Friday, September 27, 2019

Sandia Crest Marathon (9/14/19, Albuquerque, NM), Another Surgery, and Doing Hard Things.

Do easy things and life will seem hard. 
Do hard things and life will seem easy.

I want to do hard things. I want to persevere. I need to endure.  I am not done yet.  I am a marathoner. This is not over! 

My Health Update: 
On September 9th, I had an MRI to determine when my next repair surgery would be. I had been feeling a lot better but I knew was still not completely healed. The next day, my surgeon called to tell me good news! The main infected tracts responded favorably to the ACell regenerative matrix treat and my body was actually healing itself! HOLY CRAP this magical regenerative medicine is working. My body is fixing itself! I had no active infection, no fluid accumulation, and what remains of the tracts has been narrowed down to just slivers.

I have another surgery scheduled for October 4th. Hopefully, if we apply one more round of ACell to what remains of the tracts I can possibly be healed and move on with my life. Fingers crossed.

But here is the thing, over the past 6 weeks or so, I have regained control over my life despite my illness. It doesn’t matter what is wrong now. I have found a way to manage my symptoms so that I can get back to training and work around my obstacles.  I am a long-distance runner and I need to run

Well before this good news, I decided back in June to register for a marathon. I love the mountains and found a race in New Mexico, The Sandia Crest Marathon. It had a generous deferral policy. I have a very good friend who lives out next to the mountain so even if I couldn’t race I was still going to travel out to NM to hike up to 10,000-13,000 feet. I love being up high. 


My Training: Three Key Workouts, Using What I Had, Training Deliberately.

It has been a long time since I raced. Once I recovered from surgery and started moving again, I only had 10 solid weeks to train. This is such a ridiculously short time. I can’t even argue that I had a strong base to work from because I did not. I had shut down my training in March after my second surgery and first ACell attempt. I gained 10-15 lbs of extra weight (107 lb was my best racing weight and I was up to 131lbs the week after my last surgery. I am happy racing at 117 or less. I was carrying at least 10 lbs of bona fide extra mass that wasn’t going to help me train or race well.

Knowing I had 10 weeks to get fit enough to endure a marathon, I decided to focus on three key workouts.

(1) Long Runs.  Building from 0-24 miles using a run /walk method starting with 0.15 Run/0.1M walk ratio. Each time I went out to run a long run, I would increase my Run distance by .1M or .15M and keep the walk at .1M.

My long run route was not beautiful. I had to deal with narrow roads, busy intersections, annoyed drivers leaving the MVC all before hit Mile 1 at the Prison and Sex Offender treatment unit. Mile 2 took me under a dirty disgusting bridge, with broken glass, sometimes stray needles, and dead pigeons. I ran past construction sites and down a path behind houses along a river where teenagers loitered to smoke pot. Mile 3 took me through a local park where I had access to water and bathrooms but also grown people who sometimes had trouble behaving themselves. The comments and catcalls get old fast. Mile 4-6 had me navigating narrow shoulders and bad drivers in too much of a hurry. Finally by M7 and beyond I had some peace in a nicer area with bathrooms and water fountains and long traffic-free running paths. At mile 10, I had to turn back and do it all again to get back home.

Week after week, I had to force myself out the door to make this journey to save my soul. I never felt unsafe, but I missed running in the lovely parks of Monmouth county where I could see wildlife that was still alive, smell the clean air, and not get verbally harassed by teenagers or adults who seem to have no idea what it looks like to witness someone doing hard things.

By the end of my training, I was able to run beyond 1 mile non-stop before walking for .1M to recover. My pace was just under 12:00 pace at the start and ended at 9:29 pace for my fastest run/walk long run of 24 miles, which was not actually the last long run I did. I struggled with these runs because most were done late in the day in the summer. I worked hard to make the long runs the focus, increasing my distance at least once but often twice in a week so that I would have the chance to get to 24M with some time to rest. I actually made it 24 miles ahead of schedule and hoped to repeat 24M or even get to 26M at leasts once before I took a week of rest, but I just couldn’t hold on. I managed a second 22M and then a 21M after the 24M, but the last two long runs were much slower than my 24M and I felt like I was just done “cooking” by that time. I was tired.

(2) “Speed work. At least once per week, I worked on trying to get my turnover back and I wanted my legs to get used to the pounding of faster paced running. For this workout, I still used the run/walk method, but the runs were all .45M and walks were 0.5M. The run pace was mid-to-low 8:00 pace with some sub-8 bursts when weather was cooler and I felt strong. These runs were about 8Ms long and by the end, I was able to get one total workout to average sub-9 pace. That was as fast as I could go.

(3) Hills. I used to travel a half-hour to Holmdel Park to run steep repeats of the bowl but with my condition requiring me to say close to home (to deal with the dressing changes and because I did not want to spend any extra time in sweaty clothes with open wounds) I had to find a hill close by. I live at maybe 85 ft elevation. There are no hills here.

The best I could do was a neighbored hill that climbed 46 ft in .15M. I used an "up-over a block-down- turn around and go back up-over a block-down" route to cover .7M with two .15M ups and .15M downs. The grade was about 4.9-5.5%. This is not very steep, but it is not flat either.

The best hill work I did was a 10M run with 7M of hill repeats. I needed to work hard on the downhills so my toes, shins, legs could get used to the pounding descent. But I knew this could never adequately prepare me for 4000 feet of descent down a mountain.

In addition to these runs, I did easy runs with Sidney at whatever pace he wanted  (also run/walk) and I walked the dogs as much as I could. I focused on getting as many steps per day as possible and in August I was very close to 800,000 total steps in the month. 

I did not do one single non-stop run in 10 weeks time and I was about to go try to run a marathon. lol ;) 

As a result of my training, I had lost 8 lbs, got my resting hard rate down to 44 bpm, and felt like I had done as much as I could do in the time I had available. I did not do any lifting, or yoga, or jump rope, but I did what I could. I was ready to give racing a marathon a shot.

The Race: 

I picked Sandia Crest Marathon because I love the mountains. This race was net descent but if you read the review you will see it is not easy. There are mile-long climbs at altitude that are hard for anyone, especially a runner from sea level. The hours of steep downhill pounding will add up and make it hard for the quads to persevere. The dry air is incredibly dehydrating (and just before I left for my trip, my molar cracked and exposed the root making it really hard for me to drink cold fluids with out shooting pain to my brain. Cups of ice water seems like a great idea when temperatures rose, but I just couldn’t handle the pain from the ice-cold fluids hitting a nerve so I know I drank less than I should.

I loved staring at sun rise on a 10,000 foot high mountain top. But I was a little concerned. This would be the time I have run first thing in the morning since maybe January 2018? I have been up and walking dogs first thing in the morning for months, then doing afternoon or evening training most of the time.

The first mile was blazing fast. The descent was no joke. I managed a sub-7 minute pace for mile 1 and can’t remember running that fast since May 2018 at a race. I tried to settle down but gravity made it more jarring to my quads to hit the breaks than it did to just go with the flow.

As I floated along I felt amazing. I could see myself running a fast time, surprising myself. My expectations were to try to beat 4:15, but if I found that I could actually go for a BQ I wanted it! I did not really believe the 3:39 was possible until right now in this race. Suddenly I could really see it happening. I remember running sub-3’s and how smooth I felt. I felt just like this. Oh wow, I am gong to FLY through this race!

Running a mile uphill at about 8500 feet is demoralizing. I am incredibly proud to have been able to maintain a running stride for that entire mile. I didn’t lose as much time as I expected but I am pretty sure I may have taken a few years off my life trying to hold on. Oxygen debt is no joke. At this point, I wasn’t even sure if I could finish the race. BQ! Ha! Who was that delusional idiot back there at mile 3? Success at this point would be measured by me finding that ability to take a full breath of air that actually circulated some oxygen to my extremities. Oh wow did I feel so unprepared for a marathon! Ok, back to reality… the goal once again is to just finish this thing!

Soon we started to go back down. I regained coherence and I got more pep in my step. These next 3 miles were fantastic. I knew I had a smooth ride ahead of me until about the 12M mark.

This course was fast through 12M and then the hard stuff would happen (expect big and rolling hills throughout the second half as the temperature rose and shade decreased). I expected a faster first half than the second half. Mission Accomplished ;)

But by mile 7, I had started to feel my stomach rebelling a bit. I needed to use a port-o-potty but I didn’t want to stop. I was so proud to have run the furthest non-stop run since maybe January? But I did not have an option. And there was a line. It is really hard to wait on line during a race. I lost a least a minute waiting but the rest break surely helped.

Once I started running again I was still holding around an 8:00 average pace and was shocked by this. I really did not think this was truly possible. 

The next hurdle came at mile 12, just before a huge hill that was about 1 mile long. I had to stop again. A runners just one stride before me jumped into the port-o-potty and took literally 3 minutes in there. I know this. I timed him while cursing and pacing. I knew at this point the chance of me BQing was diminishing greatly despite me still technically being ahead of BQ pace. The 12-mile hill was a beast and I knew it was getting hotter and hillier as I traveled along. I expected to fade a lot in the second half, which I did.

From this point forward, I returned to my run/walk training, walking up the steep hills and running anything I could run. It was getting harder to run because my quads were not prepared for hours of the steep descent. I did no jump rope this training cycle. My “hill” was barely a hill. My quads were in shock and my toes were disowning me.

By Mile 21, I watch my pace fade to slower than BQ pace and for a moment I felt disappointed in myself. Had I BQ’d it would have been on the very last day to possible do it and it would have the potential to qualify me for 2 years of Boston. It would have been a raging success to go from such a low point in my health to achieving something so amazing… and I watched it slip away.

But shortly thereafter I had some clarity. I REFUSED to let my inability to achieve a REACH Goal take away the joy I should feel from doing exactly what I was doing, which was running a marathon after almost a year of debilitation health problems off of 10 weeks of prep and I was going to come in well under 4 hours! This is a victory and if I let this feel like a failure then shame on me for not knowing how to set realistic goals for myself. I should know better and it is what I do.

So I shifted and started repeating the mantra I have been using throughout my training. “You are exactly where you are supposed to be. It doesn’t matter where you have been or where you want to go. Right now You Are Exactly Where You Are Supposed To Be” and then I start looking around my world for object and I repeat “Right now you are supposed to be right here, right next to this telephone pole…. Right now you are supposed to be right here, right at this intersection… Right now you are supposed to here, Right at this water stop with the lady where sunglasses shaped like popsicles…. Right now you are supposed to be here, power walking up this mile-long hill at mile 24 and nowhere else.”

This helped me tremendously. I was doing something amazing and I almost missed the joy of it because I about to feel bad about not qualifying for some other race that won’t happen for months. I refuse to distract myself from experiencing joy just to allow myself to feel bad about something else that was not happening. That is crap and I refused to allow myself to feel bad while doing something well.

I decided that since the BQ was out and my body was very tired that I would make sure that I enjoyed the remainder of the race. I worked hard, power walked when I felt I needed to, and enjoyed the emotional ride to the finish line with no pressure to do anything but have fun!

After all, I was running a MARATHON!  A hard marathon. And this is where I belong!

I am so proud of my effort. I felt like myself again, even when it all unraveled for me in the second half. :)


Do easy things and life will seem hard. 
Do hard things and life will seem easy.
Expand your comfort zone. 
Appreciate the Moment.

Time: 3:49.16
OA Place: 39
Gender: 12th
Age 3rd