Sunday, June 28, 2015

Running Injury: Inflamation of the Popliteus Muscle

It really is true that every day we learn something new. One thing I've learned recently is that we have this little muscle in the back of our knee called the popliteus. Even though it's small, hidden, and usually just hangs out and does its thing, when it gets upset, it screams.

I wrote a bit about my injury in my first post on our vacation in Vancouver, but at that point I didn't know what was causing all the pain. Turns out my popliteus muscle is inflamed.

This is a common case of an overuse injury which I can pinpoint exactly to the week I ran way to many miles in an effort to make sure I was ready for the Colfax Marathon Relay after being out sick for 15 days. And running another race a week later. The trouble is my legs were feeling good that first week back so I thought I was in the clear until I started feeling a little nagging behind my knee after the race.

Along with overuse, this muscle can become inflamed or strained from running on a road or trail camber (a sloped surface) can have a big impact on how our muscles work. Worn down shoes (guilty) and over pronation (also guilty) could have also played a factor.

What Is The Popliteus Muscle?
From my Doc and through a bit of research, I found the popliteus muscle is a small, triangular shaped muscle that originates at the inside of the femur near the knee and connects into the outside of the tibia just above the calf muscle. The purpose of this muscle is to allow the tibia to rotate internally in relation to the femur and "unlock" the knee. In other words, it's pretty crucial to movement and standing requires very little of this muscle.

What It Feels Like When It's Mad
In my case, this has meant that I'm unable to completely straighten my right leg, and when I do involuntarily - for example when walking quickly, if I just step strangely, or unconsciously stretch out my legs while sleeping - it sends pain down my calf muscle and up to my glute. Sometimes its been a stabbing pain that takes my breath away, while at other times its been a dull nagging pain. To make it things even more exciting, I've favored my right side so much that it's caused issues on the left side and my hips are now even more asymmetrical than usual! 

Laying it all out there, the pain has been so intense at times that I've been nervous to walk down a busy sidewalk because afraid that a runaway kid or an excited dog would require me to move quickly and the muscle will kick back at me, hard. It's really not fun to be nervous about a walk to the coffee shop - or to avoid it altogether. Fun times.

While this is what I've experienced, I'm just one person and I'm sure that an inflamed popliteus results in a wide range of aches and pains. That said, hopefully I can help someone out by describing what I'm going through who might also have this unusual injury.

Before I saw the Doc at the CU Sports Med Clinic in Denver - who specializes in runners and said this is pretty uncommon - I first went to Google and tried to self-diagnose, which we all know is not the best way to go about things. The popliteus muscle didn't show up in any of my searches and led me to think the worst (I think I have a blood clot and I'm going to die!). ITBS, runner's knee, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, and stress fractures seem to get most of the attention when it comes to running injuries. 

I'm massaging with ice - dixie cup style, using a topical anti-inflammatory - it's easier on the stomach, not running, and trying to get a few sessions with a physical therapist. From what I understand, the PT will massage the hard-to-reach muscle and assist with specific stretches which will help relax all the muscles on my right side. Hopefully all of this will work together to make my popliteus muscle happy again so I can get back to running. From what I understand it should only be another couple weeks and I'm definitely feeling much better already. 

I highly suggest that if you feel anything like what I've described above, ice immediately and often, and get in to see a doctor as soon as possible. You don't want to miss a race like I'm going to on the 4th.

Have you had a popliteus flare-up or some other strange running-related injury? * Will you be running a Fourth of July race?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Vegan in Vancouver (A Culinary Tour for All)

When we weren't walking around the city, biking through Stanley Park, or hanging out in the whirlpool at our hotel, we were probably eating. Vancouver has fantastic food and we only scratched the surface during our trip. Since I highly recommend that everyone reading this blog visit Vancouver at some point - if you haven't already - I would be doing a disservice if I didn't share our favorites.

I wish I had a picture from each place, but let's start with where to find a great meal...

Go Fish (1505 W 1st Avenue, Granville Island)
This is one place I had a meal when I was in Vancouver a few years ago for work and I was determined to bring Woody here. Go Fish is a seafood stand across False Creek from downtown Vancouver just a few minutes walk from the markets on Granville Island. Best bet is to take a water taxi over, check out the markets of Granville Island and then head over here for some delicious seafood. Okay, so I know what you're thinking... "Aren't you vegan now?" Well, yes, but no. We make exceptions every once in a while and we do eat salmon. This place has excellent, fresh Tacones (above) and other delicious options. There's always a line - and not just tourists. Tip: check out the menu then have one person stay in line to order while the other heads to the deck to grab seats as soon as someone starts to stand up. There is no shame in hovering over people on their last bite at this place!

Heirloom Vegetarian (1509 W 12th Ave, Fairview neighborhood)
We loved this place so much we ate here twice! Dinner for our anniversary; breakfast before heading up to Whistler. Beautiful space, great service, and absolutely delicious - and healthy - food. One side of the menu is vegetarian dishes, the other is vegan. Perfect for us but really, anyone could eat here. I enjoyed the pineapple coconut curry (above) for dinner, which was so much food we also split the leftovers for a snack the next day! I chose the California Hash (below) with quinoa nut patties, collard greens, roasted veggies, potatoes and pea sprouts for breakfast which was hearty and delicious before our drive.

Nuba (several locations)
Nuba is a delicious Lebanese restaurant with four locations; we visited the one in Gastown for dinner on our first night in town which was the perfect meal to start our trip. Among all the meat dishes, the menu indicates options that are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free - there was plenty for everyone. We went the tapas route and enjoyed a smattering of several vegan options including the Le Petit Feast (hummus, baba ghanooj, taboulleh, and pickles), falafel, a crispy cauliflower dish, and red lentil soup. The meal was filling but light, the service was great and atmosphere lively.

Tacofino (15 W. Cordova St., Gastown)
First thing to know is that there are two entrances to Tacofino in Gastown - the dine-in + bar Taco Bar side, and the take-out Burrito Bar side. Turns out they do not share kitchens and you can't order something from one menu if you're on the other side even though they appear to be the same restaurant. After we got over the disappointment of learning we couldn't enjoy the vegan burrito while dining in on the Taco Bar side, we did enjoy the few vegan-friendly options on the menu, including the squash and cauliflower tostada. The space is fun and lively, there's a nice sized patio and overall a great vibe. Definitely seemed like a place frequented by the 20-, 30-something trendy crowd living in Gastown but there was a diverse group of diners. 

***** And now for the sweet stuff *****

Bella Gelateria (two locations)
Incredible gelato (yes, we made another exception!) that is a perfect treat after a day of sightseeing. Bella Gelateria has two locations - one in Coal Harbour, the other across from the marina in Yaletown (above) which also offers pizza. The line is long and the prices are a bit high, but it's worth both in my opinion - just ask for samples before you make your final choices.

Cartems Donuterie (two locations)
While searching online for vegan restaurants we came upon Cartems Donuterie, a donut heaven with regular, gluten free, vegan, and vegan gluten free options - some fried (only using coconut oil), some baked. After taking one bite you can tell the team - who make each donut from scratch using quality ingredients and no preservatives - is on a mission to make the best, most creative donuts around. While we were in Vancouver we tried a lot of donuts from Cartems, which is weird because we very rarely eat donuts, but these were just so darn good. In an effort to be 100% transparent, we had: an apple fritter and maple walnut - which has walnuts smoked in-house (above) on our first visit, then Woody went back and picked up a simple chocolate glazed, the popular earl grey, and a tequila sunrise for another breakfast. All insanely delicious and addicting. It's a really good thing there isn't a Cartems location in Denver (but there are two locations in Vancouver).

JJ Bean (several locations)
This is a small local coffee chain in Vancouver started by a family that's been roasting coffee beans in the city for four generations. A socially responsible coffee roaster and community member, they focus on responsible sourcing practices, being an environmentally friendly roaster and giving back. I swear you can taste this in their coffee, which is delicious. Not only do they have great coffee, but they also have great bakery items, including delectable vegan muffins. The bakery case was overflowing with so many mouthwatering items, it was kind of absurd.

PureBread (Vancouver & Whistler)
We split an incredibly moist piece of vegan coconut banana tea bread from the PureBread bakery in Whistler Village and a vegan chocolate chip cookie picked up from the Squamish famers market stand, but somehow never walked on the right block in Vancouver to pick something up from the Gastown location! The Whistler Village spot is a perfect place to grab something sweet (it all looked amazing), a loaf of bread, and some coffee. It's a bright, welcoming space with a few tables inside and a few outside with views of Whistler Mountain and the Olympic rings. I don't think you could go wrong with anything from this bakery.

Alibi Room (157 Alexander St.)
In an out-of-the-way section of Gastown with trains running just feet beyond the bar, Alibi Room was suggested to us by a fellow Oiselle VolĂ©e runner. Less for those looking for something sweet, and more something hoppy or wheaty, the selection is better, and more unique, than what you can find at other places around town. We stopped by here for a drink just as they were opening at 5pm and sat at the bar. The space is raw and industrial and the bartenders are happy to chat about the 50+ local and imported (including some great US microbrews) beers on tap and the cask beer selections. Best bet is to get a flight so you can try several. They also offer wine and cocktails, as well as a full menu. We only had edamame (above) with our beer but the plates passing us by looked pretty fantastic.  

As you can see, we really enjoyed eating our way around Vancouver. Thankfully we walked (and ran, in Woody's case) enough that we managed to come home without any extra weight! 

One thing we noticed was how accommodating people generally were at restaurants we visited when we asked for dishes with no cheese or other ingredients. Several times, at restaurants that didn't seem particularly vegan-friendly, immediately when we asked to subtract an item our server asked if we were vegan and then suggested menu items for us and automatically altered other dishes we requested. This was greatly appreciated and didn't go unnoticed. 

There are still a few more things I'd love to tell you about our trip, but this is long enough, it'll wait.

Do you have a favorite Vancouver restaurant that I've left off my list and we should try if we go back again? * What summer vacations do you have planned?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Making the Most of a Runless Runcation

When Woody and I plan a vacation, running is typically an integral part of that process and things were no different when we were planning our trip to Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia - where we were last week. Without labeling them as such, we've been taking runcations for years. 

With Stanley Park - a large, gorgeous park in downtown Vancouver - less than two miles from our hotel and the seawall running path along the outer edge of the city, I expected we'd spend a good amount of our time in the city in running gear. 

That was before I was plagued by an overuse injury that I tried to ignore. My right leg has been bothering me since BolderBOULDER and have tried a knee brace, icing, rolling, and not running in hopes that it would improve in time for our trip. 

Sunday morning, our first morning in Vancouver, I laced up and headed out for a run with Woody thinking that if I was going to be able to do it, it would be best to try before we started walking a lot. 

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

A little over three miles into the run and not all that far into Stanley Park, I couldn't go a step farther. After nearly breaking down in tears along the outer path with runners, bikers, rollerbladers, and countless others passing us by, I sent Woody off to enjoy the loop and promised to meet him at a beach on the other side. Let's just say that Sunday morning was the low point of our trip. I was pretty devastated. 

My week was not pain free (don't worry mom, I have a doctor's appointment scheduled) and I probably should have spent more time off my feet, but there was no way I was going to sit in the hotel and let our week go by. I decided I had to make it work, because Vancouver and Whistler are pretty amazing.

Here are a few ways we made my runless runcation a success:

On Monday we rented bikes from Spokes Bicycle Rentals on Denman Street and spent three hours riding through Stanley Park - the trail around the edge along the edge with beautiful water and mountain views as well as several of the gravel bike paths that criss cross the park - and had a picnic with a view of Lions Gate Bridge. It turned out to be a pretty wonderful way to spend a few hours and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
Taking it to the trails

The view from our lunch spot
The Westin Grand Vancouver has an excellent and fully equipped gym plus a heated saltwater pool and whirlpool (not pictured below) so once I realized running was out of the picture for me, while Woody went out for morning runs, I'd head to the gym for some time on the bike, strength training, and a nice session in the whirlpool which not only made my leg feel better but helped me relax and refocus on what's important. It might sound crazy, but that whirlpool definitely helped me enjoy the week. 
Photo Credit: The Westin Grand, Vancouver

Photo Credit: The Westin Grand, Vancouver

Then we headed out of town for Whistler and it wasn't until we got there that we learned we were a bit too early to hike Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains. While the trails were open for mountain bikers, they weren't yet ready for hikers (they typically open in late June apparently). However we did find a few good hikes in the valley and there were a lot of others that could have been explored if we had more time.

The first one we tried was pretty easy - more of a ramble than a hike - but a nice option just steps from the condo we rented in Whistler Village through Airbnb. Lost Lake Park has several trails to choose from of the easy to moderate variety and welcomes foot and bike traffic. Lost Lake is the big attraction here and there's a nice park and beach, along with several docks and rafts around the lake. It was a nice afternoon ramble for us after we had done the Peak 2 Peak Gondola ride in the morning.

The condo also had a whirlpool, which we definitely took advantage of. The first night our neighbor even provided the entertainment - she had friends over to enjoy her whirlpool with drinks and uncensored conversation!
By Lost Lake

On our way out of Whistler we drove north a few kilometers to check out the Ancient Cedars trail. Let's just say we were pretty thrilled and relieved when our little Ford Focus rental car made it down the dirt, pothole ridden road to the trailhead and back without any issues. This trail was just over 5k but took a good two hours as it's a rocky climb the entire way out, plus I wasn't moving as quickly as usual. There's a turnoff from the trail that goes out to Showh Lakes, which we probably would have taken if we had more time to explore but we wanted to get make a few stops along our way back to Vancouver. Still, this was a nice trail that required some good effort and took us through a beautiful lush forest to see the towering and impressive ancient cedars. 
The view from Cougar Mountain

Taking in the trees 
Woody in the trees

I wasn't able to run like I wanted to and my injury was literally a pain in the butt (and calf, and knee) but over the 9 days we were on vacation I managed an average of almost 23,000 steps a day (according to FitBit). We spent a lot of time just walking around the city exploring different neighborhoods, block by block. 

After my initial frustration as I broke down on the run, I had to quickly decide to adjust my expectations, focus on what I could do, and enjoy our trip because who knows when we'll have the opportunity to get back to Vancouver and Whistler again. It really was a fantastic trip that I'm not done telling you about yet - more to come in my next post! 

How you had to deal with injury on vacation? How did you adjust your plans? * What are your favorite fitness activities when traveling?