Category Archives: Running

Adventures with Internal Fixators – there IS life after ORIF!

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably a roller derby athlete and/or a runner with a broken leg. At least, that’s my hope. Wait, allow me to rephrase that! I don’t wish broken limbs on anybody – but if you’re already broken, then you’re likely searching the web for tales of other skaters or runners who have been bolted back together. You want to know what your future with your newly bionic leg looks like. You want to know if you’ll skate or run or jump rope again. You’re probably even wondering whether to throw out all your high heels. You have questions! I may have answers.

I found myself in similar circumstances in June of 2007, when my left tibia/fibula shattered in 11 places. You can read about it here. Long story short: I have 2 plates, 17 screws & a stabilizing rod in my left ankle/calf. Due to the severity of the damage to both bones, none of that jazz can ever come out. I know some folks who have had plates or screws removed later in life, but this is what I’m working with for the long haul.

 

Pyrobot

Pyrobot

My surgeon said that I’d probably always walk with a bit of a limp, that running was out of the question & that I certainly wouldn’t be able to play derby anymore. Looking back on it now, I think he was intentionally challenging me to prove him wrong.  It worked. I played derby for 5 more years and have run two half-marathons and countless shorter races since. I’ll never be a pogo stick champion and I’ll always be able to tell you when the weather’s about to get cold, but overall, I’m a better athlete now than I was before I was injured.

It’s been nearly 7 years since my surgery, so I feel like I have a pretty decent grasp by now on what works and what doesn’t for recovery and beyond.  Your mileage will vary, obviously, depending on your pain threshold and willingness to work beyond it.  My observations:

While you’re still in your wheelchair or on crutches:

  • Take your pain pills on schedule, but only as long as you have to.  Try alternative therapy if you can. There are plenty of natural pain relievers that won’t damage your body the way that NSAIDs and opioids can.
  • Sleep as much as humanly possible, then sleep some more – your body needs so much more sleep when it’s trying to heal.  Your body also heals much more quickly if it’s not full of alcohol or crappy food, so don’t crawl into a bottle of whiskey like I did or eat your bodyweight in french fries.
  • Stay active so your general fitness level doesn’t slide completely off the rails. Unless you also have an upper body injury, you can lift weights while seated or lying down.  Here’s the series I did during the three months where I was allowed to put zero weight on my left leg:

Seated: front and lateral arm raises, alternating hammer curls, single-arm concentration curls, overhead press, overhead tricep extension, bent over rows and bent over flyes

Lying on back on a yoga mat or bench: chest press, flyes, alternating rows, pullovers, isometric straight-arm holds

  • Start a journal or blog if you’re not keeping one already.  Write about your entire experience while it’s fresh in your mind. You’ll someday be a completely different person than you are at this stage in your injury, and your story will motivate and inspire others if you choose to share it.
  • Stay involved with your league if you intend to return to derby. Volunteer as an NSO, brainstorm sponsorship opportunities, take notes for coaches on the sidelines.  Even when it’s hard emotionally to watch others get to skate when you cannot, please know that you are setting a good example as a productive member of your league.  You’re still making a difference.  If you were an “I just want to skate” type before, maybe it’s time to rethink that mindset.
  • Now’s a good time to finish that book (and start a new series) or to learn how to crochet. Treat this less active time as a way to exercise your brain. You won’t get quite the same endorphin rush as a tempo run or a scrimmage, but your synapses will fire a lot harder if you’re doing something productive with them.

When you’re back on your feet (and you WILL be):

  • If you have the time/money/insurance to devote to physical therapy, I highly recommend it.  If you are more of a DIY kind of athlete, then schedule your rehab exercises into your calendar and treat them  like they’re PT appointments that cannot be missed. Yes, it’s boring and unpleasant, but rebuilding your balance and strength is crucial to preventing compensatory muscle imbalances (that can jack with your kinetic chain for years to come).
  • Single leg barefoot balance exercises are great for restoring your balance on foot, which will get you back on skates faster.  (As soon as I can get somebody to take some pictures for me, I’ll post a balance workout that can be used to improve anybody’s single-leg strength and stability)
  • Strengthen your core.  Not just your abs, but your hips too – your hips are part of your lumbo-pelvic hip complex (LPHC), the group of  29 muscles that make up your true core – where your center of gravity is located and where all movement originates (and in derby, it’s your wrecking ball). Weak hips will increase your risk for knee and (more) ankle injuries, and your kinetic chain is already working at a disadvantage now that your muscles/tendons/ligaments have to reform around foreign matter.  I recommend bridges, planks, hip abduction (I lay on my side and do Jane Fonda-style leg lifts) and hip extension (supermans and scorpions factor heavily into my core workouts).

Returning to skating:

Since my injury, I’ve seen many skaters come back faster than I did, and I am always impressed at those who can flip that switch in their brain again so quickly.  You know – the one that takes us from mortal to human wrecking ball. If you’ve been broken, you know that switch doesn’t flip as easily anymore.  That is completely okay.  Let me repeat that.  IT IS OKAY TO BE SCARED TO PLAY DERBY AGAIN. It is wise to have a certain degree of fear/caution, because it helps you protect yourself as you heal.

Hopefully, your orthopedic specialist understands enough about your sport to have given you a realistic timeframe on when you can return to derby. (I give bout tickets to all of my doctors/trainers/PTs so they can see exactly what we do). My surgeon prescribed a month of non-contact skating before letting me jump back into contact.  I had been so impatient to get back to blocking, but I found that I needed another four months for my scars to heal before I could stomach getting kicked in them.  I reffed until I found myself craving a solid hip check. My league was very cool about letting me jump back into drills at practice when I was ready.

Talk to your trainers (and your doc and PT) when you’re ready so everyone understands where you are physically and mentally. Honest communication keeps expectations reasonable on both sides of that equation.

Returning to contact:

  • Getting kicked in the plates HURTS. I wore a neoprene brace for about a year – not because I felt it was protecting me from further damage (that metal isn’t going anywhere), but for the cushioning it provided in my skate boot and the extra layer of protection against contact to my scars and hardware.
  • Your metal ankle needs to warm up before you start skating.  Do an active off-skates warm-up that includes some ankle circles, pointing and flexing, etc.  Repeat these with your skates on, rolling on your good foot while you roll your bionic ankle around to let it get used to the weight of your skate.
  • Inflammation is normal – for over a year, my metal ankle became a cankle every time I worked out. All of those soft tissues are still trying to settle around the new hardware. Ice, anti-inflamatories and elevation are absolutely the best ways to hand this  Going to the bar with your teammates after practice will not help. Go home and take care of yourself. Sleep.
  • If you have nerve damage, some of that stuff is going to eventually reroute and wake up in unpleasant ways.  Buzzing, tingling, burning and throbbing are all normal. About 4 years after my surgery, I developed a neuroma near the bottom of the inner plate.  It was basically just an angry little ball of hate that would bring me to my knees if you whispered near it. I experimented with a topical prescription numbing cream, got a few unspeakably unpleasant cortisone shots and eventually had a cobbler cut the side of my Reidell 395 low enough so that it didn’t rub Hateball.
The inner ankle of the left skate is cut low enough to fit below the implanted metal.

The inner ankle of the left skate is cut low enough to fit below the implanted metal

Speaking of skates:

Your boot may not feel right anymore, and styles you coveted before may be wrong for you now.  I thought Antiks would help support my ankle, but the high collar was excruciating. I had limited success with a Reidell 195, but the super-low ankles combined with my narrow heels made me curl my toes too much to try to grip, especially on crossovers (I jammed myself right out of my left skate once – so weird to adjust mid-crossover to having one sock foot). What eventually worked for me: Bonts. Oh, how I adore my Bonts. They’re like running shoes with wheels attached.

pybonts

Speaking of shoes:

I had to rethink footwear after my surgery.  Range of motion is limited in my ankle and every degree of angle change equates to more strain on my metal.

  • Stilettos and narrow, tall heels are out for me now, as they’re not stable enough.  However, I have had excellent luck with Pink and Pepper heels – they have a wide base and stable ankle straps. Wedges are a better choice, but honestly, flats are probably going to feel better from now on. Whichever heel height you’re comfortable with, a cushioned insert can help absorb some of the impact you’ll feel  on the metal.
  • Running shoes were also a trial and error experience for me – it’s hard to find shoe salespeople who are familiar with the special needs of the bionic runner. (I really should look into product testing for shoe companies – I think I’d be a good candidate and I could write reviews that might help other athletes)  I used to be a minimalist runner, but my old Adida Adizeros and Nike Free didn’t have enough padding to absorb impact.  Nike Lunarglide was a better choice, but my favorite shoe so far has been the Hoka Bondi. I plan to write a review on these shoes later this month.  The extra cushioning absorbs impact, which means I can run farther and faster without pain. I am actually able to sprint in these, and I never thought I’d sprint again!
Hoka Bondi B is like running on fluffy clouds

Hoka Bondi B is like running on fluffy clouds

Returning to running:

As with skating, returning to running was a slow process for me. Single-leg balance exercises helped strengthen my atrophied muscles, but it took awhile to get used to the sensation of impact.  For the first half mile, I can tell you exactly where every screw is, particularly on cold mornings.  An active warm-up routine (instead of static stretching) before you run helps tremendously.  Build mileage slowly and ice after you run.

Other adventures – what works for me:

  • Yoga has been one of the best things to ever happen to post-surgery me.  Yoga helped me restore my physical balance, gave me an emotional outlet for my frustration and made me more aware of what my body was capable of doing if I focused my energy.
  • An elliptical is a fantastic low-impact way to get your cardio in as long as you’re not on autopilot. Sprint intervals are more comfortable on an elliptical than a track when you have internal fixators.  I like setting the ramp on mine to the highest incline so that it becomes a stair-stepper.  (I miss climbing stairs with my travel teammates, but my knees can’t take the impact these days)
  • Swimming and water running: I spent a lot of my recovery time in my mom’s pool, walking through the water or running while wearing a floatation belt. (okay, it was my kid’s alligator floatie. Don’t judge.)

What’s not as fun for me now:

  • Crossfit (I KNOW) and anything with heavy plyometrics. I can jump rope, but it hurts. I can still do squat jumps and box jumps, but I land harder on my right foot to offset impact.
  • Tennis (side-to-side, quick movements aren’t friendly to rigid ankles)
  • Bottom line: You have to decide how much you’re comfortable hurting.  If you’ve made it this far in your recovery, you’re probably pretty good at handling pain by now. Challenge your limits, but don’t beat yourself up if you move more slowly than you used to or can’t lift as much as before. You’re moving, and that’s pretty damn awesome.

 

Many thanks to you if you’ve made it through this ramble!  Please feel free to ask me any questions about recovery/rehabilitation and whatnot. I’ll answer them in Life After ORIF Part II: Mom of Steel. I’ll also address some specific derby concerns, like re-learning to snowplow with limited range of motion.  I’ll also talk about getting tattoos on top of scars/hardware, since that’s an adventure in itself.

 

Knocked flat by the flu

jigglebuttrun2014

 

I was hoping to have updates on recipe writing and trail running adventures, but I have spent most of 2014 knocked utterly flat by the flu. I haven’t been this sick in nearly 20 years.

My goals and my training plan have been temporarily put on hold while I recover, which is a bit frustrating. I have a half marathon in 6 weeks and I haven’t been able to run since the Jiggle Butt 5K (I got sick that day). However, we had an absolute blast there and I even got [rather blurry] photographic evidence that my sweet husband will run if asked by his girls:

20140109-221758.jpg

20140109-221812.jpg
Hopefully next week’s update will be a bit more lively. In the meantime, cuddling with Ginger, watching Netflix and hunting for sewing projects on Pinterest are keeping me sane-ish. Take care of yourselves and if you haven’t gotten one already, go get a flu shot.

Midnight Mile

As 2013 drew to a close, I kissed my sleeping husband, deactivated my Facebook account and hit the trail for a midnight mile (1.11 miles actually, which was unintentional but pleasantly significant to my pattern-loving brain).

It was 39 degrees and crystal-clear – the sky a canopy of constellations.  I ran without music, listening to my breath and my feet and the fountains in the neighborhood lake. I was the only one on the trail, the only one who saw the Christmas lights reflecting off the water’s surface in kaleidoscopic swirls as 2014 came racing in. I love that feeling – knowing I’m experiencing a bit of magic that nobody else will ever see.

When I was done, I laid in the grass and looked up at the stars, thanking the universe and the power behind it for a blessed old year and offering up my promises and goals for the new year.  I stopped referring to them as resolutions last year, but I remain resolute in the best sense of the word – unwavering and determined.

Here’s what I plan to do in the new year.

  • Reevaluate and reorganize how I spend my free time: I deactivated my Facebook account for a temporary and as-yet-undetermined amount of time. Without that massive time suck (which is, admittedly, my favorite place on the internet), I can accomplish my other goals more quickly and completely.
  • Publish my first book: I’ve been creating/testing recipes for the nutrition-conscious and for athletes with dietary restrictions for a few years now. I’d love to share them in a beautiful book full of well-photographed dishes interspersed with colorful anecdotes and pictures of my derby and running adventures.  I plan to include a companion booklet full of advice for new athletes (particularly Fresh Meat, as I feel that there are not enough off-skates resources out there for the budding derby athlete), some basic sport-specific starter workout programs and a training log.
  • Start a YouTube Channel: with the help of a filmmaker friend, I’ll soon have my own YouTube cooking show. You’ll get simple, healthy recipes prepared in typical Pyro style – light on grace and poise but heavy on clumsiness and sass. Tune in to see if I drop a knife on my bare foot or just spill the sauce all over my dogs!
  • Run my third – and possibly fourth and fifth – half marathon, while training for my first full 26.2.  The upcoming half is Cowtown and I’m running for ALZ Stars to raise money for Alzheimer’s Association.  If you’d like for the name of one of your relatives to be honored/commemorated, please email me or comment below – the names of my grandmother and grandfather will be written on my race shirt, as well as the names of friends’ loved ones who are battling or have battled the disease. (If you’d like to make a donation, no amount is too small – and I will match it and add your name to my “gets a free cookbook” list)
  • Settle into a church home and find volunteer opportunities within the organization: this is potentially happening already, and I am as excited about this as I was about falling in love with my husband. I have a big crush on a church that feeds hundreds of local families from its gardens and mobile food bank, hosts a 5K to benefit youth mission trips and has a dynamic children’s Sunday school program and a passionate, enthusiastic minister. We’re obviously still in the honeymoon stage – but then again, I still feel that way about my husband 5 years after finding him. Sometimes you just know.
  • Be the best mother, wife, sister, aunt and daughter I can be: this sounds like one of those vague resolutions I dread, but I have a very specific set of subgoals that will help me fulfill this promise to myself and to my family. Some hinge upon each other, like retiring from derby (that one was checked off early thanks to herniated discs and nerve damage) so I’l be free to attend my daughter’s soccer games and other activities. Some have already been stated above.  Most are listed only in my head and in my heart, and they are referred to multiple times a day.

I’m incredibly excited about the Year of the Green Wood Horse – 14’s my lucky number. :-)  I hope this is a wonderful, fulfilling year for you all.

Breakfast Quinoa with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Your mom was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Especially if you’re up before the crack of dawn and have some heavy mileage (be it actual or metaphorical) to cover later.

Image

I’ve recently become an early bird, thanks to dogs who like to cuddle at 5am and 5Ks that begin before the sun has fully risen.  It’s a pleasantly strange departure from my old nocturnal habits (ingrained in my DNA, nurtured by generations of night owls and vital to a late-night derby schedule).  As much as I loved late (and sometimes large) dinners after derby practice, I always felt sluggish in the morning – not very hungry, sometimes even a bit nauseated at the mention of food.  I assumed I just wasn’t a breakfast person.

Then I started front-loading my day – eating more of my daily calories in the morning than in the evening. My metabolism has perked up again and I have a lot more energy, which makes me more productive in general and enhances that Energizer Bunny-esque charm that people either love or loathe (it’s okay to feel both).  I’m not ravenous in the evening when I eat well for breakfast and lunch, so I don’t eat everything in the house before passing out.  Oh, and I sleep better on a less-full stomach. Victories abound.

So I may be a morning person and even a breakfast person now, but I still can’t handle anything greasy or sweet upon rising.  I need something simple, nourishing and toeing the line between sweet and savory. Easily digestible carbs and very lean protein are what I generally aim for in breakfast recipes, like the Savory Oatmeal I’ve been making a lot lately (I could write an entire cookbook chapter on savory oat risotto recipes. I love it that much). I was craving Breakfast Quinoa this morning though, so I made a big batch to portion out for the week.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love quinoa. It’s really easy to make, it’s versatile and it keeps well in the fridge.  I’m also pretty crazy about roasted sweet potatoes, so I combined the two for this recipe and added a maple yogurt drizzle to make it faaaaaancy.

Enough with the rambling, pink lady.  They just Googled for a quinoa recipe, not your life story. Speaking of recipes, this one makes 4 reasonable servings or 2 “I just ran 8 miles so SHUT UP” servings. It takes about 20 minutes to make.

Breakfast Quinoa with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained (I like rainbow quinoa, for obvious reasons)

1 cup water

1 cup milk of your choice (I used almond) *

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste – I don’t know your life, man, you season how you like)

1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized cubes

2 tablespoons melted coconut oil

* you can omit the milk and increase the water to equal two cups if you like – milk makes the quinoa creamier but isn’t crucial for good texture/flavor

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a baking sheet (metal or foil-lined will give your taters crisper edges), toss cubed potatoes in coconut oil to coat. Roast in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes or until tender (obviously, smaller pieces will roast faster, and you’ll want to check them frequently and give them a flip/shake halfway through to make sure they’re getting evenly browned).

Image

While the potatoes roast, bring water and milk* to a boil. Add quinoa, stir and return to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir in cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice if you’re feeling festive) and remove from heat and let stand uncovered for a few minutes to thicken a bit more before fluffing with a fork.

To serve, spoon quinoa into a bowl and top with a portion of sweet potatoes. You can make it fancier with a teaspoon or two of chopped pecans, or try a yogurt drizzle.  I was using Brown Cow Maple Yogurt on mine, but found that this homemade version is even nicer:

Maple Yogurt Drizzle (single serving)

1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt

1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Dash of vanilla extract

Whisk all 3 ingredients together with a fork and drizzle over the top of your potatoes.  Simple, delicious and just the right amount of creamy sweetness to make a virtuous breakfast taste indulgent.

Please try this recipe and let me know what you think!  I welcome feedback.

Epiphanic Ambulation

I dreamed last night about pre-race logistics for a half marathon I was about to run.  The triviality of parking, porta-potties and pace groups isn’t particularly noteworthy.  It’s the fact that, for the first time in years, I dreamed about running instead of skating.

My brain never shuts down, even when I’m asleep.  It just sets up the ol’ projector and starts the slideshow of what I’ve done and what I’m about to do.  Before big events, Brainy becomes even more restless than usual – particularly if the events affect other people.  Brainy will turn every dream into a dress rehearsal for the main event, which is just as exhausting as it sounds.

I never enjoyed pre-bout jitters.  I didn’t like getting physically sick nearly every time I anticipated a tournament or rankings-dependent bout. I can recall so many days of twisted guts and so many nights of fitful sleep….it left me susceptible to full-blown illness every time.  Altitude sickness in Taos. Food poisoning in Tucson. My coach had to drive me back from San Antonio on a turn and burn where I’d thrown up so many times during the bout that I was too weak to sit up afterward.  I used to brag about the barf bucket I had to keep near the bench (mostly because if you’re going to be that gross, you really need to fully own it).  The nerves pushed me, but sometimes they pushed me down to the floor.

Running has always been different – the nerves I feel before a race are like friendly little butterflies, fluttering just enough to make me want to move along with them.  The nerves motivate me, not overwhelm me. They make me stronger, not weaker, because they sharpen my performance and give me that giddy tingle of anticipation every time I lace up my running shoes.

It helps that most of my races are local. I’m more comfortable when I have my routines and I’m not driving for hours the day before.  I think it runs deeper than that, though.  For years, I felt so much pressure to not only win, but to win by as large a point spread as possible.  WFTDA rankings are funny like that, or at least they were for the years I played interleague – sometimes it didn’t even matter that you won, because it still wasn’t enough.  I took being part of  a team very seriously, knowing how important my performance was to our overall success.

Control freaks and perfectionists tend to view success as shared but failure as sole.  By this, I mean we blame ourselves when our team loses or fails to advance in ranking. Even the realization that this is irrational – that no single skater wins or loses the bout for her or his team – isn’t enough to alleviate the self-imposed pressure that the highly competitive feel.  Being in a leadership position compounds that stress – the captain is expected to not only play well, but to bring out the best in her skaters as well.

Self-awareness is the first step to moving past roadblocks like this.  I guess I never really moved past it, but it took a bit of distance to fully realize that.

Running’s not always sunshine and roses.  There’s barfing at the finish line and indignant ligaments and finishing slower than my goal time (which was already pretty slow).  But it’s all mine, every bit of it, and it affects nobody but me.  There’s a lot of satisfaction in that – in embracing personal expectations and owning personal disappointments while enjoying the social atmosphere of a race.  I’m still sharing happy, active energy with others.  Only now I’m not trying to slow them down, I’m actually hoping they’ll run faster so I’ll have somebody to chase.

calvary13