Sunday, September 27, 2015

Newport Liberty Half Marathon, Jersey City, NJ. 9/20/15

"Do it for the Cannoli" ~ Anthony DiFiore
Oh boy. What a day.  I didn't have high expectations as my back has been in intermittent severe pain, which has been getting worse over the last 4 months.  It started slow, a spasm once every two weeks. Then one day per week, then twice per week. Usually I could stop stretch it out and keep running. It worked it way up to spasming almost daily and several times per run.  Every once in a while I would run pain free.

In August I made the first appointment I could find with doctor who seemed qualified to help me. That appointment was mid-Septemeber and I knew nothing would be figured out or resolved by the time I ran this race.

Kim and I wanted to run 20 miles. We also wanted to be present for this Team Championship. In the event that my back felt ok, I might be able to help the team score some points.  Kim had some unfinished business here so she wanted to return as well.

Photo by Becky Wiechman
We arrived at 6:30 to run 5 miles prior to getting ourselves organized and allowing some time to socialize. During this warm-up, my back was already in severe spasm. I had run 10 miles the day prior and it was one of the worst days for back pain I had so far.  Today would beat that. At 2.5 miles into our warm-up, there was so much pressure in my back I felt paralyzed by pain. I was able to lean forward to loosen up whatever was happening inside me.  After a few minutes of leaning forward and waiting, I could feel my back pain start to subside some. I was then able to run again. 2.5 more miles and the severe pain returned, but we were almost ready to start racing, so I just tried my best to loosen it up again.

Kim and I get into the corral. I move up front, finding Rich and Nikki, who were both racing very closely in pace and had similar race goals. I remind them to not go out like banshees and to save it for the end.  This race is windy and the sections along the water are usually bad.  Between 6 and 8.5 we usually fight the wind. By 8.5 it is usually much better as we move away from the water.  I remind them to not worry if their pace fall during that section. I also explain that despite my back pain, I am only starting up front so I can yell at them to slow down during Mile 1.

Gun goes off.  My back is a little loose. Usually after I stop running, the spasms settle so just standing around for a few minutes helped.  I also found that running faster sometimes hurts less than running slower, so I decide to just go out relatively fast to see what happened.  I hit M1 at a 7:05 pace. And for a moment I think, "Oh this feels good. Maybe this race will go better than I thought!" (LOL!)

Photo by Elaine Acosta
The for the next 2 miles everything started to deteriorate. By Mile 3, my back pain was back and my breathing was difficult, so I used my inhaler and it seemed to help.  It did not make the pain go away, but it did make it so I did not have to stop running.  I am not sure the connection but I did run the entire 13 mile race.

Between Mile 2 and Mile 10 my pace slowed from low 7:00's to 8:40 per mile.  I was simply trying to find a place where I could feel the least amount of hurt.  As I clenched my side, pressing my thumb into my back, trying to find a way to provide support or relieve, runners blew past me sharing their sympathy.

I was given lots of great advice, like how I should not go out so hard next time, or if I keep on training the side-stitches would eventually go away as I got fitter. I was also running, at one point, behind a woman taking selfies repeatedly which made me laugh.

I was overcome with emotion at that point.  Not because I could not run like I was running last year, but out of sincere fear that I may not ever be able to run fast again. If in just a few months time, I have deteriorated this far.  The initial diagnosis was that I have Scoliosis and that is all.  There is not explanation for why NOW did the scoliosis start to hurt me.  I was told to do some sit-ups and stretch. It that was my cure, I had little faith this would resolve my pain.  Since it is not clear what is going on, it just may be a matter of time before the obvious solution is suggested: "If it only hurts when you run, then don't run!"

I started to feel grateful that I could run an 8:40 pace. An 8:40 pace is not too shabby, especially when considering that some people can't run at all and soon I may be one of them if this back pain doesn't resolve.

Photo by Elaine Acosta
Somewhere between mile 7-8, Anthony runs up to me and says he is feeling good.  I was happy for him.  He has worked so very hard this training cycle, despite a setback that left him feeling like he needed to scale back his goal. I convinced him to give me some time and I could help him get back.  He made it through his struggle and got his training fully back on track. I really enjoy training Anthony because his heart for this sport is huge and he really thrives with some guidance.  He always equals or surpasses my goals for him.  He runs a minute with me, but I tell him to "Go on ahead. I am slowing you down." He makes a joke to help me feel better and tells me "Do it for the Cannoli!" or something like that.  :)

In Mile 9, Liz caught up with me and asked if I was ok. I said "No."  It was clear I was not. We start taking and as we chat I start to feel slightly better.  She mentions that Anthony has asked her to try to break 1:45. Our average pace was 8:08 and we were approaching 10 miles.  For some reason, as my back starts to loosen, I start to focus on trying to help her reach that goal. I am pretty sure Liz really didn't want or need my help (and the next time I see her I will apologize for offering unsolicited advice to her in the middle of her race).  I suggest that we just try to slowly pass people one at a time and not focus on how we feel.  We talk and when I tell her we have already passed the 10 mile mark and are almost to 10.5 she seems happy to have passed almost a mile quickly.  But she tells me to go ahead.  I wasn't ready. We had dropped our pace from an 8:40 to an 8:08 by the time we reached Mile 11 and I wasn't sure if I could go faster.

But then I suddenly begin to feel like myself again.  The back pain resolves and I can open my stride. I am pain free, completely.  It took 16 miles of "warm up" to get my back to be on my side.  I can't believe how good I feel, I don't know how long it will last, so I kick.  I feel like I am flying.  M12 - 7:15

I havent run a 7:15 mile in a long time, but it doesn't even faze me.  I keep pushing and see Anthony up ahead.  I yell out "Where's my Cannoli?!" Anthony glances back and starts dropping the pace.  I try to catch him, but he is fast! M13 - 7:05

The last .25 (long course) miles is intense. Anthony is about 20 seconds ahead of me, and he won't let up.  I try to dig and I can't get any ground on him.  He is digging too.  We are really moving.  Anthony holds me off, but it was awesome.  Last .25 6:19 pace.

Time: 1:45:15 (8:02 pace)
AG: 9th 
I was happy to find out later that I actually did score for the team, so all that pain wasn't for nothing.

After all was said and done, Anthony officially challenged me to race him in November. Winner gets a cannoli.  I better get this back thing figured out soon!