Category Archives: Recovery

Enforced Rest (Or, Fuck! My Back!)

The bad news is, my back’s been hurting for a bit. I’m not sure what exactly brought it on; overtraining (which doesn’t seem likely, since I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary), oversitting (which seems a bit more probable, since I’ve been at my fucking computer a lot lately, and the time I had some lower back pain before was also almost undoubtedly chair-related), or something else. So I’ve had to take the week mostly off of workouts. I did one on Monday, which was a bad idea, and I’ve done some limited running as well. The first run went fine but the second I took a step 3K in and exponentially increased pain that had been getting a lot better. So I’m on a hard rest for a little while at least.

I’ll admit that it’s traumatizing. Doesn’t my back know that I’ve got two races in May that I’m not really ready for? At this rate, I’m not even going to have the endurance to run the full things, which would be an embarrassing step backward from last year, where despite failing three obstacles I did at least keep a good running pace.

Of course, that’s stupid. The one month and three weeks left before the first race is plenty of time to rebuild my running endurance—I’m nearly to 5K now, and my plan was to be there at the end of the month. My pace is way slower than last year, but I’ve also been making an effort not to push the pace yet. So my brain knows that’s probably okay, even if it makes me feel lousy to be going a full minute and a half per mile slower than my (obstacleless) 5K race pace last fall.

My weight—probably the biggest impediment to completing two of the obstacles I failed last year—isn’t where I want it to be, but it’s getting lower. This week has actually been a bit of a boon to that; since I haven’t been working out, I’ve been more careful about the food that goes in my mouth. I’ve lost 12 pounds in 4 days, which feels really good for a half an instant, and then scary for a while, and then I look back and realize that I had put on 10 pounds in the 3 days immediately before, and I remember, oh yeah, statistical noise that’s the result of a weekend of overeating working its way out of my system.

It probably isn’t bad to have a week off anyhow, from time to time. So perhaps this is a blessing.

No, it really isn’t. Back pain is, you know, pain, and outside of the limited cases where obstacle course racers deliberately expose themselves to pain in the pursuit of pleasure, pain is bad.

But let’s try to rip some positive out of it. Here’s how I’ve been working to relieve said pain, with their results. (Note that, in accordance with the rules of this blog, I’m allowed to lie—and I most definitely am, though only in limited cases and not throughout.)

Foam rolling. I have to admit, even though I hear people talking about how great foam rolling is, I have yet to notice any great benefit from it. Still, it’s a low-investment kind of thing—plop The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix (he says as if he’d seen the show prior to yesterday) and it costs basically 0 time, so nothing lost.

Aleve. Or was it Wal-eeve? Cost-Skeev? AlTarg? Whatever it was, hooray for generic medication. This seemed to have a bit of benefit, though it didn’t solve things.

A Swiss ball. My thought was to try this as a chair, the way it was a big trend a few years ago. Supposedly great for your back, although probably not actually. But what the heck. Unfortunately, like most things from Sports Authority, the Swiss ball was a disaster.

First off, not one but two salespeople tried to convince me to buy a 12-month warrantee for just an extra $4, which apparently would protect me against leakage. (I assume of the ball, rather than my own, although there are probably some amusing legal proceedings that try to distinguish the two.)

Then, I get it home and inflate it, maybe. Well, the first time I definitely didn’t inflate it fully. See, inflatable things and being a fat boy don’t really go well together; there’s always the expectation that the inflatable thing will explode under the weight of the fat boy. And my weight is under the maximum recommended, but still, it’s in my mind.

So I started by under-inflating it a bit to try to reduce the tension felt by that poor rubber bladder under my my massive ass. That didn’t work, though; I wound up sitting about three centimeters off the ground, completely immobilized with my hands and legs sticking up like I was a squirrel who had somehow become trapped in a venus flytrap. I managed to escape by rolling over to all fours (now looking like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Moron, with a red plastic shell), and shaking my ass like it was a golden retriever’s face. (And the rest of me was the rest of the golden retriever—I’m definitely not advocating shaking the face of a golden retriever or any other creature that isn’t you!)

Anyhow, I tried inflating it a bit more after that. The pump comes with what it claims is a guide—it’s a tape with holes at both ends, and you stick the pump through it, and wrap the tape around the ball, and when the ball is the same size as the tape the ball is full of air. Well, bullshit. I inflated the ball until the rubber was completely taut, no give at all when I pressed it, and the tape still had a foot of slack in it. So I plugged the ball, and very gingerly sat down. That lasted for about a minute—the Swiss ball was not a comfortable chair at all.

Oh yeah, and then it burst. Sorry, downstairs neighbors.

Epsom Salt bath. I’ve written about this before, and I didn’t feel anything great this time either. Perhaps a bit of soothing just from soaking in warm water. But I also feel bad about the waste of using a bath rather than a shower, and I also get some massive anxiety—I distracted myself by reading through the subscription of Bicycling magazine that I got free when I bought my bike last year, but there wasn’t much I was actually interested in, and when I was done the appeal of just sitting in a too-small bathtub looking at faucets was far less intense than the thought that maybe I ought to be writing about the anxiety I was feeling when I was just sitting in a too-small bathtub looking at faucets.

Icy Hot. Yep, I took a major leap towards being old with that one. I even sprang for the real stuff, not the generic, because I wanted to be absolutely sure that the icy would dull the pain, and the hot would relax it away. I learned that Icy Hot is weird. There’s the initial smell, which isn’t exactly unpleasant, but it is a mix of menthol, liquorice, and cumin that shouldn’t exist. You apply it, and it’s not exactly icy when it goes on. More lotiony, with a bit of a tingle. Like my back had eaten one of those pufferfish that’s deadly poison if you prepare it wrong. The hot part, however, is definitely hot, like my back was being barbequed. After a little while, that subsided a bit, and it wasn’t unpleasant. All things considered, I feel like that treatment did help a bit. Just don’t pee or floss after application.

Chair switching. I don’t have a lot of sitting options in my apartment, although I do have one of those uncomfortable folding metal chairs that I’ve been switching into. I’ve also been working mobilely, which I can sometimes do, heading to a cafe or a library. All of that definitely helped, even the library—it’s got these wooden chairs with just a narrow back support down the middle that normally I find really uncomfortable, but today it’s been just what the doctor ordered.

Rest. As in, when I haven’t been working, I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed—reading, or working on my laptop, or whatnot. That’s probably been the best remedy. It’s also not funny. Let’s spice it up by saying that one day my dog got irritated that I wasn’t paying him enough attention, so he took revenge by peeing in my bed, only I didn’t notice it until I laid down and found that my back, buttocks, and upper legs were now dampened by a yellow liquid that spelled out “Why don’t you love me?” in distressingly neat cursive.

So that’s been most of my week. My recommendation: Get rid of your back altogether. It’ll make life a lot simpler.


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Trapped in the Doldrums

The past week has been rough. And yet I’m coming out of it, I think, much better than I went in.

It’s been miserably cold in Chicago for most of the week, which likely contributed to me getting a cold starting on Wednesday. It’s weird getting sick like that; it’s generally pretty minor—just some coughing and congestion—but it lingers. I’m feeling much better now but there’s a decent chance I’ll still be feeling some after-effects next weekend.

I realized today that sickness tends to beget sickness, and I think it’s because I try to over-rest it. I’m only an average sleeper in the best of times; I can easily have a lousy night of sleep here and there even when I feel fine. But this week, both Wednesday and Thursday I didn’t sleep well, and I think it’s more that I was trying to rest so I didn’t do much all day either of those days—so come bedtime I really wasn’t tired. Which meant that I didn’t improve much overnight, so I needed to rest the next day, and so on. I did a light workout Friday, and it seemed to make a big difference.

The late-winter cold snap contributed to keeping me inside, and it feels worse now both because it’s been like that for most of the past few months, and because we’re at the point where it feels like it should be letting up (but it isn’t). It has clarified something for me: I hate where I live. There is almost nothing public around—you have to go half a mile to hit something that isn’t a convenience store or gas station. In the summer and fall, it’s fine—I’m happy to walk or bike. But when it’s 0 degrees out, that loses its appeal. Long story short, it’s clear that when my lease is up I shall be moving.

The other moment of clarity came Wednesday morning when one of my bosses decided to complain about how I wasn’t adequately following an instruction given six months ago. (I was instead following a different, contradictory instruction given to me.) Combined with feeling lousy, this just reminded me of what a former boss of mine said: I may be working for someone else, but really, I should be working for myself.

So the positive that comes out of it is focus: I got the reminder that—despite the miserable rigamarole of job-hunting—my situation is not permanent and that I need to channel my anger about job-hunting (and my poor fit with my current job) in a productive way. Which carries through to my fitness goals as well—even though being ill and not terribly eager to spread germs among my co-work-outers made it harder to take productive action on that one. At least weight-wise, I didn’t lose any significant ground, and while I certainly felt weak today, I think that’s just a symptom that will disappear as I return to a regular schedule.

So I come out of this week a bit stuffy in the nose and a lot ready to make things happen. Perhaps I’m not trapped in doldrums after all. It’s possible that I’m just coiling them neatly into a spring that will shoot me at unheard-of speeds as soon as I release it.


That’s something of a mixed metaphor, no? It assumes that doldrums not only have a physical form—and yes, I was envisioning The Phantom Tollbooth—but that they also have the necessary mix of elasticity and stiffness. So maybe don’t try to turn this into an inspirational Facebook meme.

P.S. Exciting news on the #CardamomWatch front: I used 3/4 of a teaspoon in some split pea soup. I can’t really detect the result.

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My Great Big Epsom Salt Recovery Adventure

In Episode 36 of the Getting Dirty Podcast, Laurie recommended bathing in Epsom salts for recovery.

Recently, I’ve been feeling a bit sorer than usual, hopefully the result of some tough workouts combined with relatively poor sleep related to a pretty significant schedule earlification this week, related to a freelance gig I’ll be doing this week. So, I figured I’d try it.

Step one: Purchase Epsom salts. This wasn’t difficult, fortunately—while the local CVS is a pretty terrible place where nothing is in a logical place and none of the employees know where anything is—but I managed to find it in the third place I checked. (Between the musical greeting cards and the scented douche, and yes, I’m disturbed that I figured that out.)

Epsom salt bag

See! Gardening and Saline Laxative!

I picked the lavender-scented version, not because I particularly like lavender (I’m not sure what lavender smells like, actually) but because the plain version promised that it was good for reducing stiffness and soreness in joints, as a saline laxative, and for gardening. That’s just a bit too disturbing a combination of functions. It’s like buying a weedwhacker that can also play MP3s and babysit.

I got the Epsom salts home to discover a fairly serious problem. I’ve never taken a bath in my apartment, just showers, so I didn’t realize that the tub doesn’t actually have a stopper. But having spent $4.99 or something on magnesium sulfate, I wouldn’t let that deter me.

This plate didn’t successfully prevent the water from flowing down the drain.

Miniature beer glass

In a pinch, this glass makes a terrible bathtub stopper

But fortunately, several years ago I was at a rehearsal for my then-improv team, which happened to take place in the generally vacant downstairs room of a bar. When rehearsal was over, we climbed the stairs to discover that the bar was hosting a promotional event where several young ladies were distributing samples of Guinness, Harp, and Smithwick’s. They were also giving out small little glasses, slightly too big for a shot but far too small for a pint, and for some reason I kept one of these glasses for several years and a move.

Since it’s unlikely that I’m ever going to drink from this glass, I figured there was little harm to trying to use it as a stopper. And it sort of worked. I mean, I had to hold it in place while filling the tub, because the drain is right underneath the faucet and the flow would knock the glass out of place, so that was a bit stressful, but what is an Epsom salt bath if not stress-inducing?

While the tub was filling, I started hearing some frantic pounding, which made me even more nervous. One of the things the building manager was really bizarrely intense about when I moved in was about all of the horrifying disasters that could occur if you overflow the bathtubs. Black mold, breaking through the floors, China syndrome. Looking back, I have a feeling it’s just that her pa done got shot by an overfilled bathtub when she was just a young ‘un. So upon hearing the pounding, I was concerned that a downstairs neighbor was trying to alert me that the two inches of water in my tub had somehow turned into a tsunami in his bathroom. (Fortunately it was just construction in the apartment upstairs.)


Like this, only with legs. “Legs Akimbo bathtub” isn’t a Google search I’m willing to make.

So I continued filling, and holding the glass in place even though doing so meant that I kind of had to have my legs up and akimbo since there wasn’t anyplace else to put them. That’s okay, though. Legs up and akimbo is a good position for a naked man.

Well, for a little while. Eventually I got bored and decided, that’s full enough. The tub didn’t really have that much water in it, but I displace a bit of water, so if I carefully did some really uncomfortable gymnastic contortionism I could have half of my body decently submerged for a little while, at least until the other half started spasming from the unnatural position it was being held in while my arm was still reaching down to hold the glass in place.

Having achieved this position, I set about to the extremely stressful task of relaxing. It went sort of okay. The bathtub isn’t really long enough for me to be in all at once, so I had to keep shifting back and forth, letting my torso soak and then my legs.

You know, soaking in a bathtub really doesn’t make for a riveting story, so let’s spice it up by claiming that right at that point, alien invaders from the alien world Alienalia stormed into my bathroom declaring that I had offended their leader and I should prepare to die. Don’t worry, I didn’t. With incredible bravery and quick thinking, I grabbed the stopper-glass, leapt out of the bathtub and slid on my wet feet across the tile floor, slammed the glass along the toilet lid on the way, and in one quick motion used the sharp shard to decapitate my attackers.

Of course, with only an alien-blood-covered fragment of glass left to block my drain, that pretty much meant the Epsom salt bath recovery experiment was over. How did it go? It’s hard to say. It certainly didn’t hurt anything, but I’m not really good at detecting minor soothings, which is what the Epsom salts claim to do. There was no moment where I said “Aha! All of my aches are cured!” I can’t say that I felt any differently in the morning either—but again, I’m pretty bad at telling.

Nevertheless, due to the minimal impact, and the hassle of plugging the drain, and the fundamental problems with trying to Tetris myself into a bathtub that’s smaller than me, I doubt I’m going to try it again.

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