You have all probably noticed a lack of consistent or frequent posting around here for a few weeks now. Some of that was unintentional (long hours at work, being busier at work than anticipated, PT exercises taking up a big chunk of time at night, etc.), and some of that was deliberate (I wanted to figure out where everything was in my life, particularly with my knee and communicating that with the Cherry Blossom committee, before getting into details). While I sincerely hope you all have been having a fantastic 2013, I personally am already ready for 2014 to arrive. So without further delay, I give you a (not so upbeat) life update.
I’ll start with school.
Once upon a time (last March), I told my boss I wanted to finish my experiments in December so I could defend my dissertation in March and make the deadline for a May graduation. (My university only does one doctoral degree conferral each year, so while you can defend on whatever day you would like, if your paperwork isn’t in by the end of March, you don’t receive your degree until the following year.) He told me I was being ambitious and that it would take a lot of work, which I was prepared to do, and when I returned home from my wedding travels, I immediately began working towards my goal. That day was June 11.
In October, after several rounds of experiments, I realized that the portion of my project I had been working on had produced all null data. And in science, that means it was unpublishable. So my boss came up with another project idea, and I knew it would take an incredible amount of work and effort to accomplish all of it before our trip to Florida on January 11. But I wanted a March defense date, so I pushed myself…hard. I took one day off, the day I ran the Philadelphia marathon, and was back at work the next day. I worked all day on Thanksgiving, while my family waited for me at my apartment to eat dinner. I worked through Christmas, with my in laws waiting to celebrate until I finished in the lab. Between New Years Eve and Day, I worked 21 hours, while Matt sat in the lab with me with bronchitis. When I say that I could not have possibly worked harder to achieve my goal, I mean it. And there’s not much more my family could have sacrificed to help me, either.
So you can imagine my frustration as I analyzed data over the past week realizing that neither of the last two sets of experiments I’m working on actually worked. Knowing that I gave up time with my family and friends during the holidays, knowing that I’ve been placing an incredible amount of stress on my body, knowing that I’ve been ignoring my personal life for months, this has been an incredibly bitter pill to swallow.
My chance of making the March deadline is gone. I should still be able to finish before we need to move, but I won’t receive my degree until 2014. It’s a huge let down. But it’s science. It’s a world in which the notion that hard work always pays out doesn’t exist. That’s a difficult concept for many people outside of research to understand. But unless you have data to show for your work, you might as well have not been working at all.
But I think that knowing I won’t make the deadline takes a lot of pressure off of me. Instead of working weeks of 10-12 hour days, I’ll work when I need to. I’ll go in for the few hours I need to on the weekends and won’t work more than that outside of Monday-Friday. I’ll spend more time with Matt and my friends here in DC. I won’t stress about deadlines and experiments. And I’ll enjoy spring in the city, and all of the wonderful things that includes. After my PT informed me yesterday that my work schedule was contributing to the issues I’m experiencing, not giving my body any time to recover and relax, I’m going to take this as a sign that 2013 needs to be about slowing down.
That paragraph makes me sound like I’m much more zen about the whole thing than I really am. I think the half-of-a-wine-bottle sized glass of wine I had last night helped. And spending today trying to gain some perspective about everything (while attempting to avoid developing Matt’s bronchitis) with my first REAL day off of work since June 11. It’s still heart breaking and frustrating. But my family has always been incredibly supportive, and I know they will continue to be so as I work towards finishing this thing.
Ok, so that’s school.
I’m not even sure how to start this. After struggling to run a handful of miles (and certainly none of them in a row) about a week and a half ago, Matt convinced me I needed to go to physical therapy. So last Wednesday I headed in to see the PT he had gone to before Philly. She asked several questions about my knee and running history, and after a few minutes, asked me if I had a history of back injuries. I hadn’t even thought about it, but of course my injuries were related.
In the past week, I’ve had my initial consultation and two appointments, as well as a sports massage. I have another appointment tomorrow and a second massage Thursday morning. From all of this I have learned a great deal. The root cause behind everything is a loose spine in the L4-L5 and L5-S1 regions. In addition, I have pretty much no core stability muscles. In sports like figure skating and dancing, a losoe spine is helpful in holding certain positions (such as my signature layback spin), but as a runner, this is a bad combination. As a result, the muscles that I do have are being over worked and are insanely tight. (It’s never a good thing when the massage therapist comments on the looseness of your joints and the tightness of everything else.) All of this is pulling my body out of alignment and messing up my biomechanics as I run. Hence the intense knee pain.
My PT probably thinks I’m insane for still wanting to race this weekend, but I did assure her that when the pain sets in it’s too much to run through…essentially guaranteeing I’ll be doing a lot of walking. And as long as the pain remains below a 3 out of 10, that’s ok. But I will definitely be taking time off after the race. My long-term treatment will be focusing on developing the stability muscles I’m lacking and reworking my biomechanics so that when I build back up to running I am stronger and healthier. And you can bet I won’t be as likely to skip my strength training workouts in the future. For now I’m working on improving the activation and firing of my core muscles. After a few days of exercises, muscle activation is already improving. When I get back from Florida, I’m going to be starting to do aqua jogging. Right now I’m allowed to ride the upright bike every other day, slowly building up the amount of time I spend on it. And I’m strengthening my outer butt muscles to help with my knee. Because my muscles are still so tight, I may also do some dry needling when I get back from Florida. While I’m being as proactive about the situation as possible, I still haven’t completely been able to cope with all of it. I have a plethora of races on my spring schedule, and no guarantee that I’ll be ready for any of them. This is obviously a big disappointment.
Normally, when I get frustrated or stressed, I turn to running to be the reliever of everything going on in my life. But when you’re stressed about not being able to run, what do you do? To say the last couple of days have been difficult, trying to cope with everything and come to terms with it, while not having the one thing I would usually turn to, might be a bit of an understatement. I am trying to put on a brave face, but I spent a good chunk of last night sobbing into Matt’s shoulder.
Running has gotten me through work for the last 7 months, reminding me on a daily basis how to trudge through the tough ones and savor the good. But now, when I need it most, as I try to keep pushing myself to finish my dissertation, it feels like everything is collapsing in on me. I want nothing more right now than to lace up my Mizunos and run for 15 miles. I want to feel my own strength again. But I also need to take care of my body. It’s done so much for me this year, carrying me 1,156 miles, down the aisle, and through countless hours of work in the lab…it deserves the time to recover and come back even stronger.
So out of the rubble that feels like my life right now, I’m choosing to focus on that important lesson: take the time to recover, but when you come back, come back stronger. Not just physically, but mentally. And instead of wishing away 2013 already, I’m going to focus on growth this year. Growth as a runner, growth as a wife, growth as a friend, and growth as a person. I’m hoping that when I look back on this year, I can be proud of how I’ve handled everything, recovered, and grown stronger.