Fastfeet

I wish this was some awesome story about a recent triathlon, marathon, or adventure race… but it’s not.  I, like a growing number of women in the United States, had to have a cesarean section for my first child’s birth. And I have to do it again for the second child. To be honest, I’m not happy about it. There, I said it. I want to share my experience partly for my own cathartic reason and partly for any other woman who might benefit from it.  This may be lengthy but I want to give details so it is easy to understand where I’m coming from.

My first pregnancy was rather uneventful and luckily quite easy, aside from daily heartburn.  I didn’t get cursed with morning sickness, swollen feet, debilitating back pain, or the dreaded constipation.  For the first 6 months, I was able to continue running and doing prenatal yoga.  Once running was no longer comfortable, I switched to stationary biking until my belly interfered, which prompted my transition to walking.  I ate well.  I slept fairly well.  I had taken all the Bradley method birthing classes.  I had my baby shower and we had everything we needed.  I was neurotically preparing her bedroom, which I knew would really just be a giant changing station for the first couple months, but I was nesting dammit.  I was at 34 weeks and feeling very content being pregnant while also getting nervously excited to have a baby.  I was in a good place.  This all changed in a simple statement by one of my Ob’s.

“Oh, honey, she’s breech.”  My Ob sympathetically frowned.  I listened as she explained how the baby could still flip, what kind of techniques I could try to get her to flip, what it meant if she didn’t flip, and how she wanted me to care about her being breech but not care too much to avoid being disappointed if she didn’t flip.  Flip, flip, flip, blah, blah, blah.  I heard all these things but as the seconds of the appointment ticked by, it seemed like a gauze sheet was falling over everything, gently muting what I was taking in.  I left the office and decided to take the stairs down to the parking lot.  I allowed my head to hang down after the first flight and by the second flight of stairs, I began to cry.  This began the ritual way I left the clinic, which I referred to as my walk of shame.

I got in my car and called my husband to tell him the news.  As I explained to him what it meant, I began to cry harder, feeling the emotions rise to levels near hysteria.  I had done everything right for the past 34 weeks and now I was slapped in the face by the possibility of a c-section if the baby didn’t flip.  I felt ripped off.  To me, the idea of a natural birth seemed so special.  My husband and I created this little life and prepared for it.  I had nurtured it and fed it with food my husband had prepared.  Bringing it into the world together, me doing the labor and him acting as a supporting coach, seemed like one of the most intimate things; this special moment was the reward for all we’d done to prepare.  The thought of a c-section seemed so procedural, sterile, and impersonal; it was no longer us bringing our child into our world.  I was also scared.  Although my job puts me in contact with post surgical patients almost daily, I’d never had a surgery.  I didn’t want to deal with a surgical recovery.

For the next week, I was depressed.  We told no one at first, mostly because it upset me too much to talk about it.  I scheduled an appointment with a chiropractor/acupuncturist to begin trying to get our daughter to flip.  I began trying various flipping positions, listening to classical music during my commute to encourage her to flip (Bach, no Mozart because the “research” shows that babies prefer romantic style classical music over Baroque), visualization, and placing a cold pack on my abdomen near my diaphragm.  I even resorted to playing Bach’s cello suites on my smartphone, which was sitting on my pubic bone, while my hips were elevated on a pillow, as I stroked my abdomen in the direction I wanted her to flip.  Ridiculous, I know, but I was desperate. Yet, each week, I went back to my Ob practice, and each visit concluded with the walk of shame.

In week 38, I had lunch with a friend who was 6 weeks out from a c-section.  Like me, she was a physical therapist and had been very dedicated to the idea of a natural birth.  As we talked about the details of a c-section and her experience, I began to feel a little less scared and a little more positive.  The next evening, I went to my prenatal yoga class and shared with the yoga instructor that my baby was still breech and I was really not wanting a c-section.  That class, this yoga instructor seemed to take every chance to incorporate the idea of letting go into the session.  After class was over, she smiled at me and said, “Hang in there.  She’ll flip.”  I felt that a little of the weight on my chest was eased.  The next morning, I woke up feeling exhausted.  My cat climbed into my lap, and as I pet this purring ball of white fluff, I began to think about how much emotion and time had been devoted to thinking about our breech baby; I also began to think about how little time was left in the pregnancy.  I fell asleep with these thoughts.  When I woke up, I suddenly felt lighter.  During the drive to the chiropractor, I thought about all the times she had suggested that I back off my work hours and maybe take a break.  By the time I reached her office, I had made up my mind to stop working my Tuesday/Thursday job, discontinue trying to get our baby to flip, and to just enjoy the remaining time of the pregnancy.  I had finally reached acceptance.

I’d love to say this lasted forever, but this is not a fairy tale.  Five days after achieving acceptance, I had another weekly appointment with the Ob practice.  I was scheduled with a doctor I had only seen one other time.  This Ob looked at my ultrasound and pronounced bluntly, “Yep, she’s still breech.  This kid’s not going anywhere.”  My new found nirvana cracked a little.  Then we talked about the external cephalic version technique (in layman’s terms: the manual flipping technique performed by doctors in which they push on your belly).  The version and the subsequent c-section, should the technique fail, were scheduled to take place in a week.  I was hoping to schedule the c-section on a different day from the version technique so that I could have a little time to lift myself back up.  This doctor explained why that wasn’t possible and then went on to ask why I was so opposed to the c-section.  I tried to explain briefly.  I was then told how years down the road, when my friends who had vaginal births were peeing themselves, I’d be happy I had a c-section.  There were a couple more things said, each of them chipping away at my platform of acceptance until finally it was gone.  I couldn’t wait for the doctor to leave the room so that I could leave the office and commence with my usual walk of shame.  In no more than 10 minutes, my acceptance had been shattered and I had spiraled all the way back down the grieving pathway.  I sat in my car sobbing.  I tried to think of who I could talk to and realized that I didn’t want to talk at all.

I didn’t talk about it until later in the evening with my husband.  By the end of our discussion, he was angry about how the appointment had been handled, and I realized that I was angry as well but I had been too hurt to react with anger.  I was fed up with people telling me how the c-section was better because it was less painful or how my child would have a perfectly shaped head, or how my vagina would still be like new.  The next morning, my boss and co-worker asked how the appointment went, and I briefly recalled it; their reaction was also anger.  I began to feel better.  I began to feel validated.  That evening I went to prenatal yoga again.  It was another one of the instructors.  We talked briefly about my due date and the breech situation.  Once again, I felt some level of hope and acceptance building as I sat up from shavasana.  I called my younger brother on my way home.  As usual, he lightened my outlook.  I went to bed feeling at ease again.  This must have been the missing cog.

My labor began at 1:20 am.  It was a little confusing and progressed very fast.  As we drove the three miles to the hospital, contractions were very close.  “Stay relaxed.  You don’t want to stall the labor in case she’s flipped,” a little voice in my head said.  I was surprised at this since I thought I had let go of all hope of her flipping.  Finally, we arrived in the labor & delivery ward.  My husband told them that our daughter was still breech two days prior.  “She’s at 9 centimeters” (Holy cow!) “and it feels soft, like the butt.”  My heart froze.  The pace of the staff picked up.  One person prepared an IV line while another confirmed with ultrasound that our daughter was still breech.  As everyone prepped the OR, I was told I had to stay in bed because I was so far dilated.

They whisked me into the OR without my husband.  He was supposed to wait for the epidural to take before he would be allowed in.  They attempted the epidural a couple times while I was fought the urge to push.  After the 3rd attempt, a doctor said, “We can’t try one more time.  We have to do general.”  I felt a panic flood over me.  This meant they would be putting me under and I wouldn’t get to see my daughter born.  I asked, “Where’s my husband?”  No one responded as they put up a surgical shield and strapped my arm out to the side.  One doctor explained that he was going to put the mask over my mouth, that I would be asleep soon, and when I woke up I would have a beautiful daughter.  I was crying as I faded out of awareness.

When I awoke in the recovery room, I was happy to see my husband.  I was not so happy about the uterine contractions induced by pitosin to get my uterus to shrink back down.  I also vaguely recall the Ob who did the c-section, the same insensitive one from 2 days prior, saying “So with the next baby, your gonna call immediately, right? You’re gonna come in right away, right?” I wish I’d been present enough to call him an asshole.

Finally, I was taken to the maternity ward.  Over 2 and a half hours after my daughter’s birth, they brought her in to me.  I was so happy to see this beautiful new life and to hold her.  The first day I was so happy to have this perfect, healthy little girl, that even the incision checks and abdominal palpation seemed bearable.  The next day, I got out of bed for the first time.  It was very difficult.  I cried when I saw myself in the mirror.  I felt that I still looked pregnant, my feet were so swollen that they looked like someone else’s, and I couldn’t bring myself to look at the incision.  They say time heals all, right? I did feel like I eventually accepted that my c-section was necessary and my daughter just came into the world as she was supposed to. However, I knew I still was upset over the traumatic birth experience and I still felt deep anger towards the man who delivered her.

I now have a 2 year old and am 3 weeks away from the birth of a second girl. My daughter is gorgeous, healthy, fun, and very precious to me.  There was no biological reason for her to be breech; she apparently just preferred to be sitting rather than doing a headstand (can you blame her). Going into this pregnancy, I was told by a new Ob that I could do a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). 12 weeks in, she informed me that after reading my operative report, I had an inverted T incision (not common) on my uterus from my first, which meant that a VBAC was out. I was instantly depressed and mad. I felt awful to know that the birth of my second was dictated by a medical decision made by an Ob I despised. I was also upset that I was just finding out about this incision.

I went into overdrive researching medical journals for information on this incision, delivery procedures for breech babies, and risk factors for VBAC. I switched Ob practices, paying out of pocket for an opinion I felt I could trust. I wanted to know if my incision was medically necessary and if a VBAC was truly contraindicated. Of course, I was in denial. I didn’t want to tell anyone I needed a c again. It took 3 wonderful Ob’s really talking with me before I was able to let go of the VBAC (yes, I am that stubborn).

I learned about something called the gentle cesarean, aka family centered cesarean. It allows for you to see your baby delivered due to a lower screen, your arms are free, and immediate skin-to-skin contact is possible if all is well. At week 22, my husband and I moved to Asheville, NC. I started my prenatal care at a great all female practice and learned that the local hospital was big on the family centered cesarean. I was allowed a personal tour of the labor and delivery ward, including the OR, and the charge nurse went through what to expect the day of the cesarean. My fears were listened to and discussed. It was a completely different experience from my first c.

However, I still felt depressed scheduling the c. I couldn’t get excited about the birth. I didn’t want to pick the birthday. I also knew I had not fully found peace from the first c. I told my Ob how I felt and that led to me going to a psychologist. It was very difficult talking about the experience. I cried more in those sessions than any sessions I’d had when my dad passed. I understood that in the big picture of the first c, I had a healthy baby girl and things could be worse. Some people will say those very words attempting to be helpful, but what that does is dismiss your feelings. I also felt that in the context of my own reality, my c was traumatic and it was OK for me to be sad, angry and feel loss. These sessions validated those feelings instead of making me feel silly. I also realized that it didn’t mean I loved my daughter any less to be upset with the birth experience.

I realized that I had to accept that while the Ob I disliked was awful with his patient skills, maybe he made a valid medical decision with my incision. If it had been an Ob I liked who had treated me with respect and compassion, maybe I would’ve accepted it more easily.

I also began to realize that I didn’t like telling people I had a c or needed another without telling them why. I didn’t want to be seen as one of those women who opts for it. I was worried about being judged because I one of those women who looked down on c-sections. I started to see how it was wrong for me to want my birth choices to be respected if I couldn’t accept that of another woman. I began to think of how it was similar to women having their own valid reasons they stop breastfeeding. I am lucky enough to have a great friend who represents an intelligent, wonderful mom who was unable to breastfeed after much effort; she also elected to have a c-section and I’ve never thought less of her because of that choice.

I also realized that part of my issue with the first c was the lack of a real discussion about  it. I’ve always felt that one should be able to give valid reasoning for asking another to do something. I do this with my own patients. If I’m given a good reason, I’ll do something, but I won’t blindly follow. Unfortunately, it seems that lately Ob decisions have been greatly influenced by malpractice insurance, so it feels hard to trust that something is purely medically driven. I wanted real reasons and real research to justify an abdominal surgery. I also felt that no one took the time to explain exactly what to expect with a c-section the first time. The little I knew was due to my own digging and from my PT friend. Which leads to my last observation about my problem accepting my c-sections.

I was, and still am, tired of the c-section being seen as not a big deal. It’s f-ing abdominal surgery! Intestines are moved aside, fascia is cut, and there is an internal and external incision. This is major surgery and major healing. Yet, unlike a knee replacement, there seems to be no real preoperative appointment, no standard protocol for activities afterward (trust me, I’ve searched), no rehab, and no postoperative appointment past 6 weeks. It feels like having to deal with substandard care at a time when you have a new baby.

So I have accepted that the Ob who delivered my first had terrible bedside manner, but am encouraged to have met better Ob’s where I now live. I’m changing my attitude towards other women’s choices to be accepting, not judgmental. I have confidence and respect for my entire delivery team, including the hospital. I see progress in women’s health where I live, though sadly this is not nationally.  I have learned that women do not always share their feelings about birthing experiences, but this does an injustice to themselves and other women.  It is healing to hear or read about other women’s experiences.  I’m planning for my baby’s birth and am excited to bring her home. To say I’m 100% better would be a lie, but I’m moving forward and I’m very close.  Holding onto these feelings was exhausting, and I am ready to be done with them and let them go. It has taken me 5 weeks of therapy to let go of something I’ve been holding onto for over 2 years.  Now, let’s go have a baby!

Aside from the help of my Ob, my psychologist, and my husband, the following are resources I found helpful:

http://www.parenting.com/article/owning-your-c-section

http://www.hobomama.com/2012/02/learning-to-celebrate-cesarean-birth.html?m=1

http://birthwithoutfearblog.com/2011/09/04/helpful-information-for-a-cesarean-birth/

http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org

http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a1012898/parents-tips-how-to-cope-if-you-feel-disappointed-after-a-caesarean

http://thestir.cafemom.com/baby/131563/a_love_letter_

http://www.ican-online.org/

http://intuitivehandspt.com/the-importance-of-massaging-your-c-section-scar/

In the tale of Cinderella, the glass slipper she wore was an important component of the story.  This sparkly accessory was created to fit her and only her – a custom high heel if such a thing exists.  The perfect fit of this glass slipper brought about a beautiful ending to the fairytale.  The tale of a perfect fitting shoe can seem like a fairytale because the pain created by an imperfect fit can have so many adverse effects, including disruption of athletic endeavors or fitness routines.  Choosing the right athletic shoe can sometimes be the difference between injury or pain-free, unrestricted activity.  So the question is: How do I find my glass slipper?

Athletic shoes have changed considerably over the past 30 years.  The great variety of shoes available sometimes makes it difficult to figure out which shoe is the best.  The first step for anyone is to start by going specifically to an athletic specialty store and trying on shoes that are specific to the sport you are performing.  A good store should have sales representatives that are knowledgeable as to how each different athletic shoe should fit and be useful for that sport.  The following is a list of general rules for all athletic shoes:

  • Look for brand names (absolutely NO generic brands as these lose shape and support quickly)
  • Try on shoes made by a company that has a solid history of creating the shoe for your specific sport
  • Comfort is key – a shoe that feels kind of uncomfortable in the store will kill you during activity and haunt you after activity
  • Walk, jog, or recreate your sport while wearing the shoe in the store
  • Try on a LOT of shoes; you can even try on two different shoes at once to rule out bad fits

Running and walking shoes tend to have a wider variety to select from compared to other sport specific shoes.  Picking the correct fit for these types of shoes may be trickier.  Due to the constant, repetitive pounding our feet take with running or walking, getting a proper fitting shoe is very important to decrease stress on the foot, leg, knees, and back.  The best place to start for purchasing a good running or walking shoe is at a running shoe store.  These places typically have a staff trained in running specifics, unlike  general athletic stores.  The same rules as mentioned above apply to running and walking shoes.  However, these shoes are broken down further by the type of foot a person has.

A person’s foot type is determined by how much the arch (or the inside portion of their foot) drops when they stand up.  As one stands up, this arch will naturally drop a little, which is also known as pronating.  Most every person will have some pronation, which is good because this allows the arch of the foot to act as a shock absorber.  A person whose arch does not drop much or at all is known as an underpronator or has a rigid foot.  A person whose arch drops a lot or changes to a flat foot is known as an overpronator.  This can be determined by a properly trained sales representative or some medical professionals.  You may also do a home test where you wet your foot down and walk over a piece of paper.  A normal arch will show the imprint of the heel, roughly half of the outside of the foot, the pads of the front of the foot, and the toes.  A high, rigid arch will show the imprint of the heel, a thin strip or portion or the outside of the foot, the pads of the front of the foot (with less emphasis on the pads by the big and second toes), and the toes.  A flat arch or over pronating foot will show the imprint of the heel, over half of the bottom of the foot, the pads of the front of the foot (with more emphasis on the pads by the big and second toes), and the toes.  After you know your foot type, you can narrow down the number of shoes to try on.  The three types of shoes are as follows:

  • Neutral or Cushion Shoes – for people that have a normal arch or a high, rigid arch
  • Stability Shoes – for people that tend to over pronate slightly
  • Motion Control Shoes – for people that greatly over pronate or have flat feet

When considering the size of running or walking shoes to try on, the “Rule of Thumb” applies.  Running or walking shoes should always allow for a thumb nail width of space between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe.  As we walk and run, our foot spreads out.  Therefore, if the shoe is too small, the toe will hit the end of the shoe, eventually causing damage to the toenail.  I think everyone can agree that black toenails do not look very nice, nor do they feel very good.
Another component of running and walking shoes are the “Plus” type.  These shoes are meant to be used by men who weigh over 180 pounds and women who weigh over 150 pounds.  These shoes will compress optimally for these weight ranges.  They can be too stiff for people weighing under these ranges which can lead to injuries.

Now that you’ve found a good shoe, you may want to decide if a shoe insert would be beneficial.  Shoe inserts are typically used to add cushioning or to add arch support to a shoe.  For most shoes, it is safe to add a flexible, neoprene type cushion insert for added comfort.  For people that tend to over pronate, a shoe insert that is more rigid along the arch may be beneficial; however, these should not be used with motion control shoes.  When using any shoe insert, always remove the original insert that comes with the shoe.

Now that you know how to spot your “glass slipper,” make sure to check for cracks.   Running and walking shoes will last for 3 to 6 months, or 300 to 500 miles of use.  If you have any doubts about picking the right shoe, always find a local expert.   Enjoy your activities!

When I was a kid, my younger brother and I would get antsy when rain would pour down outside.  We would run to the front window of our home to monitor the water level of our creek.  We would get dressed in old shorts and shirts and run outside to play in the rain, swinging on our rope swing before dropping a perfect ten landing into a mud puddle.  By the time we were done playing, which was normally when the rain slowed, we would be soaked with sludgy water.  This might have been foreshadowing of my future love affair with trail running.

I began trail running when I was 14 years old as a high school freshman participating in cross country.  I loved the variety and unpredictability that this running provided.  I enjoyed smelling the leaves and the dirt and catching the occasional glimpse of nature, such as a deer crossing the trail in front of me.  I have continued trail running since then.  I feel back to basics when I trail run.  It makes me feel alive, centered, and complete.

So it is no surprise to me that for the past month and a half (post half Ironman), the only running I have done has been off road oriented.  My training motivation has been low but the thought of dirt paths excites me every time.  My last solo trail run was a debacle of misdirection, gigantic wasps dragging off tarantulas, and imagination gone wild with the slightest rustle of the brush.  It also reminded me of the request a friend had made for me to blog about how to do trail running.  You know who you are.

Trail running does not require any more equipment than regular running.  You can get away with using regular road shoes, especially in sunny, sandy, San Diego.  Trail shoes are a good idea if you are running in rocky or muddy terrain.  A water bottle or fuel belt is smart if it is warm out or if you could fill a salt water tank by squeezing your shirt after a run.  For beginners, carrying a little water would be wise, regardless of the length or intensity of the run.  For more experienced runners, carry water if the run is longer than 45-60 minutes, especially if intensity or temperatures are high.  A watch with GPS is a nice addition, although not necessary; if you get lost in the grocery store, you should probably invest in one of these.  Sunglasses are recommended because they help cut the glare of the sun down, which allows you to see the trail more easily.  Some people find that yellow lenses further accentuate the details of the trail because they enhance depth perception.  Other people like brown lenses because they reduce high glare.  An extra change of clothes in the car is a must if running in a damp area.

Trails are not normally hard to find.  Many book stores will have trail running or hiking books specific for the area, and they give good descriptions of the trails, directions to get there, maps of the trail, and specifics such as distance and elevation gain.  Another easy way to locate a trail is to search the websites of local running groups or to talk with the sales representatives of local running shoe stores.  The websites http://www.trails.com and http://www.americantrails.org are helpful.  In smaller areas that may not have a running shoe store or running books specific to the area, it has been helpful for me to look at the Conservation Department websites or to search for state parks.  The smallest town I ever worked in had a population of less than 3,000 people, which meant no trail running books and no running shoe store.  But a ten minute drive down the road would take you to HaHa Tonka State Park, which provided one of my all-time favorite trail runs.  So, you’ve got your gear and you know where to go.  Now you’ve got to know how to physically do the running.

Road running is dominated by propulsion in a straight forward plane.  Trail running is more equal opportunity and shares the spotlight with two more planes (side to side and rotational).  For the balance and agility challenged, trail running can seem intimidating.  Like any new activity or sport, it takes practice for our body to learn how to move properly and efficiently.  When trail running, making steps lighter is important.  Softening your steps may prevent solidly planting your foot on an awkwardly angled rock thereby spraining an ankle.  Stepping lightly allows for an easy transition into a new line of travel.  Part of running lightly involves a less harsh or absent heel strike because this slows momentum.  The arms are also held a little further from the trunk than when running on the road, especially when running downhill or through technical areas; this doesn’t mean running with your arms held up at your side like a chicken at all times.  The arms help improve balance.  Don’t allow your arms to flail around like Phoebe from “Friends”; instead think of the soft landing of a bird or what happens to your arms when you jump on a trampoline.  For uphills, drive your arms more to enhance power and propel up the hill from your toes.  On the really steep hills, you may not even have heel contact.

Downhills are the trickiest parts.  Aside from the use of the arms to counterbalance the body, you might notice that the feet or legs will turn outward just a little bit more.  This tends to soften the heel strike a little and gives the feeling of a wider base of support to improve balance.  Running downhill is when staying quick and light on the feet really matters.  Keeping your weight shifted slightly forward will also decrease the tendency to have a hard heel strike.  Another trick of the trade is finding the best or safest line on the path.  Keep your eyes focused on the trail 5 to 10 feet ahead.  The best line will normally be more packed down and lighter or darker in color.  Mountain bikers are very effective at finding the coveted best line (proof that they don’t all have a death wish), so if you are unable to find it on your own, just look for the place with the most tire marks.

Another part of trail running that I find rather fun is the sharp turns or switchbacks.  There is something invigorating about zigging and zagging, winding through a path, with unseen trail greeting you around the corner.  To keep momentum going, try to bank the turns and lean slightly towards the inside of the turn.  Imagine you are a race car on a curvy track.  On narrow trails, also known as single track, you may want to raise your arms a little more if it is brushy or bring them a little forward so you can shield your face.  Be prepared to twist your body away from waist and chest high branches.

Another important topic on trail running is safety.  While we all want to escape from society when we trail run, it is not a bad idea to keep your cellphone handy when running alone.  Accidents can happen.  If the thought of nature’s serenity being wrecked by your keyboard generated, generic salsa music ringtone makes you physically ill, then turn the ringer and vibration off.  Mace is another item that might bring a sense of safety when running alone.  After all, there’s bears in them there woods.  Having a running buddy is a good idea (safety in numbers).  I’m a sucker for running trails solo, so I tend to send a text or call a friend, letting them know where I’m running and how long it should take me.  I send a text or make a call after I’m done running so they don’t send out the search party.  Lastly, not so much for safety but for health, a post-run tick check is important.  Some areas of the country have more of a need for this, but even in Southern California, I’ve found them on me.  A couple minutes spent looking for ticks is well worth it when the possibility of Lyme’s Disease is present.

The final topic is trail etiquette.  Trails attract hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and families.  Traditionally, it is thought that all should yield to equestrians, then runners and hikers, then mountain bikers.  This is often thought to be due to safety issues (easily spooked horses, slower individuals, etc.).  My personal opinion is apply common sense.  Though you might have the right of way, it is not a bad idea to allow the faster moving individual to pass.  Don’t sneak up on any person or animal; slow down, announce that you are there and ready to pass.  Don’t blast down a blind curve (not picking on mountain bikers as I am one myself).  Don’t occupy the entire width of the trail with your friends.  Leave the headphones at home or on very low volume so you can be aware of other people using the trail around you (this is a safety issue as well since it is smart to be able to hear mountain bikers approaching).  Don’t make your own trail because this sometimes destroys important vegetation that controls erosion of your favorite trail.  I think it goes without saying to not litter.  When possible, get involved with trail maintenance; it seems that mountain bikers are normally very good about this part.  And lastly, keep in mind that we all use the trails because we all share a love for trails…to be direct, we should not be having turf battles over who can use what trail if we are all respectful of the trail and each other.

My final, personal take on trail running is the following: Many trail runners tend to feel their heart get lighter when they find themselves alone on a trail, instead of feeling anxious at the lack of people.  They seek out runs with tree cover, greenery, or epic views.  This is the runner that will feel no malice at the 3/4 mile 15% grade hill as long as it provides a great view at the top (I could be exaggerating).  This is the runner who has probably found themself at a fork in a trail at some point in time, and accidentally run a mile or two before realizing they picked the wrong path.  I know this sounds a little cheesy… that’s because it is.  Realize that your pace on trails will tend to be a little slower, but also know that it is a very effective way to build power into your running, which results in more speed on the road.  So happy trails everyone (couldn’t help myself)!

I believe it is fair to say that most people don’t think of their office workspace as their most comfortable place to sit.  Reasons include uncomfortable chairs, awkward desk heights, poor lighting, bad keyboard or mouse positioning, and the dreaded piles of work that haunt their desks.  At least one third of our day is spent at work.  If we have to be there for so long, shouldn’t it at least be comfortable?  Some people know their workspace is uncomfortable but they just deal with it.  These are the same people that go home every day with raging neck or back pain, but they still show up the next day and sit at the same workspace, only to leave again with the same pain day after day.  The real culprit that keeps this cycle going is poor workspace set up, which promotes poor posture.

Poor posture is a physical therapist’s arch nemesis.  We spend an infinite amount of time trying to improve the posture of our patients, to the point where we begin to sound like a nagging mother.  Low back pain, neck pain, headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome are just a few problems that can result from poor posture at work.  Due to the fact that posture is a learned habit, it takes a lot of time and practice to unlearn poor posture and then to learn correct posture.  We can help our body learn proper posture more quickly by giving it the right tools, or the proper workspace set up, that positions our body in good alignment.  This is where work ergonomics comes into play.  Ergonomics is the study of the work environment and equipment and how to match them to the human body.
A good start is a quality desk chair.  Desk chairs should have a full back so the lumbar (low back) area can be supported.  If the low back slumps, the upper back will follow.  Some chairs have a lumbar support adjustment built into the chair, which helps support the back in a position of upright posture.  However, a rolled up towel or small pillow can substitute as a lumbar support just as well, and is a cheap alternative to buying a lumbar roll in a store.  It is also important to have armrests.  The armrests should be set in a way that allows the elbows to have a bend of 90 degrees (an L shape).  The chair height should allow the feet to be flat on the ground with the knees and hips bent to 90 degrees.  For the vertically challenged, if the feet can’t touch the ground, a stool or phone books can be placed under the feet.  This decreases the pressure on the back of the thighs and knees.

The next place to check is the computer monitor height.  This is especially important for neck and back posture.  If the monitor is too high, it will cause the neck to extend too far.  If the monitor is too low, it causes the neck to bend forward too much or it will cause a person to slump so that they sink to the level of the monitor.  Proper height of the computer monitor is where the top of the screen is at an eye or just below eye level.  Monitor height can be changed by raising or lowering the desk or the chair.  Another quick fix can be performed by putting a phone book under the monitor.  The screen should be within 20 to 25 inches of your face.  Computer monitors should also be kept in line with the body so that the head does not have to be turned to the side for prolonged periods.  Proper computer monitor alignment should promote alignment of the head such that the ears are directly above the shoulders from a side view.
The final component is the positioning of the keyboard and mouse pad.  With the arms on the armrests at the proper position, the keyboard and mouse should rest at about the same height as the elbows.  The wrists should be in a neutral position, bent neither up nor down.

Along with proper office ergonomics and posture, it is a great idea to take a break every half hour to hour of work.  This is not the type of break where you chit chat at the water cooler for 10 minutes (a physical therapist probably won’t back you up on this if your boss asks); this is just a minute or two to stand up and change positions momentarily.  It is important to change the position your joints are in periodically to decrease pressure on joints and muscles; if you don’t believe this, imagine straightening your finger after it has held the bent position for an hour.  Chances are it will feel achy and stiff, much like your back feels after sitting in the slumped position for an hour.  Doing shoulder rolls, with a focus on pulling the shoulder blades back, is a good technique for decreasing neck and upper back stiffness, while promoting good posture.  Stretching the forearm by gently pulling the back of the hand toward the forearm with the other hand is a good way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

Office ergonomics is designed to make your workspace fit your body, instead of adjusting your body to your workspace.  The above tips are basics which can be implemented by the average person.  A more in-depth evaluation is normally available through your employer or by a physical therapist.  Even if your work is painful, your workspace doesn’t have to be.  Happy computing!

Last week I found myself feeling unreasonably down.  Was it my slow work schedule?  Was it the fact that all friends I called were unavailable?  Was it that magical “time of the month”?  Thankfully, I was able to be distracted from these emotions by dorking out while watching the new Harry Potter movie with my boyfriend.  But the escape from my reality was short lived.  Where were these feelings coming from?  Dumbledore’s death was sad but come on!  Upon reflection the next morning, I realized I had experienced this feeling previously…after my Chicago marathon.

It is well known in the endurance and ultra-endurance community.  It goes by many names: post race depression, PMS (post marathon syndrome), the marathon or post race blues, post competition slump, etc.  The feeling of “being down” tends to happen to athletes after they complete a major competition.  It may also cause an athlete to be excessively tired, irritable, and have decreased motivation.  It may cause other athletes to go on a neurotic search for continued high level or large volume competition.  Research does indicate that a person who perceives their performance in the completed event as poor may be more likely to experience this depressive mood state.  However, it is not uncommon for those who did well or were satisfied with their performance to share in the blues.  There are a couple reasons this occurs.

Imagine focusing on a goal for 4 to 6 months, pushing your body through fatigue to complete a second or third workout in a day, going to bed early on Friday and/or Saturday nights instead of going out for that much earned beer or two, waking up early on Friday and/or Saturday to complete a workout before your significant other is done dreaming, icing body parts that hurt only to use them again the next day, putting as much time into training as you might at a part-time job, and minding what you eat so as to avoid being nicknamed Captain Skidmark of the Hershey Highway on your upcoming bike ride.  Keep in mind this is what you are doing repeatedly for 4 to 6 months.  As this goal nears and you begin to decrease your training volume, your energy begins to return and your legs start to feel more refreshed.  This triggers the building excitement you feel each time you move closer to that date you’ve circled on your calendar.  Then comes the race expo.  It can be a sensory overload of vendors selling shiny new gear, fellow athletes picking up registration packages, sponsors giving out the coveted free stuff (best free thing so far: a loaf of bread), and of course, some guy interrupting the music that is blasting out of speakers to give an occasional announcement about a pre-race talk.  This really amps up the body.  Then the start of the race blasts you into crazy mode with its cheers from participants right before the horn or the gun goes off.  You are now in the race which you devoted the past 4 to 6 months to.  And at long last, there is the finish line beckoning you in, telling you that you’ve met and smashed this difficult goal.  You tested yourself and  found new inner strength.  You feel like you could walk on water (or maybe that is just your legs ready to give out).  For the next couple days, you get to relive your moment again and again when friends, family, and co-workers ask you “So, how’d your race go?”.  Maybe you even blog about it.  Then, after 2 to 3 days (maybe a week if you’re lucky), it hits you…Now what am I going to do?

Endurance sports, such as marathon, triathlon, cycling, and ultramarathon, tend to attract type A personalities.  People with type A personalities tend to be goal oriented, driven, competitive, time concious, and feel a need to be an over-achiever.  Although not everyone doing these sports fit the type A personality, many still have some tendencies of this type.  Many people complete this major life goal, and after basking in its glory for a couple days, they feel the compulsion to find another challenging goal to test themselves again — to find more validation.  This happens even with many non-sport life events, such as graduating from college, having a baby, or winning a hot dog eating contest.  While it is not entirely unhealthy to seek out another goal, it is problematic if one does not give themself adequate time to recover.

Another aspect that leads to a feeling of depression after a race is the large amount of free time the athlete has while they are recovering.  It seems ridiculous to think that anyone who was spending 10 or more hours training each week would be stressed out by having more free time available.  Every athlete thinks they will be so glad to lounge around for a couple weeks.  However, the reality of it is that we get bored.  Endurance athletes are used to being on the move and suddenly they are sitting still.  For the athletes that belong to a club, they will continue to get emails about various “fun” workouts.  This would be like taking a Jack Russell Terrier, putting it on a 2 foot leash, and placing a wind up toy just out of its reach.  Or it might be similar to buckling a five year old into their carseat and parking next to the playground but not letting them out.  Sometimes, it would seem that the recovery is psychologically more difficult than the race itself.  The good news is that people with hobbies outside of their sport are less likely to feel bored because they are able to substitute an activity in the place of their workouts.

Is there a real medical reason for this feeling?  Absolutely.  After many hours of parusing research articles and medical books, it was apparent that there is great interest in the effect exercise has on mood state.  An increased amount of dopamine has been found after participation in marathon.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when one experiences pleasure, which further improves mood state.  The presence of dopamine also increases the sensation of motivation.  When dopamine leaves the system, such as when endurance activity is over, it can lead to a feeling of depressed mood.  Another angle is that the body craves the feeling of euphoria and motivation associated with dopamine’s presence; so, when this feeling is gone, the body seeks out the activity that releases dopamine.  Another finding of research, which varies in the literature, is an increase in the release of beta-endorphins after exercise.  It is controversial as to how much exercise, what intensity of exercise, and what type of exercise increases beta-endorphins.  Some of the research states after an hour of moderate to intense exercise.  Some research states after exhaustive and anaerobic treadmill running, but not submaximal outdoor running.  Some research states after marathon running.  Overall, the general idea is that beta-endorphins are a type of opioid that is naturally produced by our body.  Opioids induce a state of euphoria, which in runners’ terms is recognized as a “runner’s high.”  As we train more, our bodies become more sensitive to this opioid.  If we exercise regularly, we are consistently releasing this natural opioid into our system, feeding our endurance addiction.  During the recovery time after an endurance event, the amount of beta-endorphin decreases due to the lack of or decrease in exercise.  It might be safe to assume that everyone knows what happens to an addict that can’t get their fix.

Fortunately, you don’t have to sit around waiting for the dopamine to kick in again.  Some tips for surviving or avoiding the post race funk is as follows:

  • Schedule another race event if you aren’t suffering burn out or overtraining syndrome; just remember to keep it several months out so you can properly recover and safely train.
  • Pick a fun, non-competitive event to do, like a Turkey Trot, a mud run, a St. Pat’s Day Race, or just organize a small, social fun run with friends.
  • Hang out with your friends that you blew off during your training period.  They will zing you so much for being anti-social over the past couple months that you will forget that you want to train for another.
  • Try out other non-endurance activities that you’ve never done.  This gives you a new set of muscles to play with and provides entertainment for those watching you attempt the new activity.
  • Revisit non-endurance activities or hobbies that you put aside for training.  From personal experience, I can tell you knitting is a great past-time.  It is repetitive, rhythmic, and has an end result…it’s like running only without the cardiovascular effort!
  • Take a vacation.  Actually go somewhere other than where you train.
  • Set a new life goal that is not related to the endurance sport.  Maybe now is the time to start that novel that has been knocking on your skull to get out.
  • If you must and you are not injured, actively recover with walking, easy hiking, qigong, tai chi, or yoga.  The walking is even better when done with a good friend (I affectionately call these bitch or gossip sessions).
  • Pamper yourself, dammit!  You forced your body to do something it found unmistakeably painful; so now you owe it big time.  Get it a massage, schedule a salon visit to trim that mop you call hair on the top of your head, relax by the pool (don’t forget sunscreen), feed your body some junk food, buy it something.
  • Watch some inspiring endurance sports movies.  For this, I recommend Prefontaine, Saint Ralph, Breaking Away, American Flyers.  Sorry, I’d love to recommend Chariots of Fire, but I kept falling asleep the 3 times I tried to watch it.
  • Watch some funny endurance sports movies.  For this, I only know of one…Run Fatboy Run.  Although Saint Ralph can be kind of funny too.  And the episode from the office titled “Fun Run” is pretty awesome as well.

I am now just two days shy of being two weeks out from my first half Ironman.  It was about a week ago when I recognized my case of the post race pouts.  I have ran once (a flat low tide run at the beach — a favorite of mine).  I’ve stationary biked at a low level once for 35 minutes.  I’ve done Pilates once.  I swam casually in a pool for 20 minutes, including breaks.  I have eaten an In And Out cheeseburger meal, a Wendy’s frosty, a cinnamon and sugar bagel, yogurt with toppings of carmel twice, multiple burritos, pizza, a blue Slushy, sake, Stella Artois beer, almond champagne, and Wyder’s raspberry cyder.  I’ve gone to the beach 3 times.  I pester my boyfriend for massages (this is actually nothing new).  I’ve also got an Olympic distance triathlon scheduled in Malibu and I have the St. George Marathon (which I’m on the fence for since I want to give qualifying for Boston my best effort).  Legs permitting, I may begin some light cycling and some trail running.  As anyone can tell, I’m coping well.

In April of this year, I began the gargantuan task of training for my first half Ironman.  I chose the Vineman 70.3 in Guerneville, California, not knowing anything about the race other than the distance of the triathlon and the date.  My longest bike ride at that point had been 28 miles.  My longest swim had been a mile.  I didn’t have any specific training schedule, but after a couple months of training, I was finally ready.  I went to the pre-race expo to pick up my race packet, feeling excited since this was an Ironman event.  I was expecting the grandeur that I had experienced at the Chicago Marathon race expo.  My bubble was burst when I realized that the expo was nothing more than a bunch of vendors trying to sell me more gear.  In the smothering heat, I set up my second transition area (bike to run) and headed back to the hotel to relax.  Chris and I made spaghetti in the room and I ate the largest plate of spaghetti I could handle, giving a new meaning to carbo loading.  Shortly after dinner, disaster struck.  Chris looked down and found a flea on his leg.  This was followed by quick repacking, loading the car, discussions with hotel managers about switching hotels, calling other hotels, a drive down the road to another hotel, airing out the only room left (a smoking room), and many tears of stress.

The next morning, I slugged out of bed.  My mind was in a haze and my stomach felt like it wanted to reject my breakfast — I was nervous.  Chris continually herded me onward as I kept spacing out.  The drive to the race start was gorgeous, winding through vineyards, lush green trees, and occasional views of the river I’d be swimming in.  We parked the car and began to walk to the race start, my nervousness growing.  The first transition area (swim to bike) was a beehive of people.  When I reached the three rows for my age group, I felt a new wave of dread as I realized that I couldn’t see a single open area for my bike.  I squeezed my way down one row only to find no open spots in the entire row.  I was about to hit full panic mode when I caught sight of an opening two rows away; the girls surrounding the opening had even been so thoughtful as to move their bikes so there would be more room for others.  I began to set up my transition area.  After a couple minutes, I casually asked the girl next to me what the time was.  She responded and my heart rate shot up.  I had 16 minutes left in which to get my race number marked on me, to put on my wetsuit and swim cap, to drop off my bag with Chris, and to get to the water for the start.  It was the most panicked I’ve ever felt before a race and the fastest I’ve ever gotten into a wetsuit.  I made it to the bank of the river in time to hear the race announcer telling my wave group to get in the water.

Vineman 70.3 race start

As I looked at the river, with the steam rising off the water and the sun peeking over the trees, I began to feel less stressed out.  By the time I was treading water at the start, excitement had taken over.  I spotted Chris on the river bank and waved my arms jubilantly, which was just useless since we all look the same in the water.  The announcer asked if we were ready.  I let out a “Whoooo!”, feeling happier and more confident.  Then the horn went off.  The water was a solid sea of women all around me, every one of us jostling the other.  This seemed to last for over five minutes, longer than it has ever lasted, and I could sense that it was starting to bother me.  I popped my head out of the water and did a couple breast strokes to get my bearings.  Suddenly, I remembered, I didn’t care how fast I swam because for once, I was racing to finish instead of racing for time.  I stuck my face back in the water and began humming while I swam to create my typical rhythm.  The swim upstream seemed to take a while.  The occasional smell of a campfire was nearly sickening.  At one point, I got a little too close to shore, and my fingertips touched the bottom of the river.  In keeping with previous races, I nearly swam into a volunteer who was on a kayak.  Shortly before the turn-around buoys, the 29 and under men’s group caught up to us, laying out a new beating in the water.  At the turn-around buoy, much to my delight, I saw people standing and walking through the water, which I decided was a great idea.  It allowed me to breath more normally and fix my goggles for a moment before I resumed swimming again.  The swim downstream was quick and it seemed like no time at all before I was emerging from the water.  My smile spread across my face and I felt wonderful.  I was done with my least favorite part!

As I headed out with my bike, I remembered that there was a slight hill right out of transition (more like a boat ramp), so I stopped and shifted my bike to the easiest gear.  This received a “Now there’s a smart girl,” compliment from a race volunteer.  I beamed at him and carried this out of the transition.  I decided that I was good enough to be able to clip into my bike at the bottom of the hill instead of running to the top of the hill.  A female spectator yelled, “That’s it number 929.  Way to be!”  Maybe it was the pressure of performing with an audience or maybe because I was still uncoordinated from the swim, but I fumbled the clip in 2 or 3 times.  My female fan then shouted, “No pressure.”  I just giggled and my foot clicked into place.  I was up and pedaling.

At the first turn, I saw Chris taking my picture.  I felt so invigorated.  I checked my speed and realized I was flying along at 19 to 20 miles per hour, a little overzealous for me.  I forced myself to watch the speed, deciding I would pedal only as fast as I felt I could easily do.  A couple miles into the ride, I saw Chris again at another turn videotaping me.  I knew this would be the last time I’d see him until I finished the ride.  I was on my own.  The ride seemed to fly by.  I happily took in the scenery, something I had promised myself I would do.  I thought of how I wished my dad could see what I was looking at, and I thought of how much Chris would have enjoyed the bike ride.  Occasionally, a rider would pass me and shout out some encouragement or a compliment.  I’m still unsure if they were just doing it at random or if I looked like I needed encouragement, but I decided to pay it forward by doing the same for others.  At one point in the bike ride, I passed a large tree branch that was on a power line with emergency crews around it.  I later found out that this branch had fallen on its own accord, and had taken out three racers in the process — what are the chances!

Awesome Wheels (courtesy of Clay at Bay Area Bikes)

As my ride progressed, I noticed that my pace was holding at 16.9 miles per hour — the fastest pace I’ve held for longer than 10 miles — and I still felt great (maybe partially due to the awesome wheels that were put on my bike by my brother Clay who owns Bay Area Bikes in Oakland).  I began to do the math and realized that I might be able to complete the bike 30 minutes faster than I originally predicted.  I knew I still had Chalk Hill coming up soon.  Around mile 41, I was wondering where this infamous hill was.  I went over an incline around mile 43 and actually hoped that it wasn’t the “hill” that everyone had been so concerned about.  It wasn’t.  Finally, as I passed another woman, she smiled at me and said, “I don’t want to go up the next hill.”  I returned her smile and replied, “I’ve been wondering where it is.”  I had been mentally preparing for Chalk Hill for the past couple miles and was ready for the challenge since I consider hill climbing to be one of my secret weapons.  I felt like it would be the true test of my cycling abilities.  The further up the hill I went, the more people I passed, and my confidence grew.  At the top of the hill, my chest was exploding with happiness and it showed on my face.  I was greatly rewarded with a blazing downhill that allowed me to get up to 36 miles per hour.  The last two miles of my bike ride, I found the song “Help I’m Alive” by Metric stuck in my head.  I even started singing it to myself.  The crowd of spectators grew as I approached the second transition zone.  I started looking for Chris since I was coming in 40 minutes earlier than predicted.  When I spotted him, I started yelling his name.  He was so surprised that he couldn’t get the camera up in time.  The look of happy surprise on his face was priceless and it only fed the fire for my smile.

I looked like the Cheshire Cat as I jogged my bike through the second transition.  “Keep that smile going, number 929!” one volunteer shouted.  And that’s just what I did through the entire second transition, even when I accidentally got sunscreen in my eyes and yelled, “Aggh, burning!” to no one in particular.  I saw Chris taking pictures of me as I started the run.  I ran up to him babbling that I was so happy that I’d just had my fastest bike ride; I planted a giant kiss on him and took off running again.  I heard another spectator comment, “She’s still smiling.”

Vineman 70.3 Run

I felt like I was floating on clouds as I ran, which was great until I realized at the first mile marker that I was running an 8 to 8.5 minute mile pace.  I was running like a dog that had been cooped up in a car all day, and I now needed someone to yank on my leash.  So, I forced myself to slow down.  By the 4th mile, I was glad I’d slowed down.  The heat bouncing back off the blacktop roads was oppressive, ranging in the upper 90’s to lower 100’s.  The “rolling hills” were feeling more like mountains — my quadriceps and gluteal muscles were toast.  My race strategy changed; instead of thinking of how much of the run I’d completed or had left, I focused on each individual mile, with the aid station marking another one finished.  At the 4th aid station, I wised up and got a cup of ice, placing some ice cubes in my sports bra and rationing the rest for sucking on until they’d all melted or I reached the next aid station.  I knew that it was very important at this point to keep cool and to avoid dehydrating.  Dehydrating in heat like this could mean a post race glucose IV, or even worse, not making it to the finish line.

I fell into a routine of grabbing two cups of water at each aid station — one to drink and one to pour over my head and arms.  I kept up with the ice as long as the aid station supplies lasted.  At one point in the run, I had dumped so much ice in my sports bra that it jingled with every bounce.  This brought the smile back to my face momentarily.  Other than the short walk breaks I was taking as I passed the aid stations, I still had managed to run the entire course until mile 10.  I looked up to see another ass kicking incline/hill and decided that I would let my body walk just this once.  I expected that it would feel like a wonderful break, but I was surprised when I realized that it just felt slow and like I was only adding to the time I had to endure the heat.  So after 20 seconds or so, I started running again.  By mile marker 11, I had to stretch my quads and gluteals because they felt like they might cramp or just stop working.  I repeated this at mile marker 12 as well.  The spectators were growing and I knew I was almost there.  I felt a strong longing to see Chris.  With 800 meters left, I stopped to stretch again.  There was no way in hell I was going to walk or seize up in the final straight-away to the finish line!

Around 400 meters, a man yelled at me that it was only 200 meters left.  I’ve noticed throughout my races, there is always that one spectator who either drastically lies about how much distance is left or has absolutely no ability to judge the distance.  All the same, his heart was in the right place.  As I began to near the final turn, I felt my emotions begin to surface.  I could hear the crowd cheering.  I had frequently imagined how I would finish the face.  I had visualized myself shouting, raising my arms to the crowd, and high fiving spectators.  But I guess that’s why it is called daydreaming.  As I closed in on the finish line, I saw so many people clapping and encouraging anyone and everyone.  It began to hit me that I was about to accomplish this goal that I had put so much time into and worked so hard to train for.  The closer the finish line came, the more emotional I felt.  At long last, I saw Chris and heard him shouting for me.  I was on the verge of crying but I pulled out a smile and threw him a thumbs up (my favorite race pose).

Vineman 70.3 finishing photo

The next moment, I was crossing the finish line.  I couldn’t hold back any longer; I just let all the tears and the emotion pour out.  Some people reading this right now may not understand what the crybaby moment was all about.  I know I’m not the only person to cry after a race and others may have their own reason but the following is my explanation:  I had accomplished a difficult task that I had set for myself; the race gave me the opportunity to dig deep within myself and showed me that I had the strength and confidence to persevere in a grueling situation.

I am now recovering and feel surprisingly good (likely thanks to the coldest ice bath I’ve ever sat in).  I don’t feel the need to do another half Ironman or a full Ironman, contrary to what some people predicted.  Once in a while, we must test ourselves to find out what we are capable of.

I have been training for a half Ironman triathlon known as the Vineman 70.3 since April.  This Sunday is when I will be testing myself and the training I have endured for the past 3 and a half months, crossing my fingers that it was enough.  Just two weeks ago, I found myself questioning whether I’d done enough.

The last weekend in June, I participated in the San Diego International Triathlon for the second time.  The year before, after much anticipation, this race went really well, and I felt invigorated after it was over.  This year I didn’t know until 3 weeks before the race whether I was actually going to be able to register for it (I procrastinated and had to wait in line at 6am one morning to be one of 100 last chance entrants).  I felt somewhat nonchalant going into the race since my mindset for the past two months had been on half Ironman.  When I finished this race, I felt happy and had a great time talking to friends, but this kind of dissipated as I left the race area.  I didn’t feel elated.  I felt somewhat depressed and had a sense that I hadn’t done as well.  The race results released the next day confirmed my dreaded suspicions…2 minutes slower than the previous year.

This may not seem like a lot but it bothered me (did I mention I can be kind of competitive).  I had been training solidly, going to bed somewhat early Friday nights, waking up early Saturday and Sunday for long runs and bike rides, and enduring the evil that is ocean swimming for the past 3 months only to get slower.  I was luffing (the wind was out of my sails).  I pouted for an entire day.  My friend Arianna and my boyfriend Chris pointed out that I got slower because I was training for endurance for the half Ironman and not for speed.  They brought up how far I could now swim and bike without feeling exhausted.  Chris pointed out that I was now able to swim a mile in the ocean; my first ocean swim nearly brought me to a panic attack and probably looked like someone randomly flailing in the water.  Arianna pointed out how I can now bike for 60 miles without feeling spent; the first 40 mile bike ride left me cussing out my bike and put me into a glycogen deficit rage, followed by a bonked stupor.  Chris told me he was proud of how well I have been able to endure the rigorous training schedule.  Arianna told me that I should just be proud that I am capable of finishing a triathlon, which many people can’t do.  These were things I already knew but was just too stubborn or too competitive to acknowledge.  Over the next couple days, I gradually let go of my sulking and tried to refocus on the Vineman 70.3 again.  I was lucky that this was the start of tapering.

I began to recognize that I was showing classic signs of burnout — general fatigue, indifference to workouts, lack of motivation.  From experience, I knew that I needed to change things up a bit or I would stroke, pedal, and stride my way right into over-training syndrome.  So, I became a slacker.  If I missed a workout, I’d make it up on another day or just forget it completely.  I cut back the volume of my activities, which is what tapering is supposed to be, so this worked out nicely.  I knew I’d really embraced this new type of training (or lack of) when I woke up on July 5th and decided to blow off the last long bike ride I’d planned.  It wasn’t that I was hungover from the previous fun of July 4th.  I just didn’t really want to do it.  Instead, Chris and I played 30 minutes of tennis and I watched part of a triathlon on TV.

Finally, last week began the familiar feeling of having trained for a long endurance event for several months; it is that point at which you move past the “Have I put in enough training” to the “I don’t know if I’m prepared but I’m ready to get it over with.”  This is when athletic ADD kicks in for me.  So I rode that wave all last week, repeatedly telling people who asked if I was ready, “I’m just ready to be done with it.”  Then Sunday threw a new feeling my direction.

Chris and I woke up to go for our Sunday morning long bike ride.  We were out the door and on the road by 8am for a ride we hadn’t done in a month or more.  The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and traffic was almost non-existent.  The first mile of our ride is almost always on this long, gradual hill and it sucks; this Sunday was no exception to that.  As we rode along and our legs woke up to making repetitive circles, I started to feel alert…more alive.  I started noticing the rolling grassy (or brushy) hills spotted with running trails along either side of the road we cycled down.  I smiled at the mountains in the distance that were just warming up with sun hitting their faces.  At one point, I looked across the road to notice a small valley that was like an appetizer for the eyes for the mountains in the background.  Each new thing I saw seemed to make my smile bigger — I’m sure I looked like a complete jackass with my giant grin coupled with my geeky bike gear.  Chris and I both realized how easy the ride was feeling.  Our pace was above average, the hills felt like mild bumps, and our legs felt fresh.  The icing on the cake was when I was able to ride with no hands safely, without wobbling, for almost 100 yards!  Like I was 7 years old, I began shouting, “Look Chris!  I’m riding no hands!  I’m doing it!”

This bike ride was the affirmation I’d been waiting for.  It was proof that my training had paid off.  My once challenging bike route felt almost like a recovery ride.  But the best part was, I was ecstatic to ride my bike again — it wasn’t just another workout to be completed, it was pure fun and pleasure.

So I am going into my final week of taper.  I have an ocean swim, a bike ride or two, a run or two, and a Pilates class left before I put all my training together.  I will not be trying to cram in one more run or one more interval on the bike.  I’m sure other people have put in more miles or more time or more consistency than me.  I didn’t follow a prescribed training program.  I made up my own training and flexed it to fit my own personality.  So when I complete my first ever (and probably my only) half Ironman on Sunday, I will know that my training was my own and unique to me.  I will take great pride in that and I will know that it was enough for me.  In the grand scheme of it all, we do these races for ourselves, so we need to respect the time that we have put into our training and trust that it will get us through the finish chute.


  • Kristen Rinnovatore: I'm due in less than three weeks with a breech baby and this has described my experience so far down to the tiniest detail- the ebb and flow between a
  • Anonymous: You put to words what many of us experienced but could not.
  • Anonymous: well stated!! i, too, am 11 days post half ironman & this really resonates. thanks for making me feel less insane.

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