Thursday, March 7, 2013

My TBR (to-be-run) List

Mile 6ish into my birthday run
I don't have a bucket list because I can't really think that far in advance. Sure, there are things I'd like to do before I die (hike in Nepal, join the PeaceCorps, try durian, finally open that Slender Man game that's been hanging out on my computer for half a year because I'm too damn scared to play it). But all those things are in the distant future, not currently pressing on my conscience because I haven't even tried planning for them yet.

My partner's father once mentioned creating a five-year plan--I think he was talking about getting married or having children at the time--and that number has stuck with me. Even five years is too long though. How about a two-year plan?

Needless to say, a lot of what popped up on my two-year plan was running related. Among the things I'd like to accomplish within the next two years:
  • Run the Rim-to Rim-to Rim
  • Fastpack a few days on the Colorado Trail this summer, as soon as I get my paws on a GoLite Imogene 2 and a (purple) Jam 50.
  • Run a race in the Leadville series
  • Finish a sub-6 hour 50k
  • Get a buckle
  • Run a 100-mile race--definitely on the furthest end of the two-year plan
  • Run an ultramarathon distance every birthday

About 13 miles, looking back at the
mountains from Highland's Ranch
This past Sunday, I had my 28th birthday, and the idea of a long run had been germinating for a while. Why not shoot for 28 miles, I thought? I'm not in ultra shape right now, my longest run since last September topping out at probably 12 miles. I knew if I had the option of running loops on my favorite trails, I'd wuss out after a few hours and hike back to my car.

Another thing that had been sitting on my to-do list was to run to work. The drive is about 24 miles and follows the mountains along the highway. It's a lovely albeit long commute. Just for fun, I started playing with a walking route on Google maps, and extended the trip to about 27 miles. Streetviewing the trip made it seem totally doable. About ten miles in was a Whole Foods, there were quite a few gas stations along the way, and if I decided I couldn't make it, because I was on roads--and not in shape to run this distance--I could easily call for a ride home. It's my damn birthday, anyway.

There is something powerful knowing that your feet can fuel your commute, in knowing that after a few basic parameters are met (nice weather, a comfy pack, a backstock of convenient fueling items, someone willing to pick you up that night, and six-plus hours' notice), sans car I can still make it. No, I won't be in great shape by the time I get there, but I'd at least be a warm body to unlock the door.

At a low point, around mile 18. I felt a lot worse for the bison
stuck in that tiny enclosure than for myself.

Much like in my 50k, there was never a part along the run when I doubted my ability to keep going. Even at a slow, sluggish pace, I knew I would finish. Even when it seemed that the entire run was going to be uphill, I'd slow to a walk and eat, take a picture, and soldier on. Even though my elevation gain was only 1700 feet, and my fastest mile time was at a 10-minute pace (downhill, on torn up quads), when I finally made it to the end I was able to check two items off my ridiculous running to-do list. I loved running, as sore and tired and ridiculously smelly as I was, I was in the right place.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Speed up by slowing down. No really, I promise." Meh.

Warm tights and 2-cm high Hokas do
battle with 6 inches of snow
After browsing through Trail Runner Nation's archive of podcasts with Philip Maffetone, the Sock Doc, Sunny Blende and her discussion of Metabolic Efficiency Training, Mark Cucuzzella, et cetera, finally I gave in.

I bought a heart rate monitor. And it is ridiculously pink.

I already know I have a high active heart rate. Just putting on my running shoes brings me up in the low 100s. Running up a hill feels like a battering ram trying to escape through my sternum. Oh, and there was the curious fact that despite running 40 miles a week, I never lost any weight, much less fat.

Using Philip Maffetone's 180-minus-your-age formula,  I determined my maximum aerobic heart rate, which would increase my fat-burning ability, reduce my dependency on carbohydrates, and overall make me a better endurance athlete. The idea is that over time, my speed will increase at the same heart rate. So on Day One, I set out for a jog on relatively flat terrain. Running at a comfortably slow warmup 10-minute mile, my heart rate jumped to 170bpm.

Slow down, try again.

After bringing my pulse down to where it needed to be, I slogged along the road, refusing to make eye contact with anyone I passed as I imagined what they were thinking. Her running apparel is beautiful and technical, her shoes amazingly ridiculous but probably also the stuff of the greats, and clearly her legs are taking on a running pattern, but...

Over two miles, an average pace of nearly 13 minutes per mile. Downhill for the better part of it. The day prior, before I sucked it up and bought a HRM, I did an "easy" two-mile run (assuming if it felt easy my HR would be low) and averaged about a 9:30 pace. Misjudged that one by about a lot.

I'm committed to trying this out. This means that on a middle-distance trail run, I'm averaging about a 14-minute mile since I'm walking almost all the uphills, sometimes having to stop in the middle because even walking spikes it above my max aerobic heart rate. Most of today's short run was walked because of the six inches of snow that the city decided should stay on all the sidewalks.

The benefit so far has been that I can slog out a 10-mile trail run and still have the energy to go work a full shift without feeling the need to eat a 1,000-calorie meal before heading out the door. In fact, during my two-hour trail run, I didn't eat or drink a single thing whereas previously I'd be gelling it every half hour and finishing a 21-oz water bottle every 5 miles.

Speed-wise, it's too early to tell if there has been an improvement. But at least my attitude is getting better, and I've been told that is what needs the most development in my life anyway.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"I heard you almost died."

A manager from another store called me during work two days ago for help with something, but prefaced the conversation with those words: " almost died."

I tried to play it off as no big deal, everyone's exaggerating, it wasn't that big of a deal. I tried to move the conversation forward quickly, and did what I could to help him out. I just didn't want to talk about the d-word. For the last week and two days, I've been in a bit of a haze. I'm doing all I can do to seem positive and happy to those around me and the truth is, I'm scared shitless because he was right.

You really can go from healthy and happy one minute to... well, dead the next.

The last week of January, my partner and I drove down from Denver to Fort Hood, Texas, to visit with his sister-in-law and nephew, both of whom we've never met. His brother married a couple of years ago, they were stationed in South Korea, and had a son there. A year ago, they were stationed in Texas, much closer to us (though still a 14+ hour drive), and a few months ago, his brother was deployed. Since I work retail and can't take vacation during the holidays, we scheduled a trip down to Texas after things calmed down.

The few days we spent in Texas were a lot of fun. I haven't spent any amount of time with a two-year-old since my baby brother was that age (over sixteen years ago!), and boy, do they have a lot of energy. Parenting a toddler is a multi-year endurance event.

It worked out that after my vacation, I was slated to help out at our store in New Mexico, so we drove there. My boyfriend would drop me off, drive back up to Denver, and I'd fly home at the end of the week. Well, he developed the flu, and was in bed in my hotel room for four straight days. Not even sure he used the bathroom. So I'd wake up in the morning, do what I could for him, go to work, go to the pharmacy, and then take care of him some more. I never had a chance to go out and explore the city, or the food, which I was told I HAD to try.

So Thursday night, my last day there, I went to a burrito place that was recommended to me. They had plenty of vegetarian options, so I didn't think it would be a problem. I picked one up for me and another for my boyfriend, both stuffed with beans and tofu. I had to try the one with green chili, because I've never had it before.

Friday morning, we had to book it back to Denver because he had to work. My alarm went off at 4:30, and I knew instantly something was wrong. You know the feeling you get when you just eat too much. I guessed I wasn't digesting the food well, since I'd been eating simple things all week. I remembered a podcast with Sunny Blende saying drinking a lot of cold water can help, so I tried that understanding it would feel worse for a little while, then a lot better. Well, by 7, I wasn't feeling any better, and there was a bit of complication in the bathroom department as well, so I knew it wasn't just a problem with me digesting food improperly. Whenever I'd burp, I'd taste rotting burrito, and it made me sick. I kept saying that I just wanted to throw up, and then I'd feel better, but I couldn't.

And then I did throw up, and I felt so much better... for a little while.

We got in the car, and I started feeling woozy again. My boyfriend had gotten me some Pepto tablets, so I took two of those. They didn't help at all. On the drive up, we had to stop the car so I could use the bathroom on the side of the Interstate. I felt so sick, I didn't care where I was. Then I got back in the car and started shivering, but my skin felt like it was burning. Because he'd had the flu for so long, I'd gotten a thermometer to keep track of his fever, so I took my own temperature.

94 degrees. My temperature was 94-freaking degrees. I said, I think something is wrong. Duh. You don't become hypothermic sitting in a heated car. I think I need a doctor. I threw up all over the inside of my car, but it was just water and Pepto tablets. Not long after that, I blacked out for a few moments.

It took nearly 40 minutes to get to the hospital. My boyfriend put on the hazard lights, and told me later he was driving (my poor car) over 100 mph.

In the ER, the doctor was most concerned with my blood pressure. It's usually low as it is, but at under 80/60, he was more concerned with that than the fact that I'd thrown up over 10 times since that morning. They put hot blankets over me, because my temperature was still under 97 even with walking and moving around.

I don't remember much about being in the hospital, except that the phlebotomist was training the RN how to draw blood, and I have very pathetic veins. I screamed more than once and begged her to stop, which of course they didn't, but they couldn't draw even a little blood. I'm still bruised all over my hands and arms from where they butchered me. The only needle that didn't leave a mark was the needle where they put the IV on the top of my hand. Because of my weak veins, they had to give me a "baby IV," so it took hours for me to get 2L of fluid. Later, another phlebotomist came in and clucked his tongue, saying that the RN had missed my veins entirely and had stuck the needle in a nerve in my arm. I didn't need to know that, and was thankful for the anti-nausea medication they'd given me, because those words would have made me throw up.

Later on the doctor watched my BP and wanted to wait until my systolic got over 100. It never did, even after all the fluids and after they let me have a tiny can of soda, but all of my blood work came back fine. They gave me an EKG (even though he didn't suspect any heart trouble), which was also normal. I can't wait to get all the bills back for this crap.

What gave me the most pause was how seriously the doctor had said that it was a very good idea that we'd turned around when we did. "You can see how dangerous this would be in a third-world country, without modern medicine." The IV with just a plain saline solution had saved my life. I had seen the sign for the hospital when we were driving, and thought maybe we should stop. By the time I realized how bad I was, we were far up the road, and the next hospital was still over an hour away.

Death by burrito. Not even on my top-ten list of ways I'd like to go out.

My official diagnosis from the hospital was gastroenteritis. I suspect that fun new Sydney strain of norovirus might be to blame. I'm always happy to be a survivor of an epidemic.