Digging my way back to me: Antelope Canyon 50 Miler

Now that we have finally figured out what is wrong with me and I’ve started the right regime to fix all the broken things I’ve actually begun to feel normal again.  I’m not quite back to 100% but I am well on my way there.  That is a HUGE accomplishment.

Ironically enough, it was time for me to do another Dexa scan.  During this scan we discovered I had lost nearly 2% of my bone density.  Say what??? How is that possible? See, when your body doesn’t have enough vitamin C (as mine didn’t normal is 10-200 and I am at a 2) to combat an infection and sustain yourself your body goes chomping on calcium.  Where is the largest form of calcium in your body?  Your bones!!  So my body in an effort to combat the infection an sustain itself started breaking me down.  Quite literally.  The good news is that we caught it early, I’ve increased my vitamin C and calcium, and I’m young enough that (fingers crossed) we can put that bone density back on.

What does all of this have to do with Antelope Canyon? See, a couple of years ago for my 40th birthday I challenged all my friends to a 50K.  WindChime was one of those people.  She turns 40 next year so of course she upped the ante.  She has decided to run the 50 miler.  At first I was just going to pace her the last 13 miles of the race.  Then, as I started to feel marginally better I figured I would at least hike the 50 miles.  Now that I know I actually AM getting better I know I will be able to complete this race.

True, I’m in a fitness hole.  True, I need to get all of my endurance back up to where it is.  What better way to force myself back onto the wagon than by registering for something really big and really scary?   The next few months are going to be interesting, but I’m up for the challenge.

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You are your own best advocate

Abhyasa (practice) is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, and vigilant search into a chosen subject pursued against all odds in the face of repeated failures, for indefinitely long periods of time. -B.K.S. Iyengar

I’ve been documenting my decline in my performance and energy levels for months now. I can tell you EXACTLY when my last run was that I felt REALLY good.  I’ve regularly reached out to my primary care physician trying to figure out what is going on with me.  We’ve run test after test to no avail.  I was beginning to think that I was crazy, but I knew that something wasn’t right.  The desire to do ALL THE THINGS fueled me to continue to find answers.  I think my friends were beginning to think that I was crazy, too.  I wasn’t ready to accept that at the age of 40-something that my days of long haul activities were over, especially since I just found them.

During yoga teacher training I was introduced to  Ayurveda medicine.   I came into the lecture with a basic familiarity of pitta, vata and kaffa, but I didn’t realize that it went so much deeper than that.   Through her examination and reviewing my “western medicine” lab work she immediately noticed some issues and set me up with a new path and plan, no drugs required.  She also ordered an organic acids test.  By day three on her protocol the swelling in my hands and feet first thing in the morning was gone. To not wake up every morning with swelling that made me feel like I had run 20+ miles the day before every single morning for months made me feel elated.  By day 10, my energy levels were starting coming back. I wasn’t quite myself yet, but I was definitely heading in an upward trajectory.  A flicker of hope was starting to come back.

After MONTHS of feeling like crap. After losing, what I thought was permanently, my long distance activities, heck ANY activities.  After months of unaccounted for swelling.  After being told that I just needed to find a new hobby and that “maybe ultra running just isn’t for you”.  After watching many of my friends actually start to doubt me and begin to think that I was just making it all up. Today I got answers!  Finally!

I have a complex GI infection.  I could go into the gory scientific deals, but I will spare you.  This infection is not only stripping my immune system, but it is also screwing with my metabolites and my nutritional absorption.  Part of the reason why I have no energy when I’m running is that I quite literally running on empty.   If you want to know how the metabolic process works look here. My body quite literally does not have the capacity or capability right now to turn food into energy.

Where I am going with this whole discussion?  You are your best advocate.  I knew something was wrong.  I knew that I wasn’t ok.  I knew that there were issues.  I knew that this wasn’t all in my head.  Now I have the scientific proof and the ability to start treatment. Do you know how incredibly validating, rewarding, and happy this makes me?  I am NOT crazy.  At least not about this anyway.  I am now on the path towards healing my body.  Apparently, I was already practicing abhyasa without me even knowing it.

5 Days on the San Juan River

Several months ago I received an email from my chapter captain of Team River Runner.  He asked if I would be interested in going on a week long Women’s Disabled Veteran Leadership training program.  I hesitated.   I don’t do strangers well.   Then I sat back and thought about it and truly thought about the skills I would develop: how to read the river, white water kayaking skills, etc and said, “Sure I’ll apply.” Never thinking I had a shot in a million years of being accepted.  When I found out I was accepted for the program I was elated and then terrified.  Holy crap I’m actually going to be getting on a plane and traveling with a whole cast of folks I had no idea who they were.  By the time that Anne Marie from Adaptive Sports Association called me for any final questions I may have I had pretty much worked myself into a nervous lather.  I only had “a couple of questions” 42 minutes worth of questions later…. (face palm).

The day before I was slated to fly I almost didn’t get on the airplane.  I was beyond anxious.  I was coming up with every imaginable excuse known to man.  However, I got on the plane and boy am I glad I did.  Not only did I get to spend the week with some amazing women, but I developed skills and gained some serious headspace that I never would have gained any other way.

This is what five days on the San Juan River taught me in no particular order:

  • Putting 24 women together of varying shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, can be remarkable, silly, uplifting, and amazing.  No one cares what you look like, what you wear, what your limitations are.
  • When you help other people you stop worrying about your own shit.
  • Perseverance is a necessity in life and on the river. (Oh and when you are waiting for your turn for the groover.)
  • Standup paddle boarding in the middle of the Utah canyon is one of the most zen experiences you can have.

    IMG_6888

    PC: Janet J. 

I could go on and on about the trip.  There were things that I learned on this trip that far exceeded the “I want to learn to read the river.”  That, I think, is the point of this trip.  It’s to not only get you to learn about the physical environment and take away key skills, but to learn about yourself in the process.  I very much would love to volunteer to be on this trip next year to help expose the next crop of Women Veterans to this amazing world of support and love.

Tunnel Vision

When I was little my Dad would tell me to always try my hardest.  If I came home from school with a C, but I stayed after, got help and did everything I could a C was ok because he knew that I tried my hardest.  Now, if I came home with a C and I was not doing all of those things there would be hell and fury to pay in the form of wood stacking.  This “always try your hardest” has stuck with me throughout my life.  However, lately this has begun to backfire on me.  Apparently, there is such a thing as working out too much.

In the course of re-checking my thyroid, to ensure the meds are working, Doc also checked a bunch of other things too.  One of the things he checked was my CK level which showed that things are not all happy happy joy joy on my insides.  We kind of already knew that given my lackluster performances as of late.  There is no reason why my levels should be this high.  I haven’t been doing anything I deem out of the ordinary, or red lining.   As of right now Docs orders are to take it easy for a while.  Dad laughed when I told him those were Docs orders.  You’ve never done anything half-way.

With all of this in mind I scheduled an ‘exercise playdate’ with a friend for an aerial yoga class.  It is low key enough to be on the ‘allowed’ list of activities and neither of us had ever done it before which meant my brain was going to be happy.  Having never done aerial yoga before I wasn’t sure what to expect.  What I got was an amazing set of super juicy stretches.  Being super flexible sometimes it’s challenging for me to get into specific muscles. The silks enabled me to get into those really hard to reach areas.  It was totally fun, too.

I’ve been on a journey to find happy in working out again.  Maybe this is the way that the Universe is going to help me along that path.

Saddle Blazer Half

“I just want to finish happy.” I said to WindChime on our way to the race. See, my last few runs have been CRAPPY. No energy, feel like garbage, fully imploding crappy. So finishing happy was my goal. WindChime and I had flown into Texas to see my brother and run this race together. Originally it was supposed to be part of my Twisted Fork training plan but, well, we won’t talk about that. The new plan was set.

We got to the race venue knowing it was going to rain on and off the entire time. At least it was warm. We had that going for us. Oh and humid. Super. Saddle Blazer is a double loop course. The first is 7 and the second is 6.2. I told the Vulcan and WindChime to run their own races. Partially it’s because they are faster than me and partially it’s because I didn’t want to have them watch me implode. The first loop was super mud. You know the kind. It sticks to the bottoms of your shoes and makes them weigh like 47 pounds. I was chasing my “rabbit” a girl named Bree. The mud was just awful. I smiled and it reminded me of the hike on Kings Peak. Poor WindChime she always gets suckered into my muddy hair brained ideas. We got through the first loop and headed to loop 2.

Loop 2 was so much better. It was way dryer and quite runnable. I was settling in and starting to find my groove. Bree, Lindsay and Lindsay’s friend (didn’t catch her name) were all hanging together and playing leap frog. It was nice. They were pulling me along in spots and I was them. When Bree and I hit the last aid station we were stoked. 2.6 miles to finish. We started really moving along. We came around a corner and there was a huge down followed by a huge up. We knew we had it. As we charged down the hill we blew past a girl who I knew was in trouble. She was not breathing well and was in a lot of pain. I made a split second decision. I ended my race right there and stopped half way up the hill and turned around.

“YOU CAN DO IT!!!” I shouted. “COME ON!!!”

As she got closer to me I saw her shaking. Bad. Oh boy. Yep. My race is done. We need to get her to the finish.

“Have you eaten?” I asked.

She cried and shook her head no.

I had Bree fish into my pack and get out the emergency honey stingers I carry. I opened it and gave it to her. “Eat this,” I told her. She took it and started to suck on the package. “Have you had anything to drink?” She nodded yes. “Of electrolytes?” She shook her head no. I gave her my bite valve. My pack had Tailwind in it.

“Ok, I’m not leaving you. You are going to finish.”

I encouraged her to put one foot in front of the other. We started plodding along. She had stopped crying. “Is this your first trail race?” She smile. “You a road runner?” She nodded.

“I’m normally a 5k road runner. This is my first trail run and my first half marathon.”

“THAT’S AMAZING!”

I quickly snapped a picture of her. “See now photographic evidence that you were out here.”

We exchanged names (hers was Dusty) and pleasantries. I told her about my first half and all the mistakes I made. (Rule #1 eat if you can but you must drink.) I told her about how amazing the trail running community is. I was telling her anything to keep her moving. Then Matt caught up to us. He saw she was in trouble and he stayed to help keep her moving, too. We both kept offering her Tailwind and encouraging her along. I took her hand on the uphills and pulled her along to help her reduce her pain.

Then, there it was, the finish. Her kids were there shouting for her. They were so proud. Luckily, Bree had run ahead and had already alerted the medical crew. They were waiting for her. I turned her over to them.

I finished. I finished happy. It wasn’t the race I had hoped to have. Or the race that it was supposed to be, but I finished happy.

WindChime and the Vulcan had finished long before me. While yes, I am slow and yes I’m disappointed I didn’t keep up with them at the end of the day Dusty finished her race. I finished happy. That was the point all along.

The good news is that while I may not be able to be a true ultra girl I know I can make one hell of a pacer. Maybe that’s what the universe is trying to tell me.

Science!

This past summer I experienced my first Dexa Scan. It was a really good way for me to wrap my brain around my body composition. I decided it was time to have another one done as it’s been 7 months , a 50k, and several injuries since my last scan. As my CrossFit gym has an InBody we thought we’d take the opportunity to do an apples to apples comparison (same day, nearly same time, same clothes, etc) just to see the differences. The overall results are rather fascinating.

**Disclaimer: As this was not the same Dexa that did my 2017 scan therefore there is a possible margin of error . When I get my next Dexa scan with the same machine as this most recently one we will fix the possible margin of error.**

Let’s start with the good news:

  • My android/gynoid ratio dropped from 0.99 to 0.98. This is important as the higher your ratio is the more risk you have of cardiovascular disease.   There have been several nutritional studies in both children and adults on the impact of a high A/G ratio. Granted this seems like a small drop, but every little bit has a major impact.
    • The trunk region is from your shoulder to mid thigh
    • The android region is the rectangle section, basically your stomach region
    • The gynoid region is the triangle section, runs from your top of your pelvis to mid-thigh.
  • My lean tissue has increased in both my arms (0.4lbs) and my trunk (0.5lbs).
  • My body balance is way better.  As you can see from the chart below my ratios across the board are more in balance.  You can even see in the pictures above how my regions are much more in balance.  For any athlete balance is absolutely critical.  For me, it was this imbalance which was leading to major functional issues.  I’ve really been working hard since August to fix the issues that need to be fixed so that I can start to perform at 100%. This is proof that the work that I am putting in is paying off.  While I am a long way from being where I want to be this is a huge step in the right direction.
Right Arm Left Arm Arms Total Right Leg Left Leg Legs Total
Dexa (6/2017)
Fat Mass (lbs) 3.1 2.7 5.9 9.3 9 18.3
Lean Mass (lbs) 4.7 3.8 8.5 16.4 16.5 32.9
Dexa (2/2018)
Fat Mass (lbs) 2.9 3.2 6.1 9.9 10.2 20.1
Lean Mass (lbs) 4.7 4.2 8.9 16.4 16.1 32.5
  • My bone density numbers are off the charts.  I am 3.3 standard deviations HIGHER than most women my age for bone density.  Wahoo!

Now let’s talk about the bad news:

All of those imbalance injuries which caused me to have so many injuries did cause me to increase my overall body fat percentage. (33.9% to 34.4%).  However, as I say that I know that I was 10 weeks out due to injury then another 9 weeks out due to thyroid.  The fact that I “only” went up .5% body fat while being out or partially out for several months is a testament to my fitness foundation as well as the work that I put in even though I was only semi-functioning.

Rather than focus on all of the bad news and how all of my numbers did not go in the direction that I wanted them to I’ve decided to focus on the positive.  It wasn’t a step forward, but rather a course correction.  Now that I am better in balance my goal for the next scan (in ~3 months) is to have the numbers turning around to where I want them to be.  Forward.

F*(k: Science doesn’t lie

 Run Happy -Amelia Boone

Run happy AND healthy – Me

Exercise causes inflammation.  I’ve discussed this before.  The science doesn’t lie.   As a stubborn independent female who was raised to put on her big girl pants I never like to acquiesce.  Ever.  We constantly hear that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” What happens when there is no pain?  What happens when it’s not pain, but its inflammation?  You can’t take an x-ray of it.  You can’t MRI it.  It’s there slowly and silently destroying everything in its wake.

I’ve been working with my doctor, PT and nutritionist to try to keep the inflammation to a manageable level in my body.  I’ve change my training plan. I’ve been incorporating foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties.  I’ve been doing everything I can do to keep the inflammation down as my training has ramped up.

Unfortunately, the science doesn’t lie.  The science shows me what’s going on.  My brain just kept saying, “Stop being a whiner.  Put your big girl pants on.” Yet in the back of my brain was the tiny little voice that said, “Listen to the science. Don’t be a dumbass.”

I’m surrounded by people who throw down 50ks as training runs.  Or who are doing three 200s this summer.  Or four 50 milers in a month.  These are the people that I look up to.  These are the “big kids” in my life.  When I mentioned this to my pulmonary doctor she was floored.  She then looked at me with the stink eye.  I knew what that stink eye meant.  It meant I shouldn’t even THINK about it.   When I mentioned this behavior to my PT who treats nothing but athletes she said, “Every operating system is different.”

I finally grew up the courage to have a frank discussion.  “Am I just scared or is this truly what I’m seeing.”  I could have sworn I thought my pulmonary doc send out a “Thank you JEBUS!” Yet still, I wasn’t quite ready to accept it.  Yet the thought lingered.  She has treated me long enough to know to give me enough leash to hang myself because she always gets to say, “I told you so.”

For every situation there comes a point where you just have to face the truth.  For me it was after the run last weekend. It was “only” 9 miles and yet the swelling that I had after 9 miles was horrendous.  I finally had to face the truth: a 60k is out of my future.  At my PT appointment I sheepishly brought the subject up.  I told her my thoughts about the science, about reality about the thoughts in my brain.  She didn’t tell me what to do, but she asked me a couple of questions which helped me accept:

“How long did you have the inflammation for after the 50k?” she asked.

“6 weeks.”

“Just know that for most athletes it’s two weeks.” She stated.

“How many times have you been sick since then?”

I hung my head.  I knew that if I started to count that it would be way more than I’d like to admit.

I’m not giving up running.  I’m not giving up swimming or CrossFit or anything.  I’m just having to give up the idea that I am going to be like “the big kids”.  I’m going to experiment with 25ks and maybe a 30k.  See how it goes.  I’m sad.  I’m disappointed. I’m a little broken hearted.  Running happy, as Amelia Boone says, is truly important.  However, not to correct Ms. Bonne, I’d like to ammend her sentiment.  Run happy AND run healthy.

 

 

Inclusiveness and the Group Run

  “Oh yeah, I won’t run with X group because I know they will leave me.” -Anonymous

I’ve been running now for a couple of years.  I had never actually done a “group run” until I was out in Park City.  Sure, I had done runs where I met a couple of friends, races, or fat asses.  Group runs intimidate me.  Everyone is always super fast and then there’s me, #teamcaboose.  Even now as I have logged many many miles on trails, some of which were in some extremely remote parts of this country, I am always reluctant to run with a group because I am slow.

I know that there are certain groups that I just can’t run with. Why? We all show up and then the rabbits take off down the trail leaving everyone else behind.  No one waits at intersections.  You are on your own. Sure, I bring maps, but most of the time we are linking trails together and it’s incredibly easy to miss turns.  I also know I’m not alone in my fears.  I’ve spoken to multiple people across several different groups who have said, “Oh I won’t run with (X) group because I know they will leave me.” As I have mentioned before that is not a way to be inclusive.

Today I wanted to try running some place new and I saw that a local group was doing exactly the number of miles that I needed to do.  The good news is that if I got left in the dust (and got lost) there was always uber to get me back to my car.  As I pulled up my stomach was full of knots.  The anxiety of new trails, new people, and my slowness was not a great way to start a run. I recognized one of the girls faces from her social media posts and introduced myself.  I apologized before we even started running and said I was slow but that I would try to keep up as best as I could.  They all said, “This is a no drop run you will be fine.”

As we headed down the trail I was turning my legs over as fast as I could to keep them in sight.  When I got to the first intersection I saw that they had slowed down enough for me to keep them in sight and see which way to go.  This continued for the entire run.  Someone would either be waiting for me at an intersection or would slow down enough for me to see them.  THIS is how you run a group run.  This is how you make people feel included.  Every time I caught up with them I apologized for being slow.  “Don’t worry about it.”  I still felt bad and felt the need to apologize, but I’m incredibly grateful for their generosity.

img_5805My favorite part of the run was around mile 7 or so as I was climbing a hill there was an older gentlemen walking up the hill.  As I started power hiking he said in a thick accent, “You and do it!” At that moment I needed to hear that.   Thank you Universe for putting him there.

We got to the final intersection and one of the girls wanted to tack on some extra miles.  She said, “Just go straight there and you’ll pop out where we started maybe half a mile up up the trail.” Got it! They then took off down a different trail.  I got to the car and stopped my watch.  It synched with my phone and I looked at the per mile times.  HOLY F*%K no wonder why my lungs wanted to explode.  A 12:05 average per mile pace.  That is a 2 minute improvement (or more) over my normal long run pace.

It took a couple of hours for my lungs to recover and the list of body parts that don’t hurt is probably shorter than the ones that do hurt.  All the said, though, these guys were amazing to run with. They were kind, generous, but most importantly they were inclusive.  I truly wish that more people would be like this.  So thanks guys you were great. I promise I will try to do better next time.

 

 

Inflammation: long term vs. short term

When you are an runner with an inflammatory disease (asthma, RA, Crohn’s, etc) you (eventually) accept your limitations or accept the consequences of going into the hospital (or death).  In my case, I am incredibly lucky that I have a supportive pulmonary doc that enables my running rather than put me in a bubble.  While she will draw the line occasionally (see: Spartan Races) overall she supports me.

What does this have to do with running? When you do any kind of workout you create micro tears in your muscles which then get inflamed in order to heal them.  (See video here) The problem is when your body is already inflamed working out has a tendency to make your disease worse.  It’s a vicious circle.  The trick is finding the balance between working out to improve and your disease.

This week I had a very frank discussion with the Wonder Woman of PT.  We’ve been working on fixing some underlying chronic physical issues which. We’ve made so much progress, but I have been noticing as I’ve been ramping up my training for Twisted Fork that I’m already having some pretty massive swelling going on.  I’m not even to the hard weeks yet.  She’s not your typical PT.  She understands the impact of my asthma (inflammation) and allergy shots (more inflammation) combined with the increased impact from training (even more inflammation).  Notice a trend here?

I made her promise me that as we go along that if I start breaking down (beyond the normal level) that could potentially impact my long term running that she would tell me.  The last thing that I want is to sacrifice my long term running for the short term goal of the race.  She wholeheartedly agreed.  We then made some changes to my training plan enabling me to swap out one day a week of running for either swimming (resistance/cardio) and spin (speed work).  The hope is that if we swap one day of running that we might be able to continue to push training  without actually increasing the inflammation in my body.

While I will always envy those people who can throw down massive miles week after week and never experience any issues I know how incredibly lucky I am.  I hold every single mile close.  I am an asthmatic trail runner.   That I will be forever proud of.

2018: The Year of the Elephant

There is this very old joke/parable; how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!  2018 is going to be my year of the elephant.  He even has a name: Twisted Fork 64k. Hmm, maybe I’d better give him a nickname.

Last fall when I was out in Park City to running the 50k I got asked nicely/suckered into signing up for this race.  The good news is that it is at the end June which means no snow (hopefully).  The other good news is that I have multiple friends who are also doing it.  Granted they will be WAY far out in front of me, but knowing that they will be there when I’m done will be a comfort.

As I started putting in my training calendar as designed by the uber awesome Kayla I started to hyperventilate.  Holy crap this is a lot. What if I break.  What if my lungs don’t cooperate.  What if I have another major physical blowout?  What if, what if, what if.   I know I need to get out of my head, but when you are staring at the entire elephant to eat it becomes overwhelming.  I decided that I am only putting 30 days worth of training in at a time into the calendar.  That way I can’t get completely overwhelmed.

This week looks like this:

WEEK Date MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
1 1/1/18 CF 5 m run (2 mi of speed) 3 m run CF Rest 8 = 16 total for the week Yoga 1/7

I keep telling myself I will take it one week at a time and one day at a time if need be.