Monday, March 31, 2014

One more day!

One day till surgery!! I'm am sooooo ready get on with it. As with jumping horses, you don't look at the fence as you approach, you look beyond (implying you will land where you look), so I'm looking beyond to healing, a gradual resumption of training, and eventual racing.

Fortunately I kept pretty focused all last week with work and life and a nice steady stream of interesting projects for the tremendous clients, coaches, and athletes of the fortyninegroup. I still sometimes can't believe this is really my job. I worked ahead because I don't plan to have access to my computer until I am home again. That will be weird! I'm trying to think what is the longest I have gone without my beloved laptop? Maybe a day or two. My iPhone will have to do.

Friday morning I did the pre-op phone call where they ask a million questions about whether you have had this or that. It pretty much went like this..."no, no, no, never (laugh), no, no, no, lord NO, no, no, oh no, no, yeah a glass of wine some nights, no, no, no...multivitamin,, no, no, nope."

Later that day I went to the gym to burn off the nerves and hit the treadmill for an appropriately dysfunctional final "run." Any time I find myself feeling nervous about what is ahead, I just think about how much MORE nervous I would be if I was trying to race like this. I'm grateful to have the chance to try to fix it, I really am.

Like most weekends, the kids had some friends (and their laptops, lol) over. As I looked around I seriously debated taking the bike off the trainer to eliminate that temptation over the next few weeks. I decided it was more important and reassuring to keep it in place. It's my indoor kinetic sculpture garden!

I had big plans to bike both days this weekend but the weather had other plans with rain/winds Saturday and snow/cold temps/wind Sunday. The gloom of Saturday pretty much took care of the last of my workout motivation and by the time the sun popped out Sunday I was too far gone. (of course this week while I'm stuck inside it's supposed to be sunny and in the 70s) My friend Bryan suggested I should be looking at it as a "taper" anyway. I substituted in a PJ-wearing movie-marathon on Saturday. I said I was in training for laying around. Very lazy.

Laziness fuels more laziness. This scares me. I know recovery is not laziness...but I think every addicted endurance athlete worries that their lazy self lurks just beneath the active one. OK, I am not THAT worried. Just a little.

Along with the threat of chronic laziness, lots of other what-if's have popped into my head. You can't really help it. So when they do, I just recognize the futility in that type of thinking and get busy doing something else. Like shave the ancient kitty's matted belly fur and give her a bath.

So yeah, I am ready. Work is in good order, the family is in good order, even the pets are in good order. I look forward to turning things over tomorrow to vascular surgeon (and cyclist) Dr. Davidson.

I leave you with this. I love this:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Veggie Roasting for Dummies

I LOVE roasted veggies. You can't deny the beauty of an oven stuffed with veggies! This was what I did last night (still raw in pic) - eggplant, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, plus tomatoes and chicken (not shown).

My favorite things to roast include: broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, yellow squash, beets, peppers (sweet), onions (sweet or red), and others I am probably forgetting.

I also like chick peas, tomatoes, mushrooms, and pineapple.

Sometimes I will share on Facebook some yummy roasted whatever photo and I will be asked for the "recipe" when in fact what I love is there is no recipe. The recipe is heat x time. My basic process is this:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 (carefully chosen because that is the default)
  2. Wash and cut veggies. If it's some kind of squash I halve it and seed it. Put on baking sheet
  3. Optional: apply salt, and/or drizzle or spray of olive oil, and/or Cajun seasoning (for kale and chickpeas), and/or Mrs Dash random composite of who-knows-what herbs and things (for eggplant, squash, etc)
  4. Put in oven for 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on other multitasking needs, keeping in mind that time and temperature are inversely proportional, while the product of time and temperature should be directly proportional to the mass of the veggie chunks. (engineer, what can I say). Translation - turn the temp down if you need to leave it in longer, and bigger stuff takes longer.
It's a forgiving process, low maintenance, and hard to screw up. Yesterday I threw it all in the oven then hopped on the bike trainer for 70 minutes including 3 x 12 min @ tempo! I did have to stop briefly in a rest interval to turn the oven down. I could have sent a kid but it allowed me to return with a bit of sweet potato to enjoy! Bike trainers do offer certain advantages, like fine aerobar dining!

Then afterward I had a proper dinner that had been cooking up while I pedaled away! I don't do a lot of breads and pastas in general, but rather try to get carbs through fruits and vegetables. Veggies do the best job of filling me up!

If you are not a big fan of veggies, I would highly recommend you try roasting them. It produces a rich flavor and appealing texture. Yummmm.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Testing, testing....

What does a person do with one week to go? Check often for indicators of spontaneous and miraculous arterial healing, that's what!

So even though it was a day like this....

I was inside on the treadmill (blah) on a 0% incline just working up some happy low-key non-artery-spasm-inducing sweat. It was so low-key I was able to take this stunningly clear photo of the treadmill display.

I was cruising along feeling pretty OK for about 5 miles, so I initiated TEST MODE. I put it on a 4.0 incline at my same cruising pace (7.0) and timed how long it took for SYSTEM SHUTDOWN. The result was less than 4 minutes until the left leg was toast. At least it is consistent.

I unconsciously do this every time I walk up the steps too. Again, consistent.

This is what you get when you Google "Testing, testing..." Poor cats are always the subject of ridicule!

Anyway, it's just another week of swim, bike, run (sort of). As Coach Jim said, I do it because it's "who I am." That's true! I guess it makes me feel good to know I still want to do these things, even without knowing when my next race is and even knowing I have this interruption coming.

So thinking as I type...maybe there are two meanings to this "Testing, testing...." title. Maybe right now it's also a little test of my commitment. Do I really love to swim, bike, and run for their own sake, or do I require the motivation of a race to do and enjoy them? Looks like not.

Hmm. Good to know!

Friday, March 21, 2014

47 Gifts of Triathlon

This is my simple birthday post (a day early). [in new Roanoke Tri Club kit above.]

It was inspired by my daily humble appreciation for the sport and community of triathlon and what it has meant for my life and my spirit these past five years. Triathlon is 365 days of gifts in the year. Even if some of the experiences feel at the time like gifts I'd rather return, I know in hindsight I gained from them too.

I could write paragraphs about each, and in fact that's how this started. But it's sort of like inviting people to a wedding -- the choice is to keep it really small, or else it gets really BIG! There is no in-between. So I went small and quick...and inevitably incomplete...with my 47 Gifts of Triathlon:
  1. Sunrises
  2. Smiles
  3. Friendship
  4. Adventure
  5. Victory
  6. Surprise
  7. Humility
  8. Freedom
  9. Discipline
  10. Open water
  11. Open road
  12. Trails
  13. Injury
  14. Patience
  15. Healing
  16. Coach
  17. Courage
  18. Racing
  19. Uncertainty
  20. Excitement
  21. Bikes
  22. Running shoes
  23. Cold weather
  24. Warm weather
  25. Rain
  26. Wind
  27. Accomplishment
  28. Confidence
  29. Toughness
  30. Speed
  31. Strength
  32. Fatigue
  33. Creativity
  34. Quiet
  35. Sweat
  36. Pain
  37. Joy
  38. Second breakfast
  39. Anatomy lessons
  40. Writing
  41. Travel
  42. Love 
  43. Laughter
  44. Perspective
  45. Focus
  46. Grit
  47. Gratitude
Triathlon reinforces that happiness results from experiences and relationships and not things or wealth. I look forward to discovering the new year's birthday gifts!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pre-birthday 4700m on the Swim Ergometer

On Saturday I am turning 47. Same age group though, ho-hum!! I've never been a big celebrator of my birthday but rather prefer to celebrate every day in some small way.

However, since first identifying with the term "athletic", I admit I have enjoyed marking my birthday in some physically meaningful way. It started in 2009 when my trainer suggested birthday reps of 135 lb deadlifts (sumo style, my fav). I kept that up for two more years before I morphed it into more triathlon-related workouts.

This year, I wasn't feeling quite so inspired, and my schedule this week is not allowing for anything super epic, so I almost skipped the birthday week workout. Then Monday night at about 7 pm, I suddenly decided to knock out a consecutive 4700m (2.92 miles) on the Vasa Swim Ergometer. In my birthday tiara.

I discovered I could put the iPad under me so I put on some back episodes of The Amazing Race, season 11. (Try doing THAT in a pool!) I had to move it forward after I started dripping too much sweat on it, but otherwise it worked great! (Normally Swim Erg workouts are shorter and more intense so watching something isn't really doable/)

Time: 1:29:30
Average power: 58w

I finished that up close to 9 pm, then at 6:40 am the next morning I was at the pool for another 3000 yards. Combined total for the 12 hour period? 8140 yards or 4.625 miles! Yay!! I only had a hint of soreness the following day.

If I may switch subjects entirely -- a USAT All American certificate arrived yesterday. Yay! That designation now goes to the top 10% of each age group. That is a subtle change from prior years where All American was top 5% and Honorable Mention All American was the next 5%. I kind of liked the old tiered system better in terms of it serving as a motivator for me, but whatever. I landed 39th out of 1935 qualified athletes (3 or more races). Pretty cool, considering.

This year my goal is simply to race again, and race healthy...whenever that needs to be.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Room booked at the all-inclusive vascular surgery resort

I've got my room booked for April 1 through the 3rd, 4th, or 5th. The check-out date depends on how many "amenities" I require to enjoy my stay. I hope they have a swim-up bar at this resort!! And a nice buffet, because I won't be eating after midnight the night before I check in.

Dr. Davidson called Friday, just as I had gotten to the Weight Club, and I took the call in the lobby. After a good discussion of the plan and the protocol, he scheduled the surgery for Tuesday, April 1 at Roanoke Memorial. Yes I know that is April Fool's day...probably fitting. Aren't we all a little foolish (in a good way) in the things that we do for the love of the sport? More importantly, I like that he called on PI day (3.14) since one of the goals is to increase the cross-sectional area of the external iliac artery. (Here is the blog post on my diagnosis - Diagnosing my running medical mystery: exercise induced external iliac artery compression.)

This is the actual "resort" below. It's a little troubling that I can't quite see where that pool is. Maybe it's around back with some tennis courts?

I jest of course, there is no pool or tennis courts. It's hardly a resort. But they do have room service!

In all seriousness, I felt tremendous relief after speaking to Dr. Davidson. It was as if I had officially handed off the burden of responsibility for this to him. I've spent 10 months unsuccessfully trying to find my way through or around this, and I don't have to do that anymore. The wheels are in motion to fix it and I no longer have to navigate or drive.

I have no illusions about the process. The procedure is a few hours, followed by 2-4 days in the hospital, and 6 weeks to heal. It's abdominal surgery that involves moving stuff around to get to the external iliac artery plus incision(s) in the leg to harvest saphenous vein. I am prepared that it will temporarily suck and hurt. But knowing it should mean relief from the ongoing suck and hurt of running and to a lesser degree, cycling...bring it.

Complimentary anatomy lesson of the day (Left External Iliac Artery) 

It's rather an important source of blood flow to the leg.

Friends have responded to this with concern over how I feel about the coming lapse in training and racing. You want to know how I feel about it? Just fine. I am not bothered at all because I would not want to race in my current state. Last race season was more of a struggle than I shared here; I carried a great deal of anxiety into races wondering whether I could finish the run or if I'd cross the line of effort and the leg would shut down. So I am committed to healing and taking the necessary downtime to do so. 

Until then, I'll continue to keep my fitness up in all of the many ways that I can.
I am grateful for so much; this is just another chapter of the journey with more lessons to learn. I'm looking forward to coming back strong!

Make the most of your week, everyone, and happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bikes, trains, and automobiles

Gorgeous sunshine-y Ides of March demands a long bike ride! I headed out solo on a favorite loop and "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" (circa 1987 John Candy movie) kept popping in my head. For me it was Bikes, trains, and automobiles, and of course LOTS of cows and a selection of horses along the way. I just never get tired of the scenery on these trips!

It was a big treat to see a group of cyclists collecting up and hear my name!! Nice to see Scott, Ed and their cycling contingent from Roanoke. We caught up for a few minutes and then continued on in our opposite directions.

 TRAINS! Caught a Norfolk and Southern train cruising by!

AUTOMOBILES! Crossed over Interstate 81. That always feels kind of cool to ride over.
I'm of course thankful to be on a bike and not in a car.

So, so pretty, these back roads of SW Virginia!

North Fork River (below) where the kids and I sometimes to go "play"

I'm so glad we are on the tail end of winter!!! Hope everyone is having a great weekend.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Doing my thing

It's still a little odd working out these days and being in a state of non-race-focused limbo. I got a call Monday to go in Tuesday day for "saphenous vein mapping" at the vascular lab. I was caught off guard and was like "Sure!! See you then!" Then I was left wondering what the heck I had just agreed to (Google to the rescue) and what it was for? Suddenly things felt sort of scary and real.

Naturally, I did the only reasonable thing and I went for a RUN. Outside. Or I tried anyway. (Keep in mind, I'm the girl who got the call about the first broken fibula while I was trying to 'tough it out' on the treadmill.)  But it was predictably difficult and painful as I could only walk the uphills. I finished just 4-1/2 miles with tears of resignation that this would be my last run until when/if I can get this fixed. I had to push aside a flood of "what if" thoughts. 

Tuesday I headed in for the ultrasound from hips to ankles to image veins -- I guess to figure out what to harvest for a graft. The ultrasound tech wouldn't let me take a picture of the picture of my own veins :-( It did not feel good when she had to go over my puncture site, as it is still tender and bruised :((

Right after my appointment, I worked in my "mobile office" in the parking lot to finish something that needed to go out before I'd be home. The doctor is an hour's drive from the house.

I'd arranged to see my friend (also a triathlete) Kimberly afterward; I wanted and needed a dose of her silly happiness and her cute kids, funny chickens, goats, ponies, horse, and cats. The chickens rush the door anytime you go in or out. They are very busy keeping watch. We enjoyed a nice lunch and caught up in person. (Thank you Kimberly!!)

Wednesday I did 70 minutes on the bike trainer with 3 x 10 min tempo stuff that felt OK. Then Thursday morning I met up with the swim group for a big-for-me swim set of 3450 yards. Fortunately swimming feels just fine. Our coach was out of town so he sent us the workout and we all just got busy with it at our own pace. That meant I was the last one to finish but I felt happy to have done every last yard! (Thanks Rebecca, Eric, and Ed!!)

So that's the report from my state-of-limbo! Just doing my thing and trying to stay busy until whatever next step. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Do you ride clockwise or counter-clockwise?

On Friday my friend Emily posted a picture on Facebook of a local snow-covered road as a caution to area cyclists and said, "If you're planning your ride for tomorrow, and I know you are....

I laughed to myself thinking, yes, I too had been contemplating where I might want to go the following day. I guess that is a common Friday pastime for cyclists....what routes are in the range of distance/time I want, what am I in the mood for, what am I not in the mood for, when will I go, what is the hourly forecast, what layers will I want...?

As I thought through my options, it dawned on me that I ride nearly ALL of my usual loop routes in a counter clockwise way. (Or "anti clockwise" as the British would say.) We run on the track counter-clockwise, we circle swim counter-clockwise. Back in my horse days I definitely preferred riding to the left (counter-clockwise). It turns out a lot of things naturally go counter-clockwise (see Straight Dope article) especially in the northern hemisphere.

So Saturday, maybe in preparation for moving clocks clockwise an hour, I rode my favorite 32 mile "Sandy Ridge" loop clockwise for a change. 

The ride felt very different going the other direction. It was like a whole new ride! I cruised down parts that from the reverse seemed like annoying false flats but I discovered they'd been more uphill than I thought. I noticed houses and signs I hadn't seen before and the landscape looked distinctive enough that for a few minutes I wondered if I'd missed my turnoff (my keen sense of direction at work.) 

That was pretty fun. It's time to break out of my habits and start tackling some of my other routes clockwise.

Do you have the same tendency?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Back at it, why not

I made it through my three-day post-procedure no training "probation period". I didn't really mind because I was surprisingly tired and slept awesomely for 9 or 10 hours at night rather than my usual 6 fitful hours. I'm not sure what left me so tired, probably going a whole 13 hours without food on Monday, lol.

I passed the time over the last few days by working, participating in some solar advocacy related activities for Solar Connexion and Solarize Blacksburg, and watching the beautiful color-changing rainbow of bruising on my groin which I have found oddly fascinating.

In reality I am no different than I was a week ago, so it was back to "training" or whatever you call it when you are just not sure when you are racing next. I guess I am "working out." I won't call it "exercising" - that sounds too pointless.

I just thought this picture was really funny!

I felt a little bad asking Coach Jim to go ahead and fill in my schedule on my road to nowhere just to keep me busy until we know more. But after 20+ years of coaching, he's been through this cycle with lots of athletes (and with me multiple times) and he always seems to know exactly what to say and do and how to handle us.

To be clear, I'm not brooding, or feeling bad. I can do so much (just not run fast, or far, or up hills, or climb a lot of stairs, or stand on the bike long, or have full feeling in my toes on my left foot during or after I bike or run). I have nothing to complain about. Zero. That said, I have appreciated the encouragement and hearing from others who have encountered similar challenges.

So anyway yesterday it was a happy return with a 40 minute spin with spin-ups and then some upper-body TRX work at the gym with DeWayne. I hadn't done a whole TRX circuit before so I appreciated the change-up and the challenge. I am glad both arms remained safely in their sockets throughout. 

 (stock pic showing some TRX)

Today I'll do an easy, flat treadmill run and hit the Vasa Swim Ergometer. (Yet another time the Swim Erg comes to the rescue since the puncture means I can't get back in the pool till next week.) Saturday it will be a long bike ride.

So yeah, back at it, why not? Work with what ya got, and I've still got plenty!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Diagnosing my running medical mystery: external iliac artery compression

For most of the past year (post-Boston Marathon) I have struggled with an unusual running problem characterized by a painful congested, burning, fatigued feeling of the left quad, numbness of the left toes, and more recently some discoloration of the toes. It is triggered by running up hills or running fast. There are times it stops me in my tracks and after a brief rest, it resets and I can run a bit more. I have finished many runs in tears from the mental warfare of my leg screaming to stop and my brain saying to keep going.

I have managed it all year by basically running flat, not too far, and not too fast. I've been on the treadmill a lot. On the bike I have some symptoms - numbness and some fatigue, but it's more of an annoyance there than anything.

I've tried therapeutic routes and a six-week cessation of running. I have bad weeks of running and less bad weeks of running (none good), but nothing has helped. It was my friend Lora who pointed me to this article about pro Triathlete Kelly Williamson's problem with her external iliac artery and while reading her description I remember thinking "this is exactly how I feel".

Soon after, I attended the New River Valley Bicycle Club Association party in January where I spoke with the area cardiologist (and cyclist) Jose Rivero who insisted I see vascular surgeon Dr. Jesse Davidson (also a cyclist) in Roanoke. I had an appointment with him for the end of January where he suggested my symptoms were consistent with an external iliac artery problem and we arranged a follow-up for diagnostics. In the meantime I of course googled "runner illiac artery" and found this article that was another case of "OMG this is me exactly!"

On Friday, February 28 I spent a couple of hours at the Jefferson Vascular Clinic. It was an hour of pressure testing (four cuffs per leg, one on each arm) and some kind of recording of my pulses at various places on my legs (Doppler maybe?), and the ultrasound of the artery from mid abdomen and down to both hips.

I had said I could fire up the problem with a 20 minute run, when in reality, on the little hill I used, it could have been 5 minutes. I was suffering almost immediately as I invited the very pain I had spent ten months working to avoid. It was the longest, hardest 20 minute run I have ever had to do.

I finished the run at the employee entrance where the vascular tech met me and took me swiftly back to the room for another 30 or so minutes of pressures, pulses, and ultrasounds. She went around and around from one ankle to the next, back to my arm, back around again, recording the changes in pressure and pulse over time. Difference were noted between the two legs. The reaction of the artery post-exercise was described by the technician as a "spasm then clamping down." I was taken to see Dr. Davidson almost immediately after and he personally called the radiology lab to arrange an arteriogram for me on Monday (yesterday). Blood work, all happened so fast.

So yesterday, despite the threat of snow and a possible closing of the clinic, the diagnostic arteriogram went on as scheduled. After getting prepped and valium-ed, Dr. Brozyna put a catheter in my right hip and injected dye, I would hold my breath, they would xray, and this was repeated over and over. You get this strange warming sensation (like being microwaved) from the dye. I wish I had pictures from that room, or of my images, but I don't :(

 Samantha, Niki, and Robin

Then it was off to recovery to lie flat for two hours watching some horrible TV channel with ads and programs about food (I hadn't eaten since the night before). I was finally allowed to sit up and eat. The radiologist said he had identified the area of elongation and narrowing. For a normal (read: non-running, non-exercising) person, it would not cause a problem. He suggested that the position of cycling has brought it on, even though it manifests more on the run. And if you look up "cyclists" and "external iliac artery" you will see that some elite level cyclists have been affected by this, and have bounced back following surgical correction.

So I have the diagnostic clues, but it's not fixed yet. Next I will meet back with the vascular surgeon, Dr. Davidson (he's gone this week) and see what he suggests for a course of action. One thing is for sure. If it can be fixed, I want the fix. I limped along all last year making the most of what I had, but running has not been fun for a long time.

Right now it's no training for a couple of days (and no shower until tomorrow, ugh), no pool swims for five, but then I'll get back to it. I'm not paying to register for any races at the moment, knowing I may end up facing a significant interruption of the season. If it brings relief, I am at peace with that. As I say, I am in this for the long haul.

Even if nothing could be fixed, even if this is just how it is to be for me, I remain grateful for all that I can do. This is just a bump in the road, and what did I quote in the last blog post? "The obstacle is the path." This is part of my path.

Thank you to all who have supported me along this bumpy path including Coach Jim, my family, and Bryan (who is an excellent trouble-shooter of all things).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Times I least want to train, I need it the most

Things have been a tad extra busy lately, with a trip to PA last weekend (major surgery for a parent), additional after school and weekend kid activities, lots of family birthdays (all of ours in a six-week span), and taking steps to solve my running-related medical conundrum. It's all been compounded by poor sleep. Saturday morning I did something I don't do very often...feeling a bit sniffly and draggy, I climbed back in bed until almost noon.

I had a 40 mile bike ride on the schedule. It was going to reach the 50's and the sun was shining. But I did not want to go. Not. At. All. I had all kinds of "legitimate" reasons to skip it. I debated and I procrastinated. I knew the way my head was that I HAD to go. I gave myself an out and told myself if I felt awful, I'd just turn around.

So off I went...and those first five miles were the looonnnnggggeeessssttttt five bike miles EVER. I began to wonder if the Garmin was malfunctioning. Or if my tires were flat. Or if I had African Sleeping Sickness.

A few miles later, I felt the mental cloud start to give way, the brain untangling, priorities resorting. Part of it was from the physical effort, and part was from my podcast playlist. (I can still hear cars and I wear a mirror). Stories from The Moth, This American Life, and Competitor Radio are great for providing perspective.

Slowly, I found my groove. By the turnaround point, I was approaching normal.

After 44 miles, I felt great! What a difference. Exercise really is such powerful "medicine." It works quickly and without deleterious side effects (most of the time).

The days I least want to train are usually the days I MOST need it. Somehow that is hard to remember or believe until after I have finished. That made me think about this proverb:

Yes, the obstacle IS the path. I'm glad I pushed through this one.