Thursday, June 7, 2018

March 2018 Confessions

3.6.18
It's in the mid 40's right now. Sunny. Clear. Crisp blue skies. Really the perfect afternoon for a single long sleeve and shorts if my pace is relaxed. How 5 weeks can feel so long is best explained by the nagging feeling of unknown.

No timeline. No reassurance of safety. The only surefire way to ever avoid it is to not run. But that seems like an unlikely scenario. I thought it would be easiest the further removed I was from those last steps.

Those last steps were pretty unremarkable. They were on the treadmill on a rainy Sunday afternoon watching a stream of the Dubai marathon on YouTube. Adam was at work. Moe was standing on the windowsill waiting for a neighborhood kid to walk down the street so he'd have someone to bark at. Tory was curled up in a ball on the floor, undisturbed by the pounding of the treadmill or TV.

It certainly would make for abetter story if the last run was interesting in some categorical way. But perhaps, it is interesting enough because it was so unremarkable. I'm hoping that it looks and feels like a brief pause. But only when time is stretched out will it feel that way.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to zone out while lifting, cycling, or swimming. When I find myself returning to reality, it is an acute reminder of the part of running I miss the most. That escape into another part of my brain that somehow, magically, coincides with my legs striking the ground without thought.

I know running pace. I can click off distances and times without any thought of calculations. The measurements of success are ingrained in my thinking. But with these other disciplines? I am stumbling through a foreign language. Rarely does anything feel fluid. It certainly gives me a new perspective on how it feels to be a beginner.

Boston is 40 days away. Best case scenario is getting the boot off in 2 weeks and the doctor clears me to run. He's already told me Boston isn't a good idea. I'm very aware of the repercussions. And as much as I want to be cautious, I find myself on the other side of the risk.

We all make choices. Everyday. Some are easy and comfortable. Some are harder and the gamble is tough because there is more to lose. But I can't say I'd be happy sitting on the sidelines knowing I didn't try.

Perhaps you are smarter than me? Maybe you have the ability to exercise more caution? Maybe you see the reward is not worth the risk? And that's okay. The conservative part of me (what little there is...) wants to see me sidelined as well. I don't want to wear the boot another 6 weeks or longer. I don't want to push back any progress I've made. But I don't want to wonder what if the rest of my life either. I've played that card too many times.

3.12.18
"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water." - Eleanor Roosevelt

My life is not adverse. Even when I think I'm struggling, it is so far from difficult that I feel embarrassed when I complain.

Complain because traffic was horrible on my commute this morning. I have a car! I have a job!

Complain because some man made a snide remark about not waiting to wait 30 minutes for a pool lane yesterday. I can stand up to him! Better yet, I can offer to share my lane!

I complain it's not fair Adam has multiple sclerosis. How silly I am to complain when he is still so capable of doing so much! And how lucky am I to have a husband who is able to make me belly laugh and listen to my fears all in the same conversation? 

I complain my own foot has been bundled in a boot for 5 weeks. What's 5 weeks when I've been given the gift of the ability to run all the other days of my life?

I don't get it right most of the time. I'm human. I complain. I gossip. I am always certain that I've done it the right way until I discover I've done it the wrong way. I don't always stop and smell the roses. And I most certainly have been envious of anything and everything I don't have.

But sometimes I'm lucky to be happy in the moment and truly just feel at want for nothing. What a pleasant and strange sensation that is. 

3.14.18 - 3.15.18
It's dark and has been now for an hour. I am driving home, hair wet and the overwhelming smell of chlorine permeates the air. Something about this feels incredibly familiar, but is also very different. I want to make correlations because it seems safe and right now, I need that feeling.

In the morning, Adam and I will be traveling in the same direction, but missing each other by a few hours. I will think of him as the sun rises slowly over the clear sky of the cold morning and wonder if he is watching the same sun from the plane.

1 year and 1 week ago I was on my last trip I would take with my former company. I would be a liar if I didn't say that the loss still stings. Even though it was the catalyst I needed to leave retail and discover life in the corporate world, it was not the path I would have chosen to get here. Accepting change is hard under any circumstance, but worse if it is not by choice.

I tried very hard to take advantage of a few weeks without work. But the need to feel productive and contributing made it impossible to truly relax. There was no acceptance that it was okay to feel free. How strange it is to mourn the loss of something that often caused so much stress.

The next chapter has been incredibly kind all things considering. However, the nagging feeling of being new still tugs deep. I'm eager to grow and learn, but these are the things that only time can take care of. After being the teacher for so long, it is odd to be the student.

Comparison is the thief of joy. But it also is something we cannot escape as humans. It is a measurement we use when evaluating ourselves. And March seems to be the precipice for big changes. My lowest lows and highest highs are far from any pinnacle of humanity. But they are mine to compare to myself and we know who is the harshest critic of them all.

The highs are safe, braggart and unexceptional except how they feed my own memory bank. I started dating Adam in March 2004. I went on my first international trip in March 1992. I crushed my own expectations in the marathon in March 2017.

There is something evolutionary about knowing someone else's weaknesses. It's why we are drawn to stories of those who are entangled in bad decisions or who have fallen from the top.

March has certainly unveiled a few of my weaknesses. In March 1993, I was in almost 11 year old kid struggling to get through life with obsessive compulsive disorder. I saved everything, including trash from my lunches at school and my mom would have to go through my backpack to routinely keep things sanitary. Brown paper bags containing orange peels and empty juice boxes were stuffed under a layer of innocent looking papers. My compulsory number was 8 and everything I did had to be in sets of 8. Brush my teeth in sets of 8. Walk across a room in sets of 8. Chew my food in sets of 8. Even more maddeningly, I had to distribute between the left and right side equally.

In March 1997, it was the demise of my body. I would limit my food intake to less than 1,000 calories a day. I ate pickles and mustard because of their low calorie count. It feels odd to compartmentalize a piece of my own history and to wrap it up into summary form. Teenage girl gets braces off and loses a few pounds through dieting. Feels better about herself, continues stricter dieting. No number becomes low enough, diets until parents intervene. Hospitalized, inpatient care, outpatient care, group therapy, individual therapy. Decides one day she is good enough to survive. Begins eating again. It was 21 years ago, but the shame of self-hatred and secrecy of my thoughts lives on.

I have distinct memory of searching for ipecac in my mom's medicine bag. She always had a full arsenal of supplies for any given medical situation. My sister had a penchant for keeping the poison control hotline busy when she was younger so I was certain I would find something to clear my stomach in the bag. The family had gone out for Chinese food and I had eaten a vegetarian dish chocked full of water chestnuts and baby corn. All this time later, I can conjure up the taste of the syrup with just the memory even though it would be the first and last time I ever made myself throw up. The convulsions in my stomach were enough to make my eyes water.

I would lie in bed late at night, running my fingers over the tops of my hip bones. Feeling strangely satisfied the more they jutted out. The skin grew more and more taut over time. It stopped being about aesthetics early - something far more compulsory roped me and gave me the sense of the satisfaction the further down I went. Stepping on the white scale of my mom's bathroom, I would cover the numbers with my toes first. Then, slowly lifting them away, I could determine my own worth. 

My mom's youngest sister died of cancer in March 1997 and my memories of that week are entrenched in my own narcissism. We had indoor track practice due to weather - it was probably raining and upper class suburban teenagers likely caused an uproar about getting wet. I remember thinking it was odd that my mom came into the gym in the middle of practice. She stretched herself thin between 3 kids and a full-time job; she was always there to pick me up or drop me off, but it would have been weird if she was watching at practice. I knew something was wrong right away.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, the tone of the weather seemed to match our moods like something out of a movie. It was cold and grey and the few degrees of latitude north meant winter still had its grips on this part of the world. I remember running big loops around the hotel parking lot so that I would not lose out on track practice while I was gone. Funny how now I see it as the only way I could be in control of something. I couldn't control the death, the feelings I had for the death, or the odd, tiptoe way every acts around death. But I could run and if I did it long enough, hard enough, I might forget about my other pain for awhile.

The day of her funeral was clear and sunny. Standing in the cemetery watching my almost 4 year old cousin lay flowers across the grave of his mother sent a ripple of emotion through the small gathering. I was keenly aware of my in-between position of the day. I lacked the innocence of a child, but I also lacked the wisdom of the older generation. I understood death, but naivety made it impossible for me to contemplate my own. 

Everyone around me knew what was going on. I knew what was going on. But I refused to acknowledge it to myself. It was easier to keep up the ruse and continue to tumble rather than stop my "progress". Childhood friends slowly stepped away. Who could blame them? I was so wrapped up in myself that I couldn't even see how I was destroying the relationships around me.

3.18.18
Late yesterday afternoon I stood in the water at the edge of the pool lane, breathing hard. It was nowhere near the limits of my exhaustion, but I was tired enough. I pulled myself up onto the shallow steps and rested my elbows on knees.

Swimming tired feels different than running tired. There is a hollow feeling I get when I'm swimming tired. Like someone has scooped out my insides slowly as I crawl up and down the lane. I wonder how I can run for the same amount of time and go about my day fairly normally, but the same amount of time swimming leaves me far more racked.

The answer of course is that I'm not conditioned to swim. 8 sessions in and my only comparison to running is time. I swam on the neighborhood team as a kid so my stroke skills are decent enough to get me from one edge of the pool to the other with a certain degree of comfort. I don't have any inherent fear of the water. But I just seem to lack any sort of rhythm for more than one length at a time. Of course, the 8th session feels much more fluid than the first.

If I were to continue this mumbo jumbo, I would consider honing my skills with professional help. But truth be told, I really want to just be running. There is the don't be a dumbass part of my brain that is screaming loudly at me to continue some sort of regimen in the water to avoid future injury. But then I want to yell back stop being scared of something that hasn't happened.

I was asked early on if I was upset at myself in some way for racing so hard in December. Like, maybe I could have prevented this silliness of the boot. But even if I could pinpoint my injury to those specific events (which I can't, it's just speculation), I don't know that I would do anything differently. Is that stupid? Perhaps... But I would rather go after those goals than hold myself back for fear of injury.

Oh yes, I am aware of the entanglement of compulsion in my own story. 25 years is enough to recognize the trend over time. It is a constant check-recheck-check-recheck in all that I do. When you cannot carry on your life as "normal" because of a compulsion, "normal" says you have a problem. Running is an odd compulsion. It does make me feel happy. It makes me feel confident. It makes me feel good about myself most days. But I'm not going to sugarcoat the compulsion part of it.

It's tricky to walk the line of dedicated in runner. If someone is squeezing in a long run at 4:00 a.m. or trying to figure out how to get a few miles in during a family vacation, one might call the runner dedicated. But I think it is safe to say that many distance runners have made choices that they would later recognize as feeling more compulsory than dedicated. We get caught up in more, more, more and more in some cases is not always better.

It's a big you do you world though. Who am I to judge what works in your realm? Just like asking someone how they like a pair of running shoes, you'll get an answer, but there is no comparison to your own experience. Some runners have those compulsory feelings at 20 miles a week. Some have them at 100 miles a week. Some runners never feel it is compulsory.

Tangents. So many tangents.

I laid in the sauna for a few minutes. It felt oddly luxurious. When I hobbled to my locker, I noticed Adam had called. I decided to put on dry clothes first and then call him back. My skin still damp and warm from the swim/sauna made it twice as difficult to put on a sports bra. It was like upper body Bambi struggling to get the elastic down.

Breathing hard once again from getting dressed, I called Adam and he told me he'd call me right back. I knew he was trying to get new tires after a leaky one lead to the discovery of extreme baldness. The timing of outlying $700 for new tires seemed bad, but these kinds of things never have a good time.

He called me back and updated me about our plane ride back from Boston that he'd accidentally booked a week later. JetBlue waived the change fee after Adam full on humbled himself with I'm a complete idiot and booked the wrong dates. Maybe JetBlue is always awesome? Maybe he got the right person on the phone? We still paid the price difference, but it stung a lot less.

But the real purpose of his call was to let me know they were considering taking his mom off the ventilator today (Sunday). I was standing up in front of the mirror in the locker room at the time, pressing the skin around my eyes where my goggles smooshed my face. Upon hearing this news, I walked over to a nearby chair and sank down.

I'm not sure why it hit me then. I lost my words and waited for something to come bubbling out of my mouth. Perhaps there was always a way out before. Something could get better. There was no finality to it. But this was more black and white than it had been for 2 weeks in my eyes.

It was more shock than sad. How can this be something he has to deal with? How can this be something his family has to deal with? Least important, how can this be something I have to deal with? We all ask why, but this is one of the few certainties in our lives so it feels strange that there is never enough time to feel prepared for it. We all deal with it in our own ways. 

The urge to run, to escape it all for just a few hours washed over me. I want to choose flight over fight.

We talk for a few more minutes. About the logistics. About best options. It seems sterile and adult. Inside, it's messy and complicated. I don't want to face my emotions. I clamp down on the urge to let tears well up in my eyes.

It seems heartless to walk out of the locker room and lift instead of going home. But I need the separation for the moment. I don't have to talk to the weights. They don't ask anything of me. I grab a set of dumbbells and go through motions. When my mind starts to wander, I finish the set and grab heavier weights. My shoulders and biceps quiver lightly at first and then shake until I've maxed out my ability.

I am elbows on knees again. Exhausted for the moment.

Fuck you 35.

3.25.18
We get in the car around 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. In Miami, the sun is out and the palm tree fronds sway slightly in the breeze. It's warm and clear, but the humidity isn't stifling. Day Tripper plays at a medium level, drowning out any chance of uncomfortable silence.

I don't remember what we talk about on the way to the service. I stare out the window at the large Spanish-style estates as my father-in-law navigates the streets. The trip to the church-turned-temple is short and soon we are standing inside a room full of bustling people setting up tables and spreading out food. I recognize a few faces and the smaller group is friendly, kind, and calm.

The sanctuary is ice cold. The family quickly separates and the unspoken rift is now physical as well. I cling to Adam, greeting family members that I saw last under a similar somber occasion. 9 years seems like yesterday and so far away. But they are exactly as I remember them. Gregarious and warm, they pass the time with the idle conversation until we take our seats.

I'm on the last seat of the front row. I listen to the rabbi with full attention, curious to hear what he has compiled from the family. I didn't provide any input, but frankly, it wasn't my place. Our relationship was good and I never felt strained in the way traditional mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law often do. But we lived so far away and our day-to-day lives were divvied out in snippets. From both sides, we could hide the skeletons a little easier.

I do recall a couple of lengthy conversations we had at the kitchen table over the years. What we discussed has long left my mind, but the feeling of being comfortable in her presence is what strikes me most. There was never any hesitation to welcome me into her life and when I visited for the first time 14 years ago, she treated me with the sort of relaxed kindness that feels real.

My mind starts to wander at the funeral during the Hebrew-spoken portions. I stare out the window and think about how strange it is that a room full of people are inside morning the loss of life while a few hundred feet away, people are driving by without any knowledge of what is going on.

As the family started to speak and share about her life, I felt my eyes well up with tears. I thought about my own sister, my own mother.

*****************************************************
When Adam called me at work on Monday afternoon to tell me the news, I thought I was okay when I hung up. I looked around my desk for about 30 seconds and then felt the wave of emotion hit me. I gathered my keys and hung my head as I headed out the door as quickly as possible. When I hit the outside air, my stomach started to heave the tears forward and a co-worker asked if I was okay as I hobbled to my car. Inside my car and alone, I let it go. I immediately thought about how I wanted to be around my own mother and what a strange thought it was given the situation.

*****************************************************

After the service, we convened in the first room again. It was crowded and loud. Adam and I stood, not wanting to wrestle with the buffet crowd and not wanting to converse with people saying the well-rehearsed adages we all are guilty of in these situations. I thought of the Homer-Simpson-fading-into-the-hedges GIF and wished that I could just let the walls swallow me. Not because I didn't want to grieve, but because this was not how I grieve.

*****************************************************

That morning, I walked outside with my running shoes on for the 3rd time in 2 months. It was probably a bit reckless to go for a run the day after I had done my 2nd run. But I needed it. I craved the mental outlet, the familiarity, the escape. I crossed the street into the park and walked along the path. I fought the urge to run immediately and walked for 10 minutes or so through the park.

As soon as I reached the other side, the familiar break into a run stride was just what I needed. Without any care of pace, I just let my body tell me what was comfortable and slipped into my happy place. My legs were sore, my throat was raw from some flare up of allergy or illness, and my heart was heavy with grief. It was only 3.5 miles total, but it was enough to make me feel like something was angling right in my world.

3.26.18
It's 5:30 a.m. and we are now headed to the airport to go home. I'm happy to go back to the familiar, but I also recognize that everyone now faces the new normal. Adam and his dad talk nearly most of the ride and I just listen. I'm mentally and physically exhausted and know that the past 7 days have touched every single emotion possible.

At physical therapy, I want Adam to go home with the new brace, but the battery in the heel insert is dead. How strange it is that this isn't the most important event of the past week. I truly do enjoy seeing the facility and I'm happy that he is optimistic about the future.

Back home, we unpack, start laundry, and I crawl into bed in the middle of the afternoon. Adam and the dogs soon join and the 4 of us spend Monday afternoon sleeping. 






Monday, May 21, 2018

This is Ultrarunning: Pacing Cruel Jewel 100



It's been dark for hours. I'm a few steps ahead of a runner straddling a fallen tree aside the trail. His pack lies in front on him, splayed out. I am stopped, scratching the underside of my butt cheek, asking him if he's okay. He tells me he is just going to take a little nap on the tree for an hour. Lauren reaches us and he clicks off his headlamp as we move down the trail. This is ultrarunning. 

Months ago, Lauren asked me in a text if I could pace her during Cruel Jewel 100. She said it was like asking someone to prom. I responded like an over-eager prom date. Pacing an ultra might be my favorite way to run. You get to be a part of the race without the pressures of racing yourself. Any pain or frustration you might feel is almost forcibly shoved away because it is imperative to be strong for your runner. It doesn't matter if I'm tired, sore, hungry, or sleep-deprived. Getting my runner to the finish is the only thing I allow myself to worry about.

In the months leading up to the race, I was concerned I wasn't going to be able to give her many miles (or any) because of the whole boot/stress reaction thing. However, recovery seemed to be going reasonably well and after Boston and a 20 mile trail run, I was confident I could pace a section of the race.

The race started at noon on Friday while I was still at work. Anxious to get on the road before traffic, I ducked out of the office at 4p.m. As I neared Dawsonville, I started to pull over the Publix to grab something for dinner, some fresh fruit (that I forgot in the work fridge), and ice for my cooler. I heard a whipping noise coming from my car as I eased into the parking lot.

You have got to be kidding me!

In the past month I have replaced my driver's side window motor, an AC hose, and the fuel pump. What the hell else can go wrong?

Praying it wasn't a flat, I walked slowly around the passenger side of the car, listening for the hiss of a tire losing air. Then I saw a pile of long skinny rubber pieces on the ground under the hood. Upon inspection, I see that the serpentine belt has shredded and is unraveled. The good news is that there are still 3 grooves worth of the belt, the bad news is that about 5 grooves are gone. I grab my knife (thankful I carry sharp objects) and cut through cabling so it doesn't unravel further. I Google an auto parts store, buy a replacement belt, rent a ratchet set, and replace it in the parking lot. Thankfully it is a repair that I not only know how to do, but super easy.

Feeling frustrated that I've now wasted an hour dealing with this, I forgo grocery shopping and just grab a bag of ice from a gas station and decide I'm going to eat a giant burrito from Moe's for dinner. In the gas station restroom, I realize my period has started. That's cool universe, what else you got?

Aside from not being able to eat half my burrito while I white-knuckled the mountain roads, I found Dani's cabin with ease. Dani is one of Lauren's cool friends who does things like race on a 2 woman team across the US on a bike and competes in ultra triathlons. She also has a cabin near the start of the Cruel Jewel 100 start/finish and is/was gracious enough to let a couple pacer strangers come stay at her place. And oh yeah, she has a book (which I downloaded to my Kindle as we talked about it)!

Dani's friend Ben was also staying there as he was racing the 50 miler which started the following morning. He's done a bunch of ultra events as well, but had to back off a bit while he was in med school (!!!). Sheesh.

Lauren acquired her other pacer, Chantal, after asking a FB trail group if anyone could pace. Chantal is in school for PT and has quite an impressive UltraSignup resume. She'll be in Arizona for her clinicals this fall and plans to do R2R2R.

I'm surrounded by a bunch of humble type A badasses.  

Rudy, Lauren's crew chief and husband, came to the cabin close to midnight and I heard him tell Ben he was going to get an hour of sleep before we left. I had just fallen asleep and felt like he woke us up 5 minutes later. Sleep, smeep....

The 3 of us piled in Rudy's Tahoe which was already pretty packed with gear. I decided to just leave my cooler and camping chair so I didn't take up too much space. My food, clothes, and a pillow made the cut.

On the way to Morganton, the 50 mile aid station and start of Chantal's pacing duties, the skies opened up with water. Lightening flashed across the sky and thunder rumbled slowly as it reverberated across the mountains. This is ultrarunning.

After a pit stop at Waffle House for coffee to go, the 3 of us sat inside the shelter at Morganton, watching soaked runners come in for food, warmth, and for some, the place where they would call it a night. Several runners opted to drop out in the time that we awaited Lauren - cold, exhausted, and defeated. In the middle of the night, in the unforgiving rain, it was understandable that making the return trip was unimaginable.

Lauren came in on schedule and Rudy went to work. He helped her change out her shoes, doctored her feet, refilled her pack with nutrition, forced her to eat, and was every bit the definition of tough love. I stood back, watching and learning. It would be 19 miles before we would see them again so it was critical she was prepared to battle the next section.

Luckily, she had Chantal with her who left the warm and dry shelter to go pace a stranger at 3a.m. in the rain.

Rudy and I packed everything back up, gave them a final cheer as we passed them on the road out, and headed to Waffle House for a very late dinner or really early breakfast. I hadn't planned on needing my wallet, but Rudy was kind enough to buy me a waffle and hash browns.

We arrived at the next aid station after 5a.m. and got ourselves situated to take a short nap. Rudy set his alarm for 8:30 a.m. though both of us likely knew we'd wake up well before then. I got a solid 2 hours of sleep in the reclined chair of the backseat while he nodded off in the driver's seat. Once I heard him moving about, I woke up feeling relatively refreshed. I brushed my teeth and spit my minty froth into the woods.

It was time to hurry up and wait at Stanley Gap, mile 69.1. We hauled some gear up to the aid station and spent the next couple of hours talking to other crew. I decided to finally change out of my jammies at one point and put in my contacts - I submitted to the fact that I was not going to be getting any more sleep.

Lauren and Chantal came into the aid station within the time expected. Rudy once again went to work and this time, I acted as sous chef. I went back and forth to the car a few times and dug through various bags to find nutrition and Rock Tape. Rudy attempted to drain a blister under the ball of Lauren's foot, but she grabbed the needle and took matters into her own hands. I took Chantal's jacket, headlamp, and buff and suggested that Lauren grab her hat and ditch her rain gear.

Rudy and I packed everything back up and set out to repeat the same thing at Old Dial, mile 75.0. We found a spot in the shade and drank a beer with one of their friends, Travis, while waiting. The day was warming up, but both Lauren and Chantal seemed to be in pretty good spirits when they came into the aid station. They didn't stay too long so we knew that everything was going as well as it could given the mileage.

Travis, Rudy, and I made our way to Wilscot and I began to prepare myself for pacing. I loaded up my pack with water, rubbed Vaseline everywhere on my body (repeatedly, for good measure), and watched as runners came into mile 80.5. The fresher looking ones were running the 50 mile race and only at mile 30. The ones that looked like dumpster zombies were the 100 milers.

Men hid their tears as they sat in the shade, shoving food in their mouths and ice in their packs. One runner asked if he could just have ice in his hydration pack as he knew it would be melted quickly against his back. They received pep talks from their crew and from the aid station volunteers and looked forlornly back as they headed into the next section.

Keith kept the energy high and the smiles going and I tried to channel some of his positive energy as I awaited Lauren. She came in with low spirits and sank into one of the chairs. Within seconds, tears turned to sobs. A low point had arrived and we all set to work to get her food, hydration, and pump her back up for the next section. As soon as she was smiling again, another female runner sat down and had the exact same reaction. I would later see this same runner pass us in the night with a huge grin on her face. This is ultrarunning.

Chantal passed off her phone/food timer which was set to go off every 42 minutes to remind her to eat. Rudy handed me the baggie of elevation maps and an aid station mileage chart plus a bottle of electrolyte tabs that I was instructed to give to her when she started to look fatigued.

It was time to battle.

I clicked on my Garmin at 3:10 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, 28 hours after she had started. The first hour was a bit warm, but under the shade of the trees and moving between 15-25 minute miles, I was actually very comfortable.

The scenery was beautiful. I know Lauren had stopped looking long ago, but forest had greened up and looked particularly lush after the rain. Mountain laurels and wild azaleas popped color in the landscape. Ferns brushed along my ankles as the single track narrowed towards the peaks. I just started reading North by Scott Jurek and thought about how he heard the AT being described as the Green Tunnel. It was a strange chasm of her suffering and the beauty of the earth that would wind its' way through my 15 hours of pacing.

She asked me how much further we had and I described our distance in number of peaks as I heard her looking before we left. Later we would all laugh as she took back the baggie of elevation maps not trusting my explanation of peaks during that section.
We arrived at Skeenah Gap about 2.5 hours later and got our final taste of crew at mile 85.4. It was probably closer to 6p.m. when we left as we had our last major change of everything. Rain was falling closer to Vogel so we made sure to grab rain jackets and packed our headlamps for our now inevitable darkness. I ate a bunch of food while Rudy and Chantal tended to her needs and repacked my bag with snacks.

The climb out of Fish Gap is a 1,000' climb in 1.5 miles that tops out on Rhodes Mountain. We then headed for the aptly named Dragon's Spine which is a series of summits and gaps all over the course of 3.5 miles that ends in Fish Gap, mile 90.3.


We played leap frog with a ton of runners in this section as some runners were dying on the descents and others, the ascents. Lauren seemed to be moving along both at about the same speed. I am a much better climber so I'd have to watch myself when ascending, but she'd stay right on my tail while descending.


I could tell that she was in desperate need of calories as we got to Fish Gap and I was actually hungry myself despite grazing all day. Plus, I knew that the next section was going to be over 7 miles until the next aid station. So I made her eat some solid food (grilled cheese) and drink some soup while at Fish Gap. We got some instant coffee and traded the cup back and forth as we started the next section.

This was one of my favorite parts. Sharing a cup on coffee in the middle of the race as the sun began to drop behind the horizon. I looked up across the horizon as we climbed up and atop Fish Knob and smiled to myself. It was a stunning May night to be on the trail. The sun lingered in the sky for a long time before stars began to pop.

I felt bad that I wasn't conversing very much at this point because I was just kind of enjoying being out in nature, moving my body through the night, wrapped up in my own thoughts. I had been calling out downed trees and Lauren noticed that I missed one - I confessed I was daydreaming.

The trod after Akin Gap was noticeably worse. Whatever pep in calories that had helped after Fish Gap was now gone. Lauren was going into zombie mode and I had to watch carefully as her pace dropped that I didn't get too far ahead. I wanted her to pursue so I was pushing beyond what she wanted to do. I told her that I got nervous when I didn't hear her like a kid playing that suddenly gets quiet. Something was potentially wrong.

Our 20-25 minute pace slowly dropped to 30-35 and climbed upwards of 45 minute miles on the ascents. I could feel my own quads burning, my feet aching, and the lack of sleep taking it's toll. But I pushed my own pain aside and acknowledged that any hurt I had could not be compared to hers with an additional 80 miles on her body.

I didn't see anyone running in this section. There were a lot of people that passed us hiking faster, but no one had two feet off the ground at any one point. Everyone would say "good job" as they passed and there was some sort of misery loves company vibe that we all exuded when around each other. The laughs were hollow and self-deprecating. We couldn't decide if it was inspiring or absolutely stupid that we were out here paying for this pain.Well, the runners were paying. At least I was doing it for free.

The runner about to take a nap on a tree was in this section - other runners would later tell us he had woken up and was moving again.

The section to Firepit was supposed to be 7.3 miles and I looked as my watch went from 7.3 miles to 8 miles to over 9 miles. Each of these miles now upwards of 40 minutes. Lauren was moving at this point, but it was incredibly slow going. The few times that I did burst out into random conversation, I would look back to make sure she was still there because she no longer could even give single word responses.

At Firepit (mile 97.6 - give or take), the interaction with different humans made her slightly perkier and she even seemed to jolt awake for a few seconds when bacon was mentioned. I was almost out of food at this point because I wasn't prepared to be out for so long. I asked the aid station volunteers if they had any plastic bags that I could stick some food in to take with me. They only had gallon sized bags so I ended up taking a bread bag with a few pieces of bread in it and stuffing it with cookies, Fig Newtons, and gummy worms. I then ate a boatload of grilled cheese squares, chugged a cup of Mountain Dew, and hoped that my heart would continue to work after ingesting this concoction.

We shared another cup of coffee as we exited the aid station and I actually felt really good for the next mile or so. Lauren went the opposite direction. It was 4.7 miles to Wolf Creek, but there was only water at the next stop so I knew this was really the push for the finish and we ultimately had 8.4 miles to go. Even if we picked up the pace, we were still 4 hours away. It was probably going to be 5+ hours from Firepit.

Within a mile, Lauren started to have a case of the ultra crazies. There were moths that would pop up on occasion in her headlamp light and she started to freak out. She would wave her trekking poles wildly around and scream as she batted them long after they went away. This was coupled with intermittent stops of resting her head on her poles or leaning against a tree, falling asleep for mere seconds at a time. For every 30 steps I took forward, I backtracked 10 to prod her along.

At one point she leaned against a tree and would not budge. I told her she could sit down and sleep for 5 minutes. I tried to push her body against the tree as much as possible so other people could pass by. They would ask if she was okay and I told them she was just taking a nap for a few minutes.

5 minutes is a long time to stand in the dark doing nothing while waiting for 5 minutes to pass.

I had to kind of shake her awake the first time, but she got up and continued on her way. We got about 3/10ths of a mile when she leaned against her poles and wobbled wildly next to the dropoff. The shear of the mountain to her left, the shear of the dropoff to her right. I sprinted back to catch her wobble and planted her on the trail again. Another 5 minute nap.

She was even worse when I managed to get her up again, but she moved for another few tenths of a mile. We started to descend into a less steep area and fortunately the trail was a little wider on each side. The freaking out with the moths continued and then she starting asking me where she was. She panicked about where she was. The wobble was getting to the point that I seriously was worried she was going to be airlifted out of the trail. She was feeling nauseous and stooped over to dry heave without it being productive.

At one point she told me her water was making her feel thirsty. I asked her if she thought there was something in her water and had her try mine. She said that my water also made her thirsty. If you've ever tried to reason with a drunk person, this is a very similar feeling.

I helped her fall onto a bed of leaves and she immediately fell into a deep sleep. Her arms were splayed in one direction, her legs in the other, and her head and trunk faced upright. It looked like a crime scene, minus the blood. I left her headlamp on and clicked my own off and sat down next to her.

My phone battery was dead and her phone was locked. I tried in vain to wake her up to get her code, shaking her shoulders and telling her I needed to call Rudy. Luckily, she had her emergency medical contact as Rudy and I called him to update him about the situation. I didn't get him the first time and left a message.

Sitting in the woods at God-knows-what-time with a hallucinating runner who had covered 95 miles with a dead phone, a locked phone, and minimal food & water. This is ultrarunning.

I thought about taking a nap myself and even went so far as to set an alarm. But then I worried that I wasn't going to wake up quickly and despite Lauren's current situation, I didn't want her to lose any more time than necessary. So I just sat next to her and waited. It was actually a stunning night to be sitting outside. I had thought earlier in the evening how nice it would have been to camp. I chuckled to myself thinking I kind of got my wish.

Rudy called me back and I gave him the update that she was okay, but sleeping. We were moving really slow, but nothing was inherently wrong. She was just reaching the limits of exhaustion. I explained I was letting her sleep a little and hoped she would feel a little better even after 20-30 minutes of resting. I can only imagine how worried he was at this point, but I was hoping he would feel at least a little better knowing that one of us was coherent in our party of 2.

Since she was so nauseous before she passed out, I was worried she was going to vomit all over me as I yanked her by the arms into a sitting position. Also, I feared I was testing the limits of our friendship by basically forcing her to get up. I knew she wanted to just sleep in that pile of leaves, but I also knew she really want to get to that finish line.

I truly had no idea how far we were from the finish at this point. I thought I knew, but it was twice as long as I thought. She was not moving fast, but she was moving and no longer fighting me to go to sleep. However, for the next 5-6 miles, I was like every single poster in the Successories store. I was telling her she was amazing, she was strong, she inspired me, she was a crushing it, and then I was giving her visions of the finish line - telling her how proud Rudy was of her doing this and how she was going to get to see him and take a nap. I know I was sleep-deprived myself and repeating myself ad nauseum. In some ways though it selfishly helped me. It gave me purpose in that final section.

Ben caught us at one point and then took a breather at the Wolf Creek hydration stop. I appreciated seeing someone else I knew out there at this late in the race. Even though we were deliriously tired and likely having a nonsensical conversation, it lifted me up a bit.

The plod on Coosa went on and on and on and on. I never thought we would see highway 180. I have run on Coosa before, but don't know the scenic markers and I kept thinking I'd see the trail head with every curve. The sun came up just as slowly as it dropped the night before and I was happy to finally ditch the light of my head lamp.

Over the highway, there was enough space to finally run side by side and there was something resolute about the fact that the only way to even get to the car was to get to the finish line. I spoke to Rudy one more time and then got ready to run it in for the finish. At the pavement, we started jogging and stopped/started until the arch came into view. I peeled off to the left and watched as she ran the last 100 meter stretch to the finish, collapsing into Rudy's arms.

I may or may not have had a little something in my eye at that point.

I was exhausted, dirty, had slept just over 2 hours in the past 48 hours, hungry, and covered 15 hours on the trails when I've only ever run longer than that (time-wise) twice in my life. I would do it again in a second. If someone had told me two months ago (when I was in the boot) that I was going to be doing this, I never would have believed them.

Proud to call Lauren my friend. She is inspiring, she is strong, and she does it with smile on her face. Appreciative of Rudy's kindness, patience, and ability to make being crew chief look easy (newsflash: it is ridiculously not). Happy to make new friends of Chantal (I smell many future adventures together!), Dani, and Ben.

I don't know where I'm at with my own running right now, but I'm happy to always find joy in the journey!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Boston Marathon 2018: Boot to Boston to BQ




A year ago, I crashed into a marathon PR of 3:13:54 in Boston on a warm day after a winter/spring of chipping away under 3:20. I started ramping up my ultra training soon thereafter and managed to eke out PRs in the 6 hour, 12 hour, and 24 hour timed events along with 100k and 100 mile PRs in the process. October was all about downtime and base miles with a little fun marathon thrown in and November pushed the pace a little faster as I began to recover.

December brought a freak hamstring pull (right hammy) days before the Rehoboth Marathon and I raced despite barely being able to hobble around the office mere days before. 2 weeks later, I felt the best I had since Albany on race day and went after the JAX Marathon hard. It netted me my 3rd fastest marathon time, but my (left) foot that felt tender was definitely barking.

2 weeks went by and though my foot was still kind of iffy when I wasn't running, I decided to race a 6 hour race very last minute. Though I grabbed a 50K PR and a new 6 hour PR, my foot was not happy the days following. What I thought was a bruise in JAX was clearly not. I gave it some rest, ran slowly, but all signs pointed to something wasn't right. After being diagnosed and treated with tendinitis first, I eventually would be diagnosed with a stress reaction and was sentenced to the boot for 6 weeks.

Since getting back into running in 2006, this was by far the longest I had ever gone without running. And while I'd had little flare ups of pain and soreness here and there, I never had anything that wasn't cured by a week of rest. With Boston looming in mid-April, I was definitely worried.

I cross-trained like a madwoman. Partially to keep my fitness levels high to make it easier to return to running and partially to fill the void I felt without running in my life. I lifted weights, I did chair cardio, Pilates, and swam. I biked a few times when I was cleared to, but decided the strap was too irritating to my bum foot.

When the boot came off, I followed the doctor's orders of giving myself a couple of days of walking around before attempting to run. The first run back was slow and I was feeling very out of shape after 2 miles, but my legs had no trouble going through the motions.

There was no real plan in place after that. Boston was less than 4 weeks away and I was stuck between feeling prepared and hurting myself again. So I took it a day at a time. Adding on miles, keeping up the cross-training, and backing off when my foot felt angry. I would make a tentative plan a week in advance and adjust when necessary.

I knew trying to run Boston wasn't smart for long-term, but I also knew I'd regret not trying. There were days up until about a week before that I still wasn't sure if I was going to race. In my heart, I was 100% in, but my head argued about the possibilities of consequences.

But after the girls' weekend in Raleigh, I'd convinced myself it was okay to go for it so all of a sudden I found myself tracking down a Wonder Woman running costume and Nike Vaporfly shoes. I needed everything in my arsenal.

Adam and I traveled to Boston Friday and got checked into our Airbnb, hit up the expo ($$$), and went to a Sox game. Both of us were exhausted by the 7th inning and we ended up leaving before the game was over to get a head start on the way back AND because I had signed up for the B.A.A. 5k on Saturday morning. Adam never leaves games early so this was kind of a big deal!

I had no goals for the 5K other than to just use it as a "shakeout run". Luckily, Amy spotted me as she arrived and we ended up running and talking the whole time. I was grateful that her company kept me from thinking about my foot and we really just hammed it up the whole race.


Saturday also was my 36th birthday so we spent the rest of the day bakery and brewery hopping, capping off our evening with dinner with a few Loopsters at the now-traditional Cambridge Brewing Company.







Rest was on the order for Sunday, but as weather forecasts looked worse and worse, I began to panic a bit about my outfit. Roger and I made it our mission after carb-loading for brunch to find long-sleeved compression tops. After a few busts, we ended up with the same version of a shirt from Lululemon. I cringed at the $78 price tag, but would later have zero regrets about the purchase.

After parting ways with Roger, Adam and I went back to our Airbnb to rest. I picked up some nitrile gardening gloves from a nearby Ace hardware to go over my running gloves and a fleece blanket to stay warm at the Athlete's Village. I made spaghetti with marinara sauce, a green salad, and paired it with a baguette for dinner. Carbed and armed with layers, I was as ready as I could be.



I slept really well the night of the race and woke up to my alarm going off. I took 45 minutes to eat half a bagel and a banana, dress, and lock myself on the patio outside when I was checking the weather. After Adam rescued me, it was time to grab a coffee, hop on the T, and try to find Casey and John at the bus pickup.

Luckily, they spotted me huddling in the crevice of Hermes' front door and we were off to the buses. The 3 of us rode together to Hopkinton and then spent the next hour or so trying to fight off the wind, rain, and mud. The field of the Athlete's Village was a huge mud pit and the areas under the tents were so bad that you couldn't even get out of the rain. It was a shitshow. We just laughed because what else could we do.

Casey saved the day with extra HotHands and a huge trash bag. I was still wet and cold, but at least I was better off!

John and I headed out to the corrals when Wave 2 was called. Under my blanket and trash bag, I had yet to arrange my gels, iPod, or eaten my other bagel half. Realizing I had nothing more than coffee to drink that morning, I grabbed a cup of water from volunteers on the way in.

Practically new shoes, a new top, a new skirt, half of my breakfast, under-hydrated, freezing cold windy rain, and 26 days of training after 7 weeks of zero miles.

The craziest thing is despite all the things stacked up against me, I knew how to run a marathon. It might ugly, but I was determined that once I started, I wasn't going to give up.

With 7 minutes to go, I got in my corral and started to try to stuff my sports bra with my gels and get my iPod clipped. It was too rainy to try to even listen to music so I just shoved the ear buds in my shirt. I was fumbling and remembered to turn my watch on around the same time I ditched my blanket and trash bag poncho. I was trying to get my outer glove back on when the gun went off. It was go time!

I went out with the people in my wave and tried to just stay at a comfortable pace. The Boston course makes pacing difficult because of the steep descents in the beginning that feel way too easy on fresh legs. My game plan was to just stay to the left and let people go by.

As the first miles slipped by, I started looking at my paces and was surprised that I felt pretty good despite me lingering near 8 minute miles. The fear of blowing up after 10 miles (my longest post-injury distance) loomed over me, but I decided to just stay in the moment and deal with it one mile at a time.

As I crossed over the 5K timing mat, I knew that followers at home would see exactly what I was up to. I like to think it doesn't matter, but knowing that people were tracking me only fueled me to see what I could do. 8:05, 7:49, 7:42

From the get go, my right shoe was tied way too loose. I really wanted to stop and tighten it, but the momentum of people was always so intense that I just couldn't make myself stop. So I hoped it wouldn't be an issue and tried to forget about it (spoiler alert: it didn't matter).

I remember coming up on the 4 mile mark quickly and though the people were not out like they were in '16 and '17, there were still thousands of people lining the streets. Staying to the left gave me plenty of opportunity to high five all the kids and I tried to absorb their energy. 7:36

All the sights that have slowly become familiar came into my murky view. With the rain blowing sideways at times, I kept my head down and just followed the footsteps of the runners in front of me. Somehow, I managed to remember to scoop out a gel at mile 5. 7:50

People would shout "Wonder Woman" and "Go Carissa" as I ran past. I was glad I decided to run without music as their shouts would often give me the boost I needed. Every once in awhile I'd point at the person, lock eyes, and give them a big goofy grin. John caught up with me around this stretch and we ran stride for stride until I urged him to go after it. 7:39, 7:48, 7:56, 7:53

At the 15K mark, I noticed that I still felt pretty good all things considering. I knew I still had the ugly miles to go, but nothing was inherently bad other than the freezing rain. I was REALLY glad I had bought the extra shirt and gloves. And I hadn't planned on needing a buff for warmth, but I was REALLY glad I had my ears covered.

At just before mile 10, I remember seeing the familiar open space with the lake in Natick and I'm in awe that I'm actually doing it. Heading into double digits, I know that at the very least, I've given it a good go thus far. I think this is around the time I saw Ken and gave him a big side hug while we were running. He looked super comfortable and I watched him slowly open a gap in front of me. 7:55

I fish for another gel and then grab one from the Clif station at mile 11. I'm drinking water or Gatorade at nearly every stop. The cold is keeping me from feeling thirsty, but I know it would be (ironically?) dumb to be dehydrated given the conditions. 8:02

When we head into mile 12, the scream tunnel seems to be even louder than I remember. I smile to myself as I hear their deafening roar get closer with each step. If there was ever a year for me to get a kiss, I had decided this was it. So I ran down the line and high-fived a bunch of girls until I came upon one who was pointing at her cheek. I stopped, we exchanged a cheek kiss, and I went running down the line again for high-fived. 7:56

My shoe came untied shortly thereafter on my left foot and I stepped over to the shoulder to retie it. With doubled gloves and frozen fingers, I fought mercilessly for a few seconds before ripping off my outer gloves to get a better grip. 8:34

As I hit the halfway mark, I realized I could still actually BQ even if I slowed. This was always an outlying possibility, but I was so much more focused on just finishing and really had no business thinking about time goals.


The back half did start to get tougher and I tried to relax my pace as much as I could, gambling that saved energy would help me on the hills. I did start noticing the "Medical Assistance Ahead" signs with more frequency. Happy to know they were there, but equally happy to not need them. I took a gel earlier than my planned 15 mile mark, hoping to stave off the inevitable fade I was bracing myself to feel. 7:48, 8:10, 7:58

The last downhill before Newton is always bittersweet. It is a beautifully graded hill and at just before 16, you think you will be heading into single digits with grace. But I knew what awaited around the right curve.

Wind whipped wildly on the overpasses and made the trek through Newton even more difficult. After conquering the second hill (my least favorite), I saw some rowdy 20-somethings holding out beer cans and shouting at runners. Much like the Wellesley kiss, this was the year to do it. I grabbed the can from the kid, chugged a big gulp of Natural Light, and jumped back into it with the group yelling "Wahoo Wonder Woman". 8:26, 8:35, 8:16

With just Heartbreak Hill left to conquer, I knew I was going to finish once I got to the top. Every step uphill felt agonizingly slow, but I was afraid if I stopped to walk, l was going to get too cold. So I plodded on, waiting for my watch to beep to indicate another mile marker. Somehow I had in my head that my watch was under each mile marker until about Heartbreak Hill when it dawned on me that it was long, just as it always is in Boston. My 34th marathon and runner math always eluding me. 8:41, 9:01

Normally I get excited for mile 21 and Boston College, but I was bonking hard. Their screams were electrifying and their enthusiasm was incredible despite the horrible conditions. It seemed like when the rain would pick up and become blinding, the crowds would go even more wild. 8:36, 8:49

With 5K to go, I followed the people in front of me as best I could. I was starting to feel delirious and my vision was narrowed to a small tunnel in front of me. The relief of catching the next mile or kilometer marker was all I could concentrate on. Ed caught me in this section and he was grinning ear to ear. I was so happy to see a familiar face! 9:08

When I saw the Citgo sign, I was 50% relieved to know I was going to finish the race and 50% relieved that I was finally going to be able to get warm soon. 9:13

The last mile was a trudgefest. I had nothing left. I followed the blue triple line remembering how comfortable I felt Saturday. Under the overpass and up the final hill to turn on Hereford. 9:45

As I got to the turn, I felt immediate relief as Matt and I spotted each other and then I saw Adam.

The finish line in sight, I glanced at my watch and saw that I would have just enough time to get under 3:40. I had no sprint for Boylston, but felt emotion well up in me as I got closer to the finish mat. I was grinning ear to ear knowing that I was steps away from finishing and in a pretty respectable time.



I did it. I really actually did it. It really is impossible until it is done. 3:39:22

I clicked off my Garmin and hobbled into the finish chute. I felt dizzy, exhausted, and my left contact was smooshed in my eye so I could barely see. I shuffled forward to collect a bottle of water, my medal, and after what felt like an eternity, a heat sheet.

The walk back to the Airbnb quite possibly tested me as much as the marathon. Now that I was no longer running and in soaking wet clothes, I was so, so cold. I walked into the Prudential building from one side, but couldn't figure out how to get to the other in my state of delirium so I had to backtrack. I went back in another section after a few blocks outside and walked past fancy stores dripping wet and looking like a zombie.

I knew I had about 5 blocks to go from the backside of the Prudential building so much like the marathon, I took it one step at a time. I walked past a hotel laundry vent that was blasting warm air and stood with the heat in my. face for a few seconds before making the final push. When I reached the door, I rang the bell and was relieved when Adam came to the door quickly.

I finished the marathon and finally could start to get warm. Soon, I was surrounded by friends, drinking a beer, and recapping the race. The best feeling on Marathon Monday!

Follow this link to see my cross-training/return to running log if you are curious about what I did while I was injured and the weeks post-boot.

My comeback playlist here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Don't be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.

I wrote this yesterday and I'm not sure that I will post it ever on my public blog. But you Loopsters have not only changed my life, you've changed Adam's. So here I am, raw and uncut:

My heart aches. And I feel selfishly wrecked with grief. It isn't my story to tell. It isn't me to feel saddened by, inspired by, disappointed by. It doesn't have a Hollywood ending. It is real life. It is messy, complicated, full of love, and full of tears.

This morning, after covering nearly the same distance I did yesterday during the race, I took a few pretty pictures of brownstones lining the streets. The run was awful. I felt sluggish and uncomfortable. I smiled in my photos and walked the corner to sit on the stoop. As my heart rate slowed down, I felt tears welling in my eyes. I wiped them away and climbed upstairs.

It was far easier to feel nothing than everything as I shoved my emotions back inside.

But as I warmed up a cup of day-old coffee, I met Adam's eyes. The tears flooded. I was sad and mad that I was sad. How was I supposed to be the support person when I needed support myself? He shouldn't be consoling me. It felt so wrong that I needed his embrace.

Or was it?

I didn't want a life lesson yesterday. I wanted a happy finish photo. The spectators cheered for adversity and our family and friends awaited that Cinderella moment. Police officers cheered us down the entirety of Commonwealth Avenue. Shakeout runners fist-bumped Adam when we turned onto Hereford. Strangers clapped wildly as we made our way down Boylston with an entourage of volunteers. "Go Adam!" they cheered, "you've got this!"

It never occurred to me that giving everything he had might fall short of 3.1 miles.

This was Boston! This was us!

Just past the marathon finish line, he collapsed onto the curb for the final time. I wanted desperately for him to get up, keep going, and push another 10 minutes. But his body had weathered too much. 2.6 miles was what he could do. His legs had gone numb. And the fatigue exacerbated his lack of balance. He had collapsed 3 times already to the pavement.

At the time, I fought back tears as I grabbed the attention of the medical bus. I watched as 3 grown men helped load him up the stairs. I sat quietly next to him, not knowing the words to make it better.

Love is awful sometimes.

But one day, I know we will be retelling this story with a bit of time, distance, and perspective. And we might even laugh. We conquered the Heartbreak Hill of the 5K. He flung his wedding ring down Boylston during one fall and was more concerned about recouping the ring than hurting himself.

He did what he could with what he had yesterday. And I couldn't be more proud that he had the courage to try.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Boot Saga: How A Runner (Poorly) Copes Without Running

I'm fairly certain if you are reading this you are aware that I'm in a boot currently. The foot pain that started after the Jacksonville Marathon and got worse after the 40 mile Resolution Run was initially diagnosed by a doctor as tendonitis. I ignored it for quite some time because it wasn't acute pain and the only cause for concern initially was because I'd never experience soreness on the top of my foot. Seriously, I thought it was just a bruise from the repetitive pounding of my foot to the top of my shoe. (D E N I A L)

But when it didn't get any better and walking was actually causing pain, I knew I needed to get to the doctor. I went to see the amazing Lauren at 1st Choice Sports Rehab who started treating me for tendonitis. I took a full week off of running and then she recommended I try a short run between PT sessions. By the 3rd of 4th session, she suspected something wasn't going in the correct direction and asked to look at my x-rays.

She saw a spot and recommended I visit a podiatrist.

Grrrrrr! Fortunately, the podiatrist practice has two doctors who are also runners AND they were able to get me in pretty quickly. The doctor took another set of x-rays and saw a similar spot. He pointed it out to me on an iPad and I kind of gave him the same glazed-over-and-nodding look that I give when someone shows me a baby on a sonogram (oh yeah, I can totally see the hands and head....). There was something about it not being a stress fracture, but possible a stress reaction. He wanted to treat it like a stress fracture though just to be safe.

All I really heard was boot and no running and no biking. (A N G E R)
Image result for panic button

At this point, I had already gone another 9 days without any running and had run 38 miles over the 3 weeks prior. (B A R G A I N I N G) Bear in mind that 38 miles is less than what I did total for my last race. So I was already going nuts.

Outwardly, I've been trying to maintain a cool composure about the whole thing.

Inwardly, I've been a hot frickin' mess. The boot itself is so awkward and clunky that I have no choice but to be thinking about it 50% (okay 90%....) of the time. I've never worn a boot before and still struggle with is it too loose? is it too tight? is it okay that my foot is able to wiggle a little? oh wait, I should be able to feel my toes, right? I'm pretty sure I've Googled everything related to a metatarsal stress fracture and not-so-surprisingly discovered absolutely zero definitive answers.


I thought I was on the path to a fast recovery when I didn't have any noticeable foot pain after 5 days, but then I started having random flare ups. And as late as Thursday night, I had a bad afternoon/evening that I could feel it when I crawled into bed. I want to blame it on a very intense PT session Wednesday (hellllllllo Graston tool!!), but it's so hard to know. When I take the boot off to hobble to the shower, I can't tell if anything is better or worse because now my gait is all funky.

Pain is weird when you are an endurance runner anyway. Obviously it is part of the reason I waited so long. Marathons and ultramarathons hurt so what's a little soreness on the foot? It wasn't acute-stop-you-in-your-tracks pain like I experienced the night I pulled my hamstring in early December. This is like a mild headache that won't go away. I can walk on without any issue and though I haven't now tried since January 28th, I am 99% certain I could run on it.

However, the goal is to make it better, not worse.

The unknown is the crappy part. There is no timeline at this point. (D E P R E S S I O N) Boston is 50 days away and while it is slated to be marathon #34, I realize the smart thing would be to just not start. I have 49.5 days to make that decision. Some of you are reading this, shaking your head, thinking what I fool I would be to consider running a marathon given my current status.

And the other people are like, yeah, you're a frickin' idiot. But you're my kind of idiot and I'm pretty sure my dumbass would be sitting in Hopkinton on April 16th given the option.

Anyway, I go back to the podiatrist Tuesday for a progress check. I'm hoping the mild swelling and random aches indicate that the bone is regrowing??

Enough bitching though. My life is certainly not gone up in flames with the boot. (A C C E P T A N C E) I've been slinging weights enough that some of the workouts are becoming easier and my upper body is actually showing definition! I'm up to a 2.5 minute single legged plank (with the boot on because the extra weight will make me stronger, right??) and an 8 minute headstand.

If anyone reading this ever is without the use of one of their feet, I will steer you to doing almost any ab or arm video on Fitness Blender's YouTube channel. I just prop the knee of my bum leg on a chair or use a chair to support both knees instead of standing. Most of the ab videos are foot-injury-friendly and the only equipment you ever need, if any, is a pair of dumbbells.

I was missing the sweat of cardio though so I thrilled when I stumbled upon Caroline Jordan's injured foot series. I did this video 3 times in a row yesterday. Chair jumping jacks and chair running are as ridiculous looking as they sound. But I actually have raised my heart rate to a true cardio workout doing them and sweating like I'm running made me so happy that I wanted more.
 
Jenster came to town 2 weeks ago and while she paced the Suwanee Half Marathon, I cheered and took a bunch of pictures of runners. They only had a finish photographer so I posted over 200 pictures onto their FB page in case anyone didn't get a great shot otherwise.

Today, I helped at bib pickup and handed out medals at a local 5K. It was pouring rain all morning and I was soaked to the bone, but I still had fun watching everyone and "participating" as best I could.

I'm headed to help out with Blind Pig 100 miler in Spartanburg, SC next weekend. I'll be helping with the timing table since my ambulatory skills are limited at this point. I plan to take my camping gear and just make a fun weekend of it.

I hadn't intended to have so many "opportunities" to volunteer this early in the year - my goal was to volunteer/crew/pace 5 or more races in 2018. I'll have at least 4 by early April! And while it doesn't take the place of being able to race, it gets me out of the house and allows me to be a part of the running community.

And to end on an extra happy note, I was accepted into the NYC Marathon with a time qualifier. This time last year, I was gearing up to go for a sub-3:15 marathon after losing out in the NYC lottery. My PR at the time was a 3:19, but I knew I had been making big fitness gains and decided to go for it at Albany. It was probably the most textbook race I've ever run. A 1:37:45 first half/1:36:13 second half. My last two miles were at a 7:07 and 7:08 with an average of 7:22 for the entire 26.2 miles. I am so thrilled to see my hard work pay off! And, NYC is in November so I will most certainly be out of this boot by then!!