Thursday, April 25, 2013

Acupuncture Made Me Levitate and Grow A Third Eye (Oh Yeah, and Cured My Headache and Healed My Knee)

It all started with a Groupon. Don't so many interesting adventures start that way these days?

Two weeks ago I was levitating on an acupuncture table, taking in the entire universe through a giant new purple rotating third eye in my forehead, and this weekend I was racing a triathlon faster than I should've been able to.

I was going to start the blog off this week by writing up a race report about the Heart of the Valley Sprint Tri (short story: I had a great race!) but I think leading up to it, I need to tell you about some pretty interesting things that happened in my quest to arrive at the starting line healthy and whole.

You all know about my knee injury leading from the bike problems in my build-up to Ironman Coeur d'Alene last year, how I didn't run for two months before the race, and then was unable to do any other triathlons last year. Since then I have done everything under the sun to rehab my knee: physical therapy, taking months off of running, pool running and elliptical machines, and finally a cautious return to soft-surface trails only. Eventually, I had worked up to running 15 - 18 miles a week, but anytime I pushed the pace, the mileage, or ran too much on pavement, the knee started to hurt again.

Enter the Groupon. For Acupuncture. Yeah, someone sticking needles in you TO HEAL YOU. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know. But several of my friends have had good results, including one who was healed from a knee injury. And to be honest, the more I learn about the energy that swirls in the human body, the more I understand that we really are just scratching the surface of understanding it. I had already had one experience with acu-stim (acupuncture with electricity instead of needles) where my chiropractor healed my shoulder by acu-stimming my ankle and unlocking this wild energy flow. So hey, I'm game to try it, right?

I had two treatments on my Groupon, and so I figured with the first triathlon of the season coming up, I would be running hard and running on pavement. It's time to get this knee up to full health. So I booked an appointment with Yumiko Freeman at Eugene Family Acupuncture. Going into the appointment, I had something unusual happen: I got a headache. This is rare for me and usually limited to the occasional spring allergy attack. But this one had lasted for three days (unheard of), and was radiating up from my neck and nowhere near my sinuses. I decided to ask if she could do something about that as well.

The first treatment was pretty straightforward. She did a long Q&A and I really felt like she listened to and understood the problems I was having with my knee, and also the headache. One cool thing is that, like my experience with the acu-stim previously, I could literally feel the energy unlocking when she put the needles in. Some had no effect, but some set forth these wild electric currents coursing up and down my leg. Cool. Except then I started to cry - not like wracking sobs or anything, but like the kind of tearing-up thing that happens when you watch a movie like Marley and Me. Just overcome with emotion, spilling over. Okay, that was weird, but it passed within a couple of minutes and was gone. Eventually she took the needles out and I went home. No levitating. No third eye. That came later.

That night, I woke up with wracking pain in my knee and a sinking feeling that I had made a terrible mistake. It hurt so stinking bad. I just lay there calling myself a dummy and promising Never Again. But then when I woke up in the morning, the pain was gone and hey, my knee felt great. A little tender, but okay. My 3-day headache was gone too, just vanished. The lack of pain was refreshing. Through the week, my knee felt better and better. By Sunday, I decided to try a little experiment - a 5K at the track. The last time I tried to pick up my running pace past an easy jog, I got some pretty big jolts of knee pain, so this would be the acid test.

The result: a 25:28 5K. That's faster than any of the 5Ks I ran at the track last year. Last year, when I was doing all that interval training? And this year when I haven't done anything more than some slow jogging? I'm faster. Whoa. Okay. I'll take that. And even better: no knee pain. What? Yeah, you heard me.

So, needless to say, I kept my second appointment with the acupuncturist.

And that was when things got weird.

I have to admit right now, what I'm going to tell you is going to sound really out there. You're going to think I'm a real whack-a-doodle, if you don't already. And I was actually too confused and maybe even embarrassed at the time to talk to the acupuncturist about this and ask if this ever happens to other people. Like how do you even start that conversation: "Um, when your clients are getting acupuncture, do they ever have out-of-body experiences or feel a giant purple third eye blooming in the middle of their head?" I would sound like I was high or something. Which is about how I felt, but I digress.

Same as last time, she stuck some needles in me - knee, back, neck, head. I was lying face down on the table. She left the room for awhile so I could just hang out with my needles and let my energy unblock or whatever. But by now with the miracle 5K behind me, I was a believer. Heck, if it would make me run faster, I'd get needles poked in me every day!

So I'm lying there face-down on the table like a human pincushion. My eyes are closed. This is when I see inside my head a giant purple third eye opening in the middle of my forehead. It's pulsating and vibrating and looks a bit like Sauron's eyeball, except with purple flowy lightning instead of orange flames. Yeah, I know you're thinking exactly WHAT did I smoke before going to see the acupuncturist but my answer is nothing! This is just happened. And then the eye started opening and closing, and it was like it was my eye but it wasn't. Everytime it opened, it's like I could see the whole universe in one shot, and the whole universe was getting sucked into my giant purple eyeball. Then I would close it and just take it in. Open. Close. Open. Close. Suck in the Universe. Relax. Suck in the Universe. Relax. I was just tripping on this completely.

Then after maybe five minutes or eternity, I don't know, the eyeball just closed.

And I was unbearably sad. Come back giant purple eyeball, come back! Come back! I wanted to cry again.

But I didn't have too much time to feel sad, because this is about when I started levitating out of my body. Every time I took in a breath, I would float up out of my body. I could literally feel myself leaving it, leaving all sensation of my body behind. All of a sudden, I couldn't feel my fingers, my toes, my stomach pressing down on the table. I was just spirit, nothing else, hovering a foot or so above my body, insubstantial as a wisp. Then, when I would breathe out, I would re-incorporate, sinking down into my flesh, regaining the sensations of my body instantly. Breathe in. Breathe out. Spirit. Body. Spirit. Body. I have no idea how long this went on either, but finally I settled back into my body for good and didn't leave it again.

Yumiko came back in, removed the needles, and I went home. Dazed and confused. What the heck just happened to me? I used to take yoga and my instructor would talk about weird stuff like third eyeballs but I always thought that was too Hindu metaphysical for me. 

 And then I googled Third Eye on the internet, something I've never done before. And all of these images I found are all PURPLE and SWIRLY, just like my own very real third eye.

Honestly, I don't know what to make of ANY of this. Except that I think that any experience that opens yourself up to other ways of seeing the world is good. I have always believed that there is more around us - more energy, more spirit, more ways of seeing - than we know. Unlocking the ability to see and experience that, even if it only happens once, even if it's transitory, that's an unbelievably cool thing.

And on top of that, I ran a 25:33 in the 5K at my triathlon last weekend. After not running most of the last 12 months. After not doing any speed work, or track work, or much of anything really.

In my sprint triathlon last year in the same week in April, I ran a 27:30 on a similar flat course. After 20 weeks of sprints and fartleks and tempo runs and pacing work.

Let me repeat that: Tons of running work = 27:30. No running work + 3rd eyeball floaty acupuncture experience = 25:33. What the heckity-heck is going on here???

Bottom line: Acupuncture good, roll on Third Eye. Race Report to follow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Running As Prayer, Prayer for Boston

Many of you know this about me: I am not a churchgoer. I, and many of my friends, attend the Church of the Open Road, although it is known by different names among different athletes. When I run, and when I bike, I often find myself deep in prayer. I almost never pray while swimming, probably because I am too busy breathing. But my moments of deepest connection with God have all come on the open road. So far, I have struggled with trying to write about these experiences, and I have more than a few unfinished draft posts for this blog that have not yet seen the light of day. It's hard to put something so personal and raw into words.

Today though, the prayers from this runner were for other runners and their friends and family, those struck by tragedy at the Boston Marathon. These are times when people of faith struggle with trying to understand evil and the desire to harm others. We struggle to have compassion for our enemies, when those enemies could do something as heartless as create a device that kills an eight year old child standing and cheering at the side of a finish line. My kids came to watch me run a marathon. They were six and nine. Thinking about your own kids being in the path of this kind of evil just socks you in the gut.

For athletes, this kind of tragedy hurts in another way. It may not be personal for us in the sense of knowing a victim, but almost all of us knew someone who was there today, or we might've been there ourselves, or have always longed to qualify to go there. This horrible act by some unknown person(s) becomes personal because it strikes at our sport, our passion, our camaraderie, the root of much that is good in our lives. For some of us, running has saved us from our own frailties and flaws - from obesity or drug abuse or smoking or character flaws that seem to go away (or at least be mitigated) after we hit mile a few miles out.

I had to take myself out of the house yesterday because I was so cranky and worked up and tense that I was about to go postal on my family, who were doing absolutely nothing wrong but were irritating me nonetheless. It was raining, cold, and miserable. I didn't want to lace up those shoes, but I knew it's what I needed to be sane, to be kind, to be a good mom and wife for the rest of the day. Sure enough, a few miles in and a few prayers along the way, my running remedy began to work. I came home renewed in spirit, if tired in body.

Maybe if the person who built this bomb could've gone out for a run, they would've felt differently about pressing the detonator. Maybe if when they ran, they saw God's presence in the drops of rain on the leaves, on the face of the old lady walking her old dog, in the kids running around the soccer fields, in the golden edges of the rainclouds, maybe then the pain or hatred in their lives wouldn't drive them to such depths of hell that they could do something like this.

So tomorrow I will put on a race shirt and run. I'll pray for the victims and their families, first and foremost. And I'll pray for all the runners for whom tragedy interrupted their much-anticipated moment of personal triumph, something they had been training for a year or a lifetime. I'll also pray for the person or people who did this, that they will find something in their lives to banish the darkness. Something like running has been for so many of us.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why A Good Bike Fit Matters

I admit it, I've been putting off getting my bike fit. Yes, I know I bought my lovely pink bike a year ago. But I got it to a "good enough" fit by tweaking it here and there and I thought I was just fine. Except that sometimes after a hard ride my left knee would hurt a bit.

My left knee, by the way, is my "good knee", not the one I injured last year. The fact that it was hurting was maybe not such a good sign. But it was rare, and mild, and.... well, I just kept putting it off. But then hubby got a terrific bike fit from our local bike store, Collin's Cycle Shop and it made a big difference for him and so I finally found the time to fit it in.

Wow. So glad I did. For one thing Jay, my fit technician, could show me on the video exactly why my left knee was hurting. It wasn't tracking straight (the right one was). He got that fixed, and in the meantime adjusted my saddle, stem, cleats on my shoes, aerobar angle and position, and many other things. All along the way he measured me, my flexibility, the bike, my positioning, and explained what he was doing and why. It took a good 2 hours or more, and when I came out I felt much better on the bike.

So this last week I've been taking the new fit for a spin. Let's just say I loved my "Pinkalicious" bike before, but now it's like I got married to it. After a couple of shake-out rides, I set out with some friends on Tuesday to the local time trial course. I only did a 20 minute TT, about half of the 15 mile course, but I managed to average over 21 mph (without my aero helmet, wheels, or anything) and felt great. I felt like I was able to deliver more power to the pedals with less effort than ever before.

So, bottom line: Bike Fit Matters. It matters for comfort, speed, injury prevention, biomechanics, and just pure enjoyment of your ride. It's not cheap - a good bike fit usually costs $200 - $350. But considering how much we bike nuts usually invest in other doodads for our two-wheeled loves, it's an investment well worth making.