I have made so much progress over the past week or so, especially today, that I figured I might as well keep going with my weekly recaps and then circle back to discuss the specifics of what kinds of workouts I was able to do throughout!
Week 6: discovering a loophole. I do not encourage all post-ATR patients to search for loopholes; however, the one I found made the next six weeks of my recovery more bearable from everything from buying groceries, getting fresh air, and getting to work and the gym. I had been riding my bike on the trainer with my boot for about a week now, but that was the only time I used the boot. Once I realized weight bearing was not the issue, it was the lack of dorsiflexion, and moreso preventing unexpected dorsiflexion, I recognized that the boot’s only purpose was a cautionary brace. So, I figured as long as it didn’t feel awkward, I could technically safely ride my bike with flat pedals outside to get from place to place. If this worked, I would have so much more freedom. On Monday the 22nd of January, I rode my bike with the boot to work just a couple blocks away as a test. It worked just fine! I didn’t have the most graceful stop, but I learned in the following days to lean to the left and put my left foot on the ground after braking to a stop. Words cannot describe what it felt like that day to feel the wind in my face, moving at a speed far greater than crutching or limping could come close to. It made me so happy.
The next day, I took my newfound mechanism to another level and rode my bike a mile to the gym! While I had been doing body weight exercises, ring workouts, and theraband exercises to the death at home, it was great to not be alone! I am not a big gym person by any means (I could never do all my “cardio” there, as gym-goers say), I had access to more equipment there and it certainly broadened my workout options. This was big. A couple days later, I rode home from my PT aide job four miles away and that went fine as well. From that point on, I did the four mile commute there and back twice a week, with the flat pedals and the boot. As time went on, the boot seemed less necessary but it still felt protective. I even rode to the doctor that Friday!
Week 9: PT prescription! Expecting to start physical therapy at twelve weeks as discussed, I was peasantly surprised that the doctor told me to start at nine weeks! This was mostly because I was very tight and by doing PT earlier, I would improve my range of motion. I was still walking with a limp then, just because when I went to put my left leg in front of my right, there wasn’t enough flexibility in the right to allow me to bend the ankle and push off that way. Unfortunately, I still didn’t get cleared to swim because of the pesky scab on the incision. I started that Monday (at the office where I work), and it was fun to finally be on the other side as a patient!
Physical therapy weeks 9-12: I couldn’t do too much in the beginning. We started with:
Ankle pumps holding dorsiflexion for five seconds, since this was (and still is) a pretty significant stretch. My passive dorsiflexion when I started was -4 degrees.
BAPS board, clockwise/counterclockwise and side to side
Golf ball roll
First toe flexion with a theraband (for posterior tib strengthening)
My passive dorsiflexion got to -1 the second week, which was progress! Actively I could be pushed to neutral or a bit past, but the goal was to do it myself obviously.
Week 10: Walking in the snow & on some trails! It snowed on February 17th at night, and every time it had snowed before this winter, I couldn’t go out and take a walk to enjoy it! Mistakenly thinking it might be the last snowfall of the winter (HAHAHA), I walked a couple miles and felt fine! I took a couple “hikes” (walking in the mud and dirt…) in the weeks following this, and found that the second time it was much, much easier. The first day I did this (February 19th), I felt a little wobbly, and made sure to look at what position my foot would be in once I planted it. This could have also been related to the fact that there was still some snow on the trails, but I did feel a significant increase in confidence when I “hiked” again on February 28th.
Some photos out in nature! So grateful!
Week 12: Throughout this whole ordeal, twelve weeks was a big threshold in my recovery. I knew when I reached twelve weeks, there would be many more things I could do. It was definitely worth the anticipation! My surgeon’s protocols are consistent with many others, as well as with the actual science behind tendon regeneration and proliferation. I think I may have read every post-operative protocol that can be found online now…. He was relatively conservative early on, but I was still working on range of motion at two weeks, which is recommended by almost everyone. Now that I’d reached the magic twelve free of any complications or re-injury (all skin issues aside), I could strengthen and take a few more steps forward. I felt like something clicked around this time anyway; all of a sudden I started walking normally, I could balance easily on one foot, I could plantar flex with a theraband without feeling weak (these are things we added in PT since the first week). I could also wear my Bean Boots again without feeling too much pressure on the scar area.
Driving: On March 4th, I started driving!!! I had not operated a vehicle since I drove to visit a physical therapy school in Philadelphia on November 16th, fifteen weeks ago. I didn’t quite recall how much pressure was required to brake or get the car going at a decent speed, and the only way to really know how it would feel was to do it. My parents brought my car up that day, and we all drove to Wegmans together with me at the wheel. It wasn’t bad at all! Anything I remotely “felt” was felt in my skin over the incision anyway (this has been the case throughout the entire process). Earlier that day, I took my Trek out for a significamt distance (more than commuting), but used the boot. It was still exciting!
I went to the doctor again that Friday, and he was happy with my progress. He said now I could “be aggressive” and add activities as I could tolerate. I did not think being aggressive included doing Hell of Hunterdon, but I wish it did…. I decided at that point to ditch the boot entirely for biking indoors and out, and it felt fine. I also got cleared to swim!
Additional PT exercises, weeks 10-12:
Heel raises: I started these standing next to a high table or similar support, putting a lot of weight on my hands and trying to even out the weight throughout my feet. I think I could be doing them hands-free now but my skin bothers me and makes me stop.
Wall squats: I actually started doing mini squats early on, but I added a swiss ball against the wall, and I’m trying to get my heels coser to the wall to gradually make my ankle dorsiflex more.
Weeks -3 to 0 (this will make sense in a few paragraphs): The three weeks following the incident – I’ll just call it “the cut” were arguably the most stressful weeks I’ve ever been through. I’d had periods of time in my life before when I didn’t know what my injury was, or why I was feeling a certain way, but any emotions then pale in comparison to the last two weeks of November and the first week of December. In the ER that Friday afternoon, I was referred to an orthopedic doctor, whom I saw on Monday morning, the 20th. That weekend – marathon weekend – I pretty much spent trying to not be in pain and distracting myself by going out with friends. I had an MRI Wednesday the 22nd, the day before Thanksgiving. I worked all day every day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of that weekend with no answers, on crutches in a splint. I hesistated to change my dressing and wrap, because I had a lot of shooting nerve pain down to my foot if I even slightly touched the skin near the outside of the cut, and also because I had no answers and didn’t want to move anything until I did. Sometime over the weekend I managed to chalk up the guts to look at my own MRI disc. It didn’t look like I completed severed the tendon from the images, but the images were also really grainy and I wasn’t used to scrolling through the layers; my last MRI was in 2012 and there were just flat images on the CD. The doctor had written the MRI script for the “right ankle,” and I didn’t question it since I assumed if he wrote it, it would show high enough over the ankle to see the cut. However, it seemed to me like the important part of the image was at the very top, and they just cut it off from view.
On Monday the 27th, the doctor called and said it looked like almost nothing, and I could come in and get a walking boot to use for awhile. I got it and managed to settle my foot into it with a heel lift, but I didn’t feel comfortable walking with it so I continued to use crutches. Sleeping without a splint or boot was stressful, as I still was not convinced the MRI even showed the right area. I called to make an appointment to review the MRI and was snuck in midday Wednesday. To my surprise, the doctor agreed to get a second MRI, this time calling the radiologist to make sure the area of concern (the cut) was marked and seen on the images.
On Thursday the 30th I got the second MRI of the “lower leg.” Stupidly, I figured since the doctor thought the previous MRI looked “like nothing,” this one would show “nothing,” just clearer. So when I got home, I loaded it and looked, and it did not look like nothing. I know a lot of people say they don’t know what they are looking at with MRIs, but I have to say, I do. Especially since I had researched a lot of Achilles MRIs over the past two weeks. I took out the CD and refused to look again. I was terrified and I absolutely hated that I could look at my leg and have no idea what was happening inside. I had no idea if being in the boot versus the splint was detrimental, or if I had done any healing whatsoever yet. I had no idea if I would be better in one month or in six. I had no idea if every passing minute was a step back. If I needed surgery, I wanted to have gotten it weeks ago, and since that didn’t happen, I wanted it within the hour. I just wanted it to be over so I could be put back together and begin to heal.
The weekend of the 2nd & 3rd was rough, as I struggled to find distractions and be alone with my fears and questions. I worked all weekend as usual, still on crutches of course, and a bunch of my friends were out of town so there really was nothing to look forward to. On Monday the 4th, I knew the doctor would call, because he would get the report. I’d been told the radiologist who was writing the report was out on Friday, so I figured the doctor hadn’t called then because he had no information. I did a little painting in the morning on the porch to try to calm down and prepare for anything. The call didn’t come until around 4:00 in the afternoon when I was at work. And contrary to what everyone else said (with no real basis besides trying to help me not stress), I was right. I wish I wasn’t right as much as I am. I hate being right. So, surgery was scheduled for Thursday. The first thing that I thought of was my physical therapy school interview that was scheduled for Friday afternoon. Surgery needed to happen Thursday, there was no negotiating that (and I didn’t want to), but I also was not about to let it affect the thing I wanted most at this point in my life, which was getting into school. I could only hope for the best reaction to anesthesia and good timing for the nerve block.
I went to the surgical suite on Thursday the 7th at 8:15 AM for surgery at 9:30. I had a bag packed to be picked up after in my living room (I had to get a ride to surgery because my parents were stuck in traffic, but they were going to drive me home after for the weekend) that contained my interview clothes and prep notebooks, a left shoe for the interview, a bunch of much more comfortable clothing, and my theraband (because anyone can do clamshells post-surgery…why not?). The staff was so efficient and I was in the room-before-the-surgery-room within minutes. I was stressed about the anesthesia because I hate being nauseous more than almost anything, and I felt like that could be a side effect. I also didn’t understand the concept in general of being “under,” as it was my first time and I just didn’t understand how there was something in between being alive and being dead? I admit it is possible I thought about this too much. I could feel whatever they had in the IV hitting me, and that was a strange feeling, almost like those days I wake up in the morning and feel like my blankets weigh fifty pounds because I am still tired. I was wheeled into the room where the surgery happened during this time, and I was surprised that it had a ridiculous amount of natural light from big windows on one wall that faced the woods and the morning sun. They did have me transfer myself onto another “bed” face-down by just rolling onto it, and then I don’t remember anything else. I’m glad they didn’t put a breathing mask on while I was awake. Or count down or anything, that would’ve been strange.
I woke up in the room from before, sitting up. I saw a clock on the wall and it was around 10:20. I was relieved to realize I was completely aware of the time I had just spent in surgery and where I was. For some reason I was really concerned I would say crazy things, be confused, and throw up everywhere. None of these things happened. When the nurse approached me, I simply said that I’d been wearing a headband during surgery that must have come off with my cap, if she could find it for me? Can’t lose my go-to black Sweatyband to surgery! I had some ginger ale, and then she made me sit in a wheelchair instead of crutch, though I felt fine. My head felt slightly weird, but not bad. I was excited about this because it meant I could go to my interview! I doubted I’d feel worse the next day. The nerve block didn’t freak me out too much, as I had a feeling (ha, ha) what it would be like and was just grateful that it was working. It was injected just below the knee, so I could still easily move my leg around from the hip and knee normally. My doctor saw me before I left, after the surgery, and told me that while the MRI made it look like it was a full-thickness, full-width tear, when he actually went in there he discovered it was not full-width, which was really good. He called later that day to repeat that news in case I wasn’t with it when he told me in person. I was pleased by this, of course, but it didn’t really affect what I was going to be doing for the next three or four weeks (being non-weight bearing in a splint), so I didn’t exactly pop some champagne. Nor would that have been allowed.
Weeks 0-2 post-op: The very nice and patient PA who works with my surgeon scared me to death about elevating my foot. I was now paranoid that I would have my foot down a second too long and the incision would burst open and I would have to have another surgery (I should make a list of some of my extreme irrational thoughts I have had throughout this process once it’s all over…). I was also not sure how I would know when it was swollen because I couldn’t really see, and for the first day feel, my lower leg. I was also unsure about the pain killers I was prescribed, because (common theme here) I was nervous they would make me throw up. I was also scared about how it would feel when the nerve block wore off, and if it would wear off before I had my interview. There was just a lot of things at play here I was not experienced with in the least. I am pleased
to say that while I was the last person interviewed within the three-hour block, my nerve block decided to wear off on the car ride home (my friend drove me from Princeton to the school, my mom drove to and from Princeton from home) in rush hour on the Turnpike. During the switch from one car to the other, I put my leg vertical and it did not feel good. There was some pain but also just the awful feeling of blood rushing down and making my lower leg feel very heavy. The next day I watched Army-Navy on a screen while my family was there in the slippery, freezing snow (I wasn’t too jealous that I forfeited my ticket to be honest) and was in quite a bit of discomfort when the meds weren’t at their peak. Sunday I only felt pain in the morning, and didn’t need to take a second dose. I was even able to do some leg lifts, Myrtle hip exercises, core, left leg Romanian deadlifts without weight, and theraband clamshells! I figured staying still for so long was not good either. I had to take aspirin (for the first time in my life, actually) twice a day until I was weight bearing again.
I had the first week off of work because I had the PTO to use. I went out a couple times and kept my foot up when I got to where I was going. I had to go back to work at the start of week two due to the lack of PTO, but I modified things a bit so I could keep my leg elevated most of the day. This often meant making my knee and hip very uncomfortable, unfortunately. I got excited about the little advances, like managing to find pants that fit over the splint – hard to do when I always wear pants with very narrow leg openings…I admit I bought a couple new pairs online because I had nothing.
I did some online Christmas shopping and some painting, but not as much as I thought I would get done. It should be noted, in case it wasn’t clear, that I have not been able to drive since the day the cut occurred. I likely won’t be driving until March.
On December 20, about two weeks from surgery, I went to my post-op appointment, where my splint was removed for the first time. I was nervous but looking forward to this, as I knew it was progress. I was now able to shower without the cast cover (still using the stool to sit of course), and was instructed to do ankle pumps up to but not past neutral three times a day for about five minutes. The first day, I could hardly move it at all. I was unsure how on earth I would ever get to even fifteen degrees plantar flexion, yet alone neutral!
Weeks 3-4: Starting with three days after I was able to remove the splint several times a
day to move my ankle, I noticed a small bubble of fluid on the incision. As usual I got concerned and asked some people about it who would know about such things. They seemed to think it was fine, just a normal thing to happen when I start moving. Over the next week, however, the bubbles started to bleed and dry and harden in cycles, and I just was not sure that was what it was supposed to do, since the lower part of my incision was not doing that and seemed to be healing the way it should. It didn’t help that it was about ten degrees and my skin was super dry. Being outside crutching around with just a sock or two covering my toes, with very bad circulation to the area, was not pleasant, by the way. I called the doctor on Tuesday the 2nd, and went in to get it checked out the next morning. This appointment was not fun. It turns out I had stitch abscesses, which occurs when the body rejects dissolvable stitches and wants them out. The doctor explained that this used to happen often, but better stitches were made and those are the ones they use now. “It almost never happens now,” he explained, “but you’re special.” Not something you want to hear at the doctor’s office. I was already only the third case of an Achilles laceration he had ever seen, and he has probably been practicing for almost twenty years. So, the stitches needed to come out. This was the first time I felt pain since the dull pain that came after the nerve block following surgery. I was face down on the table and he had to dig out the problematic stitches just below the skin on the incision line as well as the sutures that closed the incision on either side of it. I couldn’t see what was happening luckily, but I saw blood on the floor once I was wrapped up. That’s always lovely. I had to go on an antibiotic for the next ten days and shower with the cast cover again. That all happened before a nine hour workday, and I took Lyft to and from the appointment…one of those Wednesdays.
Weeks 5-6: The stitch issue kind of set me back a week at first, as I stayed in the splint now until week five, which was my original appointment anyway. So on January 10, I went back and he said I could wear the boot and ditch the crutches whenever I felt comfortable. I had two heel lifts and I coud start with both and ease my way down to one. The next two days were quite the experience, as it was a huge stretch for me to go from the splint down to two half-inch heel lifts in the boot. I was behind with my range of motion because the stitches leaking made me nervous to move my leg as much, despite the doctor telling me I was fine to still do it three times a day. Wednesday and Thursday, and maybe part of Friday, I had a constant ache in the back of my leg as I was in the two-lift boot setup. It is funny how the body adapts, though. These few days really made me understand this on a new level. Each day the stretch felt less aggressive, and I was able to use just one lift once the pain subsided completely on Friday. It was never “bad” pain, I knew it was just an unfamiliar stretch-pain from being in a new position. I was still using crutches but trying to transition to weight bearing in the boot. Once the pain went away in the one heel lift, I took my first unassisted steps on Sunday morning. Throughout the workday that day, I left one or both crutches somewhere across the store, and made my way around without them. I couldn’t swing my left leg through past my right, though, making me extremely slow. For this reason, I still crutched distances that weekend and the next week, such as to work and anywhere else that was farther than across a room. I was also very accustomed to crutches by this point, so my crutching muscles were conditioned and it didn’t tire me out like it did in November.
Despite not really ever mastering walking in the boot, I was only in the boot for a week, which meant I was technically allowed to be in two shoes at six weeks as the doctor planned. That appointment was on January 17. I had a really full work schedule the next two days, however, and I just needed some time to figure out how to do this and see if it was something I coud maintain all day. On Friday the 19th, I stayed late at work to
patiently try walking in two shoes (with the heel lift) with no distractions or obstacles (and also many things to hold on to if needed). This was an emotional moment, as I ended up walking just as badly as I was in the boot, confirming that it wasn’t the boot that was preventing me from dorsiflexing and following through, it was my body. It was understandable that I would be ridiculously tight and not able to do it right away. It was just crazy to almost forget how to walk normally, and realize all of the small things that made up what we think of as such an innate movement. At work the next day I stayed out of the boot for about seven hours and tried to get used to feeling the ground again. Despite the lack of dorsiflexion, it was a relief to find out that I had no issues with weight bearing, even on one foot for a second.
Getting into two shoes seems like a good place to publish this post and move on to the next! I’m looking forward to sharing what I have been able to do exercise-wise over the past couple months as well as little tips and tricks for getting through the routine of each day, plus musings about physical and mental adaptation.
I finally managed to log in to my WordPress account! Turns out my old bookmark no longer worked. A lot more than that has changed, as you might have expected. The last time I wrote, I was planning on juxtaposing my negative reflection on 2015 Boston with a recap of the perfect race that was the Philly Marathon that year(3:15), but life got in the way and I never wrote that post. At the time of my last post, I was in a confusing place regarding how to take the next step toward a career and general self-fulfillment. In chronological order, I’ll do a little catch-up. A summary for now, of course….
December 24, 2015: After contemplating the thought with healthy amount of fear for the past few weeks, I broke down and admitted out loud that what I really wanted to do was become a physical therapist. That never truly changed. Although I was unsure exactly how I was going to be able to afford what it would take to get there, the past year and a half or so of feeling somewhat lost and inferior through my own eyes was enough to motivate me to start somewhere and just keep going.
Winter & Spring 2016: I re-took the first half of Anatomy and Physiology, and for the first time in awhile I felt like I was exactly where I should be. I continued working full-time and racing. In the winter, I did club swim workouts in the pool Monday and Wednesday nights with a couple friends (pseudo club team members). I learned when you actually do workouts swimming isn’t so boring! I had decided not to register for Boston that year despite qualifying, just to try to do some shorter races and maybe some other interesting athletic endeavors. My freezing cold morning speed workouts and Princeton Intervals evenings paid off in March when I matched my 5k PR from the previous May at the Adrenaline 5k (the official time was two seconds off at 19:13, though). I rode Hell of Hunterdon a few weeks later, learning that a.) you don’t actually need to ride over 40 miles to prepare for an 80-mile hilly ride, and b.) there were so many unpaved New Jersey roads I hadn’t been on that were the best. I think I was on an elevation-nature-exertion high for two days straight. In April I won what I believe was the first and only
River Horse 6k in Ewing, holding off a DIII Al-American and finishing with a 5:59 mile in the process. It wasn’t as fast as my 2014 USATF Club XC Nationals 6k time, but it was still under 24 minutes. The best race of the season was at the Bucks County 10 Miler on May 1st, when I ran 1:06 and change to take the win on a muddy towpath in the pouring rain. I was going to run a half that day but couldn’t manage the logistics with work (while the ten miler was great, I still kind of regret this…but only because I think I could have ran 1:27 that day. But what are numbers…). After that I got pretty sick – bronchitis, asthma symptoms, all that. I couldn’t breathe normally even at the annual Jerseyman Tri at the end of the month, but I did suck it up and swim in the cold lake.
Summer 2016: I finished up the A&P sequence but had to commute to the Trenton campus. It was a strangely fun experience taking public transit (bus) or bike commuting three days a week for five or six weeks. After the class was over, I went to Maine with my family and had several adventures including biking the Mount Desert Island Marathon course (I took my bike on a ferry!) and hiking Mount Katahdin. I also went up to Lake Placid to catch the tail end of the Ironman and spend a couple days camping, swimming in Mirror Lake, and biking one loop of the course. Unfortunately I did most of that alone, but it was still fun. Last, I finished up the summer by taking a solo mini-trip for two and a half days to the White Mountains with a stop in Boston (which included a 50 mile bike ride) on the way home. The 20 miler I did in New Hampshire is worthy of its own post, if not for the hilarious extent to which I suffered (in the midst of marathon training, mind you) then for its contribution to my trail running and racing hunger.
Fall 2016: This season was nothing short of crazy, now that I really look back on it. I faced my nemesis, Chemistry I. In September, I did the Savageman 70, which is considered the hardest triathlon in the country. It at least has the biggest hill of any tri…and probably the second and third biggest ones too. I was convinced to do this by someone who ended up bailing on the whole thing, including just the trip down there for support with less than a week’s notice. It was my “birthday weekend” (if you believe in these things…I do), and I had a campsite reserved. I was not going down there solo, so I somehow recruited two of my best (non-triathlon) friends to come down and go through this experience with me. It was hard. I came really close to getting my brick in the road, but did not. I came in 7th or 8th female. But I don’t think I’ll be going back. I was also training for the Mount Desert Island Marathon. Long runs had been so-so, I was just way more tired than usual all the time. I made that weekend into a little trip with my mom. Logistics were easy, we stayed alone in my aunt and uncle’s house on the ocean and my other aunt finally got to see me race. The race itself was going well until mile 16, when I started coughing (I had had more chest-cold issues this fall again), which led to acid reflux and that was a bad, downward road to follow. You know what happens next. I somehow managed to stumble into Main Street in Southwest Harbor in 3:28. The rest of 2016 racing-wise was rough, it was just a tough order of race distances. The Princeton Half was bad, and I really just felt obligated to race it even though I didn’t feel great. The turkey trot was abysmal. I was doing fine workouts and all, I was just wiped. I suspect my iron was probably off, but I wasn’t bothered enough to get it checked.
Winter 2017: I finished Chemistry I and started Chemistry II. Homestretch? I pretty much worked until 7 or 8pm every night, then go to the library until 11 or 12. I couldn’t stay any later than that. I felt much older than I did in college…. I ended up having a pretty good training cycle for Boston, but I think I managed to do a 18-21 miler and not have to go to work right after maybe once. Still did them all, and then went to the library at 5, and then totaly crashed at 10. The most memorable run was a 20.5 mile run that I did starting from Washington Crossing that took my up the towpath to New Hope, and then across to Lambertville at mile 10, up and over Goat Hill, and finishing cutting over Baldpate Mountain at mile 16. Talk about hill placement. It was beautiful and I cherished the lactic acid like never before. That evening, after, was the most relaxed I think I’ve ever been. Nature and running almost three hours on hills make quite the happy pill.
Spring 2017: I ran Boston, but over-hydrated with Gatorade and water from the start. I got acid reflux almost immediately and gagged my way to the finish line. It was about 70 degrees – 20 too warm – but the liquid intake was the main problem. And the nerves about the heat. It was 80 the day before, Easter. I finished in 3:23 and then threw up Gatorade in a fancy hotel lobby bathroom. Then I walked like 3 miles, not on purpose, don’t ask. I hardy felt beat up the rest of that week. I thought maybe I was getting used to this thing, I just needed to get my esophagus to stay behaved. I finished Chemistry II, battling until the end. I started volunteering at a new physical therapy office, but could really only go for a few hours each Monday morning due to the class and working full time. Oh, and I still did Hell of Hunterdon with even less bike training, because why not. I ran the E. Murray Todd Half in March as well; I came in second and was actually a bit satisfied with the time given the course and the cold. The best race of all was The North Face Endurance Challenge NY (Bear Mountain) Half Marathon on May 14.This was kind of unexpected and I put very ittle pressure on myself until the race began. I ended up coming in second overall female and having basically the time of my life. It made up for every disappointment in Boston and I will definitely have to write more about it in another post.
Summer 2017: I did a few triathlons, but was mostly saving my money for physical therapy school applications and associated fees, so I think I only paid for one. I did the Jerseyman Du, Pancake Tri, and the West Point Tri. In between, I had a great time having adventures in Lake Placid and Maine. I ran up and down every mountain I could get my eyes on, and started dreaming about running more trail races. I found that all the races that had the most hype were super long, but I really liked the idea of trail races that were ten miles or half marathons, just for the amount of effort you can give without regard to nutrition and bonking and the like. And because there is nothing quite like racing through the woods on a mission. As for my applications, I got started on those in July and that process escalated extremely quickly. I also got hired as a part-time aide at the physical therapy office once one of the aides left for school.
Fall 2017: In the summer I realized I wanted to train for a marathon again because it didn’t seem that hard anymore. I figured I might as well train to go 3:10 in Philly, and see how things went in training. If I felt sluggish I would bail, if things were going well I’d go for it. Unlike 2016, I was now used to being busy all the time and handling a lot of physically exhausting things. I started doing marathon-pace tempos, something I had never actually done before. I kept the Tuesday night speed routine, and did my tempos Thursdays (or Tuesdays if I skipped the speed…) after working mornings at PT. In the spring, I’d done weekly tempos, but was running closer to half marathon pace or a bit slower, and no longer than seven miles (I think I did eight once). I got my MP tempo up to ten miles, with a mile easy on each end. That was on Halloween, making one of the best holidays even better, of course. I had a great training partner on Sundays in Sara, who was also running Philly. We even got to do the run to Lambertville in October! We started from her house instead, but I think the route was just as good. I submitted most
applications the last week of September, and hit a few other deadlines throughout October and November. Aside from marathon training and the app grind, I put my trail running to the test on September 16, at the Baker’s Revenge 10 mile trail race at the Watchung Reservation. I meant to get up to a course preview run this summer, but only managed to run there once on my way back from something in north Jersey…and I got pretty lost. I somehow managed to follow the flour (get it…) and pink ribbons enough to do the course correctly (it was a little long!) and place first female, second overall. It was super fun. I went with Kristine (who I didn’t know in 2015 – crazy!), my roommate/running friend/general friend who has accompanied me on many running and other adventures this year. We drank PBR and ate donuts after. It was quite the event.
So, now it is February 1st. I was really excited to race Philly, as I was finally feeling super good and I tapered well. On Friday, November 17, I took out a bag of trash from my kitchen. It touched the back of my leg and a broken coffee mug cut my Achilles. After the worst three weeks possibly ever (so many unknowns and wrong tests and false hopes), I had surgery on December 7. The second MRI (kind of like the first…) was actually misleading, and it was actually only a partial-width (full thickness though) tear, which my doctor was excited about. I’ve come a long way since then, and am now “walking” (trying to) in two shoes. I’m ahead of where I thought I would be at this point, yet it still isn’t an easy process. One of the hardest things is that I hadn’t had a running injury in years, and spent a ton of time preventing anything from ever happening. I guess you can’t prevent accidents. The other hardest thing is that I can’t really do anything I consider fun. But that’s commentary for another time. I am overjoyed to be able to ride my bike for commuting purposes outside withy my boot on (to prevent over-flexion) now! This means I can go places without anyone’s help. It is my right leg, so I haven’t been able to drive since November. I was back to working 45-50 hours a week by week three or four, which is somewhat unfortunate, ha. But obviously a good thing.
So, I am starting my blog again because I have missed writing so much, but also because I have been scouring the internet for stories from people who have had Achilles repairs, and doing so has only made me want to write about my own process more! I am looking forward to recounting the past eight weeks since surgery in my next post(s), including what I have done to stay fit since the day after surgery, how I have gotten around, tips from #crutchlife for those who may be looking for that, and what I have learned.
If you have a mind full of thoughts and no conclusions, run a race.
If you need answers to questions you aren’t willing to ask, run a race.
If you aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing, run a race.
If you believe in yourself, but only some of the time, run a race.
♣ ♣ ♣
On March 15th, I ran the Freehold St. Paddy’s 10 Miler. I went into the race fairly confident and eager to see how I would do, more as a form of self-entertainment than anything else. The last of the snow had just melted away after a long winter. I had trained well but was mentally fatigued until a beautiful 20 miler the Sunday before, which had started out in winter and ended in spring. The optimism and contentment I felt toward running on this particular morning was quite the mirror image of how I felt toward most other things in life, meaning I was definitely going to run with my heart to a PR (simple formula).
While warming up, a guy to whom I had apparently sold shoes once spotted me and we ran together for a few minutes. I saw him again at the starting line, and he pointed out a woman who I “should stay with.” He spit out some of her credentials from Ironman finishes, times, etc., but I didn’t hear the specifics. However, given that I showed up at the race without much of a clue as to who else was coming, I didn’t completely ignore his advice. I was surprised when we got to the line and he said to both of us, “you two will be gunning for the win together,” or something like that. We didn’t say too much in reply and laughed it off, she alluding to poor mileage through the winter and I offering a cliché line about a tune-up race to go out there and have fun. The gun went off, and I did end up running alongside her until we exited the park road.
The first two or three miles of a race are always my least favorite. You’re not exactly sure how you feel because you’re not in a great rhythm yet, and the other runners around you could change at any moment depending on when they get their realizations of how their bodies are feeling. As we descended a road in the first mile, I gathered my surroundings and noted that the “fast woman,” I’ll call her, was running a few seconds ahead of me now. I fell right into her path and thought maybe I should make it my goal to keep her in sight, but then retracted the idea because it was too early on to tell how fast she would be going later on. Then, she stopped. She turned. She ran the other way, stooped down, and picked up a gel she had dropped that I hadn’t even noticed. I kept going at my pace. Now she was behind me. Since she had been running ever so slightly faster than I before she dropped the gel, I was basically counting down the seconds until she passed by me. I was not about to look behind me; I just kept going at my pace. We turned into a residential neighborhood with young trees in the yards, and white fences to match big white houses. We ran a loop through that juncture and still, she never passed me. I also never looked back. We got back onto a main road and headed onto another wooded lane. People clapped for me at the few places there were spectators, telling me I was the first woman. Still she never came up behind me. I kept my eyes set up ahead on two guys in purple singlets (see photo above) who knew every tangent like they ran this course everyday, and followed their every move as long as I could see them. On one particularly twisty road, everything fell quiet and I couldn’t see any other runners beyond the next turn. It left me alone with my thoughts and the rhythm of my feet.
For the remainder of the race, running became an afterthought. My legs and their repetitive motion were no longer attached to my mind and my heart and the rest of me; they were down below doing their thing as if they were motorized, leaving me in a seldom-acquired state of zen being. For those miles, it was okay that I was angry. It was okay I was confused, and afraid of the unknown, and regretful of my decisions or lack thereof. It was okay if I didn’t know what that evening would bring, or if I felt things to be unfair, or if I hadn’t yet learned what I needed to know to find success and happiness and contentment outside of this moment, this race. I was here now, running a race now, and it was what I needed to do. Even if everything else might be feeling out of my control, it was a great feeling to be able to control this. To have the opportunity to actually, physically run, and to experience the confidence and glory of trying to win something. Not many people can do something like that, an act of physical exertion that also transcends into the most relaxing state of being. What a juxtaposition running can be.
The fast woman who had turned back for her fallen gel had a lot of hype, at least from the guy at the starting line. We had been sized up by a third party against our will, and there was no doubt that she was a much more accomplished athlete than I. I had almost let that hold me back. I had expected her to pass me for miles. Not because I was not good enough. Because she was simply there. That really made me think. How often do I do that? I can think I am confident I am putting my best self forward, yet someone else can show up and take something away from me just because I am me and she is she? What sense does that make? If I am putting forth my best effort for me, it should not matter who else is there. If I am being myself and doing my best, and that is not good enough for a victory in the end, that is not my fault. I am good enough. I may be better next month or next year than I am today, and I hope so. But for today, I am good enough. In that ten mile race, if the woman had snuck up on me and pulled out the win, but I ran my best, that would be okay with me. I should translate that to the rest of my life too. If I strive to be my best self for me and for others and the world around me, and that is not “good enough” for someone or something, it will be good enough for someone or something else. And that is someone or something I would want to run through life with for awhile.
♣ ♣ ♣
That is what I learned during ten miles on a cold Sunday morning in March. I’m still trying to learn whether or not the Freehold Area Running Club got a better deal on gnomes in bulk versus leprechauns, as I think the garden gnome might be British, not Irish.
NOTE: This has been sitting as an almost-complete draft since June…going to drop this one here and get on to the present!
Race morning began much the same as it did last year: shuttle van from the hotel to Boston Common, shuttle school bus from Boston Common to Hopkinton. Unlike last year, I knew no one on either shuttle, so I ended up talking about running and the Boston Marathon in general with two middle-aged men who had each ran Boston at least ten times, which made for interesting conversation. I did most of the listening. It was quite nice to be inside a vehicle for as long as possible because…it was going to rain. It was all anyone could talk about at first, yet it was what no one wanted to talk about. The sky was overcast but not dark, and I still believed there to be hope in the rain holding out, or at least keeping to a minimum.
The rain got worse. I found a dry spot in a white tent in Athlete’s Village and huddled there…for two hours. It was a long two hours, let me tell you. I was desperately looking around for someone I knew, because I’d rather talk for two hours to shake away my own thoughts, but I knew it would be best to stay out and remain somewhat dry and warm. So, i sat/laid down for two hours, taking in some calories and water periodically. Finally it was time to leave, but we just walked down to the next area before the start, where we did more waiting. It was very different from last year. I somehow missed the announcement about my corral walking to the start despite all the waiting, so I had to run and jump into the back of the corral. I didn’t realize this until hours after the race, but my watch didn’t even have a satellite yet, so it was just estimating my first five miles based on cadence (I think). Oops. I knew starting at about 9:00 that I did not feel 100%. Aside from my feet being absolutely numb from being damp and cold, acid reflux had started growling in my chest. I may have mentioned it a few times before, but I have been having major issues with this off and on for the past seven years. I have suspected a hiatal hernia, but then I always equate it to stress and stop running at night and it goes away. Regardless, it was happening at the start. The start of the Boston Marathon. It has never affected me in a morning race from the very beginning, so I was terrified starting this race. I have turned back after two miles on normal training runs due to this problem. This was the Boston Marathon.
My pace hovered in the 7:30s and 7:40s for awhile. My legs didn’t really want to go faster and my chest was getting tighter and tighter. Not good. During mile six I decided I really needed to pee and it would change my life if I stopped to do so. Yes, mile six at Boston I went into a porta potty just to pee. Who does that? The good news: I have a new bathroom PR. I think I ran around 7:22. Eventually I recognized that my legs did in fact feel pretty good, so I tried desperately to focus on that fact and not the awful feeling in my chest I had felt so many times before. I tried two times to make small talk with runners around me and failed. Before Wellesley, there was a poster stuck to a telephone pole that read: “Congrats [name], you’re halfway there!” I said, “I don’t like that poster!” jokingly, since we were running the eleventh mile…hardly halfway in a marathon! The guy next to me just replied, “Well, don’t believe everything you read” not in a very amicable tone. What? Okay. I passed him and moved along.
Until I decided to go to the bathroom again in the next mile. Come on Meghan, I scolded myself. Really? Twice for non-emergencies? Despite feeling like I never wanted to ingest anything in the near future, I stuck with my plan. I was not about to feel like this and bonk. At least leave me a little hope, body. I had Gatorade at every water stop except for the ones I just didn’t feel like grabbing anything (just a couple) until mile 18 or so, and had gels about 60 minutes in and at mile 14. Let’s just say I did not look forward to them. During and after Heartbreak Hill, I ditched the half of the PowerGel I picked up and switched to water.
At some point near Heartbreak, some people were under a tent blasting the song “No Place I’d Rather Be” by Clean Bandit. When the song came out months before, I remembered liking the beat and all, but like so many other songs about love and relationships, not loving it because I couldn’t relate to the lyrics. Now that it was playing during the race, I made it context appropriate and just adapted it to being about running. I was certainly feeling “a thousand miles from comfort,” dry-heaving every five minutes, wondering if or when my quads would die, and getting totally pounded by the rain. Playing the chorus repeatedly in my head the rest of the race, I took consolation in reminding myself I loved running and I trained hard for this, therefore this will be fine. There is no place I’d rather be. It was a little comical, thinking back at the scene, how the lyrics contrasted the race. And also they might have simultaneously fit.
From mile 20 to 22, I desperately searched for my family. The same crew was all back again: my mom, dad, two youngest brothers, and my grandmother, who was never a runner but is the biggest track and marathon fangirl you ever did see. I needed something else to focus on. They ended up getting to their spot just in time from the T, around mile 22.5. It worked out that they were farther up than I thought, because it got me through the hills on a mission. Something else happened right after Heartbreak…I started to feel better. I was no longer dry heaving out of necessity every five minutes (half Ironman deja-vu but I didn’t stop…oh wait I didn’t write about that…). The best part: my legs were fine. I was a little nervous my glutes were about to lock up like my quads did last year after Heartbreak on the downhill, but they stayed in check.
So, the game changed. No more acid reflux/dry-heaving awfulness + relatively fresh-feeling legs = go time. I waited twenty-one miles to start running the marathon I knew I could run. Not what I expected, but I’d take it over the whole thing falling apart. It still could, I thought. But let’s run with this feeling and see what happens. Suddenly, everyone running in front of me was in my way. This was a stark contrast to the year before, when I felt like I wasn’t moving at all and was utterly jealous of how fast others could manage to move. I figured that if I could keep up the increased pace through the finish, I could still break 3:20. I saw Steve cheering with his friends at mile 24.5 for another boost, and kept rolling to Boylston St. It was a great feeling to finish feeling relatively strong at Boston, but the rain and the smaller crowds still made Boston 2014 a happier moment in my book. Not to mention the hypothermia after the race due to not getting warm clothes until over an hour after I stopped moving. I won’t write much about that. Shivering in damp, tight clothes after running 26.2 miles was truly awful. I promised myself to do bag check next time, regardless of the weather.
I ended up finishing in 3:19:28, which was a two minute, thirteen second PR from the previous year. But, I had trained harder and I was stronger, and I knew had I not felt so sick I would have run much faster. The main reason I wasn’t pleased with the race, though, was that I didn’t have fun. I wanted to have fun, and I tried, I really did! But I didn’t have fun. The acid reflux felt horrible – as in, if it was a normal run I would have had to lay down for hours to feel better, yet it was during a marathon. Even when I tried to focus on my legs and the atmosphere, people around me were negative. When I did in fact finish strong, I immediately went into survival mode from the cold rain and nearly forgot all about it. My family was slow to get to me, and then plans were complicated after and I didn’t even have a place to take a shower, all the while feeling nauseous. I really tried to have fun. Sometimes, it doesn’t work.
So that was that, Boston 2015.
I’m publishing this now so I can write a race recap that is much the opposite. 🙂
As much as I don’t want to lump all my training into one post, for the sake of writing about my 2015 Boston Marathon experience soon, I want to write about the general road I took to get there!
It’s hard to tell if my training went better or worse than last year. I certainly think each spring it has gotten easier; that is, long runs don’t feel so long and fast runs don’t feel so fast. I think that is a roundabout way of saying, I was definitely in better shape. The only complaints I had all winter were mental laziness and ice. The two often went together, so most of my skipped runs were justified. I stopped doing long trainer workouts when my long runs hit over seventeen miles, because they were affecting how I felt for those. If not anything else, those rides certainly reminded me to hydrate. They were also good conditioning for my quads to handle all the hills I planned to tackle during long runs. I did many of the same routes I ran last year, with some small detours. My fastest was on February 21st, when Greta, Erika, and I got 18.3 miles in averaging 7:35 pace before a snowstorm with a ten degree wind chill. My salted caramel Gu was almost solid, and I couldn’t manage to find the finger holes in my gloves after I took it. Fun times.
Long runs: I did five long runs over 18 miles this training cycle: 18.3, 20.3, 21, 18.5, and 18.5. Last year I hit four (18.3, 20, 21, 19), and the year before…one 20-miler (and one 17.8 miler which I “counted”). So, I’ve come a long way. The last one was done at Boston start time in seventy degree weather to prepare for the chance of heat on race day. I’m not so sure I’m glad I did this (it definitely was not warm…), but it didn’t negatively affect the race or anything. The best long run by far was my annual run to Lambertville, which I did entirely with Erika. It was her first time on any of the roads, which made it go by quickly. We averaged 7:45 pace and could have easily kept going. It was my best recovery too; I did a hard hill repeat workout two days later. This was probably due to omelettes and recoverosas.
Tune-up race: I decided I had no interest in any potential half marathon tune-up: E. Murray Todd (March 1) felt too early to race, I didn’t register for the NYC Half ($$$/stress/crowds, March 15), Caesar Rodney would make my car unhappy (March 23), and the Love Run felt too close to race day (March 30). I am very happy I chose the Freehold Area Running Club’s St. Paddy’s 10 Miler on March 15th as my race-before-the-big-race. I drove there alone knowing no one who was registered, and then found at least three runners I knew, which was nice. I am going to write a separate post about something important I learned during this race that I hope to apply to other races and to life. Here, I’ll provide the spoiler: I won! It was a perfect course on wooded roads with minimal hills, sometimes lonely but that was okay with me. I ran 1:07:17, over a minute faster than my previous PR at the Perfect 10 a year and a half before. After it was a struggle to keep warm as a cold front rolled in (theme for all three races I’ve run this year!), but…I won a garden gnome. It isn’t every day you win a garden gnome.
Workouts: I did fewer workouts than usual this year. I had big plans to do certain key workouts and they didn’t really come together. Most of the problem was either not waking up early enough to fit them in or not eating enough to do them well. I had one great tempo run in February that was one mile longer than I thought it was…but I didn’t realize that until I was done. That was a good feeling. My best workout was the 10x hill repeat workout I did in late March. I decided at the last minute to make it a constant hill repeat tempo, taking the downhills hard. Why not? I was determined to feel better at Boston after mile 20 than I did last year. This fueled almost everything I did to prepare for Boston this year.
Strength training: …especially what I did in the gym. I mentioned in a previous post how I was totally lost in the gym. Well, I did find my way. I surprised myself at how often I got to the gym to strength train (and swim) this winter and spring. I went every Monday night and usually one other morning or night later in the week. The jump-lunges, box jumps, squats, and core exercises I did left me feeling really strong despite not doing a marathon-specific workout every week. I hoped it would be enough to feel strong at mile 23….I talked about this so much people started to say, “wow, you’re really training for those downhills.” Yep. I was also determined to do it on my own (training), because I felt like that would be a good confidence booster, to know I only needed knowledge of the human body to overcome whatever was my weakness last year.
Pain? I know they say marathon training is bound to cause some discomfort. But I never felt any. There was a two-day ITB scare, but then the 21 miler happened without a hitch, so that was that. That was pretty awesome. Because of this fact, I felt like I wasn’t training enough, or at least not to my potential. There’s definitely room to improve though, so I took it as a good thing in the end.
17 days out: I decided not to drink [alcohol] at all until after the race. I bought lots of vitamins I had been cheap about restocking. I also developed a bad cold right after this day, so I was set on feeling 100% on April 20th. If anything went wrong during the race, it was not about to be due to lack of rest and preparation.
By the time I arrived in Boston – on Sunday, the day before the race this year – I was feeling as ready as I’d ever be, but not particularly psyched. I’m still not exactly sure why. I think I made so much of a point to not overthink and get worked up about it that I almost didn’t get excited enough, strangely.
Last night Last week, I found myself in the middle of the gym floor feeling absolutely confused and overwhelmed. I have been doing some form of strength training since I was a freshman on my high school track team; however, I have never really enjoyed the process. I enjoy being satisfied after doing a workout composed of something other than running, because that satisfaction has proven difficult to find at times. I enjoy knowing that I lifted and did injury prevention exercises. I’m starting to realize that the process actually can be fun. It’s finding the right things to do that will satisfy the types of exercise I crave that I’m stumbling over.
If someone asked me to give them a list of track workouts to prepare him for a particular event, or just to switch things up, I would have no problem. I have a list already ready in my head at all times. Ask me to spend a half hour in the gym doing exercises that are stimulating and that work all the right things for myself as a marathon runner and triathlete? Blank. No answer. Besides what I already have been doing, of course. Which brings me to the realization that I am out of my comfort zone in the gym. Among other locations, but let’s focus on the gym.
White and silver skeletons of machinery with stacks of weighted plates. Kettlebells that are way heavier than they look: balls with handles that I’m not sure about due to the smattering of intimidating “do-it-this-way-not-that-way” articles that pop up left and right. Dumbbells I’ve always used, but maybe I could use something else? Stackable box platforms that look too easy without adding height and too hard when I add it. Pull-up bars that don’t seem to put my shoulders in the right position. Other bars that look like pull-up bars but might not be? The back extension contraption that pinpoints my weakness and makes me tired without even bringing any weight onto it. The machine with arms I can pull in any direction I want: so many angles to put the arms! So many directions I can pull the handles! Medicine balls I can use for jump squats…but lots of other things too, right? But I never know. It’s a ball. So many options. TRX cables. Don’t even get me started on TRX cables. Bosu balls: I could use the ball side, or the flat side. Stand on either side, or get down on my hands on either side.
Now I’m overwhelmed again. It’s like when try to shop somewhere for clothes when I have a new style trend brewing (which I thought I’ve made up myself, every time…so frustrating), only to find that they have everything I’ve thought about buying, but the outfits are all spread out and I have to think on my feet to combine articles of clothing into the work of art I’ve been craving in my mind. I know everything I need to get the exact workout I want is there on the gym floor, but the possibilities are so endless I get a little overwhelmed sometimes. I also know it’s good to switch things up…and I also know I don’t want to get too crazy and do anything detrimental to my training without knowing.
Confession: I started writing this post last Tuesday but had to pause because I had to meet people for a run. I have since actually come up with a few effective, new things to do in the gym! They mostly involve jumping, because I could use some more explosive strength (just because), and because I want to mimic the pounding my quads will take going downhill at Boston.
Anyone out there have a go-to gym exercise for strength and stability they want to share? I’m willing to try almost anything!
Fun fact: when I tried to search for “pull up cartoons” I got a lot of “say no to sag” photos, making fun of guys who wear their jeans low. Please. Don’t do that.