Monday, September 28, 2015

Thoughts On My First Trail Race & Fibromyalgia

***This post was written in November 2014.  I just found it in my queue upon returning to revive my blog and decided it was worth publishing even though it is almost a year old.  I am preparing to run this race again this year.***

Approximately six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  This diagnosis came after chasing doctors for almost 3 years trying to figure out why my body just decided to hate me after having such a great, healthy year in 2011.  Chronic nausea, dizziness, hair loss, pain, food sensitivities, migraines, and more that can all be attributed to fibromyalgia.  After listening to my story, about how it all went downhill a year after having a marathon PR and completing my first 70.3 triathlon, the doctor told me that I would not likely be running any more marathons and I could maybe set a new goal to walk a 5K.  Uh, what????  Walking 5Ks?  Obviously they are not used to working with athletic types in the fibromyalgia clinic.

So did I settle for walking 5Ks?  Most definitely not.  Just 3 weeks after diagnosis, I walked the half-marathon at the Mankato Marathon.  I love this course, and this was the fourth year in a row for me.  This was the first time walking the distance, and I have to say I'm not eager to do it again.  4 hours is a long time to walk!  Funny to say that, because I have run (and hiked) longer than that, but for some reason it is just different.

My walking-partner-in-crime then convinced me to try my first ever trail race two weeks later.  And did I mention that race was also a half-marathon?  And I'd never run more than 3 miles on trails and only a handful of times?  Oh, and I was headed straight into a fibro-flare starting a few days prior?

The day before the race, I could hardly move.  All-over body pain and fatigue relegated me to the couch most of the afternoon and evening.  Luckily, this doesn't usually hit me until mid-afternoon, and the race was in the morning, so I was counting on any race-day pain to hold off until I was done.  Was there a chance the effort to throw my flare into full-blown status?  Absolutely, but I really have wanted to run these particular trails for several years now, and I had a willing cohort.  I was willing to take the chance.

I went into this race, knowing full well that my first DNF (did not finish) was a real possibility.  I wasn't in shape to run that far on the roads, let alone on a trail.  And a persistent case of plantar fasciitis in my left foot also had the potential to cause real problems.  I was really just happy to be running.  The course was two loops in a figure eight pattern, taking us through the start-finish-aid station area every 3-ish miles.  I knew I would make the first 3mile loop, and I was pretty sure I could make the second.  I planned to reevaluate at that point and see how I felt.  One nice thing about having a drop-out point every three miles is you can make the choice to continue knowing you'll have another opportunity to drop in just another 3 miles if you truly need it.  I have to feel pretty awful to believe that I can't make it another 3 miles.

On the way to the venue on race morning, my willing cohort called to let me know she wouldn't make it.  This race had just become a true battle against myself....

I arrived, picked up my number, chatted briefly with a couple people and then started to mentally prepare for the race.  I just sat by myself and went over the plan... go as far as you can, but drop if you need to.

The race started and I was quickly left behind.  My legs always want to try to follow, but I knew, especially for this race, that I needed to keep my own pace and not give a lick about how anyone else was running.  The race started out flat and gave me a good chance to see how my legs were feeling before hitting the hills.  The course was well marked, but I still managed to miss a turn while inside my head talking myself through.  (I realized it quickly when the trail suddenly became more technical than had been described!)  In general, I walked the uphills and ran the downhills and flats.  But I did need a few more walking breaks than the hills provided as some of the hills were strenuous to walk up!  The double figure-8 course worked out great for getting water, dumping my jacket when it got too hot, and to get some encouragement from the (few) spectators and volunteers.

I would be lying if I said I didn't think about quitting.  In fact, I probably thought about it while walking up just about every hill ;)  Good thing most of the hills were at the farthest points from the aid station/drop point.  Every time I stopped at the aid station to refill my bottle, I just said to myself, "Just another 3, then see how you feel."  Breaking it down that way made it manageable.

One of the best parts about this race?  Running in to finish, dead last, with a bunch of people I didn't even know cheering for me by name.  This wasn't one of those races with your name on the bib, they actually had to make the effort to find out.  Something simple that meant a lot.

I finished.

Holy cow was I sore and tired!  But I FINISHED.

After cooling down and getting something to eat, I returned to my car and thought about that for a while.  And there were tears.  Tears because I was happy I had finished.  Tears because I was mad about my fibro diagnosis.  Tears because I had just proved that doctor wrong.  Tears because I was so damn proud of myself for sticking it out.

(And did I mention I was sore?)

As I hobbled around the next couple days, I was happy for the discomfort.  Why?  Because it wasn't just random fibro pain.

This pain meant I was strong.

This pain meant that I had persevered.

This pain meant that fibromyalgia is not going to take my life from me...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Mankato Marathon Half 2013

I've tried to sit down and write this several times.  Problem is, I'm in the middle of a flare with whatever my (yet undetermined) health  issues are.  When I'm flaring, I have huge problems with brain fog, and the words just don't flow or even make sense in my head.  So, three weeks later, here is my race report...

Up until the day before the race, I wasn't sure I was going to run.  But I went and picked up my packet, figuring if I really felt terrible in the morning, I could still back out.  The projected forecast wasn't making me want to tough it out either... 35 degrees and raining... sounded like a miserable almost 3 hours to me.  (Neither the weather or my time were that bad, but more on that later.)

I slept fitfully, as is the norm for me the night before a race.  When I got up at 5:30, the weather was looking a little more promising... it had already rained and it looked like any more would hold off at least until the final miles.  It was still cold, but I was prepared for cold with the throwaway clothes I had purchased at Goodwill the day before. I got dressed, had my coffee, a Hammer bar, and some Skratch hydration drink.  I also made sure I prepped a garbage bag with head and arm holes to put in my jersey in case it decided to rain during the race. 

We all piled into the car, and my friend's mom drove us to the race start.  This is a point-to-point race and in previous years I have parked at the finish and taken the shuttle.  Having a driver that is not running (Sharon had run the 5K the night before), is a huge bonus as she took us right to the start and we got to sit in the warm car until just before the start! 

Given my lack of training, my plan for this race was to Galloway my way to the finish.  I planned to run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute, and make my walk breaks longer at the end as needed. 
I have a bad habit of making a race plan and then not sticking to it... feeling good at the beginning and going too hard, then crashing.  I knew that if I was going to make it through this race, I NEEDED to stick to my plan. I predicted I would finish between 2:45 and 2:50, with worst case being at 3 hours. 

I missed the first walk break... just wasn't paying attention to my watch and suddenly the mile marker was ahead... too quickly.  I did get one walk break in just before that first mile marker, but I reached the first mile in 10:44.  Way too fast considering what I had been able to run in training.  With walk breaks, I should have been closer to 12 minutes per mile.  I worried that if I didn't slow down, I would bonk early. 

But I have a hard time slowing down once my body has set its pace.  And I didn't slow down significantly until mile 11.  (The slower miles in the beginning are due to water stops not being at my scheduled walk break or because 3 scheduled walk breaks fell within the mile.)
Mile 2: 10:51
Mile 3: 12:06
Mile 4: 11:12
Mile 5: 11:05
Mile 6: 10:51
Mile 7: 11:55
Mile 8: 11:22
Mile 9: 11:56
Mile 10: 11:12
Miles 11 & 12: 24:23
Last 1.1 miles: 13:18
Finishing time:  2:30:20

I really worried those first few miles that I wouldn't be able to sustain it, that I would get to X-miles and crash and burn.  It's happened before and it's happened at this race...  But I just kept going, sticking to the plan.  I didn't skip any more walk breaks.  I did run a little longer interval if it would benefit me (i.e., there's a hill one minute ahead so I ran 5 minutes instead of four so I could walk up the hill) but I did get all of my walking time in. 

I was surprised at every mile that I was doing as well as I was and still feeling ok.  Don't get me wrong, this was one of my slowest half-marathons, and had I been trained, I would have been disgusted that I was going so slow and walking so much.  But I wasn't in good shape, I wasn't properly trained, I've had a ton of health challenges the past couple years, yet my body was performing beyond my expectations.  I was thrilled! 

I realized at about 10 miles that I had a real shot at breaking 2:30.  I concentrated on this for the last few miles, gambled by taking my last full walk break.  Arguing with myself in my head... did I really need that last walk break?  Hard to say... a walk break can be incredibly rejuvenating and I was able to finish strong.  I expressed discouragement at having finished just over 2:30, for which my husband shot me a dirty look.  I told him he hasn't been running long enough, he just doesn't understand ;)  Really I was thrilled to have finished 15 minutes faster than I had realistically expected! 

I also tried out new fuel for this race.  I know, don't try anything new in a race, but I hadn't been able to do any long training runs that would allow me to try it out.  Besides, I knew I wasn't going for a PR, this race was simply about survival. 

About 2 years ago, I started having fueling issues, my stomach just shutting down somewhere between 8 and 10 miles.  Anything ingested after that, even just plain water, would just sit in my stomach and I would be bloated and miserable, not to mention that I wasn't absorbing any of my carbs for fuel. 

I've been carrying a handheld since my race GI issues started, allowing me to get a sip of fuel every mile for a more constant stream of energy instead of having to wait until water stops to suck down a gel.  I've experimented with all sorts of products in my bottle, and this time I finally found one that worked.  I used Skratch Labs Hydration Mix in my bottle and ate Sharkies energy chews.  I carried extra pouches of the drink mix in the pocket of my handheld, mixing more at a water station when I ran out.  (I used 2.5 servings for this race.)  I've been using Sharkies before a long swim for a while, but never tried them on the run as I have trouble chewing things during a race.  I discovered quickly that chewing them wasn't going to work for me, so I started swallowing them instead.  Again, a little bit every mile (1-2 sharks per mile starting at mile 5).  I had also eaten most of a package just prior to the race.  For the first time in 2 years, I had no GI issues in the race!  But it was only one race, so I will be trying it out again before swearing that this regimen was the solution to my problem.  (Also, of note:  Skratch Labs has a hydration mix that is meant to be consumed hot:  Apples and Cinnamon.  It was a real treat to have a thermos of nice warm apple hydration drink waiting for me at the finish on a cold day!)

I was extremely glad I decided to run this race.  It restored my faith in my body, reminded me that muscle memory is a wonderful thing, and gave me hope that I will be able to complete the next race I am registered for even if my health doesn't fully cooperate with my training:  Sedona Marathon Half on February 1.  Warm, sunny Arizona in the middle of the winter... anyone want to join me? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Half-Marathon This Weekend (...maybe)

After my last post (On Not Giving Up), I had a week or so where I felt great!  I was able to walk or run every day and was feeling hopeful for the Mankato Marathon Half.

I registered for this race waaay back in January when they had a discount.  I was POSITIVE I would be back in running shape well before now.  A couple weekends ago when I was feeling good, I pulled out a 6-mile run/walk without too much difficulty.  My legs recovered quickly (LOVE my compression gear, and give it all the credit for this!)  Based on that, I figured I could do one more long run/walk between then and the race, fill in with some short runs and walks, and be fine.  Certainly not my best, but I'd be able to put in the miles.  I really don't want to give up on this race.

Then last week, my symptoms started flaring again.  Friday, I could hardly move and everything hurt.  A back-to-my-new-reality kick in the pants.  If I feel like I did Friday, there is no way I will be able to run.

The Mankato Marathon Half is in 6 days.  I am still planning to run/walk IF I feel good.  If I don't feel that great, I have a friend that is walking the race, I will drop back and walk with her.  If I feel REALLY BAD, well, I'll have a decision to make and the rational me knows that the best decision in that situation would be to not do the event at all.

There will be a lot of finger-crossing between now and Sunday... I just want to run!!!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

On Not Giving Up...

I've been off the radar for a while in the land of endurance sports.  I was ashamed to  post my measly 3-mile runs that take far longer than I'd like and most days, feel like a death march.  I've been ashamed to admit that, even more recently, some days I've been reduced to walking for exercise.  I've been ashamed to say that there are days I feel barely capable of getting out of bed and feeding myself and my 3-yr old, let alone doing any form of exercise.  Two years ago, I had earned a shiny new marathon PR and my first 70.3 finish.  How can I admit to the world that I can hardly exercise these days?  How can I possibly be a positive representative for endurance sport and a GOTRIbal Ambassador? 

The answer hit me just the other day.... by not giving up. By not letting my health issues define me.  By getting up and going out that door, even if it is just a walk, on the days I can.  My message to others was always "do what you are capable of right now" yet here I was expecting myself to do far more.  Being a GOTRIbal Ambassador and promoting the endurance sport life doesn't mean I have to run marathons or complete Ironman triathlons.  Being a GOTRIbal Ambassador means leading by example and letting others know that it is okay to start where you are RIGHT NOW.  

There are a lot of walks in my near future, a lot of easy yoga, and some very slow running.  Yes, someday I hope to be back running marathons and maybe even training for an Ironman.  But for now I will take my own advice... I will start where I am today. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Finally, a diagnosis... sort of.

I don't share much of how I feel, physically, on the blog.  The main reason I've not posted regularly in quite a while is because, frankly, I feel like crap most days and really, no one wants to hear me complain all the time.  Training has been non-existent and when I feel I can do a little something, it takes me days to recover. 

I've been seeing doctors since late fall 2012 and just finally am starting to get somewhere.  In July, I was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE).  That diagnosis was confirmed with a recent visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. 

It feels good to be getting somewhere, but my GI doc doesn't think the EoE is responsible for all my symptoms.  I've been through a battery of screening tests, but everything else comes back negative so far. (Which is good, don't get me wrong, but I'd really like some answers!) Also, I think the meds may be making me feel worse (something I will be discussing with my doctor very soon!)

So that's where I am... I am beyond frustrated at how little training I feel I can do.  I am angry that food has become my enemy, and that I may never find my personal triggers for this disease.   I am sad that I now, at age 37, have a chronic disease that can only be managed, if I'm lucky, but never cured. 

But, most days, I refuse to feel sorry for myself.  I remind myself that it could always be worse.  That I am lucky to have options and access to top-notch medical care.  And I am determined to make the best of it, one day at a time. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The day that Tipsy died...

A day I never wanted to see.  The day that I was without my kitty.

She was with me when it was just me and her. She was with me when I got married... twice.  She was with me when I was pregnant, when Liam was a baby.  When we moved (4 different houses).  She was with me for 14 of her 16-1/2 years.

She was my best friend. 

She always seemed to know when I needed her most. 

And now she's gone. 

It's been only a few hours.  I still see her out of the corner of my eye.  My brain is still sure that she is just in the other room somewhere. 

But my heart knows different.  It knows that she is gone and is not coming back.  And it is broken. 

She was and always will be the best kitty ever. 

7lb kitty, 120lb 'Big Dog...notice who is in charge
I have never known another cat to be so loving, so happy to be with people.  If she was within 3 feet of me, she was purring.  Where I was, she was.

Even professed 'cat-haters' were caught petting Tipsy when they thought no one was looking.  She was just that kind of cat. 

We euthanized Tipsy today.  She had oral cancer.  An aggressive mass that went from nothing a couple months ago, to making it almost impossible for her to eat and drink and was starting to make her gag.  She wouldn't let us look at it, it was uncomfortable for her.  When she was asleep, I could catch a glimpse.  After we put her to sleep,  I could see it... I wondered how she had made it this long... the mass was huge. 

We will have other cats, but Tipsy will never be replaced.  

Rest in peace, my pretty girl...walk straight, or not, as you never seemed to know the difference... know that I loved you and always will. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Playing Catch-Up...Again

I know it's been a long time since I've updated this, but I just haven't felt like I've had much to talk about.  I'm still not healthy so training has not been very consistent and I often feel more like grumbling about it than anything.  And let's face it, no one wants to read my whining.  Not even me.  So taking a cue from my new coursework, here's what is new and good in my life...

-I have been able to continue some training.  I participated in master swim again this winter and have continued to swim about once a week.  I run intermittently and have managed to maintain some base fitness.  I try hard to focus on what I CAN do rather than what I CAN'T.  I did bail on the marathon I was hoping to run in a couple weeks.  I just haven't been able to do the training.  I am doing my first Olympic triathlon this weekend.  Am I properly trained?  No way.  Can I finish?  Absolutely!  And since there were only 3 women in the Olympic distance last year (all in my age group), I even have a chance to place in my age group  :) 
     ***Last minute update!!! Being the self-proclaimed Queen of Procrastination, of course I took my bike out for the first time today - 2 days before my race. There is a reason the saying is "just like riding a bike"! Had a great little brick and even spent some time in aero. Depending on the wind conditions Saturday, this might be my first race in aero!***
All cleaned up and ready to race!

-I have been taking some online coursework.  In February I started studying through ISSA toward my Personal Trainer certification.  It's self-study and I am about a third of the way through the material.  In March I started studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  At the end of this program, I will be a Certified Holistic Health Coach.  What do these certifications mean for me?  I'm not sure right now.  My first client definitely needs to be myself and I am already working on that.

-GOTRIbal is launching their ActiveBudz app very soon!  Stay tuned and I'll definitely let you know when it does!

-My little man is growing fast!!!  He turned 3 several weeks ago.  His biggest excitement lately was the Toddler Trot at a local race (he is still talking about the race he ran with all his "friends") and making  a trip to the ER to have a couple stitches.  He fell the other day while we were playing/running in the driveway and he busted his lip open.  He was so very brave and I am extrememly proud of him.  Not a tear at the ER, he answered when asked, and even told the doctor 'thank-you'.
Two stitches and one big fat lip.

-The garden is almost all in.  All 5000sqft. of veggie garden plus the flower gardens.  Almost...  All the rain and cool weather has set us back considerably but we are hopeful for a good harvest. 

Liam is a great help in the garden...when he's not stepping on the plants...oops. 

- In early April, I discovered a large tumor in Tipsy's (my cat) mouth.  Because of her age, her poor history with anesthesia, and the location of the tumor, there wasn't much we could do about it.  It has been growing quickly and I count every day that she is still here as a blessing.  She still eats, drinks, grooms and purrs.  When that changes it may be time to reevaluate her time in this world, but for now, I am giving her tons of love and she is returning the favor.  

My beloved Miss T catching some Z's.

All in all, life is good.  We keep pushing the junk aside and celebrating the good in every day (the only way to stay sane when you have a 3-yr old that is prone to drama!)  I hope to have more good updates on training and racing this summer, but time will tell.  I'm not signing up for much in advance - I hate wasted entry fees.  Either way, lots of fun will be had and I'll be back sometime to tell you all about it!