Monday, March 19, 2012

Chewing Tobacco and Ice

This past weekend, I traveled to Virginia Beach to take part in the Shamrock Half Marathon and to take part in a Polar Plunge in the icy waters of the ocean.  I stayed with my friend Holly, who planned to run the half with me, and another friend Virginia, who was running the full marathon. We stayed in a cabin that Holly's daughter declared was "creepy," but I agreed with Holly's assessment that it was merely "rustic."  Rustic, but with running water and electricity.  There was a bed in the loft, but Holly and Virginia told me I wasn't allowed up there for fear I would knock my head on the ceiling and get a concussion. We'd packed for 80 degree temperatures, but the weather changed, with a new forecast of a chilly and windy start of the race.  So we went to Rite-Aid and bought  matching black velour jackets studded with rhinestones.  They were actually for children--I bought a size 2XL and it fit perfectly.  I've appended a photo so you can see how Goth the three of us look.  The original plan was to throw these youth jackets away once we warmed up during the race, but they were so nice that we ran the races with velour jackets tied around our waists.

During the run I spotted a shirt that said, "I'm an Ultra Runner.  This is My SHORT Run!"   It made me giggle because it was definitely a short run for Holly and me!  We'd hoped to maintain a 10:30 pace throughout, and maybe even pick it up at the end. This would result in a finish somewhere around 2:15 to 2:17.  Last year, my finish time was something like 2:14.  But training for an ultra does not make you faster.  Plus, as someone very dear to me reminded me after this race, I've been through a lot since I last ran the Shamrock Half Marathon.

Chewing Tobacco

Experts tell you not to try anything new on race day.  But for me this was a short run, so I decided to try some new food.  I usually eat Cliff Bars and Gu brand gels.  (Gels, for those of you who aren't runners, are little squirts of mainly sugar in a liquid form.  They are easy to digest when you are running and your body does not have to work to convert the food into sugar, which is what fuels you when you run).  Someone had told me about a product called Vega Sport.  So I bought a gel and a bar in this brand.  Around mile 7 I felt great, and we were maintaining the 10:30 pace, as planned.  I tried the new orange-flavored gel.  It tasted like what your dog might throw up if you forced him to eat oranges.  BLECH.  Around mile 9, I was tired and started to slow. Holly went on with another friend, Judy.  I decided to eat the new bar.  It tasted like chewing tobacco!  And the more I chewed, the bigger it got.  Apparently these bars are not for runners, but for baseball players!

After the chewing tobacco incident, I could not get my mojo back.  My pace slowed considerably. Thankfully, my knee wasn't hurting and I didn't experience any boob zingers. I was just tired and hungry! Finally, about three miles from the finish, I spotted by teammate Jack Martin, who was walking.  Jack was coming off an injury and had planned to walk a good bit of the race because he'd only run about 6 miles in recent training.  When he does run, though, Jack is faster than I am.  In fact, he'd run the first couple miles with his son at a pace quicker than 9:00, after which he'd started walking, except when he saw someone he knew. He must be a fast walker because, here I was, not able to catch him till almost mile 10!  He said he was happy to do a bit more running, so I asked him to run some with me and keep me sane.  We had a blast in those last few miles.  Somewhere along that stretch, I saw Holly's mother, aunt and daughter, and handed them my beautiful velour rhinestone-studded jacket. I will wear that again! When we finally got to the finish line, I was very happy that this run was so short!  My finish time was 2:22, resulting from an average pace of 10:51 . It was slower than I had hoped, and for a moment I felt like a turtle.  Not that I mind being a turtle: they are green and it was a Shamrock race!  But later, the race organizers sent me an email that showed that I ran faster than 40% of the entire field, and faster than 49% of the women in the race.  Among the 45-49 year old ladies, I ranked 245 out of 532--that's the TOP HALF.  Not a turtle!  Maybe not a cheetah, but not a turtle.

Ice Bath Challenge

A few days before the Shamrock, I began talking about taking a dip in the ocean after the race WITHOUT  A WETSUIT.  The plan was to go all the way in and get my head completely wet.  And to see how long it might take before I came running out of the water, screaming at the top of my lungs!

You see, the water temperature was only 54 degrees.  Now air temperatures of 54 are not so bad, but water temperatures of 54 are cold!  The water temperature at Ironman Coeur d'Alene was actually a few degrees warmer, yet for that swim I wore a long-sleeved wetsuit and two swim caps.  I found a website describing how to avoid hypothermia in 50-something degree water.  It suggested that you should "climb aboard the wreckage."  A surfing website described the water temperature on that particular day in Virginia Beach and suggested that you should wear not only a wetsuit, but also "neoprene booties and a cap."  And I was going to go in the water with a skirt and a sports bra, nothing else.  After finishing my race alongside Jack Martin, Jack introduced me to his son, an avid surfer.  He mentioned that he had stuck his toe in the water and "if you can stay in for a full minute, I will greatly admire you!"   I began to get a little worried,

But I couldn't quit!  I had promised people that if they made donations to my fundraising site I'd go in.  A friend, Brian Lilley, who was running the full marathon publicized the stunt too, and for that I am ever grateful to Brian!  During this little "polar plunge" campaign, I received $250 in donations, to which people had added 13 cents (for my half marathon) or 26 cents (for my friend Brian's marathon).

So, I had to go in.  Despite of the warnings from Jack's surfer son, I braved the elements.  I ran out in the waves, and they knocked against me.   I screamed!  It was so, so cold. I recalled the cold water at my Ironman CDA race, and I was so happy I wasn't expected to stay in for 2.4 miles of swimming!  I dunked my head under, only to be whipsawed by a tsunami-like wave.  Wow it was bracingly cold!

It was tough going, but I'm sure immersing myself in that cold water was good for me.  My muscles are not sore now, and I'm ready to hit the trails again!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional

We got a t-shirt at the Willis River 35K that said "Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional."  Since that race, two painful things have happened to me.

The Pains
First, I continue to get zingers when I run.  These are like electrical shocks to my breast, and I am told they are a side effect of radiation treatment, though my treatments have been complete for two months.  Sometimes the pain is debilitating, shooting pains in me and throbbing, and usually once the pain starts, it does not stop until I take a warm shower. I checked with my radiation oncologist, Dr. Arthur, who said I was not damaging anything to run through this pain.  "Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional."  Some of it is a head game, of course.  Whenever the pains started, I figured it was God saying to me, "you did say you wanted to keep this boob, didn't you?"  And He was reminding me that I am alive!

Second, I began to develop some knee discomfort, which I know from experience results from something called IT band syndrome.  Now, this pain was not as great as the breast zingers, but it was more threatening because it could get worse.  I went to Dr. Green of Active Chiropractic as soon as I noticed the pain, which was after a 22 mile trail run, and I cut back on the mileage.  Three weeks later, I wondered if I would be able to run the Seneca Creek Greenway trail marathon?  Coach Kyle, taking a conservative approach, suggested I skip it so that my March and April would be pain free for sure.  I went back to Dr. Green for a second opinion, though.  He examined me and said, "Go for it!"  He did advise me to take a one minute walk break after every nine minutes of running, to reduce the chance of injury.

Holly did a little jig when she learned I would join her for the all-day race. Our friend Susan Ann had to drop out at the last minute, but we kept her and her family in our thoughts during the run.  We drove to Gaithersburg the night before the race, and it rained so hard it was difficult to see the highway.  I looked on the weather channel and learned of a flash flood warning in Gaithersburg lasting until 7am.  The race was to begin at 8am.  I said, "Holly, we had a good excuse to skip this race, and we BLEW IT!"

Race Morning.
Race morning was surreal.  We parked at the race finish and rode a bus to the start with all these ultra runners. I thought Holly and I were crazy.  These folks were talking about the 50 milers they did before and the 100 milers they were planning in the months ahead.  They talked about running long but not very fast.  They talked about running in the rain and falling in the mud, and noted that we would be doing both today.  And they talked about food. Lots of it.   I loved it! When we arrived at the start it was pouring buckets, and we shivered with everyone else under a small shelter.  Holly whispered to me, "What do you notice in common about all these people's legs?"
"No," she replied.  "Scarred."
The race director announced that the race was delayed by 10 minutes because a bus was late.  "But don't worry," he said when some moaned.  "We won't let them go to the bathroom when they arrive."

The Muddy Race

By the time the late bus arrived, it had stopped raining.  After the first half mile, on asphalt, we entered the trail.  By then, Holly and I were near the back, so hundreds had tromped through the mud before us.  We could see their footsteps and the places where they had slipped and fallen.  Sometimes the mud was just wet and icky.  Other times the trails were absolute "shoe suckers," meaning you weren't sure if you lifted your foot whether your shoe would come with it or no.  Mud caked on the bottoms of our shoes, making them heavy and covering up the treads so we had no traction.  I kept slipping and shouting "Oh, Camille's been telling me to stretch that inner thigh!"  I used to be petrified of creek crossings--irrationally so.  On Saturday, we actually looked forward to creek crossings. They represented opportunities to get the mud off our shoes.  Sometimes if we had a choice of stepping on stones or walking through the water, we chose the water.

At mile 3 of the race, we arrived at a creek crossing.  Maybe I can say river crossing.  I've posted a photo.  There was a rope across the water to prevent people from being swept down stream.  I switched my hand held to my left hand so I could use my right hand to hold on.  The water did get up to my knees.  It was exhilarating!  Later in the race, I wished I could cross this stream again.  I would have sat my butt down in the water!

At about mile 10 the trail look horrible. We saw slippery mud on the outside with signs people had slipped, surrounding a huge puddle of water in the middle. Holly said, "well at least the middle doesn't look muddy.". So I pranced across the middle and immediately felt my self slipping, slipping, ohhhhhh!  I fell right on my behind.  My left hand was submerged in the muddy water puddle.  My right hand held my hand held water bottle, which was caked with mud.  Holly laughed so hard and I started to giggle as I got myself up.  She said, "it looks like you have  Montezuma's revenge!"   She offered to spray water on me, but it was hopeless.  I did let her spray water on my water bottle.  It turns out that even though I like to eat most anything, mud is not my favorite.  At least not when I am expecting a cool sip of water.  I kept shouting at people who came upon us, "this is mud!  It isn't what you think!".  They would laugh and shake their heads.  I think someone shouted back "try going gluten free!"

Later in the race I tripped on a root and fell forward onto hard ground. My left knee looks horrible! Had to walk some till it loosened up.  Given the choice, I recommend falling on your butt in soft oozy mud!

We met some incredible people during this race.  For a long while we ran with a woman named Lois, who is 70 years old.  Sometimes we got ahead of her, but then she would keep coming.  We spoke with her and learned that she does many marathons.  In fact, she planned to do a marathon the very next day!  This 70 year old finished the race before we did, by the way!  WOW

We also ran a good bit with a Retired navy guy who started in September on a quest to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks. He is ahead of schedule, having run 9 in 9 days at Christmas. See, there are people crazier than I!  At some point he mentioned that his wife had undergone treatment for breast cancer recently, but she was doing great.  HOORAY!

At mile marker 15, most racers were given the choice of running an additional four miles around a lake.  This was the choice of "marathon" or "50K."  Holly and I had contemplated doing the 50K, but we weren't sure we would make the time cut-off to be permitted to do so.  And, indeed, we missed it. For one thing, they did not extend it for the ten minutes delay for the start.  But we would have missed it anyway.  We would not be permitted to run around the lake, but would have to content ourselves with what this race called a "marathon."  We responded in a stoical manner.  Life goes on.

For those of you who are marathon runners, you might remember telling non-running friends that you were going to run a marathon.  Someone said "Wow.  That's great.  How long is your marathon?"  And you explained that all marathons are 26.2 miles.  They would be 25 miles but for a desire to finish in front of Windsor Palace.  Not that many marathons finish at Windsor Palace, but we must uphold tradition.  So you think asking how long a marathon is might be a dumb question.  Not necessarily.

We finished and a finish line volunteer asked if we had just completed the marathon or the 50K.. I looked at my Garmin and replied, "well, my gps says 31 miles." She said, "great, congratulations for finishing the marathon!"  Ordinarily marathons are 26.2 miles and a 50K is 31 miles. This marathon was 31 miles and the  50k was 35 miles!  Were we disappointed, in the end, that we didn't get to run around the lake?  Heck no: once again, God was looking out for us.  Oh, sure, we prayed that we'd make the cutoff.  God heard our prayers and said, "um, no, I know better."  Because in the end, I couldn't run another yard!  

Our time was 8:29.  Yep, eight hours and 29 minutes. Why rush through it--you might miss something! Once again, we got our money's worth.  By the way, most people pay through the NOSE for a mud bath.  Ours was only $20, the entry fee for this race. Plus we got food.  Not sushi and red wine, but cookies and red Gatorade.  Worth every penny!

I met so many nice people during this race.  On the way back to our hotel, I stopped at a grocery store for ice (for an ice bath), and some neosporin and band-aids for my bleeding knee.  I was still caked in mud, including the mud on my backside that looked, um, odd.  I was catching quite a number of stares.  The line for the express lane was long, so I stood in a regular lane behind two people with large baskets.  A woman from nowhere said, "EXCUSE ME!  I WAS HERE FIRST!"  I looked from her buggy to her face and concluded that she was Alice from the Brady Bunch doing the monthly shopping.  Really?  I am holding a box of band-aids and neosporin and looking like  Swamp Thing, but she has her rights. Dorothy, we're not in the South any more!  I figure she was rude because she's never certain whether it might take her 10 minutes or three hours to get home, due to the high traffic in those DC suburbs.  Poor thing, bless her heart.