Magic Wands

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There are times in life when we all just wish we could wave a magic wand and make something better. Times when we all want a fairy godmother a la Cinderella to bippity boppity boo something to smithereens. I’ve had the magic wand moment this whole week.

My neurological condition is still pending an official diagnosis. I am being referred to a MS clinic in a nearby larger city. In the meantime, my doctor this week gave me a MS medication to help alleviate some of my symptoms as a trial. If I have MS, this drug will help me. If I don’t then it won’t do anything.

I have not felt this good in years and I am insanely happy. I feel like I want to do as much as I possibly can this week. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good, and when I finish the medication, I’m sure that I will never feel this good again.

Once the medication is out of my system, I’ll go back to how I was. But for right now, my symptoms are reduced and manageable. The symptoms are not gone. Their severity is lessened.

I didn’t realize how impaired my functioning has become until I entered this period of respite that the medication has afforded me.

It’s like someone has waived a magic wand and made me almost normal again for a week. How many people ever get a chance to say they have had a magic wand moment in life?

I still don’t have an official diagnosis. However, three different doctors all think the same thing. I’m pretty sure if the MS drug is acting like a magic wand … it might be MS. I’m no doctor, but …

I’m going to enjoy my magic wand moment for as long as I can. I want to cram as much life and living into these moments as possible.

I’m just hoping that when my magic wand moment is over that I do not completely crash down into reality.

For right now, I’m just going to say thank you for giving me my life back. Even if it’s only temporary.

Unfortunately, the drug trial I am on is not something that can be sustained long term. But I’ll take the week of respite. It’s the best week I’ve had in years. Sure, the cooling vest gives me moments of normalcy too, but those typically only last minutes or hours. This is an entire week of my life in which I feel amazing.

The weather outside is indeed frightful. We have a few inches of snow and a layer of ice. I wish I could take advantage of this situation and do something fun like surfing. I have been running, of course. Running is awesome. 

I have mostly been spending this week getting everything done that I have been behind on. In a way, I feel like it’s kind of a waste. I really want to do something fun, but other life circumstances are not cooperating right now no matter how good I feel. At least I can check a bunch of things off from the never ending to-do list so I can have a moment to say “it’s done” before everything in life becomes so much harder to do again. 

Now if only this magic wand thing could also result in the entire house being clean without me cleaning it …even for Cinderella, midnight has to strike eventually. 

Medal # 17

Last weekend, I participated in my first 5k in about a decade. I started out running 5ks back in the early 2000s, and when it got to the point that I was running over 30 races per year, I figured that I needed to run longer. I have been running half and full marathons for the past 12 years.

The 5k last weekend was a fundraiser for a program very near and dear to me, given my educational and professional background. The 5k raised funds for our local community policing initiative. Having completed the Run to Remember half marathon a few times, and numerous other races that support our emergency responders, I was totally on board to do a 5k for community policing after a 10-year hiatus from the shorter distances. Plus, this one supports our local community police officer, who is an all-around amazing person.

I just ran the 1812 Challenge half marathon a few weeks ago, and signed up for this race totally in support of the cause. I did my Canadian 10:1 run:walk method that I instituted this year. This meant I had two walk breaks for a 5k. I also had an unanticipated third walk break in this race, as there was a hill on one of the streets. I don’t do well with hills, so I walked up it. In total, I had 3 walk breaks over a 3.1 mile run.

The weather was perfect. It was 55 degrees at the start, which is my favorite temperature in all of life, and also optimal race weather. Given my hiatus from the 5k distance, I was just treating this as another 3 mile run. I was not expecting any certain time or accolades. The only expectation I had for myself was to finish in under 30 minutes. Based on my race pace a few weeks ago in my half marathon, I was hoping for about 27 minutes, but I figured under 30 minutes was a reasonable expectation.

My fastest 5k time back in my 20s was 25:10. Now at age 40, I knew I would not get near that. I just wanted to run a decent 3 miles. 

I crossed the finish line in 26:17, far exceeding even my wildest expectation of 27 minutes. 

When checking the boards for race times, which were marked “unofficial,” I was surprised to notice that I had placed 2nd in my age group!

I was surprised and elated! While I consistently perform in the top 10% of runners in half marathons, this was the first time I have ever placed in my age group in any race ever. Well, not in the top 10 anyway. 

At age 40, a 5k time of 26:17 is a new PR (personal record) race for me. Placing in my age group was the icing on the cake. When I turned 40 this year, I have now entered the Masters category of running, and I finally feel like I am coming into my own. I may not be as fast as I was in my 20s, but I am a well-seasoned, experienced runner, and to place in my age group felt amazing. I was so excited. I could not wait to tell everyone.

Running awards were announced at the end of the race. The first place finisher in each category received a prize. As second in my age group, I knew I was not going to receive anything, and I was totally okay with that. I was so happy to place second and have bragging rights. I ran a good 5k and then stayed near the finish line to cheer for everyone who came in after me. It was a great race and just a happy day to be part of the running community.

Imagine my surprise, when the female age 40-49 age group first place finisher was announced and it was me! Apparently, the other woman in my age group was the first overall female finisher, which bumped me up in the standings to be the first finisher in my age group. When I looked online later this week, I also noted that I was the third overall female finisher for the race! 

Welcome to medal # 17! This is my first 5k medal and the only medal that is for a distance shorter than a half marathon. However, I am so honored to have placed first in my age group! I am so proud of this 5k! I had a great time and a great run on an awesome course with amazing people! 

I will now officially say that my 2019 running season is over and I am in the off-season. Medal # 17 was a complete surprise, but definitely one of my most favorite medals. I am so looking forward to planning the 2020 race season over this winter and to resume “recreational running” for the duration of the off-season.

Thank you so much to all the volunteers, the spectators, and every one who has supported me in the 2019 race season. This is the best race season I have had in 5 years and I am so grateful to be able to continue to compete in this sport. I truly consider my ability to run to be a gift from God and every step I take is a blessing. I love all my medals and consider it an honor and a privilege to have earned each one. I’m so happy! Medal # 17 rocks!

Five Reasons the 1812 Challenge Rocks!

So if you haven’t heard, I ran the 1812 Challenge half marathon on September 1, 2019. It was my comeback race. It was amazing. This race is so awesome, I decided it needs its own “Rocks!” post similar to the Garmin one. In random order, here are the five reasons why the 1812 Challenge is my new favorite race. 

  1. Volunteers

Any runner from 1 mile to a full marathon will tell you that every race is about volunteers. We cannot run without them. No volunteers, no race. Kind of like mornings – no coffee, no workee. Yeah, yeah, we hear it all the time. 

Seriously, this race has the best volunteers. It has an army of volunteers. The race field was 1,200 runners. There were 200 volunteers. Our every need was taken care of in every way possible. Not only were the volunteers plentiful, but they were insanely happy. You could tell they genuinely wanted to be there and cared that we had a great race. 

These volunteers did not need coaching to smile, cheer, or encourage us on our way. They just did it and it was genuine. They wanted to be there and the runners were the center of the universe. I have never before gotten that vibe from race volunteers before. 

By the way, have you ever volunteered for a race? If you haven’t, then you should. Don’t be that runner that just races all the time without giving back by volunteering for someone else’s race. We’re the ones that know all the little tricks like how the person with the box of kleenex is an angel because when your legs run, your nose does too. If you are racing, you should be volunteering too. Give back. Pay it forward.

  1. Spectators

This course has the best spectators. It was the first time I ever had people say “good morning” to me on a race course. There were people outside in their yards with a mug of coffee (as in the ceramic 12 oz mug from your kitchen, not a travel mug) enjoying watching us go by. People turned up their stereos for us. 

One person was playing violin on course. Another person played the bag pipes. None of these people needed to be outside. But they were. They were cheering us on. They were awesome. I especially enjoyed all the Disney characters at mile 12. There were people of all ages from children to adult, and everyone was happy to be there. It wasn’t like in the big cities when you get the feeling that the spectators are just there to party. These people were spectating the 1812 race for us. Now, its possible some of those coffee mugs held vodka, but I don’t think so. 

This course was pretty rural. If it wasn’t for the spectators, it would have been lonely and boring. Thank you to everyone who came out to sit in their yard and watch us. You’re awesome. 

  1. Organization

The 1812 Challenge has flawless organization. From the expo to the finish line, everything went off without a hitch. I’m sure there was a lot going on behind the scenes, but from the runner’s perspective, this was a perfect race. 

First, the Expo was held on Saturday at the same location as the start/finish for the race. I’m so glad this was the case. I probably would have gotten lost on race morning if I had not been to the Expo the day before. The Expo had plenty of things to do and was not boring like some other expos. There was swag, music, and running gear sales. 

Parking was surprisingly easy, free, and did I say easy? For both race start and also for leaving the race location afterwards. One of the most stressful moments of race weekend is getting to the starting line on time. It can also be stressful trying to leave a race to get back to shower, rest, and have a full meal. The parking for this race was amazing. It was easy in, easy out. A big part of why race day went so well was that I was not stressed and frustrated trying to get to the start line. Finding the start line was easy, so I could relax and focus on my race.

Another impeccable part of organization with this race was directions. You would not believe how many marathons I have been in and the runners are frustrated because we get confused on turns and where we should go. This course was very well marked and very well staffed. There was no question at any point in time regarding where we should be. We knew at all times that we were on course and were well aware of turns. 

Especially for a race with multiple distances where the 13.1 runners sometimes diverged from the 18.12 runners, there was no question about who was supposed to be where. This is in marked contrast to large races I have ran where we get confused on where the full marathon splits from the half marathon. If it’s not organized well, that’s a horrible mistake to make. Luckily, the 1812 Challenge is organized with precision at every aspect.

Another thing that was impressive was porta potties. Porta potties were plentiful and had short to no lines. I used a porta potty at mile 5 and really appreciated it. This was one of the very few races where I did not just run behind a tree somewhere and squat. I am super impressed with the porta potty situation for this race. 

  1. The Course

When they say this course is flat and fast, they mean the course is flat and fast. I have ran races listed as “flat and fast” only to have the huge hill from miles 10-13 completely slow me down and cramp up my legs. The course map was also posted well in advance of the race. I often use course maps when considering a race to decide if it is something I can do based on elevation. 

The course was also well laid out. I was not bored. I had plenty to look at. I enjoyed having multiple turns. I tend to get bored if I’m just running a straight-away for 4 or 5 miles. We were able to see the beauty of Lake Ontario, the tranquility of cows on a farm, and the gorgeously quaint main street of Sackets Harbor. One of my favorite activities is learning about a new place by running their race. This course definitely allows you to see the sights.

  1. Timing

Apparently, this race used to be at the end of August and was moved to Labor Day weekend this year. Some people have complained about the change, but personally. I love it. Even though the change is only one week, pushing it a little into the fall brings me hopes of lower temperatures. My optimal race temperature is about 55 degrees. If it is 70 degrees or above, then I need to use my MS cooling vest and we may be looking at physical problems/symptoms.

The weather was perfect for this race with 56 degrees at the start and a high of about 72 for the day. I liked having it Labor Day weekend because the end of August tends to be feast or famine – everyone is either running around trying to get ready for back to school or every one is on vacation. For me, Labor Day weekend was perfect because I had the time to enjoy the race without needing to worry about idiots around me. 

I was really happy with the 7:30 am race start time. Again, this is for temperature reasons related to my functioning. Some half marathons start later in the morning and it is too damn hot! The 1812 Challenge has nailed the timing aspect. 

I was also impressed with the on the course race timing. When finished, I was able to punch my bib number into a little machine, and it printed me a slip of paper with all my race stats. This is one of the most incredible pieces of technology I have seen in the course of my running career. I love it! No more standing in front of boards and saying excuse me to the group of people around you trying to find your bib number and times. Then try to find a pen to write it down because who carries a pen to a marathon? I love the new timing technology. That race stat slip is my favorite piece of paper.

Bonus Reason why the 1812 Challenge Rocks! Because I could not stop at just 5 …

Bonus = Theme/Swag

I love how this race commemorates the 1812 theme. From the medals to the race swag, the theme is just awesome. The visuals are great. I love the artistry of a patriot from that time period. 

This race also ties in with the 1812 beer and has pint glasses and other swag that goes with the theme. Not to mention, an 1812 beer is included with the race. The beer ticket is attached to the bib. 

The challenge theme is awesome because 18.12 is an unusual distance. It’s more than a half marathon, but less than a full marathon. It’s the perfect way to challenge yourself for those scared to make the jump between distances. While everyone else has stickers that say 26.2 or 13.1, you can have one that says 18.12. Just so that people are like what? And it will be cool. Do the 1812 Challenge. Put the 18.12 sticker on your car. You will start a thing. You’ll see. 

I am so looking forward to returning to the 1812 Challenge in 2020. I can’t wait to figure out which challenge is in store for me next year – 13.1 or 18.12! 

The Comeback Kid Runs Again

A half marathon is just a 5k with a 10 mile warm up. 2008 was a rough year. In February of that year, I broke both arms at the same time in 4 places. I spent the winter training for a spring race in casts. In May, they sawed my casts off on a Tuesday, and I ran a half marathon that Sunday. Little did I know at the time, but my race in Ottawa qualified me for Boston. When I finally figured that out, I did indeed run Boston – in 2010.

In the fall of 2008, I ran my first full marathon in Philly. It was my third medal. The day of the race, it was 23 degrees for the entire event. It was so cold, the air horn would not work to start the race. At every water stop, as soon as liquid hit the pavement, it was instantly ice. Shortly after I crossed the finish line in Philly, my running coach passed away from cancer. Since then, I have trained myself.

When I ran Toronto in 2009, I was stoked. Toronto had perfect weather and I had a great training season. Even though PRs (personal records) are technically only good for two years, my time in the Toronto Marathon is the PR of my entire running career. It was my best race ever for the full marathon distance.

While in Toronto, I was fortunate enough to meet and have deeply personal conversations with some of my running heroes. I had the privilege of spending quality time with Roger Robinson, Kathrine Switzer, and “Boston Billy” – Bill Rodgers. Kathrine Switzer was the woman in the iconic Boston Marathon photos that the race director was trying to pull off the course because there “wasn’t supposed to be women in the marathon.” Bill Rodgers won the Boston Marathon four times. He also won the New York City Marathon four times.

In my conversations with Bill, I learned a little about running and a lot about life. I told him of the challenges I had in the 2008 running season and how I was so happy and excited to be running in Toronto. The race was bittersweet, as it would be my first full marathon without my running coach. Bill gave me great advice, words of encouragement, and called me “The Comeback Kid.” I definitely came back. Toronto was my best race ever.

Fast forward a few years.

My 2015 running season was okay. I did a half marathon in the spring. Everything went normal. I ran the half marathon in under 2 hours (typical for me). I ran a full marathon in the fall of 2015. It was my worst marathon ever. It was my slowest time and I was starting to have physical issues.

Those physical issues would persist into 2016. I ended up in the hospital. The 2016 running season was completely lost. They thought I had a stroke.

I struggled through 2017. I did a small, local half marathon with about 100 runners. I was happy to get a medal, as it was unexpected for such a small race. My time was well over the 2 hour mark. It was one of my slowest half marathons, but I did it.

In 2018, I had more set-backs. My 2018 running season was completely lost. Between 2016 and 2018, that is now two years where my running season was just plain gone and I was not liking the pattern. I changed doctors and have been pushing them for answers. Why is my body betraying me? I have 15 medals – 10 half marathons and 5 full marathons. Something is definitely wrong here. 

In 2019, I have found out that the stroke diagnosis was wrong. I have a neurological disability. They are looking at MS. I am still technically “pending diagnosis,” but after having three different doctors tell me they all suspect MS and “failing” all the MS tests, getting confirmation from the neurologist is almost just a technicality at this point.

With MS in mind, I got a cooling vest to help with my symptoms – which was actually prescribed by one of the doctors who thinks I have MS. It helped with my physical symptoms enough for me to train. Previously, it would take me 9 weeks to train for a half marathon. With my new neurological problems, it has taken me 4 months to train for a half marathon. I also changed my training plan for the first time in my career. I now use Canadian John Stanton’s 10:1 method for both training and racing. 

On September 1, 2019, the Comeback Kid Runs Again. 

Given that my neurological condition (lets just go with the MS thing, since I see the neuro in October, mmkay?) affects my vision and my driving, I took a short trip north to the Watertown, NY area. I needed a “big” race that was close and easy for me to get to. I also needed one with a medal, because we all know, it’s all about the bling. 

I ran the 1812 Challenge Half Marathon, which was my biggest race in four years, and my first “official race” back on the race circuit. In the words of Neil Diamond, it felt “so good, so good.” I love being an athlete. I love being a runner. Most importantly, I love being a marathon runner. I do not remember the last time I was as happy as I was during 1812 race weekend. It has literally been years since I have been this happy.

First off, the people are amazing. I even met the race director. The 1812 Challenge is only in its 8th year, but it is run with a level of organization, thoughtfulness, and love, that I am sure this is a race we will see going for 40 or 50 years like the big ones in the cities. As a comparison, the 1812 Challenge allows 1,200 runners. Philly allows 40,000 runners the last time I ran it. I am used to big races. Not only does the 1812 Challenge rival the big cities, but it has a lot of extras that big races don’t have. I never would have guessed a smaller race could be so beautifully done. 

Hands down, the 1812 Challenge is the friendliest race I have ever completed. Keep in mind, this was medal # 16, so this is saying a lot. There was so much support and everyone was happy to be there. Even the NYS Trooper who was stopping traffic for us at one of the intersections was in a great mood. There was a violin and bag pipes on course. 

I even saw Cinderella and a bunch of other Disney characters at about mile 12. They completely rival the Scream Tunnel at the Boston Marathon. Sorry, Wellesley, Sacket’s Harbor has you beat on this one now. 

There were people standing in the front yards of their homes cheering us on. This was the first time I have ever ran a race and had people say “good morning” to me as I ran past them.

Not only are all the staff, volunteers, and spectators friendly, but somehow this race draws the best of the running community. I don’t understand how that is possible, since runners are a pretty great bunch of people to begin with, but the people who ran the race with me exceptional. I had conversations with other runners while we were on the course. It was awesome.

Even though this race is in a rural area, I did not miss the crowds of spectators in the cities. There was so much hometown pride in the people who were spectating from their front yards. I did not go a single mile without seeing someone. The water stops were plentiful and well staffed. 

Yes, I did run by a barn full of cows and it was awesome. I would much rather run past cows then spend 3 miles running on a lonely bridge in a city with no spectators. I was a little worried at the start about not running with music, as I usually use the city crowds to “carry” me through the race. Races are so exciting that I never run them with headphones because I do not want to miss a single moment. I have had times at larger races when I wanted my headphones because there would be stretches that were so lonely. 

I had no need and no desire for headphones in this race. I always had either something to look at, someone to talk to, or people cheering for me. It was amazing. I ran my race. I ran a good race.

This is the first race I have completed in a long time that reminds me why I love to run. I know I love to run. Sometimes I get caught up in the competition, trying to beat the clock and get the PR. This race I just ran for the love of running and what made it better was that you could tell that everything about this race was designed with love. The staff, volunteers, and spectators were all there because they loved being there. This was not just another race or a notch in the running belt. 

My goal next year is to return to run the 18.12 portion. It will depend on how my doctor appointments go and how I’m feeling through the winter on whether I do the 13.1 or the 18.12. I had some troubles in the morning with the shaking (I have tremors came up in my last doctor appointment) and my right side was having troubles about mile 11 (my right side overcompensates for the left side that is being attacked by the MS). One thing is for sure, I am definitely running this race again.

The weather was perfect. The finish line was beautiful. I love the theme and the medal is one of my personal favorites. I feel so honored I get to wear my medal this week. I can’t wait to show it to everyone. 

The Comeback Kid ran again. I cannot wait to do it again next year. The 1812 Challenge is my new favorite race, and you will see me again at their race in 2020. I’m not sure if I will be in the 13.1 or the 18.12, but I will be up for A challenge and toeing the line. 

Pumpkin Time

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Cinderella has a midnight curfew when the illusion ends. The carriage turns back into a pumpkin, the gown back into rags. I have pumpkin time too. Right now it seems to be about 3 hours. Three hours is the amount of time I can be out in my cooling vest before I become absolutely exhausted.

Yesterday, I pushed it. I did my long run in the morning (without cooling vest because it was only 60 out). Then, I was outside in the heat for about 2 hours doing yard work. Thankfully, I have a really awesome person who helps me with yard work, otherwise it would take me an entire day. 

After my two hours of yard work, I was inside resting and having lunch. Yesterday afternoon, it was in the 80s, and I used my cooling vest to spend 3 hours at an outdoor birthday party. It was great, but I got tired fast. I felt like a pumpkin because I kept to my 3 hour time limit, afraid if I pushed it longer, I would not be okay to drive home. Just like Cinderella, the illusion would end at the appointed time. In my case, the illusion is “normal human being.”

I really appreciate the cooling vest so I was able to be there for the 3 hours like normal person. Without it, my body would have had the “drunk” symptoms and I definitely would not have been able to drive home. I told someone this week that I am a cheap date. There is no alcohol required for me to feel drunk – all I have to do is hang out in the heat for awhile with no cooling vest and my body will have all the symptoms. I do not understand how I was able to cope the past few years before I got the cooling vest.

Earlier this summer, I had posted about wanting to say “yes” more. The cooling vest gave me the ability to say “yes” to going to a birthday party without having to worry about my symptoms. Without the cooling vest, I would have been less likely to go because I cannot handle the heat. 

I should be thankful for my pumpkin time. I have not had a summer this good when I have been this functional in a really long time. But it’s hard. I know how good I used to be, and I don’t think I will ever be at that level again. I have brief – maybe 5 minute – moments of normality when I think I can do it all, only to realize I can’t. My 5 minutes of normality usually comes when the cooling vest clears my brain fog. Those moments are fleeting.

This morning, while listening to another of my favorite radio programs, the Sounds of Sinatra, I heard a commercial for little red and yellow pills for a male dysfunction disorder. It got me thinking about the red and blue pill dilemma in The Matrix. 

We have a similar scenario in the running community. In the online running forums, one of the games we like to play is discussing this red/blue pill scenario. In running, we usually say that the red pill will allow you 5 amazing running years of reaching PRs and breaking records, followed by 10 years of not being able to run anymore. The blue pill would allow you 15 years of being able to run continuously at an average level. 

I have always responded to this that I would take the blue pill. I would want the 15 years of running, even if it was only at an average level. I cannot imagine not being able to run. I would take the illusion to be happy.

However, now that I am experiencing this situation in real life, I’m not quite sure. It currently appears I have been handed the blue pill. I am functioning at an okay level. I’m not as good as I was, but not horrible either. I know there are people who “have it worse,” but that doesn’t help me  at all when I am the one trying to live THIS life in THIS body. 

Mainly, I’m just tired. I wish pumpkin time could last for an entire day, not just 3 hours. Maybe in time, I will get there. It would be no problem to continually recharge and change the phase change packs in the cooling vest so I could wear it all day. The problem is that my body physically gives out to exhaustion after about the 3 hour mark. 

My goal over the next two years is to hopefully be able to extend pumpkin time to 5 hours. I want to be able to run a full marathon again. Right now, I am pretty sure I am okay to run my half marathon this fall. The big question is that I want to be able to run another full marathon, and I don’t think my body will cooperate for it. My body betrays me. 

While most people this summer are popping a top proclaiming “miller time,” “molson time,” or “whatever your poison time,” for me, it is putting on a cooling vest for pumpkin time. I have about 3 hours a day to be normal before exhaustion claims my body – what will we say “yes” to today? 

 

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

 

 

 

My Best Decade

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Today is my 40th birthday. Birthdays are my favorite holiday. They are proof I’m still here and survived another year of what life threw at me. 40 is great because I get to move up another age group in running. 40 is significant because I have now outlived my paternal grandmother, who passed away from a stroke at age 39. Each decade I’m alive keeps getting better, so here’s hoping that 40 is awesome.

Looking back on my 30s, they were pretty amazing. My 30s were definitely better than my 20s.

The three major challenges I had in my 30s were the heartache of Kip’s death, the heartache of Kitty’s death, and my stroke at age 37. There were other really bad things too, but these three were the worst.

With those notable exceptions, my 30s were (so far) my best decade.

In random, but somewhat chronological order, here are 10 things that made my 30s the best decade ever:

  1. I completed my bachelor’s degree.

It took 15 years to do so. In those 15 years, I did get an associate’s degree, live in at least 4 different states, battle homelessness, and work 3 jobs 60-70 hours per week, but I got it done. My bachelor’s degree was the only degree for which I was not valedictorian, and it was the only graduation ceremony I attended. Out of all my degrees, finishing my bachelor’s was definitely not only the most challenging, but also the most fun.

  1. I ran marathons.

More than one. I’ve ran in Philly, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Scranton, and a few other cities. Each one is precious. I ran a marathon down the longest street in the world (true story). I ran my first point-to-point (city-to-city) marathon. I represented Team USA internationally. I had the opportunity to run into an Olympic Stadium (not during an actual Olympics). I’ve gotten a high five at the finish line from the Mayor of a major American city.  I’ve had limo service to my pre-race dinner as a “visiting athlete.” My medals actually mean more than my degrees.

  1. I got to see my MLB team play on home turf.

Every baseball fan should have this experience at least once in their life. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is completely magical to be at the stadium on game day, to watch the maintenance people prep the lawn, and then finally see your heroes take the field to play the best game on Earth. If you have not yet had this experience, it should definitely be on your bucket list. Pro sports tickets are extremely expensive, but try to save to go just once. It’s one of my favorite memories of all time.

  1. I got to see my MLB team win the World Series (on TV, not in person).

This is another experience that everyone should have at least once in their life. I’ve seen road wins and I’ve seen home wins. The home win is just something everyone should be able to experience once. No one should have to die without having seen their team win the World Series.

  1. I fell in love.

You hear this all the time. In my 20s, the remark was almost flippant. In my 30s, this phrase took on meaning. I don’t mean the lightning strike love-at-first-sight moment that is a complete whirlwind and then all of a sudden fizzles. I’m talking about the kind of love where you have known a person for decades through good and bad and are 100% supportive of that person, even when they are doing things that are not necessarily great. I’m not talking about being a door mat. I’m talking about actually being someone’s partner and having the ability to love a person so much that you are always there for them even if their life choices take them away from you. The kind of love that you know that is your person and there is no one else you click with like that, who knows you so well.

  1. I finished my Master’s degree.

If my bachelor’s degree seemed an impossibility, then grad school was a pipe dream. I actually think I was in the final year of my bachelor’s when I started asking people to explain grad school to me. No one in my family had ever even gone to college and the only people I knew with graduate degrees were my professors. It was like some hidden Holy Grail that I was finally able to unlock. I am now a Jill of all trades and master of ONE!

  1. I rode the unicorn into extinction.

By this I mean that I had that elusive experience of all adulthood – I had my dream job. I had a job I loved so much that it didn’t feel like work. I just showed up to do what I wanted to do – what I had spent 20 years of my life preparing to do – and happened to get paid to do that every day. I would have been so happy to do that every single day until I died or retired. How many people in this country have the privilege of being able to say “I love what I do” and actually mean it? Or should I say, how many people can actually say “I love what I do” and are getting paid to do it at a level that meets all their living expenses. All dreams must come to an end, and the company I worked for decided to pull out of New York State. So I rode the unicorn to the end of the rainbow not to find a pot of gold like I had expected, but just an empty void that I still have not figured out how to fill. Once you’ve had your dream job, nothing else will ever live up to that experience. Especially when the job you find to replace the dream doesn’t even respect you. Now, this is extinction.

  1. I bought a house.

If my masters degree was a pipe dream, well, I’ll tell you right now that buying a home was never on my radar. At all. I have never lived in a house. I have spent a chunk of my life being homeless. I never figured a “person like me” would even own a home. I never entertained the idea or even saved for one. Owning a home was a joke. My back-up plan for housing was – well, if things go bad, I’ll just move back to Massachusetts or buy a house, insert excessive laughter literally rolling on the floor laughing here. Buying a house is one of the scariest things I have ever done in life. So far, it’s also been one of the best choices I have ever made. I kept my family together and the cats are so much happier here than they were in the apartment. Funny, I never thought they were unhappy in the apartment, it’s just a contrast to see how well they are doing in the house.

  1. Anything less than 110% is … okay?

I spent almost 25 years of my life burning the candle at both ends. I slept 4 hours a day. I worked 3 jobs to make ends meet because really, who can survive on minimum wage? I worked 60-70 hours per week while going to school full-time working on my degrees. I excelled in school. Some call me an overachiever. So, when my stroke completely knocked me down a few years ago, it is quite a shock to only operate at abut 86%. Which, by the way, is considered my “level of functioning.” I am also considered “fully recovered.” Even though the doctors consider me fully functional, it is hard for me to accept that this is all I can do now. I’m used to doing so much more. What my stroke has taught me, is that it is okay to slow down. I can rest and still get things done. I’m pretty grateful to have learned this lesson now and be at 86% than to have just worked myself into the ground – it could have been worse. Listen to your body is the greatest lesson I have learned in my 30s.

  1. Family First

Family first has been carrying me through life since Kitty, as a 4-month old kitten, first climbed up onto my shoulders at the animal shelter and would not get down when I was 19. He picked me out. I took him home. We were together until he passed away from cancer just before his 19th birthday. Every major life choice I have made has centered around keeping my family together. Through everything that has happened with work, school, running, and health, at the end of the day, I come home to my furkids. They are always here, happy to see me with unconditional love. Family first is the tenant that will carry me into my 40s. As long as we are all together, everything is okay. My primary job is keeping us all together, loving my cats and being loved by them.

Of course, none of this would be possible without God. That’s the bottom line. God has done great things in my life through my 30s. I can’t wait to see what’s next for 40. Thanks for making my 30s my best decade so far.

My life verses:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)