Dealing with Premature Hearing Loss

I’m sure this isn’t anything any of you that follow my blog would have guessed you’d be reading about here. It’s nothing I would have thought would happen to me in my 40’s. Most people have some form of hearing loss around age 65. I developed tinnitus and accompanying hearing loss 20 years earlier than most people. Less than 48 hours after flights returning from a two week vacation in Chile (I am home now), I woke up to the sound of a white noise machine (kind of like static or a fan running) and reduced hearing ability in my left ear.

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I spoke to some friends at work about it and was told I had tinnitus. I had to look it up to be honest. I always thought tinnitus was a high-pitched ringing sound that goes away after a few seconds or maybe lasts a minute. But apparently it’s much more complicated than that. If any of you are interested in reading more about it, here’s the link.

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Anyway, after it didn’t go away on its own I went to see my primary care physician three days after the tinnitus started. She prescribed the oral steroid prednisone for seven days and said if I still didn’t feel better in four days to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. The prednisone did nothing for my tinnitus so I made an appointment with an ENT.

The first test the ENT did was a hearing test. I have some damage to my hearing, especially at higher frequencies, which correlated with what I had also been experiencing. There was no obvious cause, however. I hadn’t had an ear infection. I didn’t have a blockage anywhere. I haven’t been exposed to loud noises on a regular basis. At the end of my hour-long doctor visit I was sent home with a prescription for very high doses of prednisone and a follow-up visit was set for a week later. This was of course not what I was hoping for.

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Being on the high dosage of steroid has not been fun. With the lower dose, I had a constant headache and was extremely dehydrated despite drinking even more water than I normally do (which is a ton). I finally wised-up and started supplementing with nuun electrolyte tablets for the second week and that helped with the muscle cramps I had been having previously. Still, I’ve had trouble sleeping, I felt anxious, and nauseous at times, but I thought I could get through ten days of it if it made my ear better. I decided to take the week off from running or at least cut back drastically. Now was not the time to run in the heat and stress my already-stressed body even more. I need to focus on healing and recovery.

I am trying to be optimistic about it all and look on the bright side. At least the hearing in my right ear is perfect! At least I can still hear from my left ear, just not as well as I could a month ago. At least it’s not my eyes and my vision. At least I can still run.

For now, I’m going to wait and see what happens. I’m sure there will be more tests to come, to rule out other things such as tumors. And who knows, there’s always a chance it can just go away on its own, just as quickly as it began. I could wake up one morning and the tinnitus could be completely gone. Wouldn’t that be music to my ears!

Book Review- Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever

I recently read Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr and would like to share some of my thoughts here. I’ve been a follower of the authors’ training program for several years and this is basically an update with some more details. Pierce and Murr established the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) many years ago and that has grown and evolved over the years.

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FIRST began as four free lectures a month to help local runners with their training and running that has expanded to include laboratory assessments, gait assessment, nutritional advice, and much more. It’s not uncommon for there to be a waitlist for FIRST retreats. Laboratory fees range from $45 for body composition measurement to $425 for a combination consisting of VO2 MAX / Lactate Threshold  / Gait measurements. A 3-day nutritional assessment seems like a bargain for $50. The May 18-21 2017 retreat (which was sold out months in advance) was $1500 and included all activities, assessments, etc. except lodging. All of the information can be found on this website. There are also many different coaching options from individual coaching to group clinics and team coaching.

Now to the book. As I said, I was already familiar with the FIRST running philosophy, which is geared more toward runners in their forties and older. The basic idea is to run less but work harder and add cross-training, resistance training, and stretching. If you follow their plan, you will be working out for a cumulative of 7 hours a week. This includes 3 days of running, 3 days of cross-training, and 3 days of strength training (some days include both cross-training and strength training). You stretch for 10 minutes every day except one where you stretch for 15 minutes following the long run. Every day you are doing some form of exercise, with a minimum of 25 minutes on a day you strength train 15 minutes and stretch 10 minutes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy workout plan just because you’re only running 3 days a week.

You may be saying, well this wouldn’t be enough for marathon training, and you would be right. The authors state this is a good base for beginning a marathon training plan. It also could be altered by adding longer runs. However, for my purposes, it works great for training for half marathons. It would also work well for shorter distances but I feel it’s perfect for half marathons and the only alteration I need to do is lengthen the long runs.

One notable thing about this training plan you notice right away is there are no distances listed. You run for time, not distance. There is also the FIRST Exertion Scale (FES), which goes from 1, “very easy and relaxed” to 10, “very, very hard; maximal effort.” Your run workouts are based on the FES for a certain amount of time. For example, one of the long run workouts is to begin running comfortably, progressing from a 1 to 3 on the FES scale for 10 minutes then continue the run at FES of 4 for 80 minutes. If I was a really fast runner, I could run for 11 miles pretty easily with this workout, but I’m not that fast so I alter the run workouts to make sure I’m getting in the miles to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon. I think a big part of preparing for a half marathon is mentally preparing yourself to run for 13.1 miles, so I like to go up to 12 or 13 miles for my longest run before a race. If I’m only running for 90 minutes, there’s no way I’m going to run 12 or 13 miles in that time.

I’m skipping ahead, though. The book begins with a lot of background and introductory information. Things start to even get a bit bleak when they go into all of the statistics on “aging runners.” Believe me when I say they don’t sugar-coat anything in this book. They lay it all out there and have many numbers to back it all up. Like it or not, every single one of us will experience the following: reduced lean muscle mass, reduced bone mineral density, increased body fat, reduced cardiac output, reduced metabolic rate, and hormonal changes. Yay! All of this of course impacts your running and other physical activity performance.

But there is hope as long as you are realistic and don’t expect your race times to always keep improving forever. There are also many things you can do such as stretching more, doing weight training, and cross-training. You can also look at your age-graded performance over time. There are many websites to calculate age-graded race times for all distances.

There is a chapter devoted entirely to the marathon and another chapter titled, “Is long-distance running healthy?” that addresses the numerous benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and of running specifically. Spoiler alert- runners have lower “all-cause and cardiovascular death rates.” Moving on, there is a chapter full of Q & A that they have been asked over the years. There’s a section that discusses the pros and cons of running alone versus with others.

In the chapter on nutrition, I found an interesting idea that I’m still testing. The author states drinking an 8-ounce can of a meal supplement such as Ensure or Boost with 220 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates before a race. The morning of a half marathon I usually have a nervous stomach so the idea of just drinking my breakfast before a race is appealing to me. I don’t want to have to mix powders or anything else. I already do that with my Nuun tablets, which I always run with. I’ve been experimenting with Boost before my last couple of long runs and so far I think it will work for me.

I also enjoyed and appreciated the chapter called “Don’t forget why you are doing this,” where the authors talk about the joy of running.  I think it’s important to not take running and racing too seriously and just have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?

Now to the real meat of the book:

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This is where they really get into the details of the 7-hour workout week. There are detailed workouts for every day of the week, with numerous options to choose from, so you’re not just doing the same exact workouts week after week. There are images and descriptions for all of the stretches, both dynamic stretches before you run, and stretches for after you run. There are also descriptions and images for all of the strength (resistance) exercises. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted just to strength training and another chapter just on stretching. To finish the book, there is an Afterword and several Appendices.

What did I think of the book? I thought it was extremely in-depth, descriptive, and helpful. As I said earlier, I was already familiar with the authors and their FIRST training plans. I’ve been a believer in running less but running harder and incorporating strength, resistance, and cross-training for several years now. I know everyone is different but for me, if I run more than 3-4 days a week and/or longer distances, my body starts to break down in the form of injuries or illness. I’m no longer in my 30’s and I was not blessed with a body built for running 30+ miles a week. If I want to continue running well into old-age, I know I need to follow the philosophy proposed in this book. The authors state in the Afterword, “The 7-Hour Workout Week works for us.” Quite simply, the 7-Hour Workout Week also works for me.

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

Superhero Half Marathon, New Jersey- 40th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Jersey was my 40th state.

When I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey three days before the half marathon, the highs were in the low 90’s, not exactly running weather. Fortunately the weather gods came through and at 8:00 the morning of the race, it was 54 degrees, more like my idea of good racing weather for a May race.

Packet pickup was as simple as it comes, simply pick up a short-sleeve technical shirt and bib at the local running store, Morristown Running Company. There were two days plus race day morning for packet pickup, which was very generous.

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My flat runner

Honestly, this race kicked my butt. The course description states there are rolling hills for “the first three miles but the last 10 are relatively flat.” I guess the term “rolling hills” and “relatively flat” can be subjective. In my opinion there are pretty continuous big hills for the first four miles then you get a little break before the hills begin again, and these are not “rolling hills” but steep, seemingly never-ending hills. I drove the course the day before the race so I knew it was going to be a tough race but even still I underestimated just how hard it would be.

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Quick- how many superheroes can you pick out?

The best part about the course, in my opinion, is when it goes through Loantaka Park. Although it’s a bike path, by the time you reach this portion of the race the crowds have thinned out enough that it doesn’t seem too crowded. This portion of the course is shaded pretty heavily, mostly flat, and scenic. Unfortunately the course only briefly goes through the park. The rest of the course takes you past many nice homes in what I’m sure are extremely expensive neighborhoods, but as beautiful as some of the homes are, it’s not nearly enough to provide a diversion from all of those hills.

So what do you get for your registration money? This year anyway, the first 3000 registrants got a bright yellow wicking t-shirt in addition to the medal, water and aid stations every 1.75 miles, personalized bibs, and photos at the finish (although I didn’t hear about this until after the race so I didn’t get one). Food at the finish was bagels, bananas, cereal bars, and water (alas, no chocolate milk).

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This shirt should be good for visibility when I’m running on the roads!

I did enjoy seeing other people’s superhero costumes even though I didn’t dress up myself. There were many Wonder Women and Supermen on the course. Some of the more original included Poison Ivy (from Batman) and Dr. Octopus.

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Captain America just barely beat Dr. Octopus

The only thing I can say to explain my slow slog to the finish is the hills just were too much for me. Even though I did my long runs on a hilly route, and even had a breakthrough  before the race, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the hills of this race. My legs felt tired after the first two miles, and that was just when the hills were really getting going. I was doing great following the 2 hour pacer until the hills started getting intense, then the group got so far away from me I knew there was no way that was going to happen for me in this race. Usually I can make up some time in the last 5k of a half marathon, but by then I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was just to finish.

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My sad stats are as follows:

Chip time: 2:13:46

Gender place: 337/667

Age Group place: 36/82

All I can say is, these women from New Jersey are FAST!

If you enjoy hilly half marathons that are pretty low frill, this one would be for you. There is also a relay option for the half marathon.

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Also, just in time for the summer heat, I have a discount code for Nuun: hydratefriends2017 for 25% off your order. The code is good through June 23.

Nuun link

A Breakthough!

So I’ve been having a knee/calf/ankle issue for some time now (years?) that I’ve been unable to even pinpoint where the problem is, hence my lumping the three body parts together. The issue is that when I run or even walk, I’ve been hyperextending my right leg. Basically my leg is straight when it should be bent, or at least partially bent. Have I lost you? I know, it’s complicated, which is why I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem or how to fix it.

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When I run or even walk, but especially when I’m going uphill, it looks like I’m limping. It’s not terribly noticable when I’m walking, but when I’m running, it’s easy to see something’s “not right.” I’ve even had various people ask me about it when I’ve been out walking or running. When I saw a video of myself running at a half marathon a couple of years ago, I was appalled that my form had gotten so bad. That prompted me to seek out a physical therapist, but that didn’t happen right away, because, well, I guess I just kept hoping the problem would go away, and honestly, I wasn’t in pain so I just kept going on like that.

I went to a physical therapist last fall and what I found out was:  1) I hyperextend my right leg when I walk and run and 2) I have a muscle imbalance between my right and left legs. My physical therapist gave me a bunch of exercises to do that would hopefully help balance out my left and right legs. For the several weeks I was going there, I was diligent about doing the exercises, then I slacked off for a bit, then I started doing them again after I would run. I stopped going to physical therapy because I wasn’t even sure if it was helping me and I figured I could just save myself a lot of time and money by doing the exercises on my own at home.

Lately, somewhat miraculously, I started to notice I wasn’t hyperextending my right leg as much. It’s really hard to watch yourself while you’re running but I seemed to notice something different in my gait. It wasn’t dramatic so I wasn’t even sure what was going on. Then my daughter said out of the blue a few weekends ago, “You don’t seem like you’re limping like you used to, with your knee problem.” This was fantastic to hear! I think I’m still hyperextending my knee but not as much as I was. To me, this is a breakthough.

I’ve been doing other things besides the prescribed exercises from the physical therapist. I’ve also been working on my core (with my 30 day plank challenge), doing clamshell exercises, side leg lifts, and throwing in a bit of lunges and squats even though I detest doing both of those latter exercises, but all part of helping with dead butt syndrome. I know this isn’t very scientific of me, just throwing in a bunch of changes instead of one new thing at a time, to try to figure out what exactly is working, and I’m even a scientist- I should know better. I was desperate, though. I just really wanted this problem to go away so I’ve been throwing every single thing I could think of to try to fix it. So now it seems something, or many things are working.

On a recent 12 mile run on a very hilly route I’ve been running on for the past two years, I was able to run up every. single. hill. I’ve never even come close to running up every single hill on this route. I would end up going so slow and would be so out of breath, I’d end up walking until I was at least close to the top before I would start running again. To run up every hill was HUGE for me! I was elated! I took a quick photo of one of these hills just to give a little perspective, but I’m not sure the photo does it justice.

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Now I guess I’m stuck doing all of these things in hopes of forever and truly “fixing” my leg imbalance so I don’t run like I’m limping any longer. If that’s what it takes, so be it.

It’s my 1 Year Blogiversary!

I didn’t even know “blogiversary” is an accepted term; I had to look it up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a “real” word, but if you google it, several things come up, so I’m going with it. I’ll admit I’m still very much a newbie when it comes to blogging. I know some of you have been blogging for many years (and have had many blogiversaries, so you are well aware of the term). For me, I’m still very much learning but I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned over my first year of blogging and sum up my blog.

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One of the first questions to ask here is why did I start my blog in the first place? Well, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US and I wanted a place to chronicle my races. I just ran my 41st half marathon in my 39th state, Utah, so I’m slowly but surely getting there. I also love to travel and enjoy writing about places my family and I go with the premise that you don’t have to be retired to travel the world. Hence, the title of my blog, “runningtotravel,” since my blog is about running and traveling, with a little spin on both of those.

What have I learned since I started blogging? Many, many things. For starters, it takes a lot of work to put together a blog and keep it going. By the time you have that first idea about what to write, then you type it up, edit it, add photos, check anything that needs checked (facts, dates, etc.) you’ve got some time invested in that post. Then, if you’re lucky, others have commented and you need to reply to those comments. There’s also the social media aspect, where you post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. to get others to come to your site and respond to any comments there. Not surprisingly, many bloggers stop posting after a few weeks or months because they simply can’t invest the amount of time necessary.

Another thing I’ve learned since I started blogging is just how enormous the blogging community is. I had no idea there were that many people with blogs. Nor did I know how many platforms there are for bloggers. I use WordPress but that’s just one of many places where bloggers can and do post their blogs, like bloglovin for example. Like I said, I’m still learning.

One thing I’ve learned about the blogging community is that it’s full of compassionate, friendly, helpful, and knowledgable people. Maybe I’ve been lucky but I’ve yet to encounter any mean or unwelcome comments from anyone. By far the majority of comments I’ve received have been insightful, encouraging, and helpful. Maybe a part of that’s because most of these comments have also been from runners and/or travelers and I have the biased opinion that the running and traveler communities are some of the most welcoming and supportive communities out there.

I’ve seen the number of followers increase over time to my blog, and I’m always in awe and humbled that so many people actually want to read about my adventures, races, and other exercise/fitness/family-related posts. Without followers, I might as well just keep an online diary that only I can see. That brings me to my final thought about blogging.

Many bloggers really wear their heart on their sleeve, so to speak. For those of you not familiar with the phrase, it means to show intimate emotions in an honest and open way. This makes a blogger more vulnerable but it also allows the reader to really get to know the person. I’ve struggled with this because I tend to be a pretty private person. Finding the right balance between giving details but not too many details to make me uncomfortable has been a learning curve but I think I’ve managed to do this.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has read my posts and commented. I feel like I’ve gained some “blogger friends” and am happy I’ve found this blogging community. I’ve learned so much, not just about blogging, but about so many other things and for that I thank you for enriching my life. I can only hope to do the same for you.

So tell me, why did you start blogging?

Donna

 

Dead Butt Syndrome

I think my butt may be dying.  I don’t think it’s dead because I don’t have the extreme pain that I’ve read comes with dead butt syndrome. If you’re a runner and especially a long-distance runner, you may have heard of “dead butt syndrome” or even personally experienced it. For those of you that haven’t heard of this, I’m not making it up. It’s a real condition technically known as gluteus medius tendinosis, an inflammation of the tendons in the gluteus medius, one of three large muscles that make up the butt.

People with dead butt syndrome usually have pain in their hip(s) and poor stability around their hips and pelvis. It can occur at any age. Even non-runners can develop the condition if they have a job where they sit for long periods of time each day.

Muscle imbalance is often a culprit of dead butt syndrome. People over-compensate with their already stronger hip flexors and/or quadriceps, resulting in less use of their hamstrings and gluteal (butt) muscles, which weakens the glutes over time. Us runners without perfect biomechanics are particularly prone to this problem.

Is there hope for people with a dead butt or dying butt? Yes! You can save your dead or dying butt if you’re diligent about doing some exercises to strengthen your glutes, hips, and hamstrings. There are many exercises you can do, but some of the more recommended ones include bridge, squats, side leg lifts, and clams.

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You’ll need to do lots of squats to help dead butt syndrome!

Here is an explanation of the exercises I mentioned plus a couple more:

Bridging:  lie on your back with your eyes straight up at the ceiling and your legs bent. Pull your heels as far as you comfortably can up to your butt and raise your hips towards the ceiling. Tighten your butt when you’re as high as you can go. Slowly lower your hips back down.

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Photo credit yoga.com

Bodyweight squats:  it’s very important you have proper form for squats so use a mirror to help make sure your knees aren’t going beyond your toes as you slowly lower your butt down as if you were sitting in a chair. Have someone watch you if you’re still unsure if your form is right.

Standing on one leg:  this is a great way to fire your stabilizer muscles. Make sure you have good form and your pelvis is level. Start with aiming for 30 seconds per leg and try to increase up to one minute per leg.

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Single leg squat:  also known as a “pistol squat,” where you squat down on one leg at a time, with the other raised in front. Only do this exercise if you’ve got perfect form for bodyweight squats and this doesn’t cause pain.

Side leg lifts:  lie on your side with both legs on top of each other and lift the top leg towards the ceiling. Make sure your hips are level and your bottom leg is slightly bent.

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Clams:  lie on your side and bend both legs at a 45-degree angle. Raise your top knee up toward the ceiling, keeping your heels together and keeping your hips square.

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Photo credit keywordsuggests.com

You can incorporate these into your regular post-run stretching exercises and it should only add a few more minutes to your routine. I know, I know- more stretching! I recommend seeing a physical therapist if your pain is severe or these exercises don’t seem to help any.

What I Learned from 30 Days of Plank

After reading yet another article about a “30 day plank challenge” and similar things related to doing plank exercise I was curious about what this would really do for me. I wanted to know, are the reports from other people exaggerated? Would I see any improvements in my running? Would I see improvements in my posture? Or would I not really notice much of anything?

My plan was simple. I would do a one-minute plank every day for 30 days in a row. I had been pretty good about doing core exercises these past few years, but then suddenly the gym where I work stopped having the Friday afternoon core class. Even though I promised myself I would do my own 30 minutes of core exercises at home on Fridays, I wasn’t consistent. Pretty much the only core exercises I was doing was about 5 minutes at the gym once a week and what was covered in my yoga class once a week.

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Day 1 began after going for a run with some fartleks mixed in. For all of you non-runners or new runners, fartlek is Swedish for “speed play” and basically means you mix in some short sprints with slower, more continuous running. But I digress. The point of this isn’t to talk about running, but planks, and more specifically what would happen to me after doing a one-minute plank every day for 30 days? The first day of plank felt fine. I didn’t have a problem holding it for a minute and could have gone a bit longer.

I’ll spare you the day-by-day blow of what happened but here’s a summary:

For the first several days, I felt pretty much the same each day. I was a bit shaky starting around 30 seconds into it but not so bad that I wasn’t able to hold for one minute. By around day 6, it felt like it was getting easier to hold. On day 8, I did 30 minutes of core exercises in the evening then a couple of hours later did my one minute plank, so on day 9 I was a bit sore. On day 13, I felt like it was definitely getting easier to hold. Half-way though on day 15, the 60 seconds went by quicker than usual and I actually went over by 5 seconds, accidentally (I zoned out).

Then something unexpected started happening. I noticed it was a bit easier for me to run up hills on my long runs. Whereas before, I would have to walk up some of the especially steep or long hills, now I could run at least partly if not all the way up them. I didn’t expect that to happen after just doing one-minute planks for a couple of weeks! I’m not saying I could now power up every hill I came upon, but I was definitely able to run up some hills I couldn’t before.

Also, I had an easier time in my yoga class. I take a Vinyasa flow yoga class once a week that’s geared more for athletic people; it’s definitely a power yoga class. It’s tough and our instructor usually has us do something like 5-6 flow sequences where we go from plank to chaturanga then upward-facing dog to downward dog over the course of about 30 minutes, before we move on to other things. The other option is to just hang out in downward dog and skip the plank, chaturanga and upward-facing dog. If you don’t do yoga, I’ll just jump to the important part. Instead of getting through about 3-4 flow sequences then choosing downward dog for the other times, I was able to do the full flow sequences easily. I wasn’t even that tired after class. Normally I’m wiped out by the time I get home, but when I was about halfway into this plank challenge, I felt fine when I got home from yoga and wasn’t the least bit sore the next morning. I didn’t expect that.

On day 18, I did a 30 minute core workout on my own and was only a tiny bit sore the following day. For the rest of the days up to day 30, I felt like my abs had definitely gotten stronger. This is something I can stick with too. It’s hard for me to fit all of the stretching, foam rolling, etc. after I run, but this is only one minute. Even I can squeeze in an extra minute!

Now my plan is to continue doing plank every day for one minute until I reach the point where a minute feels easy, then I’ll do some side planks or dynamic planks. I’ve read conflicting information about planks, but all I know is the results I’ve personally seen, and they work for me!