Sprained Ankle Update

KT Tape
Bright purple with reflective accents– yes, it really is a medical product.

I was miserable Monday and Tuesday, but a very talented massage therapist relaxed the muscles around my sprained ankle Tuesday night. The gastrocnemius and soleus were very tight, and since they form a common tendon (the Achilles), I was hurting pretty bad. Working some toxins out of the calf muscles and massaging the rest of my legs took away more than half the pain in my ankle and Achillles.

Wednesday morning I asked my boss and chiropractor to look at my ankle. He said it looked surprisingly good for the heavy roll I’d given it, but said a few small bones in my feet were locked. I don’t like anybody touching my feet but I let him adjust the mid-foot, and man, what a difference. I was almost immediately pain free and able to walk for 45 minutes at lunch.

Today is Thursday, four days after the initial injury. I used KT Tape to stabilize my ankle and Achilles then gave it a quick test on a 3-mile easy run. No hills, no off-road, nothing tricky. The ankle did great with only a little Achilles soreness.

This was my first time using KT Tape. I’m an athlete from way back when rigid white athletic tape and non-breathable under-wrap were the only answers to taping an ankle. I’m now hooked on the KT Tape. The online videos KT Tape are very helpful in explaining and demonstrating everything for various applications. I chose to do a combination of the ankle tape and Achilles tape, so mine doesn’t look exactly like the manufacturer recommends, but it works for me. Bonus: it’s bright purple, the color of my undergrad alma mater.

The tape survived the 3-mile run just fine, and I’ve been wearing it since this morning and there’s no slippage or friction or anything irritating. The Pro version, which I bought, is supposed to last four days, and hopefully by then my ankle won’t need any help. The roll I bought is plenty big to wrap it a few more times if necessary, though. I anticipate my battle now being more common sense than anything. I have a hard time resting when the weather is beautiful, but I know I still need to ice and elevate the ankle a few times per day. I’m so happy this sprain didn’t turn into anything major!

Broken Ironman Sleek

black ironman sleek midsizeI love my Timex Ironman Sleek. It’s the fourth one I’ve had. My first one died after several hard years, including some rough duty when I worked as an EMT. My second one got water behind the crystal, presumably from swimming in it daily for several months. My third one almost turned me off from buying another– the watch was fine, but the band fell apart. I hoped it was a fluke. Unfortunately, it was not.

The Sleek perfectly fits my thin wrists and is so light and comfortable that I can wear it for long runs, camping trips, and even sleep in it without it feeling cumbersome. My current version, mostly black with a few gray accents, is my favorite Sleek so far. I was very unhappy when I took it off after a five-mile run today and discovered that the band was torn. The watch probably won’t even last for tomorrow’s run.

I’ve had it for a couple of years. Possibly three years, although I’m truly not sure. But I’m gentle on things, and I didn’t expect a second Sleek to have a not-so-durable band. I’ve never had to replace the battery and have no other complaints about the watch. But, due to the Sleek’s design, once a band breaks, the watch becomes useless. It’s a pin-free band molded around the body of the watch, which is nice to look at but not practical for someone who wants to keep it for many years.

ironman sleek broken band
The break in the band goes almost all the way through both sides.

Perhaps my expectations are too high, but I feel that paying $40ish for a watch is enough that the band should be more durable. I’m debating whether or not to buy another Sleek and have read several reviews complaining that the bands break after only a few months of use. Months? I definitely don’t want to deal with that kind of financial and environmental waste. But every other watch I look at either seems too bulky for my small wrists or has a similar unibody design, which is doubtfully more durable than the Sleek. Y’all have any input? What are your feelings on the Soleus brand? How about Asics collaborating with Seiko?

Review: Fitbit Flex

I don’t worry about my activity level—it’s always high when I’m well enough to exercise—but I’m a sucker for data. I have an awesome, old Garmin Forerunner for tracking runs, and my iPod Nano can track runs with its built-in Nike+ app, but I wanted something more basic that I could wear all the time. I’m interested in knowing how active I am throughout the day, not just during exercise. My mom has a Fitbit Flex and likes it a lot, so when I saw a decent sale I got one for myself. I chose bright pink because it was $10 cheaper than the other colors.

fitbit flex
The smaller sized wristband clipped at midway leaves me lots of breathing room.

When my Fitbit Flex box arrived, I found a small black tracker, two sizes of pink bands, a tiny wireless dongle, and a small USB charger inside the package. I have a prepaid iPhone 4 and can’t use much data, so I opted out of the Fitbit phone app and instead chose Fitbit’s MacBook-compatible program. The interface is user-friendly and easily customizable, and I checked it out while my new Fitbit charged.

From what I can tell, the Fitbit Flex works like a basic pedometer by detecting movement and translating that movement into an estimate of how many steps the wearer takes throughout the day. You can calculate your stride length and input your numbers for better accuracy, and add which arm you wear the tracker on to avoid dominant-hand movements counting as steps. From Fitbit’s website: “Changing this setting to “Dominant” will decrease the sensitivity of step counting and should reduce any over counting of steps when your body is not moving. The “Non Dominant” setting will increase the sensitivity of step counting, and we recommend this setting if your Flex is not counting enough steps.”

The sleep-tracking feature on the Flex intrigued me, since chronic pain often leaves me sleepless. My back pain has majorly decreased lately, which means I’m sleeping a lot more, but I still don’t sleep as well as I should. I hoped the Flex would help me analyze how often I stir around and disturb my sleep, but it didn’t work out for me. The first night that I put my tracker into sleep mode, I obsessed so much on having something around my wrist that I couldn’t go to sleep. Even without neuroses (yes, I can be a bit obsessive to say the least), the sleep tracking feature isn’t particularly sophisticated and can be prone to flaws, but I still wish it would’ve worked for me. It’s possible to lie still while wide awake and have the tracker register that you’re sleeping soundly, but when I’m in pain I don’t lie still, so that wouldn’t have been a problem for me.

If any of the Fitbit features are something I don’t want to use, I can easily remove them from my dashboard so I don’t have to look at them daily. I took off the sleep box to avoid reminders that I didn’t track my sleep. Another one I removed was the weight information and food tracking. I don’t have any desire to track my calories. The water-tracking feature can be helpful, though, especially since I’m prone to dehydration. It’s a serious concern for athletes in Florida.

My major gripe about the Flex so far is its sensitivity. It’s supposed to be compatible with an active lifestyle, but I’ve found that a lot of my daily movements put it into sleep mode. Sleep mode activates when you tap rapidly on the tracker for a few seconds. For me, it also activates when I mow the grass (vibration from the mower, I guess), pat the dog’s belly, or ride over bumpy terrain on my bicycle. I’m an old drummer and still have a habit of drumming my hands on the counter or my thighs, and that, too, sends the Flex into sleep mode. Not cool.

I saw a Black Friday sale that would’ve made it a lot cheaper than what I paid (even though I got mine on sale), and of course that was aggravating. I have concerns about the durability of the bands, and the expense of name-brand replacement bands is ridiculous. The bright pink has already gotten a bit dull after a couple of weeks, so I ordered a few off-brand (read: way cheaper) replacement bands, but I don’t appreciate having to do that. Can you imagine if we had to buy new watchbands every month? Fitbit needs to work on durability for sure.

I’ve worn the Flex while running several times, and it’s been fine. The tracker and band are lightweight and comfortable. Sweat sometimes collects inside the band, so I always take out the tracker after a run and make sure it’s dry. The Flex is water-resistant but not waterproof, which is annoying, but so far I haven’t had problems with sweat or shower water ruining it.

Despite some drawbacks, I like the Flex. It’s a great reminder if I’m working on the computer to get up and move around instead of melting into my chair. My mom and I are “friends” on Fitbit’s online program, and we can see each other’s step counts and cheer each other on if so inclined. I upped my goal to 15,000 steps per day from the stock 10,000, and I’ve found it pretty easy to reach 15,000, but the tracking software allows me to see my most active hours of the day rather than just displaying my number of steps. Which reminds me—it’s time to conclude this review and do my lower back a favor and go for a walk.

Nutshell Review

Pros: lightweight; choice of colors; easy and user-friendly online tracking program; comes with two sizes of bands; creates a good reminder to get up and move around throughout the day.

Cons: too sensitive—can go into sleep mode accidentally; bands aren’t durable and color doesn’t stay fresh; replacement bands are expensive; can be hard to snap onto wrist.

Brooks Launch 2 Review

brooks launch 2
I took my pair of Brooks Launch 2 outside for the first time on a hot spring day.

The Good

Comfort—my pair of Brooks Launch 2 was comfortable straight out of the box. Seriously, all I had to do was fit the laces through the last hole, tie them, and go. I walked two miles and did forty-five minutes of strength training to break them in, but the break-in time didn’t seem necessary. The forefoot is soft and allows my bones to spread out. Their overall weight is 7.9 oz according to the Brooks website, and they feel very light on my feet. The offset is listed at 10mm, which I find very comfortable.

Cushioning—there’s enough midsole to keep my feet happy without feeling like I’m on marshmallows.

Traction—the Launch 2 definitely isn’t a trail shoe (it’s not meant to be), but I haven’t had any issues getting a grip in firm-packed mud, loose sand, or wet pavement. The sole at the midfoot doesn’t have any plastic—just rubber—so the dangerous potential to slip on the edge of a curb (this happened to me in a pair of Asics) isn’t a concern.

Overall function—the laces stay tied without double knotting, and the shoes require minimal if any break-in time. They’re running shoes and they do their job well. They’re not as sturdy-feeling as my Brooks Ghost 7, but they cost $20 less than the Ghosts, so I’m okay with that. As for size, I bought 9.5 but usually wear 9 in Brooks, so either the Launch 2 runs a little small or my feet are growing.

brooks launch 2 laces
The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP.”

Appearance—I’ve seen two colorways, but from what I’ve read there are three and possibly more to come. I chose the green and purple and I really like the way those colors look together. The laces are a nice, complimentary purple, and the outsole is cute, too. The ends of the laces say “DIG DEEP,” and some people might think it’s gimmicky, but as a chronic pain sufferer, I definitely relate to that mantra.

The Bad

The pointed toe. I wish all shoe companies would take a cue from Altra and stop making shoes shaped like we have a giant toe sprouting from the middle of our foot. The forefoot in the Launch 2 is wide enough for me, so the pointed toe is more of an elf-like aesthetic issue.

The Undecided

Durability—time will tell, and I’ll update this review after I’ve worn the Launch 2 a lot more. To the touch, though, the outsole feels a little soft and I’m worried these won’t be with me for the long haul.

Price—I say “undecided” because I really have no idea what a fair price for a running shoe is. These days I’ve seen various shoes from good brands on sale for as little as $48 and at full price for as much as $299. I paid $100 for the Launch 2, but my gut tells me $80 would’ve been a fairer price. That said, because they’re a new release, you’re probably going to have to pay full price. On a positive note, some retailers are offering a promotion right now that includes a free Brooks hat with purchase of the Launch 2, so at least I got a nice, free cap for the upcoming summer.

Brooks Ghost 7 Updated Review

brooks ghost 7I love the Brooks Ghost 7, as evidenced by my willingness to not only purchase a second pair, but to buy both at full price. I’m a careful shopper and usually won’t settle for less than a bargain—especially when a shoe has been available for months. However, as my first pair of Ghosts wore down (see sole picture comparison), I tried on at least eight other shoes and kept coming back to the Ghost 7. This is the link to my first post about my first pair. 

When I bought my first pair, the only color available locally was blue/eclipse/lime. In plain terms, bright-ass blue. I was fine with the upper color, but the glowingly white sole looked bad against the blue. It was definitely a case of function over fashion. This second time around, seven months later, seven colors plus a GTX version are available. Hmm… Brooks Ghost 7 lasted 7 months and now has 7 colors. If I were a gambling woman, I might wear my Ghosts to a casino. Instead, I’ll wear them for hundreds of miles of walking.

brooks ghost 7 soleLongevity/durability is my only major complaint about the Ghost 7, but now that I realize how long I’ve had them, I’m not sure it’s a fair issue. I have no idea how many miles I’ve walked in them, but I walk between 1 and 4 hours almost every day, plus wear them to walk my dogs and do errands, so they’ve been through a lot. Other than sole erosion, the plastic that makes the end of the laces firm broke and became useless. I have to be very careful not to let the laces get pulled through their holes or I’ll be wasting time lace-fishing.

Superficially, I like several of the new color choices. My favorite by far is what I bought for my second pair—white/heliotrope/green. That color combo is pedestrian by today’s loud running shoe design standards, and I like the nod to fashion civility without boringness. Everything besides color appears to be the same with my new pair compared to my old pair, as it should since they’re the same version of the same shoe. I couldn’t believe how cushioned and firm and tall the new ones felt when I first wore them. It made me realize how badly worn out my first pair is.

The minor tweaks I’d like from Brooks for the Ghost 8 (whenever it’s released—I have no idea) are a wider toe box more like Altra shoes, better plastic ends on the laces, and a lower price. I can dream, right? $120 is a tough pill to swallow, but since I walk so much and the Ghost 7 is a great shoe, I made the investment for a second time.

Altra Intuition 3 Review

Intuition 3 looking good in the box.
Intuition 3 looking good in the box.

I’ve been a fan of Altra shoes since they first came out and were blocky-looking and virtually unknown. I’ve had every version of the Intuition and three versions of the Lone Peak. I use my Lone Peaks for hiking and will never go back to boots. Until today, my latest pair of Intuitions were the ugliest shoes I’d ever owned, but also some of the most comfortable. They’re crayon pink, similar to Crayola’s carnation, and if they didn’t feel like pillowy heaven I’d never have bought them. For the first time ever in my history with Altra, today I bought a pair of decent-looking shoes. The Intuition 3s that my local running store stocks are coral/blue, and I’m actually excited about how they look rather than just how they feel.

Since looks really don’t matter to comfort and function, of course the ultimate test is how they feel and perform. I bought a size 9.5 despite being a 9 in the second version and an 8.5 in the 1.5 version. I’m not sure if my feet are expanding or if the sizing differences reflect the complaints I’ve read about Altra’s sizing, but it doesn’t bother me. The beauty of shopping locally is being able to try on shoes and go by how they fit rather than a number on a box.

I tried on some Newtons and Sauconys for comparison in the store today, and the Intuition 3 won by a long shot. They’re not as marshmallowy as the 2 and feel more like a responsive running shoe. The laces are much improved over previous versions and are soft and plenty long (the laces on the 2s are woefully short and shoddy). The 3s are lighter and have even less rubber on the outsole compared to the 2s—gone is the rubber from the medial arch.

No more rubber on the outsole under the arch.
No more rubber on the outsole under the arch.

I’ve spent the afternoon walking around in my 3s and haven’t had any break-in issues or complaints. They fit great right out of the box, and I have high hopes for their workout performance. The toe box is wide in the tradition of Altra, but the heel is still narrow enough that I don’t feel like I’m walking in moon boots. For people with fibromyalgia and other chronic health issues, the comfort and function of Altra shoes can make a long workday much more doable. It’s amazing how good your feet can feel when your shoes aren’t deforming them.

I’ve been on a running hiatus for months due to health complications, but I’ve walked a couple of hours or more each runless day in Altras. I’ve wanted to return to running every single day since my health forced me to quit, and I think I might be brave enough to take a few running steps in my new Intuition 3s tomorrow. If not, I hope they serve me as well for walking as their predecessors did. I’ll update this review over time with notes on durability and performance, but the future—at least as far as my shoes are concerned—looks bright.

Product Review: Topricin

TopricinI’m always in the market for any pain reliever that’s homeopathic. The local co-op recently had Topricin on sale, and I bought a 0.75oz tube to give it a try.

I’ve seen pretty bold claims on homeopathic products, and I’m often skeptical. (However, I love Crystal Star Natural Muscle Relaxers and good-quality magnesium supplements). When I first squirted the Topricin on my finger, I was even more unsure of its claim of pain relief. But my back was killing me, so I gave it a try.

For starters, it’s either odorless or has such a slight smell that I can’t detect it. I’m accustomed to all topical pain-relieving products having at least some kind of odor, including my beloved (and quite fragrant) Tiger Balm. But the Topricin literally smelled like nothing.

I rubbed it over my sore vertebrae (thanks, fibromyalgia) and waited for any sort of tingling or other sign that it was working. Nothing. But then I went to sleep, and that’s a rare thing when I’m in pain. I woke up at 3 a.m. to pee and realized my back was much better. Topricin or coincidence?

I tried it thrice more and now I love this odorless product. I’ve sometimes combined it with Tiger Balm for extra relief, although I have no idea if that’s smart or not. I’ve only used Topricin on my painful back and hip, but it says it’s patented for neuropathy and specifically mentions fibromyalgia, plus a host of other conditions.

Nothing is a cure for chronic pain, but Topricin helps, and sometimes that’s the best we can do. Plus, it’s not as full of extremely sketchy ingredients like some prescriptions, and it doesn’t cost much to try a small tube.

Good luck in your pain relief journey, and let me know about your favorite topical products.

As with all things health-related, ask your healthcare provider before trying anything new.

Comfortable Shoes: Brooks Ghost 7

I’ve always been bothered by the bones that stick out on the outsides of my forefeet, but I didn’t know until recently that I have what’s technically called “tailor’s bunions.” What that means for me is trouble finding comfortable shoes. Wide shoes are too wide throughout, and regular shoes put pressure on the tailor’s bunions and make my feet hurt. I’ve even gone so far as to use a scalpel to excise a bothersome piece of rubber from a pair of running shoes to allow my bones to spread out instead of feel bound in pain.

brooks ghost 7
Brand new and blue!

I’ve been a big fan of Altra shoes lately, although they’re still not wide enough for me in the tailor’s bunion area. They have soft, stretchy mesh in the forefoot though, which allows my feet to push out to their required width. Since my muscle spasms have been so bad in my right hip, I haven’t been able to run in two months. I’ve been walking a lot, and Altras don’t do it for me as walking shoes. Their zero-drop platforms work well with my running style, but I’m a slow, heel-toe walker and prefer traditional running shoes for walking.

I spent an hour this morning trying on shoes from Asics and Brooks, and finally stumbled upon the Brooks Ghost 7. I hate buying the latest model of anything because it’s always marked up so much, but the Ghost 7 is superior to everything else I tried. The toe box isn’t nearly as rounded and wide as a pair of Altras, but the area near my tailor’s bunions doesn’t have a bunch of stiff overlays, so my feet can push the mesh out and relax. Sold!

Normally I wear a size 8.5, but I opted for a 9 in the Ghost. My feet are probably bigger than usual since it’s July in Florida and I’ve been walking a lot, and the 9 felt just right. I can’t wait to start putting some miles on my new shoes. They feel surprisingly light for traditional (not minimalist) running shoes, and I’ve read that they weight around 9 ounces. The heel offset is 11mm, but I don’t feel awkward in them like some shoes with big offsets. I really like that the heel collar is well-padded and covered in what feels like non-abrasive fabric. The color—“blue/eclipse/lime”—is not something I would design in a perfect world, but it’s not hideous. There are other color options, but my local running store only carries blue.

As far as the outsole goes, I’m glad to see full-length rubber. I don’t like the trend of leaving rubber off the soles in order to save weight and provide flexibility. If I’m wearing shoes, I want them to last a long time. If I want to feel the ground more, I’ll take off my shoes. I also like the Ghost’s lack of plastic plating on the sole. The hard, smooth plastic that connects the heel to the forefoot on some shoes is dangerous. I’ve slipped on the edge of a curb and slid along a fence because of that plastic. The Ghost looks like it uses a pretty thick dose of rubber on the outsole, so I hope this pair lasts for many hundreds of miles. I’ll update this post or write a new one after I’ve put a bit of distance on my new pair of Brooks Ghost 7!