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.

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!

Escalante Racer Review

Altra Escalante Racer Boston Edition blue and yellow running shoe
Altra Escalante Racer, Boston edition.

I’ve heard several credible rumors that the Altra Intuition is about to be discontinued, and I’m super bummed. I’ve been running in various versions of the Intuition since it was first born several years ago, and while I’ve tried other shoes, the Intuition always works best for me. The Intuition 3.5 is the latest model I’ve worn, which puts me two versions behind the newest, but I LOVE it. It’s not particularly nice to look at, but I don’t care. I can run a half marathon on mostly pavement without much foot pain, and that says everything. I needed a new pair and looked forward to trying the Intuition 4.5 (skipping Intuition 4 since it’s passe now), but when I went to our local running store, there were almost no sizes in stock. Online searches didn’t help much, either. It was almost impossible to find the Intuition in a (apparently popular?) size 9, especially with my first color choice.

I’ve tried the Altra Escalante, which lots of people love, but I hated it. Like really, really, really hated it. The upper was sock-like but tight. It was a weird combination of extremely restrictive and not supportive at all. I tried the Escalante 1.5 at the local store, and while it fit a little better than the original, I still felt unstable on turns. Since running isn’t done in a miles-long straight line, that was a major dealbreaker for me. I tried the Altra Torin but felt like I was clomping around on a platform made of marshmallows. Way too much shoe, and since I have small ankles, I imagined terrible sprains if I rolled an ankle in something so elevated off the ground.

Enter the Escalante Racer. Billed by Altra as a “faster, higher performance version of the Escalante,” I was most interested in their description of the upper. They claim it’s firmer and more supportive when taking corners. I’m not one to fall prey to marketing jazz, but it sounded like the Racer might be a hopeful choice to take the place of my beloved Intuition.

I bought the Boston version of the Escalante Racer because I’ve been to the city three times and loved it. The walkability, the mass transit, the food, the parks, the history— such a cool place. I’ve never been to the other cities featured by the Racer except New York, but that version currently costs more, so I stuck with Boston. 

I don’t care much about the looks of my running shoes as long as they perform well, but as soon as I opened the box, I was impressed by the appearance of the Escalante Racer. The Boston version is bright blue with yellow and black accents, including patterned yellow laces. Score one for aesthetics, but my main concern was how they’d feel on a run. I touched the upper and noticed a huge difference between the Racer and the regular Escalante. There didn’t seem to be any stretch at all in the Racer’s upper, and the toe box looked roomier. I put on my favorite socks and sat down to try on the Escalante Racer.

Running in the Escalante Racer

The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to put the shoe on. I felt like one of Cindarella’s stepsisters. But once I pulled the laces extremely loose, I finally got the shoes on my feet. The difference between the Racer and the plain Escalante was massive and evident immediately. My feet didn’t feel constricted at all in the Racer, but they felt reasonably supported when I walked around a sharp corner in my house. Convinced they were a potentially awesome option, I took a chance immediately and went for a run.

The first run in my new Escalante Racers was 6 miles. With the Intuition, I could always take a new pair out of the box and run any distance in perfect comfort. The Racer wasn’t quite as awesome. The sole felt stiff, which was surprising since the sole uses segmented rubber with significant gaps between each piece. I ran on hard dirt, weedy grass, asphalt, and concrete— pretty much every surface I ever run on except sand. 

By the second mile, I noticed increased comfort. The cushioning was definitely less than the Intuition (it’s a different shoe, so that wasn’t shocking), but as my run progressed, the comfort of the Racer increased. The stiffness lessened or I got used to it, but either way, I was fine with the sole. The mesh upper was highly breathable, which is super important since I live in Florida, but I was a bit surprised to find how large the gaps are in the mesh. I can definitely see my socks through the shoe, so by breathable, I guess I really mean full of holes. Most importantly though, especially in comparison to the original Escalante, my feet felt secure on corners, even at fairly high speeds. 

As for basics, I have mostly good things to report. The laces stayed tied (super basic, I know, but I’ve definitely experienced lace problems with some shoes), the Racer was true to size, and the colorway was as advertised. The only surprise was how difficult it is to get the shoe on and off, but a little patience for extra lace-loosening isn’t a big deal.

I wish so, so much that Altra wouldn’t discontinue the Intuition. Since they are, though, I think I’ve found a solid backup plan in the Escalante Racer. I haven’t tried the Racer on anything longer than 6.5 miles yet, but so far, so good. As usual with Altra shoes, I love the zero drop, roominess, and comfort. The real test will come when I break them out for 10+ miles, but for now, I’m sticking with the Intuition 3.5 for long runs. I’m not sure anything will ever be as awesome as the Intuition, but I really like the Escalante Racer and feel hopeful that future versions will be even better. I’m a longtime Altra fan, and I can now add the Racer to my list of why I love Altra shoes.

Double Bridge Run

Grateful

Before I talk about the race, I want to give testament to the power of friendship. Friends I don’t know well yet– people who literally flagged me down one weekend as I ran past their group– have added a tremendous, caring new dimension to my life. If not for those friends, I never would have signed up for the Double Bridge Run. More than that, my life was missing something that I didn’t even know was missing until they filled the void. I hope I can be a part of that magic for someone some day.

double bridge run shirt
My Double Bridge Run shirt and race bib. The shirt is a horrible fit, but the art is fun.

Double Bridge Run Recap

I signed up for the Double Bridge Run only a week and a half before the race. I hadn’t run a race in years, mostly because of my chronic back and neck pain. The last 5k I did was almost five years ago led to living a nightmare of back pain and insomnia. It’s hard to have an experience like that and get excited about trying again. The Double Bridge is a 15k— almost 10 miles— and as far as I know, it’s the only race of that distance in Pensacola

The Double Bridge Run is exactly what it sounds like— a run over two bridges. I’ve drive those bridges (the 3-mile and the Bob Sikes) countless times over the years, but since they’re both unsafe for pedestrians, I’d never been on them except in a vehicle. I’ve always been curious what it would be like to run the bridges. Mostly I just wished the city would’ve planned protected pedestrian lanes. I never considered signing up for the race, largely because of chronic pain but partly because I don’t like crowds or early mornings. The Double Bridge definitely draws a large crowd, although its start time of 7 a.m. isn’t the worst. A few of my friends convinced me to sign up since it’s the last year this version of the 3-mile bridge will exist. Construction is well underway for a replacement bridge. Between friends’ encouragement and the ending of an era for the bridge, I signed up for the race and tried to get excited rather than fearful.

Running has been a wonderful gift in my life, but the past decade has been very, very challenging. Chronic pain— especially in my back and neck— have kept me from doing the things that make me feel alive, and running is definitely one of those things. After getting a fresh round of help in Atlanta last spring, I finally got some insight that was life-changing. I’ve not only been able to run again, but in the past several months, I’ve quickened my pace and lengthened my distance. The longest I’ve done lately is a half marathon, although it wasn’t an official race— just a circular route around the bayou done for no other reason than I wanted to celebrate my ability to run.

I knew the 15k distance wouldn’t be a problem, but I was still very nervous leading up to race day. I had no idea what to expect, and since a big part of my ability to live with relatlively low pain levels is routine, it’s hard to convince myself that it’s a good idea to break routine. Mornings usually look like this for me: sit up slowly, get out of bed carefully, drink 20 ounces of water, then make my way to the coffee pot and fill my cup. While the coffee cools a little, I gently move my back and hips around to get them ready for function. My SI joints are usually off after lying down all night, so I often use my foam roller before I finish my first cup of coffee. If my back and neck are agreeable, I eat a protein bar, then head out for a solo run. If my back and neck aren’t right, I keep foam rolling, dynamic stretching, and doing mobility work until I’m able to run. Extensive routines like that aren’t easy to fit in before a race that starts at 7 a.m.

I set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. to give myself the best shot at getting through my routine before the start of the Double Bridge Run. For the most part, it worked, and after picking up two of my friends, I found myself in pre-dawn traffic on the way to the starting line. It was surreal, and not just because there’s usually no traffic at all at that hour. I couldn’t believe I was on the way to a race after all those years of chronic pain and corresponding disappointments. Pain can be very isolating, so to be not only returning to racing but to do so with friends was a little overwhelming. Even good things can take a minute to process.

We had a few hangups with post-race bag-check, and there were woefully few portapotties at the park where the race started. Once those minor issues were handled, I found myself surrounded by friends and strangers waiting for the cannon to fire and signal our start. As our corral slowly made our way toward the line, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. I almost always run alone, and the crowd was a bit intimidating. My friends were awesome, though, and I smiled at their caring energy and positive vibes. Within a few seconds, the cannon blasted and we were off.

I didn’t have a pace goal or really any concrete idea of pace since so many variables were in play. A couple of friends and I decided to loosely stay together, which was easier said than done as the race wound through downtown Pensacola on the way to the 3-mile bridge. The police blocked traffic, but our running lane was still sometimes tight for as many people as were racing. We passed people, got passed by others, and mostly just moved like a giant unit along Bayfront Parkway. My friends talked about sticking to a 9:30-9:45 per mile pace, which was good with me, but even without looking at my watch, I could tell we were going faster than planned. 

The 3-mile bridge section wasn’t as wonderful as I’d thought it would be. The bridge is concrete, and I underestimated how rough on my body it would be to run on concrete. As we pounded along the bridge, I realized I never train on concrete. Asphalt, grass, dirt, and trails. Never concrete. And yes, there’s a huge difference. Concrete is extremely unforgiving, which isn’t a good thing for someone with a bad back and neck. The sky was heavily overcast, so the view of the bay wasn’t spectacular, but that was ok. What surprised me most was the traffic. Only one lane was blocked for runners, and it was bumper-to-bumper cars right next to us for the entire three miles. I guess I’d incorrectly assumed that there wouldn’t be much traffic early on a Saturday morning. 

double bridge run photo
This photo is from the 3-mile bridge section of the Double Bridge Run. I’m in the pink shirt on the left. Thanks to Street Safari photographers for covering the Double Bridge Run!

As we neared the end of the bridge, my group of friends separated even more than we already were. I stayed with a friend and her husband, and what was an easy pace for them was quite difficult for me, but I reveled in the challenge. I can run pretty fast these days, but not for 9+ miles. As we hit the asphalt in Gulf Breeze, I noticed we passed people every few seconds and figured we must be gaining speed. My back started to hurt and a bit of radicular pain tingled in my left groin, so I concentrated on tightening my abs and shortening my stride. It worked well enough, and soon we were on the ramp to the Bob Sikes Bridge.

By then, I was in a hurt locker, although not so much from my chronic pain issues as from pushing the pace out of my comfort zone. The ramp out of Gulf Breeze is miserable. It’s steep, extremely slanted, and makes an almost hairpin turn. Luckily, it’s also short, and after only a bit of misery, we headed straight for the Bob Sikes. A cheering section gave me a little extra pep, but I was still at my max capacity. My friend asked if I wanted to catch a woman in purple who was well ahead of us. I told her to go, but that I couldn’t. She stayed with me instead, which I appreciated more than she’ll ever know.

Bob Sikes is a steep bridge both ways. The downhill, though rough on the knees, was a welcome reprieve after the uphill slog to the top. We could hear an energetic high school band near the toll booth. The yellow arch of the finish line looked deceptively close but the band gave us motivation. Nobody wants to give up in front of high school kids– especially high school kids who got up early to play their drums for a bunch of adults.

The last half mile or so was pretty brutal, despite a wonderful cheering section. As we neared the end, a group of people on spin bikes encouraged us to sprint while they did spinning sprints. I didn’t have a real sprint in me unless I wanted to puke, but I did pick up the pace just a little until we crossed the rugs that signaled our chips had registered their last time. When all was said and done, I averaged an 8:57 per mile pace. No records broken, but for the hell I’ve been through with chronic pain for so long, I was very happy. I got a great finisher’s medal and celebrated with friends at the race’s after-party.

I don’t know if I’ll ever sign up for a road race again, but I’m glad I did the Double Bridge Run. The day after the race was brutal. My left knee, which is arthritic from an old surgery, was very inflamed. My back was so badly beaten that I had trouble walking. But, as the day wore on, I used my foam roller, Sacro Wedgy, Denner Roll, and every other tool in my arsenal, and I started to feel better. The next day, I did an upper body and core workout and walked 3 miles. Today— two days after the race— I was able to run 5 miles on trails without much issue. 

When I look at where I’ve been and where I am now, things still don’t feel entirely real. To go from not running at all because of my back and neck to running a relatively fast 15k in a few months— I don’t even have the words. I’d love to do an ultramarathon one day, but only if it’s on trails. My days of concrete running are definitely over. But my days of running are hopefully only just beginning.

double bridge run medal
While the Double Bridge Run shirt is lacking, the medal is not. It’s huge, heavy, nicely designed, double-sided… and the 15k token spins!

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.

Breaking Food Rules

I had a really bad day that mostly sucked because something I’d felt a lot of hope about turned out to be nothing. I’m always cautious with my hope, especially about things that seems like long shots anyway, but I guess I was more hopeful than I thought this time, and the letdown was shockingly crushing. It’s just a work thing, not life or death, but sometimes wanting something really bad and working hard for it and then not getting it is devastating. My rational mind says it’s part of a learning process, but that’s easier to say than it is to feel when the letdown is fresh and the pain is raw.

I’m usually not one to eat my feelings, but last night, after a healthy dinner at the local co-op, I eyed a big bag of ranch-flavored tortilla chips. In mild defense of my transgression, the chips were organic (LOL, I know, still fried junk). I decided that if I took a long walk and still wanted them, I’d allow myself to stray from my normally strict diet and indulge a little. The walk didn’t help lift my sadness, and I walked back to the co-op with fifteen minutes to spare before closing and plunked down $2 for the bag of chips. Then, of course, I ate them all. Every single one of them, even though the serving size was for a family.

It was a rare slip for me, and I felt the familiar guilt of eating crap while dealing with chronic health problems, but damn, those chips were good. I tried pouring some in a bowl and eating just that amount, but it wasn’t long before I dumped the whole bag out and feasted. The free-for-all didn’t make the disappointment of the day go away, but I truly enjoyed eating some junk for a change, and that brief feeling of pleasure was a nice distraction.

I worried that I wouldn’t sleep much and would get achy from the processed food, but I ended up sleeping longer (and uninterrupted!) than I have in months. I didn’t even wake up to pee in the middle of the night, which was probably due to the massive salt load I put in my body with my chow fest. And when I woke up this morning, I felt better and less achy than usual.

I’m not advocating a junk food diet, but I think there’s a lesson here for me, and that is to relax and enjoy a treat every now and then. That’s something that can be hard for someone who feels guilt over poor dietary choices, but maybe my thinking should shift to allow more occasional treats. When I woke up this morning, I felt great, ran 4 miles in a thunderstorm, and am way less stiff and sore than usual. Cheers to chips, at least every once in a while.

Feeling Better, Looking Ahead

sunrise run
Sunrise run along the bayou.

I had a rough September, starting with a flareup of cervical dystonia. I’d been working out pretty hard for a couple months, and I suspect some of the exercises I did were too much for my neck. As I began to recover, I got a cold, and the next day got the stomach flu. It was almost comical except that I felt awful and got super dehydrated.

Now that I’ve been close to 90% normal (my normal), I’m increasing my exercise again. I got up at 5 this morning and went for a run, happy to avoid the 90-degree temps that will come later today. The sunset over the bayou was enough to encourage me to stop and enjoy it even though I knew I had limited time to run before the heat rose to a miserable level.
As I regain running strength, I’m alternating ten minutes of endurance training– slow, steady pace– with five minutes of speedwork– fast (for me) pace but not sprint. I’m comfortably up to 35 minutes of running each session, and I’m sure I could do more, but I don’t want to relapse into another battle with neck spasms.
I bought a new peanut, which is essentially two lacrosse balls joined to form a torture device. I hate using it, but it’s highly effective at breaking some of my cervical and thoracic spasms. I was super stiff and headed toward immobility last night, but the peanut came through for me and I feel much better this morning.
I’ve also gotten more dedicated to rolling, which I intended to mean I’m rolling twice every day, but what actually means I’m rolling about five days a week. I use a solid foam roller and it’s helping a lot to reduce the tension in my legs and back. Rolling the outside of my thighs makes my eyes water, but, like the peanut, the results are totally worth the temporary discomfort.
One of the weirdest, lingering effects of my September health issues is a major shift in my appetite. I lost four pounds when I had the stomach flu, and I’m pretty sure most of it was fluid loss. However, since then, I’m alternately ravenous for random food (like beans, rice, and salsa for breakfast!) and unable to finish my meals. I’ve been a mega-portion eater for many years, so this shift is very odd. I’m giving myself some leeway and allowing, within reason, whatever meals I want. I draw the line at pure crap, like the serious cravings I’ve been having for milkshakes, but I admit to eating corn chips and Mexican food for breakfast this morning.
I’m not one to wish time away, but I’m really looking forward to October. I hope the ridiculous high temperatures will finally drop. I can’t wait to actually feel cold when I walk outside. This October marks three years since my back started giving me major trouble, but I’m not dwelling on that anniversary. I’m ready to do some serious hiking and backpacking when the weather cools off, and I’m certain October will bring the cool breezes and nights that I crave.