A Health Update

There hasn’t been a lot to talk about over here, and it’s mostly because of my health, still. I’ve been taking time off to finally recover from this bronchitis, which has lasted for 6 weeks now, mostly because I’ve been an idiot who has been pushing herself too hard and not taking enough time off and rest. However, in the meantime, I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this problem with my neck/back/shoulders.

Long story short, I’m on Vicodin now, and I’ve got an MRI next Friday.

I’m very limited in what I can do in terms of working out because of this. I can swim, but I still can’t run (because of my tendonitis), and I can’t lift heavy (although I’m trying to do lighter weight and more reps). So what I’m trying to do for the next few weeks is control my eating, have a way healthier diet, and lose a couple pounds. There isn’t much else I can do, and I’ve never really tried to drop fat through JUST diet before.

I’ll try to record my thoughts here, as I find out more about this mess in my back and go through this process.

Absence, Injuries, Illness – and me

I’ve gone from almost-every-day posting to almost-no posting, and here’s why. Last week Tuesday I was struck with a fever completely out of the blue – about 102-103F – and Wednesday I woke up with swollen tender painful red streaks down my left side. It turns out I had a skin infection – the cause of the fever – which moved into my lymph nodes and, well, my left breast. The infection is what caused the fever. I’ve been on antibiotics since Wednesday, and I do seem to be getting better, albeit slowly; the fever is long gone, but the red streaks and marks are just now starting to subside.

I do not necessarily know what caused it, but I wanted to post a mention of it, because there’s a decent chance that I got it from the Warrior Dash. Please note that I’m not saying “The Warrior Dash gave me an infection / got me sick” or “You shouldn’t do the Warrior Dash because it’s full of filthy illness.” All I am saying is, if you’re someone whose immune system is already a little compromised, and you’re prone to getting sick and getting infections and fighting these things off, you may want to take extra care at the Warrior Dash because you’re going to be swimming through untreated lake water and crawling through what is probably germ-filled mud. It’s just a word of caution! My guess is many people (who have normally working immune systems) won’t even have to worry about it. No one else in my group got sick at all.

So that experience had me flat out in my bed for 2-3 days last week, for starters. I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be running very much while fighting an infection with antibitics anyway.

In the meantime I also started physical therapy. I went once last week and was thoroughly unimpressed at the session: I got almost no relief out of it and was instead assigned some seemingly useless exercises to do every hour (nearly impossible at the job I work).  I did the exercises when I could, but didn’t think they were doing much, and was overall discouraged and irritated. However, I went back yesterday and found the session a lot more relieving. I was given 15 minutes wrapped in a hot pad to start; then I did some actual exercises with the therapist (an arm bike, which was actually pretty funny, because it feels really dumb to pedal a bike with your hands; then some weight exercises for my shoulders and traps – which were extremely low-weight versions of exercises I had already been doing in my heavy weight lifting period, which implies that maybe trying NROL4W was a contributor to this problem in the first place). Then afterwards they put me on traction for 10 minutes. Can I be in traction every day. Oh my god, it felt so good. They put a clamp around your head and basically pull it upwards from your neck at a set pressure for some time, then relieve it, then do it again. Holy shit. It was amazing. I’m not sure how much lasting relief it will provide – and the problem isn’t entirely in my neck; it’s in my shoulders and upper back too – but I feel the second session was a lot more promising.

So between the infection/fever and physical therapy, I have not had a lot of time or opportunity (or, to be honest, motivation) to work out very much. On Friday morning I did go to the gym and run a fairly easy 3 miles followed by a 20 min swim, which felt quite nice, but I haven’t done much of anything since then. My company is hosting a lot of interview candidates this week so I am not sure I’ll have time to do anything until tomorrow or Friday.

I am pretty much resigning myself to not performing very well on my part of the Akron Marathon Relay. The rest of my team is fighting injuries too, so I don’t think I’ll necessarily be hardcore disappointing anyone, but it is pretty demotivating to look back through the recent history of this blog and see how much time I have lost to injury and bullshit.

I will continue to run: I have three Fridays before the race, on which I can do the 7-mile loop near my house that I’ve been using, and I’ll put in what miles I can on the other days. After that race is over, however, I may need a very long break from both weightlifting and long running until I can heal the damage I’ve done to my body. I’ll need to make a plan to move forward, because otherwise I won’t do much of anything. :/

Let’s Talk About: Health, Pain, and Stress

Often when I see other people healthblogging, they talk a lot about their workouts: how long they ran, how much they lifted, how far they rode. What we do is an important part of any workout: it’s a metric we can use to judge results, to explore improvement. The workout itself seems like the core focus: do the workout, improve yourself. Complete the workout, challenge yourself. Through a system of workouts, get better, beat your PR. Work out –> get healthy.

This is true. But health is a holistic thing: it involves a lot more than lifting a barbell or running a mile. And if you’re really interested in health, there are factors other than your actual workouts that are going to come into play as these things settle into your life. I want to talk about two of them today: pain and stress.

The reason I want to talk about them personally is because they’ve been on my mind recently, maybe more than my actual workouts. I have a difficult time dealing with both, and so I think it’s time for me to get my thoughts out there. A lot of bloggers throw around the words listen to your body – but what does that mean? How do you learn to speak your body’s language, and how do you learn what’s a warning sign and what isn’t?

Pain
Pain is part of life, part of having a body – but it’s especially a part of working out. We work until we are in pain, because then we feel like we have pushed the hardest; it’s in healing us from that pain that our body improves. We lift weights until failure, until our muscles burn and ache and we can’t walk or lift our arms for two days afterwards; we run long and slow for hours until we’re pushing the limits of endurance, until our feet feel blistered and our ankles and knees feel like stones and our lungs are gasping. And then we take a rest day, and we do it again, and eventually 7 miles feels like 5, and 60lb feels like 35lb, and suddenly we’re better than we were before.

The pain that I want to talk about isn’t the good ache of a challenging workout. It’s the sharp ache of an injury, or the lingering ache of a strain, or the recurring pain you get during that first two miles.

Here’s the thing: if you let pain talk you out of a workout, you’ll never work out consistently. Or, I wouldn’t, anyway – I’m constantly in pain, somewhere. On a good day I’m hovering at a 2-3 on the pain scale (of 10). If I waited until my body was 100% to do a workout, I would never do a workout. Ever. My question is: how do you tell when you’re just using pain as an excuse to skip a workout, because you’re lazy or tired, and when your pain is a message you should listen to and take an extra rest day?

I’ve tried both methods. When I was training for my half marathon, nothing got in the way of my training plan. As long as I could move, I would still run. Sore ankle? Still running. Back hurts? Still running. Got the flu? If I can breathe, I’m still running. Might be a stress fracture? Run on it anyway. I did well at the half, but then I had to take almost an entire month off to heal up overall; I had to start training for another race afterwards, but after that race, I had to take off a long period of time. And what I remember most about those months of training for the half was just hating running. I was tired, I hurt, I didn’t like doing tempo runs because they were hard and triggered my asthma, I didn’t like doing long runs because they took up so much time and triggered my asthma, I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was agony. But on the positive side, I showed that I could stick with a plan through anything, and I also showed myself that plans work, consistency works: I got so much out of that dedication when I raced that year. I was better than I ever thought I could be.

But I’ve also tried the other side of it. After both my big races were done that year I knew I needed a break, so I decided that I would start erring on the side of a rest day: if I felt like I needed the break, physically or mentally, I took the break. If I didn’t feel like running, I didn’t run. If I didn’t feel like lifting, I stayed home. If something hurt, I’d try to take care of it with ice and heat and rest. And over the course of that, I lost almost all of my fitness, and gained 10 pounds. I’m not trying to say that heavy/fat = unhealthy here — but what happened for me was that I took the concept of a break or a rest day and used it as an out, a reason to just do nothing.

It’s something I’m struggling with now as I face the races I’ve already committed to and this awful thing in my neck/shoulders that won’t stop stabbing me. Do I take it easy, but then lose what I’ve gained? Or do I work through it – as carefully as I can – even though it makes the pain stay? Some pain is a message from your body saying I’m making you stronger; some is a message from your body saying cut that the hell out. I’m listening, but my body isn’t telling me what it wants me to do for it.

There has to be a place that’s healthy. Or healthier than either of the two extremes.

Stress
Stress is a part of life, too. Nobody gets a free ride. We have to work a job, to make money; we have to feed ourselves, and keep our homes, and care for ourselves – and others – too. Adding a workout plan into a life that’s already busy – work, school, chores, social life, etc – can fill up time, real quick. If working out is supposed to be so healthy, why does making that 7:00pm trip to the gym add so much stress, take so much effort?

When you’re stressed out, it can be that much harder to find the time, the willpower, the motivation to work out. Yes, we’ve all heard about endorphins and cortisol and how physical activity can relieve stress and combat those horrible hormones — but that doesn’t mean much when you left the house at 7:00am and worked all day and it’s now 6:30pm and you haven’t eaten dinner and you really, really, really don’t want to go run that 5 miles. Or is that just me? I don’t think, I’ll feel so much better after that run! I think, oh god, I don’t have the energy to do that.

It’s another thing I’m struggling with right now. My job has been more stressful than ever since January, and although it’s finally starting to come back under my control – now, in August – a lot of the damage has already been done. My dentist is pretty sure I’ve given myself TMJ because I’m so stressed out I clench my jaw during the day and gring my teeth in my sleep: I’m going to need a night guard. My doctor is pretty sure that I’ve triggered this pinched nerve in my neck through a combination of overworking it (lifting heavy weights) and stress – hunching my shoulders, carrying knots in my neck and back, and sitting at the computer: I’m going to need physical therapy. I’ve done a lot of damage to my body in the last six months, carrying all of this stress.

And it makes it harder to work out, not easier. I’m exhausted and stressed and all I want to do is relax. Maybe part of it is that I haven’t yet found a workout – or training plan – that I enjoy, but the last thing I want to do is go run 5 – or 7 – or 3 – miles. I want to sit on my couch covered in cats and do nothing. So is it healthier to give myself that break, or to make myself run? Where’s the balance between relaxation-time and workout-time?

 

Being healthy isn’t just about what you do and what you eat. It’s about how you live.

Week 07 Summary; Week 08 Plan; Doctor Update

Week 07 Summary: 14.7 miles (4.5 mi speedwork Wed, 7 mi LSR Fri, 3.2 mi easy Sun) plus abs on Monday.

There was only one weight session in Week 07, and that’s because on Thursday I went back to my doctor’s office to go over my x-rays. The x-rays report that I have arthritis in my spine. The degeneration is what’s causing all of the nerve pinching and the tense muscles. I also have arthritic degeneration in my toes, so I guess it isn’t a huge surprise to hear that it’s in my spine too. It’s depressing and scary, though: depressing because there isn’t much you can do to fix arthritis; you just have to avoid aggravating it or setting it off ; and scary, because I need to confirm that it’s osteoarthritis and not rheumatoid arthritis (RA is an autoimmune disease which might explain some of the other things I’ve been suffering with over the years, but can be fairly debilitating).

When I asked the doctor what this meant for working out, he told me that I could continue doing anything that didn’t hurt, but that he recommended avoiding heavy weightlifting (especially upper-body, anything focused on lats or traps) and high impact (running or high intensity cardio).

There’s irony here:

  1. I’ve been lifting heavy a) because it’s the most efficient way to build muscle and b) because it’s a proven way to stave off osteoporosis in old age.
  2. I’ve been running a) to keep up cardiovascular health and b) to improve (to what extent I can) my asthma.
  3. #1 and #2 are apparently what is ‘causing’, ie. setting off, my arthritis. These “good-for-you” exercises are actually acting as trauma to my body. So what I’m gaining in one place I’m losing in another.

I want to talk about this at some point on the blog, because I feel like this is an important place I’ve found myself: This is why it’s so important for us to define health in a way that makes sense, for each body. People have talked for years about how heavy weights are the only way to ‘get slim’, to the point where it can get very judgy or preachy. And here I am, evidence at 30 years of age that not everyone can do “the best” workout.  Is heavy lifting still “healthy” for my body if it keeps me hovering at a 5 on the pain scale of 10, if it aggravates my neck to the point where I can’t drive a car? I don’t think so, but I think the industry has a ways to go until that message is received.

So based on that, what’s gonna happen during Week #08?

  • Technically it’s a rest week for me; also, I’m doing the Warrior Dash on Sunday 26 August. However, I still want to maintain running fitness. I did ~15 miles last week; I’m going to aim for 12.6 this week as a rest/race week. 4.5 miles of easy speedwork, 5 miles easy on Friday, and then 3.1 miles at the Warrior Dash.
  • I won’t be weight training this week either. If I have a free day I may try to do some core work, but I also won’t beat myself up if I simply take it as a rest day.
  • I’m going to try a new gym that has a pool. I haven’t talked a lot about it here, but I was a state-level varsity swimmer in high school and I have always loved swimming. And when you’re looking at low-impact cardio and muscle-building activities, I’m not sure you get much better than swimming. I have a couple free trial passes to a new gym that I’m going to try twice this week (Mon and Thurs) and if I like the rest of the gym and the pool, I’ll be doing a 3-month trial period and incorporating lap swims and intense pool cardio into my overall workout plan.
  • Physical therapy. The doctor prescribed some PT for my neck, and I’m super whiny about it, because PT is expensive (especially on my insurance :/ ) and time-consuming. But I need to go if I ever want to figure out what’s wrong with my neck/shoulders/back.

I’ll update as I can. Has anyone gone through PT before? Any words of wisdom?

 

Week 03: schedule change up and Worrying Important Thoughts

Two things to talk about today.

First: I ended up having to go to work today. Today’s supposed to be my day off. But a meeting was scheduled for the afternoon, there was no warning and no other time to re-schedule it, and I didn’t really have a choice. So instead of spending the morning painting in the basement and the afternoon relaxing and doing my long run, I spent the morning painting and the afternoon at work. It was a bad meeting with bad news: a really stressful discussion that left me feeling super angry and upset, very personally frustrated and stressed, and also overall exhausted.

It was already late in the day, I was upset, and I’d completely thrown off my eating schedule: so I decided to skip my LSR. Instead, I’ll get up and do 75 minutes of running tomorrow morning. There’s a birthday party tomorrow night, so I could probably use the extra calorie burn tomorrow (I know it’s all the same; just saying mentally).

So. That sucks. But one of the biggest things standing in the way of consistency for workouts with my is my job, and it always has been. Some days work just robs me of the will to do anything that isn’t “watch stupid shows on TV” or “play PS3”. That’s my life. I need to learn to deal with it. Not necessarily by forcing myself to run – by doing an honest survey of my state and deciding at to do instead.

(today’s answer was a double gin and tonic.)

The second thing on my mind is just as bad.

So I have some sort of pinched nerve / muscle strain in my neck/shoulder area. I’ve had it for three or four years now, but it has always been intermittent: it shows up, starts to hurt, I put a hot pad on it and treat it really well, and it goes away. Maybe a couple days at the most. If I don’t start babying it – hot pad, ice, Advil – it gets to the point where it quite literally feels like someone is jabbing a red hot knitting needle directly into the space between my neck and shoulders. I can’t even turn my neck (therefore can’t drive a car, cant get to work). It always eventually goes away – usually the stiff sharp pain only lasts a day.

I’ve currently been fighting the pain for about four weeks now.

It hasn’t gone away.

I can still function, so I’ve been – not ignoring it, but sidelining it. I’ve been using my hot pad almost daily; I get neck rubs from friends whenever I can; I even went out and bought a new $60 pillow for extra support to try to help it. But it isn’t going away. In fact, it’s gradually getting worse. It’s driving me to the point of constant stress and almost tears. I can’t sleep. I can barely sit comfortably.

About, say, 5 weeks ago, I started seriously adding heavy weight lifting and Body Rock to my workout regime. Both of which are heavily upper body related.

I don’t believe it took me this long to put it together. I think somehow in my head I was thinking, working out will make it stronger! I’ll get better! or some kind of similar logic. Like, strengthening the muscles around it would obviously help put back into place whatever is so fucked up, help settle whatever the problem is, help balance out the obvious imbalance.

Maybe I’m fucking causing it.

Because it has never stuck around this long without any relief. Ever. In five years. And while I’ve done upper body workouts before, sure, this is my first time in a really long time consistently lifting hard, doing compound weight lifts like squats, deadlifts, etc, and combining it with pushups and planks and all that. And of course now it’s all that I can think of.

So. As of right now I’m taking a week off of weights and BodyRock. Next week is a rest week in my running training plan, so I’m going to make it a rest week overall: no lifting, no body weight exercises, nothing but easy runs.

It might do nothing; in which case, obviously, I need to go to a doctor. But it might get better. In which case I should probably also go see a doctor, but at least I will know.

It’s a big derailment, but I’m trying to be okay with it. I have to do it: the pain is getting to the point of unbearable. If I watch my diet and continue to run, I shouldn’t set myself back too much.