Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Bit More on Chronic Pain....

Firstly, to whoever found my blog by googling "cute blonde nice butt"...Sorry to disappoint, dude. It's all Native American & Irish up in here.

Secondly, when I wrote the post last week about my physical therapist explaining to me how chronic pain works & telling me it was likely safe to ignore the little twinges I'm still having in my hip flexor, there were some questions about the specifics and if I knew of any research citations. The questions reminded me that during my session my PT said that he'd give me some YouTube links that gave some good "general audience" explanations of what doctors, therapists, & neuroscientists understand, but then we both forgot. I emailed him about it & he sent me a couple of links that I think are very helpful. (Also fun to listen to, since apparently a lot of the best research on the subject comes out of Australia, and if listening to anyone talk about anything in an Australian accent isn't at least a tiny little ear party for you, I am not sure you have a soul.)

This one is short & sweet & involves neat cartoons:

This one is a 50 minute lecture by an Australian PT, but it's for a general audience, not experts, and it's actually pretty entertaining if you've got the patience to listen to the whole thing. It goes into a significant amount of detail about the science without getting too technical to follow:

Research sources are trickier because, unless you have an MD, they really are just virtually indecipherable and assume a high level of prior knowledge. (For example, here is the abstract for one of the papers he referenced. Here's another. Good luck.) And because a lot of the research is very new, it hasn't had much time to trickle down & get translated into everyday-normal-person English. BUT, I did find this page from livescience.com, which I think does a fairly good job of hitting the high points. (It covers a lot of the same ground as the second YouTube link, just in less detail.)

One of the big takeaways from all of these sources for me was something fundamental about what pain is. For example, before I studied psychology & neuroscience in college, I used to think that our eyes basically worked like a camera: things in the world look a certain way, objectively, we look at it, the image goes into our brain, our brain processes the image, and that's kind of it.

But that's actually very, very far from the truth. Vision is in fact incredibly subjective, and the images we see are put together by our brains based partly on the physical properties of what we're looking at and partly based on environmental cues, past knowledge, beliefs, assumptions, and emotions. (This is one of the reasons why eye witness testimony is notoriously unreliable, and why many optical illusions work.)

It turns out that pain is constructed similarly. Far from an "objective," black-and-white response to outside stimulus, the experience of feeling pain is nearly always modulated by environmental cues, past knowledge, beliefs, assumptions, and emotions. The same stimulus can result in two completely different pain (or non-pain) experiences depending on the circumstances. (The second YouTube video goes into a lot of detail about this.)

So the upshot, I guess, is that it's complicated. But super, super interesting, particularly when you're going through it.

* * *

Grand Total: 20.2 miles

    * 14 easy
    * 6.2 race

Monday:

a.m. strength, lunchtime yoga, p.m. karate/light strength. JESUS I don't know what I did to my adductors on Monday but they freaking felt like ASS for the rest of the week.

Tuesday:

5 easy. This was the day I went to see my PT, so I came home inspired to get a solid run in. A bit of hip flexor pain, but having my PT's blessing to ignore it made it soooo much easier to deal with.

Wednesday:

Karate / light strength. I stayed up late Tuesday & so decided to sleep in a little, which meant I got to work later than usual, which made me feel guilty about leaving to go to yoga at lunch. :/

Thursday:

6 easy. Felt great. Still a tiny bit of hip flexor pain, but it's staying in that safe 1-2/10 range & not getting any worse.

Friday:

a.m. strength + 2 easy. I have never been much for "shakeout" runs & was feeling so good Friday evening that I almost didn't want to jinx myself. Finally just went out & did it & felt better for it.

Saturday:

1 warm-up/6.2 race/1 cool-down = 7.2. Pssssshhhhbbbbttt who needs a cool down. Race report here. :)

Sunday:

Hard-earned rest, bitches!!

I'm leaving for Hawaii tomorrow, so it'll probably be radio silence for a week or so. Have a great week!! :D

GOOD LUCK ALL YOU MARINE CORPS MARATHON KIDS!!!! HAVE A GREAT RACE!!!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Race Report: Let's Go 510! 10K

So. Um. Apparently this happened......

Does this make any sense in any way whatsoever? No. No it does not. Believe me, no one is more stunned about it than I am.

Let's start at the beginning, though.

In case you missed the post where I first mentioned this race, it was an inaugural event & collaborative effort between the awesome folks at Brazen Racing & a newer group called Represent Running, which I think mainly does races tied thematically to specific regions/area codes (hence "Let's Go 510!"). I knew I wanted to run a road 10K close to home in October, so when I saw that Brazen was involved with organizing this one just 15 minutes away, it was a no-brainer.

A unique feature of this race is that it finishes on the horse track at Golden Gate Fields. It was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., which I'm guessing probably has something to do with the track schedule & when the horses would need / not need access to it. When I arrived a little after 8 there were lots of horses & riders out on it, & the race had a strict two-hour time limit since they'd need to get back out on it at noon to start warming up for the afternoon races, so maybe 10:30-12:00 was the window that worked for having the track open for (human) finishers.

I will admit to a few nerves when I first arrived & saw how socked in the place was:


Starting line


Starting line


Beach near the starting line

Visibility was maybe 40 yards, so I suppose that's another reason why the late start time was a good thing. By 9-9:30 the fog had blown off, though, & after grabbing my bib & agonizing over whether to park closer to the start or finish & changing my mind at least twice, I had plenty of time to wander around the track & watch horses.

That was kind of neat.

Around 9:40 I pinned on my bib, stripped down, & ran a quick warm-up mile. I was happy to find that my hip felt good & nothing hurt, but a little disheartened by the fact that an 8:20 pace felt kind of tough to maintain. It was also HOT at that point--full sun & even in a sports bra & my lightest shorts I was pretty sweaty after just one mile. It was hot enough that I drank water at every aid station during the race, and I almost never drink anything in a 10K. (Seriously, there were SO MANY PEOPLE wearing knee socks and tights and long-sleeved shirts & all I could think was "Are you freaking crazy???")

Well, it'll be what it'll be, I reminded myself. While I kind of had a very loose goal of finishing under 50 minutes, it was more of a general hope than a goal since I didn't have much to go on time-prediction-wise. I really was going into this with no expectations whatsoever--all I wanted was to run hard, finish feeling good (and with no hip pain), and see how fit I was after ~2 months of running 10-20 miles a week with no tempo work and almost no speed work to speak of so that I'd have a baseline to work from going forward.

* * *

Race days are special. Your mind knows it. Your body knows it. While there's no substitute for solid training, somehow on race day we are always capable of a little more, of things that we have no logical reason to believe we can do.

My plan was basically to try to find a comfortable pace that felt like 10K effort & adjust as necessary, but I didn't know exactly what that pace would be. Last week during one of my runs I ran a "comfortably hard" mile (which is how I think about the first mile or two of a 10K) without looking at my watch, just to see what I could do. My pace ended up being 7:17, and while that felt "comfortably hard" for that one mile, I was quite happy to settle back down into the mid-eights and knew there was no way I could have kept that pace up for six miles.

I didn't know it until I arrived & saw the beginning of the course, but it starts off with a pretty significant hill:

Yes, I've run worse, and it wasn't terribly long, but I was still very glad that it was right at the start and I knew it was there, and that Race Director Sam pointed out that we'd be coming back over it the other way at the end of the race. Check. Psyche = prepared.

I tried to keep that 7:17 mile and how it had felt in mind when the gun went off & we started towards the incline. Don't try to run comfortably hard yet; just try to stay actually comfortable & don't push at all until after the hill. So I settled into what felt comfortable but just a touch faster than how I've been doing my easy runs & thought to myself, "Oh, this feels about right." Then I looked at my watch & realized I was running a 6:35 pace.

Shit. Out of practice, much?

I remember this moment specifically. I was so close to having a nice, normal-looking race picture & then this lady jumped in front of me. Now I'll never be on the cover of Runners World. THANKS FOR RUINING EVERYTHING, "SHABLET".
I actively slowed down, a lot, & let myself kind of float up the hill at a truly easy effort, making sure to use my glutes & hamstrings but not letting myself gun it, which was hard with people flying by me on all sides at ridiculous speeds. By the time I reached the top I was breathing hard & tried to use the downhill (just as steep as the uphill) as a little rest break, which sort of worked.

Once the course flattened out I went back to looking for that nice, comfortable, fast-but-not-too-fast level of effort, thought I had it, & locked in. And yet, every time I glanced at my watch, I'd see numbers in the 7:10-7:15 range.

No! I tried to tell my runner brain. Abort! Too fast! TOO FAST! The pace felt okay now, but hard enough that I knew I wouldn't be able to sustain it past maybe 4-4.5 miles & then I'd be crawling. I tried again to force myself to slow down; mile 1 ticked off in 7:19, which was a slight improvement.

The following couple of paragraphs might seem like a digression, but I think it's important in order to understand just how weird and bizarre and completely absurd the rest of this race felt. You know how people are always talking about "running by feel" rather than using a watch to keep a certain pace? Well, there IS something to that. But "running by feel" is a skill that is unique to each distance, and something you have to learn through experience and trial and error.

Friends, I've run a LOT of 10Ks. In 2011 I spent several months running nothing BUT 10Ks, and let me tell you, by the end of that summer, I had running a 10K "by feel" down to an art. I'd glance at my watch for the first mile or so just to make sure I locked into the right gear, & after that I could run the entire thing without looking at my watch, hit beautiful just-slightly negative splits mile after mile, & have just enough left toward the end for a solid kick.

During that time & in 2012 & early 2013, I think my body laid down some pretty serious neurological pathways, conscious & subconscious, labeled "HOW TO RUN A 10K." I didn't have to think about it--I could just sort of press a mental button that said, "RUN FASTEST POSSIBLE 10K," and my body would just do it on autopilot, every time. So I have a really, really good sense of how I should feel effort-wise at every stage of a hard, fast 10K.

But here's the problem with the whole run-by-feel mentality. I don't think my body hardwired the effort piece; I think it hardwired the physical mechanics. It hardwired the pieces that said "Run with strides of x size" and "Run x strides per minute." And during these first couple of miles, in significantly worse shape than the last few times I've raced a 10K, that's what my body was trying to do. The subconscious part of me that has memorized HOW TO RUN A 10K just didn't realize that I don't have the fitness right now to maintain that. If I kept up the cadence that felt right, I'd have to shorten my strides. If I kept my strides where they felt right, I'd have to slow my cadence. I could keep up one or the other, but not both, no matter how fervently my runner brain screamed, "BUT THAT IS HOW YOU DO IT!!!1!1!!"

So I'm not kidding you that I spent the entire rest of the race hauling on the reins, as if trying to stop a runaway horse. At every mile marker from 2 on, I felt dangerously close to wiped out, certain that I'd gone out way, way too fast & there was no way I would finish without blowing up. Every time I would almost succeed in slowing to a "reasonable" pace, I would find myself involuntarily latching on to the people around me, powerless to do anything but match their pace, in an absurd tug-of-war with my own body, desperately shouting at it to SLOW THE F*** DOWN, GODAMMIT! and completely unable to control my legs enough to actually make it happen. I've never had an experience like this in a race before and it was just *so* surreal.

Tapeta up-close. You can see why this was maybe not so much fun to run on/in. It was like fluffy, damp sand.
I did manage to slow down slightly in miles 2 (7:21) & 3 (7:27), but once we hit the halfway point the subconscious runner brain wrestled control back from me again and zoomed through mile 4 (7:15), which I paid for in mile 5 (7:32). In the last mile I was a little more willing to let my body run as fast as it felt like, but that was also where the big hill was, so those two things together averaged out to 7:22. After mile 6 all bets were off & I finished the last .2 at a 6:49 pace, which actually might have been a little faster had the last .1 or so not been on the horse track, which is surfaced with a thick, soft, cushy substance called tapeta made of sand, fiber, rubber, & wax.

I hadn't looked at my watch in a while at this point (I was just running as fast as I could), so I had no idea what sort of ballpark I was in time-wise except that I knew I was very safely under 50 minutes. I didn't have the brain space to process the numbers on the finish line clock until right before I crossed the mat, so when I saw 45:xx, I was completely stunned. By the time I remembered to stop my watch it read 45:34, and when the official results went up, my time was 45:31. When I saw the "1" by my name in the A/G slot, I was stunned for the second time.


Whaaaaaaaat????
(Not sure what happened with the gun time, btw. I crossed the mat maybe
2-3 seconds after the horn went off, definitely not 43 seconds after.)

Garmin: 6.18 miles / 45:34 / 7:22 pace
Official: 6.2 miles / 45:31 / 7:21 pace

Overall: 49/704
Women: 5/322
A/G: 1/89

Obviously I knew there was no chance whatsoever of running even close to my PR pace of 7:09, but honestly, given my lack of speed work (not to mention mileage in general), I was expecting I'd end up running in maybe the 7:35-7:40 range. So 7:21??? Given how hard that 7:17 mile felt the other day, and how meh that 8:2x warm-up had felt, that kind of average pace was *completely* unexpected.

Of course, the only thing I ever really cared about with this race was finishing strong and uninjured, and I'm happy to report that I felt GREAT immediately after the race and for the rest of the day, even with a bunch of public transit negotiating & walking around at the Stanford game. As of Sunday, I'm a bit sore in the hamstrings and have one rather tweaky spot on the outside of my right ankle/calf, but that's it--no hip drama whatsoever.

#winning.

So yeah. After that, I basically couldn't stop smiling. Des'ree, this one goes out to you. :)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Berkeley, CA

Date: Mid October (October 19, 2013 this year)

Price: $44 before 9/23; $49 before 10/9; $54 after; 10% off for registering with a buddy. To be honest $44 to me feels a bit steep for a 10K, but the buddy price feels about right. I was willing to pay it because a) I've run a lot of Brazen races & trusted them to put on a well-organized, high-quality event, & b) I had a specific time window where I wanted to run a specific distance in a specific region, and since the pickier you are the more limited your options are bound to be, I was willing to pay a little more.

Deadlines/sellout factor: Hard to say, since this was the first year of the race. There was definitely a healthy showing (~700 finishers), but people were also able to register the morning of the race, so I'm not sure where they'd cap it.

Field Size: ~700. (Srsly, I had no idea it was that many. I guess I just never saw all the runners in one place, but that's how many finishers were listed in the results.)

The Course:

The course begins in the lower parking lot at Golden Gate Fields (basically on the water), runs along roads and trails by the Bay, through the Marina & Cesar Chavez Park, & finishes on the track at Golden Gate Fields. The last few miles were particularly scenic, with lots of lovely waterfront views. As mentioned above there is one not-insignificant but totally runnable hill that you go up and then down at the very beginning and close to the end, but other than that it felt basically flat. Signage & mile markers were good & there were plenty of rabbits & course marshals (including two aid stations), but even so, I think it would have been pretty hard to go the wrong way.

If there is one thing that would keep me from running this race again, it's the surfaces. Most of it was paved roads and trails, but there were also a few gravel stretches, some packed dirt, and of course the finish on the track. I didn't mind the dirt at all but I just HATE running on gravel & running on the tapeta track at the end was really hard. That isn't a ding on the event, necessarily--just my personal preference. I'm sure that for lots of people it was totally fine & didn't bother them (particularly if they're used to trail races, which I'm not).

Parking: Free & copious -- there is an ENORMOUS lot between the starting area & the finish at the track.

Staging: The track area at Golden Gate Fields made a great site for the post-race spread & a little mini-expo (merch, upcoming races, coconut water, almond milk ice cream, post-race massages, etc.). We also had access to the real bathrooms there in addition to the row of port-a-potties by the start, which was particularly nice for changing out of nasty sweaty clothes after the race. As always the volunteers were friendly, helpful, & knowledgeable. Pre-race instructions encouraged folks to pick up their bibs ahead of time at Sports Basement Emeryville to avoid waiting in line on race day, but when I arrived I walked right up & had all my stuff immediately. (Maybe everyone but me took their advice? Lol.) I think I remember reading that there was a sweat check, but parking was so close to both the start & finish that I didn't bother & just left everything in my car.


Expo / packet pickup area

Swag: In addition to the BIGGEST MEDAL I HAVE EVER RECEIVED FOR ANYTHING EVER (see the top of this post), runners had the option of a cotton gender-specific race shirt or a tech shirt for $5 extra. I went with the cotton option, which is quite cute:


Try to ignore the copious amounts of wrinkles from being shoved hastily into my bag.

It's a little hard to tell in this picture, but it's a lady-specific cut shirt. The guys' shirt, as far as I could tell, was the more traditional T-shirt shape, & a darker green. (Honestly, I'm sure they would have given you whichever one you preferred if you asked.)

Of course everyone got the usual bag of samples & coupons, and also access to the horse races for the rest of the day. (I think spectators had to pay $6-7 to come in.)

Overall Assessment: This was a unique, fun, well-run event and I'm glad I did it. Personally, I think I'll probably stick to all-paved or nearly-all-paved races for the most part, but for someone who isn't too picky about surfaces, I would definitely recommend it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Holy Shit, She's Actually Running A Race.

I know--believe me, I'm as shocked as you are.

When I roll up for this 10K on Saturday, it will have been 146 days since I last stood at the starting line of a race.

146 days ago I couldn't walk.

129 days ago I couldn't walk without crutches.

111 days ago I couldn't run.

55 days ago I couldn't run more than 5 miles.

No, I am not even remotely in the kind of shape I want to be in. No, I won't be PRing or placing on Saturday. But dammit, I can run 6.2 miles without breaking myself, and that's not nothing.

The plan going into Saturday is, there is no plan. Okay maybe there's kind of a plan. Even though I know I'm not in shape to race this really well, I do want to use the opportunity to see what kind of fitness I've got right now under race conditions, which is not something I was feeling terribly confident about last week. Since seeing my PT on Tuesday, though, I've had pretty much a 180° turnaround. I've had two great runs this week (5 & 6 miles respectively) & while yes, there is still that little niggle of pain in my hip flexor, it's staying in the 2-3/10 range and not getting any worse, so I'm continuing to take my PT's advice & just ignore it rather than letting it sideline me for days. My six miler Thursday evening felt great, which went a long way towards boosting my confidence about this race.


Bib(less) man!! Do you have any idea how long it's been
since I've made a bib man? Clearly, she is almost as excited as I am.

My usual strategy in a 10K is to start out in the 7:15 range, then gradually ratchet down, & give it everything I have left in the last mile or so. I think I might still try to start out in the 7:15 range just to see how it feels, but I'm guessing that absolutely best case, I'll just hold on to that pace all the way through (finish time around 45:00), or I'll find after a couple of miles that I need to ease back to 7:20-25 (finish time ~45:40). And hey, if I can finish the whole race at a sub-7:30 pace, that'll still be more of a tempo run than I've gotten in since I started running again in July. I've been doing my easy runs in the 8:10-15 range, so absolute worst case, I feel pretty confident I'll be able to run sub-8's & finish under 50 minutes.

But really--whatever happens, it's just more information for me to use as I get back into more structured training & look towards the Berkeley Half. (As opposed to right now where it's basically, "Did running happen? Awesome. Did it not feel terrible? Bonus.") I have some reasonable guesses about what will probably happen, but no real goals except to finish & not feel like death.

It's a bit late for #throwbackthursday but I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs from my junior high days by the lovely and wise Des'ree. I heard it somewhere recently and kind of went "Yeah; yeah, that's pretty much how I feel about all this."

See you on the other side of this thing. ;)

If you're running, cheering, or will just be in the neighborhood, let me know & I'll try to look for you!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ignore the Pain.

Our scene opens at the UCSF Human Performance Center Orthopedic Institute. I have finally gotten straight with my insurance company who is paying these bills and how and when, secured a new referral from my sports med doctor, and managed to book a new appointment with my PT. I've had three rough weeks back-to-back running-wise, two of the three getting in 10 miles or less, and also been dealing with soreness & stiffness in all kinds of random places even after several days of rest.

We went through the same hour-long evaluation process as when I first came in back in May, a barrage of strength & mobility & alignment tests looking at every muscle group and joint from the pelvis down. When we first did this back in May, the main findings were:

  • Pelvis uneven & slightly sheared => left leg slightly shorter. (Not surprising, since I've had to have my pelvis snapped back into place for that exact issue every 6-8 weeks for the last couple of years. He has to realign it every time I'm there. I asked if this was cause or effect & he said it's really impossible to tell.)
  • Hip flexors obscenely tight, especially on the right (the side I tore).
  • Quads obscenely tight
  • Right lower back obscenely tight
  • Hip/glute/core strength very good, but slightly less good on the right
  • Hamstring strength good but not amazing; inner right hamstring noticeably weaker.

This past Tuesday, after three months of PT & two months working on my own, the verdict was thusly:

  • Pelvis still uneven & sheared => left leg still shorter. (Again, not surprising.)
  • Right hip flexor still tight, but much improved over my last visit in July. (Hell yeah, rolling & stretching!)
  • Left hip flexor slightly looser, but the right has loosened up enough so that the left one is actually the slightly tighter one now.
  • Quads still obscenely right. (Quote: "Your quads are *ridiculous*.")
  • Overall, strength is really good. Hamstring strength much improved. Left leg is wicked strong in all directions!
  • Right glute med is okay, but slightly weaker than the left. Likely the asymmetries are somehow making my strength work less effective on the right side.

Thanks in no small part (I'm sure) to all the Olympic lifting & extra core strength work I've been doing, my squatting has gotten much better. When I attempt an overhead press squat, though (arms straight up as if you're holding a bar above your head, elbows behind ears, back straight, then squat), my right foot always tries to rotate to the right or come off the ground at the arch. This also happens very slightly in my single-leg squats on that side.

The same issue also showed up in the ankle strength test he did. It's solid in every direction except one. When I rotate my right foot internally like this...

...I have a hard time resisting force when someone pushes against the inside edge of my foot. On the left side, it's no problem. Being balanced in this way is important for runners because an imbalance can lead to an unbalanced footstrike & toe-off, which can lead to mechanical issues all the way up the kinetic chain. While this is probably not causing my hip issues, it is certainly not helping.

He also noticed that while I have good ankle mobility in terms of plantar flexion (toes pointed) & dorsiflexion (toes pointed up, heel pointed down), I have some restriction rotating my ankle inward when it's dorsiflexed, which can also mess with toe-off mechanics, which can then mess with anything further up.

The upshot?

"There is still work to do, but you are in MUCH better shape now than when I first saw you."

Huzzah!!

We also talked about the pain I'm having now--sometimes in my hip flexor at the site of the original injury, sometimes radiating down my right quad, sometimes in my right hip stabilizer muscles, sometimes in my adductors, and sometimes in totally random spots (IT band, just above the knee, inner knee, that giant tendon that runs down the back of your thigh & connects your hamstrings to your knee). I explained how I'd had about two months of pain-free running, and then suddenly in the last three weeks or so, everything hurts, and at the first sign of pain in my right hip flexors I stop running & rest it for several days.

This is when he told me about some new research in chronic pain. (I am certain I am going to get some of the details wrong here, but this is the general gist of what he explained.)

First of all, nearly all tissue is as about healed as it can be 3-6 months post-injury. Pain that goes on longer than that--chronic or persistent pain--is rarely about tissue damage. Does that mean it's all in your head? Well, yes, but technically, all pain is all in your head--we feel it thanks to a series of neurotransmitters released in our brains. With acute pain, those chemicals are produced in response to tissue damage. So the question is, what causes them to be produced when there isn't tissue damage anymore?

Essentially what happens is that, in an effort to protect areas that have taken a long time to heal, the body produces more neurotransmitters at the site of the injury, making the nervous system hypersensitive to even slight discomfort in that area and causing the brain to generate pain signals that are MUCH more intense than they should be. As a result, the person does everything they can to move or use that area as little as possible. Frustration and anxiety about the pain can also contribute to the body being unable to close the "pain gate" appropriately once the tissue is almost healed. If the normal pain channels between your body and your brain are like roads, he explained, injuries that go on long enough can create pain "super-highways" to that site that make you extremely attuned to sensations in that area (and nearby ones as well).

Which is not good. Apparently this type of chronic or persistent pain is *incredibly* hard to treat and undo since it's not related to actual tissue damage, and in some people, sometimes seems to become permanent (probably due to the extra neurotransmitters going, "Weeeeeee!!! It's working!!! S/he's not using the muscle!!!").

"So what you have to do," he told me, "is ignore it."

Um, exsqueeze me? Did a medical professional just tell me to stop listening so hard to my body?


'Chu talkin' 'bout, Doc?

"The moderate pain you're feeling in your hip flexor is probably not real, and certainly not indicative of tissue damage at this point, and the best thing you can do is re-train your nervous system by teaching it that sending those signals doesn't get the result it wants."

My red light, he said, is 6/10 on the pain scale. Anything under that and I am to ignore it & run through it. (Most of the time the pain I'm feeling that's causing me to take multiple days off is 2-4/10, not because of the pain itself, but because I worry that running on it risks re-injuring it.) If I do get to 6/10, I get 2 days off, and then I go back to running. The critical thing is that I don't send my brain & body the message that this hypersensitivity in my hip flexor is an acceptable situation.

THE PLAN:

  • Continue doing all my normal strength stuff
  • Extra strength work for my glute meds on the right side via standing clam shells (kind of like this, but staying in one spot, and using only my right leg)
  • Strength work for the small lower leg muscles that help resist force as described above. Basically I stick my right leg straight out, wrap a TheraBand around my right toes / ball of foot & hold the ends, shove my left foot against the band to create leverage, then rotate my foot inward & pull against the band for 30-40 reps at a time. (I did about 30 during PT & it was *exhausting*.)


    VoilĂ 
  • Get my hips, spine, & ankle re-aligned at each visit; gradually increase ankle mobility. (This is something he has to do by hand, apparently, as there's no easy way for me to do it on my own.)
  • Continue rolling / stretching out hip flexors; be sure not to neglect the left side.
  • Stretch the quads aggressively 5 times a day, for a full minute each time. ("I'm going to write 5 times a day & then maybe you'll do it 3 times.")
  • Roll adductors, if possible. (I am considering this gadget since getting at the adductors is annoying.)
  • Stretch adductors daily via the figure four stretch.
  • Roll calves with the stick a few times a week.
  • Get back to doing single-leg calf raises. They like to see 10K / half marathoners able to do 50-60 in a row on each leg with no problem, & 75-100 for marathoners. (Get calf cramps? Forget the electrolytes. Do more calf raises.) I'm supposed to start with however many I can do at once, then gradually increase each day until I'm in the 75-100 range.
  • Ignore the pain (within reason).

So things are looking up. I went home Tuesday & ran 5 miles with, yes, some hip flexor pain, but it never progressed past 2-3/10, so I kept running. That's a win.

I'm running Let's Go 510 10K on Saturday, mostly just to see what racing feels like right now. And friends, I. Cannot. WAIT. My goal this week is to try to get in ~24 miles, including ~8ish on Saturday (1 mile warm up + 6.2 race + 1 mile cool down). Physically I don't feel any different than I did before my PT session, but there is something psychologically reassuring about being explicitly told "Yes, you're on the right track, and nothing is getting worse." :)

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Science Behind Glucosamine & Chondroitin

When I was in high school & spending a good chunk of my time riding horses, running track / cross-country, & doing gymnastics, I suffered from fairly frequent knee pain. I look a lot of Ibuprofen, iced them whenever I could, & garnered quite the collection of braces and ace bandages. As far as I could tell none of this ever helped very much, which is pretty disconcerting when you're sixteen.

When I was in the tenth grade, my doctor sent me to an orthopedic surgeon for a consult, & after a few x-rays & other tests, he proclaimed my knees perfectly healthy, except for, y'know, hurting all the time.

"Keep icing & taking Ibuprofen," he told me at the end of my visit. "It certainly won't hurt. You can also try glucosamine & chondroitin. That works for some people."

He explained to me that both glucosamine (an amino sugar that may help renew cartilage) & chondroitin sulfate (a complex carbohydrate thought to help cartilage retain water) were natural compounds found in cartilage, and had been shown to improve joint function somewhat in horses, and some of his arthritic patients swore by it. I took it religiously for a couple of years, saw no difference whatsoever, & gave it up.

So this article about the two supplements on NPR today caught my attention. As a mathematician and social scientist, I'm always interested in the actual research and scientific data behind claims like this. P-values are my hustle.

You can click through to read the details for yourself, but here's the highlights:

  • In a nation-wide double-blind study called GAIT, arthritis patients were assigned to take chondroitin, glucosamine, a combination of the two, an anit-inflammatory drug, or a placebo (ie, sugar pill, ie, nothing). (Double blind means that neither the patients nor the researchers knew which group they were in until after the study was over.)
  • At the end of the study, 66% of the patients taking supplements reported a 20% improvement in pain, but so did 60% of the placebo patients. Statistically, this means that there was no real difference between taking glucosamine, chondroitin, both, or nothing at all. (Because of the number of participants, the 6% difference between the two group is most likely random chance, not an indication that 6% of the supplement patients actually did better.)
  • Taking the supplements did not improve the structure of the joint, physical performance, or delay the progress of the disease.
  • However, a small subset of patients with particularly severe arthritis saw a statistically significant improvement in pain. In that group, 79% had a 20% or greater reduction in pain, compared to 54% for placebo.

What does this mean?

  • Objectively, neither glucosamine nor chondroitin likely has any objective effect on joint pain, structure, or function in the vast majority of humans.
  • For ~60% of people, believing it does something is enough to trick your mind into perceiving less pain. (Ie if you think your pain is better, then it is. See placebo effect.)
  • There may be some real benefit for people with particularly severe pain.

Two more larger-scale studies are attempting to confirm the results found in the GAIT study.

So what, according to the research, gives the best results for improving joint pain & function?

Easy. According to Drs. Patience White & David Felson, three things:

  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased flexibility
  • Weight-loss

"It's quite striking. If you lose only five pounds, you're talking about the equivalent of 20 pounds [less stress] across those knees, so you can imagine it would make quite a difference." -Dr. White

"There have been a variety of different exercise studies which have tried everything from water aerobics to walking to muscle strengthening, and they all seem to work." -Dr. Felson

* * *

So little running happened this week that it's barely worth recounting.

Monday:

Karate/strength only.

Tuesday:

a.m. strength / p.m. 3 easy.

On days when I do, like, *actual* strength training (vs what I call "light strength," ie, a few sets of push-ups & crunches or planks or something), I usually go to the actual gym so I can do deadlifts & backsquats & other fanciness like that in the group exercise room, which is free early in the morning. Free, that is, except for 3-4 other girls whose workout seems mostly to consist of lying on a mat for a few minutes, doing like 7 leg lifts, lying on the mat for another few minutes, fiddling with the music player for a few minutes, doing another 5-6 leg lifts, wash/rinse/repeat. I do more in the first five minutes than they do the whole time they're in there, and it's not like I'm some sort of gym god. I don't get it.

Tuesday's running plan became more and more anemic as the day went on. On my schedule was

  • 1.5 warm-up
  • 5x(1200m @ 5K pace / 3:00 jog)
  • 1.5 warm-up

which, for the sake of my hip, I was planning to modify to something more like

  • 1 warm-up
  • 3x(1200m @ 5K pace / 3:00 jog)
  • 1 warm-up

Lately, though, I have been shying away from the track because 1) doing more than just a little fast running at a time has been painful, 2) it's fall sportsball season & 50% of the time the track is closed anyway, and 3) parking in my neighborhood lately has been SHIT-TAY. I used to be able to park right away basically in front of the house when I got home from work around 4:45-5, but lately it's taking me 5-10 minutes to find a spot 2-3 blocks away. Normally getting home from the track around 7 means it could take me maybe 5-10 minutes to park a block or so away, which I can totally deal with once a week. The last two times, though, it took nearly half an hour, AND I had to walk 3 blocks. LAME.

So given all this, and that my hip was already a bit tweaky, I thought I would maybe attempt the tempo workout I never did last week (1 easy, 2x[2 @ HM pace / 2:00 jog], 1 easy), but as soon as I started running I knew that it would not be smart to run very far at all today. About a mile in the hip started to loosen up a bit & I thought maybe I could do some faster running, but as soon as I tried the pain immediately got worse. I ended up turning around at 1.5 miles for 3 in all. The middle mile was in the HM range, but honestly, I don't think one mile really means much in terms of tempo / threshold work. Hey, I tried. :P

Wednesday:

a.m. 2.5 speed + light strength / p.m. karate + moar light strength. Although at first I was not sure my hip would be up for it, I was secretly glad that Coach Robert assigned us pure uphill speed work Wednesday morning as the three easy miles the evening before had left me feeling a bit unfulfilled.

The hill in question is definitely noticeable but nothing obscene, and more or less ~200m long. The idea was to sprint (more or less) up the hill, then jog back down, basically every three minutes, for eight reps. (This amounted to ~35 seconds sprinting, ~1:00 jogging back, & ~1:30 of rest.) With the easy half-mile warm up, it ended up being a nice, peppy little mini-speed workout that never overwhelmed my hip, and together with the three miles from the day before, made me feel as if I'd gotten an actual full workout in.

I dialed it back even further at karate, & it seems to have helped. I've also been incredibly diligent about rolling out everything, including my lower back, which is what my PT originally thought might have been the source of all the trouble with my right leg to begin with. (If you are having trouble motivating yourself to take care of your tissues by strength training, stretching, & rolling, I suggest checking out the picture in that post of what he was doing to my back on a weekly basis.)

Thursday-Sunday:

Rest. Although my hip did feel better Thursday evening, I knew that it wasn't really better & trying to run on it again would only make it worse again. So back to aggressive rest it was. It felt better and better every day, but never fantastic. I've just gotten so sick of "Yay! It feels better," then running, then "Boo! Now it hurts again!," then resting a day, "Yay! Better!" wash/rinse/repeat. I do wonder if I've pushed it just a little too hard too soon this past month and it really just need just a little more complete rest before I can start building mileage.

No matter; just more unused awesome to save up for later, I say.

I got an appointment to see my PT on Tuesday, so I'll be very curious to run all this by him & hear what he thinks. We'll see!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Week of Pretty Pictures

So I just have to say, my friends are baddasses. By the time I got out of bed on Sunday morning, five--count 'em, FIVE--of my friends had set new PRs. Layla, Sesa, Dave, Jess, & Ilana -- you all rock so hard. Clearly the first Sunday in October is an auspicious day for road racing!

For me, this week had a lot of ups and down, thankfully more of the "downs" early in the week and the "ups" later on. Spoiler alert: by & large, things ended on a good note.

Grand Total: 20 miles, all easy. Still not quite what I'd planned on, but I was damn glad to have them.

Monday:

Lunchtime yoga / p.m. karate + strength. Our regular yoga teacher is on vacation, so we had a sub, who made it all weird & confusing. I might not go back until the regular teacher is back. Also, my right hip flexor (the one that I originally injured) was bothering me a little in class, especially on lunges or any other position that involved holding tension in that muscle. That did not bode well.

I was teaching again at karate, so as promised I made an effort to take things a bit easier. I thought I'd succeeded, but as soon as we got home, both my hip flexors were sore and unhappy. I tried my best to stretch them out, but that only seemed to make it worse. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why.

Tuesday:

6 miles easy. I came soooooo close to not running on Tuesday. Both hip flexors were still super sore all day, to the point where lifting them up to put pants on was deeply unpleasant. I'd tried to take it easy the rest of the day & was almost to the point of taking another full rest day when I decided, "Ah, what the hell. I'll put on running clothes & see how bad it really is." If at any point I had more than the tiniest bit of discomfort, even just a couple of blocks in, I'd turn around and jog / walk back home.

WELL, amazingly, running didn't bother my hip flexors at all. Walking did, a bit, but it seems I was back to being able to use my glutes & hamstrings enough that I could leave the hip flexors alone. A couple of miles in I felt better than I had on any easy run in the last week or two, so I pushed it all the way out to three & then came back. This made me *ridiculously* happy.

I am still doing my easy runs too fast (8:07 pace this time, which is marathon/sub-marathon pace for me), and having some trouble figuring out how to run at an easier pace without reverting to bad form or slowing my cadence down by some ridiculous amount. This is one of the things I want to check in with my PT about.

Also, Slanted Door. GET THERE!!


The view of the Bay Bridge from our table. Not too shabby!


OK fine, the view from the pier was *slightly* better....

Wednesday:

Karate / strength only. I'd kinda-sorta-half-heartedly planned on getting in a proper strength workout at the gym Wednesday morning, but we had dinner at Slanted Door Tuesday night which ran pretty late, & given how little sleep I've been getting lately, I decided an extra hour of it would probably do me more good than a bunch of squats and whatnot.

Also I skipped scary-weird-sub-yoga, which was a bummer because I actually could have probably done with some good stretching. On the other hand, I took it pretty easy at karate & was rewarded with hip flexors that didn't hate me the next morning.

Thursday:

a.m. strength work / p.m. run fail. Coach Nate is out this week, but another of the PT-turned-coaches took good care of us. BOY do I have some killer strength moves for you to try. Remind me to talk about running & torso rotation sometime.

& as for Thursday evening -- My co-workers occasionally go out for happy hour at a nearby restaurant, & because I am a creature of extreme habit that doesn't do well with having my routine messed with, I almost never go. This last Thursday they were starting earlier, though, so I figured I'd drop by right at 4:30, have a glass of wine & a few bites, socialize for ~45 minutes or so like a normal person, then make the hour drive home & get in my tempo run.

Except not. People didn't really arrive until five, and food took longer to come out than expected (I was STARVING), so I ended up leaving closer to 6 than 5:15, hitting bad traffic (which is why I always try to leave early) & not getting home until almost 7:30, & at that point I really only had time for some tailgate grocery shopping & prep. For some reason missing that run left me more of an emotional wreck than usual. (Routine = messed with.)


OK it wasn't quite that bad. But almost.

In fact I was so frustrated & depressed about it that I went to bed at 10:00pm, determined to get up early & get it in before work.

Friday:

...Which I *totally* did, bitches. a.m. 6 miles easy / p.m. strength work. At 6:00 am I threw on running clothes, packed a bag, & drove down to work early to run on the Bay Shore trails (which are actually sidewalks) near my office. I really regret that running down there isn't more convenient more often, as it beats the hell out of my day-in-day-out route through my neighborhood anytime.

Love.

My hip didn't really hurt per se, but the whole joint just felt kind of tight. Without race day adrenaline I'm usually pretty sluggish in the morning running-wise, so when I tried pushing the pace a little on my second mile to see if making up the tempo run (2 x [2 miles @ HM pace / 2:00 jog]) might be in the cards, I wasn't surprised to find that the answer seemed to be no. Or, not 'no,' exactly, but a pretty clear "this probably isn't the greatest time."

8:10ish pace felt good, & so I decided to try running a comfortably fast 5th mile without looking at my watch or aiming for any particular pace, just to see how my legs felt now that they were warmed up. That mile averaged ~7:17, which felt not bad, but also not like something I could hold for 6 miles in a row yet. (My PR 10K pace is 7:09, so I obviously have a long way to go before I'm back in PR shape. Which, duh.)

Also, House of Prime Rib. Unless you are just dead-set against red meat, you really should go at least once.


#lowlight #shittycameraphone #sorry


I think I've had more red meat in the last three weeks than in any single
month in the last decade. Let's not tell my cardiologist, maybe.

Saturday:

Rest. I'd originally planned on running Saturday morning before we left for tailgating, but by Friday afternoon my hip was *terribly* unhappy & while I *might* have been able to pull it off, the name of the game right now is playing things conservatively, so I took a rest day instead & just enjoyed football. (By which I mean I suffered a near coronary as the Stanford / U Dub game came down to a booth review of the absolute last play of the game. Yikes.)

Sunday:

8 easy. OMG, what a cluster of an afternoon. I tried to get my run done around 2:30, but due to my own lack of planning & awareness of what is going on in my city, that attempt instead turned into roughly an hour & a half of driving aimlessly around San Francisco wanting to kill things & people. Maybe that was for the best, though, since it was about 80F at that point.

Don came home from a gig & I told him my tale of woe, & while I made dinner he went to pick up a fancy pants tequila & also came home with what he termed "girlfriend-happy-making things," ie nearly a case worth of seasonal beer.


#yes

And then he made me a margarita.

Once it had cooled off & my murderous rage had abated, I went out for an easy run of indeterminant length.


Running through San Francisco at sunset

I made it out four miles still feeling good & back home feeling not too bad, though I think right now eight miles is about the limit of the endurance of the posterior muscles I'm still working on re-strengthening. After that they start to feel a bit worn out, & I can feel myself beginning to over-recruit my hip flexors. So I think for at least a few more weeks I'll probably keep my Sunday runs in that neighborhood.

In the mean time I'm continuing to roll, stretch, & strength train like it's my job. (Seriously....sometimes it seems like I'm spending more time grinding Lacrosse balls into my muscles than I am running. :P ) Lately I'm doing better when I run higher mileage but take more rest days; hopefully I'll be able to get back in with my PT next week, & until then I'm hoping I'll just be able to keep my weekly mileage in the low 20s on 3 running days (possibly including short doubles) & 4 cross training / rest days.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ladies & Their Running Clothes: The Brouhaha Over Booty Shorts

Once I have a proper beast mode again, I am totally buying these.
Hello & welcome to Part 2 of Ladies & Their Running Clothes. If you missed part 1, you may want to check out "The Scuffle Over Skirts" for a bit of context before reading on.

A quick recap of my general position on ladies & their running clothes:

    "If you need to insult, mock, or make disparaging remarks about how other women dress for their run / exercise, you are doing it wrong.

    I'm addressing the ladies specifically because, in my experience, men are usually not the ones engaging in this behavior. Just about everything I can remember ever hearing or reading in that vein came from women, directed at women. (Sure, we've all furtively giggled at Short Shorts Guy at one point or another, but it's the rare lady among us that's actively nasty about it.)

    I won't get into the infinitely more complex world of insulting/mocking/etc. lady clothes in general. I've tried writing that post (not on this blog) over and over and over again, and I can never quite get it right. But surely we can leave each other alone when it comes to a shared hobby where we're all just trying to have fun, get strong, & feel good about ourselves?"

In part 2, I want to talk about a garment that goes by many names.

Case Study #2: Booty Shorts

You've probably heard them referred to a few different ways--booty shorts, boy shorts, bike shorts, bunz, hot pants, etc. My internet research informs me that some people and brands and companies actually use these different words to refer to distinct garments--slightly shorter or longer, some closer to cycling shorts & others made more like underwear--but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to use the term "booty shorts" to refer to anything you wear on your lower body that's perhaps a bit shorter than traditional running shorts and is more or less skin-tight.

Based on some of the blog posts and forum comments I've seen about female runners and booty shorts (and it is just about exclusively female runners), you'd think that they were solely responsible for the Moral Decline of AmericaTM.

Full disclosure: I occasionally rock the booty shorts.


Left: Bad Bass 10K, July 2011; Center: Oakland Half Marathon,
March 2012. Right: Windsor Green Half Marathon, May 2012


Left: Oakland Half Marathon, March 2013
Right: Healdsburg Half Marathon, October 2012

Not in all circumstances, but often, and I almost always race in them.

The reason I'm putting that out there is because I generally don't rock the running skirts, and I want to be clear that neither of these posts are about me, my habits, or my personal opinions about the garment itself. I didn't write it because I'm concerned about what people think or say about me. (Believe me--if you can think it up, I've probably heard it before.) No; these posts are only nominally about items of clothing. What they're really about is how women treat other women in a shared sport.

Most of the grumbling I've heard & read about runners wearing booty shorts seems to boil down to a certain set of opinions:

  • They're slutty-looking.
  • Women only wear them to look hot/get attention, and running should be about performance/toughness/etc., not about looking hot/getting attention.
  • They're uncomfortable for running and anyone who says otherwise is lying (and probably wearing them to look hot/get attention).
  • They don't flatter everyone who wears them. (One person went so far as to suggest we subject ourselves to the "slap test" in order to determine whether we should wear them. I'll leave the details of that to your imagination.)

Brace yourselves because I'm about to have a field day with this. :D

We'll cover slut-shaming first just because it's such a well-documented topic and relatively easy to call out & dismiss. On the off-chance that you're not familiar with the term, "slut-shaming" refers to the practice of labeling someone (almost always a girl/woman) a slut or slutty based on her behavior or perceived behavior, or on something about her appearance (clothes, hair, make-up, body type, etc.). There is no excuse for it, ever, and it is unequivocally misogynist and destructive. Plenty of ink has already been spilled on the general topic and its implications, so I'll refer you the links here & at the bottom if you want to read more.

I can only assume that booty shorts get characterized as "slutty" (or "inappropriate" or "sending the wrong message" or whatever the code phrase du jour happens to be) because they are short and tight and thus more revealing than traditional shorts. So you might reasonably assume that any piece of clothing that shows that much skin/contour would be considered slutty, right?

Not quite. When was the last time you heard a female swimmer's racing suit referred to as "slutty" or "sending the wrong message"? Or a female gymnast? Surely those outfits leave less to the imagination than a pair of boy shorts on a runner.

Which brings us to the heart of what slut-shaming based on clothing is really about: "Publicly or privately insulting a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women" (Slut-Shaming vs. Rape Jokes, Choices Campus Blog). It's not how much of her body she's revealing in absolute terms; it's that 1) she's showing more than the person doing the slut-shaming expects or is comfortable with in that particular situation, and 2) when a woman does that, the default position is to sexualize it--to assume that she's dressed the way she is in order to express her sexuality. To quote Amanda Marcotte from her fantastic Slate XX Factor article If You Don't Want Girls Judged by Their Hemlines, Stop Judging Them by Their Hemlines, "Telling women to cover it up is just as surely a form of sexual objectification as telling women to take it off. Either way, you're reducing a woman to her sexuality instead of considering her as a whole person. Either way, you are looking at a woman and instead of seeing a full, complex, and multifaceted human being, all you see is ALL TEH SEXXX."

Sluttin' it up at the Olympic Marathon Trials, obvs. Put some pants on, YOU ARE RUINING AMERICA!!1!1
Swimmers and gymnasts don't get accused of wearing "slutty" outfits when they compete. Even more notably, competitive college and professional runners don't either. (I've even read blog posts railing about booty shorts where, when presented with the case of school or professional racing uniforms, the author admits that "That's different." YOU, with the 26:00 5K, look slutty; YOU, in the same outfit but running a 16:00 5K, do not).

Those outfits are expected and normalized. When dressing a certain way is the norm and possibly even a requirement, there's no reason to assume a woman is dressed the way she is to express sexuality; she's supposed to wear that. But if it's not the norm, if she did choose it of her own free will, then nevermind any other possible reason she might have; the default assumption is that she's doing it to show off her body and get sexy attention.

This is no more evident than in responses from the booty-short haters to women who claim that they wear booty shorts or boy shorts or buns or whatever because they just like them or find them more comfortable (ie, they don't bunch up, stay in place, don't chafe as badly, feel lighter / less bulky, are thinner & cooler, we're used to them from college, or they just feel svelte & speedy). More often than not, the haters express deep skepticism--that cannot possibly be true. You MUST be lying, to cover up your good & proper shame about trying to look hot at a road race.

(Olympic beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh Jennings & Misty May-Treanor know something about this conversation. I also love that their response pretty much comes down to, "We're not the ones making beach volleyball about sex; you are.")

Believe me--people are imminently comfortable in *plenty* of items that I find or suspect I would find utterly miserable. Overalls. Granny panties. Chokers. Gladiator sandals. Ski bibs. Collared shirts. Mittens. Spanx. You will not find me wearing these things. But if someone else tells me that they could happily live in collared shirts and overalls for the rest of their life and be perfectly comfortable, there is just no rational reason for me not to take them at their word.

Not unless I am heavily invested, for some reason, in believing something else.

Girls, I wish I could tell you that wearing longer, looser shorts would guarantee your fellow runners would approve of your appearance. But it just isn't true. As finallyfeminism101.com points out, "As long as gendered slurs like 'slut' continue to be weapons casually wielded against girls and women by both people from all walks of life, any female who acts in a way that another person doesn’t like is at risk for being slut-shamed." (FAQ: What Is “Slut-Shaming”?) To quote Hugo Schwyzer, "The cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone."

That, alas, is the world we live in.

Of course, some women do wear the booty shorts because they like the way they look and/or it makes them feel good about their bodies and/or they want attention from others. Which brings me right back around to the same response I gave last time to people who accuse women of wearing running skirts to look feminine and cute.

So what?

So what if she's wearing the booty shorts to look hot and sexy and/or get attention from guys/girls/everyone? Who cares? Is it a crime to look sexy as hell and run a sick PR at the same time? Should we be arrested for being like, "Yeah; I just crushed 26.2 and I'm lookin' super hot. NBD."?

Lolo Jones
Again, I think this mentality goes back to how, particularly in the US, we can see women as "this" OR "that," feminine OR tough, sexy OR seriously competitive, but not both at the same time. Some of us just can't hold two ideas about a woman--"she wants to look hot" / "she is super serious about her running"--in our heads at the same time.

Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones knows something about that. In an August 2012 article, the NY Times pointed out that sure, Ms. Jones may be possessed of "exotic beauty" and has been invited to do sexy photo shoots for several magazines, but c'mon, guys; she "barely made the 2012 Olympic team." Apparently Lolo missed the memo declaring that you can be sexy & attractive or taken seriously as an athlete, but if you seem to be accomplishing both at once, someone will be along shortly to take you down a notch (ie, by pointing out that you barely made the Olympic team, ie, you pretty much suck. Seriously, what kind of an insult is that?). I guarantee you that if she had the same level of talent and accomplishment but hadn't gotten so much attention for her looks, the Times wouldn't have ripped her to shreds the way they did.

Women can be two things at once. Not everything is either/or. This is a battle women have been fighting for decades; if you're not going to help, the least you can do is not actively undermine those of us who are trying.

And, as with the skirts, there is also implicit here the issue of what running is "about" and what we "should" be focused on and thinking about when we're running. "You're running, you're not 'supposed' to look cute / feminine / hot / sexy / whatever right now. Running isn't 'about' that." Again, let's remember that we are not the judge of what someone is "supposed" to be focused on while they're running or what running is "about" for them.

One blogger actually had the gall to claim that "slutty" running outfits like booty shorts/boy shorts/buns "lower the tone" of the races she participates in.

No, my sweet little angel face; you are lowering the tone by slut-shaming your fellow runners. You are the one badmouthing other women who are hurting no one. You are the one seeing sexuality everywhere you look and turning an event that should be about good-natured competition and/or getting strong and/or being social and outdoorsy and/or just plain having a good time into Project Runway. You are the one sending the message that a woman showing more of her body than most others around her can't possibly be anything but sexual and the rest of us best forget about what makes us feel comfortable or fast or strong or attractive & cover up before someone passes moral judgment on us too.

The slutty booty shorts are NOT the problem here. Deal with your shit.

Finally, let's address the "Booty shorts are not flattering on some people" argument.

As with all opinions, you absolutely get to have yours. But do think twice, please, before you inflict it on others.

And, since this particular opinion--booty shorts are okay for YOU but not for YOU--is far from innocuous and neutral, I want to wade into it a little more deeply.

Let's call a spade a spade. When people say the booty shorts are "unflattering on some people" or that some women "shouldn't be wearing them," they're making it clear that it's not the shorts that are the problem; it's the bodies of some women who choose to wear them. Which is already starting to feel a bit ookie. Rock-like, moderately-proportioned rear and thighs that look more or less like the girls in the Nike ads? Booty shorts approved. Pooching too much or in the wrong places? Not enough thigh gap? Visible cellulite? More than 12% body fat? NOBODY WANTS TO SEE THAT. (Because really....when people say, "Those shorts don't flatter her," what they're really saying, usually, is "Nobody wants to see that.")

So let's talk about the damage that is done by the "Nobody wants to see that" construct. (This could be a dissertation--and probably is somewhere--so I'll do my best to keep it concise.)

Just about everyone recognizes that the society we live in has created a canon of what is attractive / beautiful / sexy / etc. etc., and we're inundated with it every day in a thousand different ways (billboards, TV, movies, magazines, ads, clothing models, etc.). Even if you actively understand that that's what's happening, and even if you do your best to fight it or ignore it, it's incredibly hard not to fall into the trap of believing that certain physical characteristics are objectively attractive / beautiful / sexy, and others are objectively not.

Remember how in the running skirts post we talked about how women have historically been expected to be kind, gentle, demure, subservient, etc., that in some ways those things have become emblematic of what women are "supposed" to be like? Well, for a bunch of historical and athropological reasons I won't get into here, the same thing applies to beauty and attractiveness. Just as women have historically owed it to society to be kind, nurturing, polite, and deferential, we have also historically owed it to society to be physically attractive.

Put those two things together, and we have a situation where women who don't match what we've all been taught is attractive and sexy are seen as breaking the social contract they have with society as women. That is where "Ew, nobody wants to see that!" comes from. We tend to give women a little bit of a pass (but not much) if they have the decency to at least hide whatever it is about their bodies that doesn't measure up, but when she doesn't hide it, when she puts that part of her body out there where other people have to see it, society and history have conditioned us to feel kind of betrayed. She isn't holding up her end of the bargain, and she's not properly ashamed about it. The nerve.

So the next time you catch yourself thinking, "She shouldn't be wearing that" / "She doesn't have the [body part(s)] to pull that off" / "Nobody wants to see that," maybe ask yourself why her body inspires in you the reaction it does, what you'd prefer she wore instead, and why.

(For more on this topic, I highly, highly recommend "Modesty Culture and the Fear of the Confident Woman" by Dianna E. Anderson. I totally heart her blog.)

And finally....Let's just remind ourselves for a moment how HUGE a problem body hate and body image anxiety is for women in general, even those who do look like the Nike ads. While it's heartbreaking to me that so many women initially get into running and other forms of exercise for that reason, I am happy they are here. I hope it helps them find a way to feel good about themselves and their bodies that is based on what they can do and what they accomplish rather than how close they are to looking like a Nike ad.

When we criticize what a woman is wearing in a way that is connected to how her body looks, we need to recognize that we could be making it harder for her to stay in the sport. We could be making it hard for others who may have just recently made enough progress with their body image to go, "Hey, if she can wear that and feel good about herself, maybe I can too!" We could be making it harder for a woman who is right on the brink of trying out a sport like running but is self-conscious about putting on running clothes of any kind. By quietly saying about some other woman who doesn't look like a Nike ad, "She should *not* be wearing that," we may be confirming her fears that no, the sport of running is not welcoming to to everyone, and yes, she will be judged for the way her body looks and how her clothes look on her if she doesn't get it just right.

(Seriously...I have had at least half a dozen conversations with women where they've basically said some variation of, "Oh, I could never start running/do yoga/go to the gym/whatever. I'm too fat/not athletic-looking enough for workout clothes. People would make fun of me." Frankly, if someone is going to make comments that contribute to women continuing to feel this way, I don't think we can be friends.)

So what does this all come down to? In a lot of ways, the same things as the running skirts discussion. We need to:

  • Be careful about the assumptions we make about people based on something as superficial as clothing.
  • Be careful about bringing our own stuff to someone else's situation & projecting it on to them (and aware of when we are doing or find ourselves tempted to do this).
  • Think about (or, at the very least, be aware of) all the cultural baggage behind those assumptions & projections & realize that a lot of it is rooted in some pretty nasty sexism.
  • Remember that none of us are the supreme authority of what running is "about" for anyone but ourselves.
  • Think about the long-term consequences of voicing our opinions on running clothes for a diverse community of runners.

I get that some of this may be stuff we're not all used to doing or thinking about. I have faith that we can get there, though, with practice.

**Post-script:** Just a quick reminder about the ground rules in terms of commenting: 1) Feel free to respectfully & thoughtfully express disagreement, and 2) don't be a dick. I won't delete a comment just because someone has a critical question or different point of view (I have gotten some interesting & poignant comments that did just that!), but I will not abide ranters and pool-poopers that insist on making things tiresome for everyone. Of course you guys are the coolest, and I've never yet had to resort to that. :)

Read Part 3: The Tizzy Over Toplessness.

References & Further Reading:

  • FAQ: What Is "Slut-Shaming"?, from Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog. A basic overview of what slut-shaming is & what its effects are for people who are not familiar with the term.
  • What Is Slut-Shaming?, by Linda Lowen @ About.com Women's Issues. Another good overview that emphasizes how slut-shaming doesn't necessarily have anything to do with a person's sexual behavior.
  • Slut-Shaming vs. Rape Jokes, Choices Campus Blog. "When a woman enjoys her sexuality without hurting anyone else, but someone finds out about it, the response is to insult her, shame her, bring her down and make sure she never does it again. But the response to rape, and 'jokes' about rape, which trivialize and normalize violent, traumatic and sometimes life-threatening acts against women is--somehow--to laugh?"
  • 'Slut': Gender Policing As Bullying Ritual, by Elizabethe C. Payne @ The Huffington Post. "As kids approach adolescence, increased value is placed on gender conformity and heterosexual desirability....A significant portion of the expected gender conformity for girls includes managing relations to and with boys. Social worth for girls becomes less determined by their individual accomplishments in arts, academics or athletics, and increasingly they are evaluated by their success in attracting, maintaining and regulating the attentions of boys in "acceptable" ways. Girls straddle an often unclear line in appearing sexually attractive (desirable) and receptive (thus not "gay") yet unavailable (not "sluts"). Girls who cross the line, appear to have crossed it or are rumored to have crossed it are marked as transgressing gender norms and disrupting moral order."
  • If you want a world that respects women, stop slut-shaming them, by Nico Lang @ Thought Catalog. "This isn’t about Miley Cyrus, Angelina Jolie, Kristen Stewart or Hillary Clinton, but a society that expects different things out of men and women — one that enables toxic masculinity and blames women for not being good enough. If they just behaved differently, it wouldn’t be like this."
  • If You Don't Want Girls Judged by Their Hemlines, Stop Judging Them by Their Hemlines, by Amanda Marcotte @ Slate XX Factor. "Telling women to cover it up is just as surely a form of sexual objectification as telling women to take it off. Either way, you're reducing a woman to her sexuality instead of considering her as a whole person. Either way, you are, to quote Maya Dusenbery of Feministing, "looking at a woman and instead of seeing a full, complex, and multifaceted human being, all you see is ALL TEH SEXXX.""
  • Stop telling girls their hemlines are too short, by S.E. Smith @ XOJane. "The hyperfocus on what girls are wearing with a healthy heaping of judgment sends precisely the opposite message, underscoring that girls should be constantly concerned about what they are wearing and who might be judging them for it."
  • A Defense of Skimpy Running Clothes, by Caitlin @ Fit and Feminist. "A few months ago, I bought a couple of pairs of New Balance compression shorts that are only slightly less revealing than bunhuggers....I won’t deny that I felt a little awkward the first few times I wore them out for a run, like I thought maybe I looked like I’d forgotten to put on my pants that day, but once I became acclimated to running in them, I found I preferred them to all of my other running bottoms....I’ve become so attached to my teeny little running shorts that I can’t help but feel a bit miffed whenever well-meaning fellow feminists point at them as evidence of the sexualization and objectification of female athletes."
  • Your Body Is Never the Problem, by Hugo Schwyzer @ hugoschwyzer.net. "Have you noticed the way this works yet? If a girl is thin, she’s accused of being “anorexic”; if her weight is higher than the cruelly restrictive ideal, she’s “fat” and “doesn’t take care of herself” or “has no self-control.” If she wears cute, trendy clothes she “only wants attention” and if she wears sweats and jeans, she “doesn’t make an effort.” If she’s perceived as sexually attractive, and—especially—if she shows her own sexual side, she’s likely to be called a “slut.” If her sexuality and her body are concealed, she’s a “prude.” As you’ve probably figured out, the cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone."
  • For Lolo Jones at the Olympics, Everything Is Image, by Jere Longman @ The NY Times. "Judging from this year’s performances, Lolo Jones seems to have only a slim chance of winning an Olympic medal in the 100-meter hurdles and almost no possibility of winning gold. Still, Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign."
  • Lolo Jones and Her Pretty Girl Problem, by Brande Victorian @ Madame Noire. "The crux of Longman’s article is Lolo had no right to make us interested in her if she wasn’t going to deliver the goods, better yet the gold. I think this backlash is proof of one simple thing: when you’re hot (because of your looks and your skill) everyone loves you, and when you’re not, the praise and the recognition fades as though it was never there."
  • Real Women, by Hanne Blank. "There is a phrase I wish I could engrave upon the hearts of every single person, everywhere in the world, and it is this sentence which comes from the genius lips of the grand and eloquent Mr. Glenn Marla: There is no wrong way to have a body. And if your moral compass points in any way, shape, or form to equality, you need to get this through your thick skull and stop with the “real women are like such-and-so” crap."
  • The Unapologetic Fat Girl's Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts, by Hanne Blank.
  • Pictures of You, by Michelle Allison @ The Fat Nutritionist. "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."
  • A Love Affair With Gravity, by Michelle Allison @ The Fat Nutritionist. "Since I started doing this crazy accept-my-body thing eleven years ago, there has been a series of ups and downs with my own body image. I go through good times, I go through bad times. Sometimes really, really bad times. Over the years, the good times get longer and the bad times get shorter. What doesn’t change, though, is the amount of pressure on me — on all of us — to look a certain way. To be feminine, to be light-skinned, to have smooth hair, to fit into straight-sized clothes."
  • You Are Not Too Ugly or Too Fat to Exercise, by Emily Heist Moss @ Role/Reboot. "Too many people, women especially, get caught up in how they look while they exercise. Instead of focusing on feeling strong and getting stronger, women worry about the jiggle in their upper arms, the pooching belly, the muffin top edging over lycra pants. They worry about their hair, or their makeup, or that other people will think they are too out of shape to exercise."
  • Modesty Culture and the Fear of the Confident Woman, by Dianna E. Anderson @ Faith and Feminism. "There’s an expectation in modesty culture that a woman’s body will be attractive, and there’s a sense of betrayal that ripples through men when a woman is immodest but not embodying the “ideal” standards of attractiveness. This is what happens when modesty culture teaches that women’s bodies are dangerous simply because they exist as female shapes...When men fail to experience attraction – particularly when a woman does not fit the culturally created standards of attractiveness, eg, white, thin, cisgender – the reaction becomes one of 'no one wants to see that.'"

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When Things Don't Go As Planned

One of the greatest lessons of adulthood that I've learned is that we have more control over our moods and feelings than we think. Sure, particular events may initially make us feel sad / angry / depressed / anxious / worried / etc., but it turns out that if you'd really rather not feel that way, it's mostly within your power.

Becoming aware of this has probably changed my life more than anything else. Yes, it takes practice to make it a habit and it's easier in some situations than in others, but there's a great sense of security and calm that comes from knowing that you're the one in control of how things affect you, rather than believing that your emotions and attitude are at the mercy of whatever happens to you in life.

As with most other parts of my life, this way of thinking has changed *everything* about my running. In high school, I treated my runs / races / training weeks / seasons / whatever the way football teams treat the outcomes of games: there was a 'W' column and a 'L' column, and everything went in one or the other. It was either a "win" or a "loss." Good run / bad run. Race to be proud of / race to be disappointed in. Training week that left me feeling great about myself or training week that left me feeling terrible about myself. I got it done, or I didn't.

I think this attitude is no small part of why I quit running competitively after high school and barely ran at all during my first two years of college. Looking back on it now, I'm reminded of a quote from my teaching years:

In those days I defined success so narrowly and so specifically that I spent a lot of time feeling like a failure. It wasn't until I was able to expunge from my vocabulary the phrases "bad run" and "bad race" and "bad week" that I was able to redefine for myself what successful running looked like in a broader way, and get back to engaging with it in a way that didn't put me at risk of feeling unhappy or disappointed with myself every few weeks or so. Because let's face it--

  • Runs and weeks and races that don't go the way we wanted are inevitable.
  • Feeling bad about them--unhappy or disappointed or ashamed--is optional.

Optional, but--speaking from experience--pretty destructive in the long run.

* * *

This week did not go at all the way I'd hoped. I'd been feeling kind of wrecked the week before--my muscles felt worn out, I wasn't recovering well day-to-day, and my glutes and hamstrings in particular just felt like they weren't firing, no matter how much effort I put into my form. I got in my 22 miles for the week, but my last two runs (including the 8.7 on Sunday) were Just. Utterly. Exhausting. I know that was partly because of the weather, but I also could feel the same exhaustion in my muscles that I'd had for days.

Monday:

Karate / light strength only. I skipped a.m. spinning to give my glutes & hamstrings a little extra recovery time, which was apparently a smart move because I was barely out of bed before I realized that my hip flexor--the one that I originally wrecked back in May--was definitely unhappy. I actually really wanted to go to lunchtime yoga and stretch it out but couldn't make it because of a meeting. I still felt tired and achey and broken at karate.

Tuesday:

4 easy + light strength. Risking a track workout seemed like a bad plan, so I reasoned I'd just do a few easy miles as long as my hip felt okay. I got through them, but they felt significantly harder than they should have, and about an hour after, my hip was aching again. At that point I decided to get aggressive about rest days and not run again until it felt completely, totally fine.

Wednesday:

a.m. strength work (including ~1.5 miles of accidental running), p.m. karate / a little more strength work. On Wednesday, I went to Coach Robert's 6 a.m. (gaaaaaaah) strength class for runners for the first time. The hour sucks ass, but unfortunately I can't make it to Nate & the Triathletes every Thursday morning because of work. So on those weeks I've decided to see how well my body tolerates going to bed early (hahahahaha yeah right) & getting up at the ass crack of dawn before dawn.

The class is about half devoted to runner-specific mobility & stretching (sitting in a squat for a while, aggressively opening the hips & hip flexors, grinding out quads/glutes/what have you) & easy strength work (push-ups, sit-ups, KB swings, etc.), & half devoted to running-specific strength work. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was more running that day than I was expecting (5 x [300m run/8 KB squats], no rest), and not wanting to wuss out at my first class, I (stupidly) did the whole thing & just tried to focus on my form & not to push too terribly hard. If nothing else, it was at least gratifying to beat every other woman there except one as well as most of the men, considering I didn't really know what we were doing at first & just kind of followed everyone else. My hip, however, did not thank me. Ow.

Thursday:

6 extremely unsatisfying bike miles. Having vowed not to run for the rest of the week, I decided to try to bike 10 miles after work on Thursday just to get *some* form of cardio in. Unfortunately, the best thing I can say about this workout is that I did, technically, break a sweat. (A tiny, tiny one. As in I wasn't entirely sure my clothes counted as dirty.)

Given that after 25 minutes my hamstrings were nearly incapable of continuing to pedal while my heart rate was barely elevated, my original assessment seemed correct: I've been pushing the posterior muscles hard and asking a lot of them, and they're just worn out. I finished 6 miles in 30 minutes, which is probably equivalent to running like 2 miles.

Friday:

Rest / bake (since that's what I do when I can't run)

Don requested these pumpkin chocolate chip squares & was a big fan of how they turned out. So that was a bright point at least!

Saturday:

Light strength work / house cleaning / laundry / watch Stanford kick the living shit out of WASU.

Yup.

Sunday:

5 easy. With nearly 4 non-running days under my belt, I decided to give it a try Sunday & see how my hip felt. Something is still definitely not quite right, but I did make it to 2.5 with only a little tightness in my hamstring. It loosened up some on the way back so I probably could have gone to 6 or 7 without too much trouble, but didn't want to push it.

Grand Total: 10.5 miles, all easy

This is not what it looks like to train for a half marathon in which you are sub-seeded. But right now, it's reality.

So I have a choice. I can be high school me and write it off as a "bad week" and spend this one feeling nervous about my two upcoming races and disappointed that my hip hasn't healed faster and frustrated that I haven't been able to build mileage more quickly.

Or I can do as Harlan Coben says and "bring [my] own weather to the picnic." This week & the hip issues happened, and feeling crappy about it won't make them un-happen. Instead, I choose to tell the story this way:

  • September makes four months of increased mileage in a row.
  • This is only the second week during that time that I haven't increased mileage.
  • Cutback weeks are healthy under normal circumstances; they're probably an even better idea when you have an injury that is not fully healed.
  • I have been teaching half of the karate classes this week, which probably means I did a little more than I should have given how run-down I'd been feeling. Lesson learned; this week I'll take it easier.
  • Doing the running Wednesday morning was probably not a HUGE deal, but also not the best choice. Lesson #2 learned; this week I'll be more careful.
  • I haven't been to my PT for a while because of some insurance drama. Time to go back & get an updated opinion now that that's all sorted.
  • It's still 3 weeks until Let's Go 510 & 8 weeks until Berkeley Half, which is a good chunk of time.
  • Just finishing these two races will be a huge victory.
  • The real prize is NVM in March--don't compromise that by trying to do too much now.

Hopefully it's clear that choosing your attitude about a given event or situation is not a matter of denying the facts or simply telling yourself to "cheer up & be positive!!!! :D" It's about digging into the facts and letting them be complicated, rather than simply "good" or "bad," about understanding the situation, analyzing it, and seeing it as an opportunity to learn and move forward constructively.

So I don't feel bad. I refuse to write this week off as a "bad" one & just stick in the "L" column. Instead, I'm putting it in context and seeing it as part of a bigger pattern. I choose to be optimistic about my running in the long term (even if it's hard to be optimistic about this week or this month), regardless of the parts that aren't going like I'd planned.

I have one more quote for you.

The first time I heard this (or something like it), it made me want to gag, so I won't blame you if that's your reaction at first as well. But when I ran across it several years into Real Adult LifeTM, I kind of went, "You know.....that's really true."

So as difficult as it is sometimes, I invite you to try it out the next time you have a week or a run or a race that doesn't meet your expectations. Instead of writing it off as "bad," try to think through it in a neutral, non-evaluative way, & then see if you can re-write the story of that experience in a way that's constructive and forward-thinking rather than evaluative and backward-looking. I know for a fact that if I hadn't learned this skill, I would not still be in this sport, and I plan to be in it for a long, long time.