Monday, April 30, 2018

Chippewa 50 K or 0-50K in 8 weeks

I should title this post ‘from 0 to 50K in 8 weeks’ instead of Chippewa 50K!  That is exactly how this one went down.

As I posted earlier I hadn’t run in a very long time – 7 miles in the previous 12 months and each of  those miles hurt and again confirmed to me that I needed more time off, perhaps a lifetime of no running. I made peace with that outcome. I could no longer fight it. 

After a beautiful snowstorm on February 21 I decided to pull on my snowshoes and head out to the woods. It  was an amazing morning and before I realized what I was doing my body was running.  I realized that  I have never hiked in snowshoes before  but I have always run in them.  Without thinking about it, that is exactly what my body wanted to do. After a while I realized I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t out of breath…I dared believe this snowshoe running thing might be ok. I went again the next day, and the next. I felt great.

I decided to try out my treadmill.  A few minutes of walking, a few minutes of running, more walking, a bit of running, repeat. Over the course of the next month I built up to a 10 mile run on my treadmill. I decided I’d run the Chippewa 10K. I had run the 50K a few times, I’ve  volunteered at the race a few times and knew I was good for the 10K. It’s a beautiful course with many lakes, bridges,  hills, a blue heron rookery, all sorts of good stuff. I  missed being at a race, out in the woods with others, I missed my friends.

Of course the treadmill is not a trail. The trails were still a mess-ice, snow, mud, dangerous. I hiked  a few miles each day  with screw shoes and more running on the treadmill. I wanted to see if I could run 4 hours on the treadmill. I did, I didn’t hurt. I was tired, but I didn’t ache.  I had blisters as usual but that was it. I was beginning to have a sliver of hope that I might be able to run again.

I began to put recovery first. Ice baths, rest, anti inflammatory foods,  yoga, etc. Recovery was foremost in my training plan.

Once I ran the 4 hours on the treadmill I decided I’d go for it and see I could try 50K. I contacted Jeff, the RD, to see if I could move up from 10K to 50K  and of course he said I could.  I was afraid and anxious and excited and so relieved.  I promised myself I wouldn’t continue if I hurt myself.  Promise.

With one week left for a long run out doors I decided to try Lake Maria with a 5 hour goal.  I was only able to get 16 miles in the 5 hours. The trails were a blend of ice, snow, mud, water…they were a disaster;  but my body, my body was not broken!  My body was strong and felt good. I had hope and fear. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it 16 miles in the 4  hours allowed before the turn around at the race. I had 4 hours on the out and 5 hours on the back. I’d give it my best, yet safe, shot.

I didn’t post my entry to facebook, didn’t tell any of my running friends that I’d be at Chippewa. Perhaps I wasn’t so sure. Jeff (RD) and a few people from work were all that knew my plan.

By Friday I was having second thoughts. I had so much anxiety.  Did I always have this much anxiety? I looked at the roster of runners ..was I was concerned that they would judge my capability. Would they see me as unfit? As slow? As a has been? It was really strange. Would I think these things of others? No. Never. I was anxious about waking at 330, driving to the race, feeling the anxiety.  Maybe I’d just sleep in. Maybe I’d already moved out of this ultra running world and I should just let it be. Maybe I didn’t want back in. Why did I want back in? Why did I want to run 50K again?

I wanted to run 50K again because I wanted to spend a day in the woods, working toward a goal. I wanted to run longer than the 10K that I had entered previously before I thought I could do 50K. 50K wasn’t even a thought a few weeks ago. I wanted to reconnect with friends of mine that I  only see at races . I wanted to see if I could. I wanted to see if I could stop if the pain of injury came, could I stay on this side of the line? I was willing to bet that I could.  I wasn’t going to let anxiety win.  I’d be sitting at home wishing I had decided to go to the race instead. Ugh.

I went home Friday after work and decided I wouldn’t set my alarm. If I were to awake at 330 (right) I’d go. If I didn’t I’d let sleeping dogs lie. What an avoidance technique!  Sheesh. I decided to put together my pack, look at the map, aid stations and just do this. Oh the anxiety. It was overwhelming.

I wonder if I’ve always been so riddled with anxiety and depression. I believe so. I countered it with drugs and alcohol. I suppressed it for many years. Running takes the edge off.

Morning came and some of the anxiety had somewhat diminished. I went through the motions, packed my stuff and the headed for New Auburn WI.  I picked up my  bib and shirt, said hello to many of  my friends and  headed back to my car to get ready.  I felt like I was going to be able to do this, I felt that it was going to be a beautiful day on the trail.

Deep breathing, calming breathes. The anxiety left the party.

Well, the story here is more of the leading up to the race than the race itself.

I lined up near the back of the pack, listened to Jeff give a description of the course and before I knew it we were running.

I was testing out a few things. I have a Garmin XT from 2008 that I was still wearing  as well as an Apple 3 watch I purchased this winter. I wasn’t sure how long the battery on the Apple would last. I’d find out. I put my phone into airplane mode and stopped all notifications to the watch. I never listened to any music. Happily I still had 40% battery life when I was finished. The splits were identical to the Garmin and the Apple is SO much smaller and lighter, it will be good for up to 50K.

(Greg Leciejewski took this photo at the start)

The course was beautiful. It smelled like spring. It was 33F when we started and 53F when I finished. The lakes were mostly frozen, there was some ice and snow on the trail, some mud, mostly beautiful grass and dirt. It really was great. I wore my Nathan Firefly pack, which I’ve only worn for 100 mile races. I normally only carry water bottles. I was concerned with the time it would take me between aid stations, I may need more water than usual. I filled up my pack on the way out at 10 miles, the way back 20 miles. That was plenty. I didn’t eat anything off of the aid station tables. I  had gels, honey stinger waffles and picky bars with me. I had plenty of energy.

(Greg Leciejewski took this photo at 2 mile mark)

I made it into the turnaround under 4 hours. I knew it wouldn’t take me 5 hours to get back. I was being conservative  on pace to err on the side of caution.  So far so good.

My knees were becoming  a bit sore on the downhill. As long as I was on the flat or going uphill I could move well. I had mincy short steps on the downs, trying to sink into my quads, giving my knees a rest. I fell twice. Keep trudging.

The last 3 miles were very muddy. The trail had warmed up, it was soft wet mud. It was slow picking. My blisters were starting to scream at me so I just trudged on. I knew I was almost at the finish. It finally hit me that I was actually going to finish, that I was again a 50K finisher!  I climbed up the final hill and into the finish chute. What an amazing day. I am quite amazed that the endurance came back in 8 short weeks. I have much work do to on the speed but that is a challenge I am excited to embark upon. I am just so darn grateful to have been able to complete a 50K race, without injury or pain.

I visited with friends, hung out for a while, changed clothes and drove home, with a smile on my face the whole way.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Wax Eloquent

I don't know what it is about running that makes me wax eloquent, makes me feel vibrant and alive, creates great joy inside of me.  I truly don't know that I can pinpoint exactly what it is. It is so many things.

For years I thought those feelings were simply felt because running was something that was SO far off of my radar, that the act of becoming a runner, the act of becoming something that I wasn't, created those feelings. Instead of being hung over, feeling sick, smoking cigarettes.. I was running. I had changed the script. I was able to rise above that shame that I felt.  I thought that the deep change in me created those feelings that running brought to the surface. I no longer believe it is that simple.

After not running for months-which is  longest time for me to abstain from running since I began in 1997-I  believed that I probably wasn't going to be able to run again, I sought other ways to feel joy. I did feel joy through these other situations .. but not THAT joy.   Not that unabashed, all encompassing joy. Deep rooted joy-down into the bone joy.  Other runners know exactly what it is that I'm talking about. While not running I mourned the act, I mourned the feeling that I was no longer a runner but I was able to to put that away and be OK. Just OK. I was able to go on and no longer force recovery, pine away and sulk. I had made peace with no longer running. I had to.  I couldn't be gloom and doom all day.

In February while snowshoe running I stopped and realized what I was doing. I was snow shoe running! Running! I began to bawl. Whole heartedly whole bodily bawl. I fell to my knees and all of this emotion came to the surface. It is what I would envision would happen to me if I saw Topaz running down the trail to me. That. Exactly. I hadn't gone out to snowshoe run. I had gone out to hike upon snowshoes but the body knew what it was doing before the mind. I realized how much I missed running. How much I can one love an act, a movement, a thing such as running? The act of it, the feel of it, the blood pumping through my body, the heat, the sweat, the smiling, the focus, the not focusing on anything. Just being. Just being ME. After getting home that day I wondered if I dared try it again. Nothing hurt. My neuroma wasn't any worse that it had been. Not better but not worse. My knees didn't hurt. My hips felt fine.  I felt great. I stretched out, practiced yoga, ate many non inflammatory foods and slept well. I was going to make my recovery count. The next day I didn't hurt. I wanted to try it again. I tried it again, snowshoe running increased to an  hour. Nothing but joy.

Over the past few weeks and months  I've moved from snowshoes to treadmill, from treadmill to trail and increased my time and miles running. I'm not in pain. I feel like me. This past weekend I ran a twenty mile long run and it was superb. Everything has changed again. Those months of darkness have led to light. It feels good to dig out my GUs, my hydration pack, to think about daily running routes. Yeah, I've missed it. SO much. I'm letting myself feel it.  I am diligent in my recovery. I am keeping inflammation at bay with a diet rich in inflammatory foods and spices, icing my shins and knees just in case, practicing yoga to keep my tendons, ligaments and facia loose. I am placing recovery in the forefront of my training. Training. Yup, this girlz gotz goalz.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Morton's Neuroma Relief?

Could it be?

Last month I began to run a bit. I was outside on snowshoes and before I knew it I was running. I was apprehensive, nervous and giddy with excitement all at the same time once I realized I had been running, not walking!  Wow!

I was still noticing neuroma pain-it just hasn’t gone away or lessened at all while taking time off. I didn’t feel any other pain.  I’ve been feeling great, have been running on my treadmill each day, completing an hour of 5 minutes walk at 4 mph @ 3 % incline x 5 minutes run at 5 mph @ 3 % incline. My body has been feeling  great my mind jubilant.  The neuroma zingers are as usual and it feels as though I have a giant walnut under my foot. I have been going to book surgery again with my prior neuroma surgeon but I’ve also been  looking  online for various ways of relief other than cortisone shots and the surgery route which I went through with my other foot and neuroma.

I have tried cortisone, foot pads, orthotics, wide shoes, tape,  ice and a zillion other things. As I was searching online I found a Visco-Gel Top Spacer with Stay Put Loop which looked interesting and promising. As I was reading about it I read a comment online from my friend, Sheila, multiple IronMan finisher. She has been using them for years and they have been working for her so I ordered a package and have been using  them every day  since. I am wearing them in  my work shoes, my running shoes, my slippers, everything. I place it between my third and fourth toe, separating those metatarsals. Guess what? I don’t feel   my neuroma! I DON’T FEEL MY NEUROMA!  I can’t even believe it. It’s almost too good to be true.  But I believe.  I am getting a second chance.

If you are suffering be sure to try one of these little guys. It just might work for you, too! I am really excited!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My Heart

I still don't have a dog!  I can't really believe that I've gone almost THREE years without one. Topaz passed three years ago, in May. I certainly thought I'd have found a little fur ball to love by now. Toffee, our 19 year old cat, passed away one year ago next week. Steve is allergic to cats,  I won't have another. Well, he is allergic to dogs, too. We have been without an animal for the first time in our 34 year marriage. Crazy.

I almost picked up a pup in December. A beautiful little blue border collie. I just couldn't pull the trigger. I am not sure why. I know that I have room in my heart to love another dog. I know that the pain and loss I am going through in losing Topaz is well worth the love I gave and received. Obviously, I knew he wasn't going to live forever. I knew I would lose him eventually.

Perhaps I am afraid of loving that hard again? Perhaps I am protecting my heart? Perhaps I am not sure if I want to be chained down to a dog well into my 60s? I can't even think that far into the future, yet, it is only 7 years. Wow. WOW.

Maybe it is due to new flooring and furniture in my home. Nah,  I don't think so.

I don't think my heart can stand another break, I don't think my heart can love that hard again.

Time will tell.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Let It Snow!


This past weekend we were blessed with the first real snowfall of the season.  It seems that the past few snowstorms have just missed Big Lake, leaving me with a longing for snowshoe running. This weekend the snow arrived.   It was beautiful, wet and heavy.

Saturday I had errands to run in Maple Grove so I swung by Elm Creek Singletrack  afterward. It was just as beautiful as I had hoped. The snow was deep and powdery. It shimmered like diamonds under the robin egg blue sky. The pine trees were heavy with piles of white snow, resembling heaps of icing.   It was magnificent.

Tears began to stream down my cheeks.  What is it about running that makes me feel…feel everything so deeply. Feel what? Feel gratitude for my surroundings, for the peace and quiet, for time by myself, for movement, for fresh air. I’m not sure.   I don’t feel the same as I begin a hike. I strapped on my 17 year old snow shoes-how can they really be that old, I remember buying them shortly after I purchased Topaz. Crazy! I began to travel down the trail, scaring the squirrel and rabbits into the underbrush. I made the first tracks.  It was  magnificent.  I trudged along, sinking into soft snow, loving the moment where I was. My feet felt good, my knees were fine, I began to run. I smiled, I laughed and cried. I spilled over with joy, it was tangible.

I hadn't run for almost a year; inconceivable,  I would have thought, yet I took the time off. I thought perhaps my second neuroma would heal, the ligaments in my knees would feel  strong again,  my ankles would not be so sore. I began to practice hot yoga, deep fascia tissue release, active release therapy,  walking instead of running,  prayer and release of control It all  helped. 

My neuroma didn’t go away,  it’s there, talking to me. I’ll have to have it surgically removed as I did in my other foot. It’s been bothering me more and more as time goes on. Not running didn’t relieve the pain. The rest of my body feels good, healed.  Strong. I need to respect it and treat it well, while running.  I can do this. I should be able to do both. Health and running. They can coexist. My running doesn’t have to look like my alcoholism, does it?  Time will tell.

Time off from running taught me a few things. I had allowed running to define me.  It defined who I was, it defined my relationships,  everything about me. It no longer does. I am so much more than a runner. I get that now. I can exist without running.  I can stay sober without running. I wasn’t always so sure. Running can be a part of my life; it doesn't have to be my life.

I began a few new hobbies. I am painting, knitting,  practicing yoga, lifting. I am enjoying all of it.

I didn’t miss the anxiety of  packing drop bags, of packet pickup,  all of the people, of group training runs, of others asking if they could stick by me during a race, all of those made larger  in my mind anxieties.

I’m just taking one step at a time and smiling all the way.

Monday, August 07, 2017

On The Other Side

I just let out a big exhale as I begin to type the letters to this page.  I feel like I should update this blog. It’s been a long while since I have.

It’s been a  year since I ran my last ultra, Voyageur 50 Mile Endurance Run.   Man, that one took a toll on me. My body finally got through to my brain. I had to stop ignoring and denying the pain I was going through; although feeling pain was better than feeling the emotion, the seriousness of what I was doing to myself. Why do I always have to hurt myself?? What am I trying to fill up? Run away from? Fill the hole..with booze, with running, with food.

After healing from cellulitis, the fractures, another neuroma, and tendonitis after Voyaguer, I began to walk and was quite concerned when walking was still painful.   I was so inflamed. The nerve damage kept my feet numb, the walking spread the numbness to my ankles into my shins.  Wasn’t I even going to be able to hike? What had I done? Serious damage? I’d quickly stomp out that thought and go back into denial. I’ll be fine. I’ve been here before. Yes, I sure have, too many times. I can barely walk, I try to run through the pain, I ignore my body, breaking down further, gritting my teeth with every step and this becomes normal. Not really cool, Jul.  You have one body. ONE BODY!

For the past five years I’ve been in pain while running but running in pain was better than not running at all. That was all that mattered. That I was running. 

In January, 6 months after Voyageur, still not able to run more than a few steps, I was  praying for healing, praying to run again. I was back in this too familiar space…praying for healing from injury once again so that I could run once more  and then this all over again. The cycle continues. Eventually I ‘heard’ from God as I sat on a bench in the woods. ‘What if you prayed for release from this burden to run?”  “I can release this burden from you” What? No. No. No no no . It’s not a burden. I am a runner, I run. That’s who I am, what I am. Moving on…not giving that thought any more attention. Nope, no thanks. I’m good.  But I wasn’t.

I couldn’t deny the fact months later, that I was still in pain: my ankles, my knees, my hips…everything ached, was inflamed, swollen, a mess.  I couldn’t bend down to my lower cabinets in the kitchen, I couldn’t walk down my steps without bowing my knees out and holding the rail. Most of the time I had to come down sideways. My family would follow me saying ‘slow moving traffic’.  I  had some pretty crazy frantic, manic thought processes as the thought of not running came to solidify in my brain, my heart, my prayer.

The more I listened, the more I knew what I needed to do. I began to pray for release from the burden of ‘having’ to run. True release from that need. Not just lip service. I really had to run. I felt running made me whole. I defined myself as a runner.  I prayed.  I struggled. I went to a recovery group. I needed help with this one.  I am not one to ask for help. I can do it all myself.  Not this time. I needed others to help me. Something that was dear to me, that defined me, that was my life, I needed to let it go. I didn’t know if I could. I knew that it was hurting me, I knew that I could no longer control it. I had tried running 5 miles each day, telling myself I wasn’t going to race anymore. I would only run a good 5-7 each day . I had been saying that for years!  I would then run 10 and 20 and then enter a 50K, a 50 miler, a 100 miler and end up in the same fricken place. Injured, trying to get back to the other side. I was always crossing the line . Something that was so good for me had become so dark. My running was looking much like my alcoholism. Damn.  How the hell did this happen?

Very easily.  I became obsessed, again. Obsessive compulsive, call it what you will. Addictive personality? Whatever. I ran in the morning, I ran at lunch, I ran in the evening. I ran all day, all night, more more more. I was shocked when I would read on FaceBook that others were running 2000 miles a year. Why not 4000? What? 4000 was always my yearly goal. Was it too much?  I was applauded for my tenacity, my perseverance. I trained to take my pain and place it into a little black box, separate from me. I could run while blisters popped upon my feet, run with a broken ankle. I could run with tendonitis, fractures, extreme pain, because I had to finish.  I didn’t think it would result in serious injury.  I was called a bad ass when really I was being a dumb ass. For 15 years I racked up miles upon miles and didn’t suffer injury but after I had my hysterectomy I began to injury myself. First it was herniated discs, then over a dozen stress fractures, breaks, neuroma, surgery, foot numbness, nerve damage, celllulitis. One thing after another.  80,000 miles was too much. I had to pay attention.  I had to stop this insanity. This was no longer healthy.

I began to heal. After 9 months I could walk without pain. I’d try jogging and stop after a few steps.  I’d remember where I was, that I didn’t want to again cross that line. I’ve been hiking 6 miles each day.  My feet are still numb due to the nerve damage, sometimes it goes into my ankles and into my shins.  Every once in a while I’ll have neuroma flare up and excessive inflammation but it goes away. It is no longer chronic.  That is the goal. No chronic inflammation. 

I think back to Alicia’s wedding shower two years ago. Amy was teaching a yoga class for us.  I was unable  to bend to the ground, I couldn’t sit on the ground, I couldn’t bend my knees.  I couldn’t stretch my calves, my hips were like glass, feeling fragile, ready to break. I was so full of inflammation that my body could no longer  perform simple tasks. I  still ran though.  Oh yeah, I ran.

Here I am, a year out since the last ultra and I’m feeling really really good. I'm happy. I am at peace. I'm thankful, full of gratitude. I’ve dropped 25 pounds. I joined a hot yoga studio in Elk River. I just had this weird calling to check out yoga again, it had been a while and I wanted to do something in addition to hiking each day. I  found a coupon through Groupon and bought 10 classes. I was scared to death. What do I know about hot yoga? I absolutely loved it. I love the heat, the meditation, sitting quietly, feeling the emotions, harnessing them, then letting them go with unattachment.  I am learning so much. Feeling and letting go. Not feeling and denying or feeling and filling up with something else. Just feeling and being. It’s incredible.  Hot yoga has been healing for me. Spiritually, mentally and physically. I can now bend my knees to 90 degrees and more. I can walk down my stairs without pain and without bowing of the legs or sideways, gripping the rail. I can get into my lower kitchen cabinets.  I am going to a hot yoga fusion (yoga flow/pilates) each MWF at 530 AM which is divine. It’s challenging, strengthening and delicious. I attend an active flow on Saturday and a 90 minute combo/restorative on Sunday.   

Last Sunday Alicia and I went an all day yoga event in Minneapolis. It was all about detoxing, vegan juices and lifestyle, various forms of yoga, rituals, crystals..we had such a good time. It was great to get together again. We weren’t running. We were doing something else. Growing.  It felt strange  to be practicing yoga, caring for myself while on the same day that one year ago I was running Voyageur, hurting myself so badly. What a strange twist of events. 

I miss running. I miss it very much but I no longer mourn it, I no longer wish that I were still running. I no longer pine away for it. It was a wonderful time, it was what I needed at that time in my life. It served it’s purpose  and now I will move on. I can move forward. I can grow. 

I find myself wanting to warn those whom I see following the same path as I. They are  running through serious injury, taking weeks off to recover, only to do it again..because they are runners. It hurts more to stop than to continue.  It is what and who they are. I know that scenario. I know that pain. I know the anguish. I want to let them know, but I don’t. I ask them to be careful.  Just be careful.

There are so many ultrarunners  I know who are  no longer running due to extreme injury. I don’t know if they didn’t tell me before or if I didn’t care to listen to  their story. Now I listen. Now I nod my head. I know. I know. I should have listened before. 

Now, I am on the other side of that line that I kept crossing. Gratefully, I am no longer crossing that line.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!! 2017, I just can’t believe how quickly time goes.

I look back at 2016 and feel … peace.

I enjoyed speaking at the Upper Midwest Trail Runners banquet at year end. When I was invited to  speak at first I needed to say no. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to share. I'm in a different place.  I was given a few weeks to think about it.

After meditating and praying on it, I decided to say yes. I realized I have plenty to offer and to speak about.  I thought back to the first UMTR banquet in 2008. Kim and Andy Holak were our speakers. I remember how Kim impressed me with her experience, the stories she shared and her willingness to answer my 101 questions.  I decided I wanted to do the same. I realized I did have something to offer and that this might be a good way to close this chapter.

The banquet was a lot of fun. I and Jan O’Brien were the speakers, Bill introduced us and  then asked questions.  It was well organized and I spoke well. I wrapped up with a piece of advice ‘Don’t let running define you. You are so much more than a runner. There is so much more to life..than your next run’. Many didn’t get that last statement, but many of my true friends, the ones that have been doing this for years…looked right at me and nodded…’yes’.  We know.

I felt like that Banquet brought me full circle.  I began running to lose weight and to stay sober 20 years ago. It morphed into something that became a daily habit…which I didn’t feel like myself it I didn’t get it in.  Running brought me great joy. Friends. It became a big part of ME.  Then it began to overshadow me, my health,  my relationships. I began to run more than I did anything else. I entered races to feed my habit. If I entered, I needed to train, I needed to run. People began to call me Bad Ass. Really, it was Dumb Ass. My body can no longer sustain the miles I have put upon it. I have run 80,000 miles. That’s  enough.

I realized I was no longer creating goals and entering races. I was entering races to fill my need.

When I wasn’t able to walk without pain, not able to drive without pain, I finally realized I needed to change. I didn't want another surgery.  I have been praying for a long time to lose this need to run long. I no longer want to ache, to need to run, to hurt after 10 miles, it’s just not worth it. As I said last post, I've lost that need, thank goodness. I can try to heal. As I’ve begun to cut back on my mileage my feet aren’t throbbing constantly, I'm not limping any more, I don't feel like my other foot needs surgery any longer, my knees don’t hurt as I walk down the steps. My ankles don’t turn and twist constantly. The swelling and redness is gone from my cellulitis . I’m getting better. I’m getting stronger.

I am running a few miles daily, I am skiing, lifting, snowshoeing and I am finding peace. I am healing.

I ran my 80,000 mile today. No wonder I'm feeling done with this. 80,000 miles. 

I am no longer running away from those demons that have chased me for so long.  I’m no longer running away.

We had a wonderful Christmas break. Steve took two weeks off, I had 10 days off, Tyler took the week off and Troy is home until January 16. We spent days together-we ate together-we played together. I didn't leave for any races,  I didn't spend days away or hours away training. We were together and all that this brings. 

Peace. I feel Peace.