Sunday, May 17, 2009

Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon - 5/16/09

I left my house Saturday morning at 4:00 a.m. to drive for 3 hours to Summerville, GA. This would be my first time running the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We started in the James H. Floyd State Park, running around the lake and through the campground, before proceeding a mile up the mountain on the Pinhoti Trail (see course map from website above). Three miles into the run and I am trashed, lol.

The forest was beautiful. I know this because I had to stop every few steps on the mountain to catch my breath, and since I was just standing there holding onto a tree, I had time to look around and enjoy the scenery, lol. Once on top of the mountain, we ran a 5-mile out-n-back (10 miles total) section along the ridge on a wide, dirt and gravel road, before we proceeded down another side of the mountain on single track. It felt good to run down the mountain, like I was flying. Seeing the other runners on the return, however, I was already planning my power walk approach to struggle back up the mountain after the turn around point, lol.

I didn't mind climbing up and down the mountain. I felt at peace being in the forest on those beautiful trails. I don't think this race lives up to it's name, however. The trail was very runnable, not as many roots and rocks as I would have expected and no stream crossings. There had been recent rains in the area, and the trail had drained very well, leaving the trail very soft and easy on the joints, with very little mud.

There was a 4 hour cut-off at the 14 mile aid station after the 5-mile out-n-back section. I made it in time to spare, and then it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the rest of the day. The volunteers at the 14 mile point informed me that there was a 4-mile out-n-back section up and down a third side of the mountain, that would bring me back to their aid station, and then the final 4.2 miles down the mountain to the finish line. Sounds easy enough, right?

For some reason, this 4 mile out-n-back seemed long. When I reached the turn around point at mile 18, the volunteer asked if I would like a ride back to the start/finish area. Maybe it was the heat, but I was confused as to why she'd ask, lol. Was I over a cut-off that I wasn't aware of? Since the race director did not mention any time cut-offs at the start of the race other than the 14-mile aid station, I wasn't sure why she thought I would want a ride. I told the volunteer that I felt great and I would like to continue if that was okay. I finished a slice of watermelon, had my bottle refilled, and started the climb back up the mountain. It had taken an hour and a half to cover the 4 miles down the mountain. How long would it take for me to get back up the mountain? Surely this out-n-back was longer than 4 miles, lol.

Up until this point, I had thought that two ladies were behind me, but I found out later that they had dropped at the 14 mile point, so I was in last place. On my way up the mountain for the last time, I finally passed a runner that had been slightly ahead of me all day. He was going to make it, but I could tell that he was almost out of steam. As I passed, he told me to tell the volunteers to keep the finish line open for him. I told him that I wasn't going very far very fast, so he had no need to worry.

At the 22 mile mark, I looked at my watch and realized that it had taken me 3 hours to finish the entire 8 mile section. It didn't seem that hard, and I was doing a pretty steady run/walk. I couldn't believe I was that slow, but there it was, lol. Regardless, I was feeling so good that I didn't mind being slow today. There is something to be said for fresh mountain air!

The last 4.2 miles would be down the mountain, through the campground, and across the lake on the bridge. I finished in 8:04:15. After last week's fiasco, the first thing I did Sunday morning was to check and make sure that I was listed in the results. And there I was, lol.

It had been a long but wonderful day. I felt rejuvenated. Being out on the trails did wonders for my mind and body. On the drive home, I listened to Prince, one of my favorite artists. One of the his songs fit my mood for the day. Below are just a few verses from "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed":

When you found me I was just a piece of clay
I was formless, you gave me a new name
With the breath of life I now live abundantly
All I needed was the potter's hand
And the blood on Calvary

If I were ever to write my life story
I could truly say through all the pain and glory
I was just a piece of clay in need of the potter's hand
Cause when you whispered in my ear
The words I so now understand

Beautiful, loved and blessed
I'm better than the day before
Cause you made me confess that I am

Beautiful, loved and blessed
When you're free you're really free indeed
All you gotta do is just plant the seed

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon - 5/9/09

I tried to wait until I felt better to write about Lake Wobegon, but the more I thought about what happened yesterday, the more I wanted to write about my experience. I need to clear my mind, to rid myself of the negative thoughts, and to focus on the positive aspects of my running.

Everything seemed to be going so well. I ran the first half with Frank (MN) and the second half with Hajime (Japan). I also talked briefly with Kendel and Walt (GA) and Charles (CA) at the start. It was cool at the start, and we ran along a flat, point-to-point course on the Lake Wobegon Trail (a paved bike path) from Holdingford, MN to St Joseph, MN. The course was beautiful and peaceful, traversing the country-side. Minnesota has yet to benefit from Spring, as the Southeast has, but there were fresh blooms here and there, and the grasses were starting to turn a luscious green. Hajime and I crossed the finish line in about 6:02, received our finisher's medals and technical, long-sleeved shirts, and then proceeded to the Trail Facility for pizza, homemade cookies, and soda.

This morning I opened an e-mail from the race director with the race results. The last four runners to finish the course were not listed in the race results. Hajime and I were two out of the four. My heart sank. I knew what the problem was, and I also knew that it would not be fixed to my satisfaction. I would just have to live with the way things were.

The race director had a strict 6 hour cut-off. Crossing the finish line two minutes after the 6 hour cut-off disqualified us from the results. I had just posted my second DNF for the year. The tears began to fall before I could stop them, and a wave of nausea began to build in my gut. Why did I keep doing this to myself? I would have traded the medal, shirt, and post-race food for the extra 2 minutes that I left out on the course and an official finish.

I will not rant and rave like I did when I DNF'd RR100 earlier this year, although I'm just as hurt now as I was then. I am just so angry with myself, and as usual, I'm trying to figure out how to make this work. Something that I do for fun has become frustrating. I am officially fed up with fighting cut-offs in races. Now what do I do?

I've thought about taking some time off from racing, even though it would break my heart not to go to my races on the weekends. I do enjoy seeing my running buddies and running in new places. I would then have to figure out what to do with myself on the weekends. I could run by myself in new places, but I run by myself during the week already. The camaraderie from the races is part of the fun. I have also thought about limiting the types of races that I do. Maybe I should just concentrate on timed (12/24-hour) events. I've done several, and the only way to DNF a timed event is to not show up, lol. But being on a relatively short, looped course for hours, weekend in and weekend out, would probably drive me out of my mind, lol. There are some races that don't have cut-offs or offer early starts, but probably not enough of them are occurring every weekend.

Now for my excuses. I've said this before, but I need to lose weight. I was much faster 10 - 20 pounds ago, and I never had to worry about making marathon cut-offs when I was posting less than 5 hour finishes. The ultramarathon cut-offs have always been an issue for me, but lately they have become even more of a problem for me. As much as I hate to diet, it's long overdue. Nothing to it, but to do it, right?

I need to figure out how to fix my anemia. So far, the supplements have not been working, as proven by my monthly visits to my oncologist, who tells me that my red blood cell counts continue to plummet. I have a hard time sustaining a run when I can't breath, so I walk when it gets too difficult. Low red blood cell counts mean oxygen is not sufficiently being distributed throughout the body. It also means that I'm cold and tired all of the time, no matter how much sleep and rest I get. My energy level is just not where it should be.

I also need to manage the pain better in my back and hips. I'm in pain all day long. Some days are worse than others, but make no mistake about it, the pain never leaves completely. It's hard to run when you're in pain. Between the prescription pain killers and Advil, I'm able to at least move, even if I can't move very well or very fast. I've been living with the pain for almost two years now. I have embraced it, accepted it, and if by chance I wake up one day and I'm pain-free, I'm afraid that I'll be dead, lol. Acceptance is one thing, but some times I get tired of dealing with it.

My biggest excuse is that I have metastasized breast cancer to the bones. Specifically, I have a tumor at L5 in my spine (thus the back pain) and I have several tumors throughout my pelvic bone (thus the hip pain). I've been having treatment every month for the past year and a half. I get a 30-minute Zometa treatment intravenously through a port that has been surgically inserted into the upper right portion of my chest. The Zometa is helping my body to replace bone tissue that the cancer is destroying. I was on Tamoxifen, up until last month when my most recent scans showed that the bone cancer was steadily spreading. I now take Femara instead of Tamoxifen. These pills should suppress the body's production of estrogen and keep the cancerous tumors from feeding off the available estrogen. I also have a monthly booster injection of Lupron to suppress the ovarian production of estrogen. Side effects that I've experienced from the Tamoxifen and Femara include: hot flashes every 30 minutes to an hour, all day and all night; mood swings from deliriously happy to downright depressed to uncontrollable anger; and hair thinning. I want to blame the steady weight gain on the pills also, but I'm sure that has more to do with not running as fast or as much as I'm accustomed to.

All of this is driving me crazy, especially during a run! One minute I'm freezing to the point of shivering and the next minute I'm having a hot flash and sweating like a pig. My body feels like it's on fire, that I'll spontaneously combust at any minute. I've gotten so hot sometimes that I've become dizzy and nauseous. If I'm not having a hot flash, then I'm running, and all of a sudden I can't breathe. I then have to stop and walk until I'm breathing normally. And the routine repeats itself for the remainder of the run. Unless I'm in an ultramarathon, I normally can take enough pain relievers before the run to keep the back and hip pain at bay until I finish, but if it wears off (usually between 6-8 hours), I'm popping pills during a run. And I've learned over the past two years that there's a balancing act with the pain relievers. I have to take the pills before the inflammation becomes debilitating. The pain relievers take about 30 minutes to work before I can move relatively efficiently again, if I take them at the onset of pain. Let's not talk about how long it takes to calm the nerves to a dull roar if I prolong taking the pain relievers. Modern medicine!

But what's really mind-boggling to me is that I keep trying. I can't figure out how to quit because I know that my situation could be much worse. I keep telling myself that I really don't have a reason to complain, that there's really nothing wrong me. Having cancer for a second time in my life and blaming my poor performance on the cancer and the drugs is a cop out. I have a lot of excuses to quit, but I have no good reason to give up. I can still move, darn it! What if I give up and my body forgets how to move? As long as I'm above ground and alive, there's really no reason to quit. I'll have plenty of time to lay around and do nothing when I'm dead. So, what in the world is wrong with me? Why do I even contemplate not running? Why is this so confusing?

Because I can't run the way that I dream about running. I get so sad seeing the pack run away from me at races, and I feel even worse when I look behind me and see the sag wagon or the trail sweep on my a$$. That's when I feel the pressure of not finishing within the cut-offs. I've lost my connection to running, how good I felt while running. I'm allowing extenuating circumstances to take away that good feeling, and I'm angry about that. It's not just about being faster. It's about self-worth. It's about defining who I am. I don't know who I am any more. I thought I was strong and stubborn, but I've become such a wimp, and I hate it. My body's failing me, and my mind refuses to tell it to "man up", because it's failing me as well. I've got to find the motivation to fix what's wrong physically, mentally, and emotionally.

If I take time off, I'm afraid that I won't come back. If I keep going, I'm afraid that I'll always be disappointed at the end of a race. I am grateful for what I can do, but I want so much more. I'm just greedy!

I said I wouldn't rant and rave, but I've done just that. Now that the secret is out in the open, it's time to make a change. I haven't devised a plan yet, but I'm working on it. I'm not saying that I won't DNF any more races, but if I do, I'm going to DNF with some darn dignity, lol. I'm going to be strong again. I beat breast cancer in 2003, and I'll beat bone cancer in the near future. I'm going to release the real Tiger that my daddy saw in me when I was a little girl. I won't allow my body to quit. I won't allow my mind to give up. I'll continue to fight the negative vibes so that I can reap the rewards of the good life that my higher power has given me. Run, Tiger, run!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Strolling Jim 40 Mile Run - 5/2/09

The top 40 reasons (in no particular order) why I enjoyed my first running of the Strolling Jim in Wartrace, TN:

40. This race is actually 41.2 miles, but due to a washed out bridge this year, the course was detoured and rumored to be closer to 43.2 miles.

39. The SJ40 was my 80th ultramarathon.

38. Out of 80 ultramarathons, the SJ40 was my first 40 (kinda/sorta) mile race. With a new distance, I get a new PR of 11:07:45. Woo hoo!

37. "No pain, no brain" - one of several "inspirational" messages painted on the road.

36. The gallon jugs of water along the side of the road every two miles.

35. Four aid stations located at Mile 13, 20, 29, and 35.

34. Very nice and helpful volunteers at all four aid stations.

33. Very little traffic along the country roads of the course.

32. The locals that were traveling on the country roads gave us a wide berth as we ran toward them and waved to us as they passed.

31. The beautiful scenery of the country.

30. The rain and overcast skies that kept the temperature comfortable the entire day.

29. My left calf stopped crying after about 10 miles. It's still aggravating as all get out, two weeks after the Earth Day Challenge Marathon.

28. The many, many cows that stopped eating grass to look up and stare at me as I ran along the course. It's really unsettling, lol.

27. In addition to the cows, horses and goats rounded out the most frequently seen animals along the course.

26. Seeing Mike (TN), Diane (TN), Bruce (TN), Trent (TN), Lisa (TN), Steve (KY), and Andy (FL) before we all took off running at the start. I wasn't fast enough to run with any of them, lol.

25. The cool periwinkle shirt in our goodie bag.

24. The cool race booklet showcasing the history of the SJ40. This year was the 31st edition.

23. The claim that there are only 4 hills on the course. Yeah, right! So, what in the heck were those other monstrosities I kept climbing over all day long, leaving me breathless and weak in the legs, lol.

22. "This is not a hill" - another "inspirational" message painted on the road.

21. "This is not a hill" - the same "inspirational" message painted on the road a few miles away from the point at which I saw this message the first time, lol.

20. "But this is" - indeed! It was one of the 4 real hills, and we had an "inspirational" message painted on the road to let us know, just in case we were wondering, lol.

19. "Real men run this hill" - I'm not a man, so it was okay that I walked this hill, lol.

18. "Only wimps walk here" - I'm a wimp and proud of it, as I walked, yet, another hill, lol!

17. Every 5 miles was painted on the roads for us.

16. The course was well marked with painted arrows on the road.

15. Seeing the first two runners headed back to the finish on a relatively short, overlapped section of the course. I estimated that these runners were a good 19-20 miles ahead of me. Yikes!

14. Lots of loose dogs running around in the country, but only one came up to "greet" us.

13. Coke at Aid Station #2 and #4. I was getting so sleepy!

12. Wartrace is about an hour drive for me, so I got to sleep in my own bed the night before the race.

11. Porta potties at the start; otherwise, bushes with heavy foliage along the course.

10. Plenty of parking at the start/finish area.

9. No spectators to see me dragging my fat a$$ up and over all of those hills, lol.

8. The runner who passed me at about Mile 2 and asked if I was planning to go the whole distance. Huh? He's joking, right?! Did I look that bad that early, lol?

7. Meeting Dan (KY) soon after Aid Station #2. This was his 24th finish of the SJ40. If not for the neuroma in his foot, I would have never had the opportunity to run/walk with him. Dan has posted 6:45 - 6:50 on this course. He is definitely elite! And it was a treat to run/walk over 20 miles with him.

6. The Walls - a serious of hills along the course that roll up and up.

5. Cruising down the hills and feeling fast, if only in my little, warped mind, lol.

4. Breaking through the finish line tape with Dan as the last two finishers of the race.

3. Shaking the infamous race director's (Gary) hand at the finish line.

2. Sitting on the curb at the finish line, chatting with Diane, finally off my feet.

1. Driving home from the small town of Wartrace and thinking that the SJ40 was a great experience.