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

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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.

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

Race report: Pinckney Trail Half (and general life update)

After far too long a break from doing any kind of trail race – I think it may actually have been in 2012, though I’d have to check – I finally got one under my belt this Saturday at the Pinckney Trail Weekend. I just did the half, but it went way better than I thought it would, actually – especially since the farthest I’ve run this month, and most of last month, is about 8 miles. But I’ve picked up my pace a bit on those short runs, which I think actually helped.

The weather was pretty much perfect for racing – cool (low 40s) and overcast, no rain, not much wind. I ran into one of my friends from high school cross country who said that she was aiming for around 2 hours, so I decided to run with her even though I expected, realistically, to roll in around 2:20 or something. So we got in the “9 min/mi” pace wave – there were waves, which was different from the last trail races I’d done where there were a couple dozen people – but of course the trail was pretty bottlenecked and congested for the first maybe 2-3 miles so those went by at closer to 11 and 10 min/mi, which I wasn’t thrilled about. But of course it eventually thinned out and I began to figure out a decent pace and pick my way up. Roughly the middle has a couple big hills (for Michigan, anyway), and I focused on actually working the hills, powerhiking up and cruising down. (A couple guys behind me were talking about hills and racing, and one of them said something like, “Yeah, people always get to the top and slow down, like, ‘Whew, that was hard!’ and that’s when you’ve gotta pass ’em and fly down the hill. Classic race mentality,” which kind of made me go Ah yes, this is a race, I should think at least a little about that.) After grinding out the middle hilly miles we hit a really nice fast part, still some hills but very runnable with nice flow. I always love that part on my runs out there, it just flies by. At an aid station around maybe mile 10 one of the guys I know from the running scene in Ann Arbor was working and offered me “Gatorade or beer?” I thought he was joking so I said “BEER!” and was handed a Sam Adams IPA. It actually tasted pretty damn good. The last four miles or so went by pretty quick (with the exception of that one last big hill about a mile and a half out). Also, my calves started cramping around mile 11, but I just kept my stride long and ran it out and it was fine. By then, I was really in the groove of things and I felt like I could go all day (with a pace adjustment, of course!). It was like my muscle memory was kicking in from so long ago. I pushed it the last mile and came through in 2:05:59, which I think was actually one of my fastest times on that loop… which just goes to show how big a role mentality plays in running distances (even just a half), and also that I probably wasn’t working hard enough in the past, because I was in way better shape than I am now  😛  I was 14th woman overall and 3rd in my age group. I suspect I could have broken 2h had I not been stuck for the first three miles. Also, my dad came through at 2:00 flat… had I known he was so close, I would have tried to catch him!

I’d forgotten how much I love being out there for hours, just chipping away at the miles for hours, just getting it done… and the feeling of having a strong, steady pace that pays off the more miles there are. I think only one or two people passed me in the last couple miles (mainly on the hills that I would have run had my calves not been spasming). It’s just the best feeling. Doing this race was so good for me. For the last probably two years, my lack of racing or really running far has been messing with me. I’ve felt incomplete, like I lost a big part of who I am. The race this weekend, even though it was just a half, helped me find that lost part. Before, I was doubting my interest in running long – like I wanted to want to run long, but it just wasn’t there yet. Now that desire is back, without a doubt in my mind. I would have signed up for the 50k the next day had my friends and dad not reminded me that I haven’t been running and that my shin would probably just explode. So there’s one in June I have my eye on. I can’t wait. Waking up too early, having that feeling of “Oh god why did I sign up for this, the bed is soooo comfy,” but getting up and putting on your running clothes and meeting at the start line in the early morning, when the air is cool and dew is on the grass and the sun is just peeking up, then your little group trots off into the woods to emerge five, six hours later, tired and triumphant… then laying on the couch under a giant comfy blanket and falling asleep. So good.

So anyway. I’M BACK! I did a shakeout seven yesterday, and my left calf is still sore/tight where it was cramping during the race, but thankfully my shin feels fine.

Life update time! I’m graduating this weekend, which is kind of terrifying but mostly exciting, I guess. The plan is to take a “year off,” which I put in quotes because it’ll be a year of calc and chem classes to prep for grad school, which I will hopefully be attending next fall (2016) for geology. So now I have to focus on narrowing down my fields of interest and finding a professor to work with (in a town with good trails and a good running community, of course!). But I’m pretty excited about that, and very pleased with my decision to go into geology. The work is interesting and I love the people – they like craft beer possibly more than trail runners and climbers, which is saying something. So that’s good.

Ok, time to go pick up graduation tickets and start packing. Blah.

peace love and long-distance running,
bec

 

It’s the simple things.

It’s not quite Thanksgiving, but I’m still allowed to be grateful, right?

Yesterday was bitterly cold. We’re going through something of a miniature polar vortex this week, meaning I haven’t run since… Sunday, I think. But not running gave me the opportunity to hang out at a bookstore, get dinner, share desserts, and study with two of my best friends. We’re all busy with school and jobs and social lives, so it’s supremely comforting when we can actually all hang out together. Especially once we’ve settled in for the evening with plenty of pillows and blankets, hot tea and calm music while the far-too-early winter winds howl outside. The radiators hiss and fill the apartment with steamy heat. The cats curl on our legs. We sip our tea. We laugh. We talk. We don’t talk. We show each other cat pictures. We avoid running in the near-zero windchill because hey, it’s November. We didn’t sign up for this.

Few things in life are perfect, but to me, my friends are. They make me happy when skies are grey… which is a lucky thing, since it seems like these stubborn clouds have moved in for the winter.

peace and love,
bec