My No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Year, So Far

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down,” Stuart Smalley, Socrates or some spandex shorts wearing high school football coach once said, “it’s how many you get back up.” I’m not sure who to credit with this well intentioned quote because 2014 has not just knocked me down, it has damn near knocked me out.

To fully appreciate my wretched present, we have to rewind to October when I tore a calf muscle while doing too many hill repeats in prep for the Seattle Half Marathon which I ended up missing. Even writing “half marathon” makes me laugh now. I took four weeks off and then returned slow and easy. On the fourth recovery run the calf again rioted. So now I’m not even half way through an eight week hiatus. The other day I started corralling wayward Christmas tree needles when I had to turn the vacuum off and sit down and rest before continuing. All this, eighteen months removed from long distance triathlon success. We are always the last to know when we’ve peaked.

Add into the mix an enlarged prostate which means sucky sleep, contacts that are shot meaning sucky vision, and an unplanned trip to Dante’s Inferno compliments of an influenza roundhouse that left me too sick at times to watch television. Somewhere along the long downward spiral, I went from thinking “I should probably try to get back up and do Stuart Smalley or Socrates proud,” to “Screw it, I’m just gonna curl up in the fetal position and stay down. If I tuck tight enough it may not matter if 2014 continues kicking me in the gut.”

A part of staying down was going to the dermatologist who always smiles when she sees me. You’re thinking she’s probably turned on by me, but I looked liked I just returned from the lower levels of Hades. She always smiles at me because my tired skin pays for her boat. She has zero interpersonal skills, but she’s damn good with a liquid nitrogen canister. It was as if 2014 asked her to liquid nitrogen me until I begged for mercy. So now, a few days later, red blotches are forming all over my formally handsome self. And I haven’t shaved for ever, I need a hair cut, and if my sinuses weren’t completely blocked I’d probably lay on the floor of the shower for awhile.

Like a paratrooper who perfects her aerodynamic tuck, I thought if I just give in to my cosmic fate, I’ll hit bottom faster and bounce higher when I do. So why not roll the dice with one of the things I most cherish, my marriage.

“You know when I asked if you’d get me some 7-Up or Sprite?” “Yeah.” “Well, the funny thing about that is that’s what my mom always gave me to drink when I was sick as a kid. It’s funny, there’s something about a near-death experience that makes a part of me still want my mom. That’s probably the least masculine thing I’ve ever said, huh?” “A mother’s love is primal.” Say wha?! The first sign yet the calendar may not have it out for me.

And then I visited Australia, well actually an Australian blog after the author visited here. And I read this:

People often ask me what it’s like living with a chronic illness. And by ‘often’, of course I mean never.

So, for the benefit of absolutely no one, allow me to explain. You know that feeling you get when you start to come down with something? Your throat starts to hurt and your glands swell up. Your sinuses block and your nose starts to run. Your head hurts and you can’t think clearly. Your bones ache, your body feels weak and no amount of sleep seems to make a difference.

Well, to the best of my admittedly limited scientific knowledge. . . these are actually the body’s natural defences for fighting off infection. It’s your immune system switching on and kicking in to gear.

And these are the symptoms I’ve had 24/7 for the last seven-and-a-half years. Because, as I’ve explained before, my body has been fighting off an infection it can’t beat and my immune system remains permanently in the ‘on’ position.

The good news is that it means I rarely get whatever bug it is that’s going round. Happy days. The bad news is that I permanently feel like I have the flu. Not so good.

Of course, there are other symptoms, too, like sensitivity to light, noise, cold and heat, significant memory impairment, insomnia, chronic pain and various bodily dysfunctions not appropriate to discuss in this type of public forum. And that’s without the introduction of any number of medical treatments — and believe me, I’ve tried a few — which inevitably make you feel worse than you did to begin with.

So, in short, living with a chronic illness is a real party and that’s your answer.

The first gift of 2014. Perspective.

I am fortunate that the relentless attack on my body is abating and that most of my many ailments are fixable. I will ask the lifeguard to roll my pathetic, coiled bod across the deck and into the pool in a day or two. I will try to ascend the trainer tonight and soft pedal while watching college basketball. The torn fibers in my calf muscle will eventually reattach. I will start running in mid February and should be back to semi-normal in June. Meds make the prostrate manageable. I will make an appointment with the optometrist. My ugly sores will heal. I will shave my face and head. Then I will shower, put on clean clothes, and resume my rightful place among the mostly living. And that is the best I can do.

2011 Seattle Half Marathon by the Numbers

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 .1
7:07 7:05 7:06 7:34 7:04 7:11 7:34 6:51 7:00 7:02 6:55 6:54 :43
7:24 14:31 21:36 28:42 36:16 43:20 50:31 58:05 1:04.56 1:11.56 1:18.52 1:25.53 1:32.47 1:33.30

52     degrees

6       ounces of Tillamook Vanilla Bean yogurt consumed pre-race

5       times I’ve been faster

136   seconds behind 2009 time

4       pieces of pumpkin and apple pie consumed in preceding days

3       pounds gained in preceding days

1       woman who changed out out of wet top next to me post race, posthaste

2010 Seattle Marathon Race Report

3:21:32. Overcast, wet pavement, high 30’s. Second fastest marathon. Three minutes slower than my fastest and three minutes faster than my third and fourth fastest. Not bad for an oldster.

The question I set out to answer was how many 7:30 miles can I run in a row? I had logged lots of training miles at between 7:35-7:45 and I figured with tapering, perfect weather, smart nutrition and hydration, that was a good number that would also conveniently result in a personal record.

But just before the race I had a talk with my self. “Forget the watch Self. Respect the distance, stay within yourself, and take what the running gods give you on this particular day.”

Since I had my undivided attention, I continued the self coaching. “Let’s break the race into five parts, miles 1-8, 9-16, 17-24, 25, and 26. First eight are a freakin’ warmup. If you as so much hear yourself breathing, back off. Free miles. Enjoy Lake Washington. Settle into a grove. Remember it’s a long day. Use the first hour to shorten the race with as little exertion as possible. Hit mile eight as fresh as a (just changed) baby’s behind.

Executed this to perfection. Hit mile 8 in 59:30. I was cruising comfortably, and for a bonus, I was ripping off one 7:27-7:28 after another. The out and back on the floating bridge allowed me to size up how far behind Jesse Stevick (neighbor and Oly High cross country/track coach) and Jon Riak (former lost boy from Sudan, St. Martin’s alum and apparently all around great guy) were from the leader. He had seriously gapped them. Turned out his lead at mile seven was at least as much as at the finish. The East African looking winner won it with an especially fast opening 10k. Ballsy.

I struggle with multitasking. I wanted to take my two-mile splits, but I was also drinking every two, taking gel every four, and a salt tab every eight. The running, drinking, gel taking was as much as I could handle so I just let the watch run for the first hour.

Then I cleared it and started the 18 miler. “This is such a nice grove, no reason to get excited or play the hero and push the pace, just maintain it for another hour and you’ll be in very good shape. Yeah, let’s shrink this bad boy down to a more humane distance.” This is a really nice section along Lake Wash and around Seward Park. Long story short, ran miles 8-16 in 59:45. Eight more 7:28’s, 29’s. I passed lots of people during this hour. Still felt nearly as fresh as a (just changed) baby’s behind. Great consistency, everything in control, not frantically sighting the mile posts, not even checking the watch too often, not trying to get ahead of myself. The overarching goal was to shrink it down to a 10.2 miler. A Saturday run around Capital Lake with the posse.

Mile 16. Clear the watch, restart. Self, “You know hour three is going to be considerably harder than one and two combined.” I executed part three of the plan really well too for 30-35 minutes or through mile 20.5. Then things kick up pretty seriously, including a ¾ of a mile steep segment that would prove tough on a 10k training run. By mile 21, I had a definitive answer to my question of the day. I could run 20.5 miles @ 7:30/mile pace.

Weather was perfect, didn’t overeat the evening before or morning of, salt tabs kept the cramping at bay, drank a ton of Gatorade, and ran smart, so what went wrong? Simple. I ran too few long runs (two 20 milers) and didn’t have a high enough three month mileage total to run through to the finish. Had I gotten one more massage and switched out my shoes earlier, things might have turned out differently. At mile 21 I began to fight it big time, and the quads were trashed, which made the steep downhills from 25 to 26 especially slow and painful, but it was a classic case of having to go farther than I was physically trained to go.

During the last five miles Fifteen’s question from the car trip up rang in my ears, “Hey Dad, why the marathon this year?” Over the last five miles I wasn’t fighting the “whimp ass” voice DG refers to as much as a surly contingent of whimp ass voices. It didn’t help that I was running through the half marathon walkers. “Just keep running, doesn’t matter how slowly. No walking, no way. Salvage a great day.” I was as proud of my last much slower five miles as the first 21.

Thanks Denny for the kindness and generosity. Thanks especially to the GalPal and Fifteen for great race support especially immediately afterwards. Dano for being the best training fodder a guy could ask for. Thanks DG for the foot tips and inspiration. Katie, Lance, Courter, the Principal, moms, and other family and friends for cheering me on from a distance. I felt it. And my brother for the 3:31 prediction or whatever it was.

Felt even worse than I looked

Seattle Marathon Training Update

After a few solid weeks of Seattle Marathon training I’ve hit a serious speed bump in the form of a bottom of the foot soft tissue bruise. Bad timing since last week was supposed to be my longest week. Had to pull up after a half mile one day, rested the following day, and ran 3 miles the third day. As a result, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to hang with the leaders over the final 10k.

It seems to be improving thanks to DG’s wise counsel, ice water, a tennis ball, new shoes, and flat trail running. And so I hope to put a little time into Subway Jared (New York Marathon time, 5:13) and Edison Pena, the Chilean miner/Elvis singer (5:40).

Monday’s predawn workout on the Olympia High School track was a setback of sorts too. Before hitting the track, Dano and I ran four miles with the right wing nutters. Dano only had time for 400 meters before heading home, but he can vouch for the veracity of the next paragraph.

As Dano and I rounded the first corner, one of four or five women stretching on the football field hollered, “Hey Ron!” It was dark and since I didn’t know which of my female fans it was I uttered a simple “hey” in reply.

Apparently women do love the strong silent type because once Dano peeled off the adoration, like my pace, picked up. 800 meters, “Looking good Ron.” 1200 meters, a reprieve because now they’re hopping on one leg across the width of the football field. 1600 meters, “Nice work Ron.” 2000, they’re hopping again. At 2400 meters I’m feeling part human, part gazelle. A legend in my own mind. This is how Pre must have felt.

Then it all came crashing down in one decisive ego shellacking blow. 2,800 meters, “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO START YOUR INTERVALS?!”

“I’m nursing a soft tissue bruise.” That had to impress them don’t you think. I spent the last 400 meters thinking about how I should have replied. “I just got back from a training camp in the Rift Valley where I took it to the Kenyans. Today is a recovery run.”

Running on the Edge

Missed my fitness-related posts? My sister says nobody cares, but she thought the Cubs were winning a pennant this year. My sister aside, I’m proceeding as if everyone cares. :)

This is the first summer in a decade I didn’t race in a single triathlon. I was supposed to race (on two wheels) up Mount Baker a few weeks ago, but passed after receiving an early race morning email about extreme conditions and a course change. And I was thinking about doing the Hood River Gran Fondo (100 mile bike race) today, but pulled the plug on the cycling season earlier in the month so bagged that too. I should quit calling myself a triathlete. Is it ethical to continue wearing my Timex Ironman watch?

A running friend extraordinaire annually comps me admission to the Seattle Half or Full marathon the Sunday after Thanksgiving. His website advertises it and so they give him a bunch of pre-paid entries. Most years I run the half, which I really enjoy, but this year I signed up for the full since I haven’t gone long for two years. Everyone should do a marathon every other year, don’t you think?

Enter Dan, Dan, the long distance Man. Dan lives down the street and we train together. He’s of Midwestern stock and a stud, but he gets a little loopy when talking about supplements. We ran the Portland Marathon together two years ago. I was having GI issues at mile 21 and told him I was heading into a PortaPit. “Want me to wait?” “No, go ahead, I don’t want to slow you down.” Sixty to ninety seconds later, with my new and improved plumbing, I started chasing after him. SO frustrating, I could see him, but couldn’t close the gap since he was chasing a woman in a yellow bikini. He finished exactly one PortaPit stop ahead of me and I continue to give him grief for refusing to wait for me.

I don’t think Dan wants to race Seattle with me, but he does want to keep me company on my Saturday long runs. We ran 16 miles Saturday. He didn’t know I was marathon training. I explained I had just decided and that the Seattle race peeps allow you to switch from one race to the other up until race morning.

I’m getting a late start, so I’m kicking up my mileage faster than you’re supposed to. The general rule is no more than a 10% increase in mileage per week. I’ve increased it 20% the last two.

Dano, or the Supplement, or the Malamute, is convinced I’m going to injure myself. He thinks I should be running no more than four days a week, five at the most. I’m running six. Two years ago in Portland I ran well for 20 miles and then faded over the last 10k. Just looked at my late summer/early fall 08′ training log and my mileage was surprisingly modest, 35-45/week. This time I’m going all in with increased mileage with the goal of maintaining my pace through the last 10k. One problem. Miles 20-23 in Seattle are damn hilly. So not only am I increasing my mileage too quickly, I’m getting after it, doing one track and one hill workout weekly too. I almost felt a micro-tear in my calf as I typed that.

I told Dano that if he’s right and gets to say “I told you so” I’ll take 10 days off and run the half. No big deal. Saturday’s run started and ended at the “Y” because I had a massage scheduled for right afterwards. Sunday was a true Sabbath. Today, nine weeks from blast off, I feel (almost) as good as new.

In my next life, I hope to be married to a masseuse.