Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll LA race report

My sister Laurie, me, Sari, Shana
The most popular costume at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Halloween LA half marathon, hands down, was a tutu. They came in all colors and sizes and I saw them on fast runners, slower runners, men, women, heavy set individuals and Skinny Minnie’s. Other people were more creative with their costumes, dressing as superheroes or Disney characters. I got into the Halloween spirit by dressing as a runner.
This dude had to be hot. It was 85 at the finish!
I used this race as a gauge of post-operative fitness leading into the California International Marathon. Studying the course profile prior to the race, I knew that the course would dictate my pace and that a steady effort and even splits would not be possible. My plan was to run fast on the down hills and maintain a solid effort on the up hills. A further potential difficulty was the small elite women’s field, of which I was the slowest runner, and finding a running partner. I knew there was a distinct possibility I would get caught in no man’s land and run the race alone.

Shortly after the gun went off, my fear of a solo effort were allayed when another runner engaged me in conversation.

Runner: Are you Joanna?

Me: Yes.

Runner: What are you planning on running?

Me: Hopefully 1:17.

Runner: I want to run 1:15, but let’s run together.

Me: Sounds great! What’s your name?

Runner: Taos. Like the city.

We reached the first mile in a very rapid 5:30ish and the second mile in about 5:45. Our conversation continued then.

Taos: Wow that was really fast.

Me: Don’t worry. We have to turn around and run back up this thing!

Taos: Oh, I didn’t think about that!

Needless to say, pace dramatically slowed. After reaching 5k in a swift 18:05, we retraced our path back up the road hitting the next 5k in 18:55, and the big hills hadn’t even started yet. Mile 6 to 7 was a terrible grind and I was elated to finally make the turn and start another downhill section. On the course profile, there is a tiny little bump around the turnaround at mile 9.5. In my mental preparation, I thought, “how bad can this little blip be?” When we rounded the corner and the bridge came into view, I realized that the tiny bump was not so tiny. I grunted my way over the bridge and was very happy to make the turn back down.

The only place I faltered was from mile 11 to 12. It was uphill, and my legs started to tire. Taos pulled away from me, but I decided I would use the downhill on last mile to try to catch back up, which eventually I did, until he dropped me with a few hundred meters left. Thanks for the pacing, Taos.

Rock ‘n’ Roll does a most impressive job with their races. The aid stations were well stocked, well placed, and well managed. The parking situation in the morning was seamless. I went for a post-race warm down jog on the front part of the course and witnessed the clean-up operation. Trucks were on hand to remove cones, clean up cups and wash the street. It was done methodically and quickly. All remnants of the race were gone in a flash.

The most important race feature though? Porta potties. They were everywhere. Thousands of them lined up like soldiers. No matter which way you turned, there were porta potties waiting for users, and not the usual lines of racers hopping impatiently from foot to foot looking at their watches, wondering why the person in the bathroom is taking so damn long (seriously, though, what does take so long? Reading the paper?).

And, thanks to race management, I procured some VIP bands for myself, my sister and the two other people that were with us. The VIP tent provided porta potties, a bag drop, plenty of drinks, and a fantastic post-race spread. The coffee was even tasty.

I ran a best time of 1:18.20. While this was a little off my goal pace, the course was hillier and hotter than I anticipated. The race did give me confidence for the marathon, though, and overall I am pleased with how the day unfolded.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

7 steps to dealing with a chronic injury

Do you remember the book Flowers for Algernon? It is the story of a man with an IQ below 70 who undergoes an operation which triples his IQ. Over time, though, his IQ starts to drop and returns to its original level. I read the book way back in junior high, but I still vividly recall feeling compassion for this man who suffered so much. I cannot help but think about this story with regards to my injury. I had an operation which corrected a problem, but, a little part of me wonders if it is all too good to be true and my body will revert back to its pre-surgical state.

Long term injuries undoubtedly change a person; I know, at the very least, it changed me. While the injury itself was not psychological, there assuredly was a psychological component; injuries indeed wreak havoc on the mind as well as the body. Chronic pain, a failing body, and an inability to perform tasks that were once achievable all had a profound impact. Ten weeks have passed since surgery, and I am feeling like a new and improved model of myself, like a JZ 2.0. But. There is still dread and worry. Might the neuroma come back?

The fear is illogical, yet it still lingers. I am past the point of waking up in the morning and hoping it will be a good day. I have moved beyond hoping that I will be able to perform my run and swim workouts without pain getting in the way. I can lift heavy object, I can twist and turn, heck, I can even do pull ups, which is no small feat because I couldn’t even do them before the injury.

Despite reaching milestone after milestone, the little voice in my head still wonders if I will have the same fate as the man in Flowers for Algernon. I am not sure how much time has to pass before the thoughts dwindle into thin air.

Anyone who has faced an injury knows what I am talking about. The injury can be in your foot, but if you have a hangnail all of the sudden you are petrified the foot injury is back. The irrational thought process is this: at any moment, without warning, the injury will rear its ugly head. The problem is that athletes are controlling. We like to feel that we have control over our bodies, our workouts, and our destiny.  Injuries end up controlling us, a terrible turn of events that is hard to cope with. In fact, if the injury is serious enough or lasts long enough, an athlete can go through the five stages of grief: (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) grief, (4) depression, and (5) reintegration. I went through all five of those stages, sometimes all in one day.

I learned a lot during my tenure on the disabled list, that there is so much that can be done to make an injury less noxious and allow you to take back some control.

1.     It is imperative to get a proper diagnosis. This step cannot be ignored and can take a very long time. Until there is a diagnosis, it is difficult to treat the injury or know the long term prognosis. Don’t give up on this step, even if it means seeing or talking to multiple doctors. I interacted with over a dozen physicians before I found The One.
2.    Once you know what you are dealing with, make an action plan. Determine how long recovery should take. Read up on the injury until you are an expert.  You need to understand how it happened, how to make it better and how to prevent it in the future.
3.    Find good rehab therapists. Massages, acupuncture, PT all play an important role in recovery. I used all of those modalities with a lot of success.
4.    Be diligent with rehab exercises. I work on rehab every single day. I hate it. It works.
5.    Find other ways to get your exercise fix. One of the biggest problems with an injury is the inability to get the endorphins we love so much. Be creative and find other activities that you enjoy or somewhat enjoy and embrace it/them. Doing something is better than doing nothing. I despise walking, but I made it a huge part of my daily activities when I could not do anything else.
6.    Don’t ever give up. Long term injuries, by the very nature of their name, last for extended periods of time. It is easy to become disheartened and lose faith that there will be a conclusion.
7.    A positive attitude goes a long way in recovery. Believing in yourself, even when others do not believe in you, is probably the most pivotal step in the process. If you know you will get better, eventually you will.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stand by your man? Not this time.

The Lance Armstrong saga had me riveted from the start. I watched agog as he swept the top step of the podium so many years in succession. I eagerly participated in the circular discussions of “did he or didn’t he dope.” On the one hand I wanted to believe his accolades came from the combination of God given talent and relentless hard work. But, on the other, as a professional athlete not only at the pinnacle of my sport but also privy to training regimens and heartache of countless Olympians and World Champions, I knew from the point of view of an insider, what he accomplished was not physiologically possible without pharmaceutical aid.

The speculation of decades of wins at the mercy of so many dopers finishing behind him has now been laid to rest. The verdict is in via USADA’s in depth analysis: Lance is guilty. This was not a revelation for me, but for many others this information was a slap in the face as a hero has fallen. There are still those doubters who insist he never failed a drug test so he must be innocent. Or those who want to give him a pass because he survived cancer and has become the disease’s most coveted spokesperson. Others paint a picture of a victim of a witch hunt, “leave him alone!” they say.

My opinions on the Armstrong case are strong and unwavering:  cheaters in sport deserve to pay their penance. In cycling, many great riders endured an exile from their sport for making the faulty decision to dope.  Why should Lance be above them? As a leader of the doping program on his cycling teams, his crimes were abundantly worse than the brave riders who came forward with their tales of drug use.

There are some that are still riding the coattails of the Lance Armstrong brand. This is what bothers me the most. With all of the cards on the table, the evidence is now irrefutable. By continuing to align with Lance, it sends the wrong kind of message to fledgling athletes; it is ok to cheat in sports as long as you have a compelling back story and then do something benevolent. Would Bernie Madoff’s crimes have been less heinous if he had been a charitable sporting hero? I think the hundreds of scammed people who lost millions of dollars would not give Madoff a pass under any conditions. Yet, Armstrong’s years of fraud are not any different. He scammed companies out of sponsorship dollars. He scammed riders out of prize money. He scammed riders that wanted to race clean. He scammed the hearts of the general public who viewed him with awe and wonder. It is incongruous to be anti-drug and laud Lance.

You may take my comments as unduly harsh. They aren't. Drugs and sports have been contentious partners for decades. Undoing this illicit partnership cannot occur without making changes, and changes have to occur at the very highest level. Exposing Lance and his systematic doping program sends a blatant message: eventually you will pay the price for dishonest activities. USADA has been called all sorts of unseemly names and their actions have been described as unconstitutional. I applaud USADA’s efforts. It was not in the best interest of American sports to bring down an international hero, yet they forged on to grab hold of the truth. Undoubtedly, there are flaws in the USADA system, but every organization has its faults. Ultimately, they did what they were mandated to do: catch drug cheats.

It is always a sad day when the skeleton’s in an icon’s closet are paraded around in the public eye. Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Michael Vick. The ones that confessed have been able to pick up the pieces and resume their stature, albeit wounded. So, to Lance I say this: please, come forward and confess; it will make the end of the movie so much better.