Saturday, September 24, 2016

Running and Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome

Celebrating my recovery with a beach sprint!
I really wanted to title this post "Recovered!!!" but I'm hoping that this title will be more searchable for runners struggling with mono and/or post-viral fatigue syndrome. My "Running After Mono" posts from 2012 still receive quite a few hits and many readers have commented that the posts have been helpful for them.

Onto the important stuff: I'm 100% recovered from mono/post-viral illness! It's so wonderful to have my normal life back. I never took my health for granted, but I'm even more appreciative of being able to do everyday things than I was before.

I came down with this illness on June 30 and spent most of the last three months unable to do much of anything other than lay on a couch. I had good days and bad days, but if I did too much activity on the good days, I would pay for it. I had to bail out of all of the races I had registered for, including two summer 5Ks, the Army 10-miler, and the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. There's not enough time to train! Here's a rough timeline of how the illness went:

June 30: Initial illness with sore throat and extreme fatigue (no fever or nausea)

July: Extremely tired and weak, with occasional dizziness. I had a few good days sprinkled in, which enabled me to go into work and do the book signings that I had arranged prior to getting sick.

First three weeks of August: Showed signs of improvement, but whenever I felt like I was getting
better, I would try to run, and then I'd feel like crap for the next few days. I quit my job in the middle of the month, so that gave me the ability to focus 100% of my mental energy on recovery.

August 24 - September 2: THE WORST! I attempted a short run on August 23rd, and that was clearly a mistake. I spent these two weeks barely leaving the house. I colored in adult coloring books, watched Netflix, and read. I was dizzy, tired, and had zero energy. I took frequent naps and slept 8+ hours each night.
This run on 8/23 was a mistake.

September 3: After 10 days of feeling like a zombie, I finally woke up feeling like a human.

September 4-9: Daily improvements. I started tracking my sleep and my steps using a FitBit. I still was primarily inactive, as the doctor had told me that once I started to feel better, I should still take it easy. Here are my daily step totals, which show how extremely sedentary I was. The only movement I did was walking around the house!

  • Sept. 4: 1,340
  • Sept. 5: 1,394
  • Sept. 6: 1,567
  • Sept. 7: 1,219
  • Sept. 8: 3,095 (I went shopping)
  • Sept. 9: 1,874

September 10: I realized that I felt 100% normal for the entire day! I had been worried that my shopping trip on the 8th would set me back, but it didn't. Finally I had my health back and feeling like a "normal" person was such a welcome change.

September 11-19: I felt 100% recovered every day, but I knew I still needed to take it easy. There were times when I felt a little tired, but they were infrequent, and even before I got sick I was often tired. I started a new job on September 12, and part of me was scared that I wouldn't be able to handle working full time. But the job energized me and I was able to focus really well. Starting a new job naturally gave me more steps, but I also started taking some slow walks. 
  • Sept. 13: 1 mile walk (5,984 steps for the day)
  • Sept. 15: 1.4 mile walk  (7,444 steps for the day)
  • Sept. 16: 1.4 mile walk (6,519 steps for the day)
  • Sept. 19: Walk on the beach (didn't measure it, but 6,363 steps for the day)
Beach walk!
As for the new job, I am the Vice President of Demand Generation (marketing) for a tech company. It's an amazing opportunity working with a talented team and I'm really excited to dive in. The commute is a little bit longer, but I am sure I will adjust.

September 20-now: With 10 days of complete health behind me, I decided it was time to very gradually ease my way back into running. Greg and I were at the beach and it was in the upper 70's and humid every day. So my only run at the beach was more of a walk with 2-minute jog breaks! Greg and I drove home from the beach the next day (Wednesday), allowing me the opportunity to rest before going for another jog/walk.
  • Sept: 20: 4 times (3 minute walk, 2 minute jog)
  • Sept. 21: Rest
  • Sept. 22: 4 times (4 minute jog, 1 minute walk)
  • Sept. 23: 5 times (4 minute jog, 1 minute walk)
  • Sept. 24: Rest
Yes, it was my second week on the job and I took a vacation! Greg and I had planned the trip months ago, and it was nice to digest all the information I had learned in the first week.

I am confident that I am completely out of the woods now. On top of running yesterday, I attended my 20-year high school reunion in the evening, which involved a lot of walking (we took a tour of the school) and being outside in the heat to watch a football game. I didn't sleep all that well last night, but I still woke up feeling really good!

All in all, the illness lasted 11 full weeks, and then another week before I started to ease myself back into running. This is a 12-week training hiatus, which is the longest I've ever had since I started running. Even when I had mono in 2012, I didn't take this much time off from running because I had periods of feeling really good and was able to run. I even ran a 13-miler in 80+ degrees during my last bout with mono! That was before I realized it was mono, though.

Running feels great! 
The 2012 illness was more polarized. I either felt completely normal/healthy, or extremely ill. There were some days when I felt in-between, but typically it was one extreme or the other. This recent illness was more of a constant dragging fatigue. At no point could I have run 13 miles, and when I tried to run even one mile, my body revolted.

How does it feel to run again? Great! I can tell that I am out of shape, but the good news is that the motion of running still feels really natural to me. I don't care what my pace is, and none of my runs this week have felt strained or even challenging. I didn't feel like I was pushing myself at any time, which is good! 

I'm going to work with my coach to try and get back into shape. I know that it's going to be difficult at first because I won't be able to hit the same paces that I used to hit. But I'm really looking forward to the fact that I will see progress on a weekly basis! When you're super fit, the gains you make are small. But when you're coming back, there's way more room for improvement, so I'm just going to enjoy that aspect of it. 

In terms of races, I still want to be ranked by RunWashington for the 30-39 year old age group for 2016. To do this, I need to run at least 3 of their "ranked" races by the end of the year (You need 6 total and I have already run 3). The good news is that of the 6 races that you are required to run, only your best 3 times are used to determine your ranking. So as long as I cross 3 finish lines by the end of the year, I qualify to be included in the rankings. Slow times for these races won't affect my current ranking. Of course, I had been hoping to get faster and improve prior to getting sick, but now I will settle for just being able to use the times I have already logged. I'll definitely run the Turkey Trot that I do every year, and probably a Christmas-themed 5K in December.

Speaking of RunWashington, they wrote about my book Boston Bound in their fall issue. Here is the link to the article, which talks about three local authors who write about running.

In other book news, Bustle published an article that I wrote about how sports psychology helped me qualify for the Boston Marathon. I'm not a huge fan of all the animated gifs they added, but it's still nice to see my work in a high-profile publication.

My next few weeks will be focused on diving into my new job and gradually rebuilding my fitness.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Barriers to Boston: 4 Ways to Cope

As runners strived to qualify for Boston 2017 within just days of the qualifying window closing, two rather frustrating marathon mishaps occurred. On Sunday, August 28, runners were taken on a nearly 1-mile detour during the Santa Rosa marathon. At the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon in PA on September 11, runners were "derailed" by as much as 10 minutes due to a slow train crossing.

In both cases, runners who had trained to qualify for Boston missed their times due to circumstances beyond their control. The B.A.A. is not accepting adjusted times because they need to be able to maintain consistent standards, and there is no way to know who would or would not have qualified if the detour or train stop didn't happen.

My reaction to these incidents four years ago would have been something dramatic like "That's so unfair! How devastating! Those runners must be so upset!" And while I still see these incidents as unfortunate, I realize that shit happens, and if you run a lot of races, you are bound to experience something of this nature. Ideally it's not during your last-minute Boston attempt, but it shouldn't be all that surprising that mistakes happen occasionally. 

I've personally experienced both of these situations. In terms of the detour, I ran the Love Rox Half Marathon a few years ago and the leader took a wrong turn which added at least an extra half mile for those in the front of the pack. Not only did it add distance, but we actually had to run all the way up a staircase, and then back down it, which was not part of the course. There was actually a different staircase that was part of the course, but due to the detour, we ran an extra set. I was new to mental toughness and I initially let this really bother me, but as the race progressed and obstacles continued to pop up, I started taking them in stride and just focusing on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible.

In terms of having to come to a complete stop, there was a bomb scare during the Marine Corps Marathon 10K a few years back.  Runners at the front of the pack had to stop for 10 minutes. I
The 2012 MCM 10K 
stopped for about 2-3 minutes. I was actually in the process of making a comeback from mono at the time, so I wasn't really focused on my finish time, but I think I would have been pretty upset if I was hoping to set a PR that day.

One of the benefits of being an experienced runner is that you're no stranger to mishaps on the course and you learn to deal with them. In light of these, here are my recommendations for how to handle these situation during the race, and how to cope with them after they've sabotaged your race goal.

During the Race

1. Ignore what doesn't matter. When racing, your focus should be on getting the finish line as quickly as possible. When unforeseen obstacles arise, make an immediate determination if they are something you need to pay attention to. For example, if you see ice on the course, you will need to pay attention to that by adjusting your footing or making sure you dodge the ice. If it starts pouring down rain, you may not like it, but there's not much you can do about it, so the trick is to ignore it and keep running. So when the unexpected happens in your next race, quickly determine if you have to make an adjustment, and if not, ignore it. Don't let it take any of your mental energy away.

2. Stay emotion-neutral. If the obstacle is big enough, like the two examples in recent marathons, you will realize that your time goal will be impacted. Tuck those emotions aside and save them for later. It's okay to be disappointed that you missed your goal, but don't let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You still want to run your best possible time in spite of the obstacle. When I was running Love Rox, I realized that a PR wouldn't be happening fairly early in the race. My initial reaction was to give up, but then I snapped into a tougher version of myself and set those emotions aside and continued to push really hard. Mentally strong athletes continue to work hard and do their best even when they know they aren't going to achieve their original time goal.

After the Race

3. Find satisfaction in your performance. While you may be bummed that an injustice was done to you, you can still walk away with a worthwhile experience and a performance you are proud of. Instead of focusing on the fact that you missed your goal (something you couldn't control) focus on the things that you could control, and that you did a good job of. It's not easy to mentally pull yourself back together after having to come to a complete stop. But if you are able to do that, that's a huge win, and something that you can pull on in future races. I'm really glad I had my Love Rox experience because now when a race throws something at me, I know I can deal with it.

4. Let go and move on quickly. The sooner you accept that you didn't make your goal, the sooner you will have more mental energy to focus on the next race. It's not productive to continue to feel "robbed" for days or weeks on end. Find some humor in it. Look at it as character-building. And realize that this type of thing does happen. It's rare, but it really is part of the sport. The fact that two mishaps happened within weeks of each other at these "last chance" marathons demonstrates that shit does happen. It's easy to think thoughts like: This is so unfair. I deserved to get into Boston. Realize that many people train hard and are physically capable of running a BQ time, but don't actually do it. Luck is involved and everything has to lineup on race day for an optimal result. Accept this as the nature of the sport.

These types of incidents all fall into the bucket of things you cannot control. I couldn't control the fact
Boston weather: not in my control!
that I came down with mono (or a mono-like virus) this summer. I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't taking as good of myself as I could have been when the illness struck, but overall I see it as something that happened to me that I couldn't control. The weather is another big one. If Boston 2016 weren't so warm, I'm confident that I would have qualified for 2017. But I didn't and I was able to accept that and move on. 

Originally, I thought I would have two good chances at qualifying for 2018: Indianapolis Monumental this fall and then another marathon in the spring. Now, I only have one chance and I'll be going into the training cycle completely out of shape instead of in my best shape ever like I was in June. Even though an illness is completely different from being stopped by a train, both things fall into the same "cannot control" category, so it's no use focusing on it.  It is only natural to be disappointed, though.

What can we, as runners, control? We can control which races we choose to run. I never returned to Love Rox and I now avoid races that are in their inaugural year if I am trying to PR. Older, more established races, have a better chance of being well organized and these obstacles being minimized. But even still, some things are beyond the control of the race director. The Cherry Blossom 10-Miler ended up being 9.4 miles last spring due to a forced re-routing. And then there was the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. So, really, you have to go into every race prepared for whatever it could throw at you, and focused on getting to the finish line no matter what may occur.

Finally, this is why it's good to have "process goals" like executing the race strategy, nutrition, hydration, pushing hard, etc. Because you may miss your "outcome goal" for reasons beyond your control, but still run the best race of your life. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Pacing Myself

I'm still dealing with this mono/post-viral illness, and I've gained some new perspective on it within
My coloring
the past week or so. For those of you who are just tuning in, I've been sick since June 30 and unable to live my life normally.

On Wednesday, August 24th, I had a major relapse. For the next 10 days, I felt like a complete zombie. I did very little except for watch Netflix and color in an adult coloring book. There was no noticeable improvement from day to day and I was beginning to feel like I would never recover. It basically felt like it was always 2 hours past my bedtime. Or that feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night and walk to the bathroom-- your heady is cloudy, you move slowly, and all you want to do is get back into the bed.

For the first five of these days, I was trying to be so strong that I wouldn't allow myself to get upset. Instead, I just tried to ignore it and numb out the feelings. But then, it all came out uncontrollably at the worst possible time. I called my mother who was very sympathetic and reminded me that being strong doesn't mean that you never feel sad or that you never cry. In fact, its in those moments where you realize just how strong you are.

In a previous post, I referred to these as moments of weakness, but now I'm beginning to see how they can turn into moments of strength. A strong person acknowledges when things are hard, and acknowledges that they feel angry, frustrated, etc. A strong person has healthy ways of expressing and releasing these feelings. I was trying so hard to be "strong" throughout this illness, but now I know I simply need to try easy. This situation sucks and I'm not going to be able to be positive 100% of the time, or even 90% of the time. Ironically, once I gave myself permission to not be little miss sunshine all the time, I felt way better.

After this realization/catharsis, I still felt like crap physically for the next five days, but I was in a better spot mentally.

As I said in my most recent post, I've put running on the back burner. It's much easier to simply focus on getting healthy than to give myself artificial deadlines for when I return to running. And honestly, it's really difficult to keep picking goal marathons, only to realize that I'm still not able to train, so those aren't going to happen. After feeling like crap for so long, all I really want is to feel like my normal, healthy, self.

Another masterpiece!
On Friday, Sept. 2, I went to the Red Door Spa with my mother and sister. I normally don't splurge like this, but since a spa was pretty much the only activity I could "do" outside of the house, I figured it was worth it. I was hoping I would walk out of there feeling like a new, rejuvenated person, but unfortunately I was just as exhausted leaving the spa as when I had entered.

But lo and behold, when I woke up on Saturday morning, I felt like a human being! For the first time in 10 days, my entire body didn't ache and the haze had lifted from my head. Instead, my new symptom was sleepiness. Instead of feeling tired-exhausted, I felt tired-sleepy, and so for the past three days I have been sleeping about 10 hours a day.

Looking at the big picture of this illness and trying to find a silver lining, I do feel like I am teaching myself how to take better care of myself. I'm realizing that stress is truly the enemy when it comes to getting enough sleep, and that sleep is super important for health and well-being. I'm prioritizing things like drinking water, eating vegetables, and relaxing, and I'm learning to slow down the pace of my life. The doctor told me that I needed to "pace myself" and I think that goes beyond recovering from this illness. Once I return to working full time, running, and continuing to promote the book, I need to realize that none of these things are as important as my health, and keep things in perspective.

The coloring thing really works for me because I really enjoy it (especially choosing the color palette) and it allows me to be engaged in something that's not stressful. It satisfies my need to be accomplishing something but without stressing me out or putting a physical strain on me.

Ever since Saturday, things have been looking up. I've been feeling noticeably better, but I haven't capitalized on that to do a million things. I've been wearing my Fitbit to monitor my steps and my sleep to make sure that I'm not doing too much stuff around the house. I consider it a victory to be able to make a smoothie for Greg while he's running and to fold laundry. Even writing this blog post is not as taxing as it was to write the previous one. I'm not going on "athletic" walks with running shoes and workout gear, but for the past few days I've taken leisurely walks out of my front door lasting no longer than five minutes. I think the early morning air is refreshing, and it's probably not good being stuck inside all day.

My spirits are generally pretty good, and I'm learning how to be disciplined in pacing myself. I want these habits to stick with me as I get healthier. I definitely do not want to go through an illness like this again. At least not during the next 20 years.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Accepting My New Reality

Imagine you are finishing a race. You're pushing as hard as you can and you know you only have to endure the pain for a few more minutes. The finish line is in sight. All you need to do is push as hard as possible and endure the pain for just a little bit longer, and then relief and glory will come.

But all of a sudden, the finish line disappears and reappears much farther down the road. What you thought was just a few more minutes now has doubled or tripled. You try to stay focused on getting to the new finish line, but you're confused and demotivated because you have to slow down since you used every bit of energy you had on what you thought was the final kick. But you don't give up and you keep moving toward it. . . until it disappears for good. There are still course marshals telling you which way to go, but absolutely zero indication of how much farther it is. 

And then you hear the spectators telling you that it's your own fault that the finish line keeps moving father away. They tell you that if you had slowed down and accepted that you aren't as fast of a runner as you think, then you would have probably finished the race awhile ago. It's because you're pushing too hard that the finish line keeps moving. 

This goes against everything that you are naturally inclined to think and do. You're someone who likes to push herself. You're someone who always gives 100%. You're someone who has goals and dreams and is highly motivated to accomplish them. You can do almost anything you set your mind to.  Typically, if you work hard you get rewarded. But now, when you work hard, you get punished.

I have officially re-named my illness "DSGP: Do Stuff, Get Punished." Let me explain.

I turned a major corner at the beginning of last week. For the first time in 7 weeks, I actually felt like a human being!

  • On Wednesday, August 17th, I walked 1.2 miles around my neighborhood and I had plenty of energy left over. 
  • I did the same thing the next day, and I felt even better and stronger. 
  • On Friday, August 19th, I played it safe and didn't do much of anything. 
  • On Saturday, I still felt healthy and walked 2 miles around my neighborhood. Then, I went to a book signing at a local running store.
  • Sunday morning arrived and I still felt healthy and energized. So I tried to jog. I went to the track and jogged for 8 minutes, walked 2 minutes, jogged 8 minutes. This did not feel challenging or tiring. 

Sunday,  August 21
All of this was very encouraging. I even asked my coach to give me a schedule to follow for the week of August 21st. On Monday, I didn't run or walk, but I did quite a bit of housework: I vacuumed, I cleaned out the pantry, I did laundry, and I did dishes. On Tuesday, I woke up feeling great and so I attempted 3 times (10 minute jog, 2 minute walk). Everything felt pretty good, but I did cut the last jog portion short because my legs started to fatigue. I was still encouraged by this because I ran for 26 minutes and afterwards I felt good.

BUT. . . Wednesday morning came and it was as if a truck had run over me in the middle of the night. My whole body ached. Every movement was a strain. Clearly, jogging 26 minutes--with walk breaks--- at a snail's pace was too much. Even though I thought was almost fully recovered, I was not. The finish line was so close! But I didn't make it there. And now it's out of sight. I have no idea when I will recover. Nobody (not even the doctors) can tell me. But what the doctors can tell me is that it's my fault for making it worse. Sure, I had no way of knowing it was too much because I felt perfectly fine while I was doing these activities, but had I not done them, I would probably be fully recovered by now. DSGP.

I saw an infectious disease specialist yesterday to get some clarity on my symptoms and to make sure it really was mono. He told me that there are about 20 viruses that are very similar to mono, so doctors typically diagnose "mono." There's not point in testing to figure out which virus because there's no cure and treatment (rest) is the same for all of them. He said that my sensation of leg weakness was actually a balance issue caused by inflammation of my inner ears. He performed a few tests and told me that my legs were actually very strong, but when you don't have full balance capability, you feel unstable. I described it like jello. He told me to take an antihistamine for the ear/balance issue and that I needed to rest even when I felt like I didn't need it.

It's much easier to not run when you are physically incapable or when you have an obvious injury.
Friday, August 26
But when you feel energized and healthy enough, but still aren't supposed to run, it's even more of a challenge.

In light of all this, I have decided the best approach is to just forget about running entirely. I'll make no plans and I won't assume that I will be able to run the Indianapolis half. I won't assume that I will be able to run the Turkey Trot. I won't even assume that I will qualify for Boston 2018. This is not negativity, this is realism. This is my new reality.

My sports psychologist told me that the people who are the most mentally strong learn how to accept their new reality. I had been clinging to the idea that I would be able to start running again in September. And I actually don't really know when I will start to run again and because of that it's best to not even think about running period. 100% of my mental energy goes to resting and recovering. For the foreseeable future, there is no running.

There are no guarantees in life. Literally one hour before my first symptom struck me, I posted this to Boston Bound's Facebook page:

"I'm happy to have logged 1,236 injury-free miles in the first half of the year."

I never took my health for granted. I was thankful for every pain-free, injury-free, illness-free day that I was given. And I was given three full years of health. Which is more than many people get and it's what enabled me to attain such a high level of fitness. Maybe I will get there again, maybe I won't. The point is, I really can't afford to think about it and it's not helpful to think about it. I'm accepting my new reality.

My new reality is that it's impossible for me to know how much activity is too much until 24 hours later. And by "activity" I mean simple things like doing the dishes, going to the grocery store, doing laundry. Just because I feel well enough to do "xyz" it doesn't mean that I am well enough. My weekend plans include coloring in an adult coloring book. Having sat up straight to type this blog post has already exhausted me. Please excuse any typos!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Moments of Weakness

I've come a long way in gaining mental strength over the past eight years. There was a time when I had very little of it; I didn't understand it. I simply let my emotions control me without feeling empowered to control them. There was a time in my life when I trying numbing everything out, but that's not a long-term strategy.

You have to walk before you can run.
Running and working with a sports psychologist have taught me the importance of mental strength in ways I never expected. And even though I wrote a book about how much I've learned and how far I've come, I'm still not perfect at it. Nor will I ever be. Over the past seven weeks with mono, my mental strength has been tested over and over again. Most days I pass the test. Actually, every day I pass the test. But there are individual moments when I cave.

Backing up a bit, I came down with mono on June 30 and I haven't run since. I did two very short "test runs" and neither of them ended well. I guess that's to be expected, since my legs feel weak when I walk. And in fact, after each of those runs I was able to accept that I wasn't ready to get back into running quite yet, and moved on. For me, mono has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Sometimes I feel almost normal, and other times I feel completely exhausted, weak and/or dizzy.

Throughout all of this, I've been about 95% positive, but I would be lying if I said I didn't have any breakdowns. And that's what this post is about.

It starts with one negative thought. For example "I was in the best shape of my life and a 3:20 marathon was in sight. I may never get back there." And then that thought spirals into another, even more negative thought: "What if I never recover and I have to deal with this forever?" And then comes thinking about how amazing my life was this past spring before I got sick, and thinking that will never happen again. And so on, until I'm all worked up into tears.

I'm pleased to say this is not an everyday occurrence, but it has happened several times. So what to do? Here's my thinking:

I remind myself that mono is tough.
No matter how mentally strong I am, it's unrealistic that I am going to be little miss sunshine all the time. It is okay to feel frustrated, sad and disappointed. Mono has taken a lot from me (my entire summer and fall racing season) so there's a bit of mourning that's to be expected.

I remind myself that NOT running is harder than running.
I love a good challenge. And for me, running is usually the "challenge" in my life. I miss that. So, I simply remind myself that I'm still being challenged every day (like how running would challenge me) but just in a different way. Instead of powering through tough set of intervals on the track. Or suffering through a long run in the heat, I'm battling illness. It's a different kind of fight.

I think of all the things I can do to help my situation.
Feeling depressed and defeated actually has physical consequences. I'm only making things worse for myself if I succumb to negative thought patterns. One of the best things I can do is NOT think about mono. What do I think about instead? Things I can do to help me recover as quickly as possible (like eating healthy, getting enough rest, reducing stress) and things that I can do in spite of having mono (like blogging, celebrating my wedding anniversary with Greg, and seeing friends).

I also helped my situation in a huge way by removing a major source of stress from my life. This particular "thing" was keeping me up at night and occupying way too much head space. So, now that's gone and I'm truly free to focus on my health without worrying about other things.

How am I feeling these days? I was starting to feel really good the weekend of August 7th. The
doctor had cleared me to go for walks, so I walked around my block once on Saturday, once on Sunday, and then twice on Monday. (It's about 0.6 mile for one lap). I went to work on Monday, and a few hours in, I felt horrible. Like I needed to lie down immediately. That wave of sickness passed after 30 minutes, but I ended up leaving work at 3:00 because I was exhausted by then.

6-Year wedding anniversary at the Ritz Carlton
By Tuesday morning I was feeling strong again, so I figured I would do a test jog: jog for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute jog for 5 minutes. Even though there was still weakness in my legs, the running felt decent. I was really optimistic! But about an hour later, I found myself crashing and needing to sleep. And then the next four days were really bad, and I stopped walking around the neighborhood and stayed home from work.

On Saturday, August 13th, Greg and I celebrated our six-year anniversary by going to the Ritz Carlton where we spent our wedding night. That's when I snapped out of feeling awful and suddenly felt way more energized. I honestly think there's a mental connection. I got out of the house, was celebrating something special. I was laughing a lot, and it was really good for me. I definitely turned a corner.

On Monday I resumed walking around the neighborhood. Just one lap, and I felt decent for the remainder of the day. I didn't walk on Tuesday, but this morning I polished off two laps (1.2 miles) and right now I am feeling relatively good. So essentially it's been up and down and up and down. I'm seriously hoping that I am done with the long periods of lethargy (like last Tuesday-Friday), but there's really no way to know.

TimeHop from 4 years ago.
I'm going to see an infectious disease specialist next week. Even though my original doctor diagnosed me with mono, I just want to make sure there's nothing else going on. What scares me the most is the weakness in my legs. I know that there can be long-lasting complications with mono, and if that's what's happening, I would rather know sooner than later. Also, why am getting mono AGAIN? Is it connected to running too hard in the heat? Maybe the new doctor will have some ideas. Thanks to the TimeHop app, I am reminded that my situation 4 years ago was very similar to my current one, and I came out of that with no lingering affects. It did, however, take nearly 3 months.

I'll continue to do my best to stay mentally strong, and now that the other source of stress has been removed, I am cautiously optimistic about my recovery.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How To Fit a 5K into Your Marathon Training

Before I started working with my current coach, I never understood how people ran 5Ks while marathon training. 5Ks usually fall on the weekends, and that interferes with a weekend long run. So my assumption was that people who ran 5Ks during marathon training were skipping a long run, or they were super elite and able to do both. Or- they were heading down the injury path.

Once I started working with my current coach, I began to see how shorter faces fit into a marathon training schedule.

Why race a 5K while training for a marathon?
Semper Fi 5K, May 2016

5K races are great for testing your speed and practicing your ability to push through discomfort. They also don't beat you up as much as longer distances. Plus, they are fun and they can be confidence boosters too. Racing at such a fast pace will also make your marathon pace feel easier. If you are participating in a local race series, running frequent 5Ks can help you reach those goals as well.

I think that the best time to race 5Ks is early in the cycle. Your long runs aren't too long, and if you have a good base of speed early in the cycle, all you need to do is extend the amount of time you can sustain that speed. This is what my coach calls stamina. Before I got hit with mono, my long runs were no longer than an hour and 45 minutes, and my speed workouts were all intervals. Nothing at marathon pace, and no tempo runs.

Running a 5K in the weeks leading up to the marathon can also be good for sharpening the legs and getting you into race mode.I wanted to run a 5K two weeks out from Boston, and my coach approved this. It was a Friday evening 5K, and I was scheduled to run 24 miles the following day. However, it ended up being 70+ degrees and windy the night of the 5K, and I thought the heat would be an additional strain on my non-acclimated body, so I nixed it.

Saturday 5K
If you are racing a 5K or even a 10K on a Saturday, you can do your long run on Sunday. Your legs will be tired, and you don't want to overdo it, so the key is to keep the long run slow, especially at the beginning. The long run, if done slowly enough, can actually serve as a nice recovery from the race. The long run should be a little slower than your typical long run, but it will still serve its purpose of training you for endurance. Prior to working with my coach, my rule was that I would always take a rest day after a race, no matter what distance. But part of what helped me get to the next level was realizing that I didn't necessarily need complete rest in order to stay injury-free.

If your 5K falls on a Friday (I've seen a lot of Friday night 5Ks) then it's still okay to run the long run on Saturday or Sunday.

Sunday 5K
If the race is on a Sunday, I do not recommend doing your long run on Saturday. I've seen people do this and I realize that there are many coaching approaches out there. But my perspective is that if you are running a race, you should actually race it to the best of your ability, so you should be somewhat rested/tapered going into it. If you did your long run on Saturday and you want to race a 5K on Sunday just for fun, then that's possible, but many runners have difficulty holding back during a race. The race may not be an accurate indication of your fitness level if you just did your long run the day before.

Run Your Heart Out 5K, Feb. 2016
So if you "tapered" for your Sunday 5K, when do you do the long run? According to the plans I've seen from my coach, the following Tuesday. But it would be a shorter long run. So depending where you are in your training cycle, if your long runs are typically 15-16 miles, you might run 10 miles the following Tuesday. When I was training for Boston, I ran a half marathon on Sunday, and the following Tuesday, I was prescribed a 12-mile run.  I ran it at a pace of 9:09 instead of my typical 8:45, and all was good.  By doing your long run the following Tuesday, you've essentially swapped a speed workout with a long run, and the only sacrifice you made was that the long run was a little shorter. But that's balanced out by the fact that your speed work was a little harder.

If you run a 5K any other day of the week, you can pretty much swap it out for a speed workout. Of course all of this assumes that you're running long runs on weekends. Most training plans feature weekend long runs for the primary fact that people go to work during the week and can't be running 2+ hours. It's convenient. I once read an article that said the ideal length between long runs is 9 days, not 7. But most plans use 7 days for convenience. For people who run 90+ miles as week, then they've already made the decision to fit whatever length run they need to into their daily lives.

Race Strategy
My coach always tells me that I should race 5Ks hard, and not hold back. And that's why I always get a mini-taper. BUT, it all comes back to WHY you are racing a 5K to begin with. If it is to practice pushing hard and to get a confidence boost, then I think this mini taper and slight sacrifice in mileage is worth it. If you just want to run a 5K because it's fun or for a tempo workout, then a mini-taper isn't really needed.

All of this talk of running is getting me really excited about my return to training. I'm definitely on the mend and I actually walked around the neighborhood this morning (0.6 miles) and I felt decent. The problem is that I can feel weakness in my legs, particularly in my knees. I still feel a bit jello-like. I know that this phase of mono can last a really long time and I don't want to be stuck in it for another month. So, I will continue to take it one day at a time.

Anyway, here's hoping that I will be able to run some 5Ks during my next marathon training cycle, whenever that may begin!

Learning to walk again! I believe I've waited long enough. . . 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hitting Reset: My Month Without Running

I have not run for the entire month of July. I got sick on June 30 and was diagnosed with mono about two weeks later. This is not my first experience with mono as an adult, I also had mono 4 summers ago, and it lasted for three full months. My theory on why I got it this time is that my immune system was weakened due to stress and lack of sleep, so the opportunistic virus reared its ugly head again.

I'm writing this section primarily for my own benefit. In case I ever get mono again, I can look back and compare my experience. My blog posts from 2012 were extremely useful this time around. 

The first 7 days were like a traditional illness. Sore throat, exhaustion, and pressure behind the ears. The level of exhaustion, however, was very similar of that to my 2012 mono. Once I had enough energy to walk around and function semi-normally, I was extremely weak. I could not walk at my normal pace and I felt extremely limp. For the past three weeks, it's been a teeter-totter of ups and downs. At my best, I'm able to drive and go to work, although walking around is a challenge. At my worst, I want to stay in bed because any kind of movement feels like a strain on my body. My throat sometimes still hurts in the middle of the night, often waking me up and keeping me up.

I have not had any nausea, digestive issues, fever, or nasal congestion. I have noticed a decreased appetite, but that could be because I'm used to eating an amount of food that would fuel 40-60 miles of running per week. That said, I've lost about 3 pounds and am officially "underweight." I do, suspect, however, that part of this weight loss could be due to eating a diet primarily of fruits and vegetables. 
Smoothie with strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, almond milk

Greg and I recently bought a new blender and I've been "drinking" a ton of fruits and vegetables every day, but also making sure I'm eating protein from things like eggs, yogurt, nuts, and fish. I've also drastically reduced the amount of sweets I've been eating. I know that sugar robs the body of its nutrients, so instead of eating sweets 2-3 times a day, I'm only having ice cream after dinner a few times per week. With all the fruit I've been having, though, I don't crave sweets very often.

Last week I worked from home every day except for Wednesday. I think not having to go into the office helped because I felt pretty good yesterday and so far this morning. I will attempt to go into work tomorrow. My lingering symptoms are weakness and dizziness. Although I was feeling some extreme fatigue on Friday.

I actually think I coped with mono relatively well in 2012, and I'm coping even better this time around. About halfway through the month I simply made the decision that I wasn't going to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon (hopefully the half) and it took a lot of the "pressure" to recover off. I decided I would just take my time, not worry about my fall race season, and focus on getting better. I would like to run the Rehoboth Beach Marathon on December 4th, but I've also accepted the possibility that I might not be able to run a marathon until the spring, depending on how long recovery takes.

I also had to pretty quickly accept that I will have to rebuild fitness and it will take time. My original goal for Indy was 3:20, and now I'm not even sure if that will happen in the Spring. I'm not saying it can't, I'm simply saying that I don't know when it will happen, and I'm okay with it. Part of me actually enjoys the excitement that comes from rebuilding after an injury-- making a "comeback." I hit the reset button and everything is a PR again. If I do a 4-mile run, it will be a huge accomplishment instead of something I take for granted. Every run will be a celebration of health instead of something that's part of the daily routine. And I'll know that every time I run, I will be closer and closer to returning to my previous level of fitness. 

It is a bit like coping with loss. I was fortunate enough to train for 3 straight years without major illness or injury. The only breaks I took were scheduled ones post-marathon. As a result, I attained a level of fitness I never thought possible. Initially the idea of "that's over now" was really upsetting, but once I accepted it, as well as the idea that it could take 6+ months to get back to where I was, I felt some emotional relief. I think it all comes down to the pressure I put on myself to be a fast runner. If the pressure isn't there, then I feel more free. I already have enough job stress to cope with while I'm sick, so I don't need to add any more stress to that load.

So I'm really in no rush to get better. Of course, I want to get better ASAP, but I don't have any deadlines I'm trying to meet and I've accepted that I may not be able to train again for another 4-6 weeks. In fact, my coach isn't giving me any training schedules until I'm fully recovered. As a result, I'm not feeling tortured. There are days when I really, really, REALLY want to go out and run. To put the shoes on my feet. To wear my favorite running clothes. To sweat. To "Instagram" a run. But it's more out of frustration than feeling like I have to maintain my fitness. 

Life on Hold
What's harder to cope with than not running is that I haven't been able to live my life for the past month. I've had to cancel and bail out on many things. Dinners with friends. Work events. Races. A baby shower. My niece's birthday. A "Solidcore" class with two of my friends. And I felt horrible for doing this, but I was supposed to represent Generation UCAN at an event, but I bailed out at the last minute because I felt so crappy. Plus, who wants to take UCAN samples from someone with mono? My health needs to come first. I hate backing out on commitments, but if I don't, I'm not going to get the rest I need to recover.

I sometimes feel depressed when I look at photos of myself from June-- both running photos and everyday photos. I miss my life. I feel like I'm not really living my life and I want it back. And there are times when I feel like I'm never going to be well again. Like I can't even imagine what "normal" feels like. Weakness and exhaustion are my new normal.

Greg runs the =PRR= Birthday Bash 5K
Greg ran a 5K last weekend-- one that I was registered for as well. I came out to cheer him on but it was so hot out that I struggled to walk around the start/finish line area. I started to feel particularly sad when I looked at the women's race results and realized that my original goal time would have won me first place in my age group (including a big trophy) but I quickly stopped that line of thinking because it was heading nowhere productive. The absolute WORST thing I can do right now (at least mentally) is compare myself to other runners and/or go down the "could have, would have, should have" path. We were supposed to go out to brunch with our friends who also ran the race afterward, but being out in the heat "zapped" me too much, so I had to bail out on that.

Thankfully, I felt pretty good the day of my first book signing, and I have another book signing this afternoon at a local running store, and I think I will be fine for that. I'm only there for two hours, and I get to sit, so it's pretty low stress. 

This definitely has been the crappiest month that I've had in years, but it's pretty much over now and I hope to have more of a life in August. Greg's sister and her kids are coming to visit and it's our wedding anniversary. I need to start showing my face at work more often.

I return to the doctor on Friday to check in. Several people have suggested to me that this is more than mono because it's lasted so long. But since I went through this exact same thing 4 years ago, I don't think it's anything other than mono. It is hard to believe that an illness can linger for so long, but it can, it has, and it is. All the other blood work was normal, and before June 30, I was feeling really good, nailing every single workout. 

Because this illness is such an up-and-down type thing, I don't get too excited about 1-2 days of feeling more energized or slightly more functional. I know that things can easily take a turn for the worse at any time. One symptom that has been a constant no matter how energized I feel is weakness when I walk. Ironically, I can feel energized and weak at the same time.  And also ironically, on my "good days" I can do pretty much anything except run-- the one thing I want to do the most. Anyway, I just need to continue eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, and trying my best to not stress out about work.

It felt great to get dressed for work and "look" normal!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Believing in My Book, My Message, and Myself

In spite of all the struggles and mental barriers that I had to overcome to qualify for Boston, I never gave up. Even when others told me that maybe the marathon wasn't my thing, I still kept trying. I held this same attitude about my book.

As I was finishing my book last winter, I did quite a bit of research on how to get it published. I decided that I would first send it to agents and publishers and try to get a publishing contract. This would mean handing them the manuscript and letting them format it, design the book cover, edit it, and market it, leaving me with a very small percentage of the royalties. It was the most traditional route and I thought it would result in maximum exposure for my book. However, I knew that agents and publishers received thousands of book submissions each month and could only accept a small number of them, so I was prepared for rejection.

I sent my book pitch to about 25 agents and 3 publishers. Of all of these, there was one particular agent and one particular publisher who I thought were really great fits for the book. I decided to wait until I had received feedback from the other agents and publishers before sending to these last two, so that I could incorporate any feedback I received. I wanted to make sure I was putting my best possible foot forward when I reached out to these two organizations.

It wasn't long before the publisher and the agent replied back with rejection letters. The publisher was rather vague, saying that the book did not fit into their lineup. The agent, however, sent me a very detailed response. The agent had run the Boston marathon herself (which is why I thought she would be a great fit) and based on her feedback, I realized that if I wanted the book to be published, I would have to do it myself.

So I published the book myself, not really knowing what to expect. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Well, maybe nobody would buy the book and I would lose the money I spent on getting the book cover designed. Oh well, at least I could say I published a book! And the best case scenario would be that people would buy the book and they would find it helpful in their own journey. I had no idea if the book was objectively good since the only people who reviewed it were friends and family. But as I said, what did I have to lose? The book was already written.

So I put it out there on May 15th.  And the feedback I've gotten from readers totally goes against the feedback I received from the agent.

"I'm afraid this is not something I could successfully represent. I think pretty much any even mildly competitive runner is aware of the negative role that over-stressing can play in their racing. So I'm not sure there's enough of a take-away in your personal story."

Many readers have expressed that they "took away" a great deal from this book:

"When an acquiring editor is evaluating a project s/he looks to see what the story/message boils down to and whether s/he feels this will sustain the reader's interest for 300 pages. . .  a project really needs to have a stand out hook and be something that just keeps the reader glued in their seat because they can't stop turning the pages."

I agreed with the agent on this point-- I did not think Boston Bound was a "page turner."  I did not expect readers to be glued in their seats. After all, self-help books are not supposed to be page-turners-- people read them because they want to get something out of it. Much to my surprise, countless readers have said that they could not put the book down.

"As more and more people get into running, there are more and more running book projects circulating and editors have become incredibly picky. They are all looking for the next "Born to Run". Elite runners can usually get a deal. But nothing much else impresses them."

This made no sense to me. If there are already so many books out there about running, written by elite athletes, wouldn't a book written by a non-elite be a refreshing change? Can everyday runners and readers relate to olympic athletes? I think that part of what makes a book good is the ability for the reader to relate to the main character or narrator.

I've also received numerous messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even LinkedIn from readers telling me that the book helped them, they couldn't put it down, and/or that they found it relatable because it wasn't written by an elite runner.

Lesson learned, if you truly believe in something, make it happen. I honestly wasn't sure if the book would be a success or not, but I figured I had nothing to lose.

Book sales have already exceeded what I ever thought possible, and it seems to have a life of its own. Initially, it was up to me alone to get the word out. But now it seems like people are hearing about the book from all sorts of channels! I will likely blog more about the book in the future and my "journey" in getting it on the best-seller's list for the "Running and Jogging" category!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

You Can't Do Amazing Things EVERY Day

The first half of 2016 was amazing:

  • March: I set a huge PR in the half marathon despite 20 MPH winds and a torrential downpour
  • April: I ran the Boston Marathon and then took a week-long vacation in Mexico
  • May: I published my book, Boston Bound
  • June: Promoted the book, and it ended up on the best-seller list on Amazon!
When June rolled around, I had my hands full. I was running hard workouts in the heat, actively promoting the book, working my full-time job, and admittedly not sleeping well. 

But then things came to an abrupt halt on June 30 when I came down with mono. This meant no more running, no more going to work, no more socializing with friends, no more book interviews. I was crushed when the doctor told me that I wouldn't feel 100% until the end of August. 

My mother, who had accompanied me to the doctor, said to me, "You can't do amazing things EVERY day." It's true. Even though you can be your amazing self every day, you can't always do amazing things. There's a difference. Once again I find myself needing to accept life's imperfections. And I need to remember that I am person who runs, not "a runner." Considering that I may not ever do as many wonderful things in a six-month period as the first half of this year, I guess I can't be too upset that I need to take a break from it all.

Greg reminded me though, that I actually DO do amazing things every day. Because I love him every day. I support him every day. I'm a kind person every day. I guess at look at these things as "being" myself not necessarily "doing" anything amazing.

The doctor told me that I could look at this a summer bug, or I could look at it as my body telling me that I needed to slow down and get some rest. I chose the latter. 

When I look at everything I was doing in June, and how I wasn't really paying attention to my physical health, it all makes sense. Unless I was running a speed workout, I wouldn't eat anything after my runs until I got into work, two hours later. My thought was that I wasn't really hungry, and "it's just a 5-miler" so I didn't need to refuel immediately. 

Also, I was only getting about 5-6 hours of sleep per night during the week leading up to the illness. I was super excited about my book, and the Amazon sales dashboard would only update in the middle of the night. My body somehow knew this, and I'd wake up at 1:00am to check the numbers. Totally not healthy! I couldn't control the fact that I was waking up in the middle of the night, but I could control how much I thought about the book immediately before going to sleep. Not to mention, working out in the heat is tough on the immune system. Much tougher than working out in sub-freezing temperatures.

Salad with mango, blueberries, spinach, egg white, avocado
Finally, I wasn't getting enough fruits and vegetables. I was so busy that I would eat whatever was most convenient. We have free whole fruit at work, but instead of taking the time to cut that up and eat it, I would usually grab a granola bar or chips. While those aren't necessarily bad choices, I really needed more nutrients. I often didn't feel like leaving the office to get lunch, and I didn't bring lunch, so I would just graze on office snacks. 

So, yeah, I'm not all that surprised I got sick. I didn't exactly treat my immune system very well. And so I'm learning the hard way. 

I'm slowly starting to feel more normal, but I still haven't run yet. My legs feel weak and I want to wait the three weeks that the doctor prescribed. And, of course, I just don't have a ton of energy. Oddly, the most energizing thing is core work. You'd think that running (something I used to do every day) might help me be more energized, but my one attempt last week proved that theory wrong. Instead, core work (which I hadn't done in about a year) makes me feel strong and really peps me up. So I have been doing some light core work every other morning.

With that said, here are the changes that I have made to my lifestyle, and that will continue even once I am recovered. Some goals/resolutions:
  • Stop looking at my phone right before bedtime. 
  • Start reading in bed instead.
  • Stop thinking about stressful things at bedtime.
  • Start thinking about the book I'm reading in bed.
  • Start making time in the morning for breakfast (or some substantial nutrition) before I leave the house.
  • Stop grazing around the office for lunch.
  • Start bringing a full lunch to work or leaving the office to get a real lunch.
  • Start buying more fruits and veggies at the grocery store and eating them during the week.
  • Start drinking more water. (I actually had been pretty good about this, but not every day.)
  • Start taking vitamins every day.
  • Reduce my stress level by thinking positive, more self-loving thoughts, like it's OKAY to not be doing amazing things EVERY day! 
Light core work has helped me feel better.
I was really fortunate to be injury and illness free for the past three years. In fact, being able to train with such consistency is really what led to my extreme jump in fitness over the past year. I never thought I took it for granted, but now I realize I need to make the above changes to really take care of my body and train at the level I want to train at.

My coach wanted to pause on re-working my training schedule until we really knew what we were looking at. The first priority is to get better so that I can train at full capacity. I'm starting to accept that I may need to drop Indianapolis down to the half and run the Rehoboth full four weeks later, in early December. It definitely won't be the end of the world, it's just not what I had planned on doing. I figure I might as well accept this possibility sooner rather than later. 

Meanwhile, the support of my friends throughout this whole mono ordeal has been incredible. People have offered to bring me stuff, and I'm getting frequent texts/IMs from people. I'm well enough to go into the office to work, with a modified schedule, so that's making me feel more "normal." I just need to be careful not to overdo the work because when I had mono in 2012, I kept trying to go back to work too soon and I kept relapsing. My goal here is to recover quicker than I did in 2012 by avoiding the mistakes I made back then. Some days I feel like I'm moving in the wrong direction because I feel worse than the day before, but I have to remember that's part of the illness and I WILL recover 100%. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Harder Than Running: Not Running

Yes, running is a challenging, tiring and difficult sport. But you know what's harder than running? NOT running!

This morning, Greg returned to our house soaking in sweat from his humid hill sprint workout. "That was so hard!" He exclaimed repeatedly. I was instantly jealous that I, too, didn't have that "I worked really hard" feeling first thing in the morning. After having not run since June 30, I miss that. But I quickly shifted my mindset. Because what I'm dealing with is hard work. It's very hard work.

People tend to work hard at the things they are good at. If you're good at your job, you'll naturally want to work hard at it. But people tend to shy away from things that they aren't good at, and therein lies the big challenge. While I think I'm relatively "good" at this mental toughness thing, it doesn't come easy to me. I have plenty of room for growth still.

Right now this newfound mental strength of mine is being tested. I have to truly be "ok" with not running. Optimistic, even, that I will eventually return to my former running self and regain all the fitness that I've lost. That said, what's going on with my health?

As I discussed in my previous blog post, an illness of some sort came on very suddenly while I was at work on June 30. It felt suspiciously like mono, and I went to the doctor on July 5th and they ran a bunch of tests, saying it was probably "a viral infection" and I would get better soon. I have not felt well enough to run yet. My initial symptoms were extreme fatigue, sore throat, and weakness. My lingering symptoms are on-and-off fatigue, pressure behind the ears, occasional dizziness and overall weakness. When I say "weak" I mean that I cannot walk at my normal pace. I do not feel like my normal self. I know from having mono four years ago that I should not run when I feel weak.

I took off the last week from work entirely, and went into the office Monday and Tuesday of this week. Today, I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 11:00, so my plan was to work from home in the morning, go to the doctor's and then into work.

Given that I felt mainly human for most of the day yesterday, I figured that I could give running a shot this morning. The main reason was so that I could "test it" and report on how it felt to my doctor. I decided I would do a 15-minute run at a very easy pace. I figured this should not be a strain on my system at all, given that I was used to running so much longer/faster every single day. Energy-wise, I felt pretty good. It was nice to be out running again. But as soon as I started, the outside of my knees felt really odd. They ached. And then a few minutes into it, my lower back/upper butt area started to feel really sore. As if I had done some really tough workout there.

Even though I felt reasonably energized during the run, when I got home, I had to sit down with my head in my hands for a minute or two. And then suddenly I realized I felt much worse than before I ran. Not a good sign. Shortly after, Greg returned from his hill sprints and I had to fight the urge to start crying and throwing a pity party.

11:00 rolled around and I met my mother at the doctor's office. The original plan had been for her to drive me, but I've been well enough to drive (not dizzy) for the past few days. I saw a different doctor at the same practice. The doctor I saw on July 5th was the person who was staffing the walk-in clinic. The doctor I saw today was their sports medicine doctor. I wanted someone who understood the role that exercise was playing here, and would be able to tell me when I could return to running. The doctor spent over 30 minutes with my mother and me. He told me that my lymph nodes were swollen and that the areas that felt sore during my run were joints. That was joint pain- the upper butt/lower back area of soreness is the sciatica joint, and the knees are obviously joints.

He looked over my test results and ruled out Lyme disease, thyroid issues, and a number of other things. The test results did indicate that I had mono in the past, the Epstein Barr Virus (that causes mono) never goes away in your body once you have it.  He said that the virus can mutate just enough so that your body is no longer immune to it, and it can re-activate in the body, causing an entirely new round of sickness. The virus doesn't show up in blood tests until 3+ weeks after the initial onset of the infection (June 30). So, it's still too soon to know for sure. But, this doctor was pretty sure it was mono, and if it wasn't mono, it was something very similar to it, based on all of my symptoms- swollen lymph nodes and extended fatigue in particular.

My history with these types of viral infections is interesting:

  • I had mono when I was in college (1999)
  • I had a virus that lasted for over a month in September 2008. I got sick the day after running the Rock 'n' Roll VA Beach half marathon-- which was a very warm race. This was the virus that prevented me from making my first BQ attempt.
  • I had mono for about three months in the summer of 2012
  • And now I have mono again, or something like it.
So the commonalities of 2008, 2012, and 2016 are that each time, it was triggered by pushing myself in warm weather. I had been running very intense workouts in the heat throughout the month of June. 

The good news
Looking on the bright side, here is the good news. I am not suffering from "overtraining" because that tends to come on gradually and usually does not include a sore throat, etc. This means that once I make a full recovery, I can still train at the same intensity. I just need to be careful in the heat to keep my immune system strong.

I should make a complete and total recovery. Although it seems like I'm doomed in the summer of 2020, I should be perfectly fine between the time I recover and then! Also on the good news side, this is not Lyme disease, MS, cancer, or the host of other things I was worried about it being.

The bad news
I will probably not feel 100% recovered for eight weeks, and that's IF I'm smart about easing back into things. This puts me at late August. 

I had planned to run the South Lakes 10K in late August and then the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia half marathon in mid-September so those are both out. My fall marathon may be at risk, but I am still hopeful I can run that, even if it's not the 3:20 I was originally going for.

Now for the really scary part. The doctor told me that the joint pain and weakness I was feeling in my legs was the result of Immune Complex Syndrome. I did not have this issue when I had mono in 2012-- this is new. Immune Complex Syndrome is when your immune system doesn't fully shed the virus from its cells, and it ends up in your joints. This could mean joint pain and the feeling of arthritis for up to six months. So even if I am feeling 100% recovered by the end of August, the aches that I felt on today's run could be my new normal until January.

Needless to say, I left the doctor's office in tears. I had such high hopes for the fall racing season, and now I have to re-evaluate everything. My mother was happy with the outcome because the doctor did say I would make a full recovery. But all I could hear was "the joint pain can last up to six months." He told me I could take anti-inflammatories for it. We'll see if that helps. 

Looking ahead
The doctor said that the "standard" advice to athletes with mono is that they should take three weeks
off completely. Aside from my 15-minute jaunt this morning, I've almost made it through two weeks. So, I should be able to return to running on Friday, July 22. That said, this is just general guidance- every person is different. I definitely don't want to spend three months with mono like I did in 2012, so I need to really be cautious and wait even more if I don't feel ready by the 22nd. 

The first week back should be "easy"-- no hard workouts, no long runs. Just short, easy stuff. Then the doctor said I can add in more intense stuff on the 4th week. So back to semi-normal training on July 29th. Somehow I feel like this is too optimistic. It took me WAY longer in 2012 to recover. But then again, I kept pushing it in 2012 when I should not have been.

Finally, he said I probably wouldn't feel 100% until the end of August, so while I can train through August, it will need to be a scaled back version of what probably would have otherwise been 50+ mile weeks. 

I kind of see all of this as "best case" scenario. Having been through it before four years ago and NOT having this joint pain/ Immune Complex thingee was difficult enough. On the plus side, my initial sore throat and initial sickness was not nearly as bad as 2012. I honestly felt like death in 2012 and my throat was so sore I wanted to remove it from my body. Things were more mild this time, but the lingering fatigue is almost identical. As for my non-running life, I will likely work from home or do half-days at my job for the next week, until I am at that point when the doctor said I can resume "light activity."

Back to it being "hard work." It's really difficult to follow people on social media who are training for fall marathons saying: "This is week three, day 5 of training" and their marathon is one the same day as mine! I guess at this point I will be lucky if I'm healthy enough to run the marathon. I really do not want to drop down to the half, as the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon has been on my bucket list for several years now. 

So, I need to stay mentally strong. Focus on drinking a lot of water, taking vitamins, eating healthy, getting plenty of rest, and not getting stressed out. And if I still feel like crap on July 22nd, it's okay. Marathons are not going anywhere- I need to be patient. Very, very patient. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

The July 4th Race that Wasn't

Today I was supposed to run the Reston Firecracker 5K. I've registered for this race every year since it began in 2010, but I've missed it almost as many times as I've actually run it due to illness or injury.

In 2012, I came down with mono two weeks before the race. I didn't realize it was mono at the time, though, and I was feeling recovered enough to run, so I took the race at an easy pace of about 9:00. A few days later, I relapsed into mono full-force.

In 2013, I was in excellent shape and ready to totally crush the race, but then I got injured just three days beforehand with a stress reaction in my shin.

In 2014 I ran a 22:54, and in 2015 I ran a 22:05. This year, I am in the best 5K shape of my life and I was planning to run the race 45 seconds to a minute faster than last year, at around 21:10-21:20. I had been looking forward to this race for weeks because it's a holiday tradition and I love benchmarking my progress year-over-year. But my body had different plans.

After over two years of not being sick, I came down with something nasty on Thursday. I had not been sleeping well for the past week, averaging only 5-6 restless hours a night. I knew this was a problem, but I seemed to be having enough energy for my workouts and I felt fine during the workday. I had been waking up in the middle of the night with a raw throat, but I had chalked that up to allergies. Everything else felt fine.

I ran 50 minutes on Thursday morning and I felt amazing. The temperature was unseasonably cool at around 60 degrees, and my normal "easy" pace (which is run by effort level and  heart rate) dropped down to an 8:42 pace. I felt amazing and my heart rate didn't indicate any issues. But three hours later, at work, my throat started to get really sore and a fatigue came over me. Almost instantly I knew I had to go home and sleep. I cancelled my plans to meet a friend for lunch, drove home and slept for over an hour. When I woke up, I felt weak and I knew I was full-on sick.

Soooo sick
Of course I was hoping this was just a cold that would pass within a day or so, but my body doesn't work that way. I seem to be an all-or-nothing person, and when I get sick, I usually get really sick. So since then, I've been extremely weak with body aches, a mild sore throat that comes and goes, pressure behind the ears, and general fatigue. I was optimistic that things were improving on Saturday because I took a shower, dried my hair and went to the grocery store with Greg. But then on Sunday, I was back to square one again, and today nothing has improved. Obviously this meant no Firecracker 5K. At least the decision was made for me, and I am not left wondering if I could have possibly done it. There's no way I could do it- not even walk it. I'll go to the doctor tomorrow if there continues to be no improvement.

It's days like these when I need to draw on all the mental toughness skills I learned over the past four years. There's a voice inside of me that wants to scream and cry and say that I did all those hot summer track workouts for nothing. That voice says this is so unfair, and now all that fitness is lost and I'm going to be way behind when I start running again. It says that this is a repeat of my mono, and it could last a month or more. I'll be in bed all summer and by the time the cool weather comes around, I'll be totally out of shape.

But I've gotten really good at shutting that voice up and just focusing on getting better. I've been sleeping a ton (I actually napped while Greg was running the race), drinking loads of fluids and eating really healthy food. The hardest thing is to not speculate about how long this will last and to try and stay positive. Usually viruses like this do not last as long as my mono did and I should be better within 1-2 weeks. I have to remind myself that I will run again because when I feel this weak, I couldn't even imagine running.

Part of the disappointment in not running the race was not getting to write a triumphant blog post. But then I realized, hey, I can STILL write a triumphant blog post. Even though I didn't get to run the race I trained for, I still put in the work, and I am going to celebrate that now by blogging about two great workouts from the last two weeks.

On Tuesday, June 21, I ran some road intervals. 12 x (1-minute hard, 1-minute easy) followed by 12 x (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). It was overcast and around 71 degrees, but with 99% humidity!

The 1-minute intervals were supposed to be at slightly faster than 5K pace, and they averaged around 6:30-6:35. The 30-second intervals averaged around a pace of 6:10. What made this workout hard was two things: first, it was not on a flat course, it was gently rolling hills. Second, the recovery jogs were prescribed to be "brisk jogs" not just easy jogging. So those were around a pace of 8:50-9:10. Usually recovery jogs are anywhere from 10:30-11:00 per mile.

The great thing about this workout is that I realized I had done this exact workout before. I looked back in my log on February 2, and I had done this workout on a 32-degree day, on a flat course, with truly easy recovery jogs. Instead of logging 4.8 miles, I only logged 4.4!  So now that it's hotter and hillier, I'm able to run faster than I did back in February. Once again, an indication that my fitness is at an all-time high.

On Friday, June 24, I ran a really challenging track workout that I had never done before: 7 x 800m at 5K pace with only 30-second rests.

Typically when running 800m intervals, I run them faster than 5K pace. But I also get at least 2 minutes to recover. So this workout basically had me running at 5K effort for longer than a 5K, with very short rests along the way. It was 73 degrees, sunny and humid.  My splits were as follows:


Given that the race weather ended up being about 8 degrees cooler than this workout and overcast, I am pretty confident I could have run this pace, even with the hills. Let's just say I could have done it!

I really hope I wake up feeling dramatically improved tomorrow and that I don't have to go to the doctor. This just really scares me because it feels exactly like mono, and I know there are different strains of the mono virus. Greg has been amazing throughout all of this, doing all of the cooking and cleaning, and making me my special "potion" of warm water, honey, and apple cider vinegar. He ran the race in 21:01! He's been doing these workouts too and they've made him noticeably faster.

Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery.