Friday, September 9, 2011

Home Stretch

This is an incredibly busy (though exciting) time in my life.  The dissertation is almost out the door.  My kids are growing and thriving.  I love my husband.  Running is going (mostly) well.  Hence the lack of blogging.

But let's catch up.  The Chicago Marathon is a mere four weeks away, which means I have only one week of actual training left.  Then I enter Taper Town.  If you're not familiar with marathons or marathon training, taper is what it sounds like--a reduction in mileage.  The point of training is to build up to a peak mileage/intensity, then back off so as to let your legs recover for the race.  It should also leave you feeling fresh on race day.  In other words, you're supposed to beat your legs to a pulp leading up to taper, then let them heal for the race, at which point they should be able to carry you 26.2 miles at race pace.

Runners are notorious for despising taper.  As much as we complain about tired legs during peak training...take that away from us?  We're crabby.  It actually makes us crabby and crazy.  Hence the common term "taper madness."  Taper (for me, at least) is three weeks long.  Throughout this time, my mileage goes down, down, down.  I will have a lot of free time on my hands.  I will also experience taperitis--new pains that pop up everywhere during taper.  It occurs because the body is in recovery mode, but to a psychologically-dependent runner...we're certain it's disaster.

I'm actually looking forward to taper.  I am so busy with work and school, and I've got some issues that I need to "taper out."  I have talked about my chronic hip/quad/butt/leg issues this cycle.  In my right leg, it started with hip flexor tendonitis in May.  That went away, but came back soon after...and brought piriformis pain with it.  Penny worked on those and they went away again.  Then they came back, and brought with them some weird quad pain (which I couldn't seem to stretch out).  That led to a bone scan regarding Dr. W's fear of a femoral stress fracture (negative, thank goodness).  So I was free to run and keep getting Graston.  But the pain in my right leg has been changing, and now it's spread to my left.  I knew that I had strained anything (it just felt different), so I went in to see Dr. W yesterday.

I told him that my right leg just feels weird...weak at times, and it hurts to sit.  And I now have some pain radiating down my left hamstring.  Subtle, but there. On top of all that, I have this pain also in my "crotch," for lack of a better word.  For those women who've had feels like the pressure you have when your baby has dropped and you're about to deliver.  I had been told by my friend, Mark Bowder, a long time ago that my leg pain was probably nerve-related, but I thought he was wrong.  But, as usual, Mark was right.

Dr. W determined that I have a trapped nerve/disc issue at level L5/S1.  Basically, that means a trapped nerve in my lower back.  That nerve turns into the sciatic nerve in the legs, and that is what is hurting me.  How did this happen?  Well, he couldn't explain it.  But Penny said it's due to my weak core...which I'm sure is the case because, since having Rowan, I've done zilch with my core.

Dr. W prescribed a prednisone pack, which I started today...the point of which is to relieve some of the inflammation around the nerve.  I'm also hoping it will help with my hip pain (which is actually a result of a strain/tendonitis).  And I'm getting more PT--but not Graston.  I'm getting something called traction.  I've never had it before.  Of course, as a nurse, I know what traction is for orthopedic patients.  But for sports medicine?

I saw Penny yesterday for my first round of traction.  She put me in this really weird "suit"...more like a vest and something around my waist.  It looked like armor.  Then she had my lie down on a table with my legs raised above my hips onto a stool.  My upper body was secured to the table.  She connected me to a machine at the end of the bed, and the machine pulled on my legs.  It didn't hurt at all.  The point is to relieve the pressure on the pinched nerve.

I didn't notice immediate effects, but I feel a bit better this morning.  However, as I sit here, I can feel the pain in my butt and between my legs, as well as on the side of my right leg.  I'm hopeful that the traction and steroids will take care of it.  If they don't, I'll have to have an MRI and then an epidural steroid injection.  I told Dr. W that, if that's necessary, it's got to be done before Chicago.

He also told me I should probably not run for two weeks.  To which I laughed.  I'm too close to Chicago.  Am I uncomfortable when I run?  Yes.  Do my legs feel tired and weak?  Yes.  But, according to him, I'm not doing anymore damage to myself...but I'm delaying the recovery.  That's fine, because after Chicago I'm not running for several weeks.  It can all heal then.

So that was a long-winded explanation of tapering something out--I'm hoping the reduced load on my legs (and back, apparently) will help with this.  And Penny can work her magic.  If I had a lot of money I would hire her as my personal PT, and I'd pay her like $500,000 a year to just work on me every single day.  I've seen a LOT of PTs.  Penny is the best in this area.  She has never given me that talk about how I should bike or swim instead of run.  Her goal is to keep me running.

The other reason I'm looking forward to taper?  It happens to coincide with the busiest time of my life in terms of school--getting the dissertation perfected, printed, and shipped to my committee.  This will take a lot of time and will keep me busy.  I met with my advisor this morning, and I have the green light to finish my final chapter of the dissertation.  This has been such an arduous process that I can't imagine it being done...but it almost is.  After I turn it in on Sept. 26, I won't know what to do with myself...and I won't even be able to run much!

As I'm preparing for my graduation from the doctoral program, I look back and realize that I have been in school a long time.  It is a rough way to go in some ways, but I'm thrilled with what I've accomplished and what I think I'll be able to add to the scientific literature during my career.  And I'm going to have my own office at IU.  Sometimes, when I've been in a dark place trying to manage school, family, and running, I kept myself going by fantasizing about decorating my office when I got my first job as an assistant professor.  I'd step away from whatever I was trying to write, and I'd think about what I'm going to put on the walls--pictures of my kids, pictures of me and my husband running, my diplomas, my favorite Bible verses.  And I want a couch in there, too.  And some candles.  I can picture the half-written grants and manuscripts on my desk.  And it makes me push on.

That may seem silly, but in my mind it signifies what I've been working toward for many, many years.  I never wanted to a PhD to prove how smart or brilliant I am (my blog does that all on its own...kidding :) ).  It's just the only way to get to do what I want to do.  It's not easy to become a scientist...they change your whole brain around, but for the better.  And now I can do things that are utterly satisfying and helpful to this society.  That seems grandiose, but it's true.  And I get to teach, which I absolutely love.  I'm almost there...home feels like mile 22 of a marathon.

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