Greater Than Cool Review

Cooling Neck Wrap

This summer has been insanely hot, and the heatwave started way too soon. By the middle of May, most of us in the deep south were avoiding the outdoors after 10 a.m. if we could, not showing our faces outside until nearly sunset. It’s gotten worse, with “real feel” temps around 106 for our new normal. That’s not particularly healthy for anyone, but especially for those of us with underlying health conditions, excessive heat can be dangerous.

I first tried Greater Than Cool on a boiling-hot day in my parents’ backyard. Even in their pool, I couldn’t get comfortable and felt constantly fatigued. I love being outdoors (I should move out of Florida!) and didn’t want to go back inside while everyone else was outside. It seemed like a great opportunity to try Greater Than Cool.

greater than cool wrap
Wearing my Greater Than Cool wrap in my parents’ yard.

Filling the Wrap with Ice

My parents have an icemaker, and after extracting a few perfectly uniform cubes—which excites me since we don’t have an icemaker and our cubes are randomly sized—I folded them into ice pockets in the Greater Than Cool wrap. The experience was vaguely reminiscent of making a burrito and was quite easy and user-friendly. My left hand was around 50% numb that day thanks to scoliosis and bad cervical spine discs, but I got the wrap full of ice and around my neck without much issue, which tells you it’s reasonably simple even for someone with less than ideal dexterity.

My neck is extremely sensitive to everything. Ever since I royally jacked it up while working in the back of an ambulance when I was an EMT, I’ve dealt with everything from cervical dystonia to herniated discs to hand numbness and, of course, chronic pain. I was a bit concerned about wearing the Greater Than Cool wrap around my neck, but the weight of it, even when full of ice, wasn’t symptom-provoking at all. My neck got damp when I put the ice straight in the wrap, but I didn’t care. I was already sweating anyway, and it’s not like the melting ice poured down or even dripped. It just made me a little damp. If you don’t like that, try using the small plastic bags to house the ice within the wrap. 

Details

The fastener is Velcro, so it’s easy to handle and adjust. According to the manufacturer, “the proprietary cotton polyester multi-layered material is engineered to absorb and distribute cool moisture evenly throughout the neck wrap.” The Greater Than Cool wrap is navy blue, so it looks nice enough with just about any outfit (although I’m looking forward to them considering a unicorn design, hint hint y’all!). You can put the ice directly in the wrap or in small plastic bags, or I guess if you wanted to, you could buy and use re-freezable packs. As of this post, the wrap costs $22.99 on Amazon, which isn’t a ton to pay if it allows you to live a more comfortable, full life outdoors.

Does It Work?

Yes! There’s science behind “central cooling,” which was a term I learned when training at a firehouse in the Florida summer. Since so many of us had overheating issues, our chief drilled the basics of central cooling into us. Essentially, he told us, putting icepacks over arteries is a great way to cool the human body. Greater Than Cool circles around the neck and comes into contact with a couple of major arteries, and I could really feel a difference in my whole-body comfort while wearing it.

The wrap is unlikely to help with major heat illness like heatstroke, but it might help you avoid getting that sick. I was able to stay in the backyard with my dogs and family while wearing the wrap, when otherwise I’d have been forced to go back inside. As my ice melted—which didn’t happen as quick as I thought it would—I simply went back inside for a minute and got new cubes. The wrap could work even if you’re not home, as long as you have access to a few ice cubes, like from a restaurant or a hotel or a convenience store. I filled up all the ice pockets, but if you just want to cool down a little, you can add less. 

Verdict 

If you spend time in the heat and need a little help staying cool, definitely give Greater Than Cool a try. They’re a small, family-owned business born from the need to help loved ones participate more fully in life without overheating. They’ll unveil new options soon, like color choices and multiple sizes, but their basic product (blue, one size fits most) is great! Click here to check them out on Amazon.

Disclaimer: I received a Greater Than Cool wrap in exchange for an honest review. I’d tell you if it sucks, but it doesn’t! It’s a solid product and a good choice if you deal with heat intolerance. 

Altra Torin 4 Review

altra torin 4 review
My new Altra Torin 4 fresh out of the box, tags still on.

I’ve been worried about my running shoe possibilities since Altra decided to discontinue the awesome, beloved Intuition (Instinct for men). I’ve worn the Intuition since its first-ever model. Aside from one year when they were clown-like, I’ve loved them very much. The Torin has always been too much shoe for me, but with the Altra Torin 4 release and lack of new Intuition, I decided to give the Torin a try.

There are two versions of the Torin 4: plush and regular. The plush model costs more and has different upper material, but since limited quantities have been released thus far, I don’t know what other differences there may be between the two. I ordered the regular model in the black/teal colorway. After chatting with Altra’s online customer service (friendly, helpful people, FYI), I learned that the Torin 4 runs bigger than the Torin 3.5. I tried on the 3.5 several months ago but didn’t buy it because it was too much shoe. However, the size 9.5 fit me well. For the Torin 4, I ordered a size 9.

Unboxing the Altra Torin 4

As soon as I opened the box, I could see that the new Torin is the best-looking Altra shoe I’ve ever owned. The colors are true to online representation and actually look a bit better in person. They were noticeably very lightweight when I picked them up, but I also had an immediate concern: they looked long, especially for a size 9, when a 9.5 was good for me in the previous version of the Torin.

altra torin 4 review
I appreciate the full-length rubber on the outsole.

The laces are very long and cord-like. They tie easily but hang down so much that I worry about tripping on them even when they’re double-knotted. Some of the eyelets are a bright yellow material that seems reflective, which strikes me as odd because most of the yellow is covered up when the shoe is laced. I’d much rather the reflective yellow be on the front, back, or sides. The outsole, while highly segmented, has full-length rubber, which is a relative rarity nowadays. I appreciate the extra traction and (potential) durability.

Sizing

I put my foot into the shoe and was met with comfort and roominess. Too much roominess. The size 9 fits more like a traditional 9.5. That’s upsetting on multiple fronts, especially since the previous Torin ran small. It seems like consistent sizing should part of the basic skillset of shoe sales, but perhaps not. Second to that, I needed new shoes ASAP and didn’t have time to go through the online exchange process. Not whining, just being real. I work on my feet, walk a ton, and need good shoes when I need them. It never crossed my mind to try an 8.5. My feet haven’t been that small since 5th grade.

altra torin 4 review
The teal triangles on the sides are the start of the elastic that snugs the forefoot and holds the tongue in place. Side note: made in China.

Another worrisome aspect is the elastic that holds the tongue in place. It makes for a snug fit– potentially too snug. I used a flashlight to look all the way into the shoe, and the elastic that holds the tongue is part of a lining that then goes all throughout the front. In other words, it’s not a simple band that could be cut if needed. The snug forefoot binder (for lack of a better word coming to mind) is ok in the 9, but I’m quite concerned about it feeling too tight if I sized down to an 8.5

I held the new Torins up to my old Intuitions and Ones. The Torin in size 9 is definitely a tad longer than the Intuition 9 and One 9. But is a tad enough to make me need an 8.5? I kinda feel like I might need the nonexistent 8.75.

First Outdoor Walk

altra torin 4
Late spring flowers, new shoes, and an evening walk.

After wearing the Torin 4 around my house and doing my best to keep them clean for return, I decided to venture outside. They definitely feel a bit too big, especially on my slightly smaller right foot, but I didn’t trip over my underfoot dogs or anything else in my house. I kept saying aloud, “these seem too big, but they’re so comfortable.” I reached down at least seven times to feel the space between my toes and end, and it was more than I’m used to, but the comfort won, and I decided to take them for an outdoor walk to truly test their merits.

After a mostly successful indoor walk, I hit the streets for a real trial. I had to stop five times to adjust the laces, which is strangely difficult with the cord-like laces and flexible eyelets. As my feet naturally swelled from heat and activity, I figured they’d appreciate the extra room of the size 9, but it was not so. My right foot felt like it was working hard not to slide around inside the shoe, and my left one wasn’t much better. I walked 3.75 miles before calling it a day. I started getting a strange, stabbing pain in my right knee, and both my heels were sore. Verdict: the Torin 4, which I very much wanted to love, doesn’t work for me. I’m not even going to try to run in them. It’s a potentially great shoe, but it’s not my shoe.

I’m still a longtime major fan of Altra. One model that doesn’t do right for me won’t change my belief that they’re a great brand that makes great shoes. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will fall in love with the Torin 4. Luckily, the guarantee allows me to return them even though I wore them outdoors. I HATE doing that because it seems unfair to the company and is ecologically unsound, but these shoes just don’t work for my feet. Perhaps a half size smaller would give better results, but I think I’ll move on and try the new Altra Kayenta instead.

A Few Observations about the Torin 4

  • Removable insole, like most running shoes
  • Long laces
  • Flexible midsole
  • Full-length, heavily segmented rubber outsole
  • Soft, partly mesh uppers
  • Cushioned but not as much as previous models
  • Lightweight
  • Runs about a half size large

Headsweats Visor Review

headsweats visor review
My new Headsweats visor has Bigfoot and a full moon on it and I’m very happy about that.

My second Headsweats ambassador box arrived yesterday and I was super excited to find it on my front porch. Along with some other great gear, I got my first-ever Headsweats visor. I’ve worn Headsweats hats for years and loved them, but never bought a visor because I wasn’t sure if that style would work for me. I’ve had visors in the past that didn’t fit right no matter what I tried. They were usually too tight to the point of giving me a headache or so loose that they slipped down and folded my ears outward. I love the Bigfoot line of products that Headsweats produces. After cyber-stalking the full moon Bigfoot visor for a few months, I decided to give it a try.

Unboxing the Visor

The first thing I noticed about the visor was the awesome graphic on the front. It’s printed well and clearly and looks like something an artist created. No pixelated junk! Sometimes online photos don’t represent reality, but the Bigfoot visor looks even better in person than it does in pictures. The next thing I noticed was the lack of adjustability of the headband. I wasn’t sure if that would be ok or create headache city, so I wore the visor around the house before taking it for a test run. I couldn’t believe how comfortable it felt! It was secure and snug but not at all tight. The elastic band is very thin, wide, and flat, and pretty much becomes unnoticeable once it’s on my head. No headache, no slippage, no ear-bending. My ears are small and sit very close to my head, so the ear-bending struggle is real with a lot of hats and visors and even headphones.

Wearing the Visor

We’re already in the mid 80s in the first week of May and the sun has seemed brighter than ever this spring. I decided to put the visor through a nearly literal trial by fire on its maiden voyage. It was already 82 degrees when I left the house in the morning. The humidity was between 85% and 99%, depending on which app I looked at. Hot as hell and wet as a swamp. The sun was intense and beginning to rise high enough above the trees that shade would soon become scarce. I started to sweat within five minutes out the door, but the visor stayed exactly where it was mean to be. No slippage at all.

I didn’t wear sunglasses, so the all-black underside of the visor was especially helpful. If you’ve ever worn a hat or visor with a light-colored underside, you probably know how ineffective they are at blocking glare. I had a hat once with a light gray underside and I swear it reflected more sun into my face than if I hadn’t worn it at all. All Headsweats hats and visors have a black underside to minimize glare, and I really appreciated that feature this morning.

I’m rehabbing from a major health setback, so I only ran 2.75 miles, but I kept the visor on for a metcon workout in the sun and a 1.5-mile walk home from the park. Running, jumping, pullups, pushups—nothing made the visor slip, shift, or otherwise do something unpleasant. I even banged the brim on a pullup bar by accident and it held firm on my head and only needed a minor adjustment. By the time I walked home, I was in love with my new Bigfoot visor.

As an athlete in Florida, sweat in the eyes is a major problem. It burns pretty bad on its own, but add sunscreen to the mix and it can be temporarily blinding and very uncomfortable. Never once did I even get one drop in my eyes today. The soft, wicking headband underneath the Bigfoot design did its job perfectly. Having the top of my head open to the breeze (unlike with a hat) helped cool me down. I went into Headsweats visor ownership feeling a little unsure, but now I’m hooked. If you’re not a fan of Bigfoot (or if you are), they have a ton of designs, from neutral to loud. I definitely recommend getting one and will probably get another visor for myself soon. Let me know if you have questions and I’ll do my best to answer. 

Headsweats Ambassador

I’m an ambassador for Headsweats, which means I get some of their gear at no charge. This review is my honest opinion, but I did not pay for the visor. If you want to get one for yourself, you can use VICTORIASTOPP25 at checkout for a 25% discount. Click here to see the collection.

Capsulitis and Foot Pain

My feet are still not functional after a month of rest. I do, however, finally have more precise answers. The second specialist I saw diagnosed me with severe capsulitis, especially in the second metatarsophalangeal joint. Theories abound about how it happened. The main thing now is getting it fixed so I can first walk, then hike, then run again.

The pain of capsulitis is like nothing I’ve ever felt. Through all the years of spinal issues, chronic pain, and other health problems, nothing compares to capsulitis. My right foot is now the worst, although it started out opposite. Luckily, the pain is starting to localize a bit and is primarily focused on the joint capsule of the second metatarsophalangeal joint.

Through many sleep-deprived nights (I’m an insomniac anyway, but the nighttime pain in my feet has been unbearable), I’ve done a ton of research on capsulitis. There are a ton of theories out there, and as is often true with health-related information, a lot of the theories directly contradict each other. One example is in footwear. Many podiatric and orthopedic websites (and doctors) swear by a rocker sole for a shoe, while some decry traditional shoes as part of the problem. As with all things, it’s best for me if I gather information and opinions and then form my own plan.

Shoes for Capsulitis

Since I already run in zero-drop, wide-toebox shoes, I’m definitely a believer in natural foot motion and foot strength. I think it’s possible that my capsulitis developed from walking in more traditional footwear: i.e., the kind with toe spring and a major heel-toe height differential. For those who’re clueless like I was, “toe spring” is the amount of upward turn in the toe are of the shoe. If you think about it, that really is an unnatural, weird position for the human foot, which is meant to be flat on the ground when standing.

Debilitation of Foot Pain

The pain, swelling, and dysfunction in my feet go so bad that capsulitis landed me in a wheelchair. It was almost surreal to be pushed around the park in a wheelchair because of foot pain. The fresh air and change of scenery was great, but it was unbelievably frustrating to be in a chair for what seems like a ridiculous reason. The capsules that’re causing this misery are tiny, but holy crap are they sensitive. 

Solutions for Capsulitis

metatarsal pad for capsulitis
The red-pink, pacman-like outline is for the custom metatarsal pad my doctor made to treat my capsulitis. He used a cutout at the top to give extra room for my swollen joint capsule.

One of my coworkers helped me tape custom-cut (courtesy of a wonderful podiatrist), firm felt metatarsal pads into the metatarsal arch area. By elevating and supporting the metatarsals, plus wearing flat, zero-drop shoes, some of the pressure is taken off the capsulitis. I’m able to hobble-walk with a borrowed rollator, which isn’t awesome, but it’s a hell of a lot better than being in a wheelchair due to foot pain.

capsulitis pain runner
Capsulitis is extremely painful. I’m using a rollator so I can get some upper body and core workouts done while I can’t walk or run.

I’ve been good about doing upper body and core workouts throughout this nightmare, but it’s demoralizing and depressing to be unable to walk, run, or hike. A major trip was postponed and I began to reach a scary level of depression and hopelessness. Throwing everything at capsulitis—ice baths, epsom salt baths, CBD oil, ibuprofen—and getting no results was crushing. My auto-immune specialist called in a prescription for a Medrol dose pack. Steroids aren’t necessarily standard treatment for capsulitis, but I was desperate and he was quite worried about the raging, long-lasting inflammation. I’m on day three of the steroids. They’ve made me a bit more emotional, they’re slowly helping clear up the agony of capsulitis. 

One thing I’ve become conscious of is my toe position. It seems that for some time, I’ve been walking with my toes bundled together. I think I’ve been running that way, too, but I’m not sure. I have no idea why that’s happening, other than weak intrinsic foot muscles and tight extensors in my feet. I found a website with a wealth of information about all things feet, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re suffering from capsulitis or any other foot malady. There are a ton of informative videos available for free, especially on common complaints such as plantar fasciitis. Click here to get to the the video library of all things foot-related. 

The next phase of the plan to heal my capsulitis is more of the same for several more days—rest, elevation, gentle stretching of the extensors, and gentle foot mobility exercises. I’ve never been this sedentary in my whole life, but it’s necessary for now. The core and upper body exercises are keeping me a little bit sane. In a few days, I go back to my auto-immune specialist, and then back to the podiatrist. I’ll be done with steroids by then and really, really hope to feel good enough to declare capsulitis a thing of the past. For now, I’d be over the freakin’ moon if I could just take a few normal, pain-free steps. Capsulitis sucks big time and I never want to go through anything like this again.

Transverse Arch Dysfunction

feet in ice bath for transverse arch pain
I can’t stand cold and have to be careful because I have Reynaud’s, but the ice baths have helped bring down the inflammation in my feet.

My stellar run in new shoes turned out to be not so stellar at all. Despite feeling fine during the 6.25-mile run, and fine during a walk later in the day, I woke up the next day with sore feet. Those sore feet turned into agony and debilitation when I tried to to walk to the park near my house. Within a quarter mile, I had to stop. I couldn’t even get myself home and had to call for a ride. My feet felt like something was tearing off the bones in the space between my metatarsal heads and my toes.

I had no idea what was going on and had never felt such pain before. Perhaps scariest, the burning, tearing sensation was in both feet. I only felt it during push-off in the gait cycle, but of course that’s a major component of walking and running. I discovered that if I took off my shoes and socks and walked barefoot, I was pain-free. But as soon as I put on shoes– any shoes, regardless of model or style– the bilateral foot pain was so intense I couldn’t take a single step.

Transverse Arch Pain, Not Plantar Fasciitis

After extensive Googling that consistently turned up results for plantar fasciitis even though plantar fasciitis didn’t make sense with my symptoms, my fear and discouragement grew. I co-taught anatomy & kinesiology at our local community college for four years, but still couldn’t figure out what was going on with my feet. I pulled out the two textbooks I kept from my teaching days and still couldn’t quite make sense of what I was seeing. The internet definitely wanted to convince me that I had plantar fasciitis, but I knew that wasn’t right. I started wading through information on the structures of the foot and paid particular attention to the transverse arch. Bingo. The transverse arch essentially runs through the foot rather than along its length. I honestly didn’t even know the transverse arch existed until it caused me some of the worst pain of my life.

I’ll spare the details of a very intense eighteen days, but suffice it to say that the last couple weeks and days have been terrible. With the help of other practitioners, including an orthotist, we decided my hunch was right about the transverse arch in each foot. I tried everything, spent a ton of money on shoes (most of which I returned), used supportive insoles, and nothing helped. The insoles made me even more miserable because they were so rigid and high that my longitudinal arches and heels started to ache. The orthotist showed me metatarsal pads, which are essentially hard little pieces of foam that look like large guitar picks. If placed behind the metatarsal heads, the pads should support the transverse arch. I took the little pieces of foam home with renewed hope that I could at least walk from one room to another without agony.

In Search of Metatarsal Pads

The met pads (lingo, so I’ve discovered, for metatarsal pads) were a new kind of misery, but they had potential. Unlike the full-length insoles, the met pads targeted one problem area, the transverse arch, rather than trying to rework the entire shape and mechanics of my feet. I sanded down the hard foam to make them not so intrusive, but they still felt like smooth rocks under my feet.

A trip to Walgreens for something to support my transverse arches was a bust, but CVS provided a little more hope. I bought a package of thin, soft foam metatarsal pads. They were much larger than the met pads from the orthotist, but I cut them down with my old EMT scissors until they were the same shape and size as the hard foam ones. I put one in each shoe, and after a lot of misery and trial and error, was finally– after two weeks– able to walk semi-humanlike. The thin foam must’ve been just enough to support my transverse arches without feeling like I was walking on rocks.

homemade metatarsal pads
The remnants of my homemade metatarsal pads for transverse arch pain and dysfunction.

After a day, though, the pain got worse again, even with my homemade met pads. I realized that the cheap foam must’ve compressed too much and not rebounded, even though I’d probably walked only a total of a quarter mile on the pads. I cut another set and doubled them on top of the originals and began moving somewhat humanlike again. Transverse arch pain is no joke! This is some of the worst pain and debilitation I’ve ever experienced, even beyond the years of back and neck issues I’ve suffered.

Followup with the Doc

As things stand now, I’m heading back to the doctor tomorrow for an updated plan. I haven’t run in almost three weeks and can still barely walk, but the left foot seems to be improving. The right foot is the worst, which is weird because it started out better than the left. I have all kinds of ideas for inexpensive ways to custom-build some met pads for myself and will likely take a trip to Home Depot and/or Michael’s tomorrow to buy industrial foam and craft foam. Medical supplies are marked up so high, but it’s easy to find workable materials other places that will stand in just as well as the so-called specialty medical crap.

I’m very worried about my feet, especially the right one, but worry and anxiety only contribute to pain, so I’m trying to chill. I have newfound knowledge about the transverse arch, but I wish I never had to know anything about it. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s doctor’s appointment is worthwhile and helpful. I’m going crazy without running, walking, and hiking.

Headsweats Ambassador

headsweats ambassador
Wearing my new Headsweats Ambassador shirt, Headsweats hat, holding my book, and snuggling a friend’s adorable dog.

I’m now a Headsweats ambassador! I wrote a book about my journey (Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain), and while all books have an ending, the real story keeps evolving as long as I live. For any of you who’ve followed the Fibromyalgia Athlete blog over the years or read my book, you know the ups and downs are quite a ride.

To go from nearly crippled by injury to writing a book about it and now being an ambassador for a running-focused company is surreal, and I’m beyond grateful. Being chosen as an ambassador reminds me of how far I’ve come and gives me a larger platform to share encouragement with others. And I happen to love running in Headsweats gear, too. They make the only hats that don’t bother my ears (I have small ears that sit very close to my head and are quite sensitive). The underside of the brim is always black regardless of the hat color. In Florida, the sun stays bright all year long and that black underside really makes a difference in cutting glare.

If you’re interested in ordering any Headsweats gear, I have a code for 25% off: VICTORIASTOPP25. Feel free to share the code far and wide. I’m having a setback right now and am unable to run, but I hope to be much better soon. See y’all outside!

Great Food, Better Health

broccoli
Freshly steamed broccoli read for fritters.

I’m constantly on the hunt for healthy recipes that use food as medicine. I’ve tried almost every reasonable anti-inflammatory diet under the sun and found that works best for me is something between paleo and vegan. While those two diets may seem opposite, if you do them right, they can be quite similar. Both diets can, and should, emphasize hearty servings of plant-based nutrition.

Under paleo rules, processed food is a no-go, but a lot of vegan foods are highly processed. No one forces a vegan to buy processed foods, but at least for me, the temptation to do so was difficult to avoid. Now, I take the paleo idea of fresh, whole foods and apply it to veganism— for example, eating a plate of vegetables and fruits instead of a plate of soy cheese and chips. When I was strictly vegan, I fell into the processed food trap way too often and ended up eating “cheese” that had enough mysterious ingredients to be a science experiment. When I went paleo, and then strict paleo under Whole30, I gave up all the junk and focused on truly healthy food. I didn’t like the amount of meat required under paleo, so I eventually merged the two concepts and now feel better than I have in years.

Broccoli Fritters

A wonderful woman I met through Instagram posted about some awesome meals she made last week, and I followed the trail to figure out where the recipes originated. That trail led me to Every Last Bite, a food blog run by a woman who manages autoimmune disease through healthy— and delicious— meals. My eyes went straight to her recipe for broccoli fritters, and after a five-mile run through the rain, I decided to give them a try.

My dad brought us three giant heads of broccoli earlier this week, and I’ve been wondering what to do with all of them. The broccoli fritters recipe seemed like the perfect way to use up a good bit of what my dad brought, and it was. There’s only half a head left, which is a pretty big deal considering how much he gave us. The only thing the recipe called for that I wasn’t sure we had on hand was nutritional yeast, but after a quick look through the cabinets, I found I still had plenty in a tightly sealed glass jar. The other ingredient that some people may not have on hand— almond flour— is a staple in our house, and I had a fresh bag ready to use for the fritters.

I don’t have a food processor (well, I do somewhere, but it has yet to show up since our recent move), so I used the small carafe on my Ninja blender. While the broccoli steamed, I blended all the other ingredients into a surprisingly good-smelling batter. When the broccoli was done, I let it cool a little, then sliced it according to the recipe directions. After the olive oil got hot in the pan, I got ready to drop my first spoonfuls into the oil and, hopefully, make something delicious for lunch. I was a little skeptical, mostly because I’m not always the best recipe-follower, but the batter smelled good enough to make me optimistic.

broccoli fritters
Clearly I’m not a food photographer, but I promise these broccoli fritters were awesome!

After a few minutes and even more good smells, the first two fritters were ready. I barely waited for them to cool enough before chomping a big bite out of one. It’d been an hour since my run and I’d only had a few grapes, so I was super hungry. I couldn’t believe how good the fritters tasted. They were somewhat like broccoli cheese soup (the cheese flavor comes from the nutritional yeast) mixed with something that tasted fried. Food heaven. I made four large fritters instead of several small ones, and the first two were gone quickly. My wife isn’t usually a fan of broccoli, but I suspected she’d love the fritters, so I reluctantly practiced restraint and waited for her to come home and eat the remaining two. She loved them too, and couldn’t believe how good they were. She even said, “the broccoli is really good in here,” which is a sentence I never thought I’d hear. 

I’m excited about trying several more recipes from Every Last Bite. I haven’t decided what to make next, but I wanted to pass on this excellent resource to anyone else who might be looking to change up their food routine. Cheers, friends! Click here to go the Every Last Bite for tons of health-minded recipes!

Running and Chafing

trail running
I’ve gotten to do some awesome trail runs lately as I increase my mileage. One of my favorites was at Cheaha State Park, where this picture was taken.

I’m going to talk about something a lot of people may not want to admit to, but I suspect it impacts more of us than we like to acknowledge— running and chafing. And by chafing, I mean inner thigh, right up by the crotch. I have large thighs compared to my overall body size, but they didn’t cause much problem until I started running 8+ miles at a time. I don’t know what’s magically awful about 8+. Whether it’s accumulation of sweat (although I don’t think so, because shorter runs in the Florida summer are much sweatier), wearing down of the fabric of my shorts, or just skin rubbing together that eventually says “enough,” it sucks. I don’t feel like my skin’s rubbing when I run, but maybe it is. Something is definitely going on. When I got home from a 9.25-mile run yesterday, I took off my shorts and used a mirror to investigate what was causing the increasingly miserable burning sensation. Angry red skin and raised pink bumps told the story: chafing.

Since I’m not sure what’s causing it, I’m not sure how to prevent it. Obviously, running longer distances has something to do with it, and something— whether skin-to-skin or skin-to-shorts contact— is blistering the skin. I’ve never used anything for chafing, probably because I’ve never consistently run this much. I’ve been looking at powders, creams, sticks, balms, and salves, and am still unsure of where to start. And maybe it’s the shorts? I run in slightly large-fitting, several-years-old running shorts. I HATE tight clothing and always opt for a looser fit when possible. Maybe I need to join the current trend and try some tight shorts? I’m literally cringing while thinking about that, but I’m also not looking forward to more bouts of what essentially looks like diaper rash.

I’m thinking about try Squirrel’s Nut Butter or BodyGlide for Her. Both are vegan-friendly and aren’t tested on animals, which are absolute requirements for me. I don’t have any idea how to use anti-chafing products, but I assume they’ll come with directions. I have a ten-miler planned a few days from now, with several shorter runs before then, so it’s imperative that I find something that works.

Ultra Marathon Time and a New Journal

In bigger news (well, bigger news to me), I decided to train for an ultra marathon. Ultras are arguably a crazy feat for anyone, and even crazier for someone with chronic health problems and spinal issues. But I LOVE running. It makes me feel free, capable, strong, and connected to the outdoors. It’s not as energizing as soccer, which will always be my first love, but when I come back from a good run, my anxiety is cut in half and my outlook is overall much more hopeful. I’m doing at least 1/4 of my mileage on trails and grass to lessen the impact on my body. But is running an ultra realistic for someone who has a bad neck, bad back, and chronic pain? I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to find out.

believe training journal
I love everything about my new Believe Training Journal.

I bought a Believe Training Journal a couple weeks ago despite years of resisting using any kind of training log. My health problems have, for so long, crushed my hopes to reach my physical potential, and training logs always served as reminders of unmet goals and major setbacks. But this fall, after several months of using medical marijuana and a year of using physician-tailored supplements, I feel stronger than I have in a very long time. I’m sleeping more— sometimes almost eight hours per night!— and my back pain and radiculopathy is not as daunting. I sometimes go several hours without any major pain at all, which is huge. So, an ultra. And chafing. And a journal to keep track of it all.

I’m really enjoying the Believe journal. It’s already helping me stay organized and is keeping me honest with how much (or how little) I stretch, roll, and work on mobility. There’s nothing like old-fashioned pen-to-paper for accountability. Last night, I did 25 minutes of rolling and stretching, and at least part of my motivation for dedicating more time to recovery was because I knew the journal awaited my report, and I didn’t want to write something half-ass. My goal, as I increase my running mileage, is to get to 45 minutes of stretching, rolling, and mobility at least six days per week.

Back to running and chafing. If anyone’s had good luck with a certain method, or bad luck, or has any input at all, please leave a comment here. My thighs and I say thanks!

Summer Running

trail running
A good trail run is one of my favorite things in the world.

It’s been hot as hell in my part of the world this summer, but I’ve been able to gradually increase my running mileage despite the heat. My longest run this year is 8 miles, which makes me pretty happy considering I wasn’t able to start running again until March of this year after nearly a year off after a disastrous April of last year. I came home from a two weeks of travel and my legs were much tighter than usual and my back was stiff (although it’s always stiff, so that wasn’t new). I thought a run would help loosen me up, but it didn’t at all, and then an awkward bend to pick up my little beagle sent me into severe spasms. Fast forward to now, and with major core and posture work, medical marijuana (a whole other story that I need to write about), and personalized supplements, and 8 miles seems pretty awesome.

My speed isn’t where I want it to be, but I’m trying to stay calm and steady and trust that progress will happen. I’ve already sped up quite a bit in the last month, but I’m also being mindful to avoid common overuse injuries, like stress fractures, so I’m not letting myself do quite as much as I’d like to. I went from running 11-minutes-plus per mile upon my return a few months ago to running sub-10 this month. Both of those are very slow compared to my former self, but I’m still happy with the progress. I’ve done some very short stints in the 7-minutes-per-mile range, which felt great and a little scary. I’m always mindful of my back, which probably makes me tense up, so I’m trying to work on staying calm while speeding up my leg turnover.

trail running
The pitcher plants were in full bloom during my run.

My favorite run of 2018 so far was an 8-miler through the state forest. It was extremely hot and I went through all my water on my FuelBelt by the 2/3 mark, but the peace and scenery were totally worth it. Afterwards, I swam in a cold, clear lake while tiny fish bumped into my legs and I took in the enormity of what my body had accomplished. It was a great day, and I’m so glad to be able to run again.

Sprained Ankle and Sore Achilles Tendon

ice sprained ankle
I wrapped my ankle with a soft icepack and a bandage, then elevated it while Otis watched from the couch.

I don’t often have a so-called normal injury, but when I do, it’s a tough battle to force myself to take care of it. I worked on some posts about chronic pain and insomnia this weekend (which I’ll publish soon), then ironically got a relatively great night of sleep. I woke up Sunday morning ready to run. The weather was beautiful, I’d actually gotten some rest, and my back and neck were behaving pretty well. I decided to go 9-10 miles, depending on how I felt on the road.

I took off on terrain I’ve run on for years and was quickly bored with the usual sights and sounds. On a whim, I ducked behind some fenced-off private property (no location details here, but don’t try this at home, kids) and discovered a network of hidden trails in the middle of suburbia. Birds sung loudly, the air felt fresher, and all I could see were trees—real, hardwood trees! I had no idea how long the trails would last, but I hoped for at least five minutes of traffic-free running.

As I rounded a corner under a canopy of oaks, I realized I’d been in the woods for at least a mile. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I stopped paying close attention to the leaf-covered ground ahead. I ran at a 7:30 per mile pace, fast for me on a long run, and felt carefree. My feet landed on soft ground and I couldn’t smell smog or see any cars. I looked up at a cardinal in a tree and my right foot came down on a small stump. My ankle rolled so badly that I felt my fibula slam into the ground. I heard and felt a “pop” but instinctively kept running. Continuing to move was my way of assessing damage.

A few steps later I decided, despite the pop and severity of the roll, nothing was badly damaged. Pain shot up from my ankle to my knee on initial impact, but the sharpness dulled to an ache as I kept running. “Stupid,” I said aloud. “Watch where you’re going.” I was lucky, for sure, but I also make a habit of running in grassy medians and through debris-strewn parks as much as possible to help keep my ankles strong. I’m pretty sure Sunday’s outcome would’ve been a lot worse if I hadn’t spent lots of time strengthening my ankles.

I managed another eight miles after the trail ended and returned home full of excitement, energy and nagging concern for my ankle. I drank coconut water and described the trails to my wife, who smiled but expressed her disapproval at my adventure. She was right—I should at least tell her where I’m going if I decide to cover new ground. Oh, well. Live to die another day.

I spent the rest of the day like normal, throwing toys for the dogs, reading magazines, and stretching my tired body. My Achilles tendon ached, but my ankle didn’t show any swelling. I pinched along the margins of the tendon and it was sore, but everything seemed relatively in order. Then, as is the case with many sports injuries, nightfall brought pain and stiffness.

By the next morning my ankle and Achilles throbbed. My foot, ankle, and knee were stiff, and I tried everything I could think of to remain in denial about the injury (although I ordered some K Tape, so I wasn’t in complete denial). I have chronic pain—not normal injuries! I don’t have time for normal injuries! A sprained ankle and a sore tendon seem so alien.

The ankle felt unstable, so I bought a cheap drugstore compression sleeve to add support. I was able to walk around the neighborhood, but that was probably stupid. I felt worse after the walk. I hoped to run this morning—not quite two days after the initial injury—but when I woke up (yes, I slept again!) I knew it would be a very dumb idea to run. I probably could, but what if I turned the ankle again? I’ve seen friends with horrific Achilles injuries, and I don’t ever want one of my own. I put the compression sleeve on and set out for a walk. Too much pain. Time for plan B.

I ended up riding my bike around the neighborhood, but if I put the bike into a gear that offered much resistance, my Achilles screamed at me. I managed 25 minutes and headed for home. I couldn’t believe that all of my chronic pain issues were finally, blessedly feeling under control, but I was sidelined by an avoidable, normal injury.

As soon as I finish typing I’ll wrap my ankle in ice and elevate it for 15-20 minutes. I’m trying not to jump out of my skin about being unable to run. My perspective is weird—on one hand, I’ve dealt with horrific health issues that kept me from running (or doing much of anything) for a long time, so a few days off for a sprained ankle shouldn’t be a big deal. But, because of those stolen years when pain and bad health kept me down, I don’t want to lay off another day. More down time seems unbearable.

The reality is, those of us with chronic pain still get routine injuries, too, and we have to treat them with respect. Time to ice my ankle, dammit.