Pilates for Runners

For several years after having my two oldest children, I was plagued by chronic lower back pain and SI joint dysfunction that would come and go (and sometimes completely stop me in my tracks) and hips that always felt out of whack. Maybe it was from carrying my kids around on my left hip all the time (while simultaneously doing everyday tasks like making meals, carrying laundry or groceries, talking on the phone, emptying the dishwasher, etc.)… Maybe it was just from bad postural habits that took their toll over time.

Whatever the cause, it wasn’t good and it wasn’t heading me in the direction I wanted to be headed in.

I wasn’t mindful at all about how I moved and I didn’t have the self awareness – or the perspective – that I do now.

It was during one of my particularly tough back spasms that my sister Jodi (an awesome runner, coach, Pilates guru and owner of my favorite studio, Reston Pilates) encouraged me to try Pilates. It had helped her tremendously after her back surgery (so much so that despite doctors telling her she would likely never run again, she has since run multiple marathons and ultras!) and she believed it would help me, too. She began to teach me and it didn’t take long for me to begin to realize the amazing benefits. Not long after that I began pursuing a teaching education in Pilates so that I could help others heal and live pain free through this wonderful movement system.

Pilates literally changed my life. It helped me connect with and develop an inner strength that had in fact always been there. I became intentional with how I moved my body and with how I stood, cultivating better habits and healthier movement patterns. With a dedication to regular Pilates and mindful movement, I discovered that I am so much stronger than I ever thought possible. Continue reading

epiphany

I have yet to run my first miles of 2017.

After 5 months of repeatedly thinking that my foot was better enough to run again, and then painfully realizing that it wasn’t after days or weeks of slowly easing back into it, I decided as I rang in the New Year that the miles I run this year will be worth waiting for.

In August my foot began hurting. I rested for weeks and went to see two different chiropractors. It was getting a little better, but the pain was not going away. I wasn’t satisfied that I was on the right path.

In September I went to see a podiatrist and had an x-ray that came up clean. I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and prescribed rest, ice, heat and orthotics. I saw a physical therapist and began a routine of exercises given to me to help correct my imbalances. I joined a yoga studio and a gym and got myself in the pool. My coach gave me workouts to do while I rested my foot.

In October I tried running again, and started to think maybe I was on my way to getting better. But there was still a consistent pain all day, even if it were to a lesser degree. I went to see a new physical therapist and a sports orthopedist who is a Boston runner himself. I had an MRI which came back indicating plantar fasciitis, once again – no stress reactions, no fractures, no tears. After a few more weeks of rest, swimming and yoga, my foot was still hurting. On the last day of October I had a cortisone shot. This was a step I was totally fearful of, but my doctor felt that the condition warranted it. So I tried it. Continue reading

happy new year

I don’t really like all the “new you” talk that we hear at the start of the new year.

I have no interest in re-inventing myself anymore.

What I want to do is to peel away the layers of protection and the (self) judgements. To be curious about and to discover what is already inside of me, what has ALWAYS been there.

To soften into that and to trust that, rather than forcing something else.

To celebrate WHAT IS about me and about my life.

To choose to be me, faithfully. Each and every day. One day at a time. One choice at a time.

To trust who that is, to love who that is, to accept who that is.

To live and to shine from THAT place.

I hope you will do the same.

Happy New Year.

Making the most of the off season – a talk with Dr. Aleck Wong

‘Tis the season! This phrase is heard ringing throughout our lives day-in and day-out this time of year. And while everyone is bustling about with the busy-ness of juggling life and preparing for the holidays, runners and endurance athletes are also typically finding themselves in the midst of another kind of season – the off season. I think of it more as a “reboot season” – unplugging for a bit and starting back up again after sufficient rest. It’s a crucial time for a runner, truly. A rich opportunity to let go of the rigors of training and racing in order to reap the benefits of and learn from the prior cycle or to address issues that have lingered from it. It’s a time to recharge our batteries on all levels – physical, mental and emotional.

This season can be welcomed and embraced by any level of runner, but it also oftentimes leaves us feeling a little bit lost and anxious to get back to the rhythms of training and racing. I have been wondering lately – what is the BEST way to approach this in-between time, to prime our bodies and minds for goals we have ahead of us?

How do we make the most of our time off from training? As a coach and an athlete myself, I have a lot of ideas and opinions about this. But I wanted to ask someone whose expertise and opinions I have always valued, to get a little more insight into it and to pass that wisdom along to you.

Continue reading

Know Better, Do Better: Using Inside Tracker for Healing & Performance

For a very long time, I knew that something was off with my health and with my training. I didn’t know what though, and I certainly didn’t know what to do about it. There were times I thought I knew, and I would work to fix it, but then I would realize that I still didn’t feel very good, and that I had no idea if I was on the right path. I would wonder if it was all in my head, if I was helping myself or maybe even making myself worse with all my efforts.

I felt sluggish. Tired. Heavy. Uninspired. BLUE.

My running, which had always been a source of light and strength in my life, was feeling subdued, flat and heavy-hearted.

At one point I finally went to see my primary care doctor about how I was feeling and she ran some blood tests.   Continue reading

my story with overtraining

Nobody sets out to overdo it. Part of becoming the best you can be at anything involves testing your limits. Going farther or pushing harder than you imagined you were capable of. It’s necessary for growth. Most runners know this intimately, and I am no exception. I was running at a level I didn’t know possible for a long time, in a two and a half year period taking my personal best time in the marathon from a 4:35 to a 3:11. All along the way as I pushed myself, I would also check in regularly – thinking I was being careful and smart and in tune with my body. I took recovery seriously, had regular appointments with my chiropractor to keep things in check, was dedicated to my Pilates practice, strength training routine and daily foam rolling sessions. I had an annual physical with my doctor, monitoring my health through check ups and blood tests. My weight decreased significantly during this time, but there were no red flags. No injuries. No disruptions to my menstrual cycle. No issues with my standard blood work, blood pressure or heart rate. I developed food sensitivities and allergies (I even have an Epi pen now for wheat, shell fish and peanut allergies), but in my mind that wasn’t necessarily connected to my running. I had always been plagued with GI distress related to my running, for as long as I can remember, and it didn’t seem to matter what I ate or how I fueled when I raced, so I sort of just accepted it as being a part of my story. So many other runners deal with it, too, which somehow justified my own issues to me.

I thought I was fine. I was racing faster and running farther than ever! How could anything be wrong? I wasn’t worried. Despite the concerns from family members and the dearest of friends, and despite the fact that deep down I was really suffering underneath it all.

Looking back, it sounds so foolish to me now – but I have learned to give myself some compassion and to find grace and forgiveness for that past self. It hasn’t been easy, I will be honest with you. It has at times been excruciating. But awareness, while it is hard and can be so incredibly painful to wake up to, is also a blessing and a gift. One that empowers us to make changes and to live our lives differently moving forward.
Ultimately I am grateful for my journey. I have worked very hard over the last couple of years to heal and to rebuild strength from the inside out. It has been a lot more difficult than achieving any PR ever was or will be. That comparison is laughable to me! My hope now is that by sharing my experience, maybe I can help someone out there avoid causing themselves, and their loved ones, the same kind of pain and suffering. Or if you are already in the throes of it or know someone who is, I want to extend my heart and let you know that you’re not alone. That you CAN turn it around.
It’s better to be late than too late.
I am living proof.
I want to tell you that I am going to share this from the perspective of my running, because that’s what this blog is about, but I also feel it’s important to point out that nothing is ever one-dimensional. Health is not just about blood work or heart rate or what is happening with the physical body. During the last several years my heart and spirit and mind – my relationships with the people that matter most to me as well as my relationship with myself – have undergone major transformations – to hell and back! – just as my body has.
You are not healthy just because you are fit. In fact, I am a firm believer now that some of the most fit people out there are actually the least healthy.
About two years ago I started to wake up. It was a slow, gradual undoing. I was working with a new coach and excited to have his expertise to guide me and help me reach my potential in running. I wanted to take a season away from the marathon and focus on shorter distances for a while. The goal was a half marathon in the spring. All winter though, I was training at an incredibly high level still. Putting in 80 miles a week at times and long runs up to 18 miles – for a half marathon. The race came and I didn’t feel like running it. It was cold and raining, I know that was part of it. But the truth is that those conditions are usually ideal for me. I just didn’t have it in me. Something was off. I ran that race 7 minutes slower than I had on the same course a year prior. And I didn’t care.
I talked to my coach about how I was feeling. He didn’t seem concerned with overtraining at all. I went to my doctor and told her I was feeling depressed and heavy, and that I was having a hard time motivating myself to do things that I normally loved. She ran some blood work and called me back a few days later, telling me that my ferritin was “on the low end of normal” at a 14. Ferritin is the body’s iron stores. I had never heard of it before, but when I looked it up I saw that “normal” was this massive range of numbers from something like 7 all the way up to 130. I remember thinking that was nuts – how could a 14 be normal-ish if a 130 is also healthy!? After more than 20 years of eating primarily a vegetarian diet, and a good two years of just not eating enough at all, I started to try to eat meat again to get more iron in my diet. I also went to see an acupuncturist regularly for a while (at first a few times a week, and gradually over time my visits became more spread out as I got better) and he helped me tremendously. After a few months I was feeling so much stronger, had put on about 10 pounds, and began training for my first New York City Marathon. I was also going to be running the Chicago Marathon with my Saucony cadet as a 26 Strong coach.
My training for NYCM was solid from a numbers standpoint. I was hitting the paces and mileage with ease and wasn’t experiencing fatigue like I had in the winter. There were no signs of injury or anything. Chicago was a few weeks before New York and my cadet and I were on our feet for 6 hours that day. I was surprised by how well my body recovered from that race, but I went into NYC with some apathy that really wasn’t normal for me. It was then that I decided I was never going to do marathons so close together again – even if one of them was “for fun.”
My coach had me running New York fast from the get-go. I was on target for a 3:05 for the first 20 miles of the race. My family was there cheering for me, it was a beautiful day and the course was electric and alive with amazing energy. I was happy and felt strong through the halfway point. Somewhere around mile 18 though, I started thinking about my plan to race the last 10k, and knowing that it was going to hurt. There was no negotiating in my head though – I knew that I didn’t want to do that. When I saw my family at Mile 20, I literally stopped to hug them. It was a moment that felt frozen in time for me. Pivotal. From that point on, I knew it was time to slow down. For the rest of my marathon, and for a long while after that.
I didn’t know when I would want to race hard again, or if I ever would.
My passion for marathons and for running long distances was being threatened, and my health was too. I had had enough.
A few weeks after we returned from New York, my husband started his new job in North Carolina and moved down here into an apartment. He would be living in Raleigh 5 days a week while the kids and I stayed back at home in Virginia. The holidays were approaching and our lives were changing in a really major way. I emailed my coach and told him I was going to coach myself for a while. With our move, and me being a single, working mom of three during the week, I just needed to take the pressure off. Reduce stress. I had already signed up for Boston and wanted to be healthy and happy for that race. THAT was my goal.
Robert came with me to Boston and we celebrated the weekend with wonderful friends. I ran the race with no watch and enjoyed each and every step with no stress, finishing in 4:09 – almost an hour slower than I had run it two years prior. This was a huge achievement for me – running the Boston Marathon with no pit stops for GI issues, smiling and high-five’ing kids along the way, stopping to hug my husband, and crossing the finish line holding hands with a dear friend I had serendipitously caught up with in the final miles of the race. It was fantastic and my heart was happy.
That weekend I started to think that maybe I was ready to train to race again. We had a contract on a house in NC and would be moving and beginning to build our new life here soon. I felt good and hopeful and I felt healthy and happy.
But I knew that I would need to ask for help. That doing this alone was not for me anymore.
Robert and I sat down with coach James McKirdy for a couple of hours in Boston and I told him my story. He listened intently and I had this feeling that he understood me and that he would be a good fit for me as a coach. He seemed to have the perfect combination of an incredible depth of knowledge as well as a very caring spirit – I felt assured that he would put my health first. Having my husband there was extremely important to both of us.
After Boston, I spoke with Jonathan at Inside Tracker. James thought it would be a good idea to get my blood tested before embarking on the next phase of my running journey. In early May I had all of my bio markers tested with the Ultimate Test. I was most curious about my ferritin because going into it, it was the only area I was aware of that had been low when I wasn’t feeling good. I was so happy to learn that my ferritin had more than doubled since my doctor tested it and had gone from a 14 to a 29! I knew it was still low, but it was progress. Slow progress is true progress in my mind, and this was a good starting point. I began to train with James, gradually adding back in mileage and eventually some light speed work – which I had not done in about 9 months. It felt good.
My passion and joyful spirit in running was returning to me, but I was skeptical because I had been here before and didn’t want to do too much too soon and wind up right back where I was, or worse. I decided at this point that I wanted to invest in getting help from a nutritional and holistic standpoint. Being an avid Endurance Planet listener, I reached out to Tawnee Prazak to see if she could help me. Tawnee is an incredibly smart and awesome woman who has been very open about her own journey and experiences with overtraining, disordered body image and eating patterns. I pretty much adore her and before even talking with her I knew that she would be someone who would “get” me.
Working with Tawnee has taken me in a whole new direction, and has breathed a new life into not only my running, but truthfully my whole understanding of how to take care of myself – body, mind and spirit. I will write a separate post soon to share all of the details of the work we have done together thus far. Essentially it has involved a whole lot of waking up to unhealthy patterns and behaviors – letting go of certain ways of thinking and doing, and embracing and trusting totally new ways of nourishing and moving my body.
In the last three months of working with Tawnee and with James I have decided, with their advice and incredible support, that it is NOT time for me to race just yet. This was a hard decision at first, but I know that there is still more healing to be done and strength to be built. I want to race Boston this coming spring and to be healthier than ever when I toe that line. And I want to love running for the rest of my life.
So I am going to be patient and stay my course. 
Last week I had my blood tested again with Inside Tracker. I was astounded to learn that my ferritin is now a 102! In the last four+ months, with a lot of hard work and at times making very tough choices, I have taken my ferritin to an optimal level – from a 29 all the way to a 102. I feel better and stronger than I have in such a long, long time. As James says, “you can’t track what you don’t test,” and having this knowledge to know the areas I need to work on has been so very valuable.
Because of the path that I’ve chosen and the work that I am doing, I believe that my best running is ahead of me, and that it will come from my healthiest, happiest, strongest and most honest self. I’ve evolved and expanded my definition of what it means to be my best self as a runner and beyond.
There are a lot of details that I am looking forward to sharing with you now that I am writing again. I want to write a post all about Inside Tracker, how it has helped me and how I think it can help you too. I want to share with you the ins and outs of what Tawnee has been helping me with, and how much I have been learning about gut health and stress and nourishment. I want to talk openly and bravely about body image issues and disordered eating behaviors and how that can really mess with our health, while also making us think that we are running better than ever … a dangerous combination. I hope to be sharing this all with you later this coming week, and just wanted today to get this ball rolling…
Thank you all for reading, and for following along on my journey here. This community is so incredible and I am as grateful for all of the people that make it what it is as I am for the sport that we all love so much.

**if you would like to try Inside Tracker, you can purchase any test now through the end of the month for 15% off using the following link: https://www.insidetracker.com/qr/onboarding/PACEOFME**

plantar fasciitis

A little over a month ago I had an amazing run. It was one of those perfect mornings where everything clicked – a rarity for me in the thick of this Carolina summer. My friends and I ran 10 miles and did a bunch of 1:00 pick ups (with 2:00 recovery jogs between each), feeling strong and alive and finally sensing a glimmer of how the hard work we’d been putting in all summer might actually be making us fitter, despite the sticky humidity and blazing heat we face each day.

When I got home I remember just floating on that run for quite a while. I was busy with the kids getting them ready for their first trip to summer camp, my home a bit more of a hustle and bustle than usual. I noticed what I would describe as a little bit of tightness in the arch of my left foot later that afternoon. It wasn’t totally unfamiliar and it wasn’t all that painful, but it was there. The next morning it was gone and I had another fantastic run.

The following week we traveled to the Pacific NW for a family wedding and a marvelous adventure in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I ran and hiked all week and reveled in the amazing temperatures, the cool clean air, the gorgeous sceneries. My foot didn’t bug me one bit and I felt better than I had in a while, which I attributed to the fact that we were on vacation and the weather was a million times better out there.

me and Gus at Deception Pass, San Juan Islands

Another week later I was back in North Carolina. I went for a sunrise easy paced long run with my friends on a Friday morning and noticed that my foot was feeling tight again maybe 2 or 3 miles into the run. I hoped it would loosen up as we went.

It didn’t.

I took the next day off and rested it – as best you can rest a foot as a mom of three on a busy Saturday. The following day I went out for a solo run to test it out. I ran for about an hour. A miserable hour. Longer than I should have. Once again I hoped it would loosen up.

Once again, it didn’t.

Later that afternoon and all through the next day, it was tight and painful. No swelling, no discoloration, but tight as all get out. I knew something wasn’t right and wanted to rest it and have it checked out.

I sought out the advice of my trusty chiropractor and dear friend from Virginia, Dr. Aleck Wong. He said it sounded like classic plantar fasciitis and recommended some intrinsic foot exercises, heat in the morning and ice towards the end of the day. He also suggested finding someone here to do active release therapy (ART). So that week I saw someone three times. She did ART and some slight chiropractic adjustments. After a week of that in addition to rest and at home therapies, I tested my foot with a 30 minute run because it felt so much better. But when I ran – it didn’t feel better.

That week I saw a physical therapist who evaluated me and confirmed plantar fasciitis. He did some manual therapy and soft tissue work that included more ART and Graston, as well as dry needling to the calves and the foot.

dry needling

Another week went by with no running and I tested it with a 20 minute run. I felt strong and fit, and so happy to be out there doing what I love! But my foot still hurt.

So I rested again. I went to see a different chiropractor and got a massage. I went back to physical therapy two more times. My PT watched me run, looked at my old shoes, recommended arch support inserts and trying new shoes (I bought the inserts and went to the local running store and got evaluated and fitted for new shoes), showed me more exercises to do, did more therapies on me including cupping (something I had never experienced before) and sent me on my way with tape on my foot.

I joined the Y and began biking and taking some yoga and Pilates classes.

It still, honestly, wasn’t better.

So yesterday – after nearly 4 weeks of no running (with the exception of the 30 and 20 minute runs I tested it on), 8 appointments with 4 different practitioners for therapies including ART, Graston, massage, manual therapy, chiropractic adjustments, dry needling and cupping, regular epsom salt baths, stretching, heating, icing, rolling and pretty much trying everything I could think of doing, including NOTHING – I went to see a podiatrist.

And guess what he said?

I have plantar fasciitis.

He did x-rays and examined my foot. Nothing is broken or torn in half, he assures me. He said my calves are “beyond tight” and told me that loosening them up is really the key to finding my way out of this completely frustrating mess. So now I have homework to do for the next two weeks: stretch my calves 3-4 times every day for 5 minutes at a time, wear a night splint that keeps my foot in dorsi flexion to lengthen out the muscles in my calf and foot, stay off of it as much as possible and don’t do any exercise that puts stress on the lower leg (including biking, the elliptical, and yoga), take NSAIDS to reduce inflammation (Advil, Aleve). He also fitted me for custom orthotics which I was wary about, but since my insurance covers them fully I will give it a shot. I will do my homework and come back in 2 weeks hopefully feeling a lot better.

Throughout this whole ordeal I have had regular conversations with my coach who has dealt with this injury personally. It took him 4 and a half months to get through it. He could not be more supportive or encouraging and is going to give me swim workouts to do while my foot heals. Reminding me how important it is to keep things in perspective and have a positive attitude, it has been great to have him in my corner.

I know that there is a lot to learn here, and a lot to be grateful for. My current goals with running and health actually had me deciding a couple of months ago that I would NOT be racing anything this season in order to strengthen my gut and give my body a break from the stresses and rigors of hard training while my family and I settle into our new home and life here.

Maybe this setback is in a way protecting me from myself, ensuring that I DO indeed take things easy for these next few months. Thinking of it that way really helps me, actually. It’s a silver lining, a light amidst the murkiness of this situation. I have always been one to believe that things happen for a reason, that even when we feel like we are stuck – we are actually right where we are meant to be. I am being tested right now and it is hard. But I will hold onto my faith. It could be far worse than it is and there are lessons and bright spots here to embrace.

Earlier this week I signed up for what will be my 20th marathon and 4th Boston Marathon. I have goals in my heart for that training cycle and race, and want to arrive at that starting line so jazzed and excited about it! And healthy! I think taking these next few months to really heal and build strength and balance in my body and in my life is essential. I know it is. So I will do what it takes to heal, and I will hold my head up and heart open to the lessons to be learned. To the beauties in the breakdown, so to speak.

Have you ever dealt with plantar fasciitis before? Are you grappling with it now? I would love to hear your experiences with how you were able to overcome it and what you learned about your body and your heart through the comeback journey.