April 27, 2019

2018 Carlsbad Marathon

Before I run the Big Sur Marathon tomorrow, I thought I would look back at the last one - The Carlsbad Marathon run in January of 2018


Do you listen to your head, your heart, or your doctor? The answer is almost always your doctor, but...

As I mentioned in previous posts, I didn't take care of myself very well physically in 2017. With few events on the calendar to set a deadline, I couldn't get my butt off of the couch.

Then a gauntlet was thrown.

The other Sean/San Diego Sean/Bizarro Sean sent out an email on October 18th. It was a copy of his verification that he had signed up for the January 14th Carlsbad Marathon with the simple message:
See you there! :)
PS: Price increase tomorrow.
With no real fitness base and less than three months to the marathon I had no business picking up the gauntlet. I could throw out my back just reaching for it. But I had somehow mustered a solid half marathon on a few weeks of training a month earlier, and as I am fond of saying, "I've done stupider things." I signed up on the spot. Now I had a deadline to meet, and it was a great excuse to get down to San Diego to see friends and bask in the sunshine before tax season kept me shut away.

I compressed the first two months of a typical training calendar into one and was soon caught up. The training was harder than it used to be, but at least it was happening. Some hurdles presented themselves - torrential downpours on my 16 miler, having to cut my 18 miler short when I found out on the day of the deadline that I suddenly wasn't going to have health insurance the next month and had to rush home to a computer. You know, the usual.

Then I got sick on Christmas Eve. I rallied for a day or two, but the flu slapped back and would not be ignored. No final 20 miler and no running for the three weeks leading up to the marathon. Most of the ill feelings went away in the last week but there was still crap in my lungs that I couldn't shake.

The Wednesday before the marathon I went to the doctor. Pneumonia was ruled out, but the doctor still said a marathon was not the brightest idea, though I could tell from his eyes he sort of knew I was going to try anyway. I promised both him and a friend of mine I wouldn't do anything stupid. Well nothing really stupid.

Marathon morning had Sean, Marci, their friend BG and me standing on the start line together. I planned to run with Marci and left the headphones at home. I will say that though I was ill-prepared, I was not particularly stressed about it. I did none of the meticulous planning that I used to do before these events. Part of it was the low expectations, part of it was that this would be the third time I had run this marathon, but another larger part was a mindset that I would need to lean on later in the day.

It was a beautiful morning, as most southern California ones are. We set off before sunrise, but stopped for some pictures at mile two to try and capture the gorgeous hues before us.

I ran with Marci for the first half of the race. I had run side by side with her at my first marathon finish, and we ran with Sean as a group of three at the Santa Clarita Marathon just a couple of weeks before I moved back to Seattle. She practices the run/walk strategy and I thought that might be the best plan to get me to the finish that day.

We ran and chatted as the miles ticked by, but by the twelve mile mark it was clear that I was not going to be able to keep up. You never want to leave someone behind, but we have run enough of these things to know the difference between someone who doesn't have it that day vs. just going through a rough patch that could clear with some encouragement. I waived her on and set about to run my own race for the next fourteen miles. It was the best decision for both of us as Marci would go on to set her personal best that day.

My IT bands were tightening badly, and my lungs were still a bit junked up. I started the infamous "run til it hurts too much and then walk for a bit" strategy. Along the way I met two women who were working medical support and they sprayed my legs down with BioFreeze. I wanted to give them each a big sweaty hug for this miracle potion. Back to run/shuffling.

My pace was obviously slower but not terrible. On a normal day I probably would have just gone to that place of suffered effort to get through to the end, but as I mentioned earlier I had made a promise to not to do anything (too) stupid. So at mile twenty I made a decision.

I would walk. The last six miles.

And I was surprisingly OK with it.

I had listened to a podcast by Two Gomers Run For Their Lives a few days earlier. In it they talk about their One Words for the new year. Sort of a crystallization of their goals in bit they stole from Oprah. Steven's word was "Love". Though he felt a bit cringy about selecting such a broad and overused word, he went on to talk about how he wanted to refocus on why he runs and does the other things in his life. To find the positive reasons instead of acting out of duty or guilt. I settled into the walk and thought about all the great things running has brought me, not the least of which are the friends I had set out with on this adventure. It didn't hurt that it was a sunny day, and I was walking near the ocean with palm trees dotting the horizon.

But it was still a long way to walk.

I cheered on other runners as a walked with a smile on my soul. I met the medic ladies once again and took another BioFreeze bath. After walking for some time, I thought about picking it back up to a run, but quickly set aside that thought and stayed in my previous decision. I took my time and I took some pictures.

The time goals started falling away. 4:30 was long gone and soon after that 4:45. Then I started doing more math in my head. If I kept my current walking pace, I might exceed 5:15 and it would be my slowest marathon ever, slower than that first finish in D.C. eleven years earlier. I did a little power-walking.

I still remember a year later walking around a corner about a mile from the finish and hearing music blaring up ahead. A Bon Jovi song I can't remember was ending and the song "Call Me Maybe" started up. I don't know why, but that fluffy bouncy song blasted at eleven put a goofy smile on my face.

Soon the finish line was just one more corner away. Runners run-shuffled past me to cross their first, fourteenth or fortieth finish line. Each one is something special and it gives you a boost to allow you to find one last bit of energy to speed up. I clapped as each one passed. I had come this far walking and resisted the urge to break into a final run myself. It took me long enough to get down the finishing chute that the announcer called my name twice, which made me smile one more time.

I crossed in 5:12:36, just sneaking in under my D.C. time of  5:14:46. It was strange to finish so relaxed, still in pain but strangely refreshed. I found my friends in the finish area. Sean had had a rough day himself, but more typically pushed through it and was still trying to recover. I found out that not only Marci had run her best marathon, but BG had as well. I had been looking for him but did not see him go by. We later figured out it must have been about a mile from the finish as he recalled hearing "Call Me Maybe" at full volume as well.

If the marathon had been a local one, without a trip to see friends built around it, I don't know if I would have run. The way the day turned out, initially disappointing and then strangely rewarding, I am so glad I decided to run. It is an experience I will never forget, and I hope to find that peaceful mindset the next time I am struggling.

Quite possibly tomorrow.

April 23, 2019

On invisible forces and rabbits

This is a continuation to part one, so it might make more sense to start there first.

On my drive into work a podcast was coincidentally queued up to make sure I didn't tuck this incident away and ignore it. The podcast in question was an episode of "The Anthropocene Reviewed". The premise of the show is "John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale."

Each episode has two parts. I had already listened to the bit on velociraptors and the confusion Michael Crichton created with the Jurassic Park movies, so the second half about the movie "Harvey" was waiting for me. I had actually heard John perform this episode live at PodCon in January, but now it was up in the feed for me to experience again.

In the Harvey segment John talks about when he was in his twenties and worked for Booklist in Chicago, and he was having a crushing episode of depression. Alone in his apartment, feeling unable to even feed himself properly, much less pull himself out of the tailspin, he reached out to his parents. Thankfully they were at his doorstep twelve hours later, and he would return with them to Florida to get the help he needed.

But first he had to go into work and quit. After breaking down in tears in front of his boss, the boss was quiet for a moment before telling John to consider this a leave of absence. His job would be there when he felt better.

Later in the day as he was packing up his desk he found a note his boss had dropped off after their discussion. Along with the well wishes and confidence that he would be back, he told John "now more than ever, watch Harvey."

After discussing the movie and its part in his recovery, John said something to the effect of "I hope you never find yourself on the floor of your kitchen, I hope you never cry in front of your boss desperate with pain, but I hope that if you do, you find those in your life are understanding and will give you the help you need."

Just a few hours later, I was crying in front of my boss.

He had come into my office to discuss the workload, which files to focus on, etc. At the end of this he must of recognized something, because he asked if I was doing OK. I couldn't get a word out before I was sobbing uncontrollably once again. He was kind about it, offering what he could, mostly just listening and staying with me until I had pulled the pieces back together.

I shared the story of this March day with a few people in person shortly after it happened, partly to be more open, partly to try and understand my story in the telling. They were all very kind, offering their time and support. I made it through the next month and a half of crazy work hours and now find myself with more time and energy to think. I told my boss in the moment that I didn't think counseling was the answer. It really did feel different that day, something beyond words to fix, but now I don't know. The episode was obviously primed by fatigue, recent sadness, and a few things outside myself bringing depression to the top of my mind. Was it just the dam breaking and unleashing a torrent, or was it something more chemical.

Next post we'll be back to running for a bit, but there is more to think about, more to talk about.

If you want to listen to the episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed, there is a little web player below.

Oh, and I have been waiting in line since PodCon in January to borrow Harvey from the library. I guess the movie is too old to show up on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

I get to pick it up tomorrow.

April 22, 2019

Treading water

I have had some form of depression for much of my adult life. It manifests at different levels, and in different ways at different times, but it is always there running in the background.

It has overall been less powerful over the last decade, primarily a result of the counseling I went through as a part of my divorce. Though you cannot rationalize your way out, talking about it nonetheless helped (and helps) tremendously. Just having someone on the outside, looking at it with you, can alter your perspective.

Two other things came out of the counseling that have helped in the intervening years. One was the realization of the effect my depression has on others. This thing I thought lived only in my head, and only made my own life miserable, had toxic effects on those around me. I know this should have been obvious, but in the thick of it, it wasn't. I was surprised to see how this misery I thought I was internalizing, brought others down with me despite my best efforts to spare them. There were many contributors to my divorce, most of which I can only speculate on, but I have no doubt that my depression was a big factor.

The other somewhat related lesson was that trying to internalize everything, to try and go it on your own is a short-sighted response. Depression can make you feel isolated and unworthy, but you are cheapening your connections and relationships by not trusting those that love you. They believe in you, even when you cannot. Where a decade ago I would not think to share my internal spiraling thoughts, I now let people know when I am struggling. Not always, but certainly more than before. I have not been to a counselor in almost a decade, but now I am more honest with my friends and share a larger part of my head and heart with them. I do this in person and also here online.

In sharing stories here someone recently reached out to me to talk about depression. That same night, YouTube coincidentally suggested a couple of videos about depression. The following morning I was crying uncontrollably in the shower.

Depression has hit me in waves before, often feeling like a physical weight on my chest, but I have never felt so out of control as I did that morning about a month ago. I know for many, depression is a chemical thing. Though I had read this and believed it to be true, I had never experienced it a way that made that knowledge felt, made it real. There were thoughts running through my head as the wave crashed, but it didn't feel like they were the quake that set off the tsunami. This felt very different, something apart from thought. And I felt helpless.

One thing that made the helpless feeling a bit stronger was I felt that I had lost one of one of my ways to respond to it. This breakdown in the shower was about a week after throwing out my back, and I could not turn to running as an outlet. There would be no solace on the road where I could try to sort things out. The feeling of being physically broken as well only added to the height of the wave. Also adding to it were the long hours of work in the month and a half ahead. How was I going to get through them feeling this broken.

The tide eventually washed out and I pulled myself together enough to continue getting ready for work.

How the rest of that March day went will follow in the next post.

April 18, 2019

Gadgets, silly challenges, and lucks of the draw

I have been reasonably active for the past fifteen years, ever since my friend Cherie got me into biking and running. It peaked in 2012 and 2013 with some accomplishments that when I look back on them, rather amaze me. Three marathons in November of 2012, two of them on back to back days. and in the summer of 2013 a one-day STP followed a week and a half later with the Ride Around Mount Rainier (Ramrod).

But since then...

Sure there have been a few marathons, another STP and another Ramrod (fortunately in different years this time around) in the meantime, but the last couple of years have felt decidedly lazy. As I have mentioned before, I really need an event to aim for to get my body out on the road. This even when I know how much good it does me. When I don't have this outlet, my mental and emotional states suffer, and things can spiral (another post).

Anyway, I needed something to change so I bought a new toy and set myself a silly challenge.

The new toy was an upgraded GPS watch. Though my previous version was three generations old, it still worked fine, and I rarely replace something that still works even partially. I still use this 25 year-old broken mirror when I cut my hair, and I still have the backpack that I bought for college in the late 80's (though it has been downgraded to carrying running gear and/or work files during snowstorms).

But this time I bought the thing that I wanted, if not exactly needed. I bought it because I knew it would make me happy, and it would make me go out on a run to play with it. Along with a better GPS receiver, it has more bells and whistles and you can even download custom watch faces. I found one that lets you put an event countdown timer front and center. Gotta keep that motivating event in front of you.

And I love it.

To kick start my running again, and maybe justify the purchase a little bit, I set myself the challenge to run every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This would reinforce the habit, create a bit of a fitness base for the marathon training on the horizon, and maybe stave off a few pounds during the holiday season. The only requirement was that I run at least a mile each day.

It started with a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving and ended with a three mile run around my parent's neighborhood Christmas morning. Thirty four days on the calendar, thirty four days of me running with questioning it, and I felt better than I had in a while. Marathon training started just a few days later. I had low expectations this time around since training would be entirely during tax season, but at least I was starting off on the right foot.

January went well, but sickness and snow took me out for a week and a half in February. Then in early March I threw out my back and missed another two weeks. In the time since I have had to ease my way back, pitting getting the training in against the possibility of making my back worse. The hours at work were ramping up as well, so that was another balancing act, and plantar fasciitis has been a pretty constant companion through it all.

I was very lucky to get this lottery slot into Big Sur, a marathon that has been near the top of my bucket list since I started running. A few breaks went the other way during training, but this marathon was always going to be a bit different. This one was about the experience - more about moments than minutes. I will be stopping to take pictures along the coast and doing my best to remain present, running the mile that I am in. My last marathon went rather sideways, but it made for an experience I have never had before. As I did on that day more than a year ago, I hope to embrace the day, whatever it brings.

Only a few more days to go.