Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On the Mend

After 4 weeks of acupuncture, resting, icing, stretching, taping, and resting some more I'm finally starting to feel like myself again.  This past weekend I ran a 5K on Saturday for American Cancer Society.  It was at Boston College.  Driving there took me down a familiar road through Newton and over my favorite hills in the world.  I drove over the 30K painted on the pavement and smiled.  Found the race and parked.  I got there early, got my number and shirt and brought my bag back to my car.  It was overcast and cool, a perfect morning for a run.  I kind of didn't feel like running and the waiting around before the race was annoying.  I was kind of wishing I had just done a short run at home instead, but I was there I might as well run.  The urge to bail and get in my car and go home was strong, but I lined up and the gun went off and I ran.
The course was pretty flat.  It went through a few streets on the BC campus and around the reservoir.  I was a little hesitant to push myself at first because I wasn't sure how my foot would react.  The first mile was on pavement, but the pavement ran out and around the reservoir was crushed stone and sand, ideal for most runners, but it made me nervous because uneven surfaces are exactly what bothers my foot the most.  I felt ok.  My foot was fine, I just had a little tightness in my calves and hamstrings, but that faded as I passed the 2nd mile marker and then I decided to push a little for the last mile.  It wasn't my fastest 5K ever, but it was probably the fastest I have run recently.  I averaged just over a 9:00 pace and paced it perfectly.  I think I had about a 9:30 in the first mile, then a 9:15 and just under 9:00 for the last mile.  I'll take it.

I finished and tried to get to the water and refreshments, but there was a ridiculous line and it was not really well set up.  It was crammed in a corner that was not easy to see or get to so I remembered I had water in my car and said, "eff this" and left.  Turns out I should have hung around because I got 3rd place in my age group.  Not because I was really fast but because there weren't that many 30-39 female runners.  I think the majority of the field was under 25.  Oh and I passed some of them walking about a mile into the race, by the look of their build/physique I'd guess they were basketball players.  Good at short bursts of energy, but not so much with the longer distances.  I wanted to yell at them as I passed that I was at least 10 years older than them, had just completed a half ironman and I was kicking their butts, but I figured they were ashamed enough.

I made a quick pitstop at Trader Joes on my way home, just to pick up a few things.  First mistake - I didn't have a list or anything in particular in mind.  Second mistake - I hadn't eaten breakfast and after running the race it was now almost lunchtime and I was starving.  I tried my usual technique of only using a basket and not a shopping cart because it limits the amount of stuff I can buy to how much I can carry.  Well, that didn't really help that much.  I still ended up buying a ton of stuff I didn't need and lots of not really healthy "snacks" and various chocolate covered treats.  When everythign was rung up and bagged the total came to just under $100.  So much for a quick pitstop for a few small things.

Sunday I was registered for the Nahant 30K, but I decided to skip it and do a shorter long run near home.  There really was no good reason to do 18.6 miles.  I know based on finishing the half ironman that my endurance will be fine for the marathon and putting that much distance on my foot at this point only risks doing more damage than good.  I don't need any more race shirts and don't really need another medal.  Registtration was only $30 so I wasn't really losing much money by skipping it so I felt good with my decision.

I got dressed and ate some breakfast and loaded up my fuel belt for 10-12 miles.  I have a lollipop loop that goes out up a big hill into the back roads of Andover and through relatively flat neighborhoods around a loop that I can do multiple times to add on 2 miles per loop depending on how I'm feeling so I figured that was a good plan.  I could do 8 or 10 if I wasn't feeling great and could make it 12 or 14 if I felt great.  I started out and within the first mile I was feeling great.  I had some speed back and with that my confidence.  I passed the stop sign at the end of my street that is sort of my litmus test for how a run is going to go based on what my watch says when I pass it and it was really good.

Three miles out and heading into the loop of the lollipop I felt amazing.  I was averaging right around my goal marathon pace and my foot didn't hurt, my muscles were loosening up and I settled into a great rhythm.  I did the first loop and felt awesome so I added another loop.  I had enough fuel and water with me to go further, but I decided to err on the side of caution and end on a good note.  I headed back towards home with a great big smile on my face - I'M BACK!  In the last two miles I did start to slow a little and I got a little chaffing that started to irritate me and ruin the great run, but I still finished strong and ended up with 12.75 miles done.
I showered and ate some lunch and jumped in my car to go to my friend Jenine's Fitness Studio open house. I was bringing flyers to promote the stair climb and hoping that some of the clients that did the Fire Fighter bootcamp would sign up.  There was a lot going on and a ton of people trickling through all afternoon.  It was hard to get people to notice the stair climb flyers on the table buried under all the other information that was there so I grabbed a stack and worked the crowd.  I hope that she gets a giant team together this year.  The biggest attraction at the open house was a lemonade stand that Jenine's girls set up.  They made a killing selling 'fresh' (from trader joes) organic lemonade and produce from their garden. 

I was there for about 5 hours just walking around talking to people and promoting the stair climb so by the time I got home I was exhausted.  BUT my foot felt fine!  The only thing I noticed was something I haven't felt in a while, my legs were actually a little sore from the run.  Guess I should have done an ice bath.  I welcomed the soreness though because even though my body ached my heart was happy knowing that I had gotten over a big obstacle and continued my journey.  I am on the road to recovery from this little hurdle and confident that things will go well in only 18 days when I run my 11th marathon in Chicago.

Tough part now is the taper and the struggle once again to find things to do with my downtime.  Lucky for my co-workers it probably means I will do some baking and bring in cookies and banana bread and other yumminess for them to enjoy.  It's fall finally too so I'll be making some hearty soups and stews.  Maybe go apple picking and carve a pumpkin.  I LOVE this time of year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Deep thoughts and reflections

Wow, so it's been a while since my last post.  I've been trying to compose something with all the thoughts bouncing around in my head for a while. Putting all my fears, stresses, worries, anxieties, and issues into clear concise sentences is not easy.  I usually do most of my deep thinking while I'm running, but since I took about three weeks off to let my foot heal I've been stuck sitting around struggling with everything and overwhelmed.  It's been really, really rough. 

I found myself asking a question I thought I knew the answer to - WHO AM I?  I thought the answer was easy: I am a runner. But there's a lot more to me than running, I run marathons, it's WHAT I like to do, but it's not WHO I am.  Or is it?  I don't know anymore.  It is definitely a passion of mine and a HUGE part of my life.  Three weeks without running left me lost and questioning my life and the depth and meaning and substance and things that define ME. 

What ELSE is there to me?  Running removed from the equation, what's left?  What makes me tick?  What else do I enjoy?  At first glance and the first few days of not running, all the answers were still running related.  Revising my training plan, re-evaluating upcoming races, re-focusing efforts to give me the best possible chance of getting to the start line of key events.  I like hanging out with my running friends, I like looking up new fun races to run.  Even volunteering at races or helping plan upcoming events and donating to friends that are running for charity.  But those are all still RUNNING things.

REALLY, WHAT ELSE IS THERE????? Two weeks into my hiatis this question was eating away at my soul and forcing me to take a tough and painful look in the mirror and think about it.  WHO AM I?  I started to answer the question by brainstorming and listing out things I enjoy - trying new things, challenging myself, learning something new, cooking and eating new foods, exploring, laughing. I love movies and music and reading books.  I like making things with my own two hands.  I've taught myself to do a lot of things, sometimes out of curiousity and sometimes out of boredom.  I can knit, quilt, scrapbook, draw, paint, sculpt, and lots of other random things.  I tried to learn guitar once, but only got to Jingle Bells.

I'm incredibley independent and self sufficient, almost to a fault.  I've had to be for most of my life.  I find it very hard to ask people for help when I need it and will usually suffer in silence long before reaching out.  In recent years I've had to learn to overcome this obstacle because I've ended up in the emergency room stranded by some sort of accident with no way out but to ask for help.  It's not fun, but it has helped me open up and realize it's ok.  I don't always have to do everything myself.  That's what friends are for.  I'm always there for my friends, it only makes sense that they are there for me too.  I'm just always too stubborn or proud to ask for help.  

Still a work in progress.  Afterall, life is a journey and mine is far from over.  I learn more everyday about myself and what makes me tick.  I've learned a lot in the last few weeks and the biggest lesson is that I have a lot more growing and self-discovery to do.  I can't just run away from everything.  I need to figure out who I am and what makes me happy (other than running).  I also need to find more non-running related hobbies because I was bored out of my mind.  I actually put together a 1000 piece puzzle over Labor Day weekend because I wasn't running and was trying really hard to stay off my feet.

Thankfully, I have started running again and the rest and acupuncture has done wonders for my foot.  I'm almost back to 100% and feeling confident for Chicago in about 25 days.  Last week I did a short easy 4 mile test run with Kim to see how I felt because I had my half ironman race on deck for the weekend.  I was really tight in the first mile of our run and definitely not fast, but I felt ok and most importantly, my foot felt ok.  I think we only averaged 10:30s which for a shorter run was pretty slow, but I wanted to take it easy.  By the time we finished the run I was loosened up and feeling alright.  I stretched and iced as a precaution, but overall I was very optimistic about the healing and progrosis for upcoming races.

So, this past weekend I had the Pumkinman Half Ironman triathlon on Sunday.  I hadn't really trained as much for it as I did last year and coming back from the injury I was a little nervous about it.  SO.....Saturday I thought it would be a good idea to go for a little bike ride and easy jog to make sure I felt ok.  I biked about 20 miles to Fire Fighter Bootcamp in Melrose and then DID bootcamp and biked 20 miles home.  Probably not a great idea, but I felt really good and my foot was still ok so I was happy.  I packed up all my tri-gear, set my alarm clock, and went to bed early.

Sunday I got up and got dressed, threw my stuff in the car and headed to South Berwick for the race.  Super anxious and a little excited.  I got there, got my stuff, set up in transition and then had about an hour to kill before the race started.  I tried to mentally prepare for what I knew would be a long day.  I tried to relax and visualize a great race.  Before I knew it I had to squish into my wetsuit and head down to the water.  It was super warm.  I swam around a little before they called all the athletes out of the water for the pre-race announcements.  National Anthem and some instructions and with the boom of a cannon the elite wave went off into the water.  8 minutes later it was my turn to start.

I stayed towards the back of the wave and just tried to pace myself knowing I would be swimming for about 45 minutes based on last year's time.  I felt horrible right from the start.  I stopped a few times and tried to relax.  I couldn't breathe.  I felt really hot despite the fact that I was under water.  I felt like I was sinking even though I had a wet suit on and was doing fine.  I watched wave after wave of different colored swim caps pass me in the water and I looked around and saw only one other blue swim cap a little ways in front of me in the water.  I know I am not a fast swimmer, but I can usually do ok.  This felt different.  I was really struggling.

I made it out of the water and looked at my watch, 51 minutes!  And I was spent.  Now I had to climb a huge hill and get on my bike.  I got up the hill and into the transistion area and I couldn't get my wetsuit off.  I finally managed to make my way out of the transition area hopped on my bike to begin the 56 mile ride.  I felt ok.  I was cold and wet but at the same time I still felt really hot.  I was sluggish and although I felt like I was going as hard as I could whenever I looked at my bike computer it told a different story.  I was barely averaging 14-15mph.  I can normally do 18-20mph pretty comfortably and this was a relatively flat fast course.

I tried not to worry about it and didn't want to focus on the time because I knew it wasn't going to be a great day and I wasn't expecting anything amazing, but I also didn't expect it to feel so difficult.  I still couldn't really breathe and my all out effort was slower than a relaxing joyride.  The first lap of the two lap course took me a lot longer than it did the year before and by my calculation in my head I was on target to finish about an hour slower.  It was frustrating, but I pushed on and figured maybe by the time I got to the run I would feel better because I did the year before.  I was a little worried about my foot, but ready to test it out.

I finished the bike and got my running shoes on.  I ran out of the transition like a bat outta hell, just like the previous year.  I felt really great.  I got to the first mile marker and checked my watch, but realized I hadn't looked at it before so I had no idea what my pace was.  I made a mental note to look at the next mile marker.  I just kept running and found a comfortable pace and made it to mile marker 2.  I did the math in my head and I thought I was doing about 10 minute miles.  Not bad, I'd take it.  The course was a little hilly and a double loop out and back.  I had forgotten about it since last year and couldn't remember exactly where it went and the overlapping mile markers were confusing.  You pass 8 and 12 when you only at like mile 4.  It really messes with your head.

I gutted it out and just kept running.  My foot felt ok.  My legs were really hurting (probably from bootcamp the day before) and I was going considerabley slower than I wanted to, but I was running and my foot didn't hurt so I was happy.  I stopped to use the port-o-potty at mile 9 and then tried to finish up the last few miles strong.  The miles did not go by fast and each mile marker felt like an eternity between them, but I counted down and thought to myself just a few more miles and you're done.  I was still struggling to breathe.  I noticed that my breathes were pretty shallow and labored.  I tried to take a few really deep breathes and fill my lungs and couldn't.  That made it really hard to push in the last couple of miles.  I can usually use a few deep breathe to power myself through rough patches in a race, but this time I couldn't get a deep breathe.

Up and over the last hill and it was just a short downhill section of grass to the finish line.  I was terrified because it's that type of uneven surface that really bothers my foot.  I tried to run gingerly down the slope and nearly twisted my ankle a few times, but eventually made it across the finish in just over a total of 7 hours!  I got my medal and turned in my timing chip and made my way out of the finish chute to my brother and mom waiting on the other side to congratulate me.  My brother gave me a hug and asked if I was ok and my legs buckled beneath me.  I fell to the ground and struggled to get the words out as the EMTs approached, "I......... CAN'T............ BREATHE"  They offered me a chair and gatorade.  I was already on the ground with my head between my legs.  I wasn't about to try and stand.  And I wasn't dehydrated, I didn't need gatorade.  I could have used some oxygen, but that wasn't among the list of things they offered me.  I sat for a few minutes trying to catch my breathe and saying "NO" to all their offerings.  I don't want broth.  I don't need the misting tent.  I don't want to lie down with my feet up.

I finally got up and was able to function.  So strange and scary.  The whole time I was worried about my foot and that was totally fine.  It was my lungs that didn't work.  Oh well.  I finished and it was over.  I got some water, a little food and put dry clothes on.  Then I had to drive home.  Man, I really wish I had a boyfriend just to drive me home after I do stupid shit like a half ironman.  It would be really nice to be able to sleep in the car and not have to pay attention to the road and drive.  Whatever.  I decided on my way home that something was up with my body and something wasn't functioning correctly.  I need to re-evaluate things and change something. it comes.....I fell off the veggie wagon and bought a grass fed organic steak to cook myself for dinner.  It was really good.  I didn't feel any better the next day, but I didn't really expect to after racing 70.3 miles.

Not sure if I will continue to add meat back into my diet.  I just know I need to change something because my body is telling me that something isn't working right.  When I compare this year to last year I am a lot slower and I'm getting injuries I never had before.  I don't feel great and I'm gaining weight.  Something needs to change.  Stay tuned.  I have a few smaller tune up races between now and Chicago and who knows maybe I'll pick up a new hobby to fill my time during the taper.