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.

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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!

 

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Blessing of the Fleet Race Report 2022

 

When I scheduled the thyroid surgery for May 27, I lay down a series of markers in my mind. These were things I wanted to be able to accomplish by a particular time: March in the Pride Parade on June 4th. Attend church on June 5th. Go to Portugal for my scheduled conference the last week of June. Run the Blessing of the Fleet 10 Miler on July 29th.

When I made that plan, I wasn’t sure if I would be racing the Blessing, but it seemed reasonable to expect that I would be able to cover 10 miles on my own two feet by two months post-surgery. In late June, I thought I might be up to racing, but then I got Covid while in Portugal. And the post-surgical complications arrived: Potential vocal damage and low calcium. But I made a pros and cons list and the pros list was longer. The Blessing would be a celebration of getting through the last couple of months and of working with a new coach. More on that at some point. I’d run 10 miles a couple of times and I was sure I could cover the distance. Plus, I really wanted to see Chewie and Allegro Fuerte and I wanted to get out of town for a bit. It really was a last minute decision – I registered the night before the race.

We did the same routine as last year – Mervus and I picked up Rose directly from circus camp and headed for Narragansett. We hit some traffic and I was nervous about getting there on time, but we more or less managed it. I nearly lost my bib, having left it behind at the table where I stopped to buy some Gu. The pre-race scene was a bit of a wake-up call in terms of my voice. My vocal cords sustained some damage during my thyroid surgery in late May. When I am having a one-on-one conversation indoors, my voice is quiet, but comprehensible. In fifteen minutes of walking around outside with a lot of ambient noise, at least five different people were unable to hear what I was saying. Oy.

Still, we found Chewie and Allegro Fuerte and it was SO good to see them. After a quick pit-stop at the porta-potty, we went and lined up. I sent them ahead, but stayed pretty far back. I spotted an Achilles International guide working with a blind runner and I even considered asking if I could just stick with them, but they were aiming for a 12:30 pace. I knew I’d be faster than that. My coach had advised to start the race at easy long run effort and then see how it felt after a couple of miles. If I felt like pushing, physically and mentally, I could go for it. That seemed like a great plan. Rose and Mervus got up on a big rock so they could wave at me at the start. This is currently Rose’s favorite race to spectate, though I sometimes think the most recent race is her favorite race. Anyway, they fired the gun and off we went.

I love running and I love racing! The joy of running in a big pack of people is incomparable. Last year the Blessing was my first big race post-pandemic and everything still felt a bit tentative. This year, some people wore masks inside, but there were many more spectators and a much more joyful feel to the race. I had decided not to look at my watch and except for one glance by mistake, I didn’t. It felt wonderful to be running with people and the pace was very comfortable.

After a couple of miles, it was decision time. Did I want to push? I realized a couple of things simultaneously. First, I got my racing brain back! This is huge! Even prior to all the medical crap, I’ve been struggling with racing for about 18 months. The pandemic made me SO angry. I raced a lot of stupid emotionally-driven 5Ks where I would start hot and just run as hard as I could until I was slightly less pissed off and then I would slow down dramatically. That felt awful. I worked with a sports psychologist last spring. She helped me let go of the anger (mostly). We also started working on remembering all the mental cues I’ve used for racing in the past and coming up with some new ones. My racing in 2022 has been better than it was in 2021, but except for the Run for Refugees 5K, it still hasn’t been stellar. The Blessing was stellar. I didn’t run especially fast for me, but it was like I remembered how to drive and that was marvelous. I can hardly express how marvelous it felt.

Anyway, after a couple of miles, I had to assess whether to push. My biggest worry was my calcium deficiency. I changed how I was handling that issue in the lead-up to the race. Prior to the Blessing, I had been taking a Tums while running when symptoms show up. For me, symptoms are either a pins-and-needles tingling in my feet and hands or cramping, usually in my quads. The afternoon before the race, I realized that I should be hydrating with electrolytes to prepare for a warm race. Then I thought, I don’t wait until I am thirsty before I drink. I don’t wait to be hungry to take a gel. I drink and fuel on a schedule because if you fall behind, it’s very hard to catch up. Why would calcium be any different? I decided to try pre-loading the calcium and I had a Tums at noon, 2pm, 4pm, 5pm, and 6pm on the starting line. I also decided to take a gel and a Tums at 3 miles and 6 miles. New plan!

The truth is, this calcium crap is scary. I get symptoms of low calcium and take the Tums and that raises my calcium levels. But if calcium levels get too low, that can cause extreme muscle cramps. As an endocrinologist friend put it, “Your heart is a muscle.” A heart “muscle cramp” is pretty much a heart attack. I don’t believe I am in any danger of that, but I would like to keep it that way!

I thought about my race car driving analogy again. Running the Blessing really did feel like I was back in control of my own race car. Allegro Fuerte is a huge NASCAR fan so maybe some of his analogies are rubbing off on me. Anyway, I figured the first race back in control of the car is not the time to go for it. Instead, I wanted to see how it felt to run 10 continuous miles at a pace a bit faster than easy, but not even close to how it would feel to race. Just remember how to drive the damn car. By mile three, I knew I’d be holding at the effort level I had established.

That’s when things got fun. Really fun. I was in a great summertime race. I had started almost all the way back so I was passing a lot of people. I was running just a little bit faster than easy. Fast enough to feel fast and smooth, but not like it was much work. A summertime race with a ton of spectators on a beautiful night and I was feeling really good. I waved to a couple of old guys. They smiled and waved back. I blew kisses to the next older gentleman I passed. He laughed. I started high fiving all the little kids. I was grinning like a lunatic, a really happy lunatic. People started yelling “Go Chicago!” because of the sports bra I was wearing. It was amazing! The one back-to-earth moment came when I tried to call out to someone. It came out as an incomprehensible croak. Right. My voice sounds normal to me inside my head so I am constantly forgetting that it’s not. Eesh. I resolved not to make any more noise until the finish line. I raced contemplating what it must be like to be mute.

The Blessing is an interesting course. You run along the water for a few miles. There’s a long somewhat unpleasant stretch up a hill on a more exposed road. Then eventually you turn right and head into some neighborhoods with more shade. It was hot. I dumped water on my head and stuffed ice down my sports bra when it was available. None of that mattered. I took my gel and my Tums at miles 3 and 6 and I didn’t cramp. Running with no cramping was the true Blessing of the night!

The course doubles back on itself so Mervus and Rose could move easily from the start to mile 7.5. I found them quickly and waved and smiled. I almost stopped to tell them how damn good I was feeling and how magical the race was, but I figured there would be time for that later. The last two miles are a little bit downhill. I pressed just a little bit and felt maybe the whisper of a cramp, but nothing serious. I pushed a little more and my last mile was my fastest: 8:21. For reference, last year my average pace was 7:53. But that’s okay. This year, I remembered how to drive my race car. I ran (pretty) hard at the finish and felt so good! Last year I ran 1:19:32, for my only PR of 2021. This year I ran 1:31:14. My slowest 10 miler ever by a lot, but also one of the top three most joyous races of my life.

After the race, we spent time hanging out with Allegro Fuerte and Chewie, which was wonderful. We got nachos, which turned out to be terrible. The next day, my coach closed his coaching business. Mervus says I was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe. It didn’t matter. (I wish him well, of course!). I found my racing self again. It might not be an easy road back. It’s going to involve a lot more calcium than I had anticipated or would like. But I’m on my way, and that’s what counts.

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Medical Update Late August 2022 – thyroids and vocal damage and calcium plus a little skin cancer news

There is so much going on medically that I’ve decided to start sending periodic updates when I have important appointments or get new information. Just to give an idea of the volume of medical stuff I am dealing with, I had three appointments for myself last week, I have four appointments for myself currently scheduled for this week, plus Geneva’s annual check-up. It’s a lot. On more than one day I spent more than four hours just going to doctor appointments.

Just a summary to bring folks up to speed. I had thyroid surgery on May 27th. I’ve been dealing with the “normal” stuff you expect after thyroid surgery, which is mostly getting the dose of levothyroxine correct (brand name Synthroid). But I also had two major post-surgical complications: damage to my vocal cords and damage to my parathyroid glands.

Now I have a brand-new issue as well, lucky me! One of the appointments last week was to have that weird growth on my neck removed. Given how my luck has been going this year, no surprise that it turned out to be basal cell carcinoma. My dermatologist is out of town so I won’t know how to proceed with that until he gets back next week.

Here’s how each of these issues is progressing. This is summarizing the doctor appointments of the last 10 days.

Thyroid hormone regulation. This turns out to be the easiest one. You can measure various thyroid hormones but the main one is thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). My TSH has been up and down a bit since surgery, sometimes in stressful and mysterious ways. It was 8.38 on August 2. We increased the levothyroxine to 150mcg. On August 26, TSH was 3.88. This is GOOD NEWS! Increased levo is supposed to make TSH go down so at least the medication is acting properly. Much better than July and August when levothyroxine and TSH seemed to be more or less random.

We are looking for TSH to be 0.5-1.0 so it is still too high. But it’s really only been three weeks since we increased the levothyroxine dose and it takes 6 weeks for the medicine to take full effect. My endocrinologist said we could check TSH again this week or next week, but since I am feeling good, we can also wait and check after September 11th. There are various reasons to wait, but most importantly, I am running the Surftown Half on September 11th and I’d rather not deal with the mental stress of more lab work before then. We do not quite have TSH all sewed up, but I think my endocrinologist and I are both hoping that I am at the right dose now.

Vocal cord damage. This one is mentally and emotionally incredibly hard. I am so grateful to my Uncle Norman who cried with me while we were in Boulder, to my voice therapist Lynn, who is a miracle worker, and to others who have offered sympathy and understanding in various ways. My voice cracks a lot. I have about a three note range. I have limited power to project. If I am talking to just 2-3 people in a small quiet space, the issue is not that noticeable. If there is ambient noise, it’s immediately a problem. Geneva and I love to sing together. We just spent six days in the car, listening to music, enjoying it very much, but NOT belting our lungs out as we should have been able to do.

I am still getting the details on this issue, but it’s starting to sound like there was actual damage done to the vocal cords during surgery. That’s quite bad news. On the other hand, Lynn, who is my voice therapist, is incredible. I go see her again on Friday. Getting appointments with her is almost impossible so that’s a big win. In case you’re wondering, saying something like “You don’t sound all that different” is not a very helpful comment. It can feel like trivialization of the problem. Losing the ability to sing turns out to be an enormous deal. Having to constantly fight to be heard is also not a lot of fun. The voice stuff does not hurt at all. There is no physical pain. But the emotional and mental distress is quite high. I hope that with time and voice therapy from Lynn, I will recover most of my voice and maybe all of it. When that happens, look out, because it’s possible I will never stop singing.

Calcium and hypoPARAthyroidism. In addition to a thyroid, we all have four parathyroid glands, located near the thyroid. These little glands (about the size of a grain of rice) sometimes get jostled during thyroid surgery. They might get disconnected from their blood supply or they might just shut down. Usually this problem resolves within a month. My surgery was three months ago and my parathyroids are not functioning normally. That’s really bad news.

Hypoparathyroidism is not curable. You can manage it with various supplements. Severe hypoparathyroidism is often crippling and life changing. Many people with this condition can not work, let alone run or otherwise enjoy life. It’s quite scary. Luckily, my version is not that severe, at least not currently. Mostly I manage with various calcium supplements. But no one knows what will happen next. Maybe my parathyroids will recover. If you’re the praying type, please pray for that (and also my voice….).

I want to share my current medication regime, which is super boring for almost everyone, but will be critical information if another hypoPARAthyroid endurance athlete ends up reading this. When I wake up, I take .5 mcg calcitriol, 1200 mg calcium (Citracal extended release), and one Tums. I take another Tums at noon. At 6pm I again take .5 mcg calcitriol and another Tums. At 10:30pm, I take the levothyroxine (currently 150 mcg).

In addition to the above, I am experimenting with Tums while running. I usually get a fairly strong tingle about 15-20 minutes into a run and I take a Tums then. Sometimes if I am running longer or it’s a hot day, I get another tingle and need another Tums. Last Saturday for my long run, I just pre-emptively took a Tums every 2.5 miles. With the above normal regimen, plus Tums while running, I only experience occasional calcium symptoms and only while running.

I had blood work done on August 26 and I met with my endocrinologist on August 29. We agreed that the above medication regime is “good enough for now.” TSH needs to come down, but we need to wait and see how that develops. My voice NEEDS to get better, but hopefully time and voice therapy will help. The calcium stuff is wait-and-see if the parathyroids recover. In the meantime, we are going to do blood work once after a long run to see just how low my calcium gets and also on a rest day to see where it is when I am not running.

Because I can’t get enough of doctors, I also decided to have that growth on my neck removed. The pathology came back yesterday: Basal cell carcinoma. I expect I will either have to have Mohs surgery or have some kind of radiation treatment. The dermatologist is on vacation until next week so it’s just more waiting on that issue.

Some days I am more or less okay. Other days I am very, very angry. On the worst days, I am just sad. I am writing this for a few reasons. First, there is almost no information out there about hypoparathyroidism and endurance athletes. Zero research, zero guidelines. So I am putting my own experience out there. Second, this whole process is incredibly isolating. Maybe sharing can make it a little less so. Lastly, I guess it just helps to write it down.

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When Two Out Of Three Actually Is Pretty Bad – Another Thyroid Update

Apparently there are three significant things that can go wrong after thyroid surgery: post-operative bleeding, voice impairment, and damage to the parathyroids. I’m not bleeding so I’ve got that going for me! But I managed to get the other two post-surgical complications, which is a huge bummer.

My first issue is problems with my voice. It’s raspy and I don’t have a lot of ability to project. I can’t sing at all, which breaks my heart. I’m also nervous about my ability to give 80 minute lectures beginning in early September. Right now, I can have a one-on-one conversation and I sound weird, but I can be understood. If I’m outside or in a larger group, it’s much harder for people to hear me. However, last week I was able to start voice therapy! Getting an appointment did involve crying in front of the receptionist, but whatever. The therapist I am working with is incredible. She played me recordings of people she has helped, including another professor, and their voices go from almost incomprehensible to perfect. Plus she is amazingly supportive and understands how frustrating it is when your voice is always weird. I am very hopeful about this issue.

The second issue is much more difficult. I currently have a condition called hypoparathyroidism. This condition is rare, serious, and hard to understand. There is no cure. We are hoping to get to a point where it is well managed, but we are not there yet. The parathyroid glands are near the thyroid. In fact, “para” means “with.” But the parathyroids don’t really have anything to do with the thyroid. Sometimes, though, when the thyroid is surgically removed, the parathyroids get upset or “stunned” and they stop working. That’s what happened to me. Because the term hypoparathyroidism tends to make people think the thyroid is involved (when it is not), doctors and patients often refer to this condition as “hypopara.”

Symptoms of hypoparathyroidism include (from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hypoparathyroidism/):

  • a tingling sensation (paraesthesia) in your fingertips, toes and lips
  • twitching facial muscles
  • muscle pains or cramps, particularly in your legs, feet or tummy
  • tiredness
  • mood changes, such as feeling irritable, anxious or depressed
  • dry, rough skin
  • coarse hair that breaks easily and can fall out
  • fingernails that break easily

As might be imagined, none of that is very fun. The symptoms are produced when low-functioning parathyroid glands don’t send enough calcium into the blood. In that way, it’s a little bit like diabetes except it’s about low calcium instead of low blood sugar. However, diabetes is well known. Hypopara is rare enough that your average ER doctor may not have heard of it. That’s relevant because if calcium drops low enough, you have to go to the ER to get calcium intravenously. Also, not a fun idea.

It turns out that muscles need calcium from the blood stream to operate properly. When I run, I get the tingling sensation and the muscle cramps, which can be pretty severe. I’m incredibly grateful that I am able to run at all. Right now, I am taking a lot of Tums as an easy and cheap method of calcium supplementation. I am also taking fancy vitamin D. It’s nothing to do with calcium in my bones and everything to do with calcium in my blood. It’s very much a work in progress.

My doctors disagree about whether the hypopara is permanent or temporary. The only way to find out is to wait. Even if it is temporary, the best guess is that I will have 4-6 months of dealing with it and those months are not likely to be easy.

I very much appreciate prayers and good wishes, especially directed towards getting my parathyroids to wake up.

Oh, by the way, I had Covid. Which is pretty much how it felt compared to this post-surgical stuff.

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Does The World Need To Know About My Thyroid?

It’s my blog so I guess the world needs to know whatever I feel like writing. I have pictures, but I don’t need to post those here.

I’ve had thyroid “stuff” since long before I was a runner. Way back in grad school, my doctor said, hey, we need to check out that lump in your neck. I’m surprised I even had a doctor in grad school. I did have a lump on my neck, thyroid nodules it turned out. We had it biopsied and the results came back benign and I forgot about it. I don’t remember being very stressed about this process, which probably tells you how stressed I was about grad school.

After giving birth to Patrick (aka Aidan), I struggled to lose the pregnancy weight. Eventually I joined Weight Watchers, learned something about nutrition, and the weight came off. After giving birth to Geneva (aka Rose), we went to Germany for the summer so I could do research. The weight fell off and I figured I had found the magical combination: breastfeeding, lots of walking, plenty of cake and beer. The perfect postpartum diet. Except that a few weeks after we came home, I was walking up our basement steps and I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. My blood pressure was beyond through the roof, at something like 240/160. I was put on beta blockers immediately and within a few weeks, we discovered I had hyperthyroidism, presumably brought on by pregnancy. Because I was breastfeeding, I went on a medicine called PTU. The hyperthyroid symptoms were well controlled. When I quit breastfeeding, I switched to methimazole. We’ve adjusted the dose a couple of times since then, but generally speaking, my labs have been good and I’ve felt fine.

I’ve had thyroid issues for so long that I’ve gone through three endocrinologists. My first one, Dr. Kort Knudsen, was a lovely Oberlin grad and I remember talking about Oberlin a lot more than my thyroid. After he retired and moved to Florida (the nerve!), I switched to Dr. Grace Lee at Yale. Dr. Lee was fine, but I hated everything about going to Yale. I hated the drive. I hated the parking. I hated having to put on a hospital bracelet. I hated it all so much that I sometimes let too much time pass between appointments, which was not very adult of me. Sometimes being a grown-up is hard.

Dr. Lee first began urging me to consider surgery years ago. The thyroid nodules had grown larger. But, we checked them periodically. They were always benign. I figured “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Eventually Dr. Lee changed positions and I switched to Dr. Christine Signore, who is, thank goodness, in Middletown. I changed doctors in summer 2020, mid-pandemic, which wasn’t simple. But we got my methimazole prescription transferred, I eventually met Dr. Signore in person, and I was trucking along again.

The first week of May 2021, I ran a really lousy 5K in Providence. That wasn’t surprising. I’d been running shitty 5Ks all spring, my running fueled by pandemic-inspired rage. What *was* surprising is that I almost feel asleep while driving to the race. I told myself I was tired from a lot of travel, a difficult semester, a weekend in Boulder in the thin air. But then my routine thyroid blood work came back out of whack. I had slipped into a hypothyroid state from too much medication. We lowered my dose of methimazole. Now I think those shitty 5Ks might not only have been due to poor race execution.

In January 2022, we did a CT scan of my thyroid. Dr. Signore had suggested this procedure to get a baseline of how large the thyroid nodules were. I work well with Dr. Signore because she doesn’t tell me what to do. I strongly suspect most endocrinologists would have recommended that I have surgery long ago, but I did not want to go that route. You can always cut, but you can never uncut. The CT scan showed that the thyroid nodules were pushing on my trachea though. We’d done multiple biopsies and countless ultrasounds and thank God, nothing looked like cancer, but the nodules were growing. Eventually, the thyroid would need to come out.

If you’ve ever raced a 5K or done a really hard workout, you know that feeling that there is not enough air in the world. You simply can’t suck it into your lungs fast enough. Now imagine running your hardest, sucking wind like crazy, with the image in your mind of a little lump pushing your windpipe closed. I scheduled a consult with the surgeon in February 2022.

Dr. Signore recommended Dr. Courtney Gibson at Yale and frankly, Dr. Gibson knocked my socks off. She was compassionate and smart. She took time to answer all my questions, and yes, you know there were many questions. She never promised everything would be perfect. These two doctors have unfailingly treated me with respect. They understood that as a professor, I talk and think for a living. A surgery that potentially impacts my voice and my mind is a big deal. They understood that being an endurance athlete is a critical part of my personality, not just a “hobby” and that I needed to know how surgery would impact my running. I talked with them, as well as coaches and mentors, about timing the surgery to minimize the impact on my job and my running. A late May surgery date meant I had time to recover from the Boston marathon and finish the semester. Hopefully I would be sufficiently recovered to attend a professional conference in Portugal in late June. If we got the meds right, I would be able to resume training once recovered from surgery.

Surgery was May 27, 2022, and everything went well. I was really scared beforehand. I did a pre-surgical meditation recommended by a friend and that was really helpful. Other friends brought in dinners and that was amazing. I spent a couple of days flopped on the couch. I was able to start walking for exercise about three days post-surgery. The first ten days or so I did a lot of walking. I was also able to see some students from the class of 2020 who returned for their make-up commencement and I was able to march in Middletown’s Pride parade. I did a short run/walk ten days post-surgery. By two weeks post-surgery, I could run five miles with a short walk break. By a month post-surgery, I was back to running just over 40 miles a week. Easy miles are coming along a lot better than anything speedy, but that’s getting better also.

At 26 days post-surgery, I had my first blood work checked. My TSH was 6.8. We are looking for it to be between .5 and 1.5, preferably around 1.0. I was officially in a hypothyroid state of mind (and body). I was not surprised by that result because I felt tired when I got out of bed in the morning and I was falling asleep watching TV at night. We adjusted medication from 125mcg of levothyroxine to 137mcg.

I find myself saying “we adjusted medication” the same way some runners say things like “we scheduled a 17 mile long run for Saturday” when what they mean is: My coach put 17 miles on my schedule for Saturday. “We” did not adjust the medication dose – Dr. Signore adjusted the medication dose. That’s hard for me to swallow because I hate not being in control. In the week when Roe versus Wade was overturned, I am thinking a lot about bodily autonomy. Who should get to decide how my metabolism runs? Shouldn’t that be my choice? My choice with medical guidance, sure, but it is my body. I should be the one to decide. I suspect many people with defective thyroids are happy to hand over the reins to a doctor. But I know that many people with defective thyroids also believe, usually with a lot of justification, that their doctors do not listen to them and do not take their concerns seriously. So far, I am happy with my medical care, but I actually do think it’s worth contemplating why we don’t have patients make these decisions rather than doctors.

More soon, because if life without a thyroid wasn’t interesting enough, fate decided to throw Covid into the mix as well.

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Spring 2022 Catch-Up

I’m very keen to post a race report for Boston 2022, but that story is not going to make a lot of sense without some background. Since October Boston 2021, I’ve posted exactly twice: Once about a double loop run at Lyman and once about the Run for Refugees 5K. There’s a lot to catch up on!

The biggest change is not working with Coach Mick anymore. Coach Mick is an incredibly dear friend and I think he will always be what I call the “coach of my heart.” Maybe I will call him Coach Emeritus. In any case, by late fall 2021, it was time for a change. I had started working with a new coach at the end of November, but it didn’t work out. I learned a lot from him, but we were not a good match. We parted ways in mid-February, about nine weeks before Boston. I decided to finish the Boston training cycle with a plan from a friend and advice from Coach K.

That sums up the coaching changes, but there are a couple of races and a significant side project to talk about. Pokey and I were able to return to our New Year’s Day tradition of racing the Colchester 5K. I stayed up until 1:30am New Year’s Eve, eating enormous quantities of cheese and chocolate fondue, and drinking not-small quantities of champagne. I should *not* have been surprised to run my slowest 5K in years (26:09), but I sort of was. Most aspects of the Colchester 5K were delightful. Pokey and I always have fun together and this race was no exception. It was great to see her! It also marked the first time I got in a car with someone I wasn’t related to without a mask and without really thinking much about it.  I saw Fast Friend running with her daughter and I went back out on the course and ran them in. I actually checked all the boxes on my list of pre-race preparations. Pretty much everything about the race was great, except my time, which was a real wake-up call.

After six weeks of actual training (funny how that works), plus a much-improved pre-race fueling and hydration plan, I raced the Run for Refugees 5K on February 13th and ran 24:02. After that race, I transitioned to the new training plan. I loved the new plan! But…..more miles, more intensity, bitter cold, somewhat worn-out shoes, inadequate recovery, bad luck…..can anyone guess where this is headed? The following Saturday, my anterior tibialis flared up during my long run and I had to cut an 18 miler short at 9 miles. I was able to see the Maestro, my amazing physical therapist, the very next day. He did some dry needling, provided some general TLC, and gave me some new exercises. I transitioned to pool running, regular swimming and spin biking. Nine days later I was able to run pain-free. It really pays to have a support system in place to address an injury immediately.

Speaking of that support system, probably the best thing I did this spring was seek out the help of a sports psychologist. High Power Running Mentor #1 had advised me to do this last fall and, he was right, as usual (as much as it pains me to admit it). Most people in this blog get goofy nicknames, but Aisyah Rafaee would like to be found so she can help other people. I’d like her to be found too, because she’s amazing. Here’s her email: arafaee@springfieldcollege.edu

Runners know that running, life, and identity are often deeply connected. The pandemic took a toll on lots of people, including me. I was angry, actually often furious, and also somewhat lost. Whether or not that anger was justified, it wasn’t healthy and it wasn’t helpful. Aisyah helped me figure out how to put it aside. She also helped me regain some of my confidence in running and racing. That’s still a work in progress and probably always will be, but it’s also the biggest win of the spring training cycle.

Two weeks after the anterior tibialis issue cropped up, I ran the Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville, Florida. Pain free! I didn’t end up writing a race report for the Gate River Run, mostly because life just got too crazy. But I also felt in a weird place with my running. Coaching switches. An injury right before the race. Head maybe not quite in the right space. A few highlights of the race include hanging out with Diamond and her girls before the race and seeing Galen Rupp come out of a porta-potty right before the start. The race itself – well, moving from 5 degree weather in Connecticut to 65 degree weather in Florida doesn’t do one’s performance any favors. I was nauseous almost the entire race and any time I tried to run faster, I felt sure I was going to puke. I decided to stick with my lifetime no-barfing streak. I was incredibly grateful that the anterior tibialis issue didn’t flare up at all with the race. I ran 1:22:31 (an 8:53 pace per mile). That’s something like 5 minutes slower than my PR, but I took some good things away from the race. Mostly I remembered that I know how to fight when it gets hard. The top 10% of finishers at Gate get a special hat and OF COURSE, I desperately wanted the hat. When I got to the big bridge in the last mile, I focused on passing as many people as I could to beat them to the hats. I got one!

The rest of the visit to Jacksonville was spectacular. I stayed with Coach Mick and his wife. I got to see a lot of friends. We spent a day playing tourist in Saint Augustine. A fantastic mini-spring break getaway.

Back in Connecticut, I got a couple more weeks of training under my belt. The Librarian and I did a solid 20 miler together, finishing in a whirlwind of sleet. The weather was atrocious, but we hit our planned marathon pace miles!

I had been planning to run the New Bedford Half on March 20th, but I almost bailed on it. With the switch in training plans, the injury, the Gate River Run – it was feeling really hard to build momentum. I considered staying home and focusing on training. On the other hand, as High Power Running Mentor #1 put it, having a not-great race is not a very good reason for racing less, and might be a good reason for racing more.

Ultimately, I decided to race New Bedford and I’m so glad I did. I had a couple of friends also doing the race and it was fun to hang out with them. Mervus and Rose agreed to come along to cheer and we had a great day. I really enjoyed the course and New Bedford has some great brewpubs plus a bakery at the finish line! I’d be happy to do this race again. I ran 1:52:28 (average pace of 8:35 – almost 20 seconds a mile faster than at Gate and for a longer race. Weather matters!).

The best thing about New Bedford wasn’t my time, though. It was miles 7 through 10. Those miles are on the waterfront and it was very foggy. I could only see about 10 to 20 feet ahead of me so I just stared at the yellow road dividers and the cones they had set up to keep the runners separate from traffic. Something about the fog and the lines clicked something in my brain and I fell into what I have to describe as flow state – my world narrowed to those yellow lines and the movement of my body. I was working hard, but I felt completely calm. Everything in my world was as it should be. I’ve been able to find that state of mind before when running, but not in a long time. I just relaxed, did not look at my watch or worry (much) about pace, and focused on holding onto that feeling for as long as possible, which turned out to be about three miles. Then we turned away from the water, the sun burned off the fog, and everything felt difficult again. But those three miles were worth an entire season of running. My mind grabbed onto that feeling and I was able to get back there on the marathon pace miles of my long runs in the following weeks. It wasn’t easy, but with Aisyah’s help, I developed (and re-discovered) a series of mental tools that I can use on race day when things get hard.

I did one more race this spring – the Middletown 5K. I walked with my family to support Gilead Community Services, a local mental health organization. I had the honor of serving on Gilead’s race committee this year and we held our post-race meal at First Church. You can tell from the smiles in the top picture that it was a great day!

That’s where things stood with my running heading into Boston. A strange training cycle, but ultimately a turning point.

 

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Run for Refugees 5K 2022 Race Report

January was one hell of a month. Maybe I will just leave it at that. February is going a lot better so far!

Yesterday I ran the Run for Refugees 5K in New Haven. The race benefits IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), an organization that helps settle refugees in Connecticut. When refugees arrive, they often have no money, no possessions, and don’t speak English. IRIS helps new arrivals with housing, basic needs, and employment. They help with language classes, getting kids into schools, and legal assistance. IRIS aims to assist refugees with becoming self-sufficient through integration into Connecticut’s local communities. The organization welcomes newcomers and celebrates the many ways they enrich life in our state. I love this organization and I love this race.

After a not-so-stellar 5K on January 1st (cheese, chocolate fondue and champagne are not great racing fuel – who knew?), I was eager for another shot, though also a little nervous. But I definitely didn’t want to miss this race, even when the weather turned snowy on race day.

Mervus and Rose were able to come spectate for the first time since last summer. We were meeting Chewie there and she and I warmed up in snow globe conditions. The snow was beautiful, the road surface was clear enough, and the wind not terrible – it could certainly have been worse!

Run for Refugees has one of the best starts I’ve ever experienced. The folks from IRIS talk about how many families they’ve helped settle in Connecticut in the past year. The politicians speak (briefly!) about the importance of the organization. New Haven’s mayor even ran the race this year! Instead of the national anthem, they kick off with a poem about a refugee running to a safe haven. It’s the most racially and ethnically diverse starting line I’ve seen. One guy wore a shirt stating “Will Trade Racists for Refugees” – Love that! They rang the “Liberty Bell” and off we went!

I had planned to start at a 7:45 pace and see how I felt after a mile. That’s a slow 5K pace for me, but I haven’t been doing much faster running and it would at least be faster than the January 1st debacle. I straight-up swiped Chewie’s race mantra and broke the three miles into Strong Legs, Strong Mind, Strong Heart. Strong Legs and thinking about the good work I’ve been doing in the weight room got me through the first mile, which clicked off at 7:49. Mervus and Rose were waiting near the mile marker so I got great support from them!

The second mile is two long straight-aways. Strong Mind reminded me to stay focused. For this race, I looked at my watch and if my pace slipped more toward 8:00 minute miles, I sped up. I wasn’t able to go a lot faster, but the second mile came in at 7:41. Mervus and Rose were there again to cheer me on!

Mile three goes back around the park again. I was working hard, but it felt sort of like I was running with the brakes on. Hopefully that was the feeling of some of the rust coming off! I ran as hard as I could, thinking Strong Heart, don’t stop even though you so badly want to, it will be over soon!

I had told Chewie to imagine that her friend, Fast Tony, would be waiting for her at a yellow gate to chase her for the last kilometer. In reality, Fast Tony is back in Massachusetts, presumably enjoying Sunday brunch, but in my mind, when I got to the yellow gate, he was there waiting to chase me! He followed me all the way down the last stretch! Apparently he’s plenty fast enough to double back and also go after Chewie because she reported he was after her as well. Well, joke’s on you Fast Tony (or, maybe thanks for your services…), because I finished strong (last mile in 7:39) and Chewie ran a huge PR!

I ended up running more than two minutes faster at the Run for Refugees compared to the Colchester Resolution Run (26:09 versus 24:02). Non-idiotic fueling, some actual sleep the night before, and a few weeks of faster running definitely helped. But I’ve also been floundering a bit with my running for several months. I’m hoping that as we crawl our way slowly out of the pandemic, I’m starting to get back on track. One thing is clear – I did *not* forget how to execute the post-race brunch!

 

 

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December Double Lyman Loop

This run was a gift; that’s appropriate for December. The orchard run is a 7 mile loop with about 600 feet of elevation gain. Doing a double loop is considered a significant feat of badassery. Today my plan was the first loop solo and the second loop with two friends. Weather: grey, rainy, mid-30s, expected high winds at some point, not exactly ideal. But while I was driving to the run, “Wagon Wheel” came on the radio so:
“Rock me mama like the wind and the rain”
Let’s get after it.

The first mile of this run is entirely uphill, but it’s nothing like as steep as what is coming so it’s easy to think “Wow, this sucks, and it’s going to get so much worse!” That’s not a good approach. You have to take these hills one at a time. I try to pretend this first one isn’t happening at all. I was listening to a band called Relient K and the lyrics to their song “Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More” say:
“I need to realize my sorry life’s not hanging by a thread
At least not yet.”
So: up the hill.

At the two mile mark, you turn a corner and see the real hill, which looks to be pretty much straight up. There’s no ignoring this one. It’s got three stages so just take them one at a time. When you get to the top, the view is the payoff. Sometimes you can see for miles. Today was so misty that it was like being on the top of the earth. I stopped for a quick picture.

Then the big descent, which actually is still rolling hills, but a lot more down than up. I picked up my friends for the second loop. Flood had never done this run before and it’s extra fun with a first-timer. The weather had shifted and we ran through patches of warm air, at least 15 degrees warmer than the average temp, which was strange and unworldly. Flood powered up the hills like the champ she is and we took another picture at the top. Spring is the best season for this run when the trees are blooming but it’s good any time of year except summer when it’s too dang hot.

Back down again. As you approach the driveway to the parking lot, there’s a corn field. Obviously there’s no corn in December, but it looked like someone had planted Canadian geese. The field was chock full of them – I’ve never seen so many so close together. As we ran past, the whole field took flight, honking their way into the air. Proprunner said the whole run was worth that sight and she’s totally right. As we turned into the parking lot, the mist was hanging so low it looked like you could reach out and grab it. We spent ten minutes in the store buying donuts and when we came out, the mist was totally gone.

I feel a little sorry for anyone who didn’t start their day with a run like that. I love to train and I want to run fast. But more than anything, I want a lot of mornings like this in my life, with hills and mist and friends and geese. And donuts, of course.

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Boston 2021 Race Report, Part 2

I slept pretty well the night before the race. The hotel had kindly provided a hot water heater so it was easy to make my oatmeal in the room. Diamond and I were a little nervous and giggling getting ready, but no significant hiccups. We walked over to the Boston Common to get on the bus. Walking through the Public Garden was magical. It was misty and runners were everywhere. We saw one very fit looking guy just sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich, which struck us as hilarious for some reason. We had decided to talk to lots of strangers, as instructed in church, so we were doing our best to spread joy along the way. The wait for the bus passed quickly and soon we were on our way.

But to where exactly? We had been driving quite awhile when we turned off the highway, but the starting line didn’t seem to be coming into view. It turns out the bus took the wrong exit and we were lost! This could have been irritating but we decided just to laugh about it. The bus driver finally got it figured out and eventually we arrived at the starting line.

Coach Mick and I had talked about a range of approaches for the race. I considered all-out racing it, but it felt too soon after Berlin. I also considered a full-on party marathon, but that didn’t seem right either. I ended up settling on running the first 21 miles easy and then seeing what I had left for the last 5. This is a great strategy for Boston anyway and an especially great strategy if you are pretty clueless about how your legs are going to hold up. Diamond has spent the last six months moving and her training has been – let’s call it erratic. Badass Boomer was also interested in something along the lines of 21 easy / 5 hard and we agreed to meet at the start. Badass Boomer and Diamond had never met, but I was certain they’d get along. Thus, our trio was born.

It was a rolling start this year so you just got off the bus, took care of whatever you wanted to, and went to the starting line. They had the biggest collection of portapottys I have ever seen. We did our business and found Badass Boomer. I did my usual dynamic warmup, we snapped some more pictures, and headed to the start. Everyone was so so happy to be back! No starting pistol or anything like that. We just decided we were ready and started running.

Even without an exciting start, the Boston course is pretty magical. The early miles are downhill and we reminded each other to keep it in check. Badass Boomer’s coach had given her words for different sections of the course. Our first word was “Conserve.” We saw Spencer the dog at mile 3 and Badass Boomer even got a picture! Every time we crossed a timing mat, Diamond said something like, that’s another message into the world. She and Badass Boomer were high fiving kids and thanking volunteers and cheering up a storm. I was quieter. I definitely gave out some high fives, but I was a little worried about how the race would go and I really didn’t want to fade at the end. Badass Boomer seemed to know people at every water stop and loads of the other runners too! This really is her hometown race!

Badass Boomer wanted to hear about my Berlin race so I told her how I had lost track of why I was running the race and how that made it incredibly difficult. It was a gift to have the chance to review my reasons for running on this course, with these friends. When you’ve got 26.2 miles to run, you don’t rush any of the story telling so we savored each of my reasons, my 5Gs: Glory, God, Girls, Geeks……I couldn’t think of the fifth one, though of course Geneva came to mind. Then I hit on it – Gratitude, of course. Gratitude for the ability to run, for everyone who supports me, for the beauty of this activity. Just then we ran by a small lake to our right. Soaring back and forth across the lake was a heron, just taking its time. Out for a flight on an incredible October morning. Transcendent. I’ll never forget that sight. A gift I’ll be forever grateful for.

The B.A.A. provided a lot of information on how to handle Covid, but the funniest was this instruction: “Because of Covid protocols, please do not kiss any strangers at the halfway mark of the race.” Um, ok. Kissing strangers elsewhere on the course would be fine? In any case, the Wellesley girls were out in full force! No kisses offered, but plenty of high fives and awesome signs. A seemingly endless row of beautiful strong inspiring funny young women and I high fived as many as I possibly could. They were all out there, with their smiles and their screams and their signs! As we ran past the end of the line, Diamond said: There’s your girls. For sure. I run for them.

Photo by Hilary Swift for the New York Times

Shortly after the scream tunnel is the halfway mark. I checked our split: 1:57. Of course, one question in all our minds was whether we could break 4 hours. I wanted very much not to worry about this question. How I executed this race was much more important to me than the time on the clock. Boston is a tough course to get right. After not running how I wanted to in Berlin, I was looking for redemption of some sort in Boston. 1:57 meant under 4 hours was not out of reach, but that’s not a lot of buffer either. In order to come close to evenly splitting the race, we’d have to be very solid on the uphills that were starting soon. The forecast of mid-60s and high humidity was proving correct. It was nothing like Berlin conditions, not even close, but it was plenty warm especially when the sun poked out. Plus I could feel the fatigue in my legs. I wasn’t sure sub-4 was out of reach, but I reminded myself that that wasn’t the big goal today. I wanted to enjoy the race and finish strong.

I had another reason to run this race well. In talking to Rose and Mervus the night before, Rose asked me who I was running the race for. I didn’t have an answer. I suppose I always run for myself, trying to figure out who I am, how I react when facing a challenge. I was quiet after her question and then Mervus said: Run this one for me. He’s never asked that before. He’s one of the most generous people I know and actually barely ever asks for anything. This race was for him and after the halfway mark, that was never far from my mind. A good race for my absolute treasure of a husband.

Miles 14 and 15 slipped along and then the steep drop into Lower Newton Falls and the hills were about to begin. As Diamond would want me to point out, no section of the Boston course is really flat. It’s “New England flat” – which is pretty much rolling hills the whole time, with a few big downs and the famous four Newton hills. When Diamond and I ran this race in 2019, we also started together and we stayed together for about 17 miles before she got a bad calf cramp and had to slow down. On this day, I felt like I was the weakest link in our three-person chain. Badass Boomer and Diamond had continued their high fiving and thanking everyone routine while I felt like I had better run more within myself. Every now and then I thought: I am not going to be able to stay with them. I have to not let it crush me when I get dropped. Then I would think: Don’t lose contact. No wait – Deena Kastor said in her book to phrase everything positively, so: Maintain Contact! I’ve run with these two women enough to know that Diamond was also working. On the other hand, Badass Boomer truly seemed as fresh as a daisy. I’m not sure she was even sweating! Good for her!

We crossed the route 128 overpass between miles 16 and 17. When we watched the course video the night before, Diamond had noticed that Michael Connor, one of the commentators, took on the role of pronouncer of doom and gloom. He constantly warns the viewer of the various hazards on the Boston course, including the overpass where you are exposed to the elements. As we crossed over Diamond said something like “Now the fiery sun beats down on you like you’re in hell and you are BURNED TO ASH!” It’s really hard to laugh when you’re 17 miles or so into a marathon, but I definitely let out a little chuckle. Laughs on you, Mr. Connor, because we made it across intact.

A note on water and fueling. Same plan as usual, I take a Maurten gel every 30 minutes, alternating between caffeinated and non-caffeinated. With Boston’s late start, I had my usual oatmeal and Maurten 360 drink, but then also a honey and banana sandwich on the bus. Between the pasta dinner the night before and then the hotel snack-fest, we went into this race well fueled. I *highly* recommend that. Boston has water stops every mile. I would normally only stop at every other stop, but with the warmer temps, I stopped most times for a small sip or two. By mile 15, I was dumping water on my shoulders. Shortly after that, my Boston Buddies tank came off.

Up the hills and then also DOWN the hills, remembering to give it some gas on the downs. Badass Boomer had pulled a little ahead by now, maybe 50 feet in front of us, but Diamond was still right with me. On the hills!!! She lives in Florida and manages to get all of 18 feet of elevation gain on a 16 mile training run. The Boston hills kind of sucked her soul last time around, but here she was right next to me! HOORAY! It’s glorious to run a marathon with a good friend by your side.

We weren’t exactly “zooming” up and down the hills, but we were solid. I wasn’t looking at my watch except to get mile splits and I managed to remain pretty neutral in response to them. I think that was important to my being able to continue to stay relaxed. On the hills, it’s definitely important not to care too much about individual splits. I had no real way of knowing if we were still potentially on sub-4 pace and I was fairly good about not caring about that either. Late into the hills, a chant got into my head: I control this course. I control this course. I control this course. That was critical. In Berlin, I lost control and it did not feel good.

By now we were cruising up Heartbreak Hill where I was expecting to see a college friend. Our spectators mean so much to us. At least to me – they give me a destination that is closer than the finish line, so I was running for mile 20.5, hoping to see him. I didn’t find him, but it still helped to have something to aim for.

By now, I was really working. All the way through this race and even up the hills I had been thinking: Ok, the plan was 21 easy and 5 hard, but that’s probably not happening on this day. Just keep it steady. You really don’t want to be walking those last 5 miles. Steady pace is fine if picking it up doesn’t happen.

Then at the top of Heartbreak hill, a switch flipped. Game on! Time for five hard miles. I was able to speed up after all. I probably passed Badass Boomer in here somewhere because we had lost track of her. Diamond came with me. For most of the race, I had been letting the rhythm carry me, but now I was definitely in charge of the action. Nothing beats running Boston and having energy in the tank at the end. Forward lean, power down the hill. FUN! I had forgotten that there are a couple of turns in the course here [and railroad tracks to trip on, reminds Michael Connor]. But we weren’t tripping. We were just pushing and rolling right down the hill!

By mile 22, I stopped taking water and fuel. I expected to see another friend around mile 23, but missed him too. No problem, we were rolling! Unfortunately, there was one more hiccup to come. Around mile 24, Diamond started having trouble getting her breath. She has asthma so that’s serious. She stopped and did some power breathing while holding the fence. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I stop and try to help her? I was pretty sure she would want me to keep going. Just then “Good as Hell” came on my playlist. That’s our shared theme song! I knew it was her way of telling me to keep running, which I did. But I was SO happy when she caught back up a few minutes later, panting out, let’s finish what we started. WOOT!

That stretch down Commonwealth just goes on forever. Someday, some Boston, I’ll remember to look at the street names so I can count them down. On this day, I relied on my old standby of counting, counting, counting while looking for the damn underpass. FINALLY I saw it. Down and up! We took the turn onto Hereford and I heard someone yell “SARAH!” It was a former student! She had said she would be on the course, but I didn’t think she’d find me without more planning. SO fun to see her!

The section on Boylston feels so long. I had been pulling Diamond on the downhills but she was pulling me now. My legs felt like they were running through mud. Still – this is a glorious stretch of racing! I felt the crowds and heard the cheers. I had known back at mile 25 that sub 4 was out of reach, but I could see now that we could get under 4:05 so we kicked it into gear a little more, Diamond urging me on. We crossed together at 4:04:48, exactly the same time!

The rest of the day was fantastic. Once I had caught my breath, we returned to the hotel to shower and commence celebrating. Phone calls home, high fives, race memories, pizza and ice cream, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Boston doesn’t disappoint. See you again next April.

 

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