Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Future Race Planning

When you are sick or injured, do you start planning your comeback races, or do you refrain from any planning until you are able to resume training?

I'm now on day 26 of this mono-like illness and things are finally looking up. The official diagnosis is idiosyncratic post-viral syndrome, which is a fancy way to say that I caught a virus, and it's taking the immune system a while to calm down to normal levels. The result is that I am excessively tired, weak, and dizzy. I have a history of this illness, and it always occurs in the summer months when I am training and racing hard.

Because I've dealt with similar illnesses in the past, lasting up to three months, I knew that running too soon would cause regression and delay full recovery. So for the first three weeks, I was averaging only 500-1000 steps a day. After three weeks, my doctor advised that I begin to take 15-30 minute walks, and I've now been doing that successfully for six days. I now feel about 90% "normal" and so I plan to return to work full time next week (provided I don't regress). I don't have a specific return-to-running date in mind, but I think I should be able to resume easy running by mid July.

Going back to my original question, and the topic of this post, there is a spectrum of mindsets that runners have when it comes to planning during forced time off. I'm at one end of the spectrum and my husband Greg is at the other! I actually think that both of our mindsets are healthy; they are just different and highlight different personality types.

Mindset 1: Plan as much as possible; it gives you something to look forward to.

Mindset 2: Don't plan anything until you are healthy and able to to train.

You can probably guess that I fall into mindset 1. I already have the next 12 months of races figured out. I definitely need races and vacations on my schedule to give me something to look forward to. Even though I am not guaranteed to resume running by mid-July, I think it's highly likely, and I had already registered for 2 major fall races before getting sick. I'm keeping those races on the schedule, but I also wanted to plan even further ahead to a time when I am much more confident I will be able to race at full effort.

Another reason why I planned out the next 12 months is because I need a long-term solution to not getting these summer viruses. I think the only solution is to not train hard or even race in the summer. That will be tough for me, but I think that going forward I will only run 1 race each summer, and that will be a 5K and by no means a "goal" race or PR attempt. Just something to keep me in the practice of racing and avoiding going stale.

I had actually planned to avoid summer training this year by registering for a December marathon,
but I need to also stop training for 5Ks in the summer. I'll talk more about my solution after addressing the second mindset.

Greg has mindset #2 and doesn't like to think about future races when he is injured. He's been dealing with pain between his achilles tendon and his ankle. As a result, he's only been able to run a few miles here and there for the past month. He's been focused on trying to address his foot issue and is not thinking about when his next marathon will be. He's registered for Wineglass at the end of September but that's starting to look less and less realistic.

Greg and me at the start of a race
Since he'll be going with me to all of my planned races, chances are that he will be running them too. I like it when I'm running the half and he's running the full and vice versa. That way the half marathoner gets to cheer for the full marathoner and take care of them afterwards. If we both run the full, then we are both destroyed afterwards.

I've learned that it's always best to take one day at a time and enjoy the process. So from that perspective, it seems like Greg's mindset would lead to more peace and happiness. However, my mindset and planning is working for me because it reminds me of past comebacks that I've made and keeps me positive. I'm not really enjoying this whole sick thing, so I need things that will help my positivity. "This too shall pass" is the mantra I am using, and for it to work, I need to envision my future healthy self.

It's also interesting to note that Greg and I run for different reasons. He runs as a way to stay active and healthy, while not having to worry about how much he eats. He enjoys races and is happy to get PRs, but those are secondary to simply reaping the physical benefits. On the other hand, I run because I enjoy the act of running. Unless it's horrible weather, I always look forward to my runs in the morning. Equally as important, I like to challenge myself and see how fast I can be.

What did I decide on? Here's my plan and the rationale.

Sept. 23rd: 5K
As much as I would love to run a race sooner, I'm not going to race in the heat and risk getting sick again. It could be warm for this 5K, but chances are that it will be less humid with temperatures in the low 60's. I'm not going to train specifically for this race, but I should be in decent shape because training for my full and half marathons will have already started-- provided I can start running again by mid-July!

Oct. 7th: Army Ten Miler
This race was already on the schedule before I got sick. I'll have to see where my fitness is when I race this, but I think that sub-1:10 is very doable, and possibly sub-1:09. I'll be celebrating the fact that I am healthy enough to run it, whereas in 2016 I couldn't run it since my mono lasted so long.

Richmond Half Marathon 2015
Nov. 10th: The Richmond Half Marathon
My last race before I enter the Master's division. I turn 40 the next day. This was always part of the plan, but I didn't pull the trigger on registration until two weeks ago when I needed a pick-me-up.

Nov. 22nd: Turkey Trot 5K
I have a feeling this is the sub-20!!! My first race as a Masters runner!

Dec. 8th: Rehoboth Beach Marathon
I chose this one because it's almost guaranteed to not be hot. It could be windy and/or rainy, but I'll take that over heat. Also, I wanted to make sure that the hardest training runs 2-8 weeks out had cool weather. My leading theory on why I crashed so hard in Indianapolis is that I did all my training in abnormally humid/warm weather and it had a cumulative effect of wearing me down. I didn't feel energized at all on race day. I think I am capable of running a 3:15 marathon or faster, and I will use this race to find out if that's true!

March 2nd: Myrtle Beach Half Marathon
I'll probably run a 5K on New Year's eve to keep up tradition, and then Myrtle Beach will be my next big race. If all goes according to plan, I'll be shooting for a sub 1:30, which would be a huge milestone. I ran the full marathon here in 2017 and I liked it so much that I want to go back for the half.

April 7th: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler
This is my favorite 10-miler and it's part of the reason I'm not running Boston. I like the idea of doing Boston every two years so that I have the opportunity to experience other races.

At this point, I am thinking I will run a May marathon way up north (and DNS if it's above 65) and then be done with racing for the summer. I might not even train that hard for it but use it as a way to force myself into easy running for the two weeks afterward and lessen the desire to race in June. Because. . . I'm not racing in June! I'll take it easy the rest of the summer including a 12-day vacation in Europe. Hopefully, this will all keep me healthy and minimize hard running in the heat.

So, that's my schedule. I realize that there are many things that could happen to prevent me from running any or all of these races, but I'm choosing to stay positive. I'm raring to go!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Seriously Sick Again

If you've been reading my blog over the years, you know that I have a tendency to get mono or a "mono-like" virus that lasts up to three months.

I officially got mono when I was in college, so I think that all the subsequent illnesses have been re-activated mono or a mono-like virus. The problem is-- my immune system has issues. When most people get a viral infection they are able to kick it in about a week. That's not the case with me. According to the doctors, my immune system goes into high gear when I get a virus and then doesn't calm down for a long time.

Previous episodes with long-lasting post viral fatigue:
I thought that maybe presidential elections or summer olympics had something to do with this but now that it's 2018, that theory is shot! And it would have been nice if this was on a four-year schedule so I could plan accordingly.

All joking aside, it seems like this immune system issue is triggered by running hard in the heat. My doctor told me last week that after you run a race, there is a short period of time in which your immune system is really weak, and if you happen to catch a virus during that time, you won't be able to fight it off. For me, I don't seem to have this issue in cooler temperatures. I was handling 75+ mile weeks last March and felt great. I ran the Boston Marathon in that crazy hypothermic weather and didn't get sick. I've always known that the heat impacts my running performance to a greater extent than most people, but now I also see that it really takes a toll on my immune system. Summer arrived about a month early this year, so instead of getting sick in late June, I got sick on June 1. I'm now on day 12.

This sucks. I mean, this REALLY sucks! Not only does it set me back in terms of my running but I also can't go to work, I feel like complete crap, and I don't have a life aside from sitting at home and resting. 

So what, exactly, am I sick with? The best way to describe it is an over-reaction of the immune system triggered by a viral infection. I had a sore throat for the first three days and now my symptoms are:
  • Dizziness when standing up from a seated position
  • Weakness in the legs and an inability to walk at a normal pace
  • General fatigue, and low energy levels, requiring about 1-2 hours of extra sleep per night
  • Varying degrees of body aches
Progress with this illness is not linear. Some days, I feel almost normal as long as I stay seated. Other days (like yesterday) all I can do is lay in bed and even moving the slightest bit feels like a huge effort. Because I've had this illness in the past I know not to get too discouraged when I have one of the really horrible days. I basically just see it as a message that I need to continue to take it easy. 

Taking it easy means doing no physical activity other than moving around the house as needed. Since getting sick 12 days ago, I've been pretty much homebound. I went to the doctor's office twice and Greg took me to the new Wegman's that opened a mile from our house. I sat in the cafe and ate lunch while he shopped for groceries. Other than that, I haven't gone anywhere.

The second time I went to the doctor was to get blood drawn for tests. They needed 5 vials, and I passed out after just 2. It was a bad scene and I couldn't move or talk properly for a good five minutes after I passed out. To make matters worse, 2 vials wasn't enough blood, so that whole ordeal was for nothing.

I haven't been to work since getting sick, and thankfully the people there have been understanding and supportive. I'm doing some work from home, but I'll probably end up on short term disability. I can tolerate a loss of income but I cannot tolerate the stress of feeling like I have to go back before I'm ready.

As far as my mindset, I'm taking it one day at a time. Yesterday was simply miserable because I felt so weak. I wear a FitBit and I logged a whopping total of 550 steps-- the minimum to go from the bed to the bathroom a few times! The last few times I've had this illness I tried to return to work and running too soon. And I think that's why it lasted 3 months. My plan now is as follows:
  • Return to about 90% of my healthy energy level
  • Ease my way back into work by going in for half-days
  • If I tolerate the half-days and feel 100%, start working full days
  • If I tolerate full days and feel 100%, wait a few days and then start taking walks around the neighborhood
  • If I tolerate the walks around the neighborhood, wait a few days and then run.
I have no idea what the timeline would be, but BEST case scenario, I am running by July 1st. Worst case, end of July.  I've pretty much accepted this. I'm good at accepting it because I've been through it so many times before. I know that I am capable of coming back even stronger and faster than before. And I'm still targeting a 3:15 marathon in December as well as a half marathon PR in November.

Every runner has their strengths and weaknesses. I've always known that the heat was my biggest weakness and now I realize how true that is. Comebacks are exciting. But they aren't exciting until you can actually start coming back. I will need to channel all the patience I have and trust that it will be worth the wait.