Survival Shuffle

Getting through your next workout to get through life.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Army Ten-Miler Race Report

It’s the rare race where everything comes together for the perfect performance. It seems as if something is always preventing me from doing my best. Excuses? Or poor planning?

Some things are just out of your control as a racer. The weather, for instance. But the best possible planning helps you overcome those things as much as possible. Train well, eat well, pack well. It’s a lesson I apparently need to relearn.

I’m running the Army Ten-Miler as a warm-up for the Marine Corps Marathon. I’ve been struggling through most of my post-partum recovery training just trying to get the miles in at whatever pace feels right that day, and I want to leave it all out there and see what I can do, and hopefully get an idea of what my marathon pace should be.

So I have 3 goals:

Run hard
Beat my 2006 time of 2:00, set while 4 months pregnant, and avoid a PW
Beat my husband for the first time since 2006. He’ll be running a 10:30 pace.

The forecast for the day is 90 and sunny. I know that spells bad news, since most of the course is in the sun. Following my mantra “Always be prepared” I buy a visor at the expo, some spray-on sunscreen, and pack my Race Ready shorts with some Carboom and eCaps. All set.

I get everything out and in a place where I won’t leave it behind.

At 6:30 AM my brother shows up to watch Baby Balgera. He’s 15 minutes early. I’m off to a good start. One thing out of my control went smoothly. Hop in the car, up to the start, find parking, arrive in plenty of time to use the bathroom and line up. No traffic. Another thing going smoothly.

DH and I cross the start line around 8:20. The crowd is not too bad. The three-wave start seems to have worked well. We trot along at what I think is a “comfortably hard” pace, but already DH is falling behind. This worries me. I have no idea how my pace should feel anymore. I ask him if this feels like the normal pace for his training runs (10:30), or faster. He says it feels about normal so I go with it. It’s a race after all.

He falls significantly behind, and I pass the first mile marker. 9:47. Woops.

Mistake #1 which could have easily been overcome by preparation. Not learning what the right pace for the race feels like.

So I decide to slow it down a hair. Good thing because by the time I cover the next two miles I’m starting to feel some fatigue. I miss the next mile marker, but mile 2 and mile 3 I cover in 21:30 or 10:45 per mile. Better. I decide I’ll keep it there.

Mile 4 passes and I’m feeling pretty good. 10:23. Here I stop for water. Unfortunately the Army Ten-Miler suffers from an overload of rookies who have no idea how to run through a water-stop. They all pile up at the very first table. Smartly, I think, I will run to the end. But I have outsmarted myself - at the end there is only Gatorade. Not what I want. Full-strength Gatorade will upset my stomach. But it’s that or walk against traffic for water. Preventable mistake #2 – listen to the volunteers handing out the water and plan the water-stops better.

Mile 5 goes fine however with no stomach upset. With the water-stop fiasco and a minute of walking I have an 11:40 split, but that means I’ve run in the neighborhood of a 10:40 pace. I seem to have settled in.

I push through mile 6 and I’m starting to feel it – 11:02. Another water stop is coming up just past the mile marker so I take a gel, get myself ready to grab a water and pick up the pace again. Only 4 more miles to go and I can push through that at under 11:00 per mile, I confidently tell myself. That will put me at the finish around 1:48, an excellent time for my current fitness level.

Only – there’s no water. Or Gatorade for that matter. Now it’s 90 degrees with the sun beating down, the band of my visor totally saturated with sweat, the overflow spilling into my eyes, my teeth coated with goo, and there’s no water. A group of soldier volunteers is standing around. I shout “Where’s the water?” They tell me to keep going. I near the end of the line of tables and realize that’s it. There’s just no water. A group of people is digging dirty cups out of the trash and scooping water out of a garbage can. I do the same. The water is full of dirt. I pour it over my head for momentary relief. Preventable mistake #3 – not bringing my own fluids.

This is demoralizing. I shuffle for a minute along with a crowd of grumbling people. I’ve spent 2-3 minutes searching for water so my goals seem shot. But I don’t want this to become an excuse, so I pick it up again. As we pass the Capitol, people start diving into the fountain on the lawn and drinking from it. This looks momentarily appealing but I decide heatstroke is a more pleasant affliction than dysentery so I run on past. Mile 7: 12:47. If subtract two minutes for dumpster diving I’ve run around 10:47, so at least my legs are still working and I’m theoretically maintaining pace.

After the 7 mile marker I can see down Independence Avenue to where the next water stop will be. There are two stone arches over the street where we’ll make the turn onto the 14th Street bridge. I’m on the edge of bonking, and I focus on the arches. I’ll get some water and Gatorade there. I count down the minutes.

The 8 mile mark is a few hundred yards beyond the tables. I make a quick estimation – if I can grab some water quickly I can speed (relatively speaking) on through the next mile in about 11:00. I round the corner prepared to grab the first cup I see and power past the crowd. And I see – groups of people bent over garbage cans, dirty cups blowing across the plains of empty tables. There’s no water here either.

Fully preventable mistake #4 – harboring optimism.

I spend a couple of minutes rooting for a cup and water. Since the last stop had no water, everyone who planned on getting some here has given up and is doing the garbage can scoop. I drop several minutes trying to find a clear spot.

I’m fully prepared to go ahead and drink this – I’m desperate now – but there’s just too much debris floating in the water. I pour it over my head again. I walk to the 8 mile mark. 13:57.

On to the 14th street bridge. Almost 2 miles of undulating concrete baking in the sun like the Iraqi desert, the river below like a fetid Persian Gulf. I’d rather swim through the Potomac than cross this.

I’m totally wiped, but I can’t decide if it’s from running faster than I should have, the lack of water, or the prospect of the bridge. A thick crust of salt coats my body and cracks with every movement. I decide it’s mostly mental and push on. Mile 9: 12:01.

My lower back is killing me. I’ve been leaning forward going up the hills on the bridge. My form and spirit are totally broken. I take a brief walk break. I look at my watch. I can still get in under 1:55. There’s a half-mile to go and one more hill. Time to dig in. I start to run. Not shuffle – run. I pass pretty much everyone on the bridge. I pass a double-amputee. He’s running. I pass a woman missing an arm. She’s running. Everyone else has been reduced to walking by the heat, the bridge, the dehydration. Or is it loss of faith?

I’m dizzy, my hands are tingling, and I’m shivering. Oh yay. Heatstroke. Well there’s an ambulance a few hundred yards back tending someone else. Maybe I can catch a ride.

I run through the finish at what feels like a sprint but probably looking like a lame Snuffalupagus at a gallop. 11:30. Total time: 1:54:42. I grab some water and nearly kiss the feet of the volunteer handing it out.

I don’t know what to think. I’m mad at the race organizers, I’m mad at the weatherman, and mostly I’m mad at myself. Because I’ve left myself with a lot more doubts than confidence going into Marine Corps Marathon in 3 weeks. Was this really a good test race? Did I bonk because of my early pace and my fitness level, because of the heat, because of the water situation, or because I let it all get to me? Do I take a few minutes off my final time due to the water stop fiascos for purposes of estimating my marathon pace or not? Do I use the time I think I could have run had everything been perfect? Did I really leave it all out there? I’ve had faster training runs, after all.

I just don’t know myself any more. I don’t know how to gauge my pace. I don’t know what to expect from this marathon. I don’t know if I can be satisfied with just “finishing” MCM. I don’t know if there will be excuses to make – I just had a baby, it was hot, the course was crowded… Or if I can be satisfied with my performance no matter what the outcome.

All I can do for the next three weeks is train well, eat well, pack well. I’ll leave nothing to chance, leave no doubt that I’ve done everything I can to control the outcome.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Hello, Old Friend

11 weeks post-partum

Weight: 173 lbs
Waist Measurement: 39 inches
Clothing size: 12 (non-maternity)
Blood Pressure: 122/80

Things have not been going as planned. My body has not been behaving as it should.

To start with, there's the backwards progress on my weight. I have diligently counted calories in and calories out. The math tells me I should be losing about a pound per week. I am not starving myself, and I am not eating junk. I eat 6 small portions throughout the day. I have gradually upped my running mileage to 25 miles per week and have missed nary a workout in weeks. Yet I've gained a couple of pounds. Yes my waist measurement is smaller and I no longer need maternity clothes, but that has more to do with my internal organs migrating back to their original homes than with fitness.

Then there's my running. I consider it a minor miracle that I have perservered with my workouts considering how consistently poorly I am running. A 12:00/mi pace is an outright sprint. A five mile run feels like 20. And disturbingly, a good easy run leaves me feeling like collapsing, while a bad one leaves me dizzy and lightheaded.

All in all, this comeback is harder than advertised, further complicated by my higher than necessary weight gain during the pregnancy, and complications at the end. In short, I'm having trouble hauling around 30 extra pounds, while my heart is having trouble accomodating physical activity at this weight - delivering oxygen to all that extra tissue on a lower than normal supply of red blood cells.

Last week was promising though. Last Tuesday I didn't feel like collapsing for the first time after a run, although the pace was slow - 3 miles in 36 minutes. On Wednesday I did a slow 5 that didn't leave me as sore as a 20 miler might have a year ago. On Thursday I did 3 on the treadmill without having to slow the pace from 12:00/mile. On Saturday I was scheduled to do 5 miles at "marathon pace" - whatever that is these days. I knew I would probably have a heart attack if I did that, so I decided to see if I could do an 11:00 mile for just two miles. I did 10:40 for two miles, which felt like a tempo run, and left me exhausted, but excited. My legs do in fact remember how to move at pre-preggo pace. Then Sunday's coup was 8 miles at a steady 12:30 pace. I did not have to shuffle at all during the run, and felt good allt he way through the end. I could not have run another step, but I didn't feel drained either.

So some progress. I started to believe I might actually be able to finish MCM, and resigned myself to simply running slowly for the next 6 months. I decided to erase my expectations, just put in every mile of the training plan, and see what happens.

It's against this background that I set out for my run tonight. I've caught a slight cold from my daughter who brought the germs home from the cesspool of daycare. I'm tired and sad that I had to send her to daycare today because I have no vacation left after my maternity leave. The house is a mess and hasn't been cleaned since the birth of the baby. In short it's one of those nights that I just didn't feel like running.

But I resolved to do every mile of the training plan. And every mile I will do.

I set out just thinking I'd shuffle around our community lake, a roughly two mile trail, and tack a mile on the street. But within a hundred yards I start to notice the great running weather - unusually cool for this time of year, low humidity, low gray clouds, and a cool breeze that promises rain. Since the entire population of Washington evacuates the area for July 4, I have the trail virtually to myself.

Within a quarter mile I notice my legs. The stride feels strangely familiar, like an old friend I haven't seen in a very long time, and have trouble placing. I feel like I'm striding well, maybe at pre-preggo easy pace. But my body's been playing tricks on me, and sometimes a 12:00 pace feels like a 10:00 pace, so I try not to look at my watch. Just keep running at an easy pace that feels good.

Since the miles on this trail aren't marked, I don't know exactly where the first mile is, but with the hundreds of times I've run this trail in the 7 years I've lived here, I have a pretty good idea. And it appears I clocked it in somewhere between 10:00 and 11:00. Can't be possible, I feel too good. But I start to get excited.

OK, I think to myself, don't get your hopes up. Don't push it for the sake of clocking a fast time. Remember your goal - finish feeling good.

I get to a bridge over a small stream, roughly 1.5 miles, and I've clocked that in about 16:30, just 30 seconds slower than my fast run the other night. I still feel good.

Well here comes the test - a long climb of several minutes away from the lake onto the street. I start to slow down. I remind myself just to keep going. Slow the pace and shorten the stride, keep the effort level. I come off the hill and pick it up again, still feeling good. I get to the corner, about 2 miles, and look at my watch. 22 minutes. I'm keeping up a steady 11 minute pace.

At this point, still feeling good, I decide I can pick it up a tiny bit and push it through the end. I pass the park entrance again and realize a have a great shot at finishing in 32 minutes. I have two more hills to power through, focus on the corner up ahead, and stop my watch. 31:30.

I stand for a minute. I don't have a need to bend over and pant. I can continue to walk the 100 yards back to my house. I'm in no danger of passing out. I feel like... I just finished an easy 3 mile run.

And I made a 5 minute improvement over the time I ran on the same course last week. Close to pre-preggo pace.

Well I'm certainly glad I went out for that run. Who knows what happened. A normal post-partum return to form perhaps, but I'm inclined to thank Hal Higdon for scheduling a "pace run" the day before a long run. Perhaps that hard work last week, combined with normal post-partum changes is the source of the improvement.

Or perhaps it's my decision to let go of obsessing over performance that let me go out and have a good time running.

In the spirit of that decision, I won't question it, I'm just going to go with it and take everything one run at a time. I have 5 scheduled for tomorrow night. Perhaps I'll be able to maintain the same pace, but perhaps I won't. Either way I'll be happy because I finally know my old self is in there somewhere. Hello, old friend.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Baby Steps

2 weeks post-partum

Weight: 169 lbs
Waist Measurement: 43 inches
Clothing Size: 10 (maternity)
Blood Pressure: 118/80

Today's Workout: 1.25 mile walk with stroller

This is the sorry state of my body. This once finely tuned machine has been totally ravaged by pregnancy. For the past 9 months I have devoted all of myself to growing a new human being. A noble cause worth sacrificing for and an amazing feat. The damage pales in comparison to what my body has just done.

And the beautiful face of my daughter makes it all worthwhile.

But now I have a long road back and it will be very slow going.

I've come to the conclusion that the glamourization of celebrity pregnancies has just as damaging an effect on women as any other body image portrayed in pop culture today. Britney, Gwyneth, Angelina, Jennifer Garner, Heidi Klum... They all sport fasionable bumps and appear just a few weeks later looking as fit and rail-thin as ever. I am ashamed to admit that I bought into this. I knew I would gain weight, but I figured I would have a basketball belly, gain the right amount of weight, and be back to running within days, having lost very little fitness, making a speedy recovery back to my old self.

Then I turned into my mother.

I gained 50 lbs and it seemed totally unrelated to what I ate. I developed the aforementioned problem with my platelets and red blood cells. My face puffed up like a balloon, Oprah Winfrey lent me her upper arms, and who knew bra sizes went past DD?

The good news is that in just two weeks I have lost 24 lbs. The bad news is I'm going to have a rough time losing those last 26.

So my goal is to chronicle my progress weekly, as I not only lose 26 lbs of baby fat (not all fat - I'm hopeful there's still some residual fluid in there to lose), but redevelop the ability to run 26.2 miles and become a better person and mother while I'm at it.

To that end, here are my goals, and my pre-pregnancy stats:

Weight: 142 (A bit higher than I like - I feel best at 135, so that will be my goal)
Waist Measurement: 27 inches
Clothing Size: 4 (WITHOUT stretchy belly panels)
Blood Pressure: 100/70
Marathon PR: 4:44

My goal race is the Marine Corps Marathon, my favorite race. I don't expect to run a PR, only to finish. I'm concerned about even doing that at this point.

Because of anemia due to the HELLP Syndrome, I'm currently wiped out by slow walks. But I am getting out there.

One week after Jojo was born, I went for my first walk - a quarter mile out to our community lake and back. DH had to push the stroller and I was completely exhausted. But my the end of the week I made it to one-half mile, and today, a week after that first outing, I walked 1.25 miles over rolling hills pushing the stroller and felt strong at the end.

Jojo and I will go for a walk every day for the next two weeks. I hope to work up to about 3 miles. At 4 weeks post-partum, I'm cleared to begin running, and will go back to my trusty friend Jeff Galloway for help. Most experienced marathoners despise "Gallowalking" but it's how I ran my first marathon, and in my mind, there is no better way to prepare physically and psychologically for the challenge of tackling 26.2 miles when starting from ground-zero as I am now.

After a couple of weeks of running, I will likely use the modified 18-week Hal Higdon training plan I used for my first marathon. This might include one tempo-run per week if I feel like it.

That's a key phrase - "If I feel like it." My challenge will not be losing weight and getting back in shape so much as learning patience and taking baby steps. Like many marathoners, I've always been one to ignore my body, but it's an absolute must to listen to it now. My hope is that in learning to listen to the fine cues of my body, I will help develop the ability to listen also to the fine cues of my baby, as well as the patience and insight to delight in small steps.

I hope you will follow me as I make the long march back to fitness and chronicle what it's really like to lose baby weight when you don't have a personal trainer and 12 hours a day to work out.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Plans mean nothing. Welcome to parenthood.

I ended up using my “birth plan” to sweep the floor.

I was going to have the perfect pregnancy followed by the perfect all natural birth resulting in a perfect child. I was confident I had done everything right. I read all of the books. I knew the risks of every anesthesia option. I visualized my way through “hypnobirthing” classes. I have a team of doulas ready with birthing balls, acupressure massage techniques, and 1,001 ways to talk me out of an epidural. I knew things could go wrong but they weren’t going to go wrong at my birth. I’m the picture of perfect health after all.

The universe has a way of chopping off the over-confident at the knees.

Let’s start this birth story a few weeks ago, at my 36-week routine appointment. Mildly elevated protein levels were found in the cup I peed in, a sign of pre-eclampsia. I had no idea how they got there, since my blood pressure was the picture of normalcy at 118/70. The doctor ordered a blood workup to determine if my liver and kidneys were functioning correctly. The tests came back normal.

Except they couldn’t count my platelets. That part had to be rerun. But they were sure it would be fine.

At my 37-week appointment, protein again appeared in the cup. Again my blood pressure was normal. The doctor said some elevated protein levels are normal for the end of pregnancy. Oh and they still couldn’t get a platelet count. Would I go over to the hospital and have them draw the blood there?

Thursday, April 12. At my 38-week appointment, the protein count is very high. My blood pressure remains normal. My platelets are low. The doctor suspects HELLP syndrome, a severe form of pre-eclampsia which affects the mother’s ability to clot blood. She thinks the baby may have to come out sooner than expected, as this syndrome can lead to seizures in me and prevent the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the baby. She orders me to collect all of my pee in a jug for the next 24 hours, which I faithfully do and deliver dutifully to their lab on Friday afternoon.

Fearful of an induced labor, which can lead to all kinds of complications, I spend the weekend trying every old wives labor inducer in the book. Nothing happens.

Monday, April 16, I go back to the doctor. The nurse takes my blood pressure and immediately tells me to lie down on my left side. She takes it again. She tells me to stay put. The doctor comes in. I have ten times the legal limit of protein in my urine. A normal quantity is 300-400 mg in a 24-hour period. I have 4 GRAMS. In addition my BP is now 145/100.

Go to the hospital. Do not pass go. Do not stop at home to get your things. The baby is coming out NOW and if I’m lucky I won’t get killed in the process.

I get in the car and frantically call Todd. Come to the hospital now. Why? He asks. Why? Why do you think? I yell at him to just get there and hang up on him. I call my mother. I’m crying. I’m not ready to have the baby. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know if everything will turn out ok.

I arrive at the hospital, walk up to labor and delivery, and check in. The doctor has called ahead and they are ready for me. They bring me to a room where I am promptly told to totally undress and leave a urine sample. There is a clear plastic basin at one end of the room which I know is to hold the baby. The baby goes there. MY baby goes there.

I sit on the bed for a few minutes until a nurse comes to take all of my vitals and draws blood. The on-call midwife from my OB practice comes in, examines me, and tells me I’m a good candidate for induction, as I’m already fairly far progressed, with my cervix dilated to 2.5-3 cm and 80-90% effaced. In fact, I’m almost at the end of the first phase of labor.

The nurse comes back and hooks me up to an IV. This is thing #1 on my birth plan that I didn’t want, because I wanted to be mobile to deal with the pain, and I also hate needles to the point where 50% of the time I am stuck with one I faint. Which would be one way to solve my blood pressure issue. But I know with my complications there’s no avoiding it so I don’t even ask about it. I just ask her to put it in my arm rather than my wrist and to tape it down so tightly it can’t possibly move and I can’t possibly see any tubing coming out of my skin.

Todd shows up. We sit and wait. He tries to arrange care for the dog over the phone. He thought he would go home later and take care of her. He gets yelled at by me again for thinking that he’s going to get to leave at any point in this process. He finds a friend to take the dog until we come home. He has to leave to let her in the house, and fetch my glasses and contact lens solution, which he forgot to pack.

An hour later the nurse needs to draw more blood for a manual platelet count. The stupid cells still refuse to show up under the microscope. She returns 15 minutes later and draws more blood.

Now I’ve been at the hospital 2 hours. Shift change. A new nurse comes in with the on-call obstetrician, who informs me that we will induce labor with Pitocin, a hormone that causes the body’s smooth muscle tissue (including the uterus) to contract, and I’ll also be on magnesium sulfate, an anti-seizure, which conveniently counteracts the effects of the Pitocin by relaxing all smooth muscle tissue. In other words, it will be a bumpy ride. Because magnesium sulfate relaxes muscles to the point where moving is very difficult and vomiting is almost a given, I will not be allowed to eat or to leave the bed and will have a urinary catheter. Oh and I can’t have an epidural because my platelet count is too low. It’s give birth with no pain medication in the worst possible position (tied flat on my back in bed) or have a C-section under general anesthesia. I agree to start the Pitocin.

Two nurses come in and start hooking up about 5 lines to my IV. This takes them roughly another half hour. Todd returns. The doula, Mary Beth, arrives. We sit back and wait for labor to start.

The labor floor is full tonight, and the fetal monitor shows the information for every room. I can see myself, with a flat line for contractions and a healthy rhythm showing for the baby’s heartbeat, as well as 10 other women up and down the hall. Not one is in active labor. The nurses have said that everyone is being induced. Must be the weather.

It’s now about 10 PM so we turn the lights down and settle in. Todd has brought relaxing music to listen to, but I am content just to listen to the gentle gallop of the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. She is cruising along at 140 beats per minute, completely oblivious that there’s anything wrong with me. The staff is happy with her performance.

Several hours pass. The automatic blood-pressure cuff goes off every 15 minutes. It tightens to about the tightness of a normal cuff, then tightens some more. My hand turns purple every time.

The nurse comes in once per hour or so and asks me how my pain is. I have none. I’m showing mild contractions on the monitor. She readjusts the monitor every single time. She ups the dosage of Pitocin. Around 1 AM I fall asleep for an hour. When I wake up, my legs are wet. I tell Mary Beth I think my water has broken. She gets the nurse. I tell the nurse I think my water has broken. She looks at the fluid, looks confused, and gets a pH test strip. We sit around the bed excited that my water may have broken, because it means labor will speed up now. But it’s not my water. The nurse doesn’t know what it is.

We sit awake until 5 AM and then fall asleep. The nurse continues to ask me every hour how my pain is. I continue to say I have none. The nurse can see contractions happening in my belly, but can’t get the monitor to pick them up. We all hope I am a very lucky woman who will have a relatively painless labor.

At 9 AM Tuesday morning the obstetrician who sent me over last night comes in. She examines me and finds I’m still 3 cm dilated and 90% effaced. No progress. I am not one of those lucky women. Everyone is confounded as I have been on the maximum dose of Pitocin for many hours. According to everyone with experience, I should be in “head-bangin’” labor by now. The doctor says she will break my water and see if that starts things, but if I haven’t made substantial progress in the next 4 hours, I will be having a C-section with general anesthesia. It’s too dangerous to leave the baby in any longer.

As we have a conversation about how things might go, the first strong contraction happens. It appears breaking the water has done the trick. In another 5 minutes or so I’ve had two more strong contractions that require concentration to breathe through. I’m starting to feel pain in my back. Mary Beth gets out a rice-filled bag to heat and place on my back, which promptly explodes everywhere. Todd uses a copy of the birth plan to scoop up the rice.

I start doing my breathing exercises to get through the contractions. Todd reads birth affirmations to me. The doula speaks in soothing tones. It’s nothing I can’t handle so far. Contractions are about 4 minutes apart and last a minute a piece, which Mary Beth says is good.

At about 11 AM the contractions start to feel very intense. They have speed up and last even longer. I start to think I can’t get through them. Mary Beth thinks I’m probably not near the hard stuff yet. I start to think I probably have several more hours of intense contractions to go. I have a few more “I can’t do this” moments and a nurse enters the room. She tells me if I want an epidural we can do bloodwork to see if my platelet count is any better. It will take an hour so it would be best to draw it now. At this point, the midwife, Patrice, enters the room. She examines me and declares it’s way too late for that. I’m already a good way into transition and says I’ll be pushing in under an hour.

This lightens my mental state considerably. I’m almost through with what everyone tells me is the hardest part of labor. From there everything seems easier. Todd and Mary Beth continue to whisper relaxing affirmations in my ears during contractions. The midwife shows Todd how to put pressure on my tailbone to ease my back pain, which works miracles.

The next hour passes in a blur. Soon Patrice is sitting on the edge of the bed, asking me if I feel the urge to push yet. I tell her I feel like I need to take a big dump. She says that’s good. She examines me and says I’ll be there soon.

Soon I start feeling like I want to relieve myself, and I think this is the urge to push, but I’m not sure. Every time I bear down I have tremendous pain where the catheter has been inserted, so thankfully that gets removed. I have an easier time after that distinguishing the sensations that I’m supposed to be feeling, but I’m still confused. Pushing isn’t really instinctual. It’s partly like going to the bathroom yet totally different. The midwife has to coach me in a few different positions to get it right.

Soon the baby is crowning. All standing at the bottom of the bed say they can see she has dark hair. The midwife asks me to watch in a mirror, which I don’t really want to do, but she says it will help me push. What I see is the baby’s head coming out with each push and getting sucked back in every time. I am upset because every birth video I saw in childbirth class showed the babies flying right out. That’s when I started cussing.

Pushing is more arduous physical work than I have ever experienced. Even if I had had pain medication, that aspect wouldn’t have been taken away. I am sweating and panting. My blood pressure is up to 160/110. I say I can’t do it. The midwife says “OK, I’ll just pack up and go home then.” I want someone to reach in and grab the baby. Use the forceps. Cut me open. I don’t care. But there’s no way out of this except to run through the burning building.

Todd and Mary Beth each have one of my legs and have been telling me to use them for leverage. The midwife decides that’s not working. I have to run this part of the race myself. They let go, stand back and chant with each push. I close my eyes and they disappear. There are roughly 30 people in the room all cheering as if I’m running down the home stretch of the Olympic marathon, but I can’t hear a single one of them. I head down a long black tunnel and feel only the overwhelming effort crushing down on me like ten tons of water.

“Take your baby.”

I hear it at the end of the tunnel like a deaf person hearing for the first time and the world explodes into light. I reach down and pull the baby up onto my stomach. She is warm and creamy. She is not crying. She is looking around taking in the explosion. A thousand hands reach in to dry her. Todd is standing over me crying.

But I’m not crying. I expected to cry with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I cried at the finish of my first marathon. Look what I did! But I can’t. I feel no pride or accomplishment. I haven’t run a race and crossed the finish line.

In the moment her body has become separated from mine, I lose myself. I am forever part of this tiny person, and I have ceased to exist.

Johanna Patricia was 7 pounds, 2.1 ounces, and 18 inches long. They took her up to the nursery and pronounced her in perfect health, oblivious to all my concerns. I lost a fair amount of blood due to the clotting problem, and stayed in the hospital for two days longer than normal, but my health problems resolved themselves. Jojo, Todd and I are all resting at home, looking forward to our new life together.

Pictures from Jojo's birth are here:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Literally Running for Survivial

It's been a while since I posted and one of these days I hope to get a moment to write a real post, but in the meantime, please read and respond to this very important message from a fellow Survival Shuffler, Cathy Troisi, who I met at the Grand Island Marathon in July.

Cathy's daughter, also a runner, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005 and is currently fighting a metastatization of the cancer in her liver. Cathy will be running the Boston Marathon for the benefit of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is gathering support from the running community. If you can help support her, please do so. If you can't make a financial contribution at this time, please at least read her daughter's story, pray for Cathy, her daughter, and her family, and remember that colon cancer can strike even the young.

December 17, 2006
My daughter set the foundation for my running career in 1991. Initially I balked but relented to her persistence mid-year 1994. As a runner since her sophomore year in high school, she prefers the 5k distance (3.1 miles). She’s more interested in speed. I’m more interested in the marathon distance (26.2 miles) with focus on endurance. It helps me rationalize my lack of speed.

One year, one week, three days ago my daughter completed six months of chemotherapy for stage 3C colon cancer. She was diagnosed at age 35, well below the traditional medically accepted and recommended age of 50 to schedule a colonoscopy.

She’s looking good, her chemo-thinned hair replenished to its normally thick mane. Usually make-up free, she has a smooth complexion, once again highlighted by naturally pink cheeks. Her eyes, shiny and bright, radiate a healthful look. Knowing I’d understand she enthusiastically told me this morning, "I feel good. I’m running three times a week, three to four miles, eight minute miles." She continued, "I feel like a well-oiled machine, fluid and fast."

Eight minute miles! I’m impressed. Even if she hadn’t had an advanced stage of cancer, surgery, and 648 hours of chemo, I’d still be impressed. Her dust would have settled by the time I got to where she’d been! She proved that October 6, 2006 at the Albany Race For The Cure. With her two and a half year old son (weighing a hefty 38 pounds) in a jogging stroller, she pushed him the full 3.1 miles. I lost sight of her in the first half mile. She clocked a 31 minute finishing time. I finished in....well, let’s just say she could have run another one and a half miles while waiting for me to finish.

December 27, 2006
I returned to Albany to babysit my grandchildren during my daughter’s next day medical appointment to determine a course of action for the split muscle (behind her twelve inch surgical incision) and the consequential hernia. In an effort to keep the holiday spirit merry and bright, she only now shared the real reason for tomorrow’s appointment: the split muscle and hernia have been relegated to the back burner, replaced by the need for a liver biopsy. Instantly I’m paralyzed. With a self-imposed mantra of "breathe, don’t cry, breathe, don’t cry, breathe, don’t cry, breathe," I listened as she related the report from her December 18, 2006 appointment. The December 14th scan showed five tumors, each 2 cm, have invaded her liver. Her scan six months ago was clean. My mantra continues, "Breathe, don’t cry."

I did breathe. I didn’t cry. At least not until the household was settled for the night. Through those hours I cried and sobbed quietly into a continuous pull of kleenex tissues. I fell asleep crying and later awoke to the sensation of one lone tear trickling down my cheek.

December 28, 2006
Although my daughter’s husband is a successful attorney, he was unsuccessful in convincing the arbitrator and opposing attorney to cancel this day’s trial to allow him to accompany her to the biopsy. Which is how and why I’m in the room with her as she’s prepped. I haven’t yet been asked to go to the waiting room. Two male and two female "white coats" attend to various details, including the ultrasound. I wonder if they’ve forgotten my presence since no one has asked me to leave. Main "white coat" enters. More activity. Finally the words. They haven’t forgotten me. Main "white coat" speaks, "You’re welcome to stay if you want." Expecting to hear, "You’ll have to leave now," it took me a moment to process these words to the contrary. A few minutes earlier, expecting a momentary dismissal, my daughter and I shared our tears, our "I love you" and I steeled myself to exit my daughter’s bedside. I had expected to leave my only child in this impersonal room full of strangers whom we hoped had the most advanced medical knowledge and victim to medical equipment I’d only seen on Grey’s Anatomy. Now I’m told I’m welcome to stay if I want. I’m her mother, of course I want. Yet I offer, "Whatever she’s comfortable with." My daughter immediately counters, "Whatever you’re comfortable with. You’re the one afraid of needles." Very true, but my immediate retort, "Only when they’re directed at me," brings a chuckle from the "white coats." Main "white coat" responds, "Only one patient per room." Then a kind, soft-spoken "white coat" instructs me, "Bring you chair right up to her feet. It’s ok to touch her." Immediately, from my purse, I take out a photo of my daughter with her arms wrapped around her five year old daughter and soon to be three year old son. I captured that Kodak moment ten days earlier. I hold it up for her to see and then rest it against her feet. I put my hand gently on her foot, hopefully with enough pressure for her to feel my touch through the traditional hospital footwear, the tan footsie socks with skid proof soles.

Although the procedure is painful, she is unable to be under full anesthesia. It’s possible she’d be asked to breathe deeply or move her arm a certain way in order for main "white coat" to reach the affected areas of her liver. The room is quiet as he explains the procedure in detail, prepares her for the pressure and pain she will feel. I glimpse the needle. My maternal instinct is in overdrive, and although I’m grateful not to have been relegated to the waiting room, I also am unable to watch as he inflicts pain on my daughter. I maintain my hand contact with her foot, bend over and lower my head. I hear main "white coat" as he speaks gently to her. I note the room is silent except for his words. I know there is pain. I feel it. Not only as a mother feels mental and emotional pain for her child, but I feel her pain as her feet involuntarily flex against it. Now the only sound is the "click," five times over as a sample is taken from each tumor. Each click seemingly echoes in the quiet room. I watch as my silent tears puddle at my feet. On the fifth and final click, I breathe.

January 2, 2007
Although two active and precocious grandchildren kept me busy this morning, I found myself constantly clock-watching and listened above their din for the car to come up the driveway. I waited anxiously for my daughter and her husband to return from her follow-up appointment after last week’s biopsy. I hoped for a different outcome but was prepared as much as was possible to hear her tell me she would again have chemo. I forgot my mantra. I cried. Same routine as she had in 2005: 54 hours per treatment every other week for at least six months, probably a year. At some point another scan will be done to determine adjustments and/or further course of treatment, as necessary. Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was consulted and there is agreement across states as to her treatment.

January 19, 2007
As I write this, my daughter has had her second treatment. She’s also had permission from her oncologist to continue running. Which she had planned to do anyway. I won’t be running with her; I can’t keep up. But I will be running for her in the Boston Marathon, as a member of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team, on April 16, 2007. My challenge is to run 26.2 miles. Dana-Farber’s challenge is in their on-going efforts "dedicated to discovery, committed to care" in the continuous battle against cancer. My daughter’s challenge is to once again wage battle against this insidious disease. Please keep her as close to the top of your prayer list as possible.

*Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is ranked by the National Cancer Institute as one of the world’s premier cancer centers for its research and improved treatments of cancer.
*Your support of my Dana-Farber Boston Marathon will partner us with qualified researchers and medical staff as they continue developing new and better cancer treatments while continuing their quest for a cure.
*100% of your contribution goes directly to the Barr program in cancer research.
*Checks for your tax-deductible contribution are payable to DANA-FARBER MARATHON CHALLENGE.
*Due Date: Friday, April 6, 2007
*If your employer has a matching gift policy, include the completed matching gift form provided by your employer with your contribution.
*If you have family, friends, co-workers who may be interested in contributing, please forward them this information.
*If you have family, friends, co-workers who would benefit from my daughter’s experience with colon cancer, please share her story with them.
*With your support, the efforts of everyone associated with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge will go beyond the 26.2 miles of the marathon course and marathon day.
*Thank you for your contribution and commitment to Dana-Farber’s efforts through the Marathon Challenge.

Cathy Troisi
11 Anthony Drive, Seneca Falls, NY 13148

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It's natural

Running is natural. The human body is designed to run, whether you choose to use it or not. Choose it and ignore all those who say you'll end up with arthritis and knee pain in old age, who say the first marathoner died. With a regular moderate running schedule you'll live a long and happy life with more mobility and energy than your sedentary peers.

Pregnancy is natural. A woman's body is designed to nuture human life. But unlike running, ignore everyone who says its natural and you'll figure it out.

Like the myths about running, myths about pregnancy abound. "I loved being pregnant"..."I had no morning sickness"..."The second trimester is wonderful"..."You have that glow"

These myths are as dangerous as listening to someone who tells you running will kill you.

Let me tell you something about myself. It is a large part of why I run. It's something I keep to myself because I see it as irrelevant to the outside world. It's not your problem, and it's not an excuse. But I'm beginning to see how it will impact my child because of the physical connection between us, and eventually the emotional one as well.

I have clinical depression.

I've struggled with this depression all my life. Every day is a battle for me to get out of bed and just find the energy to live. There have been times I've wanted to kill myself, but luckily rarely have found the energy to do anything about it. Depression is brown. You feel like you are swimming in a cloudy pool. The world is hidden behind a fog. It's a leaky drain that slowly saps your water levels. It's entropy: An inevitable force of nature that disorders everything inside you and around you.

Running is a natural high and a release that helps me feel good. If I can consistently overcome inertia and get out the door to exercise, my mood and energy level is immensly improved. Any good psychiatrist worth his $100 per hour will tell you to exercise regularly if you have depression. Running is also a spiritual lift for me that gives me time to clear my head of worries, anxieties, and the lead weight always hanging over my head.

But the key to reaping all that benefit is getting out the door in the first place. And that's the real crux of the condition, the insidious mechanism by which depression eats its victims alive. It ties them to the couch (or the bed or the floor) with gravity.

That's where, for me, medication comes in. I've been off and on various anti-depressants for the past 12 years. Prozac is my happy-pill of choice, a wonderous medication which can be life-saving for its users, and in my opinion ranks with the discovery of penecillin in the annals of great medical achievements.

I used to fight being on medication - insisted it was just the establishment's way of making me into someone I'm not. I would take it to pull myself off the couch for a little while, decide I was better, go off it, and instantly sink back into the mire.

In time I realized that I just needed it to maintain a floor under my feet, and with a few years of consistent use I was doing great.

Then I got pregnant. Prozac isn't technically approved for pregnancy because it's virtually impossible to do controlled studies on depressed pregnant women. But the anecodtal evidence collected on its use over the past 25 years is substantial, and all of it points to it being safe without any long-term effects on the child. The only potential issue is that the baby can have withdrawal symptoms after birth, so its recommended that it not be used in the third trimester.

This is where those myths become damaging. Far from being joyous, natural, wonderful, and something I was confident I could figure out, pregnancy has been one of the most stressful, worrisome, chemically imbalanced states I've ever been in. It's not that I'm not overjoyed to be having a baby. But the physical and emotional toll of pregnancy is incredible.

Everyone said the first trimester could be rough with all the new hormones, but things should stabilize by the fourth month. I'd have my energy back, morning sickness would subside, I'd be myself again with a cute little baby bump and a wonderous glow. "You'll be happier than you ever have been in the second trimester."

Well the only glow is coming from my greasy, unwashed hair.

I did fine the first trimester. I was more exhausted than I'd ever been in my life, and a bit cranky, but able to run, motivated to go to work, and excited about baby stuff, if a bit overwhelmed. A normal mother-to-be in other words.

At 4 weeks I started tapering off the Prozac, and got down to half a dose by 8 weeks. I felt pretty good. I ran the Army 10 miler. I was slowing down and tired, but having fun.

Prozac has a long "half-life" as its called in the parlance, and I guess it took a while for that reduced dose to start to have effects. At 12 weeks I started to feel sick and pretty much stopped running. 20 minutes on the staitonary bike was all I was getting maybe once a week. At 14 weeks I realized I hadn't gained any weight in 4 straight weeks and I had no appetite. I couldn't get out of bed. I almost broke down crying in a coworker's office telling her how I just wanted a break. I regularly came into the office at 10 instead of 9.

At that point I called the psychiatrist and told her I was worried my depression, which has caused me to drop weight like a war victim in the past, was affecting my ability to eat. But I also told her I'd been feeling nauseous and perhaps that was the reason for my lack of appetite. The OB told me my lack of weight gain was not concerning at the moment. My mother and all the books said the nausea, low energy, and bad mood would stop any day now. I made the decision to stay on the reduced Prozac dose.

At 15 weeks I started throwing up. I threw up once before work during that week. The next Monday I spent a few hours before work puking and took the day off, figuring it was an isolated incident. I needed that day off anyway. Tuesday I went into work, ran into my boss getting off the elevator, who told me I looked awful. Wednesday I spent most of the day in my office with my door closed lying on the floor and crying. Wednesday evening my boss found me keeled over the trash can and suggested I take the next day off. I spent Thursday in my pajamas.

Friday morning the 10th I had an OB appointment. I told him that I'd been getting sicker and sicker. He said "Well that's a little backwards but nothing to be concerned about." He prescribed a medication called Zofran for my nausea, which was developed for chemotherapy patients. He suggested it may have something to do with stress. I started reading about all the horrible effects of stress on the baby. Higher blood pressure, an anxious baby, loss of appetite and weight, premature birth, low birthweight. The risks of being chronically stressed out were starting to become more worrisome than the possible effects of Prozac.

I picked up my prescription Friday evening and read the pamphlet of drug information (I'm sure doctors hate it when you do that). To my surprise, I discovered Zofran works on serotonin, the same neurochemical that Prozac affects. I did more research (thank god for Google) and discovered Zofran is used to treat depression, OCD, bulemia, all kinds of things besides nausea.

I didn't take it because I didn't want it to interact with the Prozac, but called the psychiatrist and asked if I should go back up to my full dose of Prozac. We decided I should.

Within two days I stopped puking and within a week I was back to being myself. I never took the Zofran.

With such stark evidence staring me in the face that my depression is a physical disease with distinct physical effects, I am forced to admit that I can't change my chemical makeup. I'm stuck with it. And so's my kid.

Those of us who take anti-depressants beat ourselves up at times. Why do I need this? Why can't I just learn to be a better person? What's wrong with me that I feel like this? Why can't I just be grateful for my good life? If I were stronger I could do this alone. I'm just giving into the American ideal of the happy, productive, extrovert. I wish I could just be me. Which is fine to do if it's just you, but you really need to get over that when other people are involved.

But because of my horrible weeks of stress-induced morning sickness, I've finally realized I have the mental equivalent of diabetes. It's a physical disease. It has to be managed. If I were diabetic, I wouldn't beat myself up for it. I would try and make behavioral changes that could make me healthier but chances are I'd need to take some sort of medication for the rest of my life. Maybe it's genetic, maybe it's brought on by outside factors. But it's here and I'm stuck with it.

The physical change has been remarkable. I've gone running or biking every weekday for the last two weeks. I'm hungry again. I'm not too tired to get out of bed in the morning. My stress level is markedly decreased. All of this has convinced me that my decision is best for the baby. We'll deal with the third trimester issue later, but for now, I'm happy, I'm running, and I'm convinced my baby is better for it.

Though I've been miserable for a few weeks, I'm glad I've had this experience to teach me that I can manage this physical condition, and I don't need to beat myself up. I can let go of all of the anxieties I have about not being a good enough person to be someone's mother. Just take the medication, go to therapy, and with a little help, and a few good runs, I'll do just fine. Yes I'm flawed, but that's ok. Prozac doesn't mask those things. It just releases the bonds of gravity to get me off the couch to run. Or to feed my screaming baby. And if I bequeath my genetic legacy of depression to my child, then I know how to deal with it, and how to tell them that the person they are is just fine, no matter what.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Resetting Expectations

I expected a PR in the Army Ten Miler.

The first time I ran the race in 2003, I recorded a time of 1:35:48. Though I'd been shooting for 9:00 miles, it was my first long race, my first big race, and I was very satisfied with the effort. Plus, it was more fun than I'd ever had in a race. I'd never run a big race with bands and cheering crowds. It got me thinking that I wanted to do more big races. It also got me thinking that a marathon wasn't out of reach, and started me on the path of running for the rest of my life.

So the Army Ten Miler holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorite races, but I've also been chasing that 1:35 time since then.

In 2004, I ran a 1:31:54 in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler (though under someone else's bib so it's not an official PR for me), and wanted to go under 90 minutes in the ATM. I figured it would be very doable coming off my first marathon that spring. But after the marathon, my feet started developing problems, which I medicated with ibuprofen and naproxen, which resulted in stomach bleeding and cancelled my running for the rest of the year. I was disappointed.

In 2005 I came back. The ATM was 3 weeks before my second marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, where I was hoping to go under 4:00, just over a 9:00 pace per mile. I was going to use the ATM as a test race. If I could manage 1:27 or less in the 10-mile race which is run largely on the same course as MCM, I'd feel comfortable setting a 4:00-4:15 time goal for my marathon.

But 2005 wasn't to be my year. To start with, I spent the night before awake with a fever and chills. Race morning dawned and I had a bad case of the flu. But I felt like I couldn't back out. I went out hard, staying on pace through 6 miles. But I started to falter, took a major walk break at the 6 mile water stop and clocked a time of 1:00:03 through the chip mats at 6.5 miles (just over 9 minute pace). I decided to relax through 7 miles and then push it again. I passed 7 miles and got back on pace, then realized we were running down Independence Avenue away from the 14th Street Bridge which would take us back to the Pentagon. I did a little bit of thinking about the route back and realized that we were about to go over the Memorial Bridge and back over the first few miles of the race course. Knowing the mileage on that portion of the course already, I knew we'd be running over 10 miles, and so gave up. The course ended up being between 11.2 miles and 11.4 miles depending on whose estimate you believe, putting my final pace between 8:55 and 9:05 per mile. Not what I wanted, but impressive given my flu. Still, it wasn't an official time, and I didn't have an official PR. Plus that race forced my illness to linger for the remaining weeks till the Marine Corps Marathon, decimating my performance there. So that was a disappointing year.

This year, I signed up knowing I'd be coming off another marathon training effort. Without having another marathon to train for, I figured I could focus on speedwork and finally get my PR. I put in an optimistic time of 1:25:00 on the registration, and decided I'd be happy with 1:27.

Then I got pregnant.

Well, I knew I wouldn't be running that PR, but I had no idea just how much I'd have to reset my expectations. A 4 mile run in 50 minutes has been a good day for me in the past few weeks. I've had to start swilling water every few minutes. What's more, I've been craving hamburgers, egg McMuffins, and milk like I'm a baby cow. Not the most conduscive diet to running performance. (The old wives say this means it's a boy, BTW. I guess they have a 50% chance of being right.)

It is truly amazing how fast the dropoff in running performance has happened. As I wrote in my last post, I started to see the effects within days of conceiving. My body is obviously telling me it has reset priorities. It must take a tremendous amount of energy to build a new human being, and I've been ravenous just sitting on the couch.

Still, I've made it my goal to keep running for as long as possible. Though I am disappointed with every 15 minute mile I clock, I've decided to throw out the watch and just run for the freedom of running, knowing it will help me have a healthy baby.

So today I went out with no expectations, just praying that I could finish. (Though I did take my metro card with me in case I had to drop out).

DH was running with the "Back from Iraq" team which had a tent in the finish area. So we arrived at the tent around 7:00 AM and dropped off our warmups, and loaded ourselves up with gel. I wore my Grand Island Marathon t-shirt to remind myself that I was capable of finishing a long distance.

I left DH at the tent and ambled over to the start area, where I was going to be meeting a friend from the RWOL women's forum. She's running the Baltimore Marathon next week, and is an accomplished runner, typically pacing herself a bit faster than I would. But she wants to relax the week before the marathon, use this as an easy run to test out her outfit, fueling strategy, etc. I told her I'd be doing 11:00 miles at best, and she says that's fine. I'm sure she'll be pulling away after a few miles and I'm going to feel guilty if she stays with me the whole time.

I'm in the 7:00-8:00 pace corral, and decide to stay there rather than moving back, since no one at this race seems to pay attention to the corral guidelines. DH is in the second wave, starting 10 minutes behind us, anticipating a 10:00 pace, so he'll probably catch me.

It's a beautiful morning and I'm happy just to be out and proving to myself that I can still finish 10 miles. The race provided disposable cameras in the packets, so I have it with me and I'm hoping to take a few pictures of the beautiful scenic course through dowtown Washington.

There's a catch to this year's race - runners are not allowed to bring water bottles. So I will only be able to drink every 2 miles. Normally I wouldn't even take my own water in a short race like this, but as I mentioned, I've been a lot more thirsty. But I tested the 2-mile interval out the previous weekend, and it seemed to be all right, as long as I down a full 8 ounces every 2 miles.

So we start out and I feel a bit nervous. I decide to push myself a little bit for as long as I can, and clock the first two miles in around 10:30. The third mile contains a water stop where I walk for a bit, and clock an 11:30 split, with the same for Mile 4. Mile 4 I'm starting to feel the need for a bathroom, as is my friend, so we stop and wait in line just after the water stop, which takes 3-4 minutes. I enter the porta-potty and quickly discover that morning sickness and other people's waste don't mix. I involuntarily heave and hold my shirt over my face to try and keep myself from puking. I do my business as fast as possible and run out of the john, vowing to only run trails from now on where I can comfortably go in the woods. We continue along and pass the halfway point in just a few seconds under 1:00, an average of 12:00 pace, though with a 4 minute bathroom break, normally not a feature of a 10-mile race for me. All in all, I am quite impressed with myself, but I can feel the breakdown coming.

I start mentally running aid-station to aid-station, a trick ultra-runners have told me to use. I know I have only a mile to get to the next water stop. We clock it in 11:14. I take a picture of the Capitol here, and gulp down a gel and cup of water. With the break, Mile 7 is slower at 12:25. I'm really starting to hurt, and I look down Independence Avenue to a pair of stone pedestrian bridges that cross the street, knowing that's the next mile marker and the turnoff to the 14th Street Bridge. It looks close but feels far. Fortunately, this is one of the most crowded spectator sections, and we get a lot of cheering and high-fives. I start feeling some abdominal cramping and have to walk for a few seconds. This is almost certainly a bathroom issue coming on, which I normally start getting around this distance when I'm not restricting dairy. 12:38 for Mile 8. I'm losing steam.

Looking for a porta-potty at Mile 8 but don't see one. I take a lot of water and feel like I need more. Walk for a while and look at the hill leading up the bridge. I hate that bridge. With a passion. It comes at the toughest portion of both this race and the Marine Corps Marathon, it's exposed to the sun, with an imperceptible incline and a weird uphill portion at the end. There are no spectators. It's just you and two miles of desert-like pavement.

I'm wondering where DH is, and figure he must have passed me while I was in the bathroom. I start shuffling up the bridge and walk some more. DH's running partner passes us and tells us he's a few minutes back. We hit the flat-looking portion of the bridge and I start to run slightly faster. DH catches us and tells me I look good and he's proud of me. I tell both him and my friend to go ahead, and they insist on staying with me. I'm really shuffling and start to walk up the end uphill. I see the exit ramp back down into the Pentagon parking lot where the finish is. I just want to get off this road.

We head down the exit ramp, and run a bit harder into the finish. I've taken off my shirt, in spite of feeling like a flabby beast (I've put on 9 pounds in the past two months), because the sun was pretty brutal on the bridge. I realize I won't get a finishing picture if the photographers don't get my number, and really, all I'm finishing for at this point is that picture. So I rip my number off my shirt, hold it in front of me, smile at the camera, and point at my belly. Baby's first race! I hope it comes out well. If it does, I will probably order a copy. Something I don't normally do. This pregnancy thing is turning me intoa sentimental fool.

DH, my friend, and I all finished together. My time was 2:00:39, with DH's roughly 10 minutes faster. If you subtract that bathroom stop, I averaged 11:36 per mile. Much better than I thought I might do. I've never finished a race with DH before, and that makes me very happy. I'm very grateful my friend ran all the way with me, and I'm sure I would have walked substantially more without her support.

All-in-all, it was a fun day, and reminded me, as Grand Island did, that some challenges in running aren't about time. It's about just getting through, and doing something different. It's about having friends and good times along the way.


Well I have to start by apologizing for my recent abscence, but hopefully everyone will appreciate the reason.

The week after the Grand Island Marathon I decided to take a little break from running and blogging. The following weekend, I went out and tried to run 5 miles. I couldn't finish. I slept a total of 20 hours per day those two days and was completely wiped out. I chalked it up to the marathon effort.

The following week was no better, with only one truly awful run. I started going to sleep at 8 PM every night. I could not figure out what was going on.

The next weekend, the reason for the fatigue became clear. My body is otherwise occupied, busy producing a new human life.

That's right, I'm going to be a mom. Run for the hills now.

I didn't want to make an announcement here as several colleagues from work occasionally read this blog. I wanted to wait a few weeks. In the meantime, running became close to impossible, and I felt like I didn't have anything to write about.

I am currently 12 weeks along and for most of that time I haven't managed more than a disappointing mile or two at a time once or twice a week, and have been collapsing into bed so early at night that I haven't had time to write.

Fortunately, for the past couple of weeks things have been getting better. I am not nearly as tired, and I've been able to run a bit more. So I hope to retrun to writing, starting with this post!

Today I had a major accomplishment - I finished the Army Ten Miler, one of my favorite races. A race report will be posted here shortly.

In the meantime, accept my apologies. I look forward to recording the changes in my self and my running here in the coming months, and hope I have something special to show my baby when it's all done.