Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Playing in DC; Getting Stronger

I don't get the internet obsession with this guy, but I would totally hire him as a porter if it meant doing less laundry.
This week I am out in Washington DC for work. Partly this is cool because I'm excited about the conference I'm here for; partly it's cool because my college roommate Monica lives here & she's been trying to get me to come visit for years.

The first hurdle I faced was packing. I wanted to have enough clothes to run or do something else active every day if I felt like it, but with everything else I needed to pack, that desire did not mesh well with my determination to bring a single suitcase.

In the end I decided that as a fellow runner / active person, Monica must have some strategy in her life for converting foul clothes to clean ones & I could just do a load sometime mid-week if I needed to.

First, I understand now how it's so easy for Sweaty Emily to sweat once/thrice/twelve times a day. We walked to lunch & back the first day I was here & I had to shower again when we got home. After that first day I understood why Monica told me that it was probably best to just plan on wearing running clothes for general walking around. If you can go outside for any reason in DC in the summer and not sweat, you are probably dead.

On Saturday we ran the Nation Mall together. Monica is recovering from a stress fracture so we're pretty well matched right now.

Four miles is of course another post-marathon personal distance record for me, and since Monica hasn't run in a month and has just been cleared to start again, she was happy to get through it pain-free as well. I didn't pay as much attention to my posterior chain stuff as I have been; to be honest I really just wanted to get in some miles with Monica, and it was hot & humid enough that the run was hard enough as it was. Whatever; I spent 20 minutes abusing my glutes with a Lacrosse ball later that evening so I'm sure it all balanced out.

It isn't my first time in DC so I didn't go too crazy with the monument pictures:

World War II Monument, which is new since I was last here.

Washington Monument is under construction to fix earthquake damage.

Same with MLK Jr.

Definitely the best quotes of anyone.

Since the running the monuments, there've been a few other quality field trips:

DC Zoo

Visiting Einstein

Everybody loves Uncle Franklin

Eleanor is my homegirl.

There's also been a solid amount of good eating & drinking, which are two of my favorite things:

Zaytinia for Mediterranean

Mike Isabella's Graffiato for Italian

Lamb shank at La Diplomate (French)

Lobster at La Diplomate

Cocktails at Zaytinia. I recommend the Harissa Fizz! (middle)

"Smokin' in the Boys Room" at The Passenger. Mezcal, bourbon, bitters, honey, lemon, Cocchi Americano, & fresh peaches.

The bartender at Passenger made this one up for me on the fly, so I don't know what it's called. Rye, sweet vermouth, Averna, & Swedish herb bitters.

"Buffalo Soldier" at Graffiato. 2 oz cachaca, 1 oz falernum, 1 oz Cardamaro, 1/2 oz lemon juice (my favorite so far).

My goal this week is to run twelve miles. Monica & I will probably get one more run in before she leaves for Greece on Wednesday, & hopefully I'll be able to wrap up the rest before & after conference sessions.

Hope you're having a good week!! :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kinvara 3 vs Kinvara 4: Part 2

(Part 1 of the Kinvara 3 / Kinvara 4 show-down)

Greetings from San Francisco, where it's been basically 65° around the clock for the last week & a half. I understand that the rest of you are melting and / or evaporating and / or ionizing into a plasma state, and have had to resort to such sadnesses as treadmills and running in the dead of night in order to get your workouts in. I used to live in north Texas, and then in northern Ohio after that, so I feel for you. This is pretty much why you should move to San Francisco. We can run together if you want. :)

On Saturday I had a great (if demanding) three mile run, which was a post M2BM distance record. That night I was already plotting how I would knock out another three miles the next day, excellent posterior chain mechanics & all.

But then Sunday morning happened. I didn't get up until 11:30, felt a bit sore in the hips from Saturday evening's 40-minute Lacrosse ball session, sat on my ass eating breakfast and reading the internet for another, oh, three hours or so, then spent another hour leisurely meandering to get my usual Sunday mocha & pain au jambon, and finally to the park across the street to listen to the SF Symphony for a few minutes.

Yes...That is my actual coffee. #sanfrancisco

These things are like crack.

By 4:00 I'd barely done anything all day & was exhausted from it. In contrast to my feelings driving through Golden Gate Park almost exactly a week ago, the absolute LAST thing I wanted to do was go run. (Yes, even after seven weeks of moaning & complaining about not being able to.) I definitely didn't want to run through my neighborhood again and deal with pedestrians & traffic lights & dogs & what have you when it's taking every spare brain cell I have to focus on my form. So, even though I knew it would only end up being 2-3 miles, I made the 10 minute drive to Golden Gate Park & just got it over with.

My glutes and hamstrings felt a little sore, which I took as a good sign that I'd been using them correctly the day before. So correctly, in fact, that I'd apparently worn them out. Getting the muscles to fire in the same way they had yesterday required speed work levels of effort, so my run ended up being more like 2 x 800m + 6 x 400m than an actual 2.5 miles. I'm not kidding that toward the end I was panting after a quarter mile at ~8:30 pace. Form fixes are WORK!

* * *

Back in June I acquired a brand new pair of Saucony Kinvara 3's as well as a pair of the recent update, the Kinvara 4. I wasn't able to really run at that point, so most of that first post comparing the two focused on how they felt on my feet, construction, weight, etc. I did promise that I would post an update once I was able to really run again, and since that day has come, I've been doing my recent 2-3 milers wearing one K3 and one K4 (alternating sides, of course, so that they wear evenly).

I mentioned in the earlier post that in terms of feel, the two shoes felt just nearly identical, and now having run a few miles in them, I stand by that statement 98%. The differences I have noticed are minute enough that it's taken me several runs to even feel certain they're there:

  • The K4 does feel just a touch wider inside in the forefoot (but distinctly not in the heel). This was surprising because you can line up the outsoles lug-for-lug and they're perfectly identical in width, but inside the inner part of my forefoot & my big toe felt like they had just a touch more room to splay. The K3s have never felt particularly narrow to me before, but I'm still enjoying the extra bit of room.
  • Either I can feel that 1mm closer to the ground in the K4, or I have convinced myself that I can. Not really sure. (Update: I am pretty sure I can feel it.)
  • I mentioned in the first post that the heel counter on the K3 is slightly higher than the K4. I've been running in the 3's for ten months now and never had a problem with its heel counter, but the first time I ran with this particular brand-new K3 on my right foot, it rubbed uncomfortably against my heel & gave me a huge blister. Not sure what that's about since it didn't happen with the left shoe & has never happened to me with Kinvaras before.

The ride still feels completely identical to me. I literally cannot tell the difference. I'm still not sure what's up with the fact that the front of the K4 curves up so dramatically as compared to the 3 & hoped running in them would solve this mystery, but it hasn't.

Anyone have a Saucony connection? This is becoming the sort of mystery I can't let go.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fighting My Quad Dominance, As Always

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I ran three miles today, which is a personal distance record for June / July. (Woo!) More importantly I ran it at *actual* marathon pace, mostly comfortably, and with no pain in my hip flexors at all. It was beautiful. Beautiful, but a lot of work (which is where the "mostly" in "mostly comfortably" comes in).

Let's back up a bit --

The first time I was in physical therapy & put on a treadmill for gait analysis, I learned I was "quad dominant." Basically this means that I was relying more on the (relatively) small muscles in my hip flexors & quads to generate power rather than the larger, more powerful hamstring & glute muscles. On video, this looked like driving my knees forward with each stride, leaning forward only 5-10° with my torso, failing to extend my hip joint fully & close the angle between my torso and hamstring, and shin/calves not quite making it to parallel with the ground on the back swing.

While I don't have any video footage to share with you, some very informative, extremely high-quality photographs were taken during the session:

As you can see, this is an *extremely* professional blog.

Quad dominance is apparently very very common in recreational runners (one of the biggest reasons for this is the amount of sitting we all do & the deleterious effect that has on the glute muscles), but it can be fixed. After several months of strength training for my hamstrings & glutes & lots of drills focused on learning to engage them more, I got the thumbs up from my PT to return to regular training. I was *amazed* at how much faster I was able to run with the same level of effort, just with that one change.

For a while, all was well.

Toward the end of 2010 I stopped running for a while because of a hip injury; when I was able to run again and my PT put me back on the treadmill, my hard-won posterior power seemed to have melted away, and I was back to starting from scratch again. After a few weeks of the same drills & strength work (including a lifting regimen of squats & deadlifts), though, all was well again.

Now that my leg is healed enough that I can run several miles without pain, my current PT decided it was time to throw me back on the 'mill. I will give you one guess as to what he saw.

He explained that he wasn't really surprised, with all the hip flexor drama I've had going on. Tight quads & hip flexors make it that much harder to engage your glutes & hamstrings, particularly without arching your back (never good for running). Afterward he put me back on the 'mill & had me just work on consciously trying to engage my glutes & hamstrings more. "Think about doing butt kicks, just not all the way up to your butt," he suggested.

The good news is that I was able to do it, and consciously correcting that one thing pretty much made everything else (knee drive, torso lean, etc.) fall into place. The bad news is that it was HARD -- I wasn't even trying to run fast, and I was still breathing as hard as I might be during a tempo run after only about ten minutes.

This didn't seem to surprise him, either.

"This is what you need to work on on your runs," he told me. "For the next few weeks, there won't be any easy runs for you. It's just going to be hard for a while."

I'm also supposed to continue rolling my quads, hip flexors, & glutes, stretching my hip flexors out three times a day, & keep doing all the strength work designed to rebuild my hamstring & glute strength & remind all those muscles how to fire together correctly.

Back to my three-mile run today. My goal was to keep the effort level easy, but my PT was absolutely right--as long as I focused on the butt-kick feeling & engaging my posterior chain muscles, there was just no way to keep the effort level at "easy." The cool thing was that that translated to a (just barely) sub-8 pace; if I tried to slow down at all, keeping up the butt-kick feeling got much harder. Hopefully that will change as my muscles get stronger & my endurance comes back, though. As neat as it felt to see sub-8 miles on my watch for the first time since M2B, I can't have every workout feeling like a tempo run!

* * *

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Which I Double My Mileage*

*Not nearly as dramatic as it sounds.

"Okay, just try to relax everything," says my PT as I'm getting into position for our bi-weekly Thomas test. I lay back and pull my right knee up to my chest, letting my left leg dangle off the end of the table at the hip.

He gives my left leg a pitiful look. "That's relaxed?"

Ideally in the Thomas test your shin hangs passively at a 90° angle to your thigh. 60° means there's work to do re: quad & hip flexor tightness. Mine is hovering close to 45°, as it has been for months now.

"I'm rolling my quads for 10 minutes each most days."

He raises his eyebrows. "Don't stop. Switch sides."

I switch. He regards the pathetic angle of my knee with disdain and shakes his head. "That right hip flexor is still terrible. Just terrible."

"I've been using the Lacrosse ball on my hip flexors pretty regularly too. I can only do it about once every three days or so, though."

"Why is that?"

"Because for the next couple of days, they feel super, super tender & bruised. Like I've been in an accident or something."

"You deserve it," he replies straightly. "You've been beating them up like this for years & never stretching them out. That's the price."

We've been seeing one another for nigh on three months now, so we've developed the sort of dynamic where we can be a bit snarky with each other. And he is, of course, completely correct.

* * *

My sister J & her friend C have been hanging out with me in San Francisco this week:

When she was here a couple of years ago, we did a bunch of the usual tourist stuff together, including the eastern section of Golden Gate Park. Don & I thought that this time she & C might enjoy seeing the rest of the park, either on foot or via rented bike / Segway / go-cart / etc. On our way back from Sonoma Sunday evening, we drove through it via JFK drive so they could see where some of the key attractions were (like the de Young Museum, the Academy of Sciences, the rose garden, & the Japanese Tea Garden).

I was wholly unprepared for the experience of driving through that section of GG Park. It's where I do a lot of my running (like 75% of it), and all I could think about as we drove through it was, "I want to be running out there." In the past five years I've racked up hundreds and hundreds of miles on those sidewalks and trails (maybe thousands? I don't even know), and to drive past them after a seven-week absence in cool, overcast, perfect running weather was gut-wrenching in a way that running things rarely are for me.

As soon as I'm up to it, I told myself, I am coming down here and running the SHIT out this park.

When I went to dig out a spare set of keys for J & C, I realized that we'd never made an extra one for our new outer door & I'd need to go have one cut. The closest place that does it is about a mile away, and as I've been advised not to drive my car until I replace the tires (unless I want them to explode), I started toying with the notion of just running there & back.

My hip has now reached the point where, if I were a normal, sedentary or near-sendentary person, I'd probably say it's completely healed. I can walk fine, I can go up & down stairs with no problem, I can do 95% of karate stuff at 95% intensity, & I've even been back to doing a bunch of the eccentric loading strength stuff. I've been running one mile most days (followed by ~20 minutes of elliptical), which is when I can tell that it's not 100% yet. There is a little soreness and some pain with impact that tells me I shouldn't get too ambitious any time soon, but overall it's been going pretty well & doesn't seem to be slowing my recovery.

Yes, two miles would be a 100% increase in my daily mileage, but since one mile + 20 minutes elliptical had been going well for nearly two weeks now, I decided to give it a shot.

The nice thing about recovering from an injury is that every new accomplishment--no matter how insignificant it would've seemed a couple of months ago--feels like a HUGE step. Running .6 miles at a 10:16 pace on July 1 was the highlight of my week. Running a full mile a few days later felt like slaying the Kraken. Running TWO whole miles (with a short rest in between at the hardware store) felt like--er, I don't even know. Something more awesome than slaying the Kraken.

The Oatmeal metaphorically slaying the Kraken with a run.

(Sidenote: If you've somehow managed to go this long as a runner on the internet without seeing The Oatmeal's five-part series on "The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances," just go read it. Go now. I'll wait.)

I also want to point out that clearly the hours and hours of cross-training I've put in have clearly not been a complete & utter waste of time. In the past when I've been sidelined for a month for an injury, it's taken at least that long for 8:30 to feel like an easy, comfortable pace again. So I'm optimistic about my ability to get back into racing shape before the next millennium. #progress

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Tricky, Troubling, Anxiety-Fraught Relationship Between Food, Exercise, & Body Image

I've noticed a trend lately. Actually, it's probably not really a new trend so much as one that's become so ubiquitous as to be unavoidable (because ask my boyfriend; that's the only way I really ever notice anything). As I go about my running / internetting life, I can't help stumbling across gems like these:

I Run Because It Makes My Butt Look Nice

I Run For Dessert

I Run For Dessert

I Run For Dessert

I Run For Dessert

I Run For Dessert

And let's not forget the wonderful world of social media:

Anyone running for weight loss?

Stuff like this really bothers me, and it took a long time to suss out exactly why.

I mean...isn't it good that people are motivated to do healthy things for themselves? Isn't it great that people exercise to stay in shape, rather than eating unhealthy foods and not exercising? Is it just because it's all pink? What is your problem, Ang, like seriously???

And I'd be like...yeah...exercising is good...and wanting to stay in shape & be fit is good...and balancing tasty treats with activity is good...

...So why does this bother me so effing much?

Seriously. I've started & abandoned this post about six times because I felt like there was something crucial here that needed to be addressed, but just couldn't figure out what it was or how to explain it.

Recently I've been reading a blog called The Fat Nutritionist, which I've really enjoyed & find just brilliant. I can't personally go to bat for everything she's ever written, mostly because I haven't read everything she's ever written. But as someone who has dealt with food issues I just think she writes a lot of things that make a lot of sense & that I wish someone had told me when I was a teenager. One of the first posts I came across was one called "Food and Exercise Are Not Matter & Anti-Matter."

"YES!!!!!" I may have shouted (in my head). "YES! That is exactly what I have been trying to put my finger on."

I'll leave it to you to read the full post, but here's the first few paragraphs:

"How often do you hear someone say they need to “work off breakfast,” or that they spoiled their workout by eating some calorific food afterward? I hear it quite a bit, and it always bothers me. Let me count the ways.

First of all, reducing food to “calorie intake” and movement to “calorie expenditure” – setting them up as opposites, one cancelling the other out – disregards the real, complex, essentially human experiences of eating and moving. It sets food and movement up to be rivals, competing for control over your weight. In doing so, it centers weight as The Priority. It assumes one should always be in a state of calorie deficit, pursuing weight loss to the exclusion of enjoying your food, or moving for the fun of it. It also implies that the only reason a person would exercise is for the purpose of off-setting what they eat – that food is matter, and exercise anti-matter."

You can substitute "hotness"/"physical attractiveness" for weight and I think everything still holds. (I mean, let's be real. The obsession that many women have about the number of pounds they weigh is a proxy for physical attractiveness in a world where fat-shaming--and sometimes not-rail-thin-shaming--is the norm, and weight is in some ways the last widely socially acceptable prejudice.)

Mainly, it's this bit:

"It also implies that the only reason a person would exercise is for the purpose of off-setting what they eat."

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with wanting to stay fit and healthy, with feeling good about the way you look because you are active, with wanting to enjoy delicious high-calorie food without regretting what you ate, or even with exercising to lose weight or maintain a weight you're happy with. I'm really not.

But the messages on the shirts & water bottles are a lot more complex than that.

I have written before about the PURE JOY that is running around the super-socially progressive city of San Francisco as a woman on a hot day wearing hot-day appropriate running clothes. (Hint: That post is not actually about joy.) One of the less offensive things that has been shouted at me from street corners is something along the lines of, "HEY WHY'RE YOU RUNNING, BABY????? YOU'RE LOOKIN' HELLA FINE ALREADY!!!!"

Believe it or not, I've actually gotten more sophisticated versions of the same thing from well-meaning friends. "Psshh. It's not like you need to go to the gym." "Hey, it's not like you're going to get fat from missing one run."

Remarks like these betray a hidden assumption that many people have about exercise (particularly women and exercise) in our culture: People (especially women) exercise in order to be skinny / attractive / not get fat / lose weight / etc. Exercise is so unpleasant and horrible that that is the only believable reason why anyone would ever do it. Oh, sure, you may couch it in terms of "keeping fit" or "staying healthy," but *obviously* those are just code words for tip-toeing around icky things like fatness and the deathly serious business of avoiding it.

When we plaster phrases like these all over our T-shirts and water bottles to the exclusion of other reasons for running, it feels a bit apologetic, as if we are tacitly agreeing with this assumption and acknowledging that yes, exercise is indeed horrible, and naturally everyone who sees you is surely mystified as to why on earth you'd put yourself through it. So naturally, we give them our excuse. Dessert. Cupcakes. Nice butt. Whatever. "Oh, nononono!! I don't actually like this! I'm not a weirdo or anything! I just want to eat whatever I want & be hot & skinny, like a normal person!"

(Also, let's be real. No one should EVER run a marathon for any other reason than because they want to run a marathon. There are much, MUCH easier ways to go about achieving just about any ulterior motive you could possibly have, including getting a nice butt. We should also all know by now that training for a marathon is a TERRRRIBLE weight loss plan.)

The ones about eating, particularly eating certain foods like cupcakes & dessert, also express the flip side of that assumption: that those foods are ones that you can't or shouldn't eat just because you want to, because you like them and they make you happy. That they need to be earned, bought & paid for with pain and sacrifice and general unpleasantness. "I run so I can eat cupcakes" pretty clearly implies that if you don't, you can't eat the cupcakes. (Or, at best, that if you don't run and eat them anyway, you are BADBADBAD and deserve whatever happens to you as a result.)

Say it with me now:

  • I do not need an excuse to run, exercise, work out, or otherwise move and be active in the world.
  • It is okay to enjoy exercise for its own sake.
  • Exercise is necessary, normal, and healthy when done in a balanced way.
  • I don't have to justify my running / exercising / working out / moving / being active in the world to ANYONE.

If you go run for two hours and someone is like, "Ugh, why would you ever do that?!?," you are not obligated to give them a reason that they'll understand, that they find believable and "normal." You're not obligated to give them any answer at all, if you don't feel like it.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Are you ready for the next part? I think this might be harder for some people, but give it a try.

  • I do not need an excuse to eat--anything, or in any amount.
  • It is okay to enjoy eating for its own sake (even--GASP!--dessert).
  • Eating is necessary, normal, and healthy when done in a balanced way.
  • I don't have to justify my eating--anything or in any amount--to ANYONE.

I think one of the things I love about The Fat Nutritionist is that Michelle, the proprietess, totally gets behind these very ideas (and goes into much, MUCH more detail in many, many posts than I ever could on this blog). So if you find yourself reading some of those statements and going butbutbutbutbut then I really recommend perusing her site. There's great stuff there, particularly for folks who have or have had food / body image issues. (She is a proponent of the Health At Every Size movement and also has a number of posts exploring the many wrong assumptions people have about the connections between overall health and weight.)

I wondered at first whether I was just picking up on the types of messages above because I dislike them. So to be fair, I tried googling various combinations of a few different phrases based on other reasons I can think of for running (I run to be strong, I run for fun, I run to stay healthy, etc.). There really wasn't much, and I had to dig pretty far into the search results to find the few things I did come across. There were these from the Nike Women's races, first of all:

I Run For Dessert

I Run For Dessert

I personally find the "I run to be fearless" one a little weird, because I can't say I've ever heard of anyone who said they started running because they were afraid (unless they were being chased by something), and I've never thought of running as likely to make you particularly braver. But still. I can give them points for trying.

And there was this:

I also ran across these cute key chains:

I Run For Dessert

I Run For Dessert

Then again, the same company was also selling this one:

I Run For Dessert

So that was kind of disappointing.

I want to wrap it up with a little Q & A, because it seems only fair to address some questions that I feel will inevitably come up.

Question: "What if I do run because I want to eat high-calorie food? Are you saying that's not okay?"

Answer: Any particular person's individual reason for running (or doing any type of activity) is not mine (or anyone else's, for that matter) to judge. I personally think it is completely possible to really enjoy delicious, rich food and also prefer your body stay the same shape & size that it is. In that situation, you either have to cut back on the rich food, or expend more calories. Them's just physics. That choice in & of itself is a completely neutral one--it's how you feel and respond to that choice that makes a difference.

If you find yourself becoming totally depressed because you feel deprived of foods you love, or completely miserable because you're forcing yourself through an activity (or amount of an activity) that sucks, that is what is not okay. If you feel disgusted with yourself every time you eat dessert and have to go run 10 miles to "work it off," that is not okay. If you make the choice to eat the foods you love & exercise more out of abject terror of gaining weight or negative attitudes / beliefs about certain weights or body types, that is not okay. I can't tell you what your feelings are about the decision to run so you can eat x thing or y amount. You are the one who has to check in with yourself about why you run for cupcakes, whether you run only for cupcakes, what your relationship with the cupcakes is to begin with, etc.

Question: "What if I do run (or do x type of exercise) because I want to lose/maintain my weigh? Is there something wrong with that?"

Answer: Again, in & of itself, this is a neutral decision. You're the one that has to think about what is motivating you to lose or stay at a certain weight. As part of a larger lifestyle shift towards habits you feel good about? Probably okay. Because you're disgusted with or terrified by a certain body shape or type & are exercising compulsively in order to change or avoid it? Probably not okay. To lose 5 vanity pounds so your favorite pants won't pinch so much? Probably okay. To get approval, acceptance, or attention from friends/family/a significant other/boys/girls? Probably not so great. (Personally, I feel like negative emotions--fear, panic, disgust, depression, anxiety, etc.--around food & exercise are often red flags that bigger issues may be in play somewhere & bear closer examination. But that is just my opinion.)

I think you also have to think about how you feel about the running (or whatever type of exercise you do). If you hate it and think of it as a chore you have to do in order to lose / maintain weight, odds are good that plan is not going to last very long anyway. For all that I can rarely get through an Active.com article without at least one eye roll, it's worth considering a couple of paragraphs from one I read recently:

    If you are running to lose weight, I encourage you to separate exercise and weight. Yes, you should run for health, fitness, stress relief and most importantly, for enjoyment. (After all, the E in exercise stands for enjoyment!) [Okay, that last part made me barf a little.]

    If you run primarily to burn off calories, exercise will become punishment for having excess body fat. You'll eventually quit running—and that’s a bad idea. (A better idea is to seek personalized help by meeting with a local sports dietitian.)

Like I said, it's not any one of these products or posts that is the problem. It is not the idea that someone might run to lose or maintain weight. It's the ubiquity of this particular message in the absence of others, the fact that these slogans are plastered everywhere while many, many, MANY other great and wonderful reasons for running & exercising are not, the message that sends, and what it says about people's beliefs & attitudes about exercise, food, & body image.

Question: "What if I do run (or do x type of exercise) in order to stay/become physically attractive? Is there something wrong with that?"

Answer: The short answer is, I'm not sure about this because it's HELLA complicated. Mainly because the idea of "physically attractive" is complicated and we have some pretty messed up ideas about what it means in our culture. So while I don't have a nice, simplistic answer for you around this, I have nailed down a few thoughts. First & foremost, I'd say that wanting to look attractive & taking steps to accomplish whatever that means to you is reasonable & normal & healthy, as long as...

  • You're not putting yourself or others at risk, physically, mentally, or emotionally, in order to do it. (Obviously what constitutes 'at risk' in this department is a HUGE can of worms that I am just not going to open here.)
  • You've dealt with any issues you have around having confidence in your physical appearance & feeling good about it. Otherwise, no amount of weight loss / body changing is going to make you feel good. You have to fix the insides first on this one.
  • Your happiness, self-esteem, etc. isn't tied up with what other people think about your body. If you run a million miles a week because everyone just HAS to think you're the hottest chick or dude in the room, that's a non-starter and you need to deal with that first.
  • You are under no illusions that attractiveness is an objective, one-dimensional scale on which we are all striving for some ideal at one end of the spectrum and desperately avoiding the other (ie, looking better/more attractive/hotter means looking more like x celebrity/athlete/model/etc. and less like y). Really. Physical attractiveness can look like a billion different things. Don't let the barrage of media you're constantly inundated with with convince you otherwise. (Yes...This can be really hard. They've been at us our whole lives.)
  • You're not having any other of those bad feelings I mentioned before about it. ("Hottie Mystique," anyone?) Because again, that's a red flag that your choice to run/exercise in order to become/stay physically attractive may be indicative of deeper issues that need addressing.

Inevitably, there will be people who are like, "Geez, Ang, calm down. It's not that big a deal. You're taking this WAAAAAY too seriously. Don't be so sensitive." And they get to have that opinion. But I'd also point out that not too terribly long ago that's the same response people got, to the letter, when they argued that black face & other racial stereotypes in entertainment were offensive, or that women getting smacked in the ass by their boss was a problem.

So if that's your initial reaction, I'd invite you to consider that just because something doesn't come across as harmful to you, or you don't understand why something is potentially harmful to others, doesn't mean it isn't or can't be. I would invite you to think about how the stakes around these issues can be higher for some people than for others, about your underlying assumptions about food and exercise, and how perpetuating those assumptions, even in a cute, jokey way--especially when that's almost all we get--can potentially do real long-term damage. (All the food / exercise / body image angst & obsession we've got going on in this country didn't come from nowhere, you know.)

I would encourage companies that make T-shirts and water bottles and key chains and races / organizations with a social media presence consider making products / posts that promote a wider variety of the reasons and motivations that people run and exercise. While it's important for people to feel good about their appearance and there's nothing wrong with touting the benefits of running in that regard, I would encourage them to recognize that our society is already obsessed with appearance & attractiveness, and to consider using messages that focus less on what running can do your for your appearance and more on what it can do for your mental and emotional health & well-being, your self-concept, your sense of achievement & accomplishment, etc. I'm not asking anyone to burn the "I run for cupcakes" T-shirt. I'm just asking for a balance in terms of the messages we send about the sport we love.

Bottom line? I wish we could all just enjoy the different part of our lives more, for their own sake. Eat delicious food that we love because it is a great pleasure to do so. Move our bodies and be active in the world because it makes us feel good and we enjoy it. Obsess less (online and off) about how "fit" we are or are not. Worry less about what other people think about what our bodies are like and what we do with them. It's a tall order, but I think tossing out the idea of food & exercise as opposite forces might not be the worst place we could possibly start.

**Post-script:** I am totally not used to writing about serious stuff on the internet. While I don't expect everyone who reads this to understand & agree 100% and I am absolutely open to discussion around it, I DO know that the people who read my blog are the awesome-est, and are utterly cool with civil, respectful discourse. I will not delete your comment just because you disagree with something I've said here--in fact, I would love to hear your opinion!--but I will ABSOLUTELY delete it if you're just going to poop in the pool & make the conversation miserable for everyone. I do not expect to have to resort to deleting, because my readers are not pool-poopers.



Further Reading...

  • A Primer on Privilege: What It Is and What It Isn't. This one, I really think everyone should read, because we all have some form of privilege or another and should be aware of it when we interact with other people. But every time I see / hear / read about "fit" people concern-trolling "unfit" people, I REALLY want to make them read it. I think it's a bit more accessible for some people than the traditional "Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack."

  • Stigma Against Fat People the Last Acceptable Prejudice, Studies Find. "At a time when obesity is seen as a serious public health threat, research has found a growing prejudice against fat people. "Thinness has come to symbolize important values in our society, values such as discipline, hard work, ambition and willpower. If you're not thin, then you don't have them," she said."

  • Eat Food. Stuff You Like. As Much As You Want. "Going through the motions in order to reach the carrot or escape the stick actually takes something away from the benefit of those motions. Exercising to lose weight makes fitness not as fun or useful. Eating to lose weight makes nutrition not as fun or useful. And, when things are not fun (meaning, intrinsically rewarding), it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will stop doing them."

  • Gym Class. "I had a pretty happily active childhood, despite being the unathletic and slightly fat child of two decidedly unathletic and slightly fat parents. Until gym class became a “thing,” that is. A graded, micromanaged academic requirement, starting in junior high — unhappily coinciding with the absolute social, emotional, and physical nadir of human existence. Or at least of mine. If you want to destroy all the inherent joy in something, slap a grade on it."

  • The Denial of Life. "If you genuinely enjoy marathons, run them. If that would be torture to you, don’t. Find something else to enjoy. If you love salad, eat it. If salad is punishment, for God’s sake, there are a million other foods to take its place. Food that isn’t enjoyed isn’t worth a damn. Find something better. You deserve it."

  • The Great Divorce of Body & Mind. "I look back on the time I was dieting as a period of falling-out with my body. We fell out of synchronicity, and out of favour, with one another. We were no longer on speaking terms. And though the diet was a dramatic physical manifestation of the rift that had formed between my mind and my body, I believe the fault that led to the rift started much earlier."

  • Your Body Is Your Home. "Why does it matter how we think of our bodies? Well, in my experience, treating my body like a machine has not ended well. Treating it like an expensive outfit designed to impress other people has not ended well. Treating it like an unruly child or pet who needs to be reckoned with and brought under submission has not ended well. And I’ve lived for long periods of time where it was as if my body and myself were no longer on speaking terms."

  • About That Video. "Yesterday, the video of Jennifer Livingston, a fat news anchor responding to an email about how fat and unhealthy she was, went viral...A lot of people have tried to make the argument that the email was not bullying, since it referenced concern for her health. Health is always and forever the argument weight bigots lean on to give a socially acceptable veneer to their harassment"

  • Pictures of You. "I’m thinking today about body image. My body image, to be specific, and the way I feel when suddenly confronted with photographs of myself taken by other people, showing my whole body."

  • The Third Option. "There is a third option that has been conveniently left out of the discussion, though a vocal minority of fat people have been arguing for it since the late 1960s: what if fatness is neither a disease nor a cause for blame and stigma? What if there are so many different reasons people are fat that it’s impossible to boil it down to “personal responsibility” and moral failure?"

  • How To Eat In A Nutshell. Lesson One: Permission. "There is one golden rule to normal eating, and it is this: no one decides what or how much goes in your mouth but you...You do not have to eat anything you don’t like, don’t want, or aren’t in the mood for. No matter who is pushing it, who thinks it’s for your own good, or what magazine says it’s the new superfood. You don’t have to count calories, or Points, or measure portions out and leave the table feeling hungry. You do not have to."

Friday, July 5, 2013

Recovery Continues, & Some Cool News

I hope your July 4th was as awesome as mine. Don & continued our annual tradition of burgers & shakes with friends, then headed down to the waterfront to watch fireworks in what has to be the best Independence Day weather San Francisco has had in decades.

In a city where July is typically cold, windy, & foggy, we were so excited to be able to sit down by the water in T-shirts, perfectly comfortable, & see actual fireworks instead of faintly glowing fog. Also, thanks to our spiffy mini camp chairs, we got a prime spot that no one else wanted because it was on concrete. Absolutely the best SF fireworks I've ever seen.

Last week I was back in to see both my sport med doctor & my PT. The last time I saw my doctor, he was evaluating the possibility that my injury was potentially a femoral neck stress fracture instead of just a really terrible strain. The PT had requested he do some imaging to rule this out, but after having me do a few physical tests, he said that he didn't see any evidence for it at all & didn't think the imaging was necessary, but that he'd re-evaluate in three weeks.

So last Tuesday was three weeks. Although the progress day-to-day has been too little to notice most of the time, the difference between this visit & the one three weeks prior was HUGE. I was going up stairs fine (and even down some small ones), I could take a small bit of eccentric loading, & I wasn't having horrifically painful muscle spasms anymore. I could even hop on the leg some & had legitimately run half a mile the day before with almost no pain. All of this made him really happy & pretty much confirmed that the damage, severe as it had been, had been limited to muscle tissue. He said I could continue experimenting with running small amounts at a time as long as there's no pain & gradually increase the distance as my leg becomes stronger & more stable, & that I should be fully back to normal & ready to jump back into real training in about a month.

My PT was also encouraged by my improvement. In talking about what hurt & where & what I was now able to do vs what I could not quite do yet, he suggested that the actual grade 2 strain had probably not been in my TFL & adductors as we originally thought but instead in my sartorius muscle, the giveaway being the way the pain wrapped around from my right hip to the inside of my right thigh. His guess was that once that muscle was trashed, my TFL (& probably also psoas) had started trying to compensate & ended up with its own, less severe strain as collateral damage. (In PT speak this is called "over-recruitment.")

You can get a feel for what the sartorius muscle does if you think about sitting cross-legged with your ankle propped up on you opposite knee, or picking up your foot to check to see if there's something on the bottom of your shoe. (My PT called it "the hacky sack muscle.") Along with the IT band, the sartorius muscle also plays an important role in stabilizing the knee during eccentric loading (for example, single-leg squats, which is basically the same motion your leg goes through when you're running) & keeping it from collapsing inward.

LEFT: Knees not properly stabilized & collapsing inward (valgus fault -- super common, especially in female runners); RIGHT: Knees properly stabilized & staying vertically aligned with hips & toes. These pictures show how stabilization plays out in a double-leg squat, but you can envision how the valgus fault shows up in a single-leg squat or while running by just covering up one of the legs. Valgus faults lead to all kinds of hip & knee pain.

The upshot of my PT visit was that the strain is healing & he's optimistic, which means it's time to get back to the work we were doing before the strain & solve the issue that led to it in the first place. Which, for me, apparently means a lot of ART, ultrasound, & rolling around on Lacrosse balls.

So. That's the less-fun-but-necessary work coming up.

In other, more exciting (& surprising) news, the Berkeley Half Marathon sent me an email last week about sub-seeded status. A few email exchanges later...

Obviously, that's cool news just for its own sake, but it has some extra meaning for me. There have been a lot of sucky parts to this injury, but the most crushing was missing out on my sub-seeded spot at SF Marathon a few weeks back. Getting offered a sub-seeded spot at the Berkeley race was completely unexpected & has given me a big morale boost & something awesome to look forward to as I recover & get strong again over the next few months.

Don't get me wrong--just the idea of being able to run again at all is certainly enough to motivate me to work hard & do my best to balance ramping up training with letting my body finish healing. There is a bit of an extra push, though, that comes from having something external like this with a date attached. It makes the stakes feel just a little higher, just enough to make part of my brain go, "Hey, take this seriously. Don't screw it up." I feel like I've been offered a second chance that I certainly was not entitled to, which in turn makes me feel as if I have something--just a little something--to prove.