5.5 Gems of Wisdom I’d Give to my Younger, Undergraduate Self

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side view mirror by Lisa Cyr / CC BY. I hope you’re able to understand that I’m trying to be artsy using a mirror to depict my reflective blog post.

I am coming out beneath the non-blogging side of the rock to resurface into the glorious rays of the internet world of blogging. Not too long ago I wrote my FINAL final exam of my undergraduate degree. (It was functional neuroanatomy, meaning that it was also my last biomedical physiology and kinesiology (BPK) course.) Of course, I celebrated as I celebrated after finishing the last of my first exams as a first year student in my first year semester, which also happened to be my first BPK course. Did I lose you? Anyways, I did what any reasonable kinesiology student would do after finishing a final exams season. I went to the bar—the olympic bar of course. (Actually that’s a lie, I hit the gym for a workout inspired by Tony Gentilcore because, really, after barely working out for over a week with minimal sleep and high stress, I’d be flirting with the risk of injury pretending to be able to move competently with the bar.)

I have a whole bunch of blog post ideas, as well as a bunch of skeleton drafts in my vault. And this one was a good one to start out with for 2017. So without further ado, here we go. These are some gems that I really would’ve never thought as a naive, bright-eyed first year student. But they are some of the most important things that I’ve learned over the years and would be valuable things to tell to my younger self if I had the opportunity to.

1. There’s a 86.7% chance that you will not end up pursuing the career you were convinced was your dream when you were in first year.  (Note: I do not claim any scientific evidence behind that statistic.)

Honestly, we are SO convinced that we will be “X” or “Y” because of “Z” or “A”. It seems right, and it makes perfect sense given your interests and skills that a certain job or career is written in stone for you! The amount of friends and peers I know that did a complete 360 and did NOT end up pursuing the career that they all thought they were going to strive towards is actually the majority, myself included. Key take away: keep an open mind.

2. Sorry to break it to you cold, but life will hit the fan at some point in your undergrad.

I’m warning you now. It may not be super severe, it may be as simple as a dreadful week of stress and exams that makes you question why you’re in school. To one degree or another, again, my friends, peers and myself included have all gone though some gut-wrenching and fetal-position-inducing times. In conversations that I’ve shared, it’s been agreed upon that really, everyone goes through some period(s) that really ain’t pretty. If you ever get stuck though, there’s a reason that there’s free health and counselling services to students. (I really hope all schools provide it.) And honestly, more people and more FRIENDS and classmates than you are aware of are using these resources to keep themselves mentally healthy.

3. Retaking courses is NOT SHAMEFUL.

As more of your typical keener, go-getter, high-shooter student, I and my social circles also entered university always assuming we would never have to retake any courses; our grades would never be bad enough to warrant such an act. Fun fact, in my first semester when I took a 100-level biology course and I tried to sit next to strangers to make new university friends, I met a girl that told me that she was taking the course for the third time. I just assumed that she was a bad apple because she told me how she basically never attended classes but was trying to pass for once. (That was my “welcome to university, kiddo” moment.) To keep it brief, as you navigate through your undergrad, you will realize that you cannot be your 100% all the time in every aspect of your life. Things will happen and you will make mistakes. And things will not go the way everyone expects it to, yourself included, even if that’s how things have always turned out to be in the past. We all make slip ups, so really, retaking a course isn’t a big deal.*

4. After number 3, I know what you’re thinking, but NO, trust me you don’t need to finish in 4 years.

When you’re on the brink of finishing your degree, you’ll realize how the true “adult world” is kinda scary, beyond losing your student discounts and rates for a lot of things. It’s rare that we all get to have a straight trajectory from point A to B, where the career we step into right after school is the one we’ll happily be in until retirement. So, relax! Take your time. If you’ve been going balls to the wall your entire undergrad, allow yourself to take a breather and don’t rush into anything yet, be it a full-time job or grad school. Unless the opportunity is there, you may want to travel or do some things you haven’t been able to do. Once you might be committed to a career, you’ll find yourself with less windows of opportunity to do things that you’ve always wanted to do.

Coming out of school without knowing what you really want to do is scary. But don’t force yourself to find what you want to do with your life immediately. A friend of mine knew he wanted to do physiotherapy but by graduation time, he felt like he wasn’t ready to commit to professional school mode and enter the true “adult world” yet, and that’s okay. He has been working ever since and learning a lot, making use of his flexibility and freedom before applying to grad school.

5. The education system is not perfect, and could be deemed unfair. But alas, “life is unfair, and then you die”- C.A.. Deal with it.

The world, your professors, your tutor markers, teacher assistants—they don’t owe you anything. Sure you paid your tuition, but in reality you will come to realize that if you have 2 final exams a half hour within each other, OR you have 3 exams, just an hour outside of the 24-hr window subject to examination hardship policies … deal with it. (All of which I’ve experienced by the way.) The real world outside, which could involve a strict future employer, could potentially care less that you had “C” or “D” happen and you can’t meet your deadline. Not everyone can consider and accommodate your needs or preferences. So sometimes we just have to suck it up and do the best we can with the circumstances that we’re in. Don’t forget, “this too shall pass.”

5.5. When times get really challenging and you really feel like you are at your wits’ end … as someone wise advised me, “make sure to do at least one thing each day that makes you happy.”

This sounded really silly to me (which is why I made it a .5 tag-along and/or to make this blog post sound catchier by chance), and a waste of time when I was dealing with anxiety and was so stressed, while I thought the only way to combat my demons was to make sure I studied enough (which was really never enough). So I shrugged off this piece of advice, considering, say, watching a movie or going for a hike was not feasible in my schedule. But it can be as simple as watching hilarious talk show clips on YouTube (something I really grew into and love to this day because they NEVER fail to make me laugh). Forgetting everything in the world even for just a mere few minutes while feeling pure joy in what you’re doing, is so healthy and is so needed. Because we’re human. Finding out the simple things that make you happy even in the darkest of times will equip you with ways to cope. This will change over time, so again, be open minded.

 

As I was editing this old written piece, I realized that there is so much more that I could add now that I’m actually done my undergraduate degree. But I will leave it be. Note: I’m not turning this blog into one about school, but I did just finish a degree and will continue on both as a “life-long learner” and hopefully a Master’s degree student. So the next post to come out of my vault will be: Undergraduate Studying Hacks.

Thanks for perusing this post. I invite you to share your thoughts and comments below whether you’ve long graduated or you’re still in school.

*If you’re concerned about how this reflects on your grades specifically for grad school applications, look ahead into graduate program prerequisite criteria. Some programs and schools allow you to report your highest grade if you have repeated a course. Not all schools do though. Moreover, I know a couple of friends wanting to apply to medical school or other professional programs, and they’re retaking 100-level courses to make upgrades to their GPAs. I think it’s rather respectable and inspiring that someone is willing to go through the trenches again to improve themselves and push towards a goal, especially if they have to retake a brutal course. Again, keep an open mind. You may surprise yourself with what new things you learn because when you previously took the class you didn’t have the time to actually learn everything or you just never paid attention to those details. (True story, it happened to me and I got so much more out of the courses I retook.)
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Revelation on the Run: Am I Just a Masochist?

Hello, it’s me -sorry to disappoint, I’m not Adele. But I’m temporarily ending my hiatus from blogging. Truthfully, this is the amalgamation of the musings of 3 separate post-runs within 2 weeks. I thought I could publish this after the first time I wrote it, but I didn’t think it was good enough and had more pressing things to do. But alas, third time’s the charm. So here we go.

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Photo Courtesy of Gerry Brady (CC BY-ND 2.0)

MASOCHISM – noun

According to the Oxford dictionary: “(In general use) the enjoyment of an activity that appears to be painful or tedious”

I think the ultimate question that all runners will ask themselves one day is: am I just a masochist? It may be when the alarm goes off in the darkness of the supposed “AM”, first 5 minutes of a freezing/raining/hailing/snowing/etc. run, amidst a long run, last lap of a mile repeat… you name it. At some point, every runner will ask themselves this very question, especially when they secretly take pride in the “my sport is your sport’s punishment” slogan.

I could come at this question from a bunch of different perspectives, but I’ve only got less than 15 minutes. So let’s just get to my endorphin-driven epiphany.

I’m not talking about any specific sort of physical pain. I don’t enjoy the onset of a blister or jolting moment of a muscle strain. As I can finally comfortably call myself a “recreational athlete” in post-competitive life, especially as I’m not committed to any competition this year, the question is, why do I crave being short of breath, doubled over, and questioning life? Is it the endorphins? Feeling of accomplishment after overcoming a physical challenge? Ticking a check in a to do list? Burning calories? Getting some much needed oxygen to my brain after long bouts of studying?  I’m not that familiar with the neuroendocrinology of exercise to know whether there’s a dose response, i.e., more of X produces more of Y, between exercise intensity or duration and all the “feel-good” hormones, e.g., dopamine, serotonin, endorphins. But I’m sure, instead of a puke-worthy 800m repeat workout, anyone could opt for an easy run, let alone an easy walk to reap the same mental benefits.

As human beings, we crave sensory feedback. It connects to the whole debacle of needing to feel sore in order to feel like we’ve achieved something from our workout. And it’s something that is always challenging to explain to clients that don’t understand that feeling “the burn” especially for “core exercises” isn’t always indicative of productivity in strength progress or what have you. I think it highly depends on both your short- and long-term goals, e.g., I’m not going to push it hard in this tempo workout because I need to be ready to actually go “balls out” in tomorrow’s track workout. My short-term goal is to put in quality work without taking away from the more important workout tomorrow, while my long-term goal is to peak for races later in the season.

As athletes, we know the pain cave, the dark place. Some fear it, but inevitably welcome it because it means that we are pushing our body to its limits. A former teammate of mine began to return to running by going at it on the treadmill after school without any specific goal but to run herself to the ground so it felt like she did something.

In this video featuring the 2015 CrossFit Games champions, Katrin Davidsdottir says, “[I try to] maximize the effort that I put into everyday so when I go to bed then I know that that was all that I had.” While Ben Smith, who owns a box and programs his own workouts which entails fitting as many workouts in a day as possible, says, “I just train til I can’t anymore.” (For fun, I think if I did CrossFit, I’d also be a little overdramatic like this.)

My run today (2nd of 3 that led to the completion of this blog post) was an interesting one. I was tired enough overall that for once, my mind was blank and I just cued into my body every once in a while, especially once I picked up the pace. But it was likely one of my best runs in speed and mileage in quite some time. I could attribute it to a number of factors, such as an extra hour of sleep after baselining 4-5 hours of sleep every night the last while, a cold but sunny morning, some optimal combination of coffee and breakfast. But I think a lot had to do with wanting to push hard in order to deal with my stress of late. I felt more drive and vigor to push the pace. It wasn’t like I wanted to outrun all the things on my infinite to do list. It wasn’t like I wanted to make myself hurt on purpose. It wasn’t like I was trying to reach some goal within the run, distance-wise. I just wanted to feel. Something. Feel something purely physically stressful and not mentally stressful.

This isn’t limited to running either though. At the gym, call it a “finisher”, “metcon”, etc., putting some combo of exercises together at the end of my workout in an AMRAP-fashion (as many rounds as possible) allows me to physically give it my all that day. Being an endurance athlete for so long, it’s something familiar to me. Something maybe even that feels within my control. Because I know I can handle it physically when it seems that it’s questionable whether I can handle everything else in my life. But that pain from physical exertion -I know I can handle it because I’ve done it before. Maybe it’s just a safety method to say that if everything else fails today, at least I know that I gave it my all in my workout and can validate my self-worth and efficacy. It sucks in the moment and I may even doubt whether I can do another rep, but it reminds me, both physically and mentally, that I can handle the worst.

So call it my sick, coping method. Call it my own medicine to keep me sane and healthy mentally. Though in my experience with anxiety and depression and hearing from my own friends, if you’ve tread too far into the waters of that realm of mental malaise, then exercise may not even feel the same anymore; the “cure-all, feel-good” hormones either don’t get produced sufficiently or your body can’t respond to them. Think of it as Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in the brain, where receptors don’t seem to respond to the hormones or neurotransmitters. (Though be weary that I have no scientific evidence to back that up, I just made that up on the spot as an analogy.) But luckily, lifting and especially running has been a way for me to cope this semester. People can say, “Oh, well at least it’s a healthy way to cope, it’s not like you’re smoking.” But when individuals appear to eat “healthy” with lots of vegetables and lean protein, or exercise quite devotedly, by no means does it reflect a healthy relationship with their body and that practice.

I run because at its purest roots, the sport never changes; no matter what age, fitness level, stage in life, etc., that you start your running journey on, on any given day in any location in the world, it can take you to new heights that you never would have seen, nor thought possible to accomplish otherwise. And I think in this way, your relationship and reasons for running is dynamic throughout life. True runners may breakup with running for a while, be it of choice or not, and come back to it years down the road to gain different things from the sport.

I wouldn’t call myself a true masochist, but through exercise, I can test my pain tolerance for the day to see if I can come out of the pain cave okay. It’s a reminder to myself that withstanding discomfort and stress in life, I can do this. For once, that is my relationship with running; it’s my form of therapy.

6 Tips to Decrease Road Cycling Injuries

Hey There,

Unfortunately, I’ve been incredibly busy so I have a lot of unfinished blog posts sitting in the draft vault. I’m actually Social Media Manager for my clinic Movéo Sport and Rehabilitation Centre and have been working on blogs this summer. Below is one I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy!

It’s taken from this link right here.

Written by Student Kinesiologist Janice Leung with contributions from Dr. Kim Graham, Dr. TCM, R.Ac

Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat obtained from Wikimedia Commons

The weather on the west coast has been great and a lot of recreational cyclists have been out and about. If you’re not a seasoned cyclist, it might be easy to make rookie mistakes and end up sidelined with an injury. Although cycling is considered low impact, there are still many injuries that can occur especially due to prolonged postural adaptations and repetitive limb movements (Callaghan, 2005). Injures are not limited to but often include those involving the knee, IT band, neck and back (Mellion, 1991; Callaghan, 2005). If you’re experiencing some pain on long rides, a few tweaks to your posture will probably prevent them from turning into full-fledged injuries. Here are 6 tips to help keep you riding healthy and happy.

1. Resetting your neck position every so often.
Your neck is an integral part of your spine and it’s important to try to maintain a neutral spine and avoid hyper-extension or -flexion. You can incorporate a chin tuck to reset your neck position. Try to imagine a string from your upper back that goes straight through the top of your head. Keep the string straight and taught and when your head is in a neutral position, i.e. your chin is positioned in between extremes of being too far or too close to your chest, make a double chin.

2. Resetting your upper back position every so often.
It’s easy to just bear down, focus on your pedal strokes and forget about your upper back. Wearing a backpack makes this worse as you’re more prone to shrugging or rounding your upper back to compensate for the weight, especially on uphills. Think about performing a “scap push up” where you protract your scapulae (bringing your shoulder blades towards the outsides of your rib cage) and then retract your scapulae (pulling your shoulder blades down back). This can help as a reset to bring your upper back into a better position.

3. Keeping “soft” elbows, not hyperextending, especially on downhills.
Think about keeping your elbows slightly flexed and tucked in by your sides. I found myself hyperextending a lot when I first started riding and got sore elbows, but making this tweak to my posture helped solve the problem right away.

4. Be mindful of your knee tracking.
There are “normal” variances of pedal stroke, but most importantly watch for the extremes, such as wide-leg-knee-out or knock-kneed positions. Although knock-kneed is normal for some cyclists, proper alignment and pedaling mechanics dictate an “up and down” motion to be most desirable. Pedaling drills, along with assessment and treatment for any contributing physiologically limiting issues, e.g., hip, back, etc., will only help you to be more efficient and limit knee problems.

5. If riding for long bouts of time, consider gloves with specific palm padding and / or switching hand positions every so often.
Some common injuries in cyclists involve compression of nerves, such as the ulnar and median nerves, from prolonged pressure from the handlebars. Numbness and tingling in the fingers and hands may occur. This can be prevented by switching from the drop-down handlebar to the hoods or other positions every so often. There are also cycling gloves sold with padding in specific locations where the nerves are normally compressed to give more cushioning to reduce chances of irritating the nerves (Rehak, n.d.).

6. Get a bike fit.
Although this is an extra cost to your already expensive bike and bike gear, it’s definitely worth it to have a professional adjust your bike to be personalized to fit your body. Even if you initially feel like riding your bike is completely comfortable, after some time, aches and pains may start to appear. As well, your saddle and seat height are big factors that affect the amount of flexion through your lower back. So if you tend to have issues with low back pain, make sure you get a bike fit in addition to professional help to ensure that you aren’t having issues elsewhere, such as in your hamstrings. For me, the most pivotal changes included actually being able to fully grasp the brake levers from the hoods (talk about safety) and a decrease of neck tightness after I got a bike fit.

Concluding Remarks
With all that being said, do your best. Sometimes neck posture or back posture inevitably goes out the window when you’re struggling up a massive and long hill. But by keeping these few tips in mind and adjusting your posture throughout your long rides, it’ll help to stave off injuries that force you to take time off the road.

If you ever have any concerns or questions, always consult your health professional. Make sure to stay tuned for the next blog post on tips for mountain biking from Movéo physiotherapist Amanda Sin, who has a national competitive background in mountain biking.

References
Callaghan, M. J. (2005). Lower body problems and injury in cycling. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 9(3), 226-236. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2005.01.007
Mellion, M. B. (1991). Common cycling injuries. Management and Prevention. Sports Med, 11(1), 52-70. doi:10.2165/00007256-199111010-00004
Rehak, D. C. (n.d.). Cyclist’s Hands: Overcoming Overuse Injuries. Retrieved from http://www.hughston.com/hha/a_15_3_2.htm

An Injured Athlete’s Mindset: A Bipolar Beauty and Beast

Photo by Andrew Mason obtained from Wikimedia Commons

“When we define ourselves by what we do and what we accomplish, we set ourselves up for a difficult moment when we can no longer do and accomplish what we used to.” – Jason Dorland

Take out 15-20 hrs of training/week. Turn down 2 coaches for lifting and running. Scratch the 1 race that I’ve been dreaming of for 8 months. Take away running, riding, lifting. And swimming, which my shoulders haven’t earned back yet. All of which have been taken away from me, completely out of my control. So after deducting all of that, what do you get? An athlete that’s been called to pursue other things but one that will always chase after the dream. That sounds pretty optimistic, right? Well, it took me almost 2 months to get to this place of mind.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss running every day. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t itch to run and hear nothing but my breathing and footsteps. When I’m walking home without heavy bags on my back and in my hands, and the air is warm and welcoming to my skin, I reminisce how this, this is the perfect summer weather that I’ve always run in. When it’s raining and kind of humid, or when it’s 9pm and actually perfect for a run- I remember when those would be the exact times and conditions where I’d be running. Even when it’s been rainy, I reminisce the wet slogs out there. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss it.

Being injured sucks. It’s simple as that. Always has, always will. I’ve come to realize that this summer, is my summer of injury. It hasn’t been easy but I’ve realized the curse that comes with being a driven athlete. Through my story so far, I might be able to share some things to help give insight to those that know, treat and are the injured athletes.

MY STORY
My timeline begins from the fall of 2014. I had just finished my first sprint triathlon in early September. Things weren’t perfect heading into the race, as I spent most of my training in the pool and bike. I wished that I had done more brick workouts, and especially spent more time honing my running speed. School and work limited my training, so that was that. But worst of all, I came back from a family road trip and had this weird pain in my right shoulder in extension and external rotation. I got treatment for what I could, with a week or so left, was all taped up and didn’t feel the pain when I swam on race day. So that was all good besides maybe some nutrition issues that led me to wanting to puke my guts out right after I got out of the lake, and it didn’t stop until an hour after the race. My next goal was just to get healthy again, as I discovered that I had dynamic instability in both my shoulders, but worse in my right. From there, I looked to try to figure out what was the next race that I could do. I was hungry to return to focusing on running since I hadn’t gotten in much running in the summer, so I looked to Squamish 23K at the end of August 2015. It was a perfect challenge and I was excited.

Fall and spring semesters were incredibly heavy and I knew I wouldn’t truly be training for Squamish until spring exams were done. I only had time and energy to hit the gym, so that’s what I did, 2-3 times a week in both semesters. And I also began to work on improving my olympic lifts, getting help from a coach. I’ve always loved lifting weights, but I’ve always done it for the purpose of performances external to the gym. Everything I’ve done in the gym has always been geared towards becoming a better, stronger and faster runner. For the most part, I never lift or do core work just to do it. It’s always been done for the purpose of becoming a better athlete in my sport. So even though I could only hit the gym, I still had one goal in mind: feeling strong while racing Squamish 23K.

In the spring, even though I did revel in the fact that my shoulder stability was increasing and lifting PRs came steadily, what motivated me all the time, even during my studying, was my dream of being free in the summer and running. I dreamed of runs feeling easy, rhythmic and smooth. I dreamed and craved of ripping off 400m repeats and cranking out mile repeats. I dreamed of slogging on double days and getting winded from a hard long run. That’s what kept me motivated through assignments and exams. I was dreaming and waiting to feel like a runner again. And I waited for 8 months.

I thought this random foot pain, that I experienced when I started to run again, was a simple fix, like the other times I randomly had a localized niggle in my foot. I thought it’d be a done deal within a treatment, just like the other times. It appeared to be a more complicated issue, stemming from studying and writing papers for a couple of weeks without a physio appointment. I was all twisted, my left glute wasn’t firing as well as it needed to be, and it seemed like a simple loading issue that caused my foot pain. Unfortunately, as the pain subsided and problems were fixed, my walk runs still brought on burning fatigue in my left arch. And hearing about the permanent laxity or instability in my left hindfoot left me in despair and confusion. (I have a blog post in my drafts vault that addresses this in greater detail in relation to footwear and how I may have to retract my mission to transition into minimalism.)

Nearly a month ago, I left a free and very brief injury assessment with a pedorthist at a complete loss. So much so that I went crying straight to my coach. (Not actually crying, but theoretically, pretty much.) This sudden pitfall left me to face my demons again. The same ones that tormented me in my grade 12 year of track when I struggled with a mysterious posterior knee issue for 6 months -until it turned into a full blown grade 2+ hamstring strain. 3 days before city finals.

Adding insult to injury (well, injury to injury), out of the blue, I flared up my ulnar nerve pretty bad from a harmless, routine workout at the gym. It was the worst flare up since my initial nerve entrapment 2 summers ago. This put riding on my road bike to work out of the question.

In this spiral of troubles, I learned that there are two faces in every injured athlete.

Note: Of course, I’m making sweeping generalizations about all athletes. But from my former track teammates that are still varsity athletes or former varsity athletes, I’ve seen this in them as well and I’ve discussed it with a couple of friends also currently injured.

THE BEAUTY
The injured athlete is a beauty that practitioners love. He or she will follow your instructions and do your prescribed exercises and stretches. We tell ourselves that if this is what we need to do to get ourselves back to doing what we crave and love, then we will do every single rep that you tell us to do. We will face the monotony that is rehab, but we will always get the work done.

I ask myself, “How bad do you want it?” And I’ll grab my theraband or what have you, and I will make sure that I don’t miss a day of rehab. Because each day is a day to get myself that much closer to running again. If you love your sport enough, you’ll be alone pool running in the dive tank or at the public pool with kids splashing and seniors swimming. (Interestingly enough, I’ve been accompanied by several injured track athletes in the pool this semester.) Every day is a chance for a comeback to erase the misgivings about your body.

The beauty tries to stay truthful, patient and optimistic. And tells him or herself that, they’re getting stronger each week and will soon return better than ever.

THE BEAST
Once an athlete realizes that he or she is out for more than 1-2 weeks, it’s a depressing blow to take. It requires time to digest and accept. I’m sure I could list out distinct phases, but the beginning will always be slight denial where you’ll come up with an arbitrary number of days or weeks that it’ll take before you’re back in your sport. The imaginary number comforts you. When things aren’t progressing as you wish they did, then things start to get iffy. It’s a dark cloud each day when you are constantly reminded by your body that you’re not healthy yet. The beast easily gets jealous as others are carefree and able to be active. The beast loathes that his or her body keeps failing.

Once time stretches even further and the injury is so complicated that it can’t really be defined into a number before you’re back, questions start. Questions appear to determine what you could’ve done to prevent this. Questions appear to determine why this happened. Questions appear to determine whether your body was meant for this sport or not. Questions appear to determine if this fight and push to return ASAP is even worth it anymore. It gets tiring each day to be so optimistic and to be checking your progress, only to be let down every time. Questions appear to determine if you should just -let go.

WHAT IT’S BEEN LIKE
Since it’s summer and I’m not in a full load of courses, I definitely have more time on my hands. So I notice that I actually have free time, which was supposed to be filled up by running. It wasn’t supposed to feel this way, because I was expecting time to become relevant to running, like back in highschool and in my first year of university on the track team. Each day would be dictated by running: easy day and strength, intervals or hills day, long run day or recovery day. How I ate, what I ate and when I ate would be dependent on each day of training and each workout. Take out that training and routine… and everything comes to a standstill. The strict routines and dependency on running becomes murky. Things that were so concrete and defined by running now weren’t.

In Chariots and Horses, Jason Dorland writes, “I was once part of a group of individuals that could do things that only a minute percentage of the world’s population could. Now, I’m just an average person with an average life.” This might be a pompous statement, but as a competitive athlete, you can’t help but have that mindset sometimes when your sport is taken away from you. When I first came to face this truth that I was struggling with… I realized that I felt unfulfilled. Days felt empty. I probably didn’t even feel truly happy. Most of the time, I felt mediocre that my summer didn’t start off like I had dreamed of. When I came to really evaluate when I could be running again and actually training for Squamish, I had to be mature and think. And I realized that, Squamish demanded too much and even if I lacked in aerobic capacity by race day, odds were, my foot would likely not be conditioned for 4+ hours on the trails. So, through a rough process of letting go and a change of heart… I made progress in a different way.

WHERE I’M HEADED
Abbey D’agostino, one of my role models, said in her Flotrack interview, “[when you’re injured] you really learn what your motivation is when you’re like, sucking it up by yourself in the pool… if your running is all have you and it’s not going well, it’s going to be so much harder to recover and come back stronger.” I first had to keep telling my running coach that I wouldn’t be able to join him yet. And I had to keep pushing back my imaginary return date. Then I had to turn down my lifting coach for the summer. Then I ultimately had to tell the race director that I could no longer race. Finally, I had to see what I have beyond running.

It wasn’t easy, but it’s taken tremendous pressure off me, not having to rush my return to training. In the last month, I’ve made substantial strength gains in my feet as I’ve been doing my strength work on both feet. It’s taken weeks of consistency and drive to embrace the monotony and lack of excitement to work on foot intrinsics. But I’ve always made sure that I’ve done my rehab, to the point of blistering and burning off skin from my toes when doing barefoot strides on the hot turf in the sun.

Thankfully, things seem to be coming together this week. My ulnar nerve has finally calmed down that I’m quite sure that after yesterday’s acupuncture treatment, I’m good to go. I’ll be quite careful and won’t ride until I have a solid week free of symptoms. Maybe even 2 weeks if I’m paranoid. And, most importantly, I’ll be getting my orthotics on Saturday. If that doesn’t prove to solve my issue… then I’ll have to re-evaluate and start from scratch. But I won’t fret for now until I see what happens.

CLOSING REMARKS
As I was reading another runner’s blog, I suddenly remembered a Dr. Seuss book that my coach gave me at the conclusion of my grade 12 track season, continuing the tradition where the coaches give all captains a gift.

wpid-wp-1435285662077.jpeg One of the things that my coach wrote inside was, “If all else fails, consult the book; it will guide you to happy and healthy.”And in the book, Dr. Seuss says, “Your brain and heart will guide you all that you do.”

I don’t know that I have any answers or great tips to give. But as athletes, we’re a different breed with different demons to deal with. One coworker of mine commented on how she sees this all the time. And people say, “If I can just do another Ironman. Just one more race. Then. I’ll be happy.” It’s that need of achievement to feel fulfilled. But she said if that’s what we think will make us happy, and we can’t make the decision to be happy in this very moment, then there’s something wrong. It’s a mind boggling dilemma. At least for me right now, it’s not even about racing anymore. I just want to be able to go on runs, to feel like a runner again. I love running and my heart says that I’m not ready to give it up.

Just like Abbey D elegantly says, I’m a person of faith. I’m pretty sure that this time of physical misfortunes has meant to be a wake up call and lesson for me. But despite that, I know that the lesson isn’t for me to necessarily give up on my dream of running and tackling 80km+ weeks. I’m just an athlete that’s been called to pursue other things but one that will always chase after the dream. Once a runner, always a runner. #trialsofmilesmilesoftrials

Quick and Dirty Review of MobilityWod’s Supernova

When I first came across this beastly ball, called the Supernova on Rogue’s website, there were barely any reviews on the internet at the time. I think I only found one somewhat helpful YouTube video review back then. Now, if you google something along the lines of “MobilityWod Supernova review”, there are many that come up. Also, take note that since then, MobilityWod has come up with a 2nd version and an option for a smaller size. You can check out the details on Rogue’s website. Hopefully I can bring something different to the table, so here’s my experience with the first version of the Supernova.

When I first saw it, I was bewildered. I already owned a Pro Tec foam roller, Travel Roller’s kit that included their acupressure balls and other various balls from tennis, lacrosse, golf and softball. I found that the softball was the perfect size for working on my hamstrings. A lacrosse or tennis ball was always too small for rolling, but good for trigger point release. What got me the most curious about the Supernova was its edges, which was supposed to be able to really grab onto skin and help dig deeper into the underlying fascia, as explained by Dr. Kelly Starrett of MobilityWod. If I recall correctly, during its release, it was $40 or so, and with a slightly different design on the ball compared to the ones currently sold. At the time, I got very close to purchasing it, but decided not to due to the price.

STORY #1
Fast forward to a patient that came to see one of the chiropractors that I work with. He suffered from low back pain and I taught him foam rolling for hamstrings, glutes, etc., among other things. At some point, he came back and talked about how the pain in his back had disappeared thanks to- you guessed it, the Supernova. He said that he had gone to Fitness Depot and asked about foam rollers. The employee told him that of all SMR (self myofascial release) tools, he recommended the Supernova. (N.B. Only Rogue sells it, so he wasn’t trying to market on behalf of Fitness Depot.) When it finally got delivered to the patient’s house, he started rolling his hamstrings and his back pain disappeared. He was convinced that the Supernova was really efficient at releasing his muscles and he really encouraged me to buy it. Unfortunately, the price had risen since its release, but I was convinced. On a subsequent visit later, this patient also told me how he was trying to roll his upper back without a shirt on, and the edges actually broke his skin while he was rolling! That was surprising, but it proves how it’s no joke with the skin grabbing.

STORY #2
A physiotherapist that I work with, and one that I see myself, was also convinced about the Supernova after she tried rolling with it. She had been struggling with a hamstring strain for quite some time and I had lent her my Supernova to try. She was surprised about how well it dug into her hamstrings! She said that since her strain, it felt like the closest thing to having a practitioner really work into her hamstrings with their thumbs, finally getting into the spots that would have been central to her tear and subsequent scar tissue adhesions.

If those two stories haven’t convinced you, here are a couple of things that I like about the Supernova.

1. SIZE
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As you can see, the Supernova is actually a bit bigger than a softball. But it’s still the perfect size to use. I mostly use it for hamstrings, glutes, adductors and sometimes calves or QLs (quadratus lumborum). I’ve tried rolling my quads with it, but rolling them with a foam roller is already never fun, so let’s say, rolling with the Supernova on my quads is always short lived.

2. WEIGHT
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On my kitchen scale, I measured it to be just over 625 grams, which would be approximately equivalent to nearly 1.5 lbs. It does add weight to my gym bag, which can be a bit of an issue sometimes, coming from a commuting student that usually carries a heavy backpack. But the weight also helps prevent the ball from slipping on the floor and it feels solid when you really put pressure into it.

3. EDGES
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This is probably the greatest feature of the Supernova, akin to the Rumble Roller and its edges compared to conventional smooth foam rollers. This design really allows you to dig into underlying tissues and exert more pressure than other balls. I know it’s all still debatable how effective foam rolling truly is and if you’re actually doing much other than applying pressure and friction on tissue. Maybe I’m not being scientifically correct, but I’d like to believe that it does help with grabbing onto skin, shearing underlying tissues and ultimately getting things to glide better underneath as they should. Plus, it’s really nice to use for your feet as well while working at the desk.

4. DURABILITY
There’s no question about the hefty price, especially once you include shipping and tax (depending on where you live). I’ve had my Supernova for almost a year now and I’ve used it at the gym, at home on wooden flooring and carpet. So far, it’s held up great and I can’t see it really deteriorating much over the next couple of years. I think you definitely get your money’s worth in quality, so durability should be no problem. Some reviews on Rogue’s website comment on some durability issues with the first version of the Supernova, but so far I haven’t had any issues. There may be some signs of wear on some of the edges on the ball, but it still grabs on well and I don’t have any concerns.

CONCLUDING REMARKS
I’m in no way affiliated with Rogue or MobilityWod, but I am a big fan of Dr. Kelly Starrett. If you ask yourself whether you really need the Supernova, consider if you’re happy with the tools that you have access to now. If you are satisfied with what you have and with your current recovery after workouts, then no you don’t need to invest in this additional ball. As an athlete myself, it’s hard to turn down “the latest gadget” that will really help take my recovery and thus performance, to the next level. If you’ve had a history of hamstring strains like I have, it may be worth it to consider the Supernova. There’s nothing like it that can get up right near the hamstring origin. Ooooohh man, it’s a winner when it comes to that. I hope this was an insightful review about MobilityWod’s Supernova.

PS. If you’re wondering about what that “Alpha” ball is, in the picture under “SIZE”, it’s from Jill Miller‘s Yoga Tune Up. Her therapy balls have also been a game changer for me and have won the appreciation of some patients that I’ve worked with. I’ll probably include her balls in a future blog post when I comment on my “go-to’s” in my self care / recovery arsenal.

6 Things That CrossFit Games Athletes Taught Me

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Photo by Rose Physical Therapy Group obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Regionals are heading into week 2 this weekend, featuring Califonia, East and Pacific regions. Like most CrossFit (CF) Games fans, I tuned into last weekend’s 3-day regionals, tracking 2014’s Women’s Champ, Camile Leblanc-Bazinet AKA CLB and many other well known names. I’ve only been following the CF Games for nearly a year now. I started following the 2014 Games in mid competition. I just wanted to watch something on YouTube and the live broadcast was on. I liked olympic lifting and since CF had it incorporated, I decided to tune in. I had heard about CF and Rich Froning before, but I was never caught in the trend – until I started watching the events go down in Carson. I was immediately sucked in and swept away by the competitive vibe, “coolness” of the events and most of all, I was in complete awe of what these athletes were capable of. The big headliner revolved around Rich Froning, who I had heard was supposed to be some unbeatable super human. Yet this guy was apparently in real risk of being dethroned. On the women’s side, I saw Kara Webb, who I had never heard of before, not being able to finish Midline March. My heart sank when commentators said it was a nerve injury. It’s not something you can just muscle through without possibly risking permanent damage. I had struggled with an ulnar nerve issue myself, so my heart broke for her. So you see, the allure isn’t just the fast paced competition. There are stories. And CrossFit is full of them.

Today I widely follow a number of CFers on social media. However, if you ask me if I would crossfit myself, that’s a whole other discussion and will be an upcoming blog post. I think I easily have the heart and competitive drive to do it, but I don’t think I’d ever truly crossfit, for reasons I’ll discuss in the future. If you missed the noise recently on Dr. Stuart McGill’s take on CF, click here. Whether you crossfit or not, know someone that does crossfit, disagree or agree with CrossFit, I think we can all agree that there will never be an end to the discussion of whether it’s “good” or “bad”. I am probably among a certain voice that says that there are both positive and negative aspects in it, and just like any other sport, there are always risks of injury. I for sure am a huge fan of CF Games athletes because I admire them as athletes and human beings. (Note: I don’t discriminate against athletes that don’t make it to the Games, it’s just due to social media and sponsors that I mostly hear about the better known athletes.)

Another reason that I’ve come to love CF is that I’ve learned a lot from the athletes about many things, not just concerning how to be a better athlete, but a better person too. Last summer, I was just getting better and feeling good again, after suffering one of the most trying semesters in Spring 2014. (More on that later in future mental health blog posts.) In retrospect, CF might’ve actually helped me deal with anxiety and more. Here are 6 lessons that I’ve learned.

1. Laughter is important. So is having fun.
When I watched the CrossFit Games Team Series in the fall, it was very apparent to me that these amazing, professional athletes are silly and like to have fun. Even though things can get very serious in training and competition, they still like to goof around with each other. You can easily also take a look at any of the videos that captured the 2014 Games behind the scenes and you’ll see it too. Being a CrossFitter that goes to the gym most days and lifts weights, throws med balls, ergs on the rower, etc., and seeks out the “dark place” or “pain cave” each time isn’t exactly the happiest time filled with laughter. And neither are the days when barbells feel heavy and you can’t nail your snatches. I honestly never realized the importance of laughter until my own laughter receded in Spring 2014.

2. Balance in life, beyond CF.
If you watch CF’s video on how the sport has evolved, you’ll see the ambassadors of the sport speak the truth behind the glitz and glam that we all think that professional athletes live in. CF is a very demanding sport and Rich Froning is known for doing multiple workouts each day. If he’s not working out, he feels guilty. Games veterans like Froning and Jason Khalipa know that there’s more to life beyond CF. They are fathers, husbands, business owners, etc. And although they take their sport very seriously, they make conscious efforts to also recognize that their careers in this sport won’t be forever and that they need other priorities in life too. We all know that balance is key, but hearing it from them really hits the message home.

3. Sacrifice
One of my role models and favourite CF athletes is Julie Foucher. If you watch CF’s feature video of her, you get a taste of what it’s like to be a medical school student, and a 4 times Games athlete that has never finished outside of top 5. She took a break from competition in 2013 for school reasons. And this year is her last year of competition before she commits fully to her studies and career. It’s mind boggling to imagine what kind of disciplined athlete and student that she must be, by always making sacrifices to train enough and also study enough to excel in both realms.

4. Truly loving what you do.
If you’ve ever heard interviews from Dan Bailey or Michele Letendre, you’ve heard of their comments about their contemplation of when to call it quits. Michele said in one of the videos that she was very close to ending her competitive career because she wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Luckily, her spark for CF was regained and led her to a 4th place finish last year. Honestly, this is such an important concept, whether you apply it to sport or other aspects of life. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’re not going to be a happy person when you’re forcing yourself to do something you dislike, day in and day out. This is a good reminder to check in if you truly love what you’re doing each day.

5. Constantly evaluating and adapting your goals.
Since the Games and Regionals are multi-day competitions, athletes have to keep changing their strategies and goals. Sometimes you really have to stay realistic and ask yourself if you think that your goal is still obtainable. This forces you to stay true to yourself and leads to greater success. Again, this is applicable to many aspects in life.

6. Using your dark place as a prime strength.
Back when I competed in XC and track, when any of my teammates asked me why I was nervous before races, I would always answer that I was afraid of the pain and having the wheels come off. It probably took until university when I finally realized, that pain was actually my strength. I don’t know that there’s ever a workout that CFers do that isn’t brutally painful. If you don’t like pain, then CF may not be for you. Josh Bridges prefers to train by himself and embraces pain as his strength. As I’ve grown as an athlete, I now know that I’m no longer afraid of the pain and know that I can endure it.

“The truth of the matter is, very few CrossFit Games athletes make a full time living just off of CrossFit Games… Anyone that makes it to the CrossFit Games have made a lot of sacrifices in their life… when everybody else is doing X, Y, Z, the Games athletes are training, pushing to get better at something.” – Jason Khalipa

“If you want to beat me or Michele, you don’t just have to be like good and manage all the skill and weight… you have to be willing to die. You have to be willing to leave it all there… we’re going to go in that really dark place.” – Camille Leblanc-Bazinet

MTSS or Stress Fracture? Does it Really Matter?

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Photo by Steel City Hobbies obtained from Wikimedia Commons

It feels so good to be able to progress from a red to green theraband and from couch surfing (+some suuuper easy stationary bike) to pool running last Monday. When I tried to actually swim a couple of strokes, my foot let me know that it wasn’t a good idea. But I was incredibly stoked about being able to pool run on Monday. I was also able to start walking barefoot with next to no pain (just going downstairs sparked some pain spontaneously) last weekend. Fast forward to this weekend, I am so thankful to have been able to attempt a 10x1min run/walk (with walking warm up). My left foot was a bit sore from riding to work with cycling shoes for the first time on Saturday in a couple of weeks. So after 8.5 minutes, I called it quits. BUT, I was able to get past the muscle guarding and fear, as I worked into my 5th rep and really felt like I was running smoothly again. I’m surely not out of the woods yet, but if it’s anything like my limited shuttle run workouts coming off my Lgr2+ hamstring strain, I think I’ll be back soon. (Fingers crossed.)

But while pool running for 30 minutes on Monday, I thought about what I learned at the running injuries course, as mentioned in my previous blog post. JF had talked about whether it was truly important to differentiate between MTSS (medial tibial stress syndrome) and a tibial stress fracture. If symptoms were the same, ie. same sort of stage in the injury, why would he need to send his patient for a bone scan, wasting money and increasing radiation sort of exposure, if his treatment would be identical regardless of the diagnosis? Most patients and competitive athletes might want to know anyway, just so they have something concrete that they can google and hopefully have a timeline for return to activity. However, I think JF has a point.

I for sure don’t have a stress fracture or MTSS. It’s likely just dysfunctional foot alignment and weakness in the structures. And my newest theory is that it’s glute amnesia, which was already sort of affecting my left glute in relation to my right shoulder dynamic instability near the end of my triathlon training last summer. The hours spent writing papers and then right into studying for finals might have just made it worse. And when I walked and ran especially, too much load and torque was put onto my left foot. But anyways, it kind of almost felt as if I had a stress fracture while I was pool running. It’s been about 4 weeks with this injury that came out of no where in the tail end of my finals before I even started to run, which obviously exacerbated it. Only last weekend was I been have to walk barefoot without much pain, after my fifth metatarsal was adjusted by the locum chiropractor I was working with. And my rehab has been kind of similar, as if I had a stress fracture, in trying to return to running.

I really wanted to try a walk run workout today to get my foot stimulated. This way, as JF really stressed, my foot can begin to adapt to the stress and the structures in my foot can receive stimulus to promote healing and strengthening. Similarly, as I mentioned, it’s probably why 2nd hamstring strain (also grade 2+ but opposite leg and ~6 months apart) recovered much faster than my 1st strain. I started a shuttle run protocol as soon as I could (as per the SFU varsity physiotherapist) and I recovered much, much faster even though when I initially started, I felt like I was running through maple syrup. My muscles weren’t firing as well as usual, so I felt like I was stuck in slow mo and my ROM (range of motion) was very limited. I felt insanely awkward like I wasn’t accomplishing much, but my body was very much fatigued after each workout. Thus the shuttle runs helped stimulate my hamstring to heal and got me back to running form quicker than when I didn’t do much of anything after my 1st strain.

Currently, even though my physiotherapist and I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact “mechanism”  that led to this injury, what’s clear is that my left glute isn’t firing well in proportion to other muscles. And, the instability (and weakness) in my left foot is still present. So I’ve been patient and religiously working on my foot strength, proprioception and now glute strength. Nothing exciting, just trying to get my motor control and feet strength back.

It’s really all about getting back to the basics, especially after being affected by an injury for this long. I decided to test out my eccentric heel drops last week, and found that my left calf had ridiculously weak motor control that was nearly half of the control in my right calf. I’ve already been doing this for less than 7 days and today I could tell that the asymmetry has decreased. I’ve also been training a 2xMVA (motor vehicle accident) client at the gym for over 8 months now. Although her core and leg strength have gone up considerably, her neck and shoulder issues have been flaring up again the last while. As she is very aware of her own body, even she suggested to go back to basics. We’ve been working on a lot of scapular clocks lately for proprioception and motor control.

During the time that I was rehabbing my shoulder(s) (left was also a bit unstable), I was initially limited to glenohumeral centering and scapular control. I did this supine, then standing with therabands. -Next to people attempting to deadlift with good form, and with weight that was less than my warm up. I then came up with this phrase to help keep me patient and motivated: “Regress to Reinforce, Progress to Propel.” Following any injury, it’s wise to recheck your foundation. Is that transverse abdominis firing as it should? What about the big trouble maker, glutes? My good friend and former coworker, who is an RMT and fellow kinesiology student, came up with another good one in parallel: “Simple to Stabilize, Complex to Challenge. – Christin Sadler.

So I think no matter what injury you suffer from and no matter what the “true diagnosis” is, whether it’s MTSS vs. stress fracture, you have to start from the bottom and make sure that the foundation is there before you progress. This will lead to a more steady return to activity and less chance of re-injury. With that being said, no matter how long it takes, single leg box jumps, I’m comin’ for you!