August 11, 2009

Gray Skies and a Heavy Heart

I've been ignoring my blog lately. I apologize profusely for the vast chasm of nothingness between posts. I'll explain what's been going on with me lately, and I promise, there's a valid reason why I've neglected things.

Tendonitis is currently the bane of my existence. It's brought my months and months of hard work to a screeching halt. This was a bitter pill for me to swallow, and has been a severe setback for me. I've spent many an evening drowning my sorrows in alcoholic beverages and horrible chick-flicks (DO NOT see "Confessions of a Shopaholic," I beg you.) There's also some family issues I've been dealing with, and I'll post about that later. Work, Life, and the usual daily drama have increased their stranglehold on me right now, and I've been grasping for breath at every waking moment.

All in all, I've been derailed in a major way. My head is foggy. My heart is gray and gloomy, like the Portland sky outside my window. My tears fall like fat raindrops, splashing on my concrete floors with an empty, hollow thud. I know I'm feeling sorry for myself and numbing my pain in unhealthy ways. I have to keep reminding myself that things will get better. I will resume my level of physical activity soon, and things will start looking up.

But it's so hard to keep your spirits up when stupid things are weighing them down. I have to move out of my loft. I have to take a further paycut at work. My feet hurt incessantly. I can't sleep. My grandmother is dying. The sky outside is cold an grey, just like my spirits.

I have to suck it up and keep moving onward and upward. Until then, I'm searching for that elusive silver lining.

July 26, 2009

Hotter Than July

This day is the stuff that dreams are made of. The sun hangs brightly in the crystal clear sky, warming the earth up to a toasty 95 degrees. We venture out of our loft, headed toward the waterfront for an afternoon adventure.

We park the car and walk toward the Willamette river. We buy wooden tokens, enough for several tastes of the best microbrew beers I've ever had. We meet friends underneath the tents, and wander about experiencing the thrill of discovery. The sun and suds make for a hazy, buzzed feeling that permeates the hot, sweaty tent. I've probably had the equivalent of three or four beers. The strong kind. We melt in the summer heat, drinking more beer to stay cool, the effervescent bubbles going straight to our heads.

Dusk settles, and the temperature drops to a more forgiving 83 degrees. We head out in search of Mexican food and, of course, more beer. We eat slow cooked pork carnitas, rice, beans, and handmade tortillas, washing each delicious bite down with our favorite IPA. We talk and laugh, discuss intense topics, and wax philosophical. The night is warm, young, and vibrant. We decide to head out towards Mt. Tabor park to catch a spectacular view of our city.

The crescent moon hangs brightly, big and yellow against the pitch black night sky. The warm summer breeze whips through our hair languidly. There are no clouds in the expansive sky, which appears to stretch on for an eternity. I inhale deeply, the cool, fresh air filling my lungs, and exhale long and slow. This beautiful stolen moment, shared with the man I adore, is when I feel more alive than I have in years.

I can't run. My Achilles tendonitis is preventing me from doing anything remotely athletic at the moment. I have to rest, rehabilitate, and listen to my joints, bones, and muscles. I believe this is the end of the line for me - no marathon in October. It pains me to write these lines, to throw up my arms and denounce all those months of hard work. But such is life.

I'm taking my time to heal, and stopping to enjoy life while I'm at it.

July 18, 2009

The King of Pain

In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out that my Achilles Heel is my "Achilles Heel."

I felt the swelling and tenderness in the Achilles tendon on my left foot after a 6 mile run this Tuesday. At first, I wondered if maybe I hadn't given myself enough recovery time after the half marathon. I stretched thoroughly and rubbed both my heels tenderly. The pain subsided, but something told me that this time, it was different. It was a little more intense, a little more lingering.

During sprints at the track on Wednesday, the pace leader remarked that my left foot must be feeling the pain, because I took shorter steps on that side. He was left heel throbbed angrily. I returned home and soaked in a mineral bath with kosher salt. I applied a cold pack, and was startled to see how inflamed my heels were, especially on the left side. When I got to work that day, I promptly called my acupuncture clinic.

I discovered that my acupuncturist is only in on Thursdays now. This didn't surprise me, since he's quite brilliant. When I developed tendonitis in my right wrist, a few of his treatments cured it straightaway. I'm sure he'll move upward and onward to some fancy clinic rather quickly, and then I'll never be able to get an appointment. For the time being, I'll get as much relief as possible for this condition that is turning out to be the bane of my existence.

Needles, electrodes, and a deep calf massage provided instant relief. The swelling went down a bit, and I pondered this Saturday's long run: 16 miles, flat. Hm. That will prove to be a challenge when walking is rather difficult at the moment.

I resigned to the fact that if I don't slow down and rehabilitate my tendons, I might cause irreversible damage. I have to miss this Saturday's long run. What will happen? Will my fitness evaporate overnight? Will I gain 5 pounds? Do I have to kiss my training goodbye?

Is this the end of Project Marathon?

I don't know the answer. All I know is that my tendons are inflamed, and it's exceedingly painful. I want to keep going (and I NEED to keep going at this stage in the game) but I have to listen to my body. It's tired. It's irritated and angry. Proper rest and rehabilitation right now just may allow me to continue forth to my ultimate goal. It would be a shame to have done such hard work for so long, only to have to abandon it. It kills me, but I need to take some time off to get better.

Here's my tendonitis treatment regimen:

Ice Massage: get an ice cube and rub it into the really painful spots. Do this for about 5 -6 minutes per heel.

Cold Pack: apply to heels directly, for 10 - 15 minutes.

Ibuprofen: 500 milligrams, on a full stomach.

Foam Rolling: calves, 10 minutes.

Stretching: calves, 10 minutes. Push wall, downward facing dog, runner's lunge.

Zeng Gu Shui: tincture, applied directly to Achilles tendons before bedtime.

Hydrate: grape juice for antioxidants, tons of water. No more coffee (sniff, sniff.)

*Repeat whole regimen twice daily, and apply cold packs 4 times daily.

I'll post an update next week with my results. Until now, I'm hurting but hopeful. Wish me luck.

July 13, 2009

Civic Duty

I've posted here and here about my experiences with the irrepressible Wildwood Trail. This weekend I adopted a more altruistic relationship with my nemesis. I volunteered a Saturday morning of my free time to work the aid station for this week's long run, a 16-mile jaunt through Wildwood Trail and down the path to Nature Trail. I figured it was the least I could do in exchange for all the wonderful fully supported training runs that the Portland Marathon Clinic provides, free of charge.

Due to a slight misunderstanding at the beginning, I had to walk 2 miles down the road to reach Aid Station #1. At least I got my legs moving, and gorgeous scenery to boot.

The table was completely set up by the time I arrived. Check out our gourmet spread.

That morning, someone had mentioned that one year, Runner's World Magazine rated Wildwood Trail the #1 marathon training trail in the US. I can see that.

As a Portlander, I feel incredibly lucky to have such amazing natural beauty at my fingertips.

Sunlight filtering in through the dense tree cover.

A long and winding road.

The path to Nature Trail, the second half of today's 16-mile route.

A fallen tree...

...and its mass of thick, gnarled roots.

It was interesting to witness the differences between the various pace groups. The first few groups of fast runners were obviously Aid Station experts. They burst forth from the trail entrance, sinewy and focused, spending only a few quiet minutes hydrating, eating pretzels, and refilling sports bottles. You could tell this was old hat for them. They thanked us graciously and were off quickly, moving single-file like a well oiled machine.

The subsequent groups stayed progressively longer, chatting with us and smiling, milling about and stretching their muscles.

The 5-hour plus marathon group were the stars of the show, because they were all heart. It was easy for the other "fast" groups, but this brave group ran on guts alone. They kept going with determination, making it all the way to the finish line. When they thanked us for being there to help, we saw the sincerity in their eyes.

Sometimes it feels good to be needed.

July 7, 2009

Going Halvsies

Okay, Sauvie Island, check it out: Maybe...maybe...we could go half on a marathon. What do you think?

To say that I did not plan well for race day is an understatement. My head hit the pillow no earlier than midnight the night before, my body spent and exhausted after 4 hours of flying and schlepping through airports. My belly ached, courtesy of having In-N-Out burger for dinner (Note to self: fast food does not equal adequate pre-race nutrition.) I overslept my alarm and woke with a start at 5:15 AM, desperately rushing to get out the door.

Reaching Sauvie Island in time for the 7:00 AM start was no small feat. Traffic came to a standstill near the St. John's bridge, and we inched along infuriatingly. I watched, anxious, as the minutes ticked by: 6:15, 6:20, 6:30, 6:40. When the clock struck 6:45 and I could see the start line, I practically fell out of the car and sprinted over.

I had a mere 15 minutes to register, pick up my number, and wait in the horrendous lines for the port-a-loo. The start time was delayed a few minutes, so I lined up at precisely the right moment. A young musician played a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful" on the tuba, and we were off!

I smiled as I took my first few strides. The start was slow, as the pack bunched up around me. I swished past some of the slower runners and watched as the crowd thinned out. It took me a couple of minutes to settle in, and then I remembered The Plan I'd hatched in my mind to run smart on this day.

A half marathon sounds hard if you think of it as 13.1 miles. If you break it up into two 10-K's, with a mile at the end, it seems more manageable. I planned to spend the first two miles settling in, keeping the pace up but not killing myself. After that, I needed to kick it up a notch and steadily increase my speed. After the first 10-K, I planned to stop for a few seconds and refuel. The last 10-K? Run like I stole something. The last mile? Finish strong. Whatever I do, don't bonk.

The first two miles were scenic and casual. My mind was all over the place, going over every subtle nuance of the road, and how I felt. Once I passed the 2nd Mile marker, something inside my brain clicked. My eyes narrowed. My jaw set. I picked a focal point and set my gaze intently on it: The Guy With The Red Shirt. My arms pumped, my feet turned over, and my body fell into a hypnotic rhythm. I engaged in a zone of mental clarity and focus unlike any other I've experienced. Throbbing music swirled in my ears and propelled my feet forward.

Nothing else matters right now
, I told myself. It's just you and this road. You will finish in two hours. You will do it.

I kept this intense focus locked throughout the first 10-K. I never let The Guy With The Red Shirt out of my sight. When I reached the 6 Mile marker, I stopped briefly as planned. I drank fluids, I ate a packet of chocolate Gu. I checked my time thus far: 58 minutes. Excellent, right in line with my goal. Gotta keep up the momentum. I took off for the second half, willing my focus to stick. Don't break the trance. Keep the body moving, pick up those feet. I remembered the levitation game I played as a kid, and adopted it as my mantra:

Light as a feather, stiff as a board.

If the first half was mostly Body, the second half was all Mind. I tried not to let myself give in to the pain. The sun beat down on my body relentlessly, and the bug spray mixed with sweat stung my eyes, but my feet and arms kept moving like clockwork. I forced myself to try and keep up the momentum, even though The Guy With The Red Shirt was so far ahead of me that I couldn't see him any more. People all around me eventually broke their stride and walked, but I didn't stop once. I pressed on. I kept the focus and mental clarity that had me in a trance.

The Guy With The Red Shirt finally stumbled into a walk, and I sailed right past him.

When you hit the 10 Mile marker, you can stop for a second and refuel, I promised myself. You can have a Gu packet and finish that last bottle of Cytomax. Just keep going. Just get there. Then you only have two miles left. Run fast, faster than you ever have.

I hit the marker, refueled, and took off for the home stretch. Everything hurt terribly, but I tried to breathe long and slow into the trouble spots. When I hit the last mile, The Plan told me to go all out. I tried desperately to pick up the pace, but I struggled. I could see the finish, just around a big bend, and thought I would never make it. Focus. Breathe.

A burst of adrenaline surged through my body when I approached the finish line. Hundreds of people lined up with cameras, signs, and smiles for their loved ones. I flew past the finish and slowed down to a walk. I hit "stop" on my heart rate monitor and wheezed heavily as I stared at the resulting data:

Miles run: 13.1
Time: 2:07:01
Calories Burned: 1477

They put a medal around my neck and I felt like a winner. They put strawberry shortcake in my hands and I realized I could eat whatever I wanted.

I had definitely earned it.