This is my first Race Report in a long time. There is a lengthy prologue to explain what has happened (so I have my thoughts written out somewhere). The race reports starts in its own section, so please feel free to skim down! :)
After much patience and many changes focused on repair and recovery, I finally felt ready to give another marathon a try. Over the last few months I have been able to run further without pain. Incidence of back spasms have disappeared from my daily routine. Although I saw 5 doctors, all focused exclusively on what I do for exercise and how to change that ("stop when it hurts").
I have a completely dried out disc that will never be repaired and I have mild scoliosis that causes me to strain my back. When I experience spasms, they paralyzed me. I was told that my age (40) has finally caught up with me and my pain can only be managed. I was told not to expect to reverse anything as discs don't grow back. I was told that continuing to run in pain would only cause quicker deterioration. I eventually would have pain when not running and trouble walking. I was told to stop running completely by one spine specialist.
Back on November 12th, as I walked back to my car, very very upset, I called Kim and she asked what that specialist said.
Me: (heartbroken and sarcastic) "He told me I should go home and kill myself!"
Kim: "What?! He didn't say that!!?"
Me: "Not exactly. He said I need to stop running, maybe forever! He said I will end up not walking if I keep running. He said every step is trauma to my spine and I am breaking myself! If I agree to stop running, go to PT for 8 weeks or more, then he MIGHT allow me to run for a few minutes! But he can't be sure until he sees me again. He basically told me to just stop being who I am. Running is my life! He told me I may never be able to run again and I need to stop running now!"
Kim: "What are you going to do?"
Me: "Well, he said he doesn't really know why I am in pain when I run. He doesn't realize I have practically stopped running for a long time time now. He said I could try running when I am pain-free when not running. I am already pain-free when not running! I told him this. I don't know what he is waiting for? I barely train. I'm not stopping. Not right now. I will think about my options at the marathon when I run with you and Gary. I am not messing around with PT because I don't have any time in my schedule for that. I need time to think."
Then I ran Bucks and dropped out at mile 20, running the majority of that race in pain, both physical and emotional. A big part of myself was dying and I needed time to say good-bye.
My heart and soul have been a bit broken since then. I have had many angry rants (to Dave, to Mark) to many friends who have expressed their absolute certainty that I will recover. I have raged back saying, "No I won't! You can tell me you KNOW I will get better! This will never get better! The doctors have told me so. Five doctors! The problems I have don't heal. They only get worse in time. It is degenerative and it is happening because I am getting older. How can I not get older? PT is not a time machine! I can't rebuild a disc! Sure, I can try to get stronger, I can do that myself, but I already do a lot. I'm not a couch potato. I am not weak. I can't fix something that is not fixable. I have to accept my fate. I have to just be proud of everything I have been able to do during my life as a runner after my cancer and be grateful I have had 10 good years racing well. But if people think I will beat this and get better, they are all wrong. It breaks my heart to know that I will let everyone down. Then I will fade away from the sport and become completely irrelevant. And I don't know how to stop any of this from happening to me." (Can you say histrionic and a bit hysterical. And I have apologized for being dramatic and obnoxious).
Starting in December, rather than focus my attention on training (which made up such a small and diminishing part of my day), I made an effort to accurately assess what I was doing during the rest of my 24 hours. I purchased a fitness tracker. I discovered that due to my intense work schedule and my ability to endure long sessions at my desk, I was breaking myself with prolonged sitting. On days I did not run much, I was lucky to get 5000-6000 steps, sometimes as low as 4000 steps with a minimum mile run included.
I have been working 7 days per week for over a year now, either as a therapist or running my coaching business. Even when on vacation I am working. In July, I added graduate school (a lot more sitting). I stopped updating this blog because I just needed to stop sitting at a computer and I ran out of time. I was running a lot of 1 mile days. I was breaking my back by NOT running. I needed to start over.
The changes that have helped me the most have been target at least 10,000 steps per day (yes, this an arbitrary number but it helps me) and still get my work done. I break up prolonged sitting. I stretch in small ways throughout the day now as part of life, not as a separate session of exercise. I changed my work schedule at the hospital so I could disperse my coaching and school work over more days. Sometimes I need to get on my treadmill and walk while replying to emails from my clients to get my 10,000 steps. Treadmill desks do not work for me. I still have days at 6000 steps, but not as many. My weekly average is looking much better. I stopped trying to do an unsustainable amount of work. I needed to get some time back to spend on living life, enjoying the people I care about, and having adventures.
I lost so much joy over the past year. But I cope well, so not many know how sad I truly have been. I lost my soul. But yesterday I felt amazing! I am getting my life back. I feel like myself again! I am cautiously optimistic. All this back trouble may become a memory that I read about here years later. I hope. But I am not ready to be "absolutely certain" just yet.
The CP Marathon
Kim, Alanna, and I wanted to run this as a long training run. This took a lot of pressure off both of us. I was very nervous about running a marathon again. My last marathon hurt my back and I had to drop. I ran a half with Sid and Veronica in January at an easy pace and my back was spasming a bit.
I may have been able to run a little faster, but I truly needed the support of a friend nearby while I tried to do something that could go badly. I know that I am helping Kim, too, as she grows as a marathoner. I know that I can pull our pace whenever we need to as long as I can move. But I need her help just as much as she needs mine. Thank you, Kim. I know you are helping me heal.
I met Kim at Rahway and we took the train in. I had Alanna's bib so we needed to find her before the start. We met at gear check at 8:15 (for an 8:30 start). We needed to use the porto-potty and then get to the start 1/2 mile away… and somehow the universe just made this happen without a glitch. I got to meet Rebecca Schwartz (who I have been coaching for a long time time) for the first time in person, but she too needed to get herself to the start. I wish I had more time to talk with her. But I know I will see her again soon.
The race is 5 laps with the start and finish in different locations. Kim and I had a plan to average 9:45 pace. Initially, I wanted us to run even splits, but the weather was a gift and a faster pace felt easy.
I was in a singlet and capris. I would have worn shorts but I was worried about chafing since I have not run a Long Run in shorts in a long time. We both had on our Creating Momentum caps and Creating Momentum shirts. Alanna and Rebecca did as well! I felt so proud to see the shirts being worn at a marathon! :)
We were too fast at M1 8:59 and M2 9:06, but we settled down into a 9:15-9:30 pace.
I was having breathing problems? I had already used my inhaler so I am not sure why I was having trouble. By the second lap, my breathing was no longer an issue. We ran comfortably and I felt great! Kim looked so fluid that I was wondering if we would have a much better finish time than we expected. By mile 8, I could tell that it was taking a little bit more effort to maintain the pace. Not too much effort, not a hard effort... just a little more effort than miles in 1-8.
A couple, not in the race, asked how far we were running. The guy told us he and his training partner had just run 19 miles! They looked so fresh and I commented "That is fantastic! You don't have anything with you. No water bottles! No Nothing!!" He laughed at me. Then he admitted that they had just started running. He said they were from Clifton NJ so I tried to recruit them to join my running club (Clifton Road Runners). We ran together for a mile, talking about races and things runners talk about. Then they slowed down a little and we moved on, grateful for their company.
Besides the gel I took at the start, I took my first gel at mile 9.
As we started the next loop, I still felt phenomenal! No pain. I felt free. I felt strong. I felt like I could run forever. Kim told me I looked good.
I told her it was probably because I ate an entire pound cake practically by myself over the previous two days so I was pretty carb loaded. ;)
But Kim looked a little stressed or concerned. I wasn't sure what was going on. I told her how I really just like to focus on getting to mile 14. Once I get to mile 14, I feel like the last 12 miles are manageable. She didn't look convinced. She wasn't really complaining about anything. She was just quiet and not being a jokester like usual. The pace was still good.
At some point during this loop she said she was getting too hot. The hat was holding in her sweat and she was getting crusty with salt. (I may need to find thinner hats?) We both took salt the lap prior so it was not odd to be a little crusty. At mile 12, I convinced her to take off her hat and give it to me. Once the heat shield was off her head, she looked better but we decided to settle down and regroup a bit. The miles were starting to catch up. It was too early for us to be working too hard.
On the fourth lap, things became hard. It seemed like it got windier and we were getting cold. We were both getting cranky. Kim got annoyed that a dog was walking too slowly across the course and then I got annoyed that a toddler was permitted to ride his scooter against the flow of runners on the inside of the tangent!
"What is wrong with people!!! Can they NOT see this is a race!"
"Um, sounds like somebody could use a snickers!"
Since we were clearly crushing it out there ;) we decided to ease off the gas for the 4th lap so that we could have a fighting chance at a strong 5th and final lap. It was time for some music. Kim's phone gave her a little trouble so she stopped briefly to get it working. The music seemed to help a little (when the radio was not playing slow-dance music from the 80s!)
"It's not my play-list!!! It's the stupid radio!"
"Whatever! I know you purposely put "Lady in Red"on the marathon play-list"
"!%@ You! … I did not!"
I took another gel on this lap. I start making jokes that she is Shalane and I am Amy and I will talk her though this as we climbed Cat Hill. The last half a mile of the loop was all downhill. We just need to get to the top of the last hill and we will get gravity to assist us to the finish!
M16 11:16 (putting on music)
The Mile 21 marker was near the finish. We would have 5.2 miles left for our last lap. We had faded to regroup. I suggested that whatever the clock says, we should add 52 minutes to that time as a goal and then try to beat that time in. The clock said 3:25:xx. If we held 10 minute pace we would come in around 4:18. So that was our goal.
Kim was feeling dizzy and she wanted to grab fluid at the first aid station and make sure she got it in. We slowed to drink and then started our dig. We worked all the descents on this rolling loop. (We did well, dropping the pace of our last lap by 40 seconds per mile).
At one point in mile 23 (9:18 mile), Kim tells me she is seeing double. I am getting worried, but she is smart and takes care of herself. If she wanted to slow down she would.
In mile 24, Kim says, "You can go on and run faster if I want to."
"LOL!! Yeah, we run 24 miles together and NOW I take off and finish, what, maybe a minute ahead of you! Yeah, Ok… I'll go do that right now. ;) Uh no, I'm staying with you, unless, of course, I see Desi coming, then I'm outta here. I'm gettin' to Rio with or without you!" ;)
If Kim could speak, I am sure it would have been "!%@ You!"
We work to get to the top of the last climb. Kim is breathing like crap. There is nothing I can do to help her. When you kick hard, breathing often sounds like crap. I look at my watch and we have 0.5 miles left (if the markers line up with my Garmin. I did hit M25 exactly when we passed the sign for M25).
We hit 25.7 miles at 4:09 "We have 6 minutes to run a half mile and that will get us sub-4:15! We got this!"
I am looking for M26…Then my Garmin beeps at 26 and there is no M26 marker.
"COME ON!!! Really?! Where is 26!"
We pass the M26 Marker at 26.1 on my watch.
"Seriously! This means we won't break 4:15 unless we really dig."
Kim digs. Really digs. Last .33 miles was an 8:21 pace to the finish. But we just miss breaking 4:15 by 12 seconds! Grrr.
M25 10:03 (uphill mile)
Last "0.33" 8:21
We needed a little visit to the med-tent to make sure Kim's dizziness was nothing serious (it was not) and once sitting she felt better. She tells me that during the majority of the race she had a very upset stomach. That was the look of concern I saw early on. I wonder if the shockingly super-sweet gatorade at the first aid station caused her trouble. It was like syrup, but it was corrected by the next lap. In a few minutes, her heart rate dropped to normal and we left to cheer Alanna in to her finish!
What a great day!
I ran for 4:15 practically non-stop without pain. Kim ran only 14 minutes slower than her PR (set on a much faster course) for a training run while battling stomach issues. Alanna came in a few minutes later looking strong and really the fittest I have ever seen her look since I met her! :)
Things are turning around!
Average pace: 9:44 (exactly what we hoped for)