When being a mom stretches you, literally: Part 1, the diagnosis

Update:  I’ve learned a lot since posting this blog.  Please be sure to read about the whole story from diagnosis, to surgery, to postop, and finally physical therapy.

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A few months ago, I noticed a small bump on my belly along the midline above my belly button.  At first I thought, “cool, a seventh ab.” And then after the busyness of Boston, I asked my husband what he thought.  Maybe a vein?  (I have big veins, especially post-baby.)  My husband suggested that I get a physical to make sure all was healthy, so two Fridays ago, I saw my general practitioner.  He told me that my seventh ab was in fact a small hernia, and that the only way to fix a hernia is through surgery.  I wasn’t very familiar with hernias, but the idea of surgery and recovery did not make me very happy after all of my work to get into post partum shape.  I love to run.  Everyday.  And do push-ups and planks and very active things.  No!!!!

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Small ventral hernia

I’m being dramatic, but any runner with an injury knows that it is more than just an injury.  It messes with identity.  (There is a whole other lesson there.)  The GP told me that my hernia was very small and the best thing to do would be to watch it and wait to see if it ever grew or gave me pain.  Some hernias never grow, but most do end up requiring surgery.  I have a ventral hernia, so there is a small tear in the fascia between my abs, and most likely it will grow, especially given my activity level. I asked all three doctors if I had caused the hernia due to running/exercising through pregnancy and running/exercising post partum, and they all assured me that I did not do this.  Sedentary individuals get hernias just as commonly.  When I was pregnant, my belly stretched, and organs shifted so that they put pressure on the fascia. (I mention ab separation here.)

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This tiny little 6lb 4 oz baby is worth every physical sacrifice

I wasn’t satisfied with my GP’s answer to wait until the hernia became more complicated (I hate weakness in my body, and this felt like a ticking time bomb), so I called my OB and asked for a referral to a general surgeon.  Both my OB and the general surgeon agreed that I am a good candidate to have surgery before the hernia grows, as it most likely will grow given my activity level.  It is also good to take care of it before we decide to get pregnant again.  By having surgery now, I will only need a few stitches as an outpatient procedure, while the common procedure for repair is to stitch a mesh across the fascia.

My surgeon has told me that I will be restricted to only lift 20 pounds until I am cleared at my post-op visit (Cadence is only 14.5 pounds, so this was a relief).  I am also only allowed to get on the bike or walk until I am given the green light.  The timing for a break is probably as good as it is going to get.  My body could use the rest, and I am about to ramp up my training for a 100 mile race at the end of September.  I’ll follow the doctor’s orders, but no athlete likes to scale back training.  This will be character building (or more likely my husband will discover a whole new character in me once he sees what I’m like without my endorphin fix).

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Not so tiny anymore!  Seven months!

When I first found out about the hernia, I prayed for God to take it away.  (I know, why waste a miracle on something so insignificant.  But running is important to me.)  Then I realized how much God had already answered.  He protected me physically during rigorous training for Boston at a time when I was not getting nearly enough sleep.  He protected my mind from worrying about the hernia during the Boston race, so I was able to fully enjoy that great moment in running.  I raced at a sustained physical effort for the entire Boston Marathon, and the hernia didn’t get any bigger.  I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor if my husband hadn’t encouraged it, and I am so thankful that I will get this all resolved while the hernia is still small and my recovery will be speedy.  This rest period seems to be just what I might have needed.

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I debated whether or not to go into details about the procedure, but I’ve benefited from hearing other momma’s stories online, and maybe my write-up will help someone else who noticed a seventh ab too.  🙂 If you want to read the follow-up after surgery, you can find that here.

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Stretch! I’m still amazed at this process.

Anyone else sacrifice a part of their body to pregnancy? 

What are some coping mechanisms for having to rest?  I’m going to focus on better nutrition.

Are Boston qualifying times too easy for women?

I wrote my last post about the qualifying times needed to gain entry into the Boston Marathon, and I planned to also explain why there is a disparity in the times between the men and women’s standards.  And then I did a little research and it made me uncomfortable.  There is a 30 minute difference between the men’s qualifying time and the women’s qualifying time, starting at 3:05 for men and 3:35 for women.

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This year especially, I am aware of the differences in males and females!

I know that men and women are physiologically different, and women’s competitive times almost always fall behind those of men’s.  That should explain the 30 minute difference in Boston qualifying times, right?  Not exactly.

What I didn’t realize was that women do seem to have a softer qualifying time than men when observing elite runner performances.  According to Tim Noakes in Lore of Running, there is about an 11% gap in performance between men and women.  This can be attributed to men having greater muscle mass, increased VO2, and higher levels of testosterone, amongst other things.  In using 11% as the difference between men’s and women’s performances, this would mean that women would need to run at about 3:20 to be an equivalent.

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We all look like superheroes, regardless of finishing times

The disparity of this qualification standard has not been lost on many Boston Marathon runners and commentators.  Compilations of former marathon times comparing the average finish times of men and women are documented in many articles and blogs trying to determine if the current standards are equivalent between men and women.  There is something called the Age Grade Calculator, which is the ratio of the approximate world-record time for a given age and gender divided by the actual time raced.  Using this form of calculation, the Boston Marathon standards would come up short, or long rather, for the women’s standard qualifying time.  This calculator also favors younger women age groups as opposed to older women age groups.

As Amby Burfoot notes in a Runner’s World rebuttal, however, this calculation is a world record comparison tool, which does not scale proportionally with the rest of the population of runners. Burfoot cites data from Ken Young, at the Association of Road Race Statisticians (ARRS), who notes that the men’s and women’s world record times are just 9.5 percent apart, while moving down the scale from the 100 percentile to the 99.8 percentile, there is a 21.4% difference in finishing times.  Chris Schwirian, a Biological Sciences lecturer at Ohio University, also corroborates that the average gender gap is closer to 20-22 percent for half marathon, marathon, and ultramarathon. 

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The unicorn is a perfect symbol for the Boston Marathon

So that is the kicker.  In order to reconcile the Boston qualifying times between men and women, one must concede to normal, average performance range comparisons.  And the Boston Athletic Association has elected to go this route in order to get a representative sample across age and gender based on the total population of people who complete marathons, not according to elite athletic performance.  As I said in my last blog on Boston qualifying times, my 2016 BQ was only a 3:29, so I benefit from using a calculator that takes the normal population data set into account.  I’m thankful for the way that the BAA has chosen to do the math because it provided me with one of the best running experiences of my life!

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What do you think?  Are the qualifying times too lax for women?  Or is it appropriate to select a scale that will permit an approximate number of both men and women into the race?