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Archive for the ‘Recovery’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Finishing is Winning

Finishing is Winning

Taken me a minute or two (or weeks) to write this about half #57. Not sure why. It wasn’t the worst finish time or the best. But it’s a significant race for me – aren’t they all?

I guess it’s significant because it’s starting to feel like every race could be my last. I don’t know how many more I can do – regardless of doing one or 10 in a year.

But to get back to #57 – in my hometown. That’s always special to me. A year ago, the Seattle race couldn’t have been better. An article I’d written for the Seattle Times had just come out two days after I landed in town, I ran my fastest Seattle time (by a lot), enjoyed the race, got some good quality time with my mom who was a rockstar and even got to celebrate over dinner with a good friend. It was pretty much the perfect race weekend for me.

This year – not so much. I was able to come up to town early, but not for fun reasons (other than extra time with mom), to see some doctors and figure out why I”ve had a cough for 2+ months. It was scary. The doctor appointment was somewhat inconclusive, which with autoimmune crap they usually are initially, and the chest x-ray – just the act of doing it – was scary. I went home after those appointments and slept for a couple hours. I was wiped out to say the least. And then felt paralyzed in the “I know something is wrong” fear, but also dismissing it and pretending everything is fine, to keep folks around me calm. But the next day the tears came and went. I rallied, in a daze, to do things and get prepared for the race. I once had a friend years ago when I was in the hospital say “oh it’s just Gretchen, I’m sure it’s just something weird” which didn’t exactly make me feel supported and also makes me want to hide my health crap more than share it. Hell, I can’t imagine having a guy stick around to be able to ‘deal’ with me or my health, since it hasn’t happened yet, so it’s easier to just stuff it. Fake it till you make it – the most common advice I’ve ever received.

Went to the expo the day before the race, and all I wanted to do was grab my number and be invisible. Absorb into the walls. Hide. Got my samples, shared some laughs, and hightailed it out of there to, yup, get some rest. I no longer feel brave or resilient, I don’t seem to have strong days really. I feel like an imposter, someone just getting by. I still run, I still try, but the rally has faded somehow, the body issues fucking with the mind. And vice versa.

But the race. I didn’t do my typical race prep morning of, but pretty close. I wondered how I would do, with the cough, and the laboring body. One thing was clear – I’d had three important conversations prior to this race. Once in person with my mom, one on the phone with my sister on Friday and one on the phone with my brother on Saturday – all promising them I would take it easy and not over do it. Now, I could not make this promise to myself. I might try but I’d push somehow. But when all three made the effort to reach out and make this request, it felt different. I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it to respect what they asked of me. I did what I needed to do to prep for the race, and then I promised I would take it easy.

The start was pretty awesome – I mean, I had to get there ridiculously early, but we started right by Husky Stadium, my alma mater, with the finish at the Century Link Field. And in getting there early, I got to rest inside Husky Stadium, which felt special. To be in there and take some photos of the new Husky Field itself, well what better setting could I ask for? And then to run across Montlake Bridge and through the Arboretum, down into Madison Park – couldn’t be more quintessential Seattle than that.

Did something I’ve never done before – I stopped every two or so miles. I recall some of them, heading up Madison, and a few others. Somehow I lucked out and they usually came as a hill was starting or at a turn where it made sense to walk a bit. Sometimes I’d push past the mile marker but not too much – I really did stop and walk every two-ish miles. I held my end of the bargain. It wasn’t easy. Not because I actually wanted to keep running when I said I would stop, but it wasn’t easy because it was hard to run at all, and be out there for that long. One perfectly timed walk-break came as I took a right up a hill when they were splitting the half and full marathoners – those poor runners had another 18 miles to go, meanwhile I only had five. That was a nice realization on that walk.

Did another thing I haven’t done before – forgot my music. Now, one time, also a Seattle race (2011?) I thought my nano was charged and it wasn’t but that time I actually still ran with the earphones in, because that’s the feeling I knew. This time I left the nano and earbuds at the house, forgetting the entire contraption. And so, I was forced to be aware and awake the whole course. I noticed my breathing, of course, and the footfalls. I noticed more around me than maybe I normally would, but then again, I pride myself on picking up stories. I will say, that seems to be easier when I”m feeling healthier and stronger – running when it’s this tough, really I’m just trying to get through each step, each mile so the focus is different, perhaps more selfish and I feel somewhat guilty about that, that I’m not focused more on others.

I recall the first mile or so, boing through the Arboretum and the Seafair pirates offering rum, a live band with a singer crooning “Fly Me To The Moon” and the taiko drums prevalent at nearly every RocknRoll race course now – although I will say having them in the first few miles doesn’t offer as much “oomph” as having them at mile eight or 10.

Wearing a Seahawks tank top for the race was purposeful and it brought on the desired result – every so often, a runner, a spectator or a volunteer handing out water would yell “GO HAWKS!” which was incredibly inspiring and motivating, even if just for a fist pump and a step or two.

Miles four and five were interesting…first, a guy with a speaker in his backpack was weaving around many runners. Not entirely uncommon, usually at least one runner in a course has a speaker and ‘shares’ their music with everyone, whether they want it or not. (riddle me this: it’s always a guy.) This guy? Oh, he was also singing at the top of his lungs along to whatever song was playing. As loud as he could. Sharing the love of his music. And scattering people around him as they tried to get out of his way. It was a certain age, for sure, that liked or disliked what he was doing. He was an older guy, and those older runners who liked his music laughed, the rest turned their own music up.

And then the guy who actually made me cough. As in, he was smoking the biggest fattest joint I’ve ever seen, while running, and with his speakers (it’s a thing) blaring. Ok, I think he’d stopped to be able to inhale as much as he could, but it was insane. Giant clouds of pungent smoke didn’t just drift across the crowd, it was like they aggressively sought out all the people passing him. Yes, some people laughed “yeah, dude!” and all that but I actually thought it was kind of a dick move. Yes, it made me in particular cough a lot which isn’t cool, but it was aggressive to a group of health conscious people who didn’t ask or invite for that to occur. It’s a choice and you’re allowed to choose to smoke pot in WA, without a doubt. But to force it on a group of people like that, beyond rude and arrogant. Bay To Breakers in San Francisco? Sure, it’s expected. An RnR race where the half and full courses are still running together? No thank you.

Speaking of coughing, first time running with the new steroid inhaler I have. You know you’re inhaling something intense when the pharmacist say “make sure to brush your teeth and tongue after every time you use it.” Ugh.

Running through Madison Park area – um, okay, yeah, I see where the 1Percenters live in Seattle. Holy mansions and fanciness.

This was another new course (last year was too) and I don’t know if it’s because of construction on I-90 or if it’s going to be a new one for Seattle RnR, but I liked it. I mean, it’s tough – tougher than last year and easier than the ones before that. But there was something cool about it. Half of the course was actually the same course, but running the opposite direction on it – like Martin Luther King Boulevard. That was kind of interesting – a course I’ve run a number of times, but almost felt backwards.

Getting to the finish line – that was an effort. There were moments in the last few miles where I felt capable and other moments where I felt like my feet would fall off, my head might roll off and my whole body might shut down. But I kept running. Or shuffling really. In fact a few times, I could barely keep my feet up and the toe of my shoe would trip me up a little. Pick your feet up! I would think to myself, and I would, for a few steps, and then fall back into a sloppy-just-get-there run. And yet again, something about being close to the end can inspire you to keep going, and so I did. I ran until I crossed the finish line, and then felt that familiar need to throw up. (anytime I run more than a mile or so, it happens) But I did it. And my mom was there to say congratulations, you made a good time! And I took a few pictures, got my medal, got some foods and my gear bag. And then within about 15 minutes of finishing, we were on our way back to the car, to head back home and grab a nap. Before I had to jump on a plane and get ready for one of the most intense weeks of work.

As I lay my head down for my nap, knowing I could only sleep for maybe 45 minutes, I thought about the race. I thought about all those steps I took. I felt pride for honoring what I said I would honor to my mom, sister and brother, I felt pride for doing it at all, I wondered and quickly dismissed if I could’ve ran it more or faster. Because I realized, in this case for sure, no matter my time, that for me, for this race, finishing is winning.

PostHeaderIcon First race of 2017…oh boy really?

This was either sheer will and perseverance or stubborn stupidity. Or all of the above. I ran a super cold half #54 this weekend. Didn’t exactly let too many people know, ‘cept for my lovely local DC friends and a handful of others who just knew. T’was ugly.
See, I haven’t run since 2016. It’s mid-March. And I don’t mean like some runners say they “haven’t run” but still do 2-3 miles 3x/week, but it’s “not really running.” Truly not running or hiking or training or anything. Physically I lost endurance, strength, boldness, lung capacity, form, speed, and of course, inspiration. My gut, my joints, my lungs are out of whack and my pd numbers have climbed again. So as I write this on a plane back to Denver just hours after I crossed a finish line (which was in doubt for much of the race), I am marveling that I actually walked onto the damn plane. Let alone ran Saturday morning.

Seems I took one too many life gut punches last Fall and while for a bit I continued to feel physically strong and kept going (think I was attempting another fake-it-till-you-make-it which so does not work as a lifestyle), I ran out of gas, and then some. And can’t seem to find the next filling station. Jan and Feb didn’t exactly start the year off great either. It’s been a rough few months to say the least. Hard to find much get up and go. Not running has had nothing to do with being lazy or needing a kick in the pants.
A few good things from the race did happen – including, yes, crossing the finish line. Well meaning folks had encouraged me to hey, pull a DNF if you need to, just take care of yourself. It’s gonna be tough no matter what cause you haven’t run AND out of control cold, right? Top 3 coldest races I’ve run.

Speaking of coldest races – third of three cold races where there was ice at the water stations. As in, spilled out of cups onto the ground, turned into ice that one had to step lightly around (or end up on your ass.) My friend Adam told me that at one water station, the volunteer pulled back the cup he almost handed him because *itwasice*. Yes, ice. The next cup he got was slushy water.

Speaking of Adam – somehow the what-are-the-odds of running into him in the corral at the start of the race last year was topped by not seeing him in a corral (keeping to myself a bit these days) and then seeing him at MILE 10. As in, he was ahead of me running and I looked up and thought, hmm, I think that’s Adam. And used a surge to pull up to his left, confirmed my suspicion and gave him “fancy meeting you here!” And we ran for a minute. As in really just a minute or two. Adam is super fast and given that I haven’t run, I am not. By mile 10 every fiber of my legs hurt and my lungs were hanging on. Trying to keep up with speedy Adam made my lungs nearly jump out of my chest so I said “go get your finish time, I’m gonna hang back but let’s connect at the finish line.” And true to his word we did meet up. Thank you Adam, you made those last few miles more buoyant.

Before I ever saw Adam, I saw whiskey. At mile 7. Every ounce of me wanted to spike left and throw a dixie cup shot back, for warmth, for shits and giggles, for curiosity. But by mile 7 I was fairly light headed consistently, with a frozen face and remember that one time a race had wine-tasting at mile 10 was awful so I opted not to. #nexttime
And after that, the Balata DC drums corps at mile 8. Wow. Even in my woozy non-whiskey state I was able to focus briefly on the energy and intensity of the swaying group. Best yet.

Back and forth this requiem goes, kind of like my brain during the race. The scenery. Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, cherry blossoms, Georgetown, heading down North Capitol Ave and running towards the Capitol. All gorgeous on this sunny, clear and ridonkulously cold running morning.

Oh! Speaking of scenery, Rock Creek Parkway, beautiful. But then it turned mean – the hill. Thankfully the Run to Remember folks in blue were there. Having spent Friday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery feeling overwhelmed, in a good way, at the sheer enormity and emotion of it all, I burst into tears seeing all the parents, friends, siblings, children of fallen soldiers holding American flag after flag. I walked that hill partially because of my lack of strength and partially to pay respect.

Judy. Judy. Judy. I love that you were there, running too. You are amazing. Was this number 9? You make it look effortless. You inspire me and your compassionate non-judgmental support for where I’m at these days is incredibly humbling and kind. Thank you for meeting up with me for a healthy pre-race dinner and walking back post-race through cherry blossoms in our tired, cold, shivering mylar shawls. The new piece of race jewelry stating “You Are Enough” is something I’m wearing each race from now on (and perhaps more.) Thank you my friend.

And Sara, Bryan, Audrey – to be able to spend quality time with all three of you in the days leading up to the race – you will never know the appreciation I have for you each, for your compassion, laughter, kindness and inspiration. You made these last few days brilliant and even happy for me. Thank you for letting me be fully me, accepting me no matter what, and giving me a bit of hope and light. And for grounding me in order to be able to run, foolish as it may be.

Speaking of appreciation – dear sir and his lovely wife who were in the VIP tent when I got there. I stumbled in and crawled over towards the heater but on the other side of a bar table. I sat on the ground on my mylar post-race shawl, desperately wanting to change out of my wet cold clothes (it was so cold, the water I got at the finish line had begun to turn icy a few minutes later, I was beyond shivering) into something, well, not warm but maybe dry. I began to shiver uncontrollably. I got my first two layers off and they asked if I needed help, my pride shook my head no and smiled thank you. I got my new layers on but by then my fingers had lost all feeling and color and dexterity. Couldn’t even put my gloves back on. I had a packet of hand warmers and tried mightily with my teeth to open both sides. No such luck. I hear again “do you need some help?” I look up and with tears in my eyes, I nod. He appears squatting next to me and rips open both packets and I put them in my hands. He giggles and takes them back to shake them and then puts them in my hands, shaking my hands to get the heat in the packets going. It’s the only body part moving at this point. A minute later he comes back “there’s more heat on the other side, I’m not taking no for an answer, we’ll help you up” and he and his wife help me up and move me around to the other side of the table and I sit back down on the ground to try to warm up. Everything but my hands do start to warm up (those took another hour or so.) I looked around to say thank you once the feeling came back to my face and brain (seriously, this is a whole new concept of brain freeze!) and my kind friends were gone. Whoever you were, thank you thank you thank you. I will pay it forward, I promise.

This race had lots of entertainment along the course, including:
The. Best. Signs. Ever.
“You’re Running Better Than the Government.” Yeah, saw this sign FIVE TIMES. And pretty sure there were more along the way.
“Run Like Steve Bannon is Chasing You.” And then I promptly pictured the grim reaper from SNL chasing me.
“Nevertheless, She Persisted.” Yeah, that one gave me a little boost every time.
Ok, this one I gave her a high-five for, laughing out loud: “Don’t Worry, I Called Russia – You’re Going to Win.” Weeheeheehee.

Everything hurts. Every muscle I knew I had and others I didn’t know I had. Including my face, cause of a wee case of wind burn. Why did I run? I don’t know. It was far from easy, in fact the complete opposite. Both physically and more mentally. Who am I without running? I’ve wondered about even sharing this, writing about this, given the state of our communities and society right now, the urgency of the work ahead. That it feels selfish to even hint at the idea of needed support. I’m learning to not wear my heart on my sleeve so much – it’s not serving me, moreover it’s crushing me more often than not. Then again, as we talk about at Allegory all the time, we’ve been raised to just stuff it and get over things (and that’s advice I’ve been given too many times.) How’s that working? And coincidentally much of my health stuff rears it’s raging head whatever I’m stuffing for whatever reason. I may feel wary and far more cynical than ever, and I also know I’m horrid at asking for help.

I’ve prided myself on being the resilient one, helping others, trying to prove or show my strength and ability to rise again (and again and again.) And in being honest with a few key people who encouraged me to share this because it’s real, it’s raw, it’s honest – it happens to nearly everyone and people rarely talk about it. And so I am. There’s so much more I could divulge about the last few months, the naïve trust I had in certain things – people and life, how I feel like the raw end of a boxing glove. what I haven’t done for myself, how I have trouble taking real care of me and how I’m paying for it now. Yes, perhaps I needed a break – but I didn’t take it for real, cause beating yourself during said break means it’s not a break, really. Self sabotaging isn’t exactly helpful either. I’m not great at asking for help, stupidly prideful about holding the piano by myself, stuffing it to prove something (God knows what) to someone, something. I have another race in two weeks. I’ve signed up for a few this year. I can honestly say I have no idea how they’re going to go, or even if I’m going to do them let alone finish them. But something in the last three days tried quietly to get my attention, in a good way, and maybe just maybe, this is still who I am. Or, post the big goal last Fall, a new version of the next phase. What I do know is despite an avalanche of damn good reasons to check out and chuck hope out the window, I got up and ran-ish and crossed finish line #54. If you’re still reading this, thank you whoever you are for taking the moment to read this raw, real account. Feeling incredibly grateful right now.

PostHeaderIcon How to motivate for #51…

img_9773

Did you think I would stop running? 🙂

Must admit – this was one of the hardest races I’ve run. Ugliest in multiple ways. Both the parts I ran and the parts I walked. I mean, I definitely wondered about what my motivation would be now that the 50th is just barely in the rearview mirror. Fearful that it was gone, what is my reason, where do I find new purpose. Was happy to find it still relatively easy to get up early and get into my routine and eventually get excited. And then nerves set in. A lot of them. My stomach was wrecked, my heart pounding and my limbs shaking. I wasn’t cold, but everything was trembling.

The race started and I looked forward to shaking it out and settling into the run. Surprised at not being overly sore from Brooklyn just one week prior and enjoying being out on the course. I will say, aside from the altitude, Rock n Roll Denver is one of the prettiest courses in the series. A well planned course for runners.

But then the wheels really fell off. In fact, I don’t remember much of the race. I began wheezing around mile 5 and it turned into a desperate gasp for air (the first of four or five attacks), thank you to the girls at the water station who gently patted my back as I held onto my knees and leaned over trying to not let it turn into an anxiety attack. I got back into running and immediately felt the weakness in my legs, that I rarely if ever feel. Like the muscles and blood pumping through them leaked out and disappeared somewhere. As I came around the corner and looked up the hill, I opted to walk. It wasn’t an option really. It was necessary. I normally love hills because I power past a lot of people when running, but something told me to pull up and not push.

Don’t recall much between that and the next few miles, other than starting to allow myself to take it one mile at a time, not think of the whole race cause this was going to be slow and slogging. And at the beginning of every mile, I walked. And started to notice something that scared me. I was becoming the wobbly runner that bobs and weaves along the side that I see at nearly every race. The one who is steps away from falling down. The disoriented person without a clue of where they are. I felt incredibly weak and on the verge and yet every time I passed a medical tent, I was feeling moderate, and every time I would’ve stumbled into one, they weren’t around. It was a weird juxtaposition.

Throughout all this, I wasn’t tracking much, I was merely concentrating on looking straight ahead and one foot in front of the other.

And so I made a deliberate choice – walk as much as I needed to or keep running and be scraped off the street on a stretcher. Now, I know some people see that as “leaving it all out on the course” but I don’t. When I think about having no regrets, it’s not that. I would regret the damage I would do to both my body and heart if I pushed it to that extent. I would not regret being thoughtful about taking care of myself. Yes I can dig deeper when I think I can’t, and find out what I’m capable of – and I did by doing it this way.

In the walking, I met up with the kind of runners I think/hope I’ve been before – the one who slows up beside and says some encouraging words or gives an encouraging smile or thumbs up. Again, I don’t remember much, they’re a blur of humans and miles and trees. One I recall vividly and wish with everything I could’ve gotten his name. A much older gentleman who when I started to walk at mile 10, ran slowly beside me and said “you got this, you’re almost there my dear, you can do it.” And I smiled weakly and nodded and began to run a minute later. When I hit mile 11 and had already been walking up a hill and decided to use the mile marker as a ‘start running’ cue, guess who I found beside me again? There he was, telling me we were at mile 11 and a quarter. So close. Keep going my dear. We are almost there. I know he said some other beautiful words but I don’t remember them. I would like to tell you that I waited for him at the finish line to shake his hand and thank him, but I did not. Because my body shut down once I crossed the finish line, the finish line I tunnel visioned across.

My head exploded in pain and I couldn’t track anything or anyone. I did somehow get my medal and waters to drink. And then I stood there. Staring at the ground. Unable to move. Organizers yelling into megaphones for runners to keep moving to keep the area clear. I stayed put, rooted to the ground. And scared of how my body was reacting. Eventually I blinked and walked forward, drinking water and wanting to get away from people and crowds. And then I saw my crew, family and friends and tearily fell into their arms. I don’t remember how I got to the grass but they all worked together to get a blanket down, me on the ground on my back and then I tried not to pass out or worse. Had they not been there taking my pulse, calming my body down, I would’ve found my way into a medical tent, like I did in Maui 2011 where I passed out to awaken to an IV of help. I knew they would take good care of me and eventually I stopped being on the verge of whatever weakness was threatening to take me down and was able to begin to sort of track activity around me.

We got some sustenance in me and eventually I could rise and walk again. But I was definitely shaken (still am a bit, if I’m honest) and not able to take a lot of care in, where someone’s best intentions of helping to stabilize you aren’t as well received as when you’re not acutely unstable. And I understand cause I was still a wobbly walker at that point. Thank you thank you thank you, all of you, for your encouragement, care, and support – I can’t imagine that race without you.

Here’s what I know from this run – first, a really crappy victory lap for the achievement of #50. Ha! Seriously, maybe the major activity before during and after Brooklyn was still taking it’s toll. Maybe it was the altitude, even through I have a routine to deal with this kind of elevation and the toll it takes on my body. Maybe I won’t know and don’t need to know and just need to see it this way: I crossed another finish line of a beautiful course. With slow but determined perseverance. Every step counted, even the wobbly ones. I’m also proud that I took in the information my body was giving me on this one (getting better at this and trusting it all) and paid attention enough to not end up with far more serious problems or injuries. That I get to try again and do this again soon. I mean, I have had a few bad races, with tough finishes that weren’t intentional (sometimes a slower race is very on purpose) and this is top three for sure. And in the scope of 51 (so far) starts and courses and finish lines, if three or four are brutal and inspire some reassessment or new curiosity – I think that’s pretty damn good. No matter the experience, I’m always appreciative for the opportunity to be able to do this at all.

And one of the lessons from this – it may not go how I want it to or how I imagined, and it may take a little longer, but one step in front of the other (no matter how clumsy) and I will still get to the goal. Perfectly imperfect.

So, I am fine now, recovering, still in the post-race few days of recalibrating my brain and body back to baseline strength. And grateful for the care I received from people who love me, that I didn’t have to go through all that alone, and for the community I am continuing to expand in this little world I run in. #wontstoprunning

PostHeaderIcon When your health gets in the way…

Full disclosure, true confession. This isn’t a FB post that’s about a victory, vacation or some delightful observation or political rant. I’ve hesitated to even share, because it’s a bit more raw and real than put together and strong. So many posts out there seem to intimidate at least some of us to only sharing when things are going swimmingly. And a lot of time they are. And a lot of time they’re not. Hell, I had an idea a while ago that someone should start a hashtag with pictures of all the nights we spend on a couch versus the nights out, the trips, the social times. #onmycouchwatchingreruns

The reality is, I have some pretty big goals I want to accomplish this fall. They’re incredibly and deeply meaningful to me. And right now, I don’t know how I’m going to do them. My health has taken a hit this summer and something in my immune system is yet again out of whack. Challenging to say the least. I’ve seen more doctors in the last 3 weeks than in the last two years. I’ve spent more time on my couch or on the floor than out for a run or a hike. I’ve cried more tears than I care to remember (including in front of colleagues this week who thankfully are incredibly compassionate friends too.) Sigh.

When your body is a breeding ground for auto immune diseases or disorders, you think you get used to living this way. That when there’s a flare up or a new diagnosis you just deal. Here we go again, go into auto pilot. But you don’t. Not me anyway. I’ve never taken this stuff lying down. Not for long anyway. And sure, for years I pretended or stuffed away the idea that my body and inflammation were like the Montagues and Capulets. Warring most times, silently stalked at others. For me, inflammation is like a poison in my body. It trips the triggers of my immune system and I don’t always know how, why, or when. The poison seems to seep insidiously and unchecked.

In fact, most people say “but you’re the healthiest person I know!” (first, you need more healthy friends, cause I’m not! ;)) And sure, I do watch what I eat and purposefully keep myself strong as I can. As the reporter said of me in June, when you’re betrayed by your body multiple times, you guard against it by keeping yourself healthy and strong. And this just proves that AI (auto immune) issues do not discriminate nor can be completely prevented. Even the best efforts can sometimes mean nothing when it’s determined. And this time around, while I’m not giving up, I definitely have noticed the extraordinary fatigue and overall difficulty even feeling strong. Joints hurt, internal organs feel stressed, and the runs I do attempt are slow and frustrating. Just last week I attempted a yoga class and while it felt good to move in that specific way, I couldn’t help notice the severe shaking/near collapse of my arms in certain positions that has never happened before. I chose not to be overly alarmed or quit but I felt it to my core.

And so, I keep on keeping on. I wait for more answers. I don’t like waiting. And no, while people say this with the best of intentions (I do know that), no news isn’t necessarily good news. For people with chronic illness and/or AI issues it can mean more questions (that go unanswered – I don’t enjoy baffling doctors), more fear, more rabbit holes to fall down into. Plus more medications to try, stop, try new ones – and dealing with the medications side effects. If you have had one AI issue, you’re far more likely to get another and another. Simply, get one, you’ll get three more. Since I was a kid, I’ve had some that are life path altering and lifelong and others that are temporary and mild. Even those that slip into remission or require medication to manage can flare up and down over time. Where, when and how these things manifest is still mostly a mystery to much of the medical community. Makes it super fun to be a patient. Makes you also sometimes lash out at people who don’t live in this kind of body or feel super snarky and cynical, in the midst of feeling scared and vulnerable. A few months ago someone said I had grit. I loved reading that. And I definitely do not always feel it. Not by a long shot. It’s scarier to own this than to pretend I’ve got my crap together. I don’t know much but I do know I’m doing the best I can.

What I heard myself say this week? If someone invented a way to get an immune system transplant, I’d try to be first in line. (that’s a bad joke, re ‘try’, cause you never know what your day will be like when you deal with this shit)

These AI episodes don’t make me a freak or weird or damaged goods – or less capable of anything. It means my body went into overdrive trying to fight something. It’s attacked itself. And I don’t know exactly how this episode unfolds yet. I do know I alternate between frustration, fear, resignation, giving up, fighting, annoyance, determination, vulnerability and much more. I hope for the best and worry maybe this is, this time/this episode, the tipping point to something worse. I monitor my health and modify when I can and still this can happen. It seems my body feeds on inflammation and as I said above, that’s a kind of poison to my system. And no, it’s not just stress related – frankly, when asked that question I hear that someone is asking if I’ve caused this because I’m not getting enough rest or have stressed myself out or some absurd thing. I guard my health rather fiercely thank you very much. Let’s be clear, one’s physical health can absolutely mess with one’s mental health. (and vice versa. of course I believe as many do the connection between mind/body health.)

What I am relearning is to be gentle with myself. To stop apologizing. To not compare myself to others. (including those who I know have it far worse than me for whatever reason and those fellow runners being featured for big accomplishments.) To not compare even my past accomplishments. The fact that just last October I ran the fastest I’ve run a race in 5 years or just this past June posted a personal top 10 finish time cannot be what keeps me from moving forward because the next round of races may not come even close to that because my body is “off.” Did I get cocky or take my health for granted? Perhaps, a little. I don’t know. I don’t think so. But even if I did this isn’t a ‘punishment’ for that. Do I need to be careful with my goals? Yes. But in the way they are precious not that I need to give them up. What I am doing is indulging in discipline that works for me and seeking more information and tenderness. And I’m trying everything, alternative to conventional.

Sometimes it feels a little like I’m being tested, like how bad do I really want this big goal I’ve set? It’s not going to be easy to obtain it seems. I really wish I was feeling the strength of last Fall or June of this year. But it appears I don’t get to coast into the finish line. Even my good luck race necklace broke for the first time – but at least I can take it to get repaired easily. Suddenly the meaning of it all is clarified again, crystal in the depth of “if I can do this…” and how to apply it to other areas. If I have to crawl on my freakin hands and knees to get across it, that’s what I will do. It may not be pretty or strong or graceful but it will happen. (Right?) That’s how it feels when I am able to get off the floor and go for a little run and think about October 8. I may be covered in more tears than sweat when crossing the finish line of #50 becomes a reality. Right now I think I would feel happy shock to cross it. And incredibly grateful to all the people around me supporting me, pulling for me, seeing me for ALL of who I am, not just my sometimes wonky health. The true reality is I don’t know how to not keep going – how many times I’ve thought about giving up but in actuality I never do. I’m holding onto that thought, that I persevere with relentless resilience. Even now.

Not sharing this to have anyone feel sorry for me. Not at all. Also aware that some will feel uncomfortable. I wrote this to be real and honest that I’m not always strong and this running journey is beautiful and isn’t anything I’m taking for granted. This is just a bump in the road. And, I don’t do fake-it-till-you-make-it well. I’m sharing it for anyone struggling with some kind of illness or surgery recovery or any struggle that might seem invisible to others but could be debilitating to them. And wouldn’t it be amazing if the stigma around AI issues or any other chronic problem was lessoned just a little? That understanding and compassion for living in a body that’s balance can be thrown off for any reason increases? I’m hoping that whoever is fighting today feels like you have a teammate in scared ol’ me. I’m more committed to somehow, somehow running these next few races and feeling some sense of strength, pride, accomplishment – no matter what it looks like. I’m also sharing this as a way to say thank you to those who are loving me through this all. Surviving in spite of. Thriving because of.

PostHeaderIcon Winding down #42 and gearing up #43

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A week ago I ran half marathon #42 in Denver and a week from now I will run half marathon #43 in Philadelphia. All words I know, never thought I’d write them in that order in that sentence. Never crossed my mind.

Denver was such a graceful lesson in fears, letting go, expectations, self-compassion and being in the moment. Here’s a snapshot:

*admittedly, my worries about running 13.1 miles at that altitude scared the @#% out of me. My lungs are compromised and capacity is an issue. So what would this be like? I wanted to run in Denver to spend time with my friends but the race itself caused some very real anxiety. I took the necessary advice, precautions, tips and adjusted expectations. And got some great rewards for just getting out there to run it at all. I didn’t expect this to be a “mic-drop” kind of run but I did still want to have a really strong experience.

*my right calf was feeling a little bit better every day, and Saturday morning I woke with it feeling it’s best since the Grand Canyon and two halfs. And here I was about to thrash it again. So I wore compression sleeves. And they worked. Never ran in them the whole 13.1 miles (trained with them twice for short distances) and was/am pleasantly surprised. Calf felt great during and after the race. And now, no need for sleeves!

*speaking of sleeves, they were lilac. My shoes pink, capris grey, tank red and white, turquoise sports bra, white/red hat. I looked in the mirror before leaving the house and laughed “it looks like a Care Bear just threw up on me!” Well, at least I was easy to spot!

*Got called a “hero” for the strangest reason. Pre-sunrise, standing in line at the runners porta potties and after about 15 minutes, I’m up next. Suddenly a gal rushes up and gets right in my face and says hurriedly “Oh My God, can I cut in front of you? I don’t think I’m going to make it. Please?” And she is uber stressed. Throws herself on the ground and is clearly in distress. Of course I say “of course!” and all of us around her are immediately staring at the two units near us, willing the red on the lock handles to turn green. One does, she jumps up runs over and just as she’s about to close the door, points directly at me and says “You! You’re my hero! Thank you!” And I burst out laughing (not always easy to do pre-race mental time) and said “well, I guess a porta potty hero is a great way to start the day! Sure, I’ll take it!” So there’s that. Hero.

*Turns out this race I’m the one that got a little extra support at the start. Team RWB rocks. I was smooshed up outside the corral gate wondering how I might get in, and the local Team RWB team saw my tank and yelled “Team RWB in the HOUSE!” and pointed at me, and helped me over to take a place next to them, with them. Doing so many of these races, training and events solo, I don’t often feel that sense of belonging. And I’m starting to think I might wear this Team RWB shirt all the time! The hoots, hollers and shout outs along the course are amazingly inspiring and supportive.

*Everything felt so much better than I expected, especially in the first few miles. Yes I’ve run at higher altitude in Tahoe. It’s drier here in Denver. Feels different, tighter in breath. And it’s a race, that I plan to run the whole of. And I feel buoyant and happy and open as I’m running. Wow. One mile down and this is going to be a great race. As I pass the mile 2 marker, I have an unexcited wave of emotion rise up and suddenly I’ve got tears running down my face and I choke out the words to myself “I can’t believe I’m really doing this. Running #42. I never…I never thought THIS. Wow.” and feel extraordinary gratitude for this journey that continues to amaze and inspire and motivate me. And for my body and lungs to feel this good, at this point, in this part of it all (especially having just done one a week ago) is pretty remarkable to me.

*A little secret: I say the Serenity Prayer at every start line, before I take off. Sets me up pretty well for trusting myself and letting go.

*Having my friend Dawn and Bill so present and so supportive pre-race and on race day, including physically there, was such an incredible boon to the whole experience. There’s a system called runner tracker where she was able to put in my info and as my d-tag would crossed the various sensors set up at 5k and 10k and others points, she’d get a text saying where I was. I happily leapt over each of the road markers where the wires were, as there is something about knowing someone is there, paying attention, bearing witness to your progress that feels, well, amazing and lovely. And fun. And actually, motivating too. I know that if something went wrong, she’d see that and if I was making up time or had a great split, she’d cheer that too. I always push myself but this was a different kind that I really enjoyed.

*I was happily surprised at how not-tired my body felt through much of the race. Specifically around the fact that I’ve run SO much lately. And then, at mile 8 and again at mile 11, my legs – glutes, quads, hip flexors – seemed to rebel, as if to say “yo LADY, we just did this a week ago! What the heck?” And so I talked to my legs, thanked them for the awesome job they were doing and willed them to do a little bit more. Whatever you believe in, I promise it worked. Including making me laugh.

*A first – a few miles running through City Park and I’m on the lookout and avoidance of goose poop. A lot of goose poop to navigate. Definitely never had that before!
*At one point I pass a blind runner, tethered at the waist to a sighted runner right in front of them by about 5 feet. It’s a beautiful site to behold, and I tuck in the back of my mind that I’d like to train as one of those guides someday.

*”Channel Your Inner Badass!” – a sign I see in the first few miles. I like it. Then, there they are at around mile 12.4 or so. And I’m compelled to run near them and point at the sign, and as they see me, this group of 10 people starts cheering “YEAAAAAAAH!” and I have the craziest surge and burst of energy, as I was feeling like yeah, I’m reaching inside and connecting to the inner badass, with their help. Holy moly did that lift me up off the ground and push me the last half mile.

*Speaking of the last bit of course – hello downhill. And hello my out-of-nowhere afterburners! I had only planned to finish the race, run the whole thing. There was no thought of finish time, just feeling good. But given that almost the whole race I felt strong and awake, I decided, what the hell, I’m going for it. Ran strong, long and fast that last 3/4 mile. God that felt good, and FUN! Best way to finish.

*I can now honestly say, there is *nothing* quite like hearing friends cheering as you’re crossing, seeing them and seeing a big handwritten sign they made for YOU as you finish. Oh my goodness. Before I even got my medal, I headed over to see Dawn and Bill, overcome with emotion and gratitude (sorry for the drooling sweaty mess of a hug ;)), just so happy to see them. If you EVER get a chance to support a friend or friends at a race they’re doing, go for it. The boost you give them is indescribable and beautiful and memorable. THANK YOU Dawn and Bill for creating a pre and post race environment of love and support and for the race course support and enthusiasm. This alone is worth the effort to travel and run. Plus, best I’ve felt post-race maybe ever – cannot begin to truly express how grateful I am for all of it.

*So I just crossed my 42nd finish line. Which means I pushed myself over my 42nd starting line. So deeply grateful for absolutely every aspect of this journey so far.

*Oh, as a little bonus, I got to go see THE Newton Running retail store in Boulder the next day. My shoe haven. Or heaven. I was such a gear geek gawking at the store while there, giddy with the mere aspect of being in hallowed Born-In-Boulder store. Super grateful to Caileigh and Nicole for their graciousness.

*Let’s Go PHILADELPHIA, the town that if it didn’t exist, I may not either! Going to run where I was born

PostHeaderIcon The ghost tucked away

There’s a victory for me in every step I take. Figuratively too. It means my body is moving, I’m moving, forward. It’s more than that – it’s the part I never talk about. It’s the ghost that follows me around, sometimes standing right in front of me, daring me to acknowledge it. Sometimes it’s a forgotten ghost, far enough away that it’s almost – almost – hard to remember, to recall the pain. It’s the ghost of sarcoidosis. And the toll it took on my body. That I seemingly refuse to give over to.

It probably rears it’s cruel little head a couple times a week. That’s a lot for something I never talk about. But. It’s twofold for me – I really don’t think anyone wants to hear about it. And. By not giving voice to it, perhaps I’m also not giving power to it. But it taps on my shoulder, more than I care to admit. It lives with me. I live with it.

Sometimes it’s a glance at some “sudden” discoloration on my ankle. Red. Angry. And a distinct line around the ankle marking something, perhaps nothing, perhaps a former sense of pain, or the look of something to come. That’s where I worry. I see that two-tone skin and wonder – is it coming back? I shudder. And then I, for whatever reason, power forward and through and still go for a run, or throw on the heels or push it out of my head in some way. Or I’ll see a bruising that immediately brings to mind the start of it all. And the wary curiosity at the beginning of the venture. And that wariness of pain and confusion and unknown-ness lingers still today. Don’t go there, I tell myself.

Not interested in being stuck to the story. Not interested in having what happened be an albatross for the rest of my life. It does, however, inform bits of who I am today. And considering I never really addressed this episode or the subsequent episodes as clarified as I am now, this is an opening for me to do so. So this turning point in my life, it informs rather than strangles with it’s trembling hands.

And then there’s the knee twinges, hip throbbing. I don’t have runner’s knee. Never have. But I distinctly – and I mean exquisitely – remember what the pain felt like in my knees too. If I sat in a chair, it took me minutes, long minutes to stand up. My own mom drove right by me at the airport after I got off the plane last because I moved so slow, because while from the top of my head to my waist she thought it was me, she saw the legs below the skirt and said “those aren’t her legs, that’s not Gretchen.” So I feel my knees for that familiar swelling, the tender to the touch puffiness. Nope. They seem fine today. Ah, the hips – stretch them out and 99% of the time, again, all good.

How about the heart murmurs. I know this insidious disease attacks organs, and that’s the extra dangerous part of it all. So when my heart speeds or skips or thumps, I can’t help but leap. Ok, maybe I can help it, but the invitation is almost alluring to wonder. It’s almost like it’s testing me – is this it? How easily, how quickly does your mind go to that being a possibility? Or the headaches. My God, I cringe remembering the MRIs to check for lesions on my brain due to sarcoid. The fear squeezing tears down the sides of my face, pooling into my ears as if to protect me from the noise of the machine. Wanting to look away from the doctors and technicians, so as not to read anything into their facial expressions or try to read their lips.

So the headaches come and do their damnedest to scare me. Works sometimes too. I’m not a headache-getter. Had the migraines a bit in my teens, so I know the aura that shows up and the excruciating pain of a migraine. I’m also fully aware of the intensity of a sinus headache. So I know what kind of a headache I recognize. And there are times when a searing pain happens in my head that’s just plain unexplainable. And rocks me. Initially it’s just the pain or the suddenness and over-the-top feeling that rocks me. And then it’s that thought that permeates through the fog of pain. What if it’s back? What if it’s in my brain?

The seizure a year and a half after this all started didn’t help. At all. The fear rose up again and permeated daily life. Maybe I really am being cut down in the prime of life. Maybe I really am damaged goods. Maybe it’s ok that my closest loved one, my significant other, my life partner yet again looked at me like I was foreign, less than, to be tolerated. And the distancing, abandoning and judging began anew. And so I developed the ability to “bounce back” as quickly as possible, lest anyone ever finish walking out that door. But what of this seizure, what did it mean? Oh, I get to do another MRI? Oh, I get to find a new cardiologist because now we’re concerned it might be my heart? Are we going back to the beginning, when I ended up with multiple, scary, confused ER trips?

Ever spent a week in a hospital being passed around from cardiology, to dermatology, to pulmonology, to neurology, to rheumatology and God knows what other department? The stories I could tell. But I don’t want to be weak, to look back, to stay down.

My God, I’m so far opposite of a hypochondriac it’s amazing. Brilliant really. Sure, sometimes to my detriment but for the most part, to my glory of rising above, trusting the good and moving through things well. I’m proud of how I take care of myself, my health, my body. I could do a better job with my spirit and energy and heart soul but that’s another post.

And there’s the eye checkups every two years. The first time I went to see Dr. Collins post-diagnosis, I swear I could sense his own fear for me, his own trepidation as to what he might find on the tests. Again, the eye is an organ and sarcoid can attack there too. There was some damage, some stress crystals in the eyes from it but my eye health has generally stayed steady since. And yet, every two years I have to have my eyes checked just because of prescriptions and he has to do a special check juuuust to make sure. For some reason, I don’t like it. Makes me feel momentarily vulnerable again.

I chalk up all elbow and shoulder issues to sitting and writing and lots of upper body training for running, essentially denying my brain the chance to go down that road for those joints too, even though originally they were attacked significantly as well. Imagine forming your arms like a Barbie doll, and then not being able to move them just like her. Fun.

What about the sudden tiredness for no reason? That certainly accompanied the whole episode. Granted it was nearly impossible to sleep well with the inability to move without excruciating pain. God, the anticipation of pain in the mornings after laying in bed for a spell, and then the pain coming in faster and furiouser and ten times what I anticipated.

Have you ever burst into terrified sobs just from standing up, desperately grabbing for something to shift you, hold you up?

Ever negotiated with yourself to just go to the bathroom wherever you are or lay in a bed with a towel under you just to avoid standing and walking in the morning to the toilet?

Wished for someone to cut your legs off, please?

Stared at your legs willing your magical abilities to liquefy your lower extremities?

Ever googled peaceful ways to die, solely to escape pain you didn’t know was humanly possible to feel let alone endure?

Willed for the worst case scenario because then, at least, you’d have an answer and a path?

Ever spent every waking minute of your life for months on end in a state of panic, confusion, terror, ceaseless pain and overriding fear?

Tried to figure out how to make a deal to learn how to inject yourself with morphine if they ever let you out of the hospital?

Wondered if you were heading for a life in a wheelchair?

Mocked by your own friends because your body doesn’t follow a conventional path of routine expression?

Had your love and life partner tell you your body’s devastation, recovery and overall pain was hard…on them? That they didn’t want to take care of someone? Just weeks after you’re out of the hospital? Have them never again look at you as anything other than less-than (and wonder if perhaps they always did)?

And the lungs. The beautiful creatures they are. The compromised creatures they are. The every few years check up, the chest xrays that seem ironic to me (that many chest xrays I’m pretty sure is actually bad for you and they haven’t always covered up my vulnerable little thyroid, but I digress.) The pain I felt in them when running towards the end of 2011 in my quest to run 11 half marathons and the overwhelming concern of “it’s baaaack” in my head and my family’s minds, and my pulmonologist’s mind. I walked away lucky, with just an albuterol inhaler. Even that messed with my head a bit. Could my body be trying to say something to me again? How much do I listen? When do I stop to understand and when do I push through? The bronchitis in February this year. Scared the crap out of me. Could my lungs handle it? Sure, of course they could. And. Would they sustain damage? Would I become one of those people where every cold turns into bronchitis? What about my immune system in general? Can it handle colds or flus like other people? Stronger? Not?

Ultimately, I choose to believe my immune system is stronger than ever and frankly, above average, it can handle whatever comes it’s way because of what it’s already dealt with. And that belief understandably occasionally wavers. When I get three colds in as many months. Is my immune system crashing? Are there holes in the foundation I’ve built, the hardscrabble way I rebuilt? Is there a breakdown somewhere that I have some control over? Is it ok to even acknowledge this years-ago-now event as the piece of me that it is, so long as I keep the fence strong around the rabbit hole?

So I carry this with me. This occasional fear. And when I add it all up to record it here, it does feel heavy. And annoying. And scary. In fact I just swallowed a lump in my throat as I wrote that. It’s the part I don’t talk about, that I don’t share with anyone (until now obviously.) I have never known how without sounding like I’m being negative or hypochondria-tic or looking for attention. Or asking for something bad to happen. Borrowing trouble. I know full well that the more auto immune diseases your body fights, the more “likely” you are to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in your life (makes sense if you actually think about it.) And I’m up to three, that I know of (based on other various health issues I stubbornly pushed through, I suspect it’s more.) And. I trust the good. The perseverance is not something I take lightly. It really truly means something.

Maybe I don’t talk about it because I know full well the judgement people have about someone being less-than during and after some kind of disease. Maybe that’s why I push the running the way I do now. Maybe it’s not true I’m only trying to prove something to myself. Maybe a few percentage points are to those who judge/d me, those who never took time to understand or walk a mile in my shoes, or those who simply gave up on me in the midst of it all and never found a way to be ok with me again. Maybe I don’t want anyone else to leave or judge or dismiss. Maybe I’m trying to prove that no, I am not damaged goods, I am capable of living and having a full life. And then some.

Maybe I jump out of airplanes to feel the aliveness I get running. Maybe I get inked up like I do because the initial pain of the process still pales in comparison to the can-still-catch-the-emotion-in-my-chest-remembering-it pain. Maybe I live my life the way I do now because I know at any second everything can change profoundly, that to live fully alive I have to feel it all, experience the depths of the journey and earn the authentic joys offered up.

I don’t know. I do know I won’t ever give in or give over to the fear or to allowing it back into my body. It’s clear to me that my body was screaming at me to wake up, to rise up, to gather love but I stubbornly refused to listen. And I paid a very serious price for it. So I won’t allow that part of my journey to sidetrack me to feeling sorry for myself or beating myself up or fearing that I’m not enough. If anything, I can honestly say I thank the universe for reigning down the destruction of sarcoid onto my body in such a violent, painful, acute presentation. It’s led me to where I am now.

A body-confident healthy strong woman. The strength in the spirit as much as the body. Who’s overcome a lot and has some serious big hairy audacious goals laid out in front of her. That require her to step into herself, show up fully and let the light shine brighter than ever. And so, I say, I see you little ghost, I know you’re there, but you don’t get anymore power from me than that. The scars – internally as externally – you left are beautiful in a sense, I’ll take them as a peaceful sign of respect of where I’ve been, not the fear mongering that taps my shoulder. And I truly see the reminders, and I can certainly feel them. But the line in the sand is drawn. You cannot cross it. Stay on your side, I’m staying over here. Where it’s bright, warm and empowering. And when you understand that, I will then ask you to step into my shoes and I will put my arm around your whispering shoulder, embrace you and together we will make all these dreams come alive bigger and better than we planned.

So if anyone wonders why I run, there you go. Bam.

Sure, I’ve told the story countless times about how the doctors told me I’d never run again and that’s my motivation. Yes, if I were singularly seeking a petulant defiant way to respond, that would be it. It’s not just that. Not by a long shot. Of course, I am one of those people who responds to being told what I can’t do by showing that I can. Every personal trainer I’ve ever worked with knows this about me, celebrates it, tests it knowing full well when they tell me to stop at 12 in a set, I will look at them and push to 15 to finish it out. It’s bigger than all that.

Also known as: I run because I can. Because my body allows me to. I run to feel, to feel alive, to feel joy. Every step is a treat. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. That’s why there’s so much gratitude in my running. Not surviving, thriving.

I run. Because I can.

(this is by far the hardest post for me to hit the publish button. wow.)

PostHeaderIcon Running and ink don’t mix

And that’s a good thing. Think I found a way to keep me resting for the week after a big race. Get some new ink the day post-race. Obviously not before, cause you wouldn’t be able to wear the clothes that bind nor is it a good idea to sweat big time right after the process. However, the day after? Perfect. I can’t do a darn thing right now and that’s speeding my recovery for sure. Who knew? Great advice to myself! 🙂

 

PostHeaderIcon ACK the recovery

What a weird journey since this last half marathon. My calves have seized in a way I have never experienced before and I have wobbled a bit in the whole process of recovering from that. All I ever really want to do is run well. And enjoy it. And feel great doing it. When that doesn’t happen, and it’s part of your daily life, it can be a little strange to say the least.

In the last week I have KT taped my calves (right calve currently sporting a festive red tape), iced them, lathered them in Traumeel, foam rolled them, Stick‘d them (oh the pain!), stretched them, taken arnica pellets, taken Aleve, tried an epsom salt bath and rested them. And rested them. And rested them.

All rest and no run make for a squirrelly girl. And mind. Restless.

Scared to do much of anything other than rest and worried each day that with every passing moment I’m not truly recovering, in that I’m not taking my small runs, my gingerly runs and not instantly getting back up to race mode. Am I losing foundation? Speed? Muscle tone or memory? I know it’s only a week, but it could be two weeks of basically no running until running a full half again. Huh? Seems like not a good idea. And even doing other things, like sun salutations with downward dogs or squats and lunges or pilates mat work or any number of other movements I could be embarking on a workout with seem a little nervewracking, like I’m hesitant to really go for it. Don’t want to tweak it worse and make the small amounts of noticeable healing take a giant step backwards.

Now, if I didn’t have another race to do, I’d probably walk a lot, work out other ways and go find a gym to rat out at but because I don’t want to incur any further issues I’m taking it WAY easy. And then THAT in an of itself seems weird.

And then I read article after article that says I should wait four weeks in between races. Well yeah, that sounds great. Ideal even, but race calendars don’t always support that notion and I’m nothing if not determined. And sure, admittedly, kinda makes me feel like a badass when I read that and realize how many times I’ve done two or three weeks only in between half races. And then I wonder if really it’s foolish instead of badassery?

So here I sit. Just a few days away from another half, and having only just finished one 10 days ago. Not so bad, right? It really is a testament to my dedication to running and all things moving the body that I’m so acutely aware and also curiosu about how to do it better. Always willing to tweak. I don’t think I’ve ever had a training or a race where I didn’t know I could try something different or could’ve adjusted somewhere or felt 111% ready and perfect to go. I don’t mind that. Or as I like to review Eric Hoffer’s quote: “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” I’m nothing if not always learning and reaching for more.

I’ll work out tonight, nurturing the body as it continues it’s healing. And tomorrow I will run again as I would anyway and I’m wondering how it will feel a few days out. And then I will rest for a few days before heading to Savannah. And I will wait until that race is over to decide how I will embrace preparation for and my goals around a half in Austin a blessed five weeks later.

PostHeaderIcon Two years

Two years I’ve been gluten free. A gluten free athlete at that. As I sit here prepping for race #4 of 2013, late October in LA, I can’t help but reflect. It’s the third in a row Rock and Roll LA race I’m running and it was two years ago, on the morning of the first one I wrote about having just gone gluten free. Seems apropos to see what the journey has been all about.

First of all, I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, I could say I wish I’d gone gluten free earlier, but I’m in such a good place with my health and body that I understand that everything happened as it to lead me exactly to this place right now. And it’s glorious. I’m completely in control of how my body feels, how it reacts and how it moves. Being highly aware is a gift I take seriously. Am I a shrieking fool who lashes out at whoever is nearby because there might be gluten in or touching the food – not even remotely. I actually pride myself a little on being out with people and navigating a menu without anyone necessarily recognizing I’m specfically choosing a gluten free item.

Sure, when I’m at someone’s house and they serve non-gluten free crackers with cheese, it’s going to come up. But nowadays, most people tend to ask “any allergies or diet issues I need to know about?” and there’s the opening. Funny thing is, I really do eat just about everything else (thankfully, as being a food lover, I love trying new things – hello buffalo! – and am not restricted by allergies, politics or fussiness), it’s the gluten that gets me.

Gone are the days of a refrigerator stocked with a chilling bottle of mint-flavored Mylanta, gone are the days a puffy tummy needed to be rubbed or hidden, gone are the days of mild to moderate to severe bloated-ness in the face and generally all over, gone are the days of all-over body inflammation seen and unseen, gone are the days due to that inflammation of consistent weight training and working out without anything to “show” for it meaning why could I never see muscle tone? and now I know and now it shows, gone are the days of brain fogginess – it wasn’t due to overdrinking or over tiredness or overworked-ness, it was most likely the gluten (although, drinking less, getting better sleep and setting real clear boundaries on my time spent “working” does of course positively contribute!), gone are the days of thinking “it’s just the way my body is built” in conceding a particular stomach ache or heartburn or a cold due to a compromised immune system, and gone are the days of knowing deep in my soul that I’m not just an active woman but capable of much more athletic ability and achievement than I (or the people around me) gave myself credit for.

And here are the days, the glorious days, of feeling truly empowered in my body, in the awareness I’ve come to relish, of the education I continue to cultivate in order to have my body run like a well oiled, well fed, well nourished machine. How amazing! How awesome! How breathtakingly engaging! I know what fuels my body and my mind, I know how to take care of them both, I know what makes them purr and hum and thrive. I never apologize for being gluten free because I know it’s absolutely the #1 way to take care of myself nutritionally. I’m grateful I don’t have celiac and am not so severely restricted that even a trace amount of gluten can send my body into swift and major decline. And I’m grateful that to best take care of an auto immune thyroid disease, one I was diagnosed with at age 12, is to be gluten free and that I now know how best to take care of me.

There’s no looking back or blame to throw for when I first diagnosed. There was little knowledge even then about gluten or even celiac disease. It was rare. But as we’ve poured more and more flour into products to act as “glue”, our exposure to it has increased a hundred fold. If you like pineapple juice and drank a cup a day, you’d probably be fine. But if you drank a gallon a day, most likely after many days or even months you’d not only be sick but may develop an allergy or intolerance to it (let alone just a severe dislike of it!) And absolutely, the GMO wheat and barley and other gluten by-products without a doubt have contributed to the meteoric rise in gluten allergy, intolerance and sensitivities. No, it’s not a fad folks. Perhaps for some Hollywood or vain types it’s a fad or trend to try a la Atkins or Scarsdale or even for some vegetarianism. But aside from those, it is a real true issue for many and therefore the gluten free products everywhere. There’s no self righteousness in this decision, there’s no political or “it doesn’t taste good in my mouth” reasons – it’s an honest to God health decision that has completely turned my health and personal outlook into one of educated empowerment and curiosity about the optimal use of my body.

A beautiful side benefit of going gluten free is eating far less processed food and eating much more pure foods. And neither of these things – not eating gluten because of the risks it poses for me or the purity of the food I now concentrate on eating – is anything I would ever impose on others. There’s no lecturing, or eye rolling or turning up one’s nose in the presence of someone eating gluten. It’s “this is what works best for me” and if someone has questions, I have answers or explorations, but otherwise, do what works for you and I do what works for me. Sure, I’d love for those I love to assume better choices for themselves or expand there possibilities but as with anything, one has to come to these conclusions on their own and then make their own choices, or not.

Having now enjoyed 11 races having gone gluten free and about to embark on #12, I’m so very grateful to my friend who pointed me to all the research around Hashimoto’s people going gluten free. I run cleaner, I think clearer and I feel stronger than ever before. Days leading up to races, moments before a run, during a run and post race are much easier on my body and psyche. Having had very un-understanding and discompassionate people around me post races years ago where my stomach would knot up post race and cause me to fall into bed in some kind of delirium for hours before rising again, and now knowing that was the gluten wreaking havoc on my compromised body, I’m forever grateful at the way I’m able to have so much more control over how my body reacts and feels (eating a bunch of roughage and questionable protein the night before a race, while gluten free, will absolutely also wreak havoc the next day…back to the night before light and lunch being the main fueler). No, perhaps we didn’t know back then what was causing some of the consequences of how my body reacted. But the disdain for not just bouncing back immediately was a kind of pressure and shame that felt practically cruel and that I’m gloriously free of now, as I know my body in such a way to be in exquisite control that I take responsibility even when things don’t go well, because I know pretty clearly what I did or didn’t do.

Someone going gluten free for health reasons is nothing to mock or shame or make fun of. I’m actually often asked “oh, are you gluten free for trend or health reasons?” which is to me a somewhat understandable question, and owning it’s for health, well, every time I say that I feel like my body says thank you and stands a little straighter. It’s a little jolt of “yes, I’m taking care of myself!” And what it’s done for my physical self in my running and recovery is a delight as well – while I’ll never actually know, I surmise that the ability to continue running at the level I do and these soon-t0-be last 12 races being gluten free is because I’m tuned into my body and take care of it in a way I didn’t know I could before. And every year you’re on this planet begs you to assess and reassess how you treat your body and mind, how you nourish and feed your soul and how you expand your existence in the universe – and that changes so the ability to remain aware and awake is critical to not survival but real thrival of your life this go ’round.

So thank you Heidi, thank you brain and thank you body for this beautiful adventure of going gluten free. I feel so much better, I feel so much clearer and cleaner, I feel so much more me. Most of all, thank you heart of truly committing to loving yourself enough to take care of your soul to this level.

Very excited and curious to see and feel and experience this next race – it’s an enjoyment of the senses I’m looking forward to!

PostHeaderIcon Chill chill brr brr run run

(this was originally written in Dec and just realized it somehow didn’t publish, so here goes, time machine time!) And it’s time to get my butt up for this holiday 12k race. I don’t have the exact same butterflies before a half marathon but I definitely have nerves that my pre-race routine will calm down. Stretch, yogurt, banana, some protein and a little caffeine and go through all my “needs” for the race. Did I mention the expo? No? Yeah, that’s because it wasn’t really an expo, more just pick up your packet with your race number and get 15% off the items in the store day of and day of race. Cool – didn’t really have time to peruse and expo and I certainly got my fill in San Antonio. (hmmm, what new city shall I race in next year???)

The weather isn’t exactly in our favor – sort of rainy, sort of cold, sort of sleeting. Granted, it’s only an hour-ish race so it can’t be too tough to power through whatever Mother Nature decides to throw our way. I’m pleasantly surprised at how many people are out for the race – and all done up in holiday costumes! Clearly I’ve stumbled upon a popular local race. I stay in my car as long as possible to stay warm and walk downhill to the start and a bathroom stop. Just the eight minute walk to the start and I’m damn cold. Hands and feet starting to get chilly. I pay no mind, knowing they’ll warm up when the blood starts coursing through my veins during the run. Easy start, no corrals just general understanding of where you’re supposed to be based on how fast or not you run.

The run starts nice – my hands are starting to freeze but the course is pretty, not too hilly and nice views. Definitely playing a little PacMan and sidestepping folks to get into a comfortable pace and place. Takes about a mile or a little more and I find some room to move around in and not stop/start/stop/start in a sea of runners. I take in around me – a part of Kirkland I either never knew or has grown up a lot. We hit a hairpin out and back section and run back towards town, including a nice little downhill. I’m starting to feel my groove a bit, just wish my feet and hands would warm up. Any day now!

We cut through town and start to head up hill. I’m feeling pretty strong at this point, thinking this might be a great race for me. And the hill keeps going. Now, I’m quite used to rolling hills, in addition to short steep climbs and long gentle uphills. But this feels a little different. There’s no real place to catch your breath, no slight downhill to go back up, no break in the action. And I’m pretty good at hills, if I do say so my damn self. I’ve often felt a little giddy when a hill climb begins and people who passed me begin to fall away and on the uphill section is where I’m catching up or passing. So I’ve always felt like it’s a bit of a secret weapon of mine, or at least an advantage when it’s a hilly race.

Still thinking that when a light rain begins and still climbing. No end in sight. Round a corner or two and I always stretch my neck and strain to see if I can catch the break in the hill, the crest so I know where the relief is coming. Nada. Nothing. Nyet. Wow. They’ve packed a doozy of A hill into this race. Yeah, A hill. Not rolling, but just one long continuous hill. I guess that means the second half of the race is all downhill? Fingers crossed.

And look – not just still more hill, more vertical and increased elevation. Dayum. They is putting the hurt on the runners. I can’t tell if it’s bad course planning or wicked course planning. At what I think is the top of the hill in a neighborhood we take a sharp right to get off the main road and for once it levels out a bit. Holy crap. Oh, wait, more good news – I can feel my hands, fingers and toes! Hello! That took almost half the race! Once I get my bearings again, I notice the little 12k marker signs – it’s the 12 Days of Christmas song characters! Ok, props for the clever signs, glad I saw those. Warms the heart a little in this sleeting rain starting to come down harder.

We wind our way out of that neighborhood and come upon what I think is the sweetest downhill ever, an oasis of pavement heading downhill, the reward for two straight miles of climbing. Holy crap this thing is steep! Wow. Everyone is running way back on their heels. I have to believe I’ve already lost a ton of time on the slower than molasses uphill so I just say screw it, I’m flying down. Like a kid. With just a little more control.

So I do. And I catch a couple looks as I suddenly go whizzing slightly maniacally past people, that, to be honest, had bested me on the hills and recent sort of-flat. But whatever, I see another hill coming up and I want to get a running start. Pun very intended. Seriously, for that bitch of a hill, I was hoping for a long, graceful, relaxed but fast downhill. But no, steep and over before you know it. Back up hill. If this is what passes for rolling hills around here, let’s just say my years of training on San Francisco hills has got nothing on this. And another steepy mcsteeperstein. Ok then. And back up. And steep down. On the last steep down, which I don’t know is the last one, I let it ALL go and barely pull up at the bottom to gain some control. Fine, I’m having fun all you serious runners, I didn’t trip ya, I just passed you on a fun little downhill. Let’s GO!

As we take a right to what must be the start of the last 1.5 miles, I’ve got the best legs I could have at this moment. I mean, normally I’m coming up to the halfway mark of a race and I’m about to pass that and then basically be done. So why not just go for it, without, of course, throwing up or collapsing. So I do, I’m racing over some very gentle barely rolling baby hills, down a nice straightaway I can follow.

Hello, what’s this? I have a friend! She’s come up behind me, she’s drafting off me. Well, that’s flattering! And she zigs to my right and keeps pace for a second before darting out in front of me. Um. No. Watch this. I start chasing her – she’s kind of like me: tall, lean, blond braid and long legs. I’ve probably got 10 years on her but no matter. Right now, it’s just the two of us. I remember seeing her a few times throughout the race so I gotta feel good about keeping with her through all the hills and craziness. She steps it up and I speed up to keep with her. This is fun. We’re zig zagging in and around people, gobbling them up. I don’t even notice that I’m practically not breathing. But I’ve been running fast, been taking off time on the downhills and running hard on the flats, so this has got to be a good race and this is definitely going to help. After a couple minutes, and the start of a slightly sustained hill, she has a bolt of energy and I have a flash of “knock it off, you’re not breathing in air” and slow up. That was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed that and say a silent thank you to my little friend.

We pass the 10k mark and eat up that kilometer and then I feel beyond weird. Not so much crampy tummy like sometimes occurs (because why? still working on that. I think it’s nutrition based) but more like someone suddenly filled my legs with insta-lead. Who are you and what have you done with my legs? These aren’t them? These aren’t the beautiful, solidly trained, strong limbs that carry me through so many races and keep me getting back on my feet and standing tall. These are silos of deadweight that I have no idea what to do with. My nerves hit my stomach and now the cramps start. Awesome. I was about to lay everything out for this last kilometer – it’s not even a mile, I can totally do this. Barely hills, mostly just straightaway, something I can do effortlessly. What the hell? Lactic acid buildup hit this hard, this suddenly? Holy lead legs Batman!

Of course I keep going. I have nowhere else to go but to keep going. And yes, the course suddenly gets longer, the 12k finish line further and further away. But I keep going. It’s what I do. I’m practically an expert by now. And I’m a little bummed because I know I’ve slowed up (for me) and not finishing with strength like I enjoy. But I got nada left, not an ounce of juice, no reserves left. I throw my shoulders back, tuck in my core, hold my head high and take my last 50 strides with as much pride as I can muster and run into the finish chute like the accomplished, trained, happy runner that I am.

Of course it doesn’t take long to get some juju back – some water, some chocolate coconut water, a little yogurt and protein and I do one lap around the finish party expo. Right. You’re here alone, doofus, no point in sticking around for mulled wine to break into a conversation with a group of friends. I have no problem connecting with strangers, but there is something about post race – especially after an effort like that – that you need some down time or at least time with familiars. I grab my treats and head up to the car, a long exhausted walk up hill, in the general direction of the hill I just eventually conquered.

I realize later that I don’t normally run those kinds of hills. That was insane. I run hills in training, and I run hills as training but I do not run two+ straight miles up steep hills with zero relief. And then to run as hard as I did when not on the hills, well, yes, I do believe that was a straight up bonk but in my legs. I had my carbs and electrolytes during the race. Not that kind of bonk. But a lactic acid bonk that captured my legs and stole my strength. Ah well, live and learn. And, I learned later I ran a 8:18 mile, which is in fact faster than my 8:30 San Antonio mile, so I got that going for me. Which is nice.

Much gratitude for my fun little 12k/7.4mile race in the middle of December. Something about a race keeps me honest in my training and makes me happy and during the holidays? A true gift.