Let it

Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it.”
Harvey MacKay

Monday, October 24, 2016

We Keep On Running

My health has played roller coaster games over the past couple of weeks. Between trying to get doctors to dig deeper and not just throw pills at me or write me off, and trying to navigate alternative medicine and play all the insurance games to get the test results I need without flushing our finances down the toilet, it's been an adventure. New symptoms have come and gone and come again. I refuse to stop living, stop being all that I can be to those people that I love. I went to crew friends at the Bear 100 in awful weather and loved every second (except the four hours in the freezing rain and wind as we waited, worried, for our runners at 2 am- that sucked). I have buckled down hard on a clean and very specific diet for my needs and concentrated on controlling my hypoglycemia to slow the brain inflammation and degeneration that is occurring. My functional medicine doc believes I may at least have a lesion on my cerebellum evidenced by an end-reach tremor, the tingly numb spots on my face, and some of my symptoms dealing with coordination. I had a glutathione push after my neurological exam that was supposed to "give me my brain back" for a few days. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that also facilitates toxin release. My body freaked out. Panic attack, splitting headache, nausea and dry heaving, I could barely breathe and haven't cried that hard in months. Doc thinks my body just didn't know what to do with the rapid effects of it. It eventually passed and I did see some marked improvement in my brain function and endurance for a few days.
I started falling over that week. The first couple of times I didn't think anything of it. But when I fell into a bush while running alone in Arches National Park and gouged my shin on a branch, it started to pull at my subconscious. It didn't even hurt, that gouge, I had a glob of fat hanging out of my shin and blood trickling down my leg, and it didn't hurt. I hadn't been dizzy, I hadn't tripped, I just fell over. I kept on running, blood and all. I was happy, and the morning was magical.

Then I got lost. Somewhere in the middle of a 7 mile loop, I just lost track of the cairns and ended up down climbing a crack to a 15 foot drop. It didn't occur to me until after I risked broken bones and succeeded in climbing safely down into a wash that the old man with the hiking poles who had been coming the opposite direction on the trail hadn't possibly come from this way. It took me an extra mile of hiking and running in the wrong direction before I came to my senses and followed the wash back to the main trail. I've never been so happy to see a cairn... or a few miles later, my husband coming from the trail head to find me. My loop was 9 beautiful miles of arches and back country. I actually really loved it.

I'm learning not to get terribly distressed by my symptoms. It only makes them worse. Our family camp out was a much-needed and incredibly much enjoyed escape from daily stresses.

A few days later, while carrying a basket of laundry, I fell over again. Aaron came running in to find me laying on baskets of dirty laundry, and covered in the clean laundry I had just dumped all over myself. "Are you okay?? What happened?"
Straight faced and sober, I answered,"I just fell over."
He helped me up, worry spelled out on his face. And I knew it wasn't just a clumsy coincidence. It was my brain, my nerves.
Later that evening we talked about it. "I have every hope that we'll figure this out and it'll get better. But what if it doesn't and someday soon I can't run, and I kick myself forever for the races I was too scared to sign up for? What if my cognition and memory suffer so much that I can't finish my book? I have stuff to do!" It wasn't motivated by fear. Just matter-of-fact recognition that life needs to be lived.

I had agreed to crew Annie at the Pony Express 100 months ago. I wondered if I could handle the driving and lack of sleep. I hoped that with other crew as company to switch off with, I'd be fine. I wanted to be there for Annie. Over time the plans evolved and she would run the 50 miler in support of our friend Matt. And then two more friends joined the run party- Andrew and Danny. Annie's daughter Savana and I would be crewing 4 people. Just us two. I refused to be overwhelmed. Danny and Andrew were experienced ultra runners and would know what they needed. I knew I wouldn't be able to crew everyone as thoroughly as I like to, but I could let go of that. Game on.
Then Annie threw one of her "Let's live MORE life!" wrenches in the game.
"Hey, I think I want to run the 30k at Dugway the next day. You should run it with me!"
I really wanted to run that race again. Am I ready? Who cares? But I didn't have the cash for registration.
"What if I pay for your entry as a thank you for crewing?"
Aaron told me to go and do what would make me happy. Decision made.

In true ultra fashion, Pony Express started early and on shreds of semi-sleep. We saw our runners off at the start and repacked the cars. Then we drove a friends truck out to the hundred mile finish and doubled back to find our little pack in the early dawn. They never needed a whole lot from us. Just food here and there, and water refills, shed the clothing, that kind of thing. Matt was unsure from the start, having never attempted anything remotely like this, so we stayed withing a couple miles at all times. The day was beautiful and friends passed us throughout the day. We started up the dance party in the late morning, blasting music at our stops. And when almost everyone had passed, that is when the hours got long. The running had quickly turned to walking and the walking began to be a shuffle. Annie, Andrew and Danny took turns staying back with Matt so that the others could run a ahead and back a bit. Matt was doggedly determined in his march. We began to wonder if continuing to the finish would be healthy for Matt in the long run. He was becoming increasingly belligerent- not uncommon in ultras, but also a sign of chronic low blood sugar and imbalance. We were all willing to help and support as best we could to the finish, including Matt's son and daughter who had come out to support him. 17+ hours in, somewhere between mile 43 and 45, long after the sun set and the incredible blanket of stars spread over the sky, it was finished for Matt. His body needed to be done. His kids loaded him in the car and took him to the finish line for food and medical attention. The other three were determined to finish the 50 for Matt. 19 hours after we began, three strong runners crossed the finish line together in last place. (Danny really tried hard to cheat the other two of their DFL status.)
We downed some of Pablo's excellent barbeque with chimichurri, said goodbye to Davy Crockett, and started the long drive back to the start at 1 am. Savvy was fading fast and we all were falling asleep on the drive. She pulled over. I wondered if I could relieve her of driving duties, as my eyes refused to focus and my brain was so fuzzy. Thankfully Danny stepped in and volunteered to drive. That guy trains nights and sleep deprivation. It comes in handy! Everyone snoozed in the back while Danny and I laughed over suicidal racing rabbits and told stories to keep each other awake. We dropped Danny and Andrew at the campground and I hopped behind the wheel to fumble us,glassy-eyed at 3 am onto the military base at Dugway and to our hotel room. If I got to bed fast I could get 3 solid hours of sleep for the morning race. Annie's poor feet were blistered from too much walking and she wouldn't be running with me.
6 am. 2.5 hours of sleep. My belly woke me with horrible hot-chili-pepper-magma diarrhea. 4 times before I could leave the hotel room. Great. I downed a salad with grilled chicken for breakfast. My stomach wasn't thrilled, but I knew if I started this race on empty, I'd be out in no time.
I texted Brad in the next room to see if he could take me over to the start line. Bless his sleep-deprived soul, he did. It was cold. Hugs from Brent- I was so happy to see someone I knew. I was nervous. We were treated to a magical desert sunrise as we prepped at the start line. And all 13 of us were off.

I wanted to start off slow, and pace myself, but it was so cold that I needed to move to warm up my stiff muscles! I chatted with Nanette for a few minutes- we'd never really talked before despite being facebook friends. Then she pulled ahead of me. I would chase her for miles. Nanette ahead and Rebecca behind. Both older women with so much grit and experience. I felt blessed to be in such good company as we snapped distant pictures of each other racing into the sunrise. After a valiant effort at keeping up, the heat set in and I lost sight of Nanette. The climbs were brutally steep at times and my hammies and glutes were feeling it. Rebecca was gaining on me through the miles, and I was getting tired. We chatted a bit as she passed me. I didn't mind. I was here to finish, and to love the day. That's all I cared about. Runners from the shorter races began to pass just before we finished the first loop. I filled up on fruit and nuts at the aid stations, snacking steadily on jerky, nuts, banana chips and applesauce from my pack in between to try to keep my blood sugar steady. I refilled my water bladder at one of the water stations early in the second loop. I was feeling good. And hot. The second loop got long fast. The climbs were even more brutal the second time around and I found myself laughing and cursing at them all at once. Cheeky Bastards.

Around mile 15 the wheels started to come off. I was in new distance territory on my hardware. While I had run this race before, I hadn't done it on a reconstructed shattered ankle, or a previously broken-in-4-places foot. Random jabs of sharp pain accompanied my footsteps. I walked into the pain cave and pulled up a chair. I had been on track to beat my previous race time, but despite my best efforts, I watched that goal slip away and tried to shrug it off. My head was getting floaty and painful. I could feel that my blood sugar was off, but I couldn't quite figure out what to do to fix it. And then I ran out of water. What? How could I be out?? I had felt my pack at the last water station and it had felt pretty full! I realized with dismay that I had felt my jacket stuffed in my pack and mistaken it for a full water bladder. Rookie mistake. It was hot. My mouth was cotton, I was having dizzy spells. If I could just get another mile or so to the last water station. Another mile and a half of the steepest son-of-a-gun climbs in the race. Gah. I trudged it out. I dug the last applesauce out of my pack and used it for what little hydration it offered me. My head was throbbing. I missed my husband. I hated running. And I was doing it all anyway. I laid into that water station. Best, coldest, quenchiest water ever. I filled my pack, my hat, my shirt, my sports bra, my mouth and my belly. And then it was time to get it done."Let's kick this pig." (I talk to myself a lot during these types of things.)
I headed down the final, long, winding downhills. The last time I had done this race, it was 18.7 miles. My watch ticked well past that as my painful foot and ankle protested any hurry. The playlist that had saved my mood for so long was getting old. Finally nearing the finish, I turned it off. Turned off the pain, Turned on what little speed I had left and ran it in to the finish like my life depended on it. With a smile on my face and a fist in the air, I crossed the line. I can do hard things. So many hard things.

Jenna was there to greet me at the finish line. I was so happy to see her.
19.8 miles, 3938 Feet of vertical climb,  6:09
3rd place woman (out of a grand total of 4) 1st place in my age group (out of 2) 10th overall (Out of 13)

I picked up my sweet trophy and medal, and the awesome viking axe I had won in the raffle.

Jenna took me to the hotel to gather my things and drive home.
After a long weekend, home sounded just right.

My body may be in crisis, but if there is one thing I'm learning, it's that we just keep moving. Keep living, keep loving. Stay grateful.

1 comment:

  1. While I definitely would have rather been out there with you, I'm glad you were able to experience all of that! You are phenomenal. And you should definitely add more pictures here :)