Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stepping Back

"Sometimes you have to back up to go forward"
-Bryan the elephant seal, Happy Feet 2

A lot of athletes have been talking about recovery lately. Hilary Stellingwerf posted an excellent blog on the importance of rest and recovery for optimal performance; Dylan Wykes walked his readers through his daily recovery routine; Eric Gillis shared his post-workout smoothie; Rob Watson mentioned he was reading more about recovery in this new phase of his marathon training. Coincidentally, I just finished reviewing a book on recovery by Sage Rountree, The Athlete's Guide to Recovery. In it, Sage Rountree discusses why recovery is so important and judges the effectiveness of a multitude of recovery techniques in a practical, scientifically-supported manner. It is an excellent, comprehensive guide that I would highly recommend to both elite and recreational runners. After all, recovery is essential for optimal performance as well as a healthy, long enjoyment of any sport.

There is a reason that the top athletes are taking recovery seriously. At the elite level, it can separate Olympians from Olympic hopefuls. In order to reap the benefits of the hard work you put into training, you need to rest and re-build, both physically and mentally. As my old varsity coach Dennis Barrett used to say, "You get faster when you rest, not when you train." This includes day-to-day things like taking in proper nutrition after a workout and icing or massage after a particularly tough session. It extends to weekly practices like spacing out workouts appropriately, sleeping well at night and taking rest days. It stretches further to annual breaks from training that can last from a week to a month, depending on the intensity of the year or a particular season. The common theme is that we must maintain a balance between building and resting on every level in order to be the strongest we can. The concept of stress, adaptation and growth is relevant in all realms of life and athleticism is a natural extension of this.

If we constantly impose stress without giving ourselves time to adapt, we will become weaker, sick, injured, or simply mentally drained. The amount of time it takes to adapt depends on your activity, your level of fitness, the intensity or length of the workout or season, and the individual. It is ultimately the athlete's responsibility to track how they are feeling to make sure they don't push their bodies over that fine stress vs. distress line.

Unfortunately, for most athletes resting is tougher to do than train hard. It opposes the athletic mindset, which is usually to work harder, do more and to become comfortable suffering. This attitude has been exacerbated by a modern culture that promotes action as the only means of achieving results. We tend to think that whatever our goal is, it is only being attained when we are working on it. We associate the opposite action - rest and downtime - as being unproductive or detrimental to our progress. When was the last time your boss said he was impressed by your ability to relax?! It is unfortunate, since it's those periods of downtime that make us stronger in the long run (pun intended).

In The Athlete's Guide to Recovery Rountree quotes Hippocrates, who observed centuries ago that "to do nothing is sometimes a good remedy." Oh, what wise words those are! As someone who has been struggling to recover from an injury for five months, I have been giving deep thought to my balance between stress and rest. I've not only looked over the last few months, but the months of training leading up to my injury and my years as a runner in their entirety. I am at the point now where I am willing to do just about anything to get healthy again. The last thing I want is for my shin to be the end of my running days. What would I do then? Become a professional running blogger who doesn't actually run? (I've thought about it, wouldn't be a very happy place for me)

What I've realized in the past few weeks is that I have to look at recovery not in terms of my one body part, or even as a runner, but as an entire human being. I have taken mental breaks from competition with periods of easy training. I have taken physical breaks of 1-2 weeks off running. I have taken days to entire weeks off exercise completely. But during those times, I have not given myself complete rest. I would do things like go out and party every day; my diet would go down the tubes; or I'd work 12-hour days to catch up on work. The commonality in my life is that I replace one stress with another. Physiologically, stress is stress. Your blood pressure increases, your heart rate goes up, you produce adrenaline and cortisol. Ultimately, stress at work takes a toll on your body as does a hard workout at the gym. Partying tires your body out in the same way. Not eating sufficient or nutritious foods will impose stress on your body too. Maybe this is common and perhaps some people can get by doing this. But last week I decided that I don't want to. If I want to give myself the best and fastest chance of a full recovery (and a fast future!), I have to take care of myself in a wholistic way. Reduce my exercise; strengthen my shin; eat well; sleep a lot; drink minimally; and avoid working more to fill my extra time. This may sound simple to most people out there, but I'm G.I. Jane people! For me backing off and giving in to real rest is very tough.

As most of you know I got my wisdom teeth out a few weeks ago and thought that this was the perfect chance for me to force myself to rest and get better. Yep. On a liquid diet! Oh Jane. Not surprisingly, I lost weight and probably became slightly malnourished (getting most of my calories from ice cream, nice). Although my shin felt better, the tendon didn't get any stronger and when I went back to exercise, it started to tighten up again. The key to (hopefully) curing tendinosis is to build strength back into the tendon gradually. Once again, the cycle of stress, adaptation and growth applies. Only with tendinosis, it takes a long time to adapt - I read somewhere that laying down new collagen matrix can take up to 100 days! That's over three months of patient strength-building before my tendon is strong enough to withstand any other additional stresses! There is no magic bullet for tendinosis, so my only hope is to build my strength and be patient and not rush into training too soon (as I did in December). In addition to strengthening the shin, I am reducing my cross-training substantially. I have no workouts longer than 60min, I am taking complete days off exercise every week, I am drinking less and am improving my diet. I weigh a good 6-8lbs less than I did a year ago, which I am sure has not been good for my recovery. I think that my new regime will foster the growth of a healthier, happier body - and hopefully a strong shin too.

(If not, I'm having a huge party and getting back on the vodka!)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mastering the (bloody) art of recovery

After the drugs wore off five days ago, I quickly realized that tooth extractions aren’t as fun as I initially thought. When I got out of surgery I was pretty high on whatever drugs they injected me with, I felt no pain and I was in a very happy, flowery place. A few hours later, however, the euphoria began to dissipate and was replaced with a steady, throbbing pain in my mouth and head. This was compounded with endless bleeding that no amount of gauze could stop. Mauricio and Tim tried to distract me with funny episodes of Modern Family, but I could hardly focus on the screen and generated forced, weak laughs...at all the wrong moments. When they realized this wasn’t just my naturally odd sense of humour and that I was not engaged in their company at all, they left me to my own devices.

Baby food = terrible idea. But kind of worth it to see Mauricio try it, and like it?!

Sometimes leaving me to my own devices is not a good idea. In my defense, the actions I took in the first 24hrs of my ‘recovery’ were NOT entirely my fault. What kind of dentist gives you specific instructions on after-surgery care while you are still high?! I had absolutely no recollection of what he told me – things like ‘avoid hot liquids,’ ‘avoid sucking on things,’ (twss) ‘take Tylenol instead of NSAIDS,’ ‘avoid smoking’ and of course, ‘avoiding any kind of exercise’ (all of which promote bleeding). So when I decided I needed to fill my belly with something, what do I choose other than two cups of steaming hot tea and a litre of hot almond milk? And when my head won’t stop throbbing, what do I take other than a bunch of IBUprofen? I topped these great decisions off with a trip to work on the day of my surgery, more hot liquids and succumbing to a sugar craving with a giant lollipop in the evening.

By the way, I was JOKING about the smoking. (Nic)

I woke up the next morning to one of the most horrific sights I have ever seen. There is nothing more shocking than turning on the lights in your bathroom and being exposed to what you realize must be your face, smeared with blood and dried up saliva. It was terrifying. What was worse was opening my mouth and seeing it filled with partially clotted blood. I felt like I belonged on the set of The Walking Dead. I rinsed things out and tried to put myself together, took a few more IBUprofen (genius!), and went to work. After working for a few hours and feeling decent, naturally I thought ‘Oh, why not go to the gym!’ and there went intelligent decision number one hundred (now I know why they call them wisdom teeth). Even though I only did a very easy bike – barely reaching 70rpms at low resistance – it was enough to get my blood pressure up and initiate further bleeding of my gums. Unfortunately, this time when I checked my mouth in the mirror I was in the washroom of the gym, prompting an ‘OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED!’ from the woman standing next to me. Woops.

When I got home the bleeding only got worse, leading me to believe that I likely dislodged the forming blood clot since it had become a bright red stream of fresh blood. I gauzed it, I iced my cheeks, I placed wet tea bags on my gums (no, I didn’t go insane, apparently this helps blood clotting. In my case it did not.) Unfortunately I made the mistake of texting my mother ‘I won’t stop bleeding!’ – and whereas my friends told me not to worry and gave me sensible advice such as to continue to apply pressure and sit upright - my mom frantically texted me back: “GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM OR CALL YOUR DOCTOR OR 911 NOW.” (Seconds later, after calling and receiving no answer...because my mouth was stuffed with gauze) “TELL ME WHAT IS HAPPENING!! WHAT’S GOING ON?!!!!”

I was ready to have a heart attack. I was already incredibly stressed that the bleeding wouldn’t stop, now I thought I was going to die and had to be rushed to emergency. I thought moms were supposed to be a source of comfort?! Mine was stressing the crap out of me! So, I turned my phone off, eventually passed out at 4am, and again woke up in a bloodbath.

At this point, I learned my lesson. For the rest of the week I pretty much stayed in one position unless I ventured out to get a frappuccino, a smoothie or ice cream (or new pillows...).

These things are amazing.

Daily nutrition

To be honest, I could get used to this. I am loving it. At the back of my mind I know that complete time off will be good for my shin, so it’s easy to justify being super careful and taking a week off of everything – work, running, cross-training and social activities. Over the past four nights/days, I have averaged 12.5 hours of sleep per day. I haven’t behaved like this since high school! It is totally awesome. The only thing that really sucks is not being able to eat solid food. I am getting pretty sick of it. Not just because I crave real food like a normal human being, but I am trying to put on some weight and being restricted to liquids adds a slight challenge to this feat. Le Blog du Rob has suggested I go on a ‘Peanut Butter and Chocolate Milkshake’ Coldstone diet for the next week, which I have to say is a pretty brilliant idea. I had no idea how many calories are in those things! 1750 in one large milkshake. That’s insane! Who consumes these drinks?! Throw in two more for three ‘meals’ a day and I’m up to 5,250 calories while sitting motionless. There’s no way I wouldn’t put on 5lbs in a week. Well done Rob, I have no excuse now. I just hope the vomiting I experience after a few of those doesn’t dislodge anymore bloodclots...

Great time for my can opener to shatter into pieces.

Thank you to the delicious Mocha Frapp for getting me through this week! I highly recommend.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

High before the low

So I got all four of my wisdom teeth out today. I figured I didn’t have enough injuries to nurse, so I introduced four wounds inside my mouth to make things more interesting. Now I can rotate packs of ice from my shin to my cheeks at 15 minute intervals and spend entire days on recovery. Just like a real pro like Dylan Wykes or Eric Gillis! I may not be getting in morning 24-milers...or any kind of workout for that matter...but details, details! It’s the post-workout routine that makes you fast, right? I could especially learn a thing or two from Gillis on concocting the perfect peanut butter smoothie, since I am reduced to liquids at the moment. His mix of ingredients alone makes me drool! Well, I am actually drooling all the time right now, but that’s beside the point (it’s a pretty gritty bloody drool too, not very nice). But I have a feeling this smoothie would cure it. My only problem (only – HA!) is that I don’t own a blender. I never realized how terrible this was until now. Pretty much anything I want to eat right would have to be blended. What do I do?

Well, first I slurped an entire carton of vanilla almond milk out of a bowl. That was pretty good. It also gave me enough glucose to devise a plan to conquer tomorrow’s breakfast. Buy some mushy bananas, scratch the crunchy peanut butter in favour of the smooth stuff, and coat and squish my bananas with the peanut butter (that's what he said?!). Then, microwave the hell out of my frozen berries until they are reduced to a purple berry mush that I can then top with gobs of honey and greek yogurt. And voila, I’ve got a baby-fied version of a classic Coolis breakfast! Brilliant! (I will let you know how this goes, knowing my luck the berries will be full of seeds I can’t eat and the bananas will be so old they’ll make me sick).

Delicious Almond Milk...soup?

The surgery itself went smoothly. I was in and out in 45min (twhs). When the doctor arrived he rolled up my sleeve and set up the IV anesthetic into my arm. His first words were ‘Wow, you have really BIG arms!’ My heart jumped. He noticed my newly bulging biceps!!! I was about to delve into a detailed account of my weight routine, until I caught the smirk on his face and realized he was being completely sarcastic. If only he knew how proud I was of my guns. ‘Umm...yeah...they are huge aren’t they?!’ I joked back, trying to hide my shame and disappointment. ‘I can fit my hand around your entire bicep!’ He continued in an amused tone. Just rub it in a little more eh? I thought to myself. What an A-hole! ‘Ha! And I actually do weights!’ I informed him. ‘Here I was thinking I was developing some strength, and you totally shut me down. Thanks doctor!’ He chuckled to himself. ‘Seriously? You do weights?’ Thankfully at this point he had started to administer the IV and that was the end of our conversation. I think he knew that if I stayed awake he’d get a taste of my guns in his face. That’s right. Don’ mess.

Coolis pre-op. A little nervous.

I woke up in what seemed like an instant later, feeling, well, pretty friggin great! I felt no pain and was in quite a wonderful mood. Naturally, my first instinct was to Tweet this to the world. Unfortunately my motor skills were mildly encumbered, as my Tweet came out something like ‘So high rihjt noe’. I wonder how this would have come out if I had had auto-correct on my phone? ‘So high riding doe’? (twss) I then proceeded to text random people on my phone, including my coach, to whom I blurted ‘I am so high rihht now omg this is cray cray wee3eeeeee!’ After a minute, I received a stern answer back asking ‘High on WHAT??? I hope you are kidding Jane.’ Turns out (after speaking to her hours later) she actually almost had a heart attack, thinking I was actually high on heroin at 9am on a Sunday morning. ‘She’s hit an ultimate low,’ Nic thought to herself. She even said she wanted to call me but couldn’t face talking to me while I was high on drugs, it was too upsetting. Oh Nic! Who do you think I am? (Well ok, I suppose there are some substances I enjoy, but I do not enjoy anything hard unless it’s vodka! (twss?))

The nurse then began to instruct me on what I could and couldn’t do in the next few days, which included no running until Thursday. I remained silent (thinking I was maintaining an obedient demeanour), but according to my buddy Tim I was giving her a terrible, evil stare as she spoke. I don’t really remember responding after her long ramble but witnesses also say that I told her I was going to run anyway. This did not make her happy. ‘And none of your crazy weight lifting either!’ She finished emphatically. I think I rolled my eyes at this point and she stormed out of the room. (I have the feeling they really like me at that dentist office.)

Beautiful post-op flowers from the 'rents!

That being said, I am taking the next week as a down week since I am now nursing five sore spots (my cap is four, naturally). I think my wisdom teeth operation comes at a good time since things have been going downhill with my shin and it will force me to rest. Despite my current shin soreness, I am actually quite optimistic about it. Why? Well, I have been doing very heavy weight-lifting in order to strengthen the tendon that I damaged. I’ve been going at this full tilt, dorsi-flexing thirty pounds of weight on the cable and strengthening it like no other. Apparently my little shin muscles couldn’t take it, however, and that stress along with all my cross-training and physiotherapy treatment has strained a bunch of the muscles beside the tendon. This has all happened so gradually that I didn’t even realize it was a new area, I just thought my old injury was getting worse and that was pretty depressing. Thank god for physio Greg who astutely pointed out that my tendon was no longer sore but that ‘muscle man’ next door was now the sore spot. We agree that this is quite positive, first because muscle will heal faster than tendon and second because my initial injury seems to really (finally) be almost there! I am hoping that backing off another week will finally get this thing healed! The shin will not be the end of me!

Alright, off to concoct some kind of liquid dinner, I am really craving my brussel spouts...I wonder what would happen if I microwaved them for like ten minutes....

Oh and in case anyone is interested in Coolis on Heroin, my really great friends took a wonderful video of me post surgery. They are so thoughtful!

Edit: I've been asked to write out the barely discernable dialogue between my friend Mauricio and I, so here it is...

M: Hello Coolis
J: I wanna get all my teeth out. [laughing]This is awesome.
M: You sound like there’s a lot of crap in your mouth
J: Is this going to stay in here all day?
M: That’s what she said
M: What are you watching here
J: It looks like a dog is playing piano.
M: Are you sure?
J: Not anymore..
M: We started laughing because as soon as you were out, you were tweeting and texting right away.
J: But I can’t spell!
J: I’m like whatever, they’ll figure it out...I wonder if this is what heroin feels like?
M: Oh man.
M: Maybe, I’ve heard...
J: ...Really?
M: Yeah
J: ...uh-oh...That is NOT good!
J: Oh...I feel really good...
J: When I woke up they were like ‘Hey it went really well, how do you feel? I was like ‘GRRRREAT’ and then I’m like trying to get up and she was like ‘No!’ and she had to like pick me up and bring me here. I’m like ‘No, I’m alright!’
M: Do you feel sleepy at all?
J: I just feel very peaceful.
M: Awww...
J: I’m not stressed out anymore! I could meet with Rob right now he could tell me anything and I’d be like ‘Alllllright!’

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

G.I. Jane: Plank Master of the World

It’s been a while since I’ve updated and I’ve probably lost all of my followers. Alas, my shin has continued to act like a sine wave so I haven’t really felt like talking about running. After several weeks of thinking intensely about how I could avoid the conundrum of wanting to blog but not wanting to address Little Focker (the new name of my weak limb), I finally found the answer: I just won’t talk about it! Genius! So, here I am.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time at the gym lately, getting my buff on and training to break the world record for longest plank hold. I figure since I won’t be running any PBs anytime soon, I had better seek my competitive fix somewhere else. And since I demolish everyone at circuits with my flawless form and unwaivering plank hold, I clearly have a legit shot to take it a step further and go for the world record. Ok, maybe 33 minutes and 40s is a few steps further than my current five minutes of fame, but I have no doubt I can reach it by the time my shin heals...which may be...never...so I have plenty of time! Importantly though, if you throw in the whole rotating plank set, I can easily achieve twelve minutes, so I basically I am a third of the way there. What is perhaps more motivating, however, is that the world record holder is a 68-year-old man. This fact in and of itself is going to catapult me into the world of plank domination. Common! How could I not hold the plank position for longer than a 70-year-old? I refuse to accept this and am thus determined to end 2012 with a new title of ‘Plank Master of the World.’ It is a way better name than ‘G.I. Jane’ or ‘Shoeless Coolis.’ What have I been thinking all these years, claiming to be hardcore and then failing to give myself a name that includes the words ‘Master of the World’?! Becoming a plank master will also serve to comfort me for never being awarded an official Masters degree. By bypassing the Masters, I am now set to graduate with the flimsy label of Doctor of Philosophy. What kind of obscure, wishy-washy title is that? It makes me sound like I frolicked through the gardens of science for six years, pondering abstract theories and concepts, ultimately never achieving any kind of concrete conclusions. But if I had stopped at a Masters?! I would be called a Master of something. A MASTER of Medical Biophysics. Now that sounds much more impressive! So basically, by becoming G.I. Jane: Plank Master of the World, I will have achieved something athletically this year AND will finally be able to call myself a Master. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this fantastic plan months ago!

So getting back to the gym scene, I think I’d be getting pretty big right now if I wasn’t countering my extremely heavy weight-lifting and plank holding with hours of aerobic cross-training. As a result, my newly ripped arms are still the puniest in the room – at any given time - by FAR. But they look so good when I flex them in front of the mirror in the solitude of my own home! I can’t be that delusional, can I?! Apparently I am, because as soon as I go back to the weight room and see one dude’s arm that’s bigger than my thigh I am reduced to shrimpiness once again. That’s usually the point where I realize that I actually don’t want to get huge as it would probably not make me any faster, especially if my muscle was all concentrated in my arms. Not only would that look pretty peculiar, but it would impede my speed over long distances (and perhaps mess with my balance). That being said, I am definitely getting intrinsically stronger, as I am moving up in weight every two weeks. So it’s not ALL in my head!

Working out at the gym can be quite boring, but it also has its entertaining perks. And where I go, there are an unusual proportion of quirky people. I won’t give specifics on my workout whereabouts, but the fact that I am smack in the middle of downtown TO at 5:30am every morning should give you a general idea of the varied clientele I meet. First, there’s the dude that wears sweats and sunglasses every day. Need I remind you that it is 5:30am in the middle of the winter and the sun doesn’t rise until 8am? And that we are in a brightly-light room? And that no, I am not so ignorant and insensitive as to miss some obvious fact like that he is actually blind? Because he is most certainly not! First, because he runs on the treadmill to warm up, and I’d be pretty impressed to see a blind man run on the treadmill unaided and not fall off. Enough people have issues doing this with perfect vision and years of yoga training. Second, because he accosts just about everyone who enters the gym as soon as he sees them – which is usually before they even get through the door. He could be across the room and promptly yell ‘Heyyyyy [insert friendly nickname here], what is UP dude?! Working on your guns eh?’ and then rush over and give them a big pat on the back, before wandering off looking for more people to impart his funny one-liners onto. Surprisingly, he has yet to confront me and my biceps. I have questioned why...until I realized that he is probably confused by my mere presence. Shouldn’t I be on the treadmill or the elliptical rather than sitting in a testosterone-infused, dumbbell-clanking, sweaty, smelly weight room? I suspect he is waiting it out a few more weeks until he knows whether I will be a true regular there, at which point he will shower me with nicknames and back-pats. This is the day I live for!

Then there’s the old dude who rocks the elliptical every morning. He is there like clockwork and never changes a single step of his routine, yet I am in constant fear that he is about to fall over and die. Once he starts his workout, he lets out a surprisingly ferocious and laboured grunt every two or three minutes. These grunts get increasingly stressful for me - probably why I am convinced they get louder as his workout goes on – even though that probably isn’t the case. It doesn’t help that he is as pale as a ghost, weighs about ninety pounds and achieves a cadence on the elliptical that is about one hundred times faster than he can walk. I am plagued as to whether I should avoid being near him or remain by his side at all times while he is working out should something actually happen. So far I've chosen the latter option, but it's starting to drive me crazy.

It’s not just the patrons that are a little off, but a few of the trainers as well. One guy is known for approaching everyone and correcting them on their form in the weight room. I have heard other people complain about him. So I wasn’t surprised when I was doing plank one day (obviously) and he approached me with a quizzical look on his face. I challenged him with a confident glare to DARE critique my plank form. He stood over me in silence for a minute, then (obviously seeing nothing wrong with my beauteous plank) belted out: ‘You train way too much. You run marathons or something?’ ‘Here we go,’ I thought to myself. The old ‘you are doing too much’ lecture....from a weight lifter! Oh man this was going to be funny. ‘Yes, I run marathons, but I am partially injured right now so I’m supplementing a lot of cardio on the elliptical.’ ‘I see, well you need muscle to run marathons, and you have no muscle. You are very weak.’ What the hell? What kind of person goes up to a complete stranger and says something like that? I was pretty pissed off at this point, so I retorted ‘actually, I may be thin, but that does not mean that I have no muscle. In fact, I am pretty strong, and I am currently going for the world record for longest plank hold’ (OK maybe that last part didn’t quite come out that way...) ‘Oh really?’ he challenged me, ‘I don’t see any muscle on you. I’ve been doing weight training for 55 years and I KNOW you need muscle to run marathons. If you want to be fast you’ve got to do weights, I actually have a great program if you’re interested...’ ‘Thanks but no thanks,’ I continued, ‘I have a coach who was one of the best marathoners Canada has ever had and I am pretty sure she knows what she’s doing. I do circuits and strength work and I am not weak. But thank you for judging me and then proceeding to impart your wisdom onto me, you are a great dude.’ Once again, I didn’t quite say that last sentence, but wow did I ever want to dig into him on his knowledge of endurance training. Since then he has seen me doing weights several times with raised eyebrows. That’s right! G.I. Jane plank master of the world is on her way to domination!

I suppose that is a big enough recap for the time being. I’m getting lots of treatment on my shin so am backing off the running for a bit, gotta get it back to 100%. It is pretty frustrating to say the least but I just hope that I will be completely healed eventually. *Sigh*