Gold Medal Book

gold awardHurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain won gold in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Award contest! I knew I’d won an award but didn’t know it was gold until the banquet (which I missed because I was traveling for other book events). My medal arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, along with a nice letter from FAPA’s president. I’m super excited and very grateful for the award.

FAPA gold award
I won gold in the Health & Fitness category!

A few people have asked if my book is a fibromyalgia book, and my answer is both yes and no. First and foremost, the book is my story– the details of my injuries, the backstory surrounding getting hurt, and the ways I’ve tried to deal with medical setbacks and chronic pain while remaining true to myself as an active, athletic human. A fibromyalgia diagnosis is definitely part of the story, and the book probably wouldn’t have happened without this blog. But, like every fibromyalgia sufferer I’ve ever met, my life– medically and in general– is more than a diagnosis, so my book is more than a fibromyalgia book. We are all so much more than the words that may define us to others.

Altra Escalante Review

altra escalante review

I got a long-overdue new pair of running shoes last week and put them to work immediately. The Altra Escalante is one of Altra’s newer designs, and it’s definitely a winner. I look forward to a future version with slight tweaks that will hopefully make a great shoe even better.

Running Performance

Stellar, except for the sizing (see below). I could’ve easily gone several more miles in these awesome shoes if they hadn’t felt too big. The more I ran, the bigger they felt—probably because my feet drifted laterally a bit, which reduced the functional length of my feet within the shoe. Other than that, I loved running in the Escalante. They stayed soft and cushy without being marshmallowy, and the knit upper had just enough support without being structured. I had to retie the laces a few times for optimum fit, which is pretty common for me when I run in brand-new shoes, but once I got settled on the right lacing, I was good to go. I ran with the Escalante on asphalt, concrete, and damp, grassy trails without traction issues, although it’s definitely not a trail shoe (and doesn’t claim to be).

Breathability

I didn’t find the Escalante any better or worse than most running shoes in terms of breathability. I live in Florida and frequently run in jungle-like humidity and extreme heat. There’s no shoe in the world that can keep feet cool and dry in those conditions, and the Escalante is no exception. Sweaty feet are just a fact of life for runners in the deep south.

Midsole

The white foam looked a bit thin when I took the shoes out of the box, but when I put them on, they were extremely soft and cushioned. The bounciness took a few minutes of adjustment since I’m used to firmer shoes, but once I started running, I was hooked. The Escalante is the most comfortably cushioned shoe I’ve ever worn. It feels a little too soft while walking, but it feels like heaven while running. I have sensitive feet that get angry easily, and I have zero complaints about the underfoot feel of the Escalante.

Outsole

The outsole reminds me of an old tennis shoe traction pattern. The rubber is pretty smooth but has deep grooves. It’s highly segmented and leaves a lot of the midsole foam exposed, which helps reduce weight. I’ll update about durability in a month or two.

Appearance

altra escalante review
I really like the way the Escalantes look and feel.

I’m a fan of Altra from way back when they issued their first Intuition that looked somewhat like a medical shoe with moon boot styling. I’ve often felt that I compromised aesthetics for comfort and function. Some of the major brands that’ve been around a lot longer make really good-looking shoes that always tempt me, but Altra consistently wins in the comfort and function categories. “Embrace the space,” as they say. Each time their designs have progressed, I’ve gotten happier and happier with the appearance of their shoes. The Escalante is the nicest looking Altra I’ve owned yet, except for maybe the bright red pair of Superiors that I own and love. I got the gray colorway in the Escalante, and it’s quite subdued without being too dark. 

Sizing

altra escalante sizing
Surprisingly, there’s way too much room in the front and front/side in my usual size, so I’ll need to go a half size down. This photo was taken after my feet were swollen from running, and the shoes are still too big.

I’m a 9 or 9.5 in every shoe I’ve bought for at least a decade. In Altra, I wear 9 in the Intuition (version 3.5) and 9.5 in the Superior (version 2.0). I bought a 9 in the Escalante and was worried it might be too small based on other reviews of sizing. However, it’s the opposite of what I thought. Immediately after I put them on, there was too much space in the front and side-front of the shoe. I moved my foot around a bit and changed socks, but there still seemed to be too much space. I don’t like tight shoes, so I decided to lace them up and walk around a bit. They seemed good after all, so I wore them for a 5-miler. Unfortunately, by mile 2, it was glaringly obvious that they were too big. I almost tripped a few times because of the excess length. I can’t believe it, but I think I’m going to have to exchange them for an 8.5. My feet always tend to shift laterally in shoes, especially when I run, and that lateral shift made the 9s feel even longer. Really unexpected to need a smaller size, but I have to go with what fits best, regardless of number.

Final Verdict

hurting like hell, living with gusto
Proof that I’ve been an Altra fan for years— check out the Intuition 1.5 on my book cover!

I LOVE the Escalante. It’s my new favorite shoe, except for the sizing. It’s an unstructured, perfectly cushioned, lightweight option for multiple paces and surfaces. I really, really hope the 8.5 fits perfectly so I can run a ton of miles in them. I’ll alternate the Escalante with my old pair of Intuitions (until I get new ones!), and still plan to use the Superior for trail running and the Lone Peak for hiking. Click here to buy the Escalante. 

Book Award

victoria stopp
It’s an honor to win a FAPA award, and I’m humbled and grateful.

I got word this morning that my book won a Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Award! There are so many letdowns, rejections, and silences in the publishing industry, and getting a little validation is a really nice feeling. I appreciate everyone’s support along the way.

I had a rough few days and haven’t slept much, so some good news was extra appreciated this morning. Something’s been going on with my low back, and the radiculopathy got way out of control a few nights ago. I’m not sure what’s angered my back this time, but something definitely got it fired up.

The pain and tingling in my legs got so bad that I couldn’t get comfortable in any position. Eventually, out of middle-of-the-night desperation, I took a chance and rotated my torso until I felt and heard a tremendous pop in the upper lumbar area. Even though it was a little scary to twist and crack my spine, the relief was almost instant. I’m still not where I was a week ago, but I was able to run 4 miles this morning and even put in some decent pace on the final mile. I’m sure the morning news that my book is an award-winner helped me speed up a bit on that last mile. Good news helps everything.

I’ll miss the book awards banquet because I’ll be in the northeast for other book-related events. It still seems pretty surreal that I won. Click here if you want to learn more about my book.

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.

Inspirational Podcast

restoration row podcast victoria stopp
Not only does the team at Restoration Row produce a podcast, but they also create art. This is the illustration they did for my story!

I recently had the honor of being interviewed for Kaigo Health’s new podcast, Restoration Row. Their CEO, Uzochukwu Chima, and I talked awhile, and then an actress named Megan Dunlop performed a reading from my book. How cool! The book journey has been quite a ride so far.

Restoration Row has some really interesting and inspiring stories, and I highly recommend checking it out on iTunes or Stitcher. Click here for my episode, but definitely check out all the others while you’re there. The talented production crew will upload a new episode often, so check back soon for more.

Book Sale!

hurting like hell, living with gusto
The book is a spinoff of the Fibromyalgia Athlete blog and tells some backstory and a lot more details of my journey with chronic pain.

I got word from my publisher that the Kindle version of my book will be temporarily discounted. Now’s your chance to snag the e-book for less than the price of artisanal coffee! Click here to check it out.

My book, Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain, is helping me spread the word about those of us living with less-than-ideal health. I have no idea where the journey will end, but I’m happy with all the chances I’m getting to advocate for chronic pain patients.

As for my health, I’m having ups and downs as usual, but I keep seeking new information and trying new solutions. I met two awesome chiropractors while I was in metro Atlanta for book tour events, and they gave me invaluable feedback after taking specialized x-rays to analyze my posture. Since meeting with them, I’ve been able to return to running, albeit carefully and not easily. I work hard every day to correct my excessive lumbar lordosis along with the other postural misalignments they showed me on x-ray. Good health is definitely a work in progress, but the work pays off slowly and surely.

 

Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain

hurting like hell, living with gusto
The book is a spinoff of the Fibromyalgia Athlete blog and tells some backstory and a lot more details of my journey with chronic pain.

At long last, my book is published! It’s been under contract for a little over a year and went to press a few weeks ago. Orders have started shipping from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, reviews are beginning to come in, and author events are lining up. Click here to check it out on Amazon.

This has been a whirlwind and still feels insanely surreal, although every time I do an event or hand-sell a book to a friend or stranger, reality seems a little closer. I’ve learned a lot of lessons every day of the journey, and continue to learn almost constantly. Here’s what one of the reviewers, Amos Lassen, wrote: “This is so much more than just a beautiful read. It is a memoir to be cherished and referred to when we are feeling down.”

I’m lucky and grateful, and I thank you very much for reading my book and sharing it with others who might be interested. Also, click here for my author website. Thanks, y’all!

Running, Renewal, and a Pretty Good Month

cheaha sunset
Gorgeous sunset at Cheaha.

I’ve had as good an October so far as I had a bad September, health-wise. It’s been a almost six weeks since I’ve needed a chiropractic adjustment (although I have to twist, roll, and traction myself daily), and I’m back up to running multiple times per week and lifting weights. Until a few days ago, I was sleeping pretty well, too. Chronic health problems are often cyclical, and I was reminded of that a few days ago when my hips and low back felt locked and painful and self-care wasn’t cutting it. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to cause the issue, and I’m hoping a quick trip to my beloved chiropractor will fix my woes.

I bit off more than I can chew with work, and some of that stress is probably contributing to my tight muscles and sore back. The teaching semester will be over in about five weeks— not that I’m counting— and getting down to one job plus writing will be relieving. I don’t know if it’s age, health issues, or what, but I just can’t work as many jobs as I used to without feeling overwhelmed.

I had a business meeting at an office about twenty miles from the state forest, and I knew a good run in the clean air would help clear my mind. I saw an awesome rattlesnake and enjoyed the solitude. I had to stop a few times to try to work the kinks out of my back, but otherwise it was a great run. I hope I can get out there again soon. And speaking of awesome runs– I had a great one at Cheaha State Park in Alabama. The mountain views, the morning mist…it was one of those days when it’s great to be alive and aware.

Dirt Road Running and River Tubing

dirt road run
The T described by the shuttle driver was an intersection of wide dirt roads. Perfect for running.

I planned to run eight miles on forest roads yesterday morning and meet friends for a day on the river afterward. Despite careful planning, I realized my chosen route wouldn’t work when I found out from the kayak shuttle driver that my friends’ drop-off point was going to be more southerly than I thought. If I ran the route I chose, I’d come to the river north of them, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t catch their kayaks with my 99-cent tube. The shuttle driver saved the day by giving me fantastic directions for a pig-trail route to catch up with them further south. The new plan made me a little uneasy but sparked my curiosity. As my friends boarded the shuttle, I repacked my bag, ditching my iPod in favor of a compass and adding extra Gin Gins in case I got lost and hungry.

The shuttle driver’s directions were spot-on, even though he failed to mention a few turnoffs that made me more than a little nervous. Every time I passed another trail, I wondered if he’d forgotten to mention a turn. I decided to run out for an hour, and if I didn’t find the river by then, I’d turn around and follow my footsteps (and compass) back to my truck. I love adventures, but I hate going off road without a map. None of the forest maps I own—not even the official Forest Service map—shows the route I was on yesterday.

jurek endure bottle
Rationing my water from one of two 10oz bottles on my Jurek Endure waistpack.

At the eighteen-minute mark, I found the T the driver told me about. “You’ll come to a place where you’ll either have to go left or right,” he said. “Turn left.” I’d written his words down on a tiny piece of paper and stuffed it in my waistpack so I wouldn’t risk my memory playing tricks. I turned left like he said, and within ten minutes I was at the river.

Unfortunately, my friends were way upstream, so I had time to kill. I turned around and ran a bit more, than came back to the river and talked with a family who’d arrived via shuttle for tubing. What I witnessed—and the conversations I had with that family—is too powerful and emotional for me to talk about yet, but suffice it to say I felt the convergence of tragedy, unfairness, hope, and resilience. Rather than wait for my friends, I decided to hike further upriver and process my encounter with the family of strangers.

I found another unmarked trail, this one narrow and crisscrossed by spider webs, but it was a decent hike. I followed the route upstream for a mile until I hit an impasse. A huge patch of wetlands suddenly appeared, and I don’t think I could’ve even made it through with snake waders and boots, let alone in running shorts and sneakers. I dipped down off the trail onto a sandy beach and sat under a cypress tree in the river. My back and neck were really bothering me and I hadn’t slept more than three hours the night before, but the cold water felt great. I wished I could figure out a way to float on my back and completely relax without being carried by the current.

blackwater river
My riverfront view as I waited for my kayaking friends to paddle downstream.

My friends arrived eventually, better late than never, and their kayaks were loaded with food and supplies. It was great to see them paddling their kayaks toward me, and I sat with them on the beach and pigged out for a while before we headed downstream. I’d run with a deflated tube bungeed to my waistpack, and once I got it blown up, we took off down the river. Note for future adventures: tubing on a 99-cent piece of crap is a lot slower than going down the river on a kayak. I ended up getting towed a good portion of the way by three generous friends who switched off paddling duties as I clung to the tails of their kayaks. I told them I’d be fine and would catch up eventually, but they stayed with me anyway. Five slow miles later, we floated under the last bridge before the river becomes non-navigable, and I walked up the bank to my truck. Changing into dry, cotton clothes felt great after being wet literally all day.

It was a very successful trip in terms of nothing going wrong, but I was so ready for something crazy to happen that when it didn’t I was almost a little let down. I’m excited about the future, though—after seeing all those pig trails, I’m ready to go back and explore more uncharted territory. I’m going to take my GPS and make my own map of the trails. Who knows? Maybe I can sell copies of the map (to that one other person besides me in the whole world who would want to hike there?). Better keep my day jobs.

Earlier Mornings and Organization

I’m making a major effort to organize and restructure my life. The reasons are varied, but the bottom line is I need to be more productive if I’m going to have a shot at accomplishing my major life goals. Lately I’ve dedicated a lot of thought to what I want my life to look like, and I realized (no shock) that my lack of Type-A tendencies hold me back from getting the most from my days. My brain is scattered, my workspace is scattered, and there’s no way I’m maxing out my potential in the midst of chaos. I could make excuses, some of which are legitimate (like how exhausting it is to fight chronic health issues), but the crux of the problem remains the same—I have goals, and I can’t accomplish them if I don’t get organized.

inspirational quotes
I put together some inspiration to hang over my newly organized desk. These are just simple notecards I wrote on and laid out before tacking them onto a cork board.

I printed a simple Excel spreadsheet to itemize my days and times, and started yesterday by filling in what I did with each time block. My ultimate plan is to write myself a schedule and adhere to it come hell or high water, but for now I’m just feeling out what a truly organized life will be like. I spent three hours going through stacks of paper, drawers of random stuff, and bins with pens that don’t write anymore. I chose to work meticulously rather than just tidying my space, and the task definitely started to drag. However, when I was done, I had a usable, organized desk. A large paper grocery bag full of recyclables proved just how much crap I’d kept for years.

I also confirmed what I suspected—I’ve let my health problems dictate too much of my days. There are times when that can’t be helped, but overall, even attention to a health crisis can be scheduled in a spreadsheet. I’ve been nearly killing myself by running too late in the mornings. By the time I get around to running, it’s usually 92-95 degrees in the shade. I struggle with getting comfortable at night, which means I often don’t sleep well, which, in turn, means I don’t move very efficiently in the morning. When I do get up, I take a lot of time to traction and stretch my back, rub Cryoderm on my neck, and/or do whatever else my body demands. It’s sometimes 10 a.m. before I run, and that’s not the smartest routine in the summer in the Deep South. It’s also a productivity-killer.

Fix number one was definitely organizing my desk. I’m not entirely sure if it’s true that a cluttered space equals a cluttered mind, but I feel better when I look at my newly arranged workspace. It’s been a source of embarrassment for years, and the piles of junk on it have definitely hindered my productivity. Now it’s a place that signifies pride in myself and my work and dedication to my future. Seriously, it seems that important.

Fix number two is saying to hell with my health problems and insomnia and getting up early anyway. (I used to work the 5 a.m. – 5 p.m. shift, so it’s not like I’ve never had to get up early.) I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m., but when I still couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep at 1 a.m., I grabbed my phone and changed the alarm to 7. It felt a little like defeat, but I respect my body enough not to punish myself too much for my pain. Guilt over health conditions is absolutely counter-productive. At 6:57, I woke up anyway and turned off the alarm before it could blare. That small action empowered me, and I headed to the kitchen to wake the dogs and put them out to do their business.

Side note—as far as “doing business,” like many runners, I much prefer to do mine before I run. I knew there was a possibility that last night’s dinner wouldn’t get moving at such an early hour, and I was right. Luckily, nothing catastrophic happened, although it was a little weird to head out the door to run before using the bathroom.

I drank ½ a cup of coffee and ate a Larabar, rubbed sunscreen on my face, and put on the running clothes I’d laid out the night before. I paced around the house as a preliminary warm-up, and played with our puppy for some dynamic movement. I sat on the porch stairs for a minute and self-tractioned my back, then knocked my SI joints into alignment against the tiled steps. So far, so good, and I was out the door before 8 a.m. to start my warm-up walk.

5.15 miles run
Electronic proof of a solid run. I used my refurbished iPod Nano and the Nike+ app to track my route, and the nice background pic belongs to the app.

The run wasn’t glorious or amazing or any of those other words I’d hoped would apply, but it was pretty damn good. The sun was still low enough that the mature trees in our neighborhood blocked it from directly cooking me, and the asphalt hadn’t heated up to the point of steam and odor yet. The bayou looked peaceful, almost like it was just waking up, too. I was covered in sweat by the end of my five-mile route, but not completely drenched like I am when I run later. The best part was, I wasn’t exhausted. I came home completely sold on running early in the morning and determined to back that alarm up to 6:30 and eventually to 6.

So far, my time log looks a lot better than yesterday’s. I couldn’t sleep two nights ago, partly because a nasty outbreak of psoriasis itched so bad that it kept me up. The skin calamity was the main reason I didn’t get up until almost 9 yesterday, but it had a strong effect on my productivity. What I’ve also realized is, staying in bed later doesn’t make me any less tired or any less itchy or really affect my pain and discomfort at all. In fact, I was less stiff this morning than usual after less time in bed.

Today’s To Do list is long, and it’s a good feeling to be partway through it at only 10:25 in the morning. I’m figuring out that I thrive off the sense of control I get from being extremely organized. Chronic pain demands so much attention, and it’s nice to fight back by telling my body that it’ll still get the help it needs, but that it’ll have to be helped efficiently and within my schedule. I truly feel empowered (also somewhat due to being able to squat again, which I’m sure makes me mentally and physically stronger!), and “empowerment” is something I haven’t really experienced in years. It’s a damn good feeling.