Don’t Call It a Comeback

Have you ever taken an unforced running break?  I just did, and it was pretty scary.  This was the last running pic taken of me before I took a forced 6 week-long running break.

The last running picture

Chest Pain Freaks Everyone Out

600/400/200 times 3 on a hot, humid, mid July night was what did me in.  I was on round two of this track workout, breathing heavily and working way too hard when I felt a twinge in the middle of my chest.  Thinking I should probably slow down a bit I took the last rep a little easier and went home to recuperate in the cool bliss of central air conditioning.  Three days later I still had dull chest pain but it came and went, so I thought I was just overtired.  Later that week I ran an 8 mile race up in Stowe, VT and somewhere in mile 6 after lots of short steep hills my chest discomfort came back.  When it was still there 20 minutes after the end of the race I consulted the nearby EMTs.  Next thing I knew I was whisked away into the ambulance with leeds put on my chest and undergoing an EKG.  So began my 6 week no running episode which was in part terrifying, confusing and stressful.

I didn’t have a heart attack during that race but my EKG results were abnormal and so I was ordered to go see my Doctor immediately.  Since my chest discomfort was brought on by exercise I was ordered to stop doing anything more strenuous than walking until the issues could be ironed out.  I also mentioned to my Doctor that along with the chest pain I had been unusually fatigued for the past several months.  We’re not talking a little tired after a long run, we’re talking about the kind of fatigue that makes you foggy, gives you trouble when you try to concentrate, and makes you want to lay down for hours after a run or workout.  In addition to the fatigue I was feeling chronically sore, like my muscles were never able to recover.  I remember asking my trainer, after one particularly painful week, if it was normal to be feeling so sore and so tired all the time.  Her response was short and sweet – nope, not normal.  Blood tests were ordered up along with some cardiology exams.

I’ve Got to Start Pumping Iron

To make a long story short, after extensive cardiology work ups it turns out that my heart is in pretty good shape.  I have a somewhat higher heart rate than other runners but it’s not out of the normal range and I have no heart disease issues or blockages that they could detect.  Clean bill of health as far as the old ticker is concerned.  What a relief!  The blood work results were a different story.  My Doctor wisely tested my iron levels as one of the primary signs of iron deficiency is fatigue.  Turns out I am borderline low on my blood iron levels and some of the other metrics associated with iron deficiency.  One result stood out in the extreme and that was my ferritin level.  My Doctor told me that the range for acceptable Ferritin levels are anywhere from 10.0 to over 100 but that anything below 30 or 40 would be considered low.  Mine was 2.9.  (Ferritin is a way to measure how much iron your body is storing.  Here’s a link to understanding Ferritin Levels: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ferritin-test/basics/definition/prc-20014449).  Given my test results I was ordered to start taking some heavy-duty iron supplements and told to eat more iron rich foods (hello juicy steak!).  After just a few short weeks on the Iron supplements I felt so much better, like the fog had lifted and I could function more normally again.  I was allowed to go back to running and advised to take it slowly at first.  For a couple of weeks I did a run / walk at a slow pace before building up to 3 miles and then to 6 for my “long” run.  I’m now back to running regularly and am feeling pretty good.  I had to drop out of the Baystate Marathon because my 6 week running break took place in the middle of the training cycle but I should have enough time to prepare to run the half marathon instead.  We’ll see how well I am doing with regards to my iron levels when I start doing longer runs again this weekend.

What I Learned on My 6 Week Running Break

I’ve learned a couple of important things from this scary episode.  First, when you are a woman over 40 and you tell a medical professional that you have dull chest pain they will all freak out.  Apparently women have very different heart attack signs than men do and many times those signs go unrecognized.  Check out signs of heart attacks in women here:  http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Heart-Attack-Symptoms-in-Women_UCM_436448_Article.jsp.

Second, you have to listen to your body.  When you are feeling chronically tired, sore, burned out, unable to complete workouts consistently, or are not improving even though you are working hard please do not assume it’s because you are lazy, or out of shape, or not well rested.  Go get yourself checked out by your Doctor because you may very well have a medical issue – these symptoms are not normal.

Third, don’t fear taking a running or exercise break.  I was very worried for most of my 6 week break that I’d turn back into my formerly lazy and inactive self.  (Of course, jetting off to Italy mid process and eating tons of Gelato / Pasta / Red Wine, while extremely fun, does not help to fully alleviate this particular fear).  When I was able to come back to running I found that I hadn’t lost that much fitness.  While I was a bit sore for the first couple days my legs still remembered how to run, my lungs still handled the effort and my body felt so good being active again.  I knew then that I’d be ok.  I’d never really stopped being an active person.  I was still a runner even though I had to take a break for a short period of time.  A friend said to me, you’ll be a runner and you’ll be active (barring any major injuries) as long as that’s what you believe you are.  Well now I’m a believer, so don’t call this a comeback because I never really left!

Additional Resources: 

I”m crediting my coaches at Runners Connect for helping me craft a plan to get back into running safely after my hiatus.  You can check them out here – there are lots of great articles and other content on the website.  www.runnersconnect.net

I’m also crediting my local running club and running friends for urging me to come back to group runs after I’d been gone for a while.  (I just went back for my first run with them in 2 months tonight – felt great to be back out there with the group.) You guys know who you are – thanks for the encouragement and for caring.  Runners make the best friends.

Lastly, if you need a distraction during your running or exercise break I highly recommend going to Italy and indulging in all the things you normally don’t let yourself do.  Sleep really late.  Eat gelato – twice a day if necessary.  Inhale pasta – I am still dreaming about that pasta with truffles.  Hang out with friends into the wee hours of the morning talking about nothing and everything – it’s balm for the soul.  If you can’t find your way overseas, here are a few gratuitous shots for you to enjoy.

Gelato you taste so good, I can't resist you

Gelato you taste so good, I can’t resist you

Pontevecchio at Sunset.  Florence

Pontevecchio at Sunset. Florence

Pasta Vongole

Pasta Vongole

Until next time, you all stay healthy ok?

Eating my words and evicting my inner mean girl.

Only recently have I been able to say to people that I am a runner. The reason that calling myself a runner feels so strange is that I envision runners as mentally tough, unabashedly positive, pain loving, crazy persistent winner types. I do not envision myself as this kind of person.   The reason why? My mean inner voice.
I have this voice in my head – you probably have one too, although I hope yours is a lot nicer than mine.  Sometimes the things she says are hurtful but true, and sometimes the things she says are just plain mean. Take today for example, I ran in a local 5k and was hoping to improve my 5k time.  This morning before the race my inner mean girl started to pipe in. “I feel tired today, I’ll never make it”. “It’s really hot out today and it’s going to be so hard – why would I want to put myself through this?” “I didn’t make my time goal in my last race 2 weeks ago and I probably won’t make it this time either.” I stood on the starting line listening to her go on and resigned myself to running this race anyway.  As you may have predicted, my mean girl voice spoke up and told me that I was tired (I was). That I was hot (I was). That I would like to stop and go sit in some air conditioning (I did.) That this was just too darn hard (sigh). So I stopped, literally stopped and walked for a little while.  At the end I managed a bit of a kick to pass the person in front of me because I did not want to be seen by friends and colleagues running lazily into the finish.  That’s when it really struck me that I didn’t just have a bad race today – I gave up. I quit. I let my inner mean girl talk me into doing what I really wanted to do, stop running.

The problem with this is that I have another voice in my head that wants to do hard things, that wants me to push myself, that wants to believe I have some ability to be a winner.  This nicer girl wants to be challenged, she likes competition, she wants to run with the faster group and thinks it’s possible that she can, she doesn’t think about win or lose she just say yes when an opportunity presents itself. Why don’t I listen to this girl more often?
It’s easier to believe the mean girl and just not try. If you fail because you really don’t try then it’s not truly a failure right? There’s still the possibility that you could have done something great, and so the fantasy can live on in your head.  If I want to be the person that I think I can be, then I need to evict my mean girl.
I need to make a place for my inner happy voice – it really can’t be that hard right? After all, I consciously made a choice to keep the mean girl around so I can, now, consciously make a choice to keep the nice one around too.  If I do this, then I really will be eating my words.  Never run a marathon? Ha! Doing the Baystate Marathon on 10/19/14. Never run under 25 minutes for a 5k? Ha! I’ll get there. Next race is next weekend – I won’t get to my 25 minute goal yet, it’s a work in progress, but I can work on pacing and not giving up. Let’s see what happens then, shall we?
If I see you out on a run or on the next race course – do me a favor – shout down my inner mean girl, will you? I have a feeling she will put up a fight.

Until next time, stay positive out there – ok??

Carlsbad Half Marathon: Sunning, Running, and Chafing

When you are in the midst of your very first home remodel what is the smart thing to do?  Why, go on vacation, of course!  So that’s what I did.  Ages ago my friend Lynn sent me a half serious message asking if I wanted to run the Carlsbad CA Half Marathon with her, and, since I always say yes when people ask me to run with them (probably because, until recently, it happened so rarely) I hopped online to register for the race.  Fast forward to January and the time had come!  Regardless of new job, or current home demolition project I hopped on a plane to San Diego.  I have to say, I think I made the right decision because when I was landing I saw this:

Ah Sweet Sunshine, How I Have Missed Thee

Ah Sweet Sunshine, How I Have Missed Thee

After the bitter cold we’ve been experiencing here I was certainly ready for some sunshine.  I made it a point to arrive a few days early in order to give myself time to get over the jet lag and to enjoy an extra few days in the sun.  Best decision I’ve made recently!

Beach Run Scenery

Beach Run Scenery

Later that day I was rewarded with a spectacular sunset and an even prettier sunrise the next morning.  Also, it should be noted:  No Filter on these babies, this is all nature….

Sunset Carlsbad State Beach

Hello Pretty

Hello Pretty

My trip to CA couldn’t be all sunsets and rainbows however.  Race day had come and it was time to test myself against the 13.1 course.  Lynn came up and joined me in the hotel the night before so that we could get an early start.

Getting ready to rock it

Getting ready to rock it

And, as we were en route I got this fantastic picture from the big guy himself:

Aww, thanks Buddy!

Aww, thanks Buddy!

The course could not have been more beautiful.  We ran right along the ocean for most of it and the energy of the spectators was incredible.  There were so many people cheering, volunteering, holding up funny signs and just generally supporting us that the first 7 miles flew by.

Start of the course  - I can see the ocean!

Start of the course – I can see the ocean!

Best scenery ever

Best scenery ever

Starting around mile 9 I became very fatigued.  The half marathon distance is still new to me as I have only run one prior to this.  I am not going to lie, it’s taxing on my body and once I hit mile 9 or 10 things start hurting – hips, knees, feet….you get the picture. I also start asking myself why I’m doing this.  Man, did I want to stop.  Every time I went through a water station I had to fight the urge to just sit on the curb.  For me races are really between my will power and the voice in my head that’s telling me to stop, that I can’t do this, that it’s too hard.  It would be so easy to just give up, and many times I have wanted to but once I’m out there, I really don’t have a choice. It’s either keep putting one foot in front of the other or DNF (Do Not Finish) – if I don’t finish, I don’t get a medal!  (Right now I really like getting the medals).  I slowed down quite a bit at the end and at mile 11 I kept repeating to myself “just 2 more miles, you can run that in your sleep, in fact you may have on several occasions!”  Finally, I hit the last downhill that marked the end of the race and I was so relieved.  On the last .2 miles I ran past a man in a wheel chair who was heartily encouraging the bedraggled, hot, and weary runners.  I nearly burst into tears at the sight of him.  Here’s someone who can’t run and I’m complaining because something that I get to do for fun is kind of hard. That momentum carried me to the end and I got to reunite with Lynn. (And yes, I got my medal!)

Finally it's over!  I look happier than I feel here...

Finally it’s over! I look happier than I feel here…

One note here about something serious that happens during long races sometimes – chafing.  It’s not pretty and it definitely hurts.  If you are going to run any kind of distance I suggest you invest in some good compression shorts, tights or Body Glide.  What I used on race day did not hold up under the heat and I was pretty miserable for the last 3 miles or so.

All in all I had a great time.  This was a fairly easy course- couple challenging hills but nothing too major – and I couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather.  Plus, I got to spend time with my friend and her lovely family.  (Note: if you want to check out the race for next year here’s the link: http://www.carlsbadmarathon.com/ )

One last breakfast before I boarded the plane

One last breakfast before I boarded the plane

Until next time – Stay Classy San Diego…

Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad State Beach