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 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 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!