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Yesterday morning I ran 8 miles and I am very happy to report that I did not feel any pain, nor have I experienced any soreness since then. Just a few weeks ago it was typical for me to feel pain in 3 different places after any run that was longer than about 4 miles. Unfortunately, this change is not because I am suddenly in significantly better shape than I was one month ago, or because my body has finally adjusted to longer distances. I believe the change is due to some awesome advice that I was given by my friend who is studying to get her doctorate in physical therapy.

I, for one, have never given physical therapy much thought, nor was I a good physical therapy patient when I went as a high school student for bercitis in my shoulder from swimming. I didn’t do any of the exercises given to me and I think I might have iced my shoulder one or two times total. And guess what? I still don’t have full range of motion in my right shoulder joint and it feels sore and tired when I swim or climb. My friend made sure to point out the obvious to me when I told her all this. But despite my poor PT record, my friend was willing to hear me out when I complained about my running pains, and then thoughtfully work with me to make them go away.

Here is my list of ailments, (I am hoping people will be able to relate to some of them). First, an ongoing problem that I have had ever since I started running longer distances three and a half years ago has to do with my little toes. A few miles in they start to feel smashed (especially the right one) and then they go numb, throb, and eventually cause me to cry out in pain. They were the reason that I practically crawled  the last couple miles of the Chicago Marathon, and an issue that no running store has been able to help by selling me different shoes. Second, on a long run a few months ago, my lower back started to feel pressure and soreness and the next day I could barely sit down. Lastly, I went out for a run just a couple weeks ago and within the first mile I started to feel the beginnings of shin splints. I tried to run through it, but ended up walking the last 2 miles. My PT friend was able to help me with ALL of these, and now I am running pain-free (for now at least.)

Before I share the simple ideas that she gave me, I must state that I am NOT a doctor and this blog post is NOT intended to diagnose or treat anyone’s physical ailments. There are many professionals and professional resources available for treating my issues, but I like what my friend offered because it is so clear, easy, and helpful. I am sharing these tips because they worked for me and I am hoping that they might also help others. If you are in pain, you should see a doctor…and I recommend finding a good physical therapist and then doing what they tell you to do 🙂

Here is what my friend taught me, easy as pie. For my toes, the comment that helped me most was “you want to make sure you are pushing off from your big toe, or the cushioned pad at the front underneath side of your foot, with every step.” That’s it. As my friend gave me her medical advice she stated that I should not necessarily think about everything she was telling me while running because then I might overcompensate and injure myself somewhere else. But now, on my longer runs, whenever I start to notice some pain in my baby toes I just picture a laser beam coming out of my big toes and I try to shoot a nice straight line. It works great and I feel way less pain. For my back my friend taught me all about my pelvic floor. (Turns out this is the same thing pregnant women should learn about before delivering their child). Basically she said that there was a muscle that went all the way from my spine in my lower back around my sides to the middle of my belly. If I could strengthen that muscle then it would stabilize me and prevent me from rotating my torso too much (or was it too loosely) with each step and my back might not hurt. So every once in a while I will find that muscle (you can find it right underneath your hip bones within your pelvic region by laughing or making monkey sounds) and then I will practice flexing and releasing that muscle. Apparently if you get really strong you can flex it and then breathe in and out in a nice and controlled fashion. I’m still getting there. But my back no longer hurts and I generally feel more stable.

The help for shin splints is what I am most excited about. According to my friend, the short of it is that shins hurt when the calf muscles are not working hard enough, or are not strong enough. So now I do two things. First, I strengthen my calf muscles whenever I can. This is simple. Just stand up on your toes (feet parallel facing forward) and then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat a lot of times. It helps if you have a job where you get to stand around a lot. Then do the same thing with your feet pigeon-toed, and then with toes pointed away from each other like a ballerina. Second, and this is my favorite part, whenever I start to feel even the smallest burn in my shins while running, I remind my calves that they are strong and the pain goes away like magic. I think of how cool calves strong calves look, and I let myself notice the work they are doing, and then I say out loud, “Damn, my calves are strong” and just like that, no more shin splints. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Amazing!

So needless to say, I plan on hiring my PT friend to be my personal coach when I thru-hike the PCT, because I know I’ll be experiencing some aches and pains. Hopefully what I’ve explained makes sense and it is able to help some other runners stay strong and pain-free on those fulfilling long runs. Our bodies are incredible machines, but it is our job to take care of them so that they continue functioning properly. Here’s to all the physical therapists out there! Keep up the good work!

Sometimes I can work myself into a mini panic attack with the thought that in order to stay alive I have to keep eating. I know this sounds strange, so let me explain. I distinctly remember a time during my senior year of high school when I suddenly realized that I was going to have to feed myself multiple times every day for the rest of my life. The thought terrified me then, and unfortunately I still have some lingering concern over the issue now. It is not that I don’t like food, or that I don’t enjoy eating, but cooking, nutrition, and preparing meals has never really come easy to me. My initial concern lasted for a few weeks; I would run my fears by my friends, emphasizing that it was an EVERY DAY requirement, but no one else seemed to be the least bit worried. I fretted that I would quickly exhaust all of my food options, and then what? It seemed obvious to me that after a couple decades of eating the same few foods every morning (cereal, toast, oatmeal, eggs) that I just wouldn’t have the appetite for them any longer. And what about lunch? How many slices of pizza, PB&J’s, or burritos could one person eat in a lifetime? And you wouldn’t even want to get me started on dinner. Chicken, salad, and rice can only be dressed up in so many ways. I felt limited, stuck, and overwhelmed.

Now fast forward 8 years. I still deliberate (and not in the good way) over every meal I eat. I wake up in the morning and part of me literally dreads the fact that I will have to find and prepare, or even worse – pay for, 3 meals in order to keep myself healthy and full. I have found that nutrition, taste, efficiency, and cost are nearly impossible for me to balance. Even when I think I got it right, I’ll happen upon a news article or hear a friend talking about why this-or-that item or ingredient is actually not so great for me. You can imagine my frustrations surrounding the gluten-free, dairy-free diets of many people these days. I believe that I probably WOULD feel healthier and more energized if I adopted a strict diet, but I struggle so much when I allow myself to eat everything that I just don’t see something that is so limiting (and expensive!) as a plausible option for me. I imagine the best solution for my problem is to cook more. Most people experience a lot more variety than I do…more raw ingredients, spices, seasonings, and mixtures. The issue is that I just don’t enjoy cooking. That, and cooking for one lacks some excitement. Even cooking up mac and cheese can really feel like a chore. But I have not given up. I still try on a regular basis to embrace food and mealtimes. Here is a sampling of my menu this week:


A cheese and veggie omelet I made for breakfast 2 days ago

PB&J, chips and salsa, and an apple for lunch yesterday

BBQ chicken, mushrooms and salad for dinner last night

I caved and had a frozen pizza for dinner tonight…

Well, at least I tried. What I REALLY need is a personal chef 🙂 Here is where food shows up on my lists…

Daily
Drink water
Take vitamins
Eat healthy
Meditation
Exercise
Birthdays
Make music
Read books
Recycle
Yelp
Project 365 (I’ll explain later)
Write blog post

“Other” Activities (Which is a nice way of saying…things I SHOULD spend more time doing)
Photography
Yoga
Reading
Music
Cooking
Travel
Volunteer
 

 

Alright, by the end of this post I legitimately expect anyone who is reading this to drop everything, call the American Red Cross and make an appointment to give blood. You’ve been warned.

I have always loved giving blood because it is a straightforward, selfless act of kindness. It’s free, it’s easy, and it just makes you feel good. Okay, admittedly the snacks, fruit juice, and sweet old volunteers that ask how you’re feeling every 20 seconds also add to the delight. Actually, my high school government teacher’s lesson on “enlightened self-interest” does come to mind when I really think about why I give blood. Sure I care about helping out fellow humans, but I suppose I get something out of it too; mostly that warm fuzzy feeling that assures me that I do make a difference and that I am important.

I have been a whole blood donor for years (ever since those blood drives in high school) but I have only recently committed to a more frequent and intentional schedule. The red cross in Portland does a great job. They are always friendly and efficient and make you feel like a hero just for coming in. A person can donate blood every 56 days, so I have tried to drop in every 2 months since I moved here for my donation. Each time that I go in I walk past a separate room with the word APHERESIS written in large red letters on the wall. Eventually I decided to stop by that mysterious room and ask some questions, and before I knew it I was scheduled for a 3 hour blood platelet donation.

Apheresis (the process of removing part of a person’s blood and returning the rest to their body) serves a specific population of people, takes longer, can be done every 7 days, and is NOT recommended for people with a fear of needles. My donation this evening was a “double-platelet” donation, which means that it yielded enough platelets for two transfusions, most likely for cancer patients in the Pacific Northwest. Overall, my first apheresis donation was a great experience. I was hooked up to the machine for about 2.5 hours, but I did get to watch “About A Boy” and a couple episodes of “How I met Your Mother”. Also, the nurses are constantly covering you with blankets, checking to make sure you feel alright, and bringing you food and drinks as needed. There are some strange sensations that you can feel during the donation (mild side effects from the anti-coagulant that is returned into your body with your blood) but you feel better after the donation than you do with whole blood because most of the blood is all back inside of you. I will need some time to figure out what I want my ideal blood donation system to be. The Red Cross would prefer that I be solely a platelet donor, but I am not yet sure of how often I’d feel comfortable going in for such a long procedure.

Okay, now it’s time for you to make that appointment. Don’t act surprised…you knew this was coming. And while you’re at it, PLEASE go to BeTheMatch.org and join the bone marrow registry. You could end up saving someone’s life! Maybe you can’t cure cancer, but your donation of blood or marrow will mean the world to someone. Just one more way to live deliberately.

So where does all this show up on my lists? Ah yes, there it is…

On an Ongoing Basis
Groceries
Laundry
Wash car
Haircut
Eyebrows
Give blood

“Other” Activities
Photography
Yoga
Reading
Music
Cooking
Travel
Volunteer (More on this soon…)

 

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About Me

- 26 years old
- Pacific Northwest
- Educator, adventurer, friend

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