12 Marathon Training Apps to Help You Conquer 26.2 Miles

Making it to the finish line of a marathon is seriously impressive. What’s arguably even more admirable: Sticking to a training schedule for several months leading up to the 26.2. Logging 20, 30, or more miles in a week (not to mention putting in the time to safely progress through that mileage), takes dedication. Most runners rely on an arsenal of quality apparel and gear to get them through the miles, but some also recruit a little handheld back-up to train—yes, we’re talking marathon training apps.

We asked runners to share the apps that have helped them through marathon training—from suggesting new routes to tracking stats to offering motivation to just keep moving—and straight to the finish line. Meet your new virtual running buddies, below.

1. MapMyRun (free, iOS and Android; $6/month for premium)

Download if… you want to remember that perfect route you ran a few months ago.

The top feature of MapMyRun, according to runner Veronica Phillips: “It keeps a log of all my routes, so if I’m looking for something that’s challenging one day, want to go a certain distance, or get in some hills—or avoid certain areas—I can look back and find what fits my needs,” she says. Also, she enjoys the consistent updates on her speed throughout her run (a perk of paying for premium). “This is important for me, because I’m always looking to improve as a runner, whether I’m out for a recovery run, speed work, or a progression run,” Phillips says. “I can set it to alert me every couple of minutes to tell me to slow down or move my ass.” The app also tracks things like mileage, pace, and cadence.

Lauren Carr likes the app because it links up to MapMyFitness, where she keeps a virtual food journal to make sure she is fueling properly. “I do a really bad job of making sure my body has the correct nutrition it needs for those long runs,” she says. “This allows me to really track everything.”

(Quick note: Some people, like Carr, find it helpful to keep track of their food to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need to power through a lot of running. But tracking your food is absolutely not necessary to do if you don’t want to.)

2. Fitbit (free with Fitbit device, iOS and Android)

Download if… a little competition inspires you to work harder.

“I am an avid fan of Fitbit; I love the platform,” says runner Aja Carter. Paired with a Fitbit tracker, the app keeps tabs on your mileage, pace, steps, and other workout stats. It also lets you challenge other users to fitness competitions. “Over the years, I’ve convinced many family members, co-workers, and associates to purchase one, just to participate in the weekly challenges,” Carter says.

3. Charity Miles (free, iOS and Android)

Download if… you want your miles to contribute to a cause.

Carter says that Charity miles offers her extra incentive to keep going by donating money to the charity of her choice (there are over 40 options) with each mile she logs. “Anytime I go for a walk or a jog, I am sure to turn it on,” she says. “It provides a win-win situation for everyone!” The app also keeps track of distance and pace.

4. Strava (free, iOS and Android, or $2-$6/month to add premium features)

Download if… you could use some virtual high-fives.

First-time full marathoner Amanda Fludd likes connecting with friends and running teammates (she’s a member of Black Girls Run!) on Strava who can send congratulatory messages after she finishes a run. “You need a lot of encouragement to train through 26.2 miles—it’s a long project,” she says. You might as well get some love from fellow runners as you go.

Liz Upward follows workouts from her Garmin Connect app, and then uses Strava to analyze those workouts. “Their premium feature has great graphs for the lap splits and [heart rate] zones you hit while in different places,” she says.

Psst, SELF is on Strava! If you use the app to track your runs, join the SELF club and get support and advice from SELF staffers and other members. Runners of all levels are welcome to become part of our #TeamSELF community!

5. RunKeeper (free, iOS and Android)

Download if… you’re looking to set (and then beat!) new personal records.

Jacinta (JC) Carter has been turning to RunKeeper to coach her through training since 2011. She’s used their half- and full-marathon training plans to get ready to race to the finish, plus she signs up for several challenges throughout the year. “I’ve actually achieved my goal of running over 100 miles per month several times, and I can still view the activities in my history,” she says. “I love that I can see my fastest 5K, 10K, 13.1, and 26.2 records at a glance. And the weekly, monthly, and yearly mileage comparison is amazing. I enjoy challenging myself to run more miles than the previous month.”

6. Nike+ Run Club (NRC) (free, iOS and Android)

Download if… you like to run with a virtual trainer.

Tracy Thong uses NRC to track her mileage, time, and pace, and listens to guided runs within the app on a regular basis. Guided runs feature running pros like Eliud Kipchoge and Shalene Flanagen offering helpful tips and motivation throughout your workout. “There are guided runs for just about any type of run you have for the week, from a short tempo to a long run,” she says. “You can also set challenges for yourself, which is great motivation.”

NRC is Jay Ell Alexander’s must-download for daily tracking and monthly challenges. She also likes getting some gear discounts—the more you use the app, the more special product offers you can unlock.

7. Motigo (free, iOS and Android)

Download if… you want pre-recorded messages from your loved ones to listen to mid-run.

Motigo offers the motivation Alexander needs to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Using the app, friends and family can pre-record 30-second messages meant to pick you up when you’re slowing down. Or, you can record your own mantras that you know will work to push you along the course. “It’s a great audio app that features Black Girls Run! members from across the country, with motivational sayings,” Alexander says.

8. Garmin Connect (free with device, iOS and Android)

Download if… you find in-depth data reports helpful.

You’ll get an overview of your run, a mapped-out route, a schedule of weekly workouts and—a popular feature among runners—challenges. You can even sign up for a training plan for a race. All those features make it runner Shana Blenman’s favorite, along with the ability to set a pace for interval training runs. “It allows me to keep better track of my fitness goals,” she says.

Garmin Connect also provides monthly progress reports, feeding you data on things like your average heart rate versus average pace for the year, or your typical cadence. You can also search for popular routes in your area—and then compete against other runners who have completed the same ones.

Upward uses the app with her Garmin Forerunner by programming workouts into it ahead of time. “This allows me to focus on my movement and efforts, without constantly looking at my watch,” she says.

9. Final Surge (free, iOS and Android)

Download if… you work with a running coach IRL.

Final Surge is great if you have a run coach. It allows you to interact without meeting in person—you can send messages back and forth right in the app and check in on your weekly workout schedule. “My coach posts my workouts [on this app] and we can both comment on it to share reviews and feedback on my workouts,” Upward says. “It allows us to go back and review my progress. It also helps me plug in strength training workouts to track my holistic training.” It also syncs with Garmin and Strava, so you can have a complete view of all your data.

10. Training Peaks (free, iOS and Android, or $20/month for premium)

Download if… journaling helps you keep track of your training goals.

Training Peaks makes it super easy to plan out runs for the week (a feature in the premium version) and keep a journal of how each one went, runner Tracy Thong says. “You have the option to add notes about how each run felt, and also track your progress through the journey to 26.2,” she adds. You can also check the time you spent in different training zones—important when you’re aiming for a recovery run versus a tempo run—or keep an eye on how many miles you’ve put into your sneakers.

11. Headspace (free, iOS and Android, or $8-$13/month for premium)

Download if… you get super nervous before long runs.

“I started getting into meditation during marathon training, because I was so stressed leading up to a long run, and I needed a better way to cope with those thoughts and fears,” runner Liz Ruggi says. That can be a pretty common feeling for anyone looking to take on 14, 16, or 20 miles—especially for the first time. “I tried to use the app at least once a week to set aside time for processing these emotions. I love that it helped change my relationship with anxiety and fear,” she continues. The app also taught her the mantra she repeats to herself on race day: “Strength and courage in; self-doubt out.”

12. New York Road Runner’s Virtual Trainer ($50 for a 12-week plan, syncs with Strava)

Download if… you’re looking for a training plan and race time predictor.

So this technically isn’t an app, but Fludd also swears by the NYRR training plan, which she’s been following every day as she trains for her first marathon. It syncs with the Strava app (rather than coming as a separate app, though the training plan itself is mobile-friendly). “It calculates your pace and projected finish time for the marathon using recent race stats, and it adjusts workouts based on when you want to run and how aggressive you want to be,” Fludd says. Workouts include intervals, hills, and options for cross-training.

Experts raise safety concerns about cardboard baby boxes

Cardboard baby boxes are being promoted for infant sleep as a safe alternative to more traditional cots, bassinets, or Moses baskets, without any evidence in place, warn experts in The BMJ today.

In a letter to the journal, Professor Peter Blair at the University of Bristol and colleagues argue that, without supporting evidence, “the cardboard baby box should not be promoted as a safe sleeping space, but as only a temporary substitute if nothing else is available.”

They call for high quality studies “to better understand how families use the cardboard baby box and its safety implications.”

In Finland, cardboard baby boxes have routinely been given to every expectant mother since the 1930s. They come with a mattress that fits into the bottom of the box, and are said by some to have helped cut cot deaths (SIDS).

Boxes are now being given out free to new mothers in some parts of the UK.

But Blair and colleagues argue that there is no evidence that these boxes reduce cot deaths (SIDS rates are equally low in neighbouring countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, where boxes are not provided), and they question whether they meet safety standard regulations.

They point out that cots (with their bars and raised surface) and bassinets or Moses baskets (with low sides) allow infants to be easily seen by parents and may also facilitate air flow, whereas the cardboard box (with its higher opaque sides) does not — carers can see the infant only if they are looking from directly over the box to make sure their child is safe.

The cardboard baby box has other potential problems, they say. For example, some of the boxes come with lids, are potentially flammable (especially if not laminated), and if placed on a floor are susceptible to low level draughts, domestic pets, and young siblings.

If placed at a height, the box may fall, and no data exist on the durability of the box (especially if it becomes wet or dirty), they add.

Furthermore, they are too small to be used for most babies older than 3 months old, and are not designed to be brought into their parents’ bed at night, so offer no better alternative to bed sharing than the cot, bassinet, or Moses basket.

“We support any initiative that raises awareness of SIDS, including appropriate SIDS risk reduction advice distributed with cardboard baby boxes,” write the authors. “But this advice can be undermined if the messages given are incorrect or mixed with non-evidence based messages about the intervention itself.”

“Population-wide initiatives should have to meet high standards of safety and efficacy and should be subject to rigorous evaluation before implementation, because the potential to cause inadvertent and unintended harm is much greater than for those that target a selected population,” they conclude.

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Materials provided by BMJ. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

The CDC Is Investigating Acute Flaccid Myelitis, a Rare Illness That’s Caused Over 60 Cases of Paralysis This Year

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking into an extremely rare condition that is being described as a polio-like illness for its ability to cause weakness and paralysis in children.

“CDC continues to receive information about cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a serious condition that causes weakness in the arms or legs,” CDC spokesperson Kate Fowlie told SELF in a statement. “So far in 2018, CDC has confirmed 62 cases of sudden onset AFM in 22 states. Of those, 90 percent are in kids 18 and younger and the average age is 4.”

AFM affects the nervous system, causing sudden weakness in the arms and legs.

“It specifically affects the area of the spinal cord called gray matter and causes muscles and reflexes to become weak,” Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a press conference on Tuesday.

In addition to a loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the limbs, some people may also have facial drooping or weakness, drooping eyelids, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, an inability to pass urine, pain in the arm and legs, and (less commonly) numbness or tingling, according to the CDC. The most severe cases of AFM can lead to respiratory failure (due to a weakening of the muscles that help you breathe) or the development of potentially fatal neurological complications.

Diagnosing AFM involves a physical exam to assess how well the patient’s nervous system is functioning, as well as tests including an MRI of the patient’s brain and spinal cord and lab tests of their cerebrospinal fluid. Unfortunately, the current treatment options for AFM are extremely limited—and there is actually not any specific treatment, according to the CDC. But neurologists can make recommendations—like physical therapy to manage muscle weakness—on a case-by-case basis.

Recovery varies from person to person. Some patients are able to recover relatively quickly, while others continue to have paralysis, but experts don’t know why that is, Dr. Messonnier said.

The illness isn’t new—the CDC and epidemiologists have had it on their radar for years.

The first increase in the reported number of cases was in 2014, according to the CDC. Between August 2014 and September 2018, the agency has been alerted to 386 confirmed cases in the U.S., and there has been one confirmed death related to AFM (in 2017).

  • In 2014, there were 120 cases in 34 states.
  • In 2015, there were 22 cases in 17 states.
  • In 2016, there were 149 cases in 39 states.
  • In 2017, there were 36 cases in 16 states.

As you can tell from those numbers, “AFM has been occurring in waves about every two years,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. “Every time, it always ends up being a new news story. But this isn’t something people have been ignoring. It’s something they’ve been actively investigating since 2014.”

During the press conference, Dr. Messonnier said that the numbers so far indicate that we are on track to see a similar number of cases as we saw in 2014 (120) and 2016 (149). “But it would be premature to say that we’re confident that we know what is going to happen since it really is early in this.” And given that we only have four years of data and fewer than 400 cases to go on, it’s hard to say for sure. But rest assured, the CDC is closely tracking the situation.

Although the CDC has been able to find the apparent trigger in some cases—including enterovirus, West Nile virus, environmental toxins, and an autoimmune condition—they haven’t figured out a singular cause.

“For individual cases we are finding agents, but nothing that provides the unifying diagnosis that we expect to explain this disease,” Dr. Messonnier explained. “Despite extensive laboratory testing, we have not determined what pathogen or immune response caused the arm or leg weakness and paralysis in most patients,” she said. “I am frustrated that despite all of our efforts we haven’t been able to identify the cause of this mystery illness.”

But we may not find a unifying diagnosis for AFM, Dr. Adalja says. “It’s unlikely we’re going to find a single cause because we would’ve gotten it by now,” Dr. Adalja says. “It may not fit into a neat category.”

One theory, he says, is that common cold-like viruses may in rare circumstances cause AFM symptoms. “It may be an overlapping syndrome that certain viruses have the capacity to cause in certain individuals—an interaction between the infection agent and the immune system of the person,” he explains. “It’s important that we start to unravel the mysteries of AFM and determine which viruses are responsible for causing it.” (One thing we do know: It’s not polio. The CDC has tested stool samples of patients for the polio virus, Dr. Messonnier said.)

The CDC is also working to gather more information on other poorly understood aspects of the illness, like risk factors, the trajectory of the illness, and prognosis. “We don’t know who may be at higher risk for developing AFM or the reasons why they may be at higher risk. We don’t fully understand the long-term consequences of AFM,” Dr. Messonnier said.

Despite all of the unanswered questions, it’s important to keep in mind how uncommon this condition still is.

“With the unpredictability and the mystery around who gets AFM and who doesn’t, it’s understandable that people get alarmed by it,” Dr. Adalja says. “But it’s important to understand that it’s very, very, very rare. You should not expect every cold your child gets to cause this.” In fact, fewer than one in a million Americans will contract AFM every year, the CDC estimates.

Of course, if you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or your child, seek medical care immediately. But “it isn’t something that should occupy the minds of every American,” as Dr. Adalja puts it. As he points out, it’s more important to prepare for the upcoming flu season, given how much more likely people are to develop a severe case of the flu—even if AFM dominates the headlines.


What Is Snowshoe Racing? A Look Inside the Niche and Challenging Winter Sport

If you’ve ever tried slogging through snow, you know it’s much more arduous than walking on pavement. Now imagine running through snow with extra weight strapped atop both feet. Sound tough? It is. Extremely. It’s also an official sport known as snowshoe racing, which is exactly what it sounds like: Athletes traverse a course as quickly as possible while wearing the winter-friendly footwear.

“Snowshoe racing is pretty damn rugged,” Mike Bucek, market director with The United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA), the lead governing body of the sport, tells SELF. “People are running up and down ski mountains through four or five feet of snow.”

Snowshoeing as an activity is nothing new. Humans have been using snowshoes for thousands of years. Yet the official sport of snowshoe racing is more modern—and niche. The USSSA was founded in New York in 1977 with the goal of formalizing and promoting the winter sport.

“It started as an oddity,” Mark Elmore, sports director with USSSA and U.S. national snowshoe team director, tells SELF of snowshoe racing. But in recent years, “word is getting out that this is a credible sport.” Since 2003, the USSSA has taken American athletes to international snowshoe racing competitions in countries like Canada, Italy, and France, and on an annual basis, the USSSA supports between 300 to 500 members. Elmore’s ultimate goal: see the sport become part of the Winter Olympic Games.

The USSSA sanctions “a few dozen” competitions a year, says Bucek, across snow-packed courses in Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska, the midwest, and the northeast. These competitions, which cover distances between 5K (3.1 miles) and marathon length (26.2 miles), begin in November and December with the bulk of the season taking place January through March. The culminating event of the season is the national championships, hosted by USSSA every March. The 2019 U.S. Snowshoe National Championships will be held in Cable, Wisconsin, on March 8-10, and USSSA expects around 300 athletes to participate.

Here, what it takes to compete and excel in this obscure sport.

As mentioned, showshoe racing is an intense physical challenge.

Major snowshoe races are “never anywhere near flat,” says Bucek. “You’re running amongst the trees and sometimes the trail isn’t packed down so you’ll have to go in deep snow.”

Because of these difficult and varied conditions, snowshoe racing is essentially a subset of extreme trail racing, says Bucek. That’s why a background in trail running is immensely helpful. Many top snowshoe racers are also accomplished road runners, triathletes, and/or bikers.

“I’m in pretty damn good shape,” says Bucek, who competes in traditional running races (either on roads or trails) on a weekly basis. “But switching from regular road or trail running to snowshoe racing is like starting all over again.” The top snowshoe racers in the country are able to complete marathons in about three-and-a-half hours, says Bucek, which is a blazing pace of 8 minutes per mile—something the majority of road marathoners never achieve.

To handle the varying elements of snowshoe racing, specific racing gear is required.

Unlike traditional snowshoes, with their large bases and loose bindings, racing snowshoes tend to be lighter and smaller, says Bucek. “The bindings are way more secure,” he adds, “and they’re contoured to be somewhat forgiving” as athletes traverse uneven surfaces.

You may think that on said uneven surfaces, athletes would want the help of trekking poles. That’s not the case though, says Bucek. “They can throw off your stride,” he explains, “and over time, they fatigue your upper body.”

In terms of clothing, participants wear whatever garb they’d don for a winter road run—typically running pants or leggings and a light top layer or two. “You’re not very bundled,” says Bucek. Thanks to the significant cardio challenge of snowshoe racing (more on that below), athletes warm up fast, and too much clothing could make them overheat.

The sport requires a steely combination of cardio, power, core strength, and total-body conditioning. Oh, and serious mental stamina.

Snowshoe racing both requires and develops power. “It’s not simply who is the fastest runner,” says Elmore, who first picked up the sport in 1989. “It’s a combination of a lot of different things,” including leg speed, aerobic capacity, and general total-body strength. To train the cardio component during the warmer months, snowshoe racers will stay aerobically fit with trail and/or road running, biking, and hiking, says Bucek.

Core strength is also “critical to success,” says Elmore, because of the soft and shifting surface on which you’re moving. With every step forward, your core acts as the stabilizing force to keep your body upright, he explains.

Also, unlike traditional running, where every stride on a hard-packed surface returns energy back up to the runner, providing spring and bounce, the soft and uneven surface of snow requires much more innate power to move through. “Your arms, upper body, chest, and back come into play much more in the snow,” says Elmore. “It’s almost like running uphill all the time even when you’re on a flat surface. You’re using more muscles than you would on a hard surface.”

Lastly, “a lot of it is a head game,” says Bucek. Participating in a snowshoe race is “excruciating.” Because the sport is so physically challenging, participants must have serious grit and determination, he says. It also requires a high level of mental engagement. That’s because on snowshoe trails, “every step is really different,” says Elmore. “It’s not like asphalt where you could close your eyes and run blind because every step is the same.” Athletes must remain mindful and focused throughout competitions.

An ability to deal with extreme and unexpected elements is also key.

“There may be times when you have to cross a wet stream—logs and everything,” says Bucek. “It’s basically adaptive trail running.” This can also include the occasional wildlife encounter. Bucek remembers a race in Anchorage, Alaska, in the 2000s during which a moose “took up residence in the middle of the trail.” The race was paused until a snowmobile could scare the animal off.

On top of that, racing conditions can vary widely. Athletes may encounter multiple feet of fresh powder that they must plow their way through—or a densely packed trail that could be easily traversed on regular running shoes. Courses also range in elevation—with some as high as 11,000 feet above sea level—and varying degrees of steepness, including some trails that chart straight up ski mountains.

All that being said, beginners don’t need any special talents or instructions to give it a try.

“There’s no learning curve involved,” says Elmore. “You can just put on snowshoes and go.” Just know that you probably won’t be logging 8-minute miles right off the bat.

Lena Dunham Reveals She Had Surgery to Remove an Ovary That Was ‘Encased in Scar Tissue’

Back in March, Lena Dunham revealed that after dealing with endometriosis for years, she’d undergone a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) to help treat her chronic pain due to the condition. Now, in an intense Instagram post, Dunham shared that this week she had her left ovary removed as well.

Dunham posted about the procedure on Instagram in a post that featured a photo of her lying in what appears to be a hospital bed. “Yesterday I had a two hour surgery to remove my left ovary, which was encased in scar tissue & fibrosis, attached to my bowel and pressing on nerves that made it kinda hard to walk/pee/vamp,” she wrote in the caption. “Over the last month it got worse and worse until I was simply a burrito posing as a human.”

“My mother took this picture after I spent 9 hours in the post op recovery area with v low blood pressure, the nurses were diligently monitoring. I was so out of it that I thought I looked sensually moody a la Charlotte Rampling (turns out it was more of a constipation vibe),” she continued.

The procedure to remove an ovary, called an oophorectomy, isn’t common among young women. But there are a few reasons why it might be necessary.

The ovaries are the small organs that sit on either side of the uterus. They contain eggs and make hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle. In many cases, an oophorectomy may be combined with another procedure, such as a hysterectomy, the Mayo Clinic explains. But if just one ovary is removed, the other continues to make hormones, which prevents you from going into an early menopause, Lauren Streicher, M.D., a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF.

Patients who need to have one or both ovaries removed may have endometriosis, ovarian cancer, noncancerous ovarian tumors or cysts, an ovarian torsion (a condition in which the ovary twists), or an abscess in the area, the Mayo Clinic explains. People who have an increased risk for breast or ovarian cancer may also undergo the procedure in order to reduce the risk of those conditions actually developing.

Although we obviously don’t know the specifics of Dunham’s case, we know that she’s previously dealt with endometriosis and underwent her hysterectomy earlier this year. Treatment for endometriosis, a condition in which the type of tissue normally found inside the uterus grows outside of it, often starts with over-the-counter pain relievers and hormonal birth control. Surgery is only used if those less extreme methods aren’t successful, and there are different types of surgery available.

Removing an ovary won’t necessarily “cure” someone of endometriosis, but it might relieve some of the painful symptoms, Charles Ascher-Walsh, M.D., director of gynecology and urogynecology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells SELF. Especially if a patient only feels pain on one side of their pelvis or abdomen, removing the ovary on that side could help alleviate that if other treatment options haven’t helped. “But if the pain is bilateral or moves around, you wouldn’t necessarily take an ovary out for that,” Dr. Ascher-Walsh says.

In the Instagram post, Dunham mentioned that her ovary was “encased in scar tissue & fibrosis” and was attached to her bowel. It’s hard to know exactly why this might happen, but it could be due to a combination of her endometriosis and prior surgery, Dr. Streicher says. Both endometriosis and previous surgeries can cause scar tissue to develop in the area, and endometriosis can also add inflammation.

Dunham went on to say that her ovary was also “pressing on nerves” and made it hard to walk and go to the bathroom, which, unfortunately is a real thing. Which nerves are being pressed makes a difference in the symptoms a woman might experience, Dr. Streicher says. But Stephanie V. Blank, M.D., director of gynecologic oncology for the Mount Sinai Health System, tells SELF it could cause “terrible pain.”

Depending on the type of surgery you have, it may take between two and six weeks to fully heal.

“In someone who does not have endometriosis and hasn’t had prior surgery, this is usually a very straightforward procedure,” Dr. Streicher says. But extra scar tissue and inflammation “can make an ovary get completely buried in scar tissue and attached to other structures, making the surgery very complex and difficult to do.”

The surgery can either be done via a laparotomy (in which the surgeon makes one long incision in your lower abdomen to access your ovaries) or with minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, (the surgeon only makes three or four small incisions in your abdomen in this case).

You shouldn’t have any vaginal bleeding post-op, and you’ll usually just feel “a little soreness around the incisions, and some internal pain in the pelvic region,” she says. “Patients are able to walk around and carry on with their daily function pretty soon, they just may do it a little slower for the first week or so.”

But it is “very normal” for a patient to have low blood pressure after surgery, especially when they’ve been under general anesthesia because those medications may temporarily lower blood pressure, Dr. Shepherd says. However, it usually goes back to normal about 24 hours post-op.

The recovery process with laparoscopic surgery usually takes one to two weeks, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, tells SELF. But it’s usually “quite a bit longer” with a laparotomy because the incision is a lot bigger, Kathy Huang, M.D., director of the NYU Langone Endometriosis Center, tells SELF. It may take up to six weeks to fully heal after a laparotomy, the Mayo Clinic says.

As Dunham heals, she said she’s been reflecting on what she’s learned from dealing with her medical issues, namely that “health, like most things, isn’t linear.”

“Things improve and things falter and you start living off only cranberry juice from a sippy cup/sleeping on a glorified heating pad but you’re also happier than you’ve been in years,” she wrote in the Instagram caption. She also said she’s gotten a lot of feedback from people about what she should do for her health and how her hysterectomy “should” have fixed things.

But although it’s tempting to think that one supplement, one new habit, one surgical procedure could completely turn your health around, that’s usually not the way it works. The truth is that everyone has good and bad days when it comes to their health. So, if you’re feeling off, especially after a medical procedure, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what’s going on to figure out a long-term plan to get you where you want to be.

“My health not being a given has paid spiritual dividends I could never have predicted and it’s opened me up in wild ways and it’s given me a mission,” Dunham wrote, “to advocate for those of us who live at the cross section of physical and physic pain, to remind women that our stories don’t have to look one way, our pain is our gain and oh shit scars and mesh ‘panties’ are the fucking jam. Join me, won’t you?”


How to Get Rid of Cavities Without Fillings: Is It Possible?

If you’re scared of dental appointments, having a cavity might evoke images of being strapped to a chair while a dentist pries open your mouth, cackles maniacally, then goes to town with a massive drill. Even if you don’t hate going to the dentist, taking the time to get a cavity filled isn’t exactly convenient. So, is there any way to handle a cavity on your own? Kind of. Read on to learn the details.

Cavities (also called dental caries) are little holes in your teeth that result from tooth decay.

Tooth decay is like a play with three parts, according to the Mayo Clinic.

First, bacteria in your mouth feed on debris and coat your teeth with a film known as plaque, the Mayo Clinic explains. This is why brushing and flossing are so important—you need to remove food and drink remnants and sweep away plaque before it hardens into a substance known as tartar, which is more difficult to remove through at-home dental hygiene.

Next up, the acids in plaque attack minerals in the protective, hard enamel surface of your teeth, which leads to holes, the Mayo Clinic explains. That allows bacteria and acids to dig into your dentin, the next, softer layer of your teeth. Your dentin has little tubes that communicate with the nerves of your teeth, which is why cavities can make your teeth sensitive as hell (especially when you eat or drink something hot, cold, or sweet). In addition to sensitivity, you may experience cavity symptoms like a small white spot on your tooth or an actual hole on your tooth (which may become stained brown or black over time).

Lastly, the determined bacteria and acid work their way down to the pulp of your teeth, which is the inner layer that contains nerves and blood vessels. This can lead to swelling and pain at the root of your teeth or even in the bone, especially when you bite down. In addition to a severe toothache, when left untreated, this kind of bacterial damage can cause infection and tooth loss.

So, can you DIY a cavity treatment and avoid seeing a doctor?

If you and your dentist catch tooth decay early enough, you might be able to get away filling-free. “The earlier the intervention, the easier it is to fix,” Sarah Mikhail, B.D.S., assistant professor in the Division of Restorative and Prosthetic Dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry, tells SELF.

Enter: fluoride, a mineral that can reverse tooth decay that would otherwise become a cavity, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. This is that stuff your dentist brushes onto your teeth or puts into a tray for you to wear for part of your appointment. Professional fluoride treatments help remineralize your teeth when plaque has damaged that protective enamel, Mark S. Wolff, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, tells SELF.

In addition to professional treatments, your dentist can counsel you on at-home fluoride options, like a special mouthwash, Augusto Robles, D.D.S., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry, tells SELF. At-home fluoride treatments are weaker than professional ones, but they can still be helpful. Ask your dentist for recommendations, or check out the American Dental Association’s list of products with the ADA seal of acceptance, Dr. Wolff says—those have the right concentration of fluoride.

Practicing especially stellar oral hygiene can help beat back tooth decay in conjunction with professional and at-home fluoride treatments, Dr. Robles says. That means flossing at least once a day and brushing for two minutes two times a day. You might even ask your dentist to take a look at your technique in-office and make sure you’re covering all your dental bases.

The catch is that this only works if there’s a significant enough amount of tooth decay to cause a cavity, but it hasn’t created an actual hole in your tooth. They’re pre-cavities, if you will. “Once a cavity is formed, [fluoride] cannot make tooth tissue grow back,” Dr. Robles says.

If you’re past the point of no-cavity return, your dentist can take various options depending on how severe the decay is.

As you may have guessed, you might need a filling, which is when a dentist drills out the decay then inserts some kind of material into the hole, the Mayo Clinic explains. Or you may need a crown, which is basically when a dentist drills away the decayed part of your tooth, then places a custom-fitted cap on the healthy portion, the Mayo Clinic says.

If decay has infiltrated the pulp of your tooth, a root canal may be necessary, Dr. Robles says. In this procedure, your doctor will remove diseased tooth pulp, may administer medication to clear up an infection, then will replace the pulp with a filling, the Mayo Clinic says.

Finally, if your tooth is so severely decayed that your doctor can’t fix it, it has to be taken out. Your doctor may recommend getting a bridge (which is made up of two or more crowns for the surrounding teeth and a false tooth in the middle) or a dental implant (a false tooth that’s inserted into a screw-like post drilled into your jawbone), the Mayo Clinic says.

Staying on top of tooth decay is clearly easier than any of the methods involved in treating a cavity.

In addition to practicing good dental hygiene, the American Dental Association recommends seeing your dentist for regular visits. Your dentist can tell you how often you need to come in based on their intimate knowledge of your oral hygiene.

The more you see your dentist, the more likely it is that they’ll pick up on any brewing tooth decay before it can do major damage, Dr. Wolff says. Translation: You might be able to avoid that drill. Just something to keep in mind next time you consider pushing back your regular dental appointment.


13 Things I Learned When I Wore Red Lipstick Every Day for a Week

Throughout my lipstick-wearing life, I’ve erred on the side of caution when it comes to shades—soft pinks and those demure nudes that, although they can be quite elegant, hardly turn heads. Red lipstick has always made feel extremely self-conscious, like a life-size caricature. It’s also daunting to apply and exhausting to touch up throughout the day, so I avoided wearing it. I’ve admired women who could wear a red lip during the day and appear entirely unperturbed—they seem so vibrant, so chic, and so daring. Who are these bold creatures and why couldn’t I be one of them?

It became clear to me about a month ago that the only person holding me back was myself, so in an effort to overcome these inhibitions I decided to commit to a weeklong challenge of wearing red lipstick all day, every day. I also reached out to a makeup artist for advice—if I was going to do this, I was going to do this right. Ahead, read about all the practical and personal things I learned along the way.

1. There are so many ways to wear a red lip.

A red lip can mean so many things, from a high gloss to a matte finish to sheer tints and stains that are hydrating minus the whole hair-stuck-to-your-lips thing. I enjoyed playing around with new formulas and textures, including my new favorite, a liquid powder.

Photographer: Cristina Cianci, Graphics: Morgan Johnson

2. Lip balm is essential if you want smooth lips and to prevent the color from bleeding.

Have you ever noticed your lipstick bleeding around the contours of your lips? Makeup artist and beauty expert at Stila Cosmetics Carly Giglio tells SELF this usually happens when you have dry lips, so it’s important to keep them hydrated.

To keep my lips smooth and hydrated, I applied a lip butter before lining my lips the first time, but apparently it was too much, because it made the lining process slippery and sloppy.

To avoid this, Giglio recommends a lip-prep product that’s not super emollient. She likes the Fresh Sugar Lip Serum Advanced Therapy, $36, because it’s hydrating without a heavy texture. Another pro tip: If you get excited applying a lot of lip balm like I did, you can always let it set in for several minutes before applying lipstick. I decided to blot it out with a clean tissue since I live in Manhattan where patience is an indulgence I can’t always afford.

3. If your lips feel particularly rough, start your lip prep with a scrub.

Giglio recommends using a clean spoolie to gently exfoliate and scrub off any dry bits on your lips before starting in with your lip balm or lipstick (resist the urge to peel or bite off peeling skin, which can be painful and lead to bleeding).

I only used a lip scrub once this week. I like the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, $20, for an overnight treatment and Kopari’s Kiss Me Under the Mistletoe, $20, which is a coconut lip scrub and balm duo. I scrubbed my lips with the Kopari scrub in the morning and applied the balm quickly after. I love the smell, it’s like coconut slivers dipped in fresh caramel. Is it bad I wanted to lick it off?

4. Use concealer around the outside of your lips to define their shape.

To create a defined lip line, Giglio suggests going around the outside of your lips with foundation. You can use your finger to swipe it along the bottom of your lip line, or use a teeny concealer brush with a flat edge. She recommends the Stila Perfectly Poreless Putty Perfector, $39.

Photographer: Cristina Cianci, Graphics: Morgan Johnson

5. At first, I felt hyper-aware of my every move and gesture.

My first day in red lipstick was spent overcompensating for my self-consciousness: eating carefully, drinking with a straw, keeping exactly three Q-tips handy to fix any smudges. Many women’s first experiences I’ve read about wearing red lipstick described this “imposter syndrome” or an overwhelming sensation of feeling like a fraud and being afraid of being called out for it. I wasn’t immune to it. The first few days, I couldn’t have been happier to go home and wipe everything off.

6. Keep Q-tips handy for midday touch-ups.

A pointed cotton swab was key for touching up any smudges or lipstick bleeding. I really like cotton swabs because they’re so easy to throw in your (makeup) bag. I liked combining the rounded Q-tips Cotton Swabs, $5, with these pointed Q-Tips Precision Tips, $8, depending on how much product I needed to wipe away.

7. Lip liner and a lip brush can help you get a more precise red lip.

I was familiar using the lip liner, which can help you outline the edges of your lips and help keep your lipstick from bleeding. But I learned that a lip brush is a secret weapon experts like Giglio keep in their makeup bags to create a sharply defined lip.

“Lip brushes are smaller, tapered and flat, and you can use the different edges to achieve that lay of product,” she explains. So, instead of putting lipstick directly onto your lips, wipe a lip brush on the bullet, then use it to apply the lipstick on your lips. The real aha moment came when she said to tilt my head up while looking in the mirror next time to get a better view of the contours when applying (as opposed to looking head-on the whole time). It’s such a simple little trick that really helped me nail coloring within the lines.

The lip liner I used throughout the week was the MAKE UP FOR EVER Artist Color Pencil: Eye, Lip & Brow Pencil, $18, and the lip brush was the Sephora Collection PRO Angled Lip #84, $15.

Photographer: Cristina Cianci, Graphics: Morgan Johnson

8. Different reds may work better for different skin tones.

I’d like to think I have quite the tasteful eye when it comes to discerning shades of the same color: I own over a dozen red nail polishes that my boyfriend thinks look exactly the same but anyone who knows anything about red knows that there’s a distinct difference between Essie’s A-List and Russian Roulette.

Giglio taught me that the best way to decide which lipstick shade is best for you is to check your undertones and the tone of the lipstick: Cooler, blue-based reds work better on fair skin (they also help your teeth look whiter) and yellow-based tones are more flattering for warmer skin. “Hold the shade next to your lips as if you were trying on a dress and that’ll give you a good indication whether or not the color will suit you,” she tells SELF.

9. Strangers might be nicer to you.

Can I just put it out there that total strangers are so much nicer when you wear red lipstick? I forgot my subway card at home and a stranger gave me his round trip fare. Was it because he knew how much effort I put into my lipstick this morning and on some level felt sympathetic? Or did he have secret powers that sensed I was writing a story and needed some good material? Or, as the cynic in me wonders, is it just that I was a young woman in red lipstick and that makes guys do things for you? Whatever it is, I’ll take it!

10. Red lipstick makes you feel all kinds of things about yourself and your place in the world.

I like to keep my beauty looks natural for the most part, which means no foundation and a coat or two of mascara—so I found that a red lip was a surprisingly “easy” way to feel more put together. I mostly kept my hair down, but sometimes would tie it in a low bun. Although red lipstick made me feel acutely more aware of my own presence, it also made me feel more confident and mature, like the woman I wanted to be.

Photographer: Cristina Cianci, Graphics: Morgan Johnson

11. Be careful about how you take off your clothes unless you want lipstick stains everywhere.

You’d be surprised how easily red lipstick transfers onto things like mugs, paper cups, clothes, and well, people too. I was. One thing I was constantly paying attention to is what my lips were touching. I found it easier putting on my clothes before applying lipstick in the morning, and then taking off my lipstick before removing my clothes at night. And unless your significant other doesn’t mind red-stained lips, save the kissing for later.

12. A red lip is basically part of your outfit.

All the things I’d heard about red lipstick making you feel more put together were undeniably true: I felt just as confident and lively in a printed silk blouse as a fluffy shearling coat or an oversized sweater.

Photographer: Cristina Cianci, Graphics: Morgan Johnson

13. In the cheesiest way imaginable, red lipstick made me feel invincible.

One day, toward the middle of my experiment, I caught myself smiling a little wider and walking a little taller (I am 5-foot-1, every little bit helps!). I had this subtle sense that something had changed. I know that red lipstick is not going to alter the world in any significant way (although maybe it should?), but the boost of confidence I got while sporting a red lip—and realizing that no one was obsessing about it but me—was powerfully comforting. Oh, and weeks later, I’m still wearing it.

I Love These Styling Products for My Curly Hair—and They’re All On Sale Right Now

Now that I’m fully invested in taking the best possible care of my curly hair, and have kissed my flatiron goodbye (for now), I’m all about choosing the best styling products for it. The right cream, gel, or even conditioner can be the difference between me starting the day with well-defined curls or a frizzy cluster of hair—which is why I’m super particular about which products I use. Not everything on the market will work for my tightly-wound hair texture, but I have discovered a few key options that get the job done—and well.

What makes stocking up on my favorite curl-friendly products even easier? Catching them at an even lower price point, which is why I’m so excited that my holy-grail styling products are on deep discount right now. Read on for a few curly hair gems that are definitely worth buying (most for under $20).

Virtual reality can help make people more compassionate compared to other media

A Stanford-developed virtual reality experience, called “Becoming Homeless,” is helping expand research on how this new immersive technology affects people’s level of empathy.

According to new Stanford research, people who saw in virtual reality, also known as VR, what it would be like to lose their jobs and homes developed longer-lasting compassion toward the homeless compared to those who explored other media versions of the VR scenario, like text. These findings are set to publish Oct. 17 in PLOS ONE.

“Experiences are what define us as humans, so it’s not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something,” said Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication and a co-author of the paper.

Emerging research, nascent technology

Many enthusiasts of virtual reality view the immersive technology as “the ultimate empathy machine” that can help people relate to each other better than novels, TV shows or films can.

But there is little research examining how exactly this emerging technology can alter people’s attitudes.

“About 10 million headsets have been sold in the U.S. over the past two years. So, many people now have access to VR experiences. But we still don’t know much about how VR affects people,” said Fernanda Herrera, a graduate student in the Department of Communication and the lead author of the research paper. “This research is an important step in figuring out how much of an effect this technology can have on people’s level of empathy in the long term.”

Past research on VR and empathy has shown mixed results and used small sample sizes composed mostly of college students, Herrera said. In addition, previous studies have not examined the long-term effect of VR on empathy — beyond one week.

As part of the research, Herrera, along with Stanford psychology scholar Jamil Zaki, Bailenson and psychology graduate student Erika Weisz, conducted two two-month-long studies with more than 560 participants, age 15 to 88 and representing at least eight ethnic backgrounds. Researcher Elise Ogle was also a co-author on the paper.

During the research, some participants were shown “Becoming Homeless,” a seven-minute VR experience developed by Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

In “Becoming Homeless,” a narrator guides participants through several interactive VR scenarios that would happen if they lost their jobs. In one scene, the participant has to look around an apartment to select items to sell in order to pay the rent. In another scene, the participant finds shelter on a public bus and has to protect belongings from being stolen by a stranger.

The researchers found that participants who underwent “Becoming Homeless” were more likely to have enduring positive attitudes toward the homeless than people who did other tasks, such as reading a narrative or interacting with a two-dimensional version of the scenario on a desktop computer. The same people were also more likely to sign a petition in support of affordable housing, according to the research.

“Taking the perspective of others in VR produces more empathy and prosocial behaviors in people immediately after going through the experience and over time in comparison to just imagining what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes,” Herrera said. “And that is an exciting finding.”

Measuring empathy over time

Empathy, the ability to share and understand someone else’s emotions, is a critical part of meaningful social interactions, according to scholars. It has been shown to increase people’s understanding of one another and to motivate positive social behaviors, such as donating, volunteering or cooperating with others.

“We tend to think of empathy as something you either have or don’t have,” said Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology and a co-author of the paper. “But lots of studies have demonstrated that empathy isn’t just a trait. It’s something you can work on and turn up or down in different situations.”

The studies’ results showed that participants in the “Becoming Homeless” condition were significantly more likely to agree with statements like “Our society does not do enough to help homeless people.” They were also more likely to say that they personally cared “very much” about the plight of homeless people. The research also showed that their empathetic attitudes toward the homeless endured.

In addition, according to the first study, 82 percent of participants in the VR condition signed a petition supporting affordable housing versus 67 percent of the people who read a narrative that asked them to imagine becoming homeless.

In the second study, 85 percent in the VR condition signed the petition in comparison to 63 percent who read the narrative. Of participants who went through the two-dimensional version of the VR experience, 66 percent signed the petition.

“What’s special about this research is that it gives us longitudinal evidence that VR changes attitudes and behaviors of people in a positive way,” Bailenson said.

More research ahead

Not all empathy exercises that introduce perspectives of different groups produce positive effects, the researchers said. For example, previous research has shown that when people are asked to take the perspective of their competitors, they become less empathetic toward them.

Similarly, the format of a VR experience also matters when considering how it might alter people’s attitudes, Herrera said.

Herrera, Bailenson and other researchers are working on other studies to figure out the nuances of VR’s effects on people.

But for now, Herrera and her team are excited about the evidence that they have gathered in their new study.

“Long after our studies were complete, some research participants emailed me to reflect on how they started becoming more involved in the issue afterward. One of them befriended a homeless person in their community and wrote me again once that person found a home,” Herrera said. “It was really inspiring to see that positive, lasting impact.”

The research was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The 10 Foods in Tubes That Make My Life Easier

Ever since I moved to Europe, I haven’t been able to get enough of food in tubes. I see them far more often here where I live in Germany than I ever did back home in America, and frankly I’ve become a bit obsessed. I’ve found everything from mayonnaise to anchovy paste in compact, squeezable containers, and it has made my life so much easier and my food so much more delicious.

To start, I love these ingredients in tubes because they take up way less space than the same ingredients in jars—looking at you mayo and mustard. Tubes also make canned things, like tomato paste or sweetened condensed milk, far more accessible. For example, rather than opening an entire can just to use a single tablespoon, I can simply squirt out however much I need, and then I don’t have to worry about wrapping up and refrigerating the can—all I have to do is screw on the cap! Finally, ingredients that might normally make your hands stink, like anchovies and garlic, are way more manageable when all you have to do is squeeze them into a pan.

You definitely won’t regret investing in these 10 foods in tubes. From recipe building blocks to classic condiments, these ingredients are bound to become your main squeeze.