Friday, March 23, 2012

The Master Plan: Stage One, DONE!

So. Hooray! I got clearance for starting physical therapy for my VMO quad tear. I saw Dr. Andrisani yesterday at Delaware Orthopedic Specialists (where I work at two half-days per week). This would actually be considered a second opinion, as I didn't feel comfortable going back to the trigger-happy PRP doc. (I felt as long as he could keep selling me $900 injections, he wasn't going to say when I was all better...)

You know, filling out the paperwork was interesting, describing my symptoms and current pain level, etc. And then answering all the evaluation questions. No, it doesn't actually hurt...but something doesn't feel quite right. With the physical exam, he moved my knee in all sorts of ways and asked "Does this hurt? What about this? Does THIS hurt? Anything here? What about here?"


He confirmed what I had suspected and hoped for--it's healed up and there's just some lingering muscle weakness that physical therapy can fix. Actually, he said "It's healed up. It's been healed up. Your accident was 9 months ago. The MRI was 6 months ago." They took x-rays for the hell of it, but another MRI won't be necessary.

Part of me thought HOORAY HOORAY! Another part of me felt just a little bit silly--like I was a hypochondriac and nothing had been wrong with me, and silly rabbit, why did I wait so long to get a second opinion?

Truth is, I know I have an abnormal pain tolerance. If a doctor just told me to do whatever activity as long as it didn't hurt, well, we know what would happen. It's what I did for the first 3 months after my accident. I kept training as usual, did one last ironman race on it, and...the knee did not heal itself. Did I make it worse? We'll never know.

So I didn't trust myself. Better to keep the shackles on myself and let things heal on their own. the shackles are off! And so stage one of the master plan is already complete. Stage two shall commence this coming week, once I'm back in Delaware. That'll be another 4-6 weeks, then only five more stages of the Master Plan to Olympic glory!!

Yep, I'm currently in the ATL for my work conference/convention/meeting thing. A huge blur of seeing old friends, classmates, colleagues, networking with prosthetic & orthotic companies. More on all that later, but as this is a post about the Master Plan progress I thought I'd add a conversation with one of my former instructors (who knew me since 2004, i.e. several lifetimes ago, before the Wongstar days)...who wondered, like many people, if I'll go back to being a pro triathlete. So I told him my latest crazy/ambitious athletic goal: going to the 2016 Olympics for race walking.

He kind of looked at me and said "You know, for most other people I'd think it was just a pipe dream. But knowing you, it wouldn't surprise me if you actually did that."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brewing Up a Master Plan

It's official. The moving on from triathlon is going well. I have made the switch to race walking. It's so official that I even updated this website so that I have a special RACE WALKING tab! It doesn't get more official than that!

It even declares that I want to make the 2016 Olympics! Whoop whoop!

Of course, that's a hugely ginormous leap at the moment. Mr. Miyagi's been to a bazillion countries, but he's never been to Brazil before. So I told him I would pay for him to go, if/when I make the 2016 Olympics.

He is totally on board, of course. But he also said to let's first try to get me on a World Cup team. That's the top 5 in the country who get to go. But even before we get to that point, I need to be walking legally with no problems. At the moment I'm stuck at 12-minutes/mile pace for 5km's only, because any faster or farther and my right knee starts to "go soft." Which puts me in danger of breaking the bent knee rule (see my new RACE WALKING tab! I totally explain the rules to you!).

Wait, hey, wasn't it the right knee that got banged up at Ironman Korea? Oh yeah...

So it's been 6 months since I had the MRI done, followed up quickly by the PRP injection that may or may not have helped, followed by completely stopping any offensive activities (biking and running), followed by the brilliant switch to race walking.

I haven't had any follow-up to any doctors since December, as not doing any offensive activities was super effective at making my knee feel way better. But it still doesn't feel quite right. It definitely doesn't hurt any more...but then again, I don't do anything that hurts it. Mr. Miyagi suspects that I have developed some minor quad weakness on that right side, and now that it is hampering my race walk progress, it's time to have it looked at again.

He says, "If it's a problem now, it will continue to be a problem later."

And we don't want no DQ's!!!

Tuesday I've got an appointment with a new orthopedic specialist. Perhaps another MRI will be in order. I've been waiting for the muscle fibers to heal up, which is why I haven't done any specific physical therapy exercises or anything. So hopefully, I can get confirmation that I'm all healed up, and then it's a matter of strengthening those knee muscles.

Good thing Mr. Miyagi is not rushing me or anything. He says we have until September to start REAL TRAINING. First priority is to heal up and strengthen that right knee!

And so I present the MASTER PLAN:

1. Confirm that the quad tear is healed up.
2. Start physical therapy--strengthen that muscle imbalance.
3. Race walk faster & farther LEGALLY.
4. Qualify for next year's Penn Relays 5km as an elite (27mins).
6. Make a World Cup 20km team (sub-1:48 and top 5, or something like that).
7. Olympics!!! (1:33:30 is the A standard)

Oh hey, that's not too bad. 7 steps to the Olympics? Surely there should be more steps. When I think of the other 5 steps, I will add them in. I feel like it should be a Twelve-Step Program for some reason. ;)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

what I don't miss

With more sunshine, better weather (spring is coming SOON!) and more hours of daylight after work, things have been looking up. You know, it's been about 4 months since I've been in a swimming pool. Remember my new rules of training? I don't even feel like swimming. I don't want to deal with the chlorine smell, with the standing by the edge of the pool in your swimsuit, anticipating the cold water... Well, I also don't have a YMCA membership any more. I could swim Weds mornings with Mac's crew, or Saturday mornings with the Tri-Dawgs...but...I don't really feel like it. So I haven't.

Is it that weird that something I used to do practically every day for so many years (and some days TWICE per day), I just don't any more? And I don't miss it? Sometimes you hear about swimmer Olympians who don't swim for YEARS after they retire. Like 20 years or something. Not even for fun.

I was thinking of fun things me and the Sherpa should do for a summer adventure, and one of them was "go to a water park." You know what's hilarious? I haven't been to a water park since our middle school (7th grade?) field trip to Raging Waters, back when I was 12 or 13. And even when we went, I never went on the rides with the giant water slides that landed you into water 7+ feet deep.

Because I didn't know how to swim. I was terrified of drowning.

I haven't been to a water park since learning to finally swim (around age 18). I remember even doing my first "triathlon camp" with Team Sheeper when I was 18 years old, that first summer of triathlons...we were at the really nice deep pool and the coach had us doing these drills in the deep end. I had to be next to a wall. I couldn't do the drills very well because I kept thinking I was going to sink and drown. And of course since I was sort of panicked (but trying desperately not to show it) and not relaxed, I did the drills horribly.

I still think it's totally strange how that same girl ended up becoming a pro triathlete...specializing in the Ironman. Where 2.4-mile swims became standard fare. In both racing and everyday training. Which means I'm still flabbergasted that random internet trolls gave me so much sh*t for being a terrible swimmer. It's all relative, I suppose. I was a terrible swimmer for a pro.

But I was an absolutely terrific super duper awesome swimmer for me. For anyone in my family, really. My brother and sister surely can't swim, and I don't think most of my 20+ cousins can either.

That said, I still am lacking in desire to want to swim these days. But I am looking forward to going on giant water slides this summer.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March Excitements

So it's March 10th. (Actually, it's my parents' 33rd anniversary. Wow. That's almost one-third of a CENTURY! So happy anniversary Mom and Pop Wongstar, if you are still stalking me on the internets.)

Anyway, I didn't even realize the significance of it being March until Ironman NZ came, and went, sorta, last weekend. (Awful weather = one day postponement and shortened to a half ironman. And yes, back in my day this whole "70.3" thing was called a "half ironman.") IM NZ was a significant date because last year, I had been planning my Project Kona points chase with Coach Beck, and had planned to spend the month of February training in Australia leading up to IM NZ. Then they announced the date of the inaugural IM Melbourne to be 3 weeks after NZ, so the new plan was to fly into NZ, race that one, then go to Oz to train for a few weeks and race IM Melbourne.

Australia = kangaroos. obviously.
Race race race. See, getting to Kona as a pro doesn't necessarily mean you are one of the 30 fastests chicks. It just means you got a lot of points, which could be from either racing a crapload of obscure races or placing really high in a few key races. So there was a plan in place with lots of racings in all corners of the world. How I would've financed it is a bit of a mystery. This plan was still in place exactly 6 months ago, on October 10th. The next day I'd go to the sports med doctor for an ultrasound on my knee and realize how much denial I had been in.

6 months later, my world has been turned upside down. I used to live in this tiny studio apartment, train all day, and race an Ironman every month. Now I work a real job, live in a house with a Sherpa and a Christmas puppy, and...don't know when I get to start racing again in my new sport.

So I figured that each month I would post up what's exciting for the month, since I don't have a big race to look forward to. Maybe it's weak sauce compared to racing an Ironman, but I need to keep myself excited and happy so I don't fall into post-triathlon depression. Hence my first official blog category: "Monthly Excitements." (Yes, I do need to reorganize all my labels/categories and do a lot of backstage updating to the whole blog in general.)

What am I excited about in March?

1. DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME. Oh gosh. You have no idea. I've been counting down the days. At work, I had printed out "sunrise/sunset" calendars (from, go figure) and the coworkers thought I was such a weirdo. But when in the darkest of winter, you get out of the office past 5pm and it's already dark, it really cramps your evening motivation to do much except watch TV and go to sleep. So tomorrow we "spring forward", and even though we lose an hour overnight, I feel like we gain an extra hour of sunlight after work each day! Just looking at the Wilmington calendar, you can see that Civil Twilight (when it gets pitch dark after sunset) is at 6:30pm tonight...but tomorrow it is at 7:30pm! Whoop whoop!

What would make daylight savings even better? Living by the beach.
2. St. Patrick's Day. Which is on a Saturday. Next Saturday, actually, but for some reason the city is celebrating it early this weekend. Which means two weekends in a row of people wearing green, daytime drunken shenanigans, and telling people that I'm Irish, and they should kiss me. Or at least, Socks McChristmas telling people she is Irish.

The beauty of not being a professional triathlete any more is that I don't have to feel guilty partaking in aforementioned shenanigans, because you know, it's not like I avoided partaking in the past. ;)

3. O&P Academy Meeting in Atlanta. This is the annual research-heavy convention/symposium/conference whatever you wanna call it for the prosthetics & orthotics profession. I haven't been to one in four years; I was always at some camp in Asia somewhere during February/March. Great time to network with the big names and get updated on what's new and exciting in the field. It will be really cool to see my classmates and colleagues again, plus it's right by my alma mater. Apparently the MSPO program at Georgia Tech got a brand new building (they had us hunkered down in the basement back in my day). I am also absolutely psyched to reunite with my non-school ATL friends who I haven't seen in FIVE YEARS. Actually, my former triathlon girlfriends (we had all been coached under local pro Carole Sharpless AKA Sharpie). I don't even know who of us still does tris. Cannot WAIT to catch up. Also the Hunger Games movie comes out while I'm there and Williamonster and I are totally ready to watch it together!!!

SO, three big things to be pretty excited about. It will be my first trip away from little McChristmas so we will see how she does by herself with the Sherpa for four days *cue evil laughter BWAHAHAHA*. Also some of my best friends have March birthdays. You know who you are! xox

Thursday, March 8, 2012

hacking the race walk: shoes

Mastering a new sport is not easy. Race walking is really weird and kind of an unnatural way of walking. When I get frustrated with my lack of progress, I start to think I miss triathlon. Then I fall into the trap of looking too long at the closed door, and I get kind of depressed. It doesn't help that tri season is officially underway, most of my FB "friends" are triathletes, and every other status update is triathlon this, triathlon that. Oh please. I've thought of deactivating my account, opening up a new account with just "real" friends, or just doing some mass deletions.

I have to remind myself, this is the year of rehab. Even if I wanted to do triathlons, I have to let my body heal. So I might as well use this year to learn a new sport. Have a distraction. And have to remember that if I had the chance to learn how to swim from an expert back when I was a kid, and grew up with the proper technique, it would've made a big difference in my triathlon career. I asked Mr. Miyagi yesterday if it made a difference to learn race walking as an adult vs. a kid, and he said it didn't. (Phew.) You either get it, or you don't. Luckily I have demonstrated on multiple occasions that I am indeed trainable.

Luckily too for my psyche, I had a nice breakthrough this week, and triathlon can go on the backburner again. The key to my first year in the sport is to master the technique. It is EXTREMELY technique-heavy, and my worst fear is that I'll get DQ'ed for breaking one of the rules during a race. It's funny; there are two extremes: you can't go really fast with bad technique, but you can go TOO fast and get DQ'd if you have illegal technique. It all comes back to good technique.

My shins had been holding me back, and then they got a little better. I followed Mr. Miyagi's program and was able to progress to 10km training walks. But then my knees started bending too much on impact, and he said I had to go back to 5kms only. AUGH!!! Then I blurted out something about how maybe it's my stupid shoes that are holding me back??? Even though the Fastwitch'es are cool, with a low heel-to-toe drop, they aren't designed for race walking. Hell, most shoes aren't, unless you order a custom-made pair like Mr. Miyagi has.

So I continued my search for the perfect race walking shoe. Luckily minimalist shoes have become all the rage. You really want something that has a fairly thin sole with low stack height (the heel-to-toe drop) to keep you close to the ground, since you are heel striking and need to land with your toes sticking up. I think I've become a bit of a minimalist shoe whore. I've personally bought the following:

the Saucony Kinvara

and then the Saucony Fastwitch 5,
the Brooks PureFlow,

the Vibram FiveFingers Speed,

and this past week attained the New Balance 730's
and then the Saucony Grid Type A4.

(Full disclosure: 3 of those pairs were purchased before I even contemplated race walking. I do like the idea of a more minimal shoe for... everything.)

I am also a total running shoe nerd. My original plan in college was to become a running shoe designer with my kinesiology degree and focus on biomechanics. The NB 730's (and also the PureFlow) have a bit of a negative heel/rocker heel, like the custom race walk shoe, which actually helps with the race walk heelstrike. You're not having to "fight the shoe" and force the heel to compress. Turns out this was one of the contributing factors to why my shins were getting so sore and my knee was bending at heel strike. (It's all in the biomechanics.)

I also came to the realization that various factors that make me, me, are going to help me hack the sport of race walking. My biomechanics background. My access to an orthotics & prosthetics lab. My physical and mental training as a professional Ironman triathlete. My inherent geekiness with wanting to tinker things myself (the MacGyver complex). This post was going to be about hacking the sport, in general, but I got a bit carried away with the shoes.

Anyway, breakthrough. All last week my homework was to focus on keeping the knees straight at heelstrike. I looked much better with the new shoes (730's). I still got tired, but at least I was legal. Then we threw in some surges at the end, and Mr. Miyagi remarked that my form and technique actually look better than many elite race walkers. (*squeal!*) Now if I could only hold it for 90 minutes rather than 90 seconds...

Exciting nonetheless. The Saucony Type A4's were actually more comfortable, with a very thin sole, but the heel is not rounded. And this is the part of the story where having a MacGyver complex and access to an O&P lab (+ lab technicians) comes in. This is also the part of the story where it is 6 minutes past my "get ready for bed alarm" and so this shall be, as they say, to be continued...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Paleo Cabbage Wrap Sandwiches!

I've been on a sandwich kick recently...

It's been quite a while since I ate a real sandwich with real bread, and no, I haven't jumped back on the bread bandwagon. Other than grains making me feel bloated and hungry all the time, my main reason to continue the Paleo lifestyle has been skin sensitivity. Various skin maladies I'd accepted as normal have pretty much vanished. We're talking really gross flaky ear and eyelid eczema. Breaking out like a teenager with too much stress...Sexy eh!

Anyway, when going sans wheat and grains, you get to a point where every meal requires a fork or other eating utensil and what I missed about sandwiches and burritos was the hands-only convenience. Especially when I seem to be in the car driving from one clinic to another for work during lunch times. I made coconut flour tortillas once, and I've seen a recipe for a flaxseed tortilla, but I think they'd get crumbly and fall apart if you stuff them too much or put in juicy sandwichy condiments inside. There've been lots of attempts at Paleo pizza crust (meh) and muffins (YUM!), but nothing promising enough to want to try making bread. And I don't miss sandwich bread that much anyway--it's more the wraps and burritos.

When I was at home in January, we had another family gorge-fest at a Chinese restaurant and I realized DUH...lettuce wraps! What low-carb Atkinsers have been doing for ages! I was really only looking for iceberg lettuce (the crappy crappy lettuce that is really gross and I never eat in salads) but luckily I was at our local international indoor farmer's market (a short walk from the office) on Tuesday after work, and they did not actually have iceberg lettuce. They had like 10 different kinds of cabbage though. I found the perfect cabbage! The sign said "Flat Cabbage." My only hesitation was how ginormous it was.

But ginormous cabbage leaf ended up being perfect for using as a faux tortilla. It also ends up being like a full serving of cabbage!

I stuffed it with everything delicious that could go in a sandwich: turkey breast, sliced tomatoes, seaweed salad, smoked salmon...oh yeah, and bacon bits.

It ended up being awesome and perfect and delicious! Oh how I've missed sandwiches!

I was so hungry that I had to take a few bites before I took a photo.

Next I made one with turkey breast, ranch and bacon bits. HEHE. Ok, ranch dressing isn't Paleo (unless you make your own damn dressing) but grain-free is the priority. Then I thought of my college favorite sandwich at Quizno's--it was the turkey/bacon/guac. Guacamole!!! (yes, the first image was a spoiler, wasn't it.)

The next day (yesterday dinner) I made a sandwich with roast beef and guacamole. and bacon bits. I had one at lunch today too. I even wrapped it in foil like a burrito, and tested it out, eating it while driving. It passed the test!

There may have been smoked salmon too. For dinner tonight, I had one with shrimps and seaweed salad. I am super excited for the next time we go to Chipotle so I can throw my no-rice-no-beans-no-tortilla fajita steak bowl into a cabbage wrap!

I may or may not have had a cabbage wrap sandwich for every lunch and dinner since coming up this obvious (but still brilliant!) idea. Delicious! and the ginormous cabbage head is probably good for like 30 sandwiches. for seriously.