Tammy Lifka: October 2010

Here’s an extremely belated post of an update Tammy Lifka provided a few weeks back. It details a string of bad luck. Perhaps on the bright side, some of these events caused Tammy to reevaluate some things and make some big changes.

Since my interview a lot has happened. Right after the interview in June I started to have pain in my left foot. After many doctors’ visits and tests I found out I had a stress fracture in my metatarsal next to my big toe. I was not able to run for 4-6 weeks. I did a lot of pool swimming, spin classes, biking outside and elliptical. Since it was summer and I have three kids the time went by fast. I was running again the last week in July and I felt strong from taking the time off and the cross training I did. I did feel that I lost speed/leg turnover. I knew that by doing track workouts I would be able to get that back quickly. I did a few test races to test the foot out on the pavement. I am very fortunate to live near a prairie path with limestone cinders. It is very nice on the knees and easy to run on. The transition back into running went smoothly and I started to feel very confident and even stronger.

On August 7th we went out to Colorado as a family for a 10 day trip; we drive out every year. This year we brought our road bikes and were very excited to do our trail running, hiking and biking. The kids go to camp during the day while my husband, Chris, and I get time alone. I continued to do all of my training runs while on vacation.

This was not easy since we were staying at 8,000 ft.  On the eighth day when we were biking in the mountains I fell off my bike and landed on my right arm. It hurt but I was able to ride my bike back to the cabin and ice it. Our trip ended and we drove 17 hours home straight through. My bruises seemed to heal and I was running again and back on track for my goal.

Two weeks went by and after taking a hot core class I noticed that my right arm had dark blue veins. It really freaked me out. I called the on call doctor and they said to put ice on it. I did that and went to bed. It looked better in the morning. The next few days I kept an eye on it and it never went away but it did not get worse. I did notice that my arm got heavy when taking on the phone, typing and doing everyday things. I did a track workout with my friend Kurt and he could tell my arm was not right. He made me stop the workout and told me to go to the doctor right away and get it checked that day.

My doctor thought it was a stress fracture because it was the same arm I fell on from my bike. He also ordered an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot, which he said was unlikely given how active I am. As it turns out, I did have a blood clot after all. I went right into the hospital and was put on blood thinners for two days before I could go home. I was in shock and could not believe this was happening to me. I would have to be on blood thinners for 6 months. I was told that I could run but that I had to be careful.

Three days after coming home from the hospital I went out for a run. I felt tired and weak. The backs of my knees hurt. I continued to run that week very easy, around 4-5 miles a day. That weekend I had a 20 mile run on my training plan. I wanted to run through the pain and hope it would just go away, as I didn’t want to further compromise my training.

I ran the 20 miles and the pain lessened as I ran. The last 7 mile loop was the fastest but when I stopped I began to limp due to knee pain. As I was getting ready to get in the car Chris drove past and said he was taking himself to the emergency room. He had done Ironman Wisconsin the week before and had been feeling a very sharp pain on his sides. He’d initially thought it was just a muscle strain but when I saw him he was taking himself to the ER because he had started coughing up blood.

My mind was spinning out of control. How could this be happening?

I limped to my own car and drove home. Chris called a few times to let me know they were doing a lot of tests. A few hours later he called and told me his diagnosis: a double pulmonary embolism  — blood clots in both of his lungs, a condition that’s extremely serious and can cause sudden death. That week was very stressful, although he was able to come home from the hospital.

See a local news report about the Lifka’s ordeal with blood clots: Healthbeat Report on ABC Local News, Chicago

Now we were both on blood thinners.  I took the rest of the week off and cross trained on the bike and the elliptical. But now a new problem was emerging: I started to feel plantar fasciitis in my right foot. I was feeling very depressed. So many bad things were happening to my family and me all at once. Everything seemed out of control.

Slowly things seemed to get better: Chris was recovering and we were getting used to the new medicine regimen. The only thing that got worse was one of my knees. I had been limping around on it for about three weeks. It would get better after not running on it for a week, but then I would run 3 miles at 10:00 pace and I would be back to limping when I walked. I already knew that racing the California International Marathon was out of the question. I did not run my planned half marathon tune-up race. I was thinking maybe the Houston Marathon could be a possibility but I had already missed some training. I knew I had to get 100% before I could think about any marathon or goal race.

After seven weeks of walking and running in pain I knew I needed to try something different. I decided to go downtown to the Running Institute and see Dr. Balu Natarajan. He ordered many tests: an MRI, CT scan and a bone density scan. After the tests were completed I found out that the MRI and CT scan were good and that with physical therapy I could get rid of this knee pain. The bad news is I found out I have low bone density. I was in shock again. What could have caused this?

I did remember my lung doctor telling me three years ago that the Pulmicort I had been taking for asthma relief could lower bone density. I went to her office right away. I am now off that medication and will see how I fare. This could have been the reason why I got my stress fracture. I am thankful I found out now, since I could have ended up with another fracture down the road.

This takes me to where I am at now. I am in physical therapy. My knee pain is almost gone after seeing this therapist. I am going to continue the therapy to work out all the imbalances I have so that I can also prevent future injuries. I have been cross training throughout this whole mess with biking, elliptical and hot yoga. The plan now is to continue to build up my mileage, work on speed and plan for a spring marathon. I am not sure on the exact race but I have a few in mind. I will sign up for two races that are a week apart in case I have bad weather.

With everything that has happened I have had a lot of time to reflect upon my running and what I need. I ultimately decided that I needed a new coach. This has been in the back of my mind since May. While I was injured I went to a local Garmin feedback meeting. In attendance were a few other runners, a coach, the owner of a running store and some people from Garmin. The coach kept talking about his athletes and I wondered who he was. After the meeting my friend Meg asked me, “Do you know who that was?” I said I didn’t. She told me he was Terrence Mahon, the Mammoth Track Club’s coach. I could not believe it. After I got home the wheels started turning. I believe that things happen for a reason. What would it hurt to send him an email and ask him about coaching? I decided to go for it, as I had nothing to lose. To my surprise he responded right away. After a few back-and-forth emails, we seemed to have a good match.

So now, with my new coach, I’m back to building my miles back up, working on speed again and training for a spring marathon. I am more motivated and driven than ever before. I also hope my bad luck is behind me.

— Tammy Lifka

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