Monday, July 30, 2018

Addendum - Prevention / Recovery

It's been interesting (and also, of course, awful) to unpack the shame, blame, and anger I've felt over my hip injury and the journey of finally accepting the necessity that this year is going to look absolutely nothing like I thought it would.  I've been angry at my body, incensed at every person who has told me it's a sign I shouldn't run anymore, and awash in the seas of, "not fair."

That last one struck particularly because, ironically, my only new year's resolution this year was to make it to the starting line and finish line of the marathon healthy and injury-free.  I literally have a list that's still tacked up on my wall entitled, "2018 Mobility / Injury Prevention Plan!" and I stuck to it.  I foam rolled.  I drank vitamins and electrolytes.  I cross trained more than I had in years.  I took epsom salt baths.  I saw my PT once a month and the cheap foot spa in Ditmars twice a month.  I did everything right - and although I've been conditioned to despise the phrase "not fair," I have had a major, major case of the "not fair's" these last few months.

But as with all challenges large and small, with time comes perspective - and hopefully a teeny bit of wisdom.

Sometimes when I'm teaching a class and students aren't quite grasping an alignment cue, I have them do it "wrong" to feel what it feels like to do it "right."  Tensing your shoulders up by your ears to an extreme, for example, to feel the release of dropping them down again.  You felt your shoulders at their most tense, and you felt that release.  Maybe next time you'll have a little more awareness of when the less extreme but still problematic tension comes back again.

It's with that idea in mind that I started to think, as I was trying to think about what this is here to teach me, that my injury prevention plan was incomplete.  This injury is partly genetics (the shape of my femur and hip sockets and iliac crests) and partly years of hyper-mobility, hyper-flexibility, and insufficient stability.  They say rejection is protection, and my body rejected the way I've used it for most of my life, from my ballerina pelvis of my youth to my billions of butterfly poses of my adulthood to the many steps I've run thinking my form had been fixed when in fact it had only mildly improved.

So - although my resolution and my list of practices was completely well intentioned and laudable, it was incomplete.  I didn't know it, but the proof of that has been in the pain.

I still have a lot of fear and uncertainty about my recovery, but what I do know is that although this year has now shifted from prevention to recovery, the recovery in and of itself will ultimately lead to greater understanding, greater strength, greater self knowledge, and a capacity to come back stronger and smarter.  And that sounds like pretty good prevention to me.

Life is a cycle in that way, isn't it?  We're doing our best to protect ourselves against problems and suffering, but that's impossible, so we inevitably experience problems and suffering.  But it's what we do with it that determines our future responses to it.

Jim MacLaren, quoted here by Elizabeth Gilbert, says it much better.  Her full post is here, and it's well worth the read.

"But what I will always remember about Jim most clearly is when he told me, "Never waste your suffering." This was in response to a question I'd asked him about whether he thought that suffering makes us into better people. He said, 'Not necessarily. Not automatically. Suffering just happens, constantly and randomly, and if you don't make anything out of it, then it causes you nothing but harm — it happened to you for no reason. But suffering can also be the greatest possible invitation to transform — but only if you accept that invitation, and only if you go through a complete catharsis, and only if you actually change yourself because of what you've experienced. But that part is up to you. Only you can execute a catharsis in your own life. Suffering without catharsis is nothing but wasted pain. And you should never waste your pain, never waste your suffering. It's powerful stuff, the most powerful stuff there is. Use it. Transform from it. Learn. Grow. Be better.'"

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Most of my runs in 2018 have been in absolutely terrible weather.  A few have been just your run-of-the-mill winter runs, and I actually like running in the cold.  One, maaaaybe two was unseasonably warm, which is always amazing.  But especially those few runs I went on post Costa Rica, right before my hip exploded, the weather was trying to tell me something.  Heavy snow, heavy rain, demoralizingly, polar-vortexingly-cold and depressingly overcast.

This past Monday marked 15 weeks until the 2018 NYC Marathon.  I hadn't gone for a run since April, and, although the writing on the wall implied that the marathon was almost definitely out, I wouldn't know for absolute sure until I took a little tester run.

I got up.  I warmed up.  I did all my PT homework like the teacher's pet that I am.  I walked and did drills.  And then I ran for one block.

Deep, intense pain, deep in my iliacus and psoas.  Impossible to ignore pain.

I walked two more blocks.  I ran a block.  It was there - but a little less?  Maybe?  Was it really less, or was it wishful thinking?  Or was I just adjusting to it?

I walked three blocks.  I ran a block.  You see where this is going.

To be clear, I didn't expect to feel good, necessarily.  I didn't expect to feel pain-free.  I didn't expect to run more than a block or two.  I didn't plan on or even want to go for an actual run-run.  I knew there was a 99.9% certainty I would feel some pain.  Some pain.  Not deep, intense, impossible-to-ignore pain.

The disappointment I felt was not so much about the race - that writing was on the wall, and I was always going to feel like I was playing catch-up with my fitness level, and walking on eggshells for fear of re-injury.  That's not a mentally or physically fun way to train.

It's more a disappointment and fear of - oh, we're still this bad?  Months later and this is still where we are?

Well.  Shit.

The good news is, I didn't have a sobbing nervous breakdown, although I did feel sad and scared and a little tearful at some points throughout the day.  Mainly I just focused on work and went to bed ridiculously early.

The good news is also that when I was completely done with testing and I was making the long(ish) walk home from Astoria Park that the overcast skies opened up and poured down warm, summer rain on me.  I went from slogging through humidity to feeling cleansed and even somehow weirdly cared for.  I know that doesn't make sense, and it's hard to explain.  The bad weather (and I actually like running in bad weather sometimes) I experienced the first part of the year almost seemed to be pushing me away.  This weather felt like an embrace.  It felt comforting, somehow.

I walked slowly uphill back to my apartment from 20th avenue.  It was raining hard but not windy at all.  When I got there, I didn't want to go back inside yet, so I stood outside my apartment, stretching my calves and just being where I was.  Trying to be okay with what is.

So.  This week I'll be pulling the trigger and officially deferring to the 2019 New York City Marathon.  We're now at 67 weeks and 466 days til the race.

I've got so much more to say about it, but for now I'll leave it there.  I'm grateful for the rest of my health.  I'm grateful I can defer.  I'm grateful for everything I'm learning through all this, about my body and how I deal with adversity for better and worse, even though I'd much rather just stay ignorant and run most of the time.  I'm grateful for the rain.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Deciding not to decide (a marathon update-of sorts)

The last time I saw my wonderful mother-in-law, she was sweet enough to loan me three books that Marc and I had gotten for her.  I got her into Anne Lamott a couple of years ago, and it's so nice to share a love for her and her brilliant writing.

I read a line that cut me so deeply I had to laugh out loud:

"Maturity is the ability to live with unresolved problems." - Anne Lamott

This is something I struggle with so much.  As a control freak, I like for things to get wrapped up in neat and tidy boxes, and I don't like loose ends.  I've written before about how much I struggle with uncertainty, and I know I'm not alone in that regard.

This spring and now well in to summer, this has obviously been manifesting itself in my slow-to-heal hip, and the question that no doctor or PT has answered for me yet - Is it realistic to think I could run the NYC Marathon this November?  That I could not just run it, but run it in good health and cross the finish line with a smile on my face and a happy hip?

I've had the time to grieve the possibility of deferring it to 2019, and I'm in a place while, though still bitterly disappointing, I can be more philosophical about it and keep perspective.  I don't want to just run it because I can, I want to run it knowing it won't be a stupid decision leading to me jeopardizing my ability to run for the rest of my life, which is much more important to me than any race, even this one.

What's been tricky, though, as I've lived in this space of uncertainty is this:  How do you bridge the gap between foolishly getting your hopes up for something unrealistic, and stubbornly believing in yourself with a relentlessly positive attitude against all odds?

Or to put it more simply:  Is it stupid to walk around saying "I'm definitely going to run in November" when the truth is that I don't know?  And that I might not be able to?

Or - is it defeatist to hedge my bets?  Am I being negative?  Am I not having the right attitude and sabotaging myself?

It's an intensely vulnerable thing to make a declaration, to set a goal - I'm going to run New York this November - that might not happen.  To put that out there with the chance of having to walk it back and say, "Actually..."

It's especially vulnerable if you didn't really grow up with ideas like faith.  I was taught to believe in myself and try my hardest of course, but I've never been a religious person.  As spiritual as I am, I'm firmly agnostic because I can't say for sure if there is a God or there isn't.  I'm a very literal person and I like to be (say it with me now) certain.

Putting a ton of blind faith in the notion that I will definitely, absolutely, no matter what heal in time - like Laura has done, which I could never express enough gratitude for because it has gotten me through so many rough days - isn't something I've been able to do 100%.  The truth is, I just don't know.

So, what can I say 100%?

I can say that I will do everything in my power to run it this year.  I will pull out all the stops.

I can't say yet if it will be this year or if it will be next year.  Or God help me, the year after that.

It needs to be about the larger goal.  Believing in my body's ability to heal in a larger and more general sense rather than tying my self worth to a time table.  We all know our bodies don't care about our plans - sickness and injury can and do strike whenever they damn well please, and the best we can do is take care of ourselves to the best of our ability.

What I'm really saying is that I need to let go of the result right now.  I need to let go of being certain and having the answer right now.  It's hard to do when the result is so deeply important to me and something I've been working toward for over two years.  Adding another year to that is not fun, and I'd like to emotionally prepare myself ASAP if that's what's going to happen.

Running is a passion.  It's messily and inextricably mixed up in my identity.  It's how I cope with stress.  It keeps me sane.  It's so much more than just a workout or just a hobby.  People who flippantly tell me I should stop running have no idea what a big part of my life it is that they're suggesting I cut out.  It's not an option.

All of this is to say - I'm deciding not to decide.  The next two weeks will reveal a lot.  I'm finally working out more in PT and at the gym.  The Astoria pool is (finally!) open so I can add to my cardio.

I'm deciding not to decide in the interest of keeping hope and faith alive, and allowing there space to be an acceleration in my healing now that I'm in far less pain and doing far more work.

I'm working on getting comfortable with uncertainty.

I'm living in hope, but I'm also fully embracing the possibility of deferring, and looking for all the silver linings therein.

And best of all - I'm getting out of dodge for a week tomorrow.  I blinked and my sister's 5-pound babies are turning four on July 16th.  Time for me to go down and soak in as much family goodness as I can.

So - I will see this ol' thang in two weeks.  And I will probably have an answer by then.

(But maybe not.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Book Report: Writing the Mind Alive & Hip Update

This has been one of those times where I can't quite seem to find the voice that I want to access and use for this blog.  Sometimes I've been too awash in a sea of self pity and "Why me?" injury despair to write anything that pretends to be inspiring, sometimes I've been too awash in a sea of complete and utter blackout rage over what is happening in our country, sometimes I've been too deep in the weeds of hard and scary personal growth to share any of it in a public setting.

So, first thing's first - quick update on the state of my hips and the state of my 2018 NYC Marathon.  Basically, I'm still in Marathon purgatory.  Some days it seems inevitable that it won't happen.  We are 18 weeks out from the race, and I not only wanted to start my training two weeks ago, but I wanted to have been building upon a rock solid foundation from having trained for the Brooklyn Half.  Instead, I haven't run at all since mid-April and I haven't run without pain since April 5th.

It's not impossible to train for and run a marathon in 16 weeks.  But it's not how I wanted to do it - not just in a "that's not fair, I didn't want it to be this way" sort of way, but in a practical, let's-keep-myself-healthy way.

But my doctor is still very much digging their heels into the "wait and see" party line.  He's not giving me a definite yes or no until probably about mid-month.  And of course, he could always give me an answer and then my body could wind up surprising us, for better or worse.

I still really don't know what's going to happen, and the battle of being okay with uncertainty, for this girl who likes to control and plan anything, has been humbling and unfun.  But, I know, it's good for me.  Ugh.  When will the world stop conspiring to help me build more character?

With all of this said, I've still been writing every single day, like I always do.  My mom started me on the habit of journal writing when I was a kid - and I'll never forget my first Lisa Frank journal she gave me at the beginning of a summer one year that was just for me and no one else to ever read - and I've kept it up my whole life.  I don't make any rules for it - sometimes it's a fairly shallow and uninspiring to-do list.  Sometimes it's a recounting of events I want to remember.  Sometimes it's hashing out stuff that's bothering me.  I don't strive to make it particularly stream-of-consciousness or anything - I just write.

This brings us to the book report part of things.  During an extremely well timed and much needed night with my best friend last week, she loaned me Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon.  It was published in 2002, but the writing method it describes was developed by the authors in the 1970's.

I devoured this book - it's a shortie, only 183 pages.  Lisa (aforementioned best friend, and also ps she's a talented superstar too) has been telling me for awhile about her Writes that she's done, and I always thought she just meant general journaling, or morning pages.

A Write (always with that capital W!) is a period of about a half hour of writing.  The setting is important - the authors' recommended setup for this ritual includes a private room, a candle, wordless music (they recommend Baroque), and white, unlined, unbound paper.  The "rules" are as follows:

1. Write what you hear
Meaning, write your thoughts as they come in to your head.  This isn't necessarily stream of consciousness, and there isn't a rule that the pen must constantly be moving on the paper.  You can take it a little more slowly and thoughtfully than that - it's not a race.

2. Listen to what you write
From the book:  "The skill that's most actively engaged during a Write isn't the writing skill at all.  It's the hearing skill...To hear your own thoughts and to awaken your auditory imagination, you must develop within yourself your capacity to listen.  Thought can always be voiced, but to hear it requires a certain kind of intense, focused listening, a quality of attention:  curious, patient, even tempered...It never judges, edits, censors."

3. Be ready to ask the Proprioceptive Question
The question is the tool you use to develop your ability to listen to your thoughts.  It is, "What do I mean by ____?"  For example, if I write down, "I want to cede control of it all" and it feels like the concept of control needs more elucidation, I will follow it by writing out, "What do I mean by 'control?'" and then delving more deeply...until I feel the need to ask it again, and delve deeper, ask again, delve deeper - you get the idea.

Every aspect of this technique appeals to me.  I love the ritual of it all - the candle, intentionally carving out the space and the focus.  Often times when I write I lose focus so much that I might as well have not written a thing.  At first I hated the idea of loose and unlined white paper (as a leftie, I don't usually write in a straight line) but it's actually been great and feels strangely freeing.

I also find that having that one technique of the Proprioceptive Question is like turning on all the lights and unlocking all the doors in my brain.  My first few Writes coincided with some turbulent days and they were like free therapy where I went down some avenues of my mind I hadn't gone down in a very long time.

As I said above, I'm a lifelong, daily journal-writer.  It's really important to me and to my sanity (it's probably how I've been able to get away without going to therapy at this point in my life - not that it's going to be a substitute for it forever...) but it's also something that I truly love.  As evidenced by the obscene length of this blog post - I love to write and it's something I've always loved and been good at.

If you do not consider yourself a writer, or if you hated it in school the way I hated math, or you're just new to the idea of journaling, I think this is the perfect technique to get your feet wet.  You aren't writing for a grade or for anyone else's eyes.  Hell, you don't even need to ever read it again unless you really want to.  You could burn each and every Write you do for all anyone needs to know.  But the act of writing, the act of asking and answering that question, is an active step toward knowing yourself better.

The only thing we can really control and count on in life is ourselves.  We can't control what happens in our lives or our country or even in our bodies.  But the better we know ourselves and take care of ourselves, the better prepared we are to face whatever the world has in store for us.

Resurrection of a blog (and a hip)

One year ago today - on a much cloudier, much colder, and quite frankly very hungover morning - I went out to run.  My goal was either 4 mil...