What is hypoparathyroidism?

Hypoparathyroidism is the weird endocrine disorder I am currently stuck with. It’s the condition in which your parathyroid glands are not adequately functioning. Don’t feel bad if you never heard of this before. Prior to mine going into hiding, I had no idea that I had parathyroids or what they were. They are four little glands, each about the size of a grain of rice, located near (hence “para”) the thyroid. Sometimes after thyroid surgery, the parathyroids get “stunned” and stop working. That’s what has happened to me.

But what do they do? Having explained this many times, I’ve found that two ideas are helpful. First, hypoparathyroidism is more like diabetes than any other disease people tend to be familiar with. Diabetics have trouble regulating their blood sugar and that’s a big deal. People with hypoparathyroidism have trouble regulating their blood calcium and that’s also a big deal.

Calcium in your blood? What?? I thought calcium was in the bones? It is! Here is the other idea that helps explain what hypoparathyroidism is. The calcium in your bones is like your bank account. It’s good to have a healthy bank account! The calcium in your blood is like the money in your wallet. Money in the wallet is also very important! In fact, on a day-to-day basis, arguably more important! The parathyroids are like your ATM card. They help you get calcium out of your bones and into your blood stream, where you can use it. I have plenty of calcium in my bones, but without functioning parathyroids, my body can’t access it.

What does calcium in the blood do? Our muscles use calcium from our blood (serum calcium) every time they move. If serum calcium is too low it can cause muscle cramps, tingling (like pins and needles), tetany (severe cramping) and a host of other bad things like depression and confusion. As one friend who is an endocrinologist put it “Your heart is a muscle, Sarah.” I’ve had plenty of muscle cramps in my legs, but muscle cramps in the heart…..I’d rather not think about that. As another friend put it “That is an especially cruel disorder for a runner.” Yes, it is.

In a normal person, the parathyroids regulate calcium levels in the blood and we don’t even know that’s happening. Because my parathyroids are not currently working, I have to take calcium and activated vitamin D supplements. Too little calcium is bad, but too much calcium is also bad. Too much calcium can lead to kidney stones, cataracts and calcium deposits in the brain or other parts of the body where calcium does not belong. You read that right. The medication that is standard treatment for hypoparathyroidism can cause kidney stones, cataracts and calcification of the brain.

One more piece of bad news. Hypoparathyroidism is like diabetes in that it’s an endocrine disorder having to do with blood levels of calcium (or sugar for diabetes). Most people know that diabetics can check their blood sugar levels through a blood test. That’s where diabetics have a big advantage over hypoparas (people with hypoparathyroidism). Diabetics can check their blood sugar levels at home and immediately. Hypoparas have to go to a lab (which has to be open) and we generally have to wait 24 hours for results. Think about a diabetic having to wait 24 hours to find out if their blood sugar levels are too high or too low. Not fun. So far, I have not had high levels of calcium, but apparently it feels pretty much like low levels of calcium. Too much or too little – both are dangerous and they feel the same. And you have to wait at least 24 hours for results. You can get a faster calcium blood test at the emergency room. Is it any wonder that one survey found that 80% of people with hypoparathyroidism visit the ER or are hospitalized in any given year?

Diabetics have another “advantage” over hypoparas. [Note – I would NOT wish diabetes on anyone!]. There are over 34 million people in the United States with diabetes. There are maybe 200,000 people in the United States with hypoparathyroidism. If you want to get rich discovering a cure for something, where would you invest your money? If you end up at the ER for diabetes, there’s an extremely good chance that all the medical providers you encounter will have helped diabetics before. If you have hypoparathyroidism, there’s a decent chance that your endocrinologist has never had a patient with this condition before, let alone the folks in the ER. [Note – My endocrinologist has experience with hypoparathyroidism. I got good treatment at the Middlesex ER, but they also recorded my condition as hyPERparathyroidism.] It’s not uncommon for hypoparas to be greeted at the ER with skepticism and possible accusations of drug use. [Our veins get scarred from frequent bloodwork.]

I know a lot of friends and family want to help. The bad news is, the parathyroids will or won’t start working on their own time. The good news is, there are some things everyone can do to help.

  1. Be kind. More kindness in the world helps everyone. I truly believe that the best way for all of us to heal is to be as kind as possible.
  2. Kevin and I pray every day for my parathyroids to start working again. This can happen and I do think prayers can help!
  3. Educate yourself about this crazy disease. Or some other crazy disease if someone close to you is struggling. For hypoparathyroidism, this is a good place to start. https://hypopara.org/

But really – be kind to yourself and to others. That turns out to be the whole entire story.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Health Update Early January 2023 – Re-braving Underway

It’s been awhile and I figure it’s time for a health update. These missives are helpful to me at least. I hope they might be helpful to others dealing with similar issues.

I’m a bad-news-first kind of girl so let’s start there. No real change in the hypoparathyroidism situation. We’ve tested calcium and parathyroid hormone levels a few times in the last couple of months. For fellow hypoparas who will want numbers, calcium is hovering around 8.0-8.3. PTH (parathyroid hormone) has been as low as 10 and as high as 22. A “normal” person’s calcium is around 9.0. PTH goes up and down like a seesaw with calcium, but if calcium is below 8.5, PTH should be a lot higher than mine is. My parathyroids have not woken up yet. The longer this situation continues, the greater the chances that I am stuck with this disease forever.

I haven’t given up hope yet and in fact, I am trying to focus my energy on remaining hopeful. If anyone wants to help, this is where to place your energy. Please pray that my parathyroids begin working again. If you aren’t the praying type, just send good vibes in the general direction of my neck.

I’ll write something soon with more information about the condition of hypoparathyroidism. I know it’s confusing. For now, what it means is that I take more calcium and activated vitamin D supplements than I am comfortable with in order to keep the symptoms of calcium deficiency at bay. Calcium deficiency causes muscle cramps, especially during exercise, so I have to supplement more when I run. Some runs are fine. Other runs are really painful because of the cramps. I keep running because this situation is “just” uncomfortable, not dangerous.

Since November, I picked up one “new” health issue, atrial fibrillation. “New” because I have a history of afib, but it dates back quite awhile. I had several incidents between 2010 and 2013 and then only one more in 2016. In my case, atrial fibrillation clearly correlates strongly with stress. There’s no denying that the past few months have been some of the most stressful of my life. I am doing everything I can think of to mitigate stress and I don’t really need (or want) advice here. In case anyone’s wondering, something important did happen in 2013. I started running marathons and the afib incidents stopped. I have a cardiology appointment next week. I wouldn’t want to neglect my newfound hobby of going to the doctor.

The tone here is coming out more bitter and defensive than I mean it to, but I’ve been reviewing insurance claims all afternoon so the bad stuff is on my mind. There’s a lot of good stuff to report as well!

I got excellent news on the thyroid front this week! My thyroid levels have been “good enough” for a couple of months. But this week, all numbers were excellent! I am also feeling good with plenty of energy to get into trouble.

The skin cancer situation is also resolving. I had Mohs surgery on 11/28. Irene and Kevin both went with me. The doctor and the nurse were great. Only one slice needed! Just over six weeks later and the scar has faded a lot. I expect no further issues here, knock on wood.

The best news is about my voice. It’s a long way from normal, but the progress here is significant. I’ve been able to get semi-regular voice therapy appointments and I do exercises every day. My range is increasing! My tone is more resonant! I can talk louder! I can even sort of sing, if you ignore the squawking and the song doesn’t have any high notes. Both of the voice therapists I work with are fantastic people. We don’t know what the final outcome here is, but I am still making good progress. In three weeks, I have to start lecturing. That’s still a daunting prospect, but I am a lot less worried about being stuck with a croak for the rest of my life.

The fear and panic I experienced before running the Philadelphia marathon were really the peak of awfulness. But marathons serve to give us courage and Philly served that purpose. A friend who has also had serious health issues this past year says she is in the process of “re-braving” herself. I plan to join her in that project. The past year taught me that health is out of our control much more often than we understand or want to believe. But maybe hope is something we can work to rekindle, in ourselves and in others. I am so grateful to those who are helping me get better, regardless of what the final outcome looks like. Re-braving in progress, so here’s to hope in 2023.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Philadelphia Marathon 2022 Race Report – Part 3 – Finally the race!

“The older I get, the more I realize the greatest threat to my faith is not my doubt. It is my desire for certainty. Faith is not about being certain or right. It is about trusting the truth that God’s love and grace remain even when my faith leaves.” – Dante Steward

Race morning, I woke up feeling pretty crappy. But this is marathon #14 for me. Race prep is well-rehearsed at this point. Make the coffee. Make the oatmeal. Eat the banana. Drink the Maurten. It requires no thought to do these things. My brain stayed calm and I did them.

I was glad I had laid out my entire kit the night before. Coach Maverick had insisted on long tights, which I had never worn for a marathon before, but he was definitely right. From head to toe, I wore: Goodr sunglasses, pink Brooks hat, Nike Chicago sports bra, Tracksmith Harrier long sleeve top, Brooks canopy jacket, cheapie Fleet Feet gloves with hand warmers, Nike tights, Darn Tough wool socks, Nike Next% 2s. Seven Maurten gels, each with a Tums taped onto it, and extra Tums, just in case of some kind of calcium emergency, all tucked into my FlipBelt. Plus, I bought a super warm jacket and a pair of sweatpants at Goodwill as throwaways. I knew setting off into the city alone in the cold and the dark would be hard, and it was. But at least I was warm.

There was a shuttle bus stop only two blocks away from the AirBnB. Score! I got right on the bus and was at the race site in only 10 minutes. As I was going through security, I started talking to the woman in front of me. She was from Mexico City, also alone, and also feeling nervous. Part of my game plan had been to find a friend and here she was. We went to the warming tent and sat on the her heat sheet together. She and her daughter were in town to run the races and visit a friend. We compared notes on families and marathons and fueling and what we had seen in Philadelphia. It was warm and cozy in the tent!

Eventually though it was time to go line up. It was *cold* outside, and really windy. I had thought to meet the Librarian but she was planning to run faster than I was. I lined up with my new friend, loathe to leave her behind. It was so cold and windy – everyone kept their outer gear on as long as possible. Finally it was our time to go. I tried to stick with my new friend but ended up losing her almost immediately.

In talking to Coach Maverick about the race plan, he recommended running really easy for the first 10K and then assessing how I felt. He suggested 9:20-9:30 and I thought I might even start at 9:40. With the crazy stress level of the last few months, the awful weather, and the bad sleep, I preferred to be overly conservative. I was pretty sure even when I was lining up that I was just going to run the whole race easy. After the panic attack the night before, I wasn’t sure that finishing was a done deal.

Intrepid Spectators!

I ran down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, working my way to the right-hand side where I hoped to see Mervus and Rose at about the 1 mile marker. There they were! I was elated to see them. I could already tell that today’s run was not going to be about time so I stopped for a quick hug.

The early miles of the Philadelphia course loop around the city center and then down to Penn’s Landing by the Delaware River. We ran by a UCC church with a rainbow sign out front: Love is Love is Love is Love. I thought of all my church friends back home, praying for me.

Then we ran by the Mother Bethel AME Church. Women from the church were singing and passing out pace bands. I grabbed one that said “God is My Pace Partner.” Yes, I thought. This run has to be about love and about God. That’s going to sound so corny, but it’s true. I can’t keep living with the level of fear I’ve dealt with in the past six months so I have to find a way to move forward with less fear. I know that for me, that means placing my trust in God. I would have thought that would be easier to do, but it turns out to be really hard. I like being in control of my life. The realization that I do not control something as fundamental as my health has been exceptionally difficult to accept. I want to somehow will my parathyroids back into action. But I am gradually understanding that it does not work that way. This problem is too big for me and I have to give it to God. I am really trying and it is really hard.

I wasn’t sure I was going to finish this race. I am not sure I am going to be able to run another marathon. But we actually never know those things. A twisted ankle, a stomach gone south, calcium craziness. No runner is guaranteed a finish line (or a starting line). No runner is guaranteed another marathon, or even another race. Ever. Given that that’s true, I wanted to enjoy this race. I didn’t want to spend what might be my last marathon cursing the weather or bemoaning my fate. Coach Mick always advises me to “Run with Joy” and as much as possible, that’s exactly what I did. The joy of the marathon is not usually the glitter-and-sparkles kind of joy. If you work hard and keep your head on straight and get a little lucky, it can be the job-well-done kind of joy and that’s what I was aiming for in Philadelphia.

 

So – back to the race! Just before the corner near Independence Hall, I spotted a friend from church cheering for me. I came around the corner and she was waiting with her camera positioned to get a shot of me running with Independence Hall in the background. She called out “We love you! We love you!” probably the single best marathon cheer I have ever heard.

That was just the beginning of the fun on Chesnut and Walnut streets. I spotted Aliphine Tuliamuck and stopped and gave her a big hug. Jared Ward and Bart Yasso were there and they got hugs too. I have no idea what they thought of a crazy woman hugging them mid-race but they didn’t object. Next up were Death Shuffler and Partner with the first of their awesome signs. They got hugs too. Then I found Mervus and Rose again and more big hugs. Last but not least near the end of the street Nurse Runner saw me and shouted out a cheer. WOOT! The first 7 miles in Philly are pretty amazing.

The next section of the race had a special treat. We crossed the Schuylkill River into University City. Aidan was waiting for me at mile 8 with his girlfriend, Hale. He had arrived the night before, too late to come by our AirBnB. I stopped for big hugs from both of them. The joy at seeing my son – indescribable! They promised they would see me again at mile 12.5.

The next four miles were pretty tough running. The course loops around the zoo. It’s the hilliest section and the wind was getting stronger. One runner said “It’s just what we need – a little headwind to add to the hill.” I didn’t say anything. I just thought – don’t even go there. Positive attitude all the way. I’m really proud that I never wavered from that. I tried to keep my mind blank. Or I chanted words: Once it was mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes, getting ready for Thanksgiving I guess. Another time it was: Kintsugi, Kintsugi, Kintsugi. These miles were really long. I even made a potty stop. At 12.5, Aidan and Hale were there again, as promised. I hugged them again, so hard. These two – I have so much love for both of them.

Death Shuffler had said she would be at mile 16 so I had to get back across the river and work my way around another loop to get to her. It was still cold, still windy. I listened to my music. I tried to make my mind go blank. Mashed potatoes. Kintsugi. Keep going. I wasn’t looking at my watch at all. Sometimes the wind was so strong that it knocked my legs into each other. It was just a matter of not stopping.

At mile 16, there was a woman who looked a lot like Death Shuffler, wearing a Dunkin Donuts NYC marathon hat like Death Shuffler, carrying a sign like Death Shuffler. The sign said “Why?” but then she unfolded it and it said “Why Not?” So perfect! I tried to catch the her eye, but she didn’t see me. It turns out it WAS Death Shuffler and also: four more miles done.

Mile 16 is where I was victorious over the demons. I really wasn’t mentally prepared to fight. They had been sneaky with their midnight appearance. But I had some tricks up my sleeve too. One of my favorite podcasts, the Injured Athletes Club, presents the concept of the Anxiety Pyramid. When returning to sport after injury (or calcium chaos), competing at the top level might be too scary. The idea of the Anxiety Pyramid is to figure out what the athlete can handle and do that. If playing tennis is too scary, can you hold a tennis ball? If jumping with a horse is terrifying, can you put the tack on? Can you sit in the saddle? If racing a marathon felt impossible, what about 26.2 miles of easy jogging? Could I sneak in under the demons’ radar if I kept the pace comfortable? I started to believe I could.

After mile 16, I knew I would finish. The trip out to Manayunk took forever. I kept looking at the runners around me. One woman had a black sweatshirt that said PURR VIDA on the back. She was wearing a sparkly black stocking cap with cat ears so I tried to stay with her. Anyone in a sparkly cat hat is a potential friend of mine. But I needed to run exactly my own race. By now, the water at the aid stations had ice in it and the road was frozen and slick. Finally I reached the turnaround point and started running back to the start. Hallelujah. Somewhere around mile 22 there was a port-a-potty and I stopped for my second pee of the race.

After the port-a-potty, I was ready to re-focus and get this done. Four miles to go. At the 24 mile mark, I saw Death Shuffler again. At 25 miles I looked for Rubik’s Cube, but missed him. Mervus and Rose were on my right near the 26 mile marker as promised. This time I didn’t stop for a hug. I was almost done. And then, finally, I was done.

The finish line was sweet. Arms up and a big smile and then I burst into tears. Another runner saw me sobbing, hugged me, and walked with me to the medals. One of the volunteers asked if it was my first marathon. I managed to laugh and say no, 14th, but first since surgery. She gave me a hug and a medal. I absolutely PRd in hugs this time around.

The wind had kicked up and I knew I just needed to get back to the AirBnB as fast as possible. The orange juice from the finishing line was frozen. A quick phone call helped me locate Mervus and Rose. Mervus had blessedly thought to bring my big winter coat so I was cozy pretty fast. We found the shuttle buses and gratefully climbed aboard.

Back at the AirBnB, I got showered and packed up the remainder of my stuff. We met Aidan and Hale and went directly to brunch. Wonderful to be done. Wonderful to have my family around me. So so happy.

And, for the TL;DR version:

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Philadelphia Marathon 2022 Race Report – Part 2

The night before the Philadelphia marathon, I went to bed, but not to sleep. Runners sometimes talk about racing as fighting with our demons. In a tough race, your mind will give you all kinds of reasons to stop: You’re not good enough or tough enough (a perennial favorite). Your performance doesn’t matter (also popular). Just walk a little bit and it will hurt less (true, but the mental pain of defeat will hurt more later). Those are standard demon arguments and most runners are familiar with them. Good runners have strategies for combating them. But if you go into a race with a non-standard problem, the demons will capitalize on it. If you start a race with your heart heavy with grief or disappointment or fear, the demons will go to town. I was expecting the demons on race morning to tell me that my health concerns of the last six months mean I have no business running marathons, now or possibly ever again. I was ready for the race morning demons, but they showed up at night. Sneaky, sneaky demons.

I did the usual stuff to try to sleep. I listened to my sleep meditation on Headspace. I listened to another one. But I couldn’t focus on anything. Random song lyrics were pinging around my brain. My heart and thoughts were racing. I realized just how scared I was. Probably more scared than I have ever been in my life. More scared than before giving birth. More scared than before any other race. Only the four days that Aidan spent in the hospital after his bike accident could touch this level of fear.

Some of the fear was because of the race and especially the weather. But I was mostly scared about the hypoparathyroidism. This condition has been so terrifying. It feels utterly out of control. I want my parathyroids to recover so badly and I can’t do anything to make that happen. I’m terrified of what my life might look like going forward if my parathyroids don’t wake up. Some people experience so much chronic fatigue and pain that they can’t work. With this condition, you have to take high doses of calcium and vitamin D forever. That “treatment” means that many people end up with calcium deposits in all kinds of places where calcium is not supposed to be. Hypoparathyroidism and its management seriously increase the risk of kidney stones, cataracts, and most terrifyingly, calcification of the brain. I have been living with this fear since late July and it’s exhausting.

I woke up Mervus and told him I was having some kind of panic attack. We tried playing Wordle for distraction and we got a shockingly clear result. Does God pick the Wordle words? Despite this sign, my anxiety was still sky high.

I’ve started therapy with someone who specializes in medical trauma and she had sent me a long list of grounding exercises based on the five senses as a way to connect to the here and now. One suggestion was eating something with a strong flavor like a pickle or a piece of chocolate, but what I had was the leftover biscuit from Molly Molloy’s. I ate it very slowly, bite by bite. I focused on the crumbly texture, which I love. The slight sweetness of the honey butter. The tart berry jam. I ate it consciously and brought all my being into the act of eating that biscuit.

It worked. I could feel myself relax enough to go back to bed. It wasn’t a perfect fix, but I calmed down enough that I was eventually able to get to sleep. It was easily the worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had before a race, but at least I slept. And hey, biscuits are extra carbs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Philadelphia Marathon 2022 Race Report – Part 1

I wrote an entire blog post on why I chose to run the Philadelphia marathon so I won’t re-hash that here. There’s no denying that it’s been a really tough six months. A really tough year, if I’m honest. I am working on recovery. The weekend before the race, I had a Kintsugi party with a close group of friends. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold. Kintsugi celebrates imperfection. Kintsugi pottery is stronger and more beautiful, not in spite of the repair, but because of it. Perhaps I can become a piece of Kintsugi.

The marathon was well timed, but I also love the city of Philadelphia. When I ran the half marathon here in 2019, I wanted to make a return trip with the family to visit the Christmas markets and soak in the city. It was too late to plan anything for December 2019 and well, December 2020 wasn’t the time for a quick trip to Philly. This year, though, we enjoyed the city in spades.

When planning the weekend in Philadelphia, I knew I wanted to make it a special visit for Rose.  We left home right after lunch. Despite hitting traffic, we were only four minutes late for our dinner reservations Friday night! We went to a restaurant called Spice Finch, upscale Mediterranean. The restaurant was wonderful. We got a trio of spreads, amazing “berbere chips,” fancy cocktails, mushroom pasta, chickpea wedges, and a tahini brownie for dessert.

After dinner, we went back to the car and grabbed our stuff. Our AirBnB had a great layout and a lot of space. That said, it also had a dishwasher full of other people’s dirty dishes. Yuck. We thought about going to CVS for a few things, but ended up reading the reviews of the nearest CVS and laughing hysterically instead. “The minute clinic is psycho!” had to be our favorite. We got successfully settled in and had a good night.

The following morning, I set out for my shakeout run. I was missing being with other runners. The entire weekend was going to be cold and blustery and it was a little hard to get going on my own. In my previous post, I wrote about calling on grit and grace for this race. Whatever the issues with the AirBnB, the entryway told me that we were clearly in the right place.

Once I got out the door, I quickly ran into the half marathon, which was already underway. Cool! I ran out Benjamin Franklin Parkway, got a look at the starting and finishing area, and jogged back. It was cold but I felt pretty good, probably the best I’d felt all week. It’s always weird to think – the next run will be the big one!

I got cleaned up and we set off for our tour of Independence Hall. It was a lovely sunny morning with lots to see. Independence Hall was a *huge* hit! We had watched National Treasure as a get-ready-for-Philly movie so we were all primed. It was surprisingly moving to see the actual place where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Of course, we also checked out the Liberty Bell.

From there, we Ubered to the Convention Center in an effort to save my legs. We met Nurse Runner at the expo. It was great to catch up. I miss running with her SO much! We got some swag for Rose and I picked up a pint glass and a magnet. The expo was still quite a lot smaller than it was pre-Covid. I hope we can get back to pre-Covid expos at some point.

We were getting hungry and it was time for lunch at Reading Terminal Market. Luckily I’ve been here enough that I’ve got a game plan because this place is crazy! I stationed Mervus near Molly Molloy’s to watch for a free table. I took Rose to scope out what she wanted for lunch. Chocolate butter cake and a pumpkin cupcake from the Flying Monkey Bakery. Good choice! I waited forever to get a pile of food from Molly Molloy’s. YUMMY. Plus, I got an extra biscuit, which came in handy later. Rose and I both love Reading Terminal Market, but it is a bit overwhelming.

 

 

Next up was the Love statue, which we could walk to. A quick glimpse of the Christmas market, but we were getting weary and there was one important stop left. Off to the Rocky Statue! So funny that in a city full of statue of famous historical figures, I suspect Rocky is the biggest tourist draw. Rose and I ran up the steps of the Art Institute together. That was probably my favorite moment of the entire weekend. Such joy to leap up the stairs with my girl just one step ahead of me! The view of the beautiful city from the top!

 

 

Then back to the AirBnB to relax a little. We still needed a pot for cooking pasta so Mervus went to fetch that. A former student came by for a visit, which was really nice. I love it when students stay in touch. She’s one of a very special group that got through the pandemic together.

We headed back out to hit the Christmas markets before dinner. That was also just so joyful! We rode the double carousel! We got some fresh Stroopwaffels fresh out of the press. So delicious!

Then back to the AirBnB again. Mervus got the pasta ready while I did a little last minute race prep. I taped a Tums tablet to each Maurten gel and laid out Flat Sarah. All the various meds at the assigned times. One last text to Coach Maverick. One last look at my confidence resume. We had dinner and went to bed.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why I am running the Philadelphia Marathon

When I learned I had to have thyroid surgery in May, I initially assumed that a fall marathon was off the table. Surely recovery would take too long and there wouldn’t be enough time for adequate training. But then my coach-at-the time suggested I might be able to fit in a late fall marathon. Driving the hospital for surgery, I discussed racing plans on the phone with High Power Running Mentor #1. That turns out to be an amazing distraction technique and also an excellent way to toss a grappling hook of hope into the future.  HPRM#1 normally opposes my habit of frequent marathons but he also thought a fall race wasn’t a crazy idea. I started to think about CIM. Obviously, recovery has turned out to be much more complicated than expected. But by mid-summer, it seemed that running easy miles was going better than running faster miles. Marathons love easy miles. Then CIM sold out. But Aidan’s girlfriend goes to school in Philadelphia. He could fly into Philly for Thanksgiving and we could pick the two of them up and drive them home. Was it a giant coincidence that the Philadelphia marathon is the very weekend we planned to go fetch the college kids? I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions.

Back in August when we made this plan, it was hard to say how things would look in November. I certainly hoped that I would be done dealing with calcium and voice issues by now, which I am not. But back in August, I was also really scared. That’s when the marathon called to me most clearly. I don’t always subscribe to the old adage “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” But in this case, it fits. Given that it was extremely hard to predict how training would go, train for the thing you love the most. For me, that’s the marathon.

By early September, training started to fall into place. I’m loving working with Coach Maverick. I love the routine of marathon training. I’ve loved fall long runs with friends through the gorgeous New England autumn. One of my main goals for the training cycle was to re-establish a regular training routine post-surgery. No matter what happens at the race, I’ve accomplished that. More than any training cycle in a long time, this one has been about process. I’ve trained almost entirely by effort, barely looking at my watch, just showing up every day and doing the work. I’m hugely grateful that this turned out to be possible.

You can run without racing. But a race provides some direction. It gives a purpose to the training. It’s true that the race is the celebration of the training, but in this case, it’s more than that. I’ve thought a lot about the first marathon training cycle after my epic bout with plantar fasciitis. That was my first marathon with Coach Mick. Like now, I ran every run based on effort rather than pace. Like now, some long runs were ventures into the unknown more than they usually are because I didn’t know how my body would hold up. Like now, I made it to the starting line, which is never a guarantee.

This training cycle also reminds me of my first research trip abroad after Rose was born. The entire family went to Berlin so I could do field work. Aidan was four and a half and Rose was just five months old. The plan was that Mervus and I would both work while the kids napped. I am not sure that either of us got a lot of work done. But I proved to myself (and my department? Other political scientists?) that I could still do field work, even with two children. In many ways the trip was ridiculous. But I’ve never regretted going. More than anything else, I needed to know that I could still do research abroad.

That’s a lot of what this marathon is about. I need to know that I can run 26.2 miles without a thyroid. Unless something very weird happens, I am going to make it to the starting line on Sunday morning. I am also really good at getting to the finish line though that is never a guarantee either. I’ve run a couple of exceptionally hot marathons. This one is going to be the coldest yet. It might or might not be marked by severe cramping due to calcium deficiency. The marathon is a very long race with a lot of opportunity for the wheels to come off the bus.

I am running the Philadelphia marathon to prove that I can do it – to prove it to myself and to the numerous doctors supervising my care. It’s more than a bit audacious. It has not yet been six months since surgery. When I made this plan, I did not know what a big deal that was going to be. The past few months have been marked by a lot of fear and not a small amount of despair. But there’s also a little bit of iron that lives inside me and that bit of iron is still very much there.

When I thought the plantar fasciitis might take me away from running forever, I got up each morning and looked at my workout clothes and thought about whether it was worth it to cross train or not. Every single day, it was worth it, because I wanted to get back to running.

When I cramped so severely at the end of the 22 miler in West Hartford earlier this month, I thought about turning back early. But I didn’t. I ran 22 miles even though the last few were incredibly painful.

When the insurance company called twice during my 20 miler, I fielded the calls and finished the run.

Sometimes you just run because it’s on the plan. Because following the plan brings order to disorder. Because I can’t control my health, which is one of the most frustrating things I have ever encountered in my life. Because it’s terrifying to think how close I might have come to having a condition that can be incapacitating. Because I am going to have to work every day to get my voice back to normal – damaged through absolutely no fault of my own. These really bad things have happened to me and I can’t control them. I can control showing up and doing the work.

On a podcast I heard a professional runner talk about being able to control effort and attitude. I like that. That’s no different for a professional runner or for me. Ultimately even Kipchoge can only control effort and attitude.

Coach Maverick told me last week that I was showing strength and grit, but I misremembered that as grace and grit. I like that even better. In a lot of ways, strength is easier than grace. I have a lot of grit. I’ve showed that many times. I’m also really strong. But this experience is helping me find grace. What does that mean? It means discovering a deep well of kindness within myself, kindness for myself and for others. I am not perfect and I do not always manage this. Just ask Mervus. But to run simply because I can. Because sometimes, often, the world is terrible, more terrible than we could imagine. But learning to run through the terrible helps us overcome it.

So, that’s why I am running the Philadelphia marathon. To prove to myself and others that I can do it. For the chance to practice controlling effort and attitude. To demonstrate strength and grit, but most of all grace. As the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia turns out to be the absolutely most perfect place to run a marathon.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Another Medical Update – Late October 2022: Frustratingly Slow Progress

Progress is still progress, right? I am in a crazy-making zone right now where the overall trajectory is definitely improvement. However, things have been so bad for so long that I am really scared to hope for anything for fear of jinxing myself. Hope feels too dangerous because it seems that it will inevitably lead to disappointment.

I want to acknowledge that I am probably difficult to talk to at the moment even though I also need people to reach out. When someone is struggling, we naturally want to comfort them. We would love to say “It’s going to be ok” – but what if it isn’t? We might try something like: “Things are getting better!” – that’s accurate in my case, but that can feel like it denies the very real suffering that is ongoing. A few people are getting regular updates on all this health crap. One friend sends a prayer and a joke every single morning. Friends from church have sent me things like an amazing thyroid-calcium poster and a dragonfly to symbolize transformation. I am beyond grateful for these acts of compassion. My inner circle has had a massive lesson in the endocrine system. Kevin has been an absolute rock. Sometimes I am scared and furious, but I try to remember that I am not alone.

All right, so here’s the update. We checked thyroid levels again on October 13 and THS was 2.1, basically the same as the previous test of 1.94. We are looking for that to be a bit lower so I am now taking 150mcg of levothyroxine a day, plus half a pill extra once a week. Hopefully that brings TSH down just a tad. Free T4 and Free T3 were within range. We will check thyroid levels again in early December, but I’m feeling good and I expect them to be fine.

The biggest news (and stress, as usual) is about calcium. From mid-September to mid-October, I was able to reduce calcium and calcitriol at the pace of dropping one daily pill a week. YAY YAY YAY! Calcium remained stable throughout and PTH (parathyroid hormone) came up! YAY! I got down to ZERO Tums per day and .75mcg calcitriol per day. Hallelujah!

Then we I tried to go to .5mcg calcitriol per day and my calcium dropped too low. That was disappointing. I also felt crappy. No real tingles but a severe backache and just general body grouchiness. When I returned to .75mcg calcitriol/day, those symptoms disappeared so it’s no mystery what was going on.

My endocrinologist characterized our process of dropping meds as “aggressive” and I agree. I was able to drop a pill every week for four weeks straight before my body said no more. That said, I was on a roll and having to go back on the higher calcitriol dose was a bit of a heart breaker. It’s been a major mental balancing act. On the one hand, weaning off that much calcium and calcitriol that quickly is pretty damn awesome. On the other hand, no one likes a setback and there’s no way to predict when a setback might become permanent. The plan for now is to let my body re-group for a couple of weeks and then try again. We can also tinker with things like dropping some calcitriol but adding some calcium back in.

Just to clarify, if my parathyroid glands don’t start working again, I have permanent hypoparathyroidism. That is a really shitty outcome. We are trying to discover if it is in fact my personal shitty outcome. This condition is often transient. If I can reduce and eventually eliminate the medication and my body takes over regulating calcium on its own, then I am good to go! If my calcium levels drop every time we try to reduce calcitriol, then I am stuck with this bullshit, probably for life. Calcitriol is a high power prescription strength Vitamin D that carries with it long-term risks of things like kidney stones, cataracts, and calcification of the brain. That’s why I want to get off it. Let’s hope and pray that my hypoparathyroidism is transient! The process of weaning off the meds is stressful because the stakes are high.

In terms of my voice, I’ve been able to get voice therapy appointments close to every other week. That’s much better than once a month! I’m making clear progress. At my first appointment, my range was only 17 semi-tones. At my most recent appointment, it was 28 semi-tones! Now a lot of those tones are squawks but the voice therapists assure me that that will improve. I am currently pretty hopeful that with time, I will get most and maybe all of my voice back. I have a new and deep understanding for how much our voices represent our selves. I am grieving the fact that six months after surgery, I very much doubt I will be able to sing Christmas carols.

That leaves the pesky little basal cell carcinoma as the last health issue. Because the last time someone cut my neck, things did not go so well, I had been hoping to treat this skin cancer with radiation therapy. Cigna has approved the radiation, but not the ultrasound guidance. I guess the idea is that the doctor would just wave the radiation wand in the general direction of my neck and call it good? I am running out of energy to fight the insurance company so I may just go for the surgery.

I am kind of stuck between hope and fear. It’s often hard to think about topics other than my health. After five months, I am getting quite tired. Yes, I am still running. I am in fact training for the Philadelphia marathon and it’s going pretty well, all things considered.

These updates are a way for me to process all of this stuff. Today is a tough day mentally but I need to get this post off my chest in an effort to move on so here it is.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hartford Half Marathon Race Report 2022

Photograph by Jennifer Schulten

In a lot of ways, the story of Hartford 2022 begins way back in August 2013. I was training for my first full marathon and I ended up with an Achilles issue. As I’ve told the story many times, I showed up in the Maestro’s physical therapy clinic with my training plan in one hand and two small children dangling off the other. Rose would have been five and Aidan was nine. The Maestro put SpongeBob SquarePants for them, which they objected to. Then he got on with the business of healing my Achilles, but more importantly, helping me understand that even though risk can lead to injury, injury can lead to recovery. The injury is not the end of the story. That’s such an important lesson and here I am nine years later, still learning it. The Maestro started running himself earlier this year and I have the enormous honor of acting as his coach. Watching him cross the finish line of his first full marathon was by far the best moment of my day! I’m happy about how my own race went, but I am OVER THE MOON about his!

My training leading up to Hartford went well. Coach Maverick and I are settling into a groove. I am currently training by effort, which makes a lot of sense because pace is so hard to predict during recovery. Effort is probably the best metric anyway, but it takes a big leap of faith to rely on it exclusively. Since the Surftown Half, we’ve extended tempo segments, my pace has dropped, and I haven’t once looked at my watch during a workout. The weekend before the race, I ran 16 miles with some half marathon effort segments and the Tuesday before the race, I had 20 consecutive minutes of tempo. Most days have been a happy surprise when I looked at pace after the run.

I write these race reports partly for everyone’s amusement, but also for my own record keeping. I never published the Hartford 2016 race report because it’s too damn dark. I was really struggling and in that report I note that it was the Maestro who made me confront my mental demons. Tough Guy Trainer helped me figure out how to seize the day and run well even in the middle of a lot of doubt. These two have been on my team, by my side, and in my head since 2013 and I am beyond grateful for their continued support. Hartford 2017 was a different story entirely. I had recovered from the PF. I had started working with Coach Mick. He convinced me to run the race without looking at my watch. I worried “What if I go out too fast? Or too slow?” He said “What if not looking at your watch allows you to find just the right pace?” Wise words from a wise friend. Hartford 2017 was the beginning of a glorious comeback.

Fast forward to Hartford 2022. Coach Maverick also suggested I run by feel. I knew this was the only sensible choice. I would absolutely be running slower paces workouts if I had been looking at my watch because I would have been scared of blowing up. Racing by effort is scarier because the stakes feel higher but Coach Maverick helped me remember that there are no stakes here. I have everything to win and nothing to lose right now. He even convinced me to change my watch face to remove pace entirely. No temptation to peek.

On the Friday before the race I had planned to meet the Maestro at the expo for bib pick up and lunch. He ended up having car trouble so I picked up our bibs by myself. Full service coaching! [I was crossing my fingers *really* hard that he figured out transport to the race, but he did, no problem.] I went to Goodwill for throw away clothes. I even talked to Coach Mick while driving around. We are still good friends. I don’t think I would have been brave enough to drop the watch this time around if I hadn’t already done it once so huge thank you to Coach Mick!

The other pre-race day activity was going to the lab for blood work. I’m a regular at this point. I was up in the night a bit checking for results, but they arrived on race morning. No red exclamation point! The red exclamation point marks abnormal test results. It has been there all ten times we have checked calcium and parathyroid hormone levels since surgery. At first, I thought there was some kind of error, but no. Calcium and parathyroid hormone IN RANGE!! Both of them! For the first time since surgery! That is seriously the best news EVER on race morning. Truly incredible. I woke up Mervus to show him, but then let him get back to sleep.

Downstairs, I made my oatmeal (opting for a compromise of ¾ cup dry this time) and coffee. There was a bit of texting back and forth between me and the Maestro, with images of our race kits, last minute nutrition tips, all-around getting amped.

I got to the race very early and secured some seriously Rockstar parking. For free! I was so early that I did a Headspace meditation to get in the right frame of mind. I had the Maestro’s bib and some gloves and some Gu for him so we agreed to meet in front of the Bushnell Theater. I jogged around a bit and ended up at the theater on time to hand off the Maestro’s stuff and hop in for the Manchester Running Company team picture. Then the Maestro and I did some strides, made a last minute port-a-potty stop, and headed to the start.

The Maestro and I were running different paces – his first marathon, my zillionth half marathon – but the course is the same for the first mile and we decided to stick together. So incredibly exciting! It went by too quickly, though we were running pretty slowly. Then I made the turn and he went straight and I thought, I’ll see you in about four hours!

It was time for me to find my pace. I tried to feel it. Faster than easy. Nothing like a sprint. Something like what Coach Mick calls “sentences pace” and what Coach Maverick calls 7 on the perceived exertion scale. I know about what this should feel like, but it takes some confidence to just go for it. Too fast and you die later. Too slow and you blow your race.

In 2017, I wrote about how even without my watch, I still had a lot of chatter in my head. My mind was constantly assessing my effort level. I was talking out loud, pretending to say things to Snarky Girl. I know better now. A quiet mind is the way to go, at least in the early miles. I managed that a lot better this time around. Miles two through five passed uneventfully. I enjoy running under the overpass that says Parkville and that’s about all I remember.

For fueling, I had decided to combine taking Maurten and Tums at 40 minutes and 80 minutes into the race. It’s just too complicated to put the Tums and the gels on separate schedules. I also had a Tums at my car before going to find the Maestro. Fueling mostly went fine except at the 80 minute mark, I dropped the damn Tums! I considered just skipping it, but I knew that wasn’t smart. I took out another one and dropped that one too! At that point I just stopped and stood there at the aid station eating the Tums. A friend with my same calcium issues compared extracting the Tums from plastic wrap during a race to solving a Rubik’s cube and he’s got that right. I must have looked a little ridiculous, but who cares – I got it down and I had NO calcium tingles throughout the race! My right quad was extremely cramped at the end. I suspect some of that is because of low calcium, but that right quad is a long-time problem child so who knows. I had one more Tums when I finished the race just for good measure, making four total. Last weekend I went straight from my long run to the lab for a blood draw so I know this schedule of Tums gives me plenty of calcium. I can not WAIT until the Tums is gone from my routine entirely. Fingers crossed that that is sooner rather than later.

The race had a big arch up at the 6.2 mile mark and unfortunately I saw the clock there. It said something like 55:xx minutes. I knew I was a minute behind the clock so did that mean I was running 9 minute pace? Except what about the .2 miles, how did that factor in? Whether it was seeing the clock or just being about halfway through the race, everything felt harder after that. Just like at Surftown, this wasn’t a gradual onset. One minute everything felt pretty much okay and a minute later everything felt really difficult.

The next few miles felt slow and they were in fact the slowest miles of the race. At a few races this year, I’ve actually stopped for a minute (or longer….) to collect myself when things got hard. But at Hartford, I had committed to myself before the race to not doing that. Miles eight through ten felt pretty rough and I walked a short uphill segment, but I forced myself to keep going. No stopping for a mini-meltdown. YAY! I think this might be a significant breakthrough. When I came out of Elizabeth Park, I was able to pick it up a little. My breathing was okay. I didn’t have the same issue I did at Surftown where it felt like my chest was constricted. My legs would not go faster, but luckily I was also able to keep them from going any slower. The last two miles I was just counting and counting. I did take one little peak at the watch with just over half a mile to go and I saw 1:50:xx. That helped me kick it into gear! Final time of 1:55:54! In 2017 I ran 1:55:39. That’s pretty crazy.

I was incredibly happy to be finished. I hadn’t planned on having anyone at the finish line but the Librarian popped up! She had finished a few minutes before me in a great run! She made sure I was ok and got me some water. I hung on the fence for a moment or two and then stumbled through getting a heat sheet and my medal. I found a bench to sit on and collect myself. Somebody I had seen in the race sat down next to me. It was kind of nice to just sit next to each other quietly. Somewhere in here I texted the Incredible Mervus and Coach Maverick to let them know how it had gone. I wandered back to my car and called my mom. I was excited to let her know about the race but even more excited to let her know about the calcium results. It was so great to be able to share the good news! Then I got a shower at the YMCA and wandered over to the beer garden staged by the race.

I was only there a couple of minutes – not even long enough for a beer! – before it was time to head to the finish line to watch the Maestro come in. I got to the line with about 3:55 on the clock and the Maestro cruised in a couple of minutes later. He ran 3:58:04!!! His first marathon!! And my first time coaching a runner to the full distance! He ran a monster race, negatively splitting and staying mentally tough the whole time. The Maestro is an all-around great athlete, but he’s clearly got huge potential at the marathon if he decides to stick with the distance.

 

The rest of the day was for celebrating. A big gang went to Parkville Market for food and drinks. The Maestro’s family came by. It was a perfect day for racing and a lot of people had run good times. We are having a beautiful October here in Connecticut.

True confessions: The next day, I had some mental struggles. Calcium within range!!! Running without Tums!!! Those were not goals I set down on January 1st, not even close. It can be really hard to adjust to the pace of recovery when it’s a lot slower than I would prefer. Mostly I’m celebrating progress as it comes. It was certainly awesome to be back racing on the streets of Hartford.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Medical Update – Early October 2022 – Some good news for a change

Here’s another update on the various medical fronts. I’ve had a couple of people tell me these missives are useful for friends and family who might be dealing with similar issues. That means so much to me! There’s a lot going on and some good news for a change. I am just going to bring this up to speed – for background info, please read previous posts.

I had a three week hiatus from test results which was DELIGHTFUL. Getting lab results back is quite stressful so simply having a break from that process was wonderful. I also did not change any medication doses for about five weeks – the longest stretch since surgery. I had a lot of blood work done on September 21st, so much of this information is from then.

Thyroid levels. My TSH came back at 1.94, drum roll please, NORMAL RANGE! WOOT WOOT! That’s my first normal TSH since surgery. My energy level has been good and I have been feeling “normal” so I wasn’t surprised, but it sure was nice to see this one. I would also say, normal isn’t necessarily “optimal” but it’s getting closer. My endocrinologist and I would both like that TSH number to come down a bit, at least under 1.5 and maybe closer to 1.0. But we decided to let this situation ride for awhile and did not change the levothyroxine dose.

Calcium levels. This is the big one because low calcium is the one piece of all this that can actually be quite dangerous. Calcium was 8.7 on September 21st and we decided we can start backing off on some of the supplements. YAY! The high level of calcium supplementation is something I find quite concerning. High calcium levels can cause all sorts of problems. Also, high calcium levels can suppress the parathyroids, the poor little glands I am desperate to have working again. We are trying to keep calcium high enough that I am symptom free and safe, but low enough that the parathyroids get the message that they need to kick into gear. We calcium at 8.7, we could start backing off the supplements. YAY YAY YAY! I have gone from taking three Tums a day to taking only one Tums a day. We plan to try dropping the last Tums next week.

Dropping the Tums is great in lots of ways. I’ve gone from 10 pills a day to “only” 8 pills a day. I’ve gone from taking meds at four different times a day to “only” three different times a day. Best of all, when we get rid of that last Tums, we can start dropping Calcitriol. Calcitriol is the prescription strength vitamin D that does seem to suppress the parathyroids. Maybe. There is some debate on that, but I want the Calcitriol out of my life, ASAP.

In addition to the standard 10 pills a day, I had also been taking Tums on an as needed basis while running. I am very happy to report that I have not needed Tums while running in about two weeks! It’s MUCH nicer not to have to stop every couple of miles to eat a Tums, believe me.

One last sort of amusing calcium note – yes, we are in the realm of calcium amusement, better than calcium despair, trust me. Last weekend I ran 16 very solid miles. I am still taking Tums on long runs because they are so taxing on the body and I ended up taking four Tums over the course of the run. I went directly to the lab for a blood draw to see how this regimen was working. Calcium was 9.7! I don’t need it anything like that high so I can clearly scale back on long runs as well.

Good news on thyroid levels and good news on calcium and MORE good news on my voice. The voice therapy sessions are great, but very hard to book. I had one in late August and one on September 30th – once a month just is not a great way to approach recovery. However, it was clear to me that my voice is becoming stronger. In August we were able to measure an increase of 8 decibels! We didn’t measure volume on September 30th, but we did start to work on pitch. I saw a new therapist who told me he is very optimistic that I will get my full voice back. The fact that I can make high-pitched squeaks is apparently an indication that the vocal cords are starting to stretch and just need more squawking and more stretching. I am starting to be able to sing passably as long as the song has a very narrow range. The loss of the ability to sing has been more painful than I could have imagined. I will be so grateful to get my voice back.

Last and in fact least, we have that pesky little basal cell carcinoma issue, aka fancy words for skin cancer. There are two ways to get rid of this thing, superficial radiation therapy and Mohs surgery. I have met with the two different doctors who would do each procedure. I’m waiting to hear about insurance coverage. I’m considering the pros and cons of each choice. Sometimes I am very very angry that in addition to my adventures in thyroid-land, I now get to choose between radiation burns and another cutting open of my neck. Both are shitty options. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that either choice will get rid of the skin cancer.

Thyroid surgery and its aftermath have turned out to be much more difficult than I expected. The mental toll and the sheer amount of time involved in managing appointments are the aspects that have been the most difficult. Just in the last few weeks I have started to feel like things are turning a corner, but the last four months have been so hard that it’s hard to trust this feeling. There’s still a long road ahead and the calcium issue remains the most worrisome. The potential long-term implications are truly scary so I am raising a glass to every Tums not needed. Luckily I’ve been able to work and run and bake so my life is full of good things alongside the medical nonsense.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Surftown Half Marathon Race Report 2022

It’s been a truly crazy few months with a lot of unfortunate medical developments. However, I’ve been able to keep running and I’ve even returned to racing. On September 11th, I ran the Surftown half marathon in 1:57:44. I’ve run Surftown seven times now, including the inaugural version of the race. I last ran it in 2019 when the world was a very different place. It’s my favorite half and I was so glad to be back!

This year, I am coming back from thyroid surgery. This process is proving more complicated than expected because of various post-surgical complications (see previous blog posts). Surftown was my second race since the surgery in May. I decided if I could run a faster pace per mile at Surftown than I did at the Blessing at the end of July, I would consider it a success. Mission accomplished! I also very much wanted to run under two hours. Mission accomplished again! I remain a little shocked that sub-2 is my “mission” given my PR of 1:44, but at the same time I am incredibly happy to hit that mark. Adjusting expectations on the road to recovery is a tricky thing.

There were six weeks in between the Blessing and Surftown. During that time:

  • I switched coaches (Coach #5 in 2022. I realize this is getting ridiculous. Hoping very much that this one sticks.).
  • Our family took a two week trip to Boulder to drop Aidan off at college.
  • I spent two weeks dealing almost non-stop with medical stuff.
  • Rose started high school.
  • Blissfully, Wesleyan’s semester started and life started to get back to whatever “normal” is going to look like right now. Whew.

My new coach, who really has to be known as the Maverick, does pre-race phone calls (YAY!) so we talked on Thursday. We are still getting to know each other, but we had a good talk. He recommended focusing on effort, which is of course the right approach and he reminded me that my family and friends would love me regardless of the time on the clock. I know that, but it’s still nice to hear.

He also helped me nail down a calcium strategy. At the Blessing, I took a lot of Tums before the race and then also one every 2.5 miles. This past week I seemed to be having fewer calcium symptoms so we agreed that I would try to take the Tums with a gel every 30 minutes. Of course if I got tingling, I’d have to take more. I ended up taking a Tums when we arrived at the race (an hour before start time), then right at the start, then every 30 minutes as planned. I had a little tingling around 1.5 miles, but nothing serious. The calcium situation is SO much better than it was six weeks ago. I’m still taking quite large doses of calcium, but my levels are stable now so I am a lot less worried about potentially ending up in the ER. I really really really really really hope I can back off the current calcium regimen eventually. Besides being a pain in the ass, taking large amounts of calcium can lead to all kinds of issues down the line, such as kidney stones and cataracts plus a lot of other horrible stuff. But stable calcium beats not stable calcium every which way so I’m super grateful for stability at least. And if Tums is offering any running sponsorships, I’m all ears.

The plan was to run this race with the Maestro, my good friend, physical therapist, and, since last spring, also one my athletes. He’s training for the Hartford marathon so Surftown is a perfect prep race. To my complete delight, he decided we should run Surftown together. I have no doubt that he is currently faster than I am, but he insisted we run together and I loved the idea.

With a calcium plan, a plan to run with the Maestro, a plan to run by effort – things were falling into place. The workouts I did in the two weeks leading up to the race made me think I could maybe handle an 8:30-8:45 pace if I was prepared to really suffer during this race. But I knew I was not. I’m pretty good at running hard when I’m mentally ready, but it’s been a hell of a summer. I’m just getting back my race brain and remembering how to work hard while running. I’m learning (again) that it’s a process and it doesn’t have to happen all at once. At the Blessing, I remembered how to stay in control and pace smart instead of running like an idiot. I also made a conscious choice not to run that hard because I didn’t feel like the calcium situation was sufficiently under control. At Surftown, I was confident in the calcium plan and it was time to start working on mental fitness.

On race day, our gang woke up at 4:15am to get ready. Mervus and Rose are really troopers! I had my usual oatmeal and coffee plus a banana. By 5:15am, the Maestro was at our house and by 5:30am we were all in the van heading out. Rose napped on the way – smart girl. We pulled into the parking lot at 6:30am and it was noticeably less crowded than in 2019. I checked later and the half marathon had 948 runners in 2019 and only 639 this year. I have no idea if that’s still a Covid effect or something else. Surftown remains a great race!

Allegro Fuerte also ran Surftown but he was already warming up by the time we got situated with the port-a-pottys. The toilet paper situation left something to be desired but post-Covid, I always have TP in the car so we were fine. The Maestro and I ran just over a mile and then did some strides. This was definitely NOT too much time – we actually started running the warm up at 7am and it would have been better to start 10 minutes earlier. The strides felt good, but I was also already pretty sweaty after the warm-up so I passed my singlet along to the Incredible Mervus. In my 2019 Surftown race report I note that it was only my second race in just a sports bra. Wow. That’s certainly changed in the last 3 years!

Keeping busy during the race

The Hartford Marathon Foundation switched up the course this year. Surftown is a double lollypop with an eastern and western loop going out from Misquamicut State Park. The old course finished with a loop around Watch Hill, which included a hill at the 10 mile mark, but also a nice downhill finish. The new course heads out to Watch Hill first and takes a different, less steep route up the hill. I probably have a slight preference for the old course, but Mervus says this version is better for spectators because there is a lot more room in the start/finish area. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a gorgeous place to run, whichever order the loops come in.

The Maestro and I lined up and I tried to ignore the 2-hour pacer. I *really* wanted to get under two hours at this race. Both because it would be a huge blow to my ego to run slower than 2 hours and because it would be a massive triumph for the Maestro to hit sub-2 for the first time. I didn’t want to see that pacer again and I tried to forget about him. They had wheelchairs this year so they started first and a couple of minutes later, away we went!

It was good to be back running in Westerly. It was great to be running with the Maestro. We easily found Mervus and Rose and waved to them. It was a little strange to be starting in the “wrong” direction. I fueled exactly as planned. One Tums at an hour before the start and at the start. A Maurten gel plus a Tums at 30, 60, and 90 minutes into the race. In addition to the cup of coffee at home, I had a caffeine tab at 6:30am. I’ve been a little gun shy about caffeine since overdoing it at Berlin, but I do think it helps. At most aid stations, I had a few sips of water and also dumped a cup or two over my head. It was in the low 60s at the start, fairly humid with not much wind. Those aren’t perfect conditions, but they are pretty good, especially coming off of summer running.

The first mile clicked off easily in 8:46. The second mile was 8:50 and the third was 8:49. At that point I said to the Maestro, well, my new coach is learning about me here. If conditions are decent and the course is pretty flat, I can run really even splits. The first seven miles ranged from 8:44 to 8:53.

One reason I love this race is that the course is so beautiful. Lots of views of the shore and pretty neighborhoods. We ran past a lovely little street with cafes that I think is a new addition. They looped us around slightly differently so we the ascent of Watch Hill was less steep. It’s just a gorgeous place to run. As we were nearing the end of the first loop a spectator called out “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll get there eventually.” I remarked, “Worst. Cheer. Ever.” which got a good laugh from our fellow runners.

This first section of the race felt really good. I wasn’t working terribly hard. I knew I was running well. I was feeling proud that I was so controlled. Running with the Maestro was a delight. A great day! But, you never know when that phase is going to end. I had been hoping to get to mile 9 before things got really tough, but instead right around 7 miles, everything started to feel overwhelming and impossible. I glanced at my watch and saw the dreaded 9:xx for pace instead of 8:xx. Brains are powerful and in a flash, I was filled with doubt. Instead of crossing the finish line with the Maestro, I started to see myself walking the last few miles alone. I pulled off to the side of the road, stopped, and put my hands on my knees to collect myself. Very reminiscent of what happened partway through the 2022 Boston marathon.

But, it turns out, brains can be taught how to do things. I had talked about that moment in Boston with my sports psychologist last spring. We worked on developing a set of mental tools to have ready to go when things get hard. It worked! I am not sure how long the stop in Boston lasted, but this one was less than 30 seconds. I gasped to the Maestro “This is mostly mental” and then “I need to get to the lines.” He had no idea what I meant, of course, but I started running again, moving to the middle of the street so I could focus on the yellow lane dividers. That’s a trick I’ve used before, but this time, it was very conscious. Really, just like pulling a hammer out of a toolbox! I knew we’d see my family soon and of course I wanted to be recovered by then.

Before mile 7, this race was great. I was feeling good at my target pace (around 8:50). I very much enjoyed the feeling of being in control instead of being furious or incredibly sad. After mile 7, though, this race was straight-up work. I had hoped that the work wouldn’t start until mile 9. Writing this afterwards, it doesn’t seem like much difference but at the time, the difference between mile 7 and mile 9 felt huge. The entire causeway was going to be work now.

One of the best things I did at that point was to quit looking at my watch. I no longer knew how fast we were running but it didn’t matter. Now the point was just to keep running at a pace that seemed hard but sustainable. In my head I chanted “Look at the lines, look at the lines, look at the lines.” I wanted to keep my mind as quiet as possible. I was working, but I reminded myself that the work was the point. At the Blessing, I wasn’t ready to work – I would even say, it wasn’t appropriate to do the work. But now I was ready and I was working.

The best thing about the causeway heading east is that you pass the runners coming into the finish line. I was still running in the middle of the road to stay on the lines so I knew I’d see some fast friends. I tried to cheer but it came out “CRROOAAKKKK!!!” Oops. My voice is pretty much completely non-operational while running hard. Still hoping that comes back at some point.

As we came into the mile 10 water stop, I slowed to a near stop. I made sure to get a full cup into me and dumped a couple more on my shoulders. Then off we went again. The second loop of the new course is shorter, thank goodness. I gave myself permission to count with three miles to go. Up to one hundred and back down again, over and over, until we got through 11 miles. Holy shit, that was a long freaking mile. The clock at mile eleven said 1:40 and I knew as long as we didn’t slow down, we would run under two hours. Two miles to go and I just pushed.

Some part of my brain was still doing a little analysis. My legs were okay, but it felt hard to get enough air. I even got a side stitch (maybe caused by too little oxygen? – haven’t had one in years!). I suspect the skin around my neck and chest just isn’t quite back to normal yet so my breathing is a little constricted. Instead of feeling angry or sad, I felt hopeful. That will surely correct itself with time. Maybe more stretching will help. I got a massage the next day and I DO think it helped! Hooray for healing!

The last two miles felt pretty endless. They always do. Counting helps me because it ticks off the mileage. Looking at our splits, except for that mile 10 water stop, we barely slowed down in the second half of the race. That breakdown at mile 7 WAS largely mental. I COULD keep going and I did! I remembered how to push and I found the mental and physical energy to go after it. I did not end up walking and the Maestro and I did cross the finish line together! It was awesome! !

Photo credit to Rose

Mervus and Rose were there cheering. We got our medals and some water. I caught my breath and we checked out the beach. It was fantastic!

I also want to note the dark tunnel lurking in this story. I can see it in my mind – it’s always to my left for some reason. It looks like a train tunnel with large stones around the opening. This imaginary tunnel is the counter-narrative about this day. The tunnel focuses on how the last time I ran Surftown, I ran 13 minutes faster. I got a nice PR in the lead-up to the Chicago marathon. I felt strong and free. I didn’t think about calcium or carry Tums. My breath came without restriction. When I called to friends, they heard me because my voice was strong and clear. The tunnel asks, will I ever run like that again? I don’t want to know what else is in that tunnel and I have mostly avoided exploring it. That’s one of the things I am most proud of. The tunnel is so clearly there, but I am largely staying out of it. On this day, for where I am with my running right now, this race was a big victory. Maybe that’s part of the magic of Surftown and another reason to love this race. Victory is not always a faster time on the clock.

This time around, victory was also 3rd place in my age group! I’ve never placed at Surftown before and I’m mighty happy about that! It’s true that there were fewer runners this year so there was less competition. Part of a race is just showing up which can be really hard. I understand not racing because I considered that. But instead, I showed up and I won a bus trophy!!! Super stoked about that! We went to the Cooked Goose for brunch and it was just as good as it always is. This day was a BIG step forward!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments