Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nutrition, Dietary Transitions and Observations

I don't have anything to write a long blog about, but I want to stay in practice so I'll write about a few little things. Most of my time lately has been spent either at work (because we've had some really big things going on at the Zoo), logging miles and/or soul searching.

As an athlete, I'm always looking for that one thing that will make me better - whether that means faster or stronger or more durable (always a plus for someone known as the Disaster Magnet). The most recent thing I'm in the middle of is changing my nutrition both in and out of training and racing.

I've become a huge fan of First Endurance, so I'm switching over to using mainly their products (mostly E.F.S. liquid shot and drink) while training and racing. And how can you argue with the company that makes the "official training and racing supplement" of Leopard Trek and has a product mixture dubbed "the holy hand grenade." With my next long brick, I'm hoping to get a good test of whether this change will solve my dehydration and nausea issues on the run. Afterall, my problem seems to be related to salt and electrolytes and E.F.S. stands for Electrolyte Fuel System.

On the non-training front, I've also had a heads-up on nutrition. A good friend emailed me about dietary choices and asked me if I had ever tried switching to the "paleo diet." Now, I've read a million things about this type of diet - both good and bad - and it's touted by none other than my favorite triathlon coach, Joe Friel. However I never considered it because I don't eat meat. And I've learned that, as a vegetarian, I probably would have starved to death in paleolithic times. The diet is based on eating what paleolithic people ate - basically meat, fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds - with no products that came about as a result of modern agriculture (which, it's argued, our bodies have not yet adapted to). No dairy, no soy, no beans, no grains, no wheat products, etc. Thus, the basic food groups of vegetarians everywhere have been eliminated. (Vegetarians, please feel free to weigh in on this.) Upon reading several online sources (no, I've not purchased the books yet), there is quite a bit of disagreement about whether the diet includes certain products -- the big ones that I'm confused about are olive oil, eggs and yams/sweet potatoes. Some paleo experts say no to one or more of these things, while others do not.

There is also something called the "primal blueprint" diet that varies somewhat from paleo. First of all, it is more about lifestyle than diet. Not only do you eat paleo but you behave paleo - move around like a hunter-gatherer and sprint all-out once in a while. I can handle the gathering part because I have a large backyard and I do regularly gather raspberries, blueberries and tomatoes. And I do sprint once in a while in my training. But this primal thing also makes me wonder if I have to also come up with a way to live in fear of being eaten by a lion or other predator (which, believe it or not, isn't as hard as you might think, working at a zoo and being the disaster magnet and a blogger). One of the big dietary differences of "primal" is that fatty meat like bacon is included unlike the lean-only meat of the paleo advocates. So, yeah, there are variations and I don't know which one is right or wrong, but I also believe that too much of one thing can also be bad.

I will add the disclaimer is that I don't know everything about these diets yet and I welcome comments. However, I HAVE read that these types of diets are good for everything from curing chronic conditions to losing weight to giving you more energy.

Now, having said all of that, I would probably have dismissed diet advice immediately if it hadn't been for the source. It came from someone who has so many important things going on in his own life that I would never have expected he'd have time to send ME an email with nutrition advice. And therefore it was instantly compelling. So compelling that I am willing to think seriously about it - about changing from 20 years of a vegetarian diet. He probably doesn't even realize how much klout I gave his words (but I suspect he knows now).

After reading extensively, I've decided the most important reason to try a new diet was not for me but for my husband Jim. Jim has suffered from several chronic conditions for years: rheumatoid arthritis, hypo-thyroid, low energy, etc. My friend who recommended the dietary change has a spouse who also suffers from similar conditions. Changing their diet worked -- even without a 100% alteration.

After a couple emails about it, my friend questioned that at my level of competition, "isn't it worth a test?" And my answer could be nothing but "absolutely." I am adding fish back into my diet, and Jim and I have cut back on processed foods and carbohydrate consumption. I don't have any answers yet -- I suspect we need a little time to adapt. (And, embarrassingly, stress has sent me to the cookie jar already once this week. It's not something I'm proud of.)

And finally, with work, dietary and athletic challenges lately, I have found myself looking for some kind of deeper meaning, which usually happens after a perceived disaster (such as my broken rib). I wonder what IS the POINT of it all. Sometimes, there are coincidental answers. Like one that came recently at the Zoo.

She even had time to pose
with the photographer *sigh*
About a week ago, the Zoo had a famous visitor, Betty White. I'm sure you know that Betty's popularity has soared recently for many reasons. One of the reasons she's ultra-popular in Cleveland is because of her TV Land show "Hot in Cleveland." She was in town with her costars from the show (Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick) to accept the keys to the city from the Mayor. A well-known animal lover, Betty took a side trip to the Zoo for a personal tour from the Zoo Director.

I was "commissioned" to tag along as the official photographer. (What that means is my supervisor said "Betty White is coming to the Zoo tomorrow, do you have time to take some pictures?" Um... what kind of question IS THAT??? My answer? "I'll clear my schedule.")

My world changed that day. Through simple observation (and my camera lens), I got an insight into a woman who has often been called the "Animal Whisperer." I'm convinced Betty White's longevity has something to do with the peace she has with animals and people. I think she left an indelible mark on everyone who met her that day, and I'm now convinced that it may not be all about eating healthy and exercising, but that happiness and peace are essential in keeping us alive and well for many years.

One of the most amazing things Betty White did for us was a one-take 30-second video telling Cleveland about their Zoo. Being behind the video camera for that was one of the most thrilling and nerve-wracking experiences of my life. As the Disaster Magnet, I was SURE that I did something wrong like forgetting to press "play" on the camera.

But I didn't.

I hope that means my disastrous luck is changing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Not an Option"

It's all in the shirt, a gift from my good friend Leland
(he "gets" it)
The title of this blog is something that Jason Davis, one of my team members, said the day I broke my rib. He's been through what most people would see as a career-ending injury. And he's heard it all, just like me. When doctors tell him that he's just not going to be able to do the things he wants to do as an endurance athlete, Jason tells them one thing - that's "NOT AN OPTION." On our ride that day, in telling me about his injury, Jason made me laugh so hard that I almost suffered a crash on my bike earlier than the rib-breaker at 95 miles.

And when I found out several days later that I did, indeed, break a rib in the crash, my doctor, Sam Patterson, said "you were lucky." Come again?

It's hard to consider myself lucky when I broke a rib. I didn't think I was the lucky one of three bikers when I was the one that crashed. I didn't think I was lucky when I couldn't run for a week and couldn't swim for two. How is that lucky? But that's exactly what Dr. P said: "You're LUCKY you didn't break your clavicle or tear your rotator cuff or break your scapula." Breaking a rib was the "lucky" injury. How can that be?

The answer? Apparently, I can still train with a broken rib. Oh, yes, it's painful, but I can "train." I can't swim all-out, I can't do flip turns, I can't run hard downhill, but I can "train."

Tell anyone who isn't an endurance athlete and they give you what I call "The Look." People at work are always giving me The Look. The "what, are completely mad?" look. They say things like "don't hurt yourself" and "why don't you take it easy for a few days?" They give me pearls of wisdom and caring speeches. And, although they mean well and they're just looking out for me, there are few things that frustrate me more than The Look.

How do I explain to these people what "training" really means to me? Dr. Patterson gets it. His "you're lucky you have the one injury that you can continue training with" was with the knowledge that I HAVE to train. That not training is NOT AN OPTION. Training is more than just a means to an end (the race) or a way to reach my goals. It's mental therapy. It's the reason I can go about my daily life and not end up in an asylum or addicted to drugs or driving my husband and friends insane. In fact, training is the very thing that keeps me sane. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. (Ask any endurance athlete.)

When a doctor tells an endurance athlete that he/she cannot train, he may be met with a different "look." The look that means (all at once) "I will get a second opinion and I will still train no matter what you say and don't tell me I can't." When his doctor said he couldn't train, Jason summed up his feelings in those three words - figure something else out because that's NOT AN OPTION. In 1992 after my second marathon, a doctor told me I would never run another marathon, that I would have to settle for running 3-5 milers and be happy about it. That was not an option. Eight months later, I ran a marathon. The next day, I couldn't walk upright. But I ran another marathon.

I'm addicted to training. Like any addiction, it can be a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes I think the most successful athletes are the ones who figure out how not to overtrain. In the event of an accident, like mine, the most successful doctors will figure out how to get us back out there as quickly as possible - give me something I CAN do.

Anything else is NOT AN OPTION.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Always Look on the Bright Side...

Ironman swim start - now scarier than ever.
It's not my nature to search for the positive things amidst an injury - it just doesn't go with the Disaster Magnet MO. But as of late, I've been fortunate to be surrounded by people who keep reminding me to do exactly that. So, instead of wallowing in despair, these days I get through workouts by considering what "good" has come of my broken rib. I started in my previous blog by noting that the aero position is now the most comfortable position on the bike. (Being forced to do hard workouts in that position might make the bike leg easier on race day in Kona. You never know.)

Biking with a broken rib was the EASY thing. Running was a little harder because it requires upper body movement and impact, but after a week off, I've been able to get a few decent runs in. Knowing I have a tendency to trip and fall even on flat roads, I've become much more vigilant about potential hazards. That can only be a good thing. Another positive, right?

But getting back in the water was always going to be the hardest part. I've been rationalizing that the only reason I'm able to bike and run this soon after breaking a rib was because it's my third rib and therefore not as big of a deal as last time when it was further down (when just breathing was a nightmare). Swimming, however, would surely be next-to-impossible with this particular injury.

I had to find out what I was up against as soon as possible, so yesterday, I tested the waters (literally) - I got up early and went to the pool. As it turned out, my fear (or dread) of the act of swimming was much worse than the actual swimming itself. In addition to rib pain, I was expecting a degree of discomfort in my shoulder as well. But once I got in the water, I found that my shoulder had weathered the crash quite well and I appear to have full range of motion. Surprisingly, I was able to swim with little difficulty and the pain was not much worse than that of running.

That was the first 25 meters, and I had apparently gotten a bit cocky. The wall would deliver the bitch slap. I did a flip turn and felt like I broke my rib all over again. Ouch! Who knew a somersault in the water could be that painful? Note to self: no more flip turns until fully healed. Maybe it's time to head for open water where there is no wall.

By the time I had completed an easy 500 meters, I found that there were many negatives about swimming with a broken rib: the aforementioned flip-turn agony, not being able to breathe comfortably or without pain, especially on the left side, no butterfly, no breaststroke, inability to rotate my body and loss of strength. Do I have to go on?

But, there were also positives - not many, but I did find them. So far, there were two:
  1. In compensating for a right-side injury, my left side may finally be forced to develop strength. (I'm so right-dominant in the water, you could proverbially tie my left arm behind my back and I would swim the same speed).
  2. To lessen the pain, I found myself (almost subconsciously) taking fewer strokes per lap. Call it the survival instinct kicking in, this was a strange realization - and it's something I've spent years trying to do consciously, and unsuccessfully.
The all-powerful pace clock revealed
how slow I am.
By the time I had gotten through a set of 200s, my rib pain had become an overall general soreness, so I decided to end the workout with a couple 50s. Don't ask me why - just chalk it up to that self torture I'm so good at. I wanted to know exactly how slow I had become in my days off. The first 50 was what revealed number 2 above. By the fourth 50, I found myself racing the guy in the lane next to me.

So I have yet another data point to ram home something I already knew about myself: competitive instinct trumps pain. In all these years as an athlete, I'm still not sure if that's a positive or a negative.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Do Things Happen for a Reason?

What do you do on a weekend that you were originally supposed to be racing but had to bail on because of injury? Usually I would have lamented and worried and fretted the entire weekend. But fortunately, THIS weekend was one that I should have originally stayed home for anyway. When I originally registered for the Mooseman 70.3, I was unaware of the awesome things I would miss if I left town this weekend. But thanks to a fractured rib, I was able to take part in them.

Friday night was Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's Dreamnight at the Zoo. Started in the Netherlands, it's an international event during which zoos are open in the evening to families of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. It's an amazing evening to be a part of and I've always considered myself the luckiest person there because I get to photograph all of it. Trying to capture Dreamnight on camera is no easy task, but I find great reward in witnessing, up-close, the wonder and enjoyment that these children experience - as well as the thoughtfulness and caring Zoo staff that makes it all possible. By the end of this year's Dreamnight, I was almost in tears.

The second event that I would have missed had I been in New Hampshire this weekend was the annual fundraiser Bowling for Rhinos. Yes, it's another Zoo event, but this one is for the local chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers to raise money for rhino conservation. Unfortunately, I was unable to bowl (thanks to the rib thing), but it was just as fun to spend an evening eating junk food (pizza and cheese balls) and hanging with some of my very best friends from the Zoo.

But all great weekends come to and end and Sunday was when the reality of not racing Mooseman hit. Of course, I had to check the race results... only to find that my time from last year would have placed me first in my age group. And this year it looks like they had a much better day (no race-long downpour).

And for those interested in how my injury is progressing... The official diagnosis after an x-ray is "fractured third rib with minimal displacement." It could have been more than one rib. It could have been maximally displaced (as was the case with my previous broken rib in 2008). Is it coincidental that Ironman champ Chrissie Welllington also crashed her bike and broke a rib only two weeks prior? (Hmmm... I completely understand her statement "just don't make me laugh" as that's one of the most painful things along with coughing and sneezing.)

But the rib has slowed me down a bit, and the only thing I've been able to comfortably do is ride my bike on the trainer. Yesterday, I installed the Real Course Video for Ironman Lake Placid and rode most of it while watching all of Jurassic Park on TV. Strangely enough, three hours went by much faster than I thought it would.

This position might be more comfortable in the future,
thanks to my rib.
After my ride, I attempted to run for the first time in five days and found out exactly how bad it feels to run with a broken rib in heat and humidity after five days off after a three hour bike ride. I quit after a few miles and found myself completely discouraged and down. I'm very concerned about what it's going to take to get back in shape just to FINISH my next race. And I found myself wondering how I was able to complete an Ironman only four weeks ago. And it's difficult to stay focused on the real goal - Kona in October - when I previously had high hopes for summer races this year.

But in spite of my worries, I've been looking for the positives, and so far, I've found two good side effects of my broken rib. The first was that I was able to reconnect with my one of my favorite people, my orthopod, Dr. Sam Patterson. And the second is that the only really comfortable position I can get in on the bike is the aero position. That should count for something right?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Injury Re-report: Broke

After a few days of severe discomfort, no relief from Motrin, and sleepless nights, I saw my orthopedic doctor today only to find out that I DID break something in my bike crash: ribs. Tomorrow we will find out how bad and how many. Until they heal, I must avoid sneezing - which I recently found out is excruciating, coughing, hiccuping, and, worst of all, laughing.  And the only reason I'm not crying right now is to avoid pain.

Why Do I Run? Just Watch

In honor of National Running Day (June 1), I give you this, my favorite running video: