Monday, July 3, 2017

Confessions of a Recreational Marathoner: A Final Post

In a previous post, I'd mentioned wanting to write about what this whole experience finishing five marathons and running in memory of my dad meant to me, but that I was having trouble finding the words. Truth is, I still haven't figured out what to say even though I've spent most of May and all of June waiting for the words to appear. I didn't want to wait any more, so here we are.

I'd actually drafted something up weeks ago, about the relationship I had with my dad which was far from perfect, how in many ways we did not understand one another. And that post was (is) great. But after writing it, I realized that post was really just for me and no one else.

I thought about telling you that I never really loved running. It never came natural to me. I felt that I had to work at it harder than others because of this and - even then - I would still be a slower runner than most. But in thinking about my relationship with running, I realized that my running, while far from perfect, was an outlet.

But... an outlet for what?

A few weeks ago, I flew into Calgary for one! night! only! to see The Watchmen play. This is a band I fell in love with in my youth and this show was the first time I'd seen them live in more than 20 years. These guys are also originally from the Canadian prairies - Winnipeg, in fact - which makes them kindred spirits, in so many ways. And in revisiting my love of their music, one set of song lyrics jumped out at me: 
Touching down, it’s a frozen town.
Look around
I grew up, I fell down.
Nothing changes
Nothing changes except the red lights.
Any day now it will come.
It sounds like bullshit but,
You ever notice?
This whole town of ice and snow
Gets you running
To chasing something
But what it is I’ll never know
Just hope one day that it shows.
Any day now it will come.  
Any Day Now by The Watchmen. Album: Silent Radar (1998).

When I started long distance running, the original goal was to run a marathon for my 30th birthday. Wrapping up number five, I wanted to finish to honour the memory of my dad.  

What does it all mean? 

If I'm a pessimist, maybe it's that I've used actual running to metaphorically run away from things that were scary or bad: getting older, having to accept that my dad died. 

If I'm an optimist, maybe it means I used running to deal with difficult things in a way that was positive - physically, emotionally and mentally.

As each of those angles is trite and stupid, I hate them both.

How about this? Perhaps we're all chasing something. What that is and why? Maybe we'll never know. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn't. Maybe... that's just life. 

What I know for sure is this: on balance, running and blogging about running has been an enjoyable and fulfilling way to pass my time these last few years. It got me through some bad times. It gave me a medium to support those living with diabetes. It also apparently (so I've been told) inspired a few others to start running journeys of their own. But I did what I set out to do so now it's time to wrap it up. 

I guess that means my "any day now" (when it comes to running, anyway) is now. It showed itself. And while I may not have been able to find the exact words to most appropriately articulate this, I can't think of a better reason to go out than that.

Five by 35 or bust: we out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rehab

I've been 10 days sober. From running, of course.

Not that running is/was a drug, or an addiction - for me, anyway. But it was definitely something that took priority for the last almost-five months. This past week and a half has been different - felt different. I guess that's what happens when one no longer has a marathon to train for (not complaining).

Reflections on a dry month
Following a house party involving a lot of scotch, I threw a bit of a fit one month out from the date of number five, and vowed to stay dry until marathon day. Amazingly, I actually did this... and it was a bit of an eye opener! 

I would be out with friends, ordering water while they all ordered beer. Not surprisingly, I got bored the longer I stayed out. It's like "fun" is inversely related to "alcohol consumption". Again, not a surprise. 

And yet... I felt better about my choices. True, I wasn't having the "good time" the same way my friends were. But I knew I would certainly feel better in the morning. There wouldn't be a two-day hangover in my future. 

Don't get me wrong: I love a good drink. I drink beer, wine, scotch, vodka... you name it. I don't discriminate (well, except for fruity drinks - like, really?). But being teetotal for just over four weeks was more revelatory than expected. I had a beer the same night I'd finished number five, and have drunk plenty since - no more being dry for me - but I do think I have a different perspective on socially drinking now than I did before i.e. moderation? That's a good thing. 

Good eats
Something else in the way of "healthy living" also happened while I was training for number five. For years I was terrible at brown bagging my lunch. But somehow, with number five in the picture, I managed to create good lunch habits. I've been bringing salads for lunch most days, and even vary them up to keep things interesting - which, I realized, is actually the key with eating salad so often! I'm a huge foodie and love trying new restaurants and new dishes all the time, but at least at lunchtime I've been able to create a space where I don't have to worry about what I'm putting in my body because I know that it's food that is good for me. Hopefully, running or no, I'll be able to maintain that going forward.

Knee-d more painkillers
You may recall I had some trouble with my knee in the week leading up to number five (see blog posts here and here). Following the marathon, I thought my knee pain had miraculously disappeared! Sadly, I was totally delusional mistaken. 

I gave my body a week or so to recover and heal, but sure enough: the knee pain was still there. Not that I was particularly surprised, but I went to a physiotherapist yesterday and it looks like I'll definitely need some rehab. Bad biomechanics! You are my nemesis! But, meh - what else am I gonna do? It's not like I'm running another marathon any time soon [wink]. 

My dad 
I've been wanting to write a post about what this whole experience meant to me... running in memory of my dad, and rekindling my old goal to run five marathons because of that. Alas, I've been unable to find the words. When I locate them, I'll let y'all know.

All You Kneed Is Love, bitches! (Guess I'm not done with the knee puns just yet.) 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Number Five Recap: A Bum Knee, Bad Hip and Blisters (All In a Day's Work)

As it turns out, I didn't have to crawl on my hands and knees to cross the finish line on Sunday... although, it came close to that.

Get ready...
After four-plus months of training, almost five years on the blog and going back nearly eight years to when this crazy marathoning journey started, all I wanted to do was make it to the start line of the BMO Vancouver Marathon healthy and ready to rock. Unfortunately, some problems with my right knee crept up on me during my taper and, even though I spent days resting and icing it, it became a problem that I couldn't ignore.

Thankfully (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I'm stubborn like a mule so that wasn't going to stop me. 

Get set...
Race weekend is normally such a big deal for me; I love the anticipation and excitement of it all. Picking up my race package and being around hundreds or thousands of other runners is normally fun and exhilarating. 

My knee pain, however, kind of sucked all the joy out of race weekend for me. I was hobbling around the Race Expo, super bummed. But by the night before the race, I had somehow managed to calm (steel?) the nerves and put it out of mind. Que sera, sera, as it were.

Go!
As I stood in my corral with the other "slow" runners, I started to feel that rush of being at the start line with the whole morning in front of me. I had decided to pace very conservatively, to give my knee time to warm up and hopefully loosen up. The first few kilometres went by with no issues at all, and I began to gain a little confidence - something I had been lacking all week long. 

At some point, I noticed my knee felt... well, if not good then as good as it was going to get. The problem was actually my right hip. It's just a theory, but I think my hip started to compensate for my knee, which is why the knee felt okay. Overall, this compensation might have been okay over a short distance, but the hip started to really tighten up the further into the race I went.  

Remembering my conversation with the Team Diabetes staff a few days earlier, I listened to my body and made concessions. At first, I decided to switch from running 10 minutes/walking one minute, to running five minutes/walking one minute i.e. five and ones instead of 10 and ones, hoping to give my hip a rest and a bit of a "walking stretch". I also told myself, "Get to the halfway mark." 

Pausing at the top of the hill
Sure enough, I made it past the halfway marker on this strategy. But by this point, the race had circled around to the top of Pacific Spirit Park heading into Spanish Banks/Point Grey... all downhill. Normally, this would be great - a nice chance to recover. But not this time. This long downhill stretch was bad on the hip. Real bad. 

Wait. Abort?
Once I got down the hill I had to change my strategy again and, instead of running five and ones, I had to switch to running every two minutes... and then every other minute. 

I set a new target: get to Spanish Banks, which was about 23 km in. I figured, that's a reasonable goal... and if I could make it there, I'd be back on "home turf" i.e. one of my regular running neighbourhoods. Maybe - just maybe - by telling myself these things, I could trick my body into going a little further each time. 

At Spanish Banks, another new target: make it to 32 km. "At least at 32 km", I told myself, "that will match my longest long run. Make it to 32 km and walk from there." 

© The Oatmeal
Sadly, the hip gave up well before then - at around 26 km, as a matter of fact. If my hip could talk, it was basically saying, "Fuck you, lady. Did you hear me? NOPE."

So... I walked. 

And then, right at Cornwall and Yew in Kitsilano, at about 27 km - I'll never forget it, because I run this area all the time - I started to cry. I tried to hold the tears back, but they came anyway. All I could think about was that I was so far from the end ohmigod I'll never make it what do I do I don't know what to do I don't think I can make it

One foot in front of the other. I put one foot in front of the other for one more block - and there was my husband, standing at the next corner. 

When I got close enough, I didn't hold back anymore. I started sobbing. I'm so far from the end ohmigod I'll never make it what do I do I don't know what to do I don't think I can make it.

We started walking together a little, so I could try and calm down. And then we saw it: the 28 km marker. 

My brain: 14 km. 14 km left. 

Me: "14 km. There's 14 km left." [pause - then, to my husband:] "Wanna walk 14 km with me?"

My husband: "Sure."

And just like that, my husband saved my marathon.

"How much further?" "It's a little, tiny... 9 miles."
Wow, Simon Pegg. I can SO relate.

Nothing like a beautiful stroll on a Sunday afternoon
That's how I finished number five. Walking 14 km with my husband, on a Sunday afternoon, over the Burrard Street bridge, along English Bay and around the whole of Stanley Park

It may not have been stunning "running" (as BMO Vancouver Marathon runners know it). It was definitely not how I'd imagined my day would go. But for something so unexpected, it could have been so much worse. 

Some of the MarathonFoto pics from the event are available and, while I can't share any of them on the blog (because I haven't bought any), let me tell you: I looked a sad sack in so many - but not in the pics with my husband next to me. I'm actually smiling in those. Which, considering how badly this marathon was turning out performance-wise, was surprising. 

I asked for a miracle, didn't I? Turns out, I got one. 

Unofficial results
The result
The full marathon started at 8:30 am. I crossed the finish line at 2:46 pm. My gun time was 6 hours and 16 minutes, chip time 6 hours and 8 minutes. 

Overall, I placed at 3,479 out of 4,696 full marathoners. In my category of F35-39, 204 out of 284. Out of all females, I was number 1,347 out of 1,866. 

New personal bests worsts in a lot of ways but - you know something? Who cares? A finish is a finish is a finish. Right? As a friend told me post-marathon, "It's never about the measure or time but always about the journey and process. You showed perseverance, resilience and heart. Never forget that you are a fighter. Unreal job."

So - how does it feel? To quote the (IMHO) inimitable movie, Bring It On: "Feels like first."

War wounds
I really wanted to mention my "war wounds" from the day, because they were (are) significant... ly painful

Posterior knee pain (left). Since my right hip gave out completely and the left side of my body had to do so much work to compensate, I ended up with a hella lot of pain at the back of my left knee. A little research, and it turns out - there's a muscle back there! The internet tells me this is called the popliteus. Who knew? Walking is now an issue but hopefully only a temporary setback.

Sorry gang, had to include a pic. This blister is so weird!
Blisters. The bum knee, bad hip and painful popliteus all resulted in poor "running" (I use the term loosely) form... which translated into crazy blisters. Which - for one - is unusual because I don't normally get blisters. But the blisters were also strangely placed: right at the base of my third and fourth toes on my left foot, and on the bottoms of the fourth toe on both feet. 

Inner thigh chafing. This one could probably have been avoided but - my bad. I chose to wear running shorts that I knew sometimes chafed along the inner thigh. Thankfully, the chafing was relatively minimal and nothing that a warm shower and a little antibiotic ointment couldn't handle. 

Sunday night, I couldn't use my right hip flexor at all. I was sitting on the floor with my legs straight out in front of me, and my right hip refused to lift my right leg up. It was kind of like it drank too much and passed out - no reaction, whatsoever. 

Ironically, the right knee that had bothered me all last week is now completely pain-free. I just don't get it. Maybe I'm not meant to.

Honourable mentions
Shitty day aside, running this marathon in Vancouver was pretty amazing. There's a reason why this event has been going strong for decades: the Vancouver International Marathon Society knows what they're doing. Like, for real. A well-organized course, fun entertainment stations, a highly engaged and mobilized volunteer force... who could ask for more?

I also saw so many friends on the course, which I never experienced before in previous marathons because none of them were in my city! Thank you so much Kirsten, Kathy P., Hecel, Christina S. and Fay. Seeing you ladies really helped put a smile on my face and keep my spirits up. 

Hanging out at the start line before
the corrals get too crowded
Of course, I would be absolutely remiss to not give my husband HUGE PROPS here. I genuinely believe I would not have crossed the finish line without his love and support. So, thank you Matt! for literally being by my side and metaphorically carrying me for 14 km. You salvaged this race for me. As with so many things in this life, I could not have done this without you. I love you.

Good job, running friends!
I'd also like to congratulate everyone else who ran either the full or half marathon on Sunday: Jeny, Christina S. and her sister, Jim, Jen T. and Samantha (sorry if I've inadvertently missed anyone). Hope you all had great races! 

Fundraising update
Good job, friends!

Thanks to a few (somewhat forgetful and/or tardy) friends, a few more donations for my fundraising campaign in memory of my dad came in at the 11th hour to put the campaign at $3,681! This total was a team effort from 80 donors giving anywhere between $10 and $100. You guys made this happen. Thank you so much. 

If you'd still like to give, please do so at my Team Diabetes personal page! Donations can be made for two more months following the marathon, so there is still time. All proceeds go towards diabetes research, education and advocacy. Tax receipts are issued for donations of $15 or more.

And... relax
What happens now? I dunno. For now, I'm just gonna bask in the glory that is finally finishing number five. I have slayed the proverbial dragon. That's good enough for me.

Chillin' with John Stanton from the
Running Room post-marathon. No big.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Number 5... Still Alive!

Done and dusted, bitches. This has been a loooooong time coming
Number five is in the bag, friends! 

Sooooo much to say about this run (ahem, walk) but for now, all I want to do is ice my sore bits... because there's a lot of them. And post a picture of my badass medal. 

Recap, kudos and more to come. Soon. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Not a Knee-Jerk Reaction

Having previously experienced injury while training, my recent knee issues have got me worried about tomorrow. Like, genuinely worried. So worried in fact, I woke up at 3 am last night and my immediate thought was, "Should I be icing right now?" (This was followed by thinking about what I would write on the blog, which kept me up even longer. Stupid middle-of-the-night brain.)

As I mentioned the other day, my knee has been bothering me all week - to the point of pain when going up and down stairs, and discomfort when bending or squatting. This is obviously a problem, considering I'm meant to run 42.2 freaking km tomorrow. 

To try and alleviate the pain and get to the start line in good form, my routine this week has been: get up. Ice the knee. Go to work. Come home. Ice all night (at intervals, of course). Sleep. Repeat the next day. The exception was yesterday, where I stopped by the Race Expo after work but before coming home. I hobbled around there for a bit to pick up my race kit and check out some merch, but then went home and resumed my regular schedule of icing. 

Has it helped? A little... but maybe not enough.

Injuries blow
I know what it's like to not finish a long run; it happened to me back in 2012. It was awful. Devastating, really. But that was in training. I cringe at the thought of attempting number five tomorrow and clocking in a DNF - a "did not finish." But not even trying at all is not an option.

Some people might suggest I not run tomorrow, or try and switch my distance to the half. Let me just say: that's not gonna happen. I may be injured (or at least, on the cusp of injury) but number five is like my OlympicsIt's water after being too long in the desert. It's my friggin' unicorn. And after all I've been through to get this close to completing number five, and after the year I've just had? No. No way I'm not at least attempting it tomorrow, with or without knee pain. 

Injury race strategy
I joked with a co-worker this week, that I will cross that finish line even if I have to g*ddamn well crawl over it on my hands and knees. Obviously, if I want to keep running after tomorrow, this may not be a smart strategy, with the risks of permanent or long-term damage a definite possibility. 

Me at the Race Expo. I may look happy,
but I'm crying on the inside.
At the Race Expo yesterday, I met the Team Diabetes staff who I've been corresponding with these past four-plus months or so, but had never met in person. I was telling them about the knee and one of the runners shared his story about having to be off running for nearly 10 years after pushing too hard in a race when injured. He reminded me that I've got to listen to my body, and do what feels right. If that means walking more than usual, then so be it.  

I went from analyzing my training data last week to see if I could eke out a new personal best, to now thinking I may not even finish. It's been a hard few days. But I think a shift in perspective will definitely be helpful, if not absolutely necessary. Training may have gone well - the best it's ever been - but the timing of this stupid knee has changed everything and, if I want to finish number five tomorrow, I'm going to need to let go of all that.

(Aside: for those I've provided with my estimated pace and finish times who planned to see me on the course, maybe adjust those down a little. And check to see where I am on the bib lookup website. Would be nice to know someone is checking I've not collapsed in a heap somewhere.)

I kneed a miracle
Knee puns aside, this injury/almost injury is a big deal, and I can't ignore it any more. I've never been the kind of person to believe in miracles, but I think I'm going to need one now. Let's hope the goodwill of running for charity and sharing my story about grief is enough currency to summon one up. Because I would sure hate to let any of you down: my donors, my supporters, my dad, myself. That would be a serious bummer. So... come on, miracle!

Until then, more ice, rest and trying to stay calm. 

Sure hope every little thing is gonna be alright. Come on, miracle!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Running Round-up: Catching Up On the Blog While Tapering Edition

Race weekend is nearly here! Here's what I've been up to, or what I've wanted to write about but have been procrastinating instead, all week long.

Hoping there's no "kneed" to worry
Tapering is great. It feels like a nice break after so much hard work. The advice for tapering is generally: back off the mileage, but keep running i.e. don't just stop running altogether. 

Love these banners. Pic cred: @broadwayrunclub
So last weekend, I did a 6 km run with my husband, which was a nice little treat as we don't run together that often. After the run, however, I noticed one of my knees was quite sore - but no big, sometimes that happens; my knees have always been a little crunchy. 

But then... my knee was sore the next day, and the day after that. I'd been icing and foam rolling, and I'd stayed off it i.e. no running whatsoever. So when I woke up Wednesday morning and it was still sore with seemingly no improvement, I started to panic a little bit...  along the lines of, "WTF is wrong with this knee [because I really had no idea]? Am I seriously not going to being able to run on Sunday??" (Cue fainting and then waking up immediately followed by uncontrollable sobbing. If that were the case.) 

Fortunately, my knee finally felt like it had started to loosen up today. Luckily, with some more ice and rest and a bit of targeted massage, it'll feel nice and normal and ready to go by this weekend. Fingers, toes and knees crossed!

Running for depressives
I recently read Matt Haig's book, Reasons to Stay Alive. I'm not one much for reading self-help books, but it had been rated highly and was touted as part memoir, so I thought I'd give it a go.

Rather than this be a proper book review, I'll simply say: I liked it. And: it's worth reading. Also, I wanted to share an excerpt from his book (which I hope the author won't mind) as in it, he writes about how running helped him manage his depression. As someone who too, has suffered with this, I could totally relate. Figured this would also be timely, given the recent work done by Heads Together at the London Marathon to tackle stigma surrounding mental health. 

Thanks for your words, Matt.

  Running is a commonly cited alleviator of depression and anxiety. It certainly worked for me. When I started running I was still getting very bad panic attacks. The thing I liked about it was that many of the physical symptoms of panic - the racing heart, the problematic breathing, the sweating - are matched by running. So while I was running I wouldn't be worried about my racing heart because it had a reason to be racing.

  Also, it gave me something to think about. I was never exactly the fittest person in the world, so running was quite difficult. It hurt. But that effort and discomfort was a great focuser. And so I convinced myself that through training my body I was also training my mind. It was a kind of active meditation.

  It also, of course, gets you fit. And getting fit is pretty much good for everything. When I became ill I had been drinking and smoking heavily, but now I was trying to undo that damage.

  So every day I would go running, or do an equivalent type of cardiovascular exercise. Like Haruki Murakami - whose excellent book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running I would later read - I found running to be a way of clearing the fog. ('Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running,' Murakami also said, which is something I've come to believe too, and is one of the reasons I believe it helps the mind.)

   I would come back from a run and stretch and have a shower and feel a gentle sense of release, as though depression and anxiety were slowly evaporating from inside me. It was a wonderful feeling. Also, that kind of monotony that running generates - the one soundtracked by heavy breathing and the steady rhythm of feet on pavements - became a kind of metaphor for depression. To go on a run every day is to have a kind of battle with yourself. Just getting out on a cold February morning gives you a sense of achievement. But that voiceless debate you have with yourself - 'I want to stop! No, keep going! I can't, I can hardly breathe! There's only a mile to go! I just need to lie down! You can't!' - is the debate of depression, but on a smaller and less serious scale. So for me, each time I forced myself out there in the cold grey damp of a West Yorkshire morning, and pushed myself to run for an hour, it gave me a little bit of depression-beating power. A little bit of that 'you'd better be careful with who you are messing with' spirit.

  It helped, sometimes. Not always. It wasn't foolproof. I wasn't Zeus. There were no magic thunderbolts at my disposal. But it is nice to build up, over the years, things that you know do - on occasion - work. Weapons for the war that subsides but that can always ignite again. And so writing, reading, talking, travelling, yoga, meditation and running were some of mine.

My dad is my trainer
These past four months training for number five, I've faced a whole gauntlet of emotion: joy, elation, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, sadness, overwhelm, anger. Running, for me, has always had the ability to bring out all of these feelings and put them right at the forefront - at a place where one is forced to face them all, versus putting them aside or trying to ignore them.

Me and my dad, then and (almost) now
That was even more telling, this time around in training, doing all this for my dad. On those days when the runs were hard, and all I wanted to do was quit, thinking about my dad kept me going. I have this memory from when I was a kid and he was teaching me how to ride a bike. I was terrible at it. I was scared. So scared, in fact, I didn't want him to let go. 

And - you know something? He didn't. He ran so much trying to get me to learn how to ride that stupid bike. 

When I think about it now, it makes me laugh... seeing him in my mind's eye, hanging onto the back of my bike, me crying about not being able to do it, him not letting go because I didn't want him to. 

Of course, he eventually let go and I discovered I was able to do something I felt I'd never be able to do. 

I guess that's still what it's like today. He may not be here anymore but he had my back then, and he certainly still does now. Those hard days during training, I conjured up his memory - and there he was, supporting me, urging me to keep going, encouraging me to not give up. 

And I didn't. I completed all those long runs. I made it to the end of every route I'd planned. Hopefully that will be the case on Sunday as well. 

Come hang out with me on the course!
There is a very handy feature on the BMO Vancouver Marathon website, whereby you can look up my bib number and then "watch" me as I'm running... so a little creepy, but mostly cool, right?

The system updates each time runners cross the following marked distances on the course: 8.5 km, 10 km, 12 km, 15 km, 21.1 km (halfway!), 24 km, 29 km, 35 km, 40 km and, of course, 42.2 km a.k.a. the finish line. Plus, the weather looks like it's going to be great. Definitely hoping that the forecast holds out!

If you come out on Sunday, be sure to find me and say hi... especially if you donated, so that I can give you a big sweaty hug and thank you in person. 

© Vancouver International Marathon Society


Monday, May 1, 2017

And Now... I'm Speechless

There is now less than one week to go until the BMO Vancouver Marathon!

In the weeks and days leading up to the race, I've been feeling a little emotional - thinking about my dad and why I decided to do number five (finally)

And now... you've helped me reach my Team Diabetes fundraising target of $3,500 and I am totally and utterly speechless. 

More to come in the next few days but for now, let me just say: THANK YOU SO MUCH! I am overwhelmed by your generosity and support and well wishes, and am so grateful that so many of you decided to help Diabetes Canada and little ol' me. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

You guys are the best!