10.3 miles on a september evening

I had planned on doing my long (”long”) run this morning, but when I woke up I was pretty hungry and also I ended up having plans at 11:30, and I’ve found that my runs aren’t very good if I go immediately after waking up, which I would have had to do. So, with some uncertainty, I opted to run later in the day. Now, we all know that when we postpone a run for later, there’s a 50% chance it’ll actually happen – if that. So I got some chores done and watched some tv and ate mac and cheese and was feeling sleepy and content, but only about 50% content. So with some snapchat motivation I headed out into the glorious end-of-September evening and had an excellent run.

I did a 10.3-mile loop that covers a mix of trails, dirt roads, and regular ol’ pavement. I’m sorely (pun!) in need of new shoes, both road and trail, as I’ve been running in the same 1400s for quite a while now and my knees are starting to notice. Plus, running downhill on trails is terrifying in them – they’ve got shallow tread to begin with (being a road racing flat), and I’ve worn out all but the tread under the arch. I brought a light but didn’t need it, except for extra visibility on the last stretch of road. I brought water but didn’t need it; it was weighing me down so I dumped it with about three miles to go. My pace dropped below 9s for the last two miles; I felt like I was flying. I felt new. And I felt like my old self again.

With this run under my belt, feeling as good as I do about it, I’m beginning to feel the tickle of a 50k in my heels sometime before the year is up. No race in particular, just me and the trees. I think this is how it needs to happen. After these past few years of injury and illness and doubt, I think I need to run 50k alone on the trails to prove to myself not only that I physically can, which will be a feat in of itself, but that I can do it without external motivation. To be successful at ultras – not winning, just completing – the drive first and foremost has to come from something within you. External motivation can help, obviously, but if that core nugget is absent, then you’ll be in trouble.

I’m still approaching cautiously, since the threat of a flare is constantly hovering around me, so playing it at safely as I can while making progress is the line I need to toe… for the foreseeable future. But as long as I stay on the healthy side of the line and can run, I’m happy.

– b

PS. Hit 25 miles for last week, highest since in June, before I got sick over the summer. Aiming for 30-35 this week.

In which I officially start grad school

Today marks the first day of the rest of my life. (Again.)

It didn’t start auspiciously – I went for a terrible, short run without my contacts in and ran into a tree, plus discovered that I have some poison ivy, then I was too hot and grumpy to pack food for work AND the cats had dumped a shelf + plant onto the floor overnight, so there was dirt all over the carpet, AND THEN at work I realized that I had forgotten my laptop charger so the day was basically a lost cause. Oh, and the evening prior, this happened:


The truly ironic part: the guy from whom we got the couch worked for a company that – get this – does 3D modeling for fitting things into tight spaces.

…so when today rolled around, I wasn’t feeling excited or even like today was anything out of the ordinary. Just another day in lab, except that a dozen things had gone wrong already and I had to go to class for the first time in a while.

I chose to stay on at Michigan for a reason – it’s an excellent school in a town I quite enjoy, not to mention the fact that the benefits here are head and shoulders above the rest – but it’s been too easy for me to fall into a mental trap of feeling that everything is the same. I’ve been working in the lab that will be the site of my graduate study for a year and a half already – which is great, research-wise – and I’ve spent roughly five years on this campus already. I have to work a little bit to get myself out of that mindset – to allow myself to be excited about this new phase and, perhaps most importantly, all the new people who have just joined the department. Over the past year, I’ve watched pretty much everyone from my class move away and on to other things, and have been looking forward to the influx of new faces for a while now. But even with this, it wasn’t until after I got home from the (four hour) orientation session this evening that it kind of hit me – I’ve just begun a four- or five-year academic journey. That’s not inconsequential. And it won’t be the same as my time here as an undergrad.

Today, I officially start my PhD program. By 2021, I will either be a Dr., or I will be living in a van by the mountains. Or, if all goes exceptionally well, both will be true.

– b

In which uncertainty reigns (but optimism stands firm)

My last post was from the beginning of July, shortly after I had a great week of running and Lake Michigan ice baths. After that, my life took a 180: I had a big flare-up for the last three weeks of July, then for two weeks in August. Looking back, that’s the cycle I’ve been going through for almost two years: health, flare, recovery. Health, flare, recovery. Sometimes health is the longest segment, other times it’s recovery. Thankfully, it’s not usually the flare. But either way, it totally sucks. I wanted this year to be the year I got to do a 50k – that’s looking more and more unlikely.

It goes like this: running is going well. Start to get into a rhythm. Start to build up a mileage base. FLARE: be out of commission for 1-4 weeks. Lose pretty much everything you built up to. Feel like shit for days on end. Try running; joints all ache, chest pain builds up, fatigue hits; lay in bed for six hours to two days.. Try to stay positive. Sloooooow recovery – until one day, you have energy and nothing, or almost nothing, hurts. Try running; it goes well. Feel human again. x amount of time passes; run, run, run. Then, inevitably, mostly unpredictably, flare again. Repeat. Mix into that doctor visits, bloodwork on bloodwork on bloodwork, and hours of googling autoimmune diseases. Also starting graduate school. Makes for a pretty fun time.

Now. All that sounds terribly negative, which is because it’s hard to put a positive spin on having some as-yet undiagnosed chronic inflammation/autoimmune disease, but here’s the good news: it’s usually not totally debilitating, only occasionally. And I’ve now gone on two pain-free, normal-feeling runs, so it looks as though the megaflare of the summer is over (knock on wood). It’s easy to lose sight of goals when you’re sick like that, but once you pop out back on top and, you know, become you again, it comes back. It never really leaves, it just gets masked by pain and malaise (which sounds very preteen-dramatic, but is nonetheless true).

SO. Will I do a 50k this year? Proooobably not. I wasn’t expecting to be laid low for so long this year, but all you can do is roll with the punches and keep an optimistic attitude about it. I’ll keep running as long as I can, and hopefully I’ll get a diagnosis soon. (Though sometimes I forget that getting a diagnosis does not equal automatic cure.)

Anyway – that’s what’s up. I’m going to try for something a little longer tomorrow because it’s so, so exciting to actually have energy to run again, even if I’m super out of shape because I haven’t really run much since that trip up north.

– b

PS. THE OLYMPICS THO. WOW.
PPS. A list of things it might me: lupus, lyme, POTS, mast cell activation syndrome, associated pleurisy and arthritis… it’s a fun list.

I just ran a few miles with a new running friend and it was HOT and I’m out of shape but - drumroll please - there was NO WEIRD PAIN! My hip and ankle bugged me a teensy bit at the beginning, but I’m attributing that to not running much the past...
From after my run yesterday. It was HOT but I was so pumped to be running again.

A week up north (incl. sandy faceplant) / summer update

Man, I never write on here anymore. Probably because running has just been slow maintenance, building up mileage – nothing exciting, but good nonetheless. I just looked and I haven’t posted since the end of April. What’s happened since then? I’ve been working, sleeping, running 30-40 mile weeks. Two weeks of June were kind of shot from work being busy and moving, so when I went up north with my family at the end of June into July, I decided to use it to kick my running back into gear. I did 8-11 miles a day on the gorgeous trails in and around Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore – soft and just a little sandy, more often than not covered in brown pine needles, rolling enough to keep it interesting, with views of the pure blue expanse of Lake Michigan to the west. The weather was perfect for running, and the still-frigid lake made for an excellent full-body post-run ice bath. I was actually on track to hit around 50 miles for the week, which I hadn’t done in… I don’t even know how long, but my brothers and I decided to race down a large dune. My trail-running ego kicked in and I tried to be Kilian.

I cannot be Kilian.

Right near the bottom, I realized that my legs were pumping too fast and my feet weren’t under me and suddenly WHOMPthud. My face smacked into the deceptively hard sand and the rest of my body followed. My head was instantly throbbing and before I knew what had happened, I was somehow sitting up – I’m assuming I tumbled over my head somehow? Sand was all over me – in my eyes, hair, mouth, nose, and all sorts of other crevices. It would take me days to get it all out. I looked around for my phone – my brand-new, shiny phone – and thankfully it was all right. My family, along with some onlookers (it was a crowded Saturday morning at the dune – great) gathered loosely around. “Well, that happened,” I said with aplomb as I stood up and began brushing myself off. I felt fine, mostly – my neck felt a little funny. Not painful, just… off, somehow. After a few minutes, my head didn’t even really hurt anymore. We picked up NPS Centennial hats, because we are a Super Cool family, and headed back to the condo. By the time we got back, though, I could feel my neck really beginning to stiffen. Still not painful, but obviously not A-Okay. With thoughts of What if you have permanent brain damage now? dancing in my head, I decided to take the day off and drink beer on the beach with my brothers. Punishing, I know. The pain kicked in the next day, on the drive back downstate, and lingered for… five days, maybe? I spent two days mostly lying in bed, icing my neck & upper back and watching Game of Thrones and OITNB (both of which, by the way, !!!!!!!!!!!!!)(it was an EMOTIONAL TWO DAYS). So I’m loading mileage on the back end of this week, but I should still hit 30-35. Just got back from a brutally hot 9 miles. If I hadn’t brought water, I think I actually would have passed out in the shade on a dirt road. Needless to say, it wasn’t the speediest of runs, but I made it back alive and immediately stuck my head under the faucet outside, dousing my head in icy groundwater. Delicious.


Friday night lights – sunset over Lake Michigan, with South Manitou on the right.


Chilly but happy.


Looking west over the lake from Pyramid Point. Take this, ocean, with your stupid salty water and bitey sharks and stingy things.


Taken about 10 minutes before The Faceplant.


Choppy water, grey sky, low clouds.

keep your face away from the ground, kiddos.
peace love and sandy (but not too sandy) trails,
b

plans and goals, plus 10.1

Yesterday while I was talking with one of my best friends about our running goals for the year, I realized something. While I do want 2016 to be the year I get back to ultras, it doesn’t need to be a race with a finish line and a medal. I just want to be able to run 50k on some trails and enjoy it. If that coincides with a race, then great – but if not, it doesn’t matter. The distance is the thing. And with this perspective, I can be much more flexible in working with what my body is telling me. If I’m feeling good, like I was yesterday, then I can crank out some miles. But on the other hand, if something flares up and I’m knocked out for two weeks at a time (like what happened for much of February/March), I don’t have to stress about it. I can just roll with the punches and get back to it when I’m healthy again.

Speaking of yesterday – I went out to to a couple test miles, just to see if everything was in working order, and after two miles I could tell it was going to be good. It was one of those runs where the weather was perfect, the pace felt right, and nothing hurt, so I ended up doing a 10-miler that felt really easy and natural – surprising since I haven’t run that far since January. It did me a world of good, mentally and physically. It felt like a run “in the old days” – aka, before all my weird health things started happening. No shin pain, no chest pain, no inflammation problems – just a really great run (followed, of course, by a hot shower, a pile of fries and some whiskey).

Fingers crossed that it stays like this for a while!
peace love and running,
bec

In which I get carried away (an accidental 13-miler)

This afternoon, while the sun was still high in the clear blue sky and the windchill was still in the high teens(!), I set out to do a quick three-miler. I’d taken the past three days off, one for recovery and two for lethargy (laziness + cold), and spent the five and a bit hours I’d been awake mostly just watching Friends. A good Saturday. After walking the dog woke me up, I got myself out the door. Just three miles, I told myself, then you can go back to bed and eat chocolate.

Two hours later, I came back.

You see, the planets aligned for my run today. Three and a half rest days, loads of carbs, and nice weather had me feeling great. By the end of the first mile, I knew I’d be running more than three. I felt six, at least, easy. I felt smooth and fast and fresh. Fresh legs do wonders. The miles began to tick by as my mind wandered in a way that it hasn’t been able to in months, and as they did, I noticed that this was indeed a Very Good Run. I wasn’t checking my watch, but I felt that my pace was good. I continued down the same dirt road and ventured into uncharted territories – no mile markers here. It was all by feel.

The sinking sun at my back cast cold golden light over an otherwise blue and brown landscape, fields and fences and closed woods. It was quiet, just the crunch of my feet on scattered dirt and snow. Herds of deer peered out at me between trees, nervous, silent, still. Curious? Scared? Mourning doves and possibly owls cooed out, resounding weirdly through the empty forest. I slid around on ice-sheeted sections of road; I flew over the rest.

Though I was still in the zone, I eventually realized I couldn’t just keep running out – I had to turn back at some point. (Well, I didn’t have to, but I didn’t have a phone, so my other options were hitchhiking back or a slow-freeze death overnight.) I turned around at what I thought was around 5. Keeping pace on the return, I ran off into the sunset, pastel streaks above the shadowed ground giving way to dusty blues and purples of the night sky. The sun finally dropped and, as I turned east, the moon rose low and orange, gradually turning yellow to silver as the sky around it darkened and stars emerged – Orion’s belt, the dippers big and small, the North Star. I kept running. I had glanced at my watch and based on what I thought my pace was, and how I felt, I figured I could probably make it 13, or an even two hours. I passed my apartment and added an out-and-back section of paved road, then passed it again to round out the final ten minutes. One hour and fifty-five minutes after I’d left, I opened the door and greeted my (rightfully) concerned roommate and her ever-energetic corgi. My knees hurt, my back hurt, and my breathing was still a little ragged, but I was happy. I took the dog out for a little cooldown walk and, after some stretching, crashed on the couch. Amazingly, I managed to not only make dinner and shower, but I scavenged up the energy to shave. What a champ.

While today’s run was definitely not a wise move, it came naturally to me. It wasn’t planned at all, and I didn’t question it for one minute. I felt good during the run and surprisingly not sore afterwards (muscularly, anyway – joints are another issue entirely). Most importantly, for me, was the motivation behind it. I wasn’t dragging myself through a slog of a long run because I had to, or for any number of weird guilt reasons. I was just back in the zone, and boy have I missed it there. For so long – years – I’ve worried that I would never be able to run long again, or want to. Running had become such a powerful part of my identity that that questioning led to some issues. Over the past few months, even with all my other health issues, I’ve felt that intrinsic motivation so necessary for long distance creeping back. I began remembering my goals and how good it felt to be working towards them – to be able to work towards them – with all the ups and downs that come with it. I’m not going to let running take over my identity again, but I certainly welcome it back into the mix.

Now the trick will be to not run stupid and get injured… and that’s where my friends come in, always ready to talk me down from signing up for races I’m not ready for and reminding me to rest. It’s hard to do those things on your own, and I’m glad I have them.

That being said: I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense. It’s arbitrary and it doesn’t work for me. But I feel like this is the year in which I will be able to do an ultra again, even just a 50k. I need to be smart about it, but I’d like to do it before grad school starts (assuming I get in somewhere). Today’s 13 actually felt pretty easy, but I’m not going to take that and run with it – it was most likely an exception to the rule, given the rest and carbs. So I’ll stick with building base miles, probably 30-35 miles a week, and go from there. (All my crazy inflammatory issues will likely keep me in check, anyway – blessing in disguise?)

So that’s where I’m at. And now – SLEEP.
peace love and running,
bec