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.