Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Four weeks post-surgery and a win!

Wings out. My debut race as a Oiselle runner and I won!
I am really happy to finally be able to report that I am cured. After months and months of seemingly endless posts about my struggle with out-of-control uterine fibroids and my anemic state, I am sure you are happy to get this news. No more posts about bleeding and lady parts.

Well, maybe one last bit. I was cured with a procedure called hysteroscopic resectioning. In this procedure, you are put completely out while a skilled surgeon sticks a device fitted with a camera and laser up your va-jay-jay and whittles away at the fibroid growing inside the uterus. The laser cauterizes as it goes so there's no risk of excessive bleeding. My fibroid was occupying the whole space, so there was a lot of work to do. In fact, they were only able to remove 80% of my fibroid baby before I became borderline hyponatremic. That's the risk of the procedure. The fluids they pump inside the uterus to keep things flushed out start to get absorbed by the body and at some point the electrolyte balance in the blood is compromised to a dangerous level. I knew ahead of time it was unlikely that they would be able to get it all in this first try, but was assured what they did get would still solve my problem.

I doubted this but have to say I now believe. I am 4 weeks post surgery and training like a mad woman again. It took a couple of weeks to stop bleeding completely, so my blood levels are still recovering, but, lifestyle wise, I am blissfully normal again. One odd thing that occurred within a day of the surgery was a return of massive energy and cognitive clarity. I have found nothing on the interwebs that can explain this. I was still taking the same (damn) hormones (massive dose of progestin) at that point so this had to be from the lack of fibroid. The only thing I can surmise is that the little bastard was stealing my energy. It makes sense physiologically that growing one huge ass muscle (fibroids are all muscle) inside the body over a very short time period would require a lot of nutrients and energy. So, my body must have been directing a lot my energy to it. Think about it. I was basically growing a bicep inside my uterus.

The surgery was a breeze. I was recovered in two days. I ran 13 miles three days after surgery and have not looked back. My training has gone really well too, though I am trying to be very cautious about not overdoing it. It is really easy with this much energy to want to ramp up fast and push myself too hard. 

My race shoes had Schwings! Thanks to Christina for the photo from mile 10.

I ran a race on Sunday. Well, I won a race on Sunday! It was thrilling to feel strong again. This race was the Buffalo Stampede 10 miler and it was my first race running for Oiselle. I have run this race numerous times and actually won it once before in 2010, just before my PR marathon in Chicago. My workouts leading up to the race were mixed. I caught a cold the weekend before (lack of sleep does it to me every time!) but still had a great long run workout of 17 with 2 x 2 miles at lactate threshold (T) pace, then 5 miles easy and another 2 x 1 mile at T pace. My last T mile was 5:50 and I knew I was on a roll. 

Midweek was another story. The cold was fully embedded in my sinuses and I couldn't breathe. I did a track workout of 5 x 1200m and had to cut the third one to 800m because of the breathing issues. I was barely holding the pace I had run for my 15th mile on Saturday! Did I panic? Nope. I wish I could recall who wrote this: "you can't fake a good workout". You can have bad workouts, but there is no questioning your fitness if you have a good one. So, I clung to my Saturday workout for confidence in my fitness and let the track workout go.

On Sunday, I was excited to see one of my Impala teammates at the starting line. She and I have always been really well matched in fitness and have battled at the line on numerous occasions. I love racing with her because I know we will push each other. What I wanted from this race was a hard effort and a strong finish. I have never finished strong in this race. I always die the last 3 miles. We ran together for the first 8.5-9 miles, in and out of a pack of boys and it was great. Our first mile was my slowest, and we negative split the race. At mile 9 or so, I saw The Genius with our hounds on the side of the road. This gave me a huge boost, especially as I heard my girl Bella start hound barking at me as I passed by. She was telling me to go. So I did. I had a lot of kick left and used it to get myself to that finish line as fast as possible. Megan is a fierce competitor so once I kicked, I knew I couldn't let up. I felt so strong rounding the corner and pushing myself through to the finish. My last mile was my fastest by about 15 seconds per mile.
Me and the Genius. And our shy dogs. Thanks for the picture, Maria!

I ran 1:02:23. This is not close to my PR, but I wasn't racing for time. I ran my goal marathon pace, and it felt good to feel so confident at that pace for 10 miles three months out from my goal race. 

My legs have felt amazingly strong lately in workouts and in this race. While I was dealing with my fibroid issues, I hunkered down and concentrated on my strength training. That has paid off. I have mentioned before that I go to (and am a run coach for) a Hot Pilates Studio in town called P2O and the strength work has made all the difference. I take 4-6 classes a week there, which is a lot more strength work than I've ever done. I love the hot pilates class, and that's what I do more than anything else. I am also a fan of the kettlebell classes for heavier lifting and TRX. I don't let these workouts interfere with my running workouts and use the "keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy" philosophy. I was very proud of the group of runners from the Studio at the race for pushing themselves and accomplishing their goals too!

I wore the Hoka Cliftons in my race on Sunday and I really liked them. I debated about this and did my track workout on Wednesday in my Lunaracers as a comparison. However, I didn't notice that it was a very tired pair. I grabbed the wrong ones from the shoe box and they were dead! Big mistake! I ended up dealing with a calf/tibialis/achilles problem the rest of the week and was nervous about that impacting my race. With some good self-PT and focused rolling, I didn't feel it at all in the race. It actually feels much better after having raced. That's a good sign! The Hokas definitely take some getting used to. My only concern with the Hokas is that I won't be able to go back to the lightweight, less cushioned shoes after wearing them exclusively. As long as Hoka sticks around, I guess that's not a problem.

The outlook for CIM is good this year! I am looking forward to the next 3 months of hard training and a few long races to test my fitness along the way. After having to pull out of my last three planned marathons, I am very excited for this one! 

I am mostly excited to be living a normal life again. In looking back on what I endured and how much it affected my life, I am not sure how I got through it in one piece. It was a wild ride but I am happy it is behind me. Thanks for your support along the way!              

Did I mention I won a pile of poop?
First place wins a pile of buffalo poo!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

So many good things to share

Despite the setbacks I am having in my running due to my health problems, there are so many things going right at this moment, that I can't possibly be bummed out.

First, I am pleased to announce that I am now representing a fantastic company, Oiselle. This company first caught my eye when they sponsored one of my favorite runners, Lauren Fleshman. They are a group of strong, outspoken women who provide awesome support for female athletes of all levels. I love that they have opened up the team to more runners and are able to support so many athletes despite being such a small company. I saw this as a chance to be part of something that is wonderful.    

Our fun running group last Sunday!
Second, I have partnered with a local studio, P2O Hot Pilates, to help with their running program. I joined this studio on an introductory offer and fell in love with the family atmosphere and the work ethic of the instructors and members. These classes are no joke and are fantastic for developing strength and mobility in runners! I love that they offer a free organized running program that is open to all levels and even non-members. The owners want to encourage running in their community, and I am excited to be a part of that! I am currently leading the runs on Thursday a.m. at 5:30 and Sunday a.m. at 7:00, both from Big Lots at 8700 La Riviera Dr. We head to the bike trail and have a lot of fun. Please feel free to join us for a run!

Third, my businesses are doing really well right now. I am enjoying an amazing explosion in my ecological consulting business. I love the work that I'm doing, all of which is supporting the conservation of biodiversity in California and beyond. I care so much about this work and am grateful I am able to make a living doing what I love. It's also wonderful working for myself. I was pretty freaked out at first about the challenges of starting my own business and all of the hardships that come along with that. I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy and fun it has been. Even with the health issues and medical expenses, I am able to make it work. My coaching business is also thriving, with athletes doing really well all around the country. It is an honor to help them and watch them work hard and reap the rewards of that hard work. That is why I love coaching.        

Finally, it wouldn't be an RAF blog post without a health update. I know it seems weird that I am so public about something that is so personal and really unflattering. This blog has always been about honesty and sharing information and experiences with others in hopes that it will somehow help. The messages I receive from women who are either going through this same thing or know someone who is confirm that my openness is helping others, and that's what it's all about.

This week confirmed that I made the right decision to postpone my marathon until December. My health issues reemerged at an alarming level this week, and I have become even more anemic, yet again. The good news is that I am working on the things that I can: overall strength and running speed. My endurance is not good at all, but I can do speed work without a problem. As always, once the spigot shuts off, I will be able to get my blood levels up and will be back where I left off.

I had a hysteroscopy (scope inside my uterus) last week and confirmed that my big daddy fibroid is in fact occupying my entire uterus and is stuck inside the lining. I have a picture of this guy on my refrigerator. My friends who saw the picture started seeing fibroids in everything: banana muffins, emoticons. I will spare the rest of you that torture. So, the fibroid I have can't be removed surgically without taking everything with it. What they can do, and I go in for a surgical consult tomorrow, is shave away at the fibroid a little at a time. This supposedly will reduce the hemorrhaging. That's the hope, anyway. I may need to go in a few times to get this big guy shaved down, but the recovery time is a matter of hours rather than weeks with this procedure. Totally worth a try. I will look forward to losing a few pounds as well with the removal of this little ball of muscle!

I am proud that I have held my ground and fought the doctors who were ready to yank out my useless uterus, telling me I had no other options. I may be on my 4th OB/GYN, but I now have doctors telling me that I have some great options available and they are actually treating me as if I have a choice. In the end, I may end up having a hysterectomy, but nobody should be pressured into that decision. There are so many other options out there, and we deserve to at least hear about them!!!

So, all good things. Give good stuff to the world, and good stuff will come back to you!  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I Got You Babe

I had to make a tough decision this week about my racing schedule. I have been training for the Eugene Marathon now for months and am as fit as I have ever been heading into a marathon. I have conquered some major workouts and have been putting in the highest mileage since last fall. In my last post, I mentioned that my health issues had cropped up again and that I was taking some new medication to try to bring things under control. As luck would have it, the new medication worked for its intended purpose, though I had to up the dosage to get it to work. However, the side effects from the meds were pretty dramatic. Several days last week, I experienced severe GI distress for hours so terrible that I was unable to eat or even stand. I understand this to be a common side effect of the medication, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

As I missed a couple of days of training (and work!) I realized that I just wasn't going to be able to rally from this one. I could feel in my easy running that my blood levels had dropped again (confirmed yesterday with hemoglobin of 11.5 and hematocrit of 35). It feels like I'm running at altitude or through molasses. The easiest efforts feel harder than they should. I've had success at getting my blood levels to recover quickly, but my training suffers until they improve. So, I conferred with friends and coaches and decided that I should let Eugene go.

One of the things that really struck me in my conversations about this was the distinction between just running another marathon and trying to achieve a gigantic goal. I have no doubt that, if my blood levels did rally in the next couple of weeks, I would have a decent race in Eugene. I'm sure I'm in sub-2:50 if not faster shape. I had to ask myself the question: what are you really wanting to do in Eugene? Do you just want to run a decent marathon or do you want to run your fastest marathon? 

We've all read stories of elite runners who overcame years of injury or sickness to come back and have spectacular races or seasons. What I am realizing is that you don't get to play the lead role in that story without making some really smart decisions about your training and racing. You have to decide what is most important and you have to go after that goal with the determination and drive of a predator. It is perfectly fine to race a bunch of races because you love the thrill of competition or racing, but that comes at a cost. You won't maximize your potential with that approach or if you do, you will pay later with a broken down body. I've seen it over and over. The people who achieve the big goals make sacrifices and smart decisions along the way that move them closer to their goals. 

So, I did the calculations. If I ran Eugene and then took the 4 week recovery into account, I wouldn't be ready to start training for another fast marathon until September. I think my best chances for a fast marathon are in my own back yard at the Cal International Marathon. I would need to get started training for that in a few weeks.

So, my body decided not to cooperate this time around. As frustrating as this continues to be, I do know that my day will come and that there is a marathon PR or even an Olympic Trials qualifier in my future. I also know that if I don't work with my body and make smart decisions along the way, I won't reach my potential.

So, I am starting over again, getting back to some speed work and letting my body recover a bit before launching into another marathon training cycle. I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking up to Sonny and Cher over and over and over. But, I'll take that over the alternative any day. 

Keep your dreams alive people!                        


Friday, June 20, 2014

The one where I run a 1/2 marathon distance PR

That's right kids. What are the chances that both half marathons I run this spring end up being long, and not just a little long from Garminization, but 3/4 mile long? I feel like I should play the lottery some time soon. Here's a picture of me right after I finished. Do I look pissed?

I think this is right before I exclaimed, "Damn it, Chad!" (a Fleet Feet Event Mgt. employee) as he put my finishers' medal around my neck.
I have put off writing this race report because, quite frankly, it isn't fun to write about failures, and I also needed some time to cool down. I am not going to bash Fleet Feet Event Management, the organization that put on the event. They typically put on really professional races, but they had some bad luck of their own in the days leading up to this one. In short, they were short on volunteers for the event and they weren't able to supply enough course monitors to man the half marathon course. I'm sure they thought they had set up enough barriers and laid down enough chalk to keep everyone straight, but the course was very confusing to even the cyclists with maps who were leading the runners all over Sacramento.

The first problem I had that day was forgetting my Garmin. I have never done that before! I thought I might try to be Zen for this one and just not use a watch, but OMG am I glad I found a loaner! I can't imagine how much more disastrous that race would have been had I not known how long I had been running after I lost the course. And, then having a record of some of my splits for posterity's sake since the recorded time was about 5-6 minutes slow. I saw my friend Erika right before the race and luckily she had a friend, Jacqueline, who was running the half marathon and generously offered me her Garmin. I was so humbled by this gesture! I will pay it forward one day, I promise!

As I saw the pleas for volunteers from Fleet Feet Event Management stream across Facebook in the days leading up to the race, I had a bad feeling that something might go wrong. Given my experience at the Parkway Half and the fact that I had missed a 10k race the month before because of my health issues, I just wanted to run a legit race and test my fitness.

I met the eventual winner at the start line and introduced myself. She runs for the Oiselle Racing Team, and I knew that she would lead the race from the gun since she has a 1:17 half marathon PR. I also found a friend at the start, Kristen, whom I have met at other races and expected her to be right up there in front too. This is an all-women's race, by the way, so the three of us formed the lead pack. Except that we really weren't a pack. From the gun, Alison was in the lead as I expected. She went out hot. I stuck to my race plan which was to run 6:10-6:20 pace for the first couple of miles to get in a groove. I didn't become discouraged as Alison and then Kristen increased their lead on me in those first few miles. I had read a fantastic race report from Ellie Greenwood, the winner of the 2014 Comrades Marathon, the day before where she emphasized the importance of never giving up. You just never know what might happen in a longer race. Especially a hot race. The temperatures would reach 100+ later that day, and I think it was about 80 degrees when I finished, so not exactly cool. I have been heat training so I knew I would race relatively well in those temperatures and that would be an advantage.

Back to the race: Alison had gained a lead on Kristen and me by mile 3 and a cyclist dropped back to help us figure out where to go since we could no longer see the lead runner. Kristen was right with the cyclist and I was a few seconds behind her. We made a couple of turns and then I saw the cyclist stop abruptly while Kristen followed some cones around to make a left turn onto Folsom Blvd. This is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in Sacramento and I was a little surprised that they would shut down traffic for the race. In actuality, I wasn't really thinking. I was racing and following the cyclist and Kristen. As I turned onto Folsom, the cyclist, parked safely on a side street, looked up from his phone and smiled at me. I could see Kristen running in the vehicle lane and, at first, there wasn't any traffic coming toward her. I thought it odd that they wouldn't have coned off the shoulder of the road for the runners, but whatever. Then, the traffic light changed at 65th and Folsom and cars started streaming toward us. I was in the gutter at this point recognizing that something was seriously wrong, but Kristen hadn't caught on yet and cars had to swerve around her as she held her lane. I finally realized we were screwed and yelled at Kristen to turn around, but she was wearing headphones and didn't hear me. Don't wear headphones in races, peeps!!!

I took the first left that I could, which was 65th street and took it to Elvas Ave. I knew that the course hooked up with Elvas at some point, though I didn't know whether it was on the way out or the way back. At this point I had no idea how to get back on course or whether I was cutting it short or running long. I finally found a police officer acting as course monitor and stopped (and didn't stop my watch) to ask where I was. He directed me down an off ramp and I started seeing what looked like course markings. It wasn't until I found an aid station around mile 6 that I found out where I was on course. That's when I knew this was going to be 3/4 mile long. I also found out that the leader had run the correct course, so now she was completely out of reach (as a side note: she ended up slowing a lot in the latter part of the race, which makes me wonder what Kristen or I could have done in the latter stages as we caught up to her). I didn't see Kristen anywhere even though I half expected her to catch up to me as I had lost some motivation at this point. I found out after the race that she was misdirected not once but twice and eventually dropped. Unlike the Parkway Half where everyone ran a long course, I knew that no adjustments would be made to my time for this one since at least the leader had run the correct course. How deflating.

Of course, dropping out crossed my mind A LOT in the second half of the race. Luckily, my friend Christina Applegate was on her bike not only giving me info on what was going down from an effed-up race standpoint, but also keeping me focused on getting my job done. I love that she decided to put these words on this photo she took because they are the same as the title of Ellie's blog post. I did not give up!
Thanks, Apple, for the pic and the support!
The final insult happened when I approached McKinley Park and there was a cop directing traffic at an intersection. He had his back to me (!) and was waving cars to move through the intersection. I made eye contact with the lady in the car who was being directed to cross the lane I was in, but she just kept moving right on through! I kept running thinking she would stop until she eventually nicked me with her bumper as I yelled out in surprise. I wasn't hurt at all, but Jesus Christo that was ridiculous!

I didn't quit the race even though I did slow at the end. Even running to the 13.1 mile point and lapping my borrowed watch was pointless because I had stopped running a few times to figure out how to get back on course without stopping the watch. I am still unsure what I really ran that day, and I guess it doesn't matter. I estimate I was about 5-6 minutes faster than my gun time but who knows?

I ended up coming in second place and found out that a pack of runners behind me also ended up running different configurations of the course., though most ran shorter than me because they figured out the mistake sooner. Eventually, someone figured out the problem and the rest of the runners were directed along the proper course.

I am not going to lie and say that I let this one roll off my back. I didn't. I really felt sorry for myself after this one. I didn't get to run a single legit race in my build up to the Eugene Marathon because I was either anemic or the course was long. That is some bad luck.

The next day, my health issues cropped up in a major way. I had cramps of the same magnitude as the ones that sent me to the ER back in the winter. This time, I had a bottle of Norco to ease the pain, and I knew that it was just my fibroid baby talking to me. But, holy cow, those cramps are debilitating. It took me out for the entire day. Then, I started bleeding like crazy from Tuesday until, well, yesterday. I had my blood levels taken on Monday to just get a sense of where I was and I was only borderline anemic (hemoglobin = 12.3; clinical anemia is < 12). This actually made me happy to think that I could experience as much blood loss as I had the week prior and still not get nearly as low as I was back in March (hemoglobin < 10). Nonetheless, these levels are still low, and I have found anything under 13 has a noticeable impact on performance, particularly my endurance. I ended up having to skip both of my hard workouts last week because of the uncontrollable blood loss, but I am back training as normal again this week.  

I ran a long workout Wednesday (shout out to Jen P. for getting my butt out there!) and attempted the workout as written. I knew I would have to play it by ear given how I had been feeling, but I wanted to give it a try. The workout on my schedule was 16 miles with 5-7 mile warm up and 4 x 2 miles at threshold pace. I was pretty certain my threshold pace was going to be slow but I thought I might be able to do at least 3 of the repeats. It went better than expected with my 2 mile splits at 12:15 for the first 2. I could definitely tell I was working though. I ran one more mile at around 6:08 pace and then the wheels started coming off. The last mile was around 6:15-6:20 pace and I knew it was time to jog it back in. I didn't really jog though. I finished all 16 miles at an average of ~6:50 pace, so that was another surprise. I will say that I felt like hell afterward. However, I rebounded quickly and enough to get in a TRX workout that evening.

I am on a new medication that is supposed to help control the bleeding, but it does have side effects. It is basically a super dose of progestin. It seems to be working to control the bleeding so far (fingers crossed).

So, what does this mean for my Eugene Marathon training? It means that I am going to continue to train as if I didn't have these health issue and just do what I can. I can't push my body harder than it can go, but I am hopeful that these new meds will keep the bleeding to a minimum so I can use the next 5 weeks to create more red blood cells. The good news is, once my hemoglobin levels get close to 14 again, I am going to feel like a freakin' rock star! I have been there and I know that feeling. It may or may not happen before Eugene, and that's okay. There will be other races for me to attempt to run under 2:43.

If I've learned anything from this spate of bad luck and bad health it is to never, ever give up on myself.                            

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Shoes, Supplements and Strength

After months of posts about my health issues, I am happy to move on to much more important things: shoes, supplements and strength training!

First, I should update you on my training. I can't say things have been as great as they were around the time I ran the Parkway Half Marathon. That truly was an exceptional time for me. My blood levels were peaked and I felt awesome. Since then, my blood levels have dropped quite a bit and I had to miss a race because of it. This regression is upsetting, for sure, but I am learning to cope with my new 'normal'. My condition is progressively improving, but that improvement curve is more sinusoidal than linear.

I am learning a lot about patience and attitude. When my blood levels are higher, I have great workouts and when they are lower, my paces slow. BUT, I am doing the work that I need to to become a faster marathoner. I have really had to work on my attitude when my blood levels start to drop. I know it will affect my performance and it is really hard to even motivate myself to go out and run. I know that my goal for each workout is not how fast I run it, but just that I get it done at the right level of effort. As my blood levels rebound I will naturally get faster and paces will feel easier. The work I put in, regardless of how I feel, will pay off in fitness gains.

I make this sound easy, but it's not. I am in the meat of my training for the Eugene Marathon right now and am doing the big Jack Daniels' workouts. I generally have two long runs per week with 10-14 miles of marathon and/or threshold pace mixed in. In the last week, I ran two marathon paced workouts of 10 miles. The first one was run with reasonable (not great) blood levels and the second was a week later with lower levels. The first workout felt absolutely great. I cruised along for 10 miles @ 6:10 - 6:20 pace with ease and felt fantastic. This was a pretty remarkable workout for me given how far out I am from the marathon (8 weeks!).

In contrast, the one I did Thursday of this past week was not so fun. I had experienced the worst bleeding since March and am likely close to anemic again. I knew going into this workout that I was going to suffer. I drug my feet all day about even doing it and finally pushed myself out the door at around 7 pm. It was 85 degrees. This workout was a total of 14 miles with a continuous workout of 6 miles marathon pace + 1 mile threshold (T) + 3 miles marathon. I was mostly dreading that T pace. I started out into a headwind which really pissed me off and I decided to run back and forth on a two-mile stretch of the bike trail to get relief from that for at least half the workout. For some reason, this is easier for me to handle mentally than running out 5 miles and back. I broke the run down into two-mile chunks in my head. I started off around 6:25 pace for the first two miles into the wind. It felt hard. I turned and, with the wind at my back, was able to speed up ever so slightly. 4 miles done. I got some water and turned back into the wind. My pace remained steady around 6:20 through 6 miles. I had already decided to ditch the T pace mile if I was feeling crappy and almost forgot about it until I hit the half mile split in mile 7. I saw that my split was 3:03 and I decided I should try to get under 6:00 (my T pace) for this mile. I actually felt okay running 5:59 for that mile and then slowed for the M pace to complete mile 8. I stopped again for water and then finished up the last two miles under 6:15 pace. So, all in all, this workout was only 1-2 seconds slower per mile than the one I did the week before even though it felt less comfortable. I was mostly proud of that 7th mile.

This entire workout was a HUGE mental battle. I kept feeling sorry for myself and let the worry slip in at every curve. Would I be able to finish the workout? For how many days would my blood levels continue to drop? Will they recover in time for my half marathon next weekend? Would they keep me from running a good marathon in Eugene? When will the madness end? I must have had the most horrible look on my face the entire workout, but I will say I was glad when I finished.

So, my marathon training is actually going well. I am up to around 70 miles per week and I won't go much higher than that this cycle. I am doing major workouts and they are tiring, but they are really giving me confidence in my marathon fitness. I have never run so many long workouts this close to goal pace this far out from a marathon. Fingers crossed that the stars align and I get to the starting line in Eugene fit and healthy! I am defending my title, after all.                                


I've been meaning to write about some changes I've made in my running footwear over the past months. Typically, shoe changes lead to injury for me. It normally takes about 3 weeks for me to see the effects, but my last couple of changes have been right before I became pretty majorly injured. I normally wear the Nike Pegasus as a training shoe and the Nike Lunaracers as my racing shoe for all distances including the marathon. One thing that I dislike about the Pegasus is the fact that I wear them down quickly. I get about 200 miles out of them before I start to lose support and need to swap them out. This is about 2 1/2 weeks of training for me, so pretty expensive. So, I began adding shoes into my rotation to break things up a bit and to just see what would happen (I can't leave well enough alone). Here's what I'm wearing.

1. Nike Pegasus 30. I now wear these about 1-2 times per week for easy runs.
Pegasus 30

2. Nike Flyknit Lunar 1. I'm on my third pair of these lightweight trainers and really like them. I like that they have a higher heel drop, good cushioning and are super lightweight. I've been able to get away with wearing them for my long (14-18 mile) workouts. I've been getting about 150 miles out of a pair of these before needing to retire them.
Flyknit Lunar 1

3. Nike Lunaracer 3. These are my racing shoes and I train in them when I'm doing fast and short speed work. I'm not sure I'll ever change these out. They work way too well for me.
Lunaracer 3

4. Hoka Kailua Tarmac. These were a big gamble for me. I wanted to try them because of the extreme cushioning they provide and thought that might be beneficial for recovery days. I also wanted to see if I could get more than 200 miles out of them. The risk was the low heel drop. Each time I've tried to go lower than my Nikes, I have ended up with niggles and injuries. So far, I haven't had a problem with these and I can't quite say why that is. Perhaps it's the rocker bottom that they use, but I don't have achilles or calf soreness from the low drop. Instead, I feel like I get that cushioned ride that I was looking for and can tell the difference running in them. I'm at 200 miles on this pair and I feel like I can wear them longer. My legs feel better recovered after a recovery run. I wear these on my easy days 1-2 times per week.
Hoka Kailua Tarmac

5. Hoka Stinson Trail. I started running on trails a few months back and decided that my road shoes were a hazard. I invested in these right after getting the Kailuas. These are like running on marshmallows, and I really appreciate the cushiony ride on my easy days. I wear these on trails and when I feel like I need a little less impact on tired legs. I also like a heavier shoe for easy days which makes my light shoes feel like slippers.
Hoka Stinson Trail

So, that's my current rotation and it appears to be working well for me.


Right now, I am taking a boat load of (legal) stuff to try to "cure" my health issues and to help my body replace the RBCs I lose. On the sports nutrition side of things, I recently found a couple of products that I am really loving. They are manufactured by BRL sports nutrition. The first is a recovery powder that I also use as a mid afternoon snack. It is called Invigor8. I have tried both flavors and they are both excellent. I typically mix this in my Nutribullet with frozen fruit and either water, almond milk or coconut water. What I love about it is that it has everything in it already so I don't have to add things like probiotics, omegas, digestive enzymes, BCAAs, etc. While I don't ride the 'sugar is evil' bandwagon, this product only has 1 g sugar. I add my own sugar:)

The second product is one that I use more for pre-workout fueling. It's called TriFuel. It is also billed as a recovery drink and I sometimes take it after a workout. It is unusual in the sports drink market in that it has BCAAs, carbs, a load of electrolytes and some stuff that keeps you going and focused during your workout including caffeine. I typically take this within 15 minutes of a long workout and it holds me over for up to 2 hours. I was skeptical about the manufacturer's claims about improved mental focus, but I do notice an improvement in that aspect of my workouts. My recovery has also been very good especially now that I'm adding in a lot of extra stuff (see below).


Every day, I am bombarded with an endless feed of running-related tweets and articles about how important strength training is for runners. I have long been a believer in the importance of strength training for performance and injury prevention. When I was experiencing the worst of the anemia, I lost all interest in doing strength work. It took every ounce of energy I had to work and to run. Doing anything more was not in the cards. When I started to feel better, I still lacked motivation to do my usual extra strength, core and basic maintenance routines.

So, to get myself back into the groove, I decided to start going to group training classes to motivate myself as well as try some new things out. It started with Bikram yoga. I signed up for a new student special at Sacramento Bikram yoga and was shocked back into the torture of this practice. The first day I went, the 105-degree room was filled with the vaporized sweat of about 50 people. It felt like Florida in there. I just about hyperventilated for the first 10 minutes and literally swam in my own sweat when I got down on my mat for the ground poses. I have continued to do bikram 2-3 times per week and have noticed the following changes:

  • Doing yoga in a very hot room hastens heat acclimation due to physiological changes that occur when exercising in the heat (e.g. increased blood volume). My transition to running in the heat (80-90 degree temps) has been very easy so far this spring.
  • I am gaining flexibility in my lower back. It wasn't until I started yoga that I realized that the area with the least amount of functional mobility on my body is my lower back. All of the twists we do in this class are making tiny improvements in this area.   
  • I can sleep on my stomach without pain now. This may not have anything to do with running, but I had to stop sleeping on my stomach about a decade ago because my neck would start to stiffen up and ache after about 10 minutes. It took about 4 weeks for my neck to loosen up but it did and I am happy.
  • My balance is improving all the way from my toes to my head. Several of the poses require balancing on one leg and holding various parts of the body in strange configurations. I wobble and sometimes fall, but each week I can tell I am getting better and believe this will translate to being steadier on my feet while running.
Will bikram yoga make me a faster runner? I don't know. For now, I appreciate the positive changes I am seeing and it is helping to motivate me to get in additional strength work.

I also joined a studio called P2O or Hot Pilates here in Sacramento, of course taking advantage of a 30 days for $30 new member discount. They offer a lot of different classes. So far, I've only tried the TRX class. This class is a butt buster. It challenges your core muscles while also getting the heart rate up with some calisthenics. The thing I like most about it for runners is that it challenges your range of motion, especially in the hips, in a very functional way for running. I'll try their hot pilates class tomorrow after my long run and see how that goes.

Right now, I am doing some form of strength-based training (yoga, weight lifting, pilates, TRX) at least 4-5 days per week. That's a lot more than the zero days per week I was doing a couple of months ago. I feel so much stronger and can actually feel the improvement in my core strength during my runs. I have also been quite pleased with how much more quickly weight has come off over that time period. My weight peaked during the winter when I was dealing with all of my health issues. I was eating a lot of ice cream to make myself feel better and wasn't doing a lot of running. That's a bad combo. I am just a few pounds off of my racing weight now and quite certain I'll get there in the next 8 weeks.

Next weekend, I race another half marathon. I really hope that my blood levels rebound from this last drop in time for the race. I am downing iron shots like they are whiskey three times a day and crossing my fingers. Hopefully, I'll have a race report to share next Sunday!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The one where I run my fastest half marathon in almost five years

I am giddy about what has happened over the past four weeks. I have felt progressively better as my body has recovered from the most recent bout with anemia. I found out last week why when I got my blood test results back:

Hemoglobin: 14.0 (11.9 a month ago!)
Hematocrit: 42.6%
Ferritin: 38 (19 a month ago!)

These are numbers I have dreamed about. They are the levels that Jack said he thought I should be striving for. I didn't think it was possible for me since they are higher than I have ever tested! How did I do it? Well, the biggest factor was the lack of blood loss. I have swung in the opposite direction of where I was two months ago. I haven't lost any blood in nearly 30 days! This is unprecedented for me, but I am NOT complaining!

I have also continued to supplement with liquid iron 2-3 times per day. I had been taking other products and was watching my blood levels either stagnate or decline. Once I stopped taking those, I seemed to do a lot better. It is really difficult to determine cause and effect with the supplements. What I know works is: liquid iron supplement + no blood loss.

The challenge with this condition is that you never know when the flood events will hit. I have been walking on egg shells these last couple of weeks just waiting for one to hit. I can't say exactly why I haven't had one, but I suspect the progestin-only BCPS and all of the things I'm doing to reduce my estrogen levels must be contributing. It is also possible that the fibroids are shrinking. I can still feel them, but they do seem smaller. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

I decided a month or so ago that I wanted to plan some races. I had to cancel two of the three races I had planned for the winter/early spring racing season due to this health issue and  was anemic for the one race I ran. So, I wanted to test out my fitness in a low-key half marathon. I chose the American River Parkway Half Marathon. This race course runs along the American River Parkway Trail which is where I do all of my training.

I held off signing up for the race, because my calculations showed the next scheduled flood event would occur somewhere within the week leading up to the race, if I stayed on schedule. As I mentioned above, that didn't materialize but the anticipation was overwhelming. It also meant paying an extra $25 for the race ($75), but I figured that was worth it, especially since some of the funds went to support the Parkway Foundation. I use this trail so much, I was happy to contribute to that cause.

I have been running well in training and doing some hefty workouts again in preparation for the Eugene Marathon in July. My lactate threshold pace is back down around 6:00/mile and my marathon pace has been around 6:20-6:25. I suspected, on a good day, that I could at least hold the same pace that I did for the 10 mile race a few weeks back (6:25 pace). I decided to start out around there and then try to negative split the race.

Race weather was as perfect as you get here in Sacramento in April. It was foggy and cool. I actually wore arm warmers and gloves! The announcer said at the start that he was expecting some really fast times as a result. After the inexperienced and over-exuberant racing chaff separated from the wheat in the first 400m, I found myself pacing with a couple of guys. One was a friend who is faster than me, but he was doing a brick workout so had ridden for 90 minutes before the race. I was happy about that because for me it meant I had a chance of keeping up with him. Even though there was little to no wind, drafting is still a huge advantage in a race. As we clicked off the miles, I saw that our pace was faster than I wanted to go out. However, the advantage of having a group to work with was much more valuable than running my own race. I would try to hang with the boys for as long as I could.

My pack. Isn't this a great photo? Thanks to Randy Wehner!
We were averaging about 6:15 pace for the first 6 miles, and I felt good. We hit the one major turn on the course and headed back toward the finish. When we hit the 7 mile marker, our pack leader proclaimed that they had turned us too far down on the course and we were going to be running long. I looked at my Garmin and the total distance at 7 miles read 7.66. This sucked the air right out of me. I was so irritated that the course was going to be long and that I wouldn't get the chance to see where I was fitness wise.

Normally, I would have shaken this off better. It's only one race, right? Well, consider how difficult it has been for me to get to the starting line of a race for the past 3-4 months. Experienced runners know how rare it is to have the stars align on race day where you are healthy, you feel great, the weather is perfect, you have a pace setter. I mean, this was my day! I cogitated on this for the next mile or so but held on to my pack. Then, I saw the Genius at around the 8 mile mark and blurted out, "the course is long!" Something about vocalizing that made it real and I let one of my pacers go at that point. I slowed to 6:20-6:25 pace for the next few miles. I was feeling sorry for myself and tried to figure out how I could salvage this race given the circumstances. I knew that I was pretty far ahead of any other female runners, so I would at least get the win if I stuck it out. I will never pass up the opportunity to win, no matter how small the race!  

At around mile 11 I decided I could salvage the race by lapping my Garmin at 13.11 miles. I would then at least know what I had run for the distance. That time was 1:22:25. This lifted my spirits. While my PR is just under 1:20 for the half (set in 2009), I haven't run faster than 1:23 since July 2009. It felt really satisfying. I continued on for another kilometer and crossed the finish line as 5th overall and 1st female. I will say that I had little motivation in that extra kilometer to push myself and I didn't. 

Immediately after the race, there was a flurry of Garmin checking and discussion going on about the distance. I had the two lead men run up to me and ask what my Garmin read. They had traveled from Southern California to run this race and were trying for a qualifier for some collegiate event. I felt horrible for them but I told them to talk to the timing company. They would help them however they could to make it right. That afternoon the timing company measured the extra distance we ran and adjusted times accordingly in the results. While I would rather have run the right distance, I was pleased with their quick action and am grateful that my time was adjusted. It was pretty close to what I had split at 13.11 (1:22:35).

I have some really tough training ahead and have my fingers crossed that I will stay healthy for it. My fitness is in a really good place right now given the  times I was running at this point in my marathon training for Twin Cities 2009 (2:46) and Chicago 2010 (2:45). I am right on schedule if not a little fitter. Wishful thinking has me hoping the health nightmare I have experienced this year is completely in the past, but only time will tell. All I know is that running is effortless and fun again and I will cherish the healthy miles I get.        


Monday, April 7, 2014

Still running a few pints low

And then, it was six weeks later. I'm not sure how time got away from me, but I apologize for not updating my blog sooner.

To recap: Over the last 2-3 months, I have lost a lot of blood and become clinically anemic (low hemoglobin) because I have fibroids in my uterus. There are three of them and one is the size of a 16-week old fetus and the other 2 are about 6 weeks along. In fact, the big one completely fills my entire uterus! I got to see them in ultrasound pictures but decided not to get a printed copy to hang on the fridge. The main, troubling symptom is massive blood loss and the only way to recover from that is to take iron supplements and, well, stop bleeding.

Last time we met, my hemoglobin had tanked to a low of 9.7. Over, the past six weeks, I got it up to a high of 12.4. My goal is to be around 14. My running mileage and intensity increased steadily with my blood levels. I began feeling so much better with each incremental gain in red blood cells. I have also found that this is not necessarily a linear process. Some weeks, my blood levels rose in what appeared to be regular increments while in others, they didn't go up at all, even under the same supplementation regime and without any blood loss. Then, some weeks, like last week, I lost so much blood that I ended up losing ground and became anemic again.

Here is a quick record of my blood levels and corresponding workout milestones:

Hemoglobin: 9.7
Hematocrit: 29.3
Running workouts: Kept all workouts to short speed efforts. Ran about 3-4 days per week, ~20 miles/week. Felt very tired running. Had to stop numerous times to get through an easy run. Had to walk rest breaks when doing speed work.

Hemoglobin: 10.8
Hematocrit: 33.7
Running workouts: Still keeping to short speed efforts. Ran about 3-4 days per week, ~20 miles/week. Still felt very tired running. Still walking in rest breaks when doing speed work.

Hemoglobin: 11.2
Hematocrit: 35.4
Running workouts: Finally starting to feel better. Ran a long run at around 7:30 pace midweek and it was hard. Heart rate averaged 88-90% of max for the whole run (usual pace at that HR range is ~6:10). Did a short speed workout over the weekend and it was the first time I didn't have to walk the recoveries! 48 miles this week. Felt less tired running in general.

Hemoglobin: 11.7
Hematocrit: 35.7
Running workouts: Not much change here. Pretty disappointed that my hemoglobin didn't rise more over the last two weeks despite the iron supplements. I guess recovery from anemia isn't a linear process. I did some running on hilly trails and felt much better than I thought I would. However, I had to cut my first lactate threshold workout into chunks a few days later because I couldn't hold 6:15 pace for more than 800m:(.

Hemoglobin: 12.3
Hematocrit: 38.7
Running workouts: Had my first long workout with 9 miles at alternating marathon and lactate threshold pace. Ran all of it, but boy did I stop a lot. Averaged about 6:25 pace, but I did stop about 6 times during the course of this "continuous" workout.

Hemoglobin: 12.4
Hematocrit: 37.8
Ferritin: 35
Running workouts: Had my blood drawn on my own and decided to get ferritin checked too. Was happy to see that my iron stores are still up there! Ran a couple of lactate threshold workouts and stopped in at least one of the miles to complete at the faster paces (5:58-6:07). I don't recommend this, btw. It's not the way you're supposed to run them, but this is what happens when your brain is disconnected from your anemic body: you think you can run faster than you actually can and then you die during the repeat.

Hemoglobin: 11.9
Hematocrit: 36.8
Ferritin: 19
Running workouts: I had my blood drawn because I had experienced another major episode this week and was very worried about the effect on my blood levels. I had good reason to be concerned. Not only were hemoglobin and hematocrit low, but my ferritin took a nose dive because my body was really needing the stored iron to make new RBCs. I also changed my supplements a little this week from taking the liquid ferrous sulfate 3 times/day to taking it once and adding in a "gentler" product called "blood builder" with non-heme iron, folate, and B vitamins. I won't do that again. That stuff doesn't work for me.


So, that was last week and I had a race yesterday. Maybe you can imagine the deflation I felt when I was making such good progress with my blood levels and then, BAM, I lose nearly a month's worth of progress and turn into anemia girl again. IN TWO DAYS!!! I had hoped I might be close to normal by the time the race rolled around.    

I was a bit conflicted about whether or not to even run the race. I had missed two other races I had signed up for in March because of my health issues. The first race in early March was a 10 miler and I couldn't even run 10 miles at any pace without stopping to catch my breath at that point, so that was kind of a no brainer. Then, there was the hilly but beautiful Race across the Bay in San Francisco where I did so well last year. I was feeling better by then, but wasn't sure I could run without walking the hills. No go.  

With yesterday's Sactown 10-mile race, I knew that the anemia was going to affect me, but I decided I didn't want to miss another race. There is this little thing called ego that tried to get in the way of my decision, but I decided to just suck it up and go for it. I'm really glad I did. I had hoped to run around 6:30 pace for the whole race and try to pick it up a bit if possible in the second half. I stuck to my plan and was at least able to even split the race. I ran 31:59 for the first half and 1:03:57 overall. I was very pleased with this given the fact that 3 weeks ago I couldn't hold that pace for 9 miles. What I have to forget about is that I was running 30 miles/week at less than 6:20 pace two months ago in training.

The good thing about being anemic is that I will feel like a freakin' rockstar once my hemoglobin levels get over 13. I still have a long way to go, but I am hopeful that the meds I'm taking to control the bleeding will eventually kick in. I have been able to keep my mileage up around 60 these past couple of weeks and will be gradually increasing as I get closer to the Eugene Marathon.

So what is the solution to my medical problem? Well, the "easy" answer is to have a hysterectomy. In fact, the two gynecologists I saw prior to seeing a surgeon a few weeks ago, had already written my uterus off. When I walked in to see the surgeon, she said, "so, you're done with your uterus and just want to take it out, huh?" I told her that I never said that and, in fact, had told both of the other doctors that I did not want a hysterectomy. I wanted to see if I could manage the problem with meds before yanking the thing out.

This doctor was very good. She told me I had a few options available before resorting to major surgery. She explained these to me and said that I could totally live with my fibroid babies as long as I could deal with the symptoms. She also confirmed that they were living off a diet of estrogen and that, decreasing that would make them shrink and die. This is why they go away in menopause. I am a few years away from that big change, but it at least gives me a timeframe to work with.

What I have been doing is looking for other alternatives to reduce estrogen levels in my body and to shrink the fibroids. Those of you who've been regular followers will recall that I had my blood estrogen levels tested about 2 years ago (on my own because my docs said it was not useful) and was shocked that they were in the 500+ range which is the ideal level for someone on IVF treatment (very high). The medical doctors I have dealt with think estrogen tests are useless because they change with the monthly cycle, etc., yet they prescribe hormonal pills to increase them in order to remedy problems like I am having.

I am operating on the assumption that my estrogen levels are high (well, I have tests to prove that) and that my progesterone levels are low (taking BCPs for that). I am taking a product called Myomin to reduce my estrogen levels. It takes about 3-6 months to see reduction in fibroids if it's going to work. This is a long-term strategy, obviously. I also believe that I can quash the Occupy Jaymee movement inside my uterus by taking systemic enzymes that help to break down fibrin. This is based on internet research I have done and there is some science behind it, but it is purely a trial. I am assuming it can't hurt me to try.

In making this choice to try these alternative treatments and give my body a chance to kill the little bastards I have chosen a tough option. I won't get quick relief from this route, but I will at least know that I exhausted my non-surgical options. It is so tempting to think about surgery on the days, like the two days last week, where I am bleeding uncontrollably and know that I am becoming anemic yet again.

I am seeing progress. My blood levels aren't dropping as much as they were over a month ago every time I have a period, and I have new ways of coping with the massive bleeding when it comes. Ladies, if you are in the same boat as me and haven't tried the Diva Cup or Lunette, you are missing out on a wonderful world of leak-proof protection! Gross, I know guys, but this little device has literally changed my life. I can do everything I want to do without worrying about the flooding interrupting the party. It is perfect for runners and offers 12 hours of protection (for me that's about 3 hours, but way better than the 5 minutes I get from the other options).

And, I do believe my fibroid babies are shrinking. They are big enough that I can actually feel them in my abdomen (be grateful I spared you the baby bump pictures). They are definitely smaller than they were a month ago. As my symptoms subside, I'll try to get in for another ultrasound in a few months to see how much they have shrunk.        

I am happy to be able to share my story with all of you and add another anecdote to the interwebs about dealing with fibroids--one that is specific to athletes. I got confirmation of the educational benefit of my efforts from a fast guy runner yesterday who confessed that he has been reading my blog despite the warnings I have posted. He said, "I had no idea how much older women have to deal with!" I told him these problems are a lot more common than he could imagine, but most women choose to keep their stories private--and for good reason! I'm glad I didn't.