Year in Cities 2014

I can’t say 2014 was my favorite year. I can’t say it was a year where things worked out the way I wanted them to. I can’t say it’s one I’ll treasure or reflect on with great fondness.

But. Here’s what I CAN say about 2014:

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I got the opportunity to travel to see friends as they grew into new phases of their lives — be that marrying their best friends, parenting new babies, or becoming Ironmen.

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I ate wonderful food in favorite cities — Portland, Pittsburgh — and discovered a surprising fondness for Phoenix and Atlanta. I drank wonderful beer. I sat in hammocks and swam in rivers and saw unbelievable landscapes from the windows of airplanes.

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And, in the end, I can’t complain about a year with all of that.

Year in Cities 2014

Santa Rosa, CA
Sonoma, CA
Monte Rio, CA
Bradley, CA*
San Francisco, CA*
Aptos, CA
Chico, CA

Phoenix, AZ
Atlanta, GA
Miami, FL*
Chicago, IL*
Kalamazoo, MI
Frankfort, MI
Portland, OR
Indiana, PA
Pittsburgh, PA

A plane somewhere over the United States*

About Year in Cities: All listed cities are those in which I spent at least one night between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2014, with * denoting those cities in which I spent multiple non-consecutive nights. 2009 here, 2010 here, 2011 here, 2012 here, 2013 here. This is all Lydia‘s fault, via long-ago Kottke, and I thank her for bringing it to my attention.

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Spectating Ironman Arizona

Right around the time Michaela signed up for Ironman Arizona last year, I started threatening to show up. In fact, I remember paging a year ahead on my calendar and filling in Ironman weekend with “Go to Arizona?” All year it sat there, and as the months passed, that question mark became more of an exclamation point. Michaela was going to be an Ironman, and I was going to watch.

Any trip that long in the making is sure to go through a bunch of changes, but this one was fairly ridiculous. For a while, a friend was planning to register for 2015, so we all signed up to volunteer together. Then, I discovered that Phoenix and Tempe are basically the same city — not in wildly different parts of AZ as I’d thought — and we’ve got good friends in Phoenix, so Pete said he’d come along since we could crash with them. Then Pete had to travel for work, my friend decided not to do an Ironman, so it was just me. Then another friend appeared, and we briefly dreamed of going to New Mexico together before she chose a beachfront yoga retreat over me. (I do not blame her one bit.) Then I got really angry at my dumb foot and almost cancelled the whole shebang because I wasn’t really in the mood to hang around an endurance event feeling sorry for myself.

But how many times do you get to see your friend become an Ironman? And how many times do you get to see a new city through the eyes of friends you don’t see enough as it is? So I sucked it up and booked my ticket, and I am so glad I went.

I got in late Friday night and caught up with my friends in Phoenix over frozen pizza and beer — already exactly what I needed. Saturday morning I headed into Tempe for the volunteer meeting, where I met up with Layla and managed to run smack into Michaela and Arvan just as they finished their practice swim.

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(I’ve hung out with Arvan a total of maybe four times now, and each time we end up in a picture sort of like that one. Below, a case in point.)

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While the racers dropped off their gear bags and bikes, Layla and I wandered around the Ironman village, spotting some faintly disturbing things …

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And then we headed out to Scottsdale for an afternoon of sports-watching, chip-eating, and obsessive spectator-strategizing.

Back in Phoenix that night, my friends took me for beers on the patio at Angels Trumpet — which I put in the top 5 of beer bars I have ever visited, and um, it’s a long list — and dinner at the adorable Tuck Shop. And because mostly what I do is eat, we started the next day at Phoenix Public Market with an incredible egg sandwich, cold-brewed iced coffee, and a patio. Yes, that’s two out of three meals eaten on patios.

Oh, and at that point, my racing friends had already been racing for about six hours. Kinda puts things in perspective.

I made it into Tempe just in time to see Arvan come through for his final loop of the bike course. It was a windy day, and my athlete tracker was showing everyone going slow on the “out” and incredibly fast on the “back” of the course — like 9 mph for the out, 28 mph for the return. (An unsolicited plug for IMTrackr, the app I used, which had one big advantage: it showed total race time at every checkpoint, which we could convert to time of day.) Michaela came through maybe 20 minutes later, and I think she tried to tell us something about being stressed about the cutoff, but we cheered so loud we couldn’t hear her. I stayed on the curb long enough to see Katie-from-the-Internet and Paul-from-my-first-triathlon-group finish their rides, and then I started the hike out to my volunteer post.

I was at the first aid station on the run course between 4 and 8 p.m., which turned out to be a pretty fascinating window of time. All the winners and pros and super-crazy-fast people were almost done with their races, but there were plenty of age-groupers finishing their first run loop and heading out for their second, plus all the people just entering the run course. I gave out sets of clapping hands to my fellow volunteers and settled into my spot on the line. I barely missed seeing a speedy GGTC friend come through but then in short order spotted Tami, Arvan, and Michaela. I shouted something at Katie’s ass and figured out the racer in the cute Coeur kit was Heidi just in the split-second required to yell something awkward. I somehow missed Paul coming through and was selfishly bummed out about it until I realized it meant he was running strong enough that he didn’t need to stop for Red Bull.

Right: My job at the aid station was to hand out Red Bull. More specifically, it was to shout out “RED BULL!!!!!” for four hours while 90% of racers looked at me like I was a crazy person and 10% gratefully swarmed me like I was handing out vials of pure life force.

After about 6 p.m., the crowd slowed down a bit. Everyone who was going to finish that day was running by then, and the volunteers were just trying to stay warm and happy and encouraging. It was chilly — by the end of my shift, I was wearing legwarmers, two sweatshirts, and gloves — and there started to be a divide between the runners who’d put warm gear in their special needs bags and those who hadn’t but wished they had. Our aid station didn’t have any of the warm things (no space blankets, no broth), and I hope everyone who came by asking for them found them before too many more miles had passed.

I’ve volunteered at 70.3s before, and I’ve always taken a late shift, so I know what it’s like to see racers come through toward the back of the pack at the end of a long day — but Ironman was a whole different thing. Most people looked fine, tired but moving along according to plan. Some people looked really good, like tearing-through-the-field good. And some people looked truly not good. There was this weird dead-eyed look that some people had, this just-get-me-to-the-finish-line-now-oh-my-god look, and it was haunting. I always clapped my clapping hands a little harder for those folks, and I hope it helped, though I imagine they actually wanted to grab the clappers and crack them over my skull.

Just as Michaela came through the second time — and I got to say “you’re doing some massive volume today” like I’d been plotting for literally two hours — my shift was done. I walked back toward the finish line with racers heading to the finish on my right and those starting their second loop on my left, and in that space between aid stations, it was quiet. There was the crunch of gravel for those heading in on the path, and the occasional brief snippet of conversation, and the beeps of Garmins for pace and time and distance. But there was no cheering crowd, no music, no distraction — just dark. I clapped the clapping hands a few times but honestly, it felt more eerie to break the silence than to just be in it.

Back in Tempe, I thawed out at a Starbucks with Layla and the rest of the Michaela/Arvan cheer squad. Everyone around us had either just finished racing or was waiting for someone out on the course, so there was a lot of “SHE’S AT MILE 18!” and “HE JUST HIT 23!” chatter. Just after 9:30, we headed to the finish line, and mere minutes after we claimed a sweet vantage point in the last quarter-mile of the chute, Tami came through. Then, not too far behind, Arvan.

Then, for a while, I just watched the stream of strangers. But they didn’t feel as much like strangers now that I’d seen them all at the aid station. There was Nebraska woman, Coeur woman (holy crap! the internet found Coeur woman for me!), guy who chugged a Red Bull, guy who left his special needs Cheetos at the aid station for the volunteers to share, woman with the brightest neon calf sleeves, woman whose makeup somehow still looked impeccable, guy in the Mountain Hardwear snowsuit with an ice axe. I’m sure they had no idea I even existed, but I remembered them, and I clapped the clapping hands and teared up every time I saw one of them tear up realizing what they were about to do. I think it was a PR in crying (and that’s saying something).

Then, out of the darkness, Michaela came into the chute. When I realized it was her, I was definitely ugly-crying. She’s an Ironman. Holy hell.

Because of how things shook out after Michaela came through, it made sense to wait through the midnight finish. So we made our way further into the chute, near the jumbotron, and we waited and watched and cheered for the final 20 or so finishers. Every so often, there would be an update about racers on the course — the last one was three miles away, then 2.5, then 2. And the remaining time was getting shorter and shorter — though because the finish line clock had stopped at some point, nobody in the chute seemed to know exactly when the race would end. It was exciting, sure, but it was also stressful.

And — well, this is the one part of the weekend that was a lot different than I was expecting. I’d heard so much about midnight finish, how inspiring and amazing it is. That was not exactly my experience. Some people looked thrilled and happy and strong. But some were really struggling. Some were wobbling and weaving in a way that made me say not “this is so inspirational” but ”holy shit, nobody should ever, ever do this.” Because of the finish clock glitch, there seemed to be a moment when it wasn’t clear if the last finisher was a “real” finisher or not, and all I could think about was how horrible that would be, to be standing there as the time ticked from 12:05 to 12:06 while you stood waiting to make sure you really were an Ironman. And when it was over, it was well and truly over — within one minute, the music was off, the giant screen was gone, the Ironman banners were coming off the finish line arch, and the barriers were knocked down and stacked in the street. It was this crazy, amped-up, fraught moment, and then it was gone.

People have asked me since I came back if being in Arizona made me want to do an Ironman, and I can honestly say “hell no, it did not.” I have a greater respect now for what it means — what it really looks like, up close — to take on that distance, and instead of getting fired up, I wanted to retreat. Given the state of my foot, this is probably a blessing in disguise, but it’s still … uneasy. I’ve said before that I thought, sure, probably I’d do an Ironman some day. Now — even if that becomes physically possible for me — I’d have to want it on a whole different level. I suppose I’m glad to have learned that lesson now.

But — I want to be clear: I am so happy for my friends, and I am so grateful that I got to be there for a small snippet of their adventures. It was an amazing, overwhelming, astonishing thing to see.

Things that Are Not Running

Because, you know, LOL.

This week, I wrapped up a big work project. I don’t write much about work on here, but while I generally enjoy my job, I loved this project. Like big-puffy-heart adored (almost) every minute of it for the past three and a half months. It was the kind of project I hoped I’d do when I joined my company three years ago, and getting to spend all summer doing it was a joy, even when it was terrible. (You probably know what I mean.) It’s the first time I’ve given a final presentation and been legitimately sad at the end of it — a little because there are some things I wish I’d done better but mostly because I don’t get to keep working on it. Part of why I’m a consultant is that I have a short attention span, and usually when a project wraps up, I’m like “YEAH! That was fun! Let’s get drinks and do something new tomorrow!” This time, I’m like, “Thinking about other things is bullshit.” Luckily, we already have plans to work with that team again, albeit in a slightly less all-consuming way.

{As I was driving to the presentation, it occurred to me that this project has spanned the entire timeline of my injury. Our kickoff was the week I hurt my heel. Now we’re done. If I could choose to keep one of these things and ditch the other, I’d really prefer to have it the other way around.}

Also this week, I got officially elected to the board of my triathlon club. (I say “officially” because I was running unopposed, as it turned out.) I got surprise nominated for Volunteer Director and happily accepted, so it looks like the clapping hands will have an official role on a race sideline near you* (*assuming “you” are a triathlete or runner in the San Francisco Bay Area) until November 2015. I’ll be honest: There have been times when it’s been legitimately hard for me to not just crawl into my hidey-hole, delete Strava and Dailymile, and forget that I was ever a triathlete. But the fact is, I love the sport and the people I’ve met through it, and I especially love helping newbies through their first races and generally making the sidelines a more fun and supportive place to be. The person who nominated me, it turns out, had no idea I was injured — but she probably couldn’t have done a better thing for me if she had known. I have no idea what my racing future is, but that makes it a good time to set up aid stations and coordinate volunteers and find other ways to hold a place in this community long-term.

Meanwhile, I’m sorta-kinda trying to stay fit-ish. I’ve been back at masters, and I’ve done some longer pool runs, 75 minutes or so, with an increasing amount of time beltless just for the hell of it. Most recently I’ve been passing the time listening to Serial, but one day I showed up and my Shuffle was dead so I had to make it through the whole session with nothing to amuse or distract me, which has got to be the best mental training I have ever had. Last weekend I had a whole long “workout” with a friend that was just kicking back and forth and chatting and then pool running and chatting and then kicking and chatting again for nearly two hours — the water equivalent of a long, leisurely walk. It’s not great, but it’s OK. (And then there are weekends like the upcoming one, where I’m going to a beer festival followed by a wedding, and I end up feeling relieved that I’m not training for anything.)

And … I’m going back to the doctor I like best next week for a follow-up, and then we’ll see where things are. I got one final opinion, REALLY the last one I’m getting unless a medical professional insists I see someone else, and it came down on the “just plantar fasciitis/get a cortisone shot” side of the equation. I am torn; I’ve just heard and read such bad things. But I also don’t know what the other options are at this point. (Just live with the pain and hope it gets better someday? I suppose?) So, we’ll see. If running isn’t a realistic option for me, I’d just like to get on with the rest of my life. Soon, I hope.

Signs

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about signs — of improvement, or of decline. I mentioned a while back that it’s been frustrating to have no idea about whether my foot is progressing, beyond trying to make it hurt and seeing if it still does. No x-rays; no images; no reliable way to look inside at what’s bothering me (because maybe I still don’t even know exactly what is). Just pressing and resting and standing and jumping and thinking, “Is that still how it was last week?” Just waiting for something to be different.

“How did you know you were getting better?” That’s what I’ve asked everyone I’ve talked to who’s recovered from a similar injury. “How did you know it was working?” And I hear a variety of things — from “I never really did” to “one day, it was just better.” But there’s no clear path. If there were a path, I’d follow it; oh man, would I ever follow it. But there’s nothing there to follow.

***

I saw a new doctor last week. Actually, I saw two. One lost me in his waiting room, wanted to talk about my digestion, said the bone issue his colleague saw on the MRI was a “red herring,” and offered a cortisone shot. The other spent an hour with me, watched me walk, examined my shoes, said she thought it was a bone bruise, and rejected the idea of a cortisone shot. Two very different paths, one very confused person. I picked the second path, because I liked that doctor better. (Probably not the way one should make a medical decision, but it seemed as good as anything.)

Anyway. The whole time we talked, she kept saying, “This takes a long time.” She said it a couple of times offhand, then said it again, slowly, staring me down so I’d really get it — “this takes a long time.” And I kept saying, “I’m not in any rush.” I’ve already missed everything I wanted to do this summer and fall. There’s nothing on the calendar, nothing I’ve paid money for, nothing I need to hurry up and do. I’ve got forever.

But I don’t have forever — not really. I’m supposed to volunteer at Ironman Arizona in six weeks, and as of today, I’d be fairly useless on my feet at an aid station. I want to book a trip — I don’t even know when or where, but I want the option to dream one up. I want to do things — normal life things — like walk around at a music festival or be the one to pick up the takeout or not miss a train that I can almost reach out and touch because I can’t jog the two steps to the doors before they close. I’m not in a hurry to race, or even to run again. But I would like a sign that at some point the rest of my life will be OK. I never would have thought after that one run in June that I wouldn’t be able to dance at a friend’s wedding in October or that I’d be debating canceling a trip in November, but that’s where I am.

Is this it? Is this standard now? I haven’t seen many signs otherwise.

***

Or maybe I have. Last weekend, I had to drive somewhere, and driving requires two normal shoes. So, for the first time in a month, I put on my other sneaker. On the way home, I realized I needed to pop into the library. So I walked in. And back to the car. And down the block to my house from the parking space I found. Maybe a quarter-mile, total. Nothing special, except that it felt normal. When I told the new doctor about my accidental experiment, she said to do that again — not much, and maybe not outside the house again for a while (whoops), but up and down the hallway. Down to the basement. To the kitchen. Just see what happens. Hope that nothing happens.

And then there’s the itching feeling. Michaela told me about this — is your heel itching? like just under the skin, where you can’t actually scratch it? — and while I don’t think I would have called it that, I do feel something. Not always, not reliably, and maybe I only feel it because she told me to, but I swear, it happens. Maybe it’s nothing. But maybe it’s not.

***

But then there are the other signs: the two sore spots that feel the same as they’ve felt since June. The nuh-uh, no, no, nope reaction I still have to someone asking me to rock back on my heels or — god forbid — try to walk on them. The flip of a calendar to another month.

You can get used to anything, I guess.

***

If you’d asked me, back in June, I would have said I’d probably do an Ironman someday. It’s not something I said aloud very much, but I believed it. Not soon, but not never.

I thought I’d do another marathon, obviously. I never honestly thought I’d qualify for Boston as a younger woman, but I thought I’d be a lifelong runner who would maybe finally pull out a BQ at 55.

I’ve let go of a lot over these past three months.

I would be happy doing those things, of course — but I could be happy enough with something less. I could be happy enough being able to run for an hour. I could be happy enough never going beyond Olympic distance again. Hell, I could be happy enough as an aquabiker if I could at least walk transition without pain.

I can’t tell if those are signs of maturity or desperation, that my “happy enough“s keep getting smaller. Maybe it’s both.

***

“So which thing do I listen to?” I asked the new doctor. “The thing where walking feels OK? Or the thing where pressing on my foot doesn’t?”

“Both,” she said. “You have to listen to both.”

But what do I do when they’re different?

Do I listen to the person who treats a bone injury or the person who doesn’t?

This shot or that shot or the really expensive shot or no shot?

Ice or heat or both or neither?

Crutches for three weeks?

“We’ll get you running again” or “some people recover and some people don’t”?

Maybe I’m not lacking for signs at all. Maybe I actually have too many.

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How About Some Product Recommendations?

I can’t run and hell, I can’t really walk, but I sure can shop!

I bought these things (with my own money). I like them a lot. If you are looking for things like these things, you might like them too!

AquaJogger Traveler pool running belt — My gym is bring-your-own-belt, and I spent a ridiculously long time agonizing over which to buy. I am so, so happy I picked this one. First of all: the segments are removable, which is awesome; I’ve taken off the big back piece and just run with the two little bits on the side now. Second: It folds up into a little bundle, much easier to carry around than a semi-circular piece of foam. It’s also a good bridge between running belted and beltless (which I’ve been experimenting with recently).

Alite Hikari Pack — Kind of obsessed with this bag. It can be a backpack or a tote bag; it has an open top so I can just throw all my stuff in there, but the straps cinch it up so nothing falls out. It has more pockets than I know what to do with, and I love pockety bags. And old colors go on sale for stupidly small amounts of money. It’s completely replaced a traditional gym bag for me.

Starbucks cold brew — This just rolled out to the Starbucks nearest my train station, and I’m thrilled. It’s not my favorite iced coffee; hell, it’s not even my favorite cold brew available in San Francisco. But it is the best iced coffee available within a block of my office for less than $3, and it has a really wonderful, clean, nutty flavor. I’m not always the biggest Starbucks fan, but they got this one right.

eoGEAR top tube bag — My beloved Nathan bento box started routinely ejecting food earlier this year — I guess two years of stretched-out mesh and worn-down velcro will do that — so I started hunting for another bag with similar specs. My requirements: at least one exterior pocket; at least one zipper pocket; big enough for lots of food; not too tall, because my short handlebar height doesn’t leave a lot of room to work with; attachments on both the bottom and the front. The Timbuk2 bento box was the other one I found that met my setup requirements, but it was HUGE, way too big for my tiny bike. This one is just right.

Nike Rival 4″ shorts — So the theme of this post is “pockets!” These shorts have a hidden interior waistband pocket in the front, another in the back, and an exterior zip pocket. As someone who has spent more money on Lululemon shorts than I care to admit entirely because they have interior waistband pockets, I am thrilled to have an option that can be found (on sale, but yeah, they’re always on sale somewhere) for literally half the price. Also in 2″ and 6″ lengths for your leg-baring pleasure.

Now, who needs a personal shopper?

A Giant Pile of Meh, or: A Halfhearted Attempt to Find Silver Linings

I don’t have much good to say.

The first two weeks in the boot came and went without much (any?) noticeable improvement. (It’s honestly hard to tell, since part of being in the boot is premised on taking away the daily discomfort I was feeling. To see if things are better, I have to seek out that discomfort, which is counterintuitive and something I’ve been trying not to do.) Since my insurance changes Oct. 1 and a whole new world of medical care opens up (…and a whole new world of expenses, but that’s another story), I opted to just stay in the boot for now and pursue a raft of second/third/fourth opinions at that point.

I probably should have stopped there. However … yesterday, I ended up getting in earlier than expected with a doctor who was going to be one of those additional opinions. His take: two weeks in the boot never would have been enough; six wouldn’t be unusual; and he’d recommend that I be on crutches for at least the next two (and possibly three or more) of those weeks. That seems pretty dramatic, and it would require significant lifestyle modifications*. If it’s actually my only option, I guess it’s … my only option, but it also seems like a big leap considering the actual level of pain I’m in, even when my foot was at its worst. But what do I know?

{*To take one tiny example: The parking lot at my gym is permit-only, which is why I currently bike the mile there and back. Public transit is not a reasonable option (I’m talking, turning a 4-minute drive into a 30-minute, three-bus fiasco) and I’m loath to spend money on cabs just for that. If I drive, there’s no telling how far away I’d need to park, and this gym happens to be located smack in the middle of a large and (to my eye) relatively un-crutch-able hill. I may be able to buy a six-month pass for the permit lot if I can get a California temporary disabled permit, but I need a doctor to do the paperwork for that, and I didn’t know any of this yesterday, because just about the last thing I was expecting was to be told I needed to be on crutches. Also, even getting a disabled parking permit seems like massive overkill — ACTUAL PEOPLE NEED THOSE — so I’m tempted to just say screw it and sit on my couch rather than swim for the sake of, if we’re being honest, vanity.}

That doctor’s compromise suggestion was to keep me in the boot for three more weeks, until mid-October, and if I still had pain at that point, then I’d need to be on crutches for, um, who knows how long. I’ve been sitting with that info for almost a day now, and I’ve even tracked down a pair of loaner crutches, but … I don’t know. I’m hesitant to upend my life even further, but on the other hand, why delay the inevitable? It seems hard to believe that the six blocks I walk per day could be the difference between healing and not, but I’m not really in a position to judge. As of now, I *think* I’ve decided to use crutches only if I need to walk beyond my daily work and pool commutes, at least until after the two additional appointments I have scheduled for October 1 and 2. That gives the boot another week to be magic but doesn’t delay the process by three full weeks if it isn’t working. I guess. I think. I don’t know. But that’s where I am today.

My biggest frustration is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to check progress other than waiting to see if I stop having symptoms. It’s weird; people I know who have had foot stress fractures have had X-rays taken at various intervals to see if there’s been any healing. Maybe heels are different? Maybe because it’s just (“just,” ha) a stress reaction, it would never show anyway? I don’t know, and I keep forgetting to ask, because at every appointment the news gets a little bit worse, and then I’m too busy trying not to cry to think with a clear head. (That is extremely embarrassing but also extremely true.) I know these things are finicky and not even doctors can see the future, but … I’ve already seen two weeks in the boot turn into probably six. Why wouldn’t I suspect that two weeks on crutches would also turn into six? Then again, the boot hasn’t been that bad; I guess you really can get used to anything.

One more moment of venting: I swear, I did not try to run through this injury. I felt no pain during the run where it (apparently) happened. When I still thought I was feeling normal post-20-miler soreness, I tried one run, then shut things down for a week; one more run, then shut things down for two more; and then one final run, at which point I stopped for good. At various points throughout, both a doctor and a physical therapist told me to try running, and I was the one who said no. It didn’t “get to a point where” it got worse — it was not an issue, and then it was — and it wasn’t something I ignored or was cavalier with — at least not within the realm of the medical advice I was seeking and getting. I’ve done dumber things. Maybe this is karma for all of my previous transgressions, but this thing wasn’t dumb. I take a tiny bit of solace in that, but I also do wish I had a moment to point to to say “Oh, well, if I just hadn’t done that…”

And, just so this isn’t a total downer and in an attempt to get me focused on the positive out there, here are some things I can do:

I can get all my ducks in a row and plan for the worst cases. For example: I can research what I need for a DMV temporary handicapped placard and print out that paperwork and take it with me to my next appointment, so I’m not taken by surprise and it’s there if I need it. I can actually write down all my questions so that the next time I’m face-to-face with a doctor, I don’t get so emotional and overwhelmed that I forget how to think. I can learn how to use the crutches I’m borrowing, so that if I do need to use them full-time, I won’t fall down the stairs.

I can still swim and pool run, for now. If one of the doctors I see in early October wants me to stop, I will, but until then, you will have to pry those away from my shriveled, chlorine-scented hands. (And, to be clear, nobody actually wants me to STOP those activities. It’s more that I have to find an un-objectionable and un-ruinous way to GET to those activities.)

I can do core work. Like, come ON. The only excuse I have for not being better about this thus far is that I’m lazy. I can do it in my living room. I can do it lying down. Not doing it is stupid. I am not stupid. I know some basics, but I also emailed my last physical therapist to see if he can send me some ideas.

I can do easy, non-invasive things to try to heal. The doctor I saw yesterday recommended contrast baths — ice water, then hot water, then ice water. Buckets of water. In my living room. Sitting down. It might not work, but so what? Buckets. Of. Water. Once again, come ON.

I can read a lot of books. Anyone want to be my friend on Goodreads?

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True Injury Confessions

All I notice are people’s shoes. Cute flats. Heels I could never have walked in anyway. Grubby sneakers. Sparkly sneakers. Running shoes that I can identify — brand, style — on sight. I don’t even usually care that much about shoes, but these days I can’t stop looking at people’s feet.

I smell like chlorine all the time. I have to swim with masters at least twice a week to keep my membership. (I’m swimming in the “old-people swim,” as my lane-mate pointed out yesterday, which is a little weird, but I’m also not fast enough for the “young-people swim,” and anyway, I’d rather get up at 6:15 than 5:15.) I’m swimming other times on my own or with friends. And I’m pool-running on days I’m not swimming. I think I’m actually excreting chlorine.

I can’t walk more than two blocks without a break. My heel doesn’t hurt in the boot, which is nice, but my arch cramps like crazy. I gave up and threw an arch support in there today, which maybe is a terrible plan, but I can’t imagine how it would make things much worse. Also, walking a block takes five minutes.

Also: Even trivial walking is non-trivial. At minimum, for daily life, I walk 1.5 blocks from home to my train and 1.5 blocks from my train to work, and then I reverse it in the evenings. Back in the spring, when I had two working feet and was wearing my Vivofit, my daily walking was barely a step up from sedentary. Now it seems overwhelming.

I have never been on time for more things in my life. I’m a problematically, perpetually slightly late person. Most people I’m close to know that when I say 9:15, I mean 9:20. But I’m making peace with having to build cushion into my day. I aim for the train before the train I really have to take. If I think something is five minutes away, I give it 10. I can’t hurry, so I end up being on time — or early. Hashtag life lessons.

I don’t think this is working. Obviously, I did not want to be saying that. Today is day 6; I have my check-up on day 12. The first six days have led to no noticeable improvement (and some frustrating new symptoms, like the aforementioned arch cramping). Yes, the boot lets me walk (heel-)pain free, and I shouldn’t discount that. But the tender spots are just as tender as they were last Friday, and the week before that, and the week before that. I don’t know if this is just going to take more time, or if we still don’t have the right diagnosis, or what the next move is from here in any case. I’m mentally preparing to stay in the boot at least till October 1, when my new health insurance kicks in, because I can’t imagine the next six days being much different from the past six. But maybe they will be. There’s my level of optimism.

I can’t quite stop making goals. I originally wrote “I’m done making goals,” but that’s a damn lie and I might as well admit it. I do have two goals. I’d like to think they’re achievable, but the past two months have taught me that I might need to underestimate what’s achievable. The first is that I want to be able to go on a rock climbing trip with friends at the end of October. (Climbing causes no obvious pain, but walking or hiking to a climbing site might be a challenge.) The second is that I want to be able to run pain-free — I don’t care how far — on my birthday in January. Six weeks for goal #1; four months for goal #2. It sucks to acknowledge that I might have to miss them both, but it seems worse to have no goals at all.

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#bootday

After a week of visiting various doctors and receiving further strange and contradictory opinions, on Friday, this happened:

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It has seemed inevitable for long enough now that I’m not upset. I just hope it works.

The immediate precipitating events: On Wednesday, my podiatrist told me to go for a run. Instead of being happy, the way a runner would theoretically be happy upon receiving this news after a six-week break, I wanted to cry. I heard it as “there’s nothing else I can do for you.” On Thursday, on my way to the chiropractor’s office, I had to run two blocks for the train, and that was enough to know that going for an actual run would be a wildly bad idea. I thought I’d need to go to another podiatrist, since the chiro’s office doesn’t take my insurance, but they figured out a way for me to just buy a boot for roughly what my insurance would have charged me anywhere else, and, that was that, for the next two weeks. (Except not exactly, because they were out of my size of boot on Thursday, so I had to wait till Friday, LOL LIFE. At least that gave me time to get my attitude into the right place and also do things like paint my toenails and stockpile snacks for the weekend.)

I have doubts about this strategy — I still don’t have a definitive diagnosis, for one thing, and maybe I never will. I also know that doing what I was doing wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I’m tired of flipping the calendar and waiting for magic. If this works, great! If it doesn’t, I have new insurance starting in October and can start over if I have to. (But I really hope this works.)

There have been times in the past couple of months when I’ve thought, you know, maybe I’m really not supposed to be a runner. Maybe the people (two of them, and for the record, both were doctors) who have told me I don’t look like a runner, that the issue is my build — maybe they’re right. Maybe I could be content with just swimming and cycling, maybe the occasional hike. I sit with that for a day or two, and then I realize I’m not there yet. I might have to get there, but I’m not there yet. (I really hope this works.)

So, I’ll do this. Honestly, it’s not that different from what I’ve been doing, just with one sneaker instead of two. I can swim, I can pool run, and — after a little coercing on my part — I can bike to and from the pool (and “other flat places,” so, you know, basically to and from the pool). I paid my dues for the masters group, but I didn’t quit my neighborhood gym yet, so I have maximum options for the next month. (I hope this works.)

I won’t miss running, at least not more than I already do. I will miss driving and open water swimming — too logistically complicated — and climbing. But with any luck, I’ll only have to miss them for two weeks. And, it’s not like I was signed up for any more races this year. It’s a good time to do this right.

(I hope it works.)

Lately

Oh, let’s just grab-bag it.

Atlanta

The week after the century, I flew to Atlanta for work. It was my first time in the city — outside of many connecting flights and that one time I took a cab to Woodfire Grill during a layover so I could fangirl Kevin Gillespie when he was still cooking there — and despite spending most of my time from Friday night-Thursday morning in a hotel conference room, I managed to get out and see some things. And eat some things. Like: grits at Flying Biscuit, grits at Silver Skillet, grits covered in a blanket of fried cheese at Thumbs Up, a burger with green pepper jelly and chipotle cream cheese at The Vortex, a shrimp po’boy at Villains, lobster ravioli at Seven Lamps, this insane thing with crispy rice and corn puree and a farm egg at Empire State South, polenta cakes at Argosy East, and all of the food — but especially the Jamaican hot pockets and steak frites — at Gunshow (where, sadly, Kevin Gillespie was not present for me to fangirl again). I also ate a vegetable now and then.

In Atlanta, I felt the most bummed I’ve felt yet about not being able to run — um, and given the above, I should probably make it clear that it wasn’t because of the food. Running is my favorite way to get to know a new city, and my Midtown hotel would have been a great home base — close to the Olympic Park, close to a big city park, and an area worth exploring more in its own right. On the other hand, I didn’t squeeze much time for exercise in between all the working, and while I might have been slightly more serious about making time if I’d been able to just throw on running shoes and go, I also might have spent longer feeling guilty about not running. (How’s that for a twisted positive?)

I did take a wander through the Olympic Park one day and managed one fairly lame hotel gym workout. The only thing I wanted to do was swim at the Georgia Tech pool — the 1996 Olympic pool! — but it’s only open to university affiliates, so that dream died pretty quickly. Instead, I got my one proper workout of the week at a Flywheel spin class, during which I officially decided that spin classes really aren’t for me. I never feel comfortable, the bikes don’t seem to fit me right, and I spend the whole time feeling grateful that riding outside doesn’t feel that awkward. But the music was good and it put me closer to my planned diner breakfast, so I’m still glad I went.

Pittsburgh

I think the whole reason I survived the Atlanta work schedule was knowing I had a long weekend trip to Pittsburgh coming at the end of it. I flew directly there from Atlanta and spent four days mostly going to the US Gymnastics National Championships, a scheme my mom and I cooked up approximately five minutes after realizing the event was going to be in Pittsburgh. The two of us got an all-event ticket package — thanks, mom! — and we saw every competition session besides the junior men. Highlights for me were the Friday night men’s preliminary round — which felt mostly like watching any college sporting event, with a slightly older crowd of spectators than we saw the rest of the weekend and lots of hollering and cheering and high-fiving between the competitors — and Saturday’s junior and senior women’s finals, even though the results were never that close in either.

I also stood next to Kim Zmeskal for about three seconds, watched Marta and Bela Karolyi interact and rekindled my dream of writing the unauthorized biography of their marriage, and generally had a weekend that my 12-year-old self would have only dreamed of. And now I follow a bunch of 16-year-old gymnasts on Twitter, because, sure.

My heel

…sigh.

Quick recap: Podiatrist diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis in July and sent me to physical therapy. Not much improved. Podiatrist and physical therapist started to disagree, pretty dramatically, on causes and treatment strategies. Podiatrist ultimately ordered an MRI. I saw him for about two minutes before leaving for Atlanta — and I think he’d had the MRI report for about two minutes before that — and was told the results showed nothing torn or broken and confirmed plantar fasciitis. I was sort of relieved, but also annoyed, because it seemed like something should have improved after PT, six weeks of no running, being at least a little more careful about my everyday shoes, etc.

At that point, I decided to get a second opinion from someone at a combo chiropractic/medical practice many friends swear by. They don’t take my insurance, but their private-pay rates for seeing someone on the chiropractic side were manageable (we will not speak of the rates on the medical side), so I booked an appointment there, assuming I was just going to get new ideas and strategies for treating plantar fasciitis. Instead: at appointment one, the chiropractor told me he didn’t think it was plantar fasciitis at all but either an injury to the fat pad in my heel or a stress fracture. (To which I confidently replied: “I had an MRI, and there’s no stress fracture!”) At appointment two yesterday, he said that in fact, having seen the MRI and the report, there’s not a stress fracture, but there is a stress reaction, which probably could have benefited from someone, you know, noticing and treating more aggressively (e.g. with a boot, probably) several weeks ago, and which there’s a good chance I’ve been making worse, or at least not making better, for the past two months while following the advice from a doctor and a PT who were treating a different problem.

So, I’m pissed — at my podiatrist, for shrugging off any idea that maybe it was a stress fracture the very first time I walked into his office, and at myself, for not deciding to just treat it like a stress fracture anyway. I mean, no, I haven’t run — OK, I jogged three blocks in Atlanta when I was running late, I did, I admit it! — but I also have tried using the elliptical, going back to Burn, doing the century (the chiro said biking might be OK as long as it wasn’t very hilly, so I’m guessing that had I been seeing him at the time, 5000′ of climbing wouldn’t have been what he had in mind), occasionally wearing flats instead of sneakers, and so on.

If I were a normal patient at this practice, I’d have one more appointment with soft-tissue work (mostly Graston so far) and then I’d get referred to the medical department. But, I’m not going to pay out of pocket for their medical department, especially not when I have insurance that other places do take. So I’m not really sure what the plan is — go back to the podiatrist who doesn’t think there was anything significant on the MRI and be all “sorry, buddy…”? Find another podiatrist in my network for yet another opinion? The soft-tissue work does seem to be making some difference, but it’s obviously not going to magically heal a bone if that’s the root of the problem. And compared to the first appointment, the second was much more downbeat; he seemed — maybe I’m reading too much into it — fairly sure that this was a ticket to bootville. Honestly, if that’s where we are, I don’t want to waste even more time with “one more round of Graston” and “one more week where you just wear sneakers every time you’re out of bed and only swim but don’t push off the wall.” I just want to get it over with. I actually want to go back in time and get it over with in July, rather than losing two months doing all the wrong things.

So next week, I guess, I’ll be figuring out my new strategy. But only after…

The Oakland Triathlon

Wait, what? Well: I signed up for the Olympic last November and switched my registration to the aquabike about a month ago. I fessed up to the chiro yesterday that I was still planning to do it, and his verbatim response was “oh, that’s fine.” I did swear to leave shoes at the swim exit and spend as little time barefoot as possible, but the bike course is pancake-flat and the swim is a swim, so he saw no reason for me not to race.

Er, sort of race. Before yesterday, my goal was to see how close I could come to a podium spot for the women’s aquabike (top 5 overall). But since I’m now going to be putting on shoes and then walking the quarter mile from the swim exit to transition, that seems pretty unlikely. My new goal is to try my best to enjoy myself and not hate being there. It’s my last race for who-knows-how-long, maybe my last time on a bike for a while, so I might as well at least try to have a good time. A lot of friends will be there, which is good and bad — I’m not really in the mood to interact with triathletes right now — but I think once I’m actually there, the energy will lift me up a little. And there are burritos at the finish. So how miserable can it be?

Ride Report: Tour d’Organics 2014

My first century ride — the Tour d’Organics last Sunday — was my favorite kind of day: up and down hills, on two wheels, with good friends. Granted, I had nothing to compare it to; I’d never done an organized non-race before. But I had a blast — and frankly, a much better time than I expected from a day when I’d be spending seven-plus hours on a bicycle.

The race started and ended in Sebastopol, one of my favorite West County towns. When Pete and I were first together, he lived in Santa Rosa, and I spent almost every weekend of that year somewhere in West County — wine tasting on Dry Creek Road, hiking at Annadel, eating cookies and ice cream in Sebastopol, lazing in the Russian River at Memorial Beach (open for wading only this summer, sigh). I’ve waxed emotional about my love for West County in this space before, and I was excited to bike these roads with Pete for the first time.

At the community center, where we arrived at 6:30 to pick up our bibs and maps, there were bagels and a whole spray of blue-and-silver balloons that I thought might have been left over from some recent teen dance. A handful of volunteers checked people in; the race director offered some course beta and asked us to remember that the legendarily poor Sonoma County road paving wasn’t his fault. (Foreshadowing!) The Taylor Maid people were making free pour-over coffee in the parking lot. West County at its finest.

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Sufficiently fed and caffeinated, a group of about six of us rolled out together, ignoring the arrow that pointed the wrong direction — not the most auspicious start! — and heading south out of Sebastopol.

Start-mile 30 — Three Ox Farm stop

Our longest uninterrupted stretch of riding came at the start of the day. It was cool and gray, and our little group chatted and reminded each other that chatting speed was the right speed; this wasn’t a race; we had a long way to go.

The climbing started with short, spiky hills. Someone described this to me as “rolling” but I’d call it more “grinding” — little bursts of needing to be in my lowest gear, alternating with quick downhills. The roads were … non-awesome, and I would become glad later that I’d gotten them out of the way so early; I think I’d rather have terrible stretches at the start and end of a long ride than have moderately bad roads the whole day.

This stretch had the best animals: there were actual frolicking lambs, and piles of sleeping cows, and a farm kitten, and llamas and ducks and chickens and goats. I called out each one as I passed — LLAMA! DUCK! Alpaca? ALPACA! — because the second you put me around livestock, I become a 4-year-old. (I found out at the rest stop that there had been a group of lambs playing on a log, and I didn’t see them, and if I had, I’d still be standing there right now taking pictures.) I’m pretty sure it was in this segment that my friend and I literally got heckled by a herd of cattle.

I was riding alone for the last 10 or so miles, firmly in between two sets of friends, and to entertain myself, I made bets about how much I thought we’d already climbed. I settled on a number that would make me very happy (2400′) and a number that would make me very sad (1200′), and when I finally pulled up to Three Ox and leaned my bike against the fence, I let myself look: 1800′. Not so bad.

image_1Three Ox was a lovely little farm and would turn out to be my favorite stop of the day. Within a minute of my arrival, someone handed me me a dixie cup full of kale smoothie; someone else pointed me toward a tray piled with Asian pears and Gravenstein apples. I ate fennel salad and roasted potatoes and brie on Ritz crackers at 9 a.m. We probably lingered too long, but it was a really good stop.

Miles 30-40 — Gabriel Farm stop

The shortest segment of the day was my least favorite. I never got into a consistent pedaling rhythm, and I never felt like I was choosing the right gear for the grade and the conditions. I was either coasting around big potholes or losing all my momentum chugging up yet another short but steep hill. There was one climb right after Three Ox where I was truly not sure I was going to be able to keep moving (apparently that’s what an 11% grade feels like).

I was grouchy when I pulled into Gabriel Farm, where it was suddenly very crowded: riders from all four ride distances were together for the first time. Some friends who pulled in shortly after said a course marshall had been giving them a hard time about being close to the cutoff, and I started getting nervous. I got out of there pretty quickly, but not before drinking some Asian pear/apple cider and eating some homemade jam on more Ritz-with-brie.

Miles 40-53 — Middleton Farms stop

Surprise! Offroading! Somewhere in this segment, we turned onto an unpaved portion of county bike trail. It was well-maintained but still gravel and sand and dirt, and it was a little shocking to suddenly be navigating it.

That mile was probably the worst of the day — but the bit of riding that followed was lovely, as I caught up to a friend we started really trucking as soon as the trail turned back into (reasonably paved) road. I don’t remember much about the scenery here, because I was so busy talking.

At exactly the moment my Garmin beeped for mile 50, the sun came out. We always used to say there were two kinds of days in West County: gray in the morning and 80 and sunny by noon, and 80 and sunny in the morning and 100 by noon. We were lucky that this was the first kind!

At Middleton Farms, they had great peaches, and — even better — a big container of watermelon and a big shaker of salt. I might have stayed there even longer had the next stop not been lunch.

Miles 53-63 — Dry Creek Peach stop

The ride to lunch was so much fun. It started out following the Vineman course, but then we turned and ended up riding one of my favorite winery-studded roads for several miles. We went past the place that makes my favorite mustard (I thought seriously about stopping for a jar) and a few of the first wineries I ever visited when I started living in California.

I’d been looking forward to lunch at Dry Creek Peach — the farm where Alice Waters gets the peaches that she’s famously served for dessert — but it was kind of a bummer. There were soggy wrap sandwiches that I was (incorrectly, thank goodness) told were almost gone, and there was a big, empty pan with chocolate crumbs in it that I assume was more delicious when the 70-milers and faster 100-mile riders went by. I was annoyed at what seemed like an overall lack of food considering how many people could potentially still be coming; the stop was open for another 1.5 hours! I realize that slower participants in all sorts of distance events have had this kind of experience at one point or another, but it was not great.

Miles 63-79 — Alexander Valley School stop

This section included the climb up Canyon and the descent into Geyserville, one of my favorite parts of the Vineman course. It’s honestly a weird part of the course to call my favorite, but I had plenty of alone time to think about why I loved it, so here’s my reasoning: The climb up Canyon is gradual and pretty quick for me, and the descent is smooth and perfect, with vineyards on both sides and beautiful rolling hills straight ahead. Often in cycling, I think the descents aren’t enough of a payoff. Canyon is the rare case where you get a better descent than you deserve.

I got a little competitive with myself here, realizing that I would be able to check my times against my Vineman Strava file. I caught up to Pete at the rest stop, and as it was our one non-farm stop of the day, we didn’t stay too long. I grabbed a handful of chips to stuff in my bento box, and we were off to conquer our last big climb of the day.

Miles 79-91 — Golden Nectar stop

It was getting warm, so I attempted to take one of my remaining salt pills (and ended up dropping all of them). I took that as a sign to chill out and not try to keep up with Pete, figuring I’d probably catch him on the Chalk Hill climb anyway.

I’d forgotten how much of Chalk Hill Road is actually lovely — flat, if not a little downhill, and shaded by tall trees. The shadows were playing tricks on me — pothole? or just dark? — and I couldn’t remember exactly where the hill started, so I tried to quiet my mind and enjoy the non-climbing stretches while I could.

Soon, we hit the little teaser hill for Chalk Hill, and not long after that the real climb started. My mantra for Chalk Hill is “it’s hard because of where it is, but not because of what it is” — and if that’s true at mile 45 of Vineman, it’s even more true at mile 85 of a century. It felt harder than I remembered — but of course I’d biked almost twice as many miles! — and yet I still knew, rationally, that it’s not a bad climb, that I regularly do worse than it, that I could definitely keep moving. So I kept gping up, and soon enough, I was catching up to Pete …

… who, suddenly, was pulling off to the side of the road with a broken chain, less than 100 feet from the top. Neither of us had a chain tool; frankly, neither of us knew how to use one, either. I could get phone reception if I stood in one tiny patch of driveway, so I called SAG and proceeded to have a cute but frustrating conversation (“We need a ride, or a mechanic.” “Aw, don’t feel bad, a lot of people have been calling saying they’re done for the day.” “No, no, we want to keep riding!” “Isn’t that just the worst, though, when the mind wants to ride and the legs just won’t go?” “No! We can keep riding! It’s just, the bike is broken.”). After 30 minutes, a SAG driver finally showed up — just by chance, apparently; the one we’d actually called came 10 minutes later — and was able to drive Pete down to the last rest stop, where a mechanic station was still open.

I rode down the hill and met Pete at the rest stop, pulling in as he was learning that riding the rest of the way would be feasible. We filled up our bottles one last time, I ate one last round of cheese and Ritz, and then we pointed our bikes back toward Sebastopol.

image_3Miles 91-103 — Finish

The ride between Golden Nectar and the finish followed a lot of the Vineman run course, which I have a new appreciation for having seen it from a bike: Some of those hills are hard! I think it looks harder from a bike than it does on foot; which way it feels harder is sort of a toss-up, at least 90+ miles into a ride.

The closer we got to Sebastopol, the worse the roads got — like numb-your-hands-and-rattle-out-your-eyeballs bad. I could not have dealt with a whole ride of roads like that! We were so close, though. The best thing I did all day was save the last of my amazing Japanese gummy candies (some bought earlier this year, some saved since 2013 for a special occasion) for this stretch. I was tired, but “bike 2 miles, eat a gummy” was a bargain I could accept.

There were some sketchy left turns in this section where I wish the traffic markings had been better, and they sucked what little momentum I had to spare, but who cared? This was mile 100, 101, 102. Right as I saw the car, my Garmin clicked over to our promised mileage of 103.

And, that was that. We loaded the bikes on the car. We changed into clean clothes and ate pork tacos. The rest of our group trickled in as we drank our free Lagunitas IPAs, and somehow we found ourselves closing down the party at the community center and regrouping at Screaming Mimi’s for ice cream.

***

All in all, the ride went better than I was expecting — physically and mentally. I was barely sore on Monday and back to normal on Tuesday. My Coeur shorts survived their biggest test yet. And I was impressed with how relaxed and positive I felt throughout the day. Before the ride started, I didn’t think I’d done enough long rides to be truly ready. Having done it, I think I did just about what was required for a non-race casual ride with a lot of stops. It wasn’t easy (5000′ of climbing in total) and I still ended up riding a pace I was fully happy with (14+ mph for the riding sections) while enjoying the day with friends and eating all the peaches.

In other words, yes, I’m already looking for the next one.

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