Sunday, November 22, 2009
Last year, the JFK increased the entry fee to an amount that I did not want to pay. I run a lot of races during the year, and it takes some serious budgeting to get to all of these races. With the flight, rental car, and 2 nights stay in a hotel the night before the race and the night right after the race, the increase pushed me over the limit for one race out of many. Besides, as much as I love that race, I was not willing to cut out another race or two from my schedule to make ends meet. Therefore, I made a promise to myself. I would run the JFK one more year to give me 5 finishes there, and if the entry fee increased for 2009, I would not run it. For 2009, the entry fee increased again to $145, leaving the 3rd weekend in November free for me to run another race.
For years now, I had been looking at the Dizzy Fifties (50K, 40 Mile, and 50 Mile) Trail Runs in Huntsville, AL. This race is on the same day as JFK. It was cheap to enter ($24), and it was only a 2-hour drive for me, which meant that I could sleep in my own bed. I signed up before it became full. Here was my chance to run Dizzy and then run the Monkey. With a 10 hour cut-off, the only distance I could pull off would be the 50K at Dizzy, so a double looked doable. The only problem was that the Monkey had already reached its 200 runner limit.
I have run a lot of races, but I'm ashamed to say that I have never volunteered. This sport has given me so much, and it was time for me to start giving back to it. I hear from race directors all of the time about how hard it is to find enough volunteers for their events. Here was my chance to be a part of the solution. I sent Trent an e-mail, asking him if I could volunteer. Trent, being the super nice guy that he is, asked me if I wanted to run it instead. I told him that I couldn't run it because it was already full. Again, he gave me the opportunity to run it by jokingly saying that he knew the race director and he could get me in. I loved the fact that he would let me in, but I really wanted to volunteer. I wanted to be on the other side of that start/finish line.
Early Sunday morning, I drove over to Percy Warner Park to check in for my 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. shift. I had been assigned to packet pick-up. I would be working with Sharon, who would check off each runner's name on the entry list. In turn, I would pull the runner's packet. Diana, the volunteer coordinator, and Trent, were buzzing around getting everything set up and putting the volunteers to work. All of the volunteers had been asked to bring a food item to share for the party afterwards. I had never seen so much food set up for a post-race party. There were three tables full of all kinds of desserts, sandwiches, fruits, vegetables, side dishes, and coffee. My stomach growled as I watched more and more food being dropped off at the tables by the volunteers as they checked in for their shifts.
Several of my running buddies were in town to run the Monkey: Andy (FL), Phil (AL), Graham (AL), Dave (CO), Larry (TX), and Mike (ME). Locals like Diane (TN) and Lisa (TN) were also running today. As they checked in or just came by our table to say hello, I wished them all well and told them to have fun. I promised to come out onto the course to see them after my shift was over.
Check-in started slowly, with 1 or 2 runners every few minutes, and then we got a steady stream for a while before it eased back to 1 or 2 runners every few minutes. Sharon and I worked well together. We only had one problem. A couple checked in. Her packet was available, but there wasn't a packet for her husband. Sharon and I desperately checked and rechecked the boxes, but we never found the runner's packet. We called Trent over. The runner's packet had to have been given out to someone else. We thought we had been thoroughly checking the numbers against the names. Could I have handed out the wrong packet? I didn't want to think that it was possible.
In our defense, a number of packets were picked up on Saturday evening. Another runner came up and told us that she had been given an incorrect packet on Saturday and had to go back and exchange it. Each packet had a bib number, goodie bag, and a race t-shirt with the runner's name on it. Surely, if someone had this particular runner's packet, he would have noticed that his t-shirt had the wrong name on it. The runner and his wife looked concerned. Trent was calm and told the runner that he would still be able to participate. If I was the race director, I would have been a nervous wreck. Our line of runners waiting to check in was growing. Sharon and I had to continue our job. Before the race started, Trent made an announcement to try and recover the missing packet. I didn't hear anyone owning up to having the wrong packet. Bummer!
At 8:00 a.m., we watched as the runners took off and the large digital clock began keeping time. As all of the runners climbed the hill on the cross-country portion of the course, they quickly began to spread out in a neat line. I felt like I had just pushed my kids out into the big world. Will they all make it back home safe and sound?
I love running in Percy Warner Park. There's a 5.8 mile loop and an 11.2 mile loop on the roads. Both were rolling hills the entire loop. I'm in relatively good shape when I can run the 5.8 in less than an hour and the 11.2 in less than 2 hours. It has been years since I was able to do that, but I still come out here every now and then to test myself. The race course pretty much followed the 11.2 mile loop twice with some additional routes to get the full 26.2 miles.
There are also some wonderful trails in the park that I love to run. Like the road loops, the trails are rolling hills with just enough roots and rocks to make it interesting. There are also plenty of deer to keep you company on the trails.
With all of the runners out for their adventure, the volunteers were left to fend for ourselves. A few of us grabbed something from the food table, drank coffee, and stood around talking. I talked with 2 volunteers for the next couple of hours. Andrew (AL) is a young ultramarathoner studying to become a physical therapist. Forrest (TN) had walked 65 miles in August to celebrate his birthday. Andrew and I were so impressed with his story. He had started out at 300 pounds several years ago and began walking and running to lose weight. He had lost his son to diabetes. While reading Pam Reed's book, he became inspired to run his age in miles for his birthday on a 10K loop that he created in Hendersonville, TN. The local news media did a story on him, and a helicopter hovered above him as he walked. Several people came out to walk with him. It took him 18 hours to finish. Wow! I wonder if Forrest knows that he has a 100 miler in him. And yes, we did joke about people saying "run, Forrest, run".
Two and a half hours after the runners started, Peter (the president of the Nashville Striders Running Club) announced that our first place winner would be coming across the cross-country field. Like moths to a flame, we all migrated to the finish line. Family, friends, and volunteers watched and waited. Volunteers lined up at the finish line to give out the Monkey finisher's medal and to tear off the runner's tag from their bibs. Several false alarms came when locals enjoying the park on the cloudy and cool Sunday morning came across the hill. And then we saw him, and he was flying. Was it Josh (TN)? Was it Chuck (OH)? My bet was on either one of them.
The winner looked good when he came through. You would not have thought that he had just run 26.2 miles on a tough course. We were all in amazement. We clapped, shouted, and congratulated him. And then we looked over the hill. No one was chasing him. I instantly felt sorry for him. Wasn't he lonely running all of those miles by himself?
And then we saw another. It had to be Josh or Chuck. They were so fast and had won so many races between the two of them. But it was not. It was another runner that I did not know. The crowd burst into claps, shouts, and hardy congratulations to him. And then we watched the hill. Waiting. Anticipating. I loved this!
I saw him. There were rumblings up ahead amongst the anxious crowd. Someone noticed his stride. His strong legs were pushing forward. He would finish 3rd. It was Josh. I yelled, and I was probably louder than I should have been, because he saw me waiting near the end of the finish chute. He had worked hard on those hills, chasing those two runners in front of him. He had to be tired. He had to be happy to finish and to finish so well. But he stopped, and he gave me a hug. I was surprised. I could feel the crowd watching our exchange. I wanted to jump up and down and tell everybody, "that's MY running buddy". I can't even run half of a marathon these days in the time that it took him to run the entire marathon, but we share the same love for this sport. That's what makes this so special to me.
Volunteers pulled his tag from his bid and gave him a Monkey medal. He went over to congratulate the two runners who finished before him, just as champions do. And the crowd watched the hill. They came one by one.
One runner had run so hard that he laid in the grass at the end of the finish chute. The medics came over to give him oxygen. I have never pushed my body that hard. I don't know what that feels like, but I wanted him to be okay. I wanted him to be able to run another day.
I stayed until the first female came through the finish chute. Friends ran with her, encouraging her, and then pulled off at the last few seconds so that she could have her well-deserved moment in the spotlight. She looked young and strong. I can't even imagine what went through her head, leading all of the women, and gaining on the men in front of her. It must have been a wonderful feeling. It must have been worth it all.
I said good-bye to Forrest and his wife, Judy. Judy had also volunteered this morning and helped organize all of the food that kept coming in for the party afterwards. I was ready to go out onto the course and back track. I wanted to run some of those familiar hills. I wanted to see my other running buddies.
As I ran and walked the course in the opposite direction, I tried to give encouragement to the runners heading to the finish line. I don't know how many times I said, "good job", "nice work", "stay strong", and "keep it going". I received a variety of responses in return: blank stares, grunts, silently hung heads, smiles, and thank you's.
Josh was out on the hills. Was this his cool down? We talked for a minute and then I continued on, greeting runners and looking for familiar faces. I saw Lisa. She wanted to know, "how far"? I had not been paying attention. I did not know. "Less than 2 miles, Lisa. You're doing great." It was a wild guess at best.
I saw Trent next. It is a remarkable feat for any race director to have things so organized that he can relax and run his own race. I admired him for that. As he flew past me on a down hill, giving me a high five, I told him that he had put on a great race. "You need to run this next year," was the last thing that I heard him say before he sped around a bend in the road and out of sight. He is right, of course.
Runner after runner passed. I knew that the next buddy I would see would be either Dave or Phil. They both are fast. It turned out to be Dave. He was walking up a hill. I asked if he wanted me to walk with him, but he said he would be running the next down hill and was on pace to finish in 4:35. I couldn't keep up that kind of pace. I wished him well and continued on. Maybe this was a bad idea.
I saw Phil next. I asked if he would like some company. He said yes. I felt better, and I hoped that he did, too. We talked and ran/walked the rolling hills, but it was short-lived. He was having to slow down to wait on me. I didn't want that to happen. I wanted him to have a good race. I sent him on his way. Going along with Phil, I had become winded. I walked some more, continuing to encourage runners that I came upon and looking for my buddies.
Graham was next. He had finished the Dizzy 50K the day before 2 hours ahead of me, and here he was looking very strong. I asked him the same question that I had asked Phil, and he accepted my offer. We talked and ran/walked the rolling hills. I had not recovered from my time with Phil, so I wasn't much help to Graham. I didn't want to slow him down either. When we got to the aid station, I let him go. He would continue to run strong and to finish well. Some how I thought I would be able to keep up with them at the end of their race, but I was doing a poor pacing job. Would I have to run all of the way back to the start/finish area alone?
There were still buddies on the course. I was now a little over 3 miles from the finish. Mike, Larry, or Andy would be next, but which one would I encounter first. Well . . . I was lucky enough to get all three of them at once. They made me work to keep up with them, but I wanted to stay. It had been a while since I had run with any of them. Larry had also run a marathon the day before, but that's his norm. Every weekend, he runs doubles or triples. He's an incredible man and as humble as he could be. Mike and Andy have run hundreds of marathons and ultramarathons. They all give me so much inspiration, and when I'm with them, I want to soak up their essence, hoping that whatever they have is contagious and that I will get it, too.
We laughed and talked our way along the last 3 miles of the course. Andy took this opportunity to inch his way ahead of us. And when we came over the hill, the crowd was still lively. They clapped and shouted just as vigorously as they had for the lead runners 3 hours ago. I pulled off from the course, and I watched my buddies run through the finish line. They all had wonderful finishes, and I was so happy for them.
Did I miss racing today? No, of course not. Am I glad that I volunteered? Most definitely. It was a great experience.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The week following the spraining of my ankle, I walked with the air cast for a couple of days, followed by wrapping the ankle with the Ace bandage for the next couple of days. Every day after I arrived home from work, the ankle was elevated and iced. I never used the crutches. The swelling went down after about a week, and with the swelling gone, the pain decreased.
I was having cabin fever, trying to sit most of the day and limiting the amount of time on the ankle. So on Friday night, I went out dancing with some friends. Apparently twisting and turning on the dance floor aggravates a sprained ankle. Who'd've thunk it, lol? So on Saturday morning, of course, the swelling and pain were back. On Saturday afternoon, I did some shopping, and on Sunday, I just sat, switching from the computer to watching football on television. The ankle was elevated and iced most of the day.
With the ankle feeling much better and based on the fact that I could now see the veins in my foot again, I decided to try a little bit of walking. On Tuesday of this week, I walked to work, a mere 4.91 miles, according to Mapquest. The last mile was the most difficult. The ankle screamed in protest. I now had my limit, but I was going to push it any way. At work, I kicked off the shoes and elevated the ankle, while I diligently went about job. It's a good thing that I work in an office (for the most part) in which I'm forced to sit all day in front of my computer.
On Tuesday night, I walked the same 4.91 miles back home, elevating and icing the ankle afterwards. Wednesday and Thursday went similarly. On Friday morning, I decided that I would keep my plane reservation and go to the Surf the Murph Marathon in Savage, MN. My flight wasn't until 7:00 p.m., so I put in a full day of work. Since I needed the car to get to the airport, I drove and only walked the mile to the office from our employee parking lot and then back again after work.
I arrived in Minneapolis about midnight, picked up my rental car, and drove the short 20 minutes to Savage. It was cold and raining, which later turned into a few snowflakes as I drove. The trails would be nasty. How would the ankle handle slipping and sliding in the mud?
Early Saturday morning, I drove to the race site to pick up my packet. The race offered four distances - 25K, marathon, 50K, and 50 Miles. The 50 milers took off an hour early. On one hand, I envied them. I would have loved to do the 50 mile (or 50K), but I could not make the cut-off for either race. The marathon (and 50K) had a 9 hour cut-off. I felt that I had a better chance of finishing the marathon than the 50K in that amount of time, so that's what I registered for. On the other hand, I was glad that I didn't have to put that many miles on the ankle. It was a blessing in disguise.
Other than the walking, I had not run since the Race for the Komen 5K 2 weeks ago. But with a 9 hour cut-off, I was sure that I could walk the entire marathon. I put the air cast on, but it did not fit comfortably in my trail shoe. I then tried wrapping it with the ace bandage, but the shoe then felt too tight. Bump it! I would just let it go as it is. I wasn't planning on running any way.
While waiting inside the little building designated for packet pick-up, Jeff (CA) found me. We had been corresponding by e-mail for about a month, having been introduced by a mutual running buddy, Diane (TN). This is the first time we've seen each other in person. Jeff is trying to run an ultramarathon in each state, so he was running the 50K today. I had an ultramarathon (Trail Mix 50K) already for MN, but I needed another MN marathon (along with VT, ND, NM, and MT) to finish my 2nd time around the states with marathons. I have 18 states to grab for a completion of the states with ultramarathons, and I think Jeff told me that he is about half-way through the states with his quest. He even has someone organizing an ultra in ND, which presently has no ultras. I asked him to keep me informed, because I need that state as well.
It was still dark when the 25Kers, 50Kers, and marathoners lined up at the start. The rental car's thermometer read 35 degrees, but at least the rain/snow had stopped. The wind was howling and with the excitement of the field, I could not hear the instructions from the race director. For the marathon, there was a 1.2 mile out-n-back, a 15.5 mile loop, and a 9.5 mile loop. Hopefully, the ankle would hold up, and I would be able to keep up with at least one other marathoner to finish the course. I had missed the Columbus Marathon and the White Tail Trail Marathon in Ohio over the last two weekends because of the ankle, so I was very ready to get back out there and do what I love to do.
Even in the dark, I could see the orange flags on the wires stuck into the ground on the left side of the trail every few feet. This course was marked extremely well. Even when the course merged with other trails, the flags reinforced which way to go. You did not have to stop and think about it. I was impressed.
After a while, I noticed that runners were coming back towards me. Not knowing what the course was like for the 50 milers, I assumed that those runners were in the 50 mile race. Pay attention. I will come back to this point later.
It did not take long before I was all alone. The trail was beautiful. It was on wide ski trails that went straight up and then straight back down - over and over again. The surface had very few rocks and roots with lots of grass. On such a smooth surface, I decided to run a little. I found out that it didn't hurt any worse than walking so I continued to run the relatively few flat sections and to walk up and down the hills. Going up was faster and felt much better than going down the hills. I had to put too much weight on the ankle to navigate down hill, and it would later take it's toll.
At some point, the trail became less grassy and a little muddy. Fallen leaves from the trees hid rocks and roots, and I stepped on one of them and twisted the injured ankle. Darn it! Another runner saw me stumble and asked if I needed to go back. I assured him that I would be okay and continued on. He was out of sight in no time. I thought that I was the last one, but several more runners came by me. For the second time, reader, pay attention. I will also come back to this point later.
After the ski trail, we entered into open meadows. The sun was peeking through the clouds but never made a full appearance. Without the trees blocking the wind, the open meadows were cold. I was glad that I had worn my knit cap and gloves. Although the faster runners had on shorts and technical short- or long-sleeved shirts, I had on tights and a jacket, in addition to my long-sleeved technical shirt. The open meadows had a little more mud, but it was still not too bad. We continued to go up and down, up and down, and up and down, lol. We seemed to be circling what I assumed to be Murphy Lake. I love courses that have a view of a body of water. I knew it was there, even when I had to look down at the trail for possible tripping obstacles. I was enjoying this course!
After the open meadows section, we ran on a short, single track trail to a horse trail, where you could not distinguish the mud from the horse poop. This section was flatter than the ski trail and meadow section, so I ran a little more. However, it had a lot more roots, rocks, and thick, long sections of mud, so what I was doing would probably not be classified as running. At this point, those runners in the longer distances were beginning to lap me. And I was beginning to hobble without really realizing it. Several runners stopped and asked if I was okay, even though they could visually tell that I wasn't.
After the horse trail, we were back to open meadows, another short, overgrown single track section, and then more ski trails. I really loved the width of the ski trail, and all of the grass made the trail very soft. I wished that I could have taken advantage of the smooth trails. The marathoners were flying by me on their way to finishing. They assumed that I was finishing too, but I had not even finished the 15.5 mile loop. I started watching my watch. I wanted to do the first half in 4.5 hours, but I was not going to make it.
To make matters worse, I was not having fun any more. I've always said that I would stop running when it was no longer fun. The ankle (among other things) was hurting, and all I could think of was the pain. I took two Advils, but they did nothing. I continued to walk and think about what to do. I had to be getting close to the finish of the loop. I would not make the 9 hour cut-off to finish the marathon, but a little piece of me wanted to ask the race director if I could continue on, since some of the 50 milers would still be on the course for several more hours. Maybe I could finish in 10 or 11 hours. I had slowed down that much. Granted, if I stayed to finish the course, I would miss my plane. An 8 hour finish would have gotten me to the airport in plenty of time. A 9 hour finish would have been pushing it, but it was still doable. A 10 hour finish would find me begging the ticket agent to find me another flight without charging me the $100 change fee. I had already DNF'd a MN marathon (Lake Wobegon) earlier this year, and I was on the verge of DNFing this MN marathon. What do I do?
Almost 6 hours after I started the race, I finished the 15.5 mile loop. A race volunteer told me to keep going because there really wasn't a cut-off, except for the 50 milers, which was 14 hours. He told me that I had until 8:00 p.m. and that I could walk the 9.5 mile loop in that amount of time. I was in pain and completely out of it, but I knew that I had only done one of the 3 loops that was required for the marathon. Another volunteer that was listening to our conversation chimed in and asked if I did the 1.2 mile out-n-back at the start of the race. No, I had not. He insisted that there was a turn-around sign when we first started, but I never saw it. The first volunteer asked if I had listened to the race director "yelling" at the beginning of the race for the marathoners to do the 1.2 mile out-n-back first. He looked angry, but I was too dejected to care. No, I told him. With the wind, the other runners talking around me, and being in the back of the pack, I could not hear anything the race director was saying. In the dark, even with my headlamp and 2 handheld flashlights, I had missed the marathon turn-around. The volunteer walked off to talk with the volunteer at the timing table.
I went to the porta potty to think about what to do next. As I sat, I now knew why runners were coming back towards me early in the race and why I was being passed when I thought I was last. The runners were other marathoners that had done the 1.2 mile out-n-back section on the 15.5 mile loop. But for the life of me, I didn't remember a sign or marking for the turn-around point. I could go back out and do the 1.2 mile section. Surely, I would not miss the same marking in the daylight. That was the least of my problems. But how was I going to finish the 9.5 mile loop (a modified version of the 15.5 mile loop) with the ankle hurting like it was? My heart wanted to keep going, but my body and mind were long out of the race. Two against one is horrible odds.
I went back to the start/finish area and sipped coke and ate a few potato chips. A familiar face came up to me. "Do you remember me?"
Of course I remembered Bonnie (MN). I had met her and Don (MN) during the Mother Road 100 Mile last November. They were a nice couple and had run lots and lots of tough ultras. She told me how she and Don volunteered to mark several of the MN ultras, and Surf the Murph was one of them. They even had to be here at 5:00 a.m. to mark the two sections of single track trail that we ran through today. She stated that they had about 800 flags to mark courses. That's why the course was marked so well and so abundantly. She seemed really disappointed that I missed the turn-around. But it wasn't her fault; I didn't blame her and Don at all. Although I loved the course, the loop is tough with all of the ups and downs, and the muddy sections were hard to navigate even on two good ankles. That's what worried me. The ankle was not happy, and therefore, I was not happy. I could handle being hurt and unhappy for a little while, but to do that for several more hours would push me over the edge. Bonnie listened to me agonize over the decision, but she ultimately told me what I already knew. She couldn't tell me what to do. I had to decide for myself.
A third volunteer came over from the timing table. "Are you continuing on with the marathon?" I told her that I was not. She smiled and said, "You still get a medal for finishing the 25K." Nothing against her or the race, but my goal was loftier than that when I arrived this morning. When she came back with my medal, I thanked her.
Bonnie and I talked a little more, and then the standing around in the cold finally got to me. We said our good-byes, and I headed back to Minneapolis. At least I would make my flight. For the third time, I would have to find another MN marathon to run. Maybe by then, the ankle will have healed, and I'll be faster.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
"Your co-pay for emergency care is $75, but if you pay today, it will only be $60." I laughed. I couldn't help myself. Since when did hospitals give patients a discount for paying up front?
"It's a way of encouraging patients to pay their bills on time." I laughed again. I'm not sure why this conversation was tickling my funny bone, but I scrambled in my purse for my credit card. I appreciated the discount. Things were beginning to look up after a scary situation just a few hours ago.
I gathered my belongings and carried the crutches as I hobbled out to my car. The nurse had shown me how to use them, but I felt awkward with them. That's all I needed to do was to fall again and really mess something up. I tried to give the crutches back to her, but she insisted that I keep them. She believed that I might actually need them later. I doubted it, but I took them with me to be on the safe side.
The x-rays showed no broken bones in my right ankle or foot. That was the good news. It was just a bad sprain that was causing me so much pain and causing me to hobble my way through the afternoon. I read the papers that the doctor had given me. Three to six weeks would pass before the sprain would completely heal. In addition to the crutches, I had an air cast to immobilize the ankle. I also had a prescription for pain killers. I was told to elevate and ice the ankle and foot as much as possible. There is little else that can be done for a sprain.
Did this mean that I couldn't run for almost 2 months? What about all of the races that I had registered for over the next couple of months? I was already down in the dumps about missing the Columbus Marathon the next day. However, in this condition, I couldn't run. I could barely walk. How did this happen? Was it bad karma coming back to haunt me? Who did I screw over in my previous life to get to this point in my present life, lol?
The day had started on Saturday morning with a 4:30 a.m. drive to Cookeville, TN for it's inaugural Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K. It was raining, cold, and slow going. I arrived at Tennessee Technological University (TTU) about 6:00 a.m. I checked in, picked up my timing chip and goodie bag, and headed to the Survivors' Tent. I filled my plate with a delicious breakfast of mixed fruit, a muffin, and a bagel and grabbed a cup of orange juice. I sat down with Judy (MI). She told me about her sister who had the same condition as I did - metastasized breast cancer to the bones. Just like me, her sister was also taking Zometa to help rebuild her bone tissue, but her sister's prognosis was not a good one. I wanted to talk with her more and to find out why there was a difference between her sister and me, but I did not have the opportunity.
The survivors had a full schedule before the race. Pictures were being taken as we ate our breakfast. We were then asked to summarize in one word what breast cancer meant to us as survivors. When I viewed the board, I noticed that others had already posted the 2 words that I had come up with: "blessed" and "life-changing". I thought quickly as the volunteer patiently waited for me to come up with a word. "Courage," I told her. She wrote my word, my name, and the year of initial diagnosis (2003) on a piece of construction paper shaped like a butterfly and then pinned it to the board with the others. "That's a good one," she said.
We were then told to pick up our special survivor goodie bag and to sign up for the give-aways. Another volunteer approached me and asked if I would like a massage. She had not had any customers that morning. I was pleased to be her first of many for the day. Outside of a chiropractor's office, I had never had a massage. I didn't even know how to sit properly in the specially made chair. I removed my glasses, and the volunteer placed a sheet of tissue-like paper onto the chair for me to lay my head face down. I also straddled the chair, resting my knees and palms on the cushions below the chair. She proceeded to give my tight neck, back, hips, and arms a gentle but firm massage. It was like she was kneading dough to bake bread. "How's the pressure?" she asked. Wonderful . . . just wonderful, I told her.
I thanked her profusely when she'd finished. I was surprised at how loose I felt after I stood up. She did great work. She then gave me her card. It may come in handy one day.
I then proceeded to my car to drop off the bags of goodies, to use the porta-potty, and to get ready for the parade of survivors. Mark (NJ) is the male face of breast cancer. You can read his story on the New Balance website: http://www.newbalance.com/events/komenpartnership/honorary_teamnb_mgoldstein.php.
He was diagnosed at the age of 55 and ran his first Race for the Cure four years later. He is now 76 years old. This will be his 201st Race for the Cure. He has travelled all over the country, including 5 international Races for the Cure. He and Eileen (TN), the hard-working organizer of Cookeville's event and a breast cancer survivor herself, were instrumental in making me an Honorary New Balance (NB) Team Member. As Mark explained, NB chooses an honorary team member for each Race for the Cure that it sponsors. I benefited with a pair of NB 769s, shirt, shorts, socks, hat, and jacket - all with the signature pink ribbon. What a blessing!
Mark and I chatted during the parade - a short walk around a small area of the parking lot. We ended in front of the stage, while each of our names was called. After each name was announced, everyone shouted and clapped for that particular survivor. There were about 50-60 of us. It was a very emotional moment. Everyone was dressed in something pink - pink hats, pink wigs, pink shoes, pink shirts, pink tutus, pink capes, and pink jackets. Other runners, spectators, and volunteers were taking our pictures, clapping, and smiling. At some point, my friend, Dallas (TN), came up and gave me a hug. He had invited me to participate months before and had recently written an article for Cookeville's Herald-Citizen highlighting the Race for the Cure, http://dallasfallsforward.blogspot.com/. Throughout the day, many of the volunteers, survivors, and other participants would recognize me from that article. That made me feel very special.
After all of the survivors' names were announced, Mark went up onto the stage and gave a very inspirational speech to all of the other participants. I could tell that he was very comfortable talking to us about his life mission. The audience embraced him immediately, and I was proud of my new running buddy. Afterwards, the survivors headed to the steps of the Hooper Eblen Center for more publicity photos. I was honored to be included amongst all of the survivors. I was glad that I had come to Cookeville.
After the photos, it was time to get ready for the 5K. Mark wanted to line up at the front of the pack. I never line up at the front. I'm too afraid of being run over by the faster runners. But Mark insisted that we had to line up there. He had a valid reason for this. As others passed by him, they would see the back of his shirt, which read: "Men Have a Breasted Interest". It was a powerful message that he wanted to spread on so many levels. Dallas, who is accustomed to being at the front, joined us as well.
Josh (TN), who also was featured in Dallas' article, gave me a hug before we started. Josh is fast, but he would be running for fun today, saving his energy for the Louisville Marathon on Sunday. He wore a pink cape that he would use to fly through the crowd of runners.
And then we were off. I wanted to run as hard and as fast as I could for as long as I could. I had a goal of a 30 minute finish. Dallas and I ran together for a while. Like Josh, he was just out to have fun and would not run as fast as he's capable of running. His friend, Amy, was running the 80K (50 miles) at the Nashville Ultra, and he was going to run a few miles at the race with her later in the day. He also wanted to attend his sister's cookout for her turnip greens. I couldn't blame him for that, lol.
After a while, even at a leisurely pace for Dallas, I could not keep up. The 5K loop ran from the TTU campus, through the small downtown area, and back to the campus. There were 2 noticeable hills, but I refused to walk either one. I took short walk breaks at the aid stations at mile 1 and mile 2 while I sipped water, but for the most part, I ran the entire 3.1 miles. I was feeling good, breathing hard, and enjoyed seeing other runners around me accomplishing their goals for the day. Surprisingly, there were very few spectators along the course, but the finish line surely made up for this.
At around the 2.5 mile mark, I saw Josh and his pink cape running towards me. He had finished and was coming back onto the course to run with his wife and mother-in-law. He had seen Dallas, who had also finished by that time.
As I turned the last corner down hill to the finish line, I could see that I was out of the 30 minute range. I would finish in 31 minutes plus a few seconds. But I was still happy. Dallas ran in with me, which meant a lot to me. We decided to go back out onto the course to run in with Mark. When we found him, Mark was flanked by a woman on each side of him. What a stud muffin!
We joked and ran along, and as we neared the finish line, Gabriel, a friend of Dallas, also joined us as we all crossed the finish line with Mark. Everyone was cheering. Little kids were handing out pink roses to those who had a pink survivor race number. What a nice little race!
Mark had worn shorts during the race, so he hurried off to put on warm clothes. Although it had stopped raining before I reached Cookeville, it was still pretty cold. Dallas and I grabbed bottles of water and fruit and sat down on a curb. Josh soon joined us for runner conversation.
At some point, we all decided to take a walk over to the fitness center before the awards ceremony. We were walking along, talking, and laughing, and then I did a full-bodied hit on the ground, feeling my right foot twisting in a manner that it should not have. My heart must have stopped and started before I realized what had happened. I could hardly catch my breath, and then the pain . . . oh, my . . . the pain . . . .
Josh and Dallas helped me to a sitting position onto the curb. I had not been paying attention to where I was walking and stepped off the curb awkwardly. A volunteer who saw me fall rushed over to see if I was okay. She then went back to get a bag of ice. Dallas instructed me to try and move the foot. I painfully did it. Surely, it was not broken.
I have twisted my ankles on the trails so many times that I knew that if I just sat for a while, the ankle would readjust and I would walk just fine. I sat as Dallas applied the ice. After I had gathered my senses about me, Josh and Dallas helped me to stand up. But unlike other times when I had twisted an ankle, this time the ankle was not cooperating. I limped and hobbled, pain radiating on the inside of the ankle and along the top of the foot. What have I done? I'm suppose to drive to Ohio in a couple of hours to run the Columbus Marathon on Sunday. I felt stupid, and I was so embarrassed. I wanted to hide and cry. How could I have done this?
We decided to go inside the Hooper Eblen Center where it was warm, and Dallas continued to apply the ice while my foot was propped up on a chair. Hopefully, the ice and elevation were keeping the swelling down. I was in panic mode at this point. What if the ankle was in bad shape? How would I run? Goodness . . . how was I going to walk? And although I was in a panic, I felt guilty for keeping Josh and Dallas. They had important things to do for the rest of the day. They didn't have time to take care of my foolishness.
Josh and I said our good-byes, as he went off to find his wife and mother-in-law. Dallas and I made our way over to the medical tent. The doctor poked here and there until I let out a breathless, "Owww". He had found the spot. He prodded, twisted, and turned the foot, while I let out several more "owwws". And then he told me what to do. "If I were you, I would go home, elevate, and ice the ankle. If it doesn't feel any better in a couple of days, make an appointment with your regular physician." Defeated, I turned to Dallas, and simply said, almost questioningly, "I'm not going to Columbus today."
Mark had rushed over. After the doctor had left, and we made our way to the stage, he looked me straight in the eyes. "Get it checked out right away. Do not wait. Remember, there is a reason for everything. There is a reason why this happened." Words of wisdom.
Dallas was still with me. I couldn't leave until I at least had gone up on stage with Mark. I had promised him I would do that before we started the race. He would talk a little about New Balance and their support of the Race for the Cure, introduce me as the honorary NB team member for Cookeville's Race for the Cure, and then I would have the privilege of announcing the two winners of NB gear. But first, I had to hobble onto the stage in front of all of those people.
They must have thought I was a fool. Being written up in the newspaper, being an honorary NB team member, having run marathons and ultramarathons across the country, and here I couldn't even walk up to the fitness center without spraining an ankle. I felt lower than low, but I would go up on that stage, accept the love and support from this Race for the Cure family, try not to embarrass Mark, hold my head up high, and do as I had promised. And even though Dallas had several things he wanted to do for the day, he waited in the audience for me to finish. He waited to make sure that I was okay. I could not ask for a better friend. Thank you, Dallas.
I said my good-byes to Mark and then to Dallas. I assured him that I would be okay. Harry, Eileen's husband who's also a doctor, wrapped my ankle with an ace bandage. "It will keep the swelling down so that you can drive back home." A young volunteer, Natasha, helped me to get a chair and to put my foot up so Harry could do his magic. She had someone to take our picture, and she told me about her husband, who was also a cancer survivor. Cancer survivors are a big family. This Race for the Cure has demonstrated that to me.
As I drove home with the foot and ankle throbbing in pain, I thanked my higher power for again allowing me to do what I do. Yes, I will miss the Columbus Marathon, but there is always next year. If I have to take off from running over the next couple of months, then so be it. There are no broken bones in the ankle and foot, and I would like to keep it that way. Thank you Race for the Cure for making this a memorable experience for me. And thank you Mark and Eileen for my 31 minute (and a few seconds) 5K in my pink NB 769s!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
I looked at my directions and then glanced around the small town to find a main street. I had given myself an hour of cushion, but that time was fading fast. I saw a red light up ahead and started in that direction. As I drove through the red light, I finally found a street sign that said Park Avenue. That sounded familiar. I looked at my directions. The senior center was the start/finish location for the race and was located on Park Avenue. I did a quick u-turn and headed down that street. On the right in a fairly large parking lot, I saw a female with a familiar runner's cap walking from the lot down the street. I was now in the right place, but as I looked around, I did not see anything that resembled a senior center.
As I was getting myself together, two guys pulled into the parking space next to me. They had their races numbers, and I decided to ask them where they had gotten them. They told me to go about a quarter of a mile up the road. I thanked them and started a fairly fast paced walk to the building. It was cold, and I had forgotten to bring a jacket.
I checked in with a volunteer, who I later found out was the race director's wife, Tracy. She handed me a t-shirt, a nice duffel bag, and a bib number for the marathon. I told her that I was signed up for the 50K. She looked at her list and said that another female had checked in with the opposite problem. She had signed up for the marathon and had been assigned a 50K race number. We needed to exchange bib numbers, but I had to find Angela (TX). I had run several races with her in the past, but it had been a while since I'd seen her. I hoped that I would recognize her.
As I thanked Tracy, I saw my running buddy, Frank (MN). We had not run together since my ill-fated attempt at the Lake Wobegon Marathon. We talked for a minute or two while eating raisin-cinnamon bagels (my favorite) provided for the runners. Jen (IN) also joined us. She was a fellow Marathon Maniac that I met at the HUFF 50K several years ago and that I had not seen in a while.
We had a few minutes before the race briefing, so I made a trip to the ladies room and then walked back to the car to drop off my goodies and to look for Angela. It was still dark, and I still couldn't find her. The two guys parked next to my car were still there doing some stretching. They asked if I knew about the course. I didn't. They proceeded to pull out the map and explain about the different loops (A, B, C, D1, D2, and E) and the cones. I didn't comprehend a thing. How many loops? How many cones? Where were these cones? WTF?
It was time for the briefing, so we headed back to the senior center. I went inside to again look for Angela, and there she was, talking with my infamous running buddy, Larry (TX). Tracy quickly changed our names on the tear-off portion of the bibs, and we proceeded outside for the start. The race director, Mike, was speaking the same language as the two runners in the parking lot. I was already confused, and I hadn't stepped a foot over the start line. He asked if there were any 50Kers here that were not present at the dinner the night before. As far as I could tell, I was the only one to raise my hand. He talked, gestured, and pointed, mentioning cones, loops with letters, and turn-arounds designating the last 5 miles for the 50K. The only thing I understood was that the marathoners and 50Kers ran the same course three times. I would worry about the last 5 miles when I got to that point in the race.
And we were off. Larry, Angela, Jen, Frank, and I started together. We were laughing, talking, and enjoying the cool morning as the sun began to rise. We ran by quaint little shops on one side and the boat dock on the other. We then ran along Lake Winona for a short period. Jen pointed out a little castle among the lake side homes, before we ran across a small bridge, circling back to the park and senior center. We had just completed Loop A.
The course was well marked with arrows painted on the road. Mile marker signs were prominent. Except for little risers here and there, the course was relatively flat and runnable. The aid stations were frequent and adequately stocked with water, Gatorade, power bars, and bananas. In fact, the aid stations were so frequent that I had to skip a few. I had 5 porta potty stops throughout the day, which is a little much for me in a 50K race. The young volunteers that manned the aid stations were enthusiastic and encouraging all day.
Loop B lead us into the first of many neighborhoods. The houses along the lake were small and older but well maintained. Jen, Larry, and Angela pulled away, and Frank and I dropped back. We would see them many times throughout the day on the out-n-back sections and the portions of the loops that crossed each other or ran together.
I allowed Frank to set the pace, and I tried to keep up. He and Larry were going to the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle on Sunday to complete a double for the weekend. It was a 5 hour drive from Winona Lake, so they were not playing around today.
After Loop B, we ran along a bike path for a little over a mile. Throughout the day, we would see locals biking, running, and walking with kids and pets. This path was well shaded and would be a wonderful reprieve later in the day when the temperature began to creep up into the 70s.
At the end of the bike path was another aid station, and then we ran Loops C, D1, D2, and E. I lumped them all together because, even though signs were posted with which loop we were on and painted arrows on the road pointed us in the direction we should travel, as the day went along, I couldn't tell what the course was doing. There were lots of twists and turns. All of the loops were run through nice subdivisions that looked fairly new. People were out doing yard work and otherwise enjoying the day. Several dogs were out, but none of them came out onto the course.
After the loops, we headed back onto the bike path, followed by the short stretch to the start area. The course was about 8.75 miles. I finished each of the 3 laps in 2 hours. I don't think I have ever been so evenly paced. I was just too happy about the perfect pacing. Granted, that's a much too slow six-hour marathon. Ugh!
With one lap down, the marathoners had 2 more to go. Frank was getting into his groove and decided to pull away. I enjoyed his company, but I knew it was inevitable. I was now alone, but not lonely. If I wasn't being passed by the faster runners, I was seeing them on the loops that crossed each other and on the out-n-back portion of the bike path. The volunteers at the aid stations were also constant companions.
Right after I finished Loop B on my 3rd lap, Mike was bringing more water to an aid station, and he asked if I understood what to do to finish the 50K. Not really, I told him. He was about to explain when volunteers came up to him about a potential problem. As the race director, he was being pulled in all sorts of directions, and I knew this. Besides, it was my responsibility to know the course, and I had not allowed time to do this. After a few minutes that seemed like forever for me, it was obvious that he was too busy to hand-hold me through the course, so I continued on. Jen was too far ahead of me to tag along with her. Marathoners were finishing up and the 50Kers were getting in their last 5 miles. I would just have to figure it out myself.
Prior to passing through the start area at the end of my third lap and on my way to Loop A, Mike came running towards me and again asked if I knew what to do. I still had not figured it out, but I had paid special attention to mile marker signs 27, 28, 29, and 30, so I had an idea of what loops I needed to repeat. Another volunteer caught his attention, and he was off again before he could explain to me what to do. Poor Mike. He had so much to do, and he was still concerned about me being able to follow the course.
As I started Loop A, I saw Frank and Larry finish their marathons. Angela had also finished her marathon a little while before them. Jen was still out on the course, wrapping up her 50K. I crossed the finish line for the third time, and now it was time to start the last 5 miles to finish the 50K. I knew I had to at least do Loop B so I ran and walked the loop which was about a mile. The volunteers at the aid stations on this portion were now gone, but the tables were still fully stocked. I then saw mile marker 27, which was right on time.
Tracy was helping out at the aid stations at the end of the bike path, and when I came through on my third lap, she had told me that I would come back to her and turn around at the cone. This eliminated doing Loops C, D1, D2, and E for a 4th time. I asked if I was the last one, and she said that there were 3 others behind me. I had not seen anyone else for a while, so I was glad to know that I wasn't the only one out on the course.
Because of the conversation with Tracy, I knew I had to do an out-n-back on the bike path. But as soon as I hit the bike path, there was mile marker 28. I was missing a mile, and I wasn't sure where I should pick up that mile.
I ran the out-n-back any way. When I came to Tracy and told her what I had done and that I was missing a mile, she and another volunteer said that I had followed the course correctly and that I couldn't have missed a mile. I was loopy from the loops, but I knew better. I thanked them and headed back along the bike path.
On the bike path, I saw the 3 female runners that were behind me. I asked them about Loops A and B and if they had run either one of them twice to pick up the additional mile. Did they notice that when they entered the bike path from Loop B that mile marker 27 and mile marker 28 were within 2-3 minutes of each other? I was probably not making any sense, because I never got the answer that I needed.
Mile 29 was right where it should have been, and when I passed back through the start area, mile marker 30 was where it should have been. I was desperate now. If I followed Loop A back to the finish I would still be a mile short. As much as I was ready to be done, I wanted to run the official course and get an official time. I had to find out how to pick up the additional mile. At this point, there were only 2 choices - Loop A or Loop B. My guess was that I should have run Loop B twice instead of once. I turned into the finish area coming from the wrong direction and surprised the volunteer sitting at the timing table. We pulled out the map and discussed what I had done. "I'm missing a mile." I was hysterical at this point, and it was my own darn fault for not paying more attention and focusing during the race briefing 7 hours ago.
Another volunteer came over and he and the volunteer at the timing table discussed the situation. We all agreed that I should run Loop B one more time before running Loop A back to the finish. I went back out and ran Loop B. I was so frustrated with myself. Jen had finished, and she came out onto the course. I told her what happened, and she focused on my finishing and not the mix-up I had made. Of course, she was right. I redirected my energy and efforts towards finishing.
With Loop B completed, I was now headed back to Loop A to finish. I passed another cone for the 4th time and a light went on in my fuzzy brain. If I had paid more attention to the two runners in the parking lot and to Mike during the briefing, I would have realized that I should have run the short distance from Loop B to the cone at the start and then run Loop B again before heading to the bike path. I essentially did that, but in the wrong sequence during the lap. I even tacked on a few feet running from the start line to the finish line and back to course when I pulled off to talk to the volunteer at the timing table about what to do.
I finally crossed the finish line in the 7:30-7:45 range. Jen handed me my finisher's medal, and the volunteer recorded my time. There were hamburgers and fried chicken in the senior center, I was told, but I headed for the lettuce, tomato, cheese, and buns to fix a veggie sandwich before I hit the road for home. There was even a piece of watermelon left.
As I came out of the senior center, the three females that were behind me had just finished. The last one hugged me, even though we didn't know each other. She was tired and happy to be done. I saw the look in her eyes. I know the feeling, and I was happy for her.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
This will be Cookeville's inaugural Race for the Cure, and my running buddy, Dallas (TN), was the one to encourage me to participate. I'm glad that he did. Even he commented on Facebook that I was giving up a weekend to run a marathon or an ultra so that I could run this race. But, honestly, I'm looking forward to it. It's a new challenge and a different adventure. I even signed up for the competitive division, which only means that I'll get a chip for official timing and placement in the results.
Now, I have less than 2 months to incorporate some speed training. I don't do speed work, lol. I turn my nose up at the whole concept. It's not fun. I feel like I'm going to pass out. My VO2 Max must be non-existant. My heart wants to explode from my chest. The last time I did speed work I pulled a hamstring that took months to heal. I have no practice in running all out. Can an old dog be taught new tricks, lol?
My goal is to finish the 5K in under 30 minutes. That means that I can't take any walk breaks. It's been a long time since I've run a race where I didn't walk at all. Ten minute miles is easy and slow for most runners; it's pedestrian pace for the elite. For me, I'll feel like the Road Runner from the old cartoon if I can pull it off.
I signed up for the Race for the Cure in Nashville, TN in 2003. I never even made it to the start line. My friend, Sharon (TN), picked up my race packet for me and brought it to the hospital, where I was laid up from experiencing blood clots in my left lung. I was about 4 weeks into radiation treatments for my breast cancer, and unfortunately, the radiologist "over-radiated" my chest. Thinking I had heartburn that would eventually pass, my running buddy, Joe (TN), and I went to a 10 mile race the day before the Race for the Cure. The minute I started running, shock waves of pain went through my body. An ambulance was called, and I was taken to the hospital. Five days later, with the blood clots dissolved, I was released from the hospital. Through the years, it had not even occurred to me to sign up for another Race for the Cure.
Six years later, here's my chance to redeem myself. The crazy thing is that I was probably in better shape then than I am now. Back then I was slowly rebuilding my mileage, doing the shorter races so that I could get back to running marathons. At that time, running ultramarathons was still a dream of mine.
So, speed work it is. Nothing mind blowing - once or twice a week on the track so that I can judge my progress. Nine to 10 minute miles is the goal. I've done it before, so maybe I can do it again. I just have to sustain that "speed" for 3.1 miles. That's as easy as a piece of chocolate cake, right?
Friday, August 21, 2009
I don’t think we’ve run any of the same races this year. I was expecting to see you at the Viaduct Trail 100 Miler in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago. I called Charlie to let him know that I had again DNF’d another 100 miler, but more so, to tell him that you were not there.
The last time I saw you was at the Mother Road 2. You had given me an extra pair of gloves and a jacket to keep me warm towards the end of the race. I wasn’t moving fast enough to stay warm, but I finished. You had cried at the table where we were all gathered to eat breakfast. Some of us had finished, and some of us had a bad day at the office of our choice. I’ve thought back to that day often and wondered what made you cry on such a wonderful occasion.
Charlie had told me that you had lost a lot of weight. He’s so small, I thought, that he can’t afford to lose even a pound. But I figured you were running doubles and 100 milers with fervor, and that kind of schedule just takes it’s toll on one’s body.
Imagine my anguish when Charlie sent me a forwarded e-mail that he received saying that you were in a hospice with liver cancer. I am speechless. I am so sorry, Paul. I had no idea that you were sick. Having metastasized breast cancer to the bones, we are sister and brother against this unbearable and horrible disease. I realize that your struggle is a lot worse than mine, and my heart goes out to you. I wish that there was something I could do or say to make it all go away.
You are such a great runner. I always wondered what made you so strong, that you could run all of these long races back-to-back. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to do it as well as you do. So, to me, it doesn’t make sense that someone like you who is physically and mentally strong should ever have cancer. It’s not fair.
There is no answer for the “why” question. God knows best. I know that you are a believer. Continue to be strong and to have faith.
Take care, my friend.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Now if you noticed, the name of the race is spelled differently from the name of the park. It is not a typo. I wish I had a story to explain it, but for two years in a row, I've forgotten to ask Dan, the race director, why that is, lol.
In the race packet is a t-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. The finisher's award is a medal and a huge, thick, hot pink bath towel with the race name embroidered on it. I love the towels that Dan gives the runners. I have 2 brown towels from last year when I ran the marathon and the Wild West 100K, which is held at the same location.
I talked with my running buddies, Eugene (CT) and Cathy (NY), before we started. After the start, I quickly lost track of Eugene. He's been having some back problems lately, and he's been known to go off-course (i.e., get lost) at some races, so I'm not sure which situation kept him out of the results. He successfully finished the Lean Horse 50K the following weekend, so at least I know he's okay.
Cathy and I would spend the day together. Since there was no cut-off, there was no pressure. Cathy runs an evenly paced race, so I was determined to keep up with her. She runs one minute and then walks one minute. On this course with the rolling hills and trails, we would deviate from this routine periodically to walk the uphills and to take advantage of the downhills.
It was hot but not very humid. Most of the course that is on the roads and exposed is run in the early part of the race, while most of the trail sections with the canopy of trees for shade is run in the afternoon when the temperature really starts heating up.
We started on the road and went up a short hill passing through the first of 3 covered bridges. We then follow rolling country roads for a few miles. At some point, we saw 3 deer cross the road right in front of us. Cathy said they represented her daughter and 2 of her friends that have succumbed to cancer. Respectfully, we said hello to the deer, who were now hiding in the woods as we passed by them.
We hit a rolling dirt/gravel road next, and covered bridge #2, followed by some beautiful trails, before emptying back onto the road. After the short road section, we are on the trail leading back to the start/finish area. The relatively flat, rockless, and rootless (are those real words?) trail circles the lake where locals are fishing and swimming. We then cross covered bridge #3 and are back at the start/finish area.
Just as we are leaving to start the 2nd loop, Chuck (OH), a fellow 50 Stater and Marathon Maniac, won the marathon in 3:20:22. Chuck finishes and wins road marathons in the 2:30-2:50 range, so that gives you an indication that the hills on this course are no joke. The fact that Chuck was finished and we still had 13 miles remaining indicates that his speed is also no joke, lol.
Cathy and I headed back out onto the course. The 2nd half is mostly on the North Country Trail. It is my favorite section. As we went back uphill to the 1st covered bridge, I was getting excited. We turned onto the gravel/dirt road which steadily continues uphill for a couple of miles, and then I saw the chalk markings leading us into the woods onto the trail. The North Country Trail runs 4,600 miles through 7 states. It's on my list of things to do when I retire, lol.
Once we hit the trail, I was in heaven. It's single track with just enough roots and rocks to keep it interesting. There were several pine tree sections. Running on the pine needles felt wonderful under my feet. I don't even mind the power line section which has several sandy areas. As I led us through the trail, I could hear Cathy's watch signaling the one minute intervals, but we were ignoring it and running when we could and walking when we couldn't run.
Too soon we were back onto a rolling country road. We passed another runner along this section, who was not carrying a water bottle. He did not look happy, but he was still moving forward, so we went on. We had less than a 10K to the finish, so he would make it.
Once back onto a trail section that we had covered in the first loop, we passed another runner that didn't seem too happy. He, too, was not carrying a water bottle. It's too hot; aid stations are every 3 miles; and we're on a hilly course with trails. I just didn't understand why some runners did not heed Dan's instructions about carrying a water bottle.
We returned to the short road section leading back to the last portion of the trail section around the lake. We were ending a wonderful day, and I was as content as I could be. At some point, Cathy stated in disbelief that I had returned to this race after running it last year. I laughed and told her that I'd be back next year as well. She stated that she probably would be, too, lol.
Cathy won the female grand master's division in 7:15:54. She received even more swag including a polo shirt, jacket, and a bottle of massage oil (for hard working muscles, of course). My finishing time of 7:15:55 was about 40 minutes slower than last year, but last year I ran this race completely alone. Thanks to Cathy, I enjoyed this year's race much more.
Note: A few days later, I received a certificate with my official finish time. Dan also included a nice finish line photo of Cathy and me looking like the trail divas that we are, lol.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Although the foot pain is bad, the groin pain is worse. I would rather stand for hours than to sit for 15 minutes at a time. When I stand after sitting, I can barely move. The start of a walk is an exercise in patience. I start off limping, placing most of my weight on the sore, right foot, until I work out the kink in my groin. After a few steps, the pain eases off until it is barely noticeable. Laying flat on my stomach or back doesn't cause any problems with the groin, but the foot protests. Pain relievers have done little for the foot or the groin.
I just assumed that the new pains meant that I had new cancer sites. That's how it's been in the past 2 years. And I just knew that my scans would show that the bone cancer was continuing to spread. My oncologist recently switched my scans from every 3 months to every 4 months, so it's been a while since we've discovered any new sites.
On Monday, I had the bone scan. I went to the hospital to have a radioactive substance injected into my arm. For whatever reason, we can never use the port for the radioactive substance, so as usual, this turned out to be an ordeal for the medical technician. She couldn't find a good vein, missed the one that she thought she could get, and then proceeded to move the needle around inside my arm, trying to find it again, before finally giving up. She pulled the needle, found a "child's" needle, and mumbled something about injecting the radioactive substance slowly due to it's smaller size. I'm so accustomed to medical personnel missing my veins that it doesn't bother me at all. The medical technician is more distraught than I'd ever be. I guess they feel that they are the professionals and that they should get it right on the first or second try. I always try to assure them that it's not their lack of skill but the lack of cooperation of my small veins.
She now looks at the back of my hand. When they give up on my arm, they always go to the hand next. In the past, I have even been asked to be prepared to take off a shoe, because that would be the third place to try a needle stick - in the top of my foot. She asks if I've had lymph nodes removed from my left arm. I tell her that I have. She nods and jokingly says that's probably where I'm hiding my good veins. I agree with her, even though prior to lymph node removal, no one could get those veins in that arm to cooperate either. I am never to have needle sticks or a blood pressure cuff applied to my left arm due to the removal of lymph nodes. It has something to do with the inefficient transfer of fluids through the body with fewer available lymph nodes, which could cause swelling and a build up of bacteria in the arm.
She finds a vein in my hand that she likes, sticks the smaller needle in, and misses. She again starts to fish around for the vein. I then feel a slight pinch. I look down and see the blood return. She's found one. Did a look of relief just run across her face? She now injects the substance (slowly, as she stated before), and once the tube is drained, she removes the needle and applies a bandage. She tells me to drink lots of fluids, to urinate as much as possible, and to come back in 3 hours. That means that I can go back to the office and work for a couple of hours.
Bone scans take about an hour. When I return, I am immediately taken back to the nuclear medicine area and asked to empty my bladder one more time. The medical technician then takes me into the room with the scanner, and I lay on my back on the table, resting my head on a pillow. She binds my feet together and places a hard cushion behind my knees so that my legs are elevated and slightly bent. For the first part of the scan, my arms rest along my side, and for the second part, I will raise my arms above my head. The machine is very quiet, unlike an MRI machine, and slowly scans and takes pictures, starting from my lower body and finishing at the top.
On Tuesday, I have the PET and CT scans. I really hate these because of the two bottles of contrast that I have to drink prior to my appointment. I've had all of the different flavors (apple, berry, plain, and vanilla). Banana is the exception. I cannot stand the taste and smell of bananas. No matter the flavor, however, the stuff is still nasty. I often wonder what drinking barium is doing to my body. It's probably causing as much damage as all of the radiation, but I can't argue with a necessity. I sip one bottle while getting dressed and sip the second bottle on the drive to the medical office, finishing up as I park the car. I sit there for a couple of minutes, trying to keep from throwing up 2 bottles of contrast. This is always a struggle.
There are a lot of people in the waiting area, and it's not even 8:00 a.m. I learned years ago to always have something to read while I wait. That way, I don't feel like I'm wasting time. I have stood in long lines for various reasons, and while everyone around me was grumbling about having to wait, I was perfectly content reading a good book. I never get to the level of being anxious, and I can pretty much tune out everything around me while I'm reading.
I'm finally called to the back, so that they can start an IV and inject another radioactive substance. Again, they can't use the port. My arm and hand are bruised from the prior day's attempts, so the medical technician searches for available veins in the forearm. He finds one, but of course, he misses also and thus begins the fishing around for the vein. I feel the familiar pinch, see the blood return, and watch the substance go into the vein. He tapes the needle down so that it can be used again during the scan. I'm asked several questions about surgeries, my breast cancer, my mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, blood disorders, and a list of other medical problems, that I'm grateful to not have. It's a new facility that they've sent me to, so it's like starting all over with the medical history. I'm wondering why they just didn't forward over my records from the other PET/CT facility, but I don't ask.
At the other facility, I'm usually left alone to lie quietly with the lights off, while soft music plays in the background. They give me a pillow and blanket, recline the chair, and tell me to relax for 30 minutes. I am not to read, I'm told, when they notice my book. However, this does not happen at this facility. They leave me for about 15 minutes (no pillow, blanket, or music), and I am free to continue to read.
A different medical person comes in and tells me that I need to drink some more contrast, since I've had to wait a little while due to all of the patients they've had this morning. I groan. He apologizes. It's okay, I tell him. He gives me a big cup of what looks like lemonade, none of the thick, chalky white looking substance that I had that morning. And to my surprise, it tastes like lemonade. It's actually pretty yummy. Now why can't they give me 2 bottles of that to drink instead of the other nasty tasting contrast? Do I sound like a 4 year old child, lol?
A few minutes later, a war begins in my tummy. The two different types of contrast are fighting for position. My stomach is essentially empty except for the contrast because I am not to eat or drink anything else for 8 hours prior to my appointment time. This is not good.
A female medical technician comes to take me to the scanning room. Normally, I am taken to a restroom first to empty my bladder because, just like the bone scan, the PET and CT scans take about an hour. She tells me that the scans work better with a full bladder. I am shocked. I've never been told that before. She also tells me that if I could hold it 5 or 10 minutes, we would be done. Again, I am shocked. This is totally different from the PET and CT scans that I've had in the past. I'm all for this - the less time, the better. I try to ignore the sounds coming from my tummy, and I hope that she can't hear them.
I lay on the table, and we start the first scan, from feet to head. I am never sure which scan is which, so I always assume that the first scan is the CT. Once that's done, she injects a die into the needle in my arm. Usually the die burns so bad that tears come from my eyes. The technician would then massage the area until the vein settles down. Today, there is no burning. I still feel the warm, tingly substance entering different portions of my body, but it doesn't hurt today. I am again amazed at the difference between this new facility and the other PET/CT facility. I tell the technician that it doesn't burn and that it normally does. She responds that if it's injected slow enough it shouldn't burn. So the other facility had been rushing this substance through my veins?! Shame on them, lol!
The table again starts to move me through the machine. A couple of minutes later, it's over. She proceeds to remove the needle and to place a bandage over my forearm. That's it? I am so used to being there much longer that I'm actually giddy. I tell her that I want to come back there in 4 months when it's time for the scans because it was much quicker. She said that it should not have been since they use the same procedure that their sister facility uses. I know better and wanted to argue the point with her, but I didn't really want to take the time, and she didn't really have the time, so I kept quiet.
Now I had about a couple of hours before my next appointment. But first, I had to take care of my tummy issues. Once that was over, I ran a few errands until it was time to see the oncologist for my monthly treatment.
By the time I saw my oncologist, she had received and reviewed the results. The bone scan showed that there were no new cancer sites. The good news was that there appeared to be a lot of scar tissue which indicates that the Zometa is still working. The PET and CT scans were also good. So, what were the new pains? I described them, and the oncologist nodded her head. It's the Femara, she said. Unlike with the Tamoxifen, my bone cancer had seemed to be arrested with the Femara. She wanted me to continue to take it as long as I could tolerate it. She would give me another prescription pain reliever that I would take twice a day, every day, if the Aleve was not working. My hydrocodone prescription had run out a long time ago. She really did not encourage Advil. It didn't really matter because neither the Aleve nor the Advil was working on the new pains; they barely helped with my old pains. She wanted me to take the Aleve at the onset of pain and to not wait until I couldn't tolerate the pain any more, which is what I had been doing all along. Pain management is a difficult science, and it's a lot of trial and error. Since I hurt all day, every day, I really don't want to take that much pain reliever. And I really didn't want to be on another prescription pain reliever. I told her I would stick with the Aleve and if the pain became worse (not sure how it could get any worse), I'd come in for the prescription.
The next thing on the list to discuss was the anemia. My port had been assessed, and the nurse had filled up the little tubes with my blood. The good news was that my counts had neither gone up nor down, so I wouldn't have an IV iron infusion today. I was to continue with the iron pills and B and D vitamins. She also wanted me to add some calcium pills, since the Zometa seemed to be pulling the available calcium from my body to repair the bones.
In addition to the Zometa, I would have a booster shot of Lupron today. Lupron prevents my ovaries from producing estrogen. When I first started the Lupron shots, I would get them every month. When the tests came back that my ovaries were completely shut down, I was given a Lupron injection that would last 4 months. The 4 months was up today. I was required to reduce the weight on my hip by lifting my leg behind me and bending over as they pulled my pants down to inject the thick substance into my butt muscle. The injection site remains sore for a couple of days afterwards, and the small lump dissipates over the same time frame.
So another month of treatment was done, and I wouldn't be due for scans for another 4 months. It was a relief that the groin and foot pains were not new cancer sites. I would have loved to hear that the tumors in my back and pelvic bone were completely gone, but all of the reading I've done about bone cancer over the last year and a half says that will never happen. To know that the tumors are stable and not spreading is the next best thing. Now that I knew that the foot and groin pains were a result of the Femara, I could deal with it. I had been dealing with the pain in my back and hips for so long now that they were my friends. I just have new friends to entertain from now on. It would scare me to death to wake up one morning and be able to hop out of the bed pain free, rather than to ease out stiff and sore.
It was time to go back to work and get back to my every day life. But first, I had to take care of my tummy issues again. It had to be the mixing of the different contrasts. I would be in the restroom several more times that day before I finally had some relief, lol.
Monday, August 10, 2009
So . . . I'm sitting in the airport, waiting to board a plane to Philadelphia, when it suddenly occurred to me that I had not packed any socks. I knew I was forgetting something! My list of things to do when I arrived in Lanesboro, PA for the Viaduct Trail 100 Mile Run just went up one item. Wal-Marts are everywhere, so this would not be a big issue, I thought.
Carl and Dave were doing this race as a "Fat Ass" event - no fee, no aid, and no wimps. This is my favorite type of race. They would provide water and drop bag service at the start/finish and at the 12.5 mile turn-around point, with a mid-point water stop only. The race was on a rails-to-trails, with four 25 mile out-n-backs, making up the 100 miles. They had capped the race at 30, and at some point had started a wait list. When I asked to be put on the wait list, I was #4 from the top. After a few months, I finally made it off the wait list and onto the official starting roster. Race day came, and only 17 of us started.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Somewhere along one of the initial road sections, a runner catches up to me, and we start chatting. Shiran (NY) had driven down to the race that morning but had been stopped by the cops for a tail light that was out, so he had started the race late. He didn't seem to be upset at all and had luckily gotten off with a warning. At one point, we were talking about the railroad spike that we would receive at the finish for our efforts. I had told him that since I had flown and only had carry-on luggage that I couldn't take my spike onto the plane with me. I had planned to ask and pay one of the race directors to mail the spike to me. Shiran immediately offered to mail it for me and he had only known me for a couple of miles. How cool was that!
Way too soon, it was time for Shiran to take off. He would remain cheerful, encouraging, and fast the entire race. Shiran would also steadily move up the field to finish 7th overall in a fine time of 23:44:19. Wow!