Sunday, September 23, 2012

Running After Mono Part II

My apologies for the rather generic, un-creative blog title. However, my previous "running after mono" blog brought a mono-inflicted runner here, and I made a new friend! She just started blogging and has had the misfortune of getting mono. When I was Googling "running with mono" all I found were horror stories. I figured I would post some encouraging stuff for people searching for the same answers I was. Of course everyone is different and the illness affects people in different ways. But here's a snippet from me.

It's been two weeks since my last update and three weeks since I took my first "jog". September 1 marked my official return to running. It did not go well, but things have improved since. One thing to keep in mind when returning to running post-mono is that it's not as if you simply took a break from running. The immune system is compromised, fatigue lingers, the entire body has been beat up and there is always the worry of getting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or never being quite the same. These last two are the horror stories I've read when searching Google for post-mono running. You have to be extremely careful, taking it day by day and  seeing what you can handle. The tough part is, even if you are responding well to increased physical activity, the illness can suddenly rear its ugly head without warning.

My approach here has been to rely heavily on my heart rate to indicate whether I am pushing too much.  Based on my recent VO2 max test, I know where my heart rate should be for the run to be "easy". 150-162 beats per minute. I've been extremely disciplined in this area, even though it feels like I am barely getting a workout. However, if I were to just run by feel I know my legs would take me faster than I should be going, and I would risk tiring too early and bonking at the end. Zone 2 training is also the best for building endurance, and that's where marathon training starts anyway. I don't plan to add any speed until early October and even then, it will be "lite" speedwork-- short tempo runs based on keeping my heart rate in zone 4.

September has been all about regaining my health so that I can return to proper training. I don't consider the running I am doing now to be actual training like it was before. Rather, this is what I need to do in order to recover properly, so that I will ultimately be able to train at full capacity sooner rather than later. My sports psychologist reminded me that I should be making comparisons only to my recent past, and not to my pre-mono self. Otherwise, every run would feel like a failure.

When I first started running again, I used the jog-walk approach. I found that I wasn't able to keep my heart rate in zone 2 for more than two miles, so I needed to take periodic breaks. Now, I am still jog-walking, but the jog portions are longer. I think I could keep my heart rate in zone 2 without the breaks now, but it's nice to let it come down a little every so often, so I'm not constantly having to back off the pace to maintain the desired heart rate. My paces have been gradually getting faster, but the lack of speed work means that I probably won't be anywhere close to my prior pace for a long time, and I am okay with that.

Here is a recap of my week. I'm including the paces so that I'll be able to come back a month from now and see some progress. A month ago, I was struggling just to walk at a normal pace, so I've made outstanding progress in the past month.

Monday: Rest. I had planned on running, but I decided not to because I expended a fair amount of energy cheering for Greg and my teammates at the Philly half marathon the day before.

Tuesday: 5.1 miles on the treadmill due to stormy weather. 10 minutes jogging, 2 minutes walking. Treadmill was set to 5.7 (10:30 pace)

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: 6 miles. 10 minute jog, 1 minute walk. Jogging portions averaged a pace of 10:30.

Friday: 5.9 miles. 12 minute jog, 1 minute walk. Jogging portions averaged a pace of 10:43.

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 7 miles. 12 minute jog, 1 minute walk. Jogging portions averaged a pace of 10:11.

Today's run showed some nice progress because the average pace of the full 7 miles was 10:30, and that includes the walking!  Also, it was a post-mono distance PR.

4 days of running, 24 miles covered (includes the walking).

In addition to this, I've been consistently doing strength training. I'm heavily focused on my hips and glutes because I know that's an area of weakness for me. But I'm also doing squats, lunges, planks, various forms of crunches, push-ups, and light weight lifting for the arms and shoulders.

I hope that I continue to feel good during my runs and throughout the day. My greatest fear is a relapse or setback. I think I'm being really cautious here, but it's hard to tell for sure. My body is responding well, so I take that as a positive sign. I'm also very focused on eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep and loading up on vitamins. Health, you will be mine!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Choosing Where to Focus

I was registered to run the Rock 'N Roll Philadelphia half marathon this past Sunday. However, due to having mono all summer, I was not in any shape to race this one. More importantly, I am being strategic about my build up and even jog-walking the 13.1-mile distance would not at all be prudent for my health.

Thus, I went to Philadelphia to cheer for Greg and my Capital Area Runners teammates.

Before I even left the house on Saturday, I told myself that I was going to remain positive all weekend. I did not want to spend the weekend depressed about my circumstances. I wanted to truly enjoy the weekend, truly support my husband, and not compare myself to anyone running. Once again, mono has provided me with the opportunity to work on things that are challenging for me. Even though I'm not at a point where I can improve my physical ability, I certainly can work on some of the key areas that I often struggle with.

It really comes down to focus. Where do I choose to focus my attention and my mental space? I could choose to focus on things that would only make me miserable. Examples of this (things to steer clear of) are speculating on the time I would have run if I had been able to train all summer, my current inability to cover a half-marathon distance, and what times I will run once I start racing again. I told myself that I would not think about these things during the weekend. But in order to NOT think about something, you need to have a focus point to replace those negative thoughts. I chose to focus heavily on:

  • Supporting Greg throughout the entire weekend and doing whatever I could to help him.
  • Cheering for Greg, my teammates, and other random runners during the race (I love cheering for randoms. The look on their faces is great when I call them out as looking strong!)
  • Taking photos of Greg and my teammates that I could later send to them
  • Getting to know my teammates better during the pre-race dinner on Saturday night. 

Greg at mile 4.2.
It worked like a charm! I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, Greg ran a fantastic race and I got to participate in the event by cheering and taking photos! And actually, it wasn't hard to do. Once I told myself that I would focus on the four things mentioned above, it was pretty easy to get wrapped up in Greg's race, the enjoyment of spectating and the task of taking photos.

Unfortunately, the fully-charged battery on my good camera died early on, so most of the "action" photos were taken with my cell phone camera. But they still came out okay and my coach used them in the weekly team newsletter. That made me happy. 

Some of my teammates offered me condolences and sympathy for not being able to race. They assured me that they knew how hard it was to not be able to be out there racing. I really appreciated how supportive these particular teammates were being. And the way I felt when they said these things really solidified something for me. I'm okay with it. Yes, it's hard not being able to run, but actually not that hard. I have felt a greater sense of despair with other injuries and illnesses far less severe than mono simply because I didn't have the tools to cope effectively with them. I actually enjoyed the entire weekend quite easily because my focus was exactly where it needed to be.

I learned that you don't have to be running in a race to be a participant in the event. And you don't have to be physically training to improve yourself as an athlete.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Running After Mono

I think I am finally coming out of this illness. I've had many ups and downs throughout this experience with mono, but I devoted the entire month of August to resting in the hopes of preventing relapses and returning to my normal, pre-mono self. With the exception of two weeks in July when I thought I was recovered, I was suffering from this thing for the entire summer. I've never had an illness last this long and I've never had a summer when I was indoors for the majority of it.

Getting Healthy
This illness basically came to me in 4 phases: initial sickness (severe sore throat), temporary recovery, relapse with original symptoms, and then dizziness + general weakness and fatigue. The 4th phase lasted the longest and I am still not completely out of the woods. I still occasionally get dizzy and feel tired, but these periods don't last for longer than a few hours. 

August was tough. I worked from home for the first three weeks, logging sick hours here and there when I needed to sleep or get away from the computer. August 17 was actually my worst day of the entire illness in terms of fatigue. I woke up, got out of bed, and felt like I couldn't even walk to the bathroom. Even sitting up in the bed was exhausting so I took conference calls lying down and logged the rest of the day as sick. It was the only day of this entire illness that I asked Greg to bring me breakfast in bed. I did make my way downstairs for lunch, but it wasn't easy. Thankfully, I woke up the following day feeling worlds better. The illness is so unpredictable that way. Since then, things have been progressing in the right direction. 

When I returned to work, I did nothing aside from work. No running. No going out to dinner. No errands. Just to work and home so I could make sure I had the energy to continue going to work. I ended the week feeling decent so I gradually started adding in normal activities like going out to eat and doing the laundry. A very experienced runner advised me to not start running again until I had a sustained period of feeling good and healthy. I resumed my strength training during the last week of August and I seemed to handle it well. Nothing too intense-- just some planks, push-ups, and working with dumbells.

The First Run Back
On Saturday, September 1, I thought I would celebrate the new month by trying to run. I had felt great all week, and the week before had been pretty good, although not perfect. I set out to run three miles. Goal: three miles, keeping heart rate in zone 2. 

I was sooo happy to be out there again. I was enjoying the run so much for the first mile. Greg was with me and it was good to be running with him. It was a snail's pace but that didn't matter to me. I was just happy to be able to run. The second mile didn't feel all that great. I had to slow down even further to keep my heart rate in zone 2. By the end of the mile, I knew I was done. I walked the rest of the way home. 

Initially I was extremely frustrated. I couldn't even run three miles at an 11:xx pace. I could accept that I had lost fitness, but what I couldn't accept was that I wasn't at a spot with my recovery where 3 miles was realistic. That run left me feeling extremely tired and crappy, so I spent the rest of the day on the couch. On the plus side, I did get out there and complete 2 miles without stopping. And instead of spending the day depressed, I just accepted that I wasn't ready to start running again. 

The Second Run
I explained to my sports psychologist that I had a crappy first run back. At this point, he suggested the run/walk approach, which I had considered initially, but I didn't want to accept as reality. He gave me a reality check and told me that I'm not on the same path I was before the illness. I would get back there, but I'm not there, and I have to first work through the illness before I can get back there. I have to deal with my current circumstances, and spending my time wishing I was my old self again doesn't do me any good. He urged me to make comparisons only to the recent past. I'm doing much better now than I was three weeks ago. Comparing to how I was three months ago doesn't help me.

I did the run/walk thing after my stress fractures and tolerated it well, so I accepted that it would be the best approach to being "out there" and feeling good for more than just 15 minutes. I arbitrarily decided on 8:00 running, followed by 2:00 walking. I figured that the walk breaks would allow my heart rate to come down so that it wouldn't be such a struggle to stay in zone 2. 

On Thursday (5 days after the first run) I felt well enough to test the run/walk approach. It worked! I felt good the whole time, and good for the rest of the day. I ran a total of about 2.2 miles and covered a distance of about 2.6 miles. This is slightly more running than the previous attempt, and I felt a lot better.

Runs 3 & 4
I woke up feeling good on Friday morning, which hopefully means that the Thursday run wasn't too much for me. However, I decided to save up my energy for my Sunday run, in which I would attempt to cover a distance of 4.8 miles. I joined Greg for the first 8 minutes of his long run on Saturday, and then turned around and came home. Today (Sunday) was a big day for me. My team was meeting at Burke Lake to run the 4.8-mile loop. They were all running multiple loops as part of their long runs, but my goal was to simply complete the loop, even if it meant a substantial amount of walking. 

4.8 miles completed!
I had my trusty Garmin programmed at 8:00/2:00 intervals, so I heard a beep whenever it was time to transition from running to walking. Greg was with me, even though he just ran 18 miles the day before. I was so grateful to have him there, because part of me was worried that my body wouldn't react well, and I'd need help. Thursday's run left me feeling pretty confident that I would be okay, but mono is highly unpredictable. 

It was a beautiful morning. 62 degrees with low humidity. And most of the trail was shaded. This was such an enjoyable run for me! Running somewhere that I don't normally go, with my husband, and feeling healthy. Such a nice feeling. 

We ended up doing 5 x (8:00/2:00) for a total of 4.1 miles. I had to really slow down on the last one to keep my heart rate down, so I decided I probably shouldn't try for a 6th one. We walked the rest of the loop for a total of 4.8 miles covered. Afterwards, we waited for the other groups to finish their second lap so we could say hi and talk to the coach.

Greg and I had a celebratory breakfast and then returned home. I felt good for awhile, but then I started to get a slight headache and some dizziness. I'm still a bit dizzy as I type this, and I hope it passes. Mono recovery is just so unpredictable. It's hard to know what's okay to do and what's not. And there is no established timeline for a full recovery. I've heard it can take up to a year. I've heard some people say six months. All I can do is try to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, eat healthy foods and minimize stress.

No race plans for me-- I'm completely focused on getting back to 100% health. Once I get back into the groove of normal training, I will start to think about spring racing. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On Hard Work . . .

Despite not being able to run, I've been doing a great deal of thinking about my approach and mindset.

I've always defined myself, in part, by my work ethic. I work very, very hard at things in which I care to succeed. "Working hard" is part of who I am at my core. But now I am realizing that there's more to hard work than what I thought.

I enjoy playing the piano by ear and composing.
People work hard at things they are good at. When I was 12 years old and taking piano lessons, I never wanted to practice the pieces my teacher gave me. I didn't have the patience to read the music and figure it out. Instead, I was really good at playing music by ear and even composing my own songs. It was easier for me to work with this natural gift than it was to learn the assigned pieces. I would practice the piano for about an hour a day-- but only a small percentage of that time was spent on what the teacher wanted me to do. Most of it was playing songs I was already good at, or playing songs by ear. Thus, piano lessons only lasted a few years and I didn't progress very far in my ability to play complex pieces. (This doesn't really bother me, because I would still prefer to play by ear!)

To be truly successful, you need to work hard at things you are not good at.

I consider myself "good" at marathon training because I'm very motivated to get out there and do the prescribed workouts. I'm good at making plans and following through. I enjoy structure and following the rules. These are all things that are very easy for me to do because I enjoy them and I've been doing them for a long time. And therefore, it's easy for me to work hard at simply doing the training.

Things that I'm good at, which I work hard at:
I'm good at pushing through tough runs!
  • Carefully planning runs in advance
  • Being disciplined about following the training plan and doing workouts as prescribed
  • Taking good care of my body- being aware of potential injuries, planning rest and recovery
  • Mental toughness, both in terms of pushing through hard workouts and not giving up on my goals
  • Solving problems, learning from mistakes
  • Being strategic about running races

But there are also a whole host of other things related to marathon training that I could really improve upon. Things that are not easy for me-- that may seem like they aren't even possible. So when I start training again, I plan to continue to work hard at the things I mentioned above, but I also have a list of other things I need to work hard at that aren't easy.

Things that I'm not good at, and need to work hard at:

  • Making comparisons only to myself, and not to other runners.
  • Learning effectively from setbacks/poor performances and quickly moving on.
  • Patience. 
  • Tempering emotions, and attaching them to "the process" rather than the outcome.
  • Expecting that I will make mistakes, and being okay with them.

Making comparisons-- I have a tendency to look at other people's race results and immediately compare them to my own. Or look at my results and immediately compare them to other people's results. This is not good for me! Although I am happy for others when they succeed, it's coupled with an "I should be able to do that." When hearing about other people's runs, I need to be happy for their successes and keep that completely, 100%, totally separate from my own running. When I run a race, I should be 100% focused on my performance, what I did well, and not letting other people's times come into the evaluation of myself.

Learning from setbacks and moving on-- I've gotten better at this over the years, but I am nowhere near where I want to be. It used to be that I just wouldn't learn anything from a poor performance. I'd be upset and it would last for awhile. Then I started learning from setbacks, so although I was upset, at least I had something to takeaway for next time. The problem has always been the moving on part. If I have a bad race, I tend to dwell on it all day, or sometimes even for multiple days. This is not good for me and it will only serve to diminish my confidence. Confidence is critical for good performance, so I can't get caught up in the negative emotions.

Patience-- I am not a patient person. I will work hard for a long time to get good results, but when I know it's time for those results, I can't bear to wait any longer. I have the patience to work through a 16-week training plan, but come race day, I'd better get those results! The thought of doing another 16-week cycle to get the results that I should have gotten this time just pains me beyond belief. After each of my "bad" marathons, my first order of business has been to pull out a calendar, find a marathon in 4-6 weeks and get my result! And during those 4-6 weeks my entire focus is on how I will redeem myself in that next race.

I absolutely hate not knowing when I will get results. In college, I couldn't stand having to wait to receive grades on my essays. The worst part was not knowing when the teacher would get the grades back. I would go to class, hoping that this would be the day we'd get our essays returned, but it wouldn't be. I was always the one asking "when will we get our papers back?"

And right now, I am trying to recover from mono and I have no idea when I will be able to start doing regular training again. Next week? Two weeks? Next month? I would be much better at coping if I had a date that I could count on. I have to work hard at being patient.

Tempering Emotions-- I consider myself to be a very passionate person. It's a part of my personality that I like, but it's not good when negative emotions just consume me. I have always attached emotions to results and outcomes, no matter how hard I worked. I realize that not getting a good result doesn't diminish the hard work, but the disappointment that comes from not getting the desired result always overshadows the pride from doing the work. I need to work hard at attaching pride and positive emotions to the process and the work. A sub-par marathon time doesn't change the fact that I spent the past 16 weeks waking up at 5:00am and running my butt of every day!

Expecting that I will make mistakes-- Whenever I make a mistake, I feel the need to fix it immediately. I am not okay with making mistakes. I apologize profusely at work or to other people if the mistake somehow affected them. And I try hard to make up for it. Where I used to work, mistakes weren't tolerated and I was there for so long that it felt normal to me. But at my new job, people don't make a big deal out of mistakes. It's expected. We're just human, we're working on a hundred things at once under tight deadlines, so mistakes happen. I'd love for my "internal culture" to shift along with the way my work environment culture has shifted. Work hard, expect great things out of yourself, but also expect to make mistakes and not make a huge deal out of them.

I am going to focus on these five things (maybe not all at once) and I think that once I do, I will be a happier person overall and I will find more success in anything I strive for-- not just running marathons.

Speaking of marathons, every single marathon I've run since March 2008 has been a huge struggle for me and has not ended well. And I've run a lot of them since then. I've constantly asked myself why this keeps happening and now I am honing in on the answer.

Even though I've been doing very well at the first list of bullets, which includes executing the physical training, I've not worked at all on the second list of bullets. I really need to start thinking more about that second list, using my discipline to work hard at each one, and accepting that I will be out of my comfort zone. I will have to correct a lot of bad habits and mentally train myself to have a different outlook. The byproduct of NOT working hard at this second list is a great deal of anxiety, which is ultimately which comes back to bite me come race day. Telling myself to simply relax won't cut it. I need to work hard at the things I'm uncomfortable with.