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’s time to rewind. A blog that used to be filled with stories of 20 milers, long trail runs, and 60 mile training weeks is going to look very different for a while.
Chemo is over. It’s time to run.
I have been “wogging” (I can’t honestly call this running) 4 miles most days of the week. My plan is to stay at 4 miles and increase the time I run until I’m running the entire distance.
Once again I’m reminded of how great “just” walking is. I walked as often as I could during chemo, but it wasn’t far because of the extreme fatigue. It’s taken me two full months to run half a mile without stopping, but all those weeks of walking have made me strong enough to even attempt it.
Since I finished chemo I’ve been very impatient, expecting to get back into shape within a few weeks and pick up right where I left off. It’s not going to happen. This body was beaten down pretty hard and it’s taken longer than I thought it would to return to running.
I’m okay with that. There’s no hurry. Really. I’m happy just to be moving again. Right now I don’t feel that old urge to push myself further and further. Maybe it will return one day, but for now there’s no training spreadsheet or running log calling my name.
My first goal is to run a mile without stopping. One mile seems like a million right now, but at least I’m halfway there. My next goal will be to run the full 4 miles of my daily distance, and within the next two months I hope to loop White Rock Lake (9 miles) with some walk breaks included.
Though I feel stronger every time I run, it is very, very hard to come back from being sedentary for six months. And I wasn’t just sedentary, I was being poisoned two weeks out of three from chemo drugs. It’s a serious understatement, but I’m glad that’s all over with.
One thing I noticed right off the bat when I first started running again was that I was keeping my old pace on my short run segments. I could only run for about a block before I was completely out of breath and wanted to die, but I wasn’t shuffling along. Alas, the brain remembers but the legs doth protest. It took me a few tries, but I finally figured out–just like when I first started running eight years ago–that I have to slow down to build up my distance and work on endurance first. Speed comes of its own accord.
Speaking of speed, my husband told me the other day that I have to start all over with my PR’s, as in “pre-cancer PRs” and “post-cancer PRs.” I cry foul! Nobody else has a cancer-imposed PR moratorium to deal with, so why should I? Husbands can be so irritating.
I almost always have marathon dreams a few weeks before a race. During those long months of chemo I inexplicably had recurring dreams of running in the snow. I could hear the crunch of the snow underfoot, feel the cold air on my face, and taste the overwhelming freedom of running. I have no idea why it was always snowing in those dreams, but I loved feeling that I could still run, if only in my dreams.
Now that we’re having an unusually cold winter here in north Texas (and I LOVE it), the snow has disappeared from my dreams, though I still have dreams of running effortlessly, breathing easily and without pain. Kind of like I used to.
I’m looking forward to running that way again, in real life. Soon. Very Soon.
My life has undergone a huge change these past three weeks. Running has taken a backseat for the time being, though I hope to be running again within the next two or three weeks. As a friend said, “This is more than just a broken toe!” Indeed.
In the meantime, I walk. Yesterday I managed my longest distance: one mile. All things considered, it’s quite a milestone for me.
I’ll be writing more here on Run Nature once I’m up and running again. Until then, if you’re interested, you can follow my story on my other blog, Mind Margins.
Thanks for reading each week and for all your support these past two years here on the blog. It means the world to me.
People are attracted to running for various reasons: they want to lose weight, they want to live healthier lives, it’s cheaper than a gym membership, you don’t need a lot of gear, they enjoyed running when they were kids, or they want to run a marathon before they reach a certain age. People who continue running, past the 5K’s, 10K’s, and half marathons, those who run longer distances and think nothing of going out for a Saturday 20 miler, are a particular breed of crazy.
Those are my people.
We have no problem pushing ourselves to run longer and longer distances, and then test our training in a race. We’re goal oriented and enjoy making plans. It’s our days off, when we should be giving our legs a rest, that we struggle with.
Today is a rest day. I have two scheduled each week, Mondays and Fridays. After giving everything I’ve got on the five days I run each week, I always look forward to the rest days.
It’s the unscheduled rest days that I struggle with the most. I suspect that’s true for most runners.
I run with a group of very experienced, serious runners. They train hard and race to PR. Many of them win races and place in their age groups. Every single one of them could write a book about how to train for a marathon and what not to do to get to the start line uninjured and ready for your best performance.
That doesn’t mean we follow our own advice.
Last Saturday at breakfast after our long run, my friend Kurt made the statement that runners are bad about doing two things: not resting enough and racing too often.
I actually think I’m pretty good on both fronts — but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it. I’m one of those strange birds who likes training more than racing. There is nothing like having a great race, where everything comes together — weather, training, nutrition, energy, course, mind — and you feel great from start to finish and pull off a PR. But I’ve had some pretty lousy races, too, and I struggle with getting past all the uncontrollable variables and still enjoying the race.
I’m in awe of people who race every weekend. I just don’t feel that urge. I like having two or three goal races per year and building up to and looking forward to that day. I like longer distances, and they take longer to train for. And I’m certainly not winning any races these days, so I don’t have the incentive of being first across the line each weekend to spur me on. The older I get, the less I care about speed and more about endurance and strength.
I used to love getting medals, but now they just sit on the wall in the back bedroom, pretty much forgotten and not all that important anymore. It’s rare to get a race t-shirt that’s made for a woman, so that’s never been a big draw. Now I’m all about the experience itself being the reward.
As for rest, I think I’m pretty good about listening to my body and taking a day off when I need to — even though I hate missing a run on the training plan. And I rarely take a complete rest day. I usually do yoga, which seems to give my legs the rest they need but also works out some of the kinks from the week’s training and loosens them up for the weekend long runs.
However, I was surprised at how frustrated I felt when I ran my first 50K a few weeks ago and had to take more rest days than any of my other friends who ran it. This is where age comes to play. It just seems to take me longer to recover these days. When yoga doesn’t help, I know it’s time to back off and give myself a complete rest day.
Post-race, except for the quads, I felt great. I was still floating on my happy cloud of accomplishment a week afterwards, and I wanted to run, dammit! My quads had other ideas, though, and every time I ran more than a few miles they tightened up and let me know I needed to be smart. A week later they finally felt good enough for a trail run, only I never seemed to warm up and felt fatigued and grumpy the entire run. This was another signal I needed to listen to: recovery takes time, and the body knows better than the mind.
So I backed off and lowered my mileage, and within a week I was back to normal. Lesson: rest is good, and recovery takes time.
We’ve all known people who didn’t give themselves enough time to recover and wound up battling one injury after another. We’ve probably done it ourselves. When you truly love running, and have your next race planned before you cross the finish line, it’s hard to not keep pushing yourself.
Just don’t forget to sometimes give it a rest.
The first few days after a long distance race are nice. You can sit back and revel in your accomplishment, bask in the happy afterglow of a job well done, and reward yourself with rest, good food, and memories of the event. Then by the end of the week you may start to feel the urge to get outdoors and run again. At least, that’s how it usually goes for me.
I generally seem to be able to run a few miles by Wednesday or Thursday after a marathon, and by Saturday I’m good to go for a longer distance. This time, after running a 50K for the first time, the recovery time has definitely been longer. My quads took the brunt of the race and they have not been bouncing back as quickly as I expected. Patience is not always one of my strengths, so giving them the time they need to recover has been a challenging lesson.
MON: Rest Day – Quads are very sore from Saturday’s 50K race in Palo Duro Canyon, though they feel better than after any marathon I’ve run. Going to enjoy my day of sloth and do nothing athletic.
TUE: Walk – 2 mi, Yoga (20:00) – Legs felt much better today, though the quads are still sore. Did some yoga in the late afternoon (hip openers), then took Nevada for a 2 mile walk, hoping to run most of it. Ha! I couldn’t even run a block! The quads definitely need another day of rest. On another note, I can’t help but wonder why it’s so warm and humid when it’s the end of October??? Oh, right, we live in Texas.
WED: Yoga (20:00) – Quads felt even better this morning, so I started the day with some easy yoga but decided to put off running for another day.
THU: Rest Day – Decided to take a complete rest day and do nothing athletic. My quads are taking longer to recover than I expected. Even though my legs feel better than after a marathon, the soreness in my quads seems to go deeper than usual–if that makes sense.
FRI: Run – 3.1 mi, Yoga (20:00) – Met Todd at 6:00am for an easy 3 mile run at the lake. I’m amazed that my quads are still sore. I was able to run, and keep an easy pace, but I’m not where I expected to be six days after the race. This has definitely been the most recovery I’ve ever needed after a race, which I guess is only fitting since it’s also my longest distance. I think my age is also showing, because Hari has already been running for days, but it could also partly be due to the two weeks of no running just before the race. This is a good reminder that I need to do more squats, lunges, and strength training to get in shape for the 50 miler. On a brighter note, loving the cold front that blew in last night and the 49 degrees for our run this morning.
SAT: Run – 4 mi – Quads are slowly coming back. Susan and Hari met at my house at 6:30 and we ran to the top of the Katy Trail for the 13.1 Marathon WRRC water stop. It was cold! I ran with my down jacket tied around my waist and my water backpack (sans water) stuffed with extra gloves and track pants. Toes and fingers were freezing all morning. After the race, we de-layered and ran back down the Katy Trail and across Knox/Henderson to the house. We must have looked like we were coming back from an arctic expedition.
Susan and Me at Erwin Park, photo by Hari Garimella
SUN: Trail Run – 8.25 mi – Ran at Erwin Park in McKinney with Susan and Hari. Started at 7:30am with frost on the ground. The temperature and weather couldn’t have been more perfect. THIS is what we dreamed of all summer when it was in the upper 90’s with 80% humidity. Despite the great weather and nice trails, I felt sleepy and my quads were still stiff and sore. I looked forward to trail running all week, so it was disappointing to feel so sluggish. Overall, I just felt tired. Maybe it’s residual tiredness from the 50K a week ago, or three days straight of getting up early and not getting enough sleep, or the music from the party across the alley–or a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason, I was happy to only run 8.25 miles. Sadly, my happy afterglow from the race seems to have finally worn off. Back to a new training plan and life in general.
STATS for WEEK 1: Run – 15.2 miles, Walk – 2 miles, Yoga – 1:00:00