Time to Celebrate

Yesterday was my birthday and I have a lot to celebrate. I’m cancer-free, running again, and life has returned to some semblance of normalcy. Oh, and something I wrote is going to be published this month!

A few months ago, in the middle of chemo, I found out that a race report I wrote on my first 50K trail race in Palo Duro would be published in the running magazine Marathon & Beyond.  I was thrilled, of course, but it was tough trying to do some minor editing and send off photos when all I really wanted to do was curl up in a little ball and sleep. Trying to make my brain stay focused and my fingers work on the keyboard was a challenge, not to mention the continually strong urge to vomit.

The editors were patient and kind with me, however, and the article will be appearing in the March/April edition–which means any day now it should be in the mail. If you don’t subscribe to Marathon & Beyond, you should. It really is the best running magazine out there. Almost all of the articles are written by real runners, people like you and me, who tell their stories about training, racing, and running. It’s a magazine that’s more like a small book, written by people who love running crazy long distances. That’s us, y’all! (And no one coerced me or paid me into saying any of this. It really is a great magazine, and not just because they published my race report.)

I haven’t written much lately. It’s taken me a while to settle back into routines and transition back to a regular life, whatever that is. I can’t play the cancer card anymore when it comes to housework or cooking, the kids have come and gone, and I’ve been putting a lot of work into the knitting business. And I have to admit, coming back to running after almost six months of surgery and chemo was much harder than I thought it would be. MUCH harder.

Cross country skiing in New Mexico. Much more fun than running, but just as hard.

Those first few runs after my last chemo session were pretty rough. I could barely run ten steps before I was out of breath. I’m not exaggerating. I used to tell everyone I was starting back at ZERO with my running, but the reality is I started back at NEGATIVE 25. Chemo takes a lot out of you, and the fatigue has taken months to recover from.

So I started with walking. At first, it was only a few blocks with the dogs, then I felt strong enough to push it to three miles, then four. I added in small running segments, and celebrated when I was able to run one whole block without stopping, then two blocks. It wasn’t much, but it was monumental, all at the same time.

I decided four miles was the ideal distance for me, and my goal was to keep walking/jogging (AKA wogging) four miles until I could run the distance without any walk breaks. Interestingly, when I started running again, I picked right back up at my old pace. The problem, of course, was that my legs and heart weren’t conditioned for that pace, hence the fact that I was out of breath after ten steps. I needed to make myself slow down. I had to reteach my brain to slow down to a pace that I could more comfortably run. You would think this would happen automatically after such a long layoff, but it didn’t for me. I think this proves just how stubborn my brain truly is.

Running with my son’s girlfriend, Nicole, helped tremendously. She had never run before, and didn’t have any former running paces to mess with her brain. She naturally ran a pace that was comfortable for her, and it forced me to relearn how it felt when I first started running eight years ago–to slow down in order to run farther. This is all Running 101, but I told you I was stubborn. They say running is 90% mental, and this proves it (at least for me).

What also helped: the treadmill. Yes, doing the thing that makes me want to slit my wrists–running on the treadmill–helped the most to reprogram my brain to find the right pace. I set the speed to a very comfortable pace and ran TWO MILES without stopping. For me, this was huge. Just knowing I could run that far without having to stop and walk let my brain know that if I would just slow down, I could go farther. Duh.

After that mental breakthrough, it was Game On. Running was still hard, and I still had to take lots of walk breaks, but at least I was out there again. I ran only for time, noting each week how long it took me to cover the four mile distance. I decided to wear my Garmin one day just to see what my actual pace was, and of course it was a miserable run. Immediately, I got caught back up in my speed and trying to run faster than the last time. I ditched the Garmin afterwards and went back to the Timex. Eventually, a run/walk that used to take me 1:17:00 only took 51:00, including walk breaks. I wasn’t going to break any speed records, but that was unimportant. I was running again!

Showing off the new runner-friendly ‘do after a run.

Now that I’m four months out from chemo, I’m still taking walk breaks. I’m walking less and less each week, and I’m slowly getting stronger. Yes, I’m frustrated that I’m still walking on a four mile run, but I vowed I wouldn’t beat myself up over this. Building up all the muscles and tendons in my legs again, not to mention making my heart stronger and more conditioned, just takes time. There’s no hurry. And some days, running four miles still makes me feel as tired as if I ran a half marathon.

I try to do yoga at least five days a week, and like before, I swear it makes me a stronger runner. I can’t recommend yoga enough. No matter what else happens with staying fit as I get older, I plan to keep doing yoga well into my 100’s (or longer).

My only goal for the entire year is to run at least four days per week. No races, just base building for an entire year. I haven’t always met my goal of consistency. Some days I use the cold temps as an excuse, other days the wind, some days I’m lazy, and a lot of days I just can’t get motivated to run alone. Running is hard now, and it used to be easy. Building up to my previous level of conditioning is going to take a long time, and I promised myself I would be patient. Running is definitely much harder when you’re just starting out, and I haven’t reached the point where it feels “easy” again. But I will.

Of course, my running buddies are all much faster than me now, and I hate holding others back, but they have been great about meeting for an occasional “wog” during the week. I’m also doing a long run every Saturday again, and my closest running friends have been nice enough to run with me. I’m up to 7 miles, and in a couple of weeks I plan on running my first post-chemo nine mile loop around the lake. It will be hard, but I can’t wait.

Most importantly, I’M ALIVE, and that’s the best thing of all to celebrate this birthday!

white rock lake runner

White Rock Lake, I’m coming for you!

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31 comments

    • Mind Margins

      Thank you, Peter. I am determined to enjoy my comeback and not beat myself up too much when I struggle. It’s going to take a while to get back into running as much as I used to.

  1. getgoing-getrunning

    It took me a second to realise this was Run Nature! I knew as soon as I started reading this post that it was Angela writing but the blog title was different. Welcome back!
    Great news in your, well everything! It’s super you’re back ‘wogging’ and building up your strength. Your plan sounds really sensible – build back up your pace over the same distance until you can then build up the distance. Keep on going and you will get back to where you were before. You’ve survived a massive ordeal and you will naturally take time to complete the recovery. All the best!

    • Mind Margins

      It HAS been awhile since I’ve written on here! I ran once from June through November, and it took me weeks after Halloween and the last chemo to build up to running that one block. I’ll try to be better about posting on here now that I’m running again. Looking forward to reading about your Paris Marathon soon!

  2. Gary Turnage

    Way to go kiddo. We’re all so very proud of you. Do your own thing and don’t overdo it. Love you.

  3. AndrewGills

    Happy birthday Angela. I’m so happy that you are here to celebrate your birthday 🙂 . Cross country skiing mist be so fun. Love that you are running again

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks, Andrew. Glad to see you made it back home safely. Cross country skiing is so much fun, but it is a lot of hard work, especially at altitude.

  4. vttrailgirl

    Happy Belated Birthday!!
    This is the best news I’ve heard in awhile, you running. And, thanks for your support while I’m not running myself. While it’s not the same, I do appreciate your perspective. Woohoo to you!!!

  5. HC

    Congrats on having your race report published! Five days of yoga a week is impressive. I’m not that consistent, but share your intention of being a bendy centenarian.

    March 3rd is my boyfriend’s and dad’s birthday, too. Good day to be born. It was so cold up here we celebrated the simple pleasures of a fancy coffee and good food. I hope your day was fantastic. Best of luck with the 9 mile loop.

    • Mind Margins

      Amazing that there are so many March 3 birthdays in your life! My day was great: had lunch with a good friend, spent some time in a local bookstore, and then dinner with my husband in a neighborhood restaurant. Tomorrow I’m having lunch with some running friends, and next week dinner with another close friend. On Thursday, I’ll get to see my oncologist for my three month checkup (she’s like family to me), and I’ve already seen that my blood work looks excellent so I’ll consider that a birthday celebration as well! (I tend to celebrate my birthday the entire month!)

  6. Andy Coleman

    Happy birthday Angela! Congratulations on getting published (“Surprising” – said no one ever that reads your posts :-). – I’ll definitely check out the magazine.

  7. Still a Runner

    Angela, this post makes my heart sing. I’ll carry the joy of your recovery, your tenacity and your upcoming lake run as I head out on my long run this week. Happy Birthday!

  8. imarunner2012

    Good for you, that is all great news. XC skiing is a rigorous work out. Every winter I say I’m going to strap on my old skiis, but so far they are still in the closet!

    • Mind Margins

      Pull them out of the closet! I almost feel like XC skiing is more of a workout than running, maybe because of the upper body workout that goes along with it. If I lived in a place where it snowed a lot, I would do it every chance I got.

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