Sunday, December 04, 2011

Early Winter (?) Check-in


Here I am, delinquent again.  Things have been insane around here this fall.  Since the marathon I've worked a lot, begun my reconstruction, traveled a lot, and hardly run at all.

The first step of my reconstructive surgery was on 10/25.  Briefly, the doctor placed tissue expanders under the pectoralis major muscle on each side, which also required "releasing" part of the muscle from its attachment to my chest wall.  This was not an overly pleasant process.  Those expanders had 50cc of saline in them, and I've been going back approximately weekly to have 30cc more injected.  Those injections involve finding the metal port in each expander with a magnet, inserting a needle (which I'm sure is scary, but have thus far managed to avoid looking at), and slowly injecting the fluid.  I feel sore for a few days after each fill, kind of like I've done too many pushups, but since about 2 weeks after the initial surgery it hasn't felt bad.  At this point I don't even need Advil after the fills, though I did need vicodin and valium quite regularly after the initial surgery.  Once my expanders are full and my muscles have had time to adapt, I'll have a second surgery to swap out the expanders for permanent implants.  Then it'll be a few more weeks of recovery and I should be back to normal.

Travel has involved trips to NC and PA which left me feeling like I'd been traveling continuously for 2 weeks, and if I have to travel more I might consider setting up a campsite in Chicago O'Hare.  After all, I seem to be delayed for several hours every time I fly through there.

Running has been low by necessity.  After my surgery I was expecting to be off running for about 6 weeks.  Two weeks in, the doctor told me I was healing very well and could try running if I wanted to.  I didn't feel right about it so I waited, but the following weekend stress was taking its toll and I just had to try.  It didn't feel so great...really, you don't realize how much you use a muscle until it's sore.  I waited a bit longer, and then tried again on Thanksgiving day.  This time the only thing that hurt was my stomach from all the food I'd eaten earlier that day.  The next day I ran again....and then there was another week of travel during which I didn't run at all.

So, I'm back to the blog in an attempt to hold myself accountable to something.  Running will still be hit and miss, I think, until I get through this process and start to feel more like myself again. I'll do it some, though.  Really I just need to be more consistent with getting in any exercise at all, so I'm making it a goal to get out for a real walk, not just a stroll, 4 times this week.  I'm also going to try yoga, but to be quite honest I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it yet.  For this week, I'll just make it a goal to try once and see how it goes.

So there we go. This week, 4 walks and 1 attempt at yoga, plus hopefully some running.  And more travel, this time to see Doug's family in Illinois.

Happy running.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chicago Marathon Race Report

Horribly delinquent blogger checking in.  Life's been crazy busy lately and I just haven't gotten around too it.  Plus, with marathon training I haven't been racing, so I haven't felt like there was anything to post (although certainly I could have posted about training).

Anyway, a report for you.

Short version:  I ran really far, never wanted to quit, did manage to hurt my foot in the last mile, and finished in 4:49.  It was awesome and I loved every minute, even when my foot was killing me.

Incredibly long version:

Where to begin?  We'll go all the way back to the beginning, I guess.

In January of 2010 I joined the running group organized by the local running store because I wanted to find friends to run with while I worked my way back up again after chemo.  The first 2 months I ran by myself, naturally.  Then I found a group of women to run with.  They were training for a marathon while I was only training for a 25k, but I figured I could start each run with them and finish on my own, and that worked out well.  After that marathon, we all decided to run a half together last fall (the Great Turtle on Mackinac Island). On the way to Mackinac, the three of us riding together were discussing whether to do a full or half marathon in the spring.  One woman commented that her brother really wanted her to run the Chicago marathon, so genius over here piped up and suggested we run a half in the spring and then springboard from that training to the full in Chicago.

So, February rolled around and I signed up.  For the record, I HATE signing up for things so far in advance - so much can change!

Sure enough, only a month later, things changed and I was offered this new job.  Obviously moving an hour down the road doesn't really, or shouldn't, have much of an effect on training, but one reason I had never signed up for a marathon before was that I was sure I couldn't do the training alone.  Running for a couple hours alone is one thing, but 4?  I trained with the group through July and planned on potentially joining a group in our new city, but I just never did.  So I went out and did each long run by myself.  When I went back and joined the girls for our first 20, I even found out that I prefer running on my own.  Go figure. 

Training basically went ok.  Back when I originally planned on doing this I didn't think I'd do it with such low mileage, but man did life get me this past year.  I followed a loose adaptation of Higdon's intermediate plan with two 20-mile runs, and 8-10 mile mid-week run most weeks, and what I could do on the other days.  For my 18-mile run, nervous about covering the distance, I decided to start doing run-walk with 8 min of running and 2 min of walking.  I did that for everything over an hour and it helped me a lot, mentally.  The only real issue I had was when I was sure I had broken my left foot near the end of the first 20.  I have a neuroma in that foot, and thought I had finally run enough on the lateral side of my foot, trying to avoid neuroma pain, that it finally just broke.  Fortunately, the running store that organizes the training group also has a free injury clinic.  I went there and found out that my cuboid bone was displaced as a result of a whole chain-reaction of events caused by a tight Achilles.  The podiatrist put me back together, scolded me for being inflexible, and sent me on my way with orders to stretch, which I have followed.

We headed to Chicagoland on Friday evening.  Spent the night at Doug's mom's house, left Kona with her, and headed to downtown Chicago mid-morning.  Once we arrived at the condo we were staying in, we took a few minutes to get our bearings and went off to the expo.  Got my packet, spent some money on marathon merchandise like a total newbie, picked up the body glide I forgot to take with me, and explored for a while.  Then we waited in line for a like an hour to catch the shuttle bus back downtown.  From there we walked a while, maybe 2 miles (?) back to the condo, and stopped at a grocery store along the way to buy stuff to make our own dinner.  Making dinner ourselves was a fabulous idea - we spent the evening in the condo watching sports and reading.  I took a shower and got in bed around 9:30, finally putting my book away around 10:30.  I didn't really have trouble sleeping, which was good (and shocking).

Sunday morning I was up at 4:45.  I tried to eat a peanut butter bagel but couldn't stomach it, so all I had before the race was a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee from across the street. My friends hadn't gotten back to me the night before about when they wanted to meet, so I figured I would just be on my own.  About quarter after 5 one finally texted me and said they were meeting at her hotel room at 6:15.  Ok...seemed kind of late as I had planned on being at the start around 6, but ok.  The hotel was right across the street so I figured it would be ok.  Of course two of the women didn't show up until 6:45 and then had to use the bathroom in the room and again when we got to the start, so we waited in line for porta-potties and were scrambling to the start at 7:15.  This resulted in having to hop the fence into the start corral - nice touch.

Once the race started it took about 24 minutes for us to get across the starting line.  I wonder how long it took for the last people to get across, because we were lined up somewhere between the 10 and 11 min pace signs and I know it went all the way back to 15.  It was absolutely packed at the start and for the first, oh....17-18 miles.  Within the first half mile I saw two men running in big straw hats - running sombreros! The first time we ran across an open-grate bridge I almost fell, also within the first mile. 

I hung with two of my friends (there were 5 of us total - we lost the other two somewhere in the fence-hopping fiasco) for just less than 3 miles.  Our pace for the first two miles was just under 11 min which was fine, because I didn't want to go out too fast, but I wanted to start my run/walk thing from my long runs.  Also, I really wanted to run my own race.  So I left them maybe 200m before the third mile marker.

Once I was on my own I started my run 8/walk 2 intervals, but also walked for 15-30 sec at each aid station so I could successfully drink my water.  The fourth mile just clicked on by in 10:17, and then I saw Doug standing up on a median at the 4-mile marker - hooray!  I gave him my arm panties and he wished me luck and I headed off again, all happy from having seen him and feeling good. Miles 5 and 6 were about the same pace.  I did a little jig at the 10k mark.  Back when I was nervous about my 18-miler, the longest run I'd ever done, someone suggested that I run the two "new" miles first and then after that I'd be in familiar territory.  That sounded like a fabulous idea and I employed it for the marathon.  Let me tell you - it worked like a charm!  Instead of running an extra 10k at the end I "ran it at the beginning" and then I had 20 miles - something I knew I could do - ahead of me instead of this unknown distance. 

Mile 7 dropped down to 9:55.  I was feeling great at this point, but didn't want to go all overboard and pay for it later.  My only goal was to finish (without hating running by the end) and I had no desire to be miserable.  Over and over I reminded myself that by holding back at the beginning I was saving myself for later.  Miles 8 and 9 were good, but somewhere around 8.5 I started feeling like maybe something was amiss, so when I hit a line of porta-potties just after the 15k mark I stopped...and waited in line for 6 min!  Everything turned out to be fine and I was on my way again.

The miles from here on out are kind of a blur.  I knew Doug was going to be around mile 11 somewhere but I never saw him there.  Somewhere between 10 and the halfway mark a woman was down in the middle of the road with a few people tending to her and a few more keeping runners out of the way.  I think it was also in this area that I saw a woman holding a sign and wearing a t-shirt that both said "Do Epic S#@*" - I got a little chuckle out of that.  According to the results I was through the half in 2:22 - so much slower than my PR but hey - my first half marathon (TA '06) took almost 4 hours.

J had said that her brother told her the race would be super crowded for the first 10 miles or so.  I'm not sure if he and I just have a different tolerance for "crowded" but by mile 16 I was pretty damn tired of colliding with people every few minutes.  I was also starting to want to walk more around that time.  Prior to this I had been running through aid stations until near the end, where I would grab a cup of water and then walk just long enough to drink it.  Starting in mile 17 or so (guessing by splits) I started walking as soon as we hit the aid station, partly because I wanted to and partly because they were downright treacherous - so slippery and there were crushed cups and careening people everywhere. 

I was still feeling good when we passed the 20 mile mark, even though my splits had slowed since I was now sticking with my original run/walk plan plus walking most of the way through the aid stations.  In mile 21 I took another short porta-potty break but only lost about 1:30 or so that time.  During mile 22 or 23 I started getting all verklempt because I knew I was really going to do it. I was tired and my hips (psoas I'm pretty sure) were screaming but overall I really felt good.  Never once did I feel miserable, I never felt like quitting, I never doubted that I could do it.  When we hit the 23-mile mark and I knew I only had a little over 5k to go I was downright giddy.

Then, in mile 25, it happened.  My right foot did the same thing my left foot had done at the end of that first 20.  I was reduced to running/walking block-by-block and I slowed all the way to 13:19 for that mile.  The spectators and announcers all made me want to run, but every time I tried I would make it that block and then have to walk because of the pain again.  That darn hill going into the finish that friends had warned me about totally sucked, mostly because it really hurt my foot, and I had to walk that whole thing.  But at the top I started running again and was able to run all the way in to the finish.

Final time: 4:49:39

Oh what a feeling that was!  I'd been trying not to cry for miles by that point, and finally let it go after I crossed the line.  It only lasted about 30 seconds but man, it was just such an overwhelming feeling to have done it. I walked through the finish area picking up all the stuff they had to give us - space blanket, medal, water, banana, snack back, Gatorade 03 (recover - GROSS), and BEER (Goose Island 312 - yum) and went off to find Doug.  Finally we found each other and sat on the steps in front of Abe Lincoln catching up and reveling in being done before walking back to the hotel my friends were staying in to see how they had done.
Turns out I was first in our group which I really had not expected, considering that all had run marathons before and 2 had PR's somewhere around 4:40.  One wound up getting out of her head and finishing in nearly 6 hours, the others were right around 5 (two just under, one just over).  I'm really glad I split off and ran my own race.  After my 18-mile run, a friend told me that long runs should be done alone. I thought he was crazy but after doing this training and running this race on my own I actually think I agree.  For me, they should be done alone.  Maybe one day I'll find new running buddies and feel differently but for right now, I'm ok being my own buddy.

I'll run another marathon one day, but I seriously doubt I'll do another big one.  I did not like literally running into people for most of the race, getting cut off at every aid station, and getting caught behind people going a lot slower than I wanted to be going.  I did enjoy having spectators along literally the whole course and it really did help spur me along in that last mile when my foot hurt so stinkin' bad.  Guess I'm heading off to the injury clinic again on Wednesday night, getting my foot all put back together, and then I'm really going to focus on flexibility.  I'm ready to take a break from running (not quit, just take a break) so I'm going to cross-train for a few months and come back to it in winter/spring feeling refreshed.

If you stuck with me this long, thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How the Runner Crumbles

The Bayshore half marathon was supposed to be my goal event for the spring.  To really have a goal event I think it’s necessary to train like one is actually aiming for a real, solid goal.  I didn’t do this.  I stumbled through an academic year that left my head spinning.  Throughout training cycles for Bayshore and for the Great Turtle in the fall, I made long runs bust little else in my training plan.  It’s not right to have a “reach” goal when training looks like that.

Nevertheless, I’ve been wanted to run a half in under two hours for basically as long as I’ve been running.  It seems like if I make this goal I’ll finally be a legitimate runner, like I’m not successful until I reach it.  After running 2:04 in K’zoo a few weeks ago I thought I had it in the bag – I’ve been told the Bayshore course is flat and much easier than K’zoo and that I shouldn’t have any problem knocking off those last 4 minutes – or more!

We headed up to Traverse City on Friday afternoon.  We’ll have to go again and actually enjoy the area, because Friday we just went straight to the campground, set ourselves up, ate dinner, socialized, and went to bed.  The best part of the weekend was that I anticipated having good hammock trees and took my new ENO hammock up to try it out.  Let me tell you – that’s heaven in a little nylon sack.  I might spend my summer seeking out hammock trees at all the parks around here.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  Runners would come down the trail and see my head pop up out of the hammock – “Hi!!!”

Anyway.  That night I slept really poorly.  We got in the tent around 10:30 and I knew I probably wouldn’t fall asleep right then, but did not anticipate lying awake for hours upon hours.  People were talking, babies were crying, planes flew over, sirens went by, someone had a freakin’ blender going…ugh.  I finally fell asleep sometime after 1:00 but distinctly remember the blender going again around 2:30.  Then it was 4:10 and I heard my friend’s alarm go off.  Sigh.

We got up, ate breakfast, and headed out to the road where another friend was going to pick us up.  She arrived and we headed over to the high school to board buses out to the start.  Once on the bus our whole group of training buddies found seats together and chattered about the race.  I sat there with my drop bag putting my bib on my shirt and getting out my iPod – or at least, trying to get out my iPod.  I reached in the bag, grabbed my headphones…and that’s all that was there.  Doug got me this iPod for Christmas two years ago, as a present from Kona. The engraving on the back says “Let’s run! Love, Kona” and it’s very special to me.  I was so afraid I’d lost it and that stuck in the back of my head all morning.

(When the race was over and I got back to the car, I found my iPod in the trunk.  Such a relief.)

We got to the start about 1.5 hours before go time, so we sat under a tent in a field and watched it start to rain.  Sigh.  Then, finally, it was time to line up. 

The race started and I felt great.  Hooray for smaller races that aren’t so packed at the start!  It was a little crowded, but not like bigger races where it’s a constant struggle to find a clear spot for your next footfall.  A few nights ago I dreamt that I had run an awesome race and Doug had missed me at the finish because I came in so much earlier than he expected.  I held onto that dream and for the first few miles, anytime negative thoughts started to creep in I visualized wiping them out of my mind.  That worked for the first several miles.

Mile 1: 9:09 (perfect)
Mile 2: 8:39 (a little fast, but ok)
Mile 3: 8:43
Mile 4: 8:54 (woohoo feeling great and still under pace!)

Somewhere around here I thought I really should slow down, that running a positive split is never a good idea.  The thing is, I kind of think that I might be sabotaging myself in races, thinking that I can’t hold a pace when really I can.  I decided to stay with it.  At the very least, I was banking time to make my goal.

Mile 5: 8:57
Mile 6: 9:28 (extra walking to take my hammer gel here)
Mile 7: 9:05

By now it was starting to get hard but I thought I’d banked enough time that if I could just hang on in the low 9’s, I’d have it.  My left foot was starting to bother me and it felt like my middle toe was bleeding.  I stopped to walk for a minute, and I heard my friend K yell from behind me.  She caught up, and I started running again.  I told her I was glad she was there, that it was becoming mentally difficult, and she said we’d do it together.  But I couldn’t keep up, and I watched her slip away.  Then B caught me, and then she too slipped away.

Then…I crumbled.  Maybe it was the poor training.  Maybe it was the poor sleep the night before.  Maybe I went out too fast. Maybe it was all in my head.  Just before the 9-mile marker I passed my local running club’s tent and considered stopping.  Actually considered quitting with 4+ miles to go.  Mentally I was done and I just unraveled; I never picked myself up again.

Mile 8: 9:48
Mile 9: 10:00
Mile 10: 10:25
Mile 11: 10:06

At the 11 mile marker (1:43) I figured out that I could run fast enough to still make it under 2 hours – I’m physically capable of running 2.1 miles in 17 minutes.  It wasn’t there though.  I don’t know if it was mental or physical at that point.  I’d been light headed since early on in the race and had hoped gels would help, so I took a second one in the 11th mile – neither helped.  On the other hand, I had gotten so down on myself I was really ready to quit.  At the same time that I was figuring out I could still get my goal, I was considering walking the rest of the way. This was also where I realized that I could walk the remaining 2.1 miles and still finish way under my time for my first road half.

Mile 12: 10:55 (yeah.)
Mile 13.1: 10:50

Total: 2:05:05

There was no finishing kick.  I don’t know if I could have picked it up at the end – I do know I didn’t want to.  I watched my goal slip away, watched my PR slip away, and didn’t fight either.  When it all comes down to it, I didn’t want it badly enough. 

When we got back to the campsite and I finally changed, I discovered that my feet were hurting because I had blisters between my toes.  The usual blisters under the callous at my 1st metatarsal joint are there, as I could feel, but only 2 of my toes don’t have blisters somewhere else.  This makes me feel a little better, like there is at least a little bit of a physical reason for feeling so awful, but I can’t blame the whole race on blisters.

So, now I have to do what I didn’t do during that race and pick myself back up again.  Running feels very stale right now, it has for a while, and I have to figure out how to get back into it because I have a marathon coming up in October.  I’m going to build myself a plan that includes cross training (probably cycling) a couple days a week and hope that helps to keep things interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Belated Kalamzoo Half Marathon Report

Short version:  Chip time 2:04:05, a nearly 5-minute PR, and one hell of a fun weekend!

Long version: This race was not on my schedule until a few weeks ago.  I had planned to go watch since so many people I wanted to see were running, but since my "goal race" for the spring is Memorial Day weekend, I was not planning to run a half three weeks before it.  Eventually I decided I didn't want to just watch and just about convinced myself to run the half.  Because of the craziness that is the end of the semester I couldn't commit for sure, but took note of the online registration deadline and decided to make up my mind by then.  The night before the deadline it looked like my grades would be done in time, and I signed up.

Grades were posted Friday afternoon and I took the rest of that day and Saturday morning to just chill and enjoy being done with the semester.  Then, I headed to K'zoo to celebrate!  E and her family were kind enough to host me.  When I got to their house (after spending 45 minutes literally sitting still on a freakin' interchange), we headed off to the expo, picked up our packets, and drove around the course a little.  We took note of two big hills and I commented that the first looked just like the overpass I run here - Sunday I remembered that hills always look smaller in cars.

Normally I sleep ok the night before races but Saturday night I didn't.  Chalk it up to semester-end stress, a strange place, and lots of cats.  At 4:20 I finally called it good and stumbled out to the kitchen to find E and her dad - her dad making coffee.  Hallelujah.  We all got ready and headed out to the race around 5:45.

Once at the race site E and I headed inside to find bathrooms. We waited too long to jump in line, I guess.  I left E somewhere near the 2:30 pacer and tried to get up between the 2:15 and 2:00 pacer but gave up when I wasn't even close to the 2:15.  Whatever.  The guy next to me was also trying to get to the 2:00 group and we decided it would be fun to pass a few hundred people in the first mile.  I quietly worried that it meant I would go out way too fast.

Finally the race started and we walked...and walked...toward the starting line.   Then, we were off!  The first mile was pretty flat, maybe a slight downhill and I probably did pass a few hundred people. The second mile featured a very nice downhill, which I tried to enjoy to the fullest while being careful not to stumble over people as the field was still pretty thick here.  Near the bottom of that hill I blew past the 2:15 pacer and started to worry that maybe I was getting a little ahead of myself.

Mile 1: 9:10 (hmmm.  That was nice)
Mile 2: 8:34  (uh oh.)
Mile 3: 9:00 (geez.  Slow the eff down already!)

Just before the 3 mile marker, I caught the 4:15 marathon pace group.  Their pacers started calling out mile times in the 9:30 range and when I saw the 9:00 on my watch, I decided to hang with them for a while.  I've never run a negative split in a half but I HAVE burned out in the last few miles, and I really didn't want to use all I had in the first few miles.  I'm absolutely horrible at maintaining a constant pace and I always get all swept up in the excitement.

Unfortunately, the half split off from the marathon around the 4-mile mark.

Mile 4: 9:07 (hmm.  Ok)
Mile 5: 9:19 (That's better)
Mile 6: 8:05 (shiiiiiiit)

Up through this point I was feeling really good.  I think it was somewhere during the 6th mile (when I was apparently running far too fast) that I decided to get out of my head and just run.  What if I really was capable of running that pace and was just holding myself back?

Mile 7: 9:29 (baby hill here)
Mile 8: 9:28 (hey, this is going ok!)

Around mile 8.5 we hit the first of the two big hills.  This is the one I thought was similar to my overpass. Let me tell you.  It was not.   It was steep.  And long.  And it sucked.

Mile 9: 10:35 (yeah)

By this point I had blisters on both feet.  I spent the majority of the 10th mile trying to decide if it would hurt more to run the rest in bare feet (never having run barefoot) or to continue running in my shoes.  Naturally, I stuck with my shoes.  It did hurt though.

Mile 10: 10:19 (sigh)

Around this point I finally did the math and realized that once again, I would not get the elusive 2-hour barrier (clearly - did you see those splits?) but I knew that I could still PR and had quite the time cushion with which to do it.

Mile 11: 9:56 (Hey!  That's a little better!)

The rest is kind of a blur.  Just after the 12-mile mark we turned a corner and climbed another big hill, which also sucked.  Not long after the top of that hill I could actually hear cheering from the finish - or at least I decided it was from the finish - and that helped me get through.  Much to my dismay we sort of ran around the block (I think) so we weren't quite as close as I thought, but whatever.  I clicked through my playlist to find a high-energy song to finish with and did my best to kick into the finish.  My pictures will probably be terrible - I had the side stitch from hell there at the end.  When I turned the corner into the final stretch I saw the time and felt a little pang - I'd gotten so close to that darn 2-hour mark!  But I did get the PR that I had no right to run, based on my piss-poor training this last semester, so I'm very happy with the day.

Miles 12-13.2: 21:00

Final (watch) time: 2:04:07
Chip time: 2:04:05

Good for an almost 5-min PR (old one was 2:08:58, set in October)

In closing, I have to recommend this race.  It was really well organized and it was clear that the town was really excited.  The half has been going on for a few years now (not sure how many) but this was the inaugural year for the marathon - people were clearly pumped.  There was great crowd support throughout - not constant, but frequent enough.  The course was well-marked, start and finish were well-organized, shuttles ran really well....all around it was just great!  We also had a fantastic weather day, which we've been starved for around here.

Next up, Bayshore Half Marathon on Saturday :)

Thanks for reading!