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.
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!
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!
It was a week of some running, some walking, some yoga, and an Insanity workout. Went back to the doctor for the third (and hopefully last) time about the coughing, and still managed to get in a couple of easy runs. Rather than sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I’ve resolved to just be thankful for whatever running I can do. I can freak out about not being ready for Jemez, or about losing all my conditioning, or I can just take things one day at a time and run when I can. For me, the bottom line is just being able to run. I may not be as fast or as strong as I want to be at a particular moment in time, but as long as I can get out and do even a few miles, I’m good with that.
MON: Strength – 20:00, Yoga – 20:00 – It’s getting serious now! Started the morning off with some lower body strength training (squats and lunges, anyone?), followed by twenty minutes of yoga (standing poses). The squats weren’t as bad as I thought they might be — it has been several months since I abandoned strength training — but I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune tomorrow. I’ve decided to add hills to every single run to get ready for Jemez. I love my easy runs around the lake, but they really won’t help me much come May 25 in the mountains.
TUE: Woke up to sleet when I let the dogs out, then fell back asleep and woke up to a blanket of snow. Decided to abandon the run — which wasn’t a hard decision because I am so sore from yesterday’s squats and lunges. Went to see the doctor (again) in the afternoon for the coughing, and he put me on a daily cortisone inhaler and a nasal spray. I really, really, really hope it helps.
WED: No running, no yoga, nothing. Decided to rest to get rid of the cough.
THU: Strength/Core – Insanity Workout – 1:00:00 – Oh. My. God. Did an Insanity workout with my son’s girlfriend, Nicole, and it nearly killed me. The cardio parts weren’t too bad, but everything else was really, really hard. If I did this everyday I would be a machine. I told Nicole if she could do Insanity every day, she could handle running a few times a week.
FRI: Rest – Still coughing, but it’s getting better. More rest.
SAT: Run/Walk – 3 mi – Slept in and skipped the group run since there’s no way I would be able to keep up for 11 miles. Ran with Michael, Nicole, and the dogs later in the neighborhood. It was fantastic weather, and it was also Nicole’s longest run ever. She did GREAT! We’ll make a runner out of her yet.
SUN: Long Run – 9 mi – I had already decided to run a lake loop all by myself today in the gorgeous spring-like weather, but was so happy when Bill texted and asked if I wanted to run/walk a loop with him. The lake was packed with cyclists, families, runners, roller bladers, and little kids on new Christmas bikes. It was a wonderfully leisurely jaunt around the lake with one of my favorite friends. Since we almost always run at the lake early in the morning, it was so different to see it on a Sunday afternoon. It was the perfect way to end a week. Best of all: my coughing seems to be improving. Keeping my fingers crossed that I’m on the mend.
Stats for WEEK 2: Run – 12 miles, Yoga – 20:00, Insanity – 1:00:00
Vacation’s over, time to get back on track with the training!
MON: Travel day – After spending the night in Ogalalla, spent the day driving through Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
TUE: Run – 6 mi/treadmill, strength workout – Because of getting in late last night, and the extreme heat outside, did the unthinkable and ran on the treadmill at the gym. Anyone who knows me knows how much I detest the treadmill, but surprise surprise, it wasn’t all that bad. I think I was just happy to be running again after my time off in Wyoming. I felt so good I even ran an extra 2 miles. Did some upper body weights afterwards, and a bit of squats and lunges, being careful not to be overzealous.
WED: Run – 6 mi/hills, yoga (forward bends)- 20:00 – Ran the hilly path with Hari at the lake, which was overtaken by mosquitoes and gnats. My face felt like the windshield of a car. I was really looking forward to a yoga session afterwards since I did no yoga at all on the trip (except for some silly yoga poses on a hike with my daughter).
THU: Run – 2 mi/treadmill, strength workout – Left quad was feeling very sore, so I decided to do a very slow, easy run on the treadmill at the gym. Came home and did an upper body weight workout. I’m hoping my quad will be up for the 20 miler on Sunday.
FRI: Yoga (back bends) – 20:00 – Running rest day – Quad feels a little better, but still sore. Yoga felt great.
SAT: Run – 8 mi – Met the group for our first day of “official” marathon training, despite the fact that I’ve already been training for 9 weeks. Kept the pace nice and easy because of both the sore quad and tomorrow’s 20 mile trail run. Felt nauseous after the first three miles, probably because of acclimating to the heat after the trip to Wyoming, which meant I had to forgo my usual breakfast beer. Yes, folks, that’s how we recover here in Texas.
SUN: Trail Run -20 mi – Grapevine – There was nothing pretty about today’s run. There wasn’t even anything cute about it. 20 milers are always tough, but running 20 miles on a trail can be brutal. It was our hottest run yet, with a starting temp of 84 degrees at 6am and 64% humidity, and it was 97 degrees by the time we finished. The previous day’s nausea had turned into a full-blown stomach virus by late Saturday night, and I felt puny the entire run. At times, my stomach felt like it was full of needles. Not a pleasant way to put in 20 miles.
In hindsight, I probably should have shelved the idea of running 20 miles feeling as bad as I did. I had to walk the entire 2.2 mile last leg of the run. I simply had nothing left. I told Susan and Hari to run ahead without me, feeling bad all day for slowing them down, and they came back and met me on the trail with an ice cold Gatorade. I’m lucky to have such great running friends.
STATS for WEEK 9: Run – 42 miles, Yoga – 40:00, 2 Core/Strength workouts
This week was a total bust as far as my training went. I honestly thought I would be able to run trails in Wyoming and enjoy the cooler temps, but I had no idea how much work preparing for a wedding could be. Also, the altitude really got to me, the sun is up much earlier than I was willing to climb out of my sleeping bag for, and once the sun is up it’s brutal.Also, camping on the side of a mountain means either running straight up or straight down the gravel road, and there were no other trails close by.
Excuses, excuses, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it. We had a wedding to get ready for!
MON: Run – 1 mi, Walk – 5 mi – Yep, that’s right, one measly mile. What started out as a 4 mile run along the Flat Creek trail in Jackson Hole quickly devolved into chaos. Every road trip usually has one big melt down, and today was the day. Michael and I had a fight over filling up the water jugs for camping, it was in the low 90’s, the sun was intense, I ran with Psycho Dog Nevada, and we ran much earlier in the afternoon than I had wanted. I did walk to the top of the mountain and back down when we got back to the the campsite later that afternoon, mainly to blow off steam over the water jug fight. It was a good workout, and I met a young runner camping higher up who had just run his first marathon in Oklahoma City.
TUE: Hike – 8 mi – I know I should be running, but how can you not help hiking when you’re in the Tetons? We drove over Teton Pass to the Idaho side of the Tetons, and it was a strenuous hike. My heart was pounding from the altitude. My daughter and I did take a few moments to do some silly yoga poses in scenic settings. Do they count towards my stats since they were done at altitude?
WED: Busy with wedding preparations, camping, and eating dinner in nice restaurants.
THU: More wedding prep, camping, and eating.
FRI: Wedding rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, and a million small things to be done.
SAT: MY DAUGHTER’S WEDDING! Towards the evening, I did have to walk about half a mile up and down the mountain looking for Psycho Dog Nevada, who ran to the very top of the mountain out of fear of the rifles and being shot by (mostly) young men at the wedding (and I thought Texans were crazy). Does walking up and down a steep mountain road in a long dress and flip flops count towards any type of workout???
SUN: Packed up the camping gear, said our tearful goodbyes to family and friends, and began the long road trip back to Dallas. Wyoming, I will get those trail runs in one day!
STATS for WEEK 8: Run – 1 mile, Walk: 5 miles, Hike: 8 miles
They are buried somewhere very deeply in places I don’t think about when I run. Stomach. Arms. Butt. Shoulders.
My first core workout in years was painful. I do a lot of yoga, but this was a completely different ballgame. Heather from our running group came up with a 6:30 AM plan of torture:
Those poor, unused muscles involved in core work: they screamed out their presence very heartily during the workout. I felt invisible red arrows all around me, pointing directly at my butt, back, hips, and abs. Look, everyone! This is what happens when your forget about us!
I’ve always had puny arms, and managed maybe four push ups (honest). I was the original 90 Pound Weakling when I was in grade school, and failed miserably every year when we had to do the President’s Fitness Challenge. Remember the wooden rack of rungs against the gym wall where we had to do pull ups? My entire body would shake uncontrollably like a leaf in the wind every time I tried to pull myself up. You can imagine how the other kids reacted.
The core workout brought back memories of those dark days in the school gym. I was anything but athletic back then–but I could chase down any boy in the class (which is a great skill to have when you’re ten).
Speaking of speed, not only did we do core work, we also did speed work on the track. Ugh.
I like to run fast, but there is nothing fun about speed work. Other than the fact that it’s hard work, running around a track is just plain boring. I’d much rather run hills.
I only did two laps at 5K pace, and somehow Bill and I managed to run a 7:57 and a 7:56 average. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the 7’s.
When we were done, Theresa took a photo of the board listing our workout so she could show her husband. She said he wouldn’t believe her otherwise. Leslie cursed the 10 lb dumbbells she had brought, promising to leave them at home next time. I couldn’t talk Bill into doing just one more mile with me afterwards.
Leslie posted later that evening that DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), which usually happens the second day after a hard workout, had already set in. Misery loves company, and everyone agreed.
Even though the next morning (okay, the next few days) were rough, it was all good stuff. I won’t be forgetting those other muscles again anytime soon.
My friend Liz can’t run because of a sore ankle. It’s been sore for weeks. She even ran a marathon on her bum leg, after getting it checked out by a doctor to make sure it wasn’t a stress fracture.
Now she’s walking. Like most of my running friends, Liz is stubborn. She texted the other day that she had been walking to stay in shape, and that she had just walked seven miles. Seven miles! Like most of my running friends, she’s also an overachiever.
I asked if I could keep her company on one of her long walks at the lake. Even with an injury, I was pretty sure Liz would walk me into the ground.
I wasn’t wrong. The past two days have been extremely windy, and this morning it was overcast and humid. Despite the wind and humidity, she never let up. I secretly struggled to keep the pace.
I was so glad I was walking and not running. Running into a strong head wind is not one of my favorite things.
I love to walk. If I lived in the mountains or someplace more scenic than Dallas (and it doesn’t take much to be more scenic than Dallas), I might not even run anymore. I would take off into the hills and hike to my heart’s content.
This is a lie, of course. I’m pretty sure I’d still run, even if it meant switching to hilly trails.
In the meantime, we have White Rock Lake. Even though I’ve been partying and playing hookey (high school), driving, walking, and running around this same lake since I was a kid, it’s still one of the best parts of Dallas. Though we curse the monotony of the nine mile, flat, paved path that encircles it, it’s been a huge part of our training.
As runners, we tend to look down on walking and forget that it’s great cross training. We hate having to walk during a run or race. For many of us it’s a sign of weakness. But it has its place, and being injured or walking after a challenging run the day before, it can be a nice change from running.
Especially if you walk with Liz.
This weekend I missed my long run. I might not be the most consistent with my midweek runs, but I never miss my long run. They’re too important.
Sometimes things are beyond your control, like getting sick, or not getting any sleep the night before your planned 18 miler. As in zero hours of sleep. As in the clock says 3:30 and my alarm is going to go off in less than an hour and I haven’t closed my eyes once all night.
By 3:45 I knew I had to surrender and let my friends know I wasn’t going to make it. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I felt like such a loser. Runners are like that.
The next day I knew I still wasn’t up for running, so I decided to take a long walk with one of my dogs. My only plan was to make it to the lake, which is just under 3 miles from my house. Once I got there, I would assess what to do next.
Before I was a runner I was a walker. I used to walk just about every single day of the week, either 3 or 4 miles, and afterwards I would immediately do 20 minutes of yoga. I loved those walks, and I loved doing yoga even more.
Being outside, enjoying nature, has always been like church for me, even if outside is nothing more than concrete sidewalks in my neighborhood. I used to live in a huge apartment complex that had two ponds encircled by a walking path and I loved watching the seasons change as I walked daily around the ponds. There was a kingfisher I used to see almost daily, sitting on an overhanging branch, as if he was waiting just for me.
Being outside, and noticing the changes in nature, was like rejuvenating my batteries.
I loved yoga. I loved doing the various poses, and became the most flexible I’ve ever been. I felt completely relaxed after only 20 minutes of yoga, as if time slowed down. Yoga was like blowing the dust off the clock face, only to realize the hands were still moving.
When I started running (six years ago this month), I was hooked from the first step. Even though I thought I was pretty fit from walking and doing yoga, it still took awhile to build up my endurance. I loved the feeling of freedom I felt when I ran, and I loved pushing myself faster and farther. From my first 5K to six marathons, running has challenged me like no other physical endeavor has.
Most runners don’t run every day, of course. Some do, but most run 3-5 days per week and either rest the other few days, or do something else, usually cycling, swimming, or strength training. I’m sorry to say I’ve pretty much always fallen in the first category, as in REST. I’ve tried to incorporate yoga here and there in my training, and I sporadically take the dogs on long walks, but I’ve never been the best at cross-training.
So when I missed my long run I decided to take a long, brisk walk. It would be my cross-training. I have always read that walking burns the same amount of calories as running, even if it doesn’t have quite the same heart-healthy impact, so at least there was that. Once I got to the lake I would decide how much farther to keep walking.
My dog made the final decision. When we run together she is usually only good for about 3 miles, then she fades fast. You would think that walking 3 miles would be a lot less taxing that running 3 miles when you’re a dog, and she would be able to go farther, but this was not the case at all.
Here are some things I noticed about walking:
1. You miss a lot when you run. I almost couldn’t believe I was walking the same route I run nearly every Saturday. There were houses and gardens I swear I’ve never seen before. Some of this is because I’m running the opposite direction–uphill–and I’m working hard and focusing on making it to the top. Some of it is just not paying attention. I seem to pay more attention to things around me when I walk.
2. Your muscles still ache when you walk long. I could only cover 3 miles an hour walking with my dog, which meant I walked almost 2 hours. By the end of the walk my hamstrings were tired and achy, something I didn’t expect. I guess 2 hours is still 2 hours, even if you’re “just” walking.
3. I felt a lot more relaxed during the walk than I ever do when I run. I’m caught up in how many miles I’ve finished, how many more to run, how I feel, how many more hills, etc.
4. You don’t feel the hills like you do when you run. I can always tell when there’s the slightest incline on a run. Hills are much tougher when you’re running. I hardly noticed them on the walk.
5. Some runners don’t look like they’re having much fun when they run. Some look downright miserable. Just an observation. (I hope I don’t look like them.)
6. Walking makes you sore in places you don’t usually get sore when you run, such as buttocks and the lower front part of your legs, just above the feet. I heartily welcome anything that will help the buttocks muscles stay where they need to be.
7. I enjoy walking alone more than I enjoy running alone. For me, walking is more solitary, and running is best done with others. When I walk I can be alone with my thoughts; when I run, being alone with my thoughts is not a good thing.
8. I didn’t feel like I got the same level of cardio workout from the walk, but it was a good workout nevertheless.
As runners, we tend to discount walking as another type of cross-training. It’s time to reconsider. Perhaps walking has such a negative stigma attached to it as runners because some of us feel like failures if we have to walk during a marathon. My running friends and I struggled with having to walk so much this summer in the extreme heat, and we all kept apologizing to each other for it, as if walking was a sign of weakness.
I’ve always said that if I ever had to stop running, for whatever reason, I look forward to “just” walking. I really do, too. Sunday’s walk was a reminder of how nice it really is to slow down, look around, and still get in a pretty good workout.