Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Precious

Please note: If you haven't read or seen The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit then some of this might not make the best of sense.  If you have read/seen them then you'll know I'm not the biggest fan because I will probably get a lot of the facts wrong.  Either way hopefully you can hang with me through this....

If you've been reading my blog for long you know I have a kind of love/hate relationship with races.  I love racing and I hate that I don't ever seem to do as well as I want to or think I should have.  Over the years I have had a few races turn out like I thought they would (because I managed my expectations beforehand), but mostly I find a way to be disappointed with myself after the fact for one reason or another.

Following the Rocket City Marathon yesterday a friend of mine was having a bit of a tough time.  He is a race walker who walks faster than some people run.  At the race yesterday he found himself with an athlete who was having a tough day.  They were swept at mile 23.  ((If you don't know what that means it's when the designated last place finisher, in this case the 6 hour pacer, passes you.  Rocket City Marathon has a 6 hour time cut off so when the 6 hour pacers, the course "sweepers", pass you, that means unless you can catch back up to them, you will not be an "official" finisher of the race.))  He could have left the struggling athlete behind and stayed with (or in front of) the sweepers, but instead he chose to hang with this person to the finish. Now that the race is over and his name is not on the official results page he is fighting the urge (or not) to beat himself up over that choice.

I know that feeling all too well.

I know you are wondering how on earth that relates to The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit.  Well...there was a hobbit named Smeagol who found a ring (that he called "precious").  The ring made him a little crazy (a lot crazy).  He developed an evil alter ego named Gollum.  Gollum was bad news.  All Gollum wanted was that ring; so much in fact, he even killed to keep it.  One day a hobbit named Froto was able to get the ring from Smeagol/Gollum (long story but it happened).  Froto could have killed Smeagol/Gollum but he showed mercy and didn't.  Consequently Smeagol submitted himself to Froto and called Froto "master".  There is a scene from The Lord of the Rings (not sure which one) where Gollum is trying to get Smeagol to kill Froto to get the ring back.  I don't want to give anything away because I think it's a great scene so just watch it for yourself here (PAUSE the video at 1:23)

This is very similar to what usually happens with me after a race, and to what is happening with my friend now.  There is this internal battle between the voices.  One side says "You are worthless and a big ole loser because you didn't __(fill in the "finish in under six hours" or "win an age group award" or "set a new personal record"...the list goes on)__."  The other side says something like "I had a great time doing something that I love" or "I enjoyed my day" or "I helped someone else achieve something they might not have been able to if I hadn't been there at that moment in time"....  The Gollum side is accusatory and just down right mean.  That side wants to berate and beat up the other side.

Here's the thing...Smeagol has a choice to listen to Gollum or not.  Gollum wants Smeagol to believe there is no choice.  Gollum wants to take complete control, but watch what happens next (continue to play the video from 1:23).  As Smeagol becomes more brave (I think because he has Froto looking after him) he is able to stand up to Gollum ("LEAVE NOW AND NEVER COME BACK!").

Sculpture by Zenos Frudakis
I think it's interesting what happens when Gollum "leaves".  Smeagol is a little shocked at first.  And then he proclaims freedom!!

Something I have been working on for a while is freedom from my own "Gollum".  I can't say I'm completely free..."he" is still there, but every time I bravely look that hag in my head in the face and speak truth I get closer and closer to being free from that voice.

The key is to know what the truth really is.

In regard to races I MUST know why I'm doing the race in the first place...BEFORE I start it.  In fact, I need to know why I'm doing it before I sign up for it because that will determine how I train.  How I train will determine how I'm able to perform.  How I perform is not driven by what I do as much as it's driven by WHY.  When people make a goal without having a reason to hang on to when getting to that goal gets hard, they won't hang on to the goal.  They will change the goal or give up on it.  But when you know why you want that thing, you can power through hard times and break out of the chains that hold you back.

Sometimes the ultimate goal is to do something you've never done before in order to glorify God as the provider of strength and determination, sometimes the goal is to let go of pride and selfishness and simply enjoy life every day to the fullest.  No one can set your goals for you.  That is something only you can do.  But you darn sure better know why you have that goal, because I can guarantee you that something or someone will come along and want to strip you of your will to get there...knowing why it's important will help you hold on.

When you hold on to the goal it's like Gollum wanting to keep control of the ring (his "precious").  Spoiler alert (if you haven't seen/read the movies/books you might want to skip this paragraph).  In the series the ring is destructive.  Having the ring makes the possessor do things they wouldn't normally do just to keep control of the power the ring gives.  In the end no one overcame the desire to keep the ring for himself.  The very act of fighting over the ring is what destroyed the ring.  The people who knew the evilness of the ring and knew it needed to be destroyed succumbed to it's power  the moment it slipped on their finger.

You can't allow the the goal to gain control over you.  Sifting your goals through your WHY will help you keep the ring off your finger and keep the goal from destroying the joy that comes with true freedom to pursue the why.

Bottom line:  REMEMBER THE WHY.

Until next time...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Doing Dizzy

I have intentionally put off making my post about the Dizzy Fifty 50K.  I was on such a high after the race was over I couldn't have been sure my perspective was clear.

It's been two and a half weeks and my perspective hasn't changed.

I'm SO glad I did that race.  Even with the "injury" and uncertainty leading up to it, race day couldn't have been a whole lot better overall.

Race Morning

I was uncharacteristically calm the night before and the morning of the race.  Well...that's not exactly true.  I was very detached from thought if that makes sense.  I felt like I was watching someone else's life paying out in front of me.  I was so unsure what was going to happen that I think I somehow disconnected from my perpetually busy mind.  I can't say my thoughts were quiet, but they weren't spinning.  It was very much like my mind was in a holding pattern.  Race morning I woke up, had breakfast, packed up my bags and stuff for the race and headed out with only enough time to park, unload and go to the bathroom.  I don't know if I would have recognized my own mother that morning.  Before I knew it we lined up, the gun was fired (literally) and we were running.

The Race Set Up

This race is called Dizzy Fifty because the course is set up in loops.  There is a little loop to start out, then you run a north loop and a south loop three times.  The north and south loops make a kind of figure eight with the middle point being the start/finish of the race.  So you come back to "home base" a total of seven times.  I honestly thought I would hate this because I generally truly dislike loops.  I don't want to come back to where I started during the race.  If I had my way I would probably run point to point races all the time.  The thought of coming back to the "start" SEVEN times was almost enough to keep me from registering.

However, I have to say, I LOVED it.  Shockingly it was pretty perfect for a first time 50K.  I had all my nutrition planned out and ready to go and the loops worked out so that all I had to carry was a hand held water bottle.  If I didn't like running with fluid as much as I do I could have easily not carried anything at all.  Not only that, probably because this is a trail run I didn't remember many parts of the course even the third time I ran it!  I noticed different things each time.  The group I was running with experienced the same thing.  We dubbed it "course amnesia".

The Race

When I started running all the thoughts that had been strangely absent the few days before the race came flooding in.

"Why am I here exactly?"  "Who do I think I am trying to run THIRTY ONE MILES?"  "I might have a stress fracture...or worse, a messed up tendon."  "What if I end up really tearing the tendon...they can't cut this one out."  "This doesn't feel good."  "This is just mile one...what will this be like after 30 more..."  and so on.  Mercifully within the first probaly quarter of a mile, I connected with a good friend I don't see nearly enough.  (Remember the girl with the broken foot who beat me at Iron Girl?  That's her.  She's an IRONMAN now but I'll call her Iron Girl here.)  We talked and talked the whole rest of the little loop which really helped calm my mind and allowed my body to warm up in peace.

When we made home base stop one I had to use the bathroom pretty bad so Iron Girl ran on while I did what I needed to do.  I don't know if the 1st part is the north or south loop because I'm directionally challenged, but the first part you do is the more technical of the two.  This whole course is fairly easy in comparisson to the only other long trail race I've done (McKay Hollow Madness 25K), but when looking at just this race, the first loop (not the little one) is the more "challenging" of the two.

There is a section that goes down hill and then there's a section that goes up hill.  ( have to say that section got longer all three times I did that loop.)  There were people in front me and behind me the whole time, but I mostly ran "alone".  I talked to some people but I wasn't running "with" any of them.  My mind had settled but I was paying very close attention to my leg and evaluating every tinge of discomfort.  I told myself that if a tinge held on for a mile, or got progressively worse than just a tinge, that would be the end of my race. 

First (half) loop done...back to home base.  One of the athletes I coach was also doing this race.  She planned to be a little slower than me so I left a dry erase board at "camp" so we could leave notes to each other.  I wanted to know how she was doing and leave her words of encouragement during the race.  I left her a note, refilled my hand held and headed out for the second half of the figure eight, the "easier" of the two.  This loop winds through the woods in such a way that it feels as if you will be lost out there forever. 

Without having any technical terrain to negotiate, trail running can get a little monotonous if you are alone...which I was.  That monotony began to wear on me quicker than I expected.  I started getting a tad worried.  I pretty much always run alone, but not for 6-8 hours. I quickly halted the return of the internal jibber-jabber and started pondering my usual athletes and my kids' tri teams.  Before I knew it I caught up with Iron Girl and another friend who were looking at some frost flowers.   But, because I had to go to the bathroom AGAIN I told them I would see them back at home base and I went on my way.

First figure eight done!  Only two more to go.  I used the bathroom (again), refilled my bottle, and checked the dry erase board.  I won't share the note my athlete left me (I have to come up with a name for her...) but it was HILARIOUS.  I left on for her and then started running loop two with Iron Girl and the other friend.  The other gal can walk faster than a lot of people can run, she also has an adorable child, so I'm going to call her Fast Momma.

Photo credit.
Starting that loop I had the first bit of course amnesia.  There's a trail that goes beside a Japanese Tea Garden.  I don't understand that part of the park.  Who put a Japanese pagoda in an Alabama State Park??  I remembered running out that way, but not really seeing the signs.  Just as I started getting worried that somehow I had gone the wrong way the first time I saw something I remembered from the first time.  (Not to mention there really is no way to get off the course because it's so well marked.)  We went down the steep part...through my favorite part of the course, and up the hill, talking the whole way about all kinds of things.

I decided very quick that I wanted to stick with them.  They were out there to finish not compete and were doing an undefined walk/run.  It was probably a little slower than I might have tried to go if I were alone, but it was super comfortable and that's exactly what I needed.  Plus the talking made the time FLY by.  An hour felt like 10 minutes and before I knew it we were starting the second half of the second loop.  Another friend came out there to get some miles in for an upcoming Disney marathon (she might be doing the Dopey Challenge, I can't remember), so three became four.  Then four became five when we met up with another gal.  We had little trail train going and I realized why people are getting together to run trails all the time instead of going it alone like I usually do.  It felt like I had been out there maybe a couple of hours but when I checked it had been 5 and we were starting the third and final loop.

I could tell I was getting a little tired and I was very glad this would be the last time I would have to go down that steep part...and up that hill that seemed to double (maybe even triple) in length this time.  Every little stump, every rock, every limb that I ran over I mentally said my goodbyes to.

When we got back to home base before starting the last half of the last loop I had a huge Knight in Bald Head was there!!!  He had gone out to do his run earlier and had planned on coming out to run some with me.  Unfortunately he hurt his leg on his run.  ((Side story...I haven't talked about how COLD it was that morning...funny that I didn't think about that detail this long after the race...but it was probably one of the coldest mornings we had all season.  Well, Dwayne got four miles away from his car and hurt his leg to the point he couldn't keep running at all...and had to walk back FOUR MILES in the freezing cold, soaking wet with sweat.))  I told him I was fine because I was running with the "train of awesomeness" and only had the last half of the last loop to go, about five miles.  At the rate we were going it would take about an hour longer.  He asked about my leg and I had to that point I told him it was the only thing that didn't hurt.

I was feeling surprisingly good in fact, except for my pubic arch.  It felt like I had been riding a skinny horse, or a horribly fitting bike with a terribly uncomfortable saddle, all day long.  I haven't researched this yet to try to figure out why...but I'm fairly certain it stems from weak hips.

As we started out on the final section I could feel, and hear, the fluid in my stomach sloshing around.  It sounded like a half full gallon jug being jostled around.  I fueled the whole race with a product called Tailwind.  I'll write up another post on it, but for now I'll say it worked like a complete charm.  No stomach discomfort and I had more energy than I expected to have.  It's a powder you mix with a  certain amount of water (you MUST drink with it for the fuel to get to the muscles). I had dialed in the amount I would need, but I didn't account for running much slower than I am used to.  I also didn't account for how cold it would be.  Cold and going slow meant I was sweating MUCH less than usual (and using a bit less energy).  Consequently, it created a bit of a "back up" of fluid in my stomach.  And that back up was sloshing around so loud the gal in front of me asked if she was hearing my water bottle!!!  Nope...that would be my stomach.  

How embarrassing...
As we hit the point of the trail that turns and takes you back toward the finish we all cheered a little...headed HOME!!!  Fast Momma was walking so stinking fast we couldn't walk fast enough to keep up, but it was just slow enough we couldn't run either.  We were doing this accordion thing but none of us were willing to break the train.  Everyone was tired.  Combined with the strong desire to be done, we all had an almost fall from tripping over holders and tree trunks (okay...they were pebbles and twigs, but they seem much bigger when you are that tired!).  Thankfully none of us fell.  (I found out later almost everyone had a spill at some point).

We were going to hold hands and cross the "finish line" together, but Iron Girl had gotten pooped on by some tree-dwelling animal like half a mile before we got there and unfortunately found it by reaching her hand up to see what had just hit her head!!!  We could have moved around so that the poopy hand was on the outside but we were all more interested in being done.

Thirty one miles in seven hours thirteen minutes and fifty eight seconds (13:59 pace overall).  I had an unbelievably great experience.  I loved the race, I loved the friends, I loved the day.  My leg didn't hurt that day, and it didn't hurt the next day.  (It hurts off and on and I'm not quite sure what is going on although I have a theory it's inflammation from eating certain foods...more on that in a later post.)  I am more than thrilled I made the decision to run the race.   After it was over I was in a bit of shock. I was in a daze the rest of the day.  I don't think it had anything to do with food.  I think I just couldn't believe it was over and that I had actually done it.  I didn't even have to go home and crash.  It was a really good day all the way around.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction-Shades of Grey

Before I write about my Dizzy experience I want to take a moment to look at my foot/leg "injury".  I put that word (injury) in quotes because I'm not entirely convinced it was a real injury.

There is sometimes a fine line between discomfort and injury.  Discomfort can certainly lead to injury. You will most certainly have discomfort with an injury.  But there is a point at which discomfort turns into actual pain and that is usually when injury is either imminent or has already happened.  Because I'm very much like the Princess in the children's story, for me that fine line is like a vast mountain range.  When something hurts, I generally perceive it as isn't black and white, it's's always grey.

However, in the last four years I have been attempting to learn the difference and embrace inevitable discomfort that comes with endurance sport.  When you cover a large number of miles (large is a relative term...) there WILL be discomfort.  Being able to determine if a sensation is actually pain is difficult if you don't have experience with discomfort in the first place...until you've crossed the line and end up with a diagnosis that confirms actual injury.
Side story...the first athlete I started coaching learned about this dividing line the hard way.  She was feeling something in her leg quite a bit, but she defined that sensation as discomfort (and didn't tell me about it), until the day she realized she couldn't walk properly.  She had more than one stress fracture!! 
The athlete in my side story is much tougher than I am.  See, I don't like to be uncomfortable.  I know some of you are laughing.  How can anyone who doesn't like to be uncomfortable participate in long course triathlon?  How could anyone who doesn't like to be uncomfortable go out in sub-freezing cold and jump in a lake to start a race with 140.6 miles to cover before the finish line?  How can anyone who doesn't like to be uncomfortable run a marathon?  That's why I redefine what is comfortable.

So when I woke up that Saturday morning with undeniable pain in my leg I knew not to run that day. When that pain dissipated it became less clear what to do.  I went to the doctor in the hopes he would tell me the feeling I was having was simple discomfort.

He didn't tell met that.  He said there was a chance it was a stress fracture because when he pressed on the bone in one specific spot it was very tender.  (It wasn't shin splints because the pain wasn't anywhere else except that one spot.)  However, I was most tender on the tendon that runs right beside the bone.  That could have meant it was a fracture right under/beside that spot, or it could have meant the tendon was "irritated" (inflamed or possibly torn).  

He STRONGLY encouraged me to not run the 50K that was to happen just four days later but he didn't have an actual diagnosis for me.  There was about a 70% chance an MRI might give an answer, but there was a 30% chance it would either give a false negative or be completely inconclusive.

I left his office and cried.  I felt like I was right back to where I had been two years ago with my shoulder.  The first doctor I saw for that issue told me I had tendonitis in my bicep tendon and I needed to completely rest it.  I did rest it but, because of a weakness in certain muscles and some bone spurs, even every day movement caused it to be irritated. This new tendon issue (if that is what it was) was likely pretty much the same thing in a different place.  You can't walk without using that tendon.

But I wasn't convinced it was a significant issue.  First of all it had stopped really hurting.  Second of all, it didn't hurt when I walked around.  And third it didn't hurt when he had me put a load on that tendon by pressing my foot into his hand in different ways.  Those same kinds of tests with my shoulder HURT in unmistakable ways.

As convinced as I was it wasn't a significant issue, I was convinced it was on the dangerous side of the "injury continuum".  (If I were better at graphics I would draw a really cool picture to insert here to illustrate this idea, but alas, I'm not!) If no discomfort is "white" and full on injury is "black"...this was more dark grey than light grey.  I knew this because I had been having some issues with the underside of my foot and my calf off and on for a while.  I had attributed it to the discomfort that comes with an increase in mileage.  It was usually gone within around 24 hours so it seemed reasonable.  It made sense that these three issues were all related, quite possibly to the tendon in question.

But, in my mind, I had two distinct options.  I could decide to take the safe path and stay off of it for a while until there was no discomfort at all at any time.  This would assure me, as much as possible, I would go back into the "white" area on the continuum.  Or,  I could test it out to determine how grey the situation really was.  I decided I would not live in fear.  It was silly to me to stay off of my foot in anticipation of it being a full blown injury. I wouldn't really know until I tested it out.  Usually a test would be a short run (or something even less "offensive") but if it was a ("light grey") tendon issue I wanted to give it as much time as possible to resolve before the race.  So I elected to stay off of it as much as possible until the morning of the 50K, and let each mile of that race be the test.  I committed to myself (and my entire support system) that I would not start the race if it hurt that morning, and I would stop if it started hurting.

The hard part was going to be making the delineation between hurt and discomfort.  Doesn't it all go "grey" in a 50K?  I was about to find out. be continued...