Running route or Rorschach test?

 

Today’s run (street): 4.75 miles

My grand plan for returning to my old weekday running routine went off the rails this week because of changes at work that took up a lot of my time. Bottom line, we had a big re-org that unfortunately affected a lot of people. As a result, I will take on additional responsibilities within the organization. Great, I guess. But I’ve liked the fact that (up to now) my role has been primarily consultative. That has allowed me to have a very flexible schedule and I’m hoping that can continue.

My flexible schedule allows me to work from home on Fridays and that allowed me to fit in my annual checkup with my doctor. One year ago, I’d told my doctor about ending up in the medical tent after the Brooklyn Half. He proceeded to put me through a long tedious day of tests and never gave me results. He only acknowledged I was fine by having his assistant send me a signed release form that allowed me to use my company’s fitness center.

I decided to switch doctors and I was happy with the change. Everything was fine but that caused me to miss one of my key running days. I considered running later in the day, but I was concerned about being depleted by the blood work. I think that was a good call because I felt lethargic on today’s run and I’m wondering if a slightly lower plasma level had something to do with that.

This morning I knew I needed to get out for more than a 3 mile easy run. We had some things going on in the morning that prevented me from getting out as early as I planned. I didn’t think that mattered but, looking back, I would have liked a little more time of the street before the humidity went off the charts. I sometimes experience a minute or two of discomfort at the beginning of a run that dissipates once I fully transition to aerobic breathing. Due to the humidity and pollen level, I never really got past that today.

My route started as a two mile loop through my neighborhood before I cut over to neighborhood #2. I’d targeted four miles but hoped to exceed that. The lower neighborhood is set up with multiple roads that provide different route options. I ended up doing an out-and-back along a road I like due to its length and shade. The humidity continued to build as the sun grew higher in the sky. I reached a point around 4 miles in when I considered a cool down stop. I decided to keep going, knowing I was less than a mile from home.

I was glad to get enough distance to support my goal of increasing my base closer to 6 miles. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable today, but it was necessary. After mapping my run in Gmaps, I saw that turning the route map 90° made it look a little like a tractor as well as roughly describing the shape of my home state of Massachusetts. I enhanced the image further to make the point (see above). Mrs. ER thinks the original route map looks like a person snowboarding. What do you see?

Tomorrow may be a good day for a trail run. I’ll need to watch my time because thunderstorms are supposed to come through at some point on Sunday. I’m hoping to get out earlier when it’s cooler and less humid. I don’t know how flexible my schedule will be next week, so I want to make the most of my weekend runs.

Disc error

I discovered I’m not a diagnostician after meeting with a real orthopedist this afternoon. He shot down my piriformis theory in about two seconds. I went to the same office that screwed up my appointment last time because it’s five minutes from my house and convenience counts. This time the doctor was in. I was curious to find out the true cause of the sciatic pain that I’ve had since early December. After chilling (literally) for 30 minutes in the freezing checkup room, the doctor came in and started asking questions.

After a quick check of the source of the pain, he said, “I think it’s your back.” He took some X-rays and we looked at the results that showed that my hips and pelvis looked fine. I must say I photograph well from the inside. Then we looked at the spinal view where he pointed out compression in my lowest segment – a herniated disc. The disc problem was putting pressure on the sciatic nerve that makes it feel like the injury originates from a lower place.

I asked the doctor if this meant no more running. He said that running wouldn’t do any harm, but I should avoid hills. Yay! The doctor also suggested that I run on a soft, flat surfaces like the track or the treadmill. What he really recommended was to lay off running and focus on the elliptical for the time being. He showed me some stretches that would be beneficial and suggested I keep heat on my lower spine as much as I could.

I’m going back next week to get an MRI. I’ll follow his orders, especially the one about not running hills. I think I can do that one really well. I told the doctor that I’d read that trail running helps injuries because the soft dirt and the constantly changing surface supports many different muscles. He said trail running’s fine, but don’t run hills. So much for Stillwell.

I have my heating pad working and I’ll run through the stretches tomorrow. I’ll stick to the elliptical for now and sneak a treadmill run in when I can. The good news is that I don’t have any torn muscles, tendons, or – apparently – piriformis syndrome.

Orthopedist appointment invokes Murphy’s Law

 

I cannot remember the last time I’ve run, but it was at least three weeks ago. Since then, my workouts have been done on the elliptical machine. It’s a fair trade-off, but not an equal one. I know I’ve lost fitness as a result. While I’ve wanted to return to running, I’ve been concerned about further aggravating what I’m calling a piriformis issue. I wish I could be more specific about the cause of this soreness. Unfortunately my opportunity to get a diagnosis today was taken away by an incompetent receptionist.

Most people are familiar with “Murphy’s Law,” the idea that if something bad can happen, it will. That law has been in full effect today, starting with news from our electrician that the cost to bring our pool electrical system up to code will be five times what we expected. And we’d expected it to be a lot. Next it was the plumber, who informed us that the cost to replace our leaky shower fixture will be double our expectation. We have to stop inviting these people to our house.

A little later, I received a message that the cool new fitness equipment that I’m helping to test (they’re no-impact treadmill alternatives) will be delivered late. I was counting on having access to this gear so I could do workouts that match running intensity without inviting further injury. The stuff is coming, but I’ll need to wait a couple of more weeks to start the program.

The worst of it was when I arrived at the orthopedist this afternoon, after waiting three weeks for my appointment, only to find that the doctor wasn’t in. Apparently they’d tried to call me to reschedule, but the person who made the appointment had recorded my number incorrectly. So, after looking forward to some type of resolution of this problem, it’s still a mystery. I still don’t know if I should be running on it, but my patience has grown short.

I’m going to try a run this weekend, either on the treadmill or around my neighborhood. I don’t think I’ve run on pavement since January and I don’t expect it to be easy. I plan to take it very easy and stop if the soreness goes past moderate discomfort. I’ll make another doctor’s appointment and will hopefully be able to schedule it soon. But I’m going to lay low for the rest of today and let Murphy find someone else to bother.

The doctor will see you…soon

Today’s workout (elliptical): 40 minutes

I’m old enough to remember the days when the doctor would come to your house when someone got the sniffles. Besides the fact that physicians actually did house calls, it was remarkable that the doctor could be summoned on a moment’s notice. These days, I plan my doctor visits strategically, taking the first appointment of the day in hopes of “only” waiting an hour to be let in to the exam room.

It’s much harder to get in to see a doctor these days, especially if that doctor is a specialist. I was surprised that I was able to schedule an appointment with an orthopedist as early as next week. I’ve been careful not to aggravate my self-diagnosed piriformis syndrome, substituting the elliptical for the treadmill for the past three weeks.

I thought I’d try an easy run this morning to see whether things had improved. My pain has reduced, but it hasn’t gone away. I still have sciatic pain when sitting for long periods (i.e., my morning commute) and I was curious to know how my glute/hamstring area would respond to some easy running.

I started out slowly “running”, first at 3 MPH and then increasing  to 4 MPH. I felt okay, but noticed a little discomfort. Once I brought it up past 5 MPH, I knew I was borrowing trouble. I shut the treadmill down, walked over to the elliptical and did my workout there.

That experience made me realize that this problem will not resolve itself through patience. I looked online and found a sports orthopedist whose office is located five minutes from my house. I called them up, verified that they take my health plan and made an appointment for next Friday. I was shocked that I was able to do that. The last time I tried to meet with an orthopedist, the appointment had to be scheduled so far in the future that my injury went away before I was due to meet with him.

I’m encouraged to know that I’ll have a qualified person diagnose this problem and (hopefully) put me on a path to quick recovery. I’ve been dealing with running discomfort since last November and have concluded that enough is enough. I fear that the doctor may say that my injury is more serious than I thought, either requiring surgery and/or extended physical therapy.

But it’s better to know the cause than to continue this cycle of running, recovery, and re-aggravation. I just want to get back to running the trails.

Stress testing in sixteen steps

Not as fun as it looks

Today’s run (street): 3.4 miles

Despite my resistance to the idea of taking a stress test, I finally acquiesced and went through it this week. My experience at the end of the Brooklyn Half provided the impetus to do it. Actually, it was strong encouragement from my wife, the Runsketeers and my friend KWL that made me go through with it.

If you’ve never gone through a stress test (this was my third), you should know that it’s not particularly stressful. But it sure takes a long time. I don’t know if the process is universal, but at my doctor, the process goes like this:

1. Arrive at doctor’s office at your scheduled time.
2. Wait an hour to be called in.
3. Wait for the doctor in the exam room. You can pass the time by reading your chart on the computer display (at least that’s what I did).
4. Have a conversation with the doctor about how you ended up in the medical tent after running a half marathon. Hint: his response will always be, “I want you to run a stress test today.”
5. Have an EKG.
6. Have blood taken.
7. Have an heart ECHO sonogram.
8. Go to stress test lab and wait.
9. Get your first injection of thallium, a radioactive isotope that’s used as a trace agent during the imaging process. Very reassuring.
10. Go into the imaging room and get scanned for 12 minutes.
11. Go into another sonogram lab and have carotid arteries checked.
12. Go into the room with the medical treadmill, where the technician attaches electrodes all over your body attached to a belt unit that you wear during the process.
13. Start at walking pace, with the goal of getting heart rate over 140. She ended up putting the incline to 16% and the speed to over 5 MPH to get me there.
14. Get your second injection of thallium and wait.
15. Get your second imaging to compare to the first after exercise.
16. Go home six hours after you arrive.

The good news is that you do get feedback throughout the process. My doctor said my EKG and ECHO were fine, the sonogram tech said the same about the carotid check and the treadmill technician said I didn’t have a single missed beat during my session. I needed my doctor to review the imaging results. If there were concerns, I would have got a call yesterday. All of that, and no issues.

So why am I running so slow?

My doctor’s office should now deliver my clearance form so I can use my company’s fitness center. I can then do workouts in the morning when I get into the office. Without that, my options are either to go back to 4 AM runs, or work out when I get home from work. I worked from home today and got in a few miles before I started what turned out to be a busy day. It’s the weekend now, and I hope to give those Cascadia’s their first experience on the trails either tomorrow or Sunday.

Time for my knee to see the doctor

Today’s workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

I’m still paying the price for over-training prior to my half marathon. I obviously aggravated something in my left knee that got worse as a result of the race. Since then I’ve tried to minimize impact on my knee by keeping my runs below 5 miles. Despite that, my knee continues to feel sore and I’m now experiencing pain in the heel of my left foot.

I iced my knee for about 90 minutes last night and took Aleve before I went to bed. It felt okay when I got up and though I planned to do my usual 2+ mile run this morning, I decided that a no impact workout would be a better choice. I pushed as hard on the elliptical as I would have if I’d ran and in the end I knew I made the right decision. Later today I’m seeing the company doctor (who I understand is also a runner) to get his opinion on whether my injury should be looked at by an orthopedist (please say no!).

Powering through

My head cold continues and yesterday afternoon I paid a visit to my company’s medical department. The doctor, who I’ve known for years, said “Sorry, but I don’t have a cure for the common cold.” I told him it wasn’t the cold that was bothering me, I actually wanted his take on my running injury. He had me lie on the table and tried to isolate the problem but it was inconclusive. He didn’t understand why the pain was intermittent and why the discomfort went away after I walked or ran on it. He then suggested that I see an orthopedist and though he warned me not to overdo it he didn’t tell me to stop running.

This morning I was determined to run and, despite some sneezing and coughing I got on the treadmill for what I’d accepted to be a low impact run. Once I got moving my leg started feeling better so I turned up the speed. I ended up running 1.75 miles at a 9:05 pace although the last two thirds were probably faster since I’d run the first six minutes at about 9:50/mile. Since the run I feel pretty much okay. It wasn’t a long run today but I needed to show my cold who’s in charge.