Saturday, July 8, 2017

Recap and A Fresh Start #ChasingSunrises

It has been a long time since my last race report and it is time to start again!  Some of the best races of my life never were reported about, because I have been overworked, overstressed, spread too thin, and short on time. I needed to prioritize my work-life and some other heartbreaking issues (not to be discussed) over running for a few months. Now that things are in a better place for me, I am ready to get back to doing what I love most. Bring on the races!  :) 

Here is my recap to get the ball rolling:

First, I had a fantastic Fall season. I broke 3 hours (2:56) in Utah for the first time in early September. I ran a few 1:27’s Half Marathons in August and again late Sept. I broke 19:00 in the 5k twice. Then I broke 3 hours again at Steamtown (2:55). The following weekend, I set an Age Group American Record in the 6 hour (43.16M) in October. The next weekend, I  ran a 1:28 Half in the most miserable weather (at Beat 539, which was a great first-time event and I hope they do it again). The following weekend I placed 4th at the 50M Nationals (Tussey). After a little rest, I ran a 6:00 paced 8k at Ashenfelter, followed by another sub-19 5k and then I decided I needed a rest from racing.  

I went on to simply run for the joy of running! I felt like a machine. I was logging an average of almost 125M per week for a few weeks in a row, running just shy of 500M in January. I planned to taper for John Prices’ 100K in Virginia, but as soon as I reduced my volume, I became acutely aware that all my running was really just the glue that was holding me together while I tried to figure out how to cope with significant, insurmountable, and painful stress (which I will not discuss here).   

I needed time, a lot of time, to sort out my thoughts. I needed to grieve. I needed to give myself room to breathe and not feel like I was under anyone’s microscope.  

In March, after a month of feeling terrible, I did run Caumsett 50K Nationals at 8:45 pace.  I was thrilled with that 4:32, because I really had no business running that well considering how crappy and stressed out I felt. The only reason I was able to finish at all was because of Kim.  The support of her friendship was holding me together and when I wanted to just quit anything or everything that felt hard in my life, it was nice to have a friend nearby who believed in me. After walking up a hill at about Mile 18?, Kim caught me and just running a few strides together helped me remember that I am stronger than I think. I found my second wind and together we persevered, pulling each other around that 5k loop course until we both ended up in the top 10 at Nationals and Kim had a new PR that was almost 1 minute per mile faster than her fastest 50K before that. This is even more impressive when I say that we also missed the start by about 2 minutes! Now we get to joke about how we passed every single runner on the course that day and still managed to bring home USATF National Championship medals! 

In March, I tried very hard to get my body back to training, but I clearly needed more time to heal, inside and out. My 125M weeks were a thing of the past. They likely left me too beat up to do anything well. Running yourself into the group is great for numbing pain, but not great training. 100M per week ok, that feels great and I can recover from that. 125M per week, that is likely more than I ever need to do to myself again in training.  My body felt run down, beat down, and tired. I lost motivation to run a lot and started gaining weight fast from being less active but still eating like I was running a ton. My nutritional choices were also a little more relaxed, as I did not see the point of eating the way I eat when I am training hard because I was NOT training hard. I don't need a post-workout protein shake after a 2M treadmill run. I have more carbs because they seem to enhance mood a little and cake tastes good.  If I am not racing, then I am going to I want a cookie. 

I found myself more often than not, eating things I knew would not help my fitness improve, but I just was not ready to get focused on fitness and I was very much OK with that. I knew when I was ready to focus, I would focus 100%. I am confident that I know how to get myself in Race Shape.  But until I felt I was ready to focus on fitness, I was OK with not racing, being a little less fit, and eating the cake because it tasted good.  I really needed to not be so demanding of myself for a little while.

Kim and I had planned to run Dawn to Dusk to Dawn way back in December.  Kim trained her butt off, running more than one 100M training week, despite rolling an ankle while away on vacation. We finished that last 100M with Two Rivers Marathon, 3 weeks after the 50K Nationals. Our plans for Two Rivers was to just finish the race and get the big week of training volume checked off the training To-Do list… time didn’t matter.  We both recently averaged 8:45 pace for 50K in early March, so 8:45 or better seemed like a realistic goal.

During our warm up, I felt so awful. My Achilles was so tight it hurt to jog. I could not do anything but hope that once we started racing, I would feel fine. Gun goes off and I feel great. The downhill start is super steep… I start fast and then peel back to a 7:23 M1, only to realize something is very very wrong.  I slow more and feel my shins and Achilles are just hot and inflamed.  By Mile 1.8 every step is painful. My lower legs are on fire!  By 2M I am walking. By 2.5M I am stopped, just standing on the side of the road frustrated by the fact that my legs just don’t seem to want to work and I don’t know what to do about this. So I just start walking and hope the tightness will loosen and the pain will go away. It doesn’t.  I am almost in tears from frustration. I try run-walking b/c I just need to get back to my car.  I know that I can turn at 11M, but that is so so far away. This race is desolate. There is no one who could help me. I don’t have my phone. I just need to get off the course asap, but that is still going to take hours at this pace.

I finally get off the course and sit in the restaurant with Anne and Bob while waiting for Kim to finish a huge week of mileage with a marathon-LR.  She ends up “accidentally” running a 3:37!  This is fantastic!  Another BQ for Kim, by accident! ;)

I do my best (poorly) to show that I am thrilled my friend did so great (my experience is no reflection on hers and I want her to celebrate)… I know she is trying hard to not be too exuberant b/c she know I am not thrilled with my race and something is wrong and concerning me… but I know I am dealing with emotional stress not really physical stress.  Physically, I am strong and nothing happened that hurt me. I just wasn’t able to function and that felt a little scary.

The next weekend (April 2nd) was the first Clifton team race of the year, Indian Trails 20k, on a hilly course. I was very much afraid that the hills would set off some reaction again where pain debilitated me… so I start with caution and somehow manage to negative split to run a 7:19 paced 20k. I felt great!  No Achilles pain. No shin pain. Nothing hurt.  My last mile was 6:35 and I felt like whatever happened last weekend was a fluke.

I register for the Cherry Blossom 10k on April 9th. All I want to do is beat 7:20 pace and I will be pleased. The day before there is a special Pop-Up Tea Shop at the MET in NYC. I ask Sid if he would go have tea with me. (I was obsessed with Tea for a little while).  We make a day of it, but I didn’t realize we would end up walking 8M in the city.  The park was beautiful with cherry blossom everywhere.  The weather was gorgeous.  We walk and talk and have tea together. We have lunch at the MET. It is a nice day, but I could tell my legs, Achilles, and feet were so tired.  Dressy shoes (flats) were not the best choice for that amount of time on my feet, but in the moment I just didn’t think much of it.

The next morning, I feel tired but this is only a 10k. I ran a 20k at 7:19 pace, so I should have no trouble running this 10k 7:19 or faster. I start off feeling fine, but as the miles pass I could feel my achilles starting to feel tight.  I assume this is because the first half of this race has some inclines.  I am hopeful that the declines will feel much better… but at Mile 4, my left Achilles feels painful and I can’t go on.  I shut down to whatever pace I can run that would allow me to finish the race so I could get back to my car.  I manage a 7:22 average pace despite the last 2 Miles being around 8:30s. I hobble back to my car, realizing that this magnitude of this strain is greater than anything I have experienced ever in running and I am most likely NOT going to run Boston this year.  After a few days, I am sure I can't finish a marathon like this and I cancel my hotel.

Kim and I were also registered for a mountain marathon in Virginia on 4/22.  I was hopeful that by skipping Boston, I could run that one, even if slow.  But even by 4/18 I knew I could not. I had to skip that race as well.

The next race on the calendar was Dawn to Dusk to Dawn (a 24 hour track race). I knew there was nothing good going to happen for me at this event, but Kim was ready to shine! This was Mother’s Day weekend and boy did we get hit a Mother of a Storm. It rained from before the start until 11pm that night. Once again Kim and I are late to the start. Only by 1 minute this time. We are improving. This meant that we ended up racing in the crappy shoes we had on while setting our camp up, planning to change into racing flats just before the start. Well, that did not happen.

We had some trouble wrestling with our pop-up canopy (I forgot one of the pegs was broken and I still need to ask Sidney if he can help fix this). This delayed us. It was more important to get a dry camp set up than it was to be on time to the start. In 40 degrees with high wind gusts and heavy to moderate rains all day, we needed to make sure our gear was going to be ok.  Our set-up was good.  We had my two-man tent with rain cover set up under the pop-up canopy and this worked well to keep about 90% of our stuff dry.

In the first three hours, I already started to have trouble with my body temperature. We were doing well, started slow and stuck to the plan we created to stay on our pace goal.  But I was so so so cold. My hands were so cold they stopped hurting, but they were useless to me. I ended up wearing two rain jackets and an emergency poncho to dry to stay warm.

The only way I could keep my body temp up was to keep running while wrapped in plastic.  Walk breaks would drop my body temp too low. If I stopped moving to take care of a need, I was in trouble. I couldn't think clearly.  I fought through two bouts of feeling mildly confused and hypothermic before I decided at 9 hours in to the race that I was done for the day.  I needed to change my clothes and that would be hard to do. I needed to feel my hands again. I needed to take a nap. I needed to crew Kim. I needed to break down the camp. I needed to load the car back up. I needed to drive us home. I was very much OK with stopping at 43 miles. The irony is that my achilles felt great the whole time! I am sure the flat track helped.  This trip was 100% worth because I got to witness Kim run like a Goddam Machine in the worst conditions I have ever run in and she just never gave up on her goal.  She managed a new 24 PR with a great finish, once again!  I am so happy she went and pushed through!

I had hoped that D3 would jump start my fitness focus like the Virginia 24 hour did for me last year.  But this did not happen.  I still was just not ready.  Life stress was still pummeling me in full force, and I now my health was on my mind.  I needed a few exams to rule out a very unlikely possibility of cancer again (which all worked out as I knew it would, but just another round of biopsies and ultrasounds really freaked me out for a while).

Finally, by June, I got my shit together.  Things shifted. I made some changes to all my work schedules to give me more time to decompress.  I finished a semester of school which took one major task off my plate.  I started sleeping a lot better.  I started getting up a lot earlier to train. I found a way to accept the stress that will always be a part of my life from here forward.  And I decided that I was ready to get back to work.

Alanna decided to join me in some really focused training to help me and her prepare to be strong and fit by fall. She has given me a gift by agreeing to torture herself with me ;).   Kim has fully recovered from her 24-hour Monsoon PR at D3 and is also ready to get back to work too.  We all are focused on speedwork, long runs, tempos, hills, balanced training, balanced nutirition, getting rest, and just coping with all the crap life hurls at us.  

I now have a great training schedule with Alanna and Kim. Most of this involves getting up early to witness the beautiful sun rising over trails, the ocean, even the track, with people who care about me enough to get up at 4 am to do this with me.  <3 

And when not running I get to look forward to what SuperDave and I call our “morning meetings.” We call each other when I am driving to my hospital work to hash out things and come up with great plans that help us both stay focused on the important stuff. I need this time. Sid has also stepped up more than I realized he could or would to help lift me out of this quagmire that I have I felt stuck in for months. As a result of giving myself time to process and heal, to find my way out of the dark, following a path illuminated patiently by the love and support from those closest to me, only recently have I felt like myself again.

I now look forward to getting up in the darkness to get out the door early, to see the world brighten as I start my day... making sure to take care of myself, my needs, first... to focus on setting myself up for success (with good nutrition, restful sleep, and healthy coping). I am ready to allow the magic to happen. And I have the best friends in the world #chasingsunrises with me!  I am ready to get back to work <3 

(Next Up, RR: Belmar 5M)

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