Friday, May 13, 2016

Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer (starring Kimberly Schwartz), Hampton, VA, 4/30/16 - 5/1/16

Last April, I decided to (once again), form a 24 hour race team for the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer. I would like to hugely thank Barry L., John P.,Tom G (#1)., Tom G. (#2), Rick M., Dave L., Andrew H., Zsuzsanna C., Alanna G., Juli A., and Kim S. for joining me on Team Awesome 2106.

I also want to thank George Nelsen, the RD, for organizing a wonderful event for an important cause. This race is one of the best 24 hour races around. We get to run on dirt, in the trees, and still we have a fast course. This is a race where people need to take care of themselves (or bring a crew). We get T-Shirts and Pizza donated during the day (thank you!). And at the end George gives out plaques to those who reached 50, 75, 100, and 125 miles. The photos are taken by volunteers and shared freely. This year an anonymous person volunteered to make team awards. It is a really nice event!

The point of all of this is to raise money for the American Cancer Society.  If you feel inspired please send over an donation! (Please do, every dollar helps).

At 7:00 am Saturday morning, we all set off on 3.75 mile flat dirt road/trail loop and try to run as many laps as possible by Sunday 7:00 am. The Team with the most total laps wins. 

Kim and Andrew were new to 24 hour racing. I wanted to run the first lap with them. We ran our first mile non-stop and then settled in. I shared how I divide up the lollipop shaped loop. I identify landmarks and make note of the distances they are around the course (i.e. From the start to the "V" fork is about .75 miles. The big telephone poles at the end of the open section is 1.5 miles. The footbridges in the rooty section start at 2.25 and then the port-o-potty at the start of the dirt road section is at 2.5. Once we get back to the “V” split, we know we have .75 left to go. These check points help me stay focused and not need to look at my watch very much.

I shared a few guidelines I wanted to follow.  I planned eat something everything lap and drink between 15-20 oz per hour. 

After doing some research for one of my exercise science classes, I learned that the limiting factor for fluid consumption is the rate of reabsorption. We will sweat more than we can consume. We can try to push in as much fluid as possible, but doing that means BIG problems if the body can’t absorb it all. The average rate of absorption for endurance athletes was identified as about 17oz per hour. People will vary, but I wanted to use 17 oz per hour as a hydration target to see if it helped me to not feel sick. I often end up throwing up in 24 hour races, which I have suspected was counterintuitively related to dehydration and not from anything I ate. If I stayed well-hydrated, I suspected I would not throw up.

Photo by Susan Scott

At the end of the first lap, we grabbed some food, filled bottles, and took care of other needs. Andrew wanted a little more time and told us to go ahead. Kim and I  were ready to go so we
headed out together for a second lap. 

During this lap, we tried out different run/walk patterns. By the time we started lap 2, our average pace was already about 13 minutes per mile. I wanted to get moving a little faster to get our pace closer to low 12:00 for as many hours as possible. We used a 0.4/0.1 Mile run/walk for most of the day. 

Kim and I train together as much as 3 times per week. We had not planned to stay together for this race, but since the pace felt good for both of us, we just did.  We worked as a team. If one of us needed an extended stop, the other filled our bottles. We pre-planned what we needed to do at our Aid Station on our way down the out-n-back section. We were quick to take care of ourselves so we could get back to the work of the day... moving forward.

We did great with hydration. Each lap, we were emptying our 10 oz bottles by the time we hit the water jug at 2.5 miles.  We would refill there and top off again back at our own aid station. We reminded each other to drink when we walked. We both found that the 10 oz bottle and the race vests worked perfectly. Snacks in one pocket. Drink in the other. It made it easy to have everything we needed.  

When I ate a large amount calories at one shot (a Smuckers PB&J at 210 calories with a 350 calorie Ensure, and then took 10 oz gatorade with me) I needed to walk a lot of the next 45 minutes and felt very low energy. I know this is due to the process of digestion demanding more of my energy. I would feel a lull when digesting but a surge of energy about 45 minutes later that lasted a while. When I grabbed smaller snacks (a handful of "Funyons"), I could eat while running.

The BEST thing about running with Kim was that we were both solution-focused the entire day.  We NEVER complained about problems or pain (even though we had them). We did not waste a breath on reporting something bad without some plan to fix it. This is the mindset we needed to get through this race. The negative thoughts will come to everyone in a 24 hour race, but I know that dwelling on them really doesn’t help matters. This is the way we train. Sharing all the negatives only transfers that energy to someone who might be in a funk and more to susceptible to negative energy.  We just tried to stay positive.  

After the race, Kim shared that for a good part of the day, she was worried that she might have damaged her toe, that her feet were really in a lot of pain, and that she wasn’t sure what was going to happen to her out there by morning... I shared that for 18 hours of the event I was worried I would throw up, that my feet were KILLING me for all of last 10 hours, and I was certain that if I did not sit for a few minutes once it got dark, I would end up dropping from sleep deprivation. We had a lot of negative thoughts. We just didn’t give them a voice. We were positive, solution-focused, problem-solviers or we accepted the hand we were dealt and moved forward. We mostly spent the day laughing.  I am so proud of us. 

As we started Lap 3 we outlined a 50M strategy. We stuck to our plan, always felt hurried, but never too rushed. We and ended up reaching 50 miles in 11:58. I noticed the time of day was 7:01 pm. That was interesting to me. The race was supposed to start at 7:00 am. We stopped for photos and appreciated every single mile past 50!

At 7:33 pm, I hit the wall. I was so incredibly sleepy. I had slept horribly the week leading up to this race. I had food poisoning the prior Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. My stress about the race was so high I got hives and could not sleep well. I also needed to finish 7 days worth of work in 4 days time so I could attend this event. I got everything done, but I was so tired. 7:33 pm is way too early for a nap.  

This was the first moment I knew Kim was running stronger than me. I was ready to sleep and she looked fresh as a daisy. I wondered if I should encourage her to go ahead so I could take a rest. But again, I remembered some research about racing while sleep-deprived and this is often truly more of a mind-over-matter.  We get tired whether we are moving or not, but we can stay more awake by choosing to move when tired. So I decided to keep going. I also learned a lot about "Sleep Inertia", which happens after taking a nap. As a result of a 20-60 minute nap, we will often wake up feeling more tired, but over the next 4 hours we will experience an increasing level of alertness from the brief rest earlier. Knowing this, I wanted to take a rest closer to midnight so I could experience the positive impact of the nap over the hardest 4 hours of the race 1:00 am through 4:00 am, when my circadian rhythms scream for sleep.  

At this point a good cup of coffee would have been nice. However this race is No Frills. It does not provide hot food (except for the pizza that was generously brought in 2 x during the race. We missed it the second time). We were crewing ourselves with only the things we brought (PB&J, Ensure, Gatorade, Funyons, Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans, Twizzlers, Rice Crackers, etc)... So instead of having coffee, we grabbed a few chocolate covered expresso beans and made due. The next lap we got some Pepsis but we didn't even drink the whole can. I am so surprised at how little caffeine we took in during this event.  

Our pace was steady. As others were fading, we began passing people. We slowly reeled in three runners in the roots.  I decided to pass because I don’t like running close behind others when I need to see the ground. “On your left,” I say as I start to make a move and then I hear the ruckus behind me. I look back to see Kim skidding across the ground, on her face, LOL. 

She jumps up, covered in mulchy dirt and immediately points at me to declare “OMGI never fall!  YOU fall all the time!!”  

I reply “And clearly you did not learn a single thing about how to tuck and roll!  Who lands on their face?!  Even kids put their hands out!” ;)  

Two runners proceeded on while one stopped to ask if she was ok.  We could hear very little through our laughter. I tried to wipe the dirt off her face, but Kim had no time for that, “Leave it...We gotta go!…I'll get it later! .. (then a few minutes later)... I think my toe is messed up from that fall. It is going numb now, so I should be ok!” LOL. (All I could think is if Kim comes home with a messed up face and a broken toe, Mike is NEVER going to let me bring her to a 24 hour race again!

We stayed moving (and mostly upright) until 11:32 pm. Kim and I are Streak Runners. We run at least one non-stop mile each day. Kim has over a year now and I have over 4 years. Kim’s fear (before this race even started) was that she was not going to be able to get her Streak Mile in for Sunday. I was exhausted, but I had a plan. I needed a 30 minute break to close my eyes. Then we could get up and run a non-stop mile after 12:00 am Sunday to keep our streak alive. She agreed with this plan, although she really did not need to sleep. 

At this point my stomach was feeling so queazy. Oh boy. Crap. I knew I could not eat when moving any more. I had to eat as much as possible, then rest so I got some calories digested. We both pounded Ensures and some other snacks. We pushed in some extra hydration. We changed out of our sweaty clothes to warm up before we rested.

Rather than go into the warm building to rest, where it would be too easy to just stay in, I recommended that we wrap ourselves in our blankets and rest out in the cold. I did not want us getting too comfortable indoors. This worked. It was in the 40s so we were not too cold. It was 11:32 pm. Someone at our aid station set an alarm for us, but both Kim and I actually were up just before12:00am. I rested better than Kim. Oh how I needed those 28 minutes off my feet with my eyes closed. Kim was awake the entire time. I was in a half sleep state where I could hear people and the traffic, but I needed to just close my eyes and shut down my brain.  

Photo by Dean Wewetzer
It is hard to get started again, but having that Streak Mile to run helped us have a reason to run when everything else about how we felt said "walk".  Miraculously Kim’s Garmin was still running, so we had that to measure our mile.  We started “running” which was hilarious. 

I could not believe we were actually running non-stop and I started to exclaim “They Are Working! I cant believe my Legs are Working!!!... we must have been "running" a blazing 15 minute pace in the middle of the night in the woods.  As we loosened up, we tried to speed up to break 12:00 mins (b/c the Unbroken Streak Challenge is to run at least one continuous sub-12 min mile each day). We failed! We ran our mile in 12:24... oooooh so close!  But we were ok with the non-sub-12:00. We maintained our streak but we did not meet the Unbroken rules.

Once the mile was over I needed to walk because I was very concerned I was going to puke. The food I ate was not fully digested. Kim forbids me to throw up by declaring "If you puke now I will make me eat it like a dog” OMG, it was the most hilarious and most disgusting thing she could have said. I almost threw up just from those words alone LOL! 

Then she says "Sorry, I don't know why I said that!  That is so disgusting!" LOL.  I later saw a T-shirt that said "Sorry for what I said to you at Mile 20"  We need one that says "Sorry for what I said to you at Mile 60" :)

From this point on I was in pain management mode. I had changed from my Hoka Tracers and put on my older Brooks Launch. The shoe change felt good, but my feet still hurt. I needed to get off my feet for just 5 minutes at the next stop.

We realized that we could truly get 75 miles or more. This was Kim's "Reach Goal." This is also when I learned that Kim becomes a Math-Magician in the middle of the night. At 1:30 am, deprived of sleep she begins to demonstrates her complex mental math skills:

Ok so this is lap 17... 17 x 3.75 Ok, so 17 x 4 that’s 68... but we got to take off the .25... so that's a quarter of 17 let's see, that would be four and a quarter... we got to take that from the 68...” At this point I wondered if I was dreaming. Who does this?!  I can't multiple 17 x 3.75 in my head ever! “Ok when we finish 17 laps we will be 63.75 Miles. That means we need three more laps for 75.”  Whoa, OK. Whatever you say, sister!   (But really, she could have told me 17 x 3.75 is 4 and I would have believed her.) 

Any good 24 hour runner knows to never stop at milestone number, so I wanted to have at least 30 minutes at the end to run a few extra miles. If we started these last three laps at 2 am and planned to complete them by 6 am, that gave us 4 hours to use.  We needed to maintain a strict 1:20 minute per lap plan (with all Aid Station stops included).  This gave us an hour extra for short loops and mishaps. We were covering laps in 1:10 minutes at that time so I knew we could do this.  I would even have 5 minutes to get off my feet between laps. 

At the aid station, I took off my shoes and rolled out my arches with this device I got from Roll Recovery. It was awesome! We decide that at 1:50 am, we wanted to be out for the next lap, 10 minutes early. We were in at 1:45 am. We were so great about time. 5 minutes meant 5 minutes.  At 1:50 were up and ready to go.  Zsuzsanna wanted to join us for this lap, but I was in rush mode. She was so great to hurry to get herself ready to go and we were back moving at exactly 2:00 am. 

Our plan was realistic and achievable. We came around a 3:10 am. I took a few minutes off my feet again. We were back out by 3:15-3:20.

I am crashing hard while Kim is getting more hyper. I can't see straight. Shadows are playing tricks on me. I think I see animals in the bushes, but there is nothing there. I am no longer able to speak in full sentences. I just start grunting as a sign of acknowledgement to things Zsuzsanna is saying.  Zsuszanna asks me if I am ok.  I grunt at her.   

My entire digestive system has been rebelling on me for mostly the last 12 hours. I feel like I need to stop at every bathroom we pass, but then when I stop, I really don't need to.  My body is just flipping out from the stress of the event. I try to ignore it since we are almost done. 

Where is the Sun!!! I need to stop using this lamp. The shadows are killing me. I feel like I need a dramamine.

4:30 am and we are back at our Aid Station. Off my feet again for few minutes. And by 4:45 am we are back out on our 20th loop. Once we complete this we are at 75 miles!  I cannot wait to secure that 75 miles plaque. 

Kim is hilarious, almost giddy from exhaustion. She is wide awake and picking on me. Unable to form words, I am completely unarmed.  She says she is going to be Amy this time and try to talk me, as Shalane, out of my funk (like I tried to "annoyingly" to do her at the Central Park Marathon when she looked like she was having some heat issues).  She emphatically adds "How do you like it now!"  LOL 

All I can I remember thinking is "If I just had any energy to lift my arms, I would push you in those bushes ... Wait, WTH is that?… a Monkey?!!… No, just a shadow!" My brain was shutting down completely. 

It is past 5 am and I am DYING to see the sun rise. I just need to feel awash with light. The birds are chirping. I know it is coming.  We are both clock-watching.  It is 5:15, where it is... 5:20, Come on? Shouldn't it be up by now? I can see the sky turning a deep blue. This is taking SOOOOO long.  It is like watching grass grow in the dark! 

My stomach is feeling terrible. I am pretty sure that if I start running I may actually crap my pants right there in the woods. My body is simply done for the day. 

Finally, the sunrise comes as we start our 74th mile and it is perfect!  

Kim takes a quick bathroom stop at the porto-potty. I skip it. Why? Who knows?  Because I was too tired and didn't need any more tasks to add to my exhausting "to do" list of lifting my feet one at a time.  My body and mind have been playing tricks on me for hours. I decide to just use the bathroom at the end of the loop to "celebrate" 75 miles. Yes, in a 24 hour race, getting to use the bathroom becomes a reward for a job well done!  We had talked about going for 76-77 miles.  We had plenty of time for that. I did not feel rushed at all. 

But Kim is like a freakin' superhero on meth… she jumps out the potty and declares "Ok, I really just want to run!  Let's go!

OMG. What? Is she serious? We have an hour to go. Is she trying to kill me!?

I don't know if I can run non-stop for an hour. But we have been out here for like DAYS together. Kim wants to run. This is her first 24 hour. She is blowing her goal out of the water.  She is so excited. I would hate to not finish with her.  Kim wants to run… so I run. 

We come to our Aid Station at 6:11 and we discard a few layers. We hurry to the lap counters. We report "Big Lap" (since some are running smalls). Our counter says "I got you both!"  

It is 6:12 am. I hit the timer on my Fitbit because my Garmin is dead. We want to run a full mile and we want a sub-12.  We complete our first out-and-back and NOW I realize I absolutely MUST stop to use the bathroom. No joke.  

My heart is breaking. Kim is RUNNING. Really Running. I tell her I need a break for a minute and to go if she wants to. I can't ask her to wait. Not now. This is a race. She says "No, I'll wait" (Thank you!).  I notice I forgot to stop the timer at the end of the first short loop mile. It was now 11:24 for that mile plus a little more distance. (We got our "Unbroken Streak Challenge done!)

We take off and start to do more math. We have 35 minutes left. (OMG…We have 35 MINUTES LEFT and we are going to run this non-stop after logging 76 miles in 23 hours 25 minutes.)  

How many miles can we run in 35 minutes after being on our feet for almost a full day? Three seemed reasonable. If we could run 3 more miles, we are at 79 miles.  But runners NEED round numbers.  Kim asks, "Think we can get 80???"

Could it be possible?… Maybe, but more likely we won't have enough time. We beg our sore feet and tired legs to move faster. We have to try. It is like running in a dream when you trying to run fast, but you just can not move. We already know we are going to use every single second we have left in the race to try for 80 Miles!  We finish mile 77 in about 10 minutes. 

Ok 25 minutes to go for 3 more miles. Darn it! 10 minute pace is too slow for 80. Kim throws her bottle to the ground. She means business. We head back out to the half mile mark.  We are moving significantly faster than anyone else around us. It makes us feel like we are extra fast. We hit the half mile mark at 4:15 on my timer. We finish Mile 78 in about 9:30. This is better, but not fast enough.  

We have only just over 15 minutes left as we start out for mile 79. 

We conference. Can we really do this? Kim does some more mensa math, because I can no longer subtract 9.5 from 25 in my head. If we are running as hard as we can at about a 9:30 pace and we have about 15 minutes left to run, we are only going to have about 5 minutes left to complete mile 80. We know we can't likely run the 7:30 pace needed to make this happen.  Oh man… our hearts sink a little… 5 minutes is definitely NOT enough time for a mile.  7:30 pace for 2 Miles is unrealistic too. It does not matter. We run harder.  We have to try!  

BUT WAIT!  I remember way back to what feels like last week… at  50 miles the time of day was 7:01 pm  (12 hour and 1 minute past 7am when the race was supposed to start)… but the "GUN time" on my Garmin for our 50 miles split was 11:58, 2 minutes before 12 hours… This means we started late.  OMG! THE RACE STARTED LATE!

"Kim! The race didn't start at 7am!  It started late2-3 minutes after 7 am! That means we have more time! This might give us 8 minutes for the last mile, not 5!!!  We can do this!!" 

Kim digs so deep she looks like she is going to puke. Ha! I get my revenge. "Who's Shalane now?!If looks could kill, I would be struck dead. I could read her mind. "Stop it! Not! Now!" 
Final Miles
Photo by Zsuszanna Carlson

The small number of spectators who remained were there cheering and it helped so much.  We are racing hard. I start calling out to anyone we pass, "How much time is left?" but we were running so fast we could not get an answer. 

We finish Mile 79. I yell to the crew of lap counters "How much time!!??' 

Peter's excitedly replies "9 minutes! You going for one more?!" 

Kim and I swing a 180 around the S/F cone and I yell out "YES!" 

We are sprinting! Full speed. Out to the .50 mile sign. We tag the sign and then race our hearts out all the way home.

I turn to Kim and say "You are going to cry, aren't you?" She says "I want too.. but I am too dehydrated!"

We hit the finish line and Peter says "One minute left."

80 miles side-by-side.  
We tie for 9th female OA
We tie for 21st place of 217 total runners. 

Congratulations Kim!  You should be proud of this day for the rest of your life. This is how to run a 24! 

Donation to the ACS:

Photo by Dean Wewetzer

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Boston Marathon 4/18/16

After my difficult experience at the Queen City Marathon, where I needed to manage my back pain with a lot of walking, I was able to run a 10k race (Cherry Blossom 10k on 4/10) in 7:22 pace with a negative split and a 6:14 pace for the final .2 miles. When my back hurts, I need to walk. When my back doesn't hurt I can run without any indication of there being a problem. I just don't know how I will feel until I start running. I have noticed that long drives and hotel beds seem to set me up for pain the next day.  I suspected that Boston (a 5 hour drive from home) would not be a pain free run for me.

Since 2013, Boston triggers PTSD symptoms for me.  As a result, every April, as the event nears, I stop sleeping at night and I lose the ability to shake a pervasive sense of anxiety. I have learned to expect this. Now that I accept and expect this as my new normal for April, the anxiety does not impact my life too much. I avoid reminiscing about the events since that triggers more intense anxiety for me, without doing any good. I don't read posts others share. I don't offer myself as a support system for others who need to process their feeling about 2013. I am not the best person for that job. I need to look forward and build new positive associations.

This year Kim planned to attend the race with me and spectate.  Having her along changed the tone of this experience for me in a tremendously positive way.  It was exciting to bring her to an event that many marathoners dream of running some day. Her energy was positive and healing. Boston is an amazing event and I knew her experience spectating would be special.

The expo closed at 6:00 pm Sunday. It was already passed 4:25 pm when we were looking for parking a few miles from the expo. We wanted to run around the city before getting my bib.  I was starting to get stressed so we gave up on our plan to run through Boston and drove directly to the expo. As we turned off of Massachusetts on to the very busy Bolyston, a car pulled out from spot just one block from the Expo.

Kim asked "How's your parallel parking skills?" (I know how, but I can't remember the last time I needed to). "Today, they better be perfect!" The traffic was very heavy and it would be horrible if I screwed it up.  LOL.

The car pulled out as the light turned green.  Traffic starting moving forward but in one quick forward and then backwards swoop I was in my new spot perfectly with minimal disruption to the flow of traffic. I could not have don't it better if I had more time to focus. A passerby on the street actually cheered me on and excitedly called out "You nailed that!" LOL!! After getting my bib, we enjoyed running a few miles around Boston.

Race Day
The way I felt in the morning was no surprise. As soon as I woke, I had back pain. I was stiff and walking hurt.  I had over 4 hours until my gun time, so I hoped it would loosen.  There was nothing I could do except hope for the best.

Kim and I ran the course backwards from the 3.6 mile mark. It was nice to have her company on the quiet empty streets.  Kim turned back as I finished the last 1.6 miles to the start.

I don't go to the Village.  I don't want to sit trapped in a field for hours surround by 20,000 anxious runners all waiting to use a potty. Instead I prefer to hang around the starting area. There are no crowds.  It is very peaceful while being exciting at the same time.

I stood at the start with a very nice woman from United Arab Emirates.  She was an older woman, and said she used to be a half marathon runner. She was in Boston visiting her daughter.  She decide to stop by the start to watch the races.  She did not have any friends or family running.  She looked cold and told me security would not allow her to bring anything to the start with her.  She had a small ziplock bag in her hand with her wallet and a print out of the start schedule. She was impressed with the athletes lined up for the mobility impaired wave.  She vowed to run a marathon herself, saying she had no excuse not to if they all could do it.  Before I left for my start, I gave her my warm up jacket, my throw away gloves, my banana, and my clear plastic gear bag.  She promised that she would keep all those items (except for the banana) and wear them to HER first marathon.

I had been standing for almost 2 hours and my back was not happy.  I was hopeful that once I started moving I would feel better. Had I known that my pain would not subside with movement, I would have seeded myself in the back of my wave instead of going to my assigned corral. This would have made my start more pleasant and less hurried.

Once we got moving, my pain got worse.  I did not have a choice but to run fast.  I had a fast seed time and the wave I started with were fast runners.  I was running about 7:30 pace or faster off the line because moving slower would be dangerous. I made an effort to get all the way to the dirt shoulder in case I needed to stop.  I was able to slow to a 7:59 minute pace for mile one.  As the runner spread out, I was able to slow down further to 8:30 pace and I got slower from there.

The first 25 minutes of the race was excruciating. When my back spasms a few things happen. First I can't inhale.  Breathing hurts.  Next, I seem to loose power to my legs. I feel like the gas line has been cut.  I can't lift my legs no matter how hard I try. Third the pain and pressure in my back grown so much I get dizzy and nauseated. Sometimes I feel like I might throw up. Stopping causes an sharp RISE in pain level until it subsides.

Just before 4 miles, I pulled over to the sidewalk and stopped to stretch.  I am dizzy. I call Kim.  I wanted her to know that I was not having a good day and I would be walking a lot if I wanted to finish.  "Oh you are finishing!" she said.  "That's my plan" was my response, but I already new that if I saw her at 22 and I was still in this much pain, I would be DNFing.

I started moving again and walked much of Mile 5, taking over 12 minutes for that mile.  I was very very sad to not be able to run without pain but I was grateful I could walk. As my back loosened up, I started to use a Run/Walk plan. I connected with a man named Don who was struggling like me.  He pulled a glute two weeks ago and was not able to run the way he wanted.  We hooked up with man named Brett, who reported that the only reason he was running was because this was his 14th Boston and he wanted to finish.

From mile 5 on, our entire wave pulled away from us.  We were in a pocket of temporal space that was created by the gap between waves.  Brett predicted when we could expect the first runners form the second wave to run us down.  In the meantime, our Boston temporarily felt like a local road race with only a handful of people sharing the open road.

By mile 12, I was starting to feel the beginning of things turning around. I was able to run downhills again as long as I had some uphills to balance me out. The energy at Wesley helped me. The second wave had caught me and the leaders looked strong!

Don and I ran/walked together through the half marathon when he decided he wanted to walk more. I picked up my pace and started to run longer between walk breaks. The hills help my back to loosen.  I was starting to feel stronger. I was able to run longer. I made a promise to make sure I ran every single step of Heartbreak Hill.

Kim was planning to be at Boston College. She would be on the right side. She had a cow bell. I knew she would not expect me so "soon" after considering my desperate call to her hours earlier. I ran through and crested Heartbreak like I promised myself I would and I did not stop running! Just before mile 22 I found her!  She didn't see me until I was right on top of her.  By that point I was feeling phenomenal!  Heartbreak helped me!

From the bottom of Heartbreak through the end of my race, my back no longer hurt.  I could run. I could run strong. I could run fast and I would run as hard as I could all the way home!

My half marathon split was 2:07. This meant I was on pace for a 4:15-4:20, but that was before the hills saved my race! With each mile, I watched my average pace drop.  I was running faster than I could at the start. I could breath. My legs had power. Nothing hurt! I moving easily between 7:30-7:40 per mile for most of the last 5 miles. I felt amazing!

I ended up with about a 9 minute negative split with a finish I am really proud of.

My final time was 4:05, which is not a bad performance considering how horrible this race started for me.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Queen City Marathon, Cumberland, MD, 4/2/16

On Thursday night, I decided I wanted to, no NEEDED to, run a marathon this weekend (Apr 2-3).  Everyone was racing fantastic events like Umstead 100M or Ultrafest and my weekend plans had suddenly opened up.  Since last weekend, when my back was perfect for Two Rivers Marathon, I wanted to race as much as possible while I felt good.

The closest race I could find that looked interesting to me was the Queen City Marathon in Cumberland MD.  I'm in NJ. MD does not seem that far. Ok, so it looked like maybe 4-5 hours of driving without traffic.  The race hotel was located at the starting line and still had rooms.  Packet pick up was in the hotel at 6:45 am and the race would start at 8am.  Registration was still open.  In about 20 minutes I had a room and was registered to run.

I had to go to work on Friday, but hoped to be out early enough to get to the race location before 11pm.  It turns out that there was not a lot of work for me to do, so I was able to leave earlier than I expected. I was on the road by 5:00 pm.

I used to just jump in the car and drive to races up to 10 hours away regularly. There was a period in my life when I was extremely phobic of driving. It corresponded with the time I lived in NYC.  Once I moved back to NJ and needed to drive to survive, this fear was something that took some work to overcome.  It wasn't until I got my first Subaru and learned to drive a stick that I finally like I was a competent driver.  Now, many years later, when I jump in my car and drive hours and hours from home to do something I love, I feel fortunate and liberated. I feel proud of overcoming an irrational fear that held me back from experiencing my world.

As I drove to Cumberland MD, I left the congested urban chaos and found myself amongst cows and silos with gorgeous mountain-scape backdrops. The sun was setting, very slowly, as I drove west.  The rain came down hard, washing the giant bug splatter from my windshield.  I sang badly on the top of my lungs to the new Of Monster and Men CD Sid left in my car.

Hotel at start of the course.
I tried to save time by picking up a sandwich for the ride.  Not the best pre-race dinner plans, but it would have to do. I checked in to the hotel by 10:30 pm, ahead of my projected arrival time. I was able to sleep until 6:30, getting my bib at 6:45 and walking out the door of the hotel at 7:45 to get in line for the 8:00 start. This was just way too easy!

However, before I took one single step, I knew today was not my day. The long drive, the hotel bed, the crappy dinner in the car the night before, all had me feeling stiff and sore and uncomfortable. Thank goodness this wasn't a goal race.

I met Bruce at the starting line when I was still trying to be hopeful that I could have a good day. After all, sometimes aches and pains go away once we start to move.  We talked a bit and then it was time to run.

Map from Queen City Website
The race was on the C&O Canal Tow path and Allegheny passage.  The towpath-trail course was mostly tree-lined and dirt-covered.  We ran about 3 miles out to a turn around, then back towards the start. Once past the start, we headed out 10 miles up hill to the last turn around.  The uphill was not steep, but it was the entire 10 miles long.  This mean 10 miles of down hill on the way home. We finished by running through a local shopping area that made me wish I had planned more time to look around after the event.

I was truly hoping to run 8:15s  I ran 8:30s at Two Rivers last weekend and I felt great for the most part. I was hoping to have a similar experience. My BQ is 3:45. I ran a 3:43 last weekend, but really I will not feel confident that I have my BQ secured until I run a 3:40 or better.  I wanted to try to do that here.

However, several strides off the line and I already knew my back was tight.  By the end of the first mile I could feel my back getting aggravated.  Bruce caught me and we started talking.  Our pace settled and I found a speed that hurt but did not get worse.  It was about 9:00-9:30 pace.

I contemplated whether or not I needed to stop at the 6 mile mat. It would break my heart to make a 10 HOUR round trip for a 6 mile run! However, when my back is spasming it is not as if I have much of a choice. This is not about being strong or tough or wanting it bad enough. I am strong.  I am tough. I do want it bad enough.  But when my spine is on fire, the only option I have is to stop moving.

However, the pace was sustainable. Bruce allowed me to talk for most of the run, which was the best thing I could do if I wanted to forget I was hurting.  In the back of my mind I convinced myself that really I really just had 10 miles more to run because once we turn around it should feel "easier" to run downhill.

As we hit the incline to the turn around Bruce reminded me that this race also has a Metric Marathon and if I was hurting I could turn back sooner.  That was an option and it helped to know I could really just turn back whenever I needed to.

The trail was lovely. It was just dirt and trees with mountain views in the background when the landscape opened.  It was quiet. There are not many spectators on the towpath.  However, the volunteers at the aid stations were phenomenal.  The aid stations were stocked with snacks, like cookies and fruit. I felt like I was running an ultra!  There was no gatorade but Nuun was provided.  I am not able to drink Nuun, so ended up just drinking water. I had two gels in my pocket, so the water would be ok.

Photo found online - but I am not sure who took it.
As Bruce listened and I talked, we approached a tunnel.  A young lady reeled us in, but at the same time appeared to be suffering.  She was a bit overdressed for the warm day and she knew it.  I tried to distract her by pointing out how amazing the tunnel is! I have run a lot of races and rarely get to run through tunnels.  She replies "I HATE TUNNELS!"  I wanted to laugh because it was not the response I expected.

Brush Tunnel, Photo by Deborah Lazerson, posted on Queen City Marathon website
I asked her what her name was. She said Kendra. I asked her what her last name was in case we needed to help her. I was getting a little worried for her.  I asked if she had been drinking any fluids because I noticed the bottle she carried was full. She said yes and that she had just filled it at the last aid station.  We all slowed a little and she started to look and sound better.  Once out of the tunnel, and seeing that Kendra looked ok, Bruce and I pulled away and she carried on.

From Mile 7 through this point in the race, Bruce and I walked about 30 seconds at each mile mark. I am sure that this walk break really helped me to keep moving. As we ran toward the 16 mile turn around my back was feeling better.

As soon as we hit the turn around Bruce was ready to go.  He said goodbye and took off like a gazelle! He was smooth and fluid and I realize he generous he was to keep me company for 2:40 minutes of his race knowing he could easily run so much faster without me.

I tried to pick up my pace too, but after about 4 miles of constant downhill running, the part I was actually looking forward too, I just could not do it. I had to walk. I had to walk a lot. The uphill helped me, but downhill rattled me so much I wanted to quit.

I made it to Mile 20. My legs were toast, my back was on fire, and then it occurred to me that I had not taken in any calories at all since I started. Only water and a two sips of Nuun when I thought it was Gatorade.  I had forgotten about my gels.  I was bonking and it was bad!

I took a gel and walked. I mostly walked for 2 miles. As I walked, mobile race volunteers road bikes up and down the trail offering aid they carried in their packs. When asked if I needed anything, I asked for the bike.

I was caught by Kendra from the tunnel (who looked a millions times better) and another woman named Carol, who had really great energy. I picked up with them and we pulled each other along.    
At Mile 24, my gel kicked in and the terrain leveled out. I had been running for 2 miles  and decided I wanted to try to pick up my pace a little.  I felt good. I wanted to hurry up before my back hurt again. I said goodbye and pulled off.  I felt better than an hour ago and was so glad when I saw that finish line.

Right as I finished a volunteer was proud to offer me a mylar blanket, sharing that last year they had not had them and this year they corrected that problem. I was directed to a tent with food that included hummus wraps, chicken salad wraps, hearty chicken soup, chocolate milk, and more.

I sat with Carol and we talked. She shared that only Friday she decided she needed to run this race!  She had never driven this far (4 hours for her) or stayed overnight on her own for a race before.  But at the last minute she decided she needed to run this and she did it. :)  It is amazing to be in a position to be able to just do this.  To just decide you want to run a marathon and the just go do it.  We are fortunate.

I grabbed a few things to eat and walked to the hotel where my car was parked. I jumped in and drove home. I had kept my room until 1pm, planning to shower before my drive, but I was too late for that. I could have stopped at the local YMCA that allowed runners to shower after the race, but I really didn't feel the need. I just wanted to get home before dark, which I managed to do.

The Queens City Marathon RD had race result posted in a day with a link to photos provided by a Volunteer on the course. Awards that were not picked up were going to be mailed out.  I had gotten my medal at the finish line so I was good.

The next day I received an email from Bruce, wishing me well, thanking me for the company, and apologizing for taking off. Bruce broke 4 hours!!  He ran an amazing last 10 miles. I replied to say that I was happy to see him pick up the pace and thanked him tremendously for helping me through.

One day later I get an email from the RD asking me if I had requested my age group award. Carol had  asked her to reach out to me. Carol was third in our age group and wanted to make sure I knew I was second.

Small races are the way to go. This race may be one my smallest events and possibly my slowest marathon, but I feel very proud of this run. I wanted to stop from mile 1. I found a way to manage the pain and not just mindlessly ignore it. I found away to run at a pace that was sustainable. I did not do any more damage to myself. I walked when I needed to.  I ran when I could.  I finished what I started without making my situation any worse.  I connected with people.  I made friends that I know I will be happy to see again at the next marathon. I ran a race where the RD and the volunteers took great pride in taking care of their runners. I ran a course that was peaceful and scenic and challenging it is own way.

I have run a lot of marathons. My experience running this one was truly one of my best.  I look forward to next year!

Time: 4:39
Place: 34/63
AG: 3rd

Monday, April 4, 2016

Two Rivers Marathon (Saturday) Laxawaxen, PA, 3/26/16

The Two Rivers Marathon held on Saturday March 26, 2016 was the Pennsylvania State
Championship Marathon. I am not really sure what that means since I am not from PA, but I was excited to race it regardless.

Kim and I drove to the start race day morning. She was just barely over having a very bad cold or flu or something that was really terrible for a week. She wasn't sure if she was going to race, but this was one of the races we actually prepared for. After all that work it seemed like a shame to not run if she felt she would be ok to try.We were driving up race day morning. The night before she decided to give it a shot. She could stop at the half finish if she felt terrible.

photo by Stephanie Ruzicka
We left just after 6 am for the 2 hour drive. We hoped to arrive around 8:00 am to catch the 8:15 bus from the finish to the start. But on the way to the race, we were delayed by a horrific accident. It was bad. At first, when it seemed like we would be stuck in traffic at 6:20 am, I was anxious that we would miss the race. But as we passed the incident and I could see what was causing the hold up, making it to the race stopped seeming so important. I said, "Well if we don't make it we can just go out for breakfast somewhere." I looked for news reports about the accident the next day, still wondering what happened, and found nothing at all. 

We arrived at 8:10 for an 8:15 bus, that really didn't leave until after 8:20. We got to the starting area at 8:38, managed to get our bibs and find the bathroom. I change my clothes from capris and long sleeves into shorts, calf sleeves, and a t-shirt and I was still over dressed. We sucked down some gu, rushed to the start, labeled our gear (white garbage) bags as people lined up, and threw our bags into the back of someone's car just as they were getting ready to send off runners.   

We quickly found Antonio in the starting area.  Just as I was in mid-sentence suddenly everyone is running.  I didn't even hear a signal to go.  I am lucky my shoes were tied.  However my calf sleeves were not in place and this felt really uncomfortable.   

About a half mile into this race, I just could not take the awkward calf sleeve situation and pulled over to pull them up. I start running again and realized my shoe lace was actually NOT tied either. I need to stop again at .98 miles to fix that. Oh boy, this is not going well. 

I jump back and mile 2 is a blazing fast descent. It feel so great to run!  I am running a 6:59 pace and it feels so easy.  We flatten out and I settle right down to 8 minute pace. I find a comfortable flow and enjoy the course. The descent did tear up the bottom of my left foot but that did not seem to be a problem until the last few miles. But by then everything hurts. 

My back is pain free. I feel like I can run forever. After 5 miles, I realize my average pace is the same pace as my 20k last weekend. I know this is just a result of the fast descent. I hoped to target an 8:15 for this to get a solid BQ. So far so good! 

Mile 5-6 is fast and I thought about Kim and Antonio. I hoped they were working together to pull each other. 

Mile 7.7 starts a short but very steep uphill, but the real climb comes between 8 and 9.  The climb is really only about .3 miles long but it is tough. 

At this point a boisterous pack of runners catch me. A younger woman is running with two guys. They have a third guy on a bike taking care of all their needs. There was a little mini-bus that was traveling the course that seemed to have her family in it as well. They start to pass me on the uphill, but on the decline I end up back with them. We are running the same pace for about 2.5 miles.  Everyone in this group is very nice. She was trying to BQ. The guys were there to help her. This was her first marathon. We were running 8:00 pace. They were so thrilled for her. 

It seemed like a lot going was on in that pack. I did not envy her. I can only imagine the amount of pressure she had on her to run well with everyone around her making such a big deal about her race. There is also the matter of whether or not all of this outside support was even legal, but there were course marshals and volunteers on the course making sure runners were not turning back too soon. Not one seemed to care about the outside aid and the pacing.  

Antonio running in behind Kim hopefully yelling things like
"You are almost there, You are a winner!" (as he promised to do)
 as she finished her race. ;) 
At about the half way point, this group was pulling away from me and I was happy to let them go. The course would become 7 miles of incline out to a turn around. I wished her luck. I knew their pace was too fast for me on the way out.  I hoped to be able to catch them on the way back.

I spent the next 7 miles watching them slowly pull away before they started to come back to me.  I knew she would not BQ because I wasn't sure I was going to BQ any more either. The day was warming up and the miles were catching up with me.  At mile 16, I dropped my gel, right as I approached and aid station. I had to go back for it. As I tried to bend down to pick it up I grumbled something and noticed the aid station guys laughing at me.  LOL!

Just like every year I run this race, I forgot at what mile to expect the turn out. A guy coming back to me called out "Turn around is at 18.65!"  That really helped me out!  Thank you!  I passed that information on to others on my way back.

On my way to 18, saw one woman crushing the race, and then in second was the young girl and her crew.  I was in 3rd.  We had a downhill for the next 7 miles and felt great because I took the incline easy.

Just after mile 19, I passed them.  When I pass in a race, I want to do it with some semblance of authority. I want to put some distance between me and whoever I am passing. It turns out that she was not having a great experience so this wasn't hard to do. I felt badly for her. 

Even thought this was the Pennsylvania State Championship Marathon, it was a small event without a lot of competition.  Regardless of pace or place, I was simply thrilled to have no back pain!  Any day I can run pain-free is a gift. 

I tried to open my stride after mile 22 and I could feel spasming in my groin. Seriously!  But since getting my mileage back into 20+ mile runs, I have had some groin straining happening now and then.  I stopped at Caumsett because my groin pain started to flair up at 18 miles, but here at 22 I was almost done. I wasn't stopping now. I shortened my stride, slowed my pace and just did my best to finish it off without aggravating my groin any further.  I am sure my groin is tired due to me now being heavier than I have ever been in a very very long time.  Since my back pain started I have not been able to train like I used to and gained about 7-8 pounds. This is a lot of weight for me. I am not thrilled about it, but now that I can run again, I expect to get leaner by the fall.  

Other than the groin spasming, I felt great! Sure, my feet were tired and blistered and I could not wait to get out of my shoes. Due to the slow pace, those last 4 miles felt like 100 miles.  But my mood was great! :) 

Kim always has a great finish!
As I rounded the last turn, I saw Antonio waiting to cheer me into the finish.  He asked how I felt.  I know this is loaded topic for Antonio.  This poor guy was training with me when my back first started to fall apart.  He witnessed my demise first hand.  In fact it was on a 10 mile run with him when he actually said "Do I need to call someone to get you" that I decided to make my first doctor's appointment. I would train with him in the morning and suffered from back spasms. But then I would train with his wife in the evening and have no pain at all.  He was convinced he was bad luck to me. (see Antonio, it was never you).

After I crossed the line and gather my faculties, I asked Antonio how he did and he set a huge half marathon PR!  This was so great the hear. I knew he was ready!  

A few minutes later Kim came in, finishing strong as she usually does. I am glad she ran this. For a sick chick, she did great! 

Time: 3:43:40 (8:32)
Gender Place 2nd Female 
AG: 1st Place 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Miles For Music 20k, Piscataway, NJ, March 20, 2016

Sunday was the first team race of the season, the Miles for Music (M4M) 20k!

It was cold. (33 degrees, but windchill into the teens)
Despite the long flight home from London on Thursday, once I slept one night in my own bed my back pain from last week completely resolved. It was amazing. I was able to run Friday and Saturday without pain, as if nothing had hurt at all. I could walk around without pain. I was hopeful, but still not convinced that I could race actually race a 20k to the end.

Sunday, race day morning, I met Kim and we jogged a short warm up back and forth to packet pick up from our car. This was only about a mile total. Still no pain. I told Kim that I feel like a crazy person… one day I am sure my back is broken forever, the next day I am jogging a warm up for a 20k race?

Up until about 30 seconds before the start I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I could run with Kim at her race pace, try to stay with her until pain started, if it started… or maybe even pick up the pace if the pain did not come?

As I stood at the start, I still felt amazing. I see Becky and she is in such a great mood! Her jokes and her energy were contagious. It is very close to gun time, runners are seeding themselves in the starting corral. Kim finds a place and I make a decision.  Since my pain is all or nothing, whenever I can run, I am going to go for it! I want to take advantage of every chance I get to move without pain. When the pain comes, I will just walk it off, stretch if that helps, or stop if I must. I line up with Jessica and get ready to see how far I could go before pain shuts me down.

Gun Goes Off

I can't remember the last time I ran this fast. I have been taking things so easy since December to not trigger pain. I have ben cautiously building my volume. With great joy I had managed to run two marathon distances in the month leading up to this race without back pain. (This is why it was so heart breaking to have to walk during a 5k last week).

The wind is at our backs. I feel light and effortless. I know that can't sustain this pace, but it feel so liberating! I feel alive! I feel amazing! I feel the way I have not felt in a very long time! But after a few moments of joy, I settle down to a more reasonable pace. My watch beeps. I glance down. M1 - 7:15. 

I don't look at my watch for the remainder of the race. I don't need to. I don't care what the watch says. All I care about is running as fast as I can without pain for as long as I can do it. (I have the splits on my Garmin and reviewed them after the race.)

The wind made half the lap feel very hard and the half the lap feel easier. Although we had more miles with the wind at our back, I don't ever feel like running in any wind is even exchange.  In general, we are slowed by the wind, which means we are running longer into it. Then we turn and are pushed by the wind, running less time with the wind assist. We always loose more than we gain on a looped course in a strong win. But in this case, because the course was 2.5 laps, we did have almost 2 miles of assist that we did not need to give back.  That helped a lot.

M2 7:31, M3 7:46, M4 7:40

I see so many familiar faces out on the course. I am reminded why I need to race. It is not about the running, as much as it is about the people and the energy!  I enjoy M4M because it is 2.5 loops. I can see almost everyone out there!

In particular, I was very very happy to see Paulette running.  Her son has been very ill and she was not sure if she could make it. But she trained so well leading up to this that she was hoping to go.  I could not believe she made it and she looked great out there! It made me happy to see Paulette and Becky running together!

The second lap felt a little harder. The wind was catching up with me. I just kept moving at whatever pace felt very good. I was happy.  I was moving.  Nothing hurt.  It was nice.

I see Anthony on the side and he yells out cheerfully… "You are running too fast!  :)"  I know what he meant. He did not mean that he thought I needed to slow down because I was running faster than my fitness. He meant, "You made me put you on the B-Team and now you are running faster than I thought you would run!" I wanted to yell back "I am sorry, but not really!"

M5 7:35, M6 7:41, M7 7:51, M8 7:51

I see Anthony again and he asks "Do you have any clothes you want to throw at me!"

I know Anthony likes this race because it is cold at the start and when he spectates the women's team (he is the Captain) will throw him their hats and gloves at him.  Anthony likes to tell people that ladies throw their clothes at him at M4M… LOL!

I answer "Yes I do!"and hand Anthony my mittens and tell him "These are my Magic Mittens. You cannot not lose them!!!" I think I scared myself with my seriousness about my mittens!  And then I ran terrified the rest of the race that I would never see those mittens again. I think I hurried up so I could get them back safely.  I do trust Anthony (really more than I trust mostly anyone), but those mittens are the only mittens that keep my Raynaud's under control and they are not produced any more.

My legs were running out of strength. I forget to take the gel that I brought for the 7 mile mark.  I take it at 9.5 instead. Better late than never.  It didn't make running feel better, but my fatigue did not get worse.  Even as I tired and I knew I could finish!

M9 7:51, M10 7:55, M11 7:54, M12 7:57

I tried to give a little kick at the end. I just wanted to finish.
Last .47 3:30 (7:28 pace)

A few minutes later, Kim finished very strong. She surpassed her goal with a killer kick as usual!

Time: 1:36:21 (7:46) Gun Time, no start mat
OA: 131/327
Gender: 24th
AG: 5th

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My First Parkrun, London,UK, 3/12/16

Last week, Sidney and I went to London. It was our 6 year wedding anniversary and he wanted to see his girlfriend. I am pretty accommodating, but I had one requirement. If I went to see Natalie Merchant with him, he had to run a race with me.  (Yes, Natalie Merchant is "his girlfriend." It is no secret he is infatuated with her.)

At first, I had Sidney convinced to travel to the Lydd (a remote coastal town) to run a 20 miler. I also had him convinced, briefly, that he really wanted to run a marathon in March so this would be perfect!  But once Sid returned to full time military orders his ability to train was reduced from 8-10 milers with me to 3 milers with the dogs. We both realized that a marathon for Sid was not happening. There was no reason to spend 2 days of our vacation trekking out to the middle of nowhere for a 20 miler he would not be prepared for or interested in running.

I found a 10 miler about 45 minutes away. Sid was willing to do this.  This would likely be he longest run I would get but we did not plan on renting a car so I wasn't sure if this would work for us.

However, as luck would have it I recently began coaching a wonderful man (Alan) from the UK.  In his assessment he mentioned that he enjoyes weekly "Parkruns".  I asked what that was. He sent me a few very informative links and I learned just how wonderful these Parkruns are.

Each Saturday all over the UK, and other parts of the world, there are Free 5k races.  I googled the events map and found that there was a parkrun schedule 2 miles from our hotel.  Sid agreed to run with me to the race, race the 5k, and then run home!  I was so excited to run my first overseas race, even if it was just a 5k!

The way a Parkrun works is amazing. Once you register for free and you are set up with a barcode.  You print this out (and if you are smart, you laminate it).  You bring this barcode to the race.  After a brief meeting, everyone is sent off.  Volunteers line the course directing runners. When you finish you are give a token with a barcode on it as well.  As soon as you catch your breath, you walk over to a volunteer who scans your Parkrun barcode and then your token.  About an hour or so later you have online race results.

The event was so efficiently organized. We ran over to the race, arriving just 5 minutes before the start, found the pre-race meeting, ran the event, handed in our token, sat for a few minutes and by 45 minutes later the event was over and the park was cleared out.  It was if nothing had happened.  It was like a flash mob of 5k runners just converged and took over the park for less than an hour and then suddenly were gone.  I just loved this!

So how did my first 5k overseas go, you ask? Well, not so good.

I have not had back pain since January.  I was so happy.  I had run two marathons pain free and countless training runs without needing to stop.  I had not pushed my pace in training, but I had almost forgotten what the pain felt like. I was not sitting as much for work and making sure to stretch and find time for some crunches (not as much as I should, but it was working nonetheless).

Saturday morning, after the first night of sleep in the hotel bed, I woke up unable to stand. I could not walk without pain. I could not stand long enough to make a cup of coffee from the Krups machine.  I still wanted to try to run.

I hoped that the muscles would relax during the jog over.  We took our time making our way to the park. I needed so many breaks on the way that we almost missed the race completely.  If we did not find it so easily we would have been too late.  We arrived at 8:55 for a 9:00 race!

As we stood at the start, I turned to Sid and said "These next 3 miles are going to feel like 100!"

He asked what I planned to do. I said "Run hard. Maybe if I move fast it won't be as bad as the slow run here? This will be the only chance I have all week to run sub-8 pace or better? I have to try!"

The signal to start was given and I tried to run. My pace was about 7:30.  I still felt some lingering breathing difficulty from the pneumonia and I had left my inhaler at the hotel.  Everything was just going wrong.

I didn't even make it one mile before I had to stop from pain so bad that it buckled me.  Down to my knee at .9 miles in I waited in pain for Sid to catch up. When he caught me, we walked a bit and I briefly couldn't hold back my emotions. This was the first time my back pain brought me to tears and not from the pain.

I have been managing the sadness of not being able to run well for almost a year now. But now my heart was broken.  I was pain free for almost 3 months. I was starting to believe that maybe all this distress was behind me (despite doctors telling me that I won't get better).  Butt now, in London, at a simple little 5k that I had looked so forward to, the pain was back and so much worse than ever! It just hurt my heart.  I never had pain when standing.  I never had pain when walking.  I wanted to just run 3 miles, but here I was hardly able to stand.

Sid just said "I am so sorry".  He knows how much this breaks my spirit.

After a few minutes of walking the muscles loosened some.  We jogged a very slow mile while I gathered myself and thought about realistic options.  The last mile was finished off with a run/walk. We logged a time of 32:55. I was 17th from last in a field of over 150.

The run/walk home was horrible, but we had to get there.

For the rest of my vacation, each morning I woke up in severe pain. Running was almost impossible first thing in the morning, but we did run each day when my back could handle at least one non-stop mile. Walking was easier but still painful. I needed to stop and sit often.  This was the worst my back has ever been.  I was considered ending my running streak and taking up a new sport. I could not imagine running pain-free anymore and now even walking caused pain.

Despite the back pain, London was amazing.  Because we did not have a car, I managed to still cover over 80 miles on foot during week seeing sights and being a tourist.  We took the Tube out to London Tower and ran/walked/sat on benched stopping at every tourist location on the way (Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Big Ben, the Eye, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Hyde Park, etc…)  We saw a great play.  We shopped.  We walked along the Thames at night. We ate great foot. We drank great wine. We SLEPT!  Oh how I have missed sweet sweet sleep!

On the day we were supposed to see Natalie Merchant, Sid was up all night with either a stomach bug or food poisoning! (ok, maybe all the food was not so great). He could not leave the hotel for over 12 hours. But just before it was time to go to the concert, he started to improve.  He wanted to try to go, so we went.  Natalie Merchant did not disappoint. :)

The best news for me is that after just one night home, back in my own bed, my back pain disappeared. I have been able to stand, walk, and run again pain free since my return!  This is hopeful.  I am not yet ready to quit.