Woke up an optimist

With Nike coach Maggie in Trafalgar Square. Still standing and smiling after my hamstring strain.

With Nike coach Maggie in Trafalgar Square. Still standing and smiling after my hamstring strain.

My race in Jamaica on December 5 is one of the 100s of marathons happening every year all over the world for regular-people runners like me. So if I skip it there will be another one around the corner. Maybe not in Negril but probably in some other beautiful place.

But when I heard, and then felt, my left hamstring snap on Friday morning during my run with the Nike Run Club in London, I wanted to know right away whether I could heal in 3 weeks.

This happened 5 days after my 4-hour timed run, where I hit 20 miles, and a day after an easy 4-mile recovery run in London. I had warmed up in my hotel room, walked the few blocks to the Nike store, and joined the group for some stretching and warming exercises. The workout was advertised as a train-to-run session that had my name all over it.

In truth I didn’t plan to check out the Nike Run Club during my theater tour with the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. It was the sign in Nike’s window when we arrived too early to check in to our hotel room and were searching for a pho place that first caught my attention.

We do sports bra fittings.

Two days after my timed run, which was an otherwise thrilling experience, I had ridiculous pain in my pecs and upper chest. Kevin, my physical therapist, felt comfortable ruling out any cardiac issues, and suggested I talk to Ann, my running coach, to see what if anything she might have to say about my sports bra, etc.

I was able to get Ann on the phone and she said she thought my pec pain was from holding up my arms for 4 hours, possibly higher than normal since I use a fuel belt during longer runs.  Because I'm swinging my arms above the water bottles around my waist, Ann suggested I consider adding weighted arm swings to my strengthening regimen.

I asked her about my sports bra, and she seemed fine with what I typically wear.

Nevertheless, Kevin's seriously smart so now that he put the issue out there, when I saw the bra fitting sign in the Nike window, I had to go in.

The experience was not much different from getting fitted for running shoes at Road Runner Sports in Rockville. A sports bra fitting specialist helped me select a variety of bras, based on my size, and then observed me wearing them as I exercised. No video though.

The fitter mentioned that you need to toss your running bra after about 6 months. Although I have several, I’ve had them all for about 18.

We settled on the Nike Pro Fierce, which has molded, compression cups and a soft seam to prevent chafing. Yeah I know. Chafing. And not as in chafing dish.

Then she told me about the early morning run on Friday. 

How cool would that be? Just do it.

I didn’t have to be back at the hotel until 9:30 am for coffee and conversation with Chris Campbell, literary manager of The Royal Court theater where we saw Plaques and Tangles, a wrenching play about Alzheimer’s. The workout was from 7:30 – 8:30. I'd even have time for a shower.

I was running side by side with one of the Nike pacers when the hamstring snapped. I was running hard (later I checked my app and saw I was at a 10-minute mile pace, which is fast for me) so I could keep up with the group, and although I was aware I was running hard, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I don’t remember what we were talking about but we were definitely chatting.

I immediately went down. It turns out the pacer is a paramedic and a coach so he started observing me and asking me a lot of questions.

The pain was stunning. A little like shock and awe. At first I think he thought this was going to be bad but after a few minutes he told me I was ok.

“How do you know?”

“You’re standing and you’re smiling.”

Standing and smiling.  I’m ok.

We started walking to the park, very, very slowly.

“When’s your race?”

“December 5.”

“Well you were about to taper anyway, right?"

After the workout, another coach, Maggie, walked with me back to the Nike store and talked a little about her journey. Now an ultrarunner but still fairly new to running, she told me about the time she injured one of the major muscles in her ankle 3 weeks before a race.

Maggie kept my spirits up with her encouraging words and good advice and then we stopped for a photo at the fountain at Trafalgar Square.

Back at Nike, the paramedic, Maggie, and Becs, the group’s trainer, offered helpful suggestions, including contacting my “physio.” Until I returned home and was able to see Kevin, they recommended RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), baths with magnesium flakes, and massaging my leg with magnesium oil. They encouraged walking as long as it was not too painful.

As much as I read about running and know how stupid and counterproductive it is to start your run fast, that's what I did.

Even now I feel like an idiot.

I emailed Sue James, my nutritionist, who advised eating 40 grams of protein at every meal. That is a lot of food, protein or otherwise. I’m taking her advice but if it turns out I do heal in time to run in Jamaica I'm sure I'll be rolling into Negril thicker everywhere and possibly with saggy boobs.

Here's what 40 grams of protein looks like for breakfast: 2 eggs, 2 egg whites, greek yogurt with berries. I saved the yogurt to  have around 10 am at work. I also need to hydrate more in order to synthesize all that protein. Lately I'm adding the juice of half a lemon, 1 1/2 teas. agave, and a handful of mint to my water bottle. My afternoon snack is now a cup of edamame and a protein shake. Lunch  is a kale salad with a grilled chicken breast and tart cherries. Dinner is quinoa with grilled salmon.

Here's what 40 grams of protein looks like for breakfast: 2 eggs, 2 egg whites, greek yogurt with berries. I saved the yogurt to  have around 10 am at work. I also need to hydrate more in order to synthesize all that protein. Lately I'm adding the juice of half a lemon, 1 1/2 teas. agave, and a handful of mint to my water bottle. My afternoon snack is now a cup of edamame and a protein shake. Lunch  is a kale salad with a grilled chicken breast and tart cherries. Dinner is quinoa with grilled salmon.

Yesterday I saw Dr. Magur at Washington Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, who’s pretty convinced there isn’t any muscle that’s pulled away from the bone, and he prescribed tons of PT, including iontophoresis, which uses electricity to pass ionizable drugs into the skin to decrease inflammation. He also prescribed ultrasound, soft tissue work, and electrical stimulation. I’m seeing him again on Monday and that’s when we’ll evaluate whether I can run.

Here’s how I feel about the experience.

My 4-hour timed run gave me so much confidence, and I was finally feeling ready to complete 26 miles. Now I know if I am able to run in Jamaica it will not be an easy or relaxed run, and I’ll feel kind of beat up, which is how I feel today. Lots of runners deal with hamstring issues so now I’m one of them.

But I’m standing and I’m smiling. And back in the pool. Now's a good time for cross training, Ann pointed out, when I told her what happened. She's an optimist, too. I'd been too traumatized to swim since my Tri experience in September, so having a reason to get back at it was good this morning.

Nancy, my seriously upbeat trainer, said we can focus on seated upper body and core work.

I am so grateful for the experience of working out with the Nike Run Club in London and thankful for the care and intelligence the coaches took in assessing my situation and offering excellent advice. I consider the group part of my Intentional Community, and I hope to have the opportunity to train with them again.


During the intermission of Dinner with Saddam at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London on Friday night after my hamstring strain I was having a debate with myself about whether the political farce was in fact dated. I had been a big fan of the Axis of Evil comedy troupe when it first toured Washington several years ago even as the 9/11 attacks still felt raw. The group managed to poke fun at everyone – particularly Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Iranians – without offending anyone. I think they did this by finding the humor in our shared humanity.

Dinner with Saddam, for all its comic timing, managed to offend everyone and leave the audience weighed down with a sense of hopelessness. The plot is based on Saddam’s real-life practice on the eve of the Iraq war in 2003 of turning up for dinner at people’s homes unannounced. One of the biggest problems with the play, for me, was that Saddam was such an egotistical and maniacal sadist that despite the moments of hilarious slapstick there really wasn’t anything truly funny going on. 

At the end of the second act, when Saddam finally shows up for dinner and the play finally ends, I turned on my phone, and it practically jumped out of my bag. The breaking news alerts and tweets as the terrorist attacks were still under way in Paris continued as the group of us from the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company traveled by taxi through the streets of London to our hotel.

The taxi driver had his radio tuned to the BBC, which we had toured the day before. The images in my head raced from the cafes and theaters of Paris, which I pictured like the ones just outside my window, to the BBC’s enormous newsroom where I imagined reporters racing into the building to cover the emerging story, abruptly leaving their family dinner tables and Friday night gatherings.

What a horrific night to be in Europe. Or Beirut a few days earlier. Or anywhere.

Saddam’s been dead for 9 years.  Hitler’s been dead for 70 years.  And where are we?

We’ve still got entire populations of decent, ordinary, innocent people governed by mentally ill dictators and cities seemingly full of young, hopeless individuals capable of being brainwashed into pursuing suicide bombing as a profession.

On Saturday night, during our discussion of Treasure, performed at the Finborough Theater, one of London’s pub theaters, and Farinelli and the King, which is playing in the West End, Howard Shalwitz, Woolly’s artistic director, pointed out the great role the arts played in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

Amid the worldwide politics of counterterrorism, can we compose music that moves the soul or produce plays that find audiences willing to open their minds? To find a reason to live in this world? As a civilized society what else can we do? Will it make a difference?

The politics of the Middle East are extraordinarily complex, I know that, and many families in Iraq and elsewhere don’t have any more food to put on their tables, if they have a table, than the family chosen to serve dinner to Saddam.

But turning to suicide bombings and attacks?

During the day on Friday I was having a conversation with two women on the trip about my morning experience with the Nike Run Club when one of them said the same thing a lot of nonrunners tell me when we talk about fitness.

“The only time you’ll find me running is if I’m being chased.”

Who knows whether you’re better off running into the streets in the middle of a terrorist attack or remaining still. And of course not everyone needs or even wants to run to stay in shape. In fact both of these women have had a serious exercise regimen for years and look fabulous.

Yet I can’t think of any situation in life, including being the random target of a terrorist, where having some level of fitness isn’t absolutely critical. If we’re not running away from an attacker we still may need to be physically strong enough to keep ourselves together mentally.

We need mobility yet we also need to be able to be comfortable being still.

We need to find a way to stop these terror plots. And reach into the minds of young people and give them a reason to want to live in the here and now.

See you next time.