Saturday, December 03, 2016

Can running help heal Plantar Fasciitis?

PF stands for Plantar Fasciitis, but in my opinion it should just be called "Pain in the Foot" because that's really what it is, just an annoying pain in the foot that won't go away for months. I hope you never have it, but if you do, here are some helpful tips and suggestions to help you heal and get better soon!

How did I get it?

It is relatively easy to self diagnose plantar fasciitis. If after reading common symptoms, you feel like "that's exactly what I have!", then you most likely have plantar fasciitis: "stabbing pain (in the foot) that usually occurs with your very first steps in the morning. Once your foot limbers up, the pain of plantar fasciitis normally decreases, but it may return after long periods of standing or after getting up from a seated position."

For me one of my burning questions was how did I get it? and how do I prevent from making it worse and prevent from getting it again after healing? I'm not exactly sure how I got it, but I know it got noticeably worse after returning from a 2 week vacation. I am a frequent runner. I run 4-6 days a week and I try very hard to not go over 3 days without running. In this last vacation I went 7 days without running. I think I had symptoms before my vacation, I just did not realize that it was plantar fasciitis because I never had it before. Upon returning from vacation as I attempted to get back to my normal running routine, it was pretty evident I had plantar fasciitis. I only had it on my right foot, but I've heard is possible to get it on both feet at the same time (ouch!).

What I tried?

The first thing I tried based on the fact that running is a common cause of plantar fasciitis was to stop running for a few days. That didn't help, and in fact it seemed to make it worse. When I told a runner friend about my problem, he told me he had it before and that I needed to do stretching exercises to strengthen my fascia. I think I tried almost everything that was suggested to me. From my experience the first step is to get the pain under control, then focus on what will heal you in the long term. Here is a summary of the things I tried and that helped me the most:

  • Icing
    • This was one of the recommendations from my orthopedist and also from a fellow runner that went through this. Icing helps specially with relief. I learned that you don't necessarily have to do it right after running, you can do it at the end of the day, but you should do it at least 5 to 20 minutes per day.
  • Ibuprofen
    • Pain killers are a must for relief. Usually 1-2 per day was enough for me, but the goal is gradually wean off from taking them, so that you know the pain is going away because you're healing. Keeping a log can help you track improvement (e.g. level of discomfort and whether you took pain killers that day).
  • Heel cups
    • I was a bit skeptic about this, but a runner friend recommended it as well as my orthopedist. I was specifically recommended these ones by Dr. Scholl's Pain Relief Orthotics for Heel. You can find them at Target and most pharmacy stores and easily identify them by the "Plantar Fasciitis" label on them. I ended up buying 2-3 pairs and just putting them on the shoes I wore the most. My friend recommended me using them on my running shoes as well, which I tried, but abandoned after a few days as it felt awkward while running.
  • Peppermint oil
    • This was probably the most unconventional thing I tried from "typical" PF remedies. Specifically I tried Doterra oils. They have a product call Deepblue which is special for muscular pain relief, but the most effective for relief for me was a mix of their peppermint oil with lavender oil (one drop of each mixed with fractionated coconut oil).
  • Stretching exercises.
    • This helped me heal the most, although not immediately. The stretch exercise I would recommend the most is stretching your calf by leaning towards a wall or post. This is an exercise you should be doing as a runner anyway, both before and after running, but you can also do this throughout the day. The other 2 exercises I recommend are shown on this picture: pulling your toes towards you and picking up a towel with your toes.

  • Foot Rolling exercises
    • I first tried a foot massage roller, however I wouldn't recommend buying one unless you already have one. Instead what worked best for me was putting a bottle of water on the freezer, and then use that for rolling your foot. This way you kill two birds with one stone: you are effectively icing while rolling your foot at the same time!
  • Night splint
    • I was hesitant to try this, but my orthopedist recommended it. What the night splint helps with is to keep your feet from stretching over night which is what triggers the morning pain. The night splint keeps your foot at a 90 degree angle which is extremely hard to maintain consciously once you fall asleep. Using the splint can be very uncomfortable at first, but you will gradually get used to it. The Futuro Night Plantar Fasciitis is what I used.
  • Reduce pace/long distance running
    • This should be an obvious one, but "your mileage may vary" on this one. For me this meant going from a 9 min/mi pace to about 10 min/mi and from 30+ miles/week to 20+ miles/week. The great news is that I didn't have to stop running altogether and in fact going multiple days without running seemed to make things worse. This also meant that I had to compromise from running my fifth consecutive Pittsburgh Full Marathon. I could have probably done it, but did not want to risk getting worse and opted for running the Half Marathon instead, which ended up being a wise decision.
  • See a doctor (specially if you are not getting better)
    • When I reached out to my primary doctor he sent me a list of exercises to try first and asked me to visit him if I didn't get better. Since I wasn't getting better I decided to see an orthopedist in my area. The orthopedist did an x-ray to rule out I did not have a bone fracture, which I didn't. Other than that, there was not much value in seeing the doctor. He did not even asked how I got it. I had to volunteer the fact that I was a runner and even then he did not ask how much/frequent I ran. His estimate is that it would take me 2 months to heal, he was off by 3 months, but I did follow on a couple of his recommendations (night splint and icing/stretching more frequently), which eventually helped.
  • Try changing running shoes
    • After not getting better, I tried this suggestion and went into a running store for a shoe fitting, which I had never done before. This turned out to be a great suggestion. If you've read some of my earlier posts you'll find out that I'm a big proponent of minimalist running shoes. For the past few years I've been running with the same model of running shoes: Nike Free 3.0 (different generations of the 3.0 model), which are almost zero drop minimalist shoes from Nike. I tried multiple shoes and the ones that fit the best by far were the Mizuno Wave Rider 18. These shoes have a much ticker sole that I would have ever considered, but they have much better support and really liked how they feel when running and still use them even after healing.
  • (Lots of) Patience and keeping a log
    • Be (very) patient. There are days in which you feel you're doing better and then for no obvious reason you start feeling worse again. That's what bothered me the most about this. I could take a couple days of rest and not feel any better. I also went for a few long runs an felt great. Sometimes there was no obvious correlation into how I felt and what I tried. I think keeping a daily log would have helped. In this log you should track how you felt that day, whether you took pain killers how much you ran and any activities (other than running) you performed. There could be a lot of variation from day to day, but the goal is to feel better each week while still doing some activity and reducing the amount of pain killers you take.

How can you tell you're getting better?

Another burning question was how to tell I was actually getting better and whether I would ever get back to "normal". Healing completely takes time, in most cases months. In my case it was about 6 months before I could say I was back to normal. But by month 4, I could say I was mostly healed, i.e. the pain and discomfort was mostly gone, but I could still occasionally feel discomfort and mild pain which was concerning as I was afraid to get worse again. Keeping a running log certainly helps. In my case I use the Nike Running app. During my healing months (Jan-Apr) I was still able to get around 100 miles on average, which is pretty good, but I had to compromise on pace. My average pace gradually improved getting back to normal by April:

  • Jan: 9'59", Feb: 9'54", Mar: 9'24", Apr: 9'01", May: 9'03"

The pain was not completely gone by April. I still remember feeling some discomfort in June when walking barefoot. But by July/August I don't remember having any bad days. For me the ultimate proof that I was healed was to be able to run a marathon again without any pain, which I was able to do on August 28th in Mexico City!

Can running really heal plantar fasciitis? 

Running by itself won't heal you, but it can definitely help heal as long as your don't over do it (by running too much or too fast) and I have empirical evidence to support this. The key to healing PF is by strengthening the fascia. Stretching exercises will help the most with this. This is what is most contradictory about PF. Resting is typically needed to heal muscle injuries. With PF resting too much can actually make the pain worse and resting on its own won't help you heal. Running can be a way to strengthen the fascia, as long as you don't over do it and do it properly (i.e. with a good running form, appropriate running shoes, etc.). Because healing can usually take months, you need to be VERY patient. Do not feel discouraged if you are not improving immediately. The pain and discomfort will eventually go away. Learn to listen to your body and you will gradually learn what can help you the most!

Thursday, June 09, 2016

How to replace Nissan Leaf rear wiper blade

This information pertains to the 2013 Nissan Leaf, however I believe this applies also to at least model years 2011-2015 since the part number has not changed. Part number for the wiper blade is: 287903NF0A, online price ranges from $12-$15.

Surprisingly, I could not find a video or detailed guide on how to do this, the closest most relevant thread I found was this.

I took some pictures that hopefully guide others on how to replace the blade, but it is extremely easy.

First snap out at by pulling the blade away at a approximate 90 degree angle, if it doesn't feel like it's coming out, just pull harder.

This picture shows how the blade aligns:

Here is another alignment picture as I was snapping the new one back in:

You snap by pushing it hard back in, again approximately 90 degree angle and watching for the proper alignment.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Electric Car (EV) Charging Stations in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas

This blog lists my review of the best EV charging locations* (a.k.a as EVSEs) in Pittsburgh, PA and surroundings. This is not a comprehensive list of stations. If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of stations, the top authority, in my experience, is plugshare (also available as iOS and Android mobile applications). Plugshare beats the other popular option: chargepoint by far, in terms of being up to date, providing helpful (e.g. picture, location, number and type of chargers) and accurate information as well as user reviews/comments. Plugshare lets EV owners "check into" a location (to let other users the charger is being used), as well as sharing private chargers.

* To get some terminology out of the way: the proper name for a EV charger or EV charging station is an EVSE: "Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment". The charger is actually on board your electric vehicle, and hence called the "on-board charger".

Dowtown Pittsburgh (including North Shore)

1. Grant Street Transportation Center - Red Garage

  • Pros:
    • VIP Parking. The chargers are located immediately after entering the lot.
    • There are FOUR (4) Level 2 chargers and they are free to use (with your paid parking)! From the times I've parked there I've only seen 2 cars using them at most. Each charger has its own parking spot. 
    • At the time of this writing (Jan 2016), this station had a PlugShare of 10.
  • Cons:
    • Parking is expensive, $16 for a 6+ hrs on a weekday. However this is typical for parking downtown. Also as a downtown commuter, this parking rarely gets full.
    • You MUST enter the RED garage. There is an adjacent BLUE garage that is almost identical but they are not connected. The blue garage does not have any chargers at the time of this writing.

2. Carnegie Science Center

  • Pros:
    • Provides VIP Parking (directly across from the parking booth). Even when the lot is full and cars are sent to their adjacent lot, ask the attendant if the charger is available and they will let you in. 
    • It's free (included in the cost of the parking): $3 for Carnegie Museums Members, $5 for non-members and $7 for commuter parking.
  • Cons:
    • There is only ONE charger.
    • Even at $7 is the best deal for commuter parking with charging included downtown, however there is no guarantee it will be available for you.
    • Only convenient if you are visiting the museum.

3. Convention Center

  • Pros:
    • Free (included with the cost of parking).
    • Convenient location for downtown destinations.
  • Cons:
    • Parking is expensive (~$20 on a weekday)
    • Only 2 stations and they will usually be taken on weekdays, so you cannot rely on them being available on business hours. 
    • They are generally available on weekends.

Others worth mentioning:
  1. First Avenue Garage
    • This is likely the least expensive commuter parking ($12 for 4hr+) downtown with a free charge included. Although the garage is at one end of downtown, it is right next to the T station.
  2. USX Tower Garage
    • Charger is NOT free (and somewhat expensive). Parking is also very expensive. I believe there is only one charger here, hence the low Plugshare score (4.6), based on the comments many users have not been able to charge because it was already taken.
  3. Station Square Garage
    • Similar to the USX Tower charger, this would be very convenient except it is not free and there is only one charger.

East (Oakland, Monroeville)

1. Carnegie Mellon University Electric Garage

    • Pros:
      • 8 Level 2 charging stations + 1 Tesla HPWC.
      • FREE to charge and FREE to park (up to 4 hours).
      • Convenient location (Oakland - in between Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh)
      • Open to the public, not just Carnegie Mellon University staff/students
    • Cons:
      • Before 2015 the Electric Garage parking spots were available to the public. This means that you could park here after you were done charging or if there were no charging spots available. The parking spots (not next to the chargers) in the lot now require a parking permit which is available only to CMU students/staff. It is still pretty convenient if you only need to park for 4 hrs or less while charging.
      • In spite of having 8 stations, CMU students/staff love EV cars, so it is very common to find all chargers taken on regular business hours.

2. Bakery Square

    • Pros:
      • 4 ChargePoint Stations. This means you can check via the ChargePoint app if the stations are in use.
      • FREE (included in the cost of parking). This parking lot, as I remember is not very expensive and I believe it is free during evenings and weekends.
    • Cons:
      • This is the parking lot for Google Pittsburgh, so even though they have 4 stations the 4 stations may be in use on regular business hours.

3. Carnegie Museum of Natural History

  • Pros:
    • FREE (included with parking). Parking is relatively expensive, i.e. within average for the Oakland area.
    • VIP parking, located very close to Museum back entrance.
    • Convenient location.
  • Cons:
    • Only one station available.
    • Very close to the Electric Garage, so I would park at the Garage unless all stations were taken.

4. Pittsburgh Zoo

  • Pros:
    • FREE!
    • VIP Parking! Even on a crowded day, if the station is available, you can get a parking spot very close to the Zoo entrance.
  • Cons:
    • Only one station available

Others worth mentioning:
  1. Giant Eagle Monroeville
    • The Monroeville area seems kind of low in terms of charging stations. However if you need to head this is a good place to charge (2 stations available). Other options include UPMC East and car dealers (you should normally ask for their permission to charge).

North Area (Wexford, Warrendale, etc)

  • Pros:
    • 2 Level 2 (GE) stations available
    • FREE!
  • Cons:
    • The stations are not marked as reserved for EVs, instead they are reachable within the 4 adjacent parking spots to the charger. However on a busy day (e.g. Saturday morning) you may find all 8 parking spots next to the 2 stations taken because they are pretty close to the entrance. From my experience if I'm really in need of a charge I just need to drive around 5-10 minutes for one of the spots to free up.

  • Pros:
    • 2 Level 2 (Eaton) stations available.
    • FREE
  • Cons:
    • The Eaton stations are not compatible with Nissan Leaf 2013 and newer. This is because Giant Eagle has neglected to upgrade the firmware version on the station, they have had a sign indicating they are working on getting the system updated since 2014. You can still charge but you will need to push the reset button on the stations multiple times (can vary between 3-10 times) until it eventually will start charging.
    • Located by the Pharmacy side, i.e. not VIP parking.
Others worth mentioning:
  1. Cranberry TESLA SuperCharger
    • They have 6 super chargers. These are obviously for TESLA cars only. If you own a TESLA these are the only SuperChargers in the area. They are conveniently located near the intersection of 76 and 79, so if you are traveling by Pittsburgh this is the place to stop. They are behind a Residence Inn, next to a Quaker Steak Lube. There is a Starbucks next door as well.
  2. Eaton Warrendale
    • They have one the few CHAdeMOs (DC quick chargers) in the area. This is outside the Eaton office in Warrendale, PA, but according to the PlugShare user comments, they are open to the public and free of charge. They also have 2 Level 2 (J17772) stations. I believe they are in the ChargePoint network so you will need a ChargePoint account to use it (also free).

West (Robinson Township, Airport area)

1. The Mall of Robinson
  • Pros:
    • 4 Level 2 (Eaton) chargers with dedicated parking spots! They have 4, so it's unlikely they will be all used. This is by the way, the only mall in the area with EV chargers (Ross Park Mall should follow their lead). 
    • FREE
    • VIP parking, located next to the Food Court entrance.
  • Cons:
    • None really, except that it's a very valid excuse for my wife to spend more time at the mall =)

2. Market District Settler's Ridge

  • Pros:
    • 2 Level 2 chargers.
    • FREE
    • Unlike to the Wexford location, based on a comment on Plugshare dated Oct 2014, it appears Giant Eagle has upgraded the firmware on these units: "At long last they have fixed one of the two stations here to work with the 6.6kw on board chargers on 2013 and newer Leafs.". Subsequent comments indicate both of them have been fixed.
    • Cons:
      • These chargers are close to the LA Fitness and Cinemark theatre, so it's likely these chargers may be used by non Giant Eagle customers (also based on Plugshare comments).
    Other worth mentioning:
    1. Sunoco Pittsburgh Airport
      • This has a CHAdeMo (quick charger) in the area along with 2 Level 2 chargers. Starting in 2016 they now charge via the Greenlots app ($2/hr) for Level 2 and ($10/hr) for quick charger, which is not cheap at all. I will only consider charging here in case of emergency.
    2. Pittsburgh Airport
      • The chargers at the Airport are a joke. They are 110v outlets available only on the short term parking, so they are not practical at all unless you are staying several hours at the short term parking.

    South (South Hills, Washington, PA)

    1. Tanger Outlets at Washington, PA
    • Pros:
      • 4 Level 2 chargers
      • FREE
      • VIP Parking. This I would also consider as a con, since I was expecting ICE drivers to not respect these parking spots on heavy shopping days, but I can vouch from personal experience that these spots were not ICEd even on Black Friday (2015).
    • Cons:
      • None really, other than too convenient for shoppers =)
    Others worth mentioning:

    I will try to keep this list updated, feel free to share about other stations as they become available in your comments below!