Sunday, October 13, 2019

Fire and Rain

Dwayne wrote a book before I met him and he's re-written it many times since then. It's almost not even the same book anymore. The working title at one time was "Fire and Rain". It's a really good book but not why I'm writing this post.

Yesterday I ran the Monte Sano 15K. It's the third time I've run that race, but this year there was a totally new course. In 2011, the first time I ran it, I finished in 1:24:49 (9:06 pace). (I raced it as part of my training to run my first marathon. Just a few weeks later I raced the Huntsville Half Marathon in 1:56:30 (8:54 pace).) The following year I ran with a friend and athlete I was coaching as part of her training plan. I think we finished in something like 1:35.

Yesterday I was thrilled to finish it in just under 2 hours (just over a 12 minute pace).

In Dwayne's book there is a part where a village gets completely decimated by a fire. Two of the villagers are awakened the next morning by raindrops hitting their faces.

Yesterday as we were waiting for the race to start we heard a rumor...the race was going to be delayed by about 20 minutes because there had been a fire on the course that was going to alter the route. My first thought was the poor people whose house was on fire. I didn't care much about the race at that point. But since I'm not a fire fighter, there wasn't anything I could do to help put the fire out. It wouldn't help that poor family if I decided to get back in the car and go home. Just moments later it started to sprinkle rain. As a race director I really felt bad for the and rain on top of having to run on a new course this year, on top of it being the coldest day we've had since like April. Poor guy.

Race directors are first and foremost problem solvers. Sure there are hundreds (if not thousands) of details to attend to in order to pull off a race, but the main duty is to solve problems. Cooler weather and rain isn't really an RDs problem (at least not for a 15K...a longer distance race has to deal with issues like hypothermia-for your participants and volunteers). Fire on the course is a MAJOR issue-you not only have to reroute the runners, you have to make sure everyone is on the same page (police, aid stations, split timers). About 20 minutes after the originally planned start we found out they were returning to the original course, but about 15 minutes or so later still.

I had asked Dwayne to run with me, to pace me to a faster finish than I would have had if I were alone. I signed us up before really thinking about the fact that he had not run longer than about 4 miles since he broke his ankle (in May) and I had not run more than 5 miles since like April. I signed us up when I was feeling pretty spunky. I signed us up because the race was going to be on a new course and they were, for the first time ever, giving out medals!! (I'm all about the bling!) But by the time race morning rolled around I was really nervous. Would we be injured? Would I even be able to finish? I've been EXHAUSTED lately. Like bone weary tired. (Auto immune fatigue is unlike any other fatigue you can ever even imagine unless you've been through it.) Was a silly medal even worth it? NINE POINT THREE MILES.

Then there was the fire. Then there was the rain. (Okay, it didn't really RAIN, it sprinkled...and it didn't last long.)

After some announcements that could not be heard by anyone except the runners in the very front, the gun went off and we were moving. I had told Dwayne I really wanted to run 3 minutes walk matter what. But just as we started he suggested that, because the course is rolling, we should keep that interval, but also run any downhill. I begrudgingly agreed. I had to laugh because I remembered telling my friend/athlete that her plan was to charge every UPhill and coast flats and downs.

As we started my left shin started complaining. I knew I just had to stretch it. I didn't do ANY kind of warm up and I had not run in over a week. Heck, I had not done any real exercise in over a week because I had been traveling. I knew once I warmed up it would (probably) be just fine.

We started playing leapfrog with the other intervalers. Dwayne was certainly pushing the run pace faster than I would have. I didn't look until just now, but our running pace averaged about 10:30-11/mile. My left foot felt like it was on legs got seriously left glute muscles felt like they were on revolt. I felt dizzy a few times. I seriously doubted if I would be able to finish...but only for a fleeting moment. I've never quit a race I've started. (There have been races I haven't started, but I've never quit.)

The course was really fantastic. It's rolling and winding and you are almost always seeing the runners who are ahead or behind you. I kept telling myself that my A goal for next spring is to run a faster Knoxville...but as I was running I felt silly for even setting the goal in the first place.

In Dwayne's book the two villagers who survived the fire were completely changed by it. The rain the next morning was like a new fresh start for both of them. But it's not like they just left their old lives behind, forgotten.

I'm not going to lie...I'm still holding on to my "old life" (pre brain disease). That life when I trained hard and was able to set goals and race. I keep thinking that I will get back to that athlete I was. I just have to be patient. But the truth is, just like in Dwayne's book...I really need to start accepting that I won't ever be the same. When we were waiting for the race to start yesterday morning, we didn't know what was going to happen...would the course change? How long would we be delayed? Would it rain harder?  There was no reason to believe the race wouldn't happen, it just might not look exactly like we expected. There's no reason to believe I have to give up "training" and "races" but I need to start realizing I am dealing with a new reality now.

I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end. And I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend. But I always thought that I'd see you again.

It might seem silly...but I'm sad.  And, at the same time I'm not fully ready to let go of what I want. I want to compete. I want to train. I want to have a faster Knoxville. I want to finish IMChoo 70.3 in May in under 6:30. I want to compete in another IM. I want to BQ. I want to run a 50 miler and a Hundred.

I just don't know what's the right thing to hold on to.

I think the answer is to be patient in the not knowing. To keep looking forward (not back) and to keep pressing onward. Just like in yesterday's race. I didn't know what might happen, but I knew I wasn't going to quit.

I actually finished quite strong. I was able to push the pace the last .1 mile from a 9:30 pace down to an 8:14. That doesn't make me sad at all.

Thanks for stopping by and sticking around.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Trying New Things

A couple of weeks ago I tried something new! Cross-country running!

Sure I've run trails before, lots of trails. And I've run at our old "Cross Country Park" but until that day I had never run "cross country".

It's different. If you've never done it, it's like running on the fairway of an old golf course. Funny because that's exactly what it was for me/us! Huntsville morphed it's old municipal golf course into a multi-use park that included a cross country run course. To officially open the new park a big Cross Country meet was held and they included a "community run" which I decided to enter.

When I signed up I didn't really think about the fact that this would be a new thing. But as the race drew closer I became more and more nervous. I asked Dwayne to sign up to run with me to pace me to a "faster 5K" (which he did). I was really glad he was with me. It sounds silly to be so nervous but I think the truth is I'm either having a little symptom flare of my brain disease or, as a friend put it, I'm at "critical mass" on stress and this little thing was a bigger thing in my head than it needed to be!

We got there in time for me to pick up my bib and to sort of warm up, and plenty of time for me to stress over the idea of doing this new and foreign thing! It wasn't long and we were lining up. If you look at the picture you can see the start is a long straight chute. It was designed for high school/college cross country races so to make the start more fair you can't have a big difference in start times. Each school/team has a starting spot. (If the start was like every other race start you could have a good :30-1:00 difference in start times between the first and last person to cross the start line.)

I knew I would start out too fast. There weren't a lot of people doing the race, I didn't want to start off in the very back even if that's where I eventually ended up. We were about a half a mile in and I saw a group of girls women I know. They are all faster than I am right now and all in MUCH better shape, probably training for a marathon....but I made it my goal to stay with them. Okay, so my real goal was to pass them, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. They were doing intervals so early on I thought at least staying with them was realistic. Every time they would walk I would start to close the gap...and then I would have to walk. They were running faster so throughout the 3.1 miles they slowly inched away.

We played a bit of leap frog with and older man who, like Dwayne, had run cross country back in college and this race was bringing back a lot of memories for them both.

I was struggling not so much with breath as I was with sheer energy level. It feels like I just don't have any oomph in my body. Like my muscles are all on vacation. My doctor thinks my adrenals just aren't working properly. She said when I was on steroids my adrenal glands basically retired. After getting off steroids they were told to come back to work but they are resisting that. I've been on an adrenal supplement but it's probably not strong enough. Also my ferritin levels are low. Ferritin is a protein that stores protein and releases it when your body needs it. The question is WHY are those levels low...we haven't figured that out. The short term answer is to get iron infusions, and I've been needing to get one for months. I've just put it off because it's not crucial. But no doubt I would be able to train (and in this case) race at a higher level if I got one.

At about mile 2.5ish we picked up a 15 year old runner who was walking. I'll call her coach because as we got to talking and she found out this was my first cross country race, she began to coach me! It was the cutest thing. She explained to me how I needed to relax on the down slopes and pick up my knees on the up slopes. She talked about mindset and breathing. 

I know from my own experiences, she was getting as much out of it as I was! 

One of the gals I was chasing starting walking and we caught up with her. She's a good bit younger than I am but her heart rate was SKY HIGH. She stayed with us a little bit but when we decided to pick it up at the end she held back to let her heart rate slow down a little bit.

Dwayne was still thinking I might be able to catch the other gals but I was giving all I had but they were still pulling slightly away. It was funny because they were just out for a training run. They ran miles before and after this little 5K. But I was (sort of) actually racing them. I ended up finishing just 30 seconds behind them so I was VERY VERY pleased given where I've been and how I've been feeling. It's the fastest 5K I've done in like 3 years! (33:21) I think if it had been on the road with the same terrain I might have been able to get that time close to 30 minutes!! That is VERY encouraging!!

The course was WONDERFUL. I will say at the time I didn't think I was a big fan of cross country running. It's harder than road running (slower and more work) but it's not as hard as trails (not as slow or as physically/mentally taxing). My legs and ankles weren't really sure what was going on! But, fairly quickly after it was over I decided I actually LOVED it for all those reasons! In fact I plan to go back to run it again soon. I think it's going to feel very weird to run the course alone since it's such a big open field, but I really liked the more-challenging-than-roads-but-not-as-challenging-as-trails aspect of it.

The next thing coming up for me right now is Little Rock Marathon but goal number one is a faster Knoxville Marathon next year....which means hills. I've really got to figure out what's going on with my ferritin and adrenals before then!

Thanks for stopping and and sticking around!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Winning Silver

The Alabama State Games are going on in Huntsville this week. Sunday was the first ever State Games 5K!

I had not planned on running it. I was supposed to be directing the Youth Triathlon Saturday. Race directing usually zaps me so I had not signed up. Plus, I was thinking I might be needed as a volunteer. But because registration for the youth tri was super low, and the weather wasn't cooperative, my race was officially cancelled Wednesday night....and the 5K RD told me she had enough I decided I would do the 5K.

As of Friday there were only about 20 people signed up for the race so there was a very good chance I was going to qualify for Nationals (by default) depending on who showed up. I figured with my luck I would be the 4th in my age group to sign up and therefore NOT qualify. I could have easily found out but I didn't want to. I wanted to just show up, do my best, and let the outcome be what it would be.

I have had this nagging cough since back before the Give it Back Track 5K. In fact, my throat got sore the Thursday before the race. I was then diagnosed with (possible) walking pneumonia. (The dr didn't test me for it, she based her assessment on symptoms and the fact that no other meds, even a steroid shot, were working.) I thought I was getting better after Cotton Row but I still have these random coughing fits. Nothing seems to help and it's seriously driving me crazy. It seems to be worse at night. Consequently I didn't sleep well the night before the race. When I was up about an hour before my alarm, I almost turned it off to try to get some more sleep. But I quickly remembered that I actually really wanted to run this 5K.

The course started at the Rocket Center and ran down past Aviation Challenge and to the Botanical Gardens then back, finishing by going through the Rocket Park. This course is almost identical to what the high school kids bike in the Kids Fly Tri, and is similar to part of the Rocket City Marathon course. I knew the part from AC to the Gardens is a steady uphill and there are some little stingers (for me) at some other points. But it's a really fun course overall.

I'm not a fan of really small races. More often than not I like interacting with spectators. But my goal for this race was to try to run the whole thing (no matter how slow) and to give my very best effort. Sometimes when there are a lot of people (participants or spectators) I can get too interactive! I figured I would be last, or close to last, in this little race since I didn't figure many slower runners would sign up for a "State Games" race. I had decided that was going to have to be okay. SOMEONE  has to be last. And, in this race "last" was still going to be "21st overall" which sounds VERY impressive! :D

So I got up and showered (my usual pre-race ritual even though I know I'll get nasty/sweaty/stinky during the race I like to start out very fresh)! I ate a banana and headed to the Rocket Center. I got my bib and went to warm up. It was SO HUMID outside it felt like I was breathing water! Overall I felt sluggish but my legs were turning over better than they were a few months ago so I was at least hopeful.

With very little fanfare we were off promptly at 7am. 21 people at the start of a race feels like a very small fun run but with less talking and laughing! The only ones talking were two moms running with 2 little boys in the back with me. They were obviously just out for a fun run with their sons.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again...I ALWAYS race, even if I'm just "completing". I tend to think everyone does but maybe I'm wrong. My secondary goal (after "run the whole time") was to finish in front of the four of them! How sad...finish in front of two little boys and their mothers who were obviously capable of much faster running. But, goals are goals!

Little kids are funny...they "always" start off WAY too fast. These boys were no exception. Because I really didn't want to be dead last from the start, I was sticking with them. When I looked down at my watch about .25 in and saw a 9:xx pace I panicked a little bit. I knew I couldn't hold that. I knew hills were coming. I knew that was going against the number one thing on my "do not do" list...DO NOT start out too fast! In fact I started in the back trying to not let the adrenaline of the start of a race get me carried away. Yet, here I was running WAY faster than I had any business starting out. But yet I couldn't bring myself to slow down!! When we got to the first little increase in elevation the little boys fell back and I settled in.

Did I mention how HOT it was? Holy and humid don't mix well. I do not regulate heat very well...thanks to my janky thyroid. Because of this* I have taken to running in a sports bra with no shirt. I have found I REALLY love the air on my stomach and it actually seems to make a BIG difference! But, because the race bib was so tiny I couldn't use my race belt. And because I wasn't thinking about taking my shirt off I had pinned my bib to my I couldn't take it off. I wasn't even to mile one and I was already fading. But I told myself fading was okay, walking was not..."just keep running even if you slow down". I saw Dwayne at the aid station just after mile one. He gave me some good encouragement but I knew what was coming.

It's not a big hill like the one in Cotton Row. It's long and steady. Looking at the elevation profile on Garmin makes it seem like there's not even really an increase. But it's there and it seems like it's never  going to end! (It's actually only about a quarter of a mile long.)

There was another young boy in front of me (I figured he was about 12) who had been walking earlier on a down hill...I told him not to waste the downhill since an uphill was coming. On that uphill he started walking again. I'd like to say I had mercy on him and didn't pass him to save his budding teenage pride. But really I just needed a walk break! I gave myself right at 30 seconds and then started up again. So did he!

We rounded the turnaround corner and headed back. He started walking again (on the downhill). I was close enough to have a little chat with him** so I said "look, I'm an old lady. You don't want me to beat you! And, fair warning...if I'm with you at the finish, I WILL out-kick you, no doubt about it. So if you want to beat me, you have to put time in on me now!" It worked and he started running again...and then he yelled out "OUCH!!" I was about even with him then so I asked if he was okay. He said a leaf hit him in the eye but he was okay as I passed him. I took another little walk break and checked on him ***. He assured me he was fine so I started running again. I didn't see him again after that (until he crossed the finish line...after me).

When I got back to the aid station, I stopped to tell Dwayne how hot it was (he obviously wasn't feeling the same heat I was!) and I poured a cup of water on my neck. Looking at my data, that little thing (stopping for a couple of seconds and the cold water on my neck) dropped my HR seven beats! It didn't stay down though. Two minutes later I told myself I could have my third and last walk break.

It wasn't.

I know the middle of a race is the hardest. You are over the rush of the start and the relief of the end isn't in sight yet. My HR is usually pretty high relative to my pace. That's when I entered into negotiations with my body. " more little walk break and then you'll tough it out to the finish, right?" My body gave one of those half-hearted nods but with fingers crossed! After my 4th walk break I entered the rocket park. I knew I only had about 1/2 mile to go at that point. I knew there was one TINY little "hill" going from the shuttle out toward the exit. But I also knew the finish was coming.

And yet, I couldn't hold on. I STARTED WALKING AGAIN. I was internally screaming at myself--"RUN!!! ...I mean...come on! You are at the finish! You CAN do it!" My body was like "..." well, I won't even write what my body was saying but it was obviously NOT going to run.


I rounded a little corner and heard a familiar voice of a friend yell "come on Dana!"...and just like that my body kicked into gear and started going again...all the way to the finish line...

34:11 by my watch. 10:50 average pace, 10:46 average moving pace. 8:39 best pace (in the first quarter mile no doubt!). Fastest paced run for 3 miles  I've had in over three years. In fact, I had to go back to October of 2015 to find one better! (I've had a couple of shorter faster runs but that's like comparing an apple to an orange.)

When I take a deep dive into my data, I couldn't be more thrilled! It's easy to say "I shouldn't have taken the breaks I did" but the data explains to me what was going on. Sure there's an aspect of mentally being able to push through adversity (just suck it up and be uncomfortable), but given where I've been and looking at all the factors at play...I could NOT be more thrilled with this race!! It's EASY to see why I walked. Every. Single. Time. And it's encouraging to see how my body responded to a decrease in elevation and how it reacted to the breaks (and the water dump!).

My effort landed me a 2nd place age group finish which qualified me for Nationals! (Who cares that it was 2nd of 2 or that it just so happened that EVERYONE who participated qualified because there were no more than 3 participants in any one 10-year age group?!)

I honestly feel like I've finally turned a corner. If I can train through the summer heat, when fall hits I will be ready to rock and roll! (Now I just have to find a race to focus on! Preferably one with more people in it and one where I'm not trying to compete against little boys!)

Thanks for stopping by and sticking around!

*There was recently a "Bra Squad" run where women were encouraged (if they wanted to) run in just a bra (on top). I didn't get to go to that run but I had run a couple of times without a shirt and have found I like it A LOT. And, this post by a friend of mine after that run was total affirmation that "every body is a running body".

**Honestly, I usually think if I can chat, I'm NOT running as hard as I really can, but after looking at my data, I know what was going on and I like it (I'll explain in a later post).

***I honestly thought he was fading and needed an excuse to let me just pass him already. I didn't think he was really injured or that he needed assistance or I would have stopped.