause complications. Pregnant women who are prone to repeated and multiple ovarian cysts are also likely to develop gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
We’ve also considered adoption, and you wouldn’t believe the expensive hoops we have to jump through just to be qualified. It’s as expensive as IVF, and as heartbreaking if surrogate parents decide to change their minds or if adoption boards don’t approve of any number of things on our adoption application.
I’m doing everything in my power to make my body both fit and strong enough to handle the ovarian cysts and to get & stay pregnant. Every ounce of my energy is going into working (to pay off medical debt and pay for preventative healthcare), exercising to lose weight, and observing a healthy diet to help regulate my hormones all so we can have children, whether biologically, with medical help, or through adoption. I’m well aware that I am approaching 30 and still childless. I do not need public reminders or questions of why we’re still choosing to wait. And I do my best to share in the happiness of my friends and family members who are having kids, but I have to admit it is a bittersweet joy.
For More Information:
I raced in my first 10K over the weekend, and it was great to visit with some of my Johnson City friends. I came in dead last, and my time is embarrassing. But that I even participated is impressive considering that I was nauseous all day Thursday and Friday. You see…(pregnant pause) (Anyone who has ever taken a Tim Dillon class should be giggling right now.)…I have ovarian cysts. From time to time, they really bother me. The better I eat and the more active I stay, the less often they plague me, but they’re still there.
Even with all my training and nutritious diet, sometimes it seems my ovaries really have it in for me. When my ovarian cysts bother me, I can barely keep food down due to nausea, and I am usually doubled over in pain. Sitting down pinches, and putting any weight at all on my right leg triggers pain. If standing hurts, I’m sure you can image that walking and running aren’t the most pleasant (or possible) activities.
Ovarian cysts are a bitch, and I hate them for interfering with my life. I hate them for making it so damned hard to have children. I hate them for confining me to bed to suffer alone writhing to find some semblance of comfort amidst either sharp, stabbing pain or dull, draining pain. Sleep escapes me. I can’t take anything for the pain because of my digestive sensitivities, and the hormonal imbalance of it all causes its own host of unavoidable, unpleasant problems (fuck you very much facial hair).
I was on my way to a site inspection for work on Thursday when I had to ask my coworker to pull over so I could be sick. We all continued on our way, completed our survey and visited another site on the way back to the office. When I got home, I took medication I keep on hand for nausea, and I thought I’d be okay.
When I woke up from stabbing pain in my lower right abdomen in the wee hours of Friday morning, the first thing that came to my mind was, “How am I going to run 6.2 miles in this condition?” I stayed home Friday and nursed my nausea/ pain while trying to get as much rest as possible. I was scheduled to run two miles Friday, and I told myself that if I couldn’t do that, I certainly wasn’t going to run in my race the following day. So I did it, and it wasn’t the worst two miles ever, so I figured the rest and nausea meds were working.
I woke up very early Saturday morning, prepared my breakfast, and hit the road for Johnson City. I ate my awesome breakfast on the way, and I got there early enough to warm up properly. I was the only one doing dynamic flexibility exercises and drills, so I looked ridiculous even before the race began; but it was all part of my race plan, and I stuck with it. I did my pre-race jog, and I felt ready. The pain was still there, but having lived with this pain for over a decade I’m accustomed to a certain level of constant discomfort, and I was determined not to let the pain keep me sidelined.
I stuck with my race plan the whole way (run 5:00/walk 0:30). I even kept up with my pacing as planned. Until mile three. At mile three, I was supposed to run all out and pass as many people as I could (while still running 5:00/walking 0:30). And I just couldn’t do it. I wanted it, but my body just wouldn’t go any faster or any harder than it already was. I’m so grateful that my friend, Cora, decided to run easy and stay with me through the whole race because I might not even have finished were it not for her encouragement.
Just before reaching mile five a state of dejection had set in. My low back was killing me, and though I had used my Gu and water, I just wanted to stop. I didn’t stop, but that’s all I wanted. As we rounded the last corner to the finish line, we saw Cora’s husband, daughter, and daughter’s friend. While her husband was telling us, “They’re pulling up the finish line. Y’all better hurry,” the little ones were saying, “Why are you guys last? Momma, why are you so slow today?” These are not usually the things one likes to hear ever, but at the end of a painful 6 miles, it took everything I had to smile and tell the children that Cora was running slow because of me and because she’s such a good friend. So I finished dead last. There were only 350 finishers, but I was the last one.
We went to Olive Garden and treated ourselves to carbs and cheese (Yum!), and I was able to see my recently impregnated friend, Jen (who is unbelievably adorable right now with her baby bump!). I also had a nice visit with my dad on my way back home. Though my weekend was filled with overwhelming disappointment due to my piss poor race experience, visiting with everyone was definitely the highlight of my weekend.
I took yesterday off, slept a lot, and got another amazing massage from my beloved, and I began mentally preparing for my next event, just two weeks away. Considering how difficult a 10K was for me, I seriously don’t know how possible a half marathon is going to be right now. And it scares me, to be very honest. Today, though, I’m telling myself I only have 2.5 miles to do. And even though I still have the pain (ugh when will it ever go away?), I know that if I did 6.2 miles Saturday, I can do 2.5 miles today.
Most people who do half marathons and marathons are actual athletes. Most of them can run three miles without stopping. Most of them have conditioned themselves to run through a certain level of pain. I do not live in the same universe as those people. My road to a half marathon is a lot bumpier, a lot lonelier, with more weight and less conditioning, and with occasional excruciating pain that I just can’t escape. And I’m still doing it. I hope the pain subsides soon and that my ovaries know peace until after Mother’s Day. Even if it doesn’t, I’m still doing it. Yes, I am a masochist.