Back in the club!

No, I didn’t die.  It’s just that for the past six weeks, I’ve felt too bad and sad and miserable to blog.  I didn’t have positive things to say, and I had to focus every bit of energy on healing from the voluntary surgery that knocked the wind from my sails.

Instead of running my usual 50km weeks, for the last six weeks I could only walk.  My pace started at a slow, painful 16 minutes per kilometer a week after varicose vein surgery.  I know, because I strapped on my Garmin and used it to record every painful step.  Walking the dog (which I couldn’t do for 2 weeks) counted; making my way to Hampton Street and back – that really counted; even picking up the kids from school counted (I couldn’t do this for three weeks).  I had no idea I would be so disabled by surgery.  It is a strange and terrible thing to go from super-fit, able and active, to completely disabled in one short hour of surgery.  I was startled by it, and still feel traumatized by the experience.  The weeks that have gone by seem dreamlike and strange, as if my body were no longer mine.

The hardest thing of all was about three weeks after surgery.  The pain had receded somewhat, I was walking more normally,  The bandages had come off.  I had running in my sights.  I went to lunch with my husband, and one of the un-stitched wounds, which had scabbed-over, opened up.  I leaked blood for two full days, despite compression bandages, steri-strips salvaged from my trail-running supplies, and a call to the surgeon.  The surgeon was an hour’s drive away, and wanted to see me Friday – but the wound opened on Tuesday.

It wouldn’t stop bleeding, no matter what I did.  Those few days were the worst.  I couldn’t stand up without bleeding; I couldn’t do anything.  I sunk into a dark place.  I felt like giving up.  Thankfully, my husband held me up, and the stubbornness in my character that I prefer to term determination kicked in.  I called my local doctor, begged for a single stitch to close the wound, and was given it by a lovely, compassionate doctor.

It worked; the bleeding finally stopped and I could begin healing again.  But I was shaken and scared.  And I was left with that stitch for 10 days, and still couldn’t run.  After those long ten days, I went back to the GP, who removed the stitch and suggested I wait another 7 days to run!  I couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to cry.

But deep inside, I felt a change in me.  I felt calmness returning, a sense of acceptance that all would be okay.  I decided to be conservative, to listen to my body, to walk, to slowly start to lift weights at the gym.  I didn’t push.  I let it be.  For one of the first times in my life, I allowed my body to determine what it needed.  It was wonderful.

Last week, the day I was to see the surgeon for a follow-up in fact, I finally ran.  For the first time in six long weeks, I ran!  My logic?  If the wound opened again, at least I had a doctor’s appointment!

It was a terrifying, joyous, hard, slow run.  I had this great plan – I’d been building it for weeks.  I was going to be sensible.  I planned on 1 minute run, 2 minutes walk, to do a total a 3k.  I started well – I walked the four minutes to my trail.  Then I began to run.  I meant to walk after one minute, I really did, but my body wouldn’t.  It just kept running.  It didn’t hurt.  I ran slowly.  Listened carefully for danger signs.  But there weren’t any.  It was simply all right.  I kept running for 4.6 glorious kilometers.

Was I elated?

I was scared.  Scared the wound had re-opened under my running tights.  But it hadn’t.  I waited a few days.  Then I ran 6k.  Waited a day. Ran 6.5.  Nothing hurt.  I was slow, of course, but I was okay.  I ran 17.1 kilometers that week!

Today, six weeks after surgery, I took myself to my favorite trail again, this time in my Five-Fingers.  I planned on 5k.  Partway to this goal, I ran into a friend who’d been following my surgery story.  She was as thrilled as me to see me running.  We chatted (I stopped my Garmin and didn’t feel restless!), then we ran our separate ways.  A few minutes later, I saw two other friends.  I ran with them for the next few kilometers, sharing with them the joy of moving again. Sharing the laughter.  Sharing the trail.

And it occurred to me:  I am finally back in the club.  The club of fitness and health and well-being.  Of running.  Of weight-training.  The gym and my bicycle and walking without a limp, and the whole wide world feels like a big, giant playground, and I am more grateful for this comeback trail than I can express with mere words.

It has been a long, hard six weeks.  It didn’t turn out as I’d expected or planned, and I am still healing.  But I have learned that by being compassionate with myself, I can heal.

I am not sure yet where my trail will take me, what distances I will aim for in the coming months.

For now, it is enough to run with joy again, to be back in the club.

Crisis of confidence: of marathon training and life

Six days until my first marathon.  I’m tapering, and feeling all the usual gunk that comes with this useful part of training.  Slow, lethargic, lazy.  I keep waiting for the burst of energy that says this is working, but my energetic bursts are being consistently used up by family and work stress.  So I’m just going to have to trust in the process, and trust in the training I’ve done.

Of course, having dozens of Garmin files to explore and obsess over doesn’t help.  I’ve been comparing elevation gains, height of hills from sea level, length of hills I’ve done in training versus those on the actual course.

My gear is ready.  My body is ready.  My mind?  Well, my mind is never really ready until I’m in the middle of a race and have nowhere to go but forward.  Such is the lot of those of us who obsess over every single detail of training and race preparation.  I’d love to be one of the relaxed few who just come along for the views and to take photos.

Six days and counting down.  Time for  5, 10, and 5k runs to finish off my training plan.  For some short running and nice recovery.

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I didn’t post this on the day I first wrote, as I was experiencing a crisis of confidence, and wasn’t ready to tell you the truth.  A few runs later (rainy runs into a strong headwind, carrying my newly repaired Hydrapak), and I’d love to say I’m fine now.

In truth,  I’m not.  I’m poring over the newly released details of race map transition areas, trying to remember which way our course goes compared to the other three race distances starting the same day.  And I’m trying to summit some more personal hills.

My seven-year-old is experiencing difficulties at school, and I am her safe battering ram when she returns home.  It hurts, all the way down to my soul.  But I was coping okay.

Then last week a BodyPump participant offloaded some really heavy stuff on me – a comment I had made in jest was the straw that broke her camel’s back, and I got in the direction of her personal lava-flow.  I felt like a kid who had been caught doing something naughty, as she raged and raged at me at the end of my class, as the other participants sheepishly snuck out the door.  My apology went unheard, and her wrath untouched.  With a sinking heart, I knew what was coming, because this is what happens.

Both things – my daughter’s stress, and this grown-up’s explosion – threw me.  I recognised that these things were not about me, but were about the other people going through difficult times.  In my head, at least, I recognised that.  That wiser part of me was nodding quietly, saying, “This is their stuff, not yours.”

The less wise part of me – who I know well, and see creeping up on me with a feeling of despair – was less kind.  It blasted me with self-criticism and doubt, with that hide-under-the-bed-and-quit-all-my-jobs kind of advice that does no good to anyone.  My roots were (and are still) shaken.  I’ve had some sleepless nights wondering what I could do differently, tearing apart my faults, and judging myself way too harshly.  Thank God for the likes of Bon Jovi at such times, reminding me that I am not the first to feel this way, that I am not alone.  Thank God for the wise part of me that sits quietly nearby through all the turmoil, and reminds me I’ve survived much worse, that this too shall pass.

Long-distance trail running, alone with my thoughts and a concrete objective is the perfect antidote.  Except I’ve been tapering, so even that avenue has been closed for a couple of weeks.  Which is why I understood so well a recent trail runner’s message on why he runs so far.  He said something like, “Trail running is a drip-feed to my soul.”  Yup, I get that.  Because sometimes I long for what is soulful and simple and concrete, to escape from the complexities of human beings.

Shaken, but not broken – that is how I’m standing today.  Where all of us stand sometimes.  Making mistakes, and picking myself back up again, and trying my darndest to learn.  It makes running a marathon seem easy by comparison.

Here’s what I’m holding onto – that the people of Marysville have risen from the ashes of the 2009 bushfires.  And that I’m going to do just the same in the face my own personal challenges.  I need a good dose of trails to lift me back up, the smell of eucalypts and the feel of dirt under my feet.  Come Sunday in my first real marathon, I’m going to focus on simply feeling alive to every single footfall, to the simplicity that running can bring, to the soulfulness that will enable me to face life’s many challenges.

Because that wise self knows that I will find my stability and peace of mind again, through a long, steady run in the woods.

Lesson learned: increase training by 10% per week only or risk injury

So, I finally found a limit.  I’ve been pushing and pushing things, surprised that nothing hurt, that is, nothing hurt until Friday last week.  With the use of my Teva Five Fingers and my Fit-Flop shoes, with lots of TR-X training, and lots of squats, lunges, and core work, I had managed to complete my first 22km run a few weeks back.

Then a fellow team-mate and I decided we were going to do the North Face 100 in Sydney’s Blue Mountains as Marathon Pairs.  Which meant that, come May 2013, I’d be running up to 56km in one go.  Without much recovery from the Surfcoast Ultramarathon, and with the Marysville Half-Marathon coming soon, I hit the trails hard.

Yes, I’d heard of the 10% rule.  And I had printed out and read several detailed 50km training programs, but simply hadn’t put one together for myself yet.  Last week, I decided I’d just up the distance of the runs I was doing, each one, a little bit.  Twenty km became twenty-one; four became five; six became seven; four became, well, four became ten.  That was the one that broke me — because all I was doing was substituting my usual cross-training session for the same amount of time running, I thought I’d be fine.

Did I do the math?  Of course not.  If I had (and I did after my hips were aching on Friday night), I would have seen that all my tiny increments added up to a whopping 40% increase in one week, instead of the 10% I should have been aiming for.  I cringe thinking about it.  I am grateful that my friend Maria saw my “aching hips” post on Facebook, and texted me to remind me what I knew, but hadn’t adhered to.

I like to preach “no limits” to myself and to my classes.  I like to live “no limits”.  But the fact is, there are limits and if I don’t respect them, and train more consciously, I won’t be teeing up at the start line of many 50km races.

So, with new-found respect, I am committing to designing a six month plan to get me to that start line.  The good news is that after two solid rest days, my hips are back to normal.  I ran 5km in my Teva Five Fingers on the treadmill this morning, and it felt just like running should feel.  Pure, pain-free joy.

My mathematician husband also solved a great mystery that may have plagued other math-illiterate runners – the 10% increase can apply across the whole week (like if you run 35km in total for the week, you increase that total by 3.5km), but if you increase each individual run by 10% this will add up to 10% across the whole week too (so you can spread that extra 3.5 km across various runs).  That was one sticking block I couldn’t get my head around.  I think I’ve got it now.  Let me know, other runners, if I’ve still got it wrong.  I can be a bit of a blockhead about some things.

I suppose the only way to gain wisdom is to make mistakes along the way.  I have never tried to run so far.  For most of my thirty years of running, I’d simply do one long run per week of about 10km, and cross-train the rest of the time with swimming, weight training, cycling, spinning, or whatever was the most fun at the moment.  So this conscious increase is a whole new ball game.  I love to do things right the first time, but I suppose that is not so realistic.  This is going to take some learning…

Some days I can’t run far enough

Like many, I use running as a medication, a mood-lifter, a quick shot in the brain of adrenalin and inspiration. Trouble is the days when it is not enough.  When I can’t run far enough to be able to say, oh, that doesn’t matter.  When in truth, sometimes the bad stuff does matter.  Sometimes it is simply too big to be run down.

Being a parent to young children is hard.  Dinnertimes where I make my best effort and the plate is literally thrown to the floor. Times when my youngest shouts, “I don’t love you” or ends the day with “My best part was making you upset.”  I’m tough, tough as nails, tough as old shoe leather, but these things go right to the heart of me, and in those moments, I just can’t run far enough to push down the emotions that jump up and bite me.  I’m hit right in my core, and it shakes me.  I hide in the kitchen, where the kids can’t see me and I am grateful the wall is tall enough that they can’t see how I’m feeling.

And when they go to bed, I write.  When I can’t run any further, I write away the feelings, let them become mere words on paper that drift away and lose their pain over time, like sheets hung out to dry in the summer sun.

And I hope that in the writing and the sharing that others who feel that same pain feel better somehow.  Like that old Elton John song, Sad Songs Say So Much.

So tonight, if you are a parent, if you are a runner who simply can’t run far enough to mask the pain that very young children can sometimes inadvertently cause, know you are not alone.  I feel it too.  It scalds, it burns, but it will pass.  As all trials and pains eventually do, it will pass.

Right now, it simply is what it is.  Sometimes we can’t run far enough to make it go away.

But sharing it helps.