Friday, March 25, 2016

Anatomy Of A Sacral Stress Fracture

The last few blogs I've written have been about the emotional turmoil of injury.  Probably important to write about but enough about feelings for now!  In THIS blog, I thought I'd talk instead about the actual injury and how I've progressed thus far with it.

As soon as the doctor told me I had a sacral stress fracture, the first thing I did (obviously) was google it.  (seriously, I DID live in a time where google didn't exist, but I'm not really certain how...)  What I wanted to know was things like how long until I can run (even though the doctor gave me guidelines, I wanted to know what Dr. Google said)?  Should it hurt when I start back?  Is some pain okay?  What supplements should I take?  Do I REALLY have to stop caffeine intake for my bone to heal?

I scoured the interwebs for blogs, literature reviews, etc... for any and all information I could about having a sacral stress fracture.  Of course everyone's experience is different, but I figured if I told mine, it might help someone who, like me, is looking for information about how this all turns out.

So first, actual anatomy:

On my MRI you could see, clear as day, a fracture line down the holes on the left side.  "Holes" is the technical term, by the way.  :)  
My fracture apparently presented somewhat rare.  I didn't have any pain and then one day I went out on a run and my lower left back started to hurt.  By the end of the run it REALLY hurt.  And then for the next several weeks I couldn't walk without grimacing.  I didn't "do" anything on that run - step in a pothole or jar my back in any way.  It just started hurting.  Or did it hurt before and I ignored it?  Strong possibility.  We are conditioned, as athletes, to deal with pain and so, perhaps it was there and I just didn't "feel" it.  Regardless, on January 5th, I felt it all right!  And it hurt like @$V#@$!!

For the next couple weeks I went to PT, a chiro, I swam and biked, and I took Motrin like it was going out of style.  The pain was pretty bad.  On January 21st, the doctor called and told me that my sacrum was most definitely busted.  Boo.

Starting January 21 through Feb 8 I did nothing.  Like absolutely nothing.  I sat on the couch and tried not to gouge out my eyes or crawl up the walls.  I was successful at these things only.  But barely.

By Feb 8 (5 weeks in), I no longer had pain walking around.  This was amazing.  Stopping all activity together for 2.5 weeks is when the pain finally started to go away.  I stopped taking the Motrin on January 21 when when I found out about the stress fracture (can inhibit healing) and was also glad to get off this medication so it didn't burn a hole through the lining of my stomach.  Progress!

Feb 8 I spun easy on the bike.  I also started to swim again but all pull as kicking seemed to bother my back.  I would try a little kick in the pool and my back would get sore.  So we'd hold off for a while.  I'd try again and it would get sore again.  So we'd wait a while again.  This was somewhat baffling to me because swimming is obviously no impact and walking/biking didn't hurt so range of motion should have been there to kick.  Who knows though.  My body said no so I tried to listen.

All the while, I was doing PT exercises every day.  Weak hips are the root of all evil.  All triathletes have weak hips.  So strong hips were my goal.  As an aside, the labral tear I had/have in my left hip 2 years ago is the primary suspect in this sacral stress fracture.  (at least in my own uneducated opinion - stupid hips!)

I saw the doctor in mid February again and she gave me the go ahead to try running.  So on Feb 23 (7 weeks in), I tried a 20 minute (VERY EASY) run.  The run itself was fine but afterwards, not so much.  My back ached and got sore and hurt sitting and I got scared that I did a bad thing.  By a day or two later it was back to it's normal self but it's reaction to the run scared me enough that I didn't try running again for 2 weeks.

At the same time, I started to do a little elliptical at PT with the thought that it could break up some scar tissue and give me some range of motion back without the impact.  I didn't do much - 15-20 minutes a few times a week.

I tried running again March 9 (9 weeks in) for 15 minutes.  This time better.  It still got a little sore afterwards but not scary sore.  It was around this time that I also started a little kicking in the pool without my back getting too sore.  I went back to masters (where I NEVER pull and I swim HARD) for the first time on March 11.  Back hung in there.

I haven't talked much about riding.  It, all along, was good.  Even in the very worst stages of my back pain early on, riding felt okay.  Once I started working out again in February, riding was always something that I could do and my back wouldn't react negatively.  Even in aero position.  I got a new road bike built up during this time and I'm in LOVE with it so I rode that sucker outside about 4 times a week from late Feb up until the current time - 2-3.5 hours at a time.

Which sort of brings us to the current.  At this point, I'd say swimming and biking are pretty much back to normal.  This was the first week (12 weeks in) that I would say I didn't have any pain swimming or biking and my back didn't get sore after either.  I almost "forget" about the fracture when I'm swimming and biking.

Running at 12 weeks in, is a bit of a different story.  For the past 3 weeks, I've run 3 times a week for 15-25 minutes each.  Each time my back feels pretty good running but afterwards gets a touch sore.  My hip (labral tear hip) is also a bit grumpy right now when running, but that is not out of the ordinary.  My running mechanics feel quite off, although that's to be expected after close to 3 months of no running/very little running.  Each run feels a bit better but I would say that, even if all goes really well and smoothly, I'm looking at another month before I can actually run "train", which would be 16 weeks in.

Moral of the story, a sacral stress fracture, at least in my experience, is not the fastest healing injury around!  And as I come back, it's not without some pain and ache still in the bone and surrounding areas.  Patience is most certainly, key.  (oh goodie, my strong point!)

I hope this helps someone dealing with the same type of thing.  If you got here by googling sacral stress fracture, take heart!  You will get better!  But when in doubt, play it conservative.  And know that it's going to be a while.  But just like with all things, time heals.

Now, for some pictures.

I have to brag on one of my athletes a little.  He dealt with his own injury in the fall but still came back to run a 20 minute PR and Boston Qualifying time in his marathon a few weeks ago.  I enjoy coaching immensely because when you see hard work pay off, well, that's just a darn good feeling.

Rode the train to NYC and caught a rainbow on my way there.

Once in NYC, I got to meet and cheer on some of the amazing Smile Train athletes that were racing in the NYC half marathon.  They raise tons of money for a great cause all the while working and training and living their busy lives.  Honored to work with this great group!

Also, you should know that New Bedford, Mass has a zoo.  And that zoo has river otters.  #boom

This here is Wandar.  He's a shelter cat and he wants to be adopted!!

Masters workout the other day.  Reverse IM is the devil.  #truestory

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Healing A Cracked Sacrum, A Fractured Heart, And A Broken Head

Someone once told me that God speaks to us in two ways.  He either yells loudly (often with pain), or He softly whispers.  And that He prefers to whisper because that means we are leaning in close to Him.  If He has to yell, we've gotten pretty far off track.  You may or may not believe in that but it makes perfect sense to me.  My sacral fracture?  I was most definitely getting yelled at.  Like "you need to do some work on yourself and fix what's broken and until then, I'm taking away all your crutches."  Dang.  Guess I better get to work.

So for the past 8 weeks I've been on a little bit of a mission.  Actually, for the past FIVE-ish weeks I've been on a mission.  For the 3 weeks before that I was busy digging a hole to one of my deepest, darkest places.  I don't want to gloss over that fact.  Because I think it's good to be honest and tell it like it is.  Every time I'm injured, I go to a dark place.  Some injuries, the places are darker than others.  This injury the place was particularly dark.  Part of me feels a little ridiculous for talking about going to a dark place over a silly sports injury.  I mean come on, PERSPECTIVE!  But then part of me thinks "nope, you do not apologize for how you feel and for what is reality to you."  And then the last part of me reminds me that there's probably someone reading this that wants to know that they aren't the ONLY one that struggles and gets pretty down.  So yes, for 3-ish weeks I tried not to slip down into the muddy pit, but I did.  Then, as usual, something snapped me out of it (this time around it was some close friends - love you girls!) and I set some goals and made a plan and got motivated to fix myself.  REALLY fix myself.  As my friend told me, might as well fix your heart and your head while you're waiting for your back to heal.

I've never really spent time on improving myself (outside of swimming, biking, and running faster...I've spent COPIOUS amounts of time on that).  Finding what makes me happy, learning how to let go of the rest, learning to forgive myself (hard for anyone, let alone someone who has thrived on being extremely hard on themselves), learning to tune out all the "noise" and hone in on the still small voice inside of me.  That's hard stuff (so hard in fact, that I needed to bring in some professional help).  And it's not really fun stuff.  But, I will say, it's worthwhile stuff.  And so although I really wished I never cracked my sacrum, I guess it's good that I did.  Otherwise I wouldn't be doing this important stuff now.  It's a work in progress for sure, but I dove in head first this time.  Because I had to.  The dark places were getting darker and darker, and I didn't want to get to the point where it was so dark that I couldn't find my way back out.  It is my hope that I can make myself a whole person again, in addition to making my sacral bone fracture-free.  It's going to take a while but luckily I'm annoyingly persistent.  Here's to stubbornness like none other!

But enough of that "deep" talk!  Now I shall post pictures that will hopefully make you laugh and smile.  Because that is an important part of the healing process too.

Thankful for awesome friends who send me goodies when I'm down, including color books and nail polish and pictures and slippers and ICE CREAM (you know, for the calcium, obviously...).

And ALSO thankful for friends who invite me over and play Settler's of Catan with me!  One of my favorites.

Then there was the time we tried to play trivia & failed miserably.  I'm a JV trivia player at best.  But we laughed a lot?  :) 

House of Blues near Fenway Park.  Awesome venue.

You know it's going to be a good day when your roommate's toast smiles at you!  

Hockey game at Harvard.  Did you know that Harvard's "mascot" is a color (crimson)?  I can't get behind that.

This past weekend it was 55 degrees in February in New England.  So naturally I rode my bike.

And then the next day it was still (kinda) warm so I rode my  jazzy new road bike outside!  #goodforthesoul

Except it wasn't really THAT warm when I rode my new road bike so I was glad to have the Coeur winter cycling jacket.  Get it.  It's awesome.  And when you have it, you can ride outside in 30 degree temps no problem!

When flowers show up with your name on them, just cause.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ain't Nobody Got Time For That!

ONE of these days, I'm going to have this awesome blog post about how everything is great in life and all is moving in the right direction.  Training will be going well.  Personal life even better.  Work life also on par.

Today, however, is not that awesome blog post.


I believe where I last left off, I had just gotten back into training after bailing on IMAZ.  The holidays happened.  Lots of fun, family and food was had.  I got my workouts in every day but was largely unfocused.  I worried I didn't really want to be training this year.  I had a major heart to heart with my coach about possibly not racing pro anymore.  New Years came.  I started to get really excited for QT2 pro camp in Florida in February.  Training started to come around.  And then it seemed like GAME ON.  My head felt screwed on right for the first time in ages, and although I was still pretty unfit, my mind was firing on all cylinders.  If you can get the head right, the body will eventually come.

And then, when I was on a run about 2.5 weeks ago, my back really started to hurt.  I finished the run (which was an easy 5 miler - nothing out of the ordinary) and my back REALLY hurt.  Like knives stabbing me in my back.  Like really limping around.  Grrrrr....

I spent the next 2 weeks going to PT, ART, a chiropractor, getting Graston, etc... all with absolutely no improvement.  In fact it was starting to feel worse.  I was still doing a bit of swimming and riding as these activities didn't seem to bother it much, but running was absolutely out of the question.  Walking without LOTS of Motrin on board was also pretty much out of the question.

I started to become concerned that I might need something like a cortisone shot (cortisone is like GOLD in my book) so I went to see a sports medicine/ortho doctor (whom I randomly picked but who ended up being AWESOME).  Her first words after she examined me were "I think you have a stress fracture in your sacrum."  To which I thought "NOPE!!"  I've never had a stress fracture.  I was BARELY running (max of 35 miles a week).  BARELY training (maybe 16 or 17 hours a week).  Stress fracture not a possibility.  But of course I agreed to a MRI, which I had this past Tuesday.

Yesterday my doctor called me on my way home from the pool and informed me that, I do indeed, have a stress fracture in my sacrum.  Was clear as day on the MRI.

She continued to talk about crutches and calcium and vitamin D and bone stimulators and all sorts of things but I couldn't really listen.  All I could think is:

Big thanks to Meg and Brad Strater for introducing me to this gem.

Seriously, ain't nobody got time for that!  A stress fracture was most certainly not part of my plan.  2016 was the year that things were going to start going RIGHT.  And already, just a few weeks into the year, I was veering off course.


Am I bummed?  Absolutely.  Really bummed.  Especially because now I can't go to camp in Florida and I have to spend the entire winter in Boston (it's cold here, people!).  I absolutely hate just sitting around on the couch and that's what I have to do for the next 4 weeks while my bone knits itself back together.  I think what bums me out the MOST though is this feeling like I just can't get my act together.  SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, WHY CAN'T I GET MY SH$#$T TOGETHER?!  All moving parts going FORWARD.  That's all I ask.  But I haven't been able to achieve that for a while and I'm starting to feel major frustration.  That's just my honest, raw feeling.

I feel like this blog entry, and all my entries from the past year, are yelling quite loudly "woe is me."  Which is really the last thing I want.  I've been seriously struggling in SOME portion of my life for the past 12-13 months, this is most definitely true.  And I don't want to make it sound like it HASN'T been a struggle or paint a rosy picture like social media tends to do.  Life ain't perfect and it ain't pretty sometimes.  I'm no exception.  There have been A LOT of tears over the last year (at one point I couldn't get past 3 or 4 days in a row without tears!) and that's the honest truth.

But the honest truth is also that I haven't lost perspective, of which I'm very thankful.  I coach an awesome woman who is an ER physician, and just the other day we had a wonderful conversation about perspective.  You gain a lot of perspective working in a hospital.  Perspective is a POWERFUL, powerful thing.

I have a very small fracture (that I will admit to being EXTREMELY painful, darnit!) in my back.  I don't have cancer.  Nobody died.  The sun still rose this morning.  I have amazing friends, bosses, roommates, and family and I think they still like me (one more crying episode though and I might be voted off the island).  I still have a roof over my head and food to eat.  I have a job that I absolutely love.  I can VERY much see this picture of a very happy and fulfilling life and I'm very much headed in that direction.  Every single day.  I really am light years ahead of where I was even just 6 months ago.  The key for me, is to keep perspective and to "enjoy" the bumps/hills/mountains, on my way there.  Very cliche, but it isn't really about the end goal, it's about the journey to get there.  And to keep laughing.  I MUST keep laughing.  As powerful as perspective is, laugher is just as powerful.  So when Linsey asked me if I knew how to properly attach a coffee mug to my crutches and John asked me if this stress fracture meant snow tubing was off the list, I laughed.  Really hard.  And smiled.  It's amazing what smiling can do.

So if you need me, I'll be on the couch.  Knitting bones and writing training plans and thinking up ways to make my athletes faster.  I'll probably be watching some Netflix.  Who knows, maybe I'll even read a book (gasp!).  I promised myself I won't push this thing.  I'm REALLY going to let it heal.  I'm REALLY going to give my beaten up, stressed body a chance to REALLY fix itself.  I'll probably take a nap or 20 and get back to sleeping a lot each night...  2016, you and I aren't through just yet!

And now for some pictures.  If you actually read all the gibberish up above, you deserve at least a picture or two...

I got a SNAZZY new bike for Christmas!  AND IT'S PURPLE!  Can't wait until it warms up some and I can cruise around on this puppy.

Who, me?  

I went to the library!  Admittedly for the free wi-fi though.  Next time I go back, perhaps I'll get a book too.  :)

Clayton sandwich!  My sister and bro-in-law, at Christmas.

And my parents.  When I think of all the ups and downs we've been through.  Amazing what parents do for you.  Love you both to the ends of the earth.

Also quite amazing what friends do for you!  These ladies are simply priceless.
In other news, I thought it would be fun to get a pet otter.  My roommate did not agree.

So instead I asked for a weasel.  This was also met with disdain.

FYI, I had THE worst case scenario for this most recent MRI: closed machine WITH my head in first.  Holy claustrophobia, Batman!  I had to go to my happy place.  And promise myself M&Ms.

Hmm...train wreck?  Okay, yea...that sounds about right.  But at least I can laugh about it!  :)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

And So It Goes

So yea, turns out I didn't race Ironman Arizona.  Oops.  What happened is this: after my not-so-awesome race at Ironman Chattanooga, I was pretty pumped to get an opportunity in Arizona to redeem myself and put some of my fitness to use.  But then my body just didn't come around.  Or maybe it was my mind?  Training wasn't great but I hung in there.  Then training still wasn't great but I hung in there.  And then training STILL wasn't great and I found myself sitting outside the YMCA one morning in tears because I REALLY didn't want to swim.  Wow, not sure how I got there.

So I took a step back and bailed on Arizona and got off season off to an early start.  Not how I had it planned but this entire year hasn't exactly gone to plan, so, yea.  What I've learned is, you have to roll with the punches.

I recently watched a documentary about Team Foxcatcher (disturbing story of John DuPont's team of wrestlers) and in it, Mark Schultz comments about how, to reach your potential as an athlete, your life has to be extremely stable.  That resonated with me quite loudly.  My life has been anything BUT that for the past year.  And I think what happened in Chattanooga and following the race is, it finally all caught up with me.

I will admit that I worried that the fire to train and race wouldn't come back and that my body wouldn't ever come around again.  I spent a few weeks doing absolutely nothing.  Then a few weeks doing what I felt like and then last week, I decided to actually try to "train".  It went well.  I do indeed still love to swim, bike and run.  That's a relief!  But still, just taking it one step, one day at a time.  So far, so good.

In the mean time, I've been doing other stuff:

I met #mavicthedog.

This thing is evil and makes you really sore.

Turbo?  Yes please.

Great little spot.  To ride a bike or to watch other people ride bikes.

Fall in New England is really pretty.

Don't have to twist my arm!

There was a girls night (or two or three...).

I rode a mountain bike.

Like for real!  On hard trails!  Turns out, I'm not too good.

I went to the zoo in Greenville.  They have a giant anteater.  He is awesome.

Wait, another picture of coffee?  Patriots win, Dunks gives out free coffee.  Go Pats.  Maybe one of these days, you'll have one for the thumb, too.  

Seriously?  Heartbreaking.

I've been swimming with a great masters group and the day after Thanksgiving they did 100x100.  I did 50x100 which seemed like enough.  

I was trying to hold out to get to the cheap gas station (gas for $1.97/gallon!).  I was only sweating bullets for 15 or 20 minutes.

A nice little reminder.  I will need this.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Finishing What I Started

This past Sunday I swam, biked and ran my way through Chattanooga, TN during my 10th Ironman. As I was treading water (more like holding onto a rope, trying not to get swept down the Tennessee River) waiting for the canon to go off, I sincerely believed I could win the race.  This was the first time in my career that I truly, with all my heart, thought I could make this happen.  Not necessarily because my training had been so great or that I had the results all year to suggest as such.  But rather simply because I believed that I belonged and that if someone had to win, I was as good as any to be that person.

I didn't win.  In fact, I didn't even come close.  As in the winner of the race, Carrie Lester, was done, showered, had eaten and was taking a nap by the time I found my way to the finish line.  Not only did I not win, I didn't make it onto the podium at all and in fact, for much of the marathon, just finishing was in question.

So what happened?  Well a multitude of things happened.  I made some execution errors on the bike.  Some caffeine errors, perhaps.  I definitely forgot how long an Ironman is and possibly didn't give the distance the respect it deserves.  My body didn't want to cooperate physically and then I let the disappointment of not having the day I wanted, take over me mentally.  So in other words, nothing really happened.  I just didn't have the day that I imagined and there were many women that were faster and that beat me.  And that's okay.  This is sport and sport doesn't always go the way we hoped.  But despite what turned into one of my slowest IMs (as a pro), the fact remains, for the first time I BELIEVED.  And that is pretty big.  Pretty darn big.

My day started to go south on the back half of the bike and the marathon was a struggle pretty much from the first step.  26.2 miles is a LOOOOONG way to feel bad.  It's especially long when you are running a good 1:30-2 minutes/mile slower than you want to be.  I waffled between dropping out or sticking it out for much of the first half.  I didn't need to prove to myself that I could do an IM and I have more races this year so why slog this one out?  But then it dawned on me that quitting really isn't an option and so I accepted that, as slow as it might be, as poorly as the results would look, as damaging to the ego that it would be, I was going to finish what I started.  So I thanked the volunteers (you have a lot of time to chat when you are trotting along), I made friends with age groupers on their first loop, I ate all the good stuff at the aid stations that I usually skip, I cheered for each pro lady and each of my teammates as they ran past me, I thought a lot about how racing is a privilege and, well, I just kept plugging along.

The bike went well until it didn't.  On a positive note, the course was awesome and there were lots of pigs, horses, goats and sheep to look at.
That's my "let's hope for the best" smile when starting the run.  Well, one can always hope...
The best part of the day?  This one right here CRUSHED IT.  And we toasted her great day with Little Debbies afterwards.  I highly recommend peanut butter cream pies.

I am very happy that I made the decision to finish.  I'm not criticizing the pros that drop out to save it for "another day" but that really just isn't me.  Plus I got to see a side of Ironman racing that I don't normally get to see.  It brought a lot of perspective to my experience as an athlete.  So onward and upward - luckily I get another shot soon in Arizona!

Huge thank yous to the village that it takes to get me to the starting line each race:  A great group of sponsors.  The homestay families that take me in all over the country (Hal and Cheryl - you were AWESOME!).  My own family that has seen me through every up and every down since I first put on a pair of running shoes and decided racing was a fun way to pass the time.  To a wonderful group of QT2 teammates and friends that make me laugh and help me keep it all in perspective.  And finally, to Tim, Kristen, John and the entire 441, for seeing me through the hardest time in my life and for helping me learn how to live, REALLY live, again.  Maybe one of these days I really will win one of these things to make you all proud.  In the mean time, let's keep having fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

You ARE a Pumpkin-woman!

One of my absolute favorite things to do is race.  Like I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like it.  Like really.  So when, a few weeks back, my coach asked me if I wanted to race Pumpkinman Half in Maine, he didn't even get the full sentence out before I was signed up.  Yes sir!

Pumpkinman is a pretty awesome race.  Kat, the race director, takes care of all the details as if it's a big WTC affair, yet it still very much has a local, low key feel to it.  The best of both worlds!

Plus, this is the post race meal.  No lies.  Full on Thanksgiving dinner that was SO FREAKING GOOD.  I legitimately  would have done the race all over again if it meant I got to get back in line for seconds.  Don't lie, you all want to do the race now too.
I swam well (for me) and finally got myself under 30 minutes again.  The swim might have been a bit short, but at the very least, I felt like myself again in the water.  Wing is coming around just in time.  Then I rode really hard.  I was given the go ahead to go at it on the bike and, trust me, you don't have to tell me that twice!  At one point I thought to myself "you DO still have to run after this, so maybe we need to back it down a notch".  Still, I felt good and strong.  The cycling legs are coming around.  And finally, I got to really enjoy the run which was the best part.  I cheered for people, I thanked volunteers and I smiled.  It was a fun day.

You do have to run up this into T1.  There are actually prizes for the fastest times.  Let it be known, I was in NO danger of winning one of these prizes.

It was a wet, chilly day but New Englanders are tough and I didn't hear any complaints.  I kinda couldn't feel my feet at this point on the bike.
When I was finishing I heard a woman scream "You ARE a Pumpkin-woman!".  Not sure how I feel about that.
You might notice that I'm wearing the race shirt on the day of the race.  In general this is a no-no, but when one doesn't bring enough warm clothes, one is very, very thankful for the awesome long sleeve, hooded race shirt and will break all the rules to keep warm.
I really hope I get to return to Pumpkinman next year!  I highly recommend it as a nice end of the season half or in preparation for a fall IM.  Indeed, that's what I used it for.  IM Chattanooga here we come!