Baby Steps

Recovery from anything requires baby steps. A slow, cautious pace. The body is resilient but there are a lot of physiological processes that must be retrained, or reintroduced after prolonged time away from an activity, any activity.

Last night I went for a very slow jog with my running group. I am still struggling to feel energized, and still fighting an obnoxious cough, so I wasn’t even sure I should be running. But I figured there’s only one way to find out. I didn’t want to commit to a 3-mile run in case I realized halfway through that 3 miles was too big of a commitment. So I joined the beginner 5k group – the group that is learning to run from ground zero. They ran 2 miles at 2 minutes walk, 2 minutes run.. I just kept a steady, very slow pace and stayed within their reach the whole time. Yes, I coughed my head off, and yes, I broke a sweat that wasn’t related to a fever, and yes, I was so happy I did it, and yes, I was exhausted when I hit the pillow last night, and yes, I made it through the night without a cough attack and yes, I think I am starting to come back to life.

But damn. Where did I put my energy? Someone told me it would find its way back.. I am hoping that person is right.

Actually, last night after my run I got home and soaked in the hot tub to warm up my body from the core. I sat with my back on the jets, like I always do, and the vibration from the jets on the middle of my back felt so incredibly good, like I was getting a massage from a 1,000 invisible Swedish trolls. I just sat there, rotating my head back and forth, listening to the cricks and cracks in my neck, stretching my back and feeling the positive energy course through my veins. The water was warm, very warm (it’s a hot tub) and the vibrations relaxed my lungs and all the muscles that have been working overtime around them.

When I climbed into bed, it was the most comfortable bed I had ever been in. I pulled the fluffy, soft, warm down comforter up to my chin and I fell into a deep sleep. I did not wake up coughing at 2 am. I did not toss and turn. I woke up feeling a little bit more human than I did the day before, and that’s the kind of progress I’m happy to see.

There’s another run tonight and I think I might be up for something a little longer, perhaps a little faster. Knowing that I have 1,000 invisible Swedish trolls waiting for me at home is incentive.. and if I keep doing this, maybe someday soon I’ll remember where I put my energy and my ‘coming back to life’ runs can morph into marathon training runs.

But in all honesty, being as sick as I was and being taken out of the marathon training game when I did does not change anything. I will still show up and I will still run my best. I am actually looking forward to running a marathon without the pressure to perform well. I can run it for the sheer enjoyment of running marathons. I get to be part of the inaugural Bend Marathon. And unlike with other marathons, this one feels like the very beginning of something really grand.

invisible swedish troll

What I Wouldn’t Give

In high school we’re given the advice to pursue our passions. At least that was the advice I was given. Talent and skill mean nothing if it’s not backed by passion. Have you ever been to a class taught by a professor or teacher who is clearly burnt out on teaching? It shows. Without a passion for educating, information becomes static and meaningless. Same goes for any field.. without passion fueling your intentions, what do you really have to give?

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

― Howard Thurman

I took that advice to heart and was relentless in the pursuit of my passions. I made sacrifice after sacrifice, overcame statistics, defied odds, went into the ranks without the financial or moral support from my family, and I didn’t stop until I had a Bachelors of Science in Allied Health Science, and a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology. I graduated from a well-respected research university (Syracuse University) and I entered the real world armed and equipped not only with passion, but with a respectable resumé, years of personal and professional experience, and a naive optimism that would be challenged to the core. I graduated at the peak of the economic downturn, when jobs seemed to all but dry up. The only consolation I got was that at least I wasn’t the only one. Somehow, that news never made me feel better.

For a while I allowed circumstances to define me. Often describing myself as a flower without sunlight in my current position, I find myself wilting a little more with each passing season. Never in my life have I been in a long-term situation that hard work, perseverance, and dedication could not alter. If I wanted something badly enough, all I had to do was work for it, and it would come to fruition. But that hasn’t been the case in the last 3 years.

Rejection is wearing. You’re told to put your absolute best foot forward, to sell yourself, to be yourself, to let your light shine, but not too bright — you don’t want to come across as arrogant — and to put enthusiasm into each application. To follow up, to be persistent. And when you get rejection, to put it out of your head. It wasn’t meant to be. When this level of rejection becomes a pattern, and meanwhile you’re stuck in an environment that does not allow you to thrive, it’s easy to get worn completely thin. What can you do?

My sense of self worth is delicate. Being brought into this world under the circumstances that surrounded my family has created some deep rooted issues with self worth. For me, getting an education and making something of myself, increasing my worth to the world around me, was my way of combatting those dark feelings. And so, as you can imagine, coming out on the other side, ready to take on the world by helping people to accomplish their biggest fitness goals through education, coaching based in science—the science that I had meticulously studied over the past six plus years—and coming up empty handed, has only compounded my low sense of self-worth. On many days, I truly believe deep down that I am worthless.

But I know that is the voice of the devil in my heart. The one who wants to drag me down to the darkest places on earth and keep me there. I have a lot to offer. I am not simply worth something because I am a human and I am alive. I have years and years of experience. I am thoughtful, and thought-provoking. I am observant, a fearless learner and natural educator. I believe in truth. I believe in science. I will try most things in life once, but if it is not a good fit at the core of my being, I will never sell my soul for status in life.

The thing that makes me stand out amongst peers from the same educational background as myself, is my creativity. I have a unique way of looking at things, and I enjoy every opportunity for creative expression. I am able to bring all of my talents and skills under the same umbrella because I use passion to drive my life. I fuel my fire with a passion for bringing out the best in others. By providing support, encouragement based on scientific evidence, 20 years experience as a runner and a believer in the underdog.

I can’t force a job to appear in front of me that fits every unique aspect of the career I am looking for. I certainly cannot control the number of qualified applicants that apply for the same positions that I am applying for. And I can’t will myself into a role that allows me to thrive. I can try with all my might, and I will never give up, but sometimes life requires patience. And I have been patient.

Meanwhile, I have created this blog as a conduit for my experiences as a runner and triathlete. It’s my way of sharing my expertise with whomever will read it. It’s why I made a promise in this blog to use science and truth in all aspects. It’s why I am intolerant of blogs that only pretend to know what they’re talking about. Since I cannot thrive in a career that brings me the greatest sense of worth, I use my blog to convey this information to you. I take it seriously because it matters a great deal to me to see others succeed. Success is a lot more attainable if you’re given the right tools to create it.

What I wouldn’t give to feel like my life matters to someone. What I wouldn’t give to feel like I can validate all of the sacrifices I made to earn my degrees. What I wouldn’t give to wake up and feel trusted, have my advice sought after. What I wouldn’t give to be worth something..

Flexibility Required

Marathon Training. It gets me every time.

You set out in the beginning with a masterfully planned training regime in front of you, 12-18 weeks of scientific approach to progressive overload, strategically placed rest days, cross-training and strength workouts. Everything is going fine until weather interferes. Injury threatens. Illness stops you dead in your tracks. Then suddenly, you find yourself lying in the tangled mess that was your training program, all cut into pieces, no longer sure where each piece goes. Where did I leave off? How much time do I have now? The race is when?

The thing about marathon training, or any endurance sport, is that it requires a whole lot of flexibility. You have to be prepared for things to change. That’s the one thing you can count on for certainty.

It’s good to have a coach, or at least someone more experienced than you to run things by, when the waters get a little muddied. I have taken full advantage of my collegiate cross country coach for advice, and usually when I compose an email looking for some insight, I am a little blown away by the response I get. That’s the difference between a coach and an effective (great) coach: he can read between the lines and give you that assurance just where you need it.

I’m coming off a pretty severe case of the flu that knocked me out cold for a good 7 days. I have a lingering cough that isn’t too terribly bad, but I am dealing with a severe ongoing case of nausea that has left me weaker than I have ever felt in my life. Consuming less than 600-800 calories a day for 6 days straight will do that to you.. Finally today for lunch I decided I needed something of substance. That I could not handle one more piece of toast that causes me to break out in cold sweats, only to have my blood sugar spike and then immediately plummet. I ate a cheeseburger. Well, most of one. And a bag of salt & vinegar chips. Well, part of one. And a can of Coke. I figured if I could just get past this incessant nausea and keep something down, my strength would return and the nausea would eventually leave me alone. Pussyfooting around saltine crackers, ginger ale, toast and water just wasn’t cutting it. So far, my plan has worked.

In the email to my coach I asked, “what now?” .. I only have 3 more weeks of long runs before I begin my 2-week taper for Bend Marathon. I don’t know where I am in terms of endurance anymore. After spending a week in bed, in and out of sleep, my body racked with fever and chills, I just don’t know where I stand.

His suggestion was very simple, and his explanation gave me the exact clarity I needed.

My suggestion is, providing you’re feeling up for it, to run a long distance run, but perhaps not 21. I’m thinking 17-18 miles. A run of that distance will give you pretty much the physical and physiological benefits. I know that the longer run of 21 would give greater mental benefits, but you’ll run the risk of injury with where you’re at right now physically. If 17 or 18 goes well… than tack on 2-3 more.

OK.. Breathe. This Bend Marathon is for fun anyway. It’s not a fast course and I am not expecting to run a PR. I have overcome a lot of setbacks to get where I am today (let’s stop piling them on!). I needed to hear that.. that the benefits of a 21-miler at this point would be more mental than physical or physiological..

So my new plan, which is of course subject to change, is to run a shorter long run this weekend, build and get that mental boost, and step back and then taper. Looking something like this..

Saturday 3/28: 10-12 (if I’m not feeling 100%); 17-18 (if I have my strength back)

Saturday 4/4: 20-21 miles

Saturday 4/11: 15-17

Saturday 4/18: 8-10 (taper)

Saturday 4/26: RACE DAY

Because of the situation with my calves, I have let go of any speed or hill workouts. It’s not worth risking injury this late in the game. Especially since I know first hand how long it takes for my calves to recover. But I do plan to get some strength work in, up until the taper, and some more structured yoga workouts.

I know from all the research studies I assisted with in graduate school how detrimental bed rest can be on muscular strength. My Advisor often used bed rest studies to mimic space flight, if that says anything. So I might not run tonight, and instead I will enjoy a strength-based yoga routine. If I can get the dogs to leave me alone, it will also be a great way to clear my head. I’m thinking if I can burn a few calories the old-fashioned way, it may also help my appetite. Here’s hoping.

Looking beyond the Bend Marathon, I’ve got my sights set on the Pac Crest Long Course Tri.. I am toying with the idea of knocking it down to a duathlon. This was a tough decision to come by, but it makes sense considering how financially inaccessible the pool is for me right now. Every week that goes by that I do not make my way to the pool for a swim, is stressful and a disappointment. I’ve had to put it out of my head. Instead of letting that frustration build, why don’t I just compete in the sport that melds my two favorite disciplines—duathlon? That way my training isn’t about what I had access to, but how disciplined I was and how much I enjoyed it.

I’m still deciding.. I think the Pac Crest weekend is overpriced. $240 for a long course triathlon that is not attached to the brand name Ironman seems very expensive. The duathlon is the same price, which makes no sense to me. So I am not sure what to do.

Beyond the Pac Crest, I have several options. If I drop Pac Crest, there are plenty more options I could pick up. What to do.. what to do..

The good news is having options.

Influenza B 

After a sleepless night, waiting for the clock to strike 8 so I could get in line at BMC’s Urgent Care, I found myself getting poked in the nostrils with a large Q-tip. 

I was near death. 

I’ve never been this sick in my life. Maybe that’s a testament to how sick I am now or a testament to how healthy I’ve been this far in my life. But now I know what the flu feels like and I never want to endure through this kind of pain again. 

The body aches were the worst of it. Every inch of my body vibrated with pain and no matter how I lay, sit, stand, curl, keel over, I could not get comfortable. The chills were second in line. Despite lying on a heating pad under a down comforter, I could not warm up. My temp never bypassed 102, but even with ibuprofen, it hovered around 101.8. That was my final push to see a doctor. 

Glad I did. I didn’t know there was a 48-hour window to take Tamiflu, otherwise it’s ineffective. I’ve never had the flu so I knew nothing about it. 

By the time the results from my swab came back as Influenza B positive, I was knocking on death’s door. 

I hadn’t slept all night and I was hurting, hot, cold, exhausted and emotionally and physically drained. 

So here I am.. on the mend. I should be able to start running (low mileage – the doctor quoted 5-7 miles, not 20) on Monday or shortly after. 

You know you live in Bend when your doctor calls 5-7 miles a short run. 

I’m taking Tamiflu to mutate the flu virus, Sudafed to break up congestion (that I didn’t really realize I had, until it started happening!), ibuprofen for the body aches, Tylenol for the fever and robitussin with codeine for the cough (and to help me sleep). 

My throat is so sore though that I can’t seem to stay asleep.. waiting for this to pass. Drinking water, gargling with salt water, and trying not to cough.. sometimes you just have to be patient. 

I’ve got the flu.. I’d rather be running.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain? 

It’s ironic that yesterday was my grandfather’s birthday. It was a chilly & wet day and although I had woken up with a nagging dry cough, I didn’t feel the least bit sick so I went about my business preparing for a run after work. 

I wondered if my great grandmother (my grandfather’s mother) had pie on Pi day the few days before he was born. He was born in 1915, 100 years ago.. so it had been yet another true Pi day the two days before he was born. No one will ever know, but I can picture her (in black & white with a sepia tone, of course — this was 100 years ago, before color existed) sitting at the kitchen table, a kettle hearing water behind her, enjoying a slice of apple pie. In reality it probably would not have been apple. Perhaps minced meat. Where would she have gotten apples in Northern New Hampshire, in March? (in 1915). 

I got home from work and paid no attention to the rain and threw on my favorite cold weather running gear and hit the streets. The first few strides came as a major relief to me. I hadn’t felt that good in weeks. I continued on, Pandora playing Xavier Rudd radio and not a single piece of hair or clothing bouncing out of place. I rounded the corner onto 15th and hopped off the curb and back up onto the curb on the other side. A week ago I ran this same route. It had been my first run after my 8-day recovery from strained calves and it was brutal. The broken cement on the sidewalk along 15th was miserable. Every step felt like I was stepping on marbles or Lego pieces. It wasn’t just annoying to not have good footing but exhausting and painful. But last week I was in it for the long haul, no matter the pain. 

Last night was a different story. I had a bounce in my step that I haven’t felt in years. I felt like I was hovering above the ground, moving effortlessly across the lollipop course around the base of Pilot Butte. 

I wasn’t out there for pace. In fact, until my calf strain is a distant memory I won’t care about my pace. I’m focusing on effort. And I felt effortless. I felt like a runner. I felt the way I used to feel when I was training for my first 50k, back in the summer of 2006. 

I ran the loop around the base of the butte twice before I headed back home. 6.4 miles total. Crushed it. I felt so amazing. It was so good to be back! 

Last week when I was running on the trail I felt so uncoordinated because every foot step was very uncertain and my reaction time to stepping on a pinecone or stone was very slow and precarious. It was frustrating.

Last night, as I flew across the same trails (twice) and bounced up the stairs on the backside of the butte (twice), it became clear to me just how “injured” I was. I am so glad it’s behind me now.. At least for now :) 

Ironic that it was my grandfather’s birthday because it had me thinking about grandparents and how each of them had lived and died. It was my mom’s dad whose birthday I was celebrating but it was my dad’s dad who was in my memory banks this morning when I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a train. 

My dad’s dad had been sick and on bed rest when he suddenly felt so good that he went out and fed the animals and tended to his farm in a way he hadn’t done in months. He was just suddenly full of life and vigor. 

He caught pneumonia and died shortly after. 

I love the smell of rain in Bend. Pine, juniper and sage aromas fill your senses. The air is easier to breathe and there is no hard sun beating on your head. 

I’m out for the count for the foreseeable future. Body aches, chills, fever, chest congestion.. I’m not upset about it. I’m too tired to be upset. I think it will be good for me to sit out again for a little while. Let those calves continue to heal. Before someone tells me to cross train, let me be sick first, will ya? 

Going For It

This morning my dog slept in a bit, which was a sign of how our weekend went. She was happy I was home all day on Sunday and willing to throw the ball for her until throwing the ball became an absolute annoyance. Usually by that time, she doesn’t realize she too has had her fix. She’s a machine, that girl. When I did get up to let her out, she went into downward facing dog position, and so I joined her. My downward facing dog is a lot more timid than hers, and as I stretched out my tight calves and hamstrings, she bounced in and out of downward facing dog until she decided enough was enough and she gave me a little kiss on the nose and then went to wait by the door. It was pee time.

need to keep stretching. Downward facing dog, pigeon pose.. they seem to be my two most beneficial stretches at the moment.

This morning I woke up with a bit of a cough. I don’t feel a cold coming on, and I don’t feel worn out in any way.. I had the heater on last night without the humidifier and I am hoping that my dry cough is related. Time to take care of all those little details that add up to be one big picture: let me get to that marathon start line healthy, rested, strong, as fit as physically possible in the amount of time that I’ve had to turn my life around and start training. I can’t ignore my humidifier, which has sat empty for more than a week now. Both my dog and I need that humid air. I can’t ignore my tight muscles. Both my dog and I like to start the day in downward facing dog.

I mapped out a 20-mile run, my last big dig.. But it’s more like 21.25 (shh, don’t tell). It’s hard to map out the perfect route.. but this one starts and ends by the river so we can sit our sore little legs in the cold river when we’re done. I’m hoping Peggy & Tracy will be able to coordinate their 16-mile routes so they end at about the same time as me in the same location, and then we’ll drive together back to Fleet Feet.

This past weekend I was able to run 18.2 miles with very minimal toe pain and relatively happy-feeling calves. Not perfectly happy, but happy enough, all things considered. I am hoping.. if I am diligent with my icing and ibuprofen and stretching and KT Tape, that 21 miles will feel just as good. Or at least just as OK.

After that.. I am running 10 miles the weekend following, and then one last “long” run of 15ish miles before I taper. Most of my 21-mile run will be on the Bend Marathon route. There’s a section of it I have never run before so it will be a nice preview.

Hydrate. Electrolytes! Fuel. Stretch! Sleep! Ice.. Relax. Breathe. Take care of little things. Be prepared. Smile. Be grateful. This is what it’s all about! This Saturday, I’m going for it!

Bend Marathon or BUST!

Bad Ass & Good Weather

I set out to run 18 miles today. My calves are well, no longer my favorite topic. But with KT tape in place, I put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I put one foot on top of a fence post to stretch my hip, and sometimes I put both feet up against a curb to stretch the calves. But mostly, over 18.2 miles I put one foot in front of the other and endured some pretty brutal aches and pains. 

18 miles is a long distance. Holy hell. I was out there for 3 and a half hours. I ate all my Honey Stingers and drank every last drop of Skratch Labs. I peeled layers. I put layers back on. I fought with iTunes. I swore at Pandora. I literally almost broke my phone over frustration with Strava. 

I am stubborn. There is NO way in hell I was going to run a 17.9 mile run. So in the end I was running circles around Peggy and Tracy outside Fleet Feet, staring down Strava until it hit 18. But it wouldn’t budge. Damn it all to hell. Literally those words did not come out of my mouth. The words I said were far worse and this blog is rated PG-13 so I can’t repeat them. 

Eventually I hit stop and start again and it bumped from 17.9 to 18.2. 

Finally. DONE. 

Long runs are not about speed or even grace (thank God because I had neither). I was in it to win it today and by win I mean finish. I stopped about 102 times to stretch tight spots, to listen quietly to the messages my calves were sending my way.. I just kept moving. One foot in front of the other. 

I even mastered the public pee-on-the-run. There were no bushes and no bathrooms so I finally took a knee, pulled the liner of my shorts to the side and relieved myself, drip dried and went on my Merry way. I am actually quite proud. 

On that note..