Six years ago, when I started this blog, I made that tagline “A Running Odyssey” because I thought it sounded catchy and made me seem smart. Never mind that twice I’ve spelled it wrong in the header graphic and continue to have to look the word up whenever I write it. Spellcheck woes aside, what I never imagined was that I actually would be going on one.
I’m going to tell you the conclusion to the health thing that started a year ago last March. It’s a story I’ve been sitting on, wanting to make 100% positive sure that This. Is. It. before I went spouting off once more on a hunch. It’s amazingly simple when all is said and done, and here’s how it goes…
For over a year, I’ve continued to have the leg weirdness on many of my runs (for those just tuning in: bouts of strange stiffening where my right leg would become uncoordinated). I would have short stretches of days where I’d think it was on its way out and was even considering doing a marathon this Fall, but then I’d have a series of bad runs that would leave me feeling defeated again.
May arrived, the weather was warming up and on one of those defeated runs, I just wanted to walk. Not a whole lot, just to stop, walk a few yards and then resume. This would appear to be such an obvious non-event, but being the somewhat “serious runner” I’ve considered myself to be, stopping to walk a few steps had always been anathema to me. After all, walking = weakness and once that starts, it’s a slippery slope to where it’ll become a habit and there goes your training OMG I might as well just sit on the couch for a week No! make that forever and Jesus Christ, it’s official, I’m never going to run again. Fucking ridiculous.
Mulling this whole thing over for a few days and realizing how utterly senseless that twisted perspective was, logic eventually won out. I would allow myself to walk, BUT, I would have to stop wearing the Garmin.
Now, aside from maybe 4 runs, I’ve been wearing a Garmin since before I even finished Couch-To-5K, while I was still “learning” how to run. It’s been a fun and incredibly useful player in my running experience but now, with the walking idea, I knew that seeing the numbers in my running log get all skewy would not make me happy, so on May 12th, I stopped wearing the Garmin.
Watchless, not even checking a clock before I leave the house for almost 2 months, I’ve had absolutely no idea how fast I run which has been entirely therapeutic. And for a couple weeks, I did take occasional short walk breaks, and it was good! Mainly, I needed to teach myself that I could walk, that it was “legal”, and the world would not come crashing down. That was the first big thing.
The 2nd big thing, and this was a BIG thing, that coincidentally happened just days after I dropped the Garmin, was that I found the name for my symptoms. I’m sure you can imagine I never stopped researching my health weirdness. While I always had an underlying worry that it was a brain or organ thing (thanks to that totally unnecessary liver operation) I mainly just wanted one single thing that I could say “YES, those are my symptoms!” And after all this time, I finally found it, to a T.
Well, almost to a T, because what I found concerns musicians: Task Specific Focal Dystonia. It’s a movement disorder that, for musicians, interferes with the ability to play their instrument because their fingers or hands (organists get it in their feet) becomes temporarily stiff and uncoordinated (often described as feeling paralyzed). It’s not painful at all, but feels like your limb is a foreign thing you can’t control. The “Task Specific” part means it only happens when doing the specific thing – in a musician’s case, playing their instrument and in mine, running – while at all other times, the limb feels and works perfectly normally.
It generally shows itself after a period of heavy practice and the common progression is that the sufferer will feel the weirdness, blame it on tiredness but as it gets worse, try to rehearse their way through it, working even harder to try and push themselves clear of it. All that does is make the nerve to limb connection even stronger which then makes it even harder to get rid of. So my pushing through the stiffness in attempts to “defy” it was stupid but the reason I say “coincidentally” above, is that my instinct about needing to walk was exactly the right thing to do for myself. Which brings me to the biggest and best revelation, #3.
While scouring a musicians dystonia forum, someone mentioned a book by Dr. Sarno, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU School of Medicine, called “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection“, though the title is deceptive because it’s about the entire body, not just our backs. Anyway, if you search his name on the web, you’ll find a ton of interesting stuff on his work, a great interview with Howard Stern (who thinks the man is God) and an excellent piece on 20/20.
Bottom line, my issue originated from one mundane thing: anxiety. I never would have known this, since I don’t see myself as an anxious or stressed person, but once I learned what anxiety actually is, the constant negative monologues in my head, the dread and fear I’d attached to running (will this be a good day or a bad one?) it all made complete sense.
A little over a week after reading the book, my 6-month hip/back issue that had continued to waft in and out of my life disappeared completely, never to be felt again. It was magical. However, as he warns, I got a hammy niggle soon after, which I knew was just my brain looking for some other physical problem to concentrate on.
One thing I should mention concerning mind-body, is that this is not the same as hypochondria, there’s nothing imaginary about it: my hip/back pain was real, the leg stiffening is real, the neurological tests I flunked in the hospital (I had no way of knowing what was being observed so could not have gamed it, even subconsciously) were real. So while I was over-the-moon-relieved to find out it was just anxiety because it meant this was all within my control (so incredibly huge), “just” anxiety does not diminish it because it’s still something that needs fixing…but it is so very fixable!
I ended up reading 3 of his books and then a funny old book that’s highly recommended for beating anxiety, though it’s hilarious because it’s from the 50′s so she references gramophones and shock therapy (but seriously, if you have an anxious bone in your body, read it!), Claire Weekes’ “Hope And Help For Your Nerves“. Her main message is that when you feel anxiety coming on, don’t fight it, it won’t get worse than what you’ve experienced so far, so accept it, ride it, and let it fade out. So simple but so opposite of the natural impulse to get freaked out and try to resist.
Between these two books, it was as if a vice has been released from my brain, leg and heart. Another great one that made a big impact was Jon Kabat-Zinn’s, “Wherever You Go, There You Are” which is a fantastic book about mindfulness. It got me on a meditation kick (I lasted about 3 weeks of doing it intensely before petering out, but I still consider it a great tool to have). Here’s a great video of him speaking to employees at Google (which will also totally make you wish you worked at Google).
I also read a fair amount of stuff on Buddhist sites because the source of it all, when I really got down to it, was that old frienemy of mine, Ego: attachments to what I expect of myself, comparisons to others, self-induced peer-pressure…completely useless, unnecessary mind garbage. To realize the truth of this was, and remains, incredibly empowering.
Where does this leave me now? Infinitely better. The quality of my runs has improved tremendously, my leg stiffness has been in hiding for a good while and some signposts I used to judge by have been clear for a few weeks. I do still get anxious moments but I recognize them for what they are and can roll my eyes at them as they fade out – not a shred of fear about it being anything more worrisome. I haven’t wanted to walk in weeks (though I could if I wanted and that’d be cool) but even beyond that, I’m learning that it’s ok to not run for a day, two days, even three in a row! No fitness will be lost, no couches will come calling. I do keep track of my mileage, generally doing 30-40ish a week, but not reaching for a specific amount. I also have no idea how far I’m going to run until I’m outside and I have no plans to strap a Garmin back on anytime soon.
Also, I won’t be racing this year at all. The sole thing I need right now is to have a clear, unfettered mind when I’m out on the path, zero pressure. Thoughts of training and racing can be entertained again only after the anxiety blips are a distant memory. That might mean next Spring or it might be 3 years from now, it really doesn’t matter.
In the end, it’s been an odyssey of the highest order. In all my many years, I’ve never had so much reflection and self-discovery as I’ve had these past 15 months, so I can’t be sad or resentful for any of it, I’m grateful for learning more about what I’m composed of and for getting to recompose some of myself, too. In fact, I guess this isn’t the end at all, just some sorely needed closure for a long, complicated chapter.
And so the journey continues…
My regular blogging hat is back on again, at least for a little while. I have a series of food-centric posts lined up, the subject: low-calorie treats, cheats and substitutions. As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen with the notion of expanding the parties on my palate while keeping the ole body in good form, so I thought it’d be fun to share what I’ve been messing around with. (Full Disclosure: I didn’t come up with any of the things I’ll be presenting, they’re variations on ideas already floating around the web)
An important factor enabling all this homemaking fun, beyond a developing interest in recipe blogs and food porn, was to finally acquire the proper tools for the job. And I don’t just mean replacing the bag of flour that had expired in 2011 (though that did happen), but for about 3 weeks, during my bronchitis phase, I went on an Amazon.com binge, buying everything from the mundane (whisks, spatulas, rolling pin, cast iron skillet, etc.) to implements and vessels I suspected would be useful though I was unsure exactly how (mini food processor, mini loaf pans, ramekins, mini dutch oven, etc) plus all sorts of food items like oils, flours and flavorings as well as items to make the kitchen more efficient, like this swiveling aerator for the faucet that gives me a visceral thrill every time I change its direction and a clever mesh sieve basket thingy that doubles as a drying rack for handwashed dishes.
At one point, when I was ordering stuff daily for about a week, I questioned myself “This is getting a little out of hand, do I really need all these things? What’s up with this? Should I be worried about my mental health?” but I’m pleased to say that I’m extremely happy with, and use, everything I bought.
Oh, the satisfaction of beating an egg with a proper whisk instead of half-assing it with a fork! And I was almost moved to tears while emptying a jar clean with my new silicone spatula, realizing that never again would I need to jab and scrape dregs with a lowly spoon only to find my hand and wrist coated in peanut butter. It’s the end of an era.
But enough gushing over my Brand New World, let’s get on with the star of today’s show…
There are multitudes of gummy recipes to be found online, Google “gummy candies” “gummy bear recipes” or any derivative and you’ll find tons, many with beautiful food photos that will make your mouth water and some that include really clever ideas like making your own leggo molds. Some folks make a production out of it with double-boiling, some recipes feature juice and honey for a 100% natural treat though most recipes use jello or kool-aid for flavoring (no judgement from me, my first batch was made with Crystal Light since my flavorings hadn’t arrived yet – it worked great, but I prefer the non-packaged approach). No matter how you get there, it’s really cool to be able to make a seriously satisfying chewy candy that’s quick, simple and good for you, too.
In this plethora of online gummy madness, however, one thing all these recipes lacked was a universal ratio of gelatin to water so before I got started, I read tons of reviews and blog comments, noting which recipes people said were rubbery and which were said to be too soft and from that, found a happy medium which I find to be as good as store-bought (minus the sugar!).
The full recipe follows this photo walk-through, beginning with the liquids.
½ cup water
scant ½ tsp liquid stevia (or other sweetener to equal ¼ cup sugar in sweetness, stevia’s great because it’s natural)
flavoring extract or oil (1½ – 2tsp extract or 1/16 tsp to 1/8 tsp flavoring oil, adjust to taste)
food coloring (because it’s way more fun when it’s colored)
¼ cup gelatin (that’s equivalent to 4 packets of Knox, though I’m using this grass-fed beef gelatin from Great Lakes)
1 Vitamin C capsule (optional) the leggo guy uses this for souring but I don’t notice that effect – I’m just happy to get extra Vitamin C in a sly way. But don’t get too crazy with it since Vitamin C can give you the squirts if you overdo it. I use one 1000 mg capsule per batch with the understanding that I eat about a batch per day, if you eat less, you can add more.
- Mix the liquids together
- Stir quickly into gelatin till it’s completely saturated
- Microwave for about 1:15 min (micro times vary, you want to melt the gelatine without boiling, so keep an eye on it till you have yours figured out, it’ll foam a bit - that’s normal)
- Remove from microwave and stir (empty a Vitamin C capsule into it, if you like)
- Freeze until gelled (10-20 minutes, Knox seems to set quicker)
- Cut it into squares and voila…yummy gummies!
Makes approx 5.2 oz of gummy candy, 100 calories total
- My ratio is 2:1 for water:gelatin. This is my personal preference for a good chew though you might like it softer or more rubbery, simply adjust water to suit.
- The one constant you will find when it comes to flavoring is that there is no constant. Extracts use a lot more than oils but different flavors from the same manufacturer for both extracts and oils can differ greatly in strength. Just play around and give it a taste before you commit to combining into the gelatin.
- If your batch needs tweaking (too sweet, not enough flavor, too rubbery, etc) not to worry! Just throw the gummies back into the bowl, remelt it and adjust whatever you need to fix the batch. Gelatin is incredibly forgiving.
- You can use candy molds but I only do that for showing off since it requires dirtying/washing more things and as mentioned, I’m a lazy cow.
- Speaking of cleanup, hot water dissolves leftover gelatin off your bowls & utensils in a nanosecond.
- You can keep the gummies out on the counter for a few days but they’ll get harder (which I rather like), otherwise you can keep them refrigerated for a couple weeks.
- Don’t keep them sealed in tupperware in a dark cupboard if you use a sweetener without preservatives or you’ll be really sorry (read my previous post for details on that).
The best thing about this, besides the nutritional benefits of gelatin (you’ll have to Google it, this food blogging crap is a pain in the ass and I’m tired, but also look up “bone broth” while you’re at it) is that the entire batch is 100 calories. How often do you get to stuff your face with 5.2 oz of chewy flavorful fun that’s actually good for you and have it be so low-cal? And is CANDY? Like, never.
Edit: Ok, I can’t not give you any of gelatin’s benefits, so first off, look up glycine, proline and arginine, it’s full of those along with tons more amino acids. It’s supposedly great for skin, hair and nails (takes time, so be patient), helps with sleep and is said to boost HGH production so eat some before bed. Gelatin fills your tummy up nicely and has a solid amount of protein, though it’s incomplete so while it can’t replace standard protein consumption, it’s a useful addition to the protein you already eat. It’s also known for helping joints and connective tissue and people have been giving it to their dogs for decades (I always like hearing that since animals don’t know placebos). Knox makes a couple gelatin drink formulas for joints both with and without glucosamine that people seem to be very satisfied with. I actually cancelled my last order of glucosamine and will be using gelatin to keep my joints happy from here on in. And here’s an intense article on it by Ray Peat. But most importantly…CANDY.
Hey kids! I’m in a great mood today, following a miserable day of laying in bed thinking I was going to die. All my own fault, of course.
I’ve been playing around with cooking the past few weeks and it’s been a good time. One of the things I’ve discovered is that a lot of fattening foods can be made into healthier versions by substituting the bottom or top half of a dish with a fake-out. For instance, cauliflower pizza crust is fan-frickin’-tastic but since most of the recipes online call for a crazy amount of cheese in the crust which is not where I want my cheese, I spent a full week tweaking the recipe so that it’d be low-calorie on the bottom yet hold together for picking up. Took a few tries but I got it in the end. I’ve kind of OD’d on pizza but I’ll be back!
I did the same with chicken pot pie, another dish I had never made before and would only buy as a rare treat due to the high calorie content, but by using substitutions…extreme happy dance. I also found substitutions for pasta; cabbage is a surprisingly fantastic base for meaty tomato sauce and shirataki noodles at 40 calories an 8oz package, while somewhat strange, work very well once you rinse and dry-fry them in preparation. I also found a great low-cal alfredo topping recipe to adorn regular pasta (like I say, I’ll sub one side of a dish but not both). Hell, I even bought bacon for that one and I haven’t bought a pack of bacon in years. Also, cauliflower not only makes a great crust, it’s a wonderful faux rice as well, thanks to this little food processor that has changed my life for the better.
I’ve also been into making single serving desserts: one person cakes, brownies, cookies, all this stuff I used to call off-limits…so fun. And the coolest part is that as soon as I started this cooking deal, I lost a couple pounds without even trying.
But on to the poisoning…
My pièce de résistance of cooking has been my sugarfree gummy candies. I started making them because I love gummy candy and I saw some online recipes for it. Most of them use jello or kool-aid as a flavoring which I’ve avoided but the main player in all of them (as well as in commercial ones) is unflavored gelatin. As it turns out, gelatin is crazy good for us! Not just for the hair, skin and nails but for joints, too. In fact, collagen supplements (ex. Neocell) are all the rage now but it’s just highly refined gelatin. Now before anyone goes off on where gelatin comes from, no hooves or horns are involved, it’s bones and hide and the stuff I get is from grass-fed cows.
I use stevia in my gummies which is a natural sweetener and flavored extracts and oils so the only calories are from the gelatin itself, which makes it a really low-cal treat: 5 oz of candy (a batch using 1/4 cup of dry gelatin) comes out to 100 calories for the whole thing! And it’s good for you. Fabulous.
I’ve become such a little factory, I now have an army of flavorings, an array of food coloring and some candy molds to do it up right (though I don’t bother with the molds any more since it’s just me eating them and I’m lazy). Licorice, spearmint, orange, cranberry, blackberry, cherry are just a few of the flavors I’ve made so far. I keep them in a tupperware in the cupboard because I like them to get a little harder on the outside and until this last weekend, that worked fine.
I had a houseguest for a few days, Tony, who agreed that they were tasty (though maybe he was just being polite, he’s an especially nice guy). But something weird happened with a couple batches I made while he was here – after a couple days they “sweated”, got sticky and wet. I couldn’t imagine why, these things were in the cupboard in 2 separate containers (spearmint was in a ziplock due to its powerful flavor) and I’d been making them a couple weeks at this point, yet this was the first time I’d seen such a thing. But I’m a pig so I ate ‘em anyway.
On Saturday, I had some weird stomach pains that I attributed to eggs I’d had at a diner. It went away and I forgot about it. But then Sunday while at a taxidermy demonstration, my stomach started hurting again, though it wasn’t for queasiness of the presentation (skinning and stuffing a chicken is surprisingly non-gory, except when the taxidermist lady nipped into an organ by mistake, but I digress…)
I got home from the thing and had to lie down the rest of the night while horrible waves of pain attacked my innards and when I awoke the next morning, there was no relief, just as awful. This lasted until early yesterday evening. Finally, this morning, a realization came to me.
Both these gummy candy batches had been made with a new bottle of stevia that unlike my previous bottle, was alcohol-free. Alcohol is a preservative. So what I think happened is that the gelatin started breaking down and the resulting moisture-filled closed containers became a home for bacteria, which ended up in my gut. Doh!
Needless to say, my next batches of gummies using this stevia will be stored in the fridge and when the bottle’s done, it’ll be back to the alcohol kind, thank you very much. That is, whenever I can stomach the idea of making them again, but I’m such a pig, it won’t be long.
This is kind of comical in a sick way, but I had a couple more “challenges” recently. In March, my running (what little I was doing, around 30mpw) started deteriorating pacewise. Each week was slower than the one before. I didn’t care that much at first, nothing was hurting and my parts seemed to be behaving normally, plus any expectations I have now about what “normal” is has long gone out the window, but after the 3rd week, when I saw a real trend, it seemed a good time for a blood test to see if my iron levels were at fault.
To my relief, all my iron numbers had dropped (always wonderful to have something clear to blame shitty running on). Back in November, because the ferritin number then was strangely high, I had stopped taking the more powerful iron supp and had switched to a regular RDA of iron – seems I need the higher amount as a regular thing, lesson learned. But this was just the precursor to what happened next…
The week of the blood test, I’d been waking with a sore throat and at the end of the week, I went to NYC for a fantasticly fun whirlwind trip where I got to hang out with 3 sets of old friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in 13 years, it was just an incredible visit. When I got back home, I was sick as a dog, lungs full of crap…bronchitis. Ended up taking 17 days off. 17!!!! When I look at my running charts from the past year, it’s ridiculous, all these open spaces with forced time off. Crazy.
But I’m happy to say, I’ve been back on the road since April 10th and running feels really good right now, maybe it helps that it’s spring, but I feel like my body’s acting right again in every way. I’m plopped back into yet another rebuilding process, but on the positive side, it came at a good time since it allowed my iron to restore while I sat on my ass instead of depleting it further. And unlike my runs that for the past few months were constantly littered with stretch stops to ease the SI/hip thing, that’s finished completely. It’s a beautiful thing.
I won’t say anything about it from my point of view, it’s just heartbreaking and horrible. But I will bring your attention to my dear friend Kat’s fundraising page, she’s raising money to help buy prosthetic limbs for the victims so if you have some moolah to spare, please send it her way, such a truly great cause.
For the past few years, I’ve been living an odd sort of life; I go out for voiceover jobs, errands, running, and an occasional dinner with my friend Lara, but the bulk of my life has been online. While I’m utterly grateful for the internet (a large part of my income relies on it and many folks I’ve met through it have become true friends) living in this much solitude is whacked.
Sometimes, when I really want to torture myself, I note the parallels between my mother’s life and my own. Granted, she was also a paranoid schizo who killed herself and I am neither of those things, nor will I ever want to check out early, but she was a thoroughly self-contained hermit who craved human contact and at the same time, was afraid of it. That is our parallel.
A few weeks ago, something changed within me. It started with the posture work which led me to Alexander Technique which has posture elements within it but is so much more, its purpose is to strip away habits while developing a deep mindfulness [this wonderful book is the closest you can get to teaching yourself]. Somehow, by redefining the way I move along with this new self-awareness, not only within my own skin but in the world, I suddenly wanted to be part of it…the world, that is. To stop existing and start living.
So one evening, I put on my brave girl panties and started researching free stuff to do around the city. Turns out there’s an endless array of cool activities if you know where to look. One website, Meetup.com, is a fantastic worldwide source for book clubs, discussion groups, happy hour gatherings, and groups for almost any interest you might have. They have a specific Meetup group for free stuff in Philly, so that was my initial source. Then I found Eventbrite.com, which also lists tons of free and cheap stuff, plus a few local sources as well.
After hemming and hawing, I had a couple weeks worth of activities scheduled that I would dare myself to go to. I also gave myself this assignment: to find something I liked in everything I went to, just one thing.
Now, over the years, I’ve adopted some strict labels for myself: “I’m not a ______ person” (fill in the blank with history, classical music, science, blues…so many subjects it’s embarrassing). Worse, I felt that I had long ago run out of interests, having already gone through a variety of hobbies and obsessions. It struck me the other day though, that I’ve always defined my interests as something I participate in, either by making or doing, I’m not used to spectating. But the funny thing is, this type of spectating is a “making or doing”…it’s called learning. That’s what I get for not going to college.
And as it turns out, I never had to look for one thing to like because it’s all been thoroughly fun, enlightening and surprising. I still don’t have the slightest urge to turn on a classical radio station or watch a TV show about some medical thing, but to be in a room while someone plays violin or speaks engagingly at a lectern about the role of physicians from Hippocrates to the present, well that’s a whole ‘nuther story. The live, human element makes it wonderful.
Finally, one more crazy cool realization is that going out solo, the thought of which had become more anxiety-provoking as I’ve gotten older, turns out to be totally un-scary! In fact, it’s downright fun. I don’t feel self-conscious or pathetic in the least, people are so friendly, they’ll just come right up to you and start talking, it’s kinda kooky how easy it is.
So, in the past 2½ weeks I’ve gone to 2 lectures, a museum, 2 music events, a film screening with a catered reception, a discussion group, an author’s reading and a book club…all free. Tonight it’s another screening (with free popcorn and a soda). Not bad for a shut-in.
Some additional fabulous byproducts of getting out in the world are:
1. Wearing makeup and cute outfits again. It’s fun to be girly and “get ready to go out”.
2. After 11 years of living in Philly, I’m just starting to feel like I live here instead of being a transient. Hell, I bought my first SEPTA (bus, subway, trolly) tokens last week.
3. I’m more motivated to do my design work because it’s more satisfying to go out after a productive day.
4. It makes me want to treat myself in other little ways (I just bought a bunch of flavored syrups and a milk frother for lattes) and to quit the grossly low-rent things, like storing filtered tap water in a couple of old 64oz soda bottles (buy a damn pitcher, you idiot). I bought two.
5. Cooking new things. Hard to admit, but I just bought my first package of chicken drumsticks. I’ve only ever bought skinless, boneless chicken breasts. I’m too old to be so naive about chicken.
6. In leaving my apartment and getting out in the world, there once again exists the potential for getting laid. I barely remember how that works, it’s been so long.
7. I feel like anything’s possible. Because it is.
I’ll leave you with this one simple thought: You can change. You can change the things you assumed were ingrained in you, the things you don’t like about yourself, the things that scare you about yourself or make you feel weird or sad. It’s never too late to swerve off that beaten, familiar path and forge a fresh one. You have 80ish years to fill. Whatever you do, don’t stop in the middle.
It started because the hip/back thing wasn’t leaving so I took 2 weeks off with the intent to work on my hips and glutes, which have always been weak, as evidenced by a lifelong sad, flat ass. I suspected a lack of hip stability was at the heart of it and if nothing else, it would be great injury prevention for the future, so I was motivated to get crackin’.
In a magical turn of events, the day after deciding to take off, a friend posted on Facebook that he’d just been diagnosed with SI Joint Dysfunction. It took me a week to finally concede that this was my problem as well. Though the symptoms certainly fit, it seemed too convenient to jump on someone else’s injury bandwagon, but that’s what it was, confirmed when I did a couple corrective SIJD exercises that brought immediate (albeit temporary) relief.
After 2 weeks, I was much better and while it wasn’t completely gone, it was gone enough to run again knowing I wouldn’t be making myself worse. Meanwhile, the hip work was already making a big difference in my day-to-day life. From walking to going up stairs or even standing up from a seated position, these simple daily actions felt genuinely different. Now, instead of being pulled by my head, I was now being pushed forward by my hips. I was literally changing my center of gravity.
My first run back after the 2 weeks off was wild. My ass and hips were engaged and even my knees felt higher! No more scuffling foot for me, it was if I had oil in my hip flexors. I was on to something big.
Close to week 3, motivated by the changes and realizing that an even larger transformation was possible, I began to tackle a beast that has plagued me my entire life: my crappy posture. Posture is often a major player in SI joint dysfunction anyway, so it made sense to work on it all together.
I spent a ton of time going through old photos, both running and regular, deconstructing my physical “quirks” and how it related to my gait and breathing, etc. Thanks to a plethora of info on chiropractic and PT sites, it was very clear how my particular posture (forward head, rounded shoulders and swayback) was negatively affecting me. Plus, it’s downright fugly.
Bands, iPhone and the Book
In the past 5½ weeks, me and my resistance bands have become One. I even had a little arts and crafts project where I made handles and a door mount for them, which opened up a ton more available exercises I could do. I love those suckers and the great thing is that since I do most of my work at home, I can get up and do some upright rows or Romanian deadlifts whenever the mood takes me. It’s casual, varied and dare I say…fun.
My iPhone has also played a huge role in all this, but not due to any app (though an interval timer app is fabulous for stretching). What has made my phone turn into a mini Physical Therapist, a.k.a. The Tool Of Truth, is the video feature. Taking video of myself exercising or even just moving around the apartment has been invaluable. I also put a mirror next to my monitor with the most horrible running photo taped to it. One glance at that pic is an exceptionally effective scare tactic, I straighten up in a jiffy, and the mirror keeps me honest through the day.
The book…this is funny. It’s not a particular book, it could be any book, but the one I’m using is, ironically, from the 50′s called “How You Look & Dress”. I had been doing all these exercises to improve my posture (lots of upper back work and chin tucks, etc) but it wasn’t till I balanced a book on my head on a total whim, just to see how I’d do, that I discovered it was the missing link. It showed me in a millisecond that I hadn’t been holding my head up high enough. A slight swivel upwards and voila: perfect. I can walk around with that thing all day now.
There is an element that I want to mention from all this, that I think my posture had a psychological basis behind it. I mean, of course decades of habit and laziness created the actual shape, but I also think that my rounded shoulders, holding my head low – in essence, being small – was a form of hiding, a self-made protective shield. Because it’s very “out there” to open your chest to the world and hold your head high. This whole experience is changing me on a deeper level, I’m thinking of places I could move to and getting out in the world more, maybe take some chances again. Big stuff.
I’ve been taking a lot of days off because I don’t want to push it so I’m still fresh with it all, but the difference of before/after continues to amaze me. Uphills? No comparison, power from the back. Running faster? Highlights the folded troll ball I used to be when speeding up. Now when I speed up, it’s startling to feel my torso remaining erect, strong and unchanged, it’s the hips that do the work.
But it’s not a click of the fingers and voila, everything’s done! I am basically having to relearn how to run. I had a period where I was getting it wrong, trying to replicate my new walking feeling which was keeping me rather small and then before I figured out the head placement thing I was basically running with a double-chin on purpose which wasn’t helping my breathing any. Idiot.
So that’s the latest. I think this marks the last of the things I can do to myself, so hopefully this is the final fix. It better be, I typed this whole thing with a book on my head. I can’t imagine how I’ll ever top that.
And like magic, 2 weeks turned into 6. It’s been a good period actually, but in wanting to avoid any more roller-coaster accounts of “she’s up! she’s down!” I needed some real time to elapse before I felt ready to talk again.
Right after my last post, I had a couple weeks of suckage but ever since then, it’s been a steady trend upwards. The back pain (psoas) took forever to go and all that’s left is an occasional hip whisper, so as it stands, I’m going to cancel my Jan 30th neurologist appointment. I’ll wait until the week before to make super sure but at this point, I’ve no reason to see anyone. Yay!
As for the running itself, it’s pretty damn good. No screaming off the rooftops about how awesome I am, but my easy paces are back to normal and there are no mysterious anythings. Mileage-wise, I’m getting in a respectable amount per week though I won’t supply an average here because it’s in flux and will continue to be for a while.
The super cool thing is that I’ve begun adding extra stuff to my runs which is a major positive step. It’s all very informal, I don’t care about times, distances or reps at all, but just having the confidence to run harder without fear of wonkiness is magical.
Sometimes I do a few hilly reps by the museum that leave me huffing and puffing, but the fast grassy trip back down is gold, re-teaching me about balance and abandon. I had forgotten what it’s like to fly downhills. And last week I added fartleks and some faster miles. I was super self-conscious about how stiff I must look (certainly felt it) but after a couple surges my body relaxed and it became solid fun. And I had such a feeling of accomplishment afterwards, too!
It’s a happy time outside right now and I’m grateful as hell for it.
The last pieces of the supplement puzzle
A few weeks ago, I dropped my multi-vitamin because some of the ingredients had become redundant with what I was taking separately. Before ditching it, however, I read up on everything it contained so I’d understand the core vitamins/minerals I’d need to replace or could ignore. Minerals, in particular, work together so you have to be aware of the balance/ratios. Magnesium was a major discovery.
In all the years I’ve been supplementing with calcium (ever since I became a runner) not once did I pay attention to magnesium and at my age, I take a good amount of calcium (1200mg is the RDA for 50+ females) yet I had no idea that the ratio of calcium to mag should be 2:1, even 1:1. When I analyzed my ratio of cal/mag, it came out to almost 4:1.
The thing is, calcium contracts the muscle, magnesium relaxes it (besides being responsible for about 350 chemical reactions in the body) so for me, with these stiff-legged episodes that were almost like a temporary rigor-mortis or a painless cramp, it seemed like it might make a difference. I’ll tell you this, I’ll never be without it again. Within 3 days of adding magnesium, my back pain diminished dramatically as did that creaky neck I had complained about.
Besides the muscle relaxing properties, it helps mood and sleep, too – between the B12 and the magnesium, my sleep hasn’t been this good in years. It also helps you poop, which makes it easy to figure out your optimal dosage; if you take too much, you get the squirts.
Then there’s Vitamin D – wow, what a vitamin! I spent about 2 weeks watching videos and reading articles and studies because of how fascinating and affecting it is. I always thought I was getting enough from my calcium chews, but no. When I looked at my test numbers from March, I was in the normal range but as it turns out, slightly beneath the optimal range, which is something else entirely and has just been updated in recent years.
Major Vitamin D Tidbit: just because you run outside does not mean you’re getting enough, or any. If you live in a latitude above Atlanta, you get no Vitamin D from November to March (closer to NYC, it’s October to April) no matter how much you’re outside. None. And in the summer? You have to be out between 10-2pm to get any – it’s VU ray dependent completely. So if you’re like me and run early in the summer, staying indoors the rest of the day, you’re not getting Vitamin D from sunlight.
Another startling tidbit: the farther you live from the equator, the more likely you are to suffer several types of serious health-ills, such as MS and certain cancers for example, which is thought to be directly related to the lack of sun/Vitamin D the more north you go. So while I always only thought of Vitamin D for the sfx prevention thing, it goes waaaay beyond that. In fact, check out this chart of how D levels correspond to diseases. It really makes clear why the “normal” bottom range of 30 ng/ml is simply not enough.
GrassrootsHealth is a fantastic not-for-profit site to educate the public on Vitamin D. What’s cool about it is they’ve got the world’s largest vitamin D project going on where you can get a testing kit from them (costs the same as getting tested on your own) and they add your results to the study. Over 3600 participants so far and some of the interesting things they’ve discovered from it is that not only is Vitamin D toxicity extremely rare (the more you have in your body, the less adding extra affects your levels) but they’ve also figured out exactly how much you need to add to go from one level to a higher target. Check out the header at the top of their site, it’s a graphic with the table.
I’ll finish this little tirade by suggesting that in these winter months (if not year-long), particularly if you’re someone who gets Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), take an extra 1000iu/day on top of what might already be included with your calcium or multi. But really, everyone should do this.
I had to start tossing my shoes – gone are the days of testing how far above 500mi they can go. Since I’ve recently had such a strong reaction between asphalt and trail/grass, I’ve become a lot more mindful of cushioning and comfort. Not that I’m in heavy shoes now (though for a while, I was wondering if I should get a pair) but I care less about getting the lightest shoe or a low heel drop and more about transparency…I don’t want to notice the ground if I can help it.
As it was, I had bought some Kinvara 3s a few months ago and never did warm up to them. Long story short, after years in Kinvaras, I’m done. I’m now rocking Brooks Launches, a shoe I’d not have even noticed until they were recently on the chopping block, Brooks was going to get rid of them entirely, but their huge fan base raised a loud ruckus so they reinstated them. This blog post from a running store owner is a hilarious read and honestly, one of the reasons I tried them. They’re about an ounce heavier than my other shoes but are still in the lightweight category. What I love about them is their pure fabric upper with no hard plastic bits at all, the Kinvara rubber toe was always a bother to me, even when I sized up.
I also bought the Adios 2′s, another version I’d resisted updating since it included a harder heel cup, a stiffer sole, plus some added weight, but they were on sale and I’m on my last pair of version 1′s, so I got a pair. They are indeed stiffer which is a sad thing but not awful and the heel cup doesn’t bother me as much it’s cut higher in the back, so I got a teensy blister my first time out with them at the end of an 8-miler. I’m sure it’s nothing though, and they retain their status of making me want to run fast in them, so they’ll remain in my lineup.
It is funny though, after being so gung-ho on Kinvara’s 4mm heel/toe differential and now, with a plethora of low heel-drop shoes to choose from, I’m now exclusively in 9 to 10mm drops and don’t give a crap about it.
…is fabu. My holiday season with the new vintage designs was great, it seems I’ve really hit on something. In fact, it’s only January 15th and I’m already 4x ahead of the entire month of Jan 2012. I did take a long design break though so now I’m back at work and determined to see what a full year of elbow grease can accomplish. Pretty excited about it, actually.
In other news, or to be specific, in Adulthood Is Fucking Ridiculous news, I’m trying to get my credit history back. Yes, me, one who has always prided herself on having primo credit since my early 20′s is now offering this tip: if you ever get to the point where you can cut up all your credit cards to live debt-free, as I did about 10 years ago…DON’T! Because as virtuous as it might make you feel, I am now in the situation of having no credit history at all. Nada. It’s like I don’t exist.
It hasn’t been a pressing matter, I’m not buying a car or a house anytime soon, but I realized I’d been wiped off the credit landscape a year ago when I moved into this apartment and they couldn’t pull up anything for me. I’d forgotten about it till I wanted to rent a car from Avis a few months ago and wasn’t able to since they wouldn’t accept a debit card, so I figured it was time to fix it.
I applied for 2 cards this week, one to a bank with whom I’d had a Visa for 15 years and the other to my current bank, which I’ve been a customer of since 2002. I was turned down for both. Ultimately, realizing I wasn’t going to get anywhere via normal means, I ended up getting a secured credit card. This is what people returning from bankruptcy have to do! Grrr
Please know I’m not worried about it at all, like I say, it’s only a formality, but I do find it utterly ironic that being such a good girl, doing the most responsible thing with money now makes me untrustable. And building a new credit history at age 51 is just plain stupid. So anyway, never get rid of all your cards, keep your oldest one, at least.
And that’s about it for this ungodly long post. I appreciate the Facebook waves and hellos and checking up on me the past few weeks, so sweet, but all is well, knock on wood. Until next time, have some great running, living, laughing and fill in the blanking (make it dirty). Later, loves.