Monday, February 25, 2008

My experiments with thought

I am experimenting with something. The foot infection got me down, both physically and mentally. Now that I'm over the worst of it, I have been thinking about these mental effects of not running; or more precisely, of not doing something that brings you joy. That joy is hard to explain to people who don't do it, but I think that most of us - runners and non-runners alike - have things in life that calm our soul and make us feel centred, safe, and alive... possibly even playful.

If running is what does it for you and you can't run for whatever reason, I think part of what we miss are these feelings and the sense of centredness. Things seem to go off kilter and that makes us grumpy. No one likes to feel messed up.

Then I had this thought. I wondered what would happen if I turned it all on its head and, while acknowledging the grumpiness, think deeply about what is going RIGHT with my training.

Suddenly the thoughts started to tumble forth:

1) I'm strong. For my size and frame, I can lift a fair amount of weight in the gym. And I see the results of this strength training in my every day life. A few days ago at the grocery store the cashier asked if I wanted a hand out with my groceries. I said no, thanks, I'd be OK. "With all that?" She asked. I said, "I was carrying it around in a basket, so it's OK." She replied, "That's pretty heavy for a basket." Whatever. It hadn't really occurred to me. I love it when these little encounters happen and take me by surprise. It reminds me that I have worked hard and I am strong.

2) My knees are good. This is partly due to having strong legs, but who cares what the reason is? They're good!

3) My last VO2 max text put me in the highest category possible for women my age. And that was BEFORE I started running half marathons last year.

4) I'm flexible. I do yoga and it's good for my soul and my body. As my yoga teacher likes to say, "Flexibility is something that happens by accident when you do yoga." It's a good accident.

5) My weight is stable. Even though I'm in this incredibly stressful program, which would have led to excessive eating and weight gain in the past, that has not happened this time.

6) I'm still thinking about future races... focussing on what is possible, with time.

7) I have a really wonderful support network around me from bloggers, to friends and family, to medical and fitness professionals who help me get from one goal to the next, sometimes from one day to the next and even at times, from one moment to the next.

8) I really like the gym I go to. The staff there are wonderful and it's a good place to be.

9) I enjoy my training. Whether it's weights or cardio or yoga, this is a part of my day I look forward to. In fact, on rest days I often push away thoughts of going for "just a quick workout". I know I need to rest. But the joy I feel when I train is something I cherish.

This led to thoughts about what is going right in my life in general. These thoughts have occupied my mind and come rushing forth, one after another, like they're craving recognition. There are too many to cite there, but among them are the many good relationships I have in my life. Really, I am surrounded by quality people. If I'm in a bind, there's always someone there, ready to help. That's pretty wonderful.

I'm studying something I love and I have a fantastic supervisor to guide me along this path I'm on and help me through the rough spots. There is no question that it is hard. And there is no question that I love it.

I'm doing work I enjoy and that feels meaningful. Heck, when I was out of work and had no idea how I was going to make ends meet, I was seriously freaking out. I was floored when people started calling and wanting to meet, go for coffee or chat about possible work. I went from being completely unemployed with no prospects of work to having to make some choices about what would be best for my current situation. The result? I'm getting paid the same hourly rate I was before, with more flexibility and the potential for some international travel in the next few months. Really, life's pretty good.

I'm not saying that nothing's wrong. There are still lots of things that are far from perfect. But when I decided to experiment and instead of thinking about those things, start to think about all the things going right, the result was a remarkable reduction in my feelings of grumpiness, anxiety and not being good enough. They have been replaced by a feeling of joy that bubbles up somewhere from deep within and rises to the top of my soul in an effervescent lightness.

I don't know how long it will last. And I don't really care at this point. For now I'm going to enjoy it. Oh yeah, and the next time I freak out, you all have permission to remind me that I wrote this post.

"A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes." - Mohandas Ghandi.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Baby steps

Now that the cold has more or less subsided and my foot is getting better, I decided to try a few short runs this week. Nothing too taxing, just 20 minutes or so at a time, on the treadmill. I'll see what the doctor says about my foot next week. It does hurt a bit when I run, but not like before.

The goal now is to not let it get re-infected. Going too hard, too soon - which I am prone to do, could bring back that infection, so I have to be sensible.

Speaking of being sensible, I met with my Ph.D. supervisor yesterday. He was helpful and clear about keeping me on track. Grad students going off on tangents that lead no where is common. He has no intention of letting that happen to me. He said, "I want you on the job market by this time next year." And a few minutes later he said, "Start writing. You have enough to begin, at least."

OK, so now I have a goal. I like goals. I need them, actually. I felt relieved and re-focussed after we met. He's a really, really good supervisor and I know I'm lucky to have someone like that guiding me along.

I also finally told him about my foot, the infection, the cold and generally being a bit wiped out from it all (and hence less productive).

His response was, "You ran 32 kilometres with a hole in your foot? What program are you in again? Right, a Ph.D. Need I remind you that people who do PhDs are supposed to be reasonably smart?"

OK, OK, I guess I deserved that. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to do my first 20-miler with the an open, oozing wound on the sole of my foot. But we learn by doing, right?

And to answer Michelle's question, I think it was the wound created by the chemotherapy, not the wart itself, that was infected. This topical chemo kills everything in its path, coring out a hole deep into the flesh. Imagine a really corrosive cream that eats away at whatever it touches. It's like that. I applied it with a Q-tip, but even then, some healthy tissue surrounding the wart was killed off. It was this cored out little open wound that was affected.

Anyway, enough of all that.

I am feeling better overall. The foot is healing. My work is progressing.

And I still have my eye on that half marathon in April. It's all good.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

40 days and 40 nights

I'm sure there's something significant about the whole 40 days and 40 nights of going through some deeply challenging experience, but I can't remember what it is.... Hhhm...

Well folks, here we are... 40 days and 40 nights of no running. The infection, turned blood poisoning has been dealt with. The inflammation remains, but it's better than infection. The antibiotics did exactly what they were supposed to and killed any and all bacteria they found, including the good stuff. The flu then decided to invade for a while and that kept me flat on my back for most of the weekend.

I'm up and at 'er now though... sniffling and hacking away. Oh, it's lotsa fun, lemme tell you.

What I can say, with a certain amount of certainty is that if you think taper madness is real, then I can assure you that 40 days and 40 nights of no running brings all kinds of visions, hallucinations, depression and dark, lonely nights.

A quick recap of life in the non-running zone:

1) I did get clearance from the ethics board to conduct my research, only to contact a few people who want no part of any interviews for my project. They all think it's a great idea and would love to read the results, but no one wants to "go on the record", even anonymously. This kind of screws my project. I've been freaking out. My supervisor has been away so we have not talked. I'm fairly disheartened.

2) Due to the frustrations and feeling like I'm banging my head against the wall, I have seriously been asking myself, "Who the heck needs a Ph.D. anyway?" Have been fantasizing about walking away from this program. (Can't run; can still walk!)

3) Have been wondering what it would be like to have a "normal" life - go out with friends on a semi-regular basis, have a job, date... you know... everyday stuff. Instead, I bury my head in academic articles about stuff that doesn't seem to matter much. And for some reason, I think it's worth it to do this?

4) While thinking about #2 and #3, I've tossed the entire theoretical framework of my thesis. It just doesn't work. I'm trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And I'm failing. I have to find something new. In the academic realm, this is considered fairly "major stuff". I have yet to tell my supervisor about it.

5) Items 1-4 have me pretty much out of my mind. To compensate, I signed up to do a half marathon in April. (See race schedule side bar.) This is crazy. I'm haven't run in over a month. When will I run again? Who knows? Why did I sign up? I'm insane. Either that or I need to focus my hope on something - and this is it!

I miss running.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Non-running (Day 29)

Karen is one of those runners I admire because she can somehow manage to balance it all - family, work, life and running. Any time I talk to her she's easy going, relaxed, likes to laugh and always has an encouraging word for other runners. It's no wonder she's been hired to teach a Learn to Run course at a local running store.

After having heard all about my foot situation, she e-mailed me yesterday to say that she had a book to lend me. Today she made a special trip to the University to drop it off.

I was thinking, "I've read quite a few running books. I should probably ask her which one it is so she doesn't make a needless trip all the way over here."

But Karen was one step ahead of me. She knew this was a book that I would not have read. Even though she's been to my house and she's seen the book shelves that line an entire wall of my living room, with other books piled here and there, she knew this was not among them. And she was right.

She gave it to me today saying it would be a good ab work out. Again, she was right.

She brought me The Non-Runner's Book by Vic Ziegel and Lewis Grossberger. It has chapters such as "Non-running for beginners", "How to avoid the Boston marathon", "Staying out of shape", "How non-runners cope" (I'm rather curious about that topic), "How to talk to a runner" and "Sex and the single non-runner" (another chapter which has piqued my interest, I confess).

The book, of course, is all about NON-running. I mean, can you imagine such a thing??

It coaches people on how to kick back and relax and NOT run. In fact, it opens with the line "non-running is life itself".

When I read that I was positively gobsmacked.

But there's a practical side they assure the reader, commenting that "One of the best things about non-running is that it requires so little in the way of clothing and equipment, or 'stuff' as it is termed in non-running slang." (pp. 16-17).

This got me thinking... As a poor student who frets about her bills, but who wouldn't dream of buying a cheapo pair of running shoes, it seemed to make sense in a perverse, messed up kind of way.

And speaking of shoes, the authors make a point to say, "If a shoe sees you coming and runs away, you'll know it's a running shoe and not a non-running shoe. Let it go." (p. 17)

I thought about the last pair of non-running shoes I bought. They were replacement standard black mule-type things that I like to wear just about everywhere. The previous pair were two years old, and very, very ratty. I have many pairs of running shoes, but I really only have one pair of non-running shoes that I wear.

I have other non-running shoes, but I don't wear them much, usually because my feet are covered in blisters (or worse, as is the case now). The slip on mules are about the only thing my running feet can tolerate on a daily basis. This book made me wonder what it would be like to wear pretty shoes again.

Or even a pair of really sassy boots. Oooh! Now there's a thought I wouldn't have entertained before. I mean, clumsy as I am, I'm likely to fall over and twist my ankle, so I couldn't run. But if I were a non-runner, that wouldn't matter, now would it?

And they offer alternative activities. One of them is napping. I know that's not something runners really do much. But they have a point when they say, "Napping is one of the basic non-running activities. All you really need for it is a pair of eyes to close and a surface to plop your body onto. The best instrument for this purpose is a short, squat piece of equipment known as the couch." (p. 26)

That's about as far as I've gotten in the book so far. But I'll tell you, all these ideas have my brain a bit swirly.

I mean, I worked so hard to become a runner. I remember when I first started to call myself a runner. I wasn't really sure I was at first. Then I realized that yes, I am indeed a runner. I may be slow. I may not be all that fluid, but I really do have the obsessive, compulsive, goal-driven, neurotic type-A personality that runners have. I have all that AND infected plantars warts (which are healing quite nicely, thank you very much) and other foot and leg issues that only other runners are even remotely interested in knowing about.

I can't really imagine life as a non-runner, but there are actually people out there who non-run every day. I even know some of them. (My mind wanders to Bast, Young Cousin, C.M. and A., just to name a few.) And I like them as people; I really do. I mean, I think they're a bit odd for not wanting to run, but apart from that they're good, honest, smart, fun-loving types.

You'd better brace yourself for this next bit.

I ate a piece of chocolate cake today in honour of enjoying life as a non-runner. I know, to my running friends, this seems heinous. I can hear you gasping now. I mean, how on earth will I burn those calories off if I am not running?

Let me explain. All is not lost. I am still going to the gym. Today I spent half an hour going hard on the bike, followed a total of 30 full (men's) push-ups, 30 assisted pull-ups and 90 sit-ups, 60 leg-lifts and 30 side extensions. It's not as good as running of course, but if I have to live as a non-runner for a bit, then I'll have to transition into it slowly.

The authors caution about starting a life of non-running too fast saying, "Bad things can happen to wise guys who think they're such big shots they can just step out as fine as you please on their first day of non-running and go like a champ." (p. 9) I'll have to work into it slowly.

Between you and me, I can't really see myself as a non-runner on a long-term basis. (I mean, let's be realistic here, people.) But I have decided to take this opportunity to relate more fully to my non-running friends and get to understand this side of them. I promise not to run a mile (or even half a mile) in their mocassins. At least for a while.

Thanks Karen, for this truly wonderful ab workout. I am enjoying it thoroughly.

Time for a nap.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You gotta love her, warts and all

It's good to keep laughing when things go spinny. I went into my doctor today and when she asked how my foot was, I said (thinking of Eric), "Good news! It is still attached!"

I heard her telling the nurses later and they all got a good chuckle out of it. A few weeks ago I had joked with the same nurses, saying that I was bringing new meaning to the expression "to love someone warts and all". Not only did I have plantar's warts, they were infected.

The first infection came after my first long run on my birthday in November, a few weeks after the warts showed up.

I have little resistance to warts and waged a battle with them some 10 years ago when I was a Master's student. After 2 years of weekly (unsuccessful) liquid nitrogen treatments, my doctor (the same one I have now) sent me to see a dermatologist. He tried to burn them off with a laser. Twice. To no avail. He eventually prescribed a concoction consisting of Efudex (a chemotherapy) and salasylic acid. That stuff kills all living cells. And it finally worked.

So when I got this new batch of warts, I asked for more Efudex and I got it. I applied the stuff every day, and still went back for weekly liquid nitro treatments. After the first 18-miler in November, they got a bit infected. I used topical antibiotics and that took care of the infection. The warts remained, so I kept treating them.

On January 5, I did my first 20-miler. Within a few days the warts were infected again. I went back to the doctor. She prescribed more topical antibiotics and said that one really shouldn't do long runs with open sores on the bottom of the foot. The long runs compromise the immune system, as does the cold.

I said, "Sure thing, doc. Now can I please have some liquid nitrogen, too?" She grumbled, calling me a glutton for punishment, but hauled out the silver thermos full of cryotherapy and went to work.

That was on a Tuesday. By Friday, I was back in her office. She said, "Oh, I'm not happy. Not happy at all. Your foot is a mess." Not only did I have warts (infected warts, no less), the infection had spread quickly. I had red streaks coming out from it, heading towards my leg.

I learned that those red streaks are the beginning of blood poisoning. The streaks work themselves up your veins to the closest lymph nodes (in this case, the groin) and then you're in big trouble... hospitalized and on IV antibiotics.

She said, "You need a tetanus shot and you need it right now."

I was hauled into a treatment room where a nurse administered the needle. I left the office with a prescription for Novo-cloxin, a form of penicillin, more topical antibiotics, instructions on soaking my foot in epsom salts twice a day. She was vehement about two things. No more Efudex and absolutely, positively no more running; at least not until the infection is gone.

Hell, by that point walking was nasty, so I was OK with not running - at least for a day or two. I did say to the doctor, "All this from a couple of warts? Are you serious???"

She explained that the open wound left by the chemotherapy creates a vulnerable area. The pounding endured by the feet on a long run increases trauma to the area, leaving it incapable of fighting off tiny bacteria that enter through the wound. The result? An infection that spreads quickly and deeply through the tissue.

I joked with the doctor saying that after about 45 minutes into a run, the endorphins kick in and you don't really feel anything. That sent my normally calm Ironman-athlete-of-a-physician off onto a rant of a sort that I have never seen before. She said that it could become very serious very quickly. I was not to run. Period. No discussion.

The first round of penicillin (10 days) was effective in treating the streaks. They're gone now, thank God. After that I had to wait a week before starting a second round. We had hoped that the second round of antibiotics would kill the localized infection. We were wrong.

I've been gulping back pro-biotic yogurt and popping acidophilous like candy to help put some good bacteria back in my system. I've been stuffing myself with fresh veggies and fruit and eating so "clean" that even my yoga teacher would be impressed. I've had lights out every night at 10:00 p.m. And I've been following the treatment plan that includes no running, twice daily foot soaks and the topical and oral antibiotics. This has been effective only in preventing the infection from worsening, but it remains swollen, red (sometimes purple) and oozy. Doesn't that just sound yummy?

The doctor said today that after two rounds of penicillin she would have expected it to be cleared up, adding, "I just can't keep you on antibiotics. If we do, you'll start to get other things... like a bowel infection. We're not going there."

I feel a little tired and worn out, but I guess that's to be expected after all this agressive treatment. Of course, I try desperately not to show any of this, gritting my teeth as I walk anywhere, greeting people with friendly hellos and generally ignoring the reality that my body is trying valiantly to fight an infection I wish it didn't have.

Today the doctor had the nurses call the same dermatologist I saw a decade ago and get me a referral as an emergency case. We got an appointment for May 4. She was wonderful and said, "Do they not understand the word emergency?" She had the nurses call back and say that I needed an appointment sooner. The next date was February 22nd. My doctor said, "Still not good enough. She needs to go this week. She can't walk!"

I think she is worried about the blood poisoning returning. It came on very quickly the first time and now my immune system is pretty much maxed out. Well, I think I'd better bring the dermatologist some take-out, because they've booked me in during his lunch hour tomorrow. Bless my physician's heart for pushing the issue.

So, here we are... Day 26 of no running. I've lost pretty much 4 weeks of training. The idea of doing my first marathon in May is now a distant memory. Hell, the idea of running is almost a distant memory. I go to the gym and ride the bike and do some yoga...maybe lift some weights, if it doesn't involve being on my feet. I've been too mortified to say anything to anyone... I feel like such a wimp. I also feel like I've let down all the people who have been helping me towards this marathon goal - especially myself.

And let's face it - you really can't blame a girl for being in denial about having infected warts, now, can you? I mean, think about it... With Valentine's Day approaching, I contemplate the following personal ad, "Somewhat geeky and anxious, slightly obsessed, neurotic runner with infected plantar's warts seeks soul mate. Claims to enjoy activities that are as much fun as you can have with your boots (or running shoes) on."

And I wonder why they're not lined up at the door with bunches of roses in hand? I mean, really!!