Monday, December 31, 2012

A look back on 2012

I have written in the past that I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, like to use the New Year as a time to map out tangible goals for the following year and determining whether I accomplished the goals I set out for myself the previous year. These goals are often related, in no particular order, to sports, family, coaching and science. I need a barometer to measure whether I have moved in a positive, forward direction with various facets of my life. The end of a year marks a crossroads between reflecting on the year just gone by and the year spanning in front of me.

My perspective this year is different, though; 2012 will always be my year of gratitude and not judged on any singular accomplishment. That is because there is no achievement that can possibly outweigh the kindness that others showed me at a time when I reached my lowest low. This past year took twists and turns I never could have imagined. The year began like any other but by the mid-point I had a harsh realization that my rib injury was ruling me and that I needed to take drastic measures to fix it.

Just about the time when I thought there was no solution to my injury, I fortuitously found a surgeon in Minneapolis, Dr. Dan Saltzman, who would change my life. His empathy, skill, and optimism gave me hope at a time when I had none, and when I awoke from surgery I knew that I was better. Dr. Saltzman’s handiwork began a chain of recovery that involved: physical therapy (Bob Cranny), massage (Kim McCormack), dry needling (Christine Bell), lots and lots and lots and lots of strength training (Robin Galaskewicz), patience and understand from friends and family and overwhelming support at work.

Without the unending help and devotion from these individuals I would never have been able to achieve such a high level of physical health and accordingly better mental health so rapidly. I am ending this year by sending out a hearty THANK YOU to all of those people who have played a role in helping me reach the ultimate goal of any year: good health. Because, once you are healthy you can accomplish anything.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Diesel the Dog: Bath Time Sucks

I love to swim. When the weather is warm, Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice take me to the lake and throw my ball really far and I jump in to go after it. When Crazy Blonde takes me for a run in the summer, she makes sure there is a creek nearby that I can wade in to cool off. Yes, I do love the water. But for some reason, I really hate getting a bath.

Crazy Blonde takes me to this place where there are bath tubs all lined up and shampoo and brushes and towels and lots of whimpering dogs. The only thing I like is the bucket of treats I get to snack on during the torture.

When we get to the place I am all excited and I wag my tail because inside are all of these yummy smells and food everywhere and I think we are getting something good to eat.

And then, Crazy Blonde crushes my dream when she says to the lady, “I am here to give my dog a bath.” What terrible words those are, I always feel duped! I am clean enough and I like the way I smell, a combination of doggie sweat and grass. Who cares if I have dried slobber behind my ears from Violet and Calvin from when they chase me at the park?

We walk to the back of the store where the “Doggie Wash” is located. Crazy Blonde puts on one of the aprons and lifts me into the tub and then puts one of the straps around me so I can’t jump out, which I would do in a second if I could. They have this really high pressure faucet, way stronger than the one at home. It gets me all wet really fast and I do not like the way it feels. Of course, I show my displeasure by shaking all of the water all over Crazy Blonde. I guess she is smart to put on the apron.

Can you see how pissed off I am?
When I start to cower in the corner or put my tail between my legs, Crazy Blonde knows I am mad and she gives me a treat to make me feel better. Sometimes, I put on a show just to get more treats.

After I am all wet, Crazy Blonde uses this soapy stuff that smells like Lavender and she rubs it all over my fur. Can you imagine? A sporty dog like me smelling so prissy? I shake even more to get the yucky smell off. I can see there is a mess everywhere; the floor is soaking wet and there is water splattered all over the walls.  No wonder she washes me at the store and not at home.

Crazy Blonde rinses off the soap and then puts in this other stuff to make my fur smooth and shiny. I don’t mind that so much because I like it when people tell me how nice my fur looks and how does it get so sleek. Hey, I like a compliment as much as the next dog.

Crazy Blonde spends a lot of time brushing me. Lots of my fur comes off and it is all over the place. I am surprised there is any left on my body when Crazy Blonde is done. The last part is the one I really, really don’t like. Crazy Blonde towels me off and then turns on this loud thing that puts out hot air. She waves it all over me until I start to bark, telling her “You’ve had your fun, turn it off before I bark so loud they call the cops.”

Finally, we walk out of the store and go home. Crazy Blonde likes to sniff my fur and tell me how good I smell. I start to whine that I want to go to the park. I have to get the smell of doggie sweat back.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Regrouping after a disappointing race

A key race comes with a lot of emotional and physical investment. The hours spent training and mentally preparing are too numerous to count. Anticipating the event can cause moments of excitement nestled in an anxiety ridden wrapper. Thoughts of well executed training sessions are intermingled with memories of horrendous workouts. All of this momentum culminates in The Day – the months of hard work all come down to a few hours of racing. What happens if the race turns out like crap? How do you handle things if you don’t get to race at all due to illness or injury or in my case, cancelling out due to poor weather?

After I made the decision to not race CIM last weekend, I spent a few hours sulking and guiltily hoping that race day would turn out rainy and windy and horrible (it did). I thought about all of the hard workouts, the physical therapy, the interminable gym sessions and I felt dejected. My immediate thought was, “What a colossal waste of time”.

When I finally came to my senses, I realized that the training I put in for this race was not for naught. The fitness gains I made in running and the improvement in post-injury strength and functionality don’t get washed down the drain because I didn’t race. I will be able to build on the experience of training for this marathon and apply it to whatever athletic endeavor I choose next.

That is when I realized I needed to find another goal. Quickly. As a goal-driven athlete, more important than anything else is finding something and then going after it with vigor. Since the end of the year marathon ship has sailed, I am re-focused on running some local races with an eye on a fast half marathon early next year and ultimately qualifying for the 2016 marathon Olympic trials. Boom. Just like that my mind is at ease with new goals already in place.

Recovering from a race gone awry requires several steps:
  1. Allow some time to wallow in disappointment. Put an actual limit on your brooding and adhere to it. Anything over 48 hours is unacceptable.
  2. Focus on the positives of the lead up to the race. Whether it is gains in run speed, improved swim technique, or increased power on the bike there is always something positive to glean from a training block.
  3. Enjoy the training for the sake of training. If training is a chore and un-fun, the disappointment of poor or missed races will be exacerbated. However, if training is social and enjoyable and the workouts themselves are used as mini tests of progress, there will be fewer feelings of discontent following a race that doesn’t pan out well.
  4. Assess what went wrong. In the instance where a goal was missed, it is important to figure out what happened and apply that knowledge to future racing and training. Determine whether it was pacing, nutrition, over training, under training, a taper gone wrong or just a plain and simple bad day.
  5. Pick a new goal. Unquestionably, finding a new focus is imperative. Having a concrete goal in the immediate future helps ease the frustration that comes with a race that does not live up to expectations.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Much ado has been made about the weather forecast for this weekend’s California International Marathon. I peeked at the 10 day forecast last weekend and saw that rain was imminent. As race day approached and the three weather sites I visited insisted that rain, wind, flooding and cold temperatures were almost 100 percent certain, I made the tough decision to cancel my plans to race.

My first reaction when I saw rain in the forecast was to carefully review my race from the LA marathon in 2011 which saw torrential rain and 50 degree temperatures. I was miserably cold that day and my hands were a color purple not normally seen in nature. I desperately wanted to stop at one of the many Starbucks on the route and pour a hot coffee over my head.

With that experience behind me, I hauled ass to REI and had an in-depth discussion about gloves with a knowledgeable and patient employee. I settled on a pair that is wet-suit like in nature and promised to make my hands pucker. I added a multitude of clothing options to my race-day attire, none of which would ultimately keep me warm or dry. With a wet-suit on my hands, I did consider using one for my body as well, but that is just crazy talk.

With race day looming closer and the weather looking more and more evil, I has some tough conversations. I decided to stay home instead of toeing the line. The rationale being this, with a limited number of really good marathons left in my legs: why waste one on a day that is already starting off unfavorably?

This is certainly not the attitude of most diehard runners. In past years when CIM experienced horrible conditions, only an additional 3% of racers were no-shows over the normal rate. But, my goal is not to simply finish the race. I want to run as fast as my training has dictated I can run. Running a PR in a marathon is difficult under ideal circumstances; the rain, wind and cold make this endeavor less probable, especially for someone like me who hates being cold.

It was not an easy choice, one that has left me awake at 2am and sent me to the computer to write this blog. But, Mark astutely pointed out, “At least there is nothing wrong with you. You aren’t sick or injured.” Ah, very true. In the past I have been faced with this very decision, race or not, because I was unsure if my body was up to the task. After months of rehab after rib surgery, there is no doubt about my fitness and health. And, no matter what, a DNS (did not start) is way better than a DNF (did not finish).

I can say unequivocally, the training for this race was fun. I relished the hard work it took to come back from surgery and start running fast again without pain. The marathon was meant to be the culmination of all of this hard work, a symbol to end this chapter of my life.

Now, I will take a small break from structured training and enjoy some jaunts around the trails with Diesel the Dog.

To all of the racers at CIM this weekend, stay warm and good luck.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The numbers game

Are you numbers obsessed?
On Sunday I am running the California International Marathon in Sacramento. I have a goal time, 2:40, which I have broken down into pace/mile, 10k splits and the half marathon time. Any way I look at it, the times are intimidating; I need to hold 6:07/mile, 38:00/10k and hit the half way point in 1:20. Just writing this makes my heart race a little. It is hard for me to wrap my head around these times for that long, even though my training and racing tells me this is not an impossible task.

And that brings me to my point. As athletes, we tend to get caught up in the numbers, creating a phenomenon that we have all experienced: number anxiety. The numbers can come from anywhere: the watts you want to hold on the bike, pace on the swim or run, a time standard that needs to be achieved, a finish time that will put you in contention to qualify for Kona or Vegas, breaking a barrier, such as a 3 hour marathon.

A concrete goal with an appropriate action plan has positive and negative ramifications. On the positive side, a tangible goal directs your training so that you can train with properly and race accordingly. The negatives? Well, that is the over planning and over thinking that invariably occurs.

There are ways to manage number anxiety in training and racing so you get the most out of your electronic devices without making yourself crazy.

The foremost way to prevent number anxiety is by not becoming number obsessed. By this I mean, don’t constantly stare at your numbers during a training session or race. Once you have established your number goal, look at your GPS or power meter periodically to make sure you are on target, but do not constantly check. The numbers are going to vary depending on the terrain, stride rate and pedal stroke. Take a peek now and then, but don’t fixate. It is distracting and can ultimately derail your workout or race. There is no way to hold the exact number, the best you can do is keep it in a tight range.

Download your power files and GPS data and analyze them after your workout or race. Since you only get a snapshot of your numbers during the workout or race, it is imperative to look at the whole picture afterwards. You can determine if you put out too many watts up the hill or if you ran a certain section too fast. Look for peaks and valleys in your workout or race and then try to smooth it out next time. There is a lot to learn from a data file and this is a process most athletes overlook.

If you are doing a longer race or workout, number anxiety is exacerbated by the very fact that you must hold those numbers for a very long time. A way around this daunting task is to break up the race or workout into intervals of a predetermined length. For example, an Ironman bike leg can be broken into 30 minute segments at a particular goal wattage with a 2-3 minute reset in between at 20-30 watts less. This short rest period is mentally and physically reinvigorating and should not have a detrimental impact on your overall bike time, especially if you can prevent the inevitable fade that happens to most people at the end of the bike.

Finally, it is important to learn to pace yourself by “feel”. With enough training by the numbers, you should be able to dial in your pace without even looking. Today I ran 2x2 mile race pace tempo efforts during my run. I checked my watch two or three times during each interval, but mostly, I wanted to make sure I could feel the pace without looking. My efforts were within 2 seconds of each other and were directly on goal race pace.

I recently went back and looked at my data from when I raced the California International Marathon last year. During last year’s race, I mentally broke it into 5k segments and checked my time and pace roughly at those intervals. I felt like I was holding a constant, comfortable pace throughout the race, and when I checked my watch it seemed like I was holding between 6:10 and 6:20.
My run file from CIM last year. Lots of ups and downs, but ultimately, I kept it fairly tight.

When I finally looked at the data file, I was amazed by the way my pace jumped around. Even though my 5k times were right on target, there was quite a bit of variation in my pace. Many of the low troughs are when I ran through a water stop; I took my time and made sure I had enough to drink. The other peaks and valleys correspond to the hills. The point is this: prior to the race I knew the pace I needed to hold to achieve my goal. I dialed it in with my training and on race day I ran the pace that felt right, periodically checking in with my GPS to make sure I was on target. Had I been a slave to the numbers, I would have been incredibly frustrated by the constant changes in pace throughout the race and this might have undermined my race. I avoided number anxiety by having confidence in my race plan, not relying on my GPS to carry me through the race, and breaking the race into manageable segments.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

10 steps to a perfect race

I am a crossword puzzle and Scrabble fanatic; I love words. For that reason, the other day, for no other reason than mild curiosity, I entered “cool words” into Google to see what might pop up. To my utter surprise, there are actual websites dedicated to “cool words”. Some of the words are unusually long, while others just sound funny. Upon perusing one of the lists, I came across this word: syzygy. I was unfamiliar with this strangely spelled and hard to pronounce word and was interested in its definition. Syzygy, in astronomy, is a straight line configuration of three celestial bodies, the sun, the moon and the earth during a solar or lunar eclipse.  I thought more about this word and its relationship to triathlon and I realized that a perfect race requires syzygy.

Perfect races truly are as rare as an eclipse. In my career, part of what keeps me coming back for more, year after year, is the search for that perfect race. My count of perfect races is two. Two! Those are terrible odds when you consider the hundreds of races I have competed in over the years. However, when you consider all that can happen during a race –flat tire, GI distress, crappy weather, feeling tired, injury, illness, poor training, poor pacing – it is surprising that any race ever goes right. But, the notion of a perfect race is tantalizing and so I persist, yearning for a perfect day, a day where exogenous factors do not derail me and my body carries me through to the finish line in a personal best.

My first perfect race was the Chicago Triathlon in 1998. It was my rookie season as a professional and I had yet to attain a big result. On that humid August day, I had a breakthrough performance. I swam and biked with the leaders and started the run feeling like I was floating. As I reached the finish line area after the first lap of the four lap run, such was my anonymity, the announcer said “We have our first lady coming through. I’m not sure her name.  I’ll look that up and get back to you.”  Three laps later, I cruised across the line with my arms in air and a huge smile on my face. Yes, syzygy propelled to my first win as a professional. Nothing stood in my way that day, everything was in alignment.

That day seemed so easy. I had no idea, naïve as I was, how incredibly difficult it would be to match a day such as that one. My career was dotted with big achievements and other wins, but none were accompanied by syzygy.

It took ten years to find another race that would unfold with the flawlessness that leads to perfection.  That race was the 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. An early season assault on qualifying for the Beijing Olympics ended prematurely when I didn’t make the team. I switched my focus to 70.3 races, arguably my best distance. With a few mid-season 70.3 wins under my belt, and a long stretch of confidence boosting workouts, I toed the line in Clearwater ready to race. Similar to my perfect day in Chicago, on this day, I swam and biked at the front of the race. Ten steps into the run I knew I was going to win. It never entered my mind otherwise, and I sailed through the race with that assurance. It was a record breaking day for me; there was no way of knowing that it was the harbinger of a career ending injury. Fortunately, though, no longer the naive rookie from a decade ago, I savored every single emotional moment of crossing the finish line first in a World Championship.

Here are 10 steps to achieve your perfect day:
  1. Make sure you are well rested on race day
  2. Get all of your equipment checked out
  3. Decide on a nutritional plan and practice it in training
  4. Don’t race sick or injured
  5. Don’t get greedy in training and start overdoing it thereby leaving your race at home
  6. Come up with a race plan and stick to it
  7. Don't let nerves get in your way
  8. Know the course
  9. Mentally prepare for the perfect race through visualization
  10. Have confidence
And, of course, it helps to have some race day syzygy on your side.

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.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Race report: Equinox half marathon

The inaugural Equinox half marathon was a blast. Every fledgling race has growing pains, and this one certainly had a few kinks, but overall the organization was flawless even with the logistical nightmare that comes with a point to point course. The buses that transported us from the parking area left on time. The drive was long, 45 minutes, as the pickup was 10 miles from the finish area due to lack of parking at the finish site. But, the bus was comfortably warm, even bordering on cozy. I cranked my iPod and watched from the window as we drove the course in reverse.

The impetus for choosing this particular race was the downhill course profile. As one friend suggested, I could tuck and roll my way from the start to the finish. I love downhill running and as we drove up Poudre Canyon (pronounced Pooter, not as it looks, as I was politely corrected) I came to fully appreciate how much downhill this course offered. Unfortunately, the first half of the course is markedly steeper and faster than the second half, lulling me into a false sense of my capabilities on the day.

I won’t lie, when the gun went off, I went out like a caged tiger. Perhaps it was the excitement of racing again after a long layoff. Perhaps it was consistently faster workouts. Perhaps it was renewed confidence from putting to rest a long term injury. Perhaps it was just plain stupidity. Anyway you look at it, I had no business running the first 10k in 36:34. I haven’t run an open 10k that fast in quite some time, so my legs were not prepared for that kind of beating. I reasoned that eventually I would like to run an entire 13.1 miles at that pace and I had to start somewhere.

I paid the price big time. Not only was the back half of the course less drastically downhill, but the wind shifted from a nice tail wind to a menacing headwind. My legs ached, my lungs burned, I tried my best to hold it together despite the protestations from my body.

I embraced every moan and groan. It was a delight compared to the things I endured before I had surgery. This time, the discomfort was in my control. I could ease off the throttle and make the hurt stop if I so decided, which, of course, I didn’t.  I crossed the line in second with a time of 1:19.22. Diesel the Dog was so excited to see me when I crossed the line you would’ve thought I was gone on a 6 month expedition, not a 13.1 mile jaunt.

In terms of improving the race? More aid stations that are better equipped. Over the 4 aid stations on the course, I ended up with 2.5 sips of water. Each was filled with thimble full of water and the mouth of the cup was so wide that when I tipped the cup back to sip the drops of water more of it ended up on my face rather than in my mouth. At one aid station I tried to grab two cups, but the volunteer seemed startled by my presence she just dropped it on the ground. I was so dehydrated after the race that I didn’t pee until 4 hours after I finished and that was after pounding water, Izze , V8 (an IV drip in a can) and my favorite post-race recovery drink, coffee.

The course itself was a delight. Poudre Canyon is interesting, with a flowing river and magnificent rock formations. The damage from the fires earlier this year was evident all along the course, with huge patches of charred ground interspersed into areas that were untouched.

The most important aspect of this race was validating what I already knew from training: my rib is better. Despite the continued positive feedback I received on a consistent basis from training and daily living, I was not going to know for certain that the surgery worked until I pushed myself in a race. For the first time in 3 years, I raced without fear, unburdened by an injury that tried to own me. What a relief.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Getting back in shape, sort of

A three year injury that culminates in a surgical procedure wreaks a lot of havoc on the body. In light of that, I have been on a rampage to get back in shape. To be fair, prior to surgery I was not out of shape per se. I was, I suppose, out of condition or not sharp or well below 100%. That is where the confusion begins. Being in shape has so many different meanings. I was fit enough to run 80+ miles per week and swim a decent workout of 4000 meters, and I spent 6 days a week doing strength and rehab work in the gym; but my body was ailing and I never felt good. I was paradoxically in shape but not in shape.

During the injury phase of the last few years, I did my best to maintain strength and flexibility through physical therapy and gym work. I was limited in my capacity to really progress forward with certain movements, so mostly I was just trying to prevent other injuries and reduce the potential for muscle imbalance. Fortunately, I was able to keep my hips and glutes fairly strong enabling me to run the distances I was despite the rib injury.

In terms of running and swimming workouts, I probably executed 50% of my run workouts and 25% of my swim workouts. These are terrible percentages for a person accustomed to nailing 95% of workouts. The failed workouts were due to pain and the inability to breath; the workload on the ribcage required by a hard swim or run was too much most of the time. Since I had an injury that seemingly had no fix, I decided that I needed to try rather than cry, so I approached each workout with an optimism not quite befitting my situation.

Before surgery, I was in shape, by virtue of the fact that I could run a lot of miles and swim quite a few meters, but I was out of shape when measured against peak performance ability.

Now that I am feeling much better and my body is healthier post-surgery, I have been able to run and swim at a level I could only dream about a few short weeks ago. I am working on getting back in shape. And, by that, I mean, running and swimming at a higher level on a more consistent basis.

Initially, my workouts showed an almost instantaneous improvement – no doubt, my times were faster. Unfortunately, I did not have the muscle endurance to support this new found speed. Somewhere toward the back end of each workout I would blow up spectacularly. One workout in particular, I had to pick up pieces of my legs and lungs off the pavement. On Sundays, I dragged myself through the last few miles of my long runs. My quads burned, my glutes ached, and my back throbbed. Muscles that had been dormant suddenly awakened. In the pool, during VO2 max swims, I would push off the wall and my arms would just lock up rendering me unable to complete a stroke.

Each workout, though, I noticed I could get further along before the inevitable rigor mortis set in until this week when I finally completed entire workouts without shuffling or floating to the finish. My ability to take this step up in training comes in parallel with my improvement in the gym where I have finally been able to accomplish movements and exercises that were off limits when I was injured.

Getting back in shape has been a challenge offset by the fact it has been enjoyable. It feels good to feel good again.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The importance of strength training

Most triathletes adamantly hate strength training. They willingly spend five or six hours on the bike, but 30 minutes in the gym lifting weights is heresy. The literature on this topic has been mixed, with some researchers promoting strength training as a means to improving performance while others report that it does not.

I believe, though, that there is enough evidence both scientifically and anecdotally to make me a firm advocate of strength training as a means to injury prevention and performance improvement, particularly in master’s athletes who have years of unaddressed muscle imbalances and muscle weaknesses.

The problem with strength training compared to a swim, bike or run workout is this: delayed gratification. You go out for a bike workout, for example, and you know immediately whether you had a good day -- you hit your power goals or you didn't. Integrating gym workouts into your routine requires patience because the improvements are not immediately obvious, the workouts are often monotonous, and who wouldn't rather be outside on a gorgeous day? But, the benefits of strength training are numerous, and even for a time crunched athlete, it is worth shifting the schedule a little to fit in some gym work. I outline just a few of the important reasons below.

On average, the non-exercising population loses about 10% of muscle mass per decade. A proper exercise program can reduce this to 1%. According to Robin Galaskewicz, a kinesiologist who has helped me recover from my rib injury, Masters athletes in particular need to increase motion and strength in the pelvis and thoracic spine because aging and the accumulation of repetitive forward motion causes weaknesses and loss of flexibility.

Robin has told me that there is a significant impact in sparing muscle and maintaining flexibility. The rate of injury can be markedly reduced by developing stronger muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments and bones which in turn can prevent injuries common to triathletes: shin splits, stress fractures, lower back pain, knee problems and hip injuries. Now, who doesn't want to reduce the risk of injury?

Also, stronger muscles increase power, improve exercise economy (the ability to swim, bike or run faster over a given distance due to reduced oxygen consumption), and increase basal metabolic rate contributing to improved body composition. Sounds good, right?

The various studies examining the association between strength training and endurance performance have generally looked at two types of workouts: explosive training (i.e. plyometrics) and resistance training (i.e multiple sets of an exercise with higher repetitions).

In 1999, Paavolainen showed that explosive training improved the 5K time in well-trained endurance athletes and they concluded that the improvement was due to increased running economy. Spurs in 2003 replicated this finding when looking at the effect of explosive training on 3k running performance.

Paton showed similar results with cycling in 2005; his results showed that explosive training increased sprint and endurance power in well-training cyclists due to enhanced exercise efficiency and increased VO2max.

Resistance training has also shown benefits to endurance athletes, particularly in those who are less well trained. Studies have not shown measurable increases in VO2max or lactate threshold in athletes who integrated a resistance training program into their training. However, resistance training has been linked to improved running and cycling economy and increased time to exhaustion, both for cycling and running.

How does this apply to you? Integrate a strength program that consists of a combination of explosive and resistance training. During the off season you should try to do strength workouts 3-4 days per week and during the season focus on a maintenance program 2 days per week.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's about time

Competitive swimming is steeped in time standards. As a novice, the goal is to move from C times to B times and then on to A, AA, and AAA. From there, junior Olympics, Junior Nationals and Senior Nationals loom large. The ultimate time standard is an Olympic trials qualifier. Swimming websites are fraught with local and national age group top-16 times, not only from this year, but for every year dating back to the Pleistocene era. And let’s not forget about the pace clock, every swimmers best friend or worst enemy. There is rarely a day a swimmer jumps in the pool and just swims around aimlessly. We are slaves to the pace clock, always and forever.

It is no wonder then, that after being immersed in a culture that places so much emphasis on time, I am still time obsessed in training and racing.

As a triathlete, as surely as I was racing my competitors, I raced the clock. Every race was an opportunity to set a new PR in any of the three disciplines or for the whole event. One of the reasons I often frequented the same event year after year was to obtain a direct comparison of my progress – could I go faster than I did in the past? It is hard to compare a time at St. Croix 70.3 to Eagleman 70.3, but the task of comparing St. Croix 70.3 over a 5 year span makes more sense. I realize that conditions change from one year to the next, giving me a perfect excuse when slow times emerged, but there is still an overall sense of comparison that let me know if I was improving, stalling or even, yikes, sliding backwards. The bottom line: triathlon is place focused and not time focused. A top placing will get you to Kona, but you can set a PR and still not make the cut. This makes perfect sense given the inaccuracies of course measurement, course difficulty and weather patterns.

I have spent the last two years running. All of the time conscious habits of my swimming days have reappeared in flagrant fashion. My place in races is far less important to me than how fast I run. I am continually in pursuit of PR’s in the half and full marathon. I pick and choose courses than are amenable to running satisfactory times. In training I push myself on a weekly basis in an effort to eke out a few less seconds per mile than the week before.

And that brings me to the last few months of 2012. With the rib surgery behind me and endless opportunity in front of me, I have chosen some races to close out the season. I plan on racing a half marathon in Colorado in September (I cannot decide which one), the Columbus half marathon in October, a local 10k in November and the California International Marathon (CIM) in December. My goals? To run fast! Most importantly, I hope to run sub-1:18 in Columbus which will set me up for my assault on breaking 2:40 at CIM in December. Heady aspirations, yes, but not entirely impossible. With so many years of injury and despair in the rearview mirror, it feels right to think big. Whether or not these goals come to fruition is secondary to the fact that I even have a chance to dream about them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Recovery Mode

Any athlete will tell you, the first question on their mind after an injury/illness/surgery is how long it will take to recover. Athletes are movers. Sitting around “getting better” is not compatible with the agenda of training. I am no different than anyone else; one of my priorities has been to start training again. And why shouldn’t it be? I am a self professed exercise addict.

Prior to traveling to Minneapolis for surgery, I emailed the surgeon on a few occasions to get a better understanding of what my recovery would entail. The gist of his responses was, “It depends on what I find during surgery.” How vague is that? After surgery, when he presumably gathered all of the information he could possibly need to answer my whine, “When can I swim and run?” all he could muster was “You can probably start working out next week. Let pain be your guide,” and then he set me free.

My immediate thought was, how can you give that much latitude to a person who was running 80-90 miles a week with a 2 inch neuroma on an intercostal nerve? Clearly, my perception of pain is skewed and I need something more concrete than “let pain be your guide.”  I think the bottom line is that he really had no clue. First, he has never worked on an OCD athlete and second, he has only performed this surgery on one other occasion. He just had no reference based on prior experience and rather than admit that he didn’t know he gave me the standard pain as your guide answer.

If this Weeble had curlier hair and blue eyes, it could be me!
I experienced several unpleasant after effects to the surgery. I was bloated and swollen to the point of feeling like a Weeble. I sent a picture of my surgical wound to a friend. He texted, “Holy shit…You look fat, lol.” Thanks, buddy, that’s a real pick me up. I most assuredly did not LOL when I could barely button up my pants. The rib pain felt very similar to a broken rib. I had intense pain upon laughing, coughing, sneezing and trying to get out of bed. These sensations have dissipated much more quickly than a broken rib, though. And, of course, there was the discomfort from being cut open. The nerve pain that ailed me for almost three years is noticeably absent.

Notice the post-surgical muffin top
Here’s the thing. On the one hand, my desire to recover and let this surgery work is paramount. On the other hand, I detest sitting around. After a certain amount of time doing nothing I feel like I am going to spontaneously combust. I tried to compromise by integrating moving with sleeping. I offset taking a walk with taking a nap. And, there is no question, movement has aided in my recovery by increasing my range of motion and helping prevent the accumulation of scar tissue. And, as an aside, I just happened to read an article this morning that showed exercise helps with wound healing in mice by upregulating blood flow which delivers more oxygen to the wound (this is probably true in humans too, but it is really hard to find volunteers that are willing to participate in a study that requires them to get deep slices all over their body).

The day after surgery, my parents and I walked a little bit. By the fourth day after surgery, I got on the elliptical (without using the arms) for 20 minutes and took a lovely walk around Lake Calhoun (about 3 miles). Eight days after surgery I ran 30 minutes on the Alter G at 70% of body weight and a very easy pace. I have taken several hikes on terrain of varying difficulty. Today I did my first swim, 1000 meters at a snail’s pace. Most importantly, I started back doing rehabilitative stretching and exercises to regain flexibility, muscle balance and strength.

Each step of the way, I have asked myself two questions. 1. How much does this hurt? 2. Is the pain level increasing during a given “workout.” If the pain level topped out at a 3 and never increased beyond that then I felt that I was in no danger of damaging myself. Before each workout, I set parameters in terms of time or distance and speed. No matter how good I have felt, and no matter how tremendous my desire to push beyond my preset limits, I have stopped as planned which is no easy task for somebody who is used to pushing the envelope.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Surgery Recap

Instead of a race report, I am writing a surgery report. It’s almost the same thing.

I met my parents in Minneapolis last Monday. On Tuesday, we went to clinic to meet the surgeon for the first time. His easy going demeanor instantly relaxed us. And let me tell you, I was feeling far from relaxed. Despite the knowledge that this surgery was imperative, and despite the knowledge that I was in capable hands, I was profusely nervous, as evidenced by my incredibly high blood pressure readings and racing heart rate.

The appointment was a meet and greet coupled with a hands on evaluation of my rib area. He poked and prodded and then injected some lidocaine in an effort to numb it which would allow him to pinpoint where the pain was occurring. If the pain was gone after the numbing agent was injected, then that would be the point where he would make the incision and look for the problem.

After the exam, Dr. Grail explained that the surgery would have two components. The first phase of the surgery would be exploratory where he would attempt to find and diagnose the problem. The second phase would be to correct the problem. He estimated the procedure would take 30 minutes. I nearly dropped off the exam table; three years of pain reversed in 30 minutes? It seemed impossible. I said, “Whoa, there cowboy. No need to rush. Let’s do this right.”

I can only compare the surgery to an Ironman. The similarities are just uncanny. The clinic visit was analogous to packet pick-up. I had a sleepless night before the surgery. There was an unusually early wake-up call. I had the jitters. There was a check in procedure in the morning before I could do anything else. I got a nifty bracelet that I could not take off until after I was done. I had to get body marked (my body marking consisted of the surgeon inking my rib cage where he wanted to make his incision), but they did not put my age on my calf. There was a lot of hustle and bustle followed by a lot of waiting around before the whole thing started. I had to put all of my clothes in a plastic bag which had my name on it; the bag was moved to another location, and I could not retrieve the bag until afterwards.  Instead of a canon blowing to mark the beginning I got an IV filled with magical medicine that knocked me out.

The aftermath was not too dissimilar from the end of an Ironman. I had an IV going, I was disoriented and I was incredibly swollen and bloated. My hair was a mess. My eyes looked glazed. And the soreness and fatigue lasted for days. I did ask for photos for posterity (and this blog), but was emphatically turned down. Where is ASI when you need them? Sure they would have charged $1,000 for a 1x1 photo, but how can you put a price tag on a once in a lifetime experience? In case you were wondering, I will not get the hospital logo tattooed on my ass.

I always knew Ironman prepared me for something other than just another Ironman.

This nasty red thing is an intercostal neuroma.  Not mine though, since they denied me photos.
The surgery itself was very productive. Rather than the ambitious 30 minutes that was predicted, it lasted an hour. In the exploratory phase, Dr. Grail found fractured cartilage at the end of the 11th rib. The cartilage was so damaged it basically crumbled under his touch. This cartilage was fractured in the 2009 accident and due to the lack of blood flow to cartilage it could not heal. The damaged cartilage caused instability in the rib making it rub the nerve that sits behind it. The continued rubbing over so much time led to the development of an almost 2 inch neuroma on the nerve (i.e. an intercostal neuroma). A neuroma is a tumor-like growth of nerve tissue and this is what was causing the pain. Correcting the problem included:  getting rid of the damaged cartilage and excising the neuroma and the nerve. Just to be clear on why this was so difficult to diagnose in the first place, Dr. Grail has only seen an intercostal neuroma on one other occasion and he has done more corrective rib surgeries than anyone else.

I spent the rest of the week in Minneapolis recovering. I slept a lot, went for walks and watched the Olympics like I was going to be quizzed on it later. We met some family friends for dinner, explored an art fair, and cleaned out Trader Joe’s.  I even challenged my mom to a reading contest; we would both start the same book at the same time and see who finished first. I won by default. I was the only one who started (FYI, the book is called Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee and was quite a good read).

My parents were excellent care takers and made the recovery process as comfortable and easy as possible. A few days before we left for Minneapolis, my mom said to me. “You better be fun while we are there.”  I think she was ribbing me (get the pun?), but I do believe we made the most of our time in Minneapolis.

I am unsure of what my recovery will bring. Dr. Grail did not set out a time line to follow. Of course, I would love to get back to triathlon, but before I start riding again after a 2 year hiatus, I want to be pain free running and swimming. While I am still feeling the effects of the surgery, there is a noticeable absence of nerve pain. I am hesitantly optimistic that once I have healed I will be pain free.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Triathlon rewards the patient

 I had a very interesting conversation with an athlete the other day. He made a very astute observation, a concept that I try to impress upon my mentees, but often is ignored or forgotten. He said, “You know, I have a question. It seems that triathlon rewards those that wait. A lot of guys I know have made really big gains over the last 5 years. What are your thoughts?” I thought, “Gee, I better write a blog about this!”

Excelling in three different sports at one time is no easy task. Each discipline of triathlon has its own nuances in technique, training, and recovery. It is no wonder, then, that I view training for triathlon as a long term project. That is not to say an athlete won’t or can’t make incremental improvements, but, often the biggest gains take place over years. It is not feasible, for example, to drop one hour in an Ironman in a period of 3 months and qualify for Kona, unless previous races were contested with one leg tied up. Yet, I still have athletes ask me if that is a possibility.

Meteoric improvements are rare and are reserved for those with a phenomenal athletic background. This is true both in the professional and amateur ranks. For most of us, reaching our potential, whether it is an 8 hour or 12 hour Ironman time, requires precision in training. It is a matter of learning how to swim faster and more efficiently. Athletes need to hone their skills on the bike so they execute the fastest ride possible without damaging their ability to run well. This means a steady, controlled, leave the ego at the start line kind of ride. And, perhaps the hardest part of all is discovering how to run off the bike without melting down. Plus, there is the nutritional component which if not resolved can undermine even the best prepared athlete. Putting all of these pieces together takes a Herculean effort that can only be achieved over time.

Athletes want to take shortcuts. There is the faulty notion that training more or harder will get one to their goals more quickly. In reality, anybody can train hard. It takes a special someone to delay the gratification of short term glory in an effort to achieve their long term goals. Just think about the training monsters who kill it during workouts yet fail to produce on race day? Why does this happen? Because the body only has a finite ability to produce and to suffer and if one chooses to use this up during training there is nothing left on race day physically or mentally. Trying to bypass the laws of triathlon will not work.

My theory is that consistency is the key. It sounds obvious and simple. But, I still see people ignoring this simple principle all the time. There are the “weekend warriors” that train HARD all weekend and spend the rest of the week recovering. There are the “cyclers” who train HARD for a few weeks and then limp into a rest week or two. And then there are those who know how to mete out efforts over time so that they can train well for an extended period, taper and then go HARD on race day.

Improvements come from good ‘ole fashioned training day in and day out, week after week. It is not any one workout that makes an athlete better. It is the conglomeration of workouts over time. It may be months or years, but it is having a long term plan and realizing that triathlon does reward the patient. And the athlete who precipitated this very post? He was very patient in his training (and on race day) and set a massive PR at Ironman Lake Placid.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Let's get physical

There should be a requirement that doctors must have a sense of humor. It really makes the doctor/patient interaction so much more comfortable when you can share a laugh. This morning I paid a visit to my internist whom I will heretofore refer to as Dr. Drab, for a pre-op physical; his stoicism really reinforced my need to lighten up a situation with some sarcasm. In fact, I almost felt as if I was being challenged. Can I make this guy laugh?

Dr. Drab is a stodgy, older gentleman who is nice enough. I have only been to visit him on one other occasion, so we have never established any kind of rapport. For all intents and purposes, I am a complete stranger to him.

The first order of business was getting weighed. I don’t care who you are, getting weighed at the doctor’s office sucks. I made sure to wear my lightest clothes and removed my shoes. Somehow I was still 2 pounds heavier than I was on the scale at the gym and one pound heavier than the one at home, both of which I tried out this morning, wearing the same outfit, just for comparison. I am a scientist, so I like reproducibility. Somehow, there is a major fail going on here. Three scales, three different weights. It is like how all of the clocks in my house tell a different time.

Next up was blood pressure (100/62), heart rate (42) and temperature (96.4). Those look the vitals of a nearly dead person.

I was then queried about the nature of my injury. I gave Dr. Drab the abridged version, explaining how my 12th rib has been impinging a nerve. Of course, he had to put in his two cents; it seems everyone has an opinion, but no right answers.

Dr. Drab: Well, have you tried Neurontin or Lyrica (medications that help with nerve pain)?

JZ: I looked into those drugs, but they have nasty side effects. And, it doesn’t make sense to go on a systemic medication for a localized problem.

Dr. Drab: How about lidocaine patches?

JZ: I tried those. They didn’t work. In fact, I have tried everything. I’ve had nerve blocks, cortisone injections, and physical therapy. I even danced around a totem pole. Nothing worked.

Then he asked a barrage of questions about my family history. When I told him, yes, my sister is healthy, unless you count insanity Dr. Drab didn’t even crack a smile. What does a person have to do to get a laugh?

The physical exam was almost innocuous. He was palpating my abdomen and suddenly, without warning, he jabbed a finger in my side, directly into the pain epicenter. I was so startled by the intrusion that I jumped up quickly nearly causing us to knock heads. “Oh, did that hurt?”, was all he could muster.  No shit!

Then, to make matters worse, he started poking around the area, each time asking if it hurt. I wanted to ask him, “Would it hurt if I slowly pulled out each hair in your mustache, one by one?” What I did say was, “I think you have sufficiently found the offending spot.” He took the hint and stopped prodding.

Finally, it was done. Even though I passed my physical, I failed in my mission to get Dr. Drab to loosen up. I just hope I do not need Dr. Drab’s services any time soon, but if I do, I will be certain to bring along a sense of humor and gift it to him. 
Now this doctor has a sense of humor!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Preparing for Surgery

A little surgery humor. 
 Who knew that getting ready for surgery would be so difficult? I figured I would fly to Minneapolis, get my rib fixed, and jet right home. It is not quite so simple. It turns out that I have to stay in Minneapolis for a week so I can go to a post-op visit. What a nerve, the surgeon, the aforementioned Dr. Grail, wants to see me after surgery.

A mad search was initiated by my parents (who are accompanying me) and me to locate an appropriate post-surgical abode. A quick look on VRBO, a vacation rental site, brought up some interesting finds.

Here is a complaint from one reviewer on what looked like a perfectly reasonable condo:

"When we walked down in the basement to the 3rd bedroom, it was quite disgusting to see dog poop on the bedroom floor! When I told owner of this the next morning, she acted as though that could not be. We had no pets with us so it did not come from us."

Can you imagine walking into a rental condo and finding a pile of crap on the floor? That does not sound like a very sanitary way to convalesce from surgery!

Another rental met our criteria and we were about jump on it until we received a cautionary email from the listing site:

"As part of our quality control procedures, we have suspended this listing until we can obtain more information from the advertiser. If we do not receive information that is sufficient to reinstate the listing, it will no longer appear on our site."

If you are like me, than your curiosity is brewing over, wondering what heinous act the people who listed this property committed. Obviously it is much worse than dog poop on the floor. Dead body, maybe?

We decided, ultimately, to stay in a hotel about 20 minutes away from the hospital. It is near a lake and a bike path that you can run, bike or rollerblade on. It sounds perfect... for the one run I will be able to do the day before surgery.

Speaking of the hospital, did I mention that I am seeing a pediatric surgeon and that I am having the surgery done at a Children’s hospital? I have images of going to clinic and sitting in an itty-bitty chair reading Highlights magazine. I think I am required to bring a stuffed animal with me.

As a registered patient at a Children’s Hospital, I am receiving mail addressed to “the parents of Joanna Zeiger.” One of the letters from the clinic informed the parents of Joanna Zeiger, “your child needs to have a physical within 30 days of the surgery”.

I cannot remember the last time I had a routine physical, but I am thinking it might be the mandatory athletes’ physical I had my sophomore year of college. At that time, all I had to do was touch my toes, which I could easily do, impressing the doctor who had just seen the football team. I heard from another athlete those guys couldn’t even see their toes. In this instance, I need an EKG, a chest x-ray, and to answer a host of probing questions. I hope I pass; otherwise the house hunt was for naught.

I really want to run to the hospital the morning of the operation, but I have to be there at 5:30am making this an untenable option. I just think that would be so cool. I would say to Dr. Grail “Sorry I am a little stinky, but I ran here this morning. Hopefully, you slept in, though. You have a big day.”