28 Day Handstand Challenge

When a friend of mine showed me a picture of herself doing a one-armed handstand against a wall, I was equal parts in awe and intrigued: I could do that if I wanted, couldn’t I?? I run 13.1 miles for fun! Surely I could just throw myself up against the wall and balance there with my feet against the wall for safety, right?

Well. As it turns out, I most certainly cannot.

SO, being the stubborn Polish girl I am, I took to the interwebs in search of a “handstand challenge” because I will not stop until I get fully inverted too. There were a few interesting plans out there, but I chose the free plan offered by Chris Salvato. He gives you a LOT of information, and I won’t give away all the details (it is free though, so why not go sign up yourself?), but the bulk of his plan boils down to a simple 2-step process:

  1. Wall Planks, progressing into…
  2. Wall Handstands

That’s it! That’s all there is to it. It’s really just about overcoming the fear of being upside-down first, while building up the arm strength to hold yourself up.

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At Day 1 I was only able to hold one :55 plank before my lungs felt like they were being crushed. And while I felt like I was in total danger of tipping over and cracking my skull open, the photo evidence above suggests that I was more in danger of falling flat onto my tummy than anything!

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Seriously, it’s a real trip to realize how much your body will resist going upside down!

By Day 2 I progressed to 2 sets of :45, but I only made it a few inches closer to the wall. And my lungs were still none too pleased with being compressed upside down. But I kept at it, aiming for a few more seconds or one more set each day. I also followed Chris’s “Never two in a row” rule (never skip more than 2 days of practice in a row) and used my rest days from running as rest days from handstands. I also started videotaping myself to check my form, and I’m loving it!

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Keeping my practice to the same area now is a great way for me to see how much faster I can get up, and how close I can get to the wall. I’ve gotten up to 5 sets of :45 and will keep doing this for the next week or so, until I’m ready to face the other way and try kicking up to the door. My main concern now is having an exit strategy: the closer I get to the door, the less room I have for a controlled exit, and the greater my fear of falling out of the handstand. If I face the other way, I’ll be able to just gracefully land out of position when I’m done (in theory).

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Wherever this takes me next, I have to say that I’m loving it! I’m working new muscles that I forgot about and finding new courage to push closer to the wall and to hold for longer than the day before.

How about you: are you currently doing any extra challenges along with your training? Can you do a handstand already? I want to see! And how did you solve the “graceful exit” problem I’m faced with now? Inquiring minds want to know! 🙂

Week 1 of 18

Well I’m still here! I know I’ve been quiet lately (ok, SILENT), but it’s been a very eventful first week of marathon training and I’m really excited to share it with you!

So I’m officially following Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan, and I adapted it to allow for extra cross- & strength-training (and to accommodate my still-kinda-new-ACL). I started on Tuesday of last week – in this plan, Mondays are rest days. This works out perfectly because I’m usually pretty active during the weekend, and Sunday long runs keep me from going out drinking on a Saturday – so even my liver wins! So after mentally prepping and adjusting my diet accordingly on Monday, I was good and ready for an early morning 3.1 miler on Tuesday!

Image I know that it should be 3 miles, but does anyone else have a hard time just running 3 without the .1 to make it a 5k? No? Just me? Ok then. Moving on!

Anyway, it was hot. And humid. Frankly, it felt like I was running through chicken soup. I was leaking from every pore and slow and kinda hated it, but I kept telling myself to soak it in because it was my first training run for my first marathon. How stinking cool is that? I got to watch the sun come up over the bay as I ran loops around the park, said Hi to some little baby bunnies out for breakfast with their mom on the side of the path, and I got through it with a smile. Winning!

To enhance my training, I also decided to add 15-20 minutes of strength training in each day. Even if it’s 3 minutes at a pop in front of the TV while the commercials are on, I’m getting it in. Arms, abs, back, and legs, no body part left behind (ew). So I did my 20 minutes with some coworkers in the office gym in the afternoon, and topped off my day in the evening with my handstand challenge practice.

Come Wednesday, my knees were extremely achy from wearing high heels at work and the humidity. So I invoked my training plan tweak and opted out of running, choosing instead to get the mileage the plan called for (4 miles) done on the elliptical. This saved my knees a LOT of pain, and it worked out fantastically.

ImageYou can tell it’s working because I look like death!

I still got all the cardio benefits (I was dripping with sweat!) by keeping close to my running pace and loved it. When I added another 20 minutes of strength training and more handstands into the mix that day, I was shredded.

So when Thursday called for 3 miles, I was surprised (not really though) to find that my body was not having any of that. I got my strength training in, but suffered all day through my monthly migraine (any of you ladies experience the same hell as me every month?). By the time I got out of work, I wasn’t even close to motivated to run 3 miles. It was 95 outside, about 97% humidity, and I was out of Motrin. I call that The “Trifecta of Suck”.

BUT – when I got home, I put on my gear and told myself to get out there. Even if I did one mile, I’d call it a win. So I got out there in the soupy weather and walked for most of a mile, threw in 4 sprints of around 8:00/miles just to get my heart rate up, and as soon as that damn Nike+ app said 1.00, I called it. I was just not feeling it. But I didn’t beat myself up – I chose to be happy with my training and chalked it up to good experience, and looked forward to rest day Friday!

ImageInstead of 🙂 or 😦 I decided on the third option, not shown here-  :-/

After resting (and yes, having a slice of homemade pizza) on Friday, I attacked Saturday and Sunday with what I can only describe as an intense desire to KICK ASS. And kick I did!

Image I tackled Saturday morning with an 8-mile bike ride before breakfast, and felt unstoppable. It was my longest ride since before my surgery, and I felt like I could have easily kept on going! Then Sunday I attacked my 5 mile training run in under an hour:

Imageby 32 seconds, but it counts!

And then punished my legs just a little bit more with 2 hours of hiking and trail running at Holmdel Park.

ImageMy legs were so tired I tried to ride the deer home.

Then I finished the day with some more handstand practice and looked forward to resting today!

So that’s my Week 1 (of 18). It’s kind of scary to think that I have to keep this up for another 17 weeks (my god I’m starving and exhausted!) but I’m feeling stronger than ever and very excited to see where this training takes me!

How about you, are you training for anything right now? How’s it going?

 

 

First Marathon Training Time

I’m about a week away from starting my first ever full marathon training plan, and – we’re friends right? Good. Then I feel no shame in telling you that I’m about ready to soil myself.

do not wantdo not want.

I can’t lie – there’s a lot of “why the hell did I ever say I’d do this in the first place?” going through my head right now. I’m an idiot. I watched one video about people finishing a marathon and suddenly I’m ready to take on 26.2 miles myself? Come on, 13.1 just became doable like a month ago!

But alas, I made a promise to myself (and paid the registration fee), so I can’t run away from this problem.

200although that sprint might be good training, so on second thought maybe I should?

So now I’m staring down a 16 week training plan that will basically change my life: I’m starting it just as a “runner”. If anything, I can call myself a half marathoner. But at the end of these 4 and a half months, I’m going to be a marathoner. Even thinking about it gives me chills!

Am I scared? Hell yeah. But I’m excited too. And I can’t wait to prove to myself that I can do it. I’m going to start a journey that I never thought I’d ever take on, and it’s going to consume a lot of my life. I’ll have to re-evaluate and shift my eating and drinking habits (oh god my drinking habits) for optimum performance. No more late nights – or late mornings, for that matter. I’ll live and die by the mileage. Whatever the number on the plan, I’m sticking to it and following through. Cross training will be for-realsies, too – biking, swimming, strength training; it’s all going down.

Because come October 19th, when I hit that boardwalk, I want to be as prepared and confident as possible. I will leave all of my doubts in my dust, and I’m going to crush it.

tumblr_static_dumbledorebasically I’m going to be Dumbledore

Now I want to hear from you – what are you ready to take on like Albus up there? Are you training for your first race? A 5k? Your first marathon? Tell me what’s going through your mind – I want to hear it all!

From 2 Legs to 2 Wheels

So back in 2011, I got a bike. Specifically, a good friend gifted me the bike as a wedding present. And it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!

I still remember unpacking that thing a few weeks after we got back from our honeymoon and putting it together with my own damn hands. I was so excited! I was going to finally get back in the saddle after almost 10 years, and I was going to jump right in! Well, once I figured out why the brakes weren’t working and if I could get the tires to stay inflated. Then winter came. I promised myself I would get back into it after the snow finally cleared out. Then we moved. OK, I’d get it all fixed up and hit the road once we were all moved into the new house. Then I figured I’d wait until after the AC Half Marathon. And then I tore my ACL and lost 15 months to rehab.

SO. Fast forward to this past weekend when I found myself laid up with a surprise ear infection the same day that my good “virtual” friend (and Mermaid Club founder) Helena completed the Ironman Texas Triathlon. I was inspired, to say the least! Since I’ve managed to incorporate cycling into the last 3 months of my training, and have found that I REALLY like it, I finally called my papa – AKA the Bike Doctor – and he swung by to give my pretty girl Maggie a tune up. 

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Yeah, that’s the bike’s name, so what?

A quick 20 minutes of tightening and oiling, and I was ready to hit the road! So the next morning, when I woke up feeling much better (thank you, modern medicine), I threw the bike in the back of the Honda and we went for our inaugural ride!

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Selfie time with Maggie!

I set out to ride on feeling, just to see how far I could get. I even found that I could use my Garmin for biking – score! And after one mile-long lap, I felt so good that I took the turn out of the park and went exploring. My knee felt great and I was having a good time, and before I knew it I had done 3.5 miles! I started to feel it in my legs after taking a few small hills, but I kept going and told myself to push for 5 solid miles as hard as I could go.

So push I did, and I completely surprised myself when I finished all 5 miles at a little over 6:10/mile pace! 

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happy biker

Needless to say – I’m hooked! I can’t wait to incorporate biking into my fitness plans, especially when I start getting into the thick of my marathon training and need to give my legs some good cross training. I’m already planning out new routes to test my limits now that I’ve transitioned from 2 legs to 2 wheels!

Tell me: if you’re a runner, do you bike too? What are your other favorite cross-training exercises? Give me some other ideas, I’ve gone exercise-crazy and I’ll try anything next! 

Magic or Science?

With my first half marathon post-ACL surgery in the books and few more weeks until my first full marathon training plan starts, I’ve found myself floating around in this cloud of indecision and inspiration. If it sounds weird, just imagine living it.

I’ve only gone on about 4 or 5 runs since my half, telling myself to get back into the swing of things easily now because once full training starts, my knees will be begging for mercy. But at the same time, I’m anxious to get out there again and again because – and I’m not kidding here – every run since my half has been amazing. Like, A-MAY-ZING with a capital A. I feel lighter, my pace has improved, the hills are easier to tackle, my breathing is even, I fall right into a rhythm as soon as I start… it’s unbelievable!

actual photo of me running Sunday morning

How I felt running this past Sunday morning

Have I finally pushed through all of those crap-tastic training runs I fought throughout February and March? Is my running karma finally turning around after feeling like Homer Simpson for pretty much the first 2 miles of every. damn. run. I’ve taken in the past 6 months?

Probably not because that’s what I actually looked like running Sunday morning.

I’d like to think it’s magic. But when I examine the facts, I really can’t deny that everything I’ve heard about “getting out of running what you put into it” is really true. In my training, I added serious cross-training to strengthen my whole body and protect my injury-prone joints. As a result, my post-surgery knee feels stronger than ever (except when it’s humid. NOT when it’s humid). I built up my mileage slowly, and have seen my limits grow with every long run. I learned how to alter my pace to my distance to avoid burnout, and have found shorter distances to be much faster now that my endurance is built up. Sure, I went from a 13:00 mile to an 11:00 one, but hey, I was on track to break 10:00 before my injury and I never thought I’d see it again!

So while I’d like to think that it’s magic, the facts really don’t lie: training smart really does make you a better runner. Although a little magic doesn’t hurt.

What do you think? Have you noticed any improvements thanks to your training? Have any tips or tricks that you like to use? Share your story!

 

Rest & Recover? lol jk

Here I am, 3 days post-race, and I already miss training. Not being able to run after a race like that kills me! Especially since I had such a great experience; PR’ing with my new ACL has me convinced that I can – and should! – take on another race soon, to maintain my fitness and improve my time.

But alas, I’m forced to “take it easy”, at least for this week. OK, my knees can use the rest. Truth be told, they’re both still a little tender. This new ligament was just put through the wringer, and my good knee has taken on a lot in the last year, so they’ve earned a few rest days.

ImageThis may be my grandfather. Maybe.

But I want to GO! I went from talking about nothing but training to talking about wanting to get back into training. I think my coworkers may tie me to my chair and roll me into an empty office soon. How about you, does the post-race rest period drive you as insane as it’s driving me?

Also, can we talk for a moment about the whole post-race appetite thing? During training, I was like a vacuum. I required constant feedings, like a 165 lb. newborn kitten.

Image…and then eat some more!

But after my half on Saturday, my appetite has all but disappeared. I fantasized about pancakes for pretty much all of miles 11 & 12, but once I finished, the thought of food just turned me off. We only stopped at Baja Fresh after the race because I knew that poor Mike had to eat *something*. Sure the guacamole was good, and my shrimp taco was delicious, but I could only manage a few bites of each before calling it a day. That night I had a chicken salad and treated myself to some hash browns, but again could only take about half of each. I couldn’t even finish my celebratory brownie that night.

Guys, do you understand what I just said? Let me repeat myself: I couldn’t even finish a brownie. What the what??

3 days later, I’m still not as ravenous as I expected – which is certainly a good thing, especially if I have to take a few more days off running. But this goes against everything I am and desire in life. Have any of you ever experienced an appetite decrease after a race? Am I entirely alone here?

Piggies and Stairs and Long Runs, Oh My!

What an active weekend I had! I like to think the buildup to Boston inspired me 😉

Let’s start with Saturday. A beautiful sunny warm spring day, I met up with a new friend for a virtual 5K down at the local park. We registered for this thing back in January, mainly because it’s a race that encourages the consumption of donuts, and you also get a fun pig nose to wear for ridiculous pictures afterwards. It was a win-win!

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Wow did we have more fun than expected.

We jogged and walked (this being my friend’s first 5K) and had a nice workout in the process – I managed a 8:30 pace for the last quarter mile and surprised even myself! So after we finished and posed for some hysterical pictures, we headed to Dunkin for our celebratory glazed with sprinkles (and iced coffee, of course), then strolled around town for a bit. My adventurous friend spotted the South Amboy train station steps and suggested we tackle them Rocky-style, and who was I to say no? My knee was feeling nice and strong thanks to the last month of serious training, so I went for it! 

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I blame my delusions on the donut-related sugar high.

In hindsight, I probably should have passed on the steps given my plans to run 10 miles the next day. I used to do stairs all the time, pre-surgery. But they’re a special kind of hell – one that I haven’t really experienced in over 18 months.

So I woke up feeling fine and set out for my last long training run and also my longest post-ACL surgery run! Immediately the wind became an issue, but I stuck it out – until mile 7.5. That’s when I hit the wall pretty hard, and briefly considered asking an elderly man sharing the path at the park with me for a ride on his Jazzy.

But this wall wasn’t like any other wall I’ve hit before – this wall was more like quicksand. In the past, my lungs would give up on me first, resulting in stitches in my side and constant stopping. But yesterday, it was all in my legs and hips. They wouldn’t turn over! My lungs felt absolutely fine, but my legs felt almost numb when I was running, and ached and throbbed when I stopped to walk for a drink. I alternated between walking and running the last 1.5 or so just to test my limits and see what I could do – and that pain was shocking! I kept at it though, and remembered that I’m only racing myself here. Time isn’t important, it’s getting the mileage in. So I kept at it. And at mile 9.4 I saw the best graffiti ever:

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Thanks, running path.

That gave me the push I needed to finish mile #10 and put my final long run in the books. I stretched and foam rolled, and later (after gorging myself on Easter deliciousness at my mother-in-law’s), I iced and used my TENS unit too. It wasn’t until about 9pm that I realized WHY I was so pained in the last half of my run – those damn stairs!!

So now I know: do not run up and down a flight of double stairs 6-8 times the day before a long run. Lesson learned.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned (maybe the hard way) in your running? Let me hear it!

 

One More Week [Alternatively: AAAHH!!]

So it’s come to my attention that I’m just over exactly 7 days away from my half marathon.

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I’m fine, why do you ask?

But really, I’m kind of freaking out. I came back from vacation and have been hitting it HARD for the past 8 days:

  • 5.4 miles with hills
  • Rest
  • 60 mins. of cross training with strength work and biking
  • 2 miles of speedwork
  • Rest
  • 6.5 miles at race pace
  • 3 miles of speedwork
  • 50 minutes of cross training

Why am I freaking out, you ask? Well, see, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. And the most I’ve done so far is 6.5. That’s just over half of the distance I need to cover in a week.

Sure, I could blame traveling and vacation and that nasty 9-day fever/cough on my lack of real mileage, but let’s face it: I have no one to blame but myself. And since we’re all friends here, I’m gonna keep it real right now and be honest: I am fucking pissed at myself. This is an issue that I have not just with my running, but with life in general.

Here’s how it goes down: I set a goal for myself. A big, lofty goal that I think would be awesome to accomplish, like “be a professional person at work” or “run another half marathon after blowing out my knee in the last one I ran”. Whee for goal setting!

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Do! All! The Things!

I get really excited! For about 2-3 weeks, all I focus on is this goal. I wear high heels to work every day. I schedule meetings. I create a training plan and follow it rigorously. It’s all I can talk about. “I’m going to really turn it around this time! I’m going to banish all doubt from my performance as a professional at work/run this half marathon/fill in the blank with lofty goal here!”

Then, something happens. Maybe I get sick. Maybe I have to travel for work, or something family-related pops up. Whatever it is, it always sidetracks me from my “PLAN with a capital P”. I stop wearing the heels. I forget to run because I’m too stressed or busy or whatever. And before I know it, a week or two or even three has gone by, and I’m right back to pre-goal Jess. Only now, that Plan with a capital P is now in shambles and whatever goal I’ve set for myself is STILL looming. And it’s immobilizing. Plus I’ve got the sweet taste of failure in my mouth.

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Turns out, failure tastes like chocolate and potato chips and insomnia and Twizzlers all mixed together, did you know that?

So that’s about where I’m at right now. Sure, I haven’t completely FAILED with a capital F. I’ve still got a week. I’m training. I’m not giving up. I’m focusing on finishing this thing with a smile, and if that means I have to walk half of it and finish 3 hours after they close the course to avoid injury, then so be it.

But I’m not as trained as I’d like to be, and I know that I’ve never actually successfully run an entire half marathon yet, due to either the course being shortened or blowing out my knee a mile before the finish. So even though I’m going into this thinking, “Hey, 3rd time’s a charm!”, a tiny, self-hating part of me sees me bonking at mile 9 and just saying f*ck it and paying the cop at the end of the pack of runners $50 to give me a ride to the finish on the back of his motorcycle.
So all I can do is keep training, keep picturing myself crossing that finish line, running, and happy. That’s the best I can hope for I guess. Right?
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Grateful

It’s really starting to sink in that I’m running a half marathon in a little over one month. And I can’t lie – I am terrified! 

So I’ve kicked my training into high gear, but it’s a double edged sword. I’ve incorporated a bit of cross training into every day and it’s already paying dividends. But the funny thing about training with this new knee is that I’m constantly walking the line between “is this pain from a new injury?” and “I need to train harder to make sure I don’t get injured again.” It’s a constant struggle – I sometimes take a day to rest between runs because I’m afraid of hurting my knees, but after that day off I worry that I won’t be trained enough for this race and will therefore tear my ACL again and need another year of rehab.

What can I say, sometimes it’s hell inside my head.

At times.

BUT… there are plenty of things I can do besides my training to ensure that I succeed. I can visit my orthopedist to have him take a look at both knees for good measure. I take my glucosamine every day. I skip heels at work in lieu of flat shoes that don’t tax my joints. I sleep with my knee brace on after a tough workout, to avoid twisting it in my sleep. I’ve picked up KT tape (and found that it’s a miracle!)

kt

seriously, what is this stuff made of, unicorn hide?

Tonight, I also realized the power of simply being grateful.

Let me explain: I had a 2 mile run on the training plan and got it in, even pushed the pace towards the end, but felt a few twinges in my good knee so I stopped at 2.5 miles. But instead of ending my workout there, I moved to a stationary bike and told myself to give it hell for one full mile with a level 4 difficulty. I worked it out on the bike throughout my physical therapy and remember pumping my fists in victory when I hit a 10 minute mile, so imagine my surprise when I hit a mile in 4:15!

Jazzed up from setting that new PR, I grabbed a Bosu ball and banged out a few sets of triceps dips, balance push-ups and squats then ended with a nice stretch. That’s when I realized that every little thing I do in addition to my running now is helping to prepare me for this race. I may be worried about taking a day off from running, but while I trained for my last race, I skipped cross training entirely – and paid dearly for it with a torn ACL! Now, I’m smarter. And with every extra rep, squat, and curl, I’m making myself stronger.

As I stretched I stared at my legs and felt an immense wave of gratitude wash over me. Sure, they ache and they’ve given me a lot of trouble in the past 18 months, but I am so thankful for these legs. They’ve come a long way in my 30 years, and I can’t wait to see where they take me next.

gym

a runner, from top to bottom

And I’m also grateful for my brain – along with those tree trunk legs, the positive thinking I cling to during my training is what’s going to truly get me across that finish line. Sometimes I get a little (okay, a lot) wrapped up in the crazy rabbit hole of negative self-talk and doubt, but all I need to do to silence that is picture myself crossing that finish line with two solid legs and a smile on my face.

So tell me: what are YOU grateful for? What have you gone through to get you where you’re at today? Whether you’re just starting or a seasoned veteran, you’ve got to be thankful for something – let’s share the love!

Training Post-ACL Reconstruction

I used to run through my aches and pains and told myself it made me a tougher runner. It turns out I was injuring myself even more. With each mile I logged, the tiny tears in my left ACL grew and grew, leaving me vulnerable to the nearly-full tear I experienced at Mile 12 of the Atlantic City Half Marathon in October 2012.

The resulting surgery and therapy -and the 9 months off from running while it healed- gave me the chance to work with orthopedists and physical therapists to learn all about my body and how to take care of it. They introduced me to an arsenal of tools to help keep my knee, and the rest of my joints, healthy and happy through the miles:

tools of the trade

disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or expert, but these are all magic.

TENS Unit: This was a gift from the running gods, let me tell you. When I started physical therapy after my surgery, my therapist put the pads on my thigh to stimulate the muscles and basically bring them to life again. I was given my own machine for use at home (thank you, health insurance!!), and was shown how to use it for pain management too. It was magic – there were still the usual post-surgery pains, but I could move around the house a lot easier while the pads were on and “buzzing”. Eventually the TENS became a part of my every day routine – 20 minutes on the bad knee at the end of the day to relax and revive the muscles, with ice & a quick massage. Now, 13 months after the surgery, I still use these puppies on my bad knee after a tough run or long day on my feet – hell, I even use it on my good knee too, to ease the usual overuse pains it’s developed with the extra pressure it had to take on while the bad knee healed. It’s like a little package of magic, and I don’t know what I’d do without it!

Ice: Even on the coldest days, I’ll ice up after a run if I’ve felt any little pinches or pops during my run. It’s a simple way to calm down any inflammation I may have, whether it’s because of a hilly run or a humid day (thanks to the surgery, I’m one of those people whose knees swell in even a tiny bit of humidity).

Glucosamine Chondroitin: AKA Osteo-Bi-Flex or any of the popular Glucosamine tablets you can find in the pharmacy. These are expensive, but I take them every day because I can feel an obvious difference if I don’t! My orthopedist didn’t want to do surgery immediately. Instead, he gave me these pills for 6 weeks, had me do daily strengthening exercises, and let the swelling go down. In my case, surgery turned out to still be necessary, but I’m convinced that these pills (along with the strengthening exercises that I still do to this day) helped me get stronger and made it possible for me to bounce back from surgery as quickly as I did.

Now, here’s the key: these are just tools. They only work if I put in the hard work and *train* with them! Strength training has been a HUGE part of the recovery process for me, as we determined it was the lack of training that got me here in the first place! I neglected to build up my leg muscles and only focused on mileage while I trained for my race, and that (combined with my family history of weak knees) spelled disaster for me at Mile 12.

Now that I know how to take care of and listen to my body, training post-ACL reconstruction is a lot of work, but it’s not impossible. If you’ve had an injury, how do you cope with it in your training? Have you ever used a TENS unit? What are your thoughts on glucosamine? Tell me all about it in the comments!