Monday, September 30, 2013

Trip Day 2: Center of the Nation Series: Bowman, ND- September 16, 2013

Once again I am staring at a blank screen not knowing what to write. If you know anything about me, and my writing habits, you know that this NEVER happens. If we are being honest (which I am a big advocate for), as readers, you must know that part of my struggle in what to write and how to write it has been fueled by a nasty depression. For me, when I plan and plan and plan for an event and spend months anticipating it... whether the outcome is what I had planned or not, I wind up feeling horribly sad. All this build up and excitement suddenly ends, and I am left feeling kind of empty. This is EXACTLY what happened after this amazing trip. And as I sit preparing to write, I realize that it is taking so long because I don't actually want to end that chapter of my life yet. If I don't finish posting about this event, I wont ultimately close out that period of my life, and I can continue to pretend that it never ended. Hows that for some early morning introspection?

So, If you haven't figured it out yet, this is part 3 (day 2) of a seven part (6 day) set of entries.

The next installments are coming, but it might take some time...

Day 2 brought us to a campground that sat along the Bowman Haley Dam in Bowman, North Dakota. Our home base for the early part of the week was in Spearfish South Dakota, So that meant a 2 hour drive to get to the Bowman race. Thankfully, we were never really came off of Eastern Time and we had a 2 hour time difference that worked in our favor during the entire trip. We woke up at 3am in South Dakota and our bodies felt it was 5am. our races all started at 6:30am and we felt like it was 8:30 am. We went to bed religiously at 8 or 9 pm and it felt like 10 or 11pm. We hadn't thought of this all while planning the trip, but it worked in our favor. As a related side note, I should think that moving backwards in timezones is easier for folks attempting a streak, rather than moving forward in timezones. I really felt sorry for the few folks we met from Hawaii who were constantly exhausted from the time shifts. Well, I felt sorry for them until I remembered that they LIVE IN HAWAII, but I digress.

The course at Bowman, ND was fairly straight forward as a just over 2 mile out and back course which half marathoners would repeat 6 times. To count each lap, runners had to collect a rubber band at the end of the lap (which was right after the MOST amazing support station that I have ever seen at a race), gather 5 rubber bands and then finish strong with a "victory lap." The full marathon ran concurrently and marathoners had to collect a total of 11 bands then have their "victory lap."

What made this course tricky was that the finish point for each lap was at the top of a little hill and runners had to run into a strong headwind that many have said could have easily been 30 MPH gusts.

I was so exhausted from running Billings MT the day before, that somehow I didn't really notice the wind gusts OR the hill. I just knew that I was drained of energy and was getting scared because it was only day 2 and I still had to save energy for 4 more days of this.

Brina and I had previously discussed whether we would do our races together this week or not, and came to the decision that she would run her own pace for the duration of the week, letting me plug away doing what I needed to do. I was ok with this in theory, but in reality, when this happened at Bowman , I felt incredibly alone. and bored. and sad.

I was running my intervals, doing what I had to do to get it done, but my body was filling me with self doubt.  If 2 in 2 was going to be this hard, how on earth was I going to finish what I started?

When we got to the start line that morning, I couldn't walk more than a couple of steps without someone I knew from facebook introducing themselves to me and being excited to finally meet me. I was excited to finally meet them too. But out there on that course, as we were all just working to put one foot in front of the other, I was concerned that I wasn't seeing or hearing as many "attaboys" as I normally hear other runners exchange during races. It would get a million times better as the series continued, but that first day, runners seemed quite quiet. I worried that this would be an ongoing theme throughout the trip.

But then again, I worried about EVERYTHING at Bowman, ND. It wasn't that I wanted to give up, because seriously that thought never crossed my mind. But I did worry. About absolutely everything.

I worried that I was going too fast and would burn out and hurt my foot even more. I worried that I was going too slow and was going to embarrass myself. I worried that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I worried that people weren't going to be accepting of me as a real athlete. I even worried that I was worrying too much.

A few times I had people stay at my pace and talk to me, which was nice. But I was well aware of the fact that (for the second day in a row), my foot was also causing me to unravel. by the 4th lap, I had a distinct limp and my back was beginning to bother me. By the 5th lap, the limp was more pronounced and every time my foot landed, I felt fire radiate up through my heel and ankle. And by the 6th lap, I was spent. I was barely able to put one foot in front of the other. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew I had to cross the finish line on the way to the car and I had to get to the car to get to  my painkillers and my ice buckets.

As I approached the finishline, Seth ran out to meet me with a bottle of ice cold water in one hand and my aircast in the other. I finished. It may not have been pretty. It may had been slower than I wanted to. But I finished.

Gun time: 3:55:00
Pace: 17:56 per mile

Not a great time, but my goal was not about time. My goal was just to finish.

26.2 miles down, only  52.4 miles left! To be continued...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Trip Day 1: Montana Half Marathon- September 15, 2013

I am struggling with how to write the posts about my 6 in 6 challenge. At first I thought this was going to be just about running, but it became so much more than that. Other than running (which was a big part of the trip), this was about pushing myself to my limits, about physical and mental perseverance, about strengthening old friendships and about kindling new ones. It was about blood, sweat, tears, and blisters. It was about having a life-changing, perspective altering experience. It was about overcoming adversity, and remaining strong even while feeling incredibly weak.  If I had only one minute to say what this trip was about, this would be it, and I could end the blog post right there. And that would be OK.

But there are so many things I want to remember. And an occasional few things that I would really rather forget (see bedbugs in previous post). But in the end, it was all of these things that made my trip so amazing. And how do I write about it and ensure that I do it justice?

If you haven't figured it out yet, this is part 2 (day 1) of a seven part (6 day) set of entries.
The next installments are coming, but it might take some time... Afterall... I've got a lot to say. When do I not?


Sunday September 15, 2013, Seth, Brina and I woke up before dawn in our warm little hotel room in Billings MT, ready to start the experience of a lifetime with the Billings MT Half Marathon.

The course was fairly straightforward. It was a Point A to Point B course with the Finish line at the local high school in downtown Billings. All runners for the full marathon were brought via bus to the start line 26.2 miles away, and half marathoners were brought to the midway point for our start about an hour later.

When we boarded the bus to the half marathon start line, we immediately realized how chilly it was going to be. We all knew that Montana would be cold, but as honorary South Floridians, we really weren't quite prepared for this type of cold. My heel was bothering me, but I knew that this was the only race that my time really mattered to me on. I was determined to set a PR and bring my half time down by 2.5 minutes so that I could get a better corral for my first full marathon (upcoming in January). The drive to the start was spectacular with the Rim to the north, and the mountains to the south. I had never quite seen such beauty (this would be an ongoing theme throughout the trip, you'll see).

Our claimed sagebrush
While waiting for the start, Brina and I both had to use the restroom, but the lines for the port o potties were too long. We debated waiting, but ultimately figured that if peeing in the fields was good enough for the local cow population, it would be good enough for us. Brina scouted out a lovely sagebrush to provide coverage for us to squat behind, and we each took a turn.

I am only bring this up because it was probably the most heavenly moment I have EVER had while relieving myself. I squatted behind this beautiful little bush to pee, and my face went right into the sage brush and I inhaled deeply. The smell was soothing and refreshing and really settled my nerves. It was pure bliss for me, though for Brina, it was entirely different. Turns out she must be allergic to sagebrush... and she spent the next 2 days with itchy watery eyes and sneezing. Poor girl.

So anyway, what was really cool about this course was that the majority of it was downhill, and that it basically followed the same route that the bus took to bring us out to the start. The field of runners was small and with this being the first time that I ran on my bad heel, I knew that the field was going to thin out fairly quickly and leave me behind.

But Brina knew that I had a goal. I needed to get a good proof of time to be able to move up a corral during my first full marathon. I hate to remind people (lest they he shocked that this is a run pace, or try to call me "lesser than"), but I do run, walk, run intervals of 1min/1min. My times have increasingly lowered and lowered as I have become more accustomed to running, but I still seem to average approx 15:15 minutes per mile with a PR of 15:04 per mile. The goal was to bring my pace down to approximately 14:45 per mile.

And this is why I love Brina. She sees my goal, she tells me to cover up my garmin and not look at it. then she coaches me through the entire event so that my goals become my reality. She's tough, and sometimes on the course, she can irritate me, but I am CERTAIN that goes both ways and I drive her batty as well. During previous races we have done together, she has NEVER left me behind. Even during that terrible horrible no good very bad race that made me so incredibly sick for days afterward. She repeatedly forgos reaching for a personal best to instead stay with me, socialize with me, and try to usher ME into a new best.

When this injury had cropped up this summer, we had a long discussion about how I didn't want to hold her back during this trip, and how if my heel was acting up and I had to take it easy, I wanted her to make the best of the moment and do something great for herself, and she was hesitant on giving me an answer. I isn't that I didn't want her company (because we all know that I love her dearly) but I didn't want to be the thorn in her side holding her back from awesomeness.

So there we are slogging our way through the miles in what I thought was the most gorgeous course I had ever seen, and Brina was pushing hard. She started bumping my running intervals out to 1:15 and walking intervals to 0:45 and kept encouraging me to move forward. She stopped to pick up pennies, she relished in looking at the wild turkeys and the horses (even screaming at them like a giddy 4 year old, which I LOVED), but my heel pain kept building.

And I thought to myself, "Oh shit. If I have 5 more of these things to run, I should probably back off just a little." But I didn't, and the pain kept building. And by mile 8, I was at my breaking point. Brina was no longer pacing me from beside me, she was about 10 feet ahead of me. And I couldn't keep up. I was limping (although not really that badly), and I was near tears. When the timer went off to tell me that it was time for another run interval... I just couldn't do it.

Brina looked at me irritated at first. And tried to encourage me to move forward. I begged her to leave. I told her that I was at my breaking point, and she saw this as reality, wished me luck and left. I'm sure she was irritated with me, because *I* was most certainly irritated with me.

I walked for a few intervals to allow myself a nice cry and a good pity party, and when I was done with the tears, I looked at my garmin.

My average pace for the first 8 miles was 13:58.

How the heck did that happen???

I picked up my pace again and finished the race out strong completing almost all of the run intervals as planned at 1/1 ratio. My heel pain was so excruciating at that point though, I was well aware of the fact that I was running SLOWER than I was walking.

That last couple of miles felt like they took forever (and they most certainly did), and I watched the time on my garmin slowly creep higher and higher. As I rounded the park near the finish line, I knew that making my time for Disney was out of reach, but I still wanted a nice strong finish.

And I did. Because entering the chute at the finishline, I saw Brina leaning over the railing taking a picture of me with my nice strong finish. I flew through the chute at a sprint, fueled by the fact that one of my closest friends was there cheering me on.

As I crossed the finish line they announced my early birthday, gave me my medal and water, and congratulated me. I looked down at my garmin, and realized that I may not have gotten my time for Disney, but I still managed to get a PR!

At our post race celebratory lunch.
Time: 3:16.36
Pace: 15:00/mile
OA: 360/370
AG: 57/57
Gen: 328/278

Incidentally, It wasn't Brina at the finish line but a look-alike instead. Brina and Seth were at the car, thinking I wouldn't be finishing for another 15 minutes or so. Guess I proved them wrong. ;)

So we did it. 13.1 miles down, only 65.5 more to go.

To be continued...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Preparing for the Runcation of a Lifetime

So I've spent a lot of time talking about the physical and mental training involved in a huge running trip (what I like to affectionately call a "runcation"), but trips like these take a lot of logistical planning as well. I've not talked about any of that so far, but seeing as how I am about to blow up blogger with half a dozen posts about my trip, why not add one more to the mix?

When planning for any race, of course you must pay your entry fees and train long and hard. I paid my entry fees and trained really hard for a few weeks and then got hurt. Then you must make sure that you have your airfare, car and hotel reservations made prior to the trip. NEVER just show up at a destination airport hoping to rent a car on the spot.  We had no problems with airfare, but there are a couple BIG things I must mention about car and hotel:
  • Make sure that when you make car reservations, you are renting a minivan of some sort. I really like the Town and Country because it allows both sliding doors and the trunk to open hands free. What's more, the rear seat and the captains chairs each stow and go, preventing little mishaps like what happened in this photo of Brina when she got stuck searching for something behind the rear seats. Also, not only does having the extra space make storing baggage really easy, but if it is really cold, you can crank the heat in the vehicle and use the extra floor space for post race stretching, sleeping or wine drinking (while waiting for your friends to finish).
  • Make sure that your car reservations actually have you picking up and dropping your car off at the appropriate places before you get there. We made our car arrangements through one of the online rental places, and arrived in MT to find that our car was not to be picked up at the airport but instead down the road in town, and that it was to be returned to the same location in Billings, MT instead of at Denver International Airport where Seth was flying home from. This made for some confusion and concern as the car rental company was not being flexible and wanted us to drive the car back to MT from NE, then get a different rental car to take from MT to CO. Did you follow that? If not, that's fine. It took me days to figure out what was going on with the car, and I am still not sure I get it.
  • On the point of driving from place to place, it makes more sense to map out your route of travel before you even leave home and not rely on your GPS. GPS is great, however you never know what kind of cell service is in your destination area which may render your smart phone just as useless as my dumbphone.
  • On hotels, while nobody likes to go from hotel to hotel during a trip, if your travel time to a race on race morning is more than 1 hour, it might be easier to get a hotel closer to the start of the race, rather than using a base hotel and driving longer distances to and from. On day 2 of our trip, the race started about 2 hours away from the start and while (at home planning the trip) 2 hours didn't seem so bad, that can really be exhausting for the driver when you are pulling multiple days of getting up at 3am. It wasn't so bad for us, but for the future, this might be something we consider.
  • And finally, while driving around, we saw a lot of signs that specifically advertised that hotels had free wi-fi and were clean. We thought this a little peculiar but we reminded ourselves that the local culture was very different than what we were used to in a large city. I'm not saying that you should lower your standards, just that you may want to be flexible about what is important and what is not. Wifi, not so important. Maybe you only have a shower instead of a tub, or a small bathroom area, or no coffee maker... these are always things you can compromise on, but NEVER compromise on Cleanliness. This really hit home for us when we found out during the middle of the week that some of our other friends had found bedbugs in their hotel up the street. I cannot emphasize this enough... KNOW where you are staying, and KNOW how to check for bedbugs and other hotel calamities. I really don't want to talk more about this because I am grossing myself out already.
But what do you pack with you? How do you make sure you aren't packing too much or too little?
  • Before my trip, a friend taught me about the plastic bag method of packing. I vaguely remember my mother packing me for sleepaway summer camp like this where she would lay out entire outfits including socks and underwear, then pack each outfit in a separate bag. I had never thought to do this for an adult trip, but in terms of running clothes, it made it very easy. Because I was running for 6 consecutive days and didn't know what my access to laundry would be like, I laid out 6 individual outfits including socks, bras, panties, and compression sleeves. I tightly packed each outfit into a gallon sized ziploc and labeled the outside with a description of the shirt. 
  • Packing this way allowed me to really make the most of the real estate on the inside of my luggage, and kept things all in one place. Then at our 3am wakeup calls in the hotel, I could just reach into my bag, grab an outfit and run to the bathroom to pee and change without getting into the way of my roommates. Easy Peasy.
  • I also packed one bag with just my fuels and electrolyte tabs (which I seriously wound up not needing on this trip), one for all of my non-running underwear, one for my bras, and one for socks. This left PJs, Dresses and Shirts as the only loose clothing in my bag. We had 3 adults in our hotel room, and packing this way left me feeling super organized, it made packing and unpacking really easy and cut down on hotel room sprawl. As a side note, If I do this again, I might pack some different essentials to make sure I was well prepared for both the 30F days as well as the 80F days.
  • Always make sure you have jackets and tanks, pants and shorts, a warm winter hat and sunscreen. Don't forget your body glide, your foam roller/stick, your camera charger, or your flexible attitude.
Always remember, You may be going somewhere that is small town, but there will be stores and pantry items wherever you travel... We were shocked to find out that although Billings MT was one of the smallest cities we had ever been to, they have not one, but TWO Walmarts. Heck, there was a Walmart nearby each hotel we stayed at. This allows you to get yourself a cooler (which was a MUST on this trip), your breakfast foods, pick up extra pants if you are chaffing in unusual places, and a winter hat if need be and your buckets.

And finally, ALWAYS make sure that you have enough room to stand comfortably in your ice buckets. These buckets will be invaluable to you in filling your cooler from the hotel ice machine, but also in ensuring that you ice your achy limbs while on long drives from location to location.

Now that you know how to pack... please place your seatbacks and tray tables to the full, upright and locked position and prepare for takeoff. It might be a bumpy ride, but you can do it!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

and the verdict is in... *sort of*

I had an MRI on Saturday and the followup yesterday where the Dr. showed me some of the problem areas in my foot and ankle. Its not broken. So that's good.

Its not acutely torn, so that's good too.

But everything else is a mess. From their reports:
  1. No evidence of acute fracture, stress fracture, dislocation, bone contusion or significant bone marrow edema of the left ankle or hindfoot, particularly the calcaneus.
  2. There is a small subcortical cyst in the superior aspect the calcaneous just deep to the insertion of the subtalar ligaments
  3. Small ankle joint effusion but disproportioned pooling of fluid  posterior to the tibiotalar and subtalar joint and fluid within the tarsal sinus
  4. Tear of the anterior talofibular ligament, but I suspect that this is of long-standing.
  5. Mild Achilles tendinosis but no evidence of Achilles tendon tear.
  6.  Edematous changes and fluid posterior to the Achilles tendon felt to represent a combination of peritendinitis and retro-Achilles bursitis
  7. Retrocalcaneal bursitis
******** ADDENDUM #1 ********
There is a small amount of fluid within the posterior tibialis tendon sheath. This may indicate mild tenosynovitis, although the posterior tibialis tendon itself is intact.

Ultimately, I am not that kind of almost-doctor, so I really don't know much about what is going on, but this is not necessarily good. I don't need surgery. I don't have any breaks. But it is a soft tissue (with multiple injuries as has been explained to me), so it means it will take time. And rest. But mostly time.

I am looking at 6 weeks in my boot (at least), but thankfully I have been cleared to ride my bike without the boot to allow for some cross training. And I have been cleared to run 3-5 miles twice a week over the next 2 weeks.

But best of all, I have been cleared to run the 6 in 6 series I have been training for. I agreed to wear the boot to and from the races and wear the boot as if it is my full time job for the next 6 weeks, and in exchange I get to run my series.

Obviously I will have the option to slow down to a walk if I need to during this event, but did I mention that I get to at least try to run it?

The Dr. warned that the pain may be excruciating, that I will need to be taking pain killers and anti-inflammatories through the whole trip, and that ice is a must.... but he isn't discounting me altogether.

In the meantime, I may be allowed to run 78.6 miles in 6 days 2 weeks from now... but I also have a handicapped parking pass and have been told to use it. Seems kind of amusing to me.