Marathon 2014 – My celebration of life (part 1)

I’ve had my eye on the Marathon de la Baie du Mont St Michel for many years. But when I signed up for it a few months ago, I only allowed myself to do so by reasoning that I simply wouldn’t go “all out” this time. I couldn’t. It was March and I had already lost a month of training due to being sick and was about to head to India. So I told myself I’d resume training upon my return, but would make it my goal for this marathon to simply finish, even if I had to combine running and walking to do so.

Unfortunately, I came back from India very sick and lost over two more weeks of training as I recovered. When I was able to start running again, the marathon was only eight weeks out and every run was grueling as my body was still weak. Yet I pushed through and completed all of my runs. Until five and a half weeks later when I set out for the one and only 20-mile run that I had planned. Not even seven miles into it, I got so dizzy that I had to stop running and started walking home (2 miles away). But when I started losing vision, I knew I couldn’t trust myself to keep walking so I had to take a taxi, which I never do in Paris. The lingering dizziness prevented me from running a 10k race that I had planned to do with my dad who was visiting that weekend. As I stood on the sideline cheering him on, it seemed impossible to consider running a marathon in two weeks. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up. Maybe I could still do half of it and then drop out.

New strategy? Rest all week and then attempt a 10-mile run the next weekend. If all goes well, try to at least start the marathon. The 10-mile run was a bit sluggish but I felt ok afterwards. Of course, I still wanted to finish the marathon, but I was also keenly aware of my body’s physical limitations and didn’t want to abuse it beyond reason.

7_Plan_parcours_marathon_26_06_2013-300x241I had planned to arrive in Saint Malo two days before the marathon to have some time to relax and visit Mont Saint Michel, where the race would finish. This marathon is unique in that you can see the finish from the start and over the course of 26.2 miles you see Mont Saint Michel getting bigger and bigger.

I had no idea how much I needed to leave Paris until I had left. Leaving gave me time and space to reflect. And I started to recognize how many times I had been “knocked down” during the past five months, and not only physically. I was losing my physical, emotional and spiritual stamina. Most people would probably say I needed rest. But I knew that more than anything I needed a deep renewal and healing that comes only from God. And maybe throw in a marathon, too?

I also reflected upon my life since my first and only other marathon in Chicago in 2008. As soon as I finished, I said I wanted to do another one. And I tried several times. Yet I kept running into physical roadblocks, the most difficult one to swallow was a stress fracture that prevented me from running the Paris marathon last year after 17 weeks of training for it. At the same time, I have experienced many spiritual victories during these years. It really has been a roller-coaster ride; the highs are high and the lows are low, and often I feel whiplashed in the process.

Strategy revised yet again. Running this marathon would be a celebration of life, and a defiance of the Enemy’s constant attacks upon my being. Now I was determined to finish, not because I needed to prove anything, but as a metaphor for spiritual endurance.

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:1-2

The Mont Saint Michel landmark provides a point on which to focus throughout the course. So it brought a visual element to the “keeping our eyes on Jesus” part of this passage.

On Saturday, I spent the day at Mont Saint Michel. 1800+ stairs was perhaps not the best idea the day before a marathon, but I enjoyed my stroll through the abbey and along the ramparts. Then I hid away in a café to carb-load on spaghetti. On the ride back to Saint-Malo, where I was staying, the bus driver mentioned that the marathon was taking place the next day. He pointed out the start (in Cancale) and the finish (Mont Saint Michel) as we were somewhere in-between. It was a daunting sight. That is really far.

From there I went to the Expo to pick up my race bib and packet. And even though it was a full day, I think being out all day helped me to fall asleep that night. I slept for almost seven hours.

2014-05-25 08.15.48Sunday morning I was off by 6:30 a.m., took a shuttle to Cancale and prepared to take on the race. And so here I am at the start line: nervous yet optimistic. I didn’t yet know what was about to hit me.

 

 

Advertisements

Human

This song has a redemptive message for me. It speaks to my tendency to be a workaholic, to the drive that doesn’t know when to stop and the obligation I feel to “be there” for everyone at all times.

But even more specifically, it proclaimed a specific rebuttal to a message that was spoken to me almost a decade ago.

I have never worked myself as hard as I did when I was in college. I regularly worked graveyard shifts at a residence hall desk during which time I completed my homework, and then when I got off, sometimes I would go running or to class. At one point I was taking both sleeping pills and caffeine pills to survive. And then I was starting to prepare for graduate school auditions. So I would lock myself away for hours and get lost in my repertoire.

On one of those days, a friend called and asked me to leave the practice room to go hang out with friends that evening. That was a lot to ask, but after a bit of persuasion I agreed, “just for an hour.” I started to get stressed out when an hour turned into two, and then three. Finally I insisted on resuming my practice. As we walked back to campus together, he asked me how I am able to keep going at the pace that I do. I was annoyed by the challenge, and tried to explain that I was just doing what I needed to do. Maybe he was annoyed with me as well, or just wanted to make a point when he said,

“You’re more like a machine that keeps producing and producing and producing than you are a human being.”

Ouch.

No one wants to be called a machine, no matter how much they act like one.

Those words have echoed through my head ever since.

A few weeks after this scene, I was rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night, and then transferred by ambulance to another hospital. The machine had reached its limit.

I’m only human, and I bleed when I fall down.
I’m only human, and I crash and I break down.

I’m not a machine, and in her single hit, Christina Perri voices both sides of this struggle that many of us face. For me, the imagery of a machine in the music video was especially powerful.

Of course, “only human” isn’t the complete picture. I believe that being human is also something to be celebrated. It’s amazing what humans can do. I added this song to my running playlist and when it started playing during an 18-mile marathon training run the other day, I realized what a bad idea that was. I started seeing images of myself tripping over a pebble and crashing to the ground, knees scraped and bleeding. That’s not the way to get through a difficult workout. In some moments, we do well to celebrate the extraordinary capabilities of humanity.

But as humans, we also have limitations, and as someone who constantly struggles to respect my own limits, this is something I need to hear from time to time. Although I hate falling down, I’m thankful for the reminder that I am not a machine.

Stress Fracture

It’s Monday night and I’ve been sitting on my couch most of the day. Back when my life was normal, Mondays meant running early in the morning, working at home for several hours, then biking across Paris to teach, biking to another neighborhood to continue teaching, and then often biking somewhere else for an evening event before biking home. So usually one hour of running and then two hours of biking on a typical Monday.

So it felt really strange to sit on my couch all day. 😦

A week ago I finally had an MRI of my pelvis to see why the “adductor tendonitis” wasn’t going away after 10 weeks of rest and therapy. “Know why you’ve been in pain?” The doctor asked as she looked at my results. “You have a stress fracture.”

Crap. When I first got injured and diagnosed, I said, “well at least it’s not a stress fracture! That would mean crutches…”

Instead I continued to walk, bike and occasionally try to run on it for 10+ weeks, thinking it was tendonitis. I did often wonder if it was a stress fracture, based on my symptoms and internet research. I should have gone back to the doctor sooner than I did. I should have trusted my gut, even though I really didn’t want it to be a stress fracture.

Now I’ve been on crutches for six days. I’ve been forced to slow down my pace of life. I can handle about one outing a day. Today I went to get a blood test, but when I arrived they told me I had to wait three hours after eating to take the test and I had eaten two hours earlier (my doctor should have clarified this). It was too much of a pain to go home and then come back, so I slowly made my way to the post office to buy stamps and then stopped at a cafe for a drink while waiting for the hour to pass.

The first couple of days, my forearms were bruised and my armpits and torso were really sore. Today my wrists are in pain from the crutches. I have to take it easy as I’m getting used to the crutches or I will end up injured elsewhere.

The prognosis? Well, in order for the fracture to heal correctly, I cannot bear weight on it for a while. Pain will be my main indicator, said the doctor and several websites. So I will probably be on crutches for a few weeks, or until I am able to walk without pain. But even then, I will have to limit how much I walk. When I can swim/waterjog and bike without pain, I can resume those activities. Already the pain is lessening, although it is definitely not gone yet. But during the whole ten weeks, walking hurt MORE than biking or swimming, so I am hopeful that I will be able to resume these activities soon. I think I will try to make it to the pool later this week.

My doctor said no running until September. I’m really not happy about that because I’m registered for the Chicago Half Marathon on September 8. I’m hopeful that maybe I can start running a little sooner and at least complete the 5k race that is part of the same event. I’ve never run a 5k before.

Well, even though this diagnosis isn’t pleasant, it is more hopeful than just not getting better for no reason. So, one day at a time and I’m believing that I will come out stronger and smarter in the end. Although at this point, I think it might take a lot longer to heal mentally to the point of re-training for a marathon. This experience may continue to haunt me for a while.

The Marathon I Didn’t Run

In the fall of 2012, I returned to Paris feeling energetic and positive after a much needed time of retreat in the States. I was glad to return home, and feeling better than I had felt in a very long time. I resumed my running schedule and to my pleasant surprise, I found myself logging hundreds of miles migraine-free. That was another first-in-a-long-time.

I registered for the Paris half and full marathons the day registration opened. I was so pumped! My goal and dream was to assemble a team to run in support of As Our Own in India, but alas, the spring enthusiasm of my friends had died away by autumn and I set out on the journey alone.

My 19-week training program started officially in December, but I was building up miles all throughout the fall. I was following a program of running five times plus 4-5 hours of biking every week. For the first 17 weeks, the training went well physically. There were aches and pains here and there, but nothing that really got me down. I did start to get worried when during my two 20-mile runs, my right ankle was in quite a bit of pain. The first run of this distance was hard to finish and I was limping for the rest of the weekend. During the second run, the pain was present but not as severe. There was also the day when, almost two miles into my run, I tripped and fell flat on the ground. I got up quickly and tried to catch my breath and assess my situation. My knees were scraped up and my palms were stinging, but nothing seemed to be broken, so I finished the 5 miles. The last time I had fallen like that was probably ten years ago at a time when I was overly fatigued. I realized that I needed to focus on getting better sleep for the next few days.

There were a lot more mental challenges during this time. For one, it was a daily challenge to wake up and face the cold first thing in the morning. I prefer to run at dawn, but sometimes had to complete my entire run in the dark. I’m not sure if the snow classifies as a mental or physical challenge, perhaps it was some of both. It was also challenging to get up early and run in an unfamiliar place during my travels, when I had to spend a good amount of energy remembering how to get back. Over Christmas, I was in the Loire and thus had to train in the mountains. That was a challenge and made Paris feel flat afterwards. I also traveled to a place where it was not safe to run outside and for a week had to complete all of my training on a treadmill. Five miles was okay, but 12 miles was the ultimate killer. It’s mentally challenging to run for two hours and not go anywhere… I shouldn’t complain though, at least it wasn’t 20 miles!

Then there were all the hard calls along the way, when you have to make a decision regarding your training in light of your physical health. I occasionally took a day off if something was hurting, but usually made up for it another day. Often I asked myself, “should I run on the snow/ice?” Could have been disastrous if I had slipped out there, but I survived about a dozen runs in these conditions, including a 15-mile run on several inches of snow. I definitely need to get the right equipment for such weather by next winter. Then one night I was coming down with a sore throat and I needed to run 17 miles in the morning before catching a train to Nancy. I really didn’t feel up to it, but did it anyway. Interestingly, I felt better afterwards. I guess all that sweating did something for shooing away the virus! The days before the half marathon, I came down with a cold. I had to travel by air twice during that time, which didn’t help me feel better. On Saturday night I was feeling feverish and not sure if I would run on Sunday, nor if I would finish even if I tried. But I decided to give it my best shot and I finished within my goal time (2:14:24). However, I felt even worse afterwards and although I wasn’t terribly sore, my head hurt and I couldn’t stop coughing. I just wanted to curl up in bed for the rest of the day. So running doesn’t always cure a cold. 😦

My last hard decision came two weeks before the marathon. The hard-core training phase was over and my miles were decreasing for the last three weeks. In all that time, I had only missed 1½ runs due to being sick or needing extra rest for my ankle. So I was feeling strong and confident about the marathon in two weeks and was focusing on preparing myself mentally. I was also looking forward to doing a four-mile run the following week after running no less that five miles at a time for over a month. On Wednesday, I had run five miles and had noticed a pain in my inner thigh for the first time. I didn’t run the next day and hoped that it would be better by Friday morning when I needed to put in 12 miles. I woke up early that day because I needed to be somewhere by mid-morning. I remember feeling especially tired and wondered if I could post-pone my run for the afternoon (something I rarely did). I also wondered if it was wise to run with the pain. I paced my apartment for a few seconds debating whether to go or not. Then my inner coach said, “Stop thinking about it. Get out there. Get it done.” This was sound advice on most other days when I was simply lacking motivation, but next time I’m in this situation, I will certainly argue back.

I completed the twelve miles in pain, thinking, “I’ll go a little easier today, and maybe it will loosen things up.” By the end of the run, I was in so much pain that I was losing my stride. It hurt to put weight on it, to stand, to walk. But I thought that like my ankle, a couple of days of rest would make it all go away and I would still be able to do my four easy miles a few days later.

It didn’t go away. It was painful throughout the weekend. And it started to scare me. According to my online research, it could be a stress facture, a pulled muscle, tendonitis or a hernia. On Monday, I called a sports doctor but only got an appointment for Tuesday. When I saw him, he stretched my legs in a lot of different ways and diagnosed me with adductor tendonitis. No running for at least a week, he said, plus anti-inflammatory medication and sessions with a sports physiotherapist. “So what about the marathon,” I asked in a low voice. He shook his head and said… “Well, IF the pain is gone in a week, you can go out and run for an hour. “ If there is no pain during the run, you can compete in the marathon. Otherwise, don’t do it. You’ll be miserable and you’ll damage yourself further. I walked away with Cinderella-type hope, but now I think he may have been as confident in his “IF” as her evil stepmother. 😦

Still, I did everything possible during the following week, holding on to the possibility of “if.” Physiotherapy, medication, rest from running, stretches, ice and heat treatments, pool running, swimming, etc. But no matter how much or how little physical activity I did, the pain did not ease up. I saw my physiotherapist on Tuesday and he said to try to run the next day just to see what happens. I knew it wouldn’t be possible, but I geared up and hit the road anyway. It was even more painful than my 12-mile run and I was sort of half-running and half-limping. I lasted five minutes and then walked back home. And at that moment, it hit me. I’m not running this marathon. I can’t. I think I knew this already by Sunday, but it only hit me then when I realized that my body had shut down on me. And that was hard to swallow.

Not being able to run the 2013 Paris Marathon is a huge disappointment, but I must admit that it isn’t the first time I’ve been hindered from running a race because of injury. In 2007, I had registered and trained for the Chicago Half Marathon. Less than one week out, I walked into a pole and hit my forehead/face so hard that it was bruised and bleeding. A couple of days later, I decided I had better see a doctor about it. He ordered an X-ray. On Friday, I called to get the results and they said they wouldn’t be in until the following Monday. So I asked if it would still be okay to run on Sunday. “You have a head injury that may be serious. It would be very unwise to run a half-marathon before knowing the results.” So I sat it out and learnd on Monday that I was fine. Brilliant. Also, two years ago I was registered for the Paris Marathon but got a bad case of sinus infection early in the year, which lasted over a month. I fell too far behind in my training to be able to compete in the race.

But this one is the biggest disappointment yet because I trained so hard for it! At the same time, this strength was also my weakness and my body maxed out two weeks too early. A couple of months ago, I stopped at a bakery after a 13-mile training run. There was a man there who said he was a running coach. He started asking me questions about my running and when I said I was training five days a week, he said, “It’s too much, you should rest more.” Whatever, I thought, loads of people train this much. Then, ten days ago in the doctor’s office, I received the same verdict: you pushed yourself too hard. Humph. I had given 110% to my training regime, which pushed me over the edge two weeks too soon. I should have done more like 90-100%. I hope that my inner coach has learned a lesson from pushing me too hard all this time.

Well, I’m not going to sit around and mope. I’ve been spending a lot of time biking and swimming since I haven’t been running. These activities are easier on the joints and actually hurt less than walking at this point. I’ve wanted to incorporate more swimming (and even deep water jogging) into my exercise routine, and now is the perfect time to build up my strength and endurance in these cross-training activities. I’ll turn my focus and energy to preparing for my next goal, which I hope will be the Caen Marathon on June 16. I’ve almost reached my goal for As Our Own, but this will give me a little more time to reach, and hopefully surpass it

As for today, a friend and I met up and cheered for the entire crowd of runners as they passed in front of our church in the Marais  – from the wheelchair competitors to the very last ones where were struggling already at three miles. It seemed that there was no one else cheering on the street, so we yelled out names and good wishes until our voices were horse. I’ve never watched a marathon from beginning to end like that, and I found it to be very moving. It’s amazing how encouraged people are by a random high five or a stranger cheering for them by name. It was great to participate even though I wasn’t running.2013-04-07 09.41.43