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.