Random Reasons I run

I run for a lot of reasons.  Some are practical such as building strength and endurance and keeping my good cholesterol levels up.  Others are personal such as relieving stress and keeping balance in my life.  The following are just some of the more random reasons why I run:

1 – It’s cheap.  Running shoes?  Check.  Shorts?  Check.  Tshirt?  Check.  No other sport costs so little and gives you back so much.  Who needs a gym membership when you can buy a pair of running sneakers and be ready to go?

2 – Lifting weights is boring.  There’s plenty to be said about cross training and strength training no matter what sport you do.  But how much fun is it to lift weights?  Not as fun as finding a new trail to explore or racing a 5k.

3 – To escape the zombie apocalypse.  Until the walking dead can learn to pick up the pace those who run will always have an upper hand in a survival situation.

4 – Weird looks and comments.  Tell someone you run for fun and you’ll get a load of amusing responses.  Better yet, go for a run in the afternoon when the heat index is over 90 degrees and watch how many drivers stare at you in confusion.

5 – It’s tough stuff.  Automatic bragging rights are bestowed on anyone who says they run.  The farther the distance or faster the speed the more satisfying it is.

The Knee Bone’s Connected to the Hip Bone?

I have considered myself a runner since 7th grade when I first joined the track team.  At 30 years old I like to think all these years of running have made me fairly tuned into my body.  That being said it seems that there’s always something new to learn.

Winter 2012 I started to develop some knee pain while running.  I recall a run that resulted in me having to actually stop completely and walk the final 2 blocks home because the pain would shoot through my knee with every step.  That was usually a sign it was time to replace my running shoes.  Unfortunately getting new sneakers didn’t alleviate the problem so off to the family doctor I went.  I was lucky in that my doctor was also a runner and referred me to a physical therapist who was a runner as well.  I can’t speak for all runners, but I think most of us feel a lot more trusting of someone who actually does what we do as he or she is less likely to tell us to just stop running.

The physical therapist went through his normal protocol in analyzing my running style as well as my feet.  He stated that I was wearing too much of a motion controlled shoe and that because my arches were normal I should be in a more neutral shoe.  I found that quite interesting as I had been wearing Asics Adrenaline shoes for a few years without any issues.  Rather than put me through sessions physical therapy if it wasn’t needed, he recommended that I change my shoes first and see if that helped.  Luckily Scranton Running Company took back my recently purchased pair without issue to exchange them for Asics Glycerin instead.

That seemed to do the trick.  I was able to train for and run my first half marathon Sept. 2013 without knee pain.  I was glad to have such a simple fix.  Or so I thought.

Over the years the knee pain started again.  It never was bad enough to stop my runs, but it also made them a lot less enjoyable.  I knew there was no injury as sometimes my right knee would hurt and sometimes the left.  Sometimes it was along the outside of my knee, sometimes the inside and sometimes the kneecap.  Sometimes I could run 5 miles pain free while other times 2 miles would have them locking up.  It was a frustrating mystery that left me feeling as if I’d never be able to train for a half marathon again.  I tried telling myself there was no point in seeing a doctor unless I got to the point where I couldn’t run since there was no consistency in the pain.  I tried to be content with the fact that I was physically able to run at all and accept the fact that maybe just age and wear and tear on my body was causing it.

This winter I reached a breaking point.  Nearly every run, particularly if the weather was less than 50 degrees, was resulting in knee pain.  I was afraid to run fast and I was afraid to run more than 3-4 miles.  It wasn’t enough just to be able to run, I wanted to train again.

I finally caved and went to the family doctor who referred me to sports medicine.  When I scheduled the appointment I was told the doctor was a runner and that all his patients said nothing but good things about him.

I was partially concerned that I could have the start of osteoarthritis, but the xrays of my knees taken at my visit showed nothing of that nature.  I was diagnosed with squinted patellas (meaning my kneecaps turn inwards) which is fairly common among women given our hip structure as well as a slight leg length discrepancy, again something fairly common among most people.  Neither of these sound like anything major but when you start putting your legs through mile after mile they can make an impact.  The doctor recommended 2 sessions of physical therapy, one to include a thorough gait analysis, and said to follow up if I didn’t find improvement in my running.

I was extremely impressed by the physical therapy sessions.  The first one the physical therapist identified my hip flexibility as a likely source of my knee pain.  Having ran hurdles for years in track and done numerous hip flexibility drills I found this very surprising.  He said often when we have sit down jobs it leads to losing mobility in our hips.  He gave me various strengthening drills as well as foam rolling techniques to use to help improve this.

My second session was my gait analysis.  This consisted of running on a treadmill while a different physical therapist filmed from behind and alongside of me.  While my form and stride were very good, she pointed out that I was a hamstring dominant runner meaning I wasn’t engaging my quads or glutes as much as I should be.  By relying on my hamstrings to do the majority of the work  this was putting more stress on my knees.  She also pointed out that my hips were dropping more than they should be, again a sign of limited mobility in them.  She went over warmup drills and cooldown stretches to begin including before and after my runs.

My physical therapy sessions were right before the start of my first season coaching track for Dallastown.  As any coach will tell you it seems counterintuitive but you’re usually not as in shape during the season as you are the rest of the year.  This was certainly true for me as while I found time to workout, I was usually getting in just 1 run per week so it was quite challenging to figure out if my newfound strategies were helping much.

Once the season ended I began running more frequently and I’m happy to say that 90% of the knee pain is gone and I’m building up my mileage to hopefully run my 2nd half marathon this fall.  As long as I do a thorough warmup with my mobility drills and foam roll regularly I only get a twinge of knee pain here or there.  I have also tried to add more hills to my runs as it forces me to engage my glutes more and build strength.  The days I’m not running I do DailyBurn workouts and I give props to the trainers on there for incorporating a lot of mobility and stability moves that I believe complement the exercises the physical therapists gave me.  I had a follow up visit with sports medicine last week and the doctor was very happy with my progress.  He said that I had even decreased the slight leg length discrepancy from the hip exercises I had been completing.

I would have never guessed the pain I felt in my knees wasn’t from anything in my knees at all but rather in my hips.  Proof once again of just how connected our body really is and how much more there is to learn about it.

 

My First Season Coaching the Wildcats

I coached jr high cross country for my former school district for the 2008-2010 seasons.  It was very difficult for me to give up the position when I obtained a full time job; one whose hours would not allow me to be off work early enough to get to practice.  I was fortunate in that my dad actually took over my position and has been enjoying it ever since.

This past fall Jason came across a posting for an assistant varsity track and field coach at our local high school.  Having taken a position in the spring that afforded me flexibility in my work hours I made the decision to apply.  In Feb. I was hired to coach hurdlers both on the varsity and jr high teams.  The ability to float between the teams was both a fun challenge since I had hurdlers of all skill levels, and also a tad exhausting as it resulted in having more away meets to travel to.

From March through this past weekend I have not had much of a life outside of work and coaching.  There were many nights that until I got home from practice, completed my own workout, showered and made dinner, I was eating at 8pm.  Refusing to rely on concession stands for dinner every week, I fine tuned my meal planning ability and increased my list of crock pot recipes.  Jason’s chore list grew longer, the cat’s dinner time became erratic, and my parents likely felt that they only had 1 daughter instead of 2 most of the spring.  The extreme temperature changes throughout the early part of the season caused the worst chilblain breakouts I’ve ever had on my fingers.  Snow squalls, rain, wind, heat and humidity all made me feel that I was a postal worker at times.

Everyday I coached though was worth it.  For 2-2.5 hours a day at practice, all evening for meets and all day or night invites I forgot that coaching was a job.  To be part of a team, to have athletes who enjoy working with you and to see them succeed is something that completes me as a person.

Our varsity boys’ team went undefeated at 6-0 and our girls’ team had a winning season at 4-2.  I had 2 hurdlers medal in the county meet and one who continued onto compete in the District 3 championships.  I had 2 jr high hurdlers place in their year end invitational.  I saw improvement in every one of my athletes and their dedication grow with the season.

As a new coach at a new school it can be intimidating not knowing how the athletes will accept you.  After many years of bleeding blue and gold I wasn’t sure how blue and white would suit me.  Fortunately the majority of my hurdlers took to having me there very well, and I received plenty of hugs throughout the season and at our year end banquet.

I am grateful for the opportunity to continue coaching high school athletes; it has always been and will always be a passion of mine rather than a job.  I have a great group of kids returning again next year and can’t wait to see what the future holds.  I learn from them as much as they learn from me, and they remind me of what’s really important in life.

The Highs and Lows of Cooking

I have mentioned before in a previous blog Eating – A Necessary Evil that I am not a fan of cooking because in short, I am not a fan of eating.  Today I told my sister and a friend that were it not for my health conscious lifestyle and desire to save money I would likely live off of frozen or microwavable meals and take out.  I do tend to cook 4, sometimes 5, nights a week.  The fact that I have a husband to feed ensures I can’t just make a big pot of pasta and eat it all week long.  I suppose this actually ranks me higher than most Americans when it comes to cooking homemade meals.

My disdain for cooking and my average skills in it results in me having a lot of ups and downs in the kitchen.  The first time I made Pan Seared Pork Chops Topped with Brown Sugar Apples and Bacon (recipe here) I was more excited than when I completed my first 5k.  Mind you I was in the kitchen for an hour and my husband, Jason, devoured the meal in less than half that time, but I was so proud of what came out looking like a restaurant quality meal.  I now refer to the recipe as “fancy pork chops” because it is the closest to gourmet cooking I have ever come.

I feel accomplished when I’m able to try out a new recipe and have it be successful enough to make again.  It gives me a boost of confidence that I can’t achieve from any other activity.  I suppose it comes from doubting my abilities and instead having impressed myself with my success.

I have had many failures in the kitchen as well.  This goes as far back to when I was a kid and made Kool-Aid for the first time.  My poor father had the displeasure of discovering that I had forgotten to add the sugar.  A few years ago I tried making a tortilla encrusted salmon that came out horribly wrong and caused me to cry.  Jason didn’t understand why I was so upset and said we could just get pizza.  To me though it was such a waste.  Of time.  Of food.  Of my efforts.

Then there are nights like tonight when a recipe just doesn’t turn out as good as it sounds.  I had planned to cook some penne and throw it in vodka sauce, but the back of the pasta box had a recipe for a creamy garlic cheese sauce.  As luck would have it I actually had all the ingredients on hand so I thought why not?  I followed the directions to the letter and every step was completed, but the sauce just did not impress me.  It was such a letdown given how wonderful the description of it sounded.  I’m sure a more advanced chef would know the best ways to tweak the recipe to enhance the sauce, but all my hours spent watching Food Network have not instilled in me those same skills.  Next time I’ll stick to the vodka sauce.

I have chosen to take on the challenge of hosting Easter brunch this year for my parents, sister and her husband and my in-laws.  This will be my first attempt at a holiday meal as well as cooking for that many people.  Truth be told I’m doing it as brunch because I have much more confidence with cooking breakfast foods than I do anything else, and my mother has already generously offered to make a ham to bring.  I wasn’t about to attempt that myself and homemade mashed potatoes are out of the question (a 5 year old could probably peel potatoes better than I can).  My ability to time multiple courses to finish cooking around the same time is still a weakness.  Eggs, pancakes and bacon are much more in line with what I can handle.  After all you have to crawl before you can walk right?  Wish me luck!

Dear Trump Fanatics

Hi, my name is Tracy and I am a moderate.  I felt it necessary to write you a letter explaining what exactly that entails as it often appears that you make assumptions about those of us who are not constantly adoring your darling elected President, Mr. Trump.

When I became a registered voter I was listed as unaffiliated.  My views tend to overlap both the Democratic and Republican parties, and I never felt strongly enough about either one to want to vote in the primaries.  In 2008 and 2012 I voted for Obama.  This was after watching all the debates and listening to all the candidates’ viewpoints on various issues.

I was never an Obama fanatic.  There were decisions made by his administration that I did not think were the best, and I never felt it necessary to defend him against those who opposed him.  Were there times when I defended certain policies and/or corrected mistaken beliefs about those policies?  Yes.  Did I feel it was my duty to defend every decision he made and blindly support him even if I didn’t agree with him?  No.

This election season I changed my affiliation to Democrat in order to vote for Bernie Sanders because I was strongly against Hillary Clinton.  I watched all the Republican primary debates, however, and actually thought having Donald Trump run as a not-a-typical-politician type could even be a good thing.  Unfortunately the more I listened to him the more I questioned his ability to be a solid leader.  The whole “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” concept just was too illogical to me and made my eyes roll anytime I heard about it.

With that said I will concede that when it came down to Clinton vs Trump the media was quite often very biased against Trump.  They rarely painted Clinton in a negative light.  The debates between the two were so much more “he said she said” matches that it was hard for me to even discern their viewpoints on issues.  The issues they did discuss were always the same ones, and I went into the election not knowing where either truly stood on topics such as education and the environment.

Because of my unease with both candidates I voted third party knowing full well my candidate would not become president, but feeling content knowing I voted my conscious.  I was very skeptical upon hearing Trump had won, but I had hope that he would surround himself with quality people who could help make good decisions and keep him in check if needed.

Two weeks into President Trump’s administration and already I cringe whenever I hear him speak.  I’m starting to think the whole political world is turning into a reality show as I know when he gives speeches they’re going to grate on me, and yet I continue to watch them.  I am not ready to say he’s unintelligent.  I have a difficult time believing someone who runs successful businesses could be a complete moron.  The fact that his wife is versed in several languages and all of his children seem intelligent says to me that he can’t be an idiot.

It’s his lack of vocabulary, however, that continues to make me shake my head.  The interrupted sentences.  The repeated basic words such as “special” and “great”.  The constant wandering from the topic at hand as demonstrated by his mentioning of The Apprentice’s decreased ratings during the prayer breakfast today.  Part of me feels that he just has to know how unintelligent he sounds and must be doing it for show.

My inability to tolerate his speeches does not mean I assume he cannot better the country.  I was very pleased in hearing that he ensured the US would not be part of the TPP.  I’m curious to see what his plans are for NAFTA and future trade deals.  His lack of concern for the environment primarily through his denial of global warming is of great concern to me though.  His desire to revive the coal industry and his approval of major oil pipelines worries me tremendously.

As a moderate I am afforded this luxury of agreeing with some of his changes while critiquing others.  I cannot wrap my head around those who choose to be 100% Republican and treat President Trump as if he can do no wrong.  I also cannot understand those being 100% Democrat and criticizing every decision he makes.  Extremists on both sides of the aisle are ignorant in my eyes.  Neither is willing to read or listen to anything that doesn’t support their beliefs or look for facts that counter what they believe to be true.

In summary, next time you want to call someone who doesn’t support President Trump’s every action a liberal, just remember there are those of us out there who are moderate and are willing to play ball with anyone who can agree to be civil.

A Letter on Greed

Dear Greedy Business Owners,

My first legit experience with you was when I worked at Weis Markets.  I began in Oct. 2008 and thoroughly enjoyed my job.  After about a year or so things began to change.  I still enjoyed the actual work I did and I loved my coworkers.  The environment began to alter however as hours began to be cut.  At first it seemed casual.  Oh we’re slow this evening so let’s allow someone to leave an hour or two early.

By 2010 it was a near daily habit.  No longer were people being sent home early due to the store lacking customers.  Instead we would hear from management that 20 hours needed to be cut from the front end staff’s schedules that week.  It didn’t matter if we had lines back through the store or carts piling up in the cart corrals, if you at corporate said hours needed to be cut then cut they were.

Customers grew irritated.  Cashiers were annoyed.  I was stressed and depressed to the point that I ended up in counseling.  Most days I spent jumping on register to help out the growing lines while trying to get the front end audits done and trying to help out the customer service desk worker since we were no longer allowed 2 associates to operate it.  All this while making less than $9 an hour.  The cashiers who would come in and work an hour or two of a four hour shift and be sent home?  Most only made minimum wage.

Can you honestly say that you made that much more money by cutting hours of your lowest paid workers?  Those meager paychecks that put gas in a high school student’s car, paid for books for a college student’s semester and supplemented a senior citizen’s social security check.  I heard how most of you received bonuses for cutting X amount of hours in a year.  I’m sure you used it to buy another Lexus because you certainly never gave it back in any form to your employees.

I survived you, but I am watching my parents struggle in dealing with you and it makes me cry tears of anger.

My mom who has worked for several of you at various jobs and given 100% despite never receiving enough compensation for her efforts.  My mom who also busts her ass everyday for you because she is a hard worker despite the lack of recognition you give her as well as the lack of a simple one week’s paid vacation.  My mom whose knees and feet ache from standing all day because you won’t let her or her coworkers take a simple 10 minute break to sit down.

My dad who has worked for you since he graduated high school yet barely makes more than those who are hired fresh off the street.  My dad who at 56 years old you are forcing to work mandatory 12 hour shifts as well as Saturdays and who you are threatening with a 7 day work week.  My dad who has more energy at his age than anyone I know (and likely more energy than me some days too) that because of you is worn out, sick, cranky and who gets no time to enjoy life because it’s being consumed by work and sleep.

I picture you as Ebeneezer Scrooge sitting behind a desk counting your monies.  Always looking for a way to make just a little more even if it means tightening the noose around your faithful employees’ necks.  Who cares if they’re tired and not paid well enough so long as at the end of the day you have what you want?

I hate you.  I hate you for what you did to me in destroying any desire I may have had in pursuing a career in front end management.  I hate you for fueling one of the worst periods in my life.  I hate you the most though for what you are doing to my parents.  They deserve so much better because they give so much of themselves to you.  I wish they could walk out on you, but then again you probably wouldn’t care because you stopped caring about employees as individuals years ago.  As long as they produce for you that’s all that matters.  Who cares if they enjoy their work.  Who cares if they’re meeting ends meet with what you pay them.  Certainly not you.

You are what is wrong with America.  You embody the greed that blinds people and divides this country by class.  I can only hope one day karma shows you the error in your ways and you see how you treated those “beneath you”.  I hope it makes you see people like my parents for who they are – hard working, loyal individuals who are more than just a means to lining your pockets.

No More New Year’s Resolutions

For years I loved the start of the new year.  The chance to start anew with a fresh calendar meant the chance to wipe the slate clean and become a new person.  Or so I thought.

The more I think on the concept of New Year’s resolutions the more I think they set us up for failure by implying high expectations.  We create our lists and share them with family and friends determined that this year is going to be our year!  We will do more than we ever have – lose weight, save lots of money, find our dream job, take on the world!  Never mind the fact that statistically most resolutions are abandoned by February.

Now I’m not saying that goal setting isn’t a good concept.  I just think creating a year’s worth of goals to begin on one particular day of the year is futile.  Every month, every week and every day we have a chance to tackle a new goal.  Whenever people ‘fall off the wagon’ instead of thinking “Oh well, maybe next year” they need to think “Tomorrow is a new day.”

This year alone without ever having made a formal New Year’s resolution for any of them, I have accomplished several goals.  In August I decided to keep a log of my workouts to ensure that I never skip working out more than two days in a row.  To date it has worked.  I wanted to explore new subjects as I missed learning, and I signed up and completed two Coursera classes.  I’ve also watched several documentaries on a wide range of topics and in doing so have developed a passion for certain causes.  I’ve donated more money to charities than I have any other year.  I didn’t hold off and wait for 2017 to begin.  I simply made internal goals and picked my own date to start.

Every year I formally or informally create a resolution to write more.  This is made with the underlying hope that somehow that will be what starts me on a path to writing a novel.  I failEvery year.  Some could argue it’s because I don’t set out an actual plan.  Much like running though I cannot force myself to stick to a regiment of writing.  The passion has to be there or else it will feel like a chore that I will grow to loathe rather than love.

This year I’m not going to make that resolution.  I’m not going to make any.  I am just going to trust that when the time, energy and motivation are right for a certain goal then I will undertake it.  I don’t need to wipe any slates clean.  I’m not striving to become a “new” or “better” person.  I’m content to enjoy my life as it is and who I am as a person.  Life doesn’t always need to be a checklist of goals we need to achieve.

Here is to 2017 becoming whatever it is meant to be for all of us, with or without New Year’s resolutions.