Monday, July 23, 2018

Birthday Bash 5K

I did it! I ran a 5K.

I registered for the Birthday Bash 5K several months ago before getting sick. I got sick on May 31st, didn't run at all for five weeks, and then slowly eased my way back into running through a gradual progression of run-walks.

This week, I was able to run/walk every day with progressively more running and less walking. I did this for about 30-35 minutes each day, and by the end of the week (yesterday) I felt confident in being able to run nonstop for a 5K, and not experience and adverse effects.

The tricky thing with recovering from this illness is that it's difficult to know how much is too much. Overdoing it will cause a setback until I am 100% recovered and out of the woods. I may feel completely fine while running, only to realize the next day that it was too much. That's why I have been very gradually testing the waters and it seems as if I have finally reached 100% recovery and I won't need to worry about setbacks anymore. That said, I'm not going to start running 40+ mile weeks yet; I will continue with my gradual approach.

Before the Race
Greg and me at the start line
Because I planned to run this as an easy run with Greg, I was "out of sorts" with my normal pre-run routine. I forgot my sunglasses and sunscreen, so we had to go back for them. We later realized that Greg forgot his wallet. Thankfully I had a credit card attached to the back of my phone. When we went to pick up our packets, we learned that Greg had never actually registered, so he had to do so on site.

Once we pinned on our bibs, we headed for the starting area where we met up with our friends Allison and Cheryl. It was an unseasonably cool morning at 64 degrees and lowish humidity. Typically this race is 75+ degrees and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the coolest Birthday Bash in the history of the race. I was bummed that I wouldn't be able to take advantage of the weather and race full-out, but I know I'll have plenty of cool races in the coming months. Plus, if it had been really warm, I would have worried about my body rebelling since heat running seems to be what weakened my immune system in the first place. We chatted for a bit and then the race started.

Mile 1
The plan was to simply run our easy pace and maintain it for the duration of the race. Greg and I didn't warm up so we used the first mile to establish a rhythm. The first mile is mostly downhill so I wasn't too surprised that our first mile clocked in at 8:42.

Mile 2
At this point, I observed that the effort level was still light, but any harder and I would have classified it as medium. Although we weren't gasping for air like those around us, we were definitely working and it felt good. Occasionally the sun would poke out from behind the clouds which made things harder, but then it wouldn't be long before the cloud cover returned. We held steady and logged our second mile in 8:41

Mile 3
The last mile of this race is almost entirely uphill. I expected that we would slow down here, but maintaining the pace didn't feel like a strain. We even passed a few people, which seemed to give me more adrenaline and energy. We were having a blast and I was so thankful to be out there and feeling good. We ran the third mile in 8:33.

The last bit
Since I was feeling good, I thought it would be fun to pick it up a bit for the last stretch. Cheryl and Allison cheered us in and I wore a huge smile on my face. According to our Garmins, we ran a pace of 7:52 for 0.17 miles. Pretty exciting! After writing this, I just realized that my Boston Marathon pace was faster. . . gulp! I'll get back there.

We both ran official times of 27:16. With this time, I placed 12th out of 42 in my age group and 53rd out of 300 women.

After the race
Cheryl and Allison (who both ran very speedy races) ran a few cool down miles while Greg and I changed into dry clothes in the car. The plan was to meet them at a nearby restaurant for brunch, but when we tried to leave, the car wouldn't start. We ended up getting a jump start from a friendly runner nearby, and then driving the car to a mechanic to get the battery replaced before having brunch. Finally the four of us enjoyed a celebratory meal at an outside table. I can't believe it was still cool enough to be eating outdoors!

I'm absolutely thrilled that I was able to participate in this race and feel good for the duration of it. Better yet, 24 hours later, I am still feeling good and without any lingering fatigue or dizziness, which were my most common symptoms. I'm taking this as a sign that I am fully recovered and that I don't have to be fearful of relapse. Phew!

In four weeks, Cheryl and Allison are running the Leesburg 5K/20K. I plan to participate in that event too, but not at race effort. I have given up all-out racing in the summer, but it's fun to be part of a running event with friends. My next race-effort race will be in late September.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Getting There: Recovery from post-viral syndrome

I haven't provided an update on my running (or lack thereof) in a few weeks, so here it is.

I came down with a virus on May 31st, so it's now been 6.5 weeks since the onset of this whole thing. A few days after getting sick, I realized that it could take me a long time to recover, because I had a similar illness in 2012 and 2016. Both occurred in the summertime. Both were the likely result of too much physical exertion in the heat. Being the planner that I am, I made a comeback strategy, which I outlined in a previous blog. Below is the same plan, with actual dates:
  • Return to about 90% of my healthy energy level: June 25
  • Ease my way back into work by going in for half-days: June 28
  • If I tolerate the half-days and feel 100%, start working full days: July 2nd
  • If I tolerate full days and feel 100%, wait a few days and then start taking walks around the neighborhood: I started walking sooner, on June 21st, because my doctor advised to. 
  • If I tolerate the walks around the neighborhood, wait a few days and then run: July 4th
All of this worked out fine, but I think I made a mistake by increasing my running volume by too much too soon. For my first run back, I ran 11 minutes non stop. Two days later, I ran 25 minutes nonstop. And the next day, I ran 27 minutes, plus a 2-mile walk. Apparently this was too much too soon, because by Sunday July 8th, I felt tired most of the day and didn't do any running or walking.

This frustrated me greatly because I had thought the illness was completely behind me. But then I chose to look on the positive side, remembering that my doctor quoted a 6-8 week recovery time, and I wasn't quite yet at 6 weeks. I also remembered that recovery is not linear, and just because I felt bad last Sunday, didn't mean I wasn't progressing overall.

On Monday, I did a short walk (1.5 miles) with two 3-minute jogs thrown in, and decided that run/walking would be a better way to get back into it instead of trying to run for 15-20 minutes at a time. I still didn't feel all that great, but I remembered how walking in the earlier stages of my illness made me feel better. I went to work, but came home feeling so exhausted that I got into bed at 7:00, immediately following dinner.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling totally wiped out, even though I had slept for 9 straight hours. I did not run or walk. I debated going to work. It was a difficult morning for me emotionally because it was a reminder that I was not done with this illness yet. But, after taking a shower and getting dressed for work, I felt better. And by noon, I was feeling almost back to normal. What a relief!

Saturday, July 14th: Run/Walk
Because of this setback, I decided that I needed to stop running and return to walking only. I did that and felt energized for the next few days, so on Friday, I did 4 x (4 minutes walk, 4 minutes jog). I took the jogs very easy, all at a 10:00 pace or slower. By contrast, when I had tried to run initially the week prior, I was running in the low 9's, and not taking walk breaks. This 32-minute "workout" left me feeling good, so I repeated it yesterday, and again today. There's no need to increase the distance/time every day. It's better to find something that works, stick with it for a short while, and then make a very small increase. It's all about finding the right balance between giving the body enough stimulation to continue to recover, but not so much that it causes a strain.

If I continue to feel good, I plan to run-walk for another week, with slight increases in the run time. I'm registered for a 5K one week from now, and it would be nice to jog the whole thing without taking walk breaks, but I am not going to do that if it's too hot or I don't feel ready. At the very least, I would like to run/walk it with Greg. Hopefully one week from now I will be blogging about how well the 5K went and how great it felt, regardless of the run/walk proportions!

Even though I've felt like my normal, healthy self for the past five days, I don't think I'm out of the danger zone. There's a small part of me that worries I will never be out of the danger zone and that running for an extended period of time will always cause extreme fatigue. My running career could be over. I don't believe this will happen, and I don't worry about it happening, but I realize it's a possibility, called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The difference between Chronic Fatigue and Post-viral Fatigue, is that Post-viral fatigue goes away.

In any event, I'm still very grateful that I'm healthy enough to go to the work and do the "everyday" things that I couldn't do during the first four weeks of illness. I have my life back now, all except for the running piece of it. 

Weekly mileage: Week of July 9th

Sunday, July 8, 2018

From great to good: How I changed my life for the better

About six years ago, while discussing my running goals, I was asked why these goals were so important to me. Couldn't I simply be happy by being "a good person doing good things," he asked.

This question saddened me greatly at the time. It was as if I was being asked to settle.  I interpreted "a good person doing good things" as being ordinary and mediocre. Anyone can be a good person doing good things, but few people could qualify for Boston or win awards for their running accomplishments. I loved running so much because I believed it made me special. I wanted to be a someone who did great things, not just good things.

What I heard was "you shouldn't be so focused on this running stuff; give it up and just live a plain old normal life." It was like he was telling me I shouldn't try to be so special. I should just focus on being like everyone else. It was a hard pill to swallow.

This was six years ago and during those six years, I have thought extensively about this topic. I've opened my eyes to the world around me and I've had encounters with people who did not do good things. Who, based on the way they treated me and others around me, I believed to be morally corrupt. The more I observed the actions and motives of these people, the more I realized that being a good person, doing good things is the essential foundation for my self-worth. Not my accomplishments, running or otherwise. I work hard and I'm nice to people. I'm passionate about what I do. I try to bring positivity to challenging situations. I could win a dozen races, and it would be meaningless without this core foundation.

Accomplishments are easy to hang your hat on. They are tangible, measurable, and shareable. But they are meaningless if you don't value yourself for the way in which you live your life. Because I was never really taught what true self esteem was, it was easy to point to my accomplishments and feel proud. I think I've always been a good person doing good things, but I vastly undervalued it. I didn't realize that I should be loving myself for it, instead of focusing so much on what I could achieve. I'm probably a late bloomer in all of this, as I didn't come to this realization until my mid 30s. But once I did, it was life changing.

Now, as I go about my days, I am much more aware of how I'm approaching situations and not simply the end goal. I prioritize acting with dignity and I admire others who do the same.

I'm currently coming off of a five-week break from running. Many people have said to me, "it must be killing you to not run!" But truthfully, it didn't kill me. It was (and still is) hard, but I didn't focus on it all that much because I knew I would recover and eventually I'd be out there running every day again.

In closing, what this person was asking me to do was anything but ordinary and mediocre. He was asking me to start thinking about my values and who I was as a person. Was I a good person? Did I treat others with respect? Was I honest, caring, and genuine? I've come to realize that I pride myself most on my authenticity.

Great things aren't great if they aren't fundamentally good. If we all focused more on being good rather than great, the world would surely be a better place.