Saturday, December 6, 2014

St. Jude 2014

Marathon weekend! This year did not disappoint. I was ready for a good event weekend, since last year's was cancelled due to an ice storm (!). I was on the pace team at 3:45, so I had a little bit of nervousness leading up to it. 3:45 means that I have to train, and then pray for light winds and a temperature under 65 degrees.

Making some new pace team friends at the expo.
Got into town on Thursday and did pacer booth duty at the expo. Had dinner with my ultrarunning friends at Wiseacre taproom and then Cafe 1912 (when did Memphis get so hip?), and felt so at home. I love this weekend. 

Friday saw an absolute monsoon. It rained all day, hard. And thank goodness, I'll take it. It kept us inside and rested, and got the heck out of town in time for a dry, yet cool and cloudy marathon day. 

My best childhood friend had a 9-year old son who was running his first 5K, and I wanted so bad to see him on the course, but it was too chaotic and crowded around Autozone Park, where the pacers were meeting. We took a quick photo, stripped down to the necessities, put on cheerleader faces, and walked out to the corrals nice and early. It gets real pretty quickly in the corrals, as you realize how much of a target you are. People start to gather around you... most want to talk, want a course preview, what your favorite marathon is, where the toughest hill is, etc. It's tiring to talk so much and be a social facilitator before you even start (in a good way, of course!). Some runners just stand there and look at you, which I find to be even worse. Their eyes are pleading, "no pressure, but I'm scared out of my wits right now and I need your help to do this huge, life-changing thing that is going to hurt so much and we have no idea what is going to happen, but please... just, please." 

The weather was perfect. Low clouds, cooler than expected temperatures, but not cold. Some wind, but the way that the course is laid out meant that it was only in your face about a quarter of the time. Brian, Shannon, and I ran together the whole time. Shannon was an alternate for  a range of times, but somehow everybody turned up healthy, so we had an extra, and we were a great team. Aside from having to briefly stop the runner traffic for a house fire on East Parkway (!), the day was smooth for us. We were a little ahead of pace, but the runners who had settled in with us seemed able to push ahead when we started to slow down to get back to pace. Inspiration can be found in many places, but one sure way to feel the best of life is to watch somebody push outside of themselves to meet a finishing goal. When we finished, I felt a sense of mission accomplishment, and I know that my partners shared that pride. 

Thomas got a great pic around Mile 23. I had a quiet period in the middle of the race, but perked up in the later miles.  

At Wiseacre for the second time in 3 days.

Went back to Wiseacre and Bosco's (again) afterwards and shared stories from the day with my friends. John had BQ'd, so he was happy. Miranda had finished her first marathon, and Scott took 20-something S-caps.  I love this.

My parents were in town, and I saw them for dinner on Saturday. Went to CTK for church with my best friend and her family, and then to their house for her son's birthday party. Said goodbye to my parents and headed back towards midtown, where everyone was at Lafayette's Music Room for what turned out to be an out-of-this-world show from a local brass band. Seriously, Memphis is happening, y'all.  It was one of those weekends that I didn't want to end. So good to see old friends and make new ones. Until next year...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Unexpected Extraordinary

Being part of an ultra event is paradoxical. On the one hand, it's a very simple concept... you run through the woods for a long time. That's it... just move forward.  On the other hand, something big happens within people and between people that is very, very deep and moving. I don't even know what that "something" is... I've tried to put my finger on it, but it's not tangible.  All I know is that you go into the woods, and at some point you come out of the woods... but there's an entire universe in between.

It's Traveller time. I chickened out, but had some friends from Memphis who were hitting the starting line. John and I went down to be part of their crew/pace team. We met the group at Copperhead aid station, at mile 48, which is the first place to pick up pacers. The foursome of runners was still together at that point, and when they came in, I headed out as a pacer. I was running with Lauren, who I knew the least well out of the group. That changed. 

A few miles out of Copperhead.
If you look hard, you can see the "50" sign.
The easiest part of the course is between the Copperhead and Turnaround aid stations, and as we ran, we talked. As we talked, we somehow started pulling away from the others.  Now, the pacer's job seems simple enough: keep company and make sure that they are eating/drinking and staying on course.  And that's what is going on most of the time. But a great burden on a pacer, and the most important thing, is to make sure that they are not sucking their runner out too fast, or on the other hand, not holding them back from their best.  Where is the balance between a finish that is more comfortable but less satisfying, or a "go for it" finish that turns into a dnf?  Lauren looked smooth, confident, and brave, like she was ready for this. But was it too much?  Too soon? I really couldn't tell, coupled with the fact that I didn't know Lauren all that well and didn't know her running style and personality. What kind of shape was she in? How did she act when things got hard? Did she want tough love or more sensitive encouragement? So we ran on, all of this to be seen.

Thomas laying out drop bags at Copperhead

Back at Copperhead we switched pacers, and I drove one of the crew vehicles to Winona. By this time it was 1:00am and I got a chance to listen to the Cardinals in extra innings at Los Angeles.  They lost, but ended up winning the NLDS. It really doesn't take long to get used to the simplicity of things in the woods, so that when you drive the truck into Perryville at 1:00am and get an AM radio signal, it just feels so modern and metropolitan.  At Winona I took a brief nap in the truck, and got ready to jump back on course. I had barely turned off my alarm, got out of the truck, and set up the drop bags for everybody when Lauren came in, looking very intent.  She looked at me and said, "ready?"  Absolutely. Let's do this. 

There is a tough section of the course after the Rocky Gap aid station, which is billed as "jeep road", but it's more technical than that, especially at 3:00am.  This is the section where I get such a sense of situational absurdity. Everyone else is in their bed... and I'm listening to distant coyotes as I scramble up this hill trying to keep this runner from falling off the side of the cliff. Lauren was brave. She had the courage to sense a good day and go for it. And she grumbled a little through the last semi-technical section at miles 93-98.  But she never once expressed the desire to make the hurt go away by going slower or quitting. So we kept pushing, hard. It felt downright triumphal to hit the last mile where the dirt road turns to pavement. She finished a solid 3 hours ahead of where I think she had intended, and it was inspiring. I think I cried, or at least felt it welling up inside. Something as simple as running through the woods, and yet I experienced such a range of human emotion that takes weeks and months to accumulate in everyday life. 

And best of all, I made a new friend.  :-)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Physical Therapy, or Why I Wimped out of the Traveller 100

All talk, no dance.  Yes, I am injured.  Yes, I also chickened out.  A little from column A, a little from column B.

I hadn't actually signed up yet, but I really wanted to.  Sign up, that is.  What I ended up not being sure of, though, is that I actually wanted to run the race.

The main problem is that I told everybody I know that I was going to attempt the AT100 this year.  My running friends, my co-workers, random people from across the state that I happened to run into during training... it's hard to keep that kind of training under wraps.  Bailer-outers earn questionable reputations.  On the other hand, folks got their own lives to worry about. We'll all get over it.

And here I am nursing a bit of ITBS.  While it is frequently sore (in a low-grade, general way), it seemed worse and more acute than usual one evening while out for a powerwalk in my neighborhood.  Same story the next morning when I tried again.  So I stopped.  I decided that I was injured, set up physical therapy, and shifted gears completely.  And I felt...


I'm glad that a sense of relief has settled on me, rather than disappointment. But I'm also concerned about the wimp factor. Why can't I pull the trigger? What would have happened? Nothing? Everything?? 

Instead, I'm back on the road for shorter distances and quality speed (which isn't really what we would call "speed", but hopefully that changes). PT seems to be helping. It's not cheap, but I'm happy with the decision so far because my own ill-devised treatment protocol is pretty ineffective, (which is the understatement of the year... see my 37 past posts about ITBS).  If I can get some good, biomechanically-sound advice, perhaps that will help me long term. 


I've taken a good, hard look at my nutrition during the last 2 weeks.  It had gotten bad.  Training for a hundo meant that I practiced eating as much as possible before and during the run, and practiced burning that fuel as slowly and efficiently as possible. And as it turns out, I'm pretty efficient at storing fuel. So, a few pounds that settled in need to come back off, and I need to get as un-inflamed as possible.  Just take a little break, lay low, and re-set.  Get right, get healthy, and look forward to the next one.  We got this.

Make friends with the BOSU, and you'll never be alone.  


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Somewhere around mile 30 on an Arkansas summer day

Scene:  FSR 132C, Ouachita National Forest. Early afternoon. Enter runner from foreground.  Runner comes to a screeching halt and stares intently at a stick in the road.

Runner:  Hello, Mr. Stick.
Stick:  Hello.
Runner:  Are  you a snake?
Stick:  No.
Runner: Are you sure?
Stick: Yes, I'm quite sure.
Runner:  Yes, you're sure you're not a snake?  Or yes, you are a snake?
Stick: Yes, I am sure that I am not a snake. I'm just a stick. This is very obvious.
Runner: Oh, ok. I'll go around, then. Please don't bite me.
Stick: *slaps forehead*

Later on down the road...

Runner: Don't kick that rock. Don't kick that rock.
Rock: Don't kick me. Go around.
Runner: Don't kick that rock. Whatever you do.
Rock: You can do this.
Runner: *thud* F@#k! What the ***? Ow!
Rock: *shakes head*

Good to have trail friends out there. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Midnight 50K

July in Arkansas, and it's hot. Part of the charm. A quintessential July-in-Arkansas experience is the Midnight 50K, now called the Full Moon, but it's hard to break the habit of the old days, so I'll keep calling it whatever I want to.  I have done this run since 2005 or so, when it consisted of a few idiots and some Christmas lights in the parking area at Lake Sylvia.  It has exploded in participants, being a user-friendly way to get into ultra distance (dirt roads, gentle hills, short drive from Little Rock, etc.).  I have missed it the last 3 years because, for some reason, I have had increased inflammation and disease activity during the summer.  Is that a common autoimmune pattern?  It was great to line up and head out for a long night run under a Ouachita Forest sky that I have seen so many times before, that feels like home to me.
Ouachita night sky

My friend AJ and I arrived at the campsite, set up, drank 2 beers each, and headed over to the start/finish at the girl scout camp, which was already a party in progress. I immediately made the rounds, hugs and smiles with so many of the folks that I have gotten to know over the years.  So good for the soul.  A 7pm start meant that the first few hours were very hot, with full sun for a little while. I had no expectations for this run, and was really happy just to be starting. My IT's (both) had been getting sore, and I have been wondering if I am going to have another typical summer mini-flare. I was prepared to drop to the 25K, or walk for a significant portion.  This run goes by pretty fast, because it's a straight shot up a dirt road with convenient 8-mile chunks... one aid station at 8 miles, then the turnaround, then the 8 mile station, then the finish.
The course is made up of constant rollers, although nothing with a grade so steep that it isn't runnable.  If it weren't so hot, this course would be very, very fast.

Glow stick and Copperhead juxtaposed. Photo: Will Landreth

I took it pretty slow from the start, and really wasn't comfortable on the run until I got through the first aid station 8 miles in.   I ran with Stacey, Jason, Cliff, and James pretty much the whole way to the turnaround, leapfrogging each other as we altered our walk breaks, and conversing about the running world.  I got into the 8-mile AS at 1:30, and into the turnaround at 2:55.  I have never done this event and not thrown up at some point during the run.  It's a joke at this point.  Well, my stomach was uneasy early.  By the turnaround at 16 miles, I had some mild nausea and stomach discomfort, and hoped for the best on the way back.  I pulled ahead of Stacey at this point and hoped that I could hold it, although I wasn't running as fast as I wanted to. My stomach discomfort reached a moderate level for pretty much the entire back half, although it was never so bad that I had to stop running for more than an occasional quick break or uphill. Around mile 27, it finally happened.  I felt the familiar urge, leaned over into the ditch on the left side of the road, and heaved whatever it was in my stomach that wanted out.  At that point, Stacey passed, asking if I was ok, but mercifully not dwelling.  That's always embarrassing, but we understand when to stop with concern and when to let the person deal with their issue in peace. I'm glad it was her who witnessed the vomit session, and not the group of 25K walkers that I had just gone flying past.  I could see their headlamps coming around the bend, so I cut myself short and scurried on to avoid a scene. It wasn't long after that I passed PT, who was walking a downhill. I asked him the same question that Stacey had just asked me, and he remarked that he needed new legs. I didn't feel so sorry for myself after that, as I was still running. I had to repeat the vomit sequence again just past the 5K to go mark.  This time, I was a new person after the upchuck.  The nausea was gone, I felt amazing, and I was ready to go.  So, I did.  That last 5K felt awesome, coupled by my love for that section of the course... it's where the Traveller course merges, the dirt road flattens out, the pines part overhead, and you can usually see a sky full of stars.  This night was too hot and hazy for stars, but the locusts in the pines were singing, and I enjoyed coming home to this stretch of the road.  As it turns out, I finished only a minute behind Stacey, and 2 minutes behind Deb. If my puke break had come sooner, I might have been able to catch up.

This finish line was a full-on party, and we stayed until the race clock read 7:30 elapsed, about 2:30am. A hot breakfast provided by the Williams Junction fire department hit the spot.  I had a really great time.

I'm happy that my body allowed me to run that event decently. I'm curious to see what is in store for the next several weeks.  I have a few events planned for the long-term, but nothing else that is coming up for the next couple of months.  Have a great summer-

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Little Rock 2014

Holy Cow, where to start?

Saturday morning:  ran my warm-up in shorts and a t-shirt.  Roasted.  Pacer breakfast.  Easy livin'.

Go! time

Saturday night:  got interviewed by the local news about winter weather apprehension for the next day.  Scoffed and said that we could handle it.

Sunday morning in the hotel:  multiple people are bailing out of the race to get home for fear of getting stranded.  Fayetteville folks are already posting Sleet-mageddon pics and dire travel warnings from Northwest Arkansas.  No going back now. We have a job to do.  Still deceivingly warm and comfortable outside, but radar confirms that we will be getting socked.

Pacers still warm and dry. For about 1 more hour.

Gun time:  Starting to get chilly.  Wind is really kicking up... conditions are about to change, and fast. Kept jacket on for the start. Excellent decision. Rain came as we waited on the starting line. Temperature dropped 30 degrees in 3 hours. By the finish, the rain was sleet.  Hard sleet.  Hands defunct by mile 20... can't open gel, can't re-tie shoe.  Still trucking at the 3:55 pace that I was assigned on the pace team with no fuel and an untied shoe.  Had a couple of eager finishers who were going to make it, and I was happy for them. We ended up just a couple of minutes ahead of pace, thanks to the urgency of the course closures happening just behind us.  Thank God for the VIP tent, space heaters, and hot chocolate.

 4 hours later. So. Cold. Wearing at least 3 coats. 
And that's it.  I stayed a few hours too long at the after-party and had a hair-raising drive to Conway, where one of my best college friends was prepared to host me for the big snow-in.  I finally made it home on Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The long winter

February 5.  The 3rd snow day in a row for those of us in education.  I don't mind it, but it throws havoc into my syllabus. 

I'm gearing up to lead a pace group again in the Little Rock marathon.  I was sick last year, and it killed me to miss it.  I feel a sense of responsibility on this one.  Every other time, I'm running for myself; and even if I've built the event up a bit, the only person that it ultimately affects is me.  The pacing gig is much more externally focused.  I am expected to enhance the race experience of hundreds of participants, and the pressure is exhilarating!  Any little pain or any break in training makes me hope and pray that I'm not going off the rails at the 20-mile mark.  I'm so looking forward to it. 

That said, my pesky left IT band let me run through the fall, building up to some decent mileage, although I'm nowhere near the kind of shape I have been in for previous seasons.  I ran the 25K ascent up White Rock mountain last weekend, and I'm afraid to say that my IT has been a little sore since.  It was fun to throw caution to the wind and hammer away at those hills without having to turn around, but now I'm holding my breath a little. 

White Rock 2014 start. I ran the ascent in 2:30. 

It's been a cold winter, too.  We've had quite a bit of pesky frozen precip that keeps refreshing itself with a fresh glaze of ice every morning.  (so it seems).  With the sore IT, it's just as well.  I'm going to say that my training is in the bank, and a little bit of an extended taper will probably be ok. 

Snow run at agri park Feb 2.  5 inches!

Nothing new on the PM front, although I had a bone scan to celebrate 5 years of being on Prednisone with no break (except a brief one that sent me into a flare a couple of years ago).  I was confident, but it came back on the borderline low side of normal.  I immediately went out and bought calcium chews, even though I have pretty good nutrition and do plenty of weight-bearing exercise.  On the other hand, my liver continues to flirt with the borderline high side of normal.  Hm.  I always feel like I'm squeaking just under my doctor's approval threshold.  I'm still on Arava, which still seems to be working.  I switched over from Methotrexate a few years ago after a series of flares that indicated a decreased effectiveness.  So far, I have not had a flare on Arava, although I have small fluctuations in my CPK every so often. 

I've been curious about digestive enzymes lately.  I don't think I've blogged this, but about a year ago I started taking probiotics, and it has made a difference in my hair growth.  I have a two-thirds head of baby-quality hair... not enough to look normal, but a definite difference between the alopecia totalis that I have had for so long.  I have been considering enzymes as the next step in approaching autoimmune disease from a digestive system angle.  I'll keep you posted...