Sunday, September 13, 2015

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #38:

I signed up for the 2015 Big Sur Marathon on July 15, 2014 less than 24 hours before I went into labor.  For the 2015 race they decided to open up a few different days of registration due to a 24 hour sell-out the year before.  July 15th was the first day and all the available slots for this day sold out in just a few minutes.  I was so delighted to have nabbed a spot.

Fast forward to my postpartum days and my return to running was anything but smooth or quick.  My post-baby race goal was supposed to be a slow and meandering Disney 2015 race weekend in January and I had to totally scrap that idea.  When I was pregnant my lower back used to kill me.  Postpartum I had a repeat MRI to be sure that my pelvic stress fractures had healed since I was still getting some discomfort that was eerily similar to what I used to feel when it was fractured.  The MRI showed that my pelvis was healed (woo-hoo!) but my doctor commented on the fact that I had swollen SI joints on both sides.

During pregnancy your body releases relaxin which loosens ligaments and allows the pelvis to open during childbirth.  With my pelvis all loose and wonky my SI joints were experiencing a greater range of movement which caused the swelling.  If I was a couch potato just giving birth would have alleviated my SI joint pain.  But if I went on even a 1-2 mile walk my lower back pain would flare up again.  I've been told that it could take 6 months or even until I stopped breastfeeding for the effects of relaxin to 100% leave my body.  It took about 7-8 months for things to get back to relative normalcy but even today longer runs still make my pelvis achy.

Up until January I was hoping to be able to train for Big Sur as I would a normal non-goal marathon. I decided with less than four months to go and no running in sight if I wanted to experience the race I had to be open to the idea of walking.  If I could get to the Bixby bridge I didn't care if I got swept due to time limits.  With the way Big Sur sold out I knew going forward a spot in the race wasn't guaranteed and who knew when I would have a chance to be there again.  Any other race I would have passed but I was willing to walk to mile 13 and get pulled off the course just to experience what I could.  I love this race so much and the thought of missing it another year -- what could be my final year with an entry -- was not an option.

So I started walking.  I think I was occasionally doing 4 mile walks with the baby and that weekend I went out and walked 6 miles.  The next weekend I walked 10.  At the same time I slowly worked on my running.  I would do 30 second running segments with walk breaks.  After that didn't break me I did 45 second run segments, then 60 second run segments and so on.  Eventually I was able to start doing some running on my longer distance day. I started off running for a minute every mile.  Then a minute every half mile.  I eventually settled on a run 4:00, walk 2:00 pattern for my longer run.

The first 10 mile walk.  It took forever.  Also, meet my new running watch, Gaston Garmin.

I did two short run-walks during the week (capped off at about 4 miles each) and one long run-walk on the weekend (built up to one 20 miler).  I also walked pushing my son in the stroller twice a week.  We usually went about 4 miles but occasionally did up to six.  I tried to find as many hills as I could on our walking days together.

By the time race day came I knew I could generally keep a pace that would allow me to finish before the 6 hour cut-off.  The big unknown was that Big Sur is a fairly challenging course and I wasn't sure how my walk-run plan was going to hold up over the day.  I may end up walking all the ups and running the downs.  But then running the downs is actually tougher on your body and I wasn't sure my pelvis was going to stand that.   I decided to have my watch vibrate instead of doing an audible alert so that it wouldn't be too distracting if my run-walk plan went down the drain.  I was going to stick to the plan from the beginning and keep it up as long as possible.

I almost didn't take a camera with me during the race.  I had done this race four times previously and stopped to take photos of EVERYTHING and figured I had documented what I wanted at some point in the past.  With the cut-off being an issue I didn't want to waste any time with photos.  I did end up taking my phone so that I would be able to call my husband if I got swept and I figured I couldn't miss just the one photo opportunity with Michael Martinez by the Bixby Bridge.

One thing I was nervous about was pumping for as long as possible as close to the start of the race as possible.  I left my hotel before 4 am and wasn't going to see my son again until 1 pm.  If you've ever breastfed you can understand my anxiety.  For my weekend long runs I was able to nurse him and leave right after to run.  But at the race there was going to be a 3 hour or so delay between when I left him and the start of the race.  I reached out to the race and they allowed me to sit in the cab of one of the sweat bag trucks to pump.  When I got to the start area I made a beeline to the portapotties to use them before meeting up with the race director to find the truck.

Years ago I stood in line for 1.5 hours to get to a portapotty.  I wanted to pump for half an hour so if this happened again I was going to have to choose between having to pee the first few miles or trucking extra milk 26.2 miles.  Luckily I got into a fast moving line and was in a portapotty within a few minutes.

It wasn't terribly cold this year but another perk of being in the truck was that I didn't have to sit in the chilly air outside.  I stayed in the truck as long as possible before heading to the start.

I fired up my watch and started off doing 4:00 run, 2:00 walk from the very beginning.  It was tempting to run a little longer in the beginning but I hadn't trained that way and was going to do what I knew worked.

The weather this year -- beautiful blue skies and a nice head wind.  I was happy the views would be great this year. I ran once in fog and it was really disappointing.  This race feels like an old friend after running it so many times.  With my lack of running it the last couple of years it felt like an old friend you hadn't seen in a while.

There were a few times I would be approaching an aid station as a walk break would start and I would continue running a little longer knowing I would have an extended walk through the aid station.  I allowed myself to walk extra through aid stations while I drank water.  I got a little carried away as we descended towards the base of Hurricane Point and missed a walk break.  Otherwise I stuck to my run-walk plan.

One of my favorite miles in marathoning is the approach and ascent up Hurricane Point, and then down the other side to cross the Bixby Bridge.  Hurricane Point has a lot of false summits and even knowing this I was surprised once or twice when the top wasn't the top at all.  I kept straining to hear Michael Martinez on the piano as we reached the top of Hurricane Point.  This year he was playing an unknown song as I crossed the bridge.  My hope of him playing "What a Wonderful World" as I cross the bridge will have to keep on keeping on.

I stopped for a quick shot with the pianist then got down to business for the day.  The second half of Big Sur is not quite as scenic as the first and you are getting worn down and tired.  With my walk breaks I was feeling surprisingly fresh.  I guess there is something to this method after all.  The hills didn't seem nearly so numerous or long or high this year.  In short, I was feeling a lot better than I thought I would be and I knew I was going to finish.

I ran past a gentleman wearing a shirt that said "Grizzly 30" and I asked him if he had run all thirty Big Sur Marathons.  "Well, twenty-nine...." he said as he pointed down the road.  Amazing.

I kept up with my run-walk intervals until shortly after mile 25 when I decided to run all the way to the finish.  I didn't look at the distance on Gaston but I consider this to be my first consecutive mile of running since sometime in early 2014.  It felt glorious.

I heard my husband cheering off to the side shortly before the finish line.  I pulled over to give him and my son a kiss and then finished my fifth Big Sur Marathon.

I soaked up as much of this race as I could.  Both for what it was and what it represented.  It was my first real race of any kind since May 2013 and my first marathon since January 2013.  If you had told me in January 2013 that I wouldn't run another marathon for almost 2.5 years and that I would be a mother the next time it happened I would have told you that you were insane.  I thought about everything that had happened since the last time I ran a marathon.  I thought about everything that had happened for me to be on the course today.  I was incredibly grateful for both everything in my life and the chance to do what I love again.

I've run this race in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015.  I was registered in 2013 but had pelvic stress fractures.  I was registered in 2014 but was pregnant.  I told myself years ago that this was the race I would do every year until I couldn't do this anymore.  For 2009 I signed up leisurely months before the race.  For 2014 it sold out in less than an hour.  They switched to the lottery system for 2016 onward so there is no guarantee of entry anymore.  I got incredibly lucky this year and did get in via the lottery for 2016.  It makes me sad that I may get to run this one more time or ten more times but you'd better believe I'll be there every year they'll take me.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Mario -- Fin

March 6, 2004 (Gotcha Day) -- August 18, 2014
This blog had been grossly neglected the last year.  It is hard to have a running blog when you aren't running.  I wish I had kept up with the "Monday Marios" because I love looking back and reading them myself and I know Mario had a lot of friends out there who looked forward to seeing his handsome mug.

I am heartbroken to share the news that we put Mario to sleep on August 18th.  He was declining slowly over the course of this past year.  He didn't do his Bunny 500 zooms around the living room anymore.  He didn't really care too much for coming out and exploring as much.  Eventually I noticed he couldn't support himself on any surface that didn't have adequate traction.  He couldn't bend around to groom himself or eat his cecals.  

His veterinarian and I tweaked all sorts of things to keep him happy.  He was put on supplements and pain meds for arthritis.  I did warm compresses on his eyes to help that issue.  We changed his diet.  I modified his pen set up when he couldn't always make it into the litter box.  My veterinarian said to keep perspective:  If he was a person he would be grandpa in a nursing home in a wheelchair and diapers.  We started to have to give him baths.  Everyone who has followed this blog knows how fastidiously clean Mario was and I can only imagine how annoyed he was to be soiled.

All of this became the new norm the last 6 months or so and it seemed to work for everyone.  Then in his last 2.5 weeks Mario started to have major difficulties walking.  The final couple of days he was totally immobile and I made the heartbreaking decision I hoped I would never have to make.  I always wanted Mario to go peacefully in his sleep on his own terms.  After the major health scare and hospitalization we had a few years ago I didn't think I had it in me to make that choice for him.  It is hands down the hardest thing I have had to do and I am not sure pet ownership is for me anymore knowing it could end that way.

After over 10 years together life is very different without him.  I was in my mid-twenties when I adopted Mario and am now in my mid-thirties.  I would argue that is the decade the most drastic change in your life occurs.  Mario was with me through my final years as a student, my first job, a cross-country move, a wedding, and a baby.  He was up with me when I burned the midnight oil studying for Boards.  He was up with me when I would wake at dark o'clock for races.  He was up with me the night before my wedding when I couldn't fall asleep.  When my newborn was crying at 4 am he was up with me wondering what all the racket was about.

Mario was the heart and soul of this blog.  I started this as a running blog and it truly evolved into Mario's little corner of cyberspace.  More than anything else, I am thankful I had this blog to compel me to document his life and my memories with him.

After going to the veterinarian on Mario's final day, my husband parked by the ocean so I could regroup before going back to the craziness of a 4 week old and visiting relatives.  It was beautiful, somber, peaceful, and everything I was feeling.

"The cure for anything is salt water:  sweat, tears or the sea." -- Karen Blixen

It took me a year to get this posted.  Thank you to everyone who ever admired Mario from afar and laughed at his antics with me.  There is a rabbit-shaped hole in my heart.

The day I adopted Mario I met him and an animal shelter worker at a Connecticut train station.  He was in a carrier and looked a little distressed.  "Poor guy," I said.  "He's having a rough day."  The young woman looked at me and replied, "But he'll have a great rest of his life."

I can only hope this was the truth.

Every post I ever tagged with "Mario" can be found here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Mario

Perhaps more rare than the elusive bunny yawn, I present Bunny Sneezes.  Turn up the volume and enjoy eighteen high quality Mario sneezes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Mario

I smell BANANA!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Injury Favorites: In The Meantime

I have been keeping busy ever since I got my stress fracture diagnosis.  I try to maintain this schedule:  Bikram yoga 3x a week, strength 4x a week, pool running 2x a week, spin 2x a week, and a sprinkling of additional core workouts here and there.  I am doing all of this with the hope of coming back a smarter and stronger runner.

I talked a little bit about my trainer and my bike trainer before, but thought I'd elaborate a little on the other new things that this stress fracture has introduced into my life:

1)  TRX

My trainer incorporates TRX a lot when she is working with me.  It is a suspension device which utilizes your own body weight to do exercises.  I think the fact that this piece of equipment is respected so much in the fitness community and not relegated to a "one piece of equipment does it all!" infomercial-type offering is nothing short of marketing genius.  Because really, it could have gone either way.


You can get a full body workout with these straps.  Legs, core, upper body, and stretching.  I decided to get my own TRX so I could train at home when I wasn't seeing my trainer.  I bought the Force Kit which came with a booklet and an app that has a 12 week program complete with videos demonstrating all of the moves and how to progress them as you get better.  The app is amazing and I highly recommend it.  We have a chin-up bar I hang the system from, but you can also use an attachment to make any door an anchor point.

I'm in the 7th week of the program and am really enjoying it.

2)  Pool Running

Pool running goes by a lot of names (deep water running, aquajogging) and involves running in deep water.  I have read differing opinions on whether or not you should use a flotation belt but for now I am using one.  I have also read differing opinions on what sort of leg motion is the best to do. I have personally settled on mimicking the normal running stride as much as possible and I try to spend time concentrating on the kick back which is something that is lacking in my running form.

Pool running was one of the first things my sports medicine doctor suggested I try when I was first diagnosed with my stress fracture.  Unfortunately, I did not have access to a pool and I did not intend to just go buy a belt and show up at a pool and give it a go with no idea of what I was doing.  I kept hearing such awesome things about how pool running is a great option for runners that my fears and the lack of convenience were overcome by my desire to elevate my heart rate.

I first ventured into the pool running scene by attending a 6:30 am Deep Water Running class at UCSF.  For the record, I am not a morning person.  To be in a pool by 6:30 am was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.  The fact that one of my classmates and the instructor helped me pick a belt and told me how I wanted it to fit was worth the $15 admission price.  This is great because the class was not quite what I was expecting.  I was the youngest person there by at least 25 years.  It felt more like a water aerobics class than a water running class.  Not to knock it, but I was there to get my heart rate up, not to pretend I was stepping over barrels or to do jumping jacks in the deep water.  Class fail.

I decided after a second class that I needed to do pool running on my own.  I had read a lot about how interval work was the way to go in the water and there didn't seem to be any sort of class geared towards people who wanted to do that sort of a thing.  I decided to check out my local YMCA.  It was serendipitous as I actually went to try out their Water Running class but I ended up looking at the wrong schedule and stumbled in on open recreational swim.  I was told I could strap on a belt and do whatever I liked in the deep end.  I was talking to another pool runner in the locker room after.  She said she taught water running classes at other locations and confirmed my suspicion that they were mainly geared towards the geriatric or overweight crowd.  She told me if cardio fitness was my goal I had to just do hard interval work on my own.

The next time I went back I did a few things differently:  1) I remembered that Garfield the Garmin was the waterproof triathlon model. I programmed in workouts like I do when I run and he will vibrate to let me know when an interval is starting or ending.  The first time I did my own workout I watched the clock on the wall which was hard because eventually I'd have to turn around and find the clock on the opposite wall and figure out how much time I had left.  2)  I loaded an ipod with my favorite running music and podcasts.  I bought my husband a waterproof ipod case a while back and it is finally getting some use.  3)  I put on a running hat.  I need it to have something to attach the ipod case to but psychologically it makes me feel like I am actually out for a run. I know, I'm strange. But I miss wearing my running hats!  And I secretly like how it screams, "poor injured runner" when you wear your running hat in the pool.  It also doubles as a splash protector when the guy swimming laps slaps his arm down heavily right by your face as he passes you.

Ever since I started doing the above, I LOVE me my pool running.  I'm using Garfield, I have my running hat -- it is the next best thing to real running.  It is tough when you up the intensity and it gets my heart rate going.  My head even breaks a sweat.  I try to really concentrate on engaging my core and moving my legs and arms independently of my torso.  I'm hoping some of that muscle memory will translate onto the road later.  I am planning on using the pool running in my training even after I am back to regular running again.  I may swap out an easy day for a day in the pool or use it as cross training or double days.  I've been doing a lot of reading about the pool running online and it seems to work for a lot of people.

3) Gym membership

Related to the above -- I joined a gym so I could have pool access.  I've started attending a core strength class once a week and tried out a pilates class as well.  I haven't spent any time in the actual weight/cardio gym since I have my TRX at home and have been working with a trainer thus far.  But I think it is something I will get into more, especially when my fracture is healed up.  After a pool run I'll take a medicine ball outside and do some additional core work.

I am excited about all of the above for a couple of reasons.  First, as I mentioned, I think it is important to have strength in order to be the best runner you can be.  The "Anatomy for Runners" book talks about how you need to have a strong chassis in order to tap into the power your legs generate.  His analogy was firing a cannon from a row boat -- obviously this is disastrous.  But if you had a cannon on firm ground you'd get a lot more power.  Second, I got into this whole mess because all I wanted to do was run.  I am extremely Type A when it comes to training plans.  If it is written down I will do everything in my power to get that run workout completed.  This leads me to run through aches and pains and niggles.  I think down the road if I am experiencing an issue I will be much more likely to skip a run or three if I had another outlet -- get in the pool or on an elliptical or on the bike.

I used to really worry about what would become of me if the day came when I could no longer run.  I still worry about it a little -- I don't consider myself an exerciser -- even all this stuff I am doing is for the end game of running. But I feel a little more assured there are other things out there to help fill the void.  This year has been a good rehearsal for a show I hope never takes place.  And quite possibly all this extra stuff will prolong or prevent that from ever happening.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Mario

Mario is at the tail end of a huge shed.  Usually it is his fluffy soft under coat which comes out, but about two or three a year he'll shed out the longer overcoat hairs.  They come out by the handful and he'll have varying lengths of fur here and there.  He's shedding out in a male pattern baldness ring this time around.  Not nearly as cute of a look as the time he sported a heart.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday Mario

I'm sorry, I know we've beaten the hay rack to death but I just love watching Mario eat from it. You can see his brain working it out.  I love that it gives him some enrichment activity and it tickles me to death I actually got something for him he uses.

Twitchy lips