Casco Bay Swimrun Race Report – Part 2 – The Race

The next morning, I woke up at 5:30am. Not super well rested, but not exhausted. We planned to leave the AirBnB around 6:45am. Snarky Girl had brought her incredible coffee maker with her. Delicious espresso available at the push of a button! I had oatmeal with a banana and maple syrup. We expected the Casco Bay Swimrun would take us around 3 hours, maybe three and a half, but we weren’t planning to race it. We just wanted to finish – completing the swims would be enough of a triumph!

Swimrunners ready to go!

The regular ferry parking lot was full when we arrived but we found parking a block away. Swimrunners were walking quickly toward the ferry building. They took our drop bags right away so I put on the various lubricants, stuffed my stuff into a bag, and dropped it in the bin. I had a plastic bag for my paddles and other stuff but next time, I would just get a couple more carabiners and strap everything onto my belt, superhero style. We found seats on the ferry and off we went.

Now is the time to mention the fog. It was VERY foggy, total pea soup conditions. We were on the second ferry and shortly after launching, we could not see the first ferry, which couldn’t have been far in front of us. I got a little cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. We weren’t going to be able to see the islands we were swimming to. Not even close. Snarky Girl and I do not swim terribly straight even in perfect conditions. If we ended up swimming in circles, no one would be able to tell, not even us. Could we do this? Should we even try?

Luckily, the Coast Guard answered that question for us. Less than 10 minutes after we launched, one of the race directors got on the PA system. We were not sailing for Great Diamond Island, as planned. We were sailing directly to Peak’s Island, the last island on the course. The Coast Guard had pulled the plug on any open water swimming. The folks from Ödyssey Swimrun promised they were working on putting something together and they would let us know more when they figured out what it was.

My primary emotion at this news was relief. Thank God. Swimming in that fog would have been completely insane. I was so glad someone knew that. And now I wasn’t in charge of deciding anything. I relaxed and enjoyed the boat ride. We had some joking around. Eventually we got to Peak’s and walked over to the Lion’s Club. There was a lot of standing around. Every now and then a truck arrived with some gear and we all helped unload it. Every now and then the race directors gave us another announcement. They were fetching the folks off the long course and had to ferry them to Peak’s. They had half a course on Peak’s already marked. We would do a loop with two swims, no wait, one swim. The swim would be 1000 meters or maybe 500 meters. There would eventually be food and beer and they could at least offer a hot dog eating contest. We borrowed phones to text the husbands that they didn’t need to hurry. Eventually our families arrived and there was more hanging around. The race would start at 10am. No, 10:30. None of this bothered me at all. Everyone was in a good mood. As far as I could tell, all the racers were grateful to the race directors, who were clearly working hard to figure out “something.”

Happy to see our families! You should be able to see an island in the background of this photo. Note that you can’t even see all way to the edge of the field.

I was really hoping we could get in the water “a little bit” and that’s exactly what happened. Eventually they had a course together. The long course folks arrived and everyone started together. We had about a mile run, a short swim, and then a 3.5 mile or so run, for a total loop distance of 4.5 miles. Everyone could do the loop twice. We got good luck wishes from our families and walked to the start. We looked satisfyingly ridiculous. A big gang of swimrunners in different colored caps, some of us tethered together, running down the streets of Peak’s Island. Portions of the course were marked with swim caps, an ingenious idea.

Getting ready to swimrun at last!

The race directors had said to run to the beach and then run along the coast until we could see the yellow flags where we were supposed to exit the water. We had a pretty long beach run and then we spotted swimrunners heading into the ocean. And also getting out of the ocean. The weather app had said visibility was 50 feet. Now, the swim entrance and swim exit were (a little) more than 50 feet apart. But they were close enough together than many of us laughed out loud when we saw how short the swim was. I heard someone say “That’s barely worth getting wet for” and certainly that was an understandable sentiment. But still – we got to swim!

Swim portion circled in purple

Photo credit: Kent Mitchell. You can really see the fog here.

Despite having practiced transitioning from running to swimming many times, and in fact practicing it three times just the day before the race, I ran into the water and discovered that I had not engaged my pull buoy. Oops. We stopped and I got it properly settled between my legs. The first few strokes felt awkward and wrong. Something was up with my paddles. I called out to Snarky Girl to stop again. I looked the paddles but couldn’t figure out the problem so I showed them to Snarky Girl. I had them on backwards. Excellent! The shortest swim ever, but I still managed to fit in two serious goof-ups at the start!

The water was cold, really cold, and murky from all the swimrunners churning it up. It was such a ridiculously short swim that we could easily do it without getting our faces wet and I was pretty tempted to try. I got brave enough to put my face down for a few strokes and the swim was over. My watch says it lasted 3 minutes 38 seconds. Someone later said their watch measured 250 meters. I can believe that. We flopped ourselves out of the water, re-settled our gear, and started running again. We went up a fairly significant hill, wound around a neighborhood, then back down again.

After about a mile, we turned off the road and onto a single track trail. This was my favorite part of the race. For the first loop, we were completely packed in. You could only go as fast as the person in front of you. We were not itching to pass anyone and we didn’t. People were chatting and laughing. I could hear the Adorkables ahead of us and that was fun. I loved running on boards through tall grasses and along a path through a pine forest. We were all happy to be able to do *something*. At some point someone in the front of the line went the wrong way and a lot of people followed. The folks ahead of us noticed the mistake so then we were near the front of a smaller group. Eventually we came off the trail and back onto the road.

We were not pushing it. It’s HARD to run in a wetsuit, even a swimrun wetsuit! Plus our shoes were soaked and heavy. But mostly we just weren’t in any kind of hurry. Snarky Girl made some remarks about how one loop would be enough, etc etc, and I wondered if I could find the Adorkables and run with them if she decided to quit. But then the turn back to the finish was not really marked so we ran right by it and we were on the second loop before we even knew it. Snarky Girl sighed – she surely knew two loops was going to be her fate all along. We ran through town again and along the beach again but by now the crowds had thinned out dramatically.

The second swim went much better. Snarky Girl led and I was able to put my face in the water. She steered us further away from shore just to extend the swim a bit. Then – a real triumph – I figured out how to pee in the water! I hope the Adorkables are not mad that I peed in their suit. I think this is just part of the sport! We ran back up the big hill and down the other side. This time we were almost alone on the trail so it was a totally different feel. We popped back out onto the road, ready to pick our favorite beachside mansions where we imagined staying for next year’s race. Both of us picked up the pace a bit in the last mile and we passed a couple of teams, but that was really not the point at this event. Now the turn into the finishing area was marked and we ran across the grass and under the arch. Yay! We got some great pictures. It was a super fun day, though very different from expected.

We got some beer and some burgers. We got showered off a bit. We said hi to the other women from Miller’s Pond. Time to pack it up – the Wiliarty clan stopped in one more time at Standard Baking Co for some Fika for the road.

Post-race burgers – Yum!

It was definitely odd to have such a different race experience than expected. If the race had gone off as planned, the swimming would have been a major challenge for us. I like to think we could have finished. I give us maybe 75/25 odds in our favor. We would have been REALLY tired. Instead, we felt pretty good. We had a long slow run through a beautiful place and it was certainly an adventure. And, Team Mermatron snagged the last spot for Swimrun Cape Cod on Sept 16th. So, we’re giving it another go.

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Casco Bay Swimrun Race Report 2023 – Part 1 – Pre-Race

The idea:

It all started with a text from Snarky Girl a few years ago.

“Hey – we are in a park north of Berlin and people are running around with swim paddles! They look crazy. What do you think is going on?”

No idea, but it stuck in my mind. Time passed. I had surgery to have my thyroid out. I needed some kind of new adventure and started googling. Somehow I came across the Löw Tide Böyz podcast and the Ödyssey Swimrun website. Those people in the park had surely been swimrunning! Swimrun is a relatively new sport where teams of two run and swim together, usually through a beautiful natural landscape. A little more googling revealed a race in Portland, Maine, less than a four hour drive. Of course, we should do this! For more on swimrun, see this post.

The decision to do the race was easy. Choosing a team name took longer. Middletown Mermaids? Middlesexy Mermaids? Eventually we hit upon Team Mermatron. Rose let us know that the Mermatron is an actual creature. She’s a female siren mermaid dragon, who fights the Power Rangers. Perfect! That’s us in a nutshell. We registered for the Casco Bay short course, about 9 miles of running and 2 miles of swimming.




Swimrun training commenced as soon as I finished the Virginia Beach half marathon last March. At first “swimrun training” just meant “more swimming.” Snarky Girl and I could certainly handle 9 miles of running. We swim about once a week, but post-pandemic swimming workouts had topped out around 1200-1500 meters. We spent April getting used to being back in the pool on a regular basis and swimming longer distances.

We had essentially zero open water swimming experience, but that was about to change. Our “maiden voyage” was May 6th. We headed to Miller’s Pond, a beautiful state park that is only a few miles from where we live. Snarky Girl had a triathlon wetsuit. I had Mervus’s old sailing wetsuit. From high school. I could barely get it on and once in it, I could barely walk. The water was really cold. We swam about 150 meters across a little cove and we couldn’t put our faces in the water. At that moment, we both had serious doubts about whether we could complete this event at all!

But then we did an important thing. We ran back to where we had started swimming and tried again. The same 150 meters. The second time felt a lot more manageable. We put our faces in the water. We got across the cove a lot quicker. That 150 meters still felt really far, but maybe we could do this after all.

I have been learning about swimrun online. I know it’s popular to hate on Facebook but for niche interests, it’s ideal. I started posting questions in a swimrun Facebook group and suddenly another team, Team Adorkable, offered to lend us a set of swimrun wetsuits! Getting out of the sailing wetsuit and into the swimrun wetsuit was a major breakthrough. I could get the suit on! I could walk and even run! Things looked a lot more promising with those suits! THANK YOU Team Adorkable!

Swimrun training makes really cool maps!

From early May to mid-June, we kept at it. The next time out, we swam to Lizard Rock, much further than across the cove! We made friends in the middle of Miller’s Pond – two women who ended up signing up for Casco Bay! I swam almost all the way across Cedar Lake! A few days later, Snarky Girl joined me and we made it across the whole lake! It got warmer and we got braver and soon we were doing actual swimrun training sessions, running on the trails and swimming hither and yon across Miller’s Pond. Amazing.

Open water swimming has been…..Eye opening? Transformative? Maybe even life changing? I’ve heard that pool swimming is to open water swimming what treadmill running is to running outside. Now I understand that. You can go anywhere in the water! Seeing the edge of a pond from the middle of the pond is a completely different perspective. It’s like a part of the world that used to have a barrier around it suddenly opens up. I can imagine that people who are afraid to go in the woods and then get over that fear might have a similar feeling. At some point, we got good enough at open water swimming that it started to feel like we could just keep going. It feels like walking.

We did some swimrun practice so we could work on transitioning from running to swimming and back again. Mervus got me a very cool very big swimrun-specific pull buoy for Mother’s Day. We ordered our other required gear – a safety whistle and an Israeli bandage. Yikes.

A couple of weeks before the race, I took off for 10 days in Iceland. Interesting taper strategy. Luckily, Snarky Girl is highly tolerant. The one thing we didn’t find time for was going to Long Island Sound and swimming in the ocean.

The trip:

For the trip to Portland, we took along the husbands and the daughters. The sons both stayed home to work. We left in the early afternoon on Friday and arrived in Portland around dinner time. The AirBnb was great and we quickly headed downtown for dinner at the Green Elephant. Delicious!

The next day we had a decent agenda of swimrun activities planned. We started with a brunch with the Löw Tide Böyz at the Standard Baking Company. Swimrun originated in Sweden and swimrunners enjoy the Swedish tradition of Fika. There’s no English word for Fika (ALAS!) but it seems to mean coffee and treats with friends. Gotta love an event that includes a PASTRY phase! The Löw Tide Böyz is my favorite swimrun podcast – I am pretty sure they are the only swimrun podcast. I have worked my way through a decent percentage of the back catalog in preparation for this event and I was excited to meet Chipper and Chris in person. Rose was excited too! She got their autographs! We all enjoyed the Fika. Standard Baking Company is not to be missed!

Meeting the Low Tide Boyz!

Standard Baking Company

After Fika, we wandered around Portland a bit and then headed to East End Beach for a swimrun clinic. We got to meet the Adorkables in person! This was our chance to get in the water and see how cold it was. Answer: COLD. But not as cold as that very first swim at Miller’s Pond. We got past the temperature and put our faces in the water. Super grateful to Team Envol for organizing this event. I am not sure we would have been brave enough to go in on our own and it really helped to know what to expect.

Meeting the Adorkables!

Team BABS! Our friends from Miller’s Pond!

After the swimrun clinic, we headed to packet pick-up. Apparently so did every other swimrunner because the line was crazy. We waited a *very* long time, but it gave us a chance to scope people out and chat with the swimrunners in line near us. It was a mix of first-timers like us and folks with more experience. Even the long line didn’t make people grouchy. Rose had a chance to get her picture taken with the Adorkables so that was worth the wait!

Eventually we got our timing chip and collapsible cup and headed to the Great Lost Bear brewery for late afternoon lunch/dinner. The restaurant was really fun – you could easily do a week-long eating tour of Portland. Eventually we went back to the AirBnB, where we played a game, watched a nature show and ate a bunch of delicious bread. I got all my gear together, including a drop bag with a change of clothes. We went to bed.

I went to bed, but not to sleep. This race scared me. Not the running, which would be fine. But the ocean swimming, which would be cold and pretty dang long. For some reason, I like challenging myself. But it’s one thing to challenge a mostly healthy body to a running race. After all, you can always stop and walk. It’s quite another to challenge a body with a known calcium deficiency to a race involving swimming. What if something about the temperature swings or the length of the event caused some kind of severe calcium drop and I started cramping while in the water? That has never happened. I planned to supplement with calcium before the race. I have switched to a liquid calcium and I had little waterproof bottles ready to go. But still. What if this time in pushing to find some kind of edge, I pushed too far? How much of this anxiety was normal pre-race jitters and how much was genuine worry and how much of the genuine worry was justified? No way to know.

I turned on my favorite “Sleepcast” meditation on the Headspace app, “Cat Marina 2”. But the description of boats and cats just reminded me of the pre-race panic attack I experienced in Philadelphia. I tried “Cozy Farmhouse” but that didn’t work either. Finally “After Carnival” did the trick. I drifted off to a lovely voice describing a town getting quiet after carnival festivities. I got less sleep than would have been ideal but a whole lot more than I got before Philly.

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Health Update May 2023

After a few months of peace and quiet on the health front, the past few weeks have been difficult again. Not nearly as challenging as last summer and fall, thank God. But it’s been mentally difficult to wonder if all I will ever get is 10-12 weeks of stability.

In my last update, I reported that I had been able to drop another calcitriol pill. YAY! All was well until I got sick. On Monday April 23rd, I tested positive for strep throat. My endocrinologist assured me that antibiotics were fine to take and that an illness such as strep was not severe enough to cause issues with calcium. WRONG. I don’t know if it was the antibiotics or the strep, but my calcium levels noticeably dropped. When I returned to swimming on Friday, even pushing off the wall caused calf cramps. Saturday’s run set off bizarre calf twitching. Things settled down by Sunday. The first round of antibiotics was not enough to kick the strep so I started round two on May 4th.

By the weekend I was feeling mostly better. I had planned to run a 10K on May 7th and I decided to go ahead with that. Probably a mistake. It was a warm day and an hour or so after the race, I went into atrial fibrillation. I have historically had several incidents of afib, 2010-2013 and once in 2016, but then no more until the Philadelphia marathon last fall. I ran Philly under extraordinarily stressful conditions and went into afib about 12 hours after the race. I had very much hoped Philly would be a one-off event, but no such luck.

This time around, I came out of the afib 24 hours after onset, on Monday morning. I went to Quest for a calcium check Monday at lunch. Results came back Tuesday morning, calcium a tad lower than it had been, but still well within the range we are aiming for. So – just to be clear – The first time I could go for blood work was 24 hours after the onset of afib with results 24 hours after that. 48 hours between the onset of afib and information about the thing potentially causing the afib. This is why an at-home calcium meter would be SO helpful. There are companies trying to develop this instrument, but I am not that hopeful that it will be available any time soon, possibly not in my lifetime. Remember, only 80,000 cases of hypopara in the United States, so not that many customers. This is so clearly a case of the market not providing what people need that I am tempted to use it as an example when teaching political economy. After this incident of afib, I requested my endocrinologist put in standing orders for stat blood work at the hospital lab, which has longer hours than Quest. Hopefully next time around I can get information faster.

In other news, I had a long-awaited appointment with Dr. Michael Mannstadt at Mass General in Boston this week. Dr Mannstadt is one of the world experts in hypoparathyroidism. I’ll just summarize some takeaways from that appointment:

Many doctors say “I am so sorry” when they find out about the hypoparathyroidism. Dr. Manndstadt is the first medical practitioner to directly inquire about my mental health in the wake of the diagnosis. He is one of the kindest doctors I have ever met.

I am approaching the one year anniversary of the surgery. That will be a difficult day, not just because anniversaries are hard, but because the one year point is when hypopara officially gets declared permanent. Kevin is very good at reminding me that this is partly because humans check how things are going at the one year point. Bodies do not really care about time. But statistically speaking, the chances of full recovery at this point are very low, which Dr. Mannstadt confirmed, as expected. However, because I have been able to come off the calcitriol, he said there is “a small amount of hope.” I said I would take that. It’s a tricky balancing act between maintaining hope and working towards acceptance.

In obscure testing news, Dr. Mannstadt wants me to start checking albumin levels whenever I check calcium.

In other testing news, he is helping me think differently about the upcoming 24 hour urine test. This test checks how much calcium your body is excreting through your urine. I could take loads of calcium and probably feel physically much better. But if you take too much calcium without functioning parathyroids, it all exits the body through the kidneys, leading to kidney stones. The 24 urine test will help us assess the risk to my kidneys. Frankly, I have been avoiding this test because I do not want any additional bad news. Also, my endocrinologist recommended waiting until we see how much calcitriol I can drop. But Dr. Mannstadt said to think instead of the 24 hour urine test as a way of gathering information. If that test comes out okay, I have more wiggle room to take more calcium and perhaps feel better. This is a very helpful psychological shift. Will you eventually be getting pictures of pee collection? Almost certainly.

The other thing Dr. Manndstadt said that is really sticking with me is “My other athletes with hypopara…..” He has other athletes with hypopara!! It is extremely difficult to find other people with this condition attempting to engage in competitive sports. For many hypopara patients, just going about their day is already quite taxing. Lots of people find it difficult to hold down full-time jobs, let alone engage in sports. But I know there are hypopara athletes out there. If any of you read this and I don’t know you yet, PLEASE send me a message. I am trying to find you.

This is plenty long enough already, but a quick voice update. My amazing speech pathologists at Yale recommended that I switch to a practice at UConn that specializes in vocal performance. Even though the speech pathologists at Yale were outstanding, the otolaryngologist (this is the voice doctor) was not. She was horrible. She made me feel like my voice and my desire to sing were not important, which definitely made me feel like *I* was not important, and not worthy of care. It was one of the worst medical appointments in a year marked by some truly bad medical appointments. Voice injuries are so much more psychologically difficult than I understood. NEVER make someone feel like their voice does not matter. I still get angry when I think about that appointment. Doctors supposedly take the Hippocratic Oath – first, do no harm. A lot of harm was done to me that day.

Today’s evaluation at UConn was a totally different story! Dr. LaFreniere was wonderful. He was exceptionally kind. He apologized for every unpleasant aspect of the evaluation – having a camera stuffed down your nose and into your throat to film your vocal cords is not comfortable. Best of all, he referred to me as a “vocalist.” This practice specializes in rehabilitating the injured voices of singers. He said it was extremely likely that I have recordings of some of his patients at home. He has a lot of confidence that they can help me and so do I.

In further good news, when I had this examination by scope back in July 2022, my vocal cords were not stretching at all. That’s why my voice was so monotone. At the follow-up appointment in August, there was some minimal movement. Today’s examination revealed nearly normal movement! There are still some abnormalities. A little asymmetry between the vocal cords, some potential weakness, still far too much tension in my neck muscles. Also some evidence of a bit of acid reflux, possibly impacting the vocal cords. I will start therapy with the speech pathologists at UConn as soon as they can fit me into their schedule.

So, there you have it. I’ve learned that more people than I know are reading these updates so I will keep them coming. My main takeaway for today is the same as always: Be Kind. I met two new doctors this week, which is very stressful because I never what to expect. Both Dr. Mannstadt and Dr. LaFreniere were kind, took time to explain everything, and helped me feel valued as a patient and more importantly, as a person. Kindness isn’t always free. It might cost us time and patience. But it is priceless.



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Swimrun: What and Why?

I first heard about the sport of swimrun when Snarky Girl returned from a trip to Germany, reporting that she had seen people running around in a park with swim paddles on their hands. She said they were also sometimes swimming but the whole thing was hard to parse.

Sometime later, like months later, I stumbled on something on the internet about swimrun that got me curious enough to plug it into google. The subsequent chain of events is a bit murky but at some point I started listening to the Löw Tide Böyz podcast. The hosts, Chipper and Chris, reminded me of the Two Gomers, with their down-to-earth attitude and focus on fun. I started looking into swimrun a little more and discovered the Casco Bay race in Portland, Maine. That’s only a three and a half hour drive. Mervus and I had almost gone there last all for our 25th wedding anniversary getaway. It didn’t take a lot of convincing to get Snarky Girl on board as a partner / co-conspirator.

So what exactly is swimrun? It’s sort of like triathlon except without the biking. Also, instead of just one swim and one run, you swim and then run, and then swim and then run, and, as the Löw Tide Böyz put it, just keep going until you’re done. Or, don’t stop! Swimrun originated in Sweden and traditionally you go from island to island, running across one island, swimming to the next, then running across that island, swimming to the next, etc. Unlike in triathlon, you don’t change gear. Instead you swim in your shoes and run in your wetsuit with your paddles and pull buoy strapped onto your body. Whenever I’m explaining this to someone, this is where I pause for questions:

You swim in your shoes? Yes, you do. You need shoes with good drainage.

You run in a wetsuit? Isn’t that hot? Yes, you do, and yes, I expect it is. Most people seem to wear those short-sleeved wetsuits with shorts instead of pants. They also make special swimrun wetsuits.

After those questions are out of the way, I bring up what I consider the best part of swimrun, “By the way, swimrun is traditionally a team sport and you are tethered to your partner.”

So, yes, that’s the gist of it. Snarky Girl and I will be running through the woods and fields and swimming through the ocean of the Casco Bay archipelago this coming July while tied together with some kind of rope.

Why? Because the last year has been really hard. I need something fun and vaguely silly and adventurous and badass and somewhat outrageous. An event that has no meaningful clock. I can’t think of a better person to do this craziness with than Snarky Girl because whenever something goes wrong – a lot might go wrong – we will laugh pretty hard about it. But if something goes seriously wrong, we will have each other’s backs. I’ll try to share as much of this adventure as I can. I’m already pretty in love with swimrun and we haven’t even done one yet!

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Virginia Beach Half Marathon Race Report 2023

Badass Boomer and I hatched the plan to run the Yuengling Shamrock Half Marathon last fall. She was looking for a different Boston tune-up race. I was looking for a flat spring marathon. Philadelphia confirmed that my body isn’t ready for the marathon distance yet, but luckily I could easily drop to the half at Virginia Beach. I added the 8K race on Saturday for the Dolphin Challenge. In the meantime, friends from the Sub-30 Club, my online running group, also started making plans to meet for the races in Virginia Beach. Serendipity!

Training for Virginia Beach got off to a rough start. “Recovery” from Philly had included a brief ER visit and an overnight hospital stay for atrial fibrillation, followed by Mohs surgery for basal cell carcinoma on my neck. 2022 was really quite a year. By December, I was physically and mentally exhausted. It’s really hard to keep running when you feel lousy, but it also seemed like it would be worse to stop running so I just kept going.

In early January, we changed some of the supplements I am taking and I started to feel better. My endocrinologist increased the vitamin D2 and I started taking an electrolyte drink called “Zipfizz.” I went to see the Maestro several times to get some help loosening up the right quad. Slowly, things started turn things around. Thyroid and calcium tests also started to come back better. I was able to reduce the dose of calcitriol I am taking from .75mg/day to .5mg/day. No ill effects. That is HUGE. Thank God, during January I also saw a lot of improvement in my voice. Eight months after surgery – maybe things were starting to settle down.

In February, I started racing – see reports on the Run for Refugees 5k, the Colchester Half, and the Shamrock and Roll 5K. Those races were slow times for me, but they were building on each other and it started to feel like my running had some momentum.

At the expo with Sub-30 buddies

I left for Virginia Beach on Friday morning and arrived late Friday afternoon. I met up with Butterfly and other Sub-30 friends and we headed to the expo. After grabbing our bibs and shirts, we headed to Chicho’s for a big Sub-30 meet-up. I think we had 18 people! I wish this event could have gone on longer (and maybe been quieter) because there were so many people I wanted to talk to. But many of us were racing the 8K the next day so we had to get back to the hotel for an early bed and an early start.

Fancy Socks!

Fancy Socks!

Our gang got up early on Saturday to get ready for the 8K. I was using the race as a shakeout run with a medal and a t-shirt so I wasn’t stressed. It was fun to be with a group of friends at a race. That hasn’t happened in a LONG time! I didn’t know these women well ahead of time, but they were a blast to hang out with. We were happy the rain had stopped. I ran pretty easy and then raced two guys at the end down the last 1200 meters of the boardwalk.


Getting to hang out with Butterfly in person was one of the best parts of the weekend!

After a quick stop at Starbucks and a change of clothes, I headed back to the beer tent. I’m not normally one for a big post-race party, but this was really fun. The bands both days were excellent and everyone was in a great mood. We hung out with some guys from Salisbury Virginia, just joking around, telling running tales. Eventually Butterfly and I headed back to the hotel. It wasn’t even noon! We grabbed bathing suits and went for a dip in the rooftop hot tub. She did some cold plunges into the pool but no way was I doing that. After our hot tub adventure, we went back to the room, got dressed, and headed out looking for lunch.


Happy but freezing. Theme of the weekend.

Badass Boomer had arrived from Massachusetts so at some point, I said good-bye to the Sub-30 party girls and met up with Badass. At the expo, we both bought blankets from the previous year to wrap up in before the race. Back to the hotel for a quick nap and then dinner at a nearby Italian place. I resisted fancy pasta and got my usual penne with pomodoro sauce. I did have a glass of red wine! We were back in the room before 8pm and getting ready for an early bedtime.

The day had been chilly and as much as I was trying not to, I was fretting about weather. Control the controllables is a classic runner saying and you can’t control the weather, but it has a big influence on your race. You *can* control what you wear and I was struggling to decide. I finally texted Coach Maverick for advice and just hearing from him helped me calm down. Expected weather was temperature of around 40 but with a windchill of low to mid-30s. Badass Boomer and I eventually made our wardrobe choices. Having done her online pre-race mobility routine, we did my going-to-sleep meditation on Headspace. Perfect digital resource complementarity!

Badass Boomer likes to get an early start. I had slept well and I didn’t mind the extra time to get ready. Her alarm went off at 4:45am and mine followed suit at 5:15am. We made coffee and instant oatmeal in the hotel room. Here’s my complete fueling report. For breakfast, two packets of instant oatmeal (300 calories total), a banana, coffee, and a Zipfizz. In addition to my regular meds, I added an extra calcitriol pill (.25mg) on race morning. Did that help? Who knows. It can’t hurt. I had a Tums on the starting line. During the race I had a gel and a Tums at 4 miles and at 8.5 miles. I also had a Tums at the finish because I had a serious quad cramp. I only grabbed water at the mile 4 water stop. That’s surely not ideal, but I am not great at maintaining pace while drinking and I really wanted to maintain pace. This is the best that fueling has gone since surgery. I have started taping the Tums to the gel packet so I don’t have to fuss with getting it out of a ziplock bag. That makes the process a lot smoother. I’ve also done it enough now that the emotion is going out of the process. Introducing the Tums into race day fueling meant a constant reminder of the calcium issue, the surgical misadventure, all the bad stuff that I don’t want to be thinking about mid-race. My therapist has said so many times in the last few months “This is all still so new. It’s normal to need time to adjust. It will get easier.” Frankly, I don’t really want to “adjust” to needing calcium when I race longer distances. I would prefer not to need it. But since I do need calcium mid-race, it is good to have it be just a thing that I do – like taking a gel – rather than a thing that I do that has a lot of emotional baggage along with it. That piece is getting better.

Thank you for your years of service, Banana Republic white cardigan!

As Badass Boomer and I finished getting ready to race, we poked our noses out to the balcony to check the temperature. It was less windy than expected, at least on the hotel balcony. As she put it “My nose isn’t actually hurting.” I’ll take that weather report. I opted for light weight tights, my new light weight MRC long sleeve shirt, gloves with hand warmers, and a hat. I also had an old white cardigan sweater that I wore to the start. Badass Boomer and I wrapped ourselves in our $5 blankets to get to gear check but we liked them so much, that we checked them! We were in different corrals because she is super speedy so we parted ways there. We had done our dynamic warm ups in the hotel but I did about a one minute jog before getting into the corral.

I was nervous before the race, of course, but less nervous than sometimes. Crawling my way back from surgery has meant that I am not in PR shape and it somehow feels like less is on the line. Coach Maverick has me running entirely by effort. I’m not sure I will want to do that forever, but for this season of my running, it’s perfect. Lining up for this windy race, I remembered a particularly windy long run with some quality segments. I didn’t remember “not hitting my paces because of the wind” because there hadn’t been any paces to hit. Instead, I thought of Coach Maverick’s advice in our pre-race phone call: “Give yourself a chance out there.”

Waiting in the corral, I spotted the 3:50 marathon pacer. The race didn’t have anyone pacing a 1:55 half (my goal) but a 3:50 marathon is the same pace and the courses are the same until the last half mile or so. I hadn’t planned to run with a pacer. I don’t generally trust pace groups because they can be erratic and I’m good at pacing on my own. My initial thought was, shoot, that guy is going to be hard to ignore. The corrals moved up, one by one, with the usual nervous chatter as we got closer to the start. They called our corral and off we went.

I reminded myself to be calm and stay in control. Within a few minutes, I had pulled even with the 3:50 pacer. Don’t pass him yet, I thought. Just stay here. The wind was turning out to be much less bad than expected. The race was crowded but unlike in the 8K, everyone was moving well together. Really well. Hmmm.

We ran a couple of miles like that. I thought about my “why” for racing. I thought especially about Rose, how strong she is and how much I want to set a good example for her, that we can do hard things even under challenging circumstances. I thought about staying relaxed and not working too hard this early in the race. Everything felt pretty good. I was still not just “with” the pace group but really “in” the group. It was the closest pack I’ve ever run with, but I figured maybe the other people were blocking the wind. Some people were talking – learning about the pacer’s background, a few questions about the course. Other times when I’ve been with a pace group, I found this chatter extremely irritating but on this day, it was fine. I realized my music wasn’t turned on so it was ok to have something to listen to.

I had my first gel and Tums at 4 miles. It was the easiest version of this combo I’ve done yet. I’m learning how to use the surgical tape to cover half the Tums so it doesn’t fall off, but I can get it off with my teeth. I grabbed a cup of water and slowed to get a good drink. I realized I didn’t want the pace group to pull away so I slowly worked my way back to them.

Over the next mile or so, I committed to staying with that 3:50 pacer as long as possible. I ran the Iron Horse half marathon in 2018 with the Retiree as the pacer. I was pretty sure on that day that I couldn’t say with the group for the entire race, but I stayed much longer than I had thought possible. Give yourself a chance, said Coach Maverick. We were only 4 miles into this race and it was starting to feel like work, but I know that’s ok. Not just ok – if you’re going to run fast, a half marathon should start to feel like work around then.

After that, I took it one mile at a time. For the next several miles, I thought every mile might be the last one with the group. I knew that a 1:55 half is right around an 8:45 pace. I thought I could hold that for quite a few miles, but I didn’t know how many. A lot of what I’ve learned about racing started coming back to me. Des Linden says she races out of curiosity – how fast can she go for how long? There is no way to know unless you try. Five miles down. Could I get to six?

This part of the course goes through Fort Story, a military base. The sun was out, the wind was less strong than expected, I was feeling good. I took my hat off and remembered that it is currently messing up my Aftershokz for some reason. I managed to turn my music on.

We crossed a timing mat and I thought about Mervus back home tracking me. I remembered the tracking mat at Hartford last fall. They had a clock there. I saw my time and it messed with my mind. Even the memory of that moment last fall made running harder. I thought of other races where I have slowed a lot after crossing a timing mat. It’s like, I send that info to my loved ones and then I can collapse because they *think* I am ok. Running is so mental. Then I thought – Yeah, running is mental and this slow down is also only mental. You are breathing fine. Your legs are fine. Stay with that pacer until mile 7 and you’ll have made it more than half the race. What a triumph that will be!

I’m too cheap to buy bad race photos. Especially when these murals spotted on the streets of Virginia Beach are so epic.

Mile 7 came up faster than expect, which NEVER happens! I was delighted. The thought crossed my mind  – whatever happens after this, this race is a huge success. You’ve run 7 good solid miles. Even if this turns into a tempo workout, you’ve run 7 miles at tempo, which is huge. Other people were talking but I have no idea what they were saying. We were still running really close together and every now and then someone bumped someone and apologized. I stepped on someone’s foot and apologized. But these little bumps didn’t hinder us. It was almost like we were some kind of running machine, pushing onward. I sure didn’t want to get dropped off the back of the machine. I told myself if I made it to mile 8 and had to slow down, that was ok. Still a huge triumph.

Then we got to mile 8! I realized that idea about slowing down now – that was “the deal” that your brain will offer you as a way to escape discomfort. Coach Mick and I used to talk about Howie Mandell, host of the game show “Deal or No Deal.” Howie will show up in your head mid-race and tell you that you’ve done enough. He’ll say it’s ok to back off or even to walk, be satisfied with what you’ve already done. No way, Howie. Not today.

I kept running, but an image kept flashing through my mind. Me, standing by the side of the road, unable to get my breath, having stopped, having to convince myself to start running again. Ugh. At that point I thought, take another gel. Maybe you need fuel. Don’t wait until mile 9, have it now. So I did. Another smooth consumption of Tums and gel. This is the first race where I didn’t *drop* a Tums. I don’t like having to take calcium mid-race, but I’m getting better at it.

Mile 8 seemed really long. But finally we came out of Fort Story. Somewhere in there we hit mile 9. Four miles to go. Whenever I get to the 4 mile mark, I think of Corgi Speedster and her 4 mile races in Central Park. I made an executive decision to skip water. I felt good. Water stops make me slow down. I didn’t want to lose the pace group.

Mile 9 also seemed really long. Finally we got to 10 and I allowed myself to start counting. I counted to 100 and back down for each finger. I was almost done with that when we hit mile 11.

Mile 11 is where I lost contact with the pace group at the half marathon back in 2018. I felt myself fade a little and then thought – that’s not me today. That’s me in 2018, fading at mile 11. This is a LOT of work, but I am still doing the work. That’s when I realized, I was probably going to be able to hang onto this pace. If I could stay with the pace group, I could run under 1:55. Wow.

During these hard miles, I realized I was racing smart and hard and UNAFRAID. Yes, I might blow up. It was possible that I would end up standing by the side of the road gasping for breath. But maybe, if I gave myself a chance, and hung with this pace group, I could get under 1:55. I didn’t care that my PR is more than 10 minutes faster than that. I found a huge piece of myself on that course in Virginia Beach. I remembered that Mama Tiger image from when my kids were babies. Mama Tiger is fierce and she protects her babies. But Mama Tiger also knows that she must protect herself first. Without being true to herself, she can not take care of her babies or anyone else. It’s not selfishness; it’s just reality.

That Mama Tiger is really brave, but the last 10 months of medical crap scared her. Scared her, but didn’t kill her apparently, because here she was, showing up in my head in a half marathon in Virginia Beach, ready to fight to get under 1:55. I learned in an instant it truly isn’t about the time on the clock. It’s about the ability to get the best out of yourself on a given day. Fear had robbed me of that ability for the past year, but I’ve been getting braver. I got a big notch braver at Virginia Beach.

When Coach Maverick asked me what I wanted from this race, I said I wanted to get to the edge and stay there as long as possible. “The edge” is what I call that horrible wonderful feeling when you are completely unsure about whether you can keep going. To me, this is how a race is supposed to feel. There’s so much clarity because there is only one task. That’s how I found myself about halfway through the race in Virginia Beach. My best self. She is still there. The experience of being so physically and mentally alienated from myself over the past year has been one of the most difficult things I’ve had to confront in life. But my best self is still there and I am finding her again.

Mile 11 – I knew at some point we would turn left and head back to the boardwalk. But apparently not yet. My legs were starting to feel weird. Was that calcium or just exhaustion? Just two more miles. Hang on. My counting was getting a big jagged and I had to keep starting over. Someone dropped something in front of me and I sort of leaped over it.

Mile 12 – Just one mile to go. I am going to lose the pace group soon but it’s ok. They have crept a tiny bit in front of me but I am hanging on. Then the sign – half marathoners to the left, marathoners to the right. They peel off and I head left. I remember the race with the kid with the big hair from Saturday. I have about 1200 yards to go. I try to speed up, but I’m at my max. The Neptune statue looks to be a million miles away, but I know counting four fingers worth of 100s will get me to him. I think about Badass Boomer’s tip of uncrunching the can, think about form, drive the knees, SO close! I cross the line and find a fence to hang on. Medical asks me if I am ok, the usual. My watch says 1:55:16, but chip time turns out to be 1:54:15. I am very much okay. I am finding my way back to myself.

The rest of the day was for celebrating. Badass Boomer found me at the finish line. We grabbed our gear bags and headed back to the hotel for hot showers. It was less cold than expected but still chilly. After brunch, we went back to the tent for more beer, music, and general carousing. The after party really is fun! I was singing with my broken voice at the top of my lungs – it didn’t matter that my voice is broken because no one could hear me anyway. I just felt jolts of pure joy coursing through me. It’s been a long long haul and it’s not over yet. Whatever “the end” of this looks like or “the new normal” – it’s still a big unknown. I really hope I can get back to normal singing. I really hope I can get back to faster running. But the last few weeks have felt much more like myself and that is an enormous blessing.

The 3:50 pacer!

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Health Update April 2023

It’s been a few months so I thought I would send out another one of these updates. Everything has been a lot more stable, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

I’ll start with the hypoparathyroidism, as that is clearly the most serious issue. This condition is confusing and sometimes frustrating. If you’re somehow reading about this for the first time or want a refresher course, hypoparathyroidism is an endocrine disorder in which the parathyroid glands do not operate adequately. The parathyroids control the levels of calcium in the bloodstream. A person with inadequate parathyroid function can easily end up with inadequate levels of blood calcium. That can cause muscle cramps of various severities, from annoying to life threatening.

One analogy that helps to understand this disorder is that we can think of the calcium system in your body like a banking system. The calcium in your bones and teeth is like money in the bank. The parathyroids are like the ATM card. They allow your body to access the calcium in the “bank.” With inadequate or goofed up parathyroid function, some bad stuff can happen. One likely outcome is not enough calcium in the blood stream – this is like too little cash. In order to counteract that problem, I take calcium and activated vitamin D supplements every day. But these supplements themselves can cause problems. Sometimes calcium goes into the “wrong” place in your body. The biggest risk here is kidney stones. Taking gobs of calcium would solve the problem of too little calcium in the blood stream, but it would create a significant risk of kidney stones or even things like cataracts or calcifications of the brain. Not good. People with hypoparathyroidism are engaging in a perpetual balancing act. We need to take enough calcium and activated vitamin D that we feel good, but not so much that we end up doing long-term damage to kidneys or other organs.

There’s another wrinkle to this story. Thyroid surgery is by far the most common cause of hypoparathyroidism, but most of the time, the condition is transient. Within a few weeks after surgery, in most people, the parathyroids start working again. Once you are a few weeks post-surgery, however, things get more complicated. People with hypoparathyroidism need to take calcium and activated vitamin D or we can end up with a calcium crash that lands us in the ER. But the activated vitamin D (calcitriol) *might* inhibit the parathyroids from starting to function. It’s possible that when the body is receiving enough calcium and activated vitamin D through supplements, the parathyroids kind of check out and don’t bother doing their job. Doctors and scientists disagree on this point. But, to clarify, It’s possible that the medicine I have to take in order to remain stable is also preventing my parathyroids from recovering.

Since last summer, I have been attempting to wean off of the calcitriol in an effort to promote parathyroid function. I am having some success with this project, but it’s very slow. Last August, I was taking four calcitriol pills a day (.25 mg each). I was able to reduce by one pill in October, one in January, and one in early April. My calcium levels have remained stable! This is really excellent news, but this process is painstakingly slow. I have one pill left to go and I will certainly try dropping it at some point in the next weeks and months. Please pray that this works!

Clearly this situation is complicated and I would love to report that my doctors have been great at educating me as we go along. However, that has not always been the case. I have learned a lot more from talking with other people with hypoparathyroidism on Facebook and reading scientific journal articles. I don’t want to sound too snarky here. I’ve had some excellent medical care. But there were also some significant gaps in care that ranged from annoying to dangerous. That shouldn’t happen. My advice, beyond Be Kind Always, is not just to advocate for yourself. People with chronic medical conditions can’t always manage that. Instead, find someone to help advocate for you and take this person with you to stressful medical appointments. And also, Be Kind Always.

I’m very happy to report that most of my other health concerns have faded a lot. Skin cancer turned out to be absolutely trivial compared to the other things I confronted over the past few months. The Mohs surgery was straightforward and successful. I have a very small scar on my neck and above average visits to the dermatologist in my future. Poor Geneva’s heart was scarred more than my neck – she still gets quite fretful whenever she hears people talk about cancer.

We have found a dose of levothyroxine that seems to be working well at keeping my thyroid hormones stable. I’ve been on the same dose since last November and feeling good. Not everyone has that outcome so I am very grateful.

I made a lot of progress working with the voice therapists at Yale. Lynn and John were unfailingly encouraging and kind, bright lights during one of the most difficult phases of my life. My voice has improved enormously in every measurable way: I have much better range, better volume, more fluctuation in pitch when I talk – you name it! I can even sing! That said – it is not the same voice I had before surgery, not even close. I have barely enough volume to get a classroom full of talking students to be quiet. I can sing alone, when I set the pitch, but singing in church is much harder. At the recommendation of my wonderful voice therapists, I am transferring care to a therapist who specializes in vocal performance. I hope to recover not just more ability to sing, but also the ability to lecture for longer periods of time, something that I need to do for work. In the meantime, I’m on a short break from voice therapy, meaning I have 3 extra hours every Friday! Enough time to write this update and get started reading some senior theses.

Thank you for reading. I am not sure why it turns out to matter that people try to understand these experiences, but it does. I am a different person than I was a year ago in a lot of ways. I value the love and support of friends and family more than I can possibly express.

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Shamrock and Roll 5K Race Report 2023

The Shamrock and Roll 5K on March 5th was the third race in my early spring season. Having run 25:07 at last month’s Run for Refugees 5K, I guessed that I could run about 30 seconds faster with better execution. Turns out I was right. I improved my time by 26 seconds from last month, running 24:41 at Shamrock and Roll. Now 26 seconds might not sound like a lot but that’s almost 9 seconds a mile.

Having run the Colchester Half Marathon the weekend before Shamrock in 20 degree temperatures and survived, I was feeling MUCH less fearful than before the Refugees 5K. I don’t want to jinx things. It’s possible my health issues have made me into a permanently more cautious person. But I really didn’t expect any post-race ER visit this time around and I also barely thought about it. That’s HUGE progress. Instead of worrying, I had a very chill evening the night before the race. VERY chill, as we bought tickets for a family trip to Iceland this summer! Whoa. More on that later, I’m sure. Iceland planning kept me up a little later than I’d have wanted, but not too bad and I got a decent night’s sleep.

I woke up the next day around 5:45am and got ready to go race. For my third race in about a month, I’ve got the routine down: Oatmeal, coffee, race outfit, change of clothes, fuel, etc. It’s even starting to feel normal to remember to have the Zipfizz and the Tums. I was on the road shortly after 7am, parked a couple of blocks from Toad’s Place, the bar that hosts the race, by 7:40, bib and t-shirt acquired by 8am. I met Prop Runner around 8:15 for a quick warm-up jog and some drills. I had time for one last porta-potty trip but unfortunately missed the team photo while I was in there!

The course is almost entirely a long straight out-and-back with a lollipop turn-around at the end. It’s also pretty flat. I can see why people run fast here! The start was different this year, but since I’d never done this race before, I didn’t really care about that. The starting chute was pretty narrow so I lined up closer to the front than I might have otherwise to avoid getting bogged down as happened at Refugees. That paid off.

Like Refugees, this is a JB Sports race. Race Director John Bysiewicz, who was hit by a car while cycling last November, is out of the hospital. This was his first race back. I got to know John a little bit when I was on the Board of Directors for the Middletown Road Race. He’s a classic race director personality – irascible, stubborn, detail oriented, and charming all at once. I was really overjoyed to see him. I don’t know him well enough to give him a hug, but I wanted to. Instead, I told him I was glad he was back and that I’d been praying for him.

Strangely, there was no national anthem or anything else. We just packed ourselves into the corral and the gun went off. I was walking when I crossed the starting line but I was able to start running pretty much right away, swerving a bit to find a path through the runners.

Pretty splits!

I’m still not looking at my watch at all when I race and it seems to be paying off. That first half mile sure is a leap of faith. On this day I told myself, remember “Control” is the name of the game here. You do want to be fast, but this shouldn’t be hurting yet. Trust yourself. You’ve run two good races this way. You know what you’re doing. If you’re way too fast or way too slow, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a 5K. I tried to focus on making it feel hard, but not crazy hard, not this early. During the first mile I passed a lot of people who had perhaps been too ambitious with their starting positions. Still, that always feels good. The first mile beeped and I resisted the temptation to peek. I remembered Coach Maverick’s advice: Focus. Keep the pedal down and pay attention.

Since this is largely an out-and-back, I knew I’d see the leaders soon. I cheered for my friends. What came out was not a full-throated cheer, but recognizable words for sure, not a croak! That’s massive vocal progress from last summer when I couldn’t speak at all while running. It’s still hard for me to talk in a loud bar and I struggled to make myself heard before and after the race. But I am holding onto that cheer as proof of progress. It was super fun to see a lot of other Manchester Running Company friends out on the course. Go team!

You can see the muscle tension in my throat in this picture. That’s the result of the thyroid surgery. It’s easy to see here why it might contribute to vocal fatigue!

As we approached the turnaround, Prop Runner passed me. We run together pretty often and I think we are fairly close in fitness right now. I considered trying to latch onto her and let her pull me along, but WOW, she was moving so smoothly. I decided to let her go and focus on my own project.

My own project for this race was to get more uncomfortable sooner and then stay there longer. I would say the last ¾ of a mile at Refugees was extremely unpleasant. But for a well-run 5K, you want at least the entire second half of the race to feel pretty bad, and maybe more of it than that. For this race, my main goal was to see if I could get back to pushing myself enough to feel that 5K suck. Mission accomplished. About halfway through that second mile, I started to get what I might call the “5K alarm bell.” It’s my body’s way of saying, this is too fast, you need to slow down, doesn’t walking seem like a good alternative? How about stopping? Stopping sounds great. My brain’s job is to ignore all that.

By halfway through that second mile, I was definitely wanting to walk. But – I was also wanting to push. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to race, and race well. Not just since thyroid surgery. But further back to the coaching confusion of early 2022 and the anger and fury of 2021. Now that I’m getting healthier and figuring out the mental side of racing again, walking feels less tempting. Not totally un-tempting – running fast is hard! But less tempting than in the past.

I ran past the second mile marker and the guy calling splits yelled out “You’re all going to break 25 minutes!” Having run 25:07 last time around, that was my time goal for this race for sure. I still wanted to walk but not as much as I wanted to break 25 minutes so that meant I had to hold onto this pace. John Bysiewicz also snapped into my mind again. I’ve called splits for him at races before. If John could show up with his prosthetic leg and his bossy race director attitude, the least I could do was hold onto this pace and break 25 minutes.

“All In!” was the motto for the last mile and I ran *hard*. I was sort of half counting, half listening to my music, mostly trying to see how much of the course was left. It felt like I was slowing down, but I kept pushing, telling myself, do your best, that’s all anyone can ask, including you. Rocky Raccoon was there yelling “Just one more corner” which was good to know. Finally I turned and there was the clock. I could see it ticking over 25 minutes, but I knew that was gun time and I might still make it! Done! I hung on a fence for a bit. My watch said 24:42, but actual time was 24:41! 26 seconds faster!

I caught my breath and found some MRC friends. Back at Toad’s, it was really much too loud, but they had donuts and ice cream and John Bysiewicz passing out awards so that was well worth it. We headed out shortly for the 12 Percent Beer project, which was much nicer.

Later that day, I had coffee with a friend who is also John’s cousin. She talked about how he is “so lucky”. The person who hit him with their car didn’t stop, but another driver saw the bike on the side of the road and circled back to see what was going on. That driver got there in time to call an ambulance and save John’s life. It would be easy to see John’s story as “unlucky” – it’s horrible to lose your leg in an accident like that. But he and his family have consistently spun it the other way: He was so lucky that other driver stopped. It makes you think. We don’t control our “luck” but we can control how we think about it.



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Colchester Half Marathon Race Report 2023

The Colchester Half Marathon is one of my favorite races. In 2014 it was the first race where I got a glimpse of how I might be able to run faster, better, freer. I also love the vibe of the race, extremely low key, but with professional timing and an amazing feast afterwards. If you’re going to run this race, you have to train through the winter so it attracts a fast field of serious runners. The race director is another highlight – he’s somehow everywhere before, during, and after the race, cheering for every runner.

I had never had a bad race here until 2021. Amid a spring of shitty racing, Colchester stands out as especially awful. I was somewhat undertrained for a half marathon, but didn’t let that dissuade me from going out much too quickly. I ran the first 6 miles fueled by fury about the pandemic and then trudged home the rest of the way, saved only by the presence of Pokey, who kept me from collapsing in a pile of tears by the side of the road. Dramatic much? Yeah, but that is definitely how Colchester 2021 felt.

One of my main goals in 2023 was to execute better than I did in 2021. Setting the bar low. But in 2021, I had vowed to come back to Colchester and run under 1:50, something I have never done on this course. That vow was in my mind as I contemplated the race and knew I was nowhere close to sub-1:50 shape, not on an easy course and especially not on the hills of Colchester. Then the weather forecast rolled in: 20 degrees, though at least not windy. Ugh. That is chilly for an easy six miles, damn cold for a long run and freaking freezing for racing a half marathon. Plus it brought back the specter of last fall’s Philadelphia marathon, when a race in similar temperatures landed me in the emergency room. Sure, I could run the Refugees 5K in New Haven in decent weather and stay out of the medical tent. What about a half marathon on hills and in the cold? Doubt started to creep in. The week leading up to the race was filled with anxiety about medical stuff even before I layered the race on top of it.

A conversation with Coach Mick helped turn things around. He reminded me that progress isn’t linear. I know that. But I definitely had it in my head that I wanted Colchester to be faster than the half marathons I ran last fall and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be. Coach Mick also said, progress is never linear and with your medical issues, it’s going to be less linear, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t progress. That was a good insight. He also reminded me that I had battled serious plantar fasciitis not once, but twice. I had been super persistent, not just about stretching and proper shoes and all that, but about researching solutions and staying patient. It was hard and I was scared a lot, but ultimately, the plantar fasciitis went away. Mostly he reassured me that even if I don’t have a perfect solution to the hypoparathyroidism right now, I’m really persistent and good at figuring out solutions. That was just what I needed to hear.

I got up early on Saturday and got myself ready. Out the door around 8:20 for a 9am arrival. That turned out to be right in the nick of time. No waiting for bibs and bathroom for me but a big line by the time I was done. It was really cold. The temperature had “risen” to just about 20 degrees for start time. I had to laugh when I re-read all my other race reports about Colchester “It’s going to be chilly, right around 35 degrees.” Hahahaha. At the last minute, I swapped out my fleece shirt for a tech shirt, but otherwise I wore Sugoi tights, Darn Tough socks, Nike Next %2’s, my Kari Traa jacket, gloves (with Hot Hands), my standard pink hat. I was not at all overdressed though I am glad I ditched the fleece shirt. My core was warm enough, but my legs and feet never really warmed up. My index fingers were totally numb by the end of the race. We are having one of the mildest winters on record, but I am book-ending it with the coldest marathon I’ve ever run (or hope to run!) in November and now the coldest half marathon I’ve ever run in February. New goal: Run a race in which the water at the aid stations does not freeze.

Race morning I had my usual oatmeal portion plus a banana plus my Zipfizz plus a cup of coffee. Here’s how I handled the rest of fueling. I brought a banana with me in case I was hungry when I got to the race, but I wasn’t. I had a Tums just before heading out to warm up. During the race I had a Tums and a gel at about 4 miles and about 9 miles. I ended up having one Gu and one Maurten because that’s what I had on hand, but that also worked fine. Fine tuning on gels isn’t going to be an issue for me right now as long as I get the calcium stuff right. I had a Tums when I finished also, so 4 Tums total. I had no cramping or tingles during the race. My legs started to feel stiff by the last few miles, but I was running a hilly half marathon in 20 degree temperatures. A little muscle stiffness is to be expected. Given the moaning and groaning in the bathroom among women changing clothes post-race, I was not alone in feeling some stiff muscles!

I saw a lot of friends before the start, but only Pokey wanted to warm up. We jogged out along the course. By the time we got back, there were only about 5 minutes until the start. I had planned to do some drills, but it was so cold that I just did some strides and called it good. I lost track of Pokey but found some other friends to stand near. They blew the horn and off we went!

This race starts uphill just to make things more interesting. I was determined not to go out too fast. But just about half a mile in, I noticed my shoe lace was untied! Rookie error! I didn’t double knot them when I put them on, thinking I would do it when I got to the race. I imagined trying to run 12.5 miles on hills with a shoe untied, but I knew I had to stop. I pulled over to the side, took my gloves off, double-knotted both shoes, and started up again. Somehow I didn’t let this throw me off mentally. I briefly thought, well, if that incident means I don’t break 2 hours, that’s a bummer, but it is what it is. I’m not starting too fast now that’s for sure.

I settled in to what felt like an appropriate effort. Coach Maverick still has me running entirely by feel so I didn’t look at my watch at all during the race. It’s a strange feeling to pick an effort so early in a long race and just commit to it. What if I’m too fast? What if I’m too slow? But, since I am not at all sure what paces would correspond to “too fast” or “too slow” at the moment, it sort of doesn’t matter. It *might* even be that cueing off my body’s effort is the is going to give me the best result anyway. It takes a certain amount of courage to race this way without any clue of how things are going time-wise, but it also takes away the stress of looking at the watch and trying to adjust. I ran a steady effort, which is probably the best approach for a hilly course anyway.

As I crested the first major hill at mile three, I started to have flashbacks to all the other years I’ve run this race, but especially that 2021 version with Pokey. I knew by the end of the third mile in 2021 that I was going to have a rough day and I urged Pokey to leave me, but she refused. Today I just felt surrounded by her spirit, a good friend I have shared a lot of miles with. Someone who has seen me despairing and stayed with me.

I have a lot of thoughts about this picture from the end of the race. But mostly that I’m still kind of smiling. Still loving this even when it’s hard.

That feeling continued throughout the race. I was running in 2023, but I was also running in 2014, when I felt so strong and free. I was running in 2016, learning how to pace a hilly race. I was running in 2019, joyfully training for my first Boston. Mostly I remembered the fury I ran with in 2021. I remembered how happy and sad I was that the race director was giving out socially distanced high fives with a big hand on a stick. I thought I had let those emotions go, but as I ran the course, I released them even more. It felt good to turn them into just one more layer of experience at Colchester instead of the dominant memory of the race. It was a little bit like running out of the pandemic and that felt really good.

I was feeling pretty good in general. Not the somewhat-too-happy feeling of the Run for Refugees 5K. More the focused-and-working feeling that I would want to feel during a half marathon. I could tell I wasn’t ready to go out on a limb, to risk so much effort early that I might fade hard later. I do think that’s probably part of running a really fast-for-me half marathon but this was still too soon in the recovery process for a big risk.

Sometimes I can connect with God when I’m racing. In Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddel says “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” That’s a marvelous feeling. Somehow the suffering of racing can make us feel so alive – that is one of the main reasons I race. I know it sounds a little crazy but I could feel God’s presence in Colchester. The course has two huge hills, at mile 6 and mile 9. I ran up both of them. It was hard, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to stop. Instead, I felt so grateful for the strength to keep going. I thought a lot about Rose and about not being afraid. It sounds like a lot of thinking but my brain didn’t feel busy. I ran with my memories of the race in previous years, I worked hard, I felt God, I thought about Rose. From mile three to mile 11.

At mile 11, the course makes a right turn and you run two miles up a gradual hill with the road unrolling in front of you for most of the way. This is where I nearly stopped and cried in 2021. This year, though, I discovered I had gas in the tank and decided to use it. I started to pass people, creeping my way up in the field. The end of this race is really tough, but I counted and ran hard and passed as many people as I could. Strava tells me it was my second fastest time on these last two miles!

I finished the race, bent over a table and looked at my watch. It said 2:01. Ok, so no sub-2 finish, but a really good race execution. The best executed half marathon since surgery and really the best in quite awhile. Then I saw the clock, which read 1:58. Huh? I asked someone if the clock was correct? Yes it was – my watch had been on laps and my last lap was 2:01. Overall time 1:58:28! My second slowest Colchester, but with 45 seconds for tying my shoe and in 20 degree weather.

Bernie was at the finish line, having had an excellent race! The weather was getting worse with snow starting to fall and the wind picking up a bit so I headed inside.

I changed clothes with the other moaning and groaning women in the bathroom. Then we all descended on the high school cafeteria for the massive post-race carbo-re-loading. Lasagna, shepherd’s pie, chili, mac and cheese, ice cream, corn bread. Even some green beans if you’re feeling the need for some vegetables. Most of all the chance to hang out with old friends and meet some new ones, while everyone shares their tales of the race. This was another step toward recovery. A really good day.

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Run for Refugees 2023 Race Report

I’ve started to refer to the Run for Refugees race as “my favorite 5K,” which I guess is sort of like “my favorite level of hell?” The 5K is certainly not my favorite distance. But way back in the before-times, I ran a series of 5ks and learned a lot about the distance and about myself as a runner. Run for Refugees was probably the first 5K I ever ran well, back in 2020, when I ran 22:58 and took home a trophy for my efforts. But even before then, in 2017, I volunteered at this race and it captured my heart. It’s a fundraiser for IRIS – Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, a fantastic organization that provides refugees arriving in Connecticut with what they call “wrap-around” services: a place to live, food, legal advice, help getting kids into schools and adults into jobs, mental health services, and perhaps most important of all, a friendly face. My church is looking to get more involved with IRIS and I can’t wait to help that happen later this spring. But in the meantime, I got to run “my favorite 5K” again this year.

What do I love about this race? It’s the friendliest and most diverse group of runners of any race I know. Race logistics are simple. The course is basically a figure eight so spectators and runners can see each other several times. It’s also basically flat. The shirts are iconic. They used to have amazing food from the countries of origin for the refugee clients, but that doesn’t seem to be back yet, post-Covid. Maybe next year?

I think training is finally starting to turn a corner. From the thyroid surgery in late May all the way through late December, I mostly felt like I was bailing a sinking ship. I’ve been able to run almost the entire time, for which I am incredibly grateful. But the aftermath of the surgery, both the physical healing and the ongoing calcium issues, has meant that training rarely felt good, even if it did not always feel bad. As late as early January I was sending messages to my endocrinologists (and google) asking things like “If I don’t have a thyroid, does strength training affect my metabolism? And if not, should I bother doing it?” Right now I don’t think my ship is actively leaking water, a big improvement. There is still a lot of bailing to be done, but sometime in mid-January, running started to feel better, sometimes even good. I appreciate this every time it happens.

With that as preamble, on to the actual race!

We arrived right at 8:30 and got prime parking. This is NOT too early to get to this race. Mervus and Rose had come along to cheer. Snarky Girl was running and her daughter, Olivia, had decided to hop in at the last minute. We were also meeting Chewie and Pippi so we had a great crew!

Chewie and I got in a solid warm up, reminiscing about last year when we ran in gorgeous snow. We talked some about my fears. Anyone listening in would have assumed she was my coach, rather than vice versa. After my last race, the Philadelphia Marathon, I landed in the ER and then spent the night in the hospital with atrial fibrillation. My number one goal was to avoid the emergency room this time. Number two goal was to keep anxiety to some kind of reasonable level. Chewie listened to me and my worries and just listing them out helped keep them under control. It was absolutely lovely to warm up together and I hope we can meet up again soon. I dropped off my jacket with Mervus and got a last good-luck kiss. One last trip to the porta-potty before Chewie and I went to line up. I knew we might be too far back, but dang, it’s hard to go up front!

The race director for this race, John Bysiewicz, was hit by a car while cycling last November. He lost his left leg in the accident and he’s still in the hospital in rehab. We sent up a cheer we hoped was loud enough to reach him. Then the Yale Gospel choir sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which was awesome! They fired the gun and we were off!

Note for future reference: This is too far back!

It was immediately clear that we were too far back but I remembered from my race report of 2020 that a slow start doesn’t always mean a bad race. I wasn’t frustrated. Coach Maverick wants me to work on intuitive racing, so I didn’t check pace a single time during the race. My word for the first mile was “Control” – The slow start certainly helped with that. For the first half mile, I felt pretty good. Then we went around the top of the park and started down Livingston Street. Now some fear started to come. Would I blow up? Would my heart go into a-fib? Would I run a slow 5K? That these options seemed equally dire made me laugh.

I told myself, you are re-braving here. “Re-braving” is a term I stole from a friend who had a heart attack last year. We are both working on finding our confidence again. No panic attack the night before the race meant I was already winning. Re-braving, re-braving, re-braving, I chanted in my head. Stay with this pace and soon you’ll see your family.

There they were at the first mile marker! I am always so happy to see them but today especially. Mervus and Rose with the beautiful banner Mervus had made. I could see them looking for me and I was able to wave and smile. One mile down!

The second mile is six blocks down Livingston Street, a quick block over and the same six blocks back up Orange Street. I thought I might count the blocks but I lost track after one. Instead I thought about Coach Maverick’s word for this middle section: Focus. A lot of 5Ks are “lost” in the middle mile when things start to get hard, but the end of the race is still so far away. I thought about Coach Mick telling me once “You can run fast a lot farther than you think you can.” I thought about trying to run faster, reminding myself that you have to increase effort to even maintain pace in a 5K.

I had put together a playlist the night before and for once, I had actually figured out how long each song would take and thought about when in the race I wanted to hear it. “Ordinary Girl” by Kate Alexa came on as I ran the second half of the second mile. Rose introduced me to this song, which is the soundtrack to the TV show H20 about mermaids. I’m not a mermaid, but I love the lyrics (which remind me of Rose):

I’ve got a special power
That I’m not afraid to use
Every waking hour
I discover something new

So come on this is my adventure
This is my fantasy
It’s all about living in the ocean
Being wild and free

I am not running in the ocean, of course. But the rest of that – Wow. Yes. I’m not under the illusion that I’m a great runner, but I am damn good at figuring things out and I love the feeling of being wild and free, that’s for sure. This song brought me so much joy and helped me stay strong, also remembering that the race was half over. This was going by really fast!

Note, feeling good and happy at the halfway mark of a 5K is a pretty clear sign that you could be running faster. Normally this is when I start fantasizing about breaking my ankle so I can stop running. I still wasn’t looking at my watch, but I was pretty sure I was somewhere between faster-than-tempo and slower-than-5K-desperate pace. That felt about right for the day. I was pushing pretty hard but not so hard that I was questioning my life choices. I was running fast, feeling free – and not on the way to the emergency room. I rounded the corner and saw Mervus and Rose again, near the second mile marker.

The last mile was supposed to be “All In!” Oof. I turned again to head back up Livingston around the park and thought, ok, you can count. Count 100 for each finger, do that two times, and you’ll be done. This stretch felt really really long. I was staring ahead trying to force the turn at the top of the park to emerge and it felt like it would never appear. Just for a moment I thought “You can’t do this!” but then I reminded myself. “You are in control here. If you have to slow down a little bit, you can. It’s better if you can hold the pace, but either way, you are in charge.” After so many months of not being in charge of so many things happening with my body, it felt amazing to slow down just a scooch. Just to show who is really in charge. And then fight to run fast again.

My favorite running song of the past year is “God of the Impossible.” My plan to finish the race running to this song totally worked! It came on during the last half mile and I just ran like crazy for the finish line.

Here I am! Lord send me!
I won’t look back, cause I was made
To be a part of the impossible!
You’re God of the impossible!

When I crossed, my watch said 25:16 [Actual time 25:07. Negative splits baby! 8:24, 7:58, 7:53]. That is not my fastest 5K by a long shot. It’s fully 3 minutes slower than my PR. But I ran hard, harder than any race since surgery. I executed well, with a lot of control and none of the mental doubts that plagued me last spring or the anger of spring 2021. This was a solid clean race and I am super happy about it.

After the race, Chewie, her mom, Pippi and I went for a little cool down jog. Snarky Girl and Olivia showed up eventually. They had stopped for coffee DURING THE RACE! What an awesome way to run a 5K! Chewie and her mom had to head out but the rest of us headed to brunch at the Neighborhood Café. It was a longish wait but the food and the company were top notch.


One way to run a 5K!

I am really looking forward to the next race. This is a great start to build on. I don’t know what the future holds, no thyroid and those recalcitrant parathyroids. I know there’s a lot of worry ahead and probably some physical discomfort brought on by medical events rather than just 5Ks. But this is the most hope I’ve had in a long time.

Post-race brunch = THE BEST!

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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 about 80,000 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.

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


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