"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Run on a Treadmill... it's Patriotic

I've blogged before about altitude houses and altitude tents - a normobaric (normal pressure) environment but reduced with oxygen (hypoxic). It's a method that tries to simulate the effects to blood (and the oxygen carrying capacity of blood) that comes from really being at altitude. These effects can be beneficial to athletes. However, research isn't all that positive towards hypoxic as a replacement for hypobaric conditions.

There's currently a study happening in Perth where they are looking at what happens to iron levels in athletes who train in hypoxic conditions. This is important for our Aussie athletes, particularly, who can't go train at 3,000 metres within this relatively low-lying country. The Australian Institute of Sport puts top Aussie athletes in a hypoxic setting that reduces their oxygen to try to simulate what you get at 3,000 metres.

So, you, dear "endurance runner" can quite possibly help our Australian athletes and maybe even yourself, by participating if you're in Perth. The research study is investigating short bouts of hypoxic exercise on iron levels in the blood. You must be a runner (not cyclist-only), and can be in track, tri, trail and/or ultra. You must be 18-40 years old. You can possibly have a history of iron deficiency - talk to the researcher about this. You must be training at least 6x/wk and do interval-type work as part of your training. It involves 4 sessions at UWA with blood drawn (time to be tough!). You'll get your VO2max out of it and your iron levels. And the glory of helping advance science. Maybe that next Olympic athlete will be thanking you for what you helped discover ;) I'll warn you now, though, VO2max testing is NOT sexy! You will foam at the mouth, sweat more than any interval session you've ever done, and will feel like a beaten dog by the time you're done. After that, every time you do an interval session, you'll be grateful that you don't have to do it with a nose plug and a tube shoved in your mouth! In short, it's an experience not to be missed! :)

You can reach the researcher, Andrew Govus, at a.govus@ecu.edu.au.

Spread the word.

And tell him to let me come and play. I'm apparently too old :)

Adjunct or Essential?

Running. It's all about the running.
Ice cup massage, ahhhh!

Or is it? Or should it be? More and more these days I'm noting all these "non-running" things I'm doing that seem rather important to my running success.

In no specific order, here are some things I'm seeing as more essential than adjunct.

(1) Ice Cup Massage - paper cup of frozen water, peeled back bit by bit, actively icing whilst massaging. Has seemed particularly good for periostitis (shin splints), done after every run at a minimum. Done three times a day is probably better, particularly for nagging things like little tendons around the feet and ankles. Frozen water bottle rolled under my foot was incredible for the "Bib foot" issues and to help recovery after foot massages.

(2) Compression - calf guards and quad guards for the tired legs, whilst running or afterwards. To avoid over-use problems with the guards, like irritating a tendon around the ankle such as the peroneals or achilles, one can also use full socks. They don't have a 'compression' point like sleeves do if you're wearing them to the max on high training volumes. I have also found my periostitis shins like the full socks but didn't like the calf guards. As the physio says, "if it feels good, it's probably helping." Simple advice that makes sense :)

New yoga pose? The Resting Hedgehog?
(3) Needling - The first time I was ever needled was out of absolute desperation, one day before a race, when I was in utter agony over weeks of tight calves that got so I couldn't run 3k pain free. I really, really, didn't want to be needled, but I was that desperate. The day after that physio treatment, I ran 75k with no calf issues. Needling with the physio has continued to be useful, and just a few days ago I was made into a particularly cute hedgehog :) Or is it echidna now that I'm Aussie? I still prefer not to look when she puts the needles in!

Sports chiro - not just cracking backs
(4) Sports Chiro - So many people misunderstand what sports chiropractors do. I did, as well. I thought a chiro just "cracked backs," the sound of air popping between cartilage - not really doing anything clinically, but making a good noise. My first trip to a chiropractor when I was in my 20s in Canada did nothing to help get rid of the stereotype that it was quackery. He told me I had a leg length discrepancy (some people do, but I didn't - it turned out I had a tight hip rotating the leg up). He told me I should never carry heavy things, thought I might need a lift in one shoe, strapped me to some electric device and left the room for 20 minutes. None of it was workable solutions. I was a nanny - carrying small children was a day-to-day occurrence. I went to my GP who told me (in quite kind words) that I was getting overweight and out of shape and needed to go do some sit-ups. He was right. Years later, out of desperation again (another issue - I hadn't just given up on the core work!) I tried another chiropractor and she was awesome. It totally changed my view. Moving to WA, I was lucky to just "stumble" upon Jon Tan, who happened to be local in my area. He works with the state footy team and is a body builder type. When I see him, there's a lot he does that looks just like what my physio might do - checking hip movement and strength, the knees and popliteus, along with the back and neck. I run so much smoother at speed after his trigger point work. Thumbs of steel, just like my massage therapist!

Upper body needs strength for endurance running, too!
(5) Yoga - Here's another one I thought belonged in the "flaky" pile. Then about a year ago I was running with a mate - one who might even be said to be a "bloke's bloke.". No risk of low testosterone in him. And towards the end of the 30k hill run in 30 degree heat he says he's going to yoga that afternoon. Well, that floored me. So, I tagged along. And I met this German woman who uses all those crazy terms like "utacambasa position" and "vajra warrior number 3 position" (I still just look to see what others are doing), but she also uses words I DO know, like "hip flexors" and "rectus femoris" and "trapezius." We stretch and strengthen for 90 minute sessions. Awesome for my back, hips, and hammies, particularly.

Of course, there are more...like dark chocolate ;)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This is Not ... a Stress Fracture!

I was ready for it on Monday when I met the sports doc. I had already pictured 4 weeks of pool running. It was going to be a new challenge. There's no point in railing against the "injustice" of an injury. It's not something that's out to get me - it's my body telling me it needs something I'm not giving it. We're a team and I'm not meeting one end of the bargain. If I'm injured, it's very likely because I'm too much take and too little give.
This is NOT pool running!

Though I was extremely frustrated with the possibility that I could have a stressie due to being an undiagnosed coeliac and not absorbing calcium and other minerals/nutrients. In that case, I wasn't intentionally denying my body what it needed.

But, back to the doc visit. We're still calling this periostitis. But we need to do several things and I'm doing them all, quite seriously.

  • Massage 1-2 x per week
  • Physio with needling 1 x per week
  • Sports chiro biweekly
  • Ice massages at least once a day - after every run for sure
  • Mentally stop fixating on the shins. The more I fixate and the more people ask me, "How are your shins?" whilst I'm running, the more I create a psychosomatic condition. I need to run and let the shins take care of themselves. If there's a stressie, it will scream out.

Calves after shins, just some "bonus" needling ;)
The result so far? Massive improvement! I even hit the track on Tuesday night, as per my program (immediately after being needled, which I was a little tentative about). And despite it being 32 degrees at 6 PM (really, it was one of those brutal nights), I set a 3 second PB :) The reason why? Well, there may be a few (including my new favourite Inov-8 shoes), but I really think it was watching an Australian M80 1,500 metre record being broken in the race just before mine. David Carr broke his own Australian M80 1,500 mtr record by something like 17 seconds, running 5min55s, I believe. Another 7 seconds and he'll have the World Record, too. Keeping in mind it was a 32 degree night and the guy was running out on his own - no pack to draft behind or crowds of thousands cheering or anything. Stunningly motivating. I was so honoured to be there, I just didn't even know what to say to the man. I was like a nervous kid with a superhero.

So, full steam ahead towards Coburg 6hr race in about 3 weeks. I might even book a flight now :)

I received the call about a week ago to tell me that I'd been accepted to the Australian 24hr team to go to the IAU World 24hr Championships in the Netherlands in May. It's an honour to be accepted after all the hard work over the past few years with training and lifestyle commitments. But it does come with a cost. There's the monetary cost, of course, because Athletics Australia doesn't fund ultra running (in a way, I'm glad, as I don't see the takeover of our sport by the "sub-ultra" business as likely to be a good thing). AURA, the ultra runners' association, is able to provide a tiny bit towards the flight (and more if you race well!). Then there's the mental cost. It means I'm not running for Canada, the place of my roots. International living has its advantages and I've been fortunate to spread my "branches" out to Australia. But it's rather bitter sweet.

David Carr, enroute to a new AUS record
Brutal strength training continues - I can't say yet what it'll do to my 6hr and 24hr form, but I can see new muscles everywhere and I definitely run more upright now (less ultra runner shuffle). Psychologically, I think it's very good for me, as I bloody well hate it. That's why it's called brutal training. It's hard and punishing and towards the end of the session I am typically laying in a pool of my own sweat, with matted wet hair, feeling like a shell of myself. I figure if I'm going through this, then I sure as hell am going to run hard at the 6hr and 24hr! No way I'm doing brutal training for nothing! And have you seen Ellie Greenwood's legs lately?!? Geez, I've still got a way to go!

Other PB last week I should mention - 6 vials of blood taken! Genetics testing for coeliac (no more gluten eating necessary, hooray), B12, folate, metabolic calcium absorption study, and carotene (she didn't like my orange hands - I love carrots, we better not be taking my carrots away!). Did you know that when you get blood drawn for carotene they have to wrap the vial in foil before drawing it so the light doesn't affect it? Cool. I hate blood work, but at least if I learn something new, there's a plus side. Results next week.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This is Not

Going through a tough time once, a special Buddhist teacher taught me the phrase "This is not mine; this I am not; this is not my soul (self)"

Indian Ocean at Perth
I found myself down at the beach the other night, alone, calmly watching the water, the dogs and their owners, and the setting sun and suddenly that phrase came into my mind. I had just finished having a lower leg bone scan.

Considering some of my current, ongoing, lingering, and new health issues and my obsession with running, it's really no surprise that such a phrase would come back to mind.

But backing up...I went for another iron test a week ago. Despite having what some would call an obsession with healthy eating (I know about things like cruciferous vegetable and the iron content of almonds and the GI of potatoes), and taking a mega-dose iron pill every day, my ferritin is still low.

This is not mine. This I am not. This is not my soul.

Good news, haemoglobin is still up, so not anaemic again...yet!

Event traffic controller class this weekend - I'm a certified lollipop holder!
My sports doctor queried coeliac disease back in late November and I went off gluten. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects 1/100 Australians and 75% don't even know they have it. Environmental factors can trigger it at any point in life (though you still might not know you have it). Now, I'm back on gluten because apparently you have to see some inflammatory marker to detect it when they do the blood test. Day 2 came and I thought I was pregnant with my distended "wheat belly."

This is not mine. This I am not. This is not my soul.

My periostitis worsened after last weekend, such that we decided to get a scan on Wednesday (another needle, yay, only with bonus radioactive dye!). It said that I have "anterior cortical reactions" (maybe there's a stress fracture).

This is not mine. This I am not. This is not my soul.

A quick search of the literature (naturally!) revealed that signs of stress reactions are found in up to 50% of asymptomatic runners who never go on to get symptoms (e.g., Bergman et al 2004 Vol 183 Asymptomatic Tibial Stress Reactions: MRI Detection and Clinical Follow-Up in Distance Runners). After all, bone is continually remodelling all the time. It's like my sports doc says...you scan/image things as a last resort often because you're always going to find things...in my case, I'm an ultra runner, in middle age. There will be "stuff." So then it's a case of trying to weed out the relevant stuff, if there even is any.

New racers! Okay, maybe these are mine ;)
But this got me thinking...what if I am coeliac (which destroys your villi in your bowel, causing malabsorption of nutrients). Well, that would explain why I can't get my iron stores up without massive doses. What about these supposed stress reactions when I'm so very good about my diet, training (taking running breaks usually at least twice per year), and gradual load increases? What if I'm not absorbing nutrients? Gee, calcium is a nutrient.

This is not mine. This I am not. This is not my soul.

Time to mega-dose on calcium. But, wait! Calcium inhibits the absorption of iron (so no more cheeseburgers for you, dear reader!). That means I have to time my pills so that I don't have any near morning tea (tannins also inhibit absorption), and not near each other. Yikes, how complicated!

This is not mine. This I am not. This is not my soul.

Next week I will see the sports doc to discuss the scan results and next steps. For me, query MRI, query bone density test, query nutrients like calcium, query coeliac.

How many runners with a history of stress fractures could be coeliac and have malabsorption issues? 1 in 100? Maybe in the end, this won't be my story, but it's got me telling a lot of people to get blood work done. Regularly, if you do what we do.