Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Goal setting 101

“You can achieve whatever you want if you try hard enough.” This overused adage, in my opinion, is false and misleading. It is true, that often, when goals are set they are met. But, it is also true, that one can devote months or years of time and energy into accomplishing a certain goal and that goal may never be met. Realizing a goal requires more than blood, sweat and tears. There is also luck, timing, and savvy.

I believe there are four potential outcomes on the road to working toward a certain goal (the “goal” in question can be anything: business, sports, family, hobby):

1.    The road is smooth and the goal is successfully realized.
2.    The road is rocky, but the goal is achieved.
3.    The road is smooth, but the goal is not attained.
4.    The road is rocky and the goal is missed.

This is not a dose of pessimism. It is realism. Goals do not care if you are deserving, nice, or hard working. Achieving a goal is a complex equation that usually cannot be figured out prospectively. It is often, only in retrospect, when all the factors are reviewed, can one say why things went right or wrong.

That brings me to my own goal: qualifying for the Olympic trials in the marathon. I decided in February, when it became apparent I would not be able to compete in triathlon, that I would dedicate my time and effort to running. I am a very goal oriented person and I needed something tangible to focus on. A goal that was lofty, but not totally out of reach. A goal that would keep me going when things got tough in life or in training. A goal that would leave me with a feeling of accomplishment, whether or not the goal was met.

My first attempt at qualifying was the LA marathon in March. I missed the standard by 2 minutes. Undeterred, I ran several races over the ensuing months building up to my next try at qualifying. That race is on Sunday in Minneapolis. I chose the Twin Cities Marathon because it serves as the Masters national championships and is believed to be a fast, scenic and enjoyable race.

My road to Minneapolis has certainly been a rocky one. I started this endeavor with a serious injury, and despite all of my best efforts, the injury still lingers. The injury has dictated whether my races have been a PR or a DNF. The injury has allowed me to run a fast workout or walk home frustrated. Throughout this entire process I have believed that I can run fast enough to attain the Olympic trials time standard and that belief has buoyed me when the injury has flared up and could have left me prostrate on the couch.

In pursuit of this goal, I tested myself physically and mentally. I had the typical ups and downs. I was forced to be patient. I had to make some tough decisions. I have made new friends and tried new things.

Goal setting is more than just achieving a goal. It is about growing as a person. It is about reveling in the accomplishments met along the way. Sometimes the road to the goal is more important than the goal itself. I have no idea what Sunday will bring; it will either be outcome 2 or 4 above. Even though my road has been rocky, I have not been defeated by an injury that has desperately tried to defeat me, and that is a victory in itself.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kinesio Tape and Fairy Dust

I have been dealing with my rib injury for nearly two years. I have come to view this injury as a chronic condition, not unlike my asthma. It is with me all the time. It must be managed on a daily basis. Most of the time, the injury lingers in the background, but then when I least expect it, the injury flares up with vigor and I have trouble breathing and the pain level soars.

My latest flare up occurred on Labor Day. As part of my long run, I planned to do the Boulder half marathon. I woke up not feeling particularly great, but I warmed up and I seemed fine. A few miles into the race, I struggled to breathe and my ribs started to hurt. I pulled the plug at mile 8 and hitched a ride back home.

This was the beginning of a very up and down two weeks. Workouts were sporadic – a brilliant run was followed by a run cut short – leaving me apprehensive about the Twin Cities marathon on October 2. In an effort to calm down my ribs, I stopped swimming, backed off run workouts, and changed my gym routine. I had been doing dry needling, and but now we stepped up the effort with as many as 20 needles in and around the rib cage and diaphragm. Nothing seemed to calm the ribs down.

I sought out some new help and found out that I have 4 ribs (9-12) that are hypermobile, meaning that they are moving around too much. This causes the intercostals to stretch too far causing spasms and it also makes the diaphragm incredibly unhappy. Well, that certainly explains the difficulty with breathing! The most hypermobile rib is number 12 which is dubbed a floating rib because it does not attach to the sternum. When this rib moves, it presses on a nerve, which is quite unnerving. Just to keep it interesting, there is also a lot of scar tissue around the ribs.

Much of this information is not new. I already knew that there was hypermobility in my ribs, but I did not realize how many ribs are affected, and the explanation of the cascading events that occur when the ribs move too much was enlightening.
These are the Graston utensils. There is even one called "The Pointer".
In order to address the scar tissue, the Graston technique was employed. Have you ever had this done? A series of metal tools that look like ancient torture devices are used as “an innovative, patented form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization that enables clinicians to effectively break down scar tissue and fascial restriction. The technique utilizes specially designed stainless steel instruments to specifically detect and effectively treat areas exhibiting soft tissue fibrosis or chronic inflammation.”

That quote is directly from the Graston website. I really don’t think people are going to rush out and get Graston after reading that. And, guess what? It hurts like hell. Basically, these objects of torment are scraped across the injured area, i.e. my ribs, making a sound akin to nails on the chalkboard. To make sure that you remember the experience for the next few days, it causes bruising.

In an effort to stabilize the ribs, a very intricate taping technique has been employed. I had tried taping last year. The tape was magnificent – it stayed on in the pool, workouts, in the shower.  It also burned my skin so badly I had red lines on my torso for a month. This time around, my incredibly resourceful father acquired something called barrier wipes that are meant to protect the skin of patients with colostomy bags. I figure if it works for them, it should work for me!

So far the taping is working wonders. It really seems to prevent the ribs from moving when they shouldn’t and it is giving much needed support to my rib cage. Of course, in the gym locker room the ladies gasp and give me strange stares and I get the occasional, “What is wrong with you?” I am still trying to think of a better story than, “Uh, I was in a bike crash 2 years ago.” I welcome any suggestions.

I realize that tape and fairy dust are not a long term solution. I am still hopeful that a very hot, skilled surgeon with a keen interest in hypermobile ribs will swoop down on a white horse and fix me for good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Can't we all just get along? Some thoughts on sharing the road.

On a lovely Friday morning, my run group was doing intervals at Coot Lake. A very cranky woman shouted at us that we did not belong there and she was not responsible if her dog took one of us out. A hot debate ensued with neither side satisfied with the outcome. The angry woman still believes that runners should not encroach on her trail and we still believe that as long as we are courteous, we can continue to run at Coot Lake.

Just yesterday, I was on the last few miles of a long run. I was delighting in the spectacular weather and admiring the mountain view as I ran along a popular dirt road toward the Boulder reservoir. I ran toward traffic as is customary. A cyclist was coming toward me. I expected her to move left as cars and cyclists usually do. She did not budge and screamed at me several times, “I am not moving over.” I was confused and continued running. We came to a standstill when it was clear that neither of us was going to budge. She got off her bike and proceeded to screech, “You do not belong on the road. You should be running over there (she pointed to the heavily weeded ditch off the road).” I did not lose my cool, but I did explain that runners are allowed on the road and the ditch is filled with snakes anyway. Resolution was never achieved and I finally went around her. Given that there were a ton of runners out that morning, I wonder if she stopped and lectured at all of them.

Last week three cyclists in Boulder were hit head on by a car that swerved into their bike lane. The article that appeared in the Daily Camera outlining the details of the accident made it very clear that the cyclists were NOT at fault and the driver of the car was reckless. Nonetheless, the comment section was replete with people that clearly hate cyclists and used this incident to express their views even going so far as to blame the cyclists. There was an overwhelming theme that cyclists do not belong on the road.

There is so much anger and animosity between cars and cyclists, cyclists and runners, runners and walkers. Why? I am completely baffled that someone can become so enraged at a person they do not know who has done absolutely nothing other than occupy the same space.What mechanism compels a person to yell at a stranger?

There are no simple answers to living more harmoniously. Angry people will probably continue to be angry no matter what. But, I do think there are some steps that we can take as athletes to make things easier for all parties.At the very least, we can then say we did absolutely everything to avoid trouble.

1. Obey the rules of the road. Cyclists have a tendency to use red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. If we wanted to be treated as a vehicle, we must act like one.

2. Single up when cars are coming. While it is legal in Colorado to ride two abreast, make it easier on the cars by singling up when they are trying to pass.

3. When using trails, be aware of the people around you. If on a bike, don’t speed around blind corners. Whether on a bike or running, let people know if you are passing. A simple “heads up” or “right behind you” alerts people that you are there and they usually appreciate the notice.

4. In Boulder, trail rules state: everyone yields to equestrians, bicyclists yield to pedestrians, and bicyclists headed downhill yield to bicyclists headed uphill. However, I often move to the side when the bikers come through as it easier for me to stop or move than it is for them.

5. Always give a wave or verbal thanks if someone does something you like. Positive feedback goes a long way.

6. Try not to use obscene gestures to express your anger. We are all guilty of losing our temper when someone does something that makes us feel threatened. Providing negative feedback will only make that person more apt to do something offensive again.

7. Pay attention to your surroundings. I am not a believer in wearing headphones while out on the road. It dulls the senses and makes quick reaction more difficult.

Look, I know that no matter how hard we try to co-exist with cars, bikes, runners or walkers there will always be hostility. I also know that there is plenty that cars can do to help us out, but that is a whole other post. The best thing we can do is to do our best to be considerate of each other.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Guest Blog: Jonathan Toker on muscle cramps and electrolytes

Jonathan Toker is the science editor and an elite-level trail runner-triathlete who hails from Canada and lives in Southern California. He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from The Scripps Research Institute in 2001. Jonathan invented the SaltStick products in 2002, and has been found to have high levels of electrolytes in his blood. Visit for more information.

With several high profile World Championship events and long distance races still on the calendar, this is a great chance for a reminder on dealing with muscle cramping. Cramps are particularly prevalent in hot conditions but it is good to understand the causes and solutions for year-'round activities of all levels and pursuits.

Muscle cramping can be caused by several factors. However, at a base level, the understood cause of cramping is the brain signaling muscles with increasing urgency to fire at a time when the muscles are becoming fatigued or the signals are not being transmitted efficiently.  When the muscle becomes too fatigued to contract, or the signal is not being successfully converted to a command, the body compensates by sending more signals to get the muscle to behave as desired. At some point, the signals overwhelm the muscle and initiate a cramp.

Many cramps are caused by muscle fatigue due to inadequate training (think of running a marathon on 10K training) or an unusual amount of muscle use (think of using fins for a hard kick set in the pool with no prior experience). Another major cause of cramping is electrolyte imbalance due to loss of electrolytes in sweat. These charged ions of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride are responsible for muscle behaviour after the signal is sent for muscle contraction and relaxation. Variation of the concentration of these electrolytes in plasma (blood) and within cells can be caused by loss of electrolytes and fluid in sweat, and by replacement of electrolytes and fluid by consumption.

Sweat contains principally water and electrolytes. As electrolyte content of plasma decreases due to sweat loss, replacement of the water component alone will cause electrolyte levels in plasma to drop. Neglect rehydrating with fluid, and you risk serious dehydration. It's a delicate balance within a fairly narrow range to rehydrate correctly, and the necessary replacement of electrolytes lost.

If plasma electrolyte levels fall outside the optimal range, the body will begin to compensate as much as possible to maintain normal levels. As a simple level, this is accomplished primarily by controlling plasma volume though the displacement of water. For example, if plasma levels of electrolytes are low due to overhydration, the body will avoid further plasma dilution resulting in "water baby" or a gut full of unabsorbed water. The most effective solution for this common problem is to take on additional electrolytes in the concentrated form of a capsule with minimal fluid. On the other hand, if neither fluid nor electrolytes are replaced and sweat loses continue to grow, the plasma electrolyte levels will begin soar. In this case, the body will begin to retain as much fluid as possible resulting in swollen fingers and no urine production. Drinking fresh water, and depending on the circumstances, consuming electrolytes, may resolve this issue.

Proper electrolyte supplementation prior to, and throughout your event, along with appropriate fluid intake, is key to avoiding cramps and performing your best. A balanced supply of absorbable sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium is your best weapon against cramping. With those electrolytes lost in a 220-63-16-8 ratio for the average athlete, it is in the athlete's best interest to ensure that replacement of the full spectrum of electrolytes is replaced, and in a form and quantity the body can absorb.

Ensuring an ongoing and optimal balance of electrolytes and hydration will enable you to focus on the task at hand and race your best without pesky cramps from ruining your day.

For more information:
A case study with numerical examples are provided through this link.
A useful comparison chart is available Here.