Archive for January 2012

Resilient and Relentless

January 28, 2012

The sun shines bright in a clear blue sky this morning; the wind is light. The air is cool but not cold, fresh and tangy with salt.  I am dressed for a run, the bad knee covered in gauze and wrapped in paper tape.  Although I absolutely cannot squat down, I can move forward.  I can barely wait to get back on the road.

This is one of those runs where I am so grateful to be out here that I have no goals in mind— I am not watching the clock, I am not planning a set distance.  I’m going until I’ve had enough and whatever that looks like is just fine with me.  A revised running playlist is in order on my iPod and I start out listening to OutKast’s “Git Up, Git Out”.  Perfect.

I run the first mile easy, easy, listening to my body for any signs of protest.  “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People pounds in my ears as I pass by Front Beach and Back Beach.  The heel does not hurt.  The left shoulder and hip feel good.  My arms are still a bit sore, but I don’t mind.  As I finish my warm up and pick up my pace I turn onto Granite Street to the melted-chocolate-rich vocals of Notorious B.I.G. rapping “Can’t You See”, a great tune from the soundtrack to the film The Wackness.  I run uphill and then down, cringing inside as I pass the spot by the Tool Company where I wiped out the other day.

Before I know it, I’m all the way to Halibut Point State Park, listening to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It”.  The song and the air and the wind in the trees and the blue, blue sky are deliciously satisfying to every sense, and the touch of each foot on the soft ground is almost unbearably good.  I gasp aloud with pleasure as I pass the deep quarry set in front of the vast expanse of ocean all visible from the path.

A family is out for a walk on the thick wood chip path that leads out of the park.  The dad is lumbering ahead, the mother and two tiny little red-haired  girls trail behind him, laughing, loving this morning as I am.  I think tiny hurdles as I zip past, laughing.  The two little girls call out after me, hi, hi, and I turn my head and wave to them as I head back to the street.  I take the long way, first down Phillip’s Ave., then Point De Chene, my breath in sweet rhythm with the motion of my legs.  The sound of Girl Talk’s “Bounce That” and “Peak Out” play as I turn back toward town.  I sprint down Broadway fast enough that my hair flies out behind me; I watch my shadow for a moment and see one long-legged runner move with joy.

I run eight miles this morning.  I trot up the final hill, listening once more to The Notorious B.I.G., this time the song “Sky’s the Limit” and I agree, grateful for having a resilient body and a relentless passion for running.

Runner Down

January 26, 2012

The pavement in front of the old Tool Company on Granite Street is hard and unyielding.  I am surprised to find myself flat on it, having landed hard, first onto my knees and palms, then slammed down onto my left side.  I leap up as quickly as I had landed, damage assessment already underway.

The knees of my compression running tights are torn clear through.  Rivulets of blood run down from my knees into the black legs of the tights, the bright red color seeping through already.  My palms ache, but the ugly black thrift shop fleece gloves have held up well; the fabric is intact.  When I tug them off, there is no blood on either hand.  I carefully touch my finger to the holes in my tights; I feel bits of sand embedded under the skin.   My left hip and shoulder are sensitive to the touch, bruised, but nothing seems broken.  Both of my arms hurt, the bones jarred, probably from trying to break the fall. I stand there in the shadow of the looming, rotting building, my mind trying to catch up with what just happened.  Up until this moment, this has been the best run of the month.

For the first mile, the plantar fasciitis was a mere memory and each stride felt like flying instead of running, my feet barely touching the ground.  The second mile was still pretty good, a little sensitivity in the heel, but definitely manageable.  As I hit the start of the third mile, I am thinking I will go all the way to Halibut Point, this crisp-but-not-cold January morning a blessing after the past few weeks. The sun has warmed my face and arms and I know I am grinning as  I speed down the hill by the tool company with my arms pumping and legs screaming.  Then I hit the sand patch on the side of the road.

Everyone gives me advice about winter running.  Careful, you might slip on the ice.  It’s pretty cold out there—are you sure you are warm enough?  Don’t you worry about frost bite?  Do you ever think a car might slide in the snow and skid right into you?  I understand and appreciate the concern, but I am careful.  I dress appropriately.  I slather my cheeks with a thick layer of Aquaphor to protect my skin.  I try to be extra-aware of the traffic, knowing the roads are sometimes snowy or icy.  I know I am taking a risk, but I honestly think there are much bigger risks I could be taking in my life than running outdoors during the winter season.  I had not considered the possibility that I might slip on sand.

I stand on the side of the road for another minute, still debating whether I should keep going or turn back.  I roll my shoulders, bend a bit to the left and the right, testing out the shoulder and hip.  It actually feels fine.  Well, not fine, but not bad, either.  Then I feel the warmth of the blood running down each shin and decide to turn back.  Turn back but still run.

I take the long way back, trotting along at a good clip, slowing down every once in awhile to check how my body feels.  Except for my skinned knees, I’m good.  I run along Granite Street to Railroad Avenue, then turn left onto Broadway.  I am able to pick up speed for a sprint and make it to the end of the hill before slowing down again.  I dog-trot the rest of the way home.

Safely inside the house, I make a cup of tea while I cool down.  I think about peeling off the tights.  I wait.  My stomach is queasy as I pull the fabric away from my skin.  The bleeding seems to have stopped, but I’m not really ready to take care of my own first-aid needs.  After about half an hour, I trudge up the stairs to the shower, dreading seeing my poor knees.

It’s not as bad as I thought.  The tights come off with only a minor amount of sticking and I find bright red skin peeled back, worse on the right than the left.  I sit on the edge of the bathtub with a damp tissue and gently wipe away the sand and the dirt from each wound.  I turn on the shower and get in, bracing myself.  I let the warm water run over my body and it feels good.  I gently wash the cuts first, then brave the shampoo and the rest.  When I get out, I cover each knee with antibacterial goop, wincing a bit, telling myself to stop being such a baby.  I know I’m lucky I have not broken anything.  I do call and cancel my second client of the day, rescheduling, but leave the rest of the day as planned.

As the day progresses, I notice how much my hip and shoulder ache, and how painful it is to bend my knees.  Each time I sit or squat, the cuts open fresh and bleed.  It hurts, but not enough to keep me from the day.  I work, I cook a delicious dinner to take to my son’s new apartment for our first family dinner there.  The thought that keeps running around in my head all the while is, of course, Will I be able to run tomorrow?  This is always my question when I have an injury, when the weather is horrible, when I am sick.  When I had pneumonia last year, I ran through it, every day.  I have been running with plantar fasciitis.  I just run.  But I worry about it.

By nighttime, a ping pong ball-sized lump of soft tissue has formed beneath my right kneecap.  The thought of ice is unbearable, so I take ibuprofen instead.  I go to bed, trying to find a sweet spot where the pain my shoulder, hip and knees backs off enough so I can rest.  I toss and turn, sleeping, dreaming.  Even in my sleep, I worry.  Will I be able to run?

A Little Vegan Story

January 17, 2012

Last fall I promised myself and my readers that I would write more, and include some honest pieces about what it’s like to be a vegan in a mostly meat-eating culture.  I have been mulling this one over for a week or so and am ready to write about this experience…

My friend Charlene invited my husband and me to a low-key post-holiday party.   She and her husband have a fun, eclectic group of friends, many with whom we are acquainted, some of whom are our friends as well.  I asked what I could bring to contribute to the party and was happy to make our collective latest favorite—an olive tapenade layered with hummus and fragrant pine nuts cooked in olive oil.  We dressed up a little and went, excited to spend time with our friends.  Charlene promised a couple of vegan items on her menu.  She made a delicious white bean cassoulet and amazing whole grain bread.  She even made my chocolate chip cookie recipe, complete with the Uncle Sam cereal and ground flax seed egg substitute.

We arrived, put out our tapenade, and started making the rounds of greetings and introductions.  Charlene’s husband Eric is skilled at making guests feel at home and comfortable.  He made sure we had drinks, and helped us make connections with anyone we didn’t already know.  We were happily chatting away and munching when I noticed a yummy casserole on the table.  It looked like it maybe had grated cheese sprinkled on top, so I asked the man spooning some of it onto his plate if he would mind tasting the topping and letting me know what it was.

“Why?”

“Oh.  I don’t eat cheese.”

“Why not?  Lactose intolerant?”

“No.  I’m vegan.”

I noticed Eric then, hovering nearby.

“You know”, the guy said, “Eating plants is killing, too.  Plants have feelings, so it’s (stupid? ridiculous? I can’t remember the exact wording) to eat plants as much as it is to eat meat.”

His dark eyes flashed, challenging me.

Eric jumped right in.

“Elizabeth, it’s breadcrumbs on top.  That’s the bean cassoulet.  It’s vegan.  You can have it.”

He smiled at me, encouraging me to put some on my plate.

I could feel myself shaking; the sense of being bullied overwhelmed me.  I focused on Eric.

“Thanks!  I didn’t recognize it right away.  Thanks for making something I can eat.  I really appreciate it!”

I stood for a moment beside the man who was clearly trying to antagonize me.  I made a decision.  I smiled at Eric, turned, and walked away.

When we left the party, Eric apologized profusely.  He was sorry the guy was such a jerk.  He overheard what he said to me and could not believe how rude the guy was.  He hugged me, his eyes conveying how much it bothered him to have a person in his house who would treat another person like that.  I assured him I was fine—and that it was in no way his fault.  I reminded him that no one has control over anyone else, and that people often say thoughtless things, that people get defensive over issues that come up without thinking about the other person’s feelings, views or choices.

I thought about this on the way home, and later, too.  There were many ways I could have chosen to respond to what happened.  I am happy I had not been drinking alcohol, because if that were the case, I know I would have launched into the dreaded vegan tirade that includes animal rights, killing, death, blood, cruelty, starving children all over the world, veal, hormones, sickness, cholesterol, capitalism…you know, that one.  The other choice, had I been drinking, would have been to finally put to use my mad boxing skills and surprise the guy with my amazing one-two punch, watching him crash to the floor, or perhaps face-first into the platter of sliced turkey.  Great show for non-violence and vegan life!  I could have asked him why he felt the need to attack and bully the tall, slender middle-aged woman standing beside him at a party when all she asked was whether there was cheese on top of a casserole.

But I walked away.  Walking away did not, and still does not feel cowardly.  It felt, and still feels very grown up.  After all, it was a low-key post-holiday party.  No need for a fight or a brawl over taking it personally.  His response was not about me.  It was about him and his stuff.  Period.

Thinking about this has given me a chance to look at the way I respond when either asked about being vegan or attacked about being vegan.  I have been working on good responses for when this happens again, as I am certain it will.  I can focus on not taking it personally when someone goes ballistic on veganism.  I can explain how I feel without making someone else feel guilty or wrong.  I can be kind.

I have as much right to my choices as anyone else does.  There has to be a way to be me in the world and have that be okay.  Coexistence, that’s what I dream of.  Acceptance.  Open minds.  These are the keys to being in the world.  I have a couple of them dangling from my keyring right now.  I can save my one-two for the 600 lb. tae bo bag in the gym.

Vegetable Soup for the Soul

January 14, 2012

A  scratchy throat, sniffles, and a ravenous hunger overwhelm me this morning when I awake.  Although only 7:30, the time reserved expressly for thinking of and then drinking coffee in bed, I cannot not stop making a hearty, thick vegetable soup in my head.  It has to have tomatoes.  And lots of vegetables, but only what is on hand; no trips to the store while feeling like this.  As I breakfast on a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries, cranberries, chia seeds and maple syrup, I combine spices, flavors, textures in my head.  It’s painting a picture in my mind—the stock pot the canvas, the vegetables, herbs and other ingredients the palette.

I hunt through the cupboards and refrigerator for what I want and by noon, the four of us—hubby, both kids and I—are gathered around the dining room table with steaming hot bowls in front of us.

The soup is rich.  The wheat berries are chewy and dense.  The lima beans and peas are a beautiful bright green in the rich dark broth.  Kombu, dark red miso, and tomatoes contribute the umami taste to this soup.  I consider writing down the recipe.  As I fill a second bowl and taste it again, I realize this is perhaps the most delicious vegetable soup I have ever made.  I visualize the process, happy to have designed it in my head earlier so I can remember every ingredient.  I leave my family to clean up and retire to the couch, first to write this down for sharing, then for a little nap to help fight the oncoming cold.

Vegetable Soup for the Soul

Ingredients:

1 c cooked wheat berries

olive oil for sauteing
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1/2 sweet bell pepper, diced

generous dash cayenne pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced fine

1 t dried thyme
1 t dried marjoram
2 T dark red miso paste
8 c water, divided
2 large vegan bouillon cubes or 4 small ones (total of 4 cups’worth)
1 box PomI chopped tomatoes or 28 oz. chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 pieces Kombu seaweed, about 3″ long each

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced 1/2”
3 c red cabbage, sliced thin
5 cups or 1 bunch rainbow chard, chopped fine

1 c lima beans
1 c green peas frozen
salt and lemon pepper (black pepper can be substituted)

Method:

In a large soup/stock pot, saute diced onion, carrots, celery, and sweet bell pepper in 2-3 T olive oil over medium heat until onion becomes translucent, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic and cayenne.  Saute 2 more minutes. Add thyme, marjoram. Stir.  Add miso and 1/2 the water, kombu, bouillon cubes, tomatoes, and wheat berries. Bring to a  boil.  Lower heat to simmer and cook 10 min or until carrots are tender.  Add remaining water.  Return to simmer over medium heat.  Add sweet potato, cabbage and chard. Cook 10 min more.  Add lima beans and peas.  Cook 5 minutes more.  Remove kombu and bay leaf from pot.  Mince kombu and return to pot.  Discard bay leaf.

Taste the broth and add salt and lemon pepper to taste.

Serve with hearty, warm, whole grain bread.

(I know.  The picture could be better. But the soup is GREAT!)

Healing the Heel

January 11, 2012

Plantar fasciitis is a weird ailment.  There are days when I have no pain at all, running my beautiful route past beaches and granite cliffs, watching the waves crash onto the rocks, breathing in the cold salty air.  I don’t even think about my heel on those days; I sort through my thoughts, make plans, or just zone out and be.  On the days when the pain is bad, I hobble out of bed, limping, afraid to put weight on that right foot, knowing the sharp, shooting sensation will make me catch my breath in agony.  I flex my foot, test a little weight, then a little more, holding onto the headboard of my bed, then the stair rail beside it, waiting for the tight band of tissue in my foot to give enough for me to walk.  I stumble down the stairs to the kitchen and by the time the lunches are made, I can walk. Usually by the time I have driven my daughter to school, the pain has subsided enough that I dare to consider six or seven miles, promising myself ice as a reward if I can get through it.

It doesn’t hurt when I am running, usually, but most of the rest of the time it’s pretty bad.  I had it in my left heel a few years ago and it lasted about 18 months.  Now I have it in my right heel and it is seriously cramping my running lifestyle.  Not that I have decreased my mileage by much, but I am still making an attempt to take care of my poor, sore foot.  I am icing and stretching the arch, the heel, the Achilles, the calves on both sides.  A body therapist is coming tomorrow to spend an hour or so trying to grind away the scar tissue.  It hurts.  I can hear the tissue as I press my fingers into it.  It is like shattered glass—sharp slivered sound  that brings tears to my eyes.  I rub through it anyway.

Extra cross-training is a bit more appealing this time around, since I have added kickboxing, boxing, and Kenpo karate to my list since my last bout.  Plyometrics don’t hurt or bother my heel either, so I do an hour or so each week of mad-high jumping in my living room, forcing my heart rate and Golgi tendons out of their comfort zones.  I have increased the weight I use for strength training, so am building more muscle.  I know it’s a good thing, cross-training, but the running addiction gets the better of me.

There is a lot of advice out there from runners, doctors, orthopedists, trainers, and massage therapists about how to manage this heel tissue situation.  I have tried ice, orthodics, resting, gait adjustment, massage.  Bio-mechanics have been cited as a possible problem.  I’m sure it’s a combination of these things, or at least some of them.  I have worn various shoes, taken time off from running.  I have to live with whatever choices I make, I know.  I’m not going to push so hard that I do permanent damage, but it is a struggle to know where to draw the line on days like today, when the sun is bright, the air clear and crisp and all I can think about is running.  I’m not going today.   Tomorrow the day will not call me like this, with its snow, slush and rain and I will have two days of rest under my foot.  Friday there is boxing and weight lifting.  By Saturday, maybe I will be ready for a long, easy run.