Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Reflections on my training cycle

It's getting HARD.

When I wrote my training plan for the Louisiana Marathon, I knew I was going to focus on more volume and longer interval and tempo runs to build up my endurance. I was going to replace my third 20 miler with a 22 miler, a distance I haven't built into a training plan in years (yes, even 2 miles makes a difference). I was going to engage in more 5-run weeks rather than just 4 runs per week. Strength and core training were going to be consistent and key to keeping my body in tip top shape. All of this meant that I was going to be doing some SERIOUS training.

So how's it all panning out?

Actually, pretty well, although I wasn't always so sure about it.

My biggest training months leading up to a marathon in the past were about 120-130 miles in volume. I'm seem to be happiest when I hover around 100 miles per month. But keeping the status quo wasn't going to do me any favors after a 2 year absence from the marathon distance. November is officially my highest volume month in the 9 years I've been running at 150 miles. Next month will be 176 miles of running. Looking at those numbers is staggering to me. But I'm hanging in there so far, and I think I am seeing the rewards of my hard work. Race day is 45 days away.

I'm definitely slower than I have been in the past. For months it really ate away at me to know that I've declined since my last marathon, and I was beating myself up pretty bad about it. But in the last week or so I've gained a sense of peace about where I'm at. The last two years have been incredibly challenging emotionally. The stress level that I've had could knock anyone on their ass, and I've had to realize that it's truly to blame for my decline. Stress absolutely wreaks havoc on your physical well being in addition to your emotional well being. While my stress level is not great right now, it's slowly improved this year. There's a lot more light in my life, although dark days still creep in. It's been a huge battle to try to reverse these detrimental effects on my body and I'm clawing my way back to my previous ability, day by day and run by run.

So while the runs themselves might not be quite as speedy as in the past, I think the volume is paying dividends, even if they are tiny dividends. Sunday was a 14 mile run with 4 miles of it at marathon goal pace. I ended up running the final 8 miles at that pace and while I was tired, it felt really great. Yesterday I had a 7 mile tempo run, with 1 mile at warm up pace, 4 miles at short tempo pace, and 2 miles cool down. My triathlon team leader told me my tempo pace for that run was to be 8:33. The previous week's workout was 5 miles of tempo (7 mile total run) at a 9:03 average, so this run was going to be quite a bit faster, and harder. After a bit of a shaky start, and an annoying uphill during mile two, I ended up nailing the run. The 4 miles of tempo came in at 34:12...exactly 8:33 average. It was NOT easy for me, but looking back on it, it didn't kill me. I felt absolutely fine after the run was finished. As I drove home I realized that by nailing this run it basically proved that my training is working.

When I first wrote up my training plan I had in my head that I really would try for a PR at the Louisiana Marathon. I'm basing my workout paces off of this goal. I'm not quite sure I have it in me to achieve this goal, but I'm keeping it in the back of my head regardless. December is going to be a crazy training month. I have to be diligent about staying healthy. But I think if I start seeing the hard work paying off even more then I will absolutely shoot for that PR.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Tale of Two Races, 2016 Edition

It's done! My two half marathons this month, 7 days apart, are DONE.

They were SO DIFFERENT it's really quite laughable. Now, I knew I was only pushing myself for one of them, the City to the Sea on October 9, and I was going to hold back on the second run, Nutrabolt Oktoberfest on October 16, and finish it about 5 minutes slower. That was the plan, anyhow.

For City to the Sea, the weather was perfect! It had been unusually dry leading up to the race, with morning temps in the 50s. I was thrilled because I knew the only thing that would hold back my pace was my own legs and not my lungs. It all worked out perfectly, as I finished in 2:02:39. Not the ultimate stretch goal of under 2 hours, but I am very happy with how I strategized and executed and I'll take a 2:02!

For Oktoberfest, the weather could not have been more miserable. Practically 100% humidity, with an atrocious 75 dew point, and temps in the 70s. Your basic Texas summer morning....only it's the middle of October now. In the back of my head I knew even trying to run my marathon pace of 9:40-9:45 was NOT going to be "holding back" for me, but rather my new ultimate stretch goal for this race. At about mile 6 I knew there was no way I was going to see anything even remotely close to it, although I did manage to hit the pace for the first half of the race, but that was HARD. Anyway, long story short, I finished in my second slowest road half time of 2:16:30. Truly atrocious morning.

But let's go back to the awesomeness of the City to the Sea Half Marathon. Can I just say how much I absolutely love to race in my hometown of San Luis Obispo? I was (mostly) all smiles before the race, hanging out in downtown, totally excited (and nervous) about running through town, through the canyon, and then to the beach. It's a great little college town and a beautiful place to run.

My nerves were off and on. I REALLY wanted a good race. I knew breaking two hours would be tough, but I also knew that if I kept my head in the game I could possibly do it. I was also worried about the hills in the second half. The first half of the race is a gradual decline, with pretty much all the 500 feet of elevation gain coming in the second half. I was hoping to capitalize on the good downhills in the second half if the uphills slowed me down too much. I figured I had nothing to lose, however, and my strategy was to run as well as I could for as long as I could, and when and if I couldn't any longer, I'd suck it up as best as I could.


The start line on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo

I started off the race at my usual half marathon racing pace, and moved into the 9:00-9:10 pace within the first three miles. It wasn't particularly easy, but it actually wasn't very difficult either. I wore my heart rate monitor and checked my heart rate occasionally, which told me I was doing just fine. One of the great things about this race is that we ran on the same road for the first five miles. No turns, therefore no need to try to run tight tangents. I wasn't picking up any extra mileage like one normally would on a race course with lots of turns. The miles were clicking off nicely and I was through the first half in about an hour. If I could maintain that pace and pick it up in that last mile, I'd squeak in under one hour. At worst, I'd be a minute or two over. Can you say THRILLED?!?! My race was going great and I felt great.

BUT I knew about those hills coming up...and sure enough, as soon as we turned onto San Luis Bay Drive halfway through the race, the first hill taunted us. It was a doozy.

San Luis Bay Drive, mile 7

Surprisingly, however, I ran mile 7 in 9:17. Not bad, but off pace. I sped up on the downhills in the next mile, and Mile 8 came in at 9:14 and Mile 9 back down under 9:10. I was at 9:12 pace overall through 9 miles. The canyon miles were no joke, and now I needed to be faster to break 2 hours, as I had picked up about 15 second of extra distance in the last few miles, in addition to the extra time I picked up in those two slower miles. I knew I was getting tired at this point. I could run the pace, but the hills were taking their toll on my legs. Needing to run sub-9 from here on out was going to definitely start to hurt.

Good grief

And then there was Mile 10. The entire mile is uphill. I wouldn't say that I threw in the towel right here, but this is when I decided that trying to push myself harder just wasn't going to happen. It was also right about here that we could finally see the ocean. So that's when I said, 'okay, I've proved my point. I can run a good pace again, and I have more sub-2's in my future.' It was time to enjoy myself, so I backed way off going up this hill. It was so much slower, that I ran it in 9:55. I sped up in those last few rolling miles, running between 9:20 and 9:35. Seeing that ocean was totally worth giving up a couple minutes on my race time. You couldn't wipe that smile off my face if you tried.

I crossed the finish line in 2:02:39. I had kept pace for about 9 miles, and had it not been for the hills, I would have probably broken 2 hours. This is so huge for me right now. I felt like I had broken through a physical and mental barrier. My IT band was achy for most of the run, but I never felt real pain from it. Perhaps it would have been more painful had I pushed it on those hills, so I'm glad I held back. My average heart rate average for the race was only 153, lower than I expected, and that's a very good sign of things to come.



Why yes, I did grow up here

So...onto the following weekend. The Nutrabolt Oktoberfest Half Marathon in College Station, my "marathon race pace" half marathon. Except that the weather was probably the worst that I've raced in for an endurance event. Coupled with racing just seven days before and a travel week, and I knew in the back of my head, this wasn't going to go so well, but I could still give it a shot.

I decided to run as even paced of a race as I could. Of course my Garmin lost it's signal in the first mile and I actually have no idea how fast I ran that mile. But based off the mile markers on the course, I think within the first three miles I was at 9:35 pace overall. Too fast, but at that point I thought maybe I could hold it for most of the race. I intentionally backed off after mile 3 and then the wheels pretty much started to fall off.

Mile 6 felt harder than the previous miles, even though it barely came in at under 10 minute pace. At this point I looked at my heart rate and it registered a 165. That's WAY too high for an "easy" pace for me, especially considering how in control I was in the previous week's race. I was struggling to keep my lungs working and my heart rate down, and my legs were feeling like lead.

This wasn't worth it. I crossed the timing mat at the 10K in 1:00:15, a 9:40 pace, and at the halfway mark, I walked. My heart rate needed to come down or I'd throw myself into a massive asthma attack.

So for the next 6.5 miles, I ran 5-7 minutes (I couldn't get the running under 10 minute pace) and walked a minute or two. Did I mention they found every single hill in College Station for this route? They felt like mountains (they weren't really bad). The sun came out. Everyone was walking portions of the race. Nobody was really very happy. All the happy people were done at this point. The rest of us wanted to be put out of our misery.

This weather was REALLY REALLY bad. This race was REALLY REALLY ugly.

About 11 miles in, I was so frustrated that I thought of bailing on the whole thing. But then I remembered that we got to finish in Kyle Field and that I'd get a beer stein and a medal with a beer opener on it. Time to suck it up and finish, no matter how ugly.

After what felt like a day and a half, we could see Kyle Field in the distance and I sped up to a blazing 10:15 pace (for real, this was the fastest I think I could run at this point).

That stupid clock said 2:16:30 when I crossed the finish line. I hate that clock.

With Tony and Barb, my badass GTT teammates 


Officially this was my second slowest road half marathon out of 17. I ran one trail half that was slower, and one road half that was slower. And 15 that were faster. Damn.

However, considering how great it felt the week before, I'm not letting it get me down. Especially since on Monday I came down with a doozy of an illness. It's entirely possible I was actually sick during this race, which would mean that of course I felt as horrible as I did....I had pretty much everything going against me.

Did I mention my friend Tony ran this race 19 minutes faster and he's 14 years older than me? Butthead.

The bright spot....I realized 11 miles in that I hadn't felt my IT band AT ALL during this race. I had actually forgotten all together that I was even injured. That's a pretty big win right there. Rehab is the bomb.

Two half marathons in 7 days are done. I have 12 weeks until the Louisiana Marathon and despite, the mediocrity of the Oktoberfest Half, I'm feeling pretty great going into the hardest part of marathon training. I have a great training plan laid out, I have some pretty kickass training buddies (side note: my friend Jeff ran 10 miles with me this past Saturday, just 6 days after the half and coming off an icky sick week, and I ran 9:35 pace overall. Guess what? The weather was great...imagine that), and I'm being a good girl with my physical therapy.



Baton Rouge better be ready for me. 



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Race Week is Here

If you had asked a month ago what my ultimate goal was for the City to the Sea Half Marathon on October 9, I would have said "sub-2."

I've run a few sub-2 hour half marathons, but most have been in the 2:00-2:05 range. There was a time when a race under 2 hours was a given, and I never wanted to see another 2+ hour half.

Ha! Funny.

If you asked me yesterday what my goal was, it would be "please don't let me embarrass myself."

All summer I've been using the weather as my excuse for feeling so horribly slow. However, the last few weeks have really forced another issue to come to the forefront and that is my right leg. It's just not cooperating! My gluteus medius muscles are apparently weak, and my right psoas muscle is very tight. My right IT Band is pretty locked up, and the outside of my knee is where the pain has manifested. I am a pretty good girl about foam rolling and trigger point, but I have to admit I haven't been really great overall with my consistency.

I couldn't ignore this problem any longer and knew I just needed someone to work on it and guide me through some rehab without actually having to stop running. We all know I'm not going to stop running.

Enter Airrosti. I've known about them for a long time. Heck, they even came to my house in January for an Injury Rehab Clinic...oh, the irony there, I know. Since they accept my insurance I got on their schedule. I have appointments every 3 days until my race this weekend, and then I will see them again next week.

My leg is HURTING. It's very sensitive to the touch because there is some bruising going on along my IT band and in my glutes because of the work the doctor is doing. I can still run, but my leg makes sure I know it's there. I have strengthening and stretching exercises to do daily so I can fix this damn imbalance problem.


See, this is why I'll never be the fastest chick out there! Scoliosis, a leg length discrepancy, and the resulting nagging muscular imbalance is a serious buzzkill.

But it's fixable (to a point) with diligence on my part. I've gone years at a time without issue so I know it can happen again.

Sitting around icing and complaining, however, has given me time to think. I'm frustrated, and I've thought more than once if it's worth it to keep trying this whole endurance thing. Maybe I'm not cut out for it, maybe I should just take a year off, maybe I need a different hobby. After all, this can't possibly be good for me.

But then another perspective has slowly crept into my mind. I'm a healthy and active middle aged woman, I'm at a good weight and have never been overweight, I don't have any obesity-related illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, I'm not in a high risk medical group, and it's because I AM ACTIVE and I take care of myself. Plus, I love my exercise and healthy cooking hobbies. I have a focus on long term health.

If some discomfort because of my endurance endeavours is occasionally the result, then I'll take it. It's far better than the person I would be if I was sitting on the couch night after night, taking the easy way out with my exercise and eating habits. It's far better than developing obesity-related diseases and shortening my life span. Perhaps this is my personal price to pay for the rewards that I will reap in the long term.

I'm going to keep thinking like this as I go through this round of rehab. I posted on Facebook yesterday that years from now I'll see this as merely a blip and I won't regret not giving up.

Nope, definitely not giving up. This is the only body I have and I'm going to continue keeping it healthy and strong....I just have to put a bit more focus into my poor glutes being strong!

Did I mention it's RACE WEEK!! On Sunday, I'll earn myself this sweet medal.


I get to run from my hometown of San Luis Obispo, through the canyon, down to the beach in Pismo. Seriously, you just can't beat that. What a way for me to experience where I grew up in a unique way. And that medal! 

4 more days!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bigger isn't always better....and that's just fine

The thing about being a part of a running or triathlon community is that it's really easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of "it's time to do a marathon" or "you're ready for an Ironman!" It's easy to start registering for race after race, longer distance after longer distance until you're out $1500+ and insanely busy training for the next 8 months.

For some people, this is awesome. It's what they do and they love it.

Me?

Holy crap, the thought of all that just exhausts me.

I've had a few years where I raced a lot and I did love it. I did 3 marathons in one year and they were the three fastest I'd done at the time. Last year I did 6 triathlons, but none longer than an intermediate distance, and I had a really great time. So much fun that I signed up for an Ironman 70.3 (through life circumstances beyond my control I had to cancel that race, so it didn't actually happen).

This year has been extremely low key and while I do sometimes miss the constant thought of "when is my next race and how am I going to improve from last time," I have to admit that the low-key year has been really great overall. I have long term goals that I'm slowly chipping away at. I'm in no hurry to sign up for a last minute race "just because." Or to sign up for something bigger.

I'm hardly racing at all this year. As a matter of fact, I've only done 4 races this year, with only 2 more planned. What a relief! Seriously.

BUT....

It's tough sometimes not giving into the pull of "SOMETHING BIGGER." It's tough listening to my friends and their crammed race schedules, or the friends who are signing up for another Ironman, or another century ride, or another ultramarathon, and thinking that I SHOULD WANT TO DO THAT TOO!! Is there something wrong with me that I have absolutely NO DESIRE to train like that? They are so dedicated and their training is so regimented and it's a really big freaking deal to them (as it should be). Meanwhile I'm over here like, yeah, my marathon is still over four months way. It's only a little marathon.

Damn, it really just kind of messes with your head. A marathon is a big deal, every single time I do it. And I'm making it sound like it's "just another race." Perspective has clearly been lost in the age of BIGGER AND BETTER.

I didn't get to do my 70.3 and I'm pretty disappointed about that. I really did want to do it, and I would still like to tackle that goal. I've thought about which one I might want to sign up for, but in all honesty the big desire I had last year has dissipated and I'm not yet pulling the trigger on a race that big. And I'm certainly not giving any thought whatsoever to an Ironman 140.6. I know my friends don't believe me when I say that I don't want to do one, but seriously, I DON'T WANT TO DO ONE.

Then I start thinking, but maybe I really secretly do want to do one and they're all RIGHT. Maybe this Ironman thing is really really cool and I should want to be in the "club" because Lord knows just about everyone I train with now is part of it. But no...I'm going to stay on the outside.

I've been thinking a bit about how I want 2017 to shape up. It's going to start out with my Birthday Marathon in January and I'm seriously excited about that race. Then I have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE PLANNED. So far. Nothing.

There is not one thing...YET...that has interested me enough to commit to it (although...and I'll get to that in a bit...my eyes are on a super special prize I might compete for later in the year). But it's been weird to feel like I "should" want to cram my race schedule with bigger races and yet have little desire to do so. It's making me feel like something is wrong with me. And then I started thinking about how this attitude is just so pervasive in society in general, about so many different things.

Where is the heck did contentment go? Why isn't small and simple okay anymore? Or rather, why are we telling ourselves that simple is not okay?

IT'S FREAKING OKAY! At least for me, it is. For those who relish in the big races, go after it. I just am not ready for that.

So, if I were to go after something bigger, it would be Boston. It's funny because for so long I didn't really give much thought to qualifying for Boston but it's been in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. Mind you, I'm not nearly fast enough. I have some work to do, and I have to be careful about the race or races that I choose. My qualification window for my next age group opens in a year, and I keep leaning towards going after it as soon as I can. I have a couple races picked out that I'm pretty excited about, but I've got plenty of time to commit. So, with this goal looming, it's hard to focus on many other goals. I'm not really one who can think of achieving a whole lot of greatness in a short amount of time (that's typically when I get injured, and there's no more time for that crap). So the 70.3 might be on the backburner for a year.

It leaves room for sprint triathlons, however. It might be fun to do a few of those during the spring and summer before the crazy BQ training begins. It all keeps circling back to small and simple, and this makes me happy. I don't feel stressed. I need to shut the voice up inside my head that keeps trying to tell me I should want something more.

Instead I'll cheer on those of you who do want that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Five more weeks

Five more weeks. That's how long until my first of back-to-back half marathons.

When I counted how much time I had left I admit I was a bit surprised it's ONLY five more weeks (well, technically it's 39 days). Plenty of time, really, but it seems like it's creeping up on me so fast!

I've been hemming and hawing about how I want to approach these two races. One, the City to the Sea Half, is a net downhill course with very few turns, although there is still quite a bit of elevation gain, probably over 500 feet. Not horribly bad, but not easy. My hardest half marathon was over 900 feet of gain and I ran fairly well after a rough final few weeks of training. The second race, Nutrabolt Oktoberfest, is much flatter with a million turns.

In all honesty, I think that I do better on hillier courses. City to the Sea has miles-long straightaways, plus the first few miles and the last mile are downhill. I'll be able to recruit lots of different muscles throughout this course versus the monotony of the flat Oktoberfest course. City to the Sea is the first race, with Oktoberfest following 7 days later. I don't want to "race" both, but I definitely want to race one of them. I'm not sure I have a sub-2 in me, but I do think I can suck it up for 13.1 miles and put in a good effort. I'm leaning towards the hilly course as my "race" course.

If I approach it this way, I can run the Oktoberfest at marathon race pace, which will be 9:40-9:45 pace. That puts me at about a 2:07 and I know I can accomplish that without too much wear and tear on my body. It's not the slowness of long run pace, which would bore me in a race, and by being marathon pace the race will hold purpose in marathon training. It sets me up for running a similar type long run closer to marathon race day and comparing my progress.

It's probably way too much thinking for two little races. But I want a successful marathon season and I'm going to overanalyze a little. Or a lot! I'm not in the best shape I've ever been in (sad!) and I actually have very lofty goals in a few short years, so I'm trying to approach my return to marathon as intelligently as possible. It sets me up for a successful 2017 season, leading to the REALLY BIG THING I want to accomplish in 2018 (it's initials are BQ). So yes, I will overanalyze.

My confidence has been a little shaky, as it always is in the summer. I get very impatient for cooler weather because I know I'm going to feel so much stronger. The past few weeks, however, have actually been pretty decent regarding our weather. August is typically the hottest month of the year, but save for the first week of August, which was brutally hot, this year we've been spared. The temps have been really great and we've gotten quite a bit of rain. I think I'm seeing improvement because of this.

This past Friday morning I ran hill repeats on a moderately steep hill. I did 10 repeats with descending time intervals (2 x 90 seconds, 2 x 75 seconds, 3 x 60 seconds, 3 x 30 seconds), making sure I was not resting too long between intervals. I had an extra long warm up (1.7 miles). I figured as I was running my first 90 second interval (which feels like forever when you're running fast up a hill) that it was about 8:30 pace as it didn't seem like I was working too hard, just hard enough to want it to be over by the time I hit 75 seconds in. Imagine my surprise when my pace was 7:50. I did not think I had even come close to dipping under 8-min pace. My second interval came in the same.

Overall my interval times averaged 7:28, which is not something I've done in a very long time. Plus I was in the sun with 80+ degree temps the entire workout. 5 miles of work and I felt absolutely fantastic when I was done. It was truly an awesome workout.

Two days later, I ran for 2 hours. I haven't run that long in months. It wasn't particularly fast during the first hour, but we made it back after the turnaround in 55 minutes versus another whole hour (yes, I ran an extra five minutes to get a full 2 hours in). It was totally fine except for the last 20 minutes when the heat was getting to me. By then the sun was out in full force with little cloud coverage. But I didn't quit.

Yesterday morning was a 5k time trial. I ran most of it alone, in 95% humidity, after a one mile warm up, wishing the whole time I was running that I was on a track instead of in the creepy dark. But I did it in 8:15 pace. Nothing like my glory days but I'm pretty happy. I was in zone 5 heart rate for the last 20 minutes so I know I was pushing myself adequately.

These last three runs make me feel a whole lot better. I'm looking for all the motivation I can get right now!

I just finished reading David Boudia's book. He's an Olympic Gold Medal diver who just took home a silver and bronze in Rio. He talked a lot about how he was able to put a disastrous Beijing Olympics and destructive lifestyle behind him to have glory in London (while giving glory to God rather than focusing on his own personal glory). One thing that he said God revealed to him during his redemption journey that he needed to do when he struggled struck me as being extremely relevant in endurance training.

"Be process oriented, not results oriented. Remember the Olympic creed? The important thing is not the triumph but the fight. So many times in our lives, results are out of our hands and we are dependent on things we can't control for the outcomes we desire. Learning instead to focus on the process, the journey itself, allows us to focus our energies more on the things we can control. That, in turn, leads to greater fulfillment and more enjoyment as we go through life leaving our ultimate path in the Lord's hands (Psalm 37:5)."

Although I do have goals and I like to keep some focus on them as I train, he's totally right that in order to achieve our goal we have to focus on the process. The process in marathon training is months long. Each week serves a purpose, each workout serves a purpose. When the big picture and a focus on everything you still need to do in the months ahead, when you have a million doubts because you're having a tough training spell, you have to step back and focus on the process....what is the purpose and goal of THIS workout, why is it important, what does it mean if it's successful, what does it mean if it's not, what have I learned that I can take into the next workout, the next week, the next month, or even race day? We have complete control of that attitude.

In the next 39 days I'm going to do my best to focus on the journey, the process, and take baby steps as I make my way towards October 9.



Wednesday, August 3, 2016

If I could call you

I loved talking to you on the phone. I loved your voice. Your giggle. Your sarcastic tone.

I loved all the stupid and silly names you used to call me. I think my favorite was "freak." You never spoke it with malice. I could picture your head shake to go with it. And "seester." That was a great one, especially when you'd sign my birthday cards with it.

My memories are growing fainter over time. It's a bit harder to conjure up that voice. That laugh. The laugh that used to make you turn purple.

During the dark times over the last few years, and there have been so very many, I have so badly wanted to call you. I have wanted to ask your opinion, seek your advice. You always listened. You never judged. I was never afraid to tell you all my feelings.

Being parents of girls was something we shared. But we never really got a chance to support each other in all the challenging times that come with pre-teen and teenage parenting. You were gone too soon for that. It makes me feel cheated, because you would have been the perfect voice of reason when I felt so down on myself, when I just didn't know what else to do to help my daughter. You would have talked me down from the ledge. You would have been my sanity.

I'd like to think I would have been the same to you.

But we never got that chance, did we?

There were so many times when we were there for each other, however, when we told each other things that we just couldn't say to anyone else. I hold those memories close and dear. The words that were spoken will stay with me, our "secrets" safe. A sisterly bond that will never break.

Every year, during this week, I go through all the emotions of the grief cycle over and over again. Except denial. It was the first emotion I experienced when I heard the news and it was a tough one to shake. But I understand reality now. There's no denying the past seven years. But the anger, the bitterness, and depression...those come and go. I wish I could say that it has gotten easier. I suppose in some ways it has. But there are the days when it is all encompassing, when it's all I can think about. There are days when I can't go thirty minutes without fresh tears sliding down my cheeks. I try to hold them back, but it's impossible. Today is one of those days.

Imagine if I could just call you.

I see the bickering around me in the world, in my community, and among my friends and I want to shake them. I want them to stop and to appreciate what is around them. I want them to appreciate who is in their lives. "What if they are gone tomorrow?" I want to say. They always think there is a tomorrow. But we know better, don't we?

I can think of little else than how much I miss you. There is absolutely no one who can take your place, who can truly comfort me. My heart is absolutely broken. Parts of it have been stitched back together, but it's a tenuous repair. The stitches are strained, some have burst and need to be repaired. I always hope each repair will hold up a bit better than the previous.

Today the stitches burst. I will try to repair them tomorrow.

But for today, I mourn.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In the Heat of Summer

It's hot out there.

It's DAMN hot out there.

5:30 am, 80 degrees, 90% humidity, off-the-charts oppressive. Not a surprise (this is my 10th summer here after all) but it still sucks every single time.

I am trying to push through the discomfort as best as I can. I have started to complete much longer weekend runs with my triathlon group, and although I slow it way down and take a couple walking breaks, I'm getting through them. I continue my mid-week evening hill workout, typically in 95+ degree temps, but those, too, are getting to be quite difficult. I'm wearing my heartrate monitor and have not overtaxed myself yet, but it sometimes feels like death.

My hydration is a struggle this summer. I'm not sure what is different, but I am having trouble feeling sufficiently hydrated. I need to change some things because this concerns me. For an endurance athlete in a Texas summer, hydration is everything.

With it being summer, I really had no idea if my fitness (read: SPEED) was even close to being up to par going into marathon training. I think my intervals runs have been pretty decent considering the weather conditions, but the short relay I had this past weekend was a good judge of where I'm at. It's not great, but it's actually not as bad as I thought. It was a 5K 2-person relay, so only 1.55 miles each. But it started at 10:00am, in 86 degree heat, and by 1.55 miles they really meant 1.68 miles. So sweet of them.

What I really thought I could run was 8:15 pace. What I hoped I could run was 8:00 pace. What I actually ran was 7:44 pace. The only time I looked at my pace was 6 minutes into the run and then I just tried to hold it for as long as possible. My second mile was 15 seconds per mile faster than Mile 1, even though I totally thought I was falling apart (seriously, that last 10th of a mile lasted 30 minutes I swear). My partner, Drew (freaking youngster) ran 6:08 pace so we managed to run 3.35 miles in 23:17 for first place in our division. It was Drew's first medal since high school, although he's come so close in a couple of his triathlons this year. It was a medal I was hoping we'd get, but was cautiously optimistic about. What a great surprise to pull it off!


My two half marathons are coming up in October and I am technically training for them, upping my weekly miles, trying to add another weekly run. I would like to have two good races, but I really need these temperatures to give me some mercy. Not likely to happen anytime soon. July in Texas after all.

On the bright side, it feels really good to only be focusing on one discipline this summer. I think when late winter/early spring rolls around I'm going to be ready to (literally) get my feet wet again and compete in triathlons. My mind has so much trouble focusing right now that it's a blessing I made the tough decision I did to sit the triathlon season out.

I might even admit that when I'm watching my team compete and I see them racking up podium spots, I actually do miss it. Triathlons are definitely something special.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Musings

I was a mess last week. You wouldn't have necessarily known it if you were around me, but inside I was a mess. My thoughts were jumbled and all over the place and I couldn't concentrate on too many things.

First, I am feeling a bit lost about my physical well being. This time last year I was in the middle of a good triathlon season and I was having fun. I had a pretty decent, consistent schedule and I saw progress. It was good for me.

This year, I'm feeling a lot of guilt for NOT having a triathlon season. How dumb is that? I know in my heart that I simply can't concentrate on a rigorous schedule like that. It would just put more stress and guilt on me if I kept having to miss workouts, and I don't want to be away from my daughter that much when I know she does better when I'm at home with her.

So because of this, my motivation is lacking. I am frustrated by this. I want to feel differently. I still take care of myself....I run, I go to the gym, I get on my bike when I can. But it's not a priority and it's usually the first thing that I let go of when I'm overwhelmed emotionally. I don't like this at all. It's not me, and it's not making me feel comfortable.

On a brighter note, however, I do officially start marathon training next month and that will be a more structured schedule, with mileage goals that I will need to hit. I am hoping this is what will help me come out of this funk. This funk is the pits and I'm tired of it. I feel lost and need that extra hand, but it's no where to be found. There's no hand to pull me up and out of this right now. I see others all around me in the midst of their training schedules and I feel like I'm on the other side, watching them through a dirty window.

All those thoughts were right up at the forefront of my mind last week. And then there's my kid.

You see, I had to take my daughter to a psychiatrist on Thursday, so in the days leading up to it I was in a perpetual state of anxiety. Would she freak out going to the appointment, would she cry and not be able to stop, would she be unable to speak in the appointment, and worst of all....WHAT WOULD BE HER DIAGNOSIS?

I am so worried about her. With psychotherapy she's been doing better overall. Her episodes are fewer, but not gone. They'll never be totally gone, but slowly it appears she's learning to manage them better. But when she can't, it hurts me so deeply as a parent. I can't even describe the feelings.

We got through the 75 minute appointment and I think it was successful. I am not going to go into great detail because I need to keep some of it private. We do not have a definitive diagnosis, but we have some ideas, we have something we can look at in more detail, we have a clearer path. I liked the psychiatrist. His main concern is making sure we are going to function as a family and we are all going to be in agreement at whatever treatment path we choose. Unfortunately, this appointment is not a one-and-done kind of deal, and we will be seeing him one or two more times to hash out our path. He wants us all in agreement. He wants to think more about what he sees as my daughter's main challenges. She will continue to see her psychotherapist three or four times per month.

I am scared of treatment. While I know she is gaining coping tools through therapy, her brain just isn't wired in the same way as a normally functioning child and there is only so much we can do without looking at medication (hence....the need for psychiatry). I am terrified of this. Absolutely terrified.

Medication is helping me, as it helps so many people who have chemical imbalances. But when you're talking about a child, it's a scary endeavour. The psychiatrist wants to be sure we have all the information we need to make a decision together, so my husband and I will be seeing him without my daughter in a couple weeks. I hope our path becomes even clearer then.

I want my girl to be happy and balanced. I want her to have confidence in her abilities. I want her to feel good about herself, to be able to handle stressors in a healthy way, rather than getting angry and shutting down. I want her to be successful at school and to enjoy what she's learning. I hesitate to say "I want her to be normal," however, because I don't think there's a clear cut definition for "normal." She and I have a different kind of normal we live with, but we can both find a way to contentment. It just may be different than the majority of people out there.


Friday, May 13, 2016

RUNNING!!! Yes, I'm still running...a little

I have a feeling this is going to be a weird year for me.

I'm not planning to do any triathlons.

I don't have another race until October.

I'm kind of feeling like a lazy piece of crap.

But I still love running. It's my first love.

The husband and I celebrated our 17th anniversary (I know it's creepy just how young I was when I got married...I mean, sheesh, I'm only 28 *lies*). Most couples would plan a nice dinner out without kids, but us? Nope, we ran a trail race together. Greg had never done a trail race before, although he's run Lake Georgetown Goodwater Trail with me several times. The Wildflower Trail Half Marathon was in Bastrop State Park. (Correction: I totally forgot about Ragnar Trail Hill Country!!!)



It ended up being a beautiful day, and although I just felt a bit sluggish and really thirsty the whole time I totally enjoyed being out there, especially with Greg....despite the fact that for the first seven miles he kept getting really far ahead of me. I do love spending time with him in races....he's a good pacer and keeps the conversation going when I'm too tired to speak. It's our quality time together with nature.

I did much better than I thought I was doing in the race. I felt sluggish and walked most of the inclines, as I usually do in trail racing. The deep sand was a bit annoying as it took way too much energy to get through. But overall the trail was really great, not too technical, and to be able to see how much the park has improved since it was destroyed in an enormous wildfire five years ago was pretty spectacular.

Our sunrise


The race was a three loop course, so by the third loop basically we were experts. I wanted each of my loops to be about equal in time, but my first one ended up being a few minutes faster than loops 2 and 3. My splits were about 43, 47, and 47 minutes. With as tired as I was getting in the last loop I'm surprised I didn't slow down from loop 2. We finished in 2 hours, 17 minutes. And yes, it was a short course. I can't run trail half marathons THAT fast. 








I placed 75 out of 212 total finishers and 32 out of 129 women. Not bad considering I didn't kill myself during the race. I'm usually pretty far back in results in trail racing. Pleasant surprise to have held my own during this race. My friend Kalynn was 2nd overall women and was 21 minutes faster than me...so basically she's not human.



So now what's up....

It's almost summertime and the temps have started to rise. Because I'm not technically starting marathon training for 2 more months, I'm taking it easy on the distance running front. My "long" run will only be about 6 miles instead of the usual 10+. My mileage will be relatively low. I will continue to focus on core and leg strength to prepare for the higher mileage of marathon training. My training plan for Louisiana Marathon is my most ambitious yet and I want to be prepared.

I'm signed up for one October half marathon, the Oktoberfest Half in College Station on October 16. I will be in California the weekend before and discovered that the City to Sea Half is that weekend, so I do plan to register for that race as well. That means two half marathons on consecutive weekends. One will be fast, one will not, but I haven't decided which will be which. My PR is 1:51:36 and I still think that is out of reach this year. HOWEVER....you never know. A sub-2 hour half will be just fine.

It's a pretty light racing season and I'm happy about that. Very little pressure on myself, time to continue to build a strong foundation for endurance. I'll have the right mental outlook for a marathon PR in January. Did I mention that badass friend of mine, Kalynn, will be running it with me? Of course if she hasn't gotten her BQ yet I will refuse to allow her to pace me. She WILL get that BQ come hell or high water and I'm not about to hold her back!

There are a lot of personal stressors in our life, and some days are better than others. But the stress is ever present. We as a family have been challenged more now than any other year. To have a few things to help with stress relief is always good, but not overburdening myself with expectations is vital right now. I know a lot of my training buddies want me to race more, but it's just not going to happen right now. I will miss it, but there is always next year. I hope to God we have been able to reduce the stress significantly by then.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Instincts

I suppose this blog post is going to be a bit of a PSA. If it sounds preachy, I'm sorry. If I sound angry, I guess I kind of am a little bit.

If you feel like something is not right with either you or your children, physically or mentally, listen to your instincts and get help.

One of two things will happen...either you can rule out anything major OR you can find out your gut was right and take the steps to make things better. Just get help.

If your friends or loved ones express concern about anything with their family, BE SUPPORTIVE.

Don't tell them it's just a phase.

Don't tell them to look on the bright side.

And whatever you do, don't laugh it off.

Their fears may be completely justified.

Obviously, I speak from experience. My family's mental health journey continues to evolve and take turns that will take all of my strength and attention. My parenting instincts were right in thinking that "this just isn't normal behavior," even at puberty. Yes, there is drama, yes there is disrespect, yes there are tears. The issues of a pre-teen or teenager are very real and very difficult, different than toddler or elementary age problems, but typically problems on a bigger scale....this is all true. But I know what's normal and what is not normal.

MY INSTINCTS WERE RIGHT.

The journey to professional help began two years ago, when I had to quit my job to focus on helping our daughter, but it hasn't been a consistent journey. After a few months of counseling sessions, I believed that perhaps we could deal with the issues that my daughter faced and we discontinued counseling. Over the next year-plus, things continued to get worse and worse until we finally had to face the reality that we needed serious professional help for her. Over the last 10 weeks she has been in psychotherapy. But even then, we knew it went even beyond this.

WE WERE RIGHT. The journey continues on a new path and it will be something that she has to deal with potentially for her entire life. 

Considering my own mental health struggles I guess I should not be surprised by this. But I am angry and frustrated.

We have been told by those around us that "she's a girl," "she's a pre-teen," and they are "difficult" at that age. That she will outgrow this. Or to "just wait...it gets even worse!" followed by a laugh or two. Probably all true statements, but it completely invalidates our concern and need for support.

My husband and I have doubted ourselves so many times over the last two years. Thank God we walked into the psychologist's office and were told that this is not normal and she was there to help us and our daughter. She validated every single thought we've had and has been there to help us make sense of it all.

We begin today processing everything we believe to now be true, to finding a new path, and to helping our daughter (and our son, who struggles dealing with our household issues on a daily basis) to lead a happy and balanced life.

I am so angry about all of this. I am so frustrated that we were dealt this bad hand in life. I'm feeling very sorry for myself. I'm trying to let go of those selfish feelings, but for now they are real.

If you have a friend or family member going through a very real and very scary struggle, be supportive.

Be patient.

Be forgiving.

If you have not dealt with mental health struggles in your immediate family then you can't truly know what it means. If you do not have children of your own, then you can't know what this is like. I would never presume to know how it is to live with something I have no first-hand knowledge of. I know I've done it, however, and for that I'm sorry. But what you can do is be a listening ear if someone needs it. People always need a friend. If you have "the greatest kids ever," embrace just how lucky you are.

I know that in the face of all of this, my husband and I need to take care of ourselves as well. The stress is very overwhelming at times and we need our outlets for that stress. I take medication for my anxiety, and I use exercise to help cope. I will always need that. But I'm also cutting myself a lot of slack by resting as much as I can. I'm looking forward to a summer spent in my backyard, enjoying what we've built and created and using it for stress therapy. I wish I could just run away from all of it sometimes but parents don't get that choice. We must face what's given to us head on.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Success and Looking Ahead

Thank you, baby Jesus, for a great relay last weekend. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

A short summary of the awesomeness....I committed to 9:30 pace and I actually ran 9:00 pace across my three legs and 14.61 miles. And it didn't feel like I was running any faster than 9:30 pace the entire time. And I didn't fall apart. And nothing hurt!! And I could've run another leg if my team had needed me.




DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS???

I am officially off of the injured list. I have rehabilitated successfully. I am well on my way to future awesomeness.

Of course, I still have to be smart and continue my strength training and make sure my body stays in balance, and I have to increase my mileage and speed slowly, and I can't be stupid about any of it.

BUT HOLY MOTHER OF FABULOUS!!

So what is one of the first things that I do? I register for another race, of course.

My husband (who hasn't run more than 6 miles at a time in forever) and I are going to run the Wildflower Trail Half Marathon on May 7 in Bastrop. I have wanted to do another trail race for quite awhile (I haven't done one since 2013). I also wanted to introduce my husband to the greatness of trail racing. Originally we were going to register for a 10K later on in May on a much more technical trail, but since I had such a great experience at the relay of course I had to aim much bigger than that. My poor husband. It's a good thing I'm much slower than him so adding so much distance onto what he's actually trained for won't really kill him.

I have also already written my training plan for my next marathon....NINE MONTHS AWAY. I decided since first, I had been injured, and second, it will be two years since my last marathon, that I would write up a six month plan. Normally I would only focus on it for four months but I want to be sure I get enough base miles in over the summer before I focus more on volume, speed, and efficiency in the fall.

What's my goal?

A FREAKING PERSONAL BEST, DAMMIT.

As for triathlon season....I really have no idea about that right now. I'm getting back in the water and I'm going on rides, but I'm not planning any actual triathlons this season quite yet. Sometimes it's good to change focus.

I'm just so glad I'm feeling so much better.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Keep on Truckin'

Some days are good. Some days suck.

But first, with the good. I'm well on my way to recovery physically. I played it very smart and slowly built up my mileage without adding any speed, typically running three times per week. Once I was comfortable with 6 miles, I started adding interval training but still not running all out. I think it's been a very good plan. This past weekend I ran nearly 11 miles, albeit a very easy pace with a speed up only in the last two or three miles, and I was happy to find that there was absolutely no soreness from it. Even with yard work for a few hours later in the day, my legs held up just fine.  The strength training I've been fairly consistent at during recovery has helped tremendously in my recovery, and it's making me feel better overall.

I'm far from at my peak. I do miss the days of not having any trouble running 9 minute pace on long runs. I miss running 8:45 pace for a half marathon race. I miss the long LONG runs of marathon training. But I'll get there soon, with a continued build up of distance and speed and strength. I registered for The Louisiana Marathon in January and I'm looking at it as my ultimate comeback race. It's actually the only race I have on my calendar besides this coming weekend's Texas Independence Relay. It remains to be seen if I add anything else. In all honesty, having no pressure on myself has been a pretty great thing.

As for the relay this coming weekend....I went back and forth for weeks on whether or not I was really going to participate. It takes a lot physically and mentally to do a team 200 mile relay and with all the other stresses in my life, in addition to injury rehab, I just wasn't sure it would be good for me. But I stuck it out and I'm doing it. It will be my team's 7th year in a row of participating. I am sad I had to commit to such a slow pace, the slowest I will have run in all 7 years. But I'm doing it.

With running aside, however, life is still a bit of a crapshoot.

My daughter has been in therapy for 6 weeks now. Overall, is has been helping her (thank God) but there are still so many unknowns and a few curveballs have been thrown at her dad and me. When it's a bad day, it's a really really bad day. Thankfully the bad days are far fewer, but I still get completely knocked down emotionally on the bad days. As a matter of fact, right now I'm completely exhausted and am finding it very difficult to find my Monday Motivation. Hence, a blog post!

My son is doing okay. He's a full-on teenager now, complete with the emotions and growing pains involved in that. He's slowly finding his motivation with school despite his struggles with ADHD. He has his hiccups and I hear from teachers occasionally. He has moments of speaking before he thinks and I have to remind him of compassion and sensitivity and how important it is to display that as often as possible. I worry about how he's feeling on the inside, although he tells me he's okay. But I still worry that he's keeping something inside, or that he's hurting and won't discuss it. I suppose the best thing I can do is to make sure he always knows I'm his biggest fan and I am there for him.

I'm trying to let go of the debilitating feeling that this is not how my life was supposed to turn out. I had a pretty good childhood, and although I always knew I was different than a lot of kids and struggled to fit in sometimes, I was motivated to succeed and I held tightly to those things I could control. Emotionally I was sometimes quite a wreck, but I've come to terms with a lot of that now that I understand it more. But I never had the difficulties my own children have. I knew how to focus, I didn't get in trouble at school, and did not have frequent, raging fits at home. My kids are not so lucky. Raising them is far more difficult than I ever could have imagined it would be. Yes, I'm fully aware that parenting is the hardest thing a person will ever do in their lives. But the struggle with my kids goes well beyond that. I envisioned lots of travel, lots of family time, a successful school career, and lots of smiles. It's hard to let that fantasy go and to find the alternatives that suit my kids' struggles better. I'm still hoping we get more travel in (my kids do not fly), and I'm hoping that the steps we are making now will still translate to success in school (my oldest goes to high school next year and he knows what the stakes are).

Oh, and everything is STILL BREAKING at my house. This past week it was the second A/C unit and the repair bill was a doozy. When the cost of everything that has broken or gone wrong (pet illnesses were bad, too) adds up to more than what I paid for my last new car, you know it's been a bad 12 months. There's only so much even a decent and secure salary can cover without it really starting to hurt. My stomach is constantly in knots wondering what else is going to go wrong and how much it will cost.

(Side note: my backyard does look pretty wonderful, however, and yes my husband and I are continuing to do ALL the new landscaping ourselves. I have a feeling it's going to be my oasis for many years to come, and thank God for that because I need an oasis!)

It will probably be good for me to let all of this go for a few days while I embark on the relay this weekend. Physically it will tire me out, but emotionally it will be good to only have to focus on myself.

Meanwhile, one day at a time....I keep on truckin'....

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Adulting is Hard

Back when I was a little girl I used to fantasize about what being an adult would mean, how much fun it would be, how I'd have such a great little family, and I just couldn't wait to be grown up.

Oh, man.

Can I go back to being six years old, please, living in our adorable home in California, with my awesome parents and sister and our cocker spaniel, George?




Shit.

I feel like all I do is complain right now. About everything. I'm sure it's annoying as hell to some people, but it's where I'm at right now. I'm sure some people don't understand what I could possibly be complaining about. Well....trust me, there's plenty. My last blog post was fairly positive and it was only eight days ago.....it's amazing what can happen in eight days.

Picture this....you take a stack of little blocks and put one on top of the other until it grows very tall. Eventually, those blocks will tip over and crash. Now imagine each of those little blocks represents a minor problem. Stack up a bunch of minor problems and then they grow into one big tall tower, until it gets to be too much and everything just crashes.

I think my tower of blocks crashed on Sunday.



However, some of my blocks aren't so little.

Over the course of the last couple years, my little problems stacked up. In the last couple months, they've been stacking up at a rapid rate. Maybe any of one of them examined separately doesn't seem like such a big deal, but like I said....they aren't separate at all.

Everything keeps breaking. If you are a homeowner you understand that shit gets expensive. Replacing a dishwasher, a microwave, a garage door, and an A/C unit, A DAMN CAR, and repairing plumbing leaks might not seem so bad IF IT WAS JUST ONE OR TWO of those. But throw them all in, and then some, in less than a year and holy freaking cow.

My health had gone downhill. Now, mind you, none of it is a huge problem. After all, I don't have cancer or any other life threatening illnesses, as do some of my friends. But any kind of health problem can be alarming and overwhelming regardless of severity.

I became injured. Not such a big deal to those who don't have a regular exercise routine. But it is a big deal for a woman who is trying to defeat a terrible family history and who uses exercise as a coping strategy for depression and anxiety.

This is a great representation of how dejected I feel about my fitness. My climb out of injury has been torturous.

Speaking of mental illness, I had to stop taking my usual medication. The withdrawal was excruciating for over two weeks.

I have to seek treatment for another medical condition, and although I did get good news about it last week, there is still a small chance of surgery in my very near future. In the meantime, I have to take yet another medication.

(Also, don't get me started on my medical insurance and the hassles I have had to deal with this year just to get an MRI and my prescriptions filled. Ain't nobody got time for that.)

My dog died. I suppose this one is a big block. She was thirteen years old and it was not expected that we would be putting her down.



Now the blocks are going to get even bigger....

My kids. Oh, my kids.



I have one son who has ADHD, and while we have been able to control much of his symptoms, he still has his moments of forgetfulness and insensitivity that can be directly related to how his brain is wired. I get phone calls and emails from school that break my heart. Thankfully, he is developing maturity pretty rapidly and he and I can have some really wonderful conversations that I cherish.

As for my daughter, I will say this is my biggest block and the reason that the whole tower came tumbling down. I will not go into a lot of detail, because frankly, the details need to remain private. But imagine your child's typical outburst. Now multiply it by ten. Now imagine half your life in the bubble of that outburst. But let me be very clear...

It is not because she is a pre-teen.

It is not because of school.

It is not because "this is just how kids are."

She needs professional help to deal with how her brain is working. It will not go away on it's own. She will not necessarily "outgrow it."

Seeking that help and letting the gravity of it sink in is how I came to my feelings on Sunday. Perhaps I hit rock bottom. It's pretty ugly to feel that despondent. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

So what have I done to lessen the stress?


I have exactly ONE commitment right now. ONE. I let everything else go. I literally have no room in my mind for more than one commitment. It means I have disappointed people, I'm sure, but I had to put myself and my family first. Simple as that. Take it or leave it. Hopefully most of my friends understand.

I unfortunately have lashed out here and there. I don't have the ability to control a lot of my emotions right now. I cry all the time. I get easily frustrated. I just have no patience. The bear can't handle being poked right now. At all.



I do not want to continue feeling this way. Writing it out like this has helped, and I'll continue to use this as an outlet for my feelings. Blogs don't talk back. Blogs don't have advice. I don't need any of that. I just need to process my feelings and move forward one step at a time.

One thing I do take from all of this. Just because someone's problems don't seem all that big, they ARE big to them. You don't know what else they are dealing with. If you're feeling down about something, stop telling yourself "well, at least I don't have a REAL problem."

YOUR PROBLEMS ARE REAL TO YOU.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Coming out of the fog

It's been a crazy few weeks of uncertainty and refocusing and finding a rhythm. But I think I'm coming out of the fog.

After finally getting the medication I needed to help my heel recovery, I'm on the upswing. I could kill my insurance company for the delay, but I'm grateful it's in my hands now. The inflammation is definitely improving and I am on a slow return to running and impact exercise. Being able to run again, albeit for short distances, is just beyond wonderful.

Because we are landscaping our backyard right now I've gotten a lot of real world functional strength training lately, and I think that's been good for me both physically and mentally. It feels good to not be tied to a gym or to a structured exercise routine (although I still have done several structured sessions), but to rather just get outside, throw around bags of rock or granite, and create something beautiful that we will be able to enjoy for years. I refuse to minimize the impact this has had on my mental well-being. Although this is a huge project we are undertaking, it's been a joy to do it. I don't mind getting out there, getting dirty, being exhausted, and spending insane amounts of money to do it (although, it's so much cheaper than hiring someone). Allowing our creativity to take shape as we go around the yard, to change our minds if we need to, and to envision the final product has really been a great experience for the family. It's a crazy amount of work and our weekends are consumed by it. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am beyond excited.

I've gone on a few runs in the last couple weeks, starting at 2 miles with my dogs, and moving up to a very slow 5.6 miles yesterday with the husband and a couple guys from my triathlon group, who are absolute angels for slowing down so much for me and taking the time to find a route on dirt or asphalt to minimize the impact to my heel. I am blessed to have supportive people around me, that's for sure. I'm frustrated by how slow I am and how hard it is for me to do endurance right now, but I know my struggles are temporary. I have to have patience. I can't push myself too hard or it will blow up in my face.



Yesterday I tracked many of my friends competing in the Austin Marathon and Half and it definitely gave me inspiration to not give up hope I can be a marathoner again. I want to run another marathon. I want to be successful in endurance sports again. But I know that it needs to be a long term goal, and I have been researching just which race I'd like to register for.

My search turned up the Louisiana Marathon. It's on my 43rd birthday in January and because it's a close enough drive for me, I have options on travel. It doesn't have to be an expensive weekend, which is a consideration for me since we are spending so much money on our backyard renovation. It's a race that gets incredible reviews every year, it's flat, and it has a dual-race option (5k or 1/4 marathon day before). Plus, it's a different race than I've done, which for me will be good mentally. I need something different, something fun, and something I'm excited to work towards. Besides, HELLO BIRTHDAY RACE. Registration doesn't open for a couple more weeks so I have plenty of time to make my decision.



Lastly, it appears as if my other medical problems are improving as well. I have a couple more doctor appointments in the near future, and a surgery to schedule, but I'm happy that it all doesn't seem so overwhelming anymore. The beginning of the year was just so rough for me. To have to take the reigns to turn around several negatives issues was overwhelming and confusing many days. But I have to remain thankful that all of these issues have resolutions that I'm in control over. I have friends battling much bigger health problems that are uncertain and scary, so I have to count my blessings and find the positive in all of this.

It's still an uphill climb, but I have faith I can summit and see the beauty again.



Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Another race...and Uncertainty

After 16 days off running.....SIXTEEN FREAKING DAYS....I ran the Houston Half Marathon. I actually didn't do all that bad, either!

Because there was still some uncertainty on my foot injury, I knew going into the half marathon that it could once again be one of my slowest ever, but I was okay with that. A weekend in Houston is always good therapy and I love the race. If it was going to require a lot walking to get that medal, then so be it.



Somehow I ended up in a fast corral. I guess I must have been feeling really good when I registered for the race, because they put me in a corral where the slowest pace was 9:00/mile. My goal for the race had dropped to about a 2:15, so I was going to be around a lot of fast people. I contemplated moving back to the next corral (where a few of my friends were), but decided to stay where I was and just stay off to the side of the road so people could pass me easily.

The race started off great. The energy in Houston is just awesome and after taking so much time off I actually felt fairly rested. I figured that feeling would pass eventually so I enjoyed it while I had it.

Within a half mile I felt twinges in my heel but thankfully those passed as I got warmed up and I was having no heel pain for many many miles. My goal was to make it 3 miles without having to take a walk break, but those miles passed without incident so I kept going. I was running about a 9:25 pace and feeling just fine.

Did I mention the weather was PERFECT?? In the low 40s and it would stay in the 40s for the entire race.

My next goal was to make it to 5 miles. Still no pain, so I decided the halfway point would be good. Still no pain!!

Wow....things were going well for me! I was still maintaining a good pace and got through the halfway point in just under 1:03. A far cry from my glory days, but far better than I expected for the day.

I decided to hold back just a bit in the second half so I wouldn't get caught up in the race environment and overdo it. I didn't feel pain in my heel until about the 15K point. I decided at that moment that I would take 1 minute walk breaks about every mile until the end of the race. At 10 miles I walked for 1 minute, then started back up into a jog. Funny enough, I was running well enough that mile 10 was still under 10 minute pace. At mile 11, I took another walk break and lo and behold it happened to be right by the beer tents.

Now, I've never drank beer during a race before but being that this was no ordinary race for me, I had to try something new. Beer for Steph!

Somehow, despite two shots of beer and a walk break I still ran 9:30 for that mile.

At this point there are less than 2 miles to go and I'm feeling a bit better so I decide to just finish up this race. I was feeling my IT band and my heel a bit during those miles, but I didn't speed up much at all and kept a very fast cadence to minimize the impact.

I finished the race in 2:04:53 and I was thrilled! Basically anything under 2:15 would've thrilled me. Best part was that heel pain was minimal....at least right then it was.



By that evening I was in pain again. And more pain the next day....and the next. By Thursday I was in my podiatrist's office so we could get an MRI scheduled. Although it still wasn't likely I had a fracture, it wasn't out of the question, and I could possibly have a tear. Or it could be the original diagnosis of inflammation and tendinitis.

I got lucky. My MRI (which, by the way, because of our lovely insurance, cost me $800 out of my own pocket) showed NO DAMAGE! It was pretty incredible news considering the amount of pain I was in. All my tendons were intact and there was no sign of a stress fracture. It was, in fact, really bad inflammation.

What does this mean for me? It means I still take time off from impact exercise and then reintroduce it slowly. I need to focus on stretching and strength training so I can avoid this problem in the future. I get to use an anti-inflammatory gel for awhile to see if the nerve settles down, and if it doesn't then I can get a shot. It also means I still made the right decision to pull out of New Orleans Ironman 70.3. That race is 11 weeks away, which sounds like a lot of time but in reality, with injury rehab the most important thing, it's just not a smart choice. There will be other 70.3 races for me to choose from in the future.

In the midst of all of this, I have actually been dealing with other health issues and I admit it does have some bearing on my decision to reduce my future training for the time being. I have been having a lot of bad side effects from an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication I have been on for about two years, most notably severe fatigue. At first I attributed my symptoms to stress and possibly low thyroid function (I only have half of my thyroid). After getting my health insurance screening done last month and seeing in black and white that my health has definitely gone downhill as compared to a year ago, I knew that getting a full workup of my blood was in order, which I had done Monday. My results came in yesterday and almost all my numbers actually look great. My thyroid is functioning well, and my other numbers, with the exception of one, are all within normal range (the one bad reading is a whole other story! I am a mess)

So....the culprit is my medication. I have to go off of it and try a different one. Then I need to reverse the damage it has done to my body. I had anticipated this possibility so I had already started weaning myself off. I took my last pill Monday and am having some pretty bad withdrawals today. Now I hope that I see a positive change physically over the next few weeks. The fatigue was debilitating on some days.

I am also going back to my gastroenterologist. I have a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis that I have had since childhood (although it wasn't diagnosed until 2009). It means that a particular type of white blood cell (eosinophils) are attacking the tissue in my esophagus and creating strictures. I can't swallow anything other than very small pills and food will sometimes get stuck. It can be quite scary. In 2009 I had two endoscopies with esophageal dilatation to help correct the problem, but after so many years it has become necessary for me to repeat the procedure. My blood work over the years has shown a slow increase in my eosinophils and Monday's blood work was no different. It's the highest it has been in awhile. Scheduling my procedure needs to be a priority.

It is a lot to take in a short period of time, that's for sure. But actually having answers today makes me feel so much better about where I am headed. Taking charge of my health is a positive step. Racing is absolutely not an important part of the next few months, and it shouldn't be (one caveat....I am doing the relay in April....DUH...seven years in a row!). Time in the gym to strengthen my muscles and focusing on my eating habits are my top priority. After I feel like I have made progress, my injuries have resolved themselves, and I feel stronger, then I can decide what the future holds for my racing "career."

Ironically, I just read an article about reasons why you SHOULD NOT race. It's like it was speaking directly to me and just reinforced the decisions that I've made in the last couple weeks. Big weight off my shoulders, that's for sure!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Next Steps

Damn injuries.

It's my own fault. I knew it was coming. I tried to fix it before it got too bad. But I didn't rest. After all, I was signed up for races that I really wanted to complete. No regrets, but I'm still frustrated.

One of these races was the New Years Double. I would be doing the Double Double, which was four different races over 2 days, a 5K and either a half marathon or full marathon on each day. Since I'm only "half" crazy I went the Double Double Half route. I knew from the beginning that my times weren't going to be super speedy. I was training to finish these races, not set PR's. After all, it's 32.4 miles over 2 days and I'm not an ultra runner. That is some serious mileage for me.

In the months leading up to the race I just wasn't feeling like myself. I had also signed up for the Houston Marathon on January 17, but decided awhile back to drop to the half marathon. I felt sluggish, was under a lot of stress, had not been focused on strength training like I should have been, and just wasn't feeling like a full marathon was a smart choice. But I really wanted to complete the New Years Double. Running double long runs of no more than 12 miles wasn't intimidating to me like a single 20 miler would be, and in all honestly the training went fairly well. My times were slower than in recent years, but I was able to get through the long runs okay.

But I was having nagging pains that frustrated me. I assumed I was developing Achilles tendinitis, so I tried rolling, trigger point, and stretching and I kept most of the problems at bay. I was still nervous about how Day 2 of the New Years Double would go.

I got through the race. I finished. Day 2 was fairly ugly. The pain after Day 1 was pretty significant and I won't lie by saying I wasn't fearful my Achilles would snap in two during Day 2. It didn't, but at some points it sure felt like it might.

Day 1 I actually posted respectable times. The 5K was long due to a direction error by a volunteer and I'm pretty pleased with my 8:35 pace over 3.4 miles. My half marathon was 9:25 pace. But there was an incredible amount of discomfort after those races. I ran my slowest 5K ever on Day 2 (intentionally), and my second slowest half marathon. I decided that in order to reduce the impact to my heel, I would run for only 10 minutes at a time and then walk for 1 minute. This plan worked very well and my running pace was respectable. As the race progressed, my quads definitely started getting sore and it was harder and harder to start back up with running after my walk breaks, but my heel wasn't giving me a whole lot of trouble towards the end.

Did I mention it was brutally cold both days? And windy!

I made it through 33 miles and earned my Double Double medals. It remained to be seen at what cost, however.

Done with all four races

Eve race medals

My friend Melinda ran the same races as me


The day after the race was probably the worst as far as pain and swelling. I noticed, however, that the pain was more on the medial side of my heel rather than being right on my Achilles, and that worried me even more. If it was truly tendinitis I would assume my pain would be centered on the back side of my heel. So now I was worried about a stress fracture. Needless to say, I called my podiatrist and made an appointment.

Luckily, no fracture was detected on x-rays and based on the swelling and pain location, it was most likely an inflamed nerve that runs along that part of the calcaneus bone. I was ordered to rest it, use ibuprofen, and ice. I likely also had a touch of tendinitis, but that wasn't a huge concern since with rest it can easily be rectified. Being the distance runner that I am, however, I of course asked the doctor if I could still "run" the Houston Half Marathon on the 17th. He told me that if my pain and swelling was gone, and if I listened to my body, that would be okay. If I still had pain after the race that worried me, we could schedule an MRI to get more answers and a more definitive treatment plan.

What does all this mean for my upcoming races? I have Houston on the 17th, which is a "go," although it will probably once again be very slow. I then was going to be ramping up my training for the New Orleans Ironman 70.3. Right before New Orleans is my 7th Texas Independence Relay. After that my schedule is open.

Coming off a sluggish season and nagging injuries, however, I decided that ramping up for a half ironman was not smart. My focus has to be on correcting my imbalances and getting stronger. Putting the pressure of a huge race on my shoulders would cause me unneeded stress. I don't want to just "finish" my first 70.3. I want to finish it strong and in top shape. This wouldn't be the case if I forced myself to complete New Orleans.

I hate the idea of not doing the race. So many people from my team are competing and it was going to be so much fun. I will miss the excitement and camaraderie. I will miss a good vacation to New Orleans with the husband. But in return I will be able to come back stronger and ready for the training that a 70.3 requires.

Down but never out!