Saturday, May 23, 2009

Race Report: Summer Series #1 Papago Park - 5/23/09

Pre-Race: This is the first Summer Series race of the season. After taking a long look at least year's results, it became obvious to me that a top 10 finish for the series really isn't in the cards for me - however I decided that I still want to improve on my overall placement against last season. Lilac missed this race, since she's honeymooning in Europe right now, so it gave me an opportunity to really focus on a goal with full concentration.

It's been overcast, cool, humid, and rainy for the last few days, and I've been praying that it would either be raining, or very cool and overcast during the race - since my best times last year were at rainy races! The forecast had said that it would be in the low 100's today, but when I woke up, it was still cloudy and cool. I absolutely cheered the few patehtic raindrops that hit my windshield as I drove out to the course.

There were a LOT of people there (there goes my small hope that the sagging economy would help my overall placement). In retrospect it makes a lot of sense. Where else can you take your family for 5 mornings of activity for a total of $25? Still, there were a lot of charity groups there - something you never see at Summer Series - and lots of high schools trucking their kids in.

*Reminder - this race is the only one with an age-group setup - so the 80+ year old women go first, then 80+ year old men, then grandparents and children go, and then they seed everyone else. Dorothy, our single 80+ year old (and the "professional" from last year) actually false started (she didn't hear the gun go off right next to her, poor dear!) so we did it again, and off she went. She had the most remarkable fuzzy red hat on. It was awesome.

Race: After pummeling my way through the teenage boys clogging up the corral, I was off - a bit after my +12:15 start time, but hey it's chipped timed anyway so no big deal.

The race course is fairly hilly for the first .25 miles, and then it lands you right onto the canal, which you run up to the turn around point, and return the same way. Although my goal was to PR (this is my best chance because of the weather) I wanted to manage myself - not go out too fast, pace myself, challenge myself, and finish strong. I feel very good that I did all of those things. My challenges were to run the entire park/hill area out and back, to run two major electric poles, and walk one continuously, and to not stop in the congestion of the tunnel either on the way out or on the way back. They were challenges for me, and I conquered them all! I also didn't get passed by someone coming back while I was going out until the 1st mile marker, which is a big deal.

What's so interesting to me is that since I've really tried to focus myself on the concept of the challenge and asking myself "Why can't I do this? What's the worst that could happen?" I feel more and more confident with my running. Rather than just running completely by feel, setting up clear physical goals for myself is actually making me a better runner.

I tried actively to not look at my watch, but it happens. My first mile was 12:42, which is perfect - not too fast out of the blocks, but definitely above where I've been training. When I got to the halfway point, I was actually surprised that felt as good as I did, and that I was halfway through the race. I hit the second mile at 26:22, and thought, ok, still right around 13 mins/mile! In the third mile, I just kept telling myself that I was already in the last mile, and it surprised me- I just felt so good. As I left the canal to get back into the park, I checked the watch again, and saw that I had 4 minutes to go before I would hit my PR time - but it's a hilly last 1/4 mile. Still I tried to push up and down the hills, I was racing, I hurt, I pushed, I kept looking for the finish line, which you can't see until you are there, and I climbed up that last hill and crossed.... 10 seconds short of a PR.

Still I can't complain - it's got hills, and I was only 10 seconds off from a pancake flat race. I also pushed myself as much as I could, and I feel very confident with how great I felt, and how much I gave to the race.

Post Race: Lady Tiara and the Hansons were racing as well, and they were kind enough to wait for me, and cheer me on at the finish line! Such good people, and both of the Hansons ran really good races! Lady Tiara beat me by 4 minutes, but she was hoping for a few minutes less. We did have some rocking breakfast, which was a great end to the morning festivities! I haven't figured out who had the better race yet percentage wise, but trust me, I will!

Race time: 39:46 (still under 40!), which is a 12:46 mile, 54/56 in the 25 - 29 female category (a long way to go to get up from 54th place!), and 724/791 overall. Go me!

I couldn't be any happier about this race considering how I was feeling until recently, the travel I've been doing, and still being prepared!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Making Friends with the Hills!

This has been a crazy, yet exciting weekend. I successfully rode my bike at South Mountain, which is a level 1 of 10, but definitely more than the canals, and had a great trail run!
After having a great homework practice on my bike Friday morning, I was excited, yet prepared to be completely humbled when I met with Joanie and her man to ride the desert classic trail. The first section was fairly flat and not at all rocky. There were some patches of sand but it was totally rideable. It did have that tricky uphill thing, where you're basically riding uphill the whole way, but you can't precisely tell that on the way up, so you're just wondering why your legs hurt after five minutes of riding... the second portion had some "serious" hills (I'm sure my definition will change) but for me, they were absolutely scary. Most of the hills were in and out of washes, so they were steep down and quick steep back up. I was very conscious of sticking my butt out off the back of the bike to ensure that I didn't flip over on the down, and held on to my rear brake basically the whole time down, which meant that I had no momentum to go up the hill. This meant that I would come down slowly, pedal my heart out and stop halfway up the hill, bail off the bike and walk up the rest of the hill. Joanie was great and encouraging, and totally didn't appear to mind stopping every time I had to walk my bike up a hill. We road out and back, and on the way back, I tried to ride the brake a little less, and I only had to get off and push twice, which I think is good progress. The down was SOOOO fun, because that sinister quiet uphill became a totally fun but not at all scary downhill. There was probably a mile stretch where I never even peddled, I just wound with the curves in the road, stood up on my pedals and enjoyed the ride down.
I left the run feeling exhalted and empowered, and determined that with practice I can achieve this goal. I WILL be able to ride at Papago. I will be able to ride at Del Valle. Even better I really enjoyed it. I am feeling very lucky that I chose to challenge myself, because I'm really having FUN out there - and isn't that what it's supposed to be about?
Of course the mood was shattered when I was chatting incessantly to Joanie and her man while taking my bike apart, and then realized that I had locked my keys in my car. I'll save you the long story, but it involved a hammer, and I didn't get home until 11pm on Friday night.
This morning, after Lilac's bachelorette party, I decided to get out and run the South Mountain trail again. I just want to do it consistently in the event that it actually someday gets easier. That's my goal. Keep running the mountain trails in the heat, and road races earlier in the morning will become easy, right? right?
Two weeks ago I ran this trail (I blogged about it) after a two week travel hiatus and about 11.5 hours of sleep each night during that time. The up hurt. It was a good challenge, but I just felt woefully out of shape and tired. The down was good, and I finished the four mile out and back in 1:28 minutes.
Today, again, less than 6 hours of sleep two nights in a row, long business trip, yadda yadda, oh and those B12 shots... It felt about the same effort level to me, at least I didn't feel quite as exhausted at each hill climb, but it was a tough up, and a fun/tough down like normal, except it only took me 1:16!!! 12 freaking minutes off a 4 mile hike/run?? WOO HOOO!!! Lady Tiara is shaking in her slippers right now, since we made a bet over best PR in the Summer Series races.
Now of course hiking/trail running is a LOT different from road races, and since I was oxygen deprived, the climbing was really the hardest thing for me - the muscles are being asked to move mountains, without air. However, I was absolutely shocked to see the 12 minute differential, and it definitely put the icing on the cake for the weekend for me!
This week's trail tip - Make friends with the hills. I've been consciously saying this to myself at each hill that I traverse "make friends with the hill. Little baby steps on the way up, so the hill doesn't even know that you are there, and then big bounding steps down, so that you can run away quick!" It does seem to take some of the effort out. I think our natural reaction is to try to push up the hill (which is exhausting) and then are afraid to charge the dowhill and lengthen our strides. This is going to be my main focus for a while.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pernicious Anemia

So after whining, and complaining, and worrying, and more complaining, I finally decided to go in and talk to Dr. Lenny about how I've been feeling lately (which as we don't need to be reminded was somewhere between a smelly pile of wafting poo, and the leftover scraps of a person who was hit by a bus). I went, I brought my training log, my travel log, my food log, and reviewed 8 years of medical history. Since all of my symptoms are.... nebulous... I wanted to give as clear a picture as I could, in case it was something little that I could do.

The absolute best part of going to the doctor was having Dr. Lenny instantly believe me that "something is wrong". He didn't scoff, and tell me that I'm lying about my mileage, or how much I'm working out, or what I'm eating (he saw the M&M's clearly listed on my food log). He calculated out that I AVERAGED 75 minutes of cardio 6 days a week every week for 2008. He also said immediately that something WAS off, and that he'd work with me as long as it took to find the solution.

Step 1 was to do a barrage of bloodwork on absolutely everything that they could test. If that showed nothing, we'd debate the value of going off BC for long enough that I could get additional hormone level work done. From there, we'd continue looking if we needed to.

Step 1 included thyroid tests, blood glucose levels, cholesterol, iron, b12, calcium, STD's, blood cell counts... basically every test that was not a test of estrogen levels, since we couldn't do that one.

The good news is that we found only one obvious discrepancy. I have NO B12 in my system- this is nearly impossible because B12 is in basically everything that I eat. In fact, my food log shows that I'm well over my daily intake requirements of B12. However, I have none. How does this happen? Basically, my body has stopped being able to metabolize/absorb the B12 into my body. This can happen for a variety of reasons, though the most likely is because of my underlying estrogen level issues. The inability to absorb B12 is called Pernicious Anemia (and yes I almost had a heart attack when my doctor gave me this name - for those of you who don't know, the simple definition of pernicious is death. Aparently the clinical definition is the death of an organ or bodily function).

B12 is what helps you put oxygen into your red blood cells and then take that oxygen to your organs and muscles. A lack of B12 can cause - fatigue, complete exhaustion, tingling in hands and feet, low blood pressure, low body temperature, basically absolutely every symptom I've been feeling. Unlike regular anemia, my iron levels are just fine, but the symptoms are very similar. Luckily, there's a very very easy solution - I need to go on a B12 shot regimen (the pills don't work, because they still require me to metabolize, which I cannot do). That's it. The shot location doesn't even hurt afterwards - and I should know, I had to get four of them yesterday to get myself back up to normal levels. I could feel the tiredness melt away as each shot was administered. It was like getting 12 hours of sleep in 10 minutes.

It was amazing that as soon as we knew what was wrong, all of the puzzle pieces fit perfectly into a picture, when just days before they were a big jumble that made no sense to anyone. My doc said that I had basically been living in an oxygen deprived world for years - and equated it to trying to climb Mt. Everest every single day. He even mentioned that the fact that airplans have less oxygen than the outside was part of why I was absolutely slayed by my travel. He was frankly stunned that I was training with the condition, and said that he had his money on a SERIOUS PR this summer, once my body got used to actually having oxygen and blood again.

I did go for a run this morning, and athough I didn't miraculously become a 5 minute miler, I was able to run the same time that I had run for this path after two weeks of extra sleep and no travel. Considering that I had a 22 hour day the day before yesterday, and crossed the country twice in four days (never mind not getting the standard weekend relax time that I generally NEED to keep going) I felt really good out there. In fact, I did notice a couple of body reactions that were interesting. One, my face did not get nearly as red as normal, and it calmed down by the time I got out of the shower, not 2+ hours later. I felt like I was sweating more, but working less hard. Also, the weirdest thing - about halfway through the run, I could feel the blood pumping in my fingers, almost like I had slammed them in the door, and realized that I hadn't felt my fingers when running for a long time. It was sort of weird, but still felt remarkable at the same time.

This is the acknowledgement section of my post. I want to thank a lot of people who in one way or another inspired me to go to the doctor armed and ready, and hope that they would be willing to listen - some who know me, and some who don't know me at all.

Lilac - who has been telling me for over a year that I need to go to the doctor because I know that something is off - and her mom Larue, who mentioned that she was concerned about it back in 2004 when I was completely oblivious.

Iron "Geek Girl" Misty - who writes the blog The Athena Diaries. She is also a plus sized athlete who suffers from several of the same symptoms (different condition), and has been very forthcoming in writing about her medical struggles and her relief in actually identifying the problem. She was the one who finally convinced me to go to the doc, even though she has no idea that she did it.

Lady Tiara - Has continued to be positive, and supportive of my efforts, small or herculean, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that blast of fresh positive air when she puts a comment on my blog.

My Mom and Dad have both been very pushy about my health lately, mainly because they were struggling with the most stubborn person on earth, but the fact that they both still care enough to tell me to go to the doctor means a lot.

Momo - Has been struggling with an injury, and although not a health related issue, it's reminded me that I HAVE the power to attempt to figure out what is wrong with me, and the opportunity to make myself feel better. I know she'd kill for an opportunity to feel better right now, so I took that and used it as inspiration for me! It worked.

Drums, my bro, has listened to every single variation of conversation that I wanted to have and did have with my doc, and he has continued to be suportive, even though I've talked of nothing else for the last two weeks.

Here's hoping it will continue to help!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Race Report: Girls on the Run 5K 5/02/09

I feel like I just wrote a race report... after not doing any spring races, the summer season has begun!

Pre-race: This race was previously called the Wondergirl (see race report from May 2008). It is the culmination of all practices and training for the girls in the spring GOTR program. I ran this race last year as a running buddy, and fell so in love with the program that I started coaching, and became a part of the Operations Committee in the fall. I also ran for the program for the PF Chang's 1/2, although the program name has changed.

This year, due to travel requirements, I have not been able to coach. However, not coaching made me eligible as a running buddy again! Since I was familiar with several of the returnees from Manitas, I fished around and offered to run as "Maire's" running buddy. We share the same middle name, Maire, which is the gaelic version of Mary, and sounds more like Marie. This girl reminds me so much of myself - she's not a natural athlete, she's a huge bookworm, she's way beyond the other girls in her class as far as interests and the things that she "gets". In fact, she frequently made comments during discussions at practice that just floored me - a very wise girl. Which means she's also vastly awkward and not at all popular. I can foresee that the teen years will not be easy for her, but if she can get through it, she'll be an amazing young woman.

OK sorry... the race...

So I got there, signed in, and went and found Manitas. It was great to see the girls and parents all excited for the race. I also got to see Lady Tiara, which was great, and one of the coaches from Crockett that I heart. It was very mellow but exciting. Maire brought me a bright pink feather boa to run in (which by the way, was pretty hot to run in, and the feathers stuck to my lip gloss) but we had GREAT flare and were ready to roll!

Race: Maire is one of the few participants who understands the concept of pacing. She actually asked to go to the back of the starting line (most girls are pushing to be the first one under the balloon arches) so that we would have more room and wouldn't get pushed around - sure, I always start at the back! Her mom had actually signed up originally to run with her, but due to some confidence issues, she was afraid she'd keep Maire back. She did want to make the point that you follow through on what you start, so she was racing anyway, though she expected to be far behind us. We started out after the gun, and we were off!

Maire was in charge of our starts and stops, and ran/walked consistently throughout the course. She had a good steady solid pace that she kept up for fair distances throughout the race. Each time she stopped to walk, we agreed that she had to say something positive. This was to ensure that she didn't think of walking as a bad thing. Her positive affirmations ranged from "The breeze is nice" to "those are pretty hibiscus flowers" (yes she actually said hibiscus) "I'm feeling really good" to "I like donuts". Whatever works. The surprise was that her mom kept up with us the whole way! Maire learned to make friends with the hills, and to push through her running to her goal locations, be it the water bubbler or the boat ramp.

It was a two lap course, and I have to say that from a personal perspective that even though we were not pushing my pace, it felt a lot shorter than it has in the past, even though I haven't really been running longer than 2.5 - 4 miles at a time lately.

At 52 minutes into the race, the feathered up ladies crossed the finish line. Maire felt awesome finishing her "6th" 5k (she's done four in practice in two seasons). It was great to experience, and both mom and daughter were an inspiration. The best part was that the mom was saying before the race that she was planning on doing the race and then throwing out her asthma inhaler, because she was never running again. By the end of the race, she was talking about taking the whole family to the ARR Summer Series races at Papago and Kiwanis this summer.

Overall it was a great day. I love being able to share in the excitement as all of the girls told me how great they did, and how proud they were. It was definitely worth the packed travel day to start at the race. I needed that pick-me-up that I could put in my pocket, and take out this week and enjoy!