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20 August 2015

Birdcamp!

I just got home from Birdcamp! It was a lot of fun. I know there will be tons of detailed blog posts about it, so I'll just mention a few highlights:
  • I did an 8-mile long run (/walk) in beautiful Leavenworth, Washington. This is a pretty long run for me these days!
  • I stayed with my wonderful roommates from last year, Kim and Ayesha. I am so lucky to have met these ladies last year and even luckier that we all wanted to room together again.
  • We floated down the Wenatchee River, which was beautiful and relaxing. 
  • I took my phone swimming. It drowned. I lost all my pictures.
  • I got to spend time with 99 amazing women who love running as much as I do. 
  • It was inspiring, satisfying, and extremely well-organized (ahem, Lesko). 
  • Meditation with Bree of Jasyoga was super satisfying, and it planted the seeds of my little Birdcamp revolution.

I could list 50 more cool things, but Birdcamp is way more than the sum of all these great moments. It is a magical place where dreams can grow without shame or fear. It's a place where you can pry yourself open and not be afraid of what you will find.

I loved the discussion we had about goal setting with Adrienne Langelier and Lauren Fleshman. I used to love setting running goals, but ever since my running has been affected by MS, I haven't wanted to set goals. I still can't run more than about 4 miles without breaks, and I've been stubbornly vacillating between hoping I can run again like I did a few years ago and considering quitting altogether. 

I've been thinking of my running-related MS symptoms to be different from other "normal people" injuries. Like a good drama queen, I've been convinced that my situation is so much worse than a broken foot. But MS has a lot in common with typical running injuries. I am currently unable to run as far or as often as I want to. I am slower than I want to be. The future of my running career is uncertain. On the other hand, a big difference between having MS and a more traditional injury is that nothing hurts, which is a good thing. And I can't make it worse by running.

It seems like I should approach this like any other injured runner would. So here are the goals I set at Birdcamp.

1. Do what I can do
I will find a run/walk cadence that allows me to complete my February half marathon. At camp, I started experimenting. I ran 10 minutes and walked 1. That seemed totally doable until a giant hill kicked my ass. So I will keep experimenting until I figure this out, and at the same time, I will put together a reasonable training plan.

Maybe I won't recover from this injury, but let's consider the alternatives. I could quit running. Um, no. Not until I really can't run anymore. I could stubbornly keep trying to run as if I'm not injured, but that's not really an option. When my legs stop working, I physically can't keep running. It is better to focus on what I can do right now, today, this week, for the next few weeks, and adjust if necessary.

2. Stay positive and hopeful about the future
I often say (cause I'm a drama queen) that I have an "incurable, degenerative brain disease." You can see why I don't do well at parties. But I don't actually believe that it has to get worse, and most of the time, I believe it could get better. I'm not even always convinced it's "incurable." I believe that staying positive is a huge factor in health outcomes, so I will keep hope alive in my mind and in my heart. I will focus on what I can do, not what I can't.

At Birdcamp, I thought a lot about my relationship with running. Me and running, we've been at a standoff, standing petulantly with our arms crossed, refusing to look each other in the eye. I've been angry at my new limitations, and I believed by accepted them, I'd lose something. But now I can see that was wrong. There is no harm in accepting what *is*. If suddenly someday I recover from my "injury" and can run more or faster, that will be great. And even if not, accepting my self puts me on a better path.

This is why I love Oiselle and the Volée. It's so much more than a group of women who wear the same clothes. It's a safe place to find out who you are and what you're capable of. At Birdcamp, I stopped being angry about where I am with running. I realized that I have a massive opportunity to grow as a runner and as a person, and I should take it. 

14 June 2015

Don't assume you know what progress looks like

Oh running, you are a fickle one.

Some of my recent runs have been amazing. I have done 4-milers which ended with me running (okay, jogging very slowly) up the 150' hill near my house. I couldn't do this a few months ago. I have done 3-milers that ended with me stumbling up the stairs to my front door, hoping the neighbors didn't think I was drunk. I even ran my first 10k race recently, which (to be fair) included a fair amount of walking, but it felt like a triumph anyway.

I'm still adjusting to being a marginally disabled runner. I say "marginally" because I don't look disabled at the beginning of a run, but sometimes I do at the end. Some days I feel pretty accepting of the whole thing, and sometimes I'm squarely in denial or bargaining mode. In my best moments I learn something from everything, and today on my run I saw a parallel between my intense desire to never be wrong, and my reticence to continue taking myself seriously as a runner.

Lately I hope that every run will be the magic run where I am like the Portia of two years ago who could just run forever. But I also know that it's unlikely, and in my more pathetic moments I think maybe I should just quit running while I still can, to preserve the memories of being a "normal runner," whatever the heck that is.

This morning, as I fished my running pack out of the back of the closet, I was planning for an 8-miler but at the back of my mind I knew that I might not be able to run 8 miles.  I chased those thoughts away, prepped my water bladder and pitted some dates (a whole food gu alternative), leashed up the dog and got going.

Things were going swimmingly at first. It was a beautiful day and running felt easy. But around mile 4 I started feeling the dreaded lazy feet; it feels like I can't pick my feet up, even though the rest of me feels fine. If I keep running, eventually I start tripping over my own toes and even when I start walking, I look a little tipsy. Then, severely drunk.

Instead of getting frustrated, I slowed to a walk and ate some dates. And I started thinking. What's so bad about walking during a run anyway? Why does it feel like such a failure? And then I realized that the act of setting out on an 8-mile run and being unable to finish it makes me feel Wrong. I was Wrong. I cannot run 8 miles. Wrong.

Ever since I was a kid, I have hated being wrong. Being wrong fills me with shame, and to avoid this I constantly fill the air with caveats about how I might be, am probably, could easily be wrong. It feels better to presage every statement with an excuse about how wrong I might be, because that means I will be Right! "See? I told you before, I was probably going to be wrong!" So I get to be right either way. Most importantly, I don't look stupid (a.k.a. Wrong, a.k.a. shameful) in front of other people.

But.

When you avoid putting yourself in situations where you could be wrong, you might maybe miss out on trying something cool. You will avoid encounters with failure, and success. And everything else! Being chronically safe isn't very interesting.

So I'm there walking instead of running and I thought, "Who cares? It's a beautiful day. So I'm walking. So what. I was Wrong, and NO. ONE. CARES." I continued walking and jogging on and off for 7 miles. My mile splits went from 10:00 to 12:00 to 13:00 and then finally 17:00 for the last mile, which I mostly walked. But I did 7 miles, which is my longest run-like-thing since November.

Well.

Behind me is the familiar solid ground of caution, and in front of me is oh-my-god-I-have-no-idea. I have had this important realization with respect to running, which is great, but can I carry it over into the rest of my life? I think it could be quite awesome to live with the reckless possibility that I might occasionally be wrong. I could fail. If I could accept that, maybe I could try more things. See, I avoid trying stuff because it's possible that I could fail. Wrongness awaits. But... maybe... who cares?

Having an incurable degenerative brain disease is not awesome, but it's a fantastic teacher.

If you've read this far, you might want to check out these TED talks, which have no doubt influenced me recently:

03 May 2015

Progress: Four weeks on AIP

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." -Lao Tzu

Is that so cheesy? The quote thing? Oh well.

I've been doing the Autoimmune Protocol for 4 weeks. At first nothing changed; if anything, I felt a little worse and my running was even more affected by foot drop. It took a shitload of perseverance to keep eating meat and fish (and stinky stinky bone broth!) but I kept at it. If I quit, I would never know if the diet could have worked.

After about three weeks, my energy stabilized. In weeks 1 and 2 I had some great moments and some crashes, but the past two weeks have been amazing. I get up at 5 most days, I run 4 times a week, I work at a pretty (mentally) demanding job and I still have energy to hang with Sean and Maple when I get home. Sometimes I get a little tired around 9pm cause you know, I'm human.

So what have I been eating? Here's a typical day of eating from the past month:

  • Breakfast: Two chicken patties (made at home with ground pastured chicken thigh) sautéed in coconut oil, and a kale/blueberry/coconut milk/banana/spirulina smoothie. 
  • Midmorning snack: Banana
  • Lunch: Giant salad (greens, carrots, beets with olive oil, salt, and apple cider vinegar). Sometimes some leftover roasted veggies from the night before.
  • Afternoon Snack: Coconut butter out of the jar and a granny smith apple.
  • Dinner: Salmon, collards, and a baked yam/sweet potato, or liver and onions with bok choy and basil, and roasted root vegetables and asparagus, or chicken curry soup (made with bone broth).
  • Dessert: Strawberries and peaches.

I also take cod liver oil, probiotics, and a few other vitamins and supplements every day.

So is it working? Yes. This shit works. My energy is better, I'm less wobbly and shaky, and I realized the other day that a symptom I've had for NINE YEARS (vertigo when I lie on my right side - random, right?) has completely gone away.

What about running? It's getting better, slowly but surely. I've been trying to increase my long run length, and today I had a breakthrough run: 6 miles, with 5.5 miles before the dreaded foot drop. Feels like a miracle.

The Autoimmune Protocol is not only about eating. Here are some other things I'm doing:
  • I meditate, or indulge in "brain rest" (where you do absolutely nothing), or visualize some new age healing thing at least once a day.
  • Sit-ups and push-ups a few times a week (this is more for bathing suit reasons than health reasons, but I figure it doesn't hurt).
  • I make a serious effort to avoid stress. I have changed my outlook about things that threaten to disturb my peace. This sounds hard, but fundamentally it's just this: I decided I won't get stressed out. Sean taught me this years ago, that you can just decide. You just walk away from the old thing. It works most of the time, and when it doesn't, I immediately take a time out to calm my nerves. 
  • I also make a serious effort to think positive thoughts. Like "I am healing my MS with food!" and "I will run long distances again!" I even registered for a 25k race in early 2016. Cause I'm crazy. And hopeful. And positive!
  • I'm doing this cool online Shakespeare course, which means I'm reading one play a week for 4 weeks. Last week was Romeo and Juliet; this week is A Midsummer Nights Dream. Using your brain is good for it.
  • I've examined some nonphysical parts of my life that were unhealthy (ahem, money) and I decided to change some things. It's probably not as helpful to spend so much energy on my diet and continue to be unhealthy in other areas of my life.
  • I encouraged Sean to retire from the bakery so he can be my personal chef. He's really (really) good at it, and yes, I know how lucky I am. So. Lucky.

I also saw a new neurologist and I'll be starting a very low dose of medication soon. She considers this a preventative, and I'm finally cool with it. It's funny; I have always wanted to heal myself with diet and lifestyle and not meds. And now I'm doing it - the diet and lifestyle part - and I realize I want meds too. Why not use every tool available?

So what's next? Since this diet is alternately boring and horrifying, and definitely limited in terms of how many things you can eat, I am already starting to reintroduce some foods, like white rice and chocolate. (Most people wait a few months or more to reintroduce foods, but I would rather do it a little early than fall completely off the wagon with Pop Tarts.) Lentils are my next reintroduction - Tuesday! I'm vegan at heart, and the sooner I can find some plant-based protein sources that agree with me, the better. Liver, salmon, and bone broth are superfoods and they are helping me right now, but I am hopeful that I won't need them forever. (If I do, I can live with it, but I'd be happier on a 100% plant-based diet.) I believe the most important things about my diet are being gluten-free, sugar-free*, and dairy-free. Those should be with me forever, but maybe the animal stuff can go eventually.

* A note about my version of sugar-free: I eat sugar in whole foods like fruit - not tons of it, but some fruit every day. I occasionally have maple syrup, dates, or coconut sugar.

I know this post is pretty long already but if you have any questions about the Autoimmune Protocol or anything else, ask away!