My physical therapist told me this horrifying story about how she trained for a marathon three times — and three times when she reached the peak in her training, after a 20- to 22-mile run, she ended up with stress fractures in her feet until eventually she needed surgery.
Naturally, this story lodged itself in the back of my brain.
When I ran 18 miles two weeks ago in my training for the NYC Marathon and the dull ache in my right foot didn’t really ease up after a couple days, I of course convinced myself it was a stress fracture.
Luckily, I have a great friend who is an orthopedic surgeon. After answering a number of her questions about the pain, she told me she thought it was more likely tendinitis.
“Great! That’s a huge relief,” I texted back.
She told me either way, she still worried. “Both are painful and both don’t get better without rest.” She recommended icing my feet after every run. My best friend, a life-long dancer, told me ballerinas put their feet in ice baths every night.
I decided to try that. It turns out ballerinas are BEASTS and/or masochists.
It took me approximately 30 seconds to decide I never wanted to soak my feet in an ice bath again. It basically felt like I was giving my foot an ice cream headache.
But I have been curious about cryotherapy for a while, which only requires freezing yourself for a few minutes, so on the recommendation of my awesome friend Jami, another runner and all-around fitspiration, I visited Charm City Integrative Health, conveniently not far from my apartment in Canton.
After a few minutes of talking to CC Integrative’s founder Tom, I was very excited to check out the available therapies. It was clear the team at CCIH knows a lot about inflammation, women’s health, and fitness.
If you’ve been around on this blog, you know this year has been about learning how to manage my endometriosis symptoms with antiinflammatory foods and clean living. This newfound focus on “partnering” with my body in order to feel better has led me to approach marathon training differently than I did in 2016. In 2016, after a year of feeling completely powerless in my efforts to feel better, I decided I could WILL myself through training and the Chicago Marathon and simply play through the pain. And that’s exactly what I did (even when I got my period the day before the race itself).
Now that I’ve started to feel the effects of the holistic approaches I’ve started taking (including acupuncture and PT, not just nutrition and clean living), I’m more focused on how I can condition my body while giving it everything it needs to feel good as possible as often as possible. This time last year, I experienced my worst period…perhaps ever. Now, over my last few cycles, I’ve seen a reduction in the number of days I’m bleeding, I’ve lengthened my cycle closer to the healthy average, I’ve seen a reduction in my PMS and ovulation symptoms, and last month I only had one very painful day during my period (as opposed to the two or three debilitating days I usually get with each period). And frankly, I’ve been surprised since I know running causes both inflammation and tighter pelvic muscles, both processes that can exacerbate endometriosis symptoms.
Knowing that the services at CCIH are geared toward reducing inflammation and enhancing blood flow (goals similar to those of acupuncture, which is also offered at CCIH), I had become curious about how they might both improve my running recovery and performance and help me manage my endo symptoms.
First, I spent three minutes in the cryotherapy booth. After stripping down to my underwear, I donned CCIH’s socks, fuzzy Crocs, and super soft bathrobe. I stepped into the chamber, and once it closed, I swapped the robe for mittens over the top, and Tom talked to me while super sub-zero liquid nitrogen swirled around me for three minutes. It was uncomfortable but not painful in the way that dipping my foot in the ice bath felt. When it was over, Tom handed me the robe back and I stepped out shivering.
Cryotherapy works the same way icing your muscles works; it’s just much quicker and more intense. The cold forces your muscles and blood vessels to quickly constrict, and when you step out, your blood vessels dilate, enhancing blood flow and oxygenation to the surrounding tissues. This reduces pain and recovery time. Additionally, cryotherapy may have other amazing benefits that you can read about here.
After cryotherapy, I warmed up with 20 minutes of infrared or red light therapy. This explains how red light therapy works better than I can, but in addition to reducing inflammation, it supposed to be really good for your skin. Goodbye, hormonal acne!
Finally, I tried Live O2, which you may have seen athletes doing on the sidelines or in preparation for a big event. For five minutes, I wore the oxygen mask and breathed 95 percent oxygen while lightly warming up on a recumbent bike. Then, for the next five minutes, I alternated between 30-second sprints and light exercise. During the sprints, the mask gave me high-altitude air, making it harder to breathe when my heart rate was higher. Then I recovered for five more minutes with the 95 percent oxygen. According to CCIH, the result is that your blood is able to absorb 433 percent more oxygen. The end result is your cells are, well, happier because they have all the oxygen they could ask for. This also aids in recovery and reduction of inflammation.
The end result? I ran 20 miles Sunday, rested Monday and supplemented my recovery with these therapies and an evening massage, and by Tuesday I felt awesome. With the exception of some tightness in my hips, my leg muscles weren’t sore AT ALL and I had a great run Tuesday night. If these therapies can affect your muscles this way, I’m excited to see how they might be able to improve my endo.
In addition to cryo, red light, and oxygen therapies, CCIH offers acupuncture, salt therapy, massage, nutrition counseling, local cryo, cupping, AND there is a nurse who can work with you on medical cannabis prescriptions.
Have you tried cryotherapy? How about red light or oxygen therapy? Stay tuned here and on Instagram as I keep you posted, as always, on my endo journey. And if you have a few bucks to donate to my NYC Marathon fundraiser for the Endometriosis Foundation, here’s the place to go!