Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Holding on to the Why

Several months ago my daughter, potato2Ironman asked if I wanted to go to a race with her in Nashville called the Hot Chocolate 15K. Now I had heard of the race but had never done one. It's a national race that benefits the Make A Wish Foundation. They serve hot chocolate and fondue at the finish and, from what I had seen they have great racer swag. I said I would but not for the chocolate. I said I would mainly because it meant I got to do this really fun thing with her! She talked with the girl she nannies (who is 11, I'll call her Fortis*), and she was ALL IN for the chocolate even though I'm convinced she didn't have any idea how far a 15k was nor did she know how long it would take to finish it!!

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. Our training wasn't going as we had hoped. I took Fortis to the mall on a day with less than pleasant weather so we could spend some time on our feet. After about an hour of walking we had many conversations about what race day would be like. She was plugging along when all of the sudden a fire alarm went off! Now, I'm almost 50 years old and I've NEVER been at the mall when a fire alarm has gone off! Oh, and I found out in that moment that Fortis (which means brave in Latin) has a real fear of FIRES!! We took refuge in the car and after the fire truck came and went (and after I explained if it had been a real fire there would have been more than just one fire truck on scene), we went back in for another hour.

Fast forward to about a month ago. That was about all the training we really did and all of the sudden race weekend was upon us!! The three of us headed up to Nashville. We got checked in to our hotel and headed over to the expo.

Now, let me say, I'm a BIG FAN of expos. I love the excitement and hype leading up to a race. I love looking at stuff and just being around other athletes! This expo was held at the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum. It was small and dark but it was lively which is my main desire! We picked up our packets, bought some race branded merch and ...



I was expecting watered down Swiss Miss for the hot chocolate and some melted Hersey's for the "fondue" but what I sampled was truly the BEST hot chocolate I've ever tasted, as was the fondue. WOW!! It was incredible! I figured that was just the samples and race day would be a disappointment. Spoiler alert..it WASN'T!!

After the expo we found a vegan restaurant for dinner and then headed back to the hotel to settle in for a night of rest. But when we got to the room my stomach was not happy with the vegan food. I called down to the front desk to find out if they had any Tums down there I could come and get. To my surprise they told me they'd bring it right up!

I think "right up" must mean something different in Nashville than it does in my head. I gave up on the Tums after about an hour and decided I was fine without them. We FINALLY got comfortable and quiet (being still and quiet when you are 11 and away from home, about to embark on the biggest challenge or your life...yeah, it was hard). We played a nice "go to sleep" meditation from Head Space to help that process along. JUST as it was ending and we were all drifting off to our chocolate filled dreamland... DING DONG!!!  (Yes, the hotel had a DOORBELL!!) Tums. Thanks nice bellhop boy.

Okay, dreamland take two. Again...JUST as we were drifting off...DING DONG!!! My daughter popped out of the bed and flung open the door (thinking it might be the kids in the hallway messing around)...to find two hotel staff holding out bottles of water and a bag of salted caramel candies saying "everything is okay". We found out the next day it's part of their "turn down" service and they were just running behind. I told them I love a good turn down service, but not at 10pm the night before a race!!

Dreamland take THREE!!! It probably took another 30 minutes for me to finally drift off to a fitful night of "rest". Morning came much faster than I had hoped it would. Not to mention it was MUCH colder and wetter than I had wanted it to be!

We had scheduled an Uber to take us to the race and thankfully he wasn't from Nashville because he was right on time! We got to the start area in plenty of time to take some pre race pictures, stand in line for the portopotties and to find our coral.

The race was a combined 10K and 5K. There were nine corrals, A-I. All but corral I said "NO WALKERS". We were supposed to start in coral G (I think), but it was our plan all along to start off walking and then do a walk run to stay in front of the sweeper and keep the required 15:00 cutoff pace. So we moved back to corral I. About 2 minutes before we started, the skies began to open up with the first drops of rain. ...did I mention it was like 40*?

We were having a GREAT time...walking, jogging...singing at the tops of our lungs, cheering for other runners, seeing sites of Nashville. We weren't going to let a little rain dampen our joy!! Before we knew it, the 5K/10K split off was in sight. We heard the volunteers yelling the sweepers were coming (at least that's what I thought they said) and to hurry up because they were coming to cut people off!! We made it! As I looked behind me I saw other "runners" but I didn't see the sweepers. I couldn't figure out where they could be since we were just over a 15:00 pace. But we started in the front of the corral so they had to be back there.

As we walked/jogged along about mile 4, I saw an "Official Race Vehicle" drive by us. When he stopped at a road about a half mile ahead of us, I told the girls I knew that had to be the sweeper vehicle and he was probably going to cut us off. Turns out I was right. But he didn't pull us off the course, he just had us turn around and head back with the people who were at almost mile 7, effectively cutting off 2.5 miles from our race.

To say this was disappointing to the girls would be an understatement. On the one hand we didn't get pulled out of the race, but on the other hand, we were going to get a medal that said "15K" but our total distance covered was going to be about 7 miles. More than that, we NEVER saw the sweepers. AND, there was NO mention of a cutoff point on the course. AND if we had started in the corral we were assigned, we would have EASILY been past that point when Sweeper Man got there. The whole thing was like a punch to the gut.

Not to mention it was pouring down rain and FREEZING cold. And then poor Fortis' stomach decided to revolt. I think it was the sugar she had downed at the "aid station"...the sugar I had warned against but that seemed like such a treat at the time. Probably more than that, it was the disappointment and stress of the turn around.

But as we plodded toward the (premature for us) finish line, I was reminded how wonderful it was to be out there "racing" again. I mean, "racing" is not really what anyone would call what we were doing, but participating in a fun event. AND...there was going to be hot chocolate at the finish. If it was anything like what I had tasted the day before I just could NOT wait!! And it was going to be HOT!!

The closer the finish got, the harder it rained and the windier it got. We were honestly starting to become a little hypothermic. We crossed the line and found the "food" tent. Most races I've been to have a tent you can stand under to eat your food. Usually it's to get out of the sun. This tent was for the preparation and storage of the food, and participants were just walking up to get their serving, and left to nosh in the POURING rain. I think that (along with the sweeper/course cut off issue) was a race failure. There were a couple of vendor/race team tents that gobtuns (that's southern for "a lot) of people were huddled under, but no where warm or dry. I think if I were directing it I would have rented a tent and some propane heaters, but that's just me...

As we collected our post race goodies, Fortis was really in pain. Her stomach was not even remotely caring about the chocolate she had wanted so bad every day leading up to that one. And she was shaking from the cold.

We found the Farmer's Market and headed inside in hopes of warming up and enjoying the chocolate but we were so wet the cold had seeped down to our bones already! Poor Fortis ended up pouring her hot chocolate out and although the fondue was a little hardened from the cold, it was still edible! But...as we were sitting there commiserating...in walked her mom, brother, and friends to surprise her!!!! I wish I had been able to capture the look on her face!! It was PRICELESS and something I'll remember the rest of my life! I knew Mom was on her way but the plan was for her to get there to see us finish. But since we got turned around at mile 4.5ish, we finished about 30 or 40 minutes ahead of when we were supposed to.

After the race we went back to the hotel to shower, change and pack up, then we all went out for a celebratory lunch.

In that first "training" walk with Fortis, I asked her why she was going to do this race. She said it was for the chocolate. I reasoned with her that she could just go get chocolate, she didn't need to do a 15K for that. She then added, it was for the medal. It was a golden chocolate bar! But at the end of the day it was for the experience of the journey. Embarking on a hard thing for the sake of saying you did that hard thing (or did as much as you were allowed), and overcoming obstacles and struggles...that's what it's really all about.

The real goodness is not at the finish line. It's in the journey.

Thank you for joining me for this goodness!!

Relive 'Hot Chocolate 15k {turned 10k+}'

Friday, January 19, 2018

Best Laid Plans

A lot of people ask me what my training consists of these days.

Well...as usual, this is what my "planned" week looks like:
  • Monday-teach 5:30am Spin, swim for 30-45 minutes, get on the treadmill until 8:45, then go to Boot Camp (strength training for an hour)
  • Tuesday-5:30am boot camp, spend time either outside "running" or on my treadmill at my desk*
  • Wednesday-5:30am boot camp, swim, treadmill
  • Thursday-5:30am boot camp, spend time either outside "running" or on my treadmill at my desk*
  • Friday-attend 5:30am Spin, swim for 30-45 minutes, get on the treadmill until 8:45, boot camp
  • Saturday-treadmill or "running"
  • Sunday-rest and prep for the week

Now...I know what you're thinking. It IS a lot. AND I haven't done 100% of that planned week even one time! I'm paying VERY close attention to how I'm feeling and VERY close attention to my heart rate variability**.

I'm walking a line so fine I don't even see it clearly most of the time! If you've ever tried to push yourself after an injury, you probably know what I'm talking about. 

In my first appointment with the neurologist who diagnosed the Autoimmune Enchepolapathy, I rattled off all the things I had written down as "symptoms". I felt like a crazy person. None of these things seemed to fit together. One of the strangest ones, or at least the one that made the least sense to me, was my confusion with left and right. I'm not just talking about telling someone to turn right and pointing to the "other right". 

When I would put my hands on a keyboard to type I felt like they were crossed or upside down. I would stare at my hands and move them around trying to come up with any other way to put them on the keyboard that would make sense. One night I was reading a book and had the distinct impression I was reading in the wrong direction. I kept looking at the page trying to figure out what was going on. I had a discussion with Dwayne about it as if I needed to be reminded that it really was correct to read a book (written in English) from left to right, up to down. (That's the night he told me I HAD TO make an appointment with a neurologist.)

When I described all of the weirdness to Dr. Hitchcock, he said those were pervasive symptoms (all over the brain as opposed to being in one area) which led him to believe it was Hashimoto's Encephalopathy. (They don't use that term anymore because they have determined AE has no connection to Hashimoto's, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid.) 

When I look at this chart (taken from the International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society website) I can better appreciate what he was saying. I had symptoms from every area. I'm sure if you read that list you might wonder if something is wrong with your brain too. Let me assure you, if there is something wrong, either you will know or the people closest to you will know. Everyone forgets where their keys are or the word they are trying to say from time to time. Everyone can get an "earworm" stuck in their head, but not usually for days (and nights) at a time.

I fully believe I am mostly recovered now. But when I push too hard (mentally, physically, emotionally) I can have "symptoms" pop up. Imagine you had shoulder surgery. You completed PT and were back to "normal life". But then you went and played tennis all day. Your "recovered" shoulder would let you know it wasn't happy. My brain does that.

I'm not going to lie. It's VERY hard to listen to it sometimes.

I have this thing I say all the time: "ALL stress goes in the same bucket". Stress to the body (workouts, injury, illness, poor sleep), the mind (learning new skills, projects or jobs that require a lot of mental effort), the emotions (going through therapy to deal with "big T" traumatic life events or the loss of a loved one), the will (not being able to do the things you REALLY want to do), the senses (living near a nasty smelling dog food factory*** or hearing loud explosions multiple times a day or living with chronic pain)...all that stress adds up in the same column.

You can't separate one category from the other. You might think that having an incredibly stressful job while you are going through a nasty divorce can be balanced out by killing yourself in the gym (to "work out all that stress"), but you are most likely wrong. Those are all three STRESSES. Relaxation/meditation, deep breathing, massage, LAUGHTER...those are things that go in the other column and will take stress out of the bucket.

Most of the time when overall stress ramps up, and is not properly dealt with, bad things start happening. You start not being able to sleep. You get more emotional/irritable. You might "stress eat". You might have headaches, stomach aches or get sick easier. You might realize you are more forgetful. When stress ramps up in a vulnerable place (an old injury for example), you feel it. You will probably notice it, but you might not take notice of it.

There's another side to that equation. In order to get stronger, systems HAVE TO be stressed. For a muscle to be stronger you have to lift heavy weights. A healthy body will make adaptations in order to handle "more". But these changes don't happen in the moment of stress. The changes happen in the moments of rest.

When a system is under fire, all resources are thrown at the "problem". It's when the pressure is removed that the system can adapt and adjust in order to handle that situation better. This is how we learn new skills, how we handle more of what's thrown at us. 

The art of knowing how much pressure to apply and how much rest to allow is the art of "coaching". A good guitar instructor would never tell a new student to practice 8 hours every day 7 days a week to start out. That teacher knows calluses have to be built up on the fingertips. If someone new tried to play that much, their fingers would probably split open!

But, NO ONE has the opportunity to know your "systems" better than you do. I say "has the opportunity" because we all have our own blind spots! We can want to get back in shape so badly that we conveniently ignore clues that we are overdoing it until it's too late. (Or we can want the Oreos so badly we overlook what it's doing to our midsection!)

Taken from the IAES website.
I have been paying close attention to myself, but I don't always know how to translate what's being "said". Is that headache from stress overload or just a headache? Is that dizziness my brain telling me something or is it a sinus issue? The truth matters but the answer is the same: some kind of "rest" (or subtraction from the "stress" column). Extra sleep, laughter, massage, deep breathing/meditation...

My body might be itching to go work out, but if my brain has had enough, my body is going to have to wait. Think about that shoulder example earlier. If you just had surgery it doesn't matter how much you love to/want to/"need to" swim. It doesn't matter how fit you are cardiovascularly, or how strong your legs are. You will not be able to use that arm to swim (right now).

Sure, where there's a will, there's a way. I'm the queen of "but you can cover incisions with waterproof tape, you can immobilize the arm and do one-arm swimming, you can do drills that don't require that arm...". There's "always" a work-around. But when it's the brain, there aren't really work-arounds that work.

I imagine it's much like someone who has an "untreatable" injury (no cartilage in the knee or a torn labrum in the shoulder). They can push, but they have to know when to back off. (Who else starting singing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler"?? Surely not just me.)

Thank you for joining me on this journey!

*My treadmill desk...the treadmill only gets up to 2mph. I usually have it on 1.5 if I'm typing something that requires a good bit of thought.
**HRV-there's a lot written on HRV but here's a great place to start if you are interested: https://elitehrv.com/what-is-heart-rate-variability
***I have personal experience with living close to a dog food factory. Trust me when I say you don't have to live very close. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Lumps, Bumps and Lines

I'm getting close to 50 years old. I have lines on my face. I'm sure there's a cream or treatment for that, but I don't actually hate them. I have lines around my mouth and eyes from almost 50 years of emotion. I have lines on my forehead and between my brows from years of near neurotic thought.  (Okay maybe I didn't need to add the qualifier in that sentence...whatever.)

I have lumps and bumps in places I wish were smooth. Some of them were the result of having my babies. Those are nice reminders. Some of them are just the way I was born. Those are constant no matter what I have tried to change them. They are reminders that I'm not in control of everything. Some of them are there because I spent over a year on high dose IV steroids for an autoimmune brain disease and I gained about 30 pounds. Right now those lumps and bumps are proof that I'm conscious and able to take notice! There was a time during treatment I didn't care one little bit about those lumps and bumps. I only cared if the treatment was working and if the disease was backing down.

Seven years ago I was a little overweight and very out of shape. I decided I wanted to train to run a marathon so I started walking every other day for 30 minutes. That soon progressed to a little running. That later progressed to swimming, biking along with the running. A few years later I decided I needed to add in strength training. I wanted to lose body fat and gain muscle. And I did.

If you've been reading my blog for long you might remember my post "Before, Now and Looking Ahead" where I included these before shots:

In the next year I trained HARD and made my goal of a sub 13 hour Ironman. I gained about 10 pounds but I lost about 5% body fat.

I finished Ironman Chattanooga feeling the most fit I had ever been.

And then I started having strange symptoms. I couldn't find words as I was talking. I was really struggling to remember things. I had weird pains, numbness and tingling. And then I forgot how to get out of my own car while sitting in my driveway. I didn't know how to use the phone. I didn't know my husband's name. It didn't last long, only a few minutes maybe. Suddenly I knew what the door handle was, what my phone was and how to call my husband whose name I remembered. It took several months but I was diagnosed and started treatment which I can now (2 years later) say worked.

In the process of getting my brain to come back online, I've gained 30 pounds and that muscle I worked so hard for has marbled out with fat. I also lost all that fitness I had pushed myself to gain.

I find myself in what is undoubtedly the worst shape I've ever been in. I weigh considerably more than I've ever weighed (non-pregnant). (I'm only 15 pounds away from my heaviest weight EVER...the day I walked into the hospital to deliver my 10 pound son!)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not actually complaining. I'm just taking an appraisal of where I currently find myself. You can't know how to get where you are going without knowing where you are. You can't plot a course if you have no idea where you are (and where you are going).

So, here I am. 170 pounds this morning. 34% body fat. 37" waist and 47" hips. (DANG)

 (Those are the same shorts...I can't put on the same top anymore.)

I love my body. I know that sounds odd but I actually do love it the way it is right now. The truth is I can look at myself most of the time and be more than just okay with where I am right now. That doesn't mean I want to stay where I am. 34% body fat isn't healthy. High body fat percentage is linked to all kind of health issues. I'm not being mean, I'm being honest.

I've started a 6 week Transformation Challenge with Adventure Boot Camp's Joe Martin.  Some of the lumps, bumps and lines are going to be there forever. But some of them won't.

I can love where I'm at, but know that I'll love where I'm going even more. The thing I can't do is hate the body I'm in and expect it to take me somewhere else!

Thank you for joining me in this journey!

Make it a GREAT DAY!