After my second surgery in June, I eased back into activity but did not truly return to structured training until mid-August when we returned from our trip to Washington State. At that point, with the blessing of my coach and 100% clearance from my surgeons, I decided to work towards two fall races: Ironman NC 70.3 (Oct 13, later cancelled due to hurricane Florence) and the Richmond Half Marathon (Nov 10). I knew the 70.3 would be a stretch after having missed 2 months of bike training over the summer, but also reasonable with my only goal being to participate, finish, and have fun rebuilding fitness in the process. I set to work training for that race and, let me say, it was such an amazing feeling to be back in action and have a specific goal to work towards again.
During a standard progressive run in early September, I noticed an all-too familiar sensation in my right leg that caused me to abort my workout and left a bad taste in my mouth. As I progressed through the run, my right foot went numb and my right leg felt weak and unresponsive to my desire to push the pace. I finished the run in disbelief and thought, “certainly I must be crazy.” Fast forward two months: I continue to experience similar issues in my right leg as I did this past spring, except we have no idea why. Going through the process of finding answers again has been complicated, frustrating and stressful. It's been a process of ruling out every possibility, which has included lumbar/nerve issues, and more recently, being tested for compartment syndrome (ouch). I have been in physical therapy for 2 months for general strength and conditioning and to correct some left-right leg strength discrepancies (not helping to resolve my issue, but keeping me healthy otherwise and giving me something productive to focus on). My coach has been critical in helping me to strike a balance between maintaining a sense of normalcy in training, continuing to build fitness where capable, and minimizing frustrations associated with my leg. The good news is I have a solid understanding of what I'm dealing with so I know how to adapt.
About a month after my leg issues returned, I decided that I missed my long runs. Despite the fact that I was struggling through most runs, I wasn't ready to give up on them. I figured if I sought out flatter terrain and incorporated in regular walking breaks, then my leg might fair ok. I will be honest and say that first long run was liberating, but disconcerting considering how much numbness and weakness I dealt with despite the EASY pace, walk breaks, and minimal elevation change. I kept running anyway, partially because of my stubborn nature but mostly because I was tired of this condition from preventing me from doing what I enjoy. In saying that let me make one thing clear: every health professional I have consulted has cleared me to continue to train as tolerated, and that is what I have been doing. Staying in tune with my body has been critical to the process.
A few weeks later, I had another long run on the schedule. This time I put on my smarty pants and elicited the help of a well-known ergogenic aid: beet juice. As a sports dietitian I know that beet juice is a natural vasodilator, meaning it relaxes your blood vessels to allow greater oxygen delivery to the muscles. In theory, IF my issues were as I thought, the beet juice would make a difference in my symptoms. Not only has it been helpful, it has been my saving grace and a source of sanity. For the past month or so, I have been drinking beet juice prior to my run and bike workouts. While it has not magically cured my issues, it has made my symptoms more tolerable while increasing my general capacity to continue training.
In mid-November, I made a somewhat last-minute decision to run the Richmond Half Marathon (we were already planning on being there since my hubby was leading the 3:05 marathon pace group). I originally write this off with the return of my leg issues, but ultimately signed up because I wanted to be out there and honestly, the thought of watching yet another race from the sidelines made me cringe. Being chronically sidelined changes your perspective in a lot of ways. I didn’t care about whether I was fully “prepared” (my run mileage has been minimal - maybe 12 miles/week) or how long it would take me. I have rebuilt a solid aerobic base from cycling and figured worst case scenario I could walk. The best part about Richmond was going in with zero expectations other participating in a sport that I enjoy despite my current limitations. Sharing the miles with a friend made it all the more special (thanks Tanya!). I was and still am thankful for the opportunity to run and the aerobic fitness to cover the miles.
The next step is to have an intra-vascular ultrasound (IVUS) and angiogram next week, the same procedure that ultimately diagnosed and pinpointed my endofibrosis issues this past April. I honestly have no idea what to expect. That being said, this has been and continues to be an interesting season. On one hand, I have have found a way to highly engage in my training and rebuild a solid base of fitness despite my limitations (yay!). I have stayed true to my desire to spent lots of quality time on my bike this fall and am currently swimming better than I have in several years (possibly ever!) On the other hand, I have this leg issue once again hanging over my head, an issue that was supposed to be long behind me, which has added a lot of stress and uncertainty to the process. On one hand I am highly motivated, focused on making the most of that which I can do, and am looking forward to the 2019 season. On the other hand, it’s difficult to plan or emotionally invest myself into a process without knowing how or when I will return to full leg health. This season has cultivated a greater sense of gratitude for each and every workout knowing that the next one is not guaranteed. I am learning that endurance is continuing to have faith in the process and "show up" even when things are not going according to plan and results don't reflect efforts. It's taking the cards you've been given and playing them to the best of your ability. Finding, or sometimes even making your own silver lining. Cultivating strength and the willingness to continue when you feel like you're completely tapped out. It’s been a difficult and at times very frustrating process getting back to full health, but I have no choice but to move forward in full confidence that I will get there. I’m thankful for all those that have supported me through this roller coaster of a year: my wonderful husband, coach, surgeons, PT, family, friends and others. A solid support system (and A LOT of prayer) has certainly been key to keeping my head together this past year. This season has not been about chasing big goals - although they are still there patiently waiting their turn - but pursuing full health so I continue in the sport that I love. In the end I know it will 100% be worth all the effort.
“Sometimes endurance isn’t defined by success, but is composed of failures...When it feels as if you are constantly losing and everything good is slipping away, it’s difficult to muster the strength to keep trying again and again. But endurance is the ability to continue despite past results and with disregard for future outcomes.”
- Jennifer Pharr Davis, The Pursuit of Endurance
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
The Pursuit of Endurance
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The Power of Positive Psychology
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