Finding My Voice

I want to preface this by saying this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I’m actually shaking with the thought of posting this. But I’m putting this out there because I don’t believe we should sweep mental illness under the carpet. We need to share and educate and help each other in any way we can. I know I’m not alone so I hope this helps someone else find their voice.
While out on my run today, I realized that it’s been exactly a year since my back went to shit and I was completely bed ridden unable to do a thing. That was pretty much the start of a really tough year for me, both mentally and physically. Not only did I have back surgery, several failed attempts to come back to activity, two rhizotomy procedures and weight gain, I made a really tough decision to address a mental issue which has been plaguing me for years.
After 20 plus years of living with an eating disorder, I decided it was finally time to get help. I had been in and out of therapy several times over the last 15 years but I always went at the advice of others; I never really did it for myself. This past April I was sitting in my office so fed up with ED1 ruling my life and all I could think was “I’m turning 40 this year. I don’t want to spend the next 40 years of my life like this.” And with that, I picked up the phone and called Renfew2. I had never been to treatment at Renfrew but knew it was top notch and that I’d get the care I needed there. I cried so hard when I hung up the phone. I cried because I was scared but also so relieved. I knew this time was going to be different. *I* made the phone call myself and knew I was finally ready to get the help I so desperately needed.
After several weeks of group and 1:1 therapy, the decision was made by myself and my therapist to step up treatment. In July I began a 6 week IOP (Intensive Outpatient treatment) program and spent around 12 hours a week at Renfrew. I attended group therapy and individual therapy as well as appointments with a nutritionist and ate dinner there three times a week. During sessions I had to go to places within me that I didn’t know existed and I had to talk about things I wouldn’t discuss with even my closest family or friends. I resisted the first few weeks, threatened to stop going, even had a major outburst one night at dinner, but yet every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, I returned. Before I knew it, I looked forward to going each week and when my final week rolled around, I was scared half to death to leave. This place and process had become so safe for me.
Now I’m on the other side of treatment in this grey area called “recovery.” I continue to see my therapist and nutritionist weekly but each day is a process and involves hard work. There have been (and will be more) slip ups, but for the first time since I can remember, I’m calling shots about my health, not ED. I finally found my voice and it’s louder than ED’s.
I’m sharing this because I personally know many people who struggle with disordered eating. So often I wanted to say “I get it!” but I’ve been too ashamed to admit it. But I learned so much during that six week period and I now know there’s no reason to be ashamed. I learned I’m not alone and we don’t have to suffer in silence. That eating disorders don’t discriminate and no two eating disorders are the same. That you have to trust the treatment process and surround yourself with a solid support group. And most importantly, you have to put yourself first. You have to make the time and commitment to getting better. Eating disorders kill more than any other mental illness according to statistics. We need to bring light to the situation and not judge one another.
If you know me, you know I’m pretty much an open book. This was the one part of me that I kept secret and while doing so, it destroyed me. It affected relationships, it caused me to lie, I missed out on things that I really wanted to do, etc. I just figured ED was my true voice, he dictated what I did every day and no one would understand. I was convinced that life would be worse without him because truthfully, he was all I knew. But I was so wrong. SO wrong. ED is a piece of shit, he can be shut up, and life is so much better without him.
No one should feel that they are not worthy of love or happiness and no one should be ashamed to raise their hand and ask for help. If you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, please contact: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
1 – ED is the name often given to an eating disorder so you can distinguish the eating disorder from yourself.

Spilled Milk

Last Fall I ironed out my race season for 2016 and set a goal that was really going to challenge me. While it was going to be hard and it was going to hurt, I was mentally ready to do what it took to get me there. When my back threw a fit in November, I never thought it would carry over into this year or turn out to be anything serious.
After 2 spinal injections I slowly got back to training and started up with my new coach the first week of January. Right off the bat my body didn’t seem right. Physically I felt fine but my heart rate was way high and I was really tired. We didn’t do anything strenuous or out of the ordinary and yet my body just wasn’t responding well. My back started talking to me again and by mid-January I developed a really bad pain in my left glute (butt) and lost feeling to my left leg. My gastroc and glute muscle essentially went to sleep and my leg felt like it wasn’t attached. I went in for my third spinal injection hoping and praying it would give me relief but it did absolutely nothing. After talking with several doctors and surgeons, it was clear that I had 2 choices: live with the pain and hope it goes away and the feeling eventually comes back or have surgery.
The discussions of surgery got pretty real when I learned just how bad of shape my back was in. It wasn’t simply a herniated disc but I have degenerative disc disease in my lumbar spine and there’s very little disc left. We discussed having a fusion done now but I went with a more conservative approach and decided to just do a discectomy at this time. Not only was the thought of back surgery overwhelming, but I was told by one surgeon that I may never compete at the level I want to again and another told me the half marathon distance will not be an option in my future. Needless to say, I was devastated.
I went through every emotion possible through the next few weeks. For 2 weeks I was so depressed I didn’t even want to talk to anyone. If I talked about my back or even thought about not being able to run, I cried. For 2 straight weeks I cried…all…the…time. Then all the sadness turned into anger. I was pissed. I was so mad that my body was failing me and wouldn’t just get better. I was so mad I couldn’t workout. I was so mad that I was in constant pain and the pain just made me angrier. The anger then subsided and here I was grieving the loss of my 2016 races and all the goals I set. I was grieving that I wasn’t out there with my running buddies or riding on the crazy warm winter days. I totally felt like I lost a part of me and something that was so important to me.

Then one day I woke up and decided “it is what it is.” Like flipping a switch, I came to terms with everything and accepted it. I accepted that surgery was the best option and while the next few months might suck, there’s nothing saying I won’t get back to where I want to be. Sure, I have a ton of restrictions going forward and need to change my way of doing things, but I’m willing to make the changes because I want it bad enough. I’m not throwing in the towel on 2016 either. I know I won’t be all out racing anytime soon but it doesn’t mean I may not be out there working hard at my new post op fitness level. J
Today I’m 2 weeks and 2 days post-surgery and I’m already further along than they said I would be and the doctor is impressed with my progress. I could very easily ditch my little walks each day and not do my isometric ab exercises in lieu of resting like they instructed me. But I want to recover and I want to get my strength back. I want to get back to what makes me tick.
The point of this rambling…as athletes, a lot of us are going to have set backs. Some major, some easily overcome. If something happens that knocks you off track, let yourself feel; know it’s ok to be sad, angry, whatever and then move on with a positive attitude. It’s hard when things are out of our control and you have something you want so badly taken away from. But it’s that positive attitude that will get you back out there. Missing out on a race or a PR is not the end of the world, it’s just spilled milk. Don’t cry over it forever, clean that sh*t up and move on. And remember….Things could always be worse. Always.
And for those that like this stuff….here’s a picture of the disc they cut out. Enjoy!

Eat Crow

The past month has been a little challenging for me. After living with back pain for several weeks that I thought was due to a bad mattress, I found myself completely bed ridden with bilateral and central disc herniation in two locations. What started as annoying back pain turned over night into show stopping pain. I didn’t have any trauma, I wasn’t involved in an accident, I didn’t fall, etc. All the doctors I’ve seen aren’t sure how this could have happened to this degree just on it’s own, but I have an idea…
I should have listened. 
A few weeks prior to this all exploding, I didn’t think I was injured. I kept lifting heavy equipment for my clients, I kept working out myself and running. A little back pain I thought…Eh, I can get through that. Clearly I couldn’t. As I looked back over my medical records for the past four years, I saw that this has been a reoccurring issue. In 2012 while training for IMFL, I saw the doctor for back pain. I was told it was muscular, given some meds and sent on my merry way. In 2013 I went to an orthopedic for back pain. I was told I exercised too much and sent home with no limitations and told to rest when it hurt. In 2014 while training for IMLP there are notes in my training records that my back hurt. I also remember stopping on long rides and laying flat on the side of the road to alleviate the pain. That year I self diagnosed and told myself it was due to the bike. Now here I am FOUR years later and that same back pain turned into a very real and very scary injury. 
There’s a fine line between an ache and a pain and what is soreness from working out versus what is a true injury. I discuss this all the time with my athletes. I tell them that they are the best judge of their bodies, that they need to be smart with their decisions and know when to pull back. I can’t judge the pain or diagnosis it for them. Heck, clearly I can’t judge my own!! But in all seriousness, as athletes we need to listen closely to our bodies and know when enough is enough. I wish I had done more in 2013 when the issue arose again. And then in 2014 why didn’t I see a doctor rather than tough it out? If I had listened to the pain years ago and what my body was telling me, I’m sure this current incident could have been avoided. I would have much rather taken a few weeks off years ago to rehab the injury and strengthen that area than to have a month like this past one where for two straight weeks I couldn’t move AT ALL without the help of my husband.
So the point of all of this…do as I say, not as I do and pay attention to your body. They are very good at telling us when we need to rest. If we don’t listen, they will make us listen. I learned my lesson. This really rattled me. Being physically active is my livelihood. It’s my passion. It’s my sanity. I do not want a repeat of this EVER. So here I am, eating crow. *Nomnomnom*

Know Your "Why"

In training I had a 100 mile ride with a 6 mile run off the bike and immediately into the ride, I knew it wasn’t my day physically or mentally. Half way through I stopped at my car to refuel but ended up with my head buried in a towel and sobbing. I wanted so badly to quit; it was so hot out, my back was killing me, my legs had nothing and I wanted nothing more than to go home. Standing in the parking lot crying, I called my husband. He tried to assure me that I could do it and told me if I threw in the towel I would never forgive myself. After I talked to him, I texted my coach. He told me to get off the bike, stretch, regroup and get back out there. He reminded me that this could happen on race day and I needed to fight through. Still not satisfied that no one supported me quitting, I called my training buddy and friend Stacey. Getting what I was going through like no one else, she calmed me down and told me to go back out for 10 miles, just 10 more, and then make a decision.
 
After riding 50 plus miles, another 10?…I could handle that. I wiped away my tears, told myself to ride 10 more and if I still left lousy, I could call it a day. Turns out those 10 miles weren’t bad at all. So I did 10 more. And then another 10. I started to go down hill again and the last 20 were rough but I pushed through and ended up finishing all 100 miles. Happy to be off the bike, I quickly hustled at my car to transition to my run. A woman parked next to me clearly knew what kind of workout I was doing and asked if I wanted to join her and a friend for their run. After almost 6 hours of suffering alone, I jumped at the offer.
 
Turns out these two were also triathletes and the woman was a sports psychologist. Well, as soon as I heard that I jokingly said, “can you tell me why my ride sucked so bad today” and told her how I was in tears at the half way point. We chatted for a while and her big question to me was “tell me why you do this.” I spewed out some answer that sounded believable but on the inside I was questioning myself and why I was doing this.
 
I came home that day and did a lot of thinking about my goals and why I train for these big races. I’ve always had a reason for doing a certain race but on this particular day I actually thought long and hard about WHY I do it. I never dug deep enough until this day to go to that place and find my why. It wasn’t because it’s a bucket list item or because it was a challenge. It was something way more personal and something that I hold tight inside. Honestly, finding my “why” was emotional and a little scary but it was the most important part of my training. When times are tough now I can answer the question of “why am I doing this” and having this answer gives me the drive to continue.  
 
I tell my athletes when they set goals to “know their why.” When things get tough during a long training day or on race day, and you ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” you’re much better off if you can answer your own question. Don’t just set a goal…know why you’re fighting for the goal.
 

Challenge Atlantic City 140.6 Race Report

Even though I’m a month late in getting this race report written, the race still feels like it was yesterday. I signed up for Challenge AC very shortly after I completed Ironman Lake Placid not knowing if I was really ready for another one. But since I knew I could withdraw and get my entry fee back (nice perk by Challenge) I went for it. Before I knew it, October came around, I hired a new coach and we were off!
Coaching and personal training allowed me to set my own schedule for my training this time around and I think that made all the difference. Not having the stress from corporate America and actually getting sleep kept me on top of my game and feeling great. In fact, most of the time I didn’t even feel like I was training for a 140.6. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all perfect. I had my moments of doubt and uncertainty but I trusted my coach and great training partner, Stacey, and pushed the negative thoughts aside.
 
Race week was here before I knew it. I arrived to Atlantic City on Friday afternoon, went to athlete check in and then attended the race meeting. I almost didn’t go to the meeting since I’ve raced this distance before but I’m glad I did. It was communicated that there was NO bottle drop on the bike course. Racers were expected to get off their bikes at the aid stations and refill their bottles from carboys. Hunh?? What??? Needless to say, that caused quite the stir at the athlete meeting. After the meeting I had to run around to find extra water bottles since this was going to destroy my nutrition plan. From here on out, I will always attend the athlete meeting regardless of how familiar I feel with things.*
 
Storms were in the forecast all week but with each passing day, the bad weather moved up a day. Thank God it did because the storms that rolled through on Saturday definitely would have cancelled the race had they happen on Sunday. After I dropped off my bike Saturday morning and went for a nice long walk, I was off my feet just past noon. From the hotel window I watched the crazy weather wondering if my bike was surviving in transition.
 
Around 9am, lights out and off to bed. I had a decent night sleep considering I get nervous before races. Alarm went off at 4am and after making an iced coffee, I hopped in the shower. For the next 45 minutes I slowly went through the motions…body marking tattoos, sunscreen, breakfast, deep breaths, etc etc. We arrived to transition just after 5am and I was surprised to see how well the race committee cleaned it up. The night prior there were pictures of tents blown down, port o johns blown over, bikes off the racks, etc. I immediately went to check on my bike and was happy to see that aside from it being soaked, all was good.
 
After going through the set up motions, I milled around going in and out of the bathrooms. Race day nerves were in full effect. With about 15 minutes until the start, I got in my wet suit and headed for the swim start. Right on cue, I started to tear up. I cared, I was nervous, I wanted to get the day started and I was hoping and praying for the best.
 
Swim:
Two loop swim with one length against the current. The first time it wasn’t too bad and when I checked my watch at the half way point, I was at 35 minutes. Right on target for my typical 1:10 swim. At this point I wanted to push harder because I was feeling great. Unfortunately, on the second loop the current got even worse. I was swimming harder but not gaining any time for it. After I made the final turn to head towards the dock, the current was choppy and strong. With almost every breath I was taking on gross bay water and really struggling to stay on course. Andy said it looked like a cartoon out there with all the swimmers moving their arms but not moving any closer to the finish. I exited the water at 1:13…slower than my goal of 1:10.
 
Bike:
I rode most of the course twice during course preview rides and knew what I was getting into. Flat with wind. I knew I had to stay in aero and more importantly, stay calm. My goal was to not let the wind frustrate me, which is always does. Once I’m frustrated, I spiral out of control mentally. The bike is my hardest leg. I seem to get into my own head and break down at some point. For this race, I decided to break the ride down by 10 miles and count down. So when I hit the 10 mile mark, I told myself I only had 9 more to go (yes, I know it’s 112 miles but I knew once I got to 100, I would be fine). 8, 7, 6…before I knew it, I was at special needs and then mile 60. “Only 4 left!” I told myself. From there, the count down flew by. I was so focused during the entire ride, I never once let my mind get the best of me. My nutrition and mental game were 100% and I felt like a million bucks….except for my foot. My foot, which started bothering me the weekend before, was killing. Every stroke hurt and I knew the run was going to hurt even more. But I got off the bike smiling, so happy to be back at transition and ready to finish my day! Bike was 6:08:59 and 9 minutes off my goal time.
 
Run:
My happy place!! But OUCH. OUCH. “How am I going to finish a marathon right now?” That’s all I was thinking as I exited transition.  My foot hurt so badly. Every single step hurt. But this was my day, I had to stay dialed in and determined. My goal for the marathon was to start off easy at a 9:30ish pace and to walk each water stop for 30 steps or so. I stuck to my pacing and nutrition plan like clockwork and even though I was in pain, the miles were flying by. Just past the half way point, I saw Andy and I stopped to walk with him. Not because I needed to walk but because I was having such an incredible day that I wanted to tell him about it. After what was too long of a walk break, I gave him a kiss and took off running. As the miles ticked away, I still felt incredible. I was passing people and knew I was in the front of the pack for my age group. My coach told me after mile 18 I could do whatever I wanted and to go for, it so that’s what I did. My last 5-6 miles were the strongest of my race. My foot was worse than when I started but the smile on my face and determination in my heart pulled me through. I wanted this so badly! My run was 4:06:41 which again, was slower than my goal of a 4hr run.
 
My final time was 11:37:18 which was an hour PR. I ended up 5th female overall and 1st in my age group. Not too shabby. I missed each of my goals by a few minutes but based on how great of a day I had, I’m ok with it.
 
Were there things I would have done different? Like not take that long walk break with Andy? Not stop at special needs on the bike? Yes. But each one of these races is a learning experience and I learned a lot. I’m walking away from this one knowing I executed perfectly. Nutrition was spot on. Mental game was 110%. I had the strongest 140.6 so far and if I could bottle up what I felt on 28JUN, I would. There WILL be another one because this last one confirmed that this is the distance for me.
 
*Within an hour post meeting, Race Director had this resolved. Close call that really should never have been an issue. Hopefully Challenge won’t do this again.

Want a Faster 5k…Strength Train!

I came across an article in Runners World and thought it was really interesting. As a runner myself, I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of only running. When you’re working and juggling life, it’s hard enough to find time to fit in your runs, let alone find time to get in cross training and strength training. On top of that, you need to manage your strength workouts to ensure you aren’t overdoing it and setting yourself up for crummy runs. While it’s hard, it’s really important to get in the strength training work. Not only does it help us stay injury free and burn more calories, according to the study in this article, it makes us FASTER!!
 
In the study they took two groups of runners who were capable of a 21 minute 5k. Over a 6 week period one group did no strength work and just continued with their normal running routine. The other group continued with their running routine but added in 2 days of strength work which consisted of only 4 exercises. Remember this…2 days of strength, 4 exercises only. That’s not a lot. After the 6 week period, the runners who did no strength work ran a similar 5k time while the runners who participated in strength work shaved 45 seconds off their time. 45 seconds!! That’s a huge PR in the 5k distance.
 
Now the interesting part of the study…Over the next 6 weeks the group performing strength work stopped and returned to only running. After this 6 week period, their 5k times basically returned to where they were at the beginning of the 12 weeks.
 
So, it looks like if we want to improve our 5k times we need to do more than only run. Do you have a 5k coming up? If so, get in the strength work and see how it helps you. Here’s a link to the article. It lists the specific exercises they had the runners perform. I know I’m definitely going to give it a try!!

20 Minute Walk Challenge

Being an endurance athlete, I’ve had some clients ask if I expect them to do what I do in terms of working out. I can’t express enough that this could not be further from the truth. The training I do is to support my personal goals and I know most people don’t have the time, nor the desire, to do the same. My goal as a trainer and coach is to get people moving and feeling better about themselves. Help them to be motivated, to want to move more, and to be excited about fitness. I do not believe for one second that to be healthy you need to participate in endurance sports or train 20 hours a week. I actually recommend to most of my clients that they do some sort of moderate level activity 30-60 minutes a day on most days of the week. While I say most days of the week, I suggest 3 days a week at a minimum and if you’re able to get in exercise 5 days a week, then that’s even better! As for the activity, I recommend something they enjoy, as this is key to sticking with an exercise program, and resistance training. The activity needs to be more intense than the daily chores around the house however, as it’s important to get your heart rate up and break a sweat. If you feel 30 plus minutes is too hard to fit in at once, it’s absolutely fine to break it up into 10 minute sessions.
 
The bottom line is that everyone needs to be moving and it doesn’t take hours and hours in the gym or running countless miles to reap the benefits. Being sedentary is killing us and exercise will not only extend your life expectancy, it will reduce stress, make you feel better, you’ll be happier…you’ll smile more. 🙂
 
In a recent article* I read, “researchers concluded that exercise that burns around 100 calories a day, such as a brisk, 20 minute daily walk, can reduce the risk of an early death by 16 to 30%.” That’s it, 20 minutes a day can help us live longer. Why wouldn’t we do it?? What if I challenged you right now to go for a 20 minute walk every day for 2 weeks? Could you do it? Will you do it? I’m accepting the challenge myself, who’s in with me? We ALL have 20 minutes a day, so no more excuses, let’s go for a walk.

*http://www.acefitness.org/blog/5258/study-lack-of-exercise-twice-as-deadly-as-obesity#.VPdq3v6pcBs.email