2 Months Post-op

Not much to discuss anymore, which is probably a good thing. Last week I was able to liberate myself from the boot, likely forever, and I started taking the stairs again (!), so things are feeling much better. At PT I learned that the swelling looked minimal, and that having my incisions massaged is a special kind of torture. By the way, last week marked two months since surgery!

img_3494
Two months later and it’s 35-degrees out. Definitely not August anymore.

I made some other advancements at PT, too, like re-introducing standing leg exercises. I did some leg presses on the reclining slide board, as well as theraband walks, single leg step downs, and balances on one leg. These are all welcome additions to my now-very-stale mat routine. During single leg balances, I impressed my PT (as well as myself) by making a spectacular save for a ball that rebounded poorly, and I chalked it all up to many years of stability training in the bank. Let’s hope my aerobic memory proves just as good as my muscle memory.

I also spent some time with the blood flow resistance cuffs, so I can explain that a little more now. It’s exactly what it sounds like — a blood pressure cuff from hell. They slide all the way up the thigh, and then my PT pumps up the cuffs while monitoring a pulse in my leg, and sets the pressure near 70% restriction. It’s not exactly a comfortable experience. I imagine it’s what being killed by a boa constrictor feels like. And it makes it super hard to use your legs.

The science is that by cutting off venous return (and some arterial flow), essentially depriving the tissues of oxygen, the cuffs simulate the work of an anaerobic or a lactic session without literally doing the work. So when the cuffs are on, we do leg presses or hip bridges basically to exhaustion, which doesn’t take as long as you’d think. It’s fucking hard. Plus, you stimulate production of anaerobic enzymes and it supposedly offers a great aerobic benefit by just walking around.

On Friday I suffered for 8 minutes on the treadmill at 1.7 MPH and felt like I’d run a tempo. Not like I was physically stressed or breathing hard, but my legs were like lead after that. It’s definitely weird. You can feel every muscle contracting. PT said he had someone get light headed with them recently, and yeah I could see that, especially if you’re not well-trained or accustomed to the feeling of exertion. The first time they made me anxious, but I’m more relaxed about them now.

Last week I worked on extending time spent in the pool and on the bike, and finally added a couple turns of resistance to the spin bike by the end of the week. I have started making pool friends too! A pair of students comes several times a week accompanying a very old man named Pablo while he swims laps, so we occasionally spend a lap or two chatting as we tread past each other.

Here’s the workouts from last week:

  • MON: 20 min cycle w/ zero resistance, 20 min aqua jog, core + lift
  • TUES: PT, 30 min aqua jog
  • WEDS: 20 min bike w/ zero resistance, 20 min aqua jog, core
  • THUR: 30 min aqua jog
  • FRI: 30 min cycle w/ some added resistance, core, PT w/ BFR cuffs
  • SAT: Swam 40 laps at the Rec center, about 20 mins of work (it’s a short pool, don’t be too impressed)
  • SUN: Off

A new week is already kicking along, so I’ll have another update in a couple days.

img_3495
On our last (maybe so) warm and sunny day, I harvested all my remaining tomatoes and pulled up the stalks. It made me sad, and then it snowed two days later.

 

Look, ma, no crutches!

Now that I’ve rejoined the land of the living for over a whole week, it’s hard to remember ever stumbling around on crutches. I’ve been wearing the boot a lot. I don’t wear it 24/7, but for lengthy bouts on campus or running errands, it has been helpful. Throughout the week there’s been some swelling along with pain near the talus, which I’m sure isn’t unusual after surgery. So staying strapped into the boot during the week alleviates that, and it was starting to feel better this weekend. It’s helpful to ice and elevate (I should follow my own advice and do those things more often), and to get out of the boot for periodically to avoid stiffness.

Here’s a list of the “workouts” I was able to accomplish last week:

  • Mon: 10 min bike w/ zero resistance, lift + core, pool for drills and walking
  • Tues: PT session with BFR cuffs, 15 min aqua jog, core
  • Weds: 20 min bike w/ zero resistance, 15 min aqua jog, core
  • Thurs: 20 min aqua jog, core
  • Fri: 30 min bike w/ zero resistance, lift + core
  • Sat: 30 lap swim + walking and drills in pool
  • Sun: Off

I did a fair amount of gardening this weekend because I think it’s about to start frosting for good, and my weeds were out of control. So I cleaned up beds and dug up the mint that was starting to run across the yard. My tenant’s boyfriend called me a 70-year-old. Okay, well, I’d rather tend to housekeeping priorities that bring joy instead of hiding in bed with a hangover on a Sunday morning, if that’s what you’re implying. Because yeah… I’m definitely too old for that.

Anyway, this first week has been productive without over-doing anything. There is literally no rush, so I’m like hey even if I need to use the boot for the next two weeks, that’s okay. I changed my expectations more than once, but was also surprised a couple times by how easily things were going. For instance, I’m realizing I won’t be ready to attempt yoga for a few more weeks still, but aqua jogging 20 minutes was way more manageable than anticipated, aside from super tired hamstrings.

Happy Monday! Get after it.

“I did abs every day for 6 weeks and here’s what happened!”

Well… if you think any program like that can get you ripped, think again. My pelvic floor may be stronger than ever but otherwise it offered few benefits except a routine. One leg is shriveled and saggy, the other is only slightly stronger. I have zero aerobic capacity to speak of, and I don’t have a six-pack. But, of utmost concern to everyone going through a similar situation, no, I didn’t really gain any weight. My secret is… I ate normally, didn’t drink for about a month, and was in fairly good shape to begin with.

It’s been almost 72 hours since I kissed my crutches good-bye and limped out the door of the Laramie orthopedic center. I have four and a half months until I’ll be running again, so my goal is to provide the inside scoop on how to get from here to there over that time. I’m pretty immersed with school these days, but I should be able to add updates once a week.

And now to answer that burning question: what is it like to walk again?

I almost barfed on my way out from the doctor’s the other day. All the blood that was pooled in my foot went squirting out in a sharp, unpleasant way, like walking on a limb that’s fallen asleep, plus my leg about collapsed. (It really makes me revisit that unsolved mystery from a month ago; I don’t know if adrenaline is powerful enough to overcome the sensation of walking on an unused leg.) Later that day I walked to the end of my street and back, and it took a whopping ten minutes.

My surgeon’s office told me to wear an air cast boot until I feel comfortable walking regularly in a shoe. I had already come to that conclusion on my own and was glad I’d kept the boot stashed under my bed for the last few months. I wear it when I run errands or have to spend prolonged time on my feet. I just get around a little faster with it. But most of the time I’ve been walking barefoot at home, trying to regain full function.

It actually comes back faster than you’d think. By the end of the third day, walking felt almost normal again. Going up and down stairs is the most difficult. And I can’t walk super fast, but it’s much better than day one when I clocked 40 minutes per mile pace on my neighborhood walk and had to take an ibuprofen.

img_32591

img_34601

I don’t really have any photos to add, but look how much my hollyhocks grew while I was sitting around on my ass repairing a joint!

My left calf has been so sore in the mornings it reminds me of college when we could barely make it out of our lofted dorm beds after the first spike day of the track season. I spend a couple minutes in the evenings rolling it on a hard plastic ball to keep the fibers loose. And the first day both my heels were excruciatingly painful by bedtime. Rolling helps with that, too.

I’ll be seeing my PT twice a week for the next four weeks to do “blood flow restriction” training. More on that when I’ve actually witnessed it in person. This week I went in the day after I started walking, and we literally just practiced walking. Which was exhausting and made me feel like a newborn animal. I was still limping heavily at that point, and my PT had me break down the stride cycle by focusing on toe-off and then heel-strike. My muscles were so tired at the end I could barely walk all over again.

This weekend I’ve been visiting the rec center to walk around in the pool. Next week I’ll try aqua jogging on campus, but I’m honestly not quite there yet. For now, I walk back and forth a couple laps, sideways and zig zag, and do leg swings and hip circles. Then I breaststroke a couple lengths (like 10 max — remember when I could do 60?) very slowly. That’s about it and I’m ready for a nap.

I’m still doing my core routines, but now I can add a couple things, like a proper pelvic tilt, bridge, and standing on one leg. I’m not ready for anything resembling yoga, but I got the green light to cycle on zero resistance. No word yet on the elliptical, but realistically I don’t expect to add it until about 10 or 12 weeks post-op.

Let the countdown to running begin! Eighteen weeks to go.

T-minus

It’s the home stretch, and I’m so excited. I am ready to get this over with, make it to the other side, and prepare for the long, slow return to running (maybe by like… 2019?). If you are faced with an unfathomably long break from running, you may be wondering what kinds of new hobbies could possibly be out there to compete for second fiddle. I know there is no way to completely fill the void, but in the last few weeks I have discovered a couple substitutes that work for me.

Gardening. I’ve been trying to makeover a previously neglected and overgrown yard since the early spring. I spent weeks raking, chopping down tree shoots, and digging up grass in order to make way for flower and vegetable beds. Some tasks are a decent workout, even if tedious, but runners who know the benefits of getting the small things done will find a lot of satisfaction in the end result.

img_3709img_3246img_3145

 

Biking. Though I had to part ways with it eventually due to pain, it’s still the next most enjoyable form of exercise to me. Find routes that are challenging, and your runner brain will love the endorphins. It’s also a great way to revisit running routes that you are sorely missing, and feel some wind in your face. Bike while running errands or commuting to work to sneak in extra cardio throughout the day.

House therapy. Ok, I’m not, like, some HGTV maniac. But a year ago I refinished my dining room table and chairs, and after that I was kinda hooked on home improvement. This spring, I have also done things like paint my entire house, install new light fixtures, and replace cabinet hardware. Stuff like this can be tough to fit in when you’re spending your free time running and recovering from running. Let those creative juices flow and challenge yourself to learn a new trade.

Hitting the gym. I’m more of an out-the-door runner, and in case you missed my last post, I hate the gym. But being injured makes a strong case for going. I used the elliptical until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and currently I’ve been acquainting myself with the pool. I also started lifting weights again. There are group classes to take advantage of, like pilates, which is a fun way to sneak in your PT work without even noticing. Yoga and barre offer core and muscle conditioning that can aid the return to (or continuation of) running. Find alternatives that work for you. A sweat is a sweat.

Reading. By far my healthiest sedentary habit. I’ve been tackling a list of “feminist” reads that I made up myself — it’s almost 100% stuff written by women of color, LGBT women, or women suffering from mental illnesses — sometimes these categories overlap. We’ve all read the “traditional” bullshit they feed you in high school and college. Patriarchal garbage IMO. I’ve enjoyed all of these books so much more. Don’t forget to exercise your mind.

img_33291

I have a lot of gratitude going into surgery. It’s a relief, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to consider it as an option. It’s also given me a new perspective on time away from running, and with that the realization that life goes on, that the absence of running is tough, but not impossible, to endure. This is a time to heal, to reflect, to set new goals, to remember not to take running for granted when I get the opportunity to return. The next few weeks are somewhat unchartered territory, and a few of my newfound hobbies will be impossible to stick with while I’m recuperating. Gonna have to learn some couch hobbies. That’s why I haven’t started the new season of Orange is the New Black yet — you gotta give yourself an automatic win sometimes. But there will be PT appointments, and small sprinklings of normalcy that return slowly as I make improvements. I’m optimistic, and one day all of this will be a thing of the past.

The Procrastinator’s Guide to Navigating Injury

Here I am at 6 in the morning trying to explain that I’m not a morning person. I’m not. This is a fluke. I’m actually an insomniac and I have been awake since about 2:30 am. Normally, shorter bouts of sleeplessness eventually lead to falling back to sleep and rendering myself incapable of being awake before 8 or 9 am. Now, if you have any scary Type A runners in your life (and if you can’t name one, it’s probably you) then you know that sleeping past 5 am is seen as a sign of weakness. Like do you even try to be a runner??

I’m also a huge procrastinator. Why get up at 5 when I can get up later? Why go to the gym to ride the elliptical for 30 monotonous minutes of staring at the clock when I can go laatterrrrr.

Let me first make a confession… I actually hate the gym. Going to the gym feels like a chore, mechanical and sterile. Don’t get me wrong, I always feel the way you’re supposed to after the gym, all high on endorphins and shit. But the gym just isn’t fun. You know it. Admit it. The gym sucks. I like to be outside, where the scenery changes and the air is fresh and I don’t count the minutes. Plus, there’s the added thrill of discovering a new route, or running super fast down a hill, or finding some sprinklers, maybe losing a contact lens or being chased by a dog! Running is less of a chore and more of a compulsion, an opportunity. I can roll out of bed in the morning or collapse in a heap on the floor after work and still mumble, “ok, gimme five minutes and I’ll put my shoes on.”

img_08411
This is what outside looks like

 

Not so much with going to the gym. Like, if I’m even the tiniest bit too hungry, I’m like ya know, I probably shouldn’t risk it. It’s called flexibility, right?

I follow a lot of runners on the social media. Pro runners, elite runners, friend runners. My favorites are delightfully transparent about the times when they’re just not feeling it. Usually, it’s because they’re pregnant, but still. The takeaway is that often our bodies need and deserve breaks that we aren’t allowing them unless pregnancy or a giant injury gets in the way, and maybe the best way to deal with it is to embrace the option to be “flexible” or downright lazy. If I bargained for cross-training after work only to wind up not feeling like it when I get home, it’s nice to be able to throw away my neurotic tendencies and just say no. Trust me, I’d prefer to get up and go before work, I’d get a lot more done that way, but if you didn’t see this whole story arc coming from a mile away, please refer back to the part where I mentioned a fondness for sleep and procrastination.

Call it what you want — flexibility, procrastination, laziness — but not being held to my own batshit standards of running x miles per week no matter what is kind of a relief. I mean, I gave up on that months ago and I’m still alive. For now, I neurotically wrote a pool plan that I will sort of follow up until surgery that looks something like this:

Day 1: 30 minute aqua jog + PT

Day 2: swim 20 lengths, 10 min aqua jog, swim 20 lengths + lift

Day 3: 30 minute aqua jog + PT

Day 4: swim 30 lengths + PT

Day 5: swim 20 lengths, 20 min aqua jog, pool intervals, 10 min aqua jog + lift

Days 6-7: PT, yoga, or rest

It’s the procrastinator’s method. You can shuffle it, swap out, save one for tomorrow, whatever. Slice it how you want. I also haven’t been to yoga once. And the BEST part is, I can accomplish all my PT work without even being at the gym. I have a spot carved out in my garage where I can do my core and glute work. No fighting college kids for space or equipment, it’s free, the music is better, and the cat likes to join in.

img_33202
Did you know you can tack your workout to the kegerator if you’re at home?

If reading about not following a plan is making your eye twitch, you might find some relief in these resources. Pro trail runner Megan Roche recently suffered a talus injury as well, although not the same as mine, and she did a feature for Trail Runner magazine about her comeback cross-training routine. Runner’s World also has a six week cross-training plan that I meticulously copy/pasted, and then saved for later (like a true procrastinator).

Enjoy your downtime. Rest. Use all this free time to make new hobbies. Stick to the things that serve you. And never forget that Des Linden won the Boston Marathon after taking several months off. Running will always be there when you’re ready to come back, when “later” eventually becomes “now.”

Different strokes for ridiculously anxious folks

You never realize how difficult it can be to do certain things until you develop an anxiety disorder.

Oh fuck, I thought this was a running blog and now it turns out she’s also going to lecture us on mental health awareness.

I suffered my first panic attack two years ago, seemingly out of nowhere, and was reborn as a severely anxious person. Although, if I look back at my disposition towards certain things growing up, to me it seems rather inevitable. Take swimming for example.

I’ve never been a good swimmer. In first grade, I won my heat in a kickboard race at the school swim meet and that was the pinnacle of my swimming career. Then it was like —  you know how some people grew up dreading The Mile? I grew up dreading the swimming unit. On the first day of a new school year, I’d be like fuck! we have to swim again in February. I don’t really know why — maybe I got too much water in my ears once or felt uneasy learning flip turns. Maybe other kid swimmers were assholes, and the ones who took lessons and got to be good at it were fairly unrestrained in their need to show off. So maybe I hated it because I couldn’t brag about it. And when you’re generally athletic, it sucks to be bad at an athletic thing. And when you’re me, you turn lots of negative experiences into opportunities to be ridiculously nervous.

Let me clarify that I enjoy using pools for leisure. What I am referring to is lap swimming, where you employ complex strokes and earn the opportunity to breathe again by succeeding at not drowning first. Breathing is never guaranteed! Because I have the lung capacity of a potato, and I never mastered the art of opening my eyes underwater, swimming was always more like thrashing around blindly and choking on water. I think I always lost my goggles diving off the start board.

img_0358
Does this count as exercise?

I remember once in middle school I almost passed out after swim class. I’m sure it was every bit as dramatic as it sounds, but I swear between the chlorine fumes, the water-logged dehydration, and the breath-holding, swimming has a tendency to make me dizzy.

Well, once you’ve suffered enough panic attacks to be wary of anything that might cause dizziness, swimming gets even harder to do, too. Pair that with venturing to the middle of a deep pool to purposely overexert myself, and my claustrophobia is like WTF ARE YOU DOING?! I’ve triggered panic attacks while biking or using the elliptical too hard, but you see, if you panic and faint while swimming, you, um… you die.  

This is really what it’s like to have irrational anxiety. Do I really think I might die while using a community pool with lifeguards around? No. Have I ever actually passed out while panicking? No. But I do find myself providing handicaps that I never used to consider. I’ve logged hours of my life aqua jogging, but now I wear a flotation belt like the ones old people use for water aerobics class. Just in case. Which means that, as if the lifeguards didn’t already think aqua jogging was baffling enough, now they definitely think I am some poor turd who must not know how to swim, and they move to sit in the chair right above to me. I mean, that’s not subtle. But it does make me feel better.

img_3290
Bootin’ around Jackson over the Fourth

With my surgery scheduled for August 9, I still have some time before I endure 2-6 weeks of non-weight bearing and post-op recovery. Of course, to test a conservative treatment plan, I spent the first two weeks of July in a walking boot, and if you’ve had the misfortune of wearing one, you know how alarmingly fast your body atrophies. So I am using these interim 3 weeks to re-strengthen some musculature that I lost while in the boot. This includes core work and some easy cardio. It might seem pointless to beef up a shriveled leg that is destined to become shriveled again, but if you could choose to go into surgery shriveled or ripped, wouldn’t you choose ripped? Might as well be functioning above average to start with.

Hence the pool. Regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me, swimming and aqua jogging will be my primary forms of exercise for several weeks once I’m on the other side. It will get easier as I reacquaint myself. I usually feel very anxious on my way to the pool but end up feeling fairly relaxed once I start moving around. I like breast stroke because I can leave my head up, but I’m challenging myself to do more and more lengths. My record right now is 30. Runners like records. And people with anxiety like any small accomplishment.