Pilates & Running Go Together Like PB & J

A few months ago, my sister innocently posted a link on my Facebook page that talked about sustainable living and an eco-village in Costa Rica where the kind folks live in tree houses.  With one click to that page, my sister had created a monster.  Mike has been talking about moving to Costa Rica ever since I met him, so one mention of this place, and he was in the other room packing.  Here is a link to the photo gallery of the original village we liked, called Finca Bella Vista.  How can you resist?  A sustainable eco-village where we can raise our kids off the land and have fresh fruits and vegetables year round?  A simpler, more fulfilling existence where we can tread lightly on the earth and possibly play with monkeys?  Yes please! 

Then, we found another village that seemed to be a bit closer to the ocean, which is necessary for Mike to be able to surf. This village was called Osa Mountain Village, and the entire property is a giant, living, growing salad.  Want a mango?  Walk out your door and eat it.   Just one problem:  After researching for a few weeks, I discovered that it would take up to four years to obtain a physical therapy license in Costa Rica, and maybe longer to obtain citizenship to work there.  Crap.  Then, I had another glimmer of hope when I saw that you can start a business at Osa Mountain Village, and they needed a Pilates studio.  Great! I’ve taken a handful of classes at my gym, I like Pilates!  I could just own a Pilates studio.  Again, unfortunately, Costa Rican law makes it nearly impossible to work as a foreigner in their country, so we reluctantly gave up our Costa Rican dream.

This ridiculous story does have a point.  As crazy as it sounds, this was the beginning of my journey to Pilates.  The Costa Rican dream made me realize that while I probably can’t and shouldn’t move to Costa Rica, perhaps I should do something for myself here in the ol’ US of A to enrich my life.  I began researching Pilates, and I found the STOTT method of  Pilates, which happens to have a rehab certification for physical therapists.  Of course, I live in Portland, which happens to be the home of Pacific NW Pilates, the Harvard of STOTT Pilates training.  I decided that before I embark upon the journey to rehab certification, I should probably start actually practicing Pilates.  I remembered driving by Poise Studio in Beaverton and began checking out the website.  Poise is a boutique studio located in a funky, old house in Beaverton where they have Pilates, yoga, belly dancing, and other special series.  I discovered they actually practiced the STOTT method there, and so I quickly signed up for my first “Intro” class the following week.

My “Intro” class was enlightening.  Jacki was my instructor, and I was actually the only person taking the class that day, which was to be followed by the regular evening Mat Pilates class.  What I immediately noticed was how small the classrooms are, creating an intimate and focused atmosphere.  Jacki and I got to talking and I found out that she is actually a physical therapy student at Pacific University, what are the chances?  I was excited to find out this information, because I realized that this person has a strong background in anatomy and the way the body moves.  The evening class followed with about 4 other people that night, and Jacki made sure that I was comfortable and she provided necessary tactile cues when I flopped awkwardly into different positions.  Jacki is a wonderful instructor, evidenced by the group of folks that show up to her evening classes religiously.  She is soft spoken, has a familiar order to her classes that make them seem homey, and yet she still manages to teach me something new each class I take with her.

And then, I met Alli Breen.  Alli can only be described as the most passionate and meticulous Pilates and fitness instructor I’ve ever come across.  In addition to teaching Pilates, she is also a Pilates Fusion instructor and wellness expert.  Her journey to health is an inspiring one, which can be seen on her new website, Today Is Your Tomorrow.  She also has a podcast which is super fun to listen to!   While I don’t know all the details, I know that she is a vegan and she has lost quite a bit of weight over the past couple of years.  Here is a picture I found on her website that gives one an idea of just how far she’s come. 

One of her star students, Jillian, said the other day during our advanced mat pilates course, “When people tell me Pilates is easy, I tell them they’re not doing it right and they’d better train with Alli.”  This is true, you will never have an “easy” class if Alli’s teaching it.  There are many a time when I have found myself zoning out and thinking about something else, only to be quickly snapped out of it by Alli’s wrath.

“LEIGH! FIX YOUR SHOULDERS!  What are you doing with your ribs?  Your knees!  YOU KNOW BETTER!”  Oops!  Haha, I just laugh and fix my form.  Afterall, I want to have near perfect form, if a long term goal of mine is to teach Pilates to my patients.  I’ve learned that form, awareness, activation of core musculature, and breathing is key to one’s success in Pilates.  Since balance is also a key concept in Pilates, it’s likely that you’ll fall on your face eventually if you make a habit of snoozing in class.  Because we don’t typically use weights in Pilates, it is important that movements are purposeful to effectively use your own body weight to develop strength and grace during transitions.   

In the 3 months that I’ve been taking Pilates at Poise, Alli and Jacki have really helped me with these concepts not only in class, but in life in general.  Thanks to the mental focus and increased core strength, I’ve been able to carry my new body awareness over to running.  One of my favorite things to do is take the 9:00 AM Pilates class with Alli and follow that with a long training run on a Saturday.  I have had some of my best runs after this, because my core muscles and lateral hips are already activated, providing the perfect foundation for my running posture.

A common misconception about running is that movement is only occurring in the sagittal plane or forward and backward, but mostly forward of course :).  However, running is truly a multidirectional movement, as the trunk must rotate as we jump from one leg to the other, and the pelvis needs to be stabilized to avoid too much rotation and lateral tilt.  For these reasons, it is vitally important that runners have a strengthening program that focuses on core strength to include the lateral muscles of the hips.

I have known this for most of my life thanks to my marathon mama, so I have been regularly going to a gym ever since the dreaded gray sweatpants day.  My gym routine has evolved greatly over the years however, going from using mostly machines, to free weights to mostly my own body weight.  I used the Bosu, the stability ball, a decline ab bench, maybe one set of dumbbells, and an exercise mat at the gym and had a fantastic routine if I may say so myself.  I was going to Bally’s in Beaverton, which had a giant core workout area, and I regularly had it to myself or shared it with the trainers.  It was HUGE!  Then, tragically, Bally’s was taken over by LA Fitness and they quickly closed our gym.  We were shuffled over to a pre-existing LA Fitness in Beaverton, which became overcrowded with both the original LA Fitness members plus the Bally’s folks.  The worst part about this new meat market, er, gym, aside from the excessive grunting, and talk of biceps and protein shakes was the “core” area.  The “core” area was a narrow corridor with way too much equipment that might make you claustrophobic with a meer glance.  As I walked up to the front desk on my first day there, I tried to ignore the stares and grunts from the meat gallery.  What is it about certain gyms??  They all have a different vibe.  Anyway, once at the front desk, I asked, “Is this your only area for core/body weight workouts?”

“What do you mean?  We have a great core area with stability balls, mats and mirrors!  And did you see all of our machines?  I can give you a tutorial if you’d like!”  While this guy was obviously enthusiastic about his job, he didn’t really get it.  The trainers on the other hand, shared my exasperation with the limited amount of space to do body weight exercises.  I heard them complain continuously about the space issue, which got worse as they put old equipment in the corridor, crowding it further.  Needless to say, after I began Pilates, I quit going to the gym.  I quit because I obviously was unhappy with the gym, but I wanted to do an experiment.  Could Pilates be enough?  Could I continue to run injury free with just Pilates?

The answer surprises me.  Not only am I continuing to run injury free, I’d venture to say that I’m running stronger than ever.  I’m practicing Pilates 2-3 times per week in addition to running and eating well, and my core and hips feel and look healthier than ever.  Another bonus was that I lost the pesky 3-4 pounds that I couldn’t seem to shed, no matter how I altered my gym routine.  I’m noticing the biggest difference in the way my legs look and feel.  They’re much lighter as I’m running, and I’m starting to appreciate the way they look!  I suppose we all have our trouble spots that we have a hard time accepting, but with Pilates and a new appreciation for the way my body moves, I have more confidence than I’ve ever had.  A positive body image is so important for overall health and wellbeing, and I believe I have achieved that after searching since my awkward teen years.  The body change is evident to me in the following photos.  The first image is from Eugene Marathon in April 2012, when I was at least 4 pounds heavier.  The second image is from Portland Marathon in October 2012, after I’d been practicing Pilates for a couple of months:

At least I was smiling!!

While running these days, I also notice my mental focus is unwavering.  Today, my husband and I decided to go on a 12 mile trail run in Forest Park.  It was a moody, Portland day, but markedly better weather than yesterday when it poured most of the day.  There is a giant, long hill in Forest Park that my homegirl, Christy, and I are not a fan of.  Mike, on the other hand, practically lusts after this hill.  There’s something wrong with him, he really enjoys sprinting up hills.  Ever since he was hit by a car in April, he has had this unbelievable zest for life and is on a quest to be a FAST runner and triathlete.  We are running the Holiday Half Marathon on December 16th, and he has a goal time of 1:30, which I’m pretty sure he will destroy.  It’s a beautiful thing, really.  Anyway, today when running up the dreaded hill, I honestly felt great.  Sometimes, I felt like I could even hear Alli, “Don’t you quit!”  My focus was on point, and my form was precise and purposeful as I took each switchback up the beast.  As I was applauding my mental stamina thanks to Pilates, I was simulataneously questioning my husband’s mental stability.  A few minutes before, at the bottom of the hill, Mike flew past me foaming at the mouth.

“I’LL SEE YOU AT THE TOP!!!” he shrieked with his head thrown back and a wild ass look in his eyes.  He was like a rabid dog being released from its cage, devouring the hill with a satisfaction of which no sane human would be capable.  I got to the top of the first switchback, and he was gone.  Already flying up beyond where I could see.  What the hell?  I got to the top of the hill, which was our designated meeting spot, and all I saw was Mike’s water bottle sitting on the picnic table.  I calmly waited, unsure if Mike was going to pop out of the trees.  Was he puking from sprinting up the hill?  Peeing?  Pooping?  Anything is possible.  Just when I was about to start searching, he tore up the fire lane where I was standing.  Oh.  Since he apparently didn’t get enough hill from tackling the beast, he decided to go run the firelane hill too, just for kicks.  “THAT WAS GREAT!!”  Oh good lord.

I truly do believe that Pilates and running go together like PB&J.  Pilates is the perfect strengthening routine for runners because of the emphasis on mental awareness/focus and activating the core via flexion, extension,lateral, and rotatory movements.  Poise Studio is a wonderful place that seems to embody the Pilates movement and teachings.  The fantastic instructors there really make a difference.  I would encourage others to seek out a Pilates studio with educated instructors who are certified in the STOTT method.  I promise, if you have a great instructor, Pilates definitely could never be easy.  And even if we never make it to Costa Rica, at least I found Pilates!  But I still want to live in a treehouse…

How to Survive Your Husband Being Hit By a Car Without Soiling Your Running Skirt and the Eugene Marathon

This whole week leading up to the Portland Marathon has been bittersweet.  I have been so pumped up and excited that I’m ready to run the thing fast enough that I pick up a sponsor like Lululemon.  Or Athleta.  Or any sportswear company for that matter.  In fact, I’m going to deck myself out like a sucker in a neon Lululemon racing tank and cow spotted Lululemon shorts just in case they notice and decide that I’m the perfect specimen to parade around in all their clothes.  Ha!  I don’t think they regularly sponsor midpackers but we’re allowed to dream,right? I’m thinking I’m going to sport this outfit but maybe with the neon yellow shirt this time.  This is from the Wildwood Trail Half Marathon back in July:

Anyway, my point is, this week is remniscent of my first marathon back in April 2012  because I wish my husband Mike was going to be running it with me.  When I say with me, I really mean about an hour ahead of me, but you catch my drift.  On April 22, 2012, exactly a week before the Eugene Marathon, Mike decided he was going to go for an “easy” bike ride to “spin his legs.”  About 15 minutes later, I got the call that no one wants to receive:  My husband had been hit by a car.  Luckily, he was smart enough to call me and tell me so that I wouldn’t panic.  So, I did what any wife would do.  I got off the phone, and had a full blown PANIC ATTACK! 

After I gathered myself enough to operate a vehicle, I drove to the scene of the accident where I saw a tiny boy (the driver was 16 years old) who looked like he might also be having a panic attack.  I was so angry with him at that moment that I had tears streaming down my cheeks and I got out of the car and stared him down.  This, by the way, did no one any good at all.   In fact, he’s probably still having nightmares about the Devil Lady with Horns who tried to curse him that day.  After that brief, joyous moment, I ran over to Mike and found him with a worthless ice pack on his knee that was already lukewarm.  But he was ALIVE!  I was a little worried though, because he wasn’t making any sense at all.  His first words were, “Well, this may slow me down a little bit at the marathon next weekend.”  What??  He couldn’t bear weight on his left leg, it was growing in size by the second, and he couldn’t even bend it to get in the car to go to the ER.  I didn’t want to ruin his day any more, so I quietly agreed with him.  Secretly, I was reminding myself to have them check his head in the ER.

After 6 hours in the ER, Mike had an Xray, a couple of pain pills, some killer road rash, and a giant knee immobilizer for his giant knee.  I should note that no one checked his head or checked for internal injuries.  We got him home around 10:30 or so, and he decided that he was going to take an ice bath to try to get the swelling down.  About 10 minutes later, I was helping him out of the tub because he couldn’t bear weight on the leg and things started going downhill.

 First, Mike wants me to be sure to include the fact that I was checking out his bod, so I didn’t notice right away how his face was quickly losing color.  We sat him down on the toilet lid to get dried off, when all of the sudden, Mike was gone.  Lifeless, like a rag doll.  And then there were the convulsions and twitches that you never want to see happening to a loved one.  PANIC ATTACK!!  Thoughts of internal injuries, head injuries, and other terrible thoughts were flooding my mind.  I quickly drug him down onto the floor and put his feet up on the toilet seat.  Apparently, adrenaline can make you pretty strong…  I ran out of the room in search for my phone, called 911 and told them my dilemma.  By the time I got back into the bathroom, he was awake!  So much so, that he’d actually gotten himself back into sitting on the toilet.  Apparently, when I ran to get my phone, he woke up, realized he was on the floor, and climbed back onto the seat so that I wouldn’t worry.  He was trying to tell me he was fine, but he was slurring his words and still looked like a ghost, so I told the ambulance to come take him away. 

The ambulance crew arrived and I already had him back down on the floor in the living room compulsively taking his blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen sats.  I saw the look when they walked in, you know, the subtle exchange between medical personnel that says, “This lady is batshit crazy.”  They slapped an EKG on him and were whispering to each other about ST segment elevation, etc etc. 

“WHAT?!”  Oops, I let batshit crazy lady come out.  ST segment elevation can be a sign of a number of medical issues, but the one that was sticking out in my mind was MI, also known as a heart attack.  Based on their leads, the ambulance drivers were suggesting acute pericarditis, also known as swelling in the sac surrounding the heart.  They swept him off, back to the ER.  I had a moment in the house to gather myself and some warmer clothes for Mike, considering he’d just come out of the ice bath.

When I arrived at the ER again, I found Mike hooked up to yet another EKG.  This one was not showing ST segment elevation or any other abnormalities except for Mike’s usual bradycardia also known as “slow ass heart rate.”  Mike has a resting heart rate that averages around 40 bpm,which qualifies him as superhuman.  After another 4-5 hours, Mike was diagnosed as having a fainting spell and sent home again.  Thanks to pain pills and exhaustion, Mike slept fairly well that night.  Unfortunately, his batshit crazy wife stayed up half the night checking to be sure he was still breathing.

The next week was hard.  One of the hardest weeks of my life.  I was still scared something else was going to happen to him, I was scared I wasn’t doing a good job caring for him, and I was terrified of what was to come with his knee and other orthopedic injuries.  Mike is an incredible athlete, so I thought he might never get back out there.  However, please remember that my sport is running, and when runners get hurt we think that we will never run again.  Oh the drama!

My parents came in town the next weekend for the marathon.  My marathon mommy was planning to run the second half of it with me.  Such a badass!  It was nice to have family around for the marathon weekend, what an experience that was!  Mom always said she would come and run it with me if I ever actually succeeded, hell I’d only been trying to run one for 6 years.  Thanks to minimalist running, I ran a half marathon within 5 months of wearing those cray cray toe shoes.  I hadn’t run over 10 miles since the My Hip is Going to Fall Off Disease incident, which was 5 years prior to beginning to wear Vibram Five Fingers.  More about VFF’s and how to begin running in them in future posts.

The marathon was amazing.  Well, mostly.  I had to pee just about every porta-potty stop, and waited at least 3 minutes for one.  I guess I was excited about the race and my body’s response was PEE EVERY 5 MINUTES!  I also got choked up around mile 22 thinking about how Mike would probably be finishing the race if he was running.  My mom saw it happening (as mommys usually do) and redirected me so that I wouldn’t totally lose it and go into PANIC ATTACK mode again.  I don’t think I hit the infamous “wall” except for maybe at mile 25.  I literally wasn’t sure if I was going to finish the race.  One mile seemed like a holy eternity away, but luckily the last half mile was inundated with good natured folks cheering us on.  Then there was that lady again, who somehow was in three separate spots on the course, holding up a sign that said “Smile, you’re fresh as a daisy!”  Not only was she holding up the sign, but she was saying it over and over again with a huge smile on her face.  How do you not love that lady?  I wanted to tell her she saved my life!

Crossing the finish line was very surreal.  My mom was there and it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.  Not to mention, the Eugene Marathon finish is on the famous Hayward Field, the ol’ stomping ground for Steve Prefontaine.  Show love.  I finished under 4 hours, which was my secret goal.  My public goal was to drag myself willing or unwilling across the finish, dead or alive.  My time was 3 hours, 58 minutes something or other.  I’m convinced if I didn’t have to pee so many times, I would’ve come in a few minutes prior.  For the upcoming Portland Marathon, maybe I’ll take my co-worker Becky’s joking advice from this morning and just pee myself.  Just kidding! Maybe. 

Despite Mike’s leg continuously swelling during the long hours that I was out running, he cheered me on to the very finish.  Thanks to crutches from a local Portland company, Keen, and our wonderful co-worker Farah, Mike was looking pretty fly with his black cadillac crutches and knee brace.  Here are some pictures of us at the marathon:

So what’s the most important thing we learned from this experience?  We are incredibly lucky.  Let me count the ways, for real. 

1. Mike is alive and well and is training again.  He just destroyed the Portland Triathlon.  And he just went surfing last weekend. 

2. Mike got hit by that car, but the sweet, sweet mother and her 3 babies crossing the road were spared.  She was our guardian angel who was there right when the accident happened to console him and prevent him from trying to get up when he was disoriented.

3. We understand that there is a bigger reason this happened.  Because of this, we could not be more in love.  We also appreciate every day just how fragile our bodies are and have learned what we can do to speed the healing process.  We truly believe that the things Mike ate and how he took care of himself after the accident are directly related to his superhuman healing capabilities.  More about healing foods in posts to come.

4.  We have a new appreciation for our patients and the caregivers who care for them.  Those relationships are so precious and so incredibly difficult at the same time.

This has certainly been a rockin’ year for us, but we have big plans for 2013.  Mike is making a comeback!  Now if I can only catch up…