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. . .