Monday, December 10, 2012

Recent race reports

Had back-to-back events the past 2 weekends, first the Memphis marathon, and then a low-key trail event in west central AR, on the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail.

Thursday night carb-loading at Bosco's
Memphis:  First of all, I tend to gush about this event, and for several reasons.  It was my very first marathon back in 2007.  My parents always come out and take great care of me, and by now I know exactly where they will be on the course.  This year they told me that they were rushing out of the McDonald's as I came by near mile 11, and had hurriedly stuffed their McMuffins into their pockets because they thought it would piss me off to see them enjoying breakfast while I felt like vomiting.  I have made great friends in the running community over the years, and since this is a running-themed weekend, they can usually all be found together and in good spirits at the cool-kid runner's bar, Bosco's in midtown.  It feels like homecoming to me, all of my favorite things coming together at once.  And aside from the sentimental stuff, the event itself is great.  I've been around enough events to provide an experienced critique, and I would stack Memphis up among the best events in the country.  As the event gets bigger, the crowds on the course have also gotten better.  I don't perceive as many dead or lonely spots on the course as I did the first couple of years that I did the event.  I love running through downtown/midtown... those areas are authentic "Memphis", and I feel immersed in the essence of home.  The Redbirds stadium finish around the warning track is absolutely fantastic. I have never seen a better finish other than Boston, which isn't a fair comparison.

Limping through mile 22

On to my race... I would have been happy with a 3:35, thrilled with anything under that, and ok with anything under a 3:37.  However, it was 60 degrees at the start and 70/sunny at the finish, and I struggle in warm conditions. I floated along according to plan just behind the 3:30 pace group for about 18 miles with fairly easy effort.  I saw my parents at mile 8, went through the zoo and museum grounds in miles 8-10, up Poplar avenue to meet my parents again during the McDonald's incident.  The half peels off at mile 13, and the full runners loop around downtown again.  Going up Beale twice is just fantastic.  I can't help but smile and enjoy the "there is nowhere else I'd rather be right now" feeling.  By this time, the clouds had burned off and the temperature/sun combination was becoming a factor.  I started to feel the twinge of calf cramps somewhere in the Cooper/Young district, which is around 17/18.  I had figured that there was a high probability of this happening, it is a common problem with me during warm runs.  At that point, I had to stop and regroup every time I felt a clinch, which was happening every 5-10 minutes or so.  My splits slowed to ~9:00-9:30 in those miles... there was only one more mile that I managed to run in 8:00 without a cramp, either mile 23 or 24.  I don't think there was anything I could have done differently... my energy, hydration, and attitude were good, I just had to be cautious and pull up whenever I felt the familiar clinch.  I finished in 3:40, which I wouldn't have been happy with under normal conditions, but was a good effort in the situation.  I think I would have gone alot closer to 3:30 with 30 degrees shaved off, but catching the right temperature is pretty tough these days. 

Heading through the hashers.  Yes, that's Elvis in the red. 

LoVit trail marathon:  This was the 3rd year in a row that I went down to the Lake Ouachita Vista trail for an organized fun run.  The event is part of the Arkansas ultra-trail series, and draws 50 or 75 folks.  The trail is excellent... one of my favorites in the state.  I love the eastern side of the Ouachitas, and this particular trail is between Mt. Ida and Hot Springs.  It's very run-able, there are only a few sections that are rocky/technical or steep.  If I complained about the Memphis weather a week prior, this day's weather was a doozy.  Humidity was 90% ahead of a front that would be coming through that night, and again, the sun burned off the clouds once it got ahead of the treetops.  I tried to stay with my hydration, and thought I did a decent job through the run.  I only carried one handheld, but it was plenty.  My first bottle I prepared with a Gu Brew tablet, and after that relied on Gatorade and S-caps.  I made sure that I finished off my bottle completely at every aid station, which was uncomfortable and sloshy for a few miles until I absorbed it, but it seemed to work.  I had a bit of stomach bloating, and a few leg cramp twinges, but nothing that felt horrible or slowed me down too much.  Not anything like the previous weekend where I had full-blown calf cramps.  I noticed a little bit of muscle fatigue after Memphis, and a little bit of IT soreness that I will need to watch over the next few weeks.    I never walked more than a few steps at a time, mostly as I snacked coming away from aid stations.  Still, I finished 15 minutes off of last year's time.  The frontrunners reported being off by 8 or so minutes as well, so it was a warm day for everyone. 

I like the variety on this course... the vast majority of it is very smooth, leaf-carpeted trail that allows for some consistent running.  However, you get one significant climb up Hickory Nut mountain, and then a rock-strewn descent that really focuses you.  Throw in some connections on utility roads, and you can enjoy striding it out for some variety.  Note to self... The back half of the course is re-rounted to get the correct distance.  The turnaround is actually around 14 miles, so RD Phil cuts a couple of miles off of the back half.  I hit the summit in 2:25, and figured I had about 2 hours for the return trip.  I overestimate the course re-route every time and think that the end is so much closer than it really is.  I was expecting the road to begin around each bend, especially because I was using last year's time as a marker for where I thought I should be.  About the time that I thought I should be approaching the road according to the 4:33 I ran last year, I saw the sign that read "Denby Point trailhead:  3."  As in, 3 miles?  Dang!  Another false summit, and it was becoming clear that I was significantly off of my time.  At least the trail is smooth at that point, so no concentrating on faceplant avoidance.  I was happy with the rhythm that I kept for the last several miles, even though I was feeling the temperature.  It was good to get back onto the trail, I hadn't done much off-road since the summer.   

Down to 5 mgs of Prednisone, starting at the first of December.  Positive so far, although I need to take care of myself the next couple of weeks and make sure that there's nothing nagging.  I'm trying to decide if I'm going to do Athens-Big Fork again in January.  I've had 2 good (really good) runs in a row there, and I'm scared of being due for a nasty suffer-fest.  I'll probably go, there's no good excuse not to unless I have an injury.  It's a beautiful trail and a great event, but it is far more difficult than your average long run.  Must find a way to turn dread into excitement.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Today's revelation

Got home from the pharmacy (I'm a pretty frequent customer), and looked at my packages.  Did some quick math.  I take $7 worth of pills every day, only about $1 of which comes out of my pocket.  That's not even close to a fraction of what some treatments for this disease cost.  One of my big fears involves insurance (more specifically, lack of).  My work is switching insurance providers soon and my doc advised me to stockpile a bit of medication in case there was a battle for approval.  Yikes!  I'm not really worried about my current situation, I'm optimistic that things will continue on as usual.  And I'm riding the tide of some fairly good recent years.  I'm more impressed with the gravity of a chronic illness that has no FDA-approved treatments.  Which isn't good if the insurance company (any insurance company) is looking for a reason for denial.

When I was a child, I tried  some claims to get the cost of wigs covered, since I had alopecia growing up and had to spend my childhood and teen years bald.  Can you imagine growing up like that?  As a girl?  It sucked, and I wore wigs in an attempt to have a somewhat "normal" look.  But insurance said that they were cosmetic and denied coverage.  Right.  Like wigs are attractive enough to be remotely cosmetic.  Did I think they were attractive?  They looked fake, got tangled, and itched like hell.  Believe me, I wasn't wearing them to look pretty.  I wore them to avoid complete freakishness during some very sensitive growing-up years.

So, I guess those are my thoughts on insurance.  I'm afraid of it, I don't fully understand it, and it really intimidates me.

That's all, folks.  On the other hand, I am running the Memphis marathon in just over 2 weeks.  I am not ready, I have been sick with some sort of cold or sinus infection or respiratory infection since August.  It's come and gone, and I have run when I could, but it hasn't been consistent.  Still, I love the event and am looking forward to it.  My latest "cold" seems to be moving out right on time, and I am feeling pretty good at the moment.  Happy trails.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

50 milers and chest x-rays

I'm here, I'm here.  It's been a while.  I am not as good of a blogger as I would like to be.  I actually enjoy unplugging when I am away from work, and when I'm healthy, that means running, biking, friends, kickball, tailgating, and the like.  But that doesn't mean that everything has been hunky-dory.  Although it hasn't necessarily been bad, either.  Here is what I've been up to...

I attempted my first 50-miler in July.  It was along the Tahoe Rim Trail in California.  I wouldn't say that I "trained" as much as I "prepared".  Meaning that I didn't follow a specific plan outlining certain mileage targets every week.  Instead, I aimed to complete a few key workouts during the couple months leading up to the event.  Namely, I wanted to do a day-long run-walk, and I also wanted to stack some long runs on back-to-back-to-back days.  And I managed to accomplish both of those to a certain degree of satisfaction.    Another Tahoe runner and myself did a 9-hour run-walk on some trail and dirt roads around White Rock Mountain, which turned out to be perfect because it gave us some long uphill climbs and descents.  I also tried to hit the 50-mile target during a 3-day weekend once or twice, and I got a few of those under my belt. The event itself was stunning, challenging, and invigorating. I have realized that I should probably create a separate race report page.  I find myself wanting to tell the longer story of events, primarily for my own benefit so that I can remember the journey.  But I realize that most people don't want to hear about tripping, puking, cramping, etc.  Look for it in the future. 

(California on the left, Nevada on the right)

(Happy finisher!)

I had a bit of an upset stomach between miles 30-45, and was doing alot of walking in those miles, but surprisingly, felt better in the last 5 miles or so, and was able to run fairly decently on in.  I was a little on the slow side, but was primarily happy just to finish.  It's not often that I'm entirely happy simply with a finish, so I'm savoring that self-forgiveness before my next big effort, whatever that is.  I spent the next week bopping around San Francisco with my brother and best friend, splurging on sushi, Giants games, and Athleta summer clearance sales.

(Hwy 1 towards Carmel)

So take an eager vacation-goer, add a condo full of athletic friends and energy products, too little sleep, a 14-hour run, and an ensuing week-long party in San Francisco... and you have the makings for an epic round of bronchitis.  I came down with it on vacation at the end of July, and am still coughing up the last dredges of it in mid-October.  Ugh.  Over the years, prolonged respiratory infections have seemed to be the biggest side effect of Methotrexate/Arava.  If I get so much as a cold, it will develop into full-blown bronchitis/sinus infection/whatever other maladies travel back and forth between sinuses and lungs.  And it lasts for months.  But finally, finally, I seemed to have pulled out of it.  I basically missed the months of August and September... spotty work attendance, sporadic and light exercise, limited social engagements (who wants to sit next to the bald girl clutching a hanky and coughing uncontrollably?).  I was worried for a few weeks there about lung damage or involvement, but so far I think I've escaped that scariness.

So here goes!  I'm ready to live again.  I would like to do  the Memphis marathon again this December, and have started training for that.  I found out over the summer that my Arava dosage was low (10 mgs).  Pleasant surprise there, I'm not sure why I didn't know that I had been on a beginner's dose this whole time.  In an effort to get lower than 8 mgs of Prednisone, we are bumping the Arava up to 20 mgs/day and decreasing the Prednisone by 1 mg per month.  I haven't had a flare since last summer, but since then my CPK has been up and down, and in general, a bit unpredictable. 

Changing the subject, thank you for reading.  In general, when I don't post very often, it means that I have gotten preoccupied  with other ups and downs of daily life.  I find myself not knowing what  to say, other than that I am often flattered to think that I can be a voice of reference or empathy.  I think that reaching out to others is one of the best things that we can do.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 2012

Summertime is with us, and it's hot and miserable, much like last year.  The difference is, however, that I am running this summer.  Sweet.  I have a healthy body to date, but am still trying to wean down from the 10 mgs of Prednisone that seems to be what my body wants in order to stay active and pain-free.  I can do ok around 8 mgs, but am much more vulnerable to aches and breakdowns.  Not much has changed in the last several months.  I have had a few small rollers in my CPK profile, but nothing that hasn't been quickly controlled with 10 mgs of Prednisone. 

One of my large projects that I have been wondering about has involved whether or not a specialty clinic such as Mayo or Johns Hopkins would be a good idea.  Both of those places have a much better concentration of Polymyositis specialists, knowledge, and patients than the average rheumatology clinic in small-city Arkansas.  Before committing to it, however, I sought a local second opinion.  The opinion was that I am basically getting a "bargain" in my treatment right now.  Still responsive and highly functioning on relatively cheap and easy medication.  I would probably not get any increased benefit from a visit to Mayo... which would be more appropriate if I had a tougher case to crack.  I might travel a long way for them to say, "keep doing what you're doing."  This consult also seemed a little more progressive and unafraid of new drugs that are coming to the forefront.  He seemed a little bit more eager to embrace Rituxan as a beneficial drug, once FDA and insurance companies became more routinely accepting of it.  I came away from this a little less afraid of other treatment options.  Not that I have been afraid of the treatments themselves... it's more like I've been afraid of a lack of treatments.  I am a little more confident now that there could be life beyond Methotrexate. 

Refueling at the Ouachita Trail 50K in April

So yes, I'm still on too much Prednisone.  10 mgs is not bad, but still too much for everyday use.  I feel that I move at a snail's pace trying to get off of this stuff, and I flare up so easily once I get to a certain dosage.  (which, of course, the doctor explains away with my running habits.  which, by the way, aren't that extreme.  and also which I refuse to believe.  Other people that I run with don't have CPK problems, do they?  So there.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Patent idea

Home CPK monitoring kit: No more waiting 3 weeks to know if you indeed have a flare coming! No more mind games with phantom pains and soreness! No more doomsday worries that your meds have stopped working! Simply prick and stop obsessing over your latest round of bloodwork. Now, that's peace of mind.

Yep, I'd buy one.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March 2012

What a great spring to be running. I have fallen into the cycle of doing a long/difficult event, and then watching my mental and physical motivation tank for a few weeks until it's time for the next event. I'm not necessarily complaining... I love having events to look forward to. I recently made a last-minute decision to join the pace team for the Little Rock Marathon. With about 2 week's notice, I had a pacer singlet on my back and a 3:45 sign in my hand. It was a blast.

I did get some scary news this week. My CPK's came back elevated, a full 2 weeks after the Little Rock marathon, after plenty of rest and good self-care. I'm not sure why, I can't think of a good reason that I should be elevated. It's only slight, and all I've done is bump back up to 10 mgs of prednisone, so we'll see if that does anything to calm me down. I thought I felt a little sore and inflamed this week, and it turns out that there was something there.

I'm going to try and keep going forward with the other events that I was planning for this spring, which really only involves a longer race towards the end of April. No reason to think too hard about it just yet. I'll keep you posted...


Monday, February 6, 2012

White Rock

Well, this entry is going to be somewhat of another race report. I am recovering after the White Rock 50K in NW Arkansas. This is a very casual bring-your-own-cooler-and-lawn-chair type of event that collects a coffee-can donation to cover costs. I love pulling up to an event and seeing the familiar brotherhood of folks who enjoy this same type of thing. I did the pre-run hugs and chatter, threw on my arm sleeves and a jacket (underestimated the temp), and took off without too much apprehension. The run is on dirt roads, so without the potential for errant roots or accidental bonus miles, there were few worries other than the usual hydration/leg cramp/upset stomach wild cards.

I hadn't run all that enthusiastically since Athens-Big Fork a month ago. I was feeling heavy and unmotivated, in part spurred by a lack of commitment to recovery, and also by a strong potential for a new job and relocation that had been looming. I had no thoughts or plans, just "go". I mixed up the run with conversation when I was near others, but I didn't stick around too long when I felt like picking it up a little. I almost never listen to music during an event, but I did this time because solitude on a dirt road is one evil twin away from insanity when the miles start to pile up. I joined up with Stuart from KC, MO for several miles and into the turnaround at the top of White Rock Mountain. It was nice to have somebody to debate about when or where the course might turn vertical to ascend the peak. And while there were hills, the course was relatively flat compared to past years (different road due to closures on the old course).

Good to see friendly faces and receive alot of encouragement (as well as teasing, and I would expect nothing less from my friends) at the top/turnaround. I caught grief for my schoolgirl-esque skirt/calf sleeve combo, capped off by Nike armwarmers. Dork city, population me. One thing that I love about ultra/trail running is that feels more pure than the over-gear, overcalculation, and overanalysis that can happen on the roads. Be a man. Just run. And yet I am still in the experimental phase of deciding whether I like calf sleeves or not, so I deserved the laughs that I got. I also enjoyed seeing the mountain bikers that were sharing our course that day, it provided some extra camaraderie and contributed to the general fun-through-insane-activity atmosphere.

A brief photo op at the lookout, and then back down. I caught Stuart again, and asked for the discipline to refrain from chasing down the front-running woman just yet. That didn't last long. I knew she was up there, because people were telling me as I passed them on the out-and-back. (I love out-and-back courses because it's fun to see everybody face to face as you pass, and you can get some good race updates.) I think my discipline lasted until what I estimated was around 15 miles to go. I was feeling fresh, so I let myself run the uphills and push a bit. That feeling lasted until about the 10-to-go mark, when I started getting tired. Tired, but not hurting beyond general muscle fatigue. Everything above the waist felt perfect, so I just pushed on tired legs and hoped for no cramps. I had passed who I knew was the leading woman, and was continuing to run like I expected her to be just around the corner from me. Around 4 to go, I started getting tired of running. I wanted a hill so that I could walk, but those last miles were flat. Run you must.

I finished in 5:14, which was an excellent run for me. The course was actually close to 34 miles (again, relatively flatter than the old course). I ran a negative split, which is a telltale sign that I was feeling good and had a great race (or that I climbed a massive hill to the turnaround). Deanna stopped and took some great action shots of me towards the end. I wished that I had brought warmer clothes, as I was very, very uncomfortable afterwards once I started to cool down and was trying in vain to hang out comfortably at the finish.  I sometimes feel guilty for scooting out early, especially if I am fortunate to be one of the earlier finishers. 

It's so much fun to have a good day. I wish I could bottle that feeling for the hard times when I can't do this kind of stuff. I enjoy all of the folks that come for these events, it's such a warm and positive group. Hugs all around, a few beers and laughs at the finish line, and a short drive home. Great day.

Another recap:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Athens-Big Fork

Arkansas, that is. There is a trail run here that runs on an old postal trail between two tiny towns in western Arkansas. It's approximate marathon distance, give or take (I've never Garmin'ed it, and don't really want to know.) The catch? It goes up and over 8 Ouachita mountain peaks, then turns around and goes back. To say that it's tough is an understatement. I always wonder how that ever could have been a viable postal route. Or who was around to receive any mail in that area, for that matter.

So this run is typically the first Saturday in January, and always feels like one of those occasions that indicates that a year has turned, by which we can mark our calendars. Did I say that this run is tough? Every time, I give myself a little internal pinch and chuckle at the absurdity of what I am about to put myself through. Try not to think about it. And then we start...

(Big Fork Community Center... RD Steve told us this year that our donations helped to enable running water.)

And off we went. Lots of climbing, lots of picking my way around rocks and trying to stay in control on descents, and trying to assess the general state of things during the few flat stretches. Lately, I have been having alot of leg cramps, even on shorter runs. I am not sure if it's a phase, something I'm doing (eat, drink, stretch), or if it's related to the bizarre state of my muscles. Yesterday was warm, and I was very nervous about a lock-up. I had a few scares, any little slip during a creek crossing or a toe-catch would cause a calf to sieze, but by some miracle, it always released quickly and let me keep running.

Long runs are funny beasts. The first few hours of any run feel pretty much the same. The story of what kind of a day I'm going to have doesn't start to weave itself together until it's way too late to do anything about it. Which is one of the reasons why this stuff is so interesting. The consequences of a bad day at ABF are pretty heinous, as you are out in the middle of nowhere with no place to go but up and over those damn mountain peaks on your own two feet, regardless of how bad you feel or incapacitated you have become. There are plenty of meltdowns.

And yesterday's run churned on. A foggy day meant that several of the peaks were in the clouds, so damp that you could practically drink the air. It was beautiful in a surreal, running-in-a-cloud kind of way. I drank amply, paid attention to electrolytes, and grazed at aid stations (Pringles and oatmeal pies were the magic formula, who knew?). And the story of my run started to unfold. I had a good one. A very good one. I don't say this often, but I would live yesterday over again. The run is tough, but not a complete killer until you get to the turnaround and realize that you have made a huge mistake by not turning around 3 peaks ago at Blaylock Creek. The hills are worse on the way back in, too. Especially peaks 14 and 15, where people really start to crash, and where in past years I have experienced the sensation of falling backwards when my climbing momentum slowed. If you can simply survive the 2nd half, you are doing well. And somehow I found myself gaining energy and going faster and faster the further I went. It was happening. Don't ask, just go with it and hope it holds together. I started passing people going up the last few hills. They looked miserable, and I felt bad for them as I scooted up and around with sickening energy and positivity. Stay with me, legs! I came off of the trailhead and hit the last 2-3 mile road section as high as a kite. I didn't think there was a way that I could match last year's time (I had a good run last year, too), and yet I PR'd by about 15 minutes. I've had one or two road marathons where I felt better at the end than I did at the beginning, and maybe as many long-distance trail events. It's an amazing feeling.  Too bad it lasts only as long as your next run. 

(This feels darn near close to vertical. How do those guys out west do it?)

So that was my Saturday. May there be many more. Cheers,