Since last writing much has changed in my life. I'm not sure where to begin, but this is as good as anywhere. Moving to Connecticut was a daunting decision from Southern Oregon. Before getting on a plane to fly to Philadelphia I had never set foot in the northeast. I have now visited New York, Philadelphia and Vermont. I was immensely proud of my partner for being admitted into Yale School of Nursing and the opportunity to receive a high quality education with amazing peers. Nonetheless, we both still feel that what we always believed remains true - we love the mountain west, and will return there in several years. It is stupefying to think there are no Wilderness areas in this entire state, no BLM or National Forest roads to train on. But, I think I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit.
August 2015. Medford, OR. 8 months into stress fracture recovery.
Building a mountain bike trail through the poison oak laden hills of Gold River, Oregon may have been a noble thing to do. My job as the Jackson County Conservation Corps Crew Leader was exhilarating. Hard and interesting physical work outside with young impressionable students who need cash, self esteem and something on their resume. What's not to like? Well, the fact that we had to build a trail through a poison oak forest. That was not to like. To make it worse most of the crew did not get poison oak, so I didn't even have much company through my suffering. A crew member who did get poison oak didn't show up for a few days. I couldn't blame him, if I wasn't in charge I wouldn't have shown up to that site again for anything.
In the doctors office I was met by a man who understood my problem. In order to obtain my Masters of Science in Education degree, I needed to take six online prerequisite courses and two standardized tests as well as gain admission into the University of New Haven. When I got poison oak, I was leading Crew in the day and doing classes at night. I told the doctor, "I have three tests to take in the following eight days and I don't have time for this." He understood the situation and went along with giving me the heavenly corticosteriods.
The day after I felt so rejuvenated, I actually had a decent run into Ashland's trail system. It was one of the first long runs since my injury. My body was covered layer upon layer in pink gooey calamine lotion, covering my textured rashes. I must have resembled a rattlesnake about to shed it's outer skin. Luckily I didn't cause any heart attacks. Even better, I caught an orange sunset out over the Rogue valley and stained my fingers purple with the juice of ripe blackberries.
While working Crew for a few months I had the chance to live in Ashland, the regions' trail running mecca. I used the Southern Oregon University gym to build strength in my body and mind. I also returned to my roots and ran stairs, a lot of stairs. The stadium and I became friends. Often after Crew and before hammering out College Algebra problem sets I would raise my heart rate to something reminiscent of my former self.
The Science of Recovery
I should interject here. It is true that your skin synthesizes vitamin D. However, if you live above latitude 37 degrees north or below 37 degrees south, you will be unable to receive enough UV radiation from the sun during the winter months to produce vitamin D, even if you absorb at midday. Moreover, factors like cloud cover, pollution and your age all influence how much UV actually reaches your skin (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Time_for_more_vitamin_D).
To compensate for that lack of sunshine it is recommended that you eat fish twice a week. I do not, but I do take cod liver oil daily. I wish I had been doing this in 2014, but when you live on a shoestring budget and everything seems to be going fine hindsight is 10/20 (I know that's not a saying, but it indicates sharper vision so go figure). I take 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin D a day in fish oil. The daily recommended value is 600 IU. To take more than that is probably detrimental to your health. If anyone recommends 5,000-10,000 IUs of vitamin D a day they are at best dangerously ill-informed and at worst have an incentive to profit from a deterioration of your health. For a complete understanding of the issue I HIGHLY recommend this recent documentary by The New York Times and Frontline.
I now suspect that my December stress fracture was due in part to a lack of vitamin D consumption and production through the fall. As vitamin D became harder to produce, and as I absorbed less calcium from my diet, I simultaneously increased my running volume. I suspect my body was unable to repair the stress sustained from running. In addition to those factors, as my schedule became busier I abstained from the weight training, which would have benefited my skeletal system with testosterone production and impact-free bone stimulus. When the sun comes back out in the spring and summer, and my body can actually produce all of the vitamin D it needs, I will tuck my fish oil away until the fall.
February 2016. New Haven, CT. 14 months into stress fracture recovery.
The course profile was challenging. In first mile and a half we gained 187ft in elevation. The rhythm of African drums met us following the first mile. Despite the recent snowfall the roads were mostly dry and we were able to let ourselves go on the downhill. I ended up finishing in 4th with a time of 17:09, which I am quite proud of. With a weaker will and without my finishing kick it easily could have been 5th place. The time is some 42 seconds slower than my personal best, however taking into account the hill, and the lack of consistency in my training I consider the result to be fantastic. It also proves that cross training can keep you in pretty good shape. In one months time I am running a flat fast 5k which will be a more easily measurable gauge of my fitness. I'm excited to attack the future!
On a final note, it is difficult for me to determine what volume of running is truly safe is for me. I believe that 60 miles a week is certainly conservative. Ten months after my injury I ran 13 miles, and could still feel pain occasionally in my right tibia. I also felt as if I had run 23 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The furthest I've run since my injury has been 15 miles. I don't regret the aggressive nature with which I entered the sport. But I have two great fears in running. One is that I will not be able to achieve what my body is capable of because of the constraints of work, family and other responsibilities. The other, greater fear is that my bone density is not good enough to support the high volume training which is required to be a truly competitive runner. If the latter ends up being the case, at least I know that I will have the credentials, interests and abilities to be a dedicated teacher.