Monday, October 7, 2013

Arkansas Birthday Fun

I turned 36 on Saturday.  Where is the time going?  I celebrated with two very fun and very, very different races:  The Chile Pepper Festival and Arkansas Traveller 100. 

(aside:  I had some kind of unidentified and undiagnosed flare back in July/August.  It was acute and very painful, rather than gradual and lingering, and was over and done with by the time school started.  I was very, very uncomfortable, and completely freaked out, but it turned out to be a false alarm.  The neurologist said that it could have been a random bout of Guillen-Barre.  The specific tests that I had for inflammatory markers were clear for anything more serious... not to say that there aren't other problems elsewhere.  A huge relief, although I apologize to my friends for taking my "alarm" so seriously.  Thank goodness for my support system.)

I heard reports of snakes in the water.  Snakes!
Back to the birthday.  I have always enjoyed either running or working the Chile Pepper.  It's a huge college, high school, and junior high cross country meet that has an Open 10K before the other races start.  It's one of the bigger community events, and so much fun.  Looking back at a spring/summer dominated by injury and illness, I haven't been running much, and was in no mood to register, which turned out to be a good decision.  I got up at 5:20 to get out the door for my 6:00am shift, and could see the lightning start to flash in the west as I rode my bike there.  We were just ahead of a strong front, and the 73 degree low was going to be the high for the day. Sure enough, 30 minutes before gun time, the storm hit and we were in a wait-for-it delay for the next 3 hours.  The 10K was shortened to a 5K, and I have never seen so much mud and water on a race course.  I have no idea how the rest of the day went, but I'm sure that it was a long one for alot of people.  I worked until about noon, and headed home to get warm and dry before setting off on adventure #2 for the day. 

MV taking care of biz at AT100
By 1:30pm, I was on the road to the Arkansas Traveller 100, a 100-mile footrace through forest service roads in central Arkansas.  My purpose was to meet a friend from grad school, run the last 16 or so miles with him, and then be a designated driver back to Fayetteville.  We (a friend from F'ville who was doing the same thing for another runner) shot for Copperhead Aid station, mile 52 and 64 on the course, giving an opportunity to see runners twice within a few hour period.  We spent the time chatting with friends who were crewing other runners that we knew... Mark DenHerder's whole family was there supporting his race, and he would go on to finish 5th.  Scott Rogers appeared soon after we did, crewing his wife Eunika, who finished her first 100 that day.  Ultra-friends are good for the soul.  Around 7:30pm I saw my buddy head through inbound looking very strong and making good time.  About then, the same system that had gone through Fayetteville that morning was bearing down 200 miles to the southeast.  I felt bad for my friend who was driving me down remote roads in the pouring rain to meet my runner at the last crew access point at Lake Winona.  It's not easy to get there, and she was going to have to go all the way back only to find that her runner had dropped.  I was at Winona for maybe an hour and a half, when Matt came in wearing every article of clothing that he had packed.  We took off, and he was moving purposefully.  Once his inertia got in motion he was ready to run, and there were a few times when I felt that I was downright pushing it just to stay with him.  Every time he dropped something (a much-needed glove that I never could find), or I lingered behind to finish up at an aid station, it was a tempo run to catch back up.  After the uphill jeep road to Electronic Tower aid station, the road smooths out and tilts down for some really smooth running.  There is one more technical section before the final 2-3 miles, and we just put our heads down and concentrated on minimizing rock-kicking and staying smooth.  Once we hit the final run-in that passes Lake Sylvia and eventually turns to pavement, I estimate that we were doing 8:30 miles.  He let me know that he was hurting, but I tried not to let him dwell on it, and he willinglly engaged whenever I would change the subject.  His words once we hit the pavement:  "Let's see what I've got left."  He finished in 22 hours, good for 10th place. 

It's good to do something totally out-of-routine.  How often do you run through the night with everything you need on your back?  I heard coyotes in the forest at 2:00am while completely alone.  I saw stars that I have probably never seen before.  I felt like the world was so much bigger than me and the petty structures that I allow my life to revolve around.  The world seems so large, and yet things seem so simple.  Pack light, stay warm, watch your step, and keep moving.  Ponder the absurdity of running through the forest at 2:00am.  Feel the cool night air on your skin and in your lungs.  See where the treetops open up to a clear sky full of stars that you've probably never seen, and realize that you would be missing it all if you were in bed back home.  Monday comes soon enough, along with the other 364 days of the year. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shakeup in the symptom log

Well, caught in the limbo between "not a big deal" and "potentially life-changing".  Which, as you know, is a huge variance.  At this point, I have no diagnostics.  I wish they were easier and/or quicker.  I hate the parade of specialists.  I also hate the process of ruling out everything else under the sun before you pinpoint that yes, you are more susceptible to autoimmune disorders and whatever you are experiencing is probably related. 

So before I even start...
Yes, I am doing yoga.  No, I don't need a new mattress.  No, I didn't herniate a disc in my back.  No, I didn't do this to myself by running too much. 

Symptom Log:
July 8:  Wake up in the early a.m. with back pain/discomfort.  Too severe to comfortably go back to sleep.  Thought it odd.
July 9-14:  Nighttime back pain gets worse, to the point where I am not sleeping at all during the night.  Up, down, pacing, stretching, yoga poses, crying, cursing from about midnight to 7am every day.  Feel crazed with pain and exhaustion.  Pain shakes off during the mid-morning hours, and aside from being tired and worried, lead a fairly normal day.  Sunset feels like a death sentence.
July 15:  Start to feel some leg weakness, walking to work gets harder.  Skin on legs and torso feels tingly, itchy.
July 16:  See rheumatologist.  Do full blood panel, urine, and back x-rays. 
July 17:  Feel like my lower half has less feeling than my upper half.  Can feel the dividing line of sensation/strength somewhere around my belly button. 
July 18-23 (present):  Nighttime back pain has stopped.  Loss of sensation in legs and lower half is as strong as ever. Tingly fingers, tingly skin on legs/torso.  Altered walking gait.  General discomfort. 

Of course I'm googling like crazy.  I've narrowed it down to some self-diagnoses, but haven't confirmed any.  Have not heard from my rheumatologist, which makes me question the inflammatory nature.  I would imagine that I'm headed to a neurologist.  I'm scared, but trying not to jump to wild conclusions.  Although I'll punch the next person who asks me, maybe I did herniate a disc and pinch a nerve.  But in my experience, if it looks like autoimmune disease, walks like autoimmune disease, and smells like autoimmune disease, why would it not be the first guess?  My rheumatologist told me once that there's really no benefit in piling on the diagnoses, unless it alters the treatment plan.  Makes sense to me, especially with the nature of health insurance these days.  However, I think one benefit is mental... knowing what I'm dealing with, knowing where my fight lies. 

Seriously, what next?  I'm starting to feel like Calamity Jane, here.  Trying to balance Type I and Type II error in my sensitivity to health changes is a serious mental game.  Friends tell me that it's fine, that I have every right to freak out, but I feel like I'm starting to bog down the environment with my issues. 

Have a good week.  Be nice to your friends who are working their way through hardships. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

ITBS, part III

Well, it's been a while since my last update in March, but I must say that nothing has been happening.  Nothing.  Because I'm on the couch again with IT Band syndrome, a miserable, miserable running/cycling injury that involves an inflamed band of connective tissue that runs between the hip and the outside of the knee.  I had a bout with it 2 years ago that ended in me having a PM flare and increasing my Prednisone dosage.  Not this time, though.  Or so far, anyway.  My bloodwork has been normal, so I've got no choice but to heal this thing the old fashioned way:  rest, stretching, strengthening, and massage.  It's exhausting.  I'm a little overwhelmed with the attentiveness to the daily rehab routine.  It would be so much easier to just run for miles and miles in the heat, up hills, through poison ivy and chiggers.  God, do I miss that...

Saturday, March 30, 2013


The last day of March 2013 is one I'm happy to see.  I've had better weeks than the last 2 months' worth.  I ended up not starting the Little Rock marathon, where I was supposed to be a pace group leader (which is one of the most fun things I've ever done).  I came down with some kind of cold/flu the week prior, and as usual, held my breath to see how that whole thing would turn out.  The last few illnesses that I've had have turned out to be severe and rather lengthy.  Upon getting over my initial disappointment at giving up my job at Little Rock, I soon began to worry about carrying on with obligations past that, such as my big annual work conference (NIRSA), and another trail event that I had really been looking forward to. 

In hindsight, I'm not sure that I could have finished the LR marathon.  I have been noting some signs of inflammation in the last few months.  For those wondering, here is what I feel:  1) My period stops.  Too much information, but I've noticed that when I'm getting a regular period, I'm generally healthy.  When it stops, there is something wrong in my body.  It has been this way since I initially got sick.  I didn't get a period for a year when I had my first PM onset.  It was a welcome return when it finally started again.  I haven't gotten a period in 3 or 4 months now, and started worrying that inflammation was coming when I first noticed.  2) Of course, this correlates with winter, but I have been getting Reynaud's symptoms in my hands and feet more than I do when all is well.  3) My eyebrows/eyelashes had filled in a bit during the last year, but have been thinning out again in the last few months.  4) The skin on my lips, hands, and feet feels constantly dry and tight (again, this correlates with winter, but it's more than what I feel is a regular winter dryness symptom).  5) I'm prone to nagging injuries, primarily IT band syndrome on my left side.  My body can't repair itself from normal wear-and-tear situations.  The IT band has been like a palpable thermometer for me over the last few years... it seems vulnerable to increased inflammation and lets me know when things are running hot. 

So, I didn't start Little Rock, but I did start 3 Days of Syllamo, which is a 3-day stage race in north-central Arkansas.  My favorite trails in the state.  The weekend was warm, which was a factor.  But I really dragged.  I ended up dropping about 10 miles in on the 2nd day with IT band pain, but also because I was generally really having trouble moving quickly.  Legs were churning, but nothing was happening.  Two weeks later, I am feeling fine on a day-to-day basis, but I have been resting, working in the pool, and trying to draw back to the basics of attentive self-care.  I'm not sure what would happen next if turns out that this is a flare.  Running a few miles today to see what it feels like.     

So... a little bit worried.  Then again, I worry alot.  :-)  Just holding here for a bit to see what shakes out. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

White Rock

At the risk of evoking eyerolls from my more seasoned bretheren, I'm sometimes reminded that I'm getting older.  When doing an event for the 3rd, 5th, or nth time, I realize that a year has flown by even though it felt as if I were just there.  The annual events are ticking off, like miles in an effortless marathon.  I swear, I just ran White Rock 2012.  And yet there we were again a couple of weeks ago, at the Brannon Mountain Church about 40 miles east of Fayetteville, on a cool but sunny first Saturday in February.  Whenever someone asks me what I'm doing this weekend and I reply, "running White Rock", the initial glimmer of  recognition involves the massive marathon held in Dallas every December.  This run is the delightful opposite.  It's motto has always been "no fees, no frills, no wimps", which has ironically been printed on event t-shirts in past years (frill alert). 

White Rock is close to home, which is a refreshing change from the runs requiring a 3:45am departure ahead of a 3 hour drive.  This year I had some friends from Memphis who came all the way over just for the event.  Not used to herding an entire household out of the door in the morning, we came screeching up to the start in my subcompact Honda just as RD PoDog was yelling "Go!".  As we joined the jolly but small starting line, I saw that I knew about 2/3 of the field, and was instantly bombarded by friends congratulating me for making it.  I ran to the first aid station in full conversation with several folks that reinforced the feeling of "home" that I often get in this situation.  Running countless miles with others over the years has a way of turning the whole into far greater than the sum of the parts, and I am often touched at the sense of family that I feel in the presence of the running peers that I have gotten to know.  Back to that first aid station... I stopped for what felt like a full 10 minutes to re-organize myself since I didn't have a chance to do it pre-race.  A little embarrassing, but overall added to the relaxed tone of the day.  I have a couple of events in March that have a little more pressure on them, so I enjoyed a true fun run. 

I wish that I had a good picture of the scene at the top.  I am not good at remembering the mile-by-mile details of runs, but I do recall thinking that the course (still a temporary course due to closures on the original) doesn't seem to be "up" on the way out and "down" on the way back at all.  In fact, I swear that I walked more uphills on the way in.  Don't you like my non-scientific course profile?  Anyway, upon getting to the "top", I was beckoned in by friends from Fayetteville who were working the turnaround aid station.  I had seen these guys no less than 12 hours earlier at happy hour, then the after happy hour, and... you get the idea.  I saw my Athens-Big Fork running companion already plopped into a camp chair, beer in hand. After exchanging a knowing look that his race was done (me), and a look-who's-smarter thumbs-up (him), I wrote my name on the list at the overlook, said goodbye to my friends, and turned around. 
The run on in was fairly solitary, and I was ready to call it a day by the time I hit the last aid station.  Charile and Lou were making human arches for runners exiting their station, and again, I found myself regretting not having my camera.  I gave them both a big hug.  Arkansas ultras are what they are because of those two special people.  I was happy to be done.  The last mile is a flat open stretch of dirt road... doesn't it always seem to be that way?  I finished 12-15 minutes slower than last year, but that was ok.  I was trying to be slower and not thrash myself ahead of the LR marathon and 3 Days of Syllamo, which are starting to loom large in my near horizon. 

No fees and no frills, but good times and better friends.  See you next year.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Athens-Big Fork 2013

Happy New Year.  The first Saturday in January has been, for me, an occasion to head down to the Big Fork community center, just east of Mena in the western Arkansas Ouachitas for a trail run that heads south on an old postal trail over 8 distinct mountain ridges, then turns around and comes back.

Big Fork Community Center.  The running water (new this year) was a nice perk.

This year's run was actually my 5th consecutive... it seems to have become somewhat of a rite on my calendar.  The weather this year was perfect.  Last year we had thick fog that turned into actual clouds at the top of the peaks, it was incredibly beautiful.  This year's race day was cold, overcast, and perfect.  There was still quite a bit of snow visible from a foot of Christmas day snow 2 weeks ago, especially on the northern hillsides.  It made for some beautiful vistas when looking across the valleys.  I started the run with a friend from Fayetteville, and we ran together for about 90% of the day.  We found ourselves mixed in with a group of folks (obviously not from around here) who first asked about crew access points (none), kept taking wrong turns from which we called them back (although most people run bonus miles at some point or another), and delicately tiptoed through every creek crossing (there are about 30, all calf-deep thanks to the recent snow).  We separated from them at the Blaylock Creek aid station, 5 hills in and the fun run turnaround.  I think they eventually settled in at some point during the back half, and figured out that the rawness and simplicity of this run compliments the challenge.  This event definitely does a good job of breaking down the often overdone business of running into its most basic elements: nature, terrain, perceptiveness, and toughness.  Forget about the fancy stuff, it's just you and the trail today.

JP and I enjoyed a nice section after the Blaylock Creek aid station, and noted that hills 6, 7, and 8 were all pretty tough, especially 6.  I used to think that 15 was the worst, but I've changed my mind.  6 had recently been bulldozed to create a fireline for some forest fires that occurred in the area a month ago.  6 was also the most difficult coming back down (which is 10 inbound), and it was there that I realized my downhill running has gotten worse.  I kept the brakes on, and was very tentative in picking my way down on the technical sections.  Where did that come from?  Gotta work on that.  We cruised into the turnaround with a large pack of marathoners, probably at the heart of mid-pack.  I have a love/hate relationshp with the Texarkana crew that mans the turnaround... love their raucous joviality, hate that they are already enjoying their beers at 11am while I have 8 more hills to climb.  The back half does a good job of breaking everybody up, and I anticipated picking off some inbound runners with the large and tenuous provision that we could keep the wheels on and keep a steady pace.  Steady climbing, cautious descending, repeat.  I felt strong all the way through the Tatur aid station with about 4 miles to go.  I  was anticipating running the last hill, because it's one of the easiest (there are only a few truly runnable hills), but I couldn't seem to find the gas pedal again once I left the aid station.  Not that I didn't have energy... I wasn't bonking.  I just didn't have the control or footwork to pick my way around one more rock, one more root, one more ankle-wrapping thorny ivy.  The bottoms of my feet felt bruised, I was kicking everything in my path, and I was just tired of trail.  Once I got to the trailhead and back onto the gravel road, however, I was running with plenty of strength, which is refreshing if you can make it to that point and feel that way.  Apparently I surpassed my threshold for gnarly trail, but was fine with everything else.  I finished in 6:25, 17 minutes off of my PR (last year).  I think that I could have been a good deal faster with some better downhill running.

No-frills finish line

Done, sitting at the finish chatting, drinking a Modelo, and waiting for runners.  

The most pleasant part of the run was that my two very common issues (stomach bloating and leg cramping) never happened.  What did I do?  I drank Gu Brew, Gatorade, and Heed, took 3 S Caps throughout the run, and ate your run-of-the-mill aid station food (potato chips, oatmeal pies, gu, peanut butter crackers).  Maybe it was the ideal temperature.  Regardless, I felt great, and other than the downhill skill deficiencies, I had a strong run.  I dread it during the few days prior, can't believe it's that time again when I'm finally climbing those first few hills, and then enjoy it immensely once I get onto some of the higher hillsides and soak up the sense of place.  See you next year.