I Tried a Sensory Deprivation Tank and Here’s What it Was Like For Me

Over the last year, I had been hearing more and more about sensory deprivation tanks, also known as isolation tanks or floatation tanks, and I wanted to try one out for myself. A sensory deprivation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which you float. There are numerous health benefits, including psychological effects like increasing concentration and focus and reducing anxiety, as well as benefits for athletes such as speeding up recovery after strenuous physical training by decreasing blood lactate.

Since I would be running the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I checked to see if there was a place that offered flotation tanks near the race so that I could try it out as a form of recovery. Sure enough, I found Urban Float in Lewes, Delaware, part of a chain with a handful of locations in Ohio, Texas, and Washington. I booked a reservation online for the day after my half marathon and looked forward to my Mother’s Day appointment.

The day of my appointment, which was the day after the Seashore Classic Half Marathon, I woke with a sore core and sore legs. When I arrived at Urban Float, I filled out the usual personal information (name, address, phone number) and watched a short video on what to expect. I was taken to a private room (there were six private rooms with tanks here) that contained a sensory deprivation tank, a bench to put my clothes on, a shower with shampoo, body wash, and conditioner, and a basket full of earplugs and small packs of petroleum jelly (to cover any small cuts). There was also a pool noodle you could prop under your neck or knees and a small halo-looking flotation device you could put under your head if you felt like you wanted a little something to assure you your head wasn’t going to go under the water.

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A nice shade of blue inside the tank

I was told to shower beforehand, using only body wash and shampoo (no conditioner), finishing off with cool water to make the transition easier, and enter the pod naked (although you can wear a bathing suit if you want but it’s all completely private). I had chosen there to be music for the first ten minutes inside the tank, followed by silence, then music again for the last five minutes. I chose which type of music I wanted and was told it would be followed by an announcement that my time was over.

There was a button inside the tank to control the lights. You had the option to have them cycle through different colors, choose just one color, or have no lights and be in complete darkness. There was also a panic button on the right-hand side, which I was told to hold and push several times if necessary, since they “tend to ignore the first couple of times the alarm goes off” because people apparently sometimes accidentally hit the panic button and they want to make sure you truly meant to hit it. There was also a small spray bottle of water in case you got any salt water in your eyes.

So, after showering, I grabbed the halo floatation device and entered the tank. Per the instructions and personal preferences of the people who work there given to me at the beginning, I didn’t put in ear plugs. I pulled the tank completely closed (you can prop it open but I was told you would feel a draft from the room since it was slightly cooler than the water and tank temperature) and eased into the water. Immediately, I began to play around with the lights, finally choosing a nice green hue to stay on.

I found it was actually pretty difficult to not float in the water when I tried pushing down my legs to the bottom. The tank had about 10 inches of water filled with 1200 pounds of epsom salt so it’s even more buoyant than the Dead Sea. As suggested, I moved around, trying different positions, until I finally settled on the typical arms out at my sides and legs splayed out, kind of like a star. I did wish I had put ear plugs in my ears because I didn’t really like my ears filling up with water and I found myself lifting up my head to let the water drain out of them several times. The halo helped a tiny bit with keeping water out of my ears but not much.

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The outside of the tank reminded me of a space shuttle from Star Trek!

Once the music stopped, I didn’t have any trouble staying relaxed. I practice yoga and am pretty good at meditation and relaxing my mind. However, after some time, even I had trouble focusing and relaxing. I got a bit bored and was ready for my session to end about 5 or so minutes before the music came on again at the end. When it was time to get out of the tank, I once again showered with body wash and shampoo, and also used conditioner and put a few drops of vinegar in each ear. I dried off and got dressed and headed up to the front again.

There was a relaxation room off the side of the main check-in area, where you could get water or tea or just relax in front of the fake fireplace. I decided to skip that on my way out and just went to check out. I knew I would have a long drive back home and wanted to get back to pack up and head home.

Afterwards, my muscles definitely felt more relaxed. My core wasn’t sore at all and my legs weren’t nearly as sore as they were previously. I’ve always been a huge believer in the power of epsom salts to relieve sore muscles, and these tanks are basically giant epsom salt baths.

The sensory deprivation part of these tanks is more complicated, in my opinion. Since you’re completely in control of the lights inside the pod and you can have some music at the beginning and end, music throughout, or no music at all, or you can go for more of a quasi-sensory deprivation, where I feel like you get the best of both. You can have total darkness and no sounds for say 15 minutes, to ease into it, especially the first time or two you experience it, or you can choose to jump right in and go for total sensory deprivation with no lights or music. On the other hand, you can choose to leave the tank open a little if you’re concerned about feeling claustrophobic, and leave the lights on inside the tank along with music playing the entire time. In other words, you’re in control of your experience.

So would I do it again? Absolutely, without hesitation, especially after a hard race, like a marathon or half marathon. I’m not and have never been claustrophobic, either, so that’s not a factor for me but I could see where it would be with other people. I can’t say I really felt that much more relaxed mentally, but if you floated at a place regularly, I can see that being a benefit for sure.

Have you ever tried a sensory deprivation tank? Would you ever try one if given the opportunity?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

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Recovery for Runners- Seven Things that Work for Me

It’s a fact:  the older you are as a runner, the more important recovery becomes. I’ve found that I can no longer skip stretching and foam rolling after I run or I’ll be more sore and stiff the next day. The longer and/or more intense the run, the more important it is that I follow my recovery regime.

Over the years I’ve found some recovery products that undoubtedly make a huge difference in how quickly my body recovers after running. Probably the one recovery product that I’ve had the longest is my foam roller. I’ve tried different brands and different styles of foam rollers over the last 15-20 years and have found the TriggerPoint GRID foam roller lasts longer than most other brands and does a great job for an affordable price. You can buy TriggerPoint products here.

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One or both of my dogs often tries to take over my rug that I stretch and foam roll on!

I also love Nuun hydration products and will have either their Endurance during a long run or their Sport after a shorter but intense run to re-hydrate. Endurance has some carbohydrates to help keep you fueled for runs longer than 90 minutes. You could drink either Endurance or Sport before or after a run (or during) but I’ve found what works best for me as stated above. Nuun also has a relatively new product, Rest, that has magnesium, tart cherry, and potassium to help you recover and sleep better. I’ve tried the Blackberry Vanilla Rest and really like it. You can buy Nuun products at local running and sporting goods stores, Target, Whole Foods, Amazon, and many other places including the full line of products at Nuunlife.com.

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Another product for recovery that I love is my Zensah recovery compression tights. My hips and calves tend to tighten up after an especially long run and I’ve found if I wear these tights for a few hours after running, my legs and hips don’t feel as tight or sore. At first I wore them only after running half marathons then I thought that was silly and started wearing them after runs more than 10 miles, when I really feel like I need them the most. I also wear Zensah compression socks or True Grit socks while I’m running and love both products. Some local running stores carry some of their products but you can find all of Zensah’s products at Zensah.com.

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One thing I do for recovery and I feel like it’s made a huge impact on my running and the prevention of major running injuries is go to yoga class. I’ve been going to yoga class at a gym for about 15 years and although the gyms and teachers have varied over the years, I’ve been able to learn some excellent yoga poses and stretches for helping loosen my tight runner legs and hips. I only go to yoga class once a week but I’ll sometimes incorporate some yoga-specific stretches into my post-run stretches at home.

Another thing I do after every long run is make sure I eat something healthy with carbohydrates and protein. I really love a bowl of Greek yogurt topped with whole almonds, Hemp seeds, mixed berries, sunflower seeds, and a drizzle of honey. That’s been my go-to snack after long runs for a while now and it fills me up and satisfies me plus it’s got plenty of protein and carbs to help with recovery.

The final thing I do for recovery is schedule a massage once a month. I started doing this when I was dealing with headaches and neck pain in my early 30’s. I had been involved in three different car accidents spread out over about 5 years beginning when I was in high school. At the time, I was seeing a chiropractor but didn’t want to continue seeing a chiropractor for the rest of my life so I looked into massage therapy. Not only has massage therapy helped with my neck pain and headaches but it also helped with Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) many years ago. Since I started going to a massage therapist regularly, I make sure I pay attention to any little niggles I’m currently feeling so the therapist can work those out before they become something bigger.

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My other dog commandeering the rug I stretch and foam roll on

Actually, there is one more thing, actually probably the most important part of recovery of all- sleep! I’m the type of person that has always needed a lot of sleep. Now that I’m a long-distance runner I need even more sleep so I always make sure I get 9 hours of sleep every night. If I haven’t been sleeping well during the week and I don’t need to get up early for a run on the weekend I’ll sometimes get as much as 10 hours of sleep at night on the weekend. Naps after a long run are also a fabulous way for your body to recover but I don’t nap that often myself.

To help with getting a good night’s sleep, I make sure I turn off all electronics at least a half hour before bedtime (preferably an hour), I dim the lights, and read every night before I go to sleep. That routine works well for me and I almost never have trouble falling asleep. I also run a fan in the bedroom for white noise and wear an eye mask to block out light.

So there you have seven things I incorporate into my life to help with recovery from running. To be honest, even if I didn’t run, each and every one of these things I listed here would still be great tools to add to my routine to help me feel better.

What things do you do for recovery? Do you find yourself spending more time on recovery than you did when you were younger?

Also, I’m looking for new shows to watch on Netflix while I stretch and foam roll. Any suggestions for shows or movies that you’re currently watching and love?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

 

All the Ways I Recover from Running

It seems like the topic of recovery after a running or workout session has come up a lot lately in many different places from blogs to social media. As a 40-something runner, recovery has become more important to me over the years. When I was in my 20’s I don’t think I ever stretched and I know for sure I never used a foam roller or did any yoga.

Over the years, I also seemed to be plagued by running injuries, too. When I was an undergraduate in college I had shin splints that almost stopped me running completely, they were so painful. After picking running back up after a few years off, I had little aches and pains and minor running problems over the years but fortunately nothing serious.

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My daughter and me after going for a hilly run in the Canary Islands recently

One of the worst for me was struggling with a tight IT (iliotibial) band; this was around the time I started seeing a massage therapist regularly, which is one of the ways I recover from running (regular massage therapy). Massage therapy helps me to get rid of the knots and tight muscles that would otherwise continue to get worse and no doubt cause more serious issues. I get a deep tissue massage once a month and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I continue to run mostly pain-free.

I don’t remember exactly when I started going to the yoga class at my gym but I do know I was in my early 30’s. I had talked to some other runners who recommended yoga to me, so I naively went, not really knowing what to expect honestly. Over the years I’ve been a member of 3 or 4 gyms and have had probably around 10 different yoga instructors at these gyms. Yoga has undoubtedly kept my hamstrings and hips from just bunching into tight balls and refusing to do what I want them to do. I truly believe everyone would benefit from doing yoga once a week, whether you’re a runner or not. Believe me when I say not all yoga instructors are created the same, so if you go to a class and don’t care for it, try a different instructor and see if that changes your mind or try watching a show or DVD and doing it at home.

The foam roller and I have a love-hate relationship. I love how it loosens my tight IT bands, calves, quads, and hamstrings but I hate how painful it can be, especially on my IT bands. Nonetheless, I use my foam roller religiously after every run and have done so for years after my aforementioned problems with my IT band began in my 30’s. I also stretch my hamstrings and legs after a run, and have found it works best to stretch first then use the foam roller.

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My trusty foam roller after a recent run fueled by Honey Stinger and nuun

Another way I recover from a run is by refueling my body with carbs and protein. After reading Roar by Stacy Sims (you can see my book review here) I began to make sure I consume plenty of protein along with carbs after a run. In the book, Dr. Sims recommends women should take in protein high in leucine before exercise and within 30 minutes of  exercising to help maintain muscle especially when hormone levels are high.

The final and most important thing I do to recover from the stresses of running is making sure I get plenty of sleep. I think getting enough restful sleep is hugely important for everyone, whether you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer, or if you never exercise; we all need to get enough sleep every night. Our muscles repair when we’re not working them so we need to make sure they have plenty of time for that. I think probably everyone understands the importance of getting enough sleep but a lot of people underestimate just how much sleep they need and don’t make sleep a high priority in their busy lives.

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My puppy sleeping

What about you guys? I’m sure I probably left something out. How do you recover from running or exercise?

Happy running!

Donna

 

What to do When You’re Sick or Injured and Traveling

I guess if you travel enough, you’ll inevitably end up sick or injured during your vacation. Over the years, I’ve been sick or injured or someone in my family has been and I’d like to hope I’ve learned a thing or two about what to do. There are of course some things you can do to prevent getting sick or injured but sometimes things just go wrong and there’s not a single thing you could have done to have prevented it.

One of the most memorable examples was when my husband and I were in Costa Rica many years ago and toward the end of our vacation we decided to take one of the resort’s ocean kayaks out for a paddle. We were having a grand time when suddenly the tide changed and our kayak began to get pushed into the nearby coral reef. After being thrown out of the kayak we were tossed around by the waves and struggled just to hold onto the kayak. Neither of us were wearing water shoes or any shoes at all and both of us got some deep cuts on our feet from the coral.

Suddenly my husband screamed out in agony and let go of the kayak. I held onto the kayak and fought against the churning waves to get back to shore as my husband told me what happened. He felt a sharp pain in the heel of his foot and thought he might have stepped on something other than coral. His foot was gushing with blood and he said he was beginning to see stars. We knew we had to get back to our resort quickly and hoped there was someone that could help us.

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My husband and me in Costa Rica before our kayaking adventure

Fortunately the resort had an on-site doctor and nurse so we immediately made our way there. Although the doctor spoke no English, the nurse spoke a little English so along with my limited Spanish we were able to communicate. The nurse told me the doctor suspected my husband stepped on the barb of a stingray and she said the poison released is typically very painful. They administered morphine to my husband for the pain and cleaned up both his and my cuts from the coral. The lesson from all of this? Wear water shoes when ocean kayaking where there is coral? Sure, that would have helped. Make sure you know the language of the country where you’re going on vacation? Well, that certainly was helpful but maybe more importantly, make sure your health insurance covers you when you’re away from home. Call your health insurance company before you go out of town, even if it’s just to another state within the United States, to make sure you will have coverage if you’re injured or hurt. Ask what your limitations are as well. Fortunately for us my husband’s health insurance paid for all of the charges for this.

Depending on your personal health insurance plan, or lack thereof, you might want to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance is more than just health insurance; your airfare, hotel, baggage fees, and other travel-related expenses will also be covered in the event of an emergency, with varying levels of coverage depending on the plan you purchase. I know a lot of people that travel internationally are big fans of Travel Guard, an American travel insurance company. They provide three levels of coverage called Silver, Gold, and Platinum Plans.

Several years ago my husband, daughter, and I were going on vacation to Hawaii with my in-laws who were older and in poor health and I purchased travel insurance in advance of this trip. This was a two-week expensive vacation and I didn’t want to potentially lose all of the money spent on our airfare and other costs if one or both of my husband’s parents fell ill and we had to cancel the vacation. The money I spent on travel insurance gave me peace of mind so I didn’t have to worry about cancellation fees, so it was money well-spent, although fortunately no one had to cancel the vacation.

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Fortunately everyone was able to enjoy our family vacation in Hawaii

A good thing to do before you travel internationally is to check online to see if you need any specific vaccinations. The CDC website is a good source for recommendations in each country. Some vaccines require multiple shots spread out over time, so do this in the early stages of planning your vacation. I’ve heard some people say they just asked their doctor what shots they needed before traveling to a specific place, only to be told, “Oh you don’t need anything to go there,” which was incorrect information, so always check online to be sure. Depending on where you’re going you might want to get hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines to protect against contaminated food or water.

If malaria is a risk where you’ll be traveling, you can take a prescription medication before and during your trip. When you arrive at your destination be sure to cover up exposed skin and use insect repellent with DEET to protect against mosquitoes.

Not drinking the tap water is easy enough but there are some additional steps you need to do to avoid getting diarrhea from the local water. Only drink bottled water that you personally open yourself. Don’t worry about seeming rude by refusing water from a bottle that is already opened. Your health is more important. Also don’t eat any uncooked vegetables or fruit that have been freshly washed, including salads. Finally don’t forget to skip the ice cubes in drinks.

In the event you do end up with “Montezuma’s Revenge,” despite all your best intentions there are things you can do to feel better faster. Pack some Immodium in your carry-on so you don’t have to worry about finding a pharmacy when you can barely get off the toilet. Activated charcoal tablets can be taken for gas from GI distress and can be found at most major drug stores as well.

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This kind of “Montezuma’s Revenge” is fun; the other kind, not so much!

I also like to pack pain reliever such as ibuprofen, allergy pills, band-aids, and even a thermometer is good to have if you’re traveling. Most of these things can easily be purchased at drug stores in the US, but if you’re overseas it might not be so easy to buy them, especially if the language is different and the packaging won’t be in English. Also, it’s much easier to just pull out the needed medication from your carry-on bag than find a pharmacy and buy the medicine then get back to your hotel to take the medicine and rest. When we were in Oregon, our daughter was so sick with a cold she was vomiting phlegm. I had forgotten to pack some tested and true Mucinex so we had to schlep to a drug store to buy some for her. After that she began to feel much better but it would have been so much easier and quicker if we would have already had it with us.

Over the years I’ve also experienced food poisoning, migraines, bizarre rashes, and cuts and blisters but thankfully nothing life-threatening. Sickness and injuries are bound to happen at some point when you’re traveling but there are some things you can do ahead of time to give you peace of mind and you can arm yourself with a few things that will make you feel better quicker.

What about you all- have any tips or stories to share?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Running During My Off-Season

I’m in-between half marathons currently, which means I haven’t been doing a whole lot of running. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been active, though. My last half marathon was in New Jersey and was my 40th state. Given that my next half marathon isn’t until November, that leaves a big chunk of the summer with no training plan. I’ll start training for my next race in a couple of weeks.

Now that I’m down to the final 10 states on my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states, I’ve gone from running a race every season to a race in three out of four seasons. After my race in November, I won’t have another race until May, which means my off-season will be during the winter months for the most part. Last year, I was training during the winter for my race in Utah in February. I was cursing my decision when I had to run my long runs in the cold last January and February, but I’m sure next summer when I’m training for a half marathon in August and have to do my long runs in the heat and humidity I’ll be cursing my decision to do a summer race.  Oh well!

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Although I haven’t been running a ton, I’ve been having fun biking with my family- here’s my daughter on a recent family ride

OK.  Back to my point, which is it’s kind of different having such a long break off of serious miles. Sure, I’ve still been running here and there, but the longest run I’ve gone on since the race in May is 4 miles. I’ll run 5 miles this weekend, but still, this is what many of you runners are doing for your mid-week runs. I’ve been working on strength training and some other things as well during this time off of race training, so it’s been a good time to do some other things like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which I’ll ease off of when I’m in the double digits for my long runs.

There’s also a mental aspect of taking a break from half marathon training. Running is such a big part of my life, when I’m not doing so much of it, I have kind of mixed feelings. I’m enjoying having extra time in my day but I also miss my time out on the roads and trails. I’ve been running my long runs on the same trail for the past couple of years and it’s quite scenic and not crowded, so I feel a sense of peace when I’m running. Even though parts of the trail are close to neighborhoods, there are enough trees and wooded areas that you feel miles away from everything at times.

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I haven’t missed this hill from my long runs!

Until recently I didn’t really have an “off-season” from training. I’ve always taken a solid two week break from every half marathon I run, sometimes a little more if I feel like I need it, but my next race was never more than 2 or 3 months away usually. I suppose I could have ran shorter distance races this summer, but honestly the idea of running a race in the heat and humidity we have here in North Carolina doesn’t appeal to me. That could be an option for next spring during my long break between races, though. I haven’t ran a 5k by myself (I ran one with my daughter a couple of years ago) since I first started running races so it would be interesting to see how I’d do.

How about you guys? Most of the running blogs I follow make me look like a slacker when it comes to running races! Do you guys ever take an off-season from running and/or racing?

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.