Sunday, April 27, 2008

The best of times in the worst time

I ran the Calgary Police Half Marathon today! I think everyone was happy at the start line because it was the best day we've had weatherwise in a while. Yesterday was nice and much of the snow melted. By today, more of it was gone and for the most part, the race course was clear of ice and snow, except for one little patch going down quite a steep hill in a shady area of the park.

Before I get to the race report, I'll give a quick follow up to the last post. I had my monthly consultation with my doctor about the Accutane. I got to the point where I had made an executive decision that I was quite hesitant to tell the doctor about, figuring that it probably drives them nuts when patients do what I did, which was to adjust my own dosage. I cut it down by 1/3.

When I told her about the side effects, she nodded and said she had a lot of athletes, especially runners and dancers, who were particularly affected by the muscle and joint pain and some had to stop the meds altogether. Instead of being miffed with me she said, "Good, I'm glad you did that. If you need to reduce it even further, go ahead. Don't mess around with it, not this stuff."

I was happy and relieved to hear her say that! I was also quite pleased that she considers me one of her "athletes"! :-)

By cutting down the dosage by about 1/3, the pain was cut down by almost 2/3, or even 3/4. I still have other side effects and there's some pain, but I can live with it without daily doses of Ibuprofen just to get through the day, so I am much, much happier!

Due to the health issues that have popped up since January, and the fact that I had to take 7 weeks off running in February and March, my goal for this half marathon was to finish before they closed the course after 2.5 hours.

And to keep my shirt on.

Some of you know about my tendency to overheat. I have this tradition of ripping off my shirt part way through a race. I thought I'd start with as few clothes on as possible today and see how it went. It was around 3 C (37 F) when we started, I think. I was in shorts and a tank top and that was perfect for me. I am getting to know myself and my running style enough now to pay attention to what works for me and not just do what I think I "should" do.

I was the only person that I saw at the start line in a tank top, though by the end of the race, many people had stripped down and had layers tied around them. I did contemplate taking off my tank at one point, but then decided against it. I didn't think it would have made that much diference, so I opted not to.

The time I had to take off due to the infection in my foot affected my fitness and it was definitely my worst clock time ever. Having said that, it was also the best time I've had as far as enjoyment goes. I knew people who were running and we had agreed to try and meet up either before or after, to say hello and offer encouragement.

My friend Alia, who has supported me for every single half I've ever run, was at my house to pick me up at 6:50 a.m. She is now "experienced crew" and was offering some words of wisdom to the fiance of another friend who was running. It was the first race for both of them and I'm quite sure they appreciated her words of support.

In addition to the half marathon, there was also a 5 K race. I had heard that Dawn was running it, but I didn't see her there, despite keeping an eye out for her. I also learned later that Leana not only ran the 5 K, but she had a PR. Woo hoo! Way to go, Leana!

Leslie, a girl who works at the gym I go to, was running the 5 K as well. We had pre-arranged to meet up at a pub after for lunch, along with some others and that was something I was looking forward to.

Two other girls who work at the gym, Linsday and Nate came out to support the two of us. They ran with Leslie her for race, which started a half hour after the half marathoners, gave her a hug at her finish line and then ran backwards along the course to find me and ran with me for the last 12 K of my run!!

Essentially, they ran the entire half marathon course (in much less time than I did, I might add!) and they were not registered racers. Their entire purpose for being there, starting at 8:00 a.m. was to support the two of us. I was floored! In part, I thought it was nuts that anyone - much less two people - would do that. I don't train with either of them. Linsday is a high level track competitor and I'm quite sure that her warm up speed is faster than my speed work. Nate is a competitive swimmer who has also competed at high levels. Both of them are super, super fit and way, way out of my league!

They said it was fun for them because there was no "race pressure". They just came out and had a good time.

At km 15 or so, I had another nice surprise. I saw chalk writing on the pathways and thought to myself "Hhhmm... that's one of Karen's trade marks. But I don't think she's volunteering here today." She was not a registered volunteer, but went out to support people and cheer on runners. She strategically placed herself at the bottom of the most brutal hill of the race. I saw her and we had a quick hug before I tried to catch up to Lindsay and Nate again. I ended up walking part of the hill, but without the support, I'm sure I would have walked the whole thing. Many people did.

I was so grateful for Lindsay and Nate. The joint pain was getting to me in the second half of hte race. They ran, kept me talking (well, I listened more than talked, as I was quite out of breath) and cheered by saying stuff like "Look! We're at kilometre 17! Only 4 more to go! You can do it, Sarah!"

I'm not sure I would haved finished at all without all that today! So in that sense, it was definitely the best time I've ever had racing. I felt so supported and encouraged, I had a great time.

My clock time was my absolute worst ever, though I did meet my goal of finishing before they closed the course at 2.5 hours. I checked the Garmin stats when I got home. My average heart rate was a solid 160, with a maximum heart rate in the 170s. That's about what I've done in other races, so I know that I was pushing hard today. I was slow. And I gave it my all.

Despite the high heart rate, my gut behaved, which was also wonderful. I has some nausea during the race, but nothing serious. And after I had no issues at all, which made it even better.

My bunion got its usual big blood blister, but it didn't break during the race. I was able to lance it and patch it up after the race on my own. I decided that it's much better to do that than have it burst during the race.

I have always been grateful for the support I receive for races, especially from people like Alia who make a special effort to be there. I'm not exactly a high level athlete, but running is a big part of my life and it means a lot to me.

I have been an official, paid up member of a local running club for almost 2 years now. I've never really run with them, thinking that I was not good enough. It's a mental thing that I will work through.

Today helped push me a little further down that path. This is the first time that I've ever been at a race where I knew so many people, said hello to running friends, felt bad that I missed seeing others and had unprecedented levels of support and encouragement from friends - both old and new. I am starting to let go of the idea that I am not good enough and learn to enjoy running as both a fitness and social activity, without feeling too intimidated to associate with others who are more advanced than me. I told Lindsay and Nate that one of my running goals is now to get out and pace for and encoruage other runners when they need it, so I can pay their generosity forward.

Today was the worst clock time I've ever had. And the absolute best time I've ever had at a race! And managed to keep my shirt on, too. :-)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Running on "____tane"

Running on propane? Running on butane?


This post is all about running on Accutane. For those of you who aren't familiar with this little powerhouse, Accutane is a medication for the treatment of moderate to severe acne, which has been unresponsive to other treatments. Acne runs in my family. I've been lucky to avoid some of the deep scarring that others have, but nevertheless, the condition is unpleasant. In fact, it's painful. I've been on Accutane twice before, in my 20s. It worked wonders and I felt like a new human after it.

Ten years later, the acne is back. The stress of grad school does not help the situation. Two weddings coming up this summer, both of which will involve bare shoulders on my part, led me to ask the doctor what could be done. She suggested the same treatment as 10 years ago.

I said OK.

The medication works well, which is a good thing because not only is it expensive (thank God for student health insurance), but the side effects are extensive. You dry up like a prune. Your cholesterol levels can sky rocket and your liver takes a beating. No drinking for the entire 6 month course of the meds. No kidding.

The prescription is given a month at a time for half a year. Blood tests are required every month to check cholesterol and liver toxicity levels. If your levels are too high, your treatment plan for the next month may be revised.

It can cause night blindness, give you nose bleeds and make you depressed. They don't like to give the drug to women in their childbearing years, because if you get pregnant, the results can be devastating. This is nasty stuff. And that list of side effects? That's just the beginning.

Some might ask if this treatment is worth it. All I can say is that for anyone who has cystic acne, the answer is yes, or we wouldn't even take the damn stuff.

I've just finished month two of six. The first month was not so bad. In the second month, the drug is building up in your system. Both the dosage and the side effects increase. Thus far, April has been... unpleasant.

I was not so active in my 20s, so I didn't notice some of the other side effects; I mean, the joint and muscle aches. Everything hurts. All the time. Running? My legs feel like long shards of glass when I run on them. There is a line in the prescription insert that says, "If you break a bone, tell your doctor." My first reaction was, "Well, DUH! How would that not come up in conversation with your physician?"

I have discovered what my arthritic friends are already wise to. Pounding and impact make joints hurt more. Running has now come to include a lot of walking, I'm afraid. I have decided that miles walked still count. I never used to count walking. Now, if I don't, there wouldn't be much training at all... That doesn't make me a wimp, does it?

I know, I know. We are runners. Our bodies are going to hurt. I won't whine because I know it will get me nowhere.

This is when my diva drag queen of a hair dresser would say with much finger wagging and flair, "If you're looking for sympathy, it's in the dictionary - between 'shit' and 'syphillis'!"

And so, I look back to the first quarter of the year... skin infection, blood poisoning, warts. Lovely. That all got dealt with. Here we are in the second quarter of the year. Again I find myself dealing with a skin condition and treatment that affects my beloved version of plodding I like to call 'running'. Who knew skin stuff could be so complex?

I also look back some weeks when I tried an experiment of appreciation, being grateful for the many things that are going right in my life. I find comfort when I tally up my blessings. So I keep tallying.

And I look forward... a week and a half forward. I ask myself how I am ever going to run a half marathon at the end of April? My training runs haven't even come close to that distance lately. Should I even try?

Stay tuned for an answer...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

6-word memoir (Tag!)

Sarah tagged me!

Here are the rules:
1) Write your own six word memoir
2) Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you want
3) Link to the person that tagged you in your post, and to the original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4) Tag at least five more blogs with links
5) Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

My memoir:

Belly laughs make life worth living.

I'm tagging Dawn, Karen, Leana, Michelle, and Robb