Triathlon training – for real now

A lot has happened since I last posted! Since I started physical therapy for my foot, I have been progressing quickly. My goal was to get to bike and run as quickly and sensibly as possible.

I was nervous about standing on the bike, since there is a segment of each revolution during which one foot is bearing all the weight. First, I tried an upright stationary bike with programmable workouts (not a spinning bike) during PT. That didn’t go so well… I could not get the resistance to go up high enough to support a real standing climb. So, I took it upon myself to try it on a spinning bike at a local YMCA. I did 8 minutes, then 10, then 15, and tried standing for bits in between. I started with regular training shoes, then my cycling shoes with SPD cleats. This progression built my confidence enough to try riding outside for the first time!

The ride was 7.3 miles at 12.3 miles an hour. It was the windiest ride I’ve ever been on, so I was uncomfortable, cold, and nervous. I broke off from the route Bruno had planned and cut it short a bit. Close to the end, my body had relaxed a bit and I remembered that I really love cycling. I’m excited to try again tomorrow! I’m not quite (mentally) ready to get on my road bike and clip in, and I have a feeling my foot will be ready faster than my head will be 🙂

On the running front, I told my physical therapist early this week I was ready to start running. I have been doing some stuff on the elliptical and some fast walking, and I felt it’s time. She had me try the treadmill and run at a comfortable pace, and I discovered it was actually less painful than walking! So, we’ve been upping the speed and distance since, and today I completed my first outdoor run of 1.83 miles!! I’m feeling very accomplished.

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Today's spinning and run combo was many post-surgery firsts: First brick workout, first outdoor run, first run in the snow, first #lesmillsrpm class, first run above 1 mile! 🏆 Thanks @beccarun for running with me, I would have stopped without you there. Nothing crazy, 45 minutes on a stationary bike and 1.83 miles at 11:17 pace… But my foot feels great and my heart is full. 💗 And of course, we celebrated with breakfast 🍳☕️ Day 6 of triathlon training complete! — #️⃣#tritraining #trilife #brickworkout #swimbikerun #triathlontraining #triathleteintraining #triathleteinthemaking #saturdaymorning #outsideisfree #wymtm #mileschangeyou #madebymiles #mizunorunning #mizunowave #workoutdone #runoutside #runner #runnerspace #snowyday #trigirl #runnergirl #weekendworkout #roadtoironman #irunthisbody

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These milestones got my triathlon training off to great start. My workouts this week were:

  • Monday: Strength training – leg day | Swim 550yd
  • Tuesday: Run 2 x 0.5 miles at 11:30 pace
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Strength training – upper body | Swim lesson 1 hr
  • Friday: Run 0.7 miles at 11:00 pace
  • Saturday: Brick Les Mills RPM™ + 1.83 miles at 11:17 pace
  • Sunday: 10 mile ride (planned)

I’m icing and elevating my foot for the rest of the afternoon, because I’ve found that I get better results with my recovering foot if I mind the rest as much as I mind the progress.

My next big milestone is getting on my road bike. Stay tuned for that!

 

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Bunion Surgery Recovery: Week 13

Exactly 1 day after my last post, I received very good news in my 12 week post-op appointment. The doctor and nurses were very pleased and impressed with my healing progress, and said I did not have to go back for THREE MONTHS!

Three months? Wait. What am I supposed to do until then? Can I walk barefoot? Can I drive? Can I ride? Can I run?

The first great news: Yes, I can drive again! Regarding physical activity, the doctor said I should not increase by more than 10% each week, and that I should not start training for a marathon. Not knowing quite what that meant, I asked for a physical therapy (PT) referral and started sessions last week.

In week 1 of PT, I have been given the following exercises:

  • Toe curls (trying to scrunch up a towel), 2×10 twice a day
  • Seated heel raises, 2×10 twice a day
  • Ankle rotation front and back, 2×10 twice a day
  • Ankle rotation side to side, 2×10 twice a day

The first couple of days of trying to move my toes caused some discomfort that I was not used to. My foot has not hurt since the second week after surgery and now the exercises make my toes hurt a bit. However, I can already feel how these exercises are helping me walk normally by letting my foot roll onto the toes, and the ankle rotation feels wonderful.

The other great thing about PT is that my I can begin trying out new exercises. I have been pretty consistent with my upper body weight training, but since last week I have incorporated squats (body weight), and brief elliptical and recumbent bike cardio sessions.

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Passed my 3 month post-op check-in with flying colors! Doctor does not need to see me for THREE MONTHS. She said I can begin increasing physical activity, but not by more than 10% each week… That means: elliptical! Felt super clumsy at first, but I did 10 minutes and my foot felt normal. I'll slowly start adding time and distance and hope to progress to walking/treadmill/running with the help of a physical therapist. Soon! 🚶🏽➡️🏃🏽 — #️⃣ #recovery #physicaltherapy #footsurgery #bunionsurgery #elliptical #cardioworkout #saturdaymorning #mizuno #mileschangeyou #workout #training #trainingday #getlean #tritraining #triathleteintraining #triathleteinthemaking #swimbikerun #learntorun #calfs #trainhard #trainsmart #nevernottraining #nevergivingup

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I’m incredibly pleased with my post-surgery state. I thought I would lose a lot more strength than I did. I think eating 40%+ protein has really helped maintain my muscle mass, despite the atrophy in my legs. I also started swim lessons and I love being able to work on my goal of becoming a triathlete even though my legs and feet are not ready yet.

In my next update, I hope to share stories about going back to group fitness and maybe/hopefully getting to try an upright stationary bike!

Bunion Surgery Recovery: Week 12

Yesterday marked 12 weeks post bunion surgery. It’s incredible how easy it is to fall back into a normal routine and forget the recovery journey, and I find myself randomly longing for the early Netflix-and-napping-all-day days. I’m stuck between “still recovering” and “almost okay” which is a bit awkward.

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12 weeks after bunion surgery

These are the things that remind me that I’m still recovering:

  • I cannot drive yet
  • I cannot wear regular shoes
  • No exercise using my feet
  • I still have to wear a toe separator
  • My foot swells and tingles after being at the office all day
  • I have a limp when I walk

This are the things that make me feel almost okay:

  • I can spend 8 hours at the office with only some discomfort
  • I CAN SWIM (provided I am not barefoot around the pool)
  • I’ve been killing my upper body weight training
  • I can sleep normally
  • I can wear regular shoes (if they have thick, sturdy soles — so not my regular shoes)
  • I can paint my toe nails 😉

My next recovery milestone is driving and doing some form of exercise that involves using my foot. I am very happy with the pace of my recovery and the surgery results. My right foot does not hurt at all, and now I am noticing the bunion pain in my left foot (which was shadowed by the severe pain in the right foot).

I can’t yet say whether this will make running or cycling better for me in the end, but I can’t imagine how it could not!

The most useless post about macros you’ll ever read

Since I’m still in recovery, there are not a lot of things I can do about my fitness.

I’m doing upper body strength work on machines four times a week, because I cannot trust my foot yet to help me keep proper form on the bench or standing, and I am technically not allowed to put pressure on it beyond regular walking.

So, what else can I do to become a successful triathlete this year?

For the past 8 weeks, 90% of my meals have been cooked at home. In the months prior to that, about 90% of my meals were from restaurants. I was gradually gaining weight with the pretext that I was “training,” and of course I needed all those pancakes and fries as fuel. After all, you need to carb load the whole week for your weekend long rides, right?

The truth is, I had an incredibly tough year at school and work, and my stress levels were out of control. I spent 8 months working 50-70 hour weeks (I know this is the norm for many people, but it was incredibly tough for me with an ambitious training schedule and 60+ mile rides on weekends). Something had to give, and what gave was my nutrition.

The fact that I had obligatory medical leave and had to be at home for weeks forced me to reflect. First of all, I cannot sustain that level of stress and be an efficient athlete (or a healthy human, for that matter). Second, though I completed my century ride, I did it slower than I trained for and my fitness was going in the wrong direction.

What I can do to make myself a better athlete is to regain control of what I eat and create boundaries to protect my mental and physical well-being.

I started noticing that I was losing weight just from eating at home. Of course, I’m also losing muscle mass, especially in my legs and glutes, but I am doing everything I can to build my upper body muscles and maintain overall strength. Since I cannot use my legs to train, I can use this time to get lean. This can only mean one thing: tracking macros!

After reading dozens of articles, I believe I need to increase my protein intake, and drastically reduce my carbs. The first day, I tried to set my ratios to P40/C30/F30 and it was a complete fail. One does not go from 50-60% carbs to 30% overnight. So, I opted to do a more gradual transition and tried P35/C40/F25. That went very well, so I will be transitioning to P40/C35/F25 next week.

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My macronutrient intake for the week. Gradually decreasing my carbs/protein ratio. Friday was a cheat day, can you tell? 😛

How can I tell this is working? I cannot weigh myself because I cannot stand barefoot on a scale. I did not take body measurements last week, and frankly, I’m not eager to. The way I can tell this is working is by how I feel.

On Friday, I ate a steak salad with fries, and at night I had a frozen margarita with chips and salsa. I felt sluggish and greasy and weak. The lack of protein and excess of carbs made a big difference in just one day. Next week, I will track physical changes more closely and I will do my first weekend meal prep. I’m so excited to share with you the positive results these changes will bring.

 

 

Bunion Surgery Recovery: Week 7

I had a post-op appointment last Friday, 51 days after surgery. My doctor peeled off all the scabs and then grabbed my foot, pressing hard into the bone joints where I think the screws are. “Does this hurt?” she asked, and I said “No.” “Then I want you to put weight on it, walk slowly with the boot on at all times. No bare feet.”

I was thrilled! Progress during this recovery feels like little successes, and every new thing I can do makes me feel like I got an A+. I tried to take a step to walk out of the doctor’s office, but I could not do it. After training my body and brain to absolutely not – under no circumstances – step on that foot, it took some mental strength to convince myself to walk.

When I got home, I took some tentative steps. After some practice in private, I boasted to Bruno and my mom, “Look, I think I’m doing it! I think I can do it!” as I hobbled/slid in and out of the living room.

There are two things I love about being weight-bearing: being able to sit down in the bathroom without using my arms (yes, I went there), and not having to use crutches or sit on my butt to go down the stairs.

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Weekly progress of my right foot after bunion surgery

I had a brief crisis when I looked at my foot late last week and thought the bunion was still there. There is nothing more frustrating than taking yourself out for 3+ months and have the issue not be corrected. The doctor explained that while the bone is very straight, the rest of the foot remembers the bunion. So, the ligaments, tendons, skin, etc. may still show the bump, but it will get straighter over time. She’s right, of course, my X-Rays are awesome and the bones are all parallel. Yet, this recovery has ups and downs, and after months of dependency and inactivity, it’s natural to second-guess the decision.

Right foot before and 7 weeks after bunion surgery
Right foot; left: before surgery, right: 7 weeks post-op

I cannot wait to run again. I read someone describe it this way: “Before, I used to run around my foot, now, I run through my big toe.” If you’ve never had this biomechanical problem it’s probably hard to imagine, but those words created a perfect mental image of stepping down on the ball of my foot and propelling up and forward, gliding across pavement without pain. Of course it’s natural to second-guess, but there’s no guessing that this surgery was the exact right thing to do.

Lobsterman Triathlon 2016

We don’t know where we are going to live, but at least we know where we’ll be on September 17.

That’s what I said to Bruno as soon as hit “Submit Payment” on the registration page of our very first Olympic triathlon!

Finding the right “first triathlon” was not as easy as we thought. We both wanted to do a destination race in a city we’ve never visited, and we were looking for an Olympic distance. After scouring the internet for a couple of hours, we had a short list of about 6. We did a Google Image search and narrowed our list down to three:

  1. Portland, OR, Sep 17, http://www.portlandtri.com/
  2. Freeport, ME, Sep 17, http://www.lobstermantri.com/about/
  3. Clearwater, FL, Nov 5, http://trirock.competitor.com/clearwater/

I liked the idea of #3 because Clearwater was one of the beaches I used to frequent as a child. Also, it was later in the Fall and it would give me ample time to train (see: My Bunion Surgery). Portland has always been appealing and everyone I know only has great things to say about the city. Maine sounded interesting because the Lobsterman Triathlon made it on a list of the 10 Greatest Destination Triathlons, plus they have lobster and corn on the cob at the finish line… 🙂

To decide, we posted our shortlist to Facebook and asked our friends to vote. The results were Portland 7 votes, Maine 7 votes, and Clearwater 1 vote. We chose Maine because Bruno’s just-so-Internet-savvy dad voted for it, and we pretty much thought that was the most adorable thing in the world.

Lobsterman Triathlon 2016 Finish Line
See you in September!

So, here we are! Eight months from the big day. There will be some other big accomplishments between now and then:

 

  • March – Day will begin to walk normally again (fingers crossed)
  • Early May – Bruno’s first BQ attempt at the Pittsburgh Marathon
  • Late May – Bruno and Day graduate from PhD and Master’s degrees, respectively
  • June – Our first Sprint triathlon – Trirock Philadelphia Triathlon
  • July/August – We are moving to Bruno’s new place of employment, still to be determined!
  • September – Lobster!

Since we have other goals in between, our training plans are only set until the Sprint tri (see Day’s and Bruno’s). In the meantime, we will of course be purchasing gear and trying to convince myself that I really do not need a third bike at this time.

Both images borrowed from The Lobsterman Triathlon Facebook page.

My bunion surgery

I’m starting off this year with my heart and mind set on the goal of becoming a triathlete. I know I can ride the miles, I will power through the run, and I’ll train to finish the swim, yet my current reality is that I cannot even walk.

I had bunion surgery on my right foot on 11/25/15. Bunions are a bump on the side of the foot, at the base of the big toe. There are also tailor’s bunions, which are the same thing but at the base of the little toe. I have both. Bunions mostly affect women, and can form due to genetic reasons and/or improper footwear or activity throughout life.

I’ve had bunions ever since I can remember. My mom and both grandmothers had them as well, each with different severity. Though mine are genetic, I know I have made them worse by wearing shoes that were the wrong size. I have size 11 feet, which is above average for a woman. I have memories of my shoes being painful even as a kid, and the constant pressure on my toes probably pushed the bones out of alignment even more.

As a teenager, I lived in Mexico City, where the largest shoe you could find was a size 9, and even 10 was a rarity. I have memories of going to shoe stores and having to say my size out loud, and the store attendants would look at me in shock and say “That’s a man’s size,” and then look down at my feet as if they were something alien. When they saw the bunions their expressions got even nastier. I felt humiliated and angry; not at them (as I should have been), but at my feet for being so wrong.

I have been deeply ashamed of my feet for 30 years. I have hidden and ignored them, tortured them, and wished every day that they would be normal. I’ve become so accustomed with being in constant pain that I actually do not know how it feels to walk without it. I started running at age 26, and if walking pain is bad, running pain is even worse. After I finished my first half marathon, I convinced myself that I hated running and vowed never to run again.

I started cycling at age 29, and soon noticed that even in a low impact sport, my feet hurt. Cycling shoes are hard and narrow, and after thousands of revolutions, the bunion pain gets severe enough to cry.

I was done. I want to feel pain during races and climbs; I want the good pain, the fire in my quads, the power in my calves, the burning in my lungs. I want to be an athlete and I do not want bunion pain to hold me back.

That is why I finally decided to put my training on hold to get surgery on my worst foot. Below are X-rays of my right foot before and after the operation.

 

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