Living and Training with a Chronic Condition: An Insight

The human body is amazing. Let me just lay that out there first. The intricacies in the ways our bodies function are finer than any machine we can imagine.

Seriously, even a cursory intro to anatomy and/or physiology will give you an appreciation for these bizarre skin suits we live, breathe, train, and die in.

I love how bodies function, even if we aren’t always thrilled with how they look.

As a trainer, and a human, I appreciate that many of us are dealing with challenges inside ourselves.

Degenerative Disc Disease

This is my condition. It is normally an older person condition. I was diagnosed at 23 when I blew out two discs and an MRI confirmed I have “the spinal column of a woman in her sixties.” Sweet. In fact, says “almost everyone older than age 60 has degeneration of the discs,” though not everyone experiences pain.

What is it?

First off, they’ve misnamed it. It’s not a disease (I suspect they like the hashtag #DDD over #DDC). It’s a condition that results in pain when a disc “loses integrity”.


It’s also the diagnosis given when no better diagnosis can be given.


Some specific factors include:

  • Discs drying out. This essentially results in less shock absorption. If you were a car, you’d have them replaced.
  • Sports and other activities (i.e. car accidents) can cause tears in the outer core of the disc.
  • Injuries can cause swelling, soreness, instability.

Sounds awesomesauce, right? Since discs don’t have a regular supply of blood they do not repair. Basically, they die. My lumbar spine consists of very little healthy discs. Others deal with this in different parts of their spine. Due to the location of my DDD tight hamstrings, twisting, unevenly picking up things can all cause inflammation. This often leads to sciatica, which is another party.

What are the Symptoms?

Generally all pain is located in the lower back or the neck. Symptoms care of, comments care of me.

  • Pain that ranges from nagging to severe and disabling
  • Pain that affects the low back, buttocks and thighs (ding ding ding!)
  • Pain in the neck that may radiate to the arms and hands
  • Pain that is worse when sitting (Sitting is the devil)
  • Pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting (YUP)
  • Pain that lessens when walking and moving (Yay, moving!)
  • Pain that lessens with changing positions often or lying down (Can I just sleep until it goes away? I ❤ sleep)
  • Periods of severe pain that come and go, lasting from a few days to a few months (Please be just a few weeks…)
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities (Yeah, weird)
  • Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop may be a sign that there is damage to the nerve root

How is it Diagnosed?

Mine was diagnosed through MRI when I blew out my back putting my infant child into the backseat of a car. I was given steroid injections on multiple occasions. Once, the doctor hit a nerve and, yes, it hurt like hell. I also went through physical therapy, which helped.

Other ways include medical history and physical examination. Remember, it’s basically a catch all for “we’re not sure what else to call it.”

How is it Treated?

Pain management, mainly. I hate the pills they prescribe because I can’t function on pain pills so I don’t take them. I want a real solution. Physical therapy helped me recover and since then I know what to do and what to avoid. It still flares up at times, generally times of extreme stress, but mostly it’s manageable.

Other options include: surgery (no), heat & cold therapies, OTC medications, spinal mobilization.

My personal and professional opinion is leave surgery to a last resort, especially on your spine. It’s not often effective and can cause many other problems. If you can focus on pain management, spinal mobility, and core strengthening.

Whatever you’re dealing with – diabetes, surgeries, injuries, scoliosis – most likely you can be active to some degree. In fact, it’s typically less healthy for anyone to remain sedentary. I strongly suggest you speak with a qualified person to discuss how to become or remain active. Don’t give up on yourself, even when it hurts.

Good luck!



Time to Run! But I Don’t Wanna

I know, it’s just the beginning of marathon training season so what am I talking about? For one, the “feels like” temps here in Tampa are regularly over 100F. That’s a tough one when you’re heading out for a couple of hours. For two, I’m not in the habit of ignoring the fact that, regardless of where you’re at on your journey, sometimes you just. don’t. wanna.

It’s important to recognize that some days you’re just tired, or stressed, or the weather is bad. It’s normal. However, it’s important to fight the urge to lounge around. Remember, you never regret the run/workout you completed. Besides, that Netflix-binge will be waiting for you when you return.

So, what can you do to beat the doldrums?

Change of Scenery

This is simple and huge. A lot of us run, rerun, overrun the same routes because we know precisely where the mile marks are (even though most of us are wearing watches anyway). Next time you’re heading out the door, reverse that loop. Or, find a trail (paved or not) nearby and get a real change of scenery.

Living in Tampa, I often run to Bayshore then along the sidewalk. If I’m feeling blah but also don’t want to drive far, I just start closer to Bayshore Blvd and skip the neighborhood scene. It makes a difference, trust me.

Also, check out area parks. Even if you have a drive awhile it can be worth it. You’ll get your run in, you’ll see new places, and often on trails there’s shade!

DSC_0005Bring a Friend

Simple, if someone is waiting for you it’s harder to bail.

Don’t have a running buddy? Contact me! Or check out one of many social running clubs. Running for Brews is fantastic. You can meet new people who are into running and set up other running dates. Accountability is one of the hardest parts of any plan when you’re just not feeling it.

Change Your Pace

As a distance runner I’m guilty of finding my pace and settling into it. This is fine for may runs, but interval training, hill training, fartleks, all help combat boredom and can improve performance. Fartlek literally describes what we’re talking about.


Change Your Regimen

Maybe it’s time to try something else. Spin, swim, row, get out on the water. Anything that will get your heart rate up can be subbed in for those days when you just can’t mentally make yourself lace up. That’s ok! Cross training is another good thing we should include in our training. So, don’t feel guilty if you’re just not into it today, but don’t settle for sitting around moping either. Find a class, find a friend, or find a YouTube video to get your blood pumping. I’ll add some HIIT workouts to my YouTube playlist to get you started.


Change Your Mindset

Just go. You only have to get down the street, then you can turn around. Or, go for 5 minutes. If you’re still blargh about it, go home. If you feel pretty good, go a bit further. This is one of those times when minutes and miles don’t matter. Get out there, even if it’s for a short time.

If you do get out, YAY YOU! If you turn around at the end of the street, that’s ok. Take a rest day. It may be just what you need. Just get back out there tomorrow.


Rethinking Emotional Eating


Originally this post was going to be about performance, but it organically turned into a post about emotional eating. I want to say, I am not a registered dietitian. I am a regular person who’s spent a lot of (healthy and unhealthy) time thinking about, learning about, and exploring the world of food. I’m also a certified health coach and a survivor of anorexia nervosa (the eating disorder was pre-education, btw). Feel free to ask questions in the comments or shoot me a message.

Eating is Emotional

Think about it. Almost every holiday, celebration, and many rewards come with requisite eats and treats. Additionally, there’s a whole list of “comfort food” waiting to take our minds off of whatever ails us (stress, loneliness, missing old times).

We often gather around the table, the grill, or the movie popcorn with friends and family. Food is important to our emotional well-being. 


Sometimes emotional eating can lead to overeating, or getting stuck in a food rut. Maybe you miss family dinners but now everyone’s grown up and moved away, or weekends are just too hectic with kids’ schedules. Maybe those family dinners often had a regular side dish or dessert, so when that item is available you go a little overboard. Or, maybe you can only get the family to sit down together if you order a giant bucket of KFC. Whatever it is sometimes is ok, all the time isn’t doing you any favors.

What Can You Do About It?

First, understand this is normal. We all have our “things”. Second, give yourself permission to think about why the food is so important, or irresistible. Is that stale pretzel from the baseball stadium *really* tasty or do you get it because that’s what you always got when you went to stadium as a kid? No judgements, just a small bit of reflection.

Here’s an easy one for me. Sheet-cake? What’s even in that? No idea, but I’ve accepted more pieces than I’d like to admit at company parties because it’s what you do. Believe me, your cake having (or not) doesn’t determine anyone’s ability to have a good time. Besides, if you’ve ever worked in an office, you know that cake isn’t going to waste.

So reflect some. Keep a journal, track moods after eating foods on apps, or just sit with it for a bit. I’ve tried a few different methods, usually depending on my mood. There’s no “right way”.

I do suggest you try it though. Even just once. Pick a food, think about the why, and you might be surprised.

**Please, if you or someone you know has an issue with disordered eating contact NIMH.


Haiti: Russell Maroni’s Personal Journal

This is a post I edited for another site but wanted to share the information here as well.

Lean in Action: Russell Maroni’s Personal Journal


Most people have probably never heard of Russell Maroni, an X-Ray Technician at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio. But to those in the lean world, Russell’s time spent as a missionary in Haiti in early 2010 is an amazing, real-life example of lean in action.

Because both Six Sigma and Lean methodologies make a huge impact on operational performance and healthcare processes and procedures, Six Sigma and Lean methodologies are being utilized in doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals all over the world.

The benefits of Six Sigma and Lean in the healthcare system include the prevention of medical mistakes, reducing defects and variation, decreasing mortality rates, lessening lengths of stay, improving patient care, eliminating non value-added steps and increasing quality.

Although Russell was already busy working in healthcare full-time and learning the lean methodology when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, he immediately volunteered to assist in earthquake relief efforts.

It was there that Russell put his Lean training to use, and turned a quick trip to provide medical assistance at a Haitian orphanage into a streamlined, selfless medical mission that helped change the lives of thousands of people.

In an effort to document his daily experiences, he kept a journal with riveting entries telling of death, despair, anguish and devastation. Amazingly, the entries also tell of hope, perseverance and the innermost strength and courage of even the youngest of victims.

He offers a compelling, albeit candid view of earthquake relief efforts; readers become immersed in his painstaking trials and tribulations which he encounters from the first few minutes of his trip until the final moments of his departure. He also tells how his lean training was utilized as he found himself in the midst of a global catastrophe. Russell’s life was transformed, much in the way he transformed the lives of those he met.

Now, to raise both awareness of the ongoing struggle in Haiti, as well as funds for Haiti’s arduous recovery, Russell has graciously shared his personal journal with In an eBook titled, “After the Haiti Earthquake: A Healthcare Missionary’s Personal Journal,” Russell provides a touching, personal account of his experiences and how he applied his lean training in the most unorthodox of circumstances.  The account includes stunning photos, all taken by Russell or his fellow volunteers.

From Classroom to Field Hospital

Russell was able to immediately apply his methodology at a field hospital on the first day he arrived in Haiti. His training allowed him to design tools, customize equipment and perform other necessary tasks without a tremendous amount of time or thought.

Russell recounts, “I felt like David, staring up at Goliath with a fishbone diagram loaded into my sling. As intimidating as it was, it all worked out beautifully, and I’m thankful that I could be a part of the relief effort.”

Russell was able to apply his training across multiple areas – from training a local X-Ray Technician to fixing wheelchairs to finding on-site child psychologists at the orphanage. He applied his lean knowledge and was able to provide ongoing solutions, long after he had returned home.