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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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.

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.

North Face 50k: Just Jump

When I was out to sea on the USCGC Mellon we were lucky enough to have a couple of swim calls.  That is when the ship stops and they let everyone jump overboard to have a good romp.  (It’s also a great way to get everyone smelling better when your water gets contaminated and you’re waiting for the tanks to refill, but that’s another story.) By the last swim call all of the girls in my berthing had jumped off the O-1 deck.  It’s higher than jumping off of the main deck and depending on when you catch the swell of the ocean it can be a LONG way down.

I was terrified of jumping, but all the other girls had done it, I knew it was safe and there was nothing holding me back but fear.  As I stood with my back against the O-1 bulkhead hatch staring at the open abyss to the ocean, my knees were shaking, my insides had an entire rugby team of dragons (not butterflies), and I was seriously considering just chickening out and facing the wrath of being the only girl who didn’t jump and the only Navy person who didn’t jump.  Instead, took a deep breath, and ran off the edge before I could talk myself out of it.  The Senior Chief who was standing shark duty said, “I knew it was you jumping.  You screamed, you ran out of air, you took another breath, and kept right on screaming until you hit the water.”  Well, duh, I mean holy crap balls that was scary.

I’m currently sitting on an airplane making my way west to Park City, Utah to (theoretically) run the North Face 50k.  I say theoretically because, well, Summit County has already gotten snow this year and they are predicting 4-7 inches more of the white powdery stuff tonight.  Yet, as I sit on this airplane watching the ground go by while waiting for biostatistics code to get spat out of SAS all I can think about is how I am feeling the exact same feeling as I did that particular day, scared.

Why? Why am I so terrified of this race?  Well, let’s start with the physical stuff.  I came home from my summer in Utah a little beaten up and it’s taken a couple of months of physical therapy to get me strong.  I’ve made leaps and bounds and the witchy one says that I will be fine, but there’s that shadow that lingers there.

Then let’s talk about the weather.  The last time I attempted to run in the cold and snow I got hypothermia.  So, yes, I’m terrified that that will happen again and this time I don’t have ShooterGirl close by to come and rescue me.

Finally, let’s talk about the mental aspect.  I crawled all over this particular mountain this summer, on purpose.  I spent multiple days a week learning her quirks.  All that said, I haven’t been at altitude for 6 weeks.  My boss didn’t help any when he said, “Oh man, you’re going to fry your lungs.”

So, yeah, I’m terrified.  I’m hopeful that there will BE a race to run.  I need to run this race.  I need to treat this like that jump off of the USCGC Mellon only without all the screaming.  I’m just afraid if I chicken out and don’t run I may never sign up for another 50k again.

VHRTC Women’s Half Marathon: If you give a mouse a cookie the BK edition

You know it’s weird you know random people in the middle of the woods, right?-ShooterGirl

It’s no secret I find all of my emotions in the woods. Whether it be joy, anger, sorrow, they all come out when you are in the middle of the woods.  It’s a place of raw beauty and emotion.

Back in March I dragged my friend Granite Ginger onto the trails of Fountainhead for her first trail run.  She is a veteran road runner, having completed two Marine Corps Marathons.  She knows how to run road.  I think I threw her for a loop running on dirt.  I knew, though, deep down she was a dirt girl like me.  The more time we spent on the dirt the more I knew it.  So for her birthday I bought her an entry to the VHRTC Women’s Half Marathon.  Why?  A. It’s with my VHRTC family so I knew the race experience would be a positive one.  Then there’s B.  I really wanted to drag her permanently over to the dark side with me.

Running dirt requires a certain amount of gumption, stubbornness, and determination, something I know that G has in spades.  I had ZERO doubt in my mind that she was going to knock it out of the park.  Her on the other hand……

What’s funny is that I know she’s an ultrarunner. Why?  She doesn’t get happy until like mile 15.  I mean COME ON if that isn’t the definition of an ultra runner I don’t know what is.  On Saturday the joke became that trail running is like the children’s book “If you give a mouse a cookie” only the BK edition.

First it was, hey, let’s go run 4 miles of trail.  Then it was, well since you did 4 let’s do 10. Once we did 10  we might as well do 20, for MCM training, of course.  Once we did 20, well, then there was NO reason not to do the trail half marathon, I mean, the hills will be good training……Oh and since you’re already doing MCM in October, why don’t we do MGM in December I mean it’s ONLY 6 more miles…..

G did amazing.  Just like I knew she would.  She had a rough bad for a few miles, but then there was Juanitas Cantina and that made everything better.  Although, I think all the extra hugs from Bob didn’t hurt either.  By the time we got back to the finish line her husband and little one were there cheering her in.

I knew she could do it.  Now she does too.  Wonder if it’s too soon to talk about that 50k…..

 

Persistence and expectations

“Do not sit still; start moving now. In the beginning, you may not go in the direction you want, but as long as you are moving, you are creating alternatives and possibilities.”

-R. Costa

I am not a fast runner.  Nor am I an agile runner.  I put one foot in front of the other.  Some days it may be faster than others, but all days it is about the meditative act of putting one foot in front of the other.  As an asthmatic runner who is subject to the whims of Mother Nature I don’t run for time.  I don’t run for PRs. If they happen, great, if they don’t, great.   Every run I go out with no expectations other than to finish.  I am a persistent runner.

Before I even left for Utah I was experiencing pain in my left adductor.  I saw Magic Man in May when I was in Montana and that seemed to take care of it.  Flash forward into June and I was running/hiking my tush off.  The pain started getting to be too much so I went and saw an acupuncturist in Park City who treated my back because they said that is where the pain was coming from (they weren’t necessarily wrong).

Then during the Kings Peak trip the pain in my leg on the way back out to the campsite was so bad it took my breath away.  Luckily WindChime brought Motrin with her otherwise I don’t know if I would have made it back in any decent amount of time.  The pain persisted for the rest of the time I was out in Park City.  Granted most folks would have stopped running, but my time in the mountains was coming to an end and I was not about the give up that time.  I thought it was just sore from all the miles, not actually something wrong.

When I returned I decided something had to change.  Obviously there was something bigger going on that wasn’t getting fixed.  I decided to see a PT instead.  We went through all my old injuries (which were extensive when you add in the number of times I was ejected off a horse) and we started doing mobility testing.  I could tell you all the things not working properly, but I’ll sum it up as this; train wreck.  Basically I have tendons acting like muscles because my physical structure is so twisted that the muscles can’t move the way they are suppose to.  When I told her of all of my exploits she was stunned that I was even able to do half of it.

“Persistence”, I said.

It’s amazing how when you receive small tweaks how all of a sudden things get really freaking hard. My tush has never hurt so much.  Even my abs hurt from one of the deceptively simple exercises she has me doing to active the deep pelvic muscles that stabilize my pelvis.  I may never do another crunch again.

“You’re a witch!” I proclaimed during our third session.  She laughed.

“I’ve been called many things, but I don’t think I’ve ever been called that.  I’ll take it!” she replied laughing as she moved my leg around in the socket.

We started talking about my goals and plans for the fall.  I told her about the 50k monkey I want to get off my back.  “Totally within the realm of possible”, she said.

She asked me about the training run I have planned this weekend  We spoke about the 20 mile loop I wanted to do.  She looked at the elevation profile and quickly nixed that.  “Too much right now.  I’m ok with the miles, but not the elevation change.  We need to get you stabilized first. When you do go out I don’t want you to have any expectations.”

I hung my head.  Dammit.  I said, “I always run with no expectations so that’s nothing new.  What about the C&O?”

“That’s perfect.”

Sigh.  I know she’s right.  I know I have to listen to her.  I want to be fixed for the long haul because oh my how much I enjoy the up and surprisingly, now, the down.

Seeing my sadness of loosing my mountain running this weekend she offered this; “Just think, if you were able to do everything you’ve done with only half of you working with all of you working it should be a piece of cake!”  Make mine gluten free, please.

 

Kings Peak: The summit that wasn’t

For weeks I had been waiting excitedly for WindChime to join me in Utah.  She was coming out to do Kings Peak with me.  Not only is it the highest point in the Uintas, but it’s also the highest point in Summit County AND in Utah a trifecta.  For a geographic point nerd like myself that’s always an incentive.

We headed up there after work on Thursday and stopped at the USFS Ranger Station on our way out and the Ranger said, “Be off the summit no later than 1300.”  Got it.  We thought we had a good plan going in: set alarm at 0400, on trail no later than 0600, summit by 1200, and then back to camp.  Our plan included a mixture of running and hiking.  In my life things rarely go according to plan and this was no exception.

0400 alarm, indeed, went off.  We lay in the tent trying to figure out what we were going to wear as the weather decided to throw us our first hiccup.  It was cold now, we knew it was going to get hot, but when/if the rain moved in we were going to get cold.  Ah, Mother Nature she is such a fickle Queen.

We actually were on the trail by 0545 which was great, except the trail very quickly turned to mud that was as slick as a bar of soap in the shower.  So much for any thoughts of running.   We were pushing a really fast pace considering the distance that we had to cover taking few breaks.

As we went up and over Gunsight Pass we got excited thinking that we were almost there.  Then we dropped and dropped and dropped.  What the heck??  We checked the map twice.  Nope, we were on the right trail.  We crossed a snow patch and started heading up towards Anderson Pass.  The sky was turning an ominous shade.  We still had another 3-3.5 miles to the summit and we were going to start getting into the gnarly climbing.   We looked at each other and both said, “Well, what do you want to do?”

Neither one of us wanted to quit, but collectively we had enough miles (easily >10k) under our belts to recognize the danger.  Not only were we already above treeline, but we were going to be heading up and not a gentle up either.  We calculated that with the 3-3.5 miles left we’d most likely be on the summit by 1230 at the earliest.  That was cutting it a little too close.  Then not only would we have to beeline down the mountain, but we would have to go up and over Gunsight Pass again.  Oof.  With a heavy heart we made the decision to turn around.

As we crossed the snow field again we ran into a teenager and a chaperone who had decided not to make the summit.    The teenager looked rough.  We stopped and very quickly assessed his electrolytes were way out of whack.  WindChime gave him both Nuun and Tailwind in his bladder and I asked the chaperone if he had anything salty to eat.  There wasn’t much more we could do for them except hope that they made it to their campsite at Dollar Lake.

We started to pick our way back up Gunsight Pass when suddenly rocks started raining down from the pass itself.  Standing on top was a whole group of teenage boys who were chucking rocks down.  Every time a rock came careening over the edge Baby Trail Dog wanted to chase it.  “HEY! STOP THROWING ROCKS!!!”  we shouted up.  The other boys pointed at the offending boy, “Yeah, Carson, stop throwing rocks.”  When we crested the pass there was a group of about 10 boys with 4 adults sitting on the pass.  WindChime and I both highly recommended that they not summit.  We relayed what the ranger had said and the distance they have left to go. The adults in the group looked at us with disdain.  I mean, how could it be possible that two girls could actually know what they were talking about.   We shrugged and moved forward.  What they did was up to them.

Further down the valley trail we crossed paths with two guys that we had seen leaving the night before.  They had a wild dog that was not on leash.  We were surprised to see them heading up the valley so late in the day since they had hiked in the night before.  We passed along the same information that we had passed to the group on Gunsight.  The only difference was these guys had 3 additional miles before they even got to Gunsight. They brushed us off.  OK……

Back down the valley we went, through the muck, and over the river.  We debated back and forth.  Was that the right call?  Could we have made it?  Behind us the sky got darker and darker.  We caught up to group of three Rangers also heading for the trailhead.  When we exchanged our story with them and our decision not to summit they looked relieved.  “Good decision,” they said.  Well that answers that.

With approximately 5 miles left to the trailhead we began to hear the thunder.  We picked up our pace.  At least at this point we were semi-covered by trees.  The closer we got to camp the closer the storm got.  We decided to grab what food we could out of the cooler and dove into the tent just as the skies opened up.

Fourteen hours of sleep later we got up and made breakfast.  Just as we were packing up our campsite we saw the father/son duo that we had seen packing in on Thursday night come back to their truck.  We walked over to them.

“Did you summit?” Windchime inquired.

“Yeah, but boy were we glad we made it off the mountain. We thought about you guys as we were coming down.  Did you guys make it up?”

“No, we made it just shy of Anderson pass, but saw the storm and made the call not to go as we saw the storm rolling in.”

“Good choice!  There were some guys up on the summit when the storm rolled in and they got the crap scared out of them.”

She and I exchanged sideways smirks.  Huh, imagine that.

Even without summiting  we logged over 20 miles and we saw some gorgeous back country.  WindChime had two necklaces made one for her and one for me.  Mine has the latitude and her has the longitude of the peak.  While we may not have made it to the summit, we had an amazing time with tons of memories.