alcohol · beauty · body image · eating · fat · fitness · habits · health · injury · movies · running · self care · sex · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don't

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

inclusiveness · injury · yoga

Sam's most hated yoga pose

Catherine blogged about her most uncomfortable yoga poses and what she does instead. I’ve also become “that free spirit yoga lady” who just appears to be doing her own thing in yoga class. It’s winter and I’m back at hot yoga in a studio and despite all the talk of ‘only you know your body’ and ‘this is your practice’ I feel some pressure to go along with the sequence of poses.

I thought I’d share my recent yoga frustrations with you. Or when I’m in a mood, let’s just call it “my most hated yoga pose.” It’s Hero or Virasana. Here it’s described as balm for tired legs at the end of a long day but for me it’s just excruciating pain. Also, several physios and a knee surgeon or two have just out and out told me not to do it. So I don’t.

Searching for “hero pose” on Unsplash–a royalty free photo site–the best I got was this image. Not exactly what I had in mind!

Spiderman! Photo by Stem List on Unsplash

Here’s Yoga with Adriene explaining how to set it up:

Knees are precious she tells us. Learn how to set up hero pose mindfully.

But the video also has the following text description:

” Yoga workshop! Learn the foundations of Hero Pose – or Virasana with Yoga With Adriene! Learn this delicate but powerful seated pose with at-home supports. No fancy yoga props needed. Learn to self adjust and use props intuitively and mindfully. Hero is a great stretch for the legs and feet. It can ground and calm the body with regular practice and help with digestion and bloating. Learn to explore a posture in a way that feels good. Avoid this posture if you have injury in the knee or ankle.

The bold bit is mine.

And that’s the thing. No amount of modification will help. There is no right number of blocks, no proper arrangement of towels that will fix things.

Other poses are challenging–pigeon, child’s pose, bow–but I can find modifications that work. Not in this case and that’s okay. There is no way to make all the yoga poses work for every body despite what some yoga teachers seem to think.

Instead, you can find me off doing my own thing. And I’ll join you again for the next posture.

Is there a yoga pose that your body simply can’t do? No matter how many modifications? Make feel less alone here. Tell me your story. 🙂

fitness · injury

Sam is grumpy about toe physio

Sigh!

I’ve kept quiet about this latest physical problem because next to my knee arthritis and pending knee replacement surgery, it seems minor. However, I’ve had x-rays, seen a regular doctor and a foot specialist and the diagnosis is that I also have a seriously arthritic big toe on my left foot.

See here and here.

Really? Yes, really.

Oh, aging. I’m reminded of my father a lot these days. I know what he would have said. “Yes, aging sucks but it sure beats the alternative.” My father died four years ago, just before Christmas. I think about him a lot at this time of year. They’re good memories and I’m glad that I have them.

Back to my big toe. Yes, just one. The one of the left foot. The one on my right foot is fine.

You can read all about the problem here.

Big toe joint

“A crucial element of big-toe function is the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, which joins the first long bone (metatarsal) in the forefoot to the first bone of the big toe (phalanx). Every time you take a step, the MTP joint bends, allowing the foot to roll forward and push off. During this phase of the walking cycle, the joint supports 50% of the body’s weight. If the joint doesn’t function properly, not only walking, but also exercising and many other activities of daily life can be difficult, sometimes impossible. One of the most common ailments of the big toe joint is hallux rigidus — literally, “stiff big toe.”

So what’s the prognosis? If you read the article linked above, I’m at the conservative, symptom management stage. Take ibuprofen. (Thanks, already doing that for the knee.) Wear shoes with a large toe box. (Looking at my existing shoe collection with side eye.)

These are my new favorites, obviously not a large toe box. It’s a double shoe selfie with my friend Andrea Zanin, who guest blogs here occasionally. She’s wearing the sparkly pink, red festive shoes and mine are black with silver buckles.

Fluevogs!

I’ve also ordered custom orthotics that will help support the midfoot and give me better lift off for walking. Thanks again benefits.

Finally, there’s toe physio. Friends will remember my amusement years ago when I was sent to a finger physio clinic and assigned an awful lot of exercises after I broke my finger walking my dogs. It wasn’t the big one who caused the broken finger. It was the medium sized dog Olivia who took off after a dog on the street and I smashed my hand on the pavement.

I miss these dogs. They also both died in 2015. It wasn’t a great year.

Manny and Olivia. Miss you both.

Eventually I stopped mocking the finger physio clinic and their exercises and I did them. I’m good that way. I now have full mobility back in that joint. So I suspect I’ll get there with toe physio. I’ll do the exercises while watching whatever show I’m watching over the holidays. That’s currently Fleabag.

In the scheme of things this isn’t a big deal. My foot hurts and I get cramps. But on top of the knee it feels super annoying. Really? Knee and toe physio exercises? Really?

Increasing big toe mobility with YouTube videos!

Yes. That’s my life now. But echoing my dad, it beats the alternative.

aging · flexibility · health · illness · injury · nutrition · planning · schedule · self care · training · weight lifting

Sam gets frustrated with midlife precision and the complications of fitting it all in

There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.

Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.

Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.

Bitmoji Sam pointing at the word “lies”

It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.

As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.

I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.

Sam’s bitmoji lifting weights.

So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?

Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.

There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.

All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.

Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”

So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.

First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.

See Recovery and aging athletes: A guide to train smart and stay strong

A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.

In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”

The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.

From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says.”

When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.

Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.

I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.

What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.

Wish me luck!

(Update: I see Catherine just purchased a training program that works in all the elements including rest. That’s one solution to fitting it all in. Go Catherine!)

Bitmoji Sam is holding a pillow. The text reads “rest up.”

Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.

There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.

See Muscle loss is in the news again for more details.

Bitmoji Sam ponders her lunch options

Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.

Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.

Bitmoji Sam on a purple bean bag chair with a red book and a mug.

How about you? How do you fit it all in?

body image · competition · fitness · Guest Post · health · injury · race report · racing · running

Couch to 21.1 km (Guest post)

by Jennifer Burns

Content warning: Body image 

Last Sunday, I ran my first race. I’ve been running for eleven years (and are my legs ever tired!) but I’ve never run any kind of a race before. Mainly because I’ve just never been much of a one for races. I even dropped out of the rat race a few years ago, because – as a funnier and wiser woman than I once pointed out –  even when you win, you’re still a rat. 

So naturally, for my very first race ever, I chose to run a half-marathon. Because why not? 

Actually, it was Andra’s idea. Andra is my physiotherapist, and a former competitive swimmer and volleyball player. She takes no shit from anybody, least of all me. 

I’ve been working with Andra for over three years now. For two of those years, I wasn’t running at all. She helped reconfigure my body after my last pregnancy downloaded and installed some updates that I don’t ever remember clicking “OK” on. 

The thing is that, apparently, for most of my adult life, I’ve been walking around with an undiagnosed case of scoliosis: a bent spine. Mine curves from side to side, creating a posture somewhat reminiscent of one of Tom Thomson’s windblown jack pines. I always knew I was a bit off-kilter, but I never knew until three years ago that I had A Condition. 

Apparently (don’t quote me on this) if you have scoliosis, one pregnancy is OK, but subsequent pregnancies can worsen the spinal curvature. Much hilarity ensues. Like, if you’ve ever wanted to recreate the Grand Canyon between your rectus abdominis muscles, scoliosis plus pregnancy can totally help you with that. 

Now, I did not want the Grand Canyon, but it ended up being part of the whole post-partum package-tour I embarked on back in 2016 (you really gotta read the fine print on these things). In addition to scheduled stops at Sleepless Gulch and Hormone Crash Hill, there was also plenty of commentary from the locals: “Already pregnant again!?” “Is this one of those weird twin pregnancies where they’re born weeks apart?” “Wow, I forgot how long it takes to look normal after giving birth!” etc etc. 

Worst trip ever. But at least, after the magical “six weeks pp” were up, I’d be “allowed” to run again. Right? Right?!

[Ron Howard’s voice: “She was wrong.”]

In September 2016, I found out that not only did I have scoliosis, but it had also probably worsened during the pregnancy, turning the area under my ribs into a veritable pressure-cooker and creating a gaping 12cm/6-finger separation between my abs. This separation, together with the scoliosis, was setting me up for even worse alignment problems that could result in spinal deformities, disc herniation, urinary incontinence and – everybody’s favourite – pelvic organ prolapse. 

And so, given this, I should give up running, forever, and take up race-walking. (If my life were an episode of Friends, this would be the one where Chandler Byng quips, “Because race-walking is such a ordinary, everyday activity that doesn’t make you look ridiculous or stand out AT ALL.”). 

Oh, and also? My abdomen would never be flat again without at least ten-thousand dollars’ worth of plastic surgery, followed by a two-month recovery and almost inevitable chronic and incurable pain from nerve damage. Pretty much the best thing I could do, in this strange, new, disloyal, and no longer conventionally-attractive body, was “be grateful” I was a “mama”, and “embrace” my “journey”, along with my “battle scars” and my “tiger stripes”. 

I am still mildy amazed that I didn’t “drop-kick” the “physiotherapist” right there and then, but forgive me, my reflexes were pretty shot from lack of sleep. 

That was Physio No. 1. Physio No. 2 was Andra. Who, in her no-nonsense, does-not-suffer-fools-gladly, clipped Romanian way agreed with Physio No. 1 that my situation was “not good” (“It feels like gummy bears in here, it feels like a trampoline” she said, prodding my abdomen). 

Then she uttered life-changing words: “We will fix this.”

If I’d known, sitting in a tiny office up the street from the Reference Library on a dreary winter afternoon, that the path to “fixing this” was going to involve a two-year slog through electro-accupuncture, progressive core-activation exercises, swimming endless laps, tedious floor work, before finally graduating to modified workouts with a trainer at the gym – I’d have crumpled to the floor. This piece, written then, knowing that, would have been entitled By the Toronto Reference Library I Sat Down And Wept, and I probably wouldn’t be running today. Actually, I’m not sure – I’m a stubborn old cuss when you get right down to it. But knowing that entire years lay between me and me getting back to my preferred – at the time, my only – sport, would have been devastating. Andra was smart. She didn’t say anything about how long it could take. She just said we would fix it, and I believed that we could so I was ready to show up and do the fricken work. 

And if you’d told me that in less than three years, I’d run a half-marathon – me, who had never run any race, ever, who had run a continuous 20K exactly one time, in three hours, four years ago – me, always picked last on teams in gym class – me, lugging this living cautionary-tale of a postpartum body around, a “Here Be Dragons” warning made flesh – me? Run in a marathon? I would have laughed so hard I’d probably have busted a gut. (Except it was already busted, so no worries there). 

But. Reader, I marathoned. OK, I half-marathoned. I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half on October 20, 2019. My goal was modest: sub 2:30. I crossed the finish line at 2:27. 

A year ago, almost exactly, I was running one minute and walking five. I was glad to be running again, even if only for a minute at a time, but I was finding it really, really hard. I had so little endurance, despite all the work I’d put in over the past two years. And when winter came, I quickly got bored of running on the indoor track at the gym. So I took up skating instead, because if you can’t beat Winter, you may as well throw your arms wholeheartedly around it while also leaping around frozen surfaces on sharp blades.

When the ice melted, I moved the skating indoors, but I also went back to running. With Andra’s endorsement, I registered to run the STWM half. I didn’t commit to seriously training for it until June, which is when I made the total rookie mistake of upping my daily mileage by 6K in one day and made the fascia around my right hip “angry”, in Andra’s words. My hip’s temper tantrum set me back weeks.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Andra’s advice plus a tennis ball and a foam roller got me back on track. By September, I was running 10K easily.  Then 12, then 14, then 16, and finally my last three long runs before the race were just over 18K.  

Seasoned runners joke that running a marathon is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. So too was my recovery. Except, I stopped looking up while I was doing it, because every time I looked up, I scanned for a horizon I couldn’t even see, much less imagine, and this made me angry and scared and sad. So, I just kept my eyes on my feet and kept moving them forward. One foot, then the other. Physio, swimming. The gym, my bike. The stairs in High Park, and then the hiking trails. Run one, walk five. Skate a bit, run a bit more. One foot, then the other. I just kept showing up. I went to the gym and to the rink and to physiotherapy (thank you childcare, part-time job, supportive partner, and generous spousal health insurance coverage!) and somehow, somehow along the way on this metaphorical “journey” (*makes flourishing air quotes with hands*) I upgraded from the all-inclusive Occasional Runner package, to some kind of Choose Your Own Jock Adventure deal. And that’s an upgrade I’m more than OK with. 

Jennifer is a writer, mother, wife, runner, cyclist, skater (ice and inline), and non-profit administrator. She lives in Toronto. 

fitness · Guest Post · health · illness · injury

Keeping Fit While Healing from Hysterectomy, Part 2 (The Lifting Edition)

It is now nearly 10 weeks after my complete, laparoscopic hysterectomy, and I figure it’s about time for an update on my progress! When I last wrote, it had been about a month, and I was working on following my own fitness plan. (If you haven’t read that post, you can find it here.) My goals at that time were to do what I could to maintain healthy habits and to preserve as much strength as I could without compromising healing. The plan was to do a bands-based resistance program and daily walking. Today, I’ll discuss some overall impressions and get into the weeds a bit about where I’m at with lifting. I’ll do a separate post about my ongoing efforts to return to running.

So, how did the plan go?

During that first month of exercises (post-op weeks 3-6), my strength and endurance varied quite a bit from day to day. Some days I felt great and had to force myself to keep things easy, other days, all I could handle was lifting up and washing the dishes in the sink. I did my best to honor the time I needed to rest. There was one week when I seemed tired all the time, and I wasn’t sure if that meant I’d been overdoing it or if it was something else going on. I rested a few days, and then I returned to my resistance bands and walking but with reduced volume. For several days there, I was tired before I got started but found that a little movement helped my mood and energized me, which reinforced that those were the right decisions.

For the most part, pain continued to not be a major concern. I had some discomfort for sure, but it was most often a generalized achiness, especially on the right side of my abdomen, rather than sharp pains. Bending over at the waist and pushing/pulling heavy objects were the most-limited movements, giving me the immediate feedback that I was still healing inside. Sometimes I thought some activity I’d done had exacerbated the aches, but plenty of times I couldn’t correlate the pain to any particular increase in activity.

The only time I had severe pain, it was while I was out wandering through a neighborhood garage sale with my husband. I hadn’t done anything strenuous in the previous 24 hours or so, and suddenly, every step resulted in a tearing feeling in my side. It completely stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes. We very gingerly walked home, with shallow, baby steps so I wouldn’t jostle my insides any further, and I laid down on the sofa for the rest of the day. This happened to be only a couple days before the 6-week post-op appointment with my surgeon, so I mentioned it to her at that time. Her hypothesis was that it was “scar tissue disease” that had formed and was being pulled and separated again, causing the tearing feeling I had. Her response to this surprised me–she advised me to stay as active as possible. She didn’t want scar tissue to limit my activities down the road, so the more I can prevent these tissues from sticking and forming together, the better off I’ll be long term.

Back to the gym
At that 6-week appointment, my doctor released me to “gradually return to regular activities.” She made it clear that she didn’t want me holding back too much, as that would slow down my progress. “You can’t hurt anything now,” she said after examining my vaginal sutures, which were apparently healing as expected. So, I left the appointment with her blessing to get back to the gym, to do all the stretching, twisting and bending that I felt ready to do.

I have been back to lifting for a little over 2 weeks now. I decided to go with a 4-day upper/lower split program that I’ve done before. I’ve modified the lifts to avoid undue abdominal pressure (no push-ups, planks, or similar poses). I wasn’t a great squatter before the surgery, but now I’ve gone back to light goblet squats just to parallel. I’m trying to feel out how my pelvic floor responds to the increased loading. As far as I can tell, it’s going ok, although honestly, there isn’t an obvious way to measure it.* My surgeon informed me that my pelvic floor was “more pliable than predicted,” given that I have never been pregnant. She did not know if this was due to my being a lifter or to my history of obesity. It’s not clear to me how careful I need to continue to be to protect my pelvic floor health going forward. And as discussed in the first post, there’s very few evidence-based resources out there to help people navigate this situation.

I’m lifting about 60% (in terms of both weight and volume) of what I was doing before surgery. My preferred programming is usually pretty high volume, and I hope to keep working on increasing it over the next few weeks. I started with 2-3 sets, and I plan on adding a set every couple of weeks until I’m back to doing 5 sets of the major lifts. Only after I get the volume up do I expect to progress the weights heavier again. I’ve dropped out almost all accessory lifts other than those I do to maintain mobility, and I’m focussing on the big, multijoint movements. Here’s how that looks:

Lower 1:
Goblet Squat, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP (as many reps as possible)
Leg Curl (Machine), 3×12-15
Offset Split Squat, 3×12-15
Monster Walks and lower body mobility work

Upper 1:
Upright Dumbbell Press, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP
Assisted Chin-up, 2×6-8, 1×10-12
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, 3×12-15
Cable Row, 3×15-20
shoulder mobility work

Lower 2:
Deadlift, 2×5-6, 1×8-10
Goblet Squat, 3×15-20
Pallof Press, 2×12-15
Alternating Reverse Lunge, 2×15-20
Monster walks and lower body mobility work

Upper 2:
Bench Press, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP
1-arm Dumbbell Row, 2×8-10, 1×12-15
Arnold Press, 3×15
Palms Down Cable Pulldown, 3×15
Dumbbell Lat Raise, 2xAMRAP (up to 20)
Dumbbell Reverse Fly, 2xAMRAP (up to 25)
shoulder mobility work

The mobility work is feeling especially important right now, as it seems like I’m stiff any time I’m not warmed up. I’m hoping that feeling will decrease as I get back to the rest of my usual routines and is not a new normal. I’m aware that I’m recovering from this surgery in my forties, and older lifters are frequently discussing the increased need for mobility work to keep lifting. I’ve never been sure how true that would be for me, since these folks are usually lifelong athletes, and I’m a relative noob. I have neither the benefit of a foundation of strength, nor the detriment of a lifetime of activity-related aches and pains.

So as far as the lifting part of my recovery plan goes, I’m feeling pretty good about it. The old advice to “lift nothing over 10 pounds,” clearly wasn’t the right advice for me. I was able to do more than that after the first two weeks of total rest, and I didn’t injure myself or create problems for my healing. Even still, my muscles are acting like I haven’t lifted in two months, and I was especially sore with lactic acid burn the first week back. It’s a bit disappointing to be so stiff and sore, given I was continuing to train in some fashion for most of the last couple months. However, I’m pleased that I kept it part of my routine, so that it usually does not feel hard to get myself to the gym–that moment of “ugh, do I really have the energy to do this?!” is less common than it might have been. It’s too early to know how the hysterectomy might impact my lifting options long term. I’m considering going back to the physical therapist to have her evaluate where I’m at, to see if there’s anything I’m missing as I continue to recover. Regardless, it’s clear to me from my experience that the typical lifting advice is more conservative than necessary, at least for some of us.

*Fun fact–in research, apparently they measure internal abdominal pressure by inserting a balloon up the rectum of test subjects. Then, when they do particular lifts, researchers can measure changes in the pressure upon the balloon. For the record, I will not be signing up for this, even in the interest of science!

(You can find my post on returning to running here.)

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

aging · fit at mid-life · injury · motivation · running

I Recommitted To Running, But There’s Been A Bump

I want to renew my running vows. I want me and Running to hold hands and skip through a flurry of confetti in great outfits; the way we did back at the beginning of our relationship 25-years ago. 

As some of you know, I did a half-marathon in April (The Half Marathon I’m Dreading). I was not proud of my time. I self-sabotaged. My training was not exemplary. My head was not in the right place. Not the first time. The run made me realize—I love you, running, but I’ve let our relationship go stale. I love you more when we spend quality time together. When I pay more attention. When I push, even a little. When I commit. I have let the inevitable slowdown of age interfere with our joyful communion. Time to do something. 

Early in May, a friend invited me to join her Hood to Coast team. Hood to Coast is a 199-mile (36-leg) relay with teams of between 6-12 members. My partner has done it four times. But with a men’s team. I prevaricated. I said I needed the weekend to decide. I went hiking in Joshua Tree National Park with my partner. Side note: the Mojave Desert is spectacular. I hemmed and hawed. I decided, no. Wednesday, I hit reply to my friend’s invite. Started to type, “I’ve thought about it and I’m not going to join.” Instead I typed, “Sure. Sign me up.” 

What? Where did that come from? I’m a writer. My fingers often come up with words all on their own. But my fingers don’t usually take over decision-making. Sunday night, a few days after I signed up, I told a friend I was upping my game. The strategy of public commitment. My goal: To find the enthusiasm and focus of my years-past beginner’s mind. And at the same time, be mindful of not burdening that focus with performance pressure.   

Monday, I went for the first run with my new Warrior Queen headspace. My IT band hurt so much. I had to abandon my run. 

Aaargh. 

If you run and you have never had IT issues, you are extremely lucky. The iliotibial band is a big tendon running down the side of the leg from pelvic bone, over the hip to the knee. Pain usually manifest on the outside of the knee. In my case, pain is around the hip bone.   

But I’m committed. The Internet of Things delivered recovery plans. There’s time. I dusted my exercise ball.  I can cycle to stay strong. I replaced the exercise band I apparently threw out in a fit of optimism. I’m having fun doing short bursts of strengthening exercises throughout the day. I work at home, which makes that easy.  

So far, I’ve done:

  • squats,
  • single leg squats (a serious balance challenge), 
  • wall sits, 
  • abductor and adductor exercises with the band and ball, 
  • foot and arch strengthening exercises, and
  • a hamstring exercise, which involves lying on the floor, putting my feet on the exercise ball, elevating my hips and then doing repeats of pulling the ball toward me with my heels and pushing it away. The ball is squirrely, so there’s a lot of readjustment in every set. 

I’m also rolling on a trigger point tube. I can feel a big, painful bloop, halfway between my knee and my hip, as I roll over the muscle just behind my IT band. Plus stretching, but lightly. Plus acupuncture. Plus a Traumeel injection.

Silver crown on white background. Ashton Mullins on Unsplash

Fingers crossed; I heal with time to train. Patience. If I don’t heal, I still have my new WQ headspace for other sports and life in general. I feel a particular need for mental-emotional strength, because my new book, Run Like A Girl 365 Days a Year, is coming out in a month (featuring interview material with Samantha and Kim of this fabulous blog!). In one of those poetic convergences of life strands, the book is about the transformative impact of sports in women’s lives, just as I am living many of its questions with this latest injury. So, while I aim at WQ mind, I also know that if I don’t heal in time, I’ll probably be pretty disappointed. It will test my re-commitment. For now, I will ride the wave of renewed intention.

What’s your experience with renewing vows with a sport or other life activity or habit?