Thursday, September 30, 2010

Celebrating 10 Years Since My Darkest Hour

September 2000 was a major month in my life.  It revolves around something I rarely talk about, and I think in big part it's because I once felt so defined by it and never want anyone to do that to me again, because I won't give it more credit than being an influence of my identity.  It's kinda long, but it's the shortest I can write it, sorry!

I have a chronic medical condition, fibromyalgia, for which the doctors thought I would never be able to be an active or very mobile individual, and in September 2000 I was in the depths of my darkest hour with the condition. I came out the other side but don't think I'm past it.  It's a condition I live with every day, it affects the choices I've made in my life, and it's a big part of why I'm obsessed with this sport of running and want to encourage so many other people to get active, because I know that if I could, others can!

A Quick Background
An overly simplified history of my illness, written as I recall it now, which may or may not be completely factually accurate, but it's the best retelling I have:
  • Age 13 - Occasional serious back pain is ignored by doctors as simply "growing pains"
  • Age 16 - Pain has become more chronic.  I'm put on heavy daily doses of Advil by a doctor who never should have done that.
  • Age 17 - I've resorted to sleeping on the cement floor in a sleeping bag in my college dorm room because the mattress seems to be only making my pain worse.  A doctor takes me off the Advil, puts me on a painkiller that gives me intense "real-like" nightmares.
  • Age 18 - Rounds of physical therapy are becoming routine life for me.  I've begun taking painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxers regularly to continue to function normally, all while getting great grades in college and holding a professional corporate internship in the actuarial field.  I feel a little crazy as the pain worsens in different parts of my back at different times with still no diagnosis.
  • Age 19 - I jump from specialist to specialist.  I've not had an agreed-upon diagnosis, just agreed-upon extreme measures.  While the pain is mostly in my back, I have generalized muscle pain and occasional phantom pains in other parts of my body.  Words like "disc disintegration", "lumbar facet syndrome", "osteoarthritis" are thrown around but often seem to be filler words for what the doctors can't figure out.  We try out different drugs, and I'm getting occasional cortisone shots.  The pain is strongly affecting what I can do - can't stand for long, can't sit for long, spending more time in bed, etc.  At that point, doctors are beginning of throw around the idea it could be "fibromyalgia" which unfortunately is not easily diagnosable (its a condition identified by a collection of symptoms so you can't just test for it in a blood test or something like that) or curable.  Some days I'm still not comfortable with the term because I'm a quantifier and don't like using a term for something the medical community itself finds so unquantifiable.  These doctors' negative thoughts send me into a downward spiral as I lose hope.  I'm told I need to consider having surgery to fuse the worst vertebraes affected together.  But that this normally leads to an additional 14 surgeries over time as the other vertebraes end up needing to get fused also.  I'm told I will never run and will very possibly not be able to walk past age 35 if this continues to progress and conditions continue to deteriorate. 
  • Age 20 - I'm frustrated by the only options being high dose painkillers or surgery and a specialist sends me to a "pain management clinic".  I'm excited until I'm confronted with the reality that their only ideas of pain management for me, on top of what we've already done, is cortisone injections straight into the bone routinely - very painful itself.  I refuse.   
The Month of September 2000
This brings me to September 2000. In the few months before this, I've turned 20, finished my Bachelor's degree in Mathematics with an emphasis in Statistics, gotten married, moved into our first apartment together, and begun a full-time job as an actuary.

My work is getting frustrated with the off-and-on sick days depending on my pain level and send me off for a one-month disability leave to see if we can make me better.  I'm hooked up to a portable neuro-stimulus unit a few times a day and feeling awfully bedridden.

I feel helpless, hopeless, and fearful. I spend hours on the phone arguing with and fighting through paperwork with my medical insurance and disability insurance company because that's the way the system works. I recall looking back that I cried a lot.

During this time, I start doing yoga and Pilates, which the doctors would have hated if I told them because of the impact on my bones and muscles.  Pilates helps me feel like I'm getting stronger - which shouldn't be possible according to the doomsday docs.  I start managing my stress level in my life better, getting more sleep, canceling all the doctor appointments, and finally - going off all the drugs. 

September 2000 was a game changer for me.  It was the month that I saw the bottom, hated it, and decided that life was not a life I wanted.

It's really the month that I feel like I took back my life.  Since then, I struggle some days. I wake up every single day in some level of pain and choose to live life and not let the world see the physical pain on my face.  I've carefully worked towards getting more active, sometimes with baby steps since it's a muscular condition and can flare up from time to time. We think the fibromyalgia was what made pregnancy more painful for me - the stretching of the muscles during the 9 month transformation was not something my body looked kindly on.  My world is influenced by the condition I was dealt, but I still make the decisions, not the medical condition.

Quite a Journey
I have defied all the doctors' odds, have not seen a doctor for the condition since September 2000, and am in the best shape of my life.  My first half marathon was walked with a finish time of about 3:35.  I've completed 20 half marathons in 5 years, even after a running injury in late 2005 that took a year to fully recover from and a hard pregnancy with my daughter in 2007.  I'm obsessed with encouraging others to get active, because I wish someone had been that little voice for me.  So I have volunteered a lot in the running world and spent hours coordinating running events just to see the smiles of first-timers crossing the finish line.  My husband, family, and friends have to endure hours of me strategizing my training, my racing, and my running.  My husband is the best window into my soul for all this obsession - it helps show me how justified it is.  He takes all this obsession in and listens and helps and lets me vent and watches me spend hours on the computer planning a race for others to enjoy.  And I know it's because he had to watch firsthand what I went through.  He took care of me in that darkest hour, and it made us stronger together for having been through it.

Ten years... it's been quite a journey.  I can't wait to see where the next 10 years leads.

Went from "Gungho!" to "Heck No!"

Yes, I've had some moments like this during the pregnancy, but this morning's a pretty strong one.  On Tuesday, I completed a 6.3 mile run after a 3 week hiatus, and in the running high afterward, thought I would run a 15K on Saturday.  I even pre-registered for the event.

I was kinda sore yesterday.  Today, I'm having searing abdominal pain below my belly button (not that unusual for me and had awful abdominal pain my last trimester with Marissa).  Left leg is locking up into my hip again which is causing some stabbing pain and a numb lower leg.  I've now reminded myself of how sore I was in my pelvis / core / upper thighs after the last 15K a few weeks ago.

So after waking up to that joy of joys, I told my husband no race on Saturday and right now I'm not so keen on running anymore. PERIOD.

Why? Here's how I summed it up to him:
"At this point in the pregnancy, everything's uncomfortable, and now it's all about what's less uncomfortable.  And I have to face it, running is doable but really uncomfortable."
I don't know how I'll feel about all this tomorrow.  I want to continue to keep my weight gain in check (while keeping the baby a healthy size) and my muscles active, to aid in recovery.  But I also get discouraged now that they've actually scheduled the required C-section and it's now hit home that they are going to cut through my entire abdominal muscle and there's only so much you can do now that will help THAT major surgery recover better and quicker.

We'll see - I'm down but not out.  Just venting my thoughts for the day. This blog only keeps me honest when I talk about the lows along with the highs of this journey.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This Pregnant Running Girl Loves Her Some Icing

I promise the title will make sense if you read to the end... :-)

I did a quick elliptical workout about a week ago that had a significant result.  But I was also in the middle of executing a 1400-person race event, the Heels and Hills and Him Half Marathon, for September 26, that I couldn't really think through it or document it properly.  Now I can fully process this but only with a review of where I've been and how I got here...

In 2009, I ran 457.2 miles. I completed 8 half marathons. I worked hard and had never really documented my miles before 2009, but know I had made great strides.

So 2010 comes.  I worked very hard the first couple months of the year. I did a 63 day running streak, running at least a mile OUTSIDE regardless of weather every single day.  I added to that with 6 half marathons in January and February. 
My runner friends were like "Whoa, what got into you?" No one knew that this was all prep work for the decision my husband and I had made to get pregnant with our second child. 
I wanted to whittle down my half marathon personal record some before that happened, I wanted to put myself in the best possible health after such a difficult pregnancy with my first child, and I never imagined I'd actually lose weight after years of no weight changes (I lost 10 pounds in March).  January and February also marked my first two months ever where I hit at least 100 miles run over the month.

I was blessed to again get pregnant with my second child on the first try in mid-March. The first trimester I had the same debilitating fatigue I'd had with my first pregnancy.  As a result, in April and May, I only ran a total of 36.8 miles but it included one half marathon.

In June, my energy returned and I returned to running.  Also adding in time on the elliptical to supplement, as advised by the doc.  The obstetrician kept a careful eye on me but while I had standard pregnancy symptoms, I would actually feel relatively good when running.  Early July, I was able to get the El Scorcho 25K race director to allow me into the sold-out race.  I prepared for it, it kept me motivated, and I completed my first race of longer than a half marathon at 5 months pregnant.  15.5 miles in just under 4 hours with a headlamp on in July in Texas in the middle of the night.

August heat took its toll and my running fell off.  In September, I went ahead and did the Fort Worth Runners Club Labor Day 15K at the beginning of the month, and it was hard on me. I truly raced it as hard as possible given heart rate and walk break requirements the doc had set, and was able to finish only 8 minutes slower than the same race, same course the previous year.  After that race, I felt as bad as my hardest half marathon, then I went through some cold symptoms a week later, September weekends were horribly humid and hot, and then I was engulfed in preparation to put on the Heels and Hills and Him race.  Last week, I snuck in a little hard 0.80 mile elliptical workout.  And today, I ran for the first time in 22 days and completed 6.3 miles.

What's so significant from that elliptical workout last week?
  • In 2009, I did 457.2 miles.  In 2010, as of September 20th (that last elliptical workout), including my elliptical miles, I have already completed 457.4 miles for the year, 3 months shy of the end of the year.  Yes, 45 miles of that is elliptical, and some will say they aren't comparable, but I laugh and say, who cares? I worked hard for 457.4 miles this year - it counts to me, and that's all that matters.  And maybe by the time they baby comes, I'll be able to say I full out ran or walked over 457 miles, not counting elliptical miles.
  • In 2010, I did 8 half marathons.  In 2010, as of July 25, I completed 8 races of half marathon length OR LONGER.
I had set goals for myself for 2010, and I'm thrilled about the progress I made, since most had to be made under the assumption of a full year with no pregnancy, or face having to publicly discuss my family planning which was not something I wanted to do.  Here's what the goals were and where I got on each:

2010 Distance Goals

  • Complete at least 10 half marathons in 2010 aka "10 halfs in '10". Well, once I got pregnant on the first try, that goal was easy to give up.  My thought had been that I was on track to have that happen if I didn't get pregnant for a few months of trying.
  • Run 500 miles by June 30 - Again, made plans on January 1 around the idea that maybe I wouldn't get pregnant right away.  Still happy that maybe I'll hit 500 for the year. And if not, I still did more miles than 2009.
2010 Speed Goals
  • Complete 3 half marathons in 2 ½ hours or faster - I did complete two (Houston PR 2:29, Cowtown PR 2:26).
  • Finish a 5K in 31 minutes (10 min/mi pace) or faster by June 30 - Ah, who cares? The running streak was way more beneficial but made short distance speedwork go straight out the window.
  • Run a mile in 9:30 by June 30, run a mile in 9:00 by Dec. 31 - Actually set a new 1 Mile PR of 9:04 on a training run in February! I don't care that the 9 minute mile won't be seen until after recovery in 2011. 
At this point, I'm very happy for the active pregnancy I've had.  The baby has seemed healthy and a perfect size through the development cycle, while I've felt much better physically than my first pregnancy and very underweight for this point in the pregnancy (which the doc is okay with so I am too, and it will help me recover faster after birth!).  So now, every additional mile until baby comes is my ICING on this active cake. And yum, this pregnant girl loves her some icing!!!

Love this pic for this post - except change that to IT'S A GIRL in this instance! :-)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No Diabetes but Gotta Watch Those Calories

Monday morning was my roughly 28 week pre-natal check-up at the obstetrician's office. It was a full appointment of poking and prodding.

I had to do the glucose test for gestational diabetes. I had 4 minutes to drink a bottle of nastily sweet fruit punch, then I wait an hour while I get hyper and twitch and tweak, and then they draw a few vials of blood to test. If you are found to have it, luckily studies and protocal indicate that 30 minutes of exercise a day can keep having the move to taking insulin away and generally help manage the condition.  As a pregnant runner, that's doable.  Luckily, test came back negative - phew! That's a relief!

Also had to get an Rhogam shot because of Rh factors in my blood. I'm not a biologist or doctor so I'm not going to explain all that. Go google it. :-)

And we reviewed my weight.  I've been CHRONICALLY underweight this whole pregnancy. To the point where I was trying my best to shovel extra heavy carb calories down my gullet for fear the doc earlier on would take away my running because of the calorie burn from long runs!  At this appointment, we found I had gained 11 pounds in 4 weeks! Wow, maybe my body's trying to catch up.  Luckily, I'm now just at a 12 pound weight gain.  Normal weight gain over the full pregnancy term is 25 to 35 pounds. They estimate you should gain 1-5 pounds in the first trimester and than on average a pound a week from then on.  For 28 weeks along, that would mean they are expecting rough weight gain of 17-22 pounds.  So I've gotten a lot closer to normal expectations.

The concern is only if I gain ANOTHER 11 pounds over the NEXT 4 weeks.  I admit I've had more of an appetite (finally!) this last month and a rabid sweet tooth.  Plus I ran a lot less through August.  So I just need to keep an eye on those calories.

So, good appointment.  Everyone's healthy! YAY!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Guy Runners Didn't Quite Know What to Say: Labor Day 15K Race Report

Today, at 6 1/2 months pregnant, I ran a 15K! No, this wasn't my first rodeo - I have done a 15K before - but it was my first one while pregnant!

The Fort Worth Runners Club Labor Day 15K is a great race, organized so well by my friend Elizabeth, and the last two years has been privileged to be chosen by the Road Runners Club of America as a championship 15K race.  2009 was a Texas 15K Championship, and they did such a good job, they were easy to select to be the 2010 15K Championship for the entire Southern Region of the US!  As the RRCA North Texas State Representative, I was there to help support the race and assist in presenting the special RRCA Championship Awards to the top winners.

The race starts and I'm having problems already.  About 1.8 miles into the race, I realize my Garmin was never reset after my last training run.  This is only my 3rd or so run with my new Garmin Forerunner 405, so what can I say, I'm still getting used to it!  So I waste a little time there on the course panicking and restarting the workout, now having no clue what my cumulative pace is, but at least feeling better about the fact that my average pace kept seeming so slow (last training run was a slow 10K, I couldn't figure out how I was going that slow this race based on perceived exertion, LOL).

3 miles in, and I'm just hot, especially thanks to my "kryptonite" (high humidity).  The mostly out-and-back course along the Trinity trail is a nice one, but most of it is unshaded and there's direct sun today.  Add to it that while the temps were low at the start, low 70s, the humidity was 75-80% when we started.  At Mile 3 I throw my modesty aside and did something I had really hoped to avoid, but at the end of the day, I need to keep my core temperature in check, so off came the shirt.  Yep, if you were running back on the course while I was still running out, you may have been blinded by the reflectively white "babygut" I was sporting, LOL.

For around miles 3-4.5, the runners on the back portion of the course run along the top of the levee, while the runners still heading out, like me, are down at the river level.  I tried my best to yell words of support to the fast runner friends I could identify.

I have to say I loved miles 4.5-5.5.  This is where the course is truly out-and-back, running into the crowd of runners heading back from the turnaround.  I had not expected what happened along here.  A few guy runners would shout "Good job!" to me as we passed, but many seemed to eye me like they didn't quite know what to say.  I also got the feeling that some were not quite sure if my specific area-targeted fatness wasn't reflective of a severe love of beer, and not the pregnancy.  For fear of saying the wrong thing, I think some just thought it best to say nothing.  I can't blame them!  But the female runners were awesome.  You can't even imagine the "Go, girl", "Good job?!?", and especially a lot of "Way to go, momma!" and "Good job, momma!" with the incredulous tone of even seeing me out there.  I also have to say I ran some of my best run splits at this point, spurred on by the support. 

It was fun, looking down and seeing this protruding belly but also the occasional flash poking out below of the showy lime green and royal purple of my Brooks Launch racing shoes. Love those shoes - they weigh in at about 7.5 ozs (compared to my Brooks Ghost training shoes which are 9 ozs) but they still have enough cushion..

I raced hard as I could under my heart rate restrictions, and may have pushed the envelope just a little on my heart rate a few times (for example, my kick at the end of the race to the finish line).  I had finished 2009 (a hot year!) in 1:53:35, a 12:12 pace.  This race I mostly stuck with the doctor-ordered 5 minute run (@ heart rate 160) / 1-2 minute walk (recover to heart rate 140).  But here's what I'm happy with - my run splits were strong, right around or just about 15 seconds slower than the average pace of last year's race.  5 miles in, I even managed a half mile split with an 11:21 pace!

At the end, I had a 0.15 mile kick to the finish with a pace of 11:15! I finished to lots of friendly cheers with a chip time 2:01:59, a 13:02 pace.  So basically, I was 50 seconds per mile slower pregnant. :-) In fact, only 1:21 per mile slower than the 15K PR I set last November. :-)

I'm not trying to brag, and I know I'm still awfully slow (47th out of 49 in my age group today, LOL).  I'm just happy with the fact that I've pushed hard to stay active in this pregnancy, and I'm excited looking forward to Spring 2011 to see if I can recover quickly and perhaps set some new PRs!

Presenting an RRCA Championship Award to one of the female overall winner of the 15K

It was great seeing all sorts of friends this morning too, it's one of the best parts of racing!

Happy Running!