Today I Ran (Guest Post)

Today I ran.

I didn’t run far but for me this is a milestone nonetheless. It’s not that I have been entirely inactive. Although I broke my foot (a stress fracture) a year and a half ago, and it did take most of a year to heal, since the break occurred while I was running I figured that even if it healed I wouldn’t run again. 

Running hadn’t been my main form of exercise for about 5 years and so I felt I could deal with that. I do CrossFit (see my earlier post on this), bike, and hike and so I thought I could let running go. I mean, I’m 66 and so I figured that there are some things that maybe I have to admit I can’t do any more. But apparently running isn’t one of them (yet).

This is what that means to me. 

First, I can still come all the way back from a pretty distressing injury even if not that serious injury. I was in a boot and on crutches for 6 weeks but struggling long after that. Resilience is a good thing and so that’s reassuring. 

Second, I discovered that even when injured it is worth continuing to exercise. The trainer I work with (the wonderful Brandy) figured I could still row even with my foot is a clumsy hard boot (the stationary bike and running were clearly out – oh, and no burpies either). I am grateful that she was inventive. I put the booted foot on a skateboard and rowed away. Third, feeling strong is a good way to feel – and I am not saying this just because I saw Wonder Woman yesterday. 

Finally, I learned that I shouldn’t prejudge what I can and cannot do based on some idea about how old I am. Yes, I’m getting up there but it isn’t clear what that means about my capabilities and I am finding that it means different things for different people. Finding where you are in that spectrum of experiences is a process and not some pre-determined or static fact. What the limits are is something to be discovered – not told by yourself or others.

I’ve made a note to myself to watch out for mental shadows that prematurely limit my willingness to experiment. I was out riding for the first time in over a month this past weekend and I felt a little shaky. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I shouldn’t be out there giving that I was so old! 

I told a friend on the phone and she said, “I know! The paper would say elderly women killed while cycling. How awful!” I laughed even though I was less worried about what the report would say after the fact then the possibility of it becoming a reality (one difference in our personalities). This is not to say that one shouldn’t be careful. I am a very careful cyclist but I am careful precisely because I want to be riding for as long as possible. And while even careful people have accidents and get injured it is not only those over 60 that have that worry.

I may not be running a lot, but that’s okay. At least I know I can run again. Watch out! Elderly runner/biker/hiker coming through!

Picture of three “sheep ladies” hiking from a shop in Sardinia.

Sharon Crasnow is a retired philosophy professor who writes on feminist philosophy of science and lives in San Diego.

Recovered? (Guest Post)

Image description: A tree with red leaves in the shape of a head. One third of the leaves blowing away.  Also, green grass and blue sky and white clouds.

Image description: A tree with red leaves in the shape of a head. One third of the leaves blowing away. Also, green grass and blue sky and white clouds.

By Meena Krishnamurthy

A couple of months ago someone asked me the question that I have dreaded being asked most. The question was a simple one: Are you fully recovered?

Let me back track a bit. Almost three years ago, I suffered from a severe concussion. I had cognitive and visual problems, endless dizziness, migraines, and neck pain. Together these symptoms left me in bed in a dark room for almost 7 months. I was able to brush my teeth and shower, but I wasn’t able to grocery shop or cook. I was able to see people, but only for short times. I was largely isolated from my husband and my, at the time, 6 year old daughter. The dog was really the only one I could tolerate for longer periods of time, but at times even she was too much to handle.

For the most part, through hard work and some good luck, I’ve managed to get back to the things that I love. In the fall of 2016, I started a new academic position and in the winter I returned to teaching. This year I returned to a full teaching load. I’ve also returned to travelling and giving talks on a very limited basis. Most importantly, I am able to spend time with my family and to do the simple things that I love like grocery shopping. Even though it didn’t quite stick, I even managed to start running again this summer. All things considered, things have been going very well for me. I am proud of the progress that I have made and continue to make.

Given all of this, one might wonder, why was THAT question so difficult to answer? In part, it is hard to answer because I had recently been asking myself the same question and I hadn’t come up with a good answer.

The question itself confuses me. It isn’t clear to me what being recovered looks like at this point. If the person (and myself) was asking whether I am back to being the same person that I was before my head injury, then the answer is no. And, what comes next is difficult to say out loud and to admit to myself: I am not the same person that I was before my head injury. Sometimes I have still have days (sometimes many days) where I can’t out of bed. Sometimes, I am still overwhelmed with migraines, nausea, and numbness for weeks at a time. Sometimes, I am still cognitively hazey (this is probably the hardest thing to admit as an academic). More fundamentally, I am aware of my vulnerability, sometimes overcome with (irrational) fear that I will return to that dark room and be unable to do the things I love most.

On the other hand, perhaps I have just changed. Perhaps this is all part of my new norm. I have great days and not so great days and somehow I push through. Perhaps, then, I have recovered as much as I can.

Another option (according to the medical experts that I am working with) is that I’m still a work in progress. According to my neurologist, it can take almost 6 years to fully recover from a brain injury. This isn’t often the answer that people want to hear. People prefer a quick and complete success story – one where the person goes from being stuck in a dark room to being back in front of the classroom and travelling around the world, as if the accident had never happened. Unfortunately, in many cases of brain injury, this is a far-fetched scenario.

At this point, I’m still not sure how to answer THAT question. All of these are live options. My guess is my answer will change with place and time.

Embracing my growing strength

Red and white printed blanket covering a personBy MarthaFitat55

I’m not a big fan of our winter season. The weather is often horrible, spring seems like it will never arrive, and the multiple layers required to survive the cold make going to the gym a chore.

When the sky is blue, and the snow is soft and fluffy, I can work up the enthusiasm to enjoy a walk or a snowshoe. When it is wet and miserable with sleety snow, I want to curl up under my quilt and not surface until May.

Part of my resistance to winter exercise comes from my fear of falling. I have actually fallen several times, with my first reliable memory being a fall at 14 that resulted in a wicked headache.

I have tumbled over icy stairs (that one within earshot of my mother who heard me use language suitable for blistering paint) and I have skidded across parking lots.

I have also fallen indoors, and while I have been fortunate enough not to experience lasting ill effects, as I grow older, my fear of falling has grown exponentially.

I often ask people if they remember the rubber boots many of us wore as kids, and if they specifically recall how stiff and unyielding the rubber would get as we walked to and from school in January and February. Over time the rubber would crack and the wet would seep in.

That’s how I feel my muscles go in the winter cold: hard, inflexible, and yet ready to shatter at the slightest pressure.

Last year, three of my friends and one of my relatives were laid up with broken bones, all women. Two experienced the breaks as a result of slips and falls on icy sidewalks, thus adding to my fear and resistance.

I shouldn’t be surprised: after all, women are four times more likely to have osteoporosis, and one in five is likely to experience a fracture after age 40. The fact is my fear of falling need not be limited to the winter season, given the data.

Since hiding under a quilt is not really an option I can indulge in, I have looked for ways to reduce my risk of falls. I make sure I have good shoes, grippy sneakers, and sturdy boots. I have learned to walk like a penguin, with my feet pointed out, when going up or down hills and across icy surfaces.

I found some really useful tips here on the BC’s government’s health website. One tip which really stood out for me was eating foods high in calcium and Vitamin D. I had found increasing my fish intake was helping with my arthritis, so I wasn’t too surprised that nutrition could help. I had also long known about the calcium connection for bone health, but was not aware of the importance Vitamin D brings to muscle strength.

Last month, I had reason to be grateful for working on my fitness and nutrition. I had noticed increasing tightness and soreness around the hip joint post training and my trainer had noticed some oddities in my form during a subsequent squat session.

I decided to get checked as I was worried that something new was about to be added to the injury roster. I was somewhat startled to learn that it was the same hip problem. When I asked why the symptoms were different, my physiotherapist said my muscle strength had improved significantly over the past year to compensate for my hip moving out of alignment.

When I thought about the other times my hip joint has shifted, I realized several things. First, the time between injury and the onset of discomfort and pain was usually quite short. This time, it was a little over three weeks before things got really sore. Second, the recovery time post alignment was often quite long, with the pain and stiffness taking as much as three to five weeks to disappear. This time, I was really only uncomfortable for about 48 to 72 hours.

So what has this got to do with my fear of falling? I’m still cautious, but now I have developed my core strength so I am strong enough to reduce the impact. I also know my improved nutrition has helped my muscles recover faster from training, and this is also helpful in dealing with stress and injury.

What this means long term, I am not sure yet. For now, I am happy to continue with the work I am doing with the knowledge that I have made a difference in reducing the effects of injury and speeding up recovery.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s documenting a continuing journey of making fitness and work-life balance part of her everyday lifestyle.

A letter to my bike (Guest post)

Dear Ernie,

Wow. That was awesome, so much fun and so easy. Just like I remember.

Can you believe it was almost a year that you sat gethering dust under the stairs? I guess you can hey? You were back within days after the crash, having had your check up at the bike shop and gotten the all clear (and a chain clean for good measure). I, on the other hand, was pretty busy with the surgery to fix my elbow, dental for the teeth, the rehab, the healing, then life got pretty hectic.

If I am honest though, I avoided you. Physically I probably could have ridden without too much discomfort about 4 months ago. Possibly even 6 months ago. But mentally, I just wasn’t sure I could get past the notion that we might go over again. Which at the same time feels a little silly as I don’t remember going over last time. So I just let you sit there, your tyres flat and dust accumulating on the freshly oiled chain. What if it wasn’t easy any more? What if my hand, elbow or shoulder hurt too much? The fitness we had going last summer was gone. We literally crashed back through square one.

Fortunately the square root of one, is one. So wherever we start, it’s the new beginning.

And what a perfect beginning.  A warm summers night, the crit track at Victoria Park just outside the city. A girls rugby team training in the middle, the smell of lush grass rising with the last of the day’s heat (with small children a dog and balls going every which way to keep up on our toes). Around and around we went, spinny drills, some  sprint drills and  a few tempo ‘efforts’. Acknowledgement that we really need to do more sprint drills and maybe find a hill or 5 million to climb. Your form was great, my legs were a bit light on. But the ease, it was there. After 3 laps of the circuit it was like it always was.

I missed  you Ernie. I missed our adventures. Blaney to Bathurst through the rolling countryside of central New South Wales. Fitz’s 105km out the back of Canberra and the slowest ascent in the history of cycling, no – I didn’t think it was possible to ride at under 8km per hour and not fall over either, but there we were.  Beach weekends to “race” in triathons. Early mornings in the dead of winter with the development squad girls cutting laps of Old Parliament House in the dark. Sunday rides with Linda and the Piglet.

We’re not in Canberra anymore, but there are plenty of adventures in Adelaide too. In fact, all your fancy rich cousins from all across the globe come around in January every year for the Tour Down Under. I’m sure they’d love to see you! We’re going to have to do quite a bit of  work on getting up the hills out of town to watch them. But there’s plenty of time.

In the meantime I’ve just signed us up for Criterion training again. You’ll love it. It’s with a group of beginners. Yes, I know you know about Crit racing mate, but I think it’s best we take this chance to get going slowly.  Get out confidence back and make some new friends too.

Well, I’ve got to go. I guess I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for waiting for me. Thanks for not forgetting how we roll.


 

Pain free and loving it (Guest post)

by MarthaFitat55

Last month, with a week to go before departing on a long planned holiday, I felt my left knee bail on me. When I went in to the gym for my regular Monday training, the knee was still cranky. Some moves were great, and others were not.

My trainer and I tried different exercises, and at the end of the session, I limped to my car seething with frustration, worried about my upcoming mini break which would require a lot of walking, and feeling less than impressed with myself and my knee.

When the alarm sounded its wakeup call the next morning, I was tentative, fearful, and to be frank, img_4031scared. I stood up and took that first step, and then another.

Readers, I felt no pain. The knee worked perfectly. I did a couple of practice squats, and I stood up each time with wonder. The marvelous feeling continued through the day.

I could walk steadily, without feeling a hitch in my hip or my knee. I could lace up my shoes, be it sitting, bent over, or leaning. I got up from chairs — straight ones, soft and sinky ones, short ones, armless ones – and I didn’t need to hold onto anything. I even sat on my steps and got up from those without pain and without help.

Not only was my knee functioning, everything else was too. I was full of questions: Would this marvelous sense of wellbeing and functionality disappear? Should I stop doing all the things I had been doing in case I put a foot wrong and shifted everything out of whack? So what if I was fine now, what about when I was in a foreign country away from all my supports, and the pain returned?

I wrote my trainer, both elated and panicked. We reviewed the session, and also debated the possibilities arising from my ditching the old sneakers and wearing new ones with proper support, the addition of three to four servings of fish to my meals each week, to my getting more sleep.

In the end, we had no idea of what was the one thing that changed all for the better, but we had lots of thoughts on all the pieces that could have helped. The days passed pain free and I was mobile in ways I had not been for more than a year. I went on holiday and clocked almost 85 kilometres on my Fitbit, surpassing my 10K step goal each day to reach 15K to 25K. I negotiated stairs and sidewalks of all types. My body rescue pack, containing Voltaren, Aleve, lacrosse ball, and stretch band, lay unused in the suitcase.

When I started training back in the late fall of 2013, I expected stiffness and muscle soreness as part of the deal. When my hip joint, my shoulder, and my knee went rogue though, I did not expect to deal with pain long term.

As the joke goes, “what’s best about beating your head against a brick wall is how good you feel when you stop.” Though I had been mobile in recovery and after, I did not realize how pain had become a new constant in my life, low grade as it was, until it stopped.

Women often suck it up when it comes to pain and illness. Those of us who have borne children learn techniques to deal with pain. We soldier on through illness to cook, clean, parent, manage the appointments, meet that deadline, finish that project, etc. Even in positive gym environments, there can be messages about pushing through the pain being a sign of your growing strength.

I think we have to stop that message train in its tracks. Pain is your body’s signal saying something is wrong, and if you get used to it, you may not pay attention in time to prevent further or greater injury. You may over rely on medications to deal with the pain, and unknowingly cause other issues. For example, I had no idea taking certain pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen caused spikes in blood pressure.  And if you are incubating an ulcer due to a high stress lifestyle, those same meds can also be a problem.

This new knowledge about what recovery means for my body has fueled my desire to keep going on my fitness path. Yes, I still get tired, and I still get muscle soreness after learning a new exercise or moving to a new volume level, but not having any pain is the best feeling. But I believe the work I have put in on strengthening my core and on relearning how to sleep and rest effectively has made a difference, not just physically but mentally too.

Martha is a writer and columnist in St. John’s. Her body rescue pack is enjoying a well-earned retirement.

Regaining confidence after an injury: one climber’s story (Guest post)

I’ve had some degree of pain almost every day for the past 9 months.

For the first few weeks after I injured my back, I could barely stand, sit or walk. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t take care of anything at home.

Before this, I had only experienced minor athletic injuries. A sore knee from hiking too far. An aching finger tendon from pulling too hard on small climbing holds. These all resolved quickly with a little rest.

This time was different. I was warming up doing an unweighted squat in the gym. Then out of nowhere, I felt the spasms of pain shoot through my back. This exercise was usually easy for me. I had learned how to do it safely with a trainer.

I used to hesitate to tell people how my back injury happened. I was embarrassed that I did this to myself in a part of the gym where I often felt like I didn’t belong. I had worked so hard to convince myself that I could take up space among the muscular men, bench pressing and deadlifting what seemed like so much more weight than me.

And it made no sense how such an easy movement could have caused so much destruction.

I now know that I was overtraining. That one squat probably wasn’t to blame. I was exercising too hard, too often and my body had broken down.

My goal had been to get stronger to keep up with others on climbing and mountaineering trips.

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Me climbing in the North Cascades before my injury. Photo: Tony Lu

My favourite sports involve carrying a lot of stuff uphill for long distances. This poses some unique challenges for petite people, such as myself.

All the gear all adds up quickly: a warm sleeping bag, a down jacket and rain coat, food, water, climbing harness, crampons, ice axe.

On one long trip, my backpack weighed just over 40 pounds. At 35% of my body weight, I was carrying what many consider the upper limit for a well-conditioned hiker. This meant I relied on other people to carry all the gear shared by our group, like a tent and climbing rope.

Distributing gear proportionally according to a person’s size is fair and a widely accepted practice.

However, it always bothered me to be the smallest person who carried the least. I also often worried that I’d be the slowest person who held everyone back. Being one of the only women on some trips meant I felt even more sensitive to any physical differences.

After several months of treatment and physical therapy, my back pain began to decrease.

I slowly began to take up the things I loved again in new and different ways.

Instead of an all-day hike, I went on a short walk to the beach with a friend. Instead of trying to climb the hardest routes, I meandered up some of the easiest walls I could find.

Returning to the backcountry was harder.

Despite training and testing my limits close to home,  I was still so afraid of re-injuring myself in the middle of nowhere.

My first trip into the wilderness was on a multi-day canoe trip with my sister. An hour into paddling, I broke down into tears. I was so afraid. We stopped and set up camp at the first spot we found. We carried on that way all week: paddling short distances with long rests. It was not the trip we had planned, but I was grateful just to be out there and for my sister’s patience.

A canoe on a calm river surrounded by trees.

My view from our canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota.

The following month, I spent time in the wilderness again on a week-long trip in the mountains. While my friends hiked and climbed, I earned the nickname “Base Camp Babe.” I spent a lot of time reading books, swimming, napping and enjoying the beautiful alpine views. As the week went on, I ventured out on increasingly more adventerous hikes and climbs too.

med-154720

One hour of scrambling equals one hour of resting. Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

This injury has forced me to deal with my fear of being the slowest and smallest person in the group.

This year, I’ve had to turn around before reaching the summit far more times than I’ve made it to any desired destination. My friends carry even more of the gear than before. I often have had to lay down for long rests in inconvenient (but beautiful) spaces.

med-06

The view from a rest spot on one of the many mountains I did not get to the top of this year. Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

What’s surprised me the most is that despite being up front about my limitations, people still want to climb and hike with me. People whose company I enjoy and judgement I trust. My climbing network has continued to expand and become more diverse, especially in terms of gender and age.

While I am never going to carry a 70-pound pack up a mountain, I have other things going for me. Things like an eagerness to explore new areas, technical climbing skills and knowledge of local areas. I need to work on my limitations while focusing on my strengths.

For the most part, we are roughly stuck with the bodies we are born with. I’ve learned that trying to overcome my fears and challenges by trying to change my body is not going to work.

 Jes loves rock climbing, hiking and outdoor photography. Ten years ago, she moved from a big east coast city to Vancouver Island, Canada. She writes about her outdoor adventures at jescott.ca.

 

Riding Hadrian’s Wall (Guest Post)

I am a 58 year old sedentary academic.  In May 2015 I had a hip replacement.  In August 2016, my family rode across England (at its narrowest point) on the Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway.  This is more physically active than I have been in many years.  It was fantastic.  Here is what I learned.

  • Pilates really works.  I spent a year before the hip replacement going to a Pilates gym 2-3 times a week, and once I was out of post-op rehab I did the same until the trip.  My recovery from the hip replacement was fast and, after the first few weeks, painless.  They told me that I would forget I’d ever had a hip replacement.  It’s true.  But the Pilates helped, by strengthening the muscles before the operation and balancing the strength in both legs afterwards.
  • It didn’t take that long to improve strength and speed.  Riding a few miles a day, a few days a week, for six weeks before the trip really paid off.  At the beginning I was walking up hills I could bicycle up by the end.  On the trip, I was the slowest member of the group, but since the group included my athletic husband and made-of-rubber adolescent children I wasn’t surprised.  The key fact was, I wasn’t slower by very much.  I could make it up hills I would never have attempted a couple of months ago, and I could catch up with them on the down slopes.
  • Since I’ve been home I’ve been bicycling in to work, because the intimidating hill between me and the university is no longer particularly scary.  (I’ll probably stop once the weather turns, though.). I’ve cut 5 minutes off my commute time (25 minutes instead of 30).   I would never have expected any of these changes, and I certainly wouldn’t have expected them to happen as fast as they did.
  • Riding a bicycle is really fun.
  • I need a better bicycle!