Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pace-Talk

Every run feels like I'm unwrapping a gift. It's so dang corny; my heart is just so full.

I am so grateful to be running again, and I'm blown away by how quickly my legs came back. I just can't help but be surprised every time I have a good, strong, fast run. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When I ran on Wednesday, for example, I fell into a rhythm that felt comfortably challenging but not really hard. I glanced at my watch and realized this "comfortably challenging" pace was 8:55.
I mean...this didn't feel easy but it certainly didn't feel hard either.
And then I held that pace easily for a full mile; I only started to lose steam in the last quarter mile of the run (lungs, not legs), and yet I still managed to maintain a 9:00 pace.

In a race situation, I can apparently still bust out those paces. But on a random Wednesday night run? When I was just running by feel? That's...bizarre. I wasn't even holding those paces pre-compartment syndrome! This run left me feeling so grateful and filled with joy, and honesty a little gobsmacked.

To be honest, I haven't been paying much attention to my paces during my runs, only after. I still feel like I'm in recovery so trying to aim for specific speeds and distances isn't a priority. Maybe that's been paying off.

I simply can't wrap my head around the fact that this is reality now. I just hope it keeps progressing this way, and soon my reaction won't be shock and the need to reflect on where I've been and where I could go. I'm tired of the reflection, I'm tired of the topic, but it's where I am right now.

Right now, it almost feels like I've picked up well ahead of where I left off. I don't know how that's possible, but I'd like to stop second guessing it. My head isn't there yet, but my body certainly seems ready to move ON already! Maybe my head won't be too far behind.

ABK

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Bridge

Way back when I first started having calf pain, one of the first things I did was stop running the bridge. Elizabeth and I had been running it about four days a week during half marathon training. I attributed that bridge to my increased paces and stronger endurance when I first started running, and it has always been my favorite means of speedwork.

It was a weekly staple for me, but I haven't run it since December 2016.

Monday afternoon, while deciding where to run, Elizabeth suggested it. And I decided to take the bull by the horns.
It took me all of 2 seconds to agree. I appreciated that she pushed me out of my comfort zone!
We chose to park closer than usual to take the normal route from four miles to three. It was cool and windy thanks to whatever bizarre weather pattern is going on right now, and we had the wind at our backs for most of the run. I felt fresh from four days of rest. The first 3/4 mile was a slightly too-hard warmup. Then came the bridge.

I was surprised. It was...easy. I was nervous going in, sure my calves wouldn't be ready, but my legs and lungs actually felt alright. Good, even.

We walked at the turn-around, about 1.4 miles in, to alleviate Elizabeth's side-stitch. Then we ran back up, this time into the wind. We took a brief walk at the top. My left calf felt...something. Not tight, but stretched. Like it was saying We have not done this in a long time wtf. I've been pushing my left calf much faster than I did my right (because I can, seeing as how they've both been operated on now), so some discomfort is expected, but it's a good reminder to take it slow.
We took more walk breaks than I wanted, but considering we haven't run any inclines in over a year, I think we did pretty well. Our running paces, even up the bridge, were in the 9s. I felt fantastic.

I know I will need to build bridge runs into my routine slowly, maybe once every two weeks for now, but another mental barrier - another post-injury fear - is getting ready to fall. Soon, maybe it will be like this past year never even happened.
ABK

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thank You Notes & Other Post-Race Thoughts

In Dr. Guerra's office, behind the receptionist's desk, there is a wall of framed photos. These photos all feature grinning athletes in race gear and uniforms. One 8"x10" photo has a note scrawled across one corner: Thank you, Dr. Guerra! That wall helped give me confidence in Dr. G's surgical skills before I had even had my first consultation. By the end of my first appointment, I decided that if Dr. G could fix me, I'd send him a photo of me after my first race back.

Well, my first race back was A1A, but my first race really, truly back was this past weekend. And luckily I got a good photo out of it.
Dr. G told me it would be 3-6 months before I was back in my previous running shape. I'm about four months post-op, so I'd say I'm right on track. 
I am planning to send this photo to three doctors' offices.

1. To Dr. Guerra, of course, who believed me when I described symptoms, performed my surgeries, and gave me back my legs.

2. To my PT's office, where a variety of people helped me heal up, get strong, and return to running as quickly as possible.

3. To the vascular surgeon's office, where they dismissed my desire for real answers and treatment because "young women regret surgery scars".

Obviously I mean to thank the first two. I hope it's not premature. I'm still in recovery, and there is still time for things to go wrong...but I feel like I've definitely turned a corner.

I'm debating writing the third letter at all. I'm not sure it will change the doctor's behavior or bring me any peace - to be honest, I'm over it, so I don't need closure or anything. At the same time, maybe hearing that being a misogynistic jerk isn't the best bedside manner would do him good. I may write the letter and not even send it.

When I look at that picture, I see strength, power, determination, and joy. I see me in my element. I can't see the scars, even when I look for them.

On an unrelated note, the Fast and the Furriest was an eye-opener for me, and I can't stop thinking about what my performance this past Saturday means. For one thing, I've realized I don't need to hold back as much as I have been. Track is over, so now I can run more frequently during the week, and I am planning to build in longer runs. I'm not necessarily interested in speedwork yet; right now I'm really enjoying just running. But I have a couple more 5ks coming up in May that I'd like to crush, so we'll see.
School lets out on May 30, and I think I'd like to start working in "long runs" on the weekends at that time. I'm talking 6 or 7 miles tops.

And I am tentatively looking for a winter half marathon.

I originally wanted to run the A1A half in 2019 but won't be able to. This weekend when I caught up with Sean he brought up Space Coast, and I think that would be perfect. It was my first marathon, so running it as my first half as a comeback would be really special and would make up for missing A1A. When I floated this idea by Matt, he was all for it.
I have time to decide, of course.
All of this is very flexible right now; the main thing is that I'm enjoying running and I don't want to pile too many goals on and take away the fun of it too soon. I'm excited to train but also don't want to feel like running is a chore. Everything feels new again but also so familiar and comfortable. A huge weight has been lifted mentally - I had been feeling like my body betrayed me, and now I'm learning to trust it again.
So, for now, these tentative plans are here, floating around in my head, and I'll solidify them when I'm ready. There's no rush. Now that I know I'm coming back, I have all the patience in the world.

ABK

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Fast & the Furriest 5k 2018

Saturday's race. Oh boy. Where to start?
I didn't realize until after the race that my nerves came not from a place of doubt, but from a place of fear. I think I knew I could hold the paces I wanted to meet my A goal, but I haven't pushed that hard in so long that I was afraid something would happen. I'd hurt myself or burn out. I'd discover that my legs aren't 100% fixed and/or healed.
Much-appreciated encouragement from Elizabeth the day before the race.
(We had our championship track meet last Thursday and our 800m runner came in 3rd overall. She told me, as she exited the track: "I didn't know I could run that fast! It scared me!" After Saturday's race, that moment resonated with me a lot.)

I got up at 6am and had half a bagel with peanut butter and honey, a clementine, and a small cup of coffee. The weather for the morning looked perfect. I stopped running this race when it moved to its new venue, the spring training stadium for the Minnesota Twins, but they've since built a parkway that cuts the drive down to 6 minutes, so I'm sure this will become a yearly race for me now.
I mentioned that I'd convinced a couple colleagues to sign up to run, and we planned to meet at the start. Allison had picked up my bib on Friday, so she met me at my car when I arrived at 7am. I stretched, put on sunscreen, and did some lunges. Then, as we made our way to the bathrooms, we ran into Shelagh. I jogged up the stadium stairs on the way to the bathroom as a means of warming up because I didn't want to actually run a lap or anything like that. Around 7:25 the three of us headed to the start.
Pre-race excitement!
The start line didn't have a timing mat, which worried me. I didn't want to start too close to the front but I wanted an official and accurate time. We ended up about five rows back from the very front, and because this race isn't huge and begins in a parking lot, there was plenty of space in the beginning and this ended up being perfect. I caught sight of Sean as announcements were made and we waved; he was starting right up front because he's competitive like that. (Spoiler alert: he took 3rd in his AG.)
Allison, me, and Shelagh at the starting line.
Allison's goal was to run without taking any walk breaks, and she said she runs a 10-minute mile. I've run races with Shelagh before and knew she'd be out of my range. We started on a "Ready, go!" command. For the first half mile or so, I was running around an 8:55 pace, but I knew that wouldn't last. I purposely eased up, but couldn't quite bring myself to slow down as much as I wanted. There were lots of dogs running with us, but I didn't have any problems having to dodge them or anything; they were leashed and well-controlled.

The first turn-around was .75 miles in. I still felt really good, and was keeping an eye out for Allison on the other side when I felt a tap on my shoulder. She had caught up to me! We ran side-by-side for the majority of the race after that; I had eased into a 9:15 pace by mile 1 and that felt hard but doable.
Actually my legs felt fantastic the entire time. They felt strong. They didn't ache or tighten at all; in fact, they probably could have gone faster if my lungs had been up to it. But around mile 2.5 I just couldn't keep pushing the pace I was at. I couldn't catch my breath (I might have a cold/allergies going on, but really I think I just don't have that cardio-fitness at the moment). I knew I was well within reach of my A goal, so I decided to take a quick walk to get my breathing back in check. Allison kept moving ahead.
I'm really impressed with how steady my pace looks overall.
By mile 2.6 I was ready to run the remainder. I didn't regret having to walk, but I look forward to the day I can bust out a 5k without breaks.

I let myself keep a much slower pace and easier effort, hovering around 9:30. I kept an eye on my Garmin as I turned the final corner. The finish line was in sight, but my Garmin said I had .2 to go; I didn't want to sprint too early. I started cranking it up as I came into the final straightaway. I saw Sean on the sidelines cheering for me.

I crossed in 28:39. I felt like I was going to puke. And I was ecstatic. I placed 9/22 in my AG and 90/279 overall.
Garmin measured the race a touch short but I'm still counting it.
I felt confident and freaked out the entire time. Like, I realized my body could do it, but it had been so long, I didn't feel ready for this kind of race. My mind was in shock.

I quickly found Allison and Shelagh. We took a photo and then they both had to take off. I found Sean and we caught up some; I haven't seen him since the Sanibel 10k in fall 2016.
To say I'm happy with the outcome of this race would be a major understatement. I didn't realize how much was riding on this mentally and emotionally, but now that I've done it, I can see what a pivotal moment in my recovery it is.
At this point, maybe there is no need to hold back. Maybe I am ready to introduce speedwork and longer runs. Maybe I'm ready to run more than two days a week. Maybe I no longer need to be as conservative as I have been. This is a freeing and scary thought.

My next 5k is tentatively scheduled for early May, and I'm going to need to rethink some of the goals I have set for that one based on Saturday's stellar performance.

ABK

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Mental Game & Physical Progress

On our run on Monday, Elizabeth and I were discussing my plans for the Fast & the Furriest 5k. I was telling her how I'm anxious due to my inconsistent runs, and how everyone else's belief in me is making me angry. I am trying to be realistic with my recovery; dismissive cheerleading of the Oh-please-you'll-be-GREAT! variety is frustrating. It feels like it erases all I've been through, and if I don't perform well those same people won't get why.

But Elizabeth knows, and she gets it.

She told me: "There are three ways this race could go. Maybe you surprise yourself and run it in like 28:30 and are like holy crap. Or maybe it's humid and gross out and you have a solid but not great run and do it in like 31 minutes and miss your goal. Or, and I hope not, but maybe you'll have a really bad day and your legs will hurt and it'll be slow. But no matter what, the fact that you are four months post-surgery and racing is a huge accomplishment. And we are running together again! And when you were first running again, we walked like every two minutes, now look at us! We are running a mile or more before we walk!"

I stopped her long enough to tell her that I need to listen to her more often.
I ran two days in a row this week! Go me!
No matter how Saturday's race goes, the fact that I'm racing is kind of amazing. I never thought I would again. Even if 5ks are all I can ever race from now on, I think I could be happy with that.

When it comes to a chronic injury, the mental stuff is just as hard to deal with as the physical stuff - sometimes it's harder. I'm so grateful I don't have to go through either alone.

(Also, after Monday's run my legs felt downright normal, and they felt normal on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Wednesday's run, too. Has a corner been turned? Has a mental weight lifted? I guess we'll see!)

ABK

Monday, April 2, 2018

My Next Race

I hope you all had a nice holiday weekend! We originally had Easter Monday off as well, but because of Hurricane Irma (the storm that keeps on giving), we lost that day off. But I was glad to have Good Friday off.

On Friday we went to see an old student of mine in a play (She Kills Monsters). It was hilarious and moving - I'm a nerd and totally choked up a little. We rarely get a chance to go out like that, so it was really fun to do something different.
Saturday we went to my aunt and uncle's for Passover. Our house is still a construction zone, so it was really nice of my aunt to offer to host. She is basically a bonafide chef/baker, so everything was sooo delicious. My sister was out of town, so as the only gluten-free person there, I got to take home the best leftovers.
Leftovers! Passover has the best food.
Matt and I spent Sunday lounging around. He did a timed paddle in his OC1 and I got a little run in. It started to rain about halfway through, but I didn't mind at all. My plan was to keep it short and see if I could avoid walk breaks. I've had a little cold for the last two or three weeks, but despite that I still held a sub-10 pace and didn't walk at all.
This brings me to this weekend's 5k. I am running the Fast & the Furriest 5k on Saturday. This was actually the first race I ever ran by myself back in 2012. When it changed venues, I stopped running it, but I've always liked this race and I'm excited for it.
I actually set some goals for this one. I am very in-tune with my body but my runs have been a bit all over the place, so I don't really know what I'll be capable of. That said, I think running a race with a few goals in mind will help move me into the next step of recovery.

A: Run a sub-30:00 5k. This is a goal that really brings me back to my early days of running...and after all, I am starting all over from scratch, so it's a good goal to have. I'm skeptical I can achieve this goal, but I'll be ecstatic if I do.
B: Don't walk. Even if I have to slow down to a more manageable pace and miss a sub-30 finish, if I can avoid walk-breaks for this 5k, I'll be happy.
C: Take managed walk breaks and finish at a run. If I end up feeling weak or strained, if I can keep my walk breaks to pre-planned, brief breaks and finish mile 3 at a strong, full run, I can live with that.

When I ran A1A, I felt really strong, and by the end I felt like the walk breaks weren't necessary but I stuck with them. I have come a long way since then, but I am still not consistent, so even with these goals my performance at this race is probably going to end up being a surprise to me.

At least two colleagues are running F&tF this weekend, too; I always like when I can look forward to seeing familiar faces at a race! (When I registered, I messaged all my running co-workers but I'm not sure if anyone else ended up signing up.) After I registered I saw that there would be finishers medals this year, so that's a nice bonus, too.

I am nervous about this 5k but in a good way; A1A was my first start/finish line post-surgery, but this will be the first race I actually...well...race.

ABK