Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Trails

That's a really bad/trite title, I know, but I can't conjure a better one.  It's my not-so-cute way of saying that I've decided, along with my dad, to focus on trail races for the next I-don't-know-how-many months.

Since I began running (fall of 2008), I've always run on trails pretty regularly.  Mostly because the people I ran with ran on them every so often, and I would sometimes be dragged along.  I've always enjoyed trail running (I have very strong quads and am a good hill runner), but have never taken trail racing all that seriously.  I've run two trail halves, two trail relays (Dances with Dirt--my favorite race ever), and a trail 15K.  Though I've won a couple of them overall, I've never trained specifically for these races.

That is changing, at least temporarily.  As you know, I didn't get to run the Tecumseh Trail Marathon a couple of weeks ago (you can read about it here).  I was very bummed about that, as it was going to be great training for what is my next true goal race:  The Land Between the Lakes 60K.  Yeah, it's an ultra.  I know, I know...an ULTRA.  It's so ultra that I had to calculate how many miles 60K is (37, by the way).

Now how did someone like me, a road/Garmin fiend, become interested in running a trail 60K?  The honest answer is that I'm not exactly sure.  It just kind of happened.  I was feeling spiritually pulled in that direction after Chicago (yes, really), but hadn't really thought about it seriously.  Then a bunch of things happened in my (and Tim's) life that just made it a better fit for right now.  I'm not worried about running a certain time* at LBL, I'm just interested in getting really, really fit and strong.  And, mostly, I'm interested in enjoying running in its most organic form.  That means running to enjoy it.  Not that I haven't been enjoying it since I began running three years ago, but it's just not possible for me to kill it out on the roads right now.  I'm starting a brand new tenure-track faculty position, and have a very busy family life right now.  And, for whatever reason, I want to run and race on the trails!  I am SO insanely lucky to have one of my dear friends and extremely talented runner, Scott Breeden, helping me throughout this process.

If you remember, I had a bad experience with running shortly after Rowan was born (which is why I started this blog to begin with--you can read about it in the earliest entries).  That experience has so radically changed my perspective on running.  It used to be that I thought I was worthless if I couldn't run a certain pace or win overall.  Now?  I'm humbly thankful for each pain-free running step that I take.  I mean it--every time I run, before I start and after I finish, and often along the way, I thank God for my ability to do this.  It's a wonderful, beautiful thing to be able to do.

Now, I still have a couple of road races planned.  Houston Half Marathon in January (we signed up because we want to watch the trials, which are the day before), and of course the Boston Marathon in April.  I'm racing the former, running the latter with a group of friends.  All I can tell you is that I'm going to thoroughly enjoy myself.  Every. Single. Step.

Stay tuned for my year-in-review blog post!

*At the LBL 60K, there is an $800 prize for breaking the course record (which is a very modest 8:40 pace).  I'm going to go out at that pace and see what happens. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tecumseh Marathon Debacle

Not that it's any fault of the marathon itself.  Tecumseh is an awesome race.  Or so I've heard.  I've never run it (despite having signed up twice), but that was to change today.

It didn't.  I wasn't trained for it, but that wasn't the reason I DNS'd.

Some background.  Since my blow up at Chicago, my training has been entirely focused on re-building my broken body, and on learning how to train appropriately.  My longest run has been about 8 miles (INCREDIBLY short for me).  I had no business running a marathon.  But the Bowders were coming all the way from Vancouver, Washington so that Mark could run Tecumseh.  And I was supposed to run it with him.

A short time ago, I had decided to only run part of Tecumseh with him, perhaps the last half...given my lack of long run and trail training.  But before the race I decided I would run the entire thing.  The pace would not be an issue for me, and Mark's goal was just to have fun.  Since I have come to realize over the last 12 months that I am in love with running because of the FUN part of it and not the ultra-competitive part of it, I wanted to do the entire thing.  And so it was decided.

Friday, the day before the race, Tim, Mark, and I did a short shake out run.  I felt great.  I was getting SO pumped for the race.  We went to packet pick up, and then out to dinner with some friends.  Everyone does this the night before a marathon.  The goal is to load up on carbs, and so most people go for Italian.  And our party was no different.

I had been in charge of finding us a place to eat, and we couldn't get a reservation at any of our usual Italian places in Bloomington--the really good ones like Grazie! or Olive Garden.  I finally got us one, though, at DeAngelo's on Third Street.  They had any time available for our party of 12.  That should have tipped me off about their food, but I was just happy to find a place and made a reservation.

Once there, we got to meet some of our 365competitor friends--Clark, Charles (and his wife), and Jeff.  Scott and Emily also came.  I was starving and ordered the chicken/mushroom raviloi.  The service was quite bad, but it paled in comparison to my actual food.

The pasta was rubbery, and the marinara sauce had a layer of oil sitting atop it.  I forced myself to eat about half of the dish, but it was major work.  The food was gross, but I knew I had to eat to be well-fueled for my multi-hour-long jaunt in the woods.

Once in the car and on the way home, I began feeling a little sick.  I get car sick, and so I thought it might have been that.  The longer I was in there, the more I was tempted to ask Tim to please pull over so that I could puke on the side of the road.  I did make it home, but had let him know that I had to get to a bathroom IMMEDIATELY upon our arrival home.  We got out of the car and Alec, Mark and Alita's son, promptly began vomiting.  That was all I needed.

I ran inside and began my own puke-a-thon.  It went on about 10 minutes and I felt better.  We agreed that Alec and I had probably eaten something bad.  It was my hope that it was going to be a one-time thing and done.  I ate some gummy bears so as not to go to bed with a completely empty stomach (as the vomiting had cleaned me out royally).  That sparked, at 1 a.m., the worst vomiting episode I've ever had in my entire life.

Without getting into details, I'll just tell you that I was, for hours, kneeling over the toilet wretching and vomiting.  I slept maybe two hours after that.  I couldn't believe this was happening.  The night before a marathon--really?  I WAS FINE before that meal!  I was so angry, but I figured when I got out of bed in the morning it would all be okay.

Except, it wasn't.  I was worse.  Dizzy, nauseated, weak, and exhausted.  I told myself just to get up, put on my running clothes, and everything would be okay.  I felt like death.  I ate a little bit so as to not go into a marathon completely on empty, and that prompted more vomiting.  Still, I was in denial.  "I can do this," I kept saying.

I kept saying that all the way up to Bloomington, where we picked up my dad.  Shortly after that, though, I realized I might not be running Tecumseh.  I suddenly had an intense need to puke, and told Tim to stop the car.  I threw up all over the side of the road and threw myself back in the car.  "I don't think I can do this," I said to Tim.  All in the car agreed that I SHOULDN'T do this. 

I was still convinced, though, that once I got running all the symptoms--nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, and a general desire to roll over and die--would disappear.  Running is always my cure-all for everything.  Once we arrived at the start line, I had to immediately get out and puke again.  And again.  Scott and Emily showed up, and I explained to them what was going on.  I told them I didn't think I could do it.

Those are really hard words for me to utter, especially when it comes to running.  Scott suggested I try to jog a mile and see how I felt.  I thought that was a great idea.  I stood up and began jogging.  I made it about 25 meters and had to puke.  Tried to run some more (yes, I'm insane) and the same thing happened.  In all, I made it maybe 50 meters.  It was true:  I couldn't do it.

I am a very strong-willed person.  But sometimes there are things you can't will yourself through.  Had it been an absolute life and death situation, could I have covered 26.2 miles on one of the toughest marathon courses in existence?  I THINK so.  But even my mind could not force my physical body to intentionally put myself through the misery that would accompany running Tecumseh while suffering from severe food poisoning.

And, with that, I took off my bib and chip, gave them to Emily (who wanted to run but didn't have an entry), and curled up in the fetal position in the car.  Once they headed to the start line, I drove to my dad's house (stopping twice along the way to vomit).  I could barely make it in the house (seriously).  But once I did, I threw up once more, and collapsed into bed.  I stayed there the remainder of the day, waking up every half hour to vomit.

I didn't fully regain consciousness until around 3:45, when I heard a text which told me that Tim had finished in 3:40 (a Tecumseh PR!).  I had, for some reason, a bad feeling about Mark.  And I continued my sleeping/puking routine until I finally heard from him via text.

My feeling had been right.  Mark, who was still out on the course, was in trouble and struggling.  He did, however, finish.  As did dad, but neither he nor Mark were pleased with their races.  After hearing Mark's stories, I'm not sure who had the worse day:  me or him.  It's a toss up.

It was, in many ways, a disappointing day.  Not only do I not like spending my days semi-conscious and vomiting, but I had so looked forward to running Tecumseh with Mark.  The good spin, though?  This means we need to head out West so that we CAN run a race together.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter!

It has arrived.  Well, sort of.  Lately, we've been getting a ton of cold rain.  It changed, temporarily, to snow yesterday...but back to cold rain just in time for my run.

My least favorite weather to run in is that comprised of cold/wind/rain.  It doesn't matter how well you dress.  It's misery.  There is nothing good about cold rain hitting your face.  It stings.  The last couple of days of running have thus been not exactly pleasant.  My second least favorite running weather is cold.  I'd take heat over EXTREME cold any day.  By extreme cold, I mean in the teens or below.  I hate it.  But it's on its way.

Living in Indiana, there is no way getting around winter running...unless you run on a treadmill, and that's even worse than the cold.  So, anyway, I'm ready for it!  Or at least I'm telling myself that.

Now onto the exciting news--the Bowders are coming in today!  All the way from Vancouver, Washington!  They're here for the Tecumseh marathon. Stay tuned for details on that ;)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Confession

This is, quite possibly, the most important blog post I've ever written.  It might make some of you uncomfortable.  You might hate it.  You might not want to be my friend anymore or to follow my blog.  No matter--I have to write it.  It is my hope that, regardless what you think of it, you'll read it.

I started this blog almost a year ago when I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life.  I was plagued with a horrific pain which no one could figure out.  It was in my abdomen, and it would often radiate into my shoulder and around my back.  It was a stabbing pain.  And it was at its very worst when I was running.  It threatened to take away my ability to engage in a sport which I have held dear for years now.

I thought I might lose my mind.  I traveled, I read, and I underwent numerous diagnostic tests.  And still, the pain persisted.  Month after month, it just would not let go.  Or, if it did, it would come back shortly with a vengeance.  I was depressed.  I was angry.  I felt lost.  Not everyone understood, and they would ask me "Why do you keep running through all this pain?  Why don't you just stop?"  I didn't always know how to answer them, but the truth was that I knew, for some reason, that I had to keep going.  I knew it was going to resolve, but that I had to keep pushing through it.

I grew up, for the most part, in church.  A Christian church.  I was baptized when I was 14.  But I'd never actually been a Christian.  I thought that the Bible had some good lessons in it, but I had no idea of the context in which those lessons occurred.  I vaguely understood that everyone around me at church believed that Jesus came, died, rose again, and it somehow cleansed us of sin.  I had no idea why this happened or if it even really happened.  I just went along with it until I was about 21 years old.

I then went from kind of, sort of understanding Christianity and going through the motions to an angry atheist.  Some bad things--or at least they felt bad to me--happened in my life.  Most of these things were my own fault.  And my very first notion was to reject God.  And anyone who believed in Him, Jesus, or any of that "stuff."  I poked fun at people who honestly believed in Christ.  If I found out someone was a Christian, I immediately discounted that person as a gullible idiot.  Someone who needed a "crutch" in order to get through life.  All of it made me roll my eyes.

Then I met Tim.  Tim was not a Christian either, but he wasn't an atheist.  We were just happy, tolerant people together.  During this time, I began to concede that "something" was in control of the universe.  What a revelation, huh?  But at least I was no longer completely rejecting the notion of God.  Jesus, though?  Forget about that nonsense.  Some really good things happened in my life.  Namely, we had Rowan.

Shortly after that, though, the abdominal pain started.  And I found myself with a sense of desperation like I had never before felt.  I cannot express, in words, how miserably I felt physically.  My weight plummeted, I was pale, and I was in constant pain.  But all the tests showed that I was perfectly fine.  I continued to train for the Eugene marathon--my first marathon--through all of this.

One day in early March, I was out running.  Running had turned from something I loved to something I just had to survive, and this day was different only in that the pain was worse than usual.  I was running down Washington Avenue, and I made it to the "circle"--a cul-de-sac type thing on the route.  I closed my eyes and it felt like someone was stabbing me.  But I did not stop.  And, without knowing it, I began to pray.

People--I had not prayed in a LONG time.  And I believe that this was one of the first genuine prayers in my entire life.  I didn't even want to be praying.  But I couldn't help it.  I was overwhelmed by the need to ask God to please stop this.  And so I did.  I pleaded with Him--completely without pride or anger--to please, please, PLEASE make this pain stop.  I told Him I could no longer endure this.  I wept.  I shook.  And I kept running.  The pain did not stop.  It actually worsened for the remainder of the run.  Still, however, I felt better.  I had a sense that this would end and that, unbelievably, I would one day be glad to I experienced it.

When I returned home, I did not tell Tim of my experience.  I told no one.  And though I didn't realize it at the time, that day marked the beginning of my journey toward true Christianity.  Over the next few months, I began to feel different.  I was still in a lot of physical pain, but I began to feel better spiritually.  I had some hope.  Again, I did not attribute this to God.  I was just aware of it.


I ran my first marathon in May (with a TENS unit attached to my abdomen).  I then had two surgeries and got temporary relief from my pain.  But it kept coming back.  It was around June that I prayed again.  Not out of desperation this time, but out of confusion.  I felt something stirring in me, and I didn't know what it was.  It made me uncomfortable.  I found myself saying, "So what's the deal, God?"  And I became angry again.

Then came Rachel.  Rachel is now one of my good friends.  For a long time, I knew of her from mutual running friends, but I didn't know her.  I knew she was a Christian, too.  She began coming down to Bedford to do long runs with us in June or July.  I really liked running with her.  One day, I asked her about where she was from, etc.  She's from Ohio.  I asked her if she came to Bloomington for her current job.  "No," she said.  "I came here with some others to plant a church.  A church called High Rock."  I had no idea what planting a church was, but I was pretty sure that I understood what she had done--packed up all her belongings, left her family and friends, and came to Bloomington (without a job) to help start a church.  Whoa.  I was shocked because Rachel didn't seem like some of the frightening, Bible-beating Christians I had grown up around.  She seemed loving.  I figured that anyone who would do what she did must be crazy--but she wasn't.

So I said to Rachel, "Well, we've been thinking of going to church."  We hadn't.  I just, in that moment, felt that I wanted to go to her church.  And I wanted her to invite me.  She did, but in a non-threatening way.  She gave me all the info.  I mentioned it to Tim and, without much discussion, we were at High Rock the next Sunday.  Without verbalizing it, both of us knew we needed to be there--somewhere, anyway.

My first experience at High Rock was different from any other I've ever had at a church.  I grew up going to a Church of God, and often attended my grandmother's Methodist church.  A lot of times, at those churches, I could tell that people attended out of obligation.  Not at High Rock.  Do you know why those people were there?  They genuinely loved and worshiped Jesus.  They didn't fight over what color the carpet in the church should be.  They didn't squabble over money.  They had one goal:  tell the story of Jesus, and bring others to know it.

That day, Tim and I were the "others."  Though I knew some about Jesus, I have never heard a sermon preached how Scott Joseph preached.  He did it very intellectually--he did not just stand up and command you to do things, or make you feel guilty.  He supported his claims with data.  As someone with a PhD, I'm big on data.  Bring on the evidence.  And it's all there, in the Bible.  And he showed us that.  Now, a lot of people will say, "But how do you know you can trust the Bible?"  (I said that too)...more on that in a bit.

So, after that first service, Tim and I kind of said to each other, "I liked that.  Let's do it again."  And we went every Sunday.  We couldn't articulate how differently we were feeling.  All we knew is that life was better.  So we kept going.  Soon, there was one Sunday when Rowan was sick.  One of us had to stay home, so Tim decided to.  I went to High Rock by myself.  At the end of the service, they offer an opportunity to go up and receive prayer.  They lay hands on you and pray for you.  I thought it was weird, but I found it in the Bible.  If it's Biblical, it's not weird.  Anyway--I found myself going up there.  It was so bizarre.  I didn't know why I was going up for prayer, and Tim wasn't even with me, but I just kept going.

I stood there, and within a minute, two women--one named Jen and one named Angie--came to my side.  They asked me what I wanted prayer for.  First, I told them that I felt like I was being pulled up there but I didn't know why.  And then I said "I have this pain.  This pain that no one can figure out.  It's ruining my life."  I told them how I was going to go to Chicago to see a specialist. They prayed over me for a long time.  I wept.  When it was over, I left and went home.  And I didn't tell Tim about any of it.  I don't know why, to this day.

The next day, I went out for a run.  I wasn't even thinking about the prayer I had received.  I was prepared for the same agony which I had been experiencing for months.  I strapped on my iPod, and went out the door.  Strangely, every quarter mile or so, my iPod would shut off.  I was getting really irritated with it.  Finally, about three miles in, I stopped to figure out what was wrong with it.  It wouldn't even turn on.  This was a brand new iPod that I had used two days before without any problem.

Angry, I shoved it into my shorts and went on my run sans music.  About a half mile later is when I realized it.  No abdominal pain.  ZERO.  I was so shocked by this realization that I stopped dead in my tracks.  I started again, and it was still gone.  I carried on running with great caution.  I didn't want to do anything to make it come back.  Then I decided I wanted to try the iPod again.  It started up, and then it went dead again within a minute or so.  Then it hit me.

OH!  I said out loud.  "I get it, I get it!"  I felt that God was trying to tell me something.  Something along the lines of:  "Um, would you please forget your music so that I can show you what I've done for you?"  I laughed.  I was laughing and running....and not hurting.  I began talking to God out loud.  One part of me was noticing how crazy this was, but the other part couldn't stop.  I just kept telling Him I got it.  I'll never forget it...I stood on the corner of 16th street, waiting to cross the intersection to get back to my house, and I started waving at cars going by.  I was SO happy.  I bounded home and told Tim.

"The pain's gone."  "Really?"  "Yeah." He looked at me, puzzled.  "I got prayer yesterday at church," I said.  We both sat there in silence.

It was several weeks later before we had another conversation about that.  Tim and I had both started believing in and longing for Christ, yet neither of us knew how to articulate it to the other.  That happened when we finally joined a small group at High Rock.

Let me just tell you--I thought I loved going to High Rock service.  I LOVE my small group.  Just as we started attending it, I met with the pastor, Scott, to talk about baptism.  I wanted to be baptized again, as I knew the first one wasn't real.  Next thing I knew--Tim told me HE wanted to be baptized.  It was awesome.

I told everyone at small group about my pain-free running experience.  But I didn't tell anyone else.  It was easy to tell them--they were Christians.  They wouldn't laugh at me, roll their eyes, or call me crazy.  They understood.  They also understood when I said that I was glad that I had had that pain.  That miserable experience was the only thing that got me to God.  He knew how stubborn I was.  I suffered like that for so long so that I would finally turn myself over to Him.

Until now, I've not told anyone else that story.  But God has let me know that I was missing the point.  I have had trouble witnessing to people.  I don't always know how to do it, especially since most of my family/friends are not Christians.  And I don't want to be one of those people who scares people away.  Because, let's be real, those people exist.

So this blog post is not for my Christian friends (although I am happy if they are reading it).  It's for my parents, my siblings, my colleagues, and my friends who are not Christians.  It is not meant to make you feel bad or guilty.  It is not to judge you.  It is to demonstrate how a heart of stone--because I had one--has been radically transformed.  And how my suffering has ended.  Because of Jesus Christ.  I know that, to those of you who've known me for a long time, it sounds very bizarre and out of character.  You know that I'm hard-nosed, and that I love evidence.  Well, I'm here to tell you--I'm convinced.  And it's not Rachel or High Rock or my small group to thank (though I love them all).  It's God--God found me.  I put up quite a fight, but ultimately He won.  I found out yesterday that I've had people who've known me for a long time praying that God would find me.  For years.  Finally, their prayers were answered.

Now, before I close this post, I want you to know that there are people who claim to be Christians who do not act in a Christ-like manner.  Let that not deter you.  If you want to know what Christianity is supposed to be, I urge you to 1) read the Bible, 2) Come to High Rock (or another good church), 3) talk to Christians like me, Rachel, and Tim.  I am certainly not an expert on the Bible.  But I know several people who are.  They can answer anything for you, just as they do for me.

I imagine that, when I hit "publish post," God will let out a tremendous sigh, throw up his hands, and say "Finally!"  I have taken a long time to out myself as a Christian, and to tell my story.  As I said, some of you will react how I would have several years ago.  Eye rolling, etc.  But if just one of you, as a result of this post, takes a step toward learning about Jesus and how he loves and has saved you, then this post has been effective.

I seem to be having a hard time closing this post, but let me just say:  If any of you who read this have ANY questions about God, Jesus, Christianity, etc....please ask me.  As I said, I might not know the answer.  I can certainly tell you MY story.  And I can connect you with people who know all the answers to the really hard questions.  If you're a skeptic, I recommend that you read the book "The Case for Christ."  It was written by an atheist (Lee Strobel), who went on a mission to disprove that Christ is the Messiah.  He asks all the questions I've ever asked, and shares the evidence with you.  Even if you don't buy it, it's still a very good read.

Okay.  Done.  Thank you for reading, and thank you to Jesus for giving me the strength to do this.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Moving Right Along

Life, that is.  I have officially defended my dissertation and earned my PhD (!!!), the semester nears its end, Sara Jane is about to run an awesome race in NY, I'm loving having a (spectacular!) running coach, we're buying a new car (as in...actually NEW), and something hurts.

It's all good apart from that last bit.  So, if you remember, I developed some hip pain last May.  Like, a LONG time ago.  When I say hip pain, I mean more like groin pain.  But I know it's coming from my hip.  Anyway, it was diagnosed as a hip flexor strain with resulting tendonitis.  I rested it, and had a lot of Graston done by the fabulous Penny.  I also strengthened my glutes.  It seemed to help, but the pain would only go away for a short time, then come back.

During taper for Chicago, it got really bad.  It's not that it was that bad while running, but it ached ALL THE TIME, especially in the car or going up stairs.  I did not feel it at ALL during the marathon (might have been because everything else hurt so much).  And I really didn't notice it the few days after the race (again, probably overshadowed by the back and quad pain).  Anyway, I took two weeks totally off of running.  During that time, I could feel it...especially at Disney World where we did a lot of standing/walking.

Last week, it got worse.  After all that rest, it got worse.  All along, I've kind of thought this was not tendonitis.  People--I've had a lot of tendonitis.  It is worse in the morning (this is best in the morning), doesn't hurt at rest (this is worst at rest), and might hurt at the beginning of a run, but then fades (if it bothers me running, it's always later in the run).  Also, it radiates into my quad and knee.  Not typical of tendonitis.  So I decided to go to a sports medicine doctor--a new one.  I had been seeing Dr. Weidenbener, but he seemed content to just let this go, and also didn't believe me about my piriformis syndrome (and that's what it was!), so I'm going to a new sports medicine doctor--Dr. LaGrange.  I LOVE him.  He's a fairly new doctor, but I think that works in my favor.  Sports medicine is cutting edge, and he knows all about the new stuff/changes.  He also seems to have a lot of passion for athletes.

So, I went to see him on Monday and explained to him the whole hip issue.  I also told him that Dr. W had had a bone scan done to ensure that I didn't have a stress fracture, but that that was totally normal.  "No, it wasn't totally normal," said Dr. LaGrange as he pulled up a copy of the report.  He told me that, while there was no stress fracture, I had increased uptake of the contrast dye in my pubic bones (bottom of hips).  This indicates inflammation (i.e. the bone is trying to heal).  Even though I don't have pain in THAT part of my hip, it's a piece of the puzzle.

So he did a very extensive exam of my hip, and asked me what hurt and what didn't.  I recognized that he was doing the "impingement test."  He told me to sit up, grabbed a model of the hip joint, and said "It's one of three things, and I am leaning toward one of them."  He explained that he thinks I may have something called Femoral Acetabular Impingement Syndrome (why do I always have SYNDROMES?).  The hip joint is a ball and socket.  FAI occurs when the ball portion pinches the labrum which is located in the socket.  It's not a serious injury--but it hurts.  It also commonly causes radiation down the thigh and to the knee.

He said option two was a sports hernia.  That one surprised me.  I know what they are.  He explained that they cause groin pain.  However, he said, they don't usually go into the knee, and they are most commonly associated with abdominal pain (of which, at this point, I actually have none). The final option, he said, would be iliopsoas bursitis/tendonitis.  But he doesn't think that's the case given that it's been going on so long and that it radiates down my thigh and into my knee.  So he was still voting for FAI.

FAI can only be diagnosed by a test called an MR Arthrogram--like an MRI but with dye injected into the joint.  A key part of the test is that they numb the joint before they give the contrast.  If this gets rid of the pain, there's a pretty good bet that it's coming from the joint.  He told me that the test is kind of painful, so that we could start by doing a steroid injection into the hip joint.  If it worked, great.  If it wore off or didn't work, then we would do the MRA.

However, I wanted the MRA now.  Why?  Deductible.  It's been met for us for this year.  If I get the steroid injection, it works for six weeks, then wears off, I'm going to have to get the MRA anyway.  At that point, it'll be 2012, and we'll have to shell over the $2500 for the test.  No, thank you.  He understood, and agrees we should go ahead with the MRA.  It happens next Tuesday.

Here's the good news--I can still run.  He's not at all concerned that continuing to run will cause any damaged.  It's a structural (pinching) problem, and running won't make it worse.  That's awesome.  The bad news--most people require a surgery (though it's minimally invasive) to fix this problem for good.  We'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Good luck to all my friends racing this weekend!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coachable

Apparently, I am. 

Today, Conor sent me this week's schedule for training.  He's sending me my schedule week by week.  Which is funny, because that's what I've been doing for Sara Jane.  It's pretty much all easy running right now, and even some cross training on the bike or elliptical.

So, today, I was to run 25-30 minutes very easy.  Conor will soon find out that, if he gives me a time range, I'm pretty much always going to run the maximum time he allows.  So I ran 30 minutes.  I ran with the running group (it was Tim, Galloway, Bill, Dan, and Kathy).  I went very slowly...almost uncomfortably slow.  Luckily, the group was going slowly anyway, so I just hung on the back of them.  So I cut it short to ensure that I didn't go over my time limit.

That, my friends, is a huge deal.  I stopped running when everyone else was still going.  Without a coach, I'd just keep running as long as there were people to run with.  And then I might run some more.  I LOVE having rules.  30 minutes...no more.  It's so nice to have someone setting boundaries, particularly since that person knows what he is doing.

At first, my legs felt just okay.  They didn't hurt, but they just felt blah.  After about ten minutes, though, they felt good.  I really enjoyed this run.  It was easy and it was pure running.  No Garmin (I had it on but all I could see was elapsed time), no worrying about pace, and no worrying about distance.  I have no idea how far I went.  It's on my Garmin, but I didn't look.  And I don't even care how far it was.  I'm running by time.  So. Weird.  But I love it!

Now, onto coaching from the other side.  Sara Jane's big day is coming up.  She's running the NYC marathon in less than two weeks.  The A goal is to break 4 hours.  I know she will race her heart out and she is going to get a major PR.  If she has a great day and the weather is good, sub-4 is in the bag.  I will be spending that entire morning tracking her.  And pacing, just like I did when she was running Grandma's.  Whatever the outcome at NY, I can tell you that "coaching" her is one of the most fun things I've ever done.  And I've ended up getting a really close friend out of it.  SJ and I really mesh well, despite the fact that we have a lot of differences (she's really anti-splenda and Wal-Mart).  She's awesome and I can't wait to see what she does in NY!

Monday, October 24, 2011

There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow...

That song has been stuck in my head since I rode the "Carousel of Progress" at the Magic Kingdom with Amelia and Tim during my first day of Disney vacation.  If you don't know what song I'm talking about, you can hear it here.  I warn you, though, that it can get stuck in your head for a LONG time.

Though the above-referenced song is really cheesy and, let's face it, annoying, it does summarize how I'm feeling about life in general right now.  There are so many good things happening for me and Tim that I can't fit them all in one post.  I'll start by reporting on Disney, running, and a bit about my career.

I always said that, when I finished my PhD, I was going to go to Disney World.  Not that I've never been before.  I'm a Disney person who comes from a Disney family.  My mom used to take me and my brother there Every. Single. Summer.  I have a Minnie Mouse (vintage-style) tattoo on my ankle.  Yes, I'm serious about Disney.

My daughter Amelia, who is only 9, has been at least six or seven times.  But I hadn't been able to take her for almost five years due to school, lack of time/money, etc.  Rowan, of course, had not yet been.  I took Amelia for the first time when she was 15 months.  Rowan is 14 months...and so, it was time.  Tim, Amelia, Rowan, my mom, and I spent five days experiencing all that Disney World has to offer.  All four of the parks, the best food imaginable, and the prime attractions.  The crowds were not bad at all (October is the second best time of year to go...next to February), we spent very little time waiting in lines, and the weather was nice.

However, Disney done right is an exhausting experience.  I don't know that Tim was prepared for this.  He's only been to Disney once before, and I think for only a day.  He was about to do Disney the Trueblood way.  The short of it is that we were pretty much on our feet for 16 hours a day.  My mom graciously took Rowan back to the room early and allowed me, Tim, and Amelia to enjoy the parks until late into the night...around midnight each night.  We stayed in one of the Disney value resorts, which offer free bus transportation from the hotel to the parks.  That sounds great, but it's a long process.  Next time, I'm saving up enough money to ensure that we can stay at a hotel that has direct monorail access.  Anyway--it's not the best place to go when trying to get your legs to recover from a marathon.

Tim, who was so curious about how many miles we were walking each day, finally turned on his Garmin and tracked it.  We were walking 12ish miles every day.  It felt more difficult than any 12 mile run I've ever done.  We collapsed in bed each night, only to arise early the next morning to do it over. We had an absolute blast.  And Rowan got his first hair cut!  He looks frighteningly like his Uncle Wes now.

Now, running.  I'm running again.  Not much, but I'm back out there.  And my legs finally feel un-trashed.  I had almost two weeks off, so I certainly don't feel anything even approaching "fit" or "sharp," but at least nothing hurts.  Conor had instructed me to come back slowly, and so that's what I've done.  I've been running 15- to 20-minute segments very, very slowly.  And I've enjoyed it.

In the middle of composing this post, I got a call from Conor.  We discussed my training and how it's going to work.  I'll save the details for later, but let me just say I'm VERY excited about it.  It sounds like I'll be focusing on some shorter stuff for a while, which is actually welcome after my Chicago experience.  Not that it was a horrific experience (it might have been physically, but I sure did learn a lot), but the thought of training for shorter races is really, really appealing.  I love 5Ks, but haven't raced one in over two years.  My PR is 19:06, and that was done as a brand new runner.  I'm excited to see what I can do there.

You might be shocked at how not devastated I am about my Chicago performance.  I'm not at all, and there are two reasons for it:  I know that I gave 100% of myself that day, never gave up, and could not have gone any faster.  Secondly, it feels good to finally turn the reigns over to someone else.  I am so glad to no longer be 100% in control of my training.  I love running almost to a fault, and I'm really, really bad at moderation when I truly love something.  You never have to worry about undertraining or lack of motivation with me.  Rather, you have to worry about me running myself into the ground and pretending that I'm not doing so.  However, I'm also the type that has deference to authority.  Meaning that, if I hire a coach, I'm going to do whatever he/she says.  I can't wait to see exactly what Conor has in store.  Whatever it is--I'll do it!

Now, career.  I'm defending my dissertation this week.  It's surreal to be this close to the end of this journey.  After my defense, I will be....done.  No more school for me.  I'm excited, but also nervous about that prospect.  I've been in school for a LONG time.  I've been juggling work, school, and family for many years.  And now I can finally just juggle work and family (and running!).  I can't wait.

Oh, and a note about Tim.  He ran a good race at Chicago, but apparently he wasn't satisfied.  A week later, he ran a 20 with the guys, then ran the whole time in Disney.  He did another 20 yesterday.  Hmm...could he be thinking of running another marathon?  Perhaps the Monumental Marathon in two weeks?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sunday, Bloody Sunday: Chicago 2011 Race Report

As I blogged yesterday, my race report was featured in the My Race, My Story blog.  If I were you, I'd read it there because she made it look a lot more pretty and included pictures, etc.  But I'll post it here anyway:

“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I think I am.”
“You want to?”
“Yeah, let’s sign up.”

And so we did.  The above conversation took place between me and my husband, Tim, around February of 2011.  The discussion related to signing up for the 2011 Chicago marathon.
The question was not whether we’d run a fall marathon.  That much was certain.  But should we run Chicago?  Everyone knows that weather has been a major issue in Chicago in the last three out of four years.  But, more than that, any hesitancy about Chicago that Tim expected out of me stemmed from the 2009 race—the one year when the temperature at the race was actually ideal.

I didn’t run Chicago in 2009.  Tim did, but I didn’t.  And that was the problem.  I had trained for it, and it was to be my first marathon.  Five weeks before the race, I sustained a severe groin injury which prevented me from running the race.  I was extremely fit, and I was completely devastated.  That devastation was compounded by the fact that I went to spectate the race.  While I was happy to watch my husband break 3:00 for the first time and to see my brother run his first marathon, it was a really heart-wrenching experience for me.  

After spectating Chicago in 2009, I used to always grumble that I hated the Chicago marathon.  I was half-joking, but the truth is I held a lot of disdain for that race—a race that let me train myself into the ground only to prevent me from experiencing the fruits of my labor.  While I intellectually understood that the race itself was in no way responsible for my misfortune, I was still bitter.

Hence Tim’s questioning of me when I told him I thought we should run Chicago.  But I was over all my Chicago angst.  I had finally run my first marathon (Eugene in May of ’11) and had a wonderful first marathon experience.  The marathon no longer eluded me.  I had run a strong first marathon on very moderate training.  And, while it was difficult, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it could have been.  So I signed us up for Chicago assuming that my second marathon would outshine even my nearly-perfect Eugene experience.  Especially since I ran Eugene with a TENS unit attached to me and only got up to 60 miles per week one time.  I’ll spare you the suspense:  I was wrong.

The Training
I ran the Eugene Marathon relatively undertrained and when, in June, Chicago training was to begin, I was dead set on making sure that my fitness was at a level it had never been come October 9th.  I wanted to race my guts out knowing that I had trained as hard as I could.  I overcame a couple of early obstacles (two abdominal surgeries in May and July), but I did manage to train very hard this summer.  To summarize, I ran most of my weeks around 70 miles, and three of those weeks were 75+ miles.  I also ran 10 20+ mile long runs, most of which were back-to-back long runs (a 16 on Saturday followed by a 22 on Sunday, for example).  90% of my runs were in heat and extreme humidity, and a lot of them were at 5:00 a.m.  I eschewed speed work in favor of lots of miles, as I know that I have some natural speed.  I knew this plan would not make me fast, but figured it should make me strong.  And strength is a must in the marathon.

I did all of this running on only four days per week.  I chose this schedule not out of convenience, but because it was what I used in Eugene.  And it had worked.  But it is VERY different to run 75 miles in four days than to only run 55 in the same time period.  In my peak training for Chicago, I was running nearly 20 miles a day during those four days of running.  This called for lots of doubles. I never ran fewer than 14-15 miles at once in my first run of the day.  I expected my legs to feel tired, and they did, but around mid-August I started questioning if they felt too tired.

The problem was my quads.  They would feel fine the first few miles of a run, but after that it felt as though they lacked all shock absorption.  I had complained of this problem to my husband and my other running friends—told them that it wasn’t injury type pain, but that my legs were just completely trashed.  Every. Single. Run.  They told me to just make it to taper and that it would get better.

I made it to taper, and it got worse.  I wasn’t running as much, but when I did run my legs felt wasted.  I remembered my legs feeling flat during taper for Eugene, but this was different.  My quads ached, even during very slow runs.  I was concerned about it, but I figured that this was just a different kind of taper due to all of the miles and all of the long runs.  I also had taken about a month’s worth of oral prednisone, and was suffering from side effects of it.  My face began to swell a little and I gained a few pounds due to the fluid retention.  Still, I kept the faith that my legs would be fresh and strong on race day, just like they had been in Eugene.

Pre-Race 

Tim and I headed up to Chicago on Friday.  I was still not feeling very confident, but again assumed that it would all come together when I hit the start line.  And I began to worry about the weather.  It looked to be a bit too warm on race day.  But I’ve run in so much heat.  I suppose I was more worried about the weather given how my legs were feeling.  I drove Tim insane with questions like “Am I really ready for this?”  I know he thought I was just nervous, but something just felt a little off.  Not like Eugene did.  I shrugged it off since it WAS different than Eugene—I had run one before and knew what to be afraid of.

We went to the expo.  I’m sorry, but I hate expos.  I can’t stand being around all those people.  We got our bags, a new pair of shoes for Tim, and got out of there.  We met friends for dinner, then headed to Emily’s parents’ house, where we were graciously allowed to stay for the whole weekend.

The next morning, I went with Wes (my brother), Tim, and Scott (my friend) to do one final shake out run.  I only went two miles.  While I didn’t feel great, I didn’t feel awful.  I turned around before they did, and did about a half mile at marathon pace (7:14).  It didn’t feel too bad, but I was slightly aware of my quads during it.  I didn’t obsess over it because there wasn’t a thing I could do at that point.

I drank a TON of fluid on Saturday and also began taking salt tabs.  My slightly swollen face which had resulted from the prednisone quickly became noticeably swollen.  It didn’t really look like me.  I was not swollen anywhere else—just my face.  It became the joke that I looked like I had just had my wisdom teeth removed.  It has made for some interesting pictures.  Anyway—physically I was not “normal,” and I didn’t feel normal.  Saturday night I felt exhausted.  After we ate pasta, all I could think about was sleeping.  Again, I didn’t remember feeling this way for Eugene.  But I figured it was just how it was supposed to be.

Race Day

My dad (who was also staying with us and was going to race) woke me up at 4:45 a.m.  I thought he was just waking me up, but he told me he had changed his mind about racing and was just going to head home.  I was shocked by this, but on some level I also understood.  I was incredibly nervous myself.

I got up and had some cream of wheat…and noticed that my face was even MORE swollen at this point.  I looked like a chipmunk.  Before I knew it, we were parking the van.  Emily and her roommate, Katie, were going to run together.  Tim would be running his own race, attempting to break 2:50.  And Wes and Scott would be running with me.  The plan was to start out with the 3:10 pace group and try to do a slight negative split to sneak in under 3:10.

It was warm out. 66 degrees at the start.  It was strange to see runners at the start line shirtless and in sports bras.  People are usually wrapped up in trash bags and long-sleeved shirts.  There was just no need for it.

I was also struck by the sheer number of people in our corral.  We were in B corral, which is very near the front, and it was absolutely packed.  I’ve never run a race with this many people—around 45,000 in all.  Remember how I didn’t like the expo given all the people?  Well, now all these people were surrounding me to get ready to run.  I instantly disliked that aspect of the race, but hoped it would fade as soon as we took off.

I got the chance to talk to the 3:10 pacer, and I asked his strategy.  He joked around for a second, saying we’d take off at 6 minute miles.  But he quickly realized that I was not in a joking mood.  We’d start out around 8 minute pace for the first mile, he said, and then we’d make up that time by the half.  I didn’t like the idea of starting so far off of goal pace, but was told that there was no way we could go any faster given the crowd.  We were so packed in that corral and there were still 10 minutes til the start.  I had brought a Starbucks cup with me in which to pee (under a trash bag) and did this twice during that 10 minute period.  Men often pee in Gatorade bottles, but clearly that’s not very practical for women.  Venti Starbucks cups work splendidly…just don’t forget the lid!  Wes borrowed my cup for his own uses, and before I knew it we were off.

Miles 1-6
But not really.  We went forward a little, then stopped.  People slammed into the back of me.  Then we went further a bit more.  Then boom, stop.  I didn’t like this, and I kept panicking that I’d lose Wes and Scott.  Once we crossed the line, we were finally able to run, but not very fast.  That was fine, as I didn’t feel the rush of adrenaline I had expected and that I had experienced in Eugene.  I figured this was because I was made very uncomfortable by the mass of people around me.

When I say that they were around us, I actually mean they were on top of us.  Shoulders were touching, and all I could do was focus on not falling.  One guy did fall during the first mile, and I looked back long enough to see him get thoroughly stepped upon.  We just kept going.

Wes told me to just relax—he knew I was concerned about the slow pace.  My Garmin was useless at this point, as it does not work accurately in the city due to all the tall buildings.  I just kept focusing on the pace group sign, but by about a half mile in it seemed to be gapping us.  We couldn’t catch up with them simply because of the crowd.  Strangely, I was okay with this.  We hit mile 1 at 7:28.  That was actually pretty perfect.  Not as slow as I had anticipated, but not quite goal pace either.  It did not feel hot at this point—it was breezy and quite pleasant, really.  And the buildings offered a ton of shade.  I began to think that this might be a good day.

We hit the second mile in 7:26, and again I was not surprised by this given the mass of people around us.  It was around this mile that all the people really started to get to me.  I hung in the middle of the road for the third mile, which we hit at 7:22, and at that point I could no longer take running around all those people.  I made my way to the right side of the street and got as close as I could to the spectators.

This made me feel better, though I remember crossing the 5K mark thinking that it didn’t feel easy yet.  In retrospect, that was a very ominous sign.  The first few miles of a marathon should feel like pure jogging.  While I was absolutely fine cardiovascularly—I could breathe, talk, etc., and I wasn’t in any pain, it just simply wasn’t easy.  At that point, I told myself I’d re-evaluate at the 10K mark.  Again, another bad sign—coming up with re-evaluation points that early in the race means something is off.  I can be fully honest with myself now and admit that, three miles in, I was concerned.  I wasn’t sure about what—it didn’t feel hot—I just knew it didn’t feel right.

By the 10K mark we were on pace, clicking off miles anywhere from 7:12 to 7:17 pace.  We had a little time to make up from the first few slow miles, but honestly I was not even concerned about that.  I just wanted to stay on goal pace.

Scott and Wes were right with me.  My nutrition was going well, and Scott was hand-delivering my water every aid station so I didn’t even have to break stride to hydrate.  I was being totally spoiled.

Miles 6-10
The only time I ever really felt like I was in a groove during the whole race was during miles 6-9.  I remember consciously saying to myself “Okay.  I CAN do this.”  Again, this convincing nonsense was happening far too early, but it was during these three miles that I thought I might actually have a chance of pulling it off.  Our splits were consistent, and I felt fine so long as I stayed on the outer portion of the road.  The second I was surrounded by people my effort level seemed to sky rocket.  It was just beginning to get warm, and being near all those bodies made it worse.  On the outer portion of the road I could at least feel the breeze.  I could also try to focus on the spectators, who were amazing and provided a good distraction.

And then I hit mile 10.  As though a switch had been hit, I could suddenly feel my quads.  And, within a half mile, my hamstrings joined in.  It was no kind of injury pain, it was fatigue.  Fatigue that I recognized immediately.  I had experienced it in Eugene, but during that race it was right around mile 17—a whopping seven miles later.  I mentioned to Scott that I was feeling this, and he said something like “That’s okay, just keep running.”  He later admitted to me (after the race) that he was concerned that I complained of that feeling so early.  By the middle of the 10th mile, I knew that it was going to be a rough day, but I also held onto my goal.  I was dealing with the fatigue.  For now.

Miles 10-15
These miles were characterized by rough patches which gave way to better patches.  Let me explain.  For a quarter mile or so, my legs would begin to feel a lot worse.  My quads would burn.  But then something would happen—I’d get a drink or we’d get into the shade—and I’d suddenly feel better.  My head was all over the place during miles 10-13, as I kept telling myself I should slow down but also that I should hang on.  I did slow down a bit, and I felt even worse, so I sped back up.  We hit the half in 1:35:41—just 42 seconds off my goal.

That’s a great place to be at the half, unless you are questioning your ability to make it to 20 at that pace.  But that was the goal I gave myself—just make it to 20.  By 15, my goal had changed to “just make it to 18.”  My quads felt, at 15, like they did at mile 23 in Eugene.  And I began to notice that I was having trouble standing up straight while running—I was ever so slightly drawing to the right.  By about 15.25, my goal rapidly changed to “Make it to the next mile marker.”  These are all very common and very helpful mental tricks used by distance runners.  The only problem is that I was using them about 6-7 miles too early.  Scott continued to be my water/Gatorade servant, and Wes told me to just stop thinking and run.  It was also getting very, very sunny at this point and, for the first time, I noticed how warm I felt.

Miles 15-20
We continued to click off 7:13-7:15 paced miles, but the effort was ever-increasing for me.  I would catch myself thinking that I still had more than 10 miles to go, and that thought was daunting.  It was around mile 17 that I knew my goal was pretty much not going to happen.  My vision got blurry.  And, from there, I got tunnel vision.  Wes and Scott were pointing things out to me on the course, but I honestly couldn’t see them.  It was like I could only see a small sliver in front of each eye.  At this point, Scott kept giving me more and more Gatorade and water, and I started taking some of Wes’ salt tabs.  I also doubled up on gels hoping that it would help.  I kept praying for strength and telling myself to focus, but it soon felt like I was running in someone else’s body.

I hung on with some semblance of the runner that I am until mile 19, where I experienced a fantastic blow up.  I couldn’t see, and was now majorly drawn to the right.  I was bent over, and I have no idea why. I was aware of it, but at the same time couldn’t do anything about it.  I remember thinking, at mile 19, that I would be happy with a 3:12.  I looked at my pace tattoo to try and figure up what splits I would need to run to get it, but I was way too mentally foggy to figure that out.  And it was futile anyway—I was redlining it effort-wise and my pace had slipped into the 8:XXs.  I knew I was going to slow down from there.  The only question was how much.

Mile 20 seemed to last forever, and this is where my memory of things gets fuzzy.  I don’t remember hitting mile 20, but I remember that all the sudden ice was coming from out of nowhere.  Scott would show up with ice in his hands.  I’d open my top and he’d dump it in.  Then I’d feel it on my back.  Then water over my head.  He was so good to me and his kindness is what I will remember most about this race.  And Wes, too.  He kept encouraging me.  He gave me permission to stop looking at my watch.  “Don’t pay attention to that thing!” he yelled.  I couldn’t read the numbers anyway, but I was so concerned that I was failing.  I knew I physically could not meet my goal, but I kept obsessing over how far behind it I was.  Wes got it through to me—though I’m not sure how given my mental state—that it honestly did not matter.  I was racing now.  I was gutting it out.  Time be damned.

Miles 20-26.2
I was not given the luxury of rough patches after mile 20.  It was all one big rough patch.  I remember that I began to feel physically sleepy during mile 21.  Not just tired from effort, but like I needed to seriously get on the ground and go to sleep.  Wes told me that if I got to 22 I could finish.  But first I had to get to mile 22.

I don’t know why, but him saying that made me realize what was happening.  I was surviving.  Racing my heart out, and for what?  Not for a 3:10.  Not even for a PR at that point.  I didn’t know what my splits were, but I could tell I was slowing, despite the fact that I was running with more effort than I ever had.  I said to him, “It’s not about the time.  It’s not about the time.”  I don’t know if Wes knew what I meant, but what I was trying to express was my acceptance of the fact that my goals were gone, but that I still had a race to run, and that there was still fighting left to do.  

When we arrived at the 21 mile marker (or when they told me I did—I couldn’t see it, of course), I felt worse physically than I ever have while running.  Nay, in my entire life.  I felt worse than I did during natural child birth.  The need to stop was overwhelming, though I never even considered it.  “One foot in front of the other,” said Scott in between asking spectators for ice out of their coolers so he could stick it in my top.  And that became my mantra:  just move.  Both Wes and Scott were wonderful during those last five miles.  They gave me little goals.  Make it to China Town (which I don’t really remember seeing), make it to that bridge, etc.  I could think no further than about a quarter mile in front of me.  To speak in miles would have been totally overwhelming.

And that’s when Scott said “Don’t think about distance.  Think about time.  You have way less than an hour left.  Rowan could go down for a nap and you’d be finished before he woke up.”  That put it in a context that my feeble brain could grasp.  So I actually tried to imagine putting Rowan down for his afternoon nap, and I tried to imagine that I was running on my home course.

Right after China Town, I began to feel really, really cold.  I knew this was not good and that I didn’t have much longer.  I thought I only had two miles left, but Wes told me I was confused and actually had four.  I still, though, kept thinking I only had two miles left.  Probably a good thing.

I was soon covered in goose bumps, and became frustrated that I couldn’t think of the words “goose bumps” when trying to explain to Scott that I was cold.  I think I managed to say “tingly things.”  At that point, too, I realized that my legs felt almost numb.  And I began to stumble a bit.  The last four miles are a blur, but I do remember spectators looking at me like “What the…?” and cheering me on as hard as they could.  Wes and Scott whooped them up and told them how hard I was working.  They told me I could do it, that I almost had it.  And I found myself repeating what they said.

I stumbled into Scott several times, but I never stopped running.  I know I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I was still running.  “I love running!” I said to Scott.  I didn’t mean that I was loving the running I was doing, but that, despite this torture, I absolutely, unabashedly love the sport of running.  A small part of me was even loving the fact that I was experiencing something I’d never been through while running.  I had heard stories of people running like I was, but I’d never been there.  Now I could check that off my list.  I love that a sport could make me continue to put myself through that much effort, knowing that a PR was not in the cards.  I loved that my brother and Scott cared enough about me to work so hard to make sure that I finished (they had to shoo away about a dozen medical people during those last few miles).

“We’re on Michigan now,” said Scott.  I knew what that meant.  That this was almost over.  I tried to speed up for no other reason than to just get it over with, but my surges lasted only about five seconds.  I remember Wes telling me we had 800 meters left.  “Run 400 for Rowan, and 400 for Amelia.”  So that became my mission.  When we made the turn onto Roosevelt, I remember the ringing in my ears, and the crowds cheering for us seemed to be doing so in slow motion.  I closed my eyes and ran, and again had that overwhelming sleepy feeling.  Then, I couldn’t exactly remember how close I was to the finish.  “Is it almost over?!”  “Yes!” shouted Wes.  

We made a left turn and I saw the red Finish Line banner.  I couldn’t read it.  It was a blur, but I certainly knew what it signified.  I remember it getting closer, and the next thing I remember is a voice I didn’t recognize saying “You have to stay awake, Wendy.  You have to stay awake.”

Yep.  I was in the medical tent.  I finished the race in 3:23:45—13+ minutes off my goal and almost 5 minutes off my PR—and have absolutely no memory of crossing the finishing line.  I think my last actual memory was about 150 meters from the line, when Scott told me to try and out kick another woman.  Apparently I did that, and then passed out cold after crossing the line.  I’m glad I don’t remember it.

My official diagnosis was “Altered Mental Status.”  Meaning that I was just out of it.  All I remember from the finish line to the medical tent is that I was FREEZING.  I kept thinking I was in an ice bath, but I wasn’t.  Apparently I was really confused and, at one point, combative.  My labs revealed hyponatremia—low sodium—which can cause confusion.  My potassium was also low.  The prednisone that I took causes potassium wasting and fluid retention, and so it seems that that may have set me up for this.  They wouldn’t let Wes or Scott in the medical tent, and I assumed they had gone to find Tim…which they had.

I was in there a couple of hours, and I can’t tell you how many times they asked me if I knew where I was and who I was.  My core temperature was 102, and they were talking about putting me in an ice bath.  “No, no, no!” I protested.  I was freezing cold and was not going to stand for an ice bath.  The next thing I remember, there was a podiatrist lancing open the blisters on my right foot.  They were so impressive that the nurses were taking pictures of them (with my permission).

Then they wanted to know who they should call.  I explained that everyone they should call had run the race and did not have a phone on them.  They would not release me until I made contact with someone…so I called my mom using their phone.  She was at home in Indiana, so this only served to freak her out.  But, at least, they would let me leave at this point.

A Red Cross worker was going to walk me to the family reunite tent, when I realized I didn’t have a medal.  I wanted one, as I had earned it…so we walked all the way back to the finish and got one.  Finally, I found Wes.  And then Tim.  Tim ran a 2:54:57…an amazing time given the conditions.  And the day was done.  

I was initially very disappointed in my performance, but now (with the help of soreness the likes of which I have never experienced) realize how proud I should be of my effort.  It was a million times more difficult than Eugene.  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  And yet…I still want to run more of them!

So, what happened?  After thinking about it and talking to Conor, my new coach (who has not actually coached me yet—so he is not responsible for any of this mess), here’s what I think:

-Overtrained.  Which actually means under-recovered.  Running 75 miles a week on four days of running is actually more stressful than doing so in 6 to 7 days a week.  I truly believe, in retrospect, that this was the main problem.  I also did all this during the most academically stressful time of my life, which certainly stole from my recovery and adaptation.

-Prednisone/cortisone.  Too much of a good thing.  Led to water retention/sodium and potassium depletion.

-Weather.  While not horrific, it wasn’t ideal.

-Crowded.  This probably had nothing to do with my blow up, but I just wanted to note that I think I far, far more enjoy smaller races.

So, as much as I’d like to blame Chicago for my experience, I can’t.  I still haven’t figured out the magic recipe of training.  But that’s okay, because from this point on I am no longer in control.  Conor is!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Race Report.

It's written...and now showing on select message boards (365runners.com)...but I can't release it in my blog just YET.  Why?  Because I was asked by fellow blogger Steph Bartley to submit my race report to her very, very cool blog My Race, My Story.  Once she debuts it, I'll post it here.

In case you hadn't heard, I blew up BIG TIME.  But I'll save the details.

I'm terribly and utterly sore now, in a different way than I've ever experienced.

Tim ran a great race, but is now out of town in Texas for work.

Rowan has pneumonia.

After taking him to the doctor to be diagnosed with pneumonia, I managed to get my car stuck on an embankment in their parking lot...and had to have it towed.

We go to see Beauty and the Beast--the Broadway Show--tomorrow evening.

We leave for Disney on Sunday.

I'm really, really tired.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's (Almost) Here.

Marathon day, that is.  Three little days away.  Fewer than 72 hours stand between me and the starting line.  Wow.

It takes a long time to train for a marathon--about five months.  And then, all the sudden, it's here.  And, because of taper, all the long runs and workouts seem like a distant memory.  I like to review my training cycle to see everything that I've done...and hopefully that makes me trust in my training.  But there is always a little doubt.  I didn't do as many pace runs as I wanted to due to my surgeries and the hip injury.  But there is absolutely nothing I can do at this point to improve my fitness--it is totally set and is what it is.  Another thing is that I haven't raced since Eugene.  I wasn't able to fit a half in, and I haven't done any shorter races...so I don't have a gauge of my fitness from those, either.  All I know is that I've run a ton of miles and a ton of long runs.  I'm strong, but not that fast.

I get VERY nervous right before races.  And I've had a steady state of anxiety this entire week.  But, once I'm lining up, it will sky rocket to the point where I may just puke.  But as soon as the gun fires, it all goes away.  It turns into this unbelievable energy.  That energy lasts about 20 miles.  Then the race actually starts.

I'm a little worried about the weather.  The weather is one of those wild cards of distance running/racing...when you sign up for a race, the weather is never, ever guaranteed to be conducive to good times.  But I can't control the weather...and it looks like Chicago is going to be much warmer than desirable.  Of course, the weather could still change...but for now it looks like it will be 60 degrees at the start.  That might SOUND nice...but it's about 15 degrees warmer than ideal.  The problem is not so much with the 60, but the fact that it's a long race...giving it plenty of time to warm up into the 70s. 

I've never raced a warmish marathon--in Eugene the weather was perfect.  I'm relying on Tim to tell me if it gets warm enough to the point that I would need to adjust my goal.  The heat will affect my (an everyone's) time, but that is just part of the deal.

Now...don't get me wrong.  I'm not just anxious...I'm EXCITED.  I have not raced since May!  Racing is so special.  It hurts so much (at the end, in a marathon), but it's so, so fun.  It's why I got up at 5 a.m. all summer to run.  And why I spent over three hours out in Buddha almost every weekend, running the hills to make myself strong.

As for how my legs feel...better than the last time I blogged.  My legs always feel horrific during taper.  Seriously...they feel like they're just going to fall off.  I run all these high mileage weeks and I feel, though tired, good.  Cut back the mileage...and BAM it all falls apart.  Quads ache, hip hurts, knees hurt, ankles twinge.  I'm past all that now.  No pain in my legs.

But they still feel dead.  I ran 6 miles on Tuesday, with two of those at marathon pace.  The marathon pace miles were fine, but the slow ones felt like a drudge.  That's normal taper stuff.  I'm running an easy 5 today, and I'm sure it'll feel hard.  Annoying, but expected.

I haven't posted any kind of race plan yet because I don't actually have one yet.  All I know is that I have two pacers...Wes and Scott.  That should be interesting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rescue Me!

Oh, taper, how I hate thee.  Let me count the ways:

1. Everything HURTS.  Knees, calves, hip, TOES.  My hair even hurts.
2. Dead legs...as in, my legs felt better during the last run of my 75-mile peak week.  Out in Buddha.
3. I'm STARVING.
4. I don't get to run much.
5.  3 + 4= I feel gross and fat and slow.
6.  Complete confidence collapse.  I go through my training log and convince myself I've not done enough.  Then I start catastrophizing about how I'm such an IDIOT for giving myself such a lofty goal.  And how did I ever expect to be able to run fast on THAT kind of training?

Yes...it's as bad as it sounds.  If you don't believe me...just ask Tim.  That's the bonus:  We're both in taper!  I'm an anxious mess, and he's just trying to keep from getting sick (always happens to him during taper).

I've only ever tapered once before now--for my first marathon last May.  That taper didn't seem as bad as this one...but I hadn't run near the miles and, well, it was my first.  Not really any pressure.  All I know is that I loathe taper.  More on that later.

So, since I'm not running much (or writing much given the dissertation is done!), I've had time to look back through the training log.  Quite a training cycle...punctuated by...

-Two abdominal surgeries (one in May, one in July)
-10 20-milers (including two 22s and a 21)
-The hip-injury-that-would-not-die (still have it)
-Severe piriformis syndrome on both sides leading to some really bad sciatica=numb feet=hard to run.  Thankful for my piriformis injections!
-Pace runs...a handful of them, longest one was 10.
-Not much fast work:  one 8 mile run at 6:40 pace.
-Three 70+ mile weeks (70, 73, 75)
-A bunch of mid- and high- 60s weeks
-All of my miles were done on four days/week of running...which means I did a whole lot of doubles.

So, when I look at that...I notice a couple of things.  I still have issues with injury.  Not as badly as I used to, but it's still the one thing holding me back.  Second, I ought not expect to be fast right now.  I'm not...but I don't need to be. What I need to be is strong...and I think I AM strong (though I felt stronger going into my first marathon, but I think it's just because my legs weren't nearly this tired).  Finally, I still need to run more miles than I am.  The whole injury thing keeps me from it.  I have the drive to do it (like...to a fault) and a flexible work schedule which allows for early morning and mid-day running.  I just have to ward off the injuries.  I know that to do what I want to do in the marathon...I've got to be running way more miles way more consistently. 

Clearly, I need some help.  Some supervision.  So I'm taking a step...and hiring a coach.  I've been threatening to do this for a long time.  But I didn't know exactly who or when.  And then, by chance, I happened upon the name Conor Holt.  I didn't Google his name.  Rather, I found him via his wife.  His wife is Camille Herron--an elite marathoner whom I've been following quietly for a few years.  We have some mutual friends, but I've never actually met Camille.  I just knew she was really, really fast and exactly my age.  A week or so ago, I found her blog.  I never knew she had one (you can read it here), and it's a really helpful blog for female distance runners.  Anyway--I spent hours reading her posts, including the story about how she got started running, and then found a link to "coaching." 

By clicking on the link, I found that Camille's coach--her husband, Conor--coaches other athletes.  He's also the Oklahoma City University CC coach...so he's like..a COACH!  I read over his little bio, and I sent him an email.  He emailed me back.  A few days later, we spoke on the phone.

I was initially caught off guard when I spoke to him...because he's Irish.  I was unaware of this...I thought he was from Oklahoma.  Anyway, we hit it off.  Especially when he said "Now, if I coach you, you'll have to get use to not doing a normal taper."  SOLD!  Really, though, I had read enough about Camille's training before I contacted Conor to know that we would get along well.  One thing he's already convinced me that I'm doing is running too fast on my easy/recovery days.  Camille runs around 8:30-9:00 pace on these days...she is WAY faster than I am...and I almost always run faster than that. 

So I'm very excited about getting started with Conor--we'll start after Chicago.  Now if only I can survive until then!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Taper Madness

I'm becoming a victim of it.  While it hasn't struck in full force, I'm afraid that's coming.

For those of you who don't know what taper is, let me summarize.  The point of marathon training is to stress the body--the legs and the cardiovascular system.  In between runs, your body recovers and improves.  You get faster, stronger, etc.  Before race day, you need to maximize the recovery from all the beating up of your body that you've done.  So, typically two to three weeks prior to marathon day, you enter taper.  Taper=fewer miles..and the point is to leave you feeling fresh on race day.

I have completed one week of taper.  My peak mileage was 75, and so my first taper week was around 75% of that mileage (53 miles).  You'd think I'd be feeling pretty good after such a drastic reduction in mileage, right?  Nope.  My legs feel like absolute garbage.  Not anything injury-related (though the sciatica is still there a bit)...just completely trashed.  Tired.  Sore.  As in...not fresh.

I've only tapered once before, and I remember my legs feeling unexpectedly tired during the taper.  But this time it's a lot worse...my quads are just completely gone.  They felt better during my peak week than they do now.  So, of course, one starts to wonder "Will this go away by race day?  Am I doomed?"  I have asked these questions to Tim, Bill, and my dad.  All of them tell me it's a normal part of taper.  That, come race day, my legs will feel fresh and strong.

And I do believe them.  And I know that my legs felt unbelievably good on race day for Eugene.  But I can't help but worry (kind of my nature, if you follow this blog) that my quads are going to feel shredded on the start line.  This coming week is another drop in mileage--only 37 miles TOTAL.  After that, it just gets worse--the week of the race I'm only running like 11 miles the entire week before Chicago.  Here's to hoping the taper works (and it does...that's why they call it the magic taper), but it certainly can mess with your mind.

So..I ran 16 miles today with dad and Bill.  We took off at 7:00...which is way better than the 5:30 runs I've been doing lately.  It was cool and rainy, which is perfect.  From the get go, I knew my legs were going to feel tired the whole time.  And they did.  And by 10 miles, my quads felt like they had no shock absorption--very similar to what you feel at the end of a marathon.  Again, nothing injury-like...just extremely tired and sore.  We ran a very easy pace, but it didn't matter.  The legs just weren't there.  Other than that, it was a good run with great company.  One thing I really hate about taper and then time off after a race is that I miss running with my friends and family.  But that will come again soon.

Up to Indy tomorrow to deliver the dissertations.  Then a huge to-do list to tackle.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Aaaaaahhhhhh....

Yes, friends...that is the sound of a dissertation that has been signed, sealed, and delivered.  To the committee.  Out of my hands.  As in...no more work can be done on it.  It is what it is.  And I actually think it's pretty good.  I finished writing it on Sunday night, but I've spent the rest of the week doing little things--table of contents, checking references, etc.  And I spent the last two days reading every single word of it.  I added a little, took nothing away, and finally decided it was time to let it go.

I have a little over a month until my defense.  It is necessary to get the dissertation out to the committee a month before the defense so that they can come up with lots of really hard questions to ask you.  So, this meant I had to get five copies made.  One for each committee member, and one for the graduate recorder (more on that later).  So I went to UPS.com.  I do my printing there because there is one really close to me.  I uploaded the pdf file, specified everything I wanted--what type of paper, binding, etc....and I just couldn't get myself to hit submit.  I found myself wanting to read it just one more time.  Let me check that table, that paragraph, the abstract...just one more time.  For as happy as I was to be officially done writing it, it was really hard to let go of.  I just sat there for several minutes, staring at the button.  And finally, I did it.  That document, in which I have been immersed for nearly two years, is now out of my control.

Those of you who have written a dissertation will understand what I mean.  When you begin your doctoral program, everything you do--every course you take, every paper you write, every article you read--is geared, in some way, toward your dissertation.  I can remember, during my first year in the program, viewing the dissertation as something that was SO far away....almost unreal and untouchable.  And now, I have one.  Like, a complete one.  WITH MY NAME ON IT.  Sure, it hasn't been defended...nor blessed by the graduate recorder.  But it's done.

I am very glad I did not track how many hours I put into writing it.  It would remind me of all the late nights, time away from my family, sleep deprivation, and all the multi-tasking I have done.  I've worked on it while breastfeeding, administering Amelia's spelling tests, watching TV, watching Rowan play outside, lying under the robot, and in the car (not while driving).  In other words, it has been a constant back drop in my life for a very long time.  And now it's gone.  I'm glad, of course.  It just feels strange.  But I can say that I am very pleased with the result.  Every single sentence in that 250+ page document is meaningful (at least to me).  The research I did is important, and I think the results will benefit many.  And it will serve as the base of my research career.

So I'm picking up the copies tomorrow (and not looking at them because I'll die if I find an error), and delivering them to the committee on Monday.  They already have electronic copies, but they need a hard copy to take notes, etc.  I also have one for the graduate recorder.  I've talked about her before.  Very nice woman, but a thorn in my side.  She will be reviewing, on Monday, my dissertation.  And she will likely give me a bunch of work to do--things I need to change.  But they won't be content-related.  They'll be margin-related.  And I have hired someone to help me with that.  So it shouldn't be too bad.

The actual defense is on October 27th.  After that, I can (mostly) count myself as done.  And, boy, will I be happy.

Okay...running.  I'm still in taper.  I'm still dealing with the piriformis syndrome, but I'm about 70% better since my injections.  I'm getting another round of them the week of the marathon.  That's about all I can do.  I don't know if my legs will be 100% by race day, but they'll be as close as they can be.


I (and all runners) always bad mouth taper, but at the end of my peak week...I was so ready for it.  And I still am.  This week, my legs have been SO tired.  I'm only running 52 miles...but my legs just feel trashed.  I'm hoping that next week's bigger drop in mileage will cure this.

Tomorrow is the Persimmon Festival 5K...and I'm running.  I'm not racing it (not worth the risk with all my hip/sciatica issues), but I'm happy to be pacing my friend, Heather, through her first 5K.  Heather is actually my ex-husband's wife.  Yes...my ex-husband's wife.  I'm good friends with both my ex (Yancy) and his wife, Heather.  They are both tremendously good people and we consider them part of our family.  It has worked out really well for Amelia--like she has one big, extended family.

Anyway--Heather used to be really anti-running.  She thought I was crazy for running all these miles.  Then, one day, out of nowhere...she started the couch to 5K program.  And she has been running very consistently ever since.  I don't think she's ever missed a run, and she's definitely got the bug (I've heard she even sneaks in extra miles--atta girl!).  She has run 3 miles several times, but tomorrow is her first time pinning on a number.  If you're a runner, you know that something magical happens when you shell out $20 and pin on a number.  It's different.  It's racing.  It's awesome...and we are lucky that God gives us the ability to do it.

So I'll be pacing her, and she's going to do a great job.  I'll run 7 miles early tomorrow morning, then 3 with her...giving me 10 for the day.  After that....hmmm...I can do pretty much whatever I want.  What I NEED to do is clean my house.  But that can wait.  I want to do something fun.

Oh...I almost forgot!  Tim is injured!  It's his back.  It's the same kind of thing he did like 6 weeks ago, but it's back now.  So he won't be racing Persimmon :(  He probably could, but it's not worth risking Chicago.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Finish line in sight.

The dissertation one, not the marathon one.  Which is, again, the reason for my blogging absence.

Let me catch you up on the running.  The last you heard from me, I was having numb and painful calves...it felt a lot like compartment syndrome.  Dr. W thought it was a slipped disc.  I kept seeing Penny for traction treatments, but I just kept getting worse.  Finally, an MRI was ordered.

My back is FINE.  Now, that's a good thing (one thing I do not need is chronic back issues)...except, what was with all the pain?  When I would start running, I'd be fine.  Within a mile...pressure, pain, and, finally, numbness would build in my calves (especially on the right one and especially on the outside).  You can see why it felt like CS.  The one thing that differentiated it, though, was that it got better as the run went on.  If you've ever had CS (and my sympathies to you if you have--it's brutal)...things get worse and worse the more you run.  You might have a quarter mile of pain free running, but the rest will be horrendous.  So I knew this wasn't CS.  Also because I've had the surgery and had my legs re-tested and they're good.

So what was it?  Dr. W didn't know, but thought it sounded like nerve damage.  So he ordered an EMG--which is a test that assesses nerve conduction (speed and force).  So I had a bunch of needles stuck into my legs, and it was determined that I do have bilateral sciatic nerve injuries.  So Dr. W had hypothesized that my bulging discs were pinching the sciatic nerve, thus causing my symptoms.  Turns out I do have sciatica, but not from my back.

From what, then?  The piriformis, my neurologist explained.  A tiny little muscle deep in your butt, attached to the back of your pelvis.  It's a hip stabilizer, and happens to be anatomically very close to the sciatic nerve.  When the piriformis gets tight or overworked, it can pinch off the sciatic nerve.  This leads to decreased conduction in that nerve...so when my muscles are trying to run, the nerve impulses are delayed in getting to them.  So nothing works right, and it hurts.

He explained that injections to the piriformis muscle are generally helpful with this condition--cortisone injections.  Reduce the inflammation of the piriformis, unstrangle the sciatic nerve.  Fine, sign me up.

Well...it wasn't that simple.  There are different ways of doing these injections.  Blindly or...well, not blindly.  Like I said, these things are DEEP.  Without going into too many details, let's just say that my cousin-by-marriage Tatiana came through for me and helped me get set up with an interventional radiologist who does piriformis injections under CT guidance.  That is, he puts you under a CT during the injections, injects you with dye so he can see the piriformis, and thus ensures that he goes deep enough but does not further injure the sciatic nerve with the needle.

His name is Dr. Staser.  He looks 18, but he's a really good piriformis injector.  He used spinal needles to do it (about six inches long), and "bathed" my piriformis muscles in cortisone.  He told me it had about a 60% chance of working and that I wouldn't know for 4-5 days.

The next morning, though, my run was a bit better.  Sunday morning?  It was a LOT better.  For 22 miles. Just a little tingling in my right foot.  None of the gripping pain.  So I'm counting the injections a success, and looking forward to them continuing to work over the next couple of weeks.

So I am officially in taper and I am, officially, injured.  But I think that taper with the injections will get me to race day on fresh legs.  If not?  Nothing I can change.  Still three weeks until race day...a lot of healing can take place.

So where did this injury come from?  Well...I'm pretty sure it came from my hip.  My hip injury has been really nagging, but not too painful.  So I've kept running on it.  It has stressed my piriformis into taking over its job, and so there you go.  True piriformis syndrome is rather rare....and so of course I got it.

The next time I blog, the dissertation will have been handed in.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Getting closer...

To taper.  And, to my dismay, a bona fide injury.  I've had a hip flexor issue since May, but that's not the almost injury to which I'm referring.  I'm referring to my back.  Yes, my back.  It doesn't even hurt...my back doesn't.  But it's making my right leg REALLY hurt at times.

As I mentioned previously, Dr. W suspects I have a slipped disc at L5/S1 which is causing pain in my butt, down the side of my leg, and into my foot.  He prescribed steroids (which haven't helped) and PT with Penny.  Penny did some traction on me, and it really helped at first.  But it seems that my pain relief is temporary.  I feel really good a few hours, then it's back.

Especially when I run uphill.  Pain shoots around the side of my calf and into my foot.  My foot almost goes numb, and it feels weak.  My foot drags at times.  Now, that might sound like an injury.  But it's not real yet.  Because I'm still running.

So today I had a lot of calf pain this morning...and some other weird symptoms...and so I called Dr. W's office.  I got in for an MRI this afternoon, but am awaiting results.  One part of me thinks it HAS to be abnormal (the MRI), but then I wonder why the traction and steroids aren't working the way that they should.  Penny is REALLY good at what she does.  I can't imagine that if that was the problem she couldn't fix it.

So what if the problem is actually lower down--in the piriformis, which can also pinch the sciatic nerve.  If that's the case, then the MRI should be pretty unremarkable. 

Anyway--of course I'm freaking out a bit.  Especially because I realized today that I HAVE had this pain before.  I had it in the third trimester of my pregnancy, and it's what caused me to cease running until after Rowan was born.  I would run (or even walk) and my right calf would feel like it was going to explode.  After five or six miles, it would let up.  This is exactly the same thing, only it's not quite as bad.  We never figured out what it was when I was pregnant...but I remember Dr. W saying he thought it was a problem with my back.  I also remember thinking "What?  My back doesn't hurt."  Well, maybe he was right.  Because this is the same pain.

So, what to do.  I know most of you would say STOP RUNNING!  Well, I'm not going to.  The only person who could get me to do that is Penny (and don't you dare FB message or email her and try to bully her into it).  I trust her..if she said "You shouldn't be running on this," I would have to stop.  And I'm also not going to because I know this is not a running injury.  Does it hurt when I run?  Yeah.  But I think I can make it to taper.  I think.