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, arthritis.com 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”.

Great.

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

Cool.

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 arthritis.org, 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!

 

20 Questions – Running Edition

Recently a new running friend, Tia, posted this on her Facebook page. She’s super involved in the running community and is a fantastic resource.

While she used this as fun FB post, I decided to add it as a #FunFriday post while I’m on vacation. I hope you join in, either in the comments or on your social media of choice.
1. Favorite Distance 26.2+. I’ve done 2 marathons and one ultra this year. This distance takes everything I have physically AND mentally, which makes me feel like a champ when I cross that finish line. 
2. Favorite Shoe – Undecided. I’m not brand loyal at this point, but if someone wants to sponsor a race or two…
3. Equipment You Can’t Live Without – Garmin watch (I’m addicted). Camelbak Marathoner Pack for summer and trail runs. GOOD SOCKS.
4. Favorite Race – Croom series is amazing. 
5. Best Result 5k – no idea, now that you mention it.
6. Why You Run – it’s become who I am and stress relief.
7. How Long Have You Been Running – 2011 on a dare that I couldn’t. It was me who thought I’d never run due to degenerative discs in my lower spine. Guess I showed me!
8. Have You Been Injured? Nothing serious. Blisters, shin splints, the norm.
9. Have You Gone a Year Without Injury? 5+ without serious injury
10. Run Streak? Not my thing. I may do a mile-a-day at some point, but it’s not in the training program right now.
11. Have You Run in Another Country? Not yet. Husband is planning on me running an ultra on some tropical island he wants to visit next year so, stay tuned?
12. U.S. States Have You Raced In? FL, TX, SC
13. The Most Important Thing Running Has Taught You? I am more resilient than I think. I suck at fueling during endurance races.
14. How many pairs of running shoes do you own? 1 that I actually wear. A couple old pair for short rainy day runs and yard work. 
15. Training partners? None, but I’m looking for a speed work group. 
16. Favorite fuel? Nuun
17. Cross Training Activity? Strength training is my go-to. I’m a personal trainer at a gym. No excuses! Swimming is also nice if I have access to a pool. 
18. Runs During Week? 4-6 depending on my training schedule and stress level.
19. Water or Sports Drink? H2O all the way! I only use sports drinks or soda during the tail end of the 20+ milers if I find I haven’t fueled properly (no one’s perfect).
20. Most Unusual Running Experience? Spartan Beast South Carolina. Late start times, freezing temps the night before, LOTS of water obstacles, and a race best-friend I couldn’t have done it without (we totally met that morning at the hotel breakfast & ran 90% of the race together). It was cold, wet, sandy, muddy, dark, and hypothermia was a real concern at several points. That doesn’t even count all the obstacles. It was the most intense thing I’ve intentionally done to my body and mind. It was also the race that secured my Spartan Trifecta for the year! #BeastMode
trifecta
Now, it’s your turn.

Fit & Healthy Vacation – How to Stay Motivated

I’m going on vacation (hooray!). This has me thinking about how to ensure I stick with my (new, more difficult) marathon training plan.

So, how to stay on task when the temptations of vacation are staring you in the face?

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J/K Vacations Rock

Make an Exercise Plan

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Don’t wait until you’re on the mat. Have a plan!

Before you load the car, board the plane, or check out for your staycation, make a plan.Schedule a what and a when. This could be where you’ll get your runs in, which classes you’ll take, or the equipment-free/no-excuse workouts you’re going to do.

Here’s what my week looks like as an example.

  • Sunday – 6 easy miles
  • Monday – Travel/Rest
  • Tuesday – XT. Write a bodyweight workout I can do on the grass.
  • Wednesday – 6 miles (Yasso 800s).
    • Monday or Tuesday I’ll find and mark out an 800 meter spot so no excuses Wednesday. There’s a golf course and a couple of long roads available to choose from.
  • Thursday – XT. Either do my bodyweight bootcamp or join a class. Unfortunately the class schedule isn’t posted online, so I have my bootcamp as a back up.
  • Friday – XT or Rest. Also, travel day. This is the only day I don’t have planned.

Pinterest, Youtube, and Google in general are fantastic resources for finding workouts you can do in your hotel, on the beach, or in the backyard. No excuses!

Make a Food Plan

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How many times have I heard someone say, “I need to lose 10 lbs before my cruise…because I know I’ll gain 10 lbs on my cruise”? Without fail, this baffles me. Additionally, this is not the type of “food plan” I’m referring to.

Whenever we’re away from home (and our kitchens) we tend to indulge. Or at the very least, eat restaurant and prepared food more than usual. If you can, pack healthy (or even healthy-ish) snacks to take with you. It’ll be better than having a “Dude, you need a Snickers” moment. If you’re able, consider bringing a griddle. I am. Plus, some pancake mix and I’m looking for a local shop within walking distance to get a couple of fresh groceries. Do I want to cook everyday? Meh. Would I rather save $30+ over the on-sight options PLUS who-knows-how-many calories? Yes, thank you. Plus, a griddle is mostly flat and easy to clean. Score.

The griddle works in hotels, at most campsites, and in your best friend’s NY studio apartment. Hey, I don’t know what they’re working with, they’re your best friend. Look, there’s a ton of options that aren’t tough, look at all the options!

If you’re staying at a HomeAway/VRBO type location, even bigger score. FULL KITCHEN, WOOHOO!

Walk, Everywhere

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Skip the Segway tours and use more common sense than the average Pokemon Go! player and you should be fine.

Pack comfy shoes, socks, a blister kit, and a water bottle. In many cases, you should be covered.

Obviously, if you’re rheumatoid arthritis is acting up or there’s an alley full of Joker impersonators, adjust walking plans accordingly.

Don’t Drink (All) Your Calories

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Everyone has their limits. Take a break from the chaos before you get here, ok? I care about you & want you to have a good vacation.

Look, I get it. But!

Did you know:

Frozen Margarita (12 oz)
675 calories, 0 g fat, 83 g sugars
Calorie Equivalent: 11 Entenmann’s Pop’Ems Powdered Donuts!
(source)

So, you know, don’t make a day of it.

Get the Family Involved

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Seriously, kid won Top 3 during his first race. 

A lot of us use vacations as a time to reconnect with loved ones without the hassle of daily work and obligations. Whether it’s time away from clients, emails or the dirty floor (I swear I just mopped!), it’s a nice break. That doesn’t mean fitness can’t also be a priority.

Snorkeling, kayaking, sight-seeing, walking around a golf course or amusement park, hiking, even a family friendly “bootcamp” on the beach can be fun. I anticipate inviting my husband and son to my bootcamp. If they don’t bite, I’ll definitely have a few, fun challenges at the ready:

  • Most push ups
  • Longest long jump
  • Fastest sprint
  • Most jumping jacks
  • Burpees!

Winner gets to choose the next activity or gets to pass on the next challenge 😉

Mix it up, make it fun, and you CAN stay fit and healthy during vacations.

So, what are you’re tips and tricks for a healthy(ish) vacation?

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Upper Body Strength Training – Yes, Runners Need it Too.

HELLO LEGS!

We runners love our legs. Really smart runners (read: anyone who’s ever had a blister or hanky toenail and tried to keep it from happening again) really love our feet too. Extra socks, extra shoes, blister packs, vaseline, Gold Bond medicated powder, whatever it takes to keep our feet happy for the long haul is worth the effort.

While we’re busy pampering our gnarly tootsies and slogging along mile after mile, many of us are neglecting our upper body and core. I know, it’s tough to care about the body parts you think won’t help shave seconds off your latest PR. Still, who wants the equivalent of chicken legs for arms? I call these Kermit the Frog arms.

Arm Day

The point is, to be as healthy and efficient as possible, upper body is also important. As important as sticking to your marathon training? Well, incorporating upper body and especially core can help.

Think about it. Your cadence includes arm swing right? I hope so. It’s good to have balance. Your core includes a ton of huge muscles, so you’re kidding yourself if you think skipping core is doing you any favors. Plus, those of us who aren’t elites probably do it for the love of running and, well, to eat food and drink beer. Ever been to an ultra? Beer is big. Heard of Running for Brews? You guessed it.

So, here’s a quick superset workout I put together to cover my arms, shoulders, and core. It requires minimal equipment: dumbbells, exercise ball.

I worked with light weights today (5-15lbs). 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Superset 1:
Push Up (Regular or on your knees, good form, tight core)
Plank Knee Twist (start in a full plank, pull your left knee across to your right arm. Repeat on right side. )

Superset 2:
Overhead tricep extension
Zottman curls (Palm up on concentric motion – up; palm down on eccentric motion – down)

Superset 3:
Front and lateral shoulder raise (left arm front, right arm lateral; switch)
Shoulder press

Superset 4:
Hip raise to curl or hamstring curl
Plank knee tucks on exercise ball

This took me about 20 minutes, so it easily can fit into a short run day or on a crosstrain day. I just started this, but intend to incorporate it into my routine 2-3x per week in addition to my marathon training. I’ll probably work more core into my own program as well. A strong core does everybody good.

A few other core exercises I want to include:

  • ball pike
  • burpees
  • ball passes
  • side planks

I may even try a 30 day ab challenge. We’ll see how it goes.

Toss in chest presses and rows and you’ve got a nice upper body circuit for general strength training (you won’t get big, but you’ll get stronger than you are now!)

What are your favorite arms and abs workouts?