22 July 2014

Time to refocus. Let's go!

Phew! The half marathon is over! I'm glad I did it but I'm not sure I want to do another long-ish race anytime soon. The first half of the race was great, but the second half got progressively worse until I could hardly pick up my feet. The stupidest MS symptom ever is foot drop. On the plus side, I burst into tears right before the finish which made for some really unforgettable race pictures. Joking. I will not be purchasing those. Or showing you an illegal watermarked preview.

I also ran a 5k last Saturday, and in case you're wondering, that's just 6 days after the half. I know, I am your hero. I went to the race alone and had a great time. For some reason, going solo to a 5k is my idea of paradise. Here's a photo of what might be my least offensive race face ever, but still embarrassing. This was right before the finish line, which was up a little surprise hill. This was not on the course map. What is wrong with people?

I'm back on the 5k train and really excited to stay on till the end of the line. Or the end of 2014 at least. My next race is at Oiselle Bird Camp in about three weeks. I wrote up a short training plan which includes copious hill repeats instead of speedwork. The track is my absolute favorite but I think I need hill work way more. And since my endurance has not been great lately, I'm planning to keep up with a longish run once a week, maybe 6-10 miles. However long I can run without encountering the dreaded foot drop.

I'm still on track to run 1000 miles this year; this will be the third year in a row that I've run at least 1000 miles. As of today I've done about 583.

MS has been a pain in my butt for a couple of months now. I've had more fatigue than usual, and this foot drop thing stinks. But with a little planning I am still able to do everything I want to do. Eat better and more regularly, rest more often - you know, the things everyone is supposed to do anyway. I've had this disease long enough to know that it's cyclical; that I can have a few months with a new symptom and then it vanishes. In the past I've had The Gremlin, which was a weird sensation in my calf that felt like I was dragging a little rodent around, and also that thing I can never remember the name of, where you feel a shock when you put your chin down close to your chest. But they went away, so hopefully this foot dragging shit will go away too!

Let me pause here and reassure you that although I might seem like a complete downer, part of coping with MS (for me) is having a wry sense of humor about it. As I write this I'm in a very upbeat mood. I just like to make fun of everything. And oh my god I'm turning into my husband.

I mentioned I'm trying to take better care of myself. Well, sometimes I cope with MS by eating copious pop tarts, but that's just the first line of defense. If I'm having new symptoms and they aren't going away quickly, I get all panicky and vow to never eat sugar again (or some similar drastic measure). Right now my drastic measures are:
  • Cleaning up my diet by significantly reducing sugar, caffeine, dairy, and processed foods. This is good for everyone, so it seems like a no brainer for someone with an incurable degenerative brain disease. (Wry sense of humor people, keep up.)
  • Practicing mindful breathing. Being all meditative and shit seems likely to calm the nervous system. Studies show it or something.
  • Considering eating some fish (or at least fish oil). Omega-3s, blah blah blah.
  • Getting back to core and strength exercises. For the last month or so I fell off the wagon (See also: half marathon training, laziness). I do 10-15 minutes of simple things like situps and pushups a few times a week - nothing crazy but it helps me feel more controlled when moving around. Sometimes I feel like I'm flinging myself around willy nilly - it works but I occasionally walk into something. Surprise!
  • Doing balance exercises. Single leg deadlifts help my brain talk to my limbs about where they are. So much more efficient than writing letters. 
So that's what's up in my world. And now I will let you in on a little secret. I really want to break 24 minutes in the 5k this year. Okay fine, I've told you this about seven times already, but maybe you weren't paying attention! Anyway, If I focus obsessively on that one thing and forget about half marathons and trail races and knitting sweaters and getting a PhD in Folklore, I just might be able to do it. I'm pumped! Let's go!

08 July 2014

3 Things I've Learned in the Past 3 Months

It's July already! I had planned to do six 5k races by this time, but you know what they say about plans. I did not run a 5k in June. I probably won't run one in July either. But! I've learned (at least) 3 valuable things in the past 3 months, and I'm going to tell you all about them cause duh, this is a blog. Here's the short list:
  1. Dogs are a lot of work.
  2. Focus on one thing at a time.
  3. It's okay to lower your expectations!

1. Dogs are a lot of work.

Yes, this is a running blog, but there's more to life than running. Occasionally. At any rate, my dogventures over the past three months have had quite an effect on my running.

In April, our beloved Phoenix died. She was an amazing part of our family and I still cry every time I think about her. She was the sweetest, smartest, lowest maintenance dog that ever lived. Seriously, this girl had an iron tank for a bladder, and she would wait patiently for anything.

Phoenix (1999-2014)
Three days later, after swearing I didn't want another dog for a year, we rebounded with Bailey the Foster Dog, who quickly became Bailey the New Dog.

Bailey the Rabbit is most decidedly NOT the lowest maintenance dog ever. In fact she's in the running for highest. She is the perfect dog in almost every way. She's sweet, quiet, and she doesn't chew our shoes. She's a great running buddy and she loves her pack (us).

But, BUT, when we got her, she could not be left alone, at all. She tried to scratch her way out of our house that first night, with somewhat disastrous consequences. Since Sean and I both work full time, we put her in day care, but she kept getting expelled for her wily escape attempts. She enjoys jumping over 8-10' fences! Not kidding. Our lives became one big stressball as we tried to figure out how on earth we could keep this dog when we both work full time and she couldn't be alone.

I was about to give up on her (and hate myself forever) when we found Unleashed, an amazing outdoor dog heaven / boarding place. Laurie, the owner and best dog person in the world, was willing to let Bailey back inside 15 times a day after she jumped over the fence. To be fair, she only tried to run away once; the rest of the escapes were of the "I just want you to know I can leave anytime, but I don't really want to go anywhere" variety.

We also worked really hard to get her to be happy alone at home. Almost three months after we got her, we can now leave her in her crate for an hour. Stop for a minute and think about your life. Do you typically leave home for longer than an hour? Yeah, I thought so. We used to do that too! And I know we will again someday.

Despite the rough start, I am so happy we didn't give up on her. Bailey the Rabbit has become my best friend. She runs with me, she is always happy to see me no matter what a shitheel I am, and she cracks me up on a regular basis. Although it takes more patience than anything else in my life ever has, it's worth it.

Anyway, that was a long ass way of saying that I was pretty stressed out for a few months, and running definitely took a back seat to dog training, dog worrying, and dog maintenance. The stress also ignited some MS fatigue, so I've been a leetle bit tired. Sometimes this means falling asleep on the couch in the evening; other times (drama alert) it means I'm too tired to chew my food or raise my arms above my head. And of course, this impacts running too. More on that below.

Bonus: I also stumbled on an amazing diet during Dog Gate. If you want to lose 10 pounds really fast, adopt a high maintenance dog! I was so stressed out, I didn't eat for a month.

2. Focus on one thing at a time.

At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to run one 5k each month, and to better my time each race. For some ridiculous reason, I decided I could train for a half marathon without affecting my 5k goal. To be fair, I planned this before Dog Gate, but it was still the work of a dumbass. I have MS, I work full time, I'm a mom, blah blah. If I want to do something well, like improve my 5k time, I should stick to training for 5ks. Jeez. In hindsight I am like psychic.

At the beginning, my half marathon training plan was full of tempo runs, speedwork, and a gradual build up of long run mileage. But as the weeks went by, it became clear to me that my brain had another training plan in mind. Instead of hill repeats, my brain said "NAP REPEATS!" I was really fucking tired. At first it was just a small adjustment here or there, but soon my tempo runs became fartleks, then easy runs. My long runs got shorter, and slower, then I started walking part of every mile.

I decided not to run a June 5k, because if I ran a hard effort on Saturday, the Sunday long run was impossible. It was quite a struggle (mentally) to let June go by without a race, but I had to admit that life was taking me somewhere else. 

And guess what? The whole universe is still here. Which brings me to #3.

3. It's okay to lower your expectations!

While training for the half, I started losing control of my feet during the latter miles of my long runs. At about mile 8 of every long run, I looked like that marathon bonk video. (Go watch it, it's awesome, I'll wait.) After the fourth time I tripped and fell over a 1/8" crack in the sidewalk, I had to admit that shit has changed. I'm not the same runner I used to be, at least not right now. Annoying. 

I know, I know, when you have MS, tripping over things after running 8 miles is not really a reason to feel sorry for yourself. Bear with me. I'm kind of a jerk.

A couple of weeks ago, during my longest run of this training cycle, while walking and crying and feeling generally sorry for myself, I realized that I am still in charge of my life, and "my life" includes "my expectations." Instead of beating myself up because I probably won't run 13.1 miles in under 2 hours, I can choose to be proud of myself for finishing the race. Finishing is an accomplishment too. Especially when you have an incurable degenerative brain disease. Am I right? And then I started feeling pretty brave, because I know I have a lot of reasons to give up, but I will not.

Maybe I'm going to recover from this bout of fatigue, or maybe this is "the new normal." One of the annoying things about MS is that you can't predict what life will look like tomorrow. You don't get to be in control of everything. But really, who does? Here's what I can control. I'm going to run this half marathon, and then I'm getting back on the 5k train. I can still do 12 5k races in 2014, I just might have to skip a month or two and double up later. Maybe I won't keep getting PRs every month, but I can still run. And it's okay to be happy with that. (If that seems extremely obvious, then congratulations, you are more well-adjusted than I am!)

I know no one wants to think about lowering their expectations, but sometimes it makes more sense to do what you can do and be proud of it. Especially when you have health issues. But even healthy people can and should change their expectations sometimes. It might make you healthier! I'm not saying you shouldn't strive for constant improvement and set big goals. But giving yourself a break sometimes is okay too.