4 years, 1 month, 28 days

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Normal (noun): The usual, average, or typical state or condition – as defined by google.

I’ve had this un-diagnosed neurological condition since at least 2016, but probably longer. 2016 was the year I was in the hospital and my symptoms not only worsened, but whatever disease I have decided to ramp itself up to the Next Level like a video game on steroids.

First, I was told it was a stroke. Now, they are looking for multiple sclerosis. I’m having problems getting medical care, which does not make life any easier.

Going with the idea that I might have MS, pending neurology confirmation, I ordered some MS cooling vests to see if they would help at all with some of the “imaginary” symptoms I get when it is hot out. Imaginary is according to the primary doctor, who does not seem to take me seriously (even though she was the one who referred me to neurology).

I took great care to measure myself for the MS cooling vests and I am glad I did. When I put one on, I discovered that the phase change packs were situated so that there are two on either side of my spine. I say phase change packs because that is what they actually are – these are not ice packs, but some other technology. The placement of the phase change packs is key to their efficacy, which we will get to in a moment.

I wore the cooling vest for my run tonight. I had this idea that it would just keep my body cool similar to air conditioning. Boy, was I wrong.

But I was wrong in the best possible way.

Those phase change packs are situated on both sides of your spine not to cool your body, but to cool your central nervous system. Apparently, in people with MS, if that is what I have, heat causes your nerves to misfire. By cooling the central nervous system, your nerves are less likely to misfire, and you are less likely to have heat-induced symptoms.

My central nervous system was definitely cooled by the cooling vest. My spine was cool. My brain inside my head was cool. It was the weirdest but also the best feeling. It felt similar to an ice cream headache, only without the ice cream and without the headache. I did not have a headache. Nothing hurt. Yet my brain inside my head physically felt cool while the outside of my body was sweating buckets.

It was 86 degrees out when I went for my run. Not the best running conditions, even if you do not have a neurological problem.

It was the best run I have had in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days.

It’s been a long time since I have been this happy to be that miserable.

I was sweating buckets. I was uncomfortable. But it was a “normal” uncomfortable. It was the type of uncomfortable that you get when you run 4 miles in 86 degree weather like a crazy person. It was the best feeling.

What made it so great was that it was the first run I have done in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days where I did not experience any of these neurological symptoms while running. I was not dizzy, I did not feel like passing out, my vision was not blurry, my vision was not black, I did not trip, I did not fall. I had no brain fog. I was able to think clearly for the first time in a long time.

I felt normal.

I felt like any other idiot running 4 miles in 86 degree weather, because, really, you shouldn’t do that.

I basically wanted to see if this cooling vest would work. It does. It doesn’t work in the way I thought it would work. It works even better than that.

I thought that the cooling vest would cool my whole body down and kind of give me a competitive edge to run in that heat. The vest did no such thing. The vest cooled down my central nervous system so that I could run normally. I had no neurological symptoms. I was just a crazy runner sweating buckets on the outside. Only my spine and my brain inside my head were cool.

The cooling vest makes me normal per the definition at the beginning of this post. The cooling vest puts me back on level playing field again. It was just me and my body pounding the pavement on the road minus all neurological symptoms.

Now granted, running in 86 degree weather is completely stupid.

The point is that if the cooling vest lets me run normally again, what else can I do like a normal person that I have not been able to do for the past four years?

I’m excited to find out.

I want to surf. I want to drive further than 8 miles. I want to be able to go back to the beaches. I want to go to a baseball game without getting all these neuro symptoms where my body feels like it’s drunk when the only thing I have had to drink all day is water with lime slices in it.

I want to feel like a normal person and not have my body betray me every time I try to do something.

Tonight, I had my first normal run in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days. I cannot say how grateful I am to have this cooling vest. I feel like I might be able to actually get my life back.

With the doctors around here being absolutely stupid, I may never find out whether or not I have MS. Whatever it is that I have, this MS cooling vest is looking like it is alleviating all my heat-induced symptoms.

I can’t wait to use the cooling vest more and see what else I can do like a normal person again. Summer is one of my favorite seasons and I have not been able to enjoy it for years.

Bring on summer. With my MS cooling vests, I’m ready.

Update:

So, I’ve had some people ask me about which cooling vests I chose. I went with these really great vests called Under Cool from Therm Apparel in Rochester, NY. Many people have asked me recently if I’m wearing my vest because they don’t see it. Yes, I am wearing it! The fact you can’t see it is the whole point!

The Under Cool vest goes under my shirt. As a runner, I chose this vest because it weighs just under 2 pounds. Other cooling vests I researched were about 6-8 pounds. When I run 26.2 miles, I don’t want to feel like I’m in Marine boot camp lugging around a bunch of extra dead weight.

Sizing was a huge selling point for me. I weigh about 96 pounds. Most cooling vests I researched were bulky and only available in S,M,L sizes. Under Cool was available in XS (which I have), as well as youth sizes. Some of my baseball shirts are actually youth sizes, so having a wide range of sizes was key. Measure carefully, and your vest will fit well. XS is doing it for me.

Please note, I do not usually push specific items, but since you guys have asked, it is definitely Therm Apparel. I have not received any sort of compensation for giving them a plug, but if you need a cooling vest for neuro issues and run marathons like I do, then this is the vest for you! I also got the “adventure bundle” so I have one vest for running and one vest for “every day use.” I have two sets of phase change packs that allow me to be out longer. So far, I have only been out in my cooling vest for a maximum of 3 hours, but that is only because I get so tired.

I will be sure to post another blog on my vests!

Master of Two

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The kids (indoor only cats) safely enjoying fresh air outside on the porch in a borrowed dog crate.

Jack of all trades; master of none. This was my mantra for a good many years. Spending almost two decades working 2-3 jobs at a time while completing 4 degrees means that I have a breadth of experience.

It was significant and exciting when I completed my master’s degree a few years ago. I was so proud to finally be able to shout: “Jack of all trades and master of ONE!” I am very proud of my forensic psychology degree. It would be even better if I could use it. I digress.

I am now a master of TWO!

Apparently, once you turn age 40, you automatically enter the “Masters” category of running. There are other categories beyond Masters for higher age groups. For now, I am a master of running.

After 12 years and 15 medals, it’s about damn time. Masters runner? I’ll take it!

I am currently in training for a half marathon this year, which will only be my second distance event since getting out of the hospital a few years ago. I’m super pumped. I am also using the Canadian method of training this year to hopefully contribute to the longevity of my running career. Instead of taking 9 weeks to train for a half marathon, I am now taking 17 weeks to train for a half marathon. I’m going with a slower build.

A slower build will allow me more time for rest and hopefully decrease my chances of injury.

Another factor in this choice is that I am now training solely on paved roads, as opposed to a packed trail bed. Paved roads are a pounding for joints, so I’m trying to be gentle. It would be quite a drive for me to get to the packed trail bed now.

Last year it was a huge deal because I finally broke down and bought a Garmin, which I chronicled in 5 Reasons why Garmin Rocks!

This year, I am proud to report, that I have completed my longest run since obtaining the Garmin. When I did my long run last week, the watch cheered as I reached a new goal – longest run with the Garmin. It was only 5 miles. The fact that it’s taken me over a year since I have done a 5 mile long run … well, I’m not happy about that. I am happy that I am now back to doing 5 mile runs. I am completely fine with them.

This week’s “long run” is another 5-miler. I’m looking forward to it. I’m enjoying the slow build with this new Canadian style training plan. If I truly plan on being a master of running, then I need to be sure to preserve my body for the long run.

I may be considered a masters runner at age 40, but I want to be sure that I am still doing this at age 70. I may be running a little bit slower now than I was 10 years ago, but I’m running smarter. I’m riding this masters thing for as long as I can.

I am always stoked when I enter a new decade and get to change age groups in running. Entering the masters category is one of the best privileges I’ve had in years. I am really looking forward to being able to race in the masters runners category this year.

Respect, people! Respect!

Jack of all trades, master of TWO!

Down the Rabbit Hole

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Down the rabbit hole. Drinking the kool-aid. Swallowing bugs. Pick your cliche.

Swallowing bugs?

Yup. I was running last night and swallowed my first bug of the season. With so many food allergies, how do you think I get extra protein? Talk about eating on the go. Well, anyways, I was running and thinking. All my best ideas come while running.

A huge part of the reason why I left the field of social work is that I was constantly going down the rabbit hole. Now, going down the rabbit hole may be cool if you meet someone as awesome as the Mad Hatter, but even Alice had to wake up from her nap.

The problem with social work is that any good social worker worth their weight goes down the rabbit hole – you put your heart and soul into your job to help people fight injustice in the world. When you lose yourself in your job so much that you become the job. Now, that’s dangerous.

When I made the switch from social work to research and human resources, I was so much happier. Part of what made my unicorn (dream) job so sparkly was all the rules and structure. I loved having to follow research protocol and ensure that everything was following labor laws. It was neat and tidy. Yes, I cared about my job. Yes, I loved my job. Yet when I went home at the end of the night, I did not take my work home with me and everybody was still alive. I loved it.

Now, I am definitely not back in social work, but I am in the human service field. No matter how hard you try to keep good personal barriers, anyone with a heart even as small as the Grinch will be able to tell you that there is transference when you work with people. You internalize things whether you mean to or not.

My current job makes a lot of demands on my time. It has been challenging to get certain people to respect and understand my personal boundaries. However, I am not my job. I realize that may come as a shock to some people. My job is what I do for 40 hours per week to earn income to meet my needs. My job does not define me as a person.

Part of the reason why some people have a hard time with respecting my boundaries is my age. I’ve been told I look younger than I am. Therefore, people think I have all this energy and that I absolutely live and breathe my job every minute of every day!

Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I may look young, but I have been working for 26 years. I spent 20 of those years working 60-80 hours a week at 2 or 3 jobs. I feel a lot older than I actually am. I also feel like I’ve paid my dues and people should leave me the hell alone. But that’s another story.

This story is about going down the rabbit hole. No matter how adamant I am about boundaries, I am still human and therefore susceptible to being sucked into things.

I’ve been drinking the kool-aid of the field in which I work.

We all know I’ve been having issues since I was in the hospital in 2016 for stroke. I have not exactly let on just how bad things are sometimes. Pair that with a doctor who thinks they misdiagnosed me and the fact that I am surrounded by people in the disability field, and I’m drinking the kool-aid.

To make a long story short, the doctors think they screwed up. What they initially diagnosed as stroke, they think is actually multiple sclerosis. I had to google MS to see what the hell it is. Apparently it’s common for some patients to be misdiagnosed with stroke when they have a particularly bad MS episode.

According to my nurse, it looks like my symptoms go back at least 8 years.

I have no idea whether or not I have MS. I have one doctor who seems fully prepared to make a definitive diagnosis of either MS or confirming stroke with complications based on an MRI.

I’ve been drinking the kool-aid by imagining the worse. Well, if I really have this disease, it gets progressively worse and has no cure. The frustrating part is I have no idea when one of these episodes is going to strike, how bad it will be when it does, or how long it lasts.

But you know what? I’ve been living with this for 8 years already, and I’ve still been kicking ass. Yes, I’ve slowed down a lot. Yes, I’ve had some pretty bad months. I’m still going.

I’ve been falling a lot lately. It’s affecting my running. I also have a really hard time going upstairs to the second floor of my house. I mostly stay downstairs and I use a commode at night.

I’m still running.

I’m still driving.

Yes, I have problems driving (some of my symptoms are effecting my vision). I only drive when I feel I am able, I do not go long distances, and I only drive in areas that are familiar to me.

For me, I am not willing to give up and call this a disability yet. For me, as long as I’m running and driving, I am considering myself “functional.” The fact that I’m falling down, forgetting things, and going numb can all be damned.

I’ve also decided I’m not getting tested.

I’m not getting the MRI.

I don’t want to know if it really was a stroke or if it’s MS. I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of a whole bunch of testing, medication, and treatment. Something is obviously wrong with my brain. You know what? I’m 40 now. People get old and their bodies fall apart, including brains. After four degrees, no wonder my brain is on the fritz.

Given my work history the past 26 years, I feel like I’ve already lived two lifetimes.

I just want to live my life. I’m a marathon runner. I keep going until I can’t anymore.

What I realized and learned on my run when I swallowed a bug is that as long as I am running and driving, I am not going to go down the rabbit hole and drink the kool-aid by opening Pandora’s Box.

I don’t want to know what’s wrong with me.

I don’t care. I won’t care as long as I can still do those two things.

So I have a bruise on my hip right now from where I fell down and hit the window sill. I can’t drive on the highway. Sometimes I walk into walls. I fall down the stairs. Many times I don’t know what day it is or what month it is. I am totally okay with all of this.

I am doing what I love – running. I am still functioning in society – driving. I’m not ready to say I have a disability yet.

I’ve been reading about MS ever since it was suggested, and from what I have read, it is an extremely difficult disease to both diagnose and treat. I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of putting myself through all of that medical stuff only for them to come back and say “we don’t know what’s wrong with you.”

If it does come back with MS, well, I’ve read about the medications and I don’t want to be treated.

I’ll keep going until I can’t.

So my new goal is to not go down the rabbit hole. I’m going to stay positive as long as I can run and drive. I’m going to keep living my life. I’m not going to limit myself just because I’m not sure what my level of functioning will be in another 8 years from now.

The most significant thought I had while running and swallowing a bug was – if I was still at my unicorn job, would I even be thinking about this? Or would I just keep living my life and not worry about it? That was when I decided to not get tested. Because I now work in the disability field, I feel that I have been sucked in and needed to know what was wrong with me so I could prepare.

But I don’t want to put those limits on myself.

I’ll keep going until I can’t anymore. The only way you’re going to get me to go down the rabbit hole of testing is if I fall down that hole.

Which may be possible. I’m doing a lot of falling these days. We’ll find out.

 

Be Like Meb

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In 2014, as a still grieving world watched in baited anticipation, Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years. This win came at a time when our nation, the city, and the worldwide running community needed it the most. #BostonStrong

When Meb tore that finish tape, we took back both the finish line and the starting line to the Boston Marathon. Meb brought hope back to the greatest race in the world that a year prior was literally bathed in blood. Race after race, year after year, millions of people toe the line to run the greatest distance in all of running. We run through joy, pain, happiness, and grief. Marathoners cannot be kept down. You just don’t mess with people who run 26.2 miles for fun.

Then, in 2018, five years after the bombing, Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. Not only do marathoners prevail over adversity, but we succeed.

Tomorrow is Marathon Monday, Patriots Day in Massachusetts. It marks the 6 year anniversary of the bombing that took lives and drastically altered thousands others. It is also the first anniversary in which the date is again, April 15. Among the many esteemed athletes in tomorrow’s race is running legend and one of my personal heroes, Joan Benoit-Samuelson.

Joanie’s original triumph in the Boston Marathon came 40 years ago, in 1979. This was the same year I was born. In 1979, Joan won the Boston Marathon setting both a women’s course record and an American women’s marathon record. Joan also became the first women’s Olympic marathon winner in 1984. Tomorrow she is toeing the line again in the greatest race in the world.

Joan, Desiree, and Meb, along with Kathrine Switzer, of course, are some of my running heroes. These are people I look up to in my sport. Although I know I will never achieve their levels of greatness, I hope to at least be able to match their longevity, tenacity, and never ending love for this great sport.

Meb recently came out with a new book titled “26 Marathons ..” I have yet to read it. I am on the waiting list to get it out of the library because all copies are already checked out. I’m looking forward to my turn.

Meb is one of those role models that is so inspiring, all I can think of is the 90s Gatorade commercial with Michael Jordan. Except instead of “I want to be like Mike,” “I want to be like Meb.”

Not only did Meb run with heart, but he ran with brains. It takes a lot for an athlete to realize, admit and process that they are retiring from the sport they so love. I can’t imagine it.

I am starting to realize that given some physical disabilities I have, that my race days are probably numbered. I don’t want to admit it yet, but a part of me knows that.

I’m always setting running goals. For the most part, they have been attainable. Until recently. My body betrays me.

So my latest running goal, is that I want to be like Meb. I want 26 medals. A marathon is 26.2 miles long. 26 makes sense. I currently have 15 medals, and am hoping for medal # 16 this year.

I need 11 more medals in addition to what I have now. Will my body hold out for 11 more races or will it let me down? Only time will tell, but I’m going to try.

If I reach 26 medals, then I’ll back off. Maybe I’ll just stick to 5ks or some 10 mile races. Although, one of my other goals is 3 more full marathons. I’m not sure which is more realistic given my body – 3 more full marathons or 11 more half and full medals. I guess I’m going to find out.

You’ll be pulling my Mizunos off my cold dead feet. I’m hoping that’s not how I go out. When I “retire” from racing, I hope that it is my choice and not because my body no longer cooperates.

Then there are days when I just want to be like Joanie. I want to run until I’m “old” (not that she’s old because she’s not) and every day I am putting one foot in front of the other is a good day.

Last week, I was running outdoors (slowly – like 8:40 miles), and passed a person from my church on the running trail. I saw her this week and she exclaimed at how fast I run. Even though, I was running slow for me, her comment made me feel good. I’m still out there. I’m still going.

This year I am signed up for a half marathon over Labor Day weekend. If I can pull it off, it will be my second race since my stroke a few years ago. This will be my first race that I am completely changing my training plan and using the Canadian method. It is supposed to be a gentler method. I typically only train 10 weeks for a half marathon. This Canadian training plan is going to take me 17 weeks to prepare for a half marathon. I’m hoping that if I build slower, I’ll be less likely to get injured and will be able to run longer in life.

We will see what happens. A 17 week training plan means I start training at the beginning of May. If I was using my “traditional” training plan I have been using the past decade, I would not start training until the end of June. I’m going to do a slow build up for this race. Not only do I want to make it to the starting line, but I want to cross the finish line too. I want to cross it with as much strength and love as all my heroes do when they finish their races.

Good luck to everyone running Boston tomorrow. May you be like Meb. My love and prayers are with you all as you run the oldest, most prestigious, and beloved race in the entire world. #BostonStrong

 

 

 

Lost Races & Pixies

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I despise selfies, but here is the pixie.

With my pixie, I can fly. At least, according to Peter Pan, all it takes is pixie dust to fly. I had my hair cut into a pixie last week. I have never before had my hair shorter than a bob. This is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I wish I had done this, oh, say 7 or 8 marathon medals ago.

I’m quite overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility I have right now, so I am trying to make myself as low maintenance as possible. Since I have to take care of everything and everyone else, this way I don’t have to worry about taking care of me. To add onto the increased responsibilities, I have been having trouble with my health. I don’t feel 90% anymore. Each day is a struggle.

When, I had my stroke in 2016, that was the Lost Year when I did not have a race. Unfortunately, after only a half marathon in 2017, I have another Lost Year  – 2018. Let’s not make a habit of this.

With the financial burden of paying 65% of my income in rent over the summer, I was not able to properly fuel (read: buy groceries and eat enough) or even drive to the running trail to be able to train. With all my money being sunk into getting this house and preventing us from becoming homeless, I also do not have the funds to travel to Connecticut for the race I had planned.

Mostly, it is lack of training. When you are barely able to afford food to eat every day, you cannot keep nutrition up to be able to train for a full marathon. It’s just not possible. Being a person with multiple severe food allergies, that meant that food pantries are not a resource to me. While my mortgage is quite a few hundred dollars less than the rent increase that was thrust upon me in May, I can’t train for a full marathon in less than a month.

Combine that with the health problems I am currently having, and I am not even able to salvage a half marathon. I was hoping to run a Veteran’s Day race, but that is not happening. Training for a half would have had to start at the beginning of September, and I am only able to do about 2 miles a few times a week right now. At least I’m running. That’s always a positive.

Another Lost Year is both sad and it pisses me off. I had a solid base of 4-5 mile runs multiple times a week and was all set to start marathon training when the housing crisis hit. So, I guess this year is the Lost Year due to the housing crisis. I hate the feeling of knowing I am registered for a race that I am unable to run.

On the plus side, since my financial situation has improved with the house, I finally had the extra $25 for a hair cut. This pixie is the best decision ever. I hate bangs. I hate hair in my face. This hair style is perfect. I don’t fight with my hair at all anymore. It is literally wash and go. Running with the pixie is amazing. I need to keep the pixie for my next full marathon. This is the best running hair cut ever.

My one concern is that people still know I’m female. I figure if someone thinks I’m a boy, I can always put a bow on it like Hello Kitty. So far, no one has mistaken me for a boy. Everyone has either made a positive comment or kept their negativity to themselves.

I figure since the house is my midlife anti-crisis that this new hairstyle can be my midlife crisis. I just didn’t wait the six months until my 40th birthday in March. I may not believe in pixie dust, but with a pixie haircut, I sure feel like I can fly when I run.

Since 2016 was the Lost Year due to my stroke, maybe 2018 is the year of Lost Races & Pixies. Hey, if I think about having two lost years, I’m going to be depressed, so you have to put a little creativity in it somehow.

My goal right now, if I can get my health to cooperate, is to at least be back to the solid 4 mile base before the snow flies this winter. I am also looking to swim this winter for my cross training. We will see how that goes. My stamina in the pool is not great. Swimming will definitely help work other muscles and increase my endurance. The only challenge is finding a pool schedule that works with my work hours.

Swimming in the winter with a pixie should be a good choice as well. The pixie dries fast, so I won’t have to worry about the hassle of swimming with long hair in the winter.

I have no regrets about this pixie. I have had no tears and no sadness over my hair. It’s a little odd. I have gotten bobs before, and cried and threw a fit trying to “style” it out of my face for running. With the pixie, I have none of those frustrations. This is literally the best hair cut ever.

For the record, when she cut all my hair off, it was more than halfway down my back going down to my butt. Now its short and spiky. I love it.

So if this is the year of Lost Races & Pixies, then so be it. That just makes my 40th birthday something to look forward to in 2019. That means the 2019 running season will have to be amazing. Hey, I got the pixie to fly.

Five Reasons Garmin Rocks!

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These are the true confessions of a technology convert. For the past 11 years of my running career, I have used a simple sports watch with stopwatch for running. I figure out math like splits and pace in my head.  I have gone through two sports watches over the past 11 years. They cost $30 apiece.

Running is a cheap sport. When it comes down to it, all you need to do is put on a pair of shoes and start putting one foot in front of the other. There are even people out there who run barefoot, so you can technically skip the shoes. That’s cheap. Just go.

I have always said that my running shoes are the most important piece of equipment I need for my sport. Therefore, my running shoes should be the most expensive piece of equipment and nothing else – shorts, tops, etc. – should cost more than the shoes. It’s logical.

As you know, this year I am completely changing my training plan for the first time ever. I have always trained for time. Runners who train for time tend to be in the minority. Hey, don’t knock it – even Meb, who won the Boston Marathon in 2014 and represented USA in the Olympics, trains for time. More commonly, runners train for distance.

This year I am training for distance instead of time and incorporating whole new things that include a lot of math, into my training plan. I decided it is time to break down and buy a GPS watch.

I have been extremely skeptical of this whole watch thing. I don’t believe I spent more money on a watch than I spent on my running shoes. I also don’t believe I now own a watch that not only has an on/off button but also has to be plugged into the wall to charge. This thing is completely alien and absurd. Plus, it’s smarter than me.

I have now completed two 4-mile runs with my new GPS watch, and I have to confess, I have fallen in love. Here are the five reasons why Garmin rocks:

  1. It can math. Hard.

I have decided that I am doing the Canadian 10:1 walk plan this year due to my age and injuries. This means I will be running for 10 minutes, then walking for one minute and repeating continuously for 26.2 miles. The math inside my head was getting complicated. Walk from :10 to :11, then run from :11 to :21, then walk from :21 to :22, then run from :22 … You get the idea. It’s actually very simple math, but when you are running a marathon, any math is hard.

I know calculus. I can find the square area of a horse if you want. But no way am I going to be able to do that running a marathon. The only thing I am thinking during a race is:  “Am I breathing? How much longer? Why can’t I feel my legs? Did I die?”

The Garmin is doing all of that math for me. All I have to do is learn to let go and trust the watch and stop trying to math inside my head. Not only is it giving me the 10:1 schedule, but it tells me when I have completed each mile, and my average pace for that mile so I can be sure I am staying on track. I know exactly where I am and how fast I am going at all times.

This means that instead of doing all that math inside my head, I can get “in the zone.” This makes running a much more pleasurable experience mentally. When I’m running distance, I like to think of myself as an airplane. It typically takes me until about mile 6 or mile 8 to get “in the zone.” When I do, I imagine that if I were an airplane, it would sound something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved cruising altitude. Feel free to just drop out, tune in to your body, and settle in for the next 18 or 20 miles. Let the crowds carry you to the medal stand. See you in about 4 hours.”

With Garmin doing all the running associated math for me, all I have to do is respond to the little beeps and keep running. Now, I sound like Pavlov’s dog. I digress. Let’s continue.

  1. Dear Fashion, Meet Practical.

I’m not all that into fashion. No one looks good after running 26.2 miles. Except maybe Shalane Flanagan. She looks good at all the miles. But the rest of the world looks like a hot mess that’s been through the blender and then chased by a pack of rabid squirrels when coming across the finish line of a race.

This watch is pretty. The package says the strap is blue, but I’m honestly not sure if it’s blue or green. Compared to my old sport watch, it’s very attention getting. Not only does it look good, but it is practical too.

The screen is large print, so I can see the display no matter how much sweat and tears I’m covered in. It’s waterproof. I would even go so far as to say it’s sexy. I also just finished a run, so I could be pushing it a little. What can I say? I’m in love.

3. My own personal cheerleader.

Now, when I first programmed this watch for the 10:1 sequence, I thought I messed it up. The watch beeped and there was a 1 and 8:00 on the screen. All I could think was “Noooooooo. I don’t want to walk every 8 minutes. I want to walk every 10.” Then I realized it was telling me I had just ran an 8-minute mile. All was right with the world. The watch was performing even better than I expected.

When I reached the 10 minute mark, the watch did a series of 3 beeps to let me know I needed to slow down for my 1 minute walk break. When I got to the end of my 1 minute walk break, the watch beeped twice, then instead of the third beep, it played “Charge.”

Yup. That’s right. It plays that 6 note sequence right before everyone yells “Charge!” Whoever programmed this watch has a sense of humor. They must also be a runner. How cool is it to have your watch cheer for you to start running again after your 1 minute walk break? I have my own personal cheerleader right on my wrist.

Not only does it cheer for me to run, but when I reach “Goals” there is a display of fireworks on the screen. I honestly have no idea what “goals” I’m reaching. I didn’t program any in, and I have no idea what it means. The watch gave me fireworks once after my run when I was in cool down. I got fireworks again on mile 2 of a run. I have no idea why. But, I’m glad the watch is happy and giving me fireworks. I’m wondering if it likes my heart rate or something, but I honestly have no idea whatsoever what the whole “goal” and fireworks thing is about. Who cares? I’ll take them.

  1. Technology for the challenged.

Part of my reluctance in getting a GPS watch is all the technology involved. I have a hard enough time using my cell phone. I’ve had the same phone for 3 years and I still don’t understand it. I do not need two devices that are hard to use. Plus, I had heard a lot about GPS watches and satellite signals, synching, etc. It just sounded like way more technology than I could deal with.

I am happy in that I was able to program the watch to do exactly what I wanted it to do. Not only that, but it does some things that are surprising to me but I am really happy about. This watch is definitely very user friendly for the technology challenged. I have not had to plug it into a computer, internet, or sync it to anything, so that is even better. I just charge it, turn it on, the buttons are easy to use, and I can read everything easily on the large print screen.

The watch is also making the math easier for me for my running statistics and spreadsheets. Yes, I am that kind of runner. That is part of why I completely changed my running plan this year. I analyzed 10 years of data to figure out what I did during my best year and then try to replicate it in the safest way possible. But the watch is making my math and data analysis easier too. I like it when technology helps me, even if it is smarter.

  1. Worth the splurge.

While I keep saying I can’t get over spending more on a watch than my running shoes, it was worth the splurge. I got one of the entry level models that does everything I need to do, so at least it is not one of the watches that costs say, one month’s rent. This watch was the equivalent of buying one and a half pairs of running shoes.

Yes, the watch was more expensive than my shoes, but at least it wasn’t double the price of my running shoes. So, I can live with it. It was worth the splurge for all the data I am getting out of it and for how much easier it has made running this week. I have enjoyed my runs so much more when I don’t have to think so hard and can just go. After all, that’s what running is supposed to be is fun. It’s not all data, pace, and negative splits.

These are the true confessions of a technology convert. I have 3 more weeks to play with the watch and become comfortable with it before I officially start training for my fall marathon. So far, I can honestly say that Garmin rocks! I’m looking forward to incorporating this new piece of equipment into my training plan.

The Turtle Wins

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Above: View of the country-side from my running trail

There are many forms of wildlife on my running trail, which goes along a lake. Depending on the time of year, I see deer, beavers, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, various birds, fish and turtles. The turtles lay their eggs on the banks of the lake, and as they hatch make their way towards the water. I often see them on a log in the water sunning themselves, or swimming happily.

I have not seen turtles on the trail yet this year. We are still getting intermittent bouts of snow. Yes, it is May and Upstate New York is still getting snow! Last week on the trail, I saw a small family of bunnies. The bunnies took off down the trail way ahead of me, and there was no way that I was going to catch up with them. I was content to watch the white puffs of tail bounce off.

The experience reminded me of the old fable of the tortoise and the hare. As a child, its a cute and amusing story. As we get older, we begin to understand the moral of the tale – “Slow and steady wins the race.” We may understand that concept, but as young adults, the adage is often accompanied by rolling our eyes and a sneer.

As a middle-aged marathon runner who has overcome many injuries and is still dealing with medical issues, the tortoise and hare fable is becoming my mantra. I start training for my fall marathon in June. Honestly, I am unsure at this point if I am physically going to be able to run another full marathon or if I will have to scale-back and be content with the half marathon distance. The doctors seem confident I can still run a full, so I am going with that. But I also know my own body, and lately I have had more bad days then good.

I think of that fable, and even though the tortoise was moving slow, he kept moving. He kept going and he finished. That is important. He may not have been as fast as the hare, but the tortoise was able to keep going. I have been stuck in this mindset of time. They say for every marathon, you should have three goals. You never know what is going to happen in 26.2 miles, so if you are unable to reach your first goal, you will at least reach one of the three.

Two of my three goals for when I run a marathon are related to time. One goal is to BQ (qualify for Boston), the other goal is to PR (beat my own personal best time = become faster). The third goal I usually phrase: “Oh, well, yeah, and if all else fails, just cross the finish line.” Crossing the finish line is kind of “if the shit hits the fan” kind of goal. But at the same time, I’m pretty adamant about that finish line. I also say that “run, walk, crawl, dragged, or if in Philly in drag, cross the finish line.”  To be honest, the finish line goal is the one I have always taken for granted. I say that goal with a laugh – of course I’m going to cross the finish line!

After my 2015 marathon and 2016 health issues, I can say that goal is no longer a laughing matter. Crossing the finish line is going to be my one and only goal when I run my full marathon this fall. I am completely abandoning any goals of time. This year, I will simply be thankful to be able to complete a full marathon. I am staring down the possibility that I may no longer be able to complete a full marathon. I need to think like the tortoise and keep going. Even if I go slow, I need to cross the finish line.

Another saying in running that has always elicited a smirk (at least from me) is “DNF (did not finish) is better than did not start.” My 2015 marathon was the first race in my running career that I came dangerously close to DNF. That was the race in which I tore the muscle in my hip around mile 18. I finished, but it was slow and involved incredible pain. It was the first time I needed wheelchair medical assistance when coming across the finish line.

That race was tough. A year of planning and five months of training to not finish? That’s a hard pill to swallow. One thing I did learn in that race is that walking is okay as long as you keep moving. That’s one of the many reasons why I am using the Canadian run/walk method in this year’s marathon both training and race day. I still think that a DNF would be hard for me to handle. I’m the type of person who will just keep going even if it kills me because I want the finish line. I want the medal. The marathon means a lot to me.

Not being able to deal with a DNF is something I still need to work on psychologically. Hopefully it will never happen and I will not have to deal with it in real life. But I feel I should be prepared for the possibility mentally.

What I am prepping myself for this year is the solo goal of: FINISH. I am going with the tortoise philosophy of “slow and steady wins the race.” When I run this fall, I don’t care how long it takes me, I just want to cross that finish line. Giving up my time goals is wicked hard.

But do you know what’s harder? Not running.

Not being able to run anymore would destroy me. We can’t have that.

So I need to give up my time goals so I can continue to cross finish lines. My glory days and records may be over, but as long as I can still GO, it’s a good thing.

If you think about the fable, the turtle always wins. Yes, he may be slow, but he finished. The hare goes fast, but he gets tired. He may become injured. The hare will only be fast for so long and then he will slow too. The hare may win the race and get the medal. There will come the time when the hare slows and does not get the medal – the younger hare will get the medal and the older hare will be in the same position the tortoise has occupied all along – of finishing.

The turtle always wins.

Part of me feels that in this scenario, I am settling. I feel like I am giving up my goals because they are “just too hard.” I’m not sure if that is true or if I am just being realistic about what my body can do now given the health challenges I have.

My ultimate goal is to keep running for as long as I can – hopefully my whole life. So I’m trying to justify sacrificing my time goals in order to meet my ultimate goal. If I push myself to the point where I can no longer run a full marathon, then I lose it all.

Turtles live a long time. They live longer than bunnies. So, I’m going to stop smirking and rolling my eyeballs and take the tortoise lesson to heart. I’m training this year for distance, not for time. I want to cross the finish line this year and for many more years after this.

The turtle wins.

Hidden Gems

I was going to title this post “The Comeback Kid Runs Again,” but then I realized I would have to flashback to 2009 to explain that. To keep a long story short, Running Legend Bill Rodgers (4 time winner of the Boston Marathon AND 4 time winner of the New York Marathon) gave me the nickname of “The Comeback Kid” after hearing the story of how I ran a half marathon in Ottawa  only days after having my casts sawed off when I had broken both arms at the same time.

I overcame many challenges to run that race, and I have done it again. Only 10 months after being hospitalized for stroke, I finished another half marathon. It is my second worst half marathon time ever, but it was the sweetest finish line I’ve had in a long time.

This year I signed up for a small, local race trying to keep it real given the obstacles I have overcome in reaching the start line. All I wanted to do was prove to myself that I can still run distance and cross the finish line. I wasn’t expecting a medal and there was none advertised. But, surprise, surprise, not only was there a medal at the finish line, but friends too, and it was the best feeling!

So my math is all blown to hell. Remember in Going Local, I was gushing over the plan for Philly 2018 to be my 15th medal and blah, blah … well, I got my 15th medal this year. I couldn’t be happier. My math for the 2018 running season is totally screwed and I am completely fine with that. The medal I got for this 2017 race is one of my top 3 medals in terms of what it means to me. I was seriously facing a running career ending health condition last year when I could not drive or run after having my stroke. I cannot begin to describe how much this medal means to me.

When I got that medal in Ottawa, it was shaped like a maple leaf. The medal I got this year is shaped like a maple leaf also. Must be a theme with maple leaf medals when I make an epic comeback.

While I talk extensively about races I have ran, I have never outright endorsed a race. *spoiler alert* I’m going to do so now. Please note I was not asked to do this and am receiving nothing for doing so. I’m just that impressed with this race that I want everyone to know about it. If you’re ever in the Central New York area at the end of September, there is this tiny race called the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon that is put on by the Cortland YMCA in Cortland, NY. It’s amazing in so many ways.

The Leaf Peeper was my 15th race overall. It was also the smallest. It is extremely well planned. Arrive an hour early on race day to pick up your bib and t-shirt. There is plenty of parking, plenty of rest rooms, and super nice people. The race fee is a complete steal, especially for someone like me who is used to the big city races with 30,000+ runners. All the money benefits the local YMCA and is completely worth it. It doesn’t get any better than race for a good cause.

The course is well marked and there is plenty of support. The volunteers at the road crossings are friendly. There is not a lot of traffic on the route. The route is a very gorgeous run through the rolling hills of Central New York. You can, indeed, see the leaves peeping across farm fields and streams. The race is aptly named. The scenery is spectacular in the morning as the fog is burning off at the beginning of the race.

The volunteers at the water and Gatorade stations are so polite. Some aid stations even had real food like m&m’s and bananas. I will take a banana in a race over a gel any day! Leaf Peeper rocks for best volunteers at a half marathon. There was also bicycle support, which I was not expecting for such a small race (very impressed), and each mile was clearly marked!

At the finish line, there was great crowd support. There was plenty of water, Gatorade and snacks at the finish. The race was professionally timed with the timing chips built right into the bibs. This race is a hidden gem, and I highly recommend it to anyone. It’s great for a first half marathon. It’s also great for more experienced runners like myself.

I actually made a challenge for myself with this race – I ran without my iPod even though I knew there was minimal crowd support on the rolling country miles. I survived. I went into this race treating it like just another 13.1 mile run, but by the time I finished, I realized this is truly a race, and an excellent one at that. I completely underestimated the Leaf Peeper.

It’s too late for you to run this hidden gem in 2017. Now is the perfect time to put it on your bucket list for 2018. I will definitely be back to run the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. Maybe not next year, as I already have a race planned, and my body is only capable of one long distance race per year, but I will be back for the Leaf Peeper again.

That was another huge plus – I finished the Leaf Peeper uninjured. After the significant injury to my hip in 2015, I was worried when I saw hills in the Leaf Peeper. I listened to my body and navigated them fine. My finish time may have been slower, but I ran a good race and finished uninjured. It was a great experience in my book.

I am officially in my off-season now for running, as my race is complete for the year. I am going to have a short rest. One day off for each mile raced, you know! Then, I’ll be back at it getting ready for 2018. If you are still in the planning stages for your 2018 race season, consider the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. I highly recommend it!

Canadian Style

Since this year’s race is a small, local run with no medal, I’ve decided to play around with my training schedule a bit. I’m throwing it back and going Canadian style. Toronto is the city in which I ran my second marathon and it is hands down my all-time best time. I can no longer call it a PR, as it has been longer than two years since I’ve done Toronto, but it is the best experience.

What made Toronto unique was that I ran with pace bunnies from John Stanton’s Running Room using the 10:1 run/walk method.  Especially in America, many marathoners and spectators think that being able to run the complete marathon without stopping or walking is how to get all the glory. Spectators always cheer with added enthusiasm when you slow down for a walk break in a marathon; the crowd tries to will you to keep moving.

As I get older, I am starting to appreciate the run/walk method more. The word on the street is that run/walk methods are great for older runners (40+) and those with injuries or who are prone to injury. While I am not yet 40, I am feeling the effects of some injuries wearing me down. I’m not sure how many marathons I still have in me. As the popular saying goes, “there will come a day I can no longer do this. Today is not that day.” Not only has the run/walk method resulted in my most successful race times; I came through with minimal to no injuries in those races.

I researched a few different run/walk training methods. In the United States, the Jeff Galloway method is quite popular. With all due respect, the Galloway method is way too complicated for me, and when trying it, I did not see any of the benefits I see with Canadian style. I love math when I’m standing still, but when I’m running, I just can’t math. You know, that moment when you get “in the zone” and your brain turns off because you’re running on autopilot. If you’re the type that loves doing hard math while you are running, definitely look into the Galloway method. For me, Canadian style goes by 5s and 10s, so the math is a lot easier for me to handle when running.

I’ve always inadvertently incorporated some style of run/walk into my runs. My training runs are primarily on a trail. I typically walk the footbridges (usually people are fishing there, and I don’t want my pounding feet to scatter their dinner), and in races, I walk the water stops. I have ran some races in below freezing weather, and water stops can be quite slippery, not to mention there are potential tripping hazards in water stops such as discarded cups lying about.

This is the first time that I am purposely using the run/walk method to train in a distinctive pattern as well as planning on using it in a race. The hard part is going to be listening to the crowd for those 1-minute increments when I’m walking. In Toronto, we were all using the 10:1 method en masse, so the crowds were used to seeing large groups of runners slow for a 1-minute walk every 10 minutes. Those 1-minute walk breaks help your endurance so you can go the distance as well as recharge your muscles and reduce the chance of injury. I’ve officially been a distance racer for 10 years now, and as I am approaching 40 (but not quite there yet), I am all about preventing injury so that I can be a distance runner and distance racer for as long as humanly possible. Life is the ultimate marathon and I want to be doing this running thing as long as I can.

Incorporating the 10:1 program into my training has been beneficial so far. I have had two 12-mile longs runs now, and they seem easier. I’m not as worn out after the run, and my results show that I’m running each mile an average of 20-30 seconds faster. We will see how those results bare out when I actually run my race on September 23.

I’m going back to the Canadian style of running that I found so helpful in my early races. I’m not sure how I got away from that. I can definitely pinpoint when. Using data from my own races over the past 10 years, there is a definite difference in performance when I was running Canadian style compared to when I started going all out “run the entire thing no matter what” American style. The person who crosses the finish line in a marathon is not the same person who crosses the start line in a marathon. It is everything in between those two lines that makes the type of person and runner you are. The journey defines you.

If my race goes well this month, then I intend on using the 10:1 method from the very beginning when I train for the 2018 running season and for Philly. Historically, I have my own race data to back up the claim that I should be running my races Canadian style. That’s not to say that this method is for everyone, but it looks to be the best choice for me.

It is also important to learn to not get discouraged when spectators are urging walkers to start running again. Hey, I’m running for 10 minutes, and then walking for 1 minute. Nowhere in that equation do I see the word “stop.” I’m a marathoner. Run, walk, crawl, dragged, (or when in Philly, in drag), I cross the finish line. There is no shame in taking walk breaks as long as you cross the finish line. Less than 10% of the American population will ever finish a marathon. I have 14 medals doing this. I’m way ahead of the curve. Just keep moving.

Speaking of moving, my theme song has changed yet again. I’m not sure if it was bad juju or what, but I had changed my running theme song in 2015. For 13 medals, that old Eminem song from 8-mile was my groove. I changed to a different Eminem song in 2015, which is when I had that tear in my hip. That race was bad news. Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself again. If this race goes poorly this year with my new theme song, I’ll have to go back to my “Lose Yourself” days. But, I’m hoping this tune is a lucky one. My new theme song is below. Happy running, eh?

 

Going Local

After the disappointment of having to forfeit the entire 2016 running season and having it be the first lost year of my running career, the 2017 running season is on, if with a somewhat quiet whimper. I’m going local this year.

Being that I was hospitalized last year for stroke symptoms, I decided to keep 2017 low-key. I’m running a half marathon in September. It is going to be the first time I have ran a race where there is no medal involved. I’m doing this one not for the competition, but rather for the accomplishment. After surviving a stroke and losing an entire season, I just want to cross the finish line to be able to say, “I did it. I can still run.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Not only will I be running a local race this year, it will be my first time running a distance event that is on a Saturday as opposed to a Sunday. In my geographic area, 5ks are traditionally on Saturdays, while half and full marathons are traditionally on Sundays. Running a half marathon on a Saturday is going to be a new experience. It has totally given me a new training schedule than normal this summer.

I will be running a race where I can sleep in my own bed both the night before the race and then return home within 30 minutes after it ends. The race is a fundraiser for the local YMCA a worthy cause in my own backyard. You know if I’m not running for a medal, I better be running for charity. There is also that whole “for the love of running concept” that was the slogan of the 2013 Philly Marathon as well.

Speaking of Philly, my second reason for a toned down 2017 running season is to hopefully be able to gear up for a spectacular 2018. 2018 is going to be a huge year in my running career, quite possibly the biggest one yet.

Here’s what’s in store for 2018: I’ll be 39 and plan to fun the full marathon in Philadelphia. It will be the 10 year anniversary of my first full marathon (which was Philly), it will be my 15th medal overall, it will be the 5th medal I receive from Philly, and it will be the 25 year Anniversary of the Philadelphia Marathon. 2018 is going to be a huge year. A quiet 2017 running season is just what I need to be able to get back in the game and prepare to go full force into a glorious 2018.

I’m hoping to have a positive experience at this local race in September. I have so many races in my backyard, its probably time I have checked some out. I have been hitting the race circuit pretty hard the past decade. It was only a matter of time before I was knocked on my ass.

I’m also toying with the idea of retiring from the full marathon distance. I want to do at least 3 more full marathons before I decide for definite. I’m going to do Philly in 2018, then 2 more yet to be determined. I will still keep running half marathons, but I think I might be near the end for the full marathon distance. The half marathon is actually my best distance competitively, although I love the challenge of full marathons. Full marathons will always be my first love. Depending on how next year goes, I may only have a few more full marathons left in me. We will see what the future holds. My health situation seems to have other ideas.

For 2017, I am staying local running a tiny half marathon that is raising money for a great community organization. Sometimes when you are knocked down, like I was with the stroke last year, you are forced to realize what is all around you instead of continually reaching for something farther away.

Based on my training so far, I’m a little worried that my half marathon next month is going to be slow and not the sub-2:00 times I am used to running normally in the half marathon distance. I’m okay with that. After the year I have had, I just want to be able to say, “I’ve still got it.”  Then I have an entire year to work on preparing for a huge 2018.

What I do know is that whether competitively on the race circuit or locally in my own backyard, I won’t stop running. When I was down with stroke symptoms last year that was what I cried about the most. If I couldn’t run, I at least needed to walk. This has been a long year for me. I may be downgrading by going local with no medals, but the real reward is that I am still able to do what I love doing the most. That’s what matters.