Implant explosion! (Don’t worry, it was just a dream)

So, I thought I was handling everything very well, no anxiety at all, but my subconscious tells another story.  Last night I had a dream that my implant exploded.  It was like this burst of powdery substance, and then I had a gaping hole with some sort of oatmeal-like substance leaking out.  I was trying to reach the hospital but couldn’t (not sure why I didn’t just go there, but dreams are weird).  Anyway, I was happy to wake up with everything still intact. I still have this damn drain.  I don’t know if I want to take the time to drop in and wait til someone is available to remove it, or just wait another 3 days. It just looks awkward, but really, who am I trying to impress.  And sometimes, it’s a conversation starter, especially when part of my work involves cold-calling doctors’ offices.

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The exchange

Well, it’s been a few months since my last post and over 6 months since my mastectomy.  Life has been pretty much normal, and busy, so I haven’t dropped in to write any updates.  In my head I had planned for my exchange surgery to happen in July, when it would be hot and I wouldn’t care so much about missing a few runs, but it was not meant to be.  Apparently my plastic surgeon suddenly became very popular and the only opening was for September (actually October, but thankfully a cancellation opened a spot in September).

I raced the first two weekends in September- the Santa Monica Classic 10K on the 9th and then the BRA Run on the 16th.  I wanted to get my 10K time down into the 45s, and attempted to get in all of the speedwork necessary to do so, but ended up spending more time on the trails (which is good, because it meant Will was getting out on his mt. bike all summer). So while I didn’t hit my goal, I still shaved nearly a minute off my fastest 10K time, and the SM Classic is not an easy course either – first 4 miles are mostly uphill, and the last 2 are down, but it’s a bit late to make up the lost seconds at that point. The BRA run (for Breast Reconstruction Awareness) was a lot of fun, and I actually managed a 1st place (women) finish!  It was my second 1st place finish of the summer in a 5k, which admittedly, is not my distance (my other first place finish was at the Hansen Dam Superhero Run). I call 5Ks run til you puke.  I’d much rather run slowly for 3.5-4 hrs than run hard for 20 or so minutes. Winning was a nice perk.

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4 days after the BRA run, I went in for my own reconstruction surgery- the exchange.  This is where the annoying tissue expanders and temporary implant come out and a “permanent” implant is put in place. I say “permanent” because nothing in the world of implants is forever. I’ll get about 10 years our of it if I’m lucky, and then it’s back under the knife again (maybe by then I’ll have enough fat to make a boob without an implant…goals LOL). While the left side gets the exchange, the right side gets a little lift to match- that’s called mastopexy if you want to sounds smart (or pretentious).

My surgery was the first of the day, so we had to be at the hospital at 5:45 am.  At least there was no traffic.  I told my husband to drop me off and go mt. biking, but he said he’d never forgive himself if anything went wrong.  Honestly, he would have had time to squeeze it in before they even operated on me- I didn’t get in the OR until after 7:30 AM.  AND, as it was, he almost didn’t get in to see me off because he went to grab himself some breakfast.

Anyway, surgery is pretty uneventful.  The worst part is standing in the pre-op cube naked while the surgeon draws all over your boobs.  Then takes a picture so he can show you and explain everything. Truthfully, I was glad he did (I kinda wish I had asked him to text it to me as a little memento ha ha ha), it’s just the awkwardness of getting written on while trying to hold your gown in front of your crotch that I really wanted to end as quickly as possible. I’ve gotten used to standing around with my boobs hanging out, but I still like to keep my lower half covered.

Once again, I don’t really remember much.  I know they told me they would be wheeling me into the OR, and would ask me to scooch over onto the operating table, but I only remember getting wheeled in.  I think I was out before I was able to scooch, so I guess they must have had to move me.

I was out of the hospital and on my way home within an hour of waking up.   My surgical bra was contorted very strangely- way off to one side.  I can only guess that it was just difficult to get it on me when I was passed out.  But initially I feared it was because I was grossly lopsided.  (I am not, thankfully).

So far, the pain has been minimal.  Mostly just discomfort, a little burning along the incision sites.  The drain is annoying but isn’t draining much so hoping to have it removed after the weekend. And I think everything looks pretty good- maybe a touch smaller than my old set (even though the right side wasn’t reduced, I feel like the lift makes it look smaller somehow). But I’m not complaining.  I’m just happy to be cancer free.

Boston Marathon Recap, Part 2

Wow, I can’t believe that over a month has flown by already! I better finish up this recap before I start forgetting details…though the day was so memorable, I’m not sure that will ever happen.

I left off as my wave was being called, and I was ready to start heading to the start line.  I had just changed into my race shoes, and immediately became concerned, because now I had to get from inside the tent, across the sea of mud, to the pavement, without getting my feet all wet and disgusting. Ugh.  I became jealous of all those people who had the forethought to put plastic bags over their feet. But, then to my amazement, I saw the congo line that had formed.  A parade of single file runners, walking on top of a strip formed by discarded towels, yoga mats, mylar blankets, garbage bags, etc. to keep the sludge from sucking our feet under. We moved slowly, but I don’t think anyone was really concerned about time at that point. I made it across the expanse unscathed.

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Once on the concrete, everything seemed to relax.  I felt warm enough, the rain wasn’t too bad, everyone was chatting and laughing and taking the conditions in stride.

I passed another sea of portapotties, and decided it would be wise to make one last pit stop. As I stood in line, I watched people struggling to remove their throwaway layers.  It suddenly became clear to me why I had heard some women on the bus mentioning how they had their pants with zippers on the bottom on: Several women were attempting to remove tights without taking off their shoes.  Their friends were literally pulling on the skinny end of the tights, while the other friend held the individual’s upper body in a strange tug of war.  Seemed like a recipe for disaster, or possible injury, if you asked me.  I was glad my throwaway layer was a cheap pair of sweatpants: once I was done with the portapotty, I simply slid my pants off and was on my way!

As I exited the bathroom parking lot, I heard them announce the 2 minute warning for my wave. I had no idea how far I was from the start line at that time, so I began to hustle a bit.  I passed a race official and lifted my layers to show my bib: “Corral 5, you are in here, get in there now!” Oops.  It actually worked out perfectly.  I was a tad bit nervous that I would be slower than my qualifying time pace and wanted to start on the slower side, so I had hope to shift to the back ion my corral.  As it turned out, I was lined up with the front of corral 6- which was perfect!

I continued moving along, and heard the countdown and the start of the race for our wave.  I never had to stop and wait.  Before I knew it, we were all jogging across the start line…we were off!

At this early stage of the race, I truly believed that I would warm up enough to toss my green jacket off within a mile or 2.  I had attempted to run in the rain with it before, and always felt disgustingly hot and sweaty within 1/2 mile.  I only bought it for a Ragnar event 2 years ago as a “just in case” there was rain.  There wasn’t, and since then had only had the opportunity to use it a handful of times.  It was $10, so I wasn’t too heartbroken about losing it.

Mile 1 ticked by. My pace was good- not too fast.  My temp was good- not time to toss the layers yet.  Maybe by mile 2.

Mile 2- pace was right on target.  However, it was a giant pain in the ass to pull my layers back and look at my watch.  So I made the decision to forget the watch, and just run by feel.  If I survived and kept this pace, great, but if I didn’t, honestly, just finishing was going to be a feat. Also, I still did not feel ready to toss my layers. Maybe at 5K? I noticed a lot of people around me still running with garbage bags on, and some still had plastic bags on their shoes (is that safe???I would slip and break my face).

For the next several miles, I just remember feeling reasonably good.  I remember attempting to pull my hood off my head, and that lasted about a minute, when a big gust kicked up and I decided it needed to go back on.

At around 5 miles in, I figured the jacket was going to stay on at least until halfway.  I’d reevaluate then.  By 10 miles in, I knew it would stay on until mile 25.  My bib was buried, so there wouldn’t be any photographic evidence of me running the race until the finish line.  I supposed I could have stepped off and repined my bib, but stopping and dealing with pins and cold wet fingers did not seem worthwhile.  No one had attempted to kick me off the course, so until that happened, I was fine just how I was.

Every time the rain would come down harder, or a big gust of wind would blast us, I just laughed.  What else could you do?  We had all worked so hard to get ourselves here.  To run 26 miles, which was punishment enough, and now this weather?  It was pretty comical to me. We WANTED to do this.

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For a few miles I found myself near a woman who was dressed as Wonder Woman.  Everyone loved seeing here and the constant cheers of “hey, it’s Wonder Woman” made me smile too.  Another runner joked with her about all the attention she was getting, and her response was “hey, it’s been proven that running with a smile on your face makes you more efficient as a runner, so why not do something to give yourself a boost?” I laughed but I kept those words with me, even miles later when I had lost track of Wonder Woman.  Whenever I would catch myself getting tired, I would put a smile back on my face, and my energy would come back.

At around 14 miles in, the cold, damp air started messing with my joints.  I have arthritis, and had been having some bouts with sciatica leading up to the race, so this wasn’t a surprise to me. I could feel my knees stiffening up, and every so often I’d get a shockwave through my right knee and lower leg. I had to change my gait and push through it for a few minutes before it would fade.  Eventually, I had to take a few seconds to stretch my piriformis and IT band.

As I approached Newton, I began trying to scan the crowd for my husband and his mom. This was not easy.  Everyone was bundled up.  I didn’t know exactly where they would be, or even which side of the street they would be on.  Raindrops in my eyes made it difficult to focus.  I had never turned my music on, so I could hear the crowd and tried to listen for my name, but with so much stimuli, I became overwhelmed.  By the time I reached the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, I just wanted to concentrate on that.  Apparently, that is roughly where they were standing.  They saw me, but I was too in the zone to notice.

Speaking of HH- everyone asked me how it was.  Honestly, with everything else, I barely even noticed the hill.  In fact, the only reason I really noticed the climb was because I passed a poor soul in a wheelchair, struggling to get any traction to go uphill. I so wanted to be able to give him a push, but could only do so emotionally.  I hope my words of support helped.

I remember seeing the sign “Entering Brighton” and realizing how close I was.  As I ran along the B train tracks towards Cleveland Circle, I started thinking about the year following college when I lived there.  But as I entered Cleveland Circle, nothing looked familiar.  In fact, I got a little turned around and forgot which T line I was running along, and which street I was on.  I also started to feel sleepy.  Not fatigued, as I have often experienced in the later miles of a marathon, but sleepy.  Like, I wanted to curl up in a ball in the side of the road and take a nap.  I have only ever experienced that at a Ragnar event when I was truly sleep deprived and running in the wee hours of the morning.  I knew this was likely due to the cold, and possibly early stages of hypothermia.  I shook it off.  Only a few miles left- just get through it!

Mile 24- I was looking forward to taking a short walk through he water stop.  At every single mile stop along the course, there would be water/gatorade along the right, and then about 100 feet down the way, there would be water/gatorade along the left.  I had primarily been running along the left, so I didn’t want to dart across runner path’s to get the right hand side, so as I pass ed the water on the right side of Mile 24, I grew excited for the stop on the left, where I could take a quick walk   and catch my breath.  Except….there was never a water stop on the left.  Unless I was so spaced out I missed it. Of course, I could have just taken a little walk without the water stop, but I wouldn’t.  Nope, I would just have to wait til Mile 25.

OMG, the Citgo sign.  There it is, there it is!  The sight I’ve been waiting for.  And the mile 25 water stop.  I took a 10 second walk stop. The wind on the bridge over the Turnpike was ridiculous.  But I kept moving.  Now to find the right time to strip those layers off.

I crossed the chip mat at 25.2, exactly 1 mile left. Unbeknownst to me, apparently it was at this point that the tracking system simply stopped working for me.  Several people watching my progress saw my little dot stop moving, and worried that something was terribly wrong.  Why would she stop with only 1 mile to go???  But I was moving, steadily and excitedly.  I stripped off my green jacket, and looked for a place to drop it off to the side to make sure it was out of the way (there were a lot of discarded items in the middle of the street which had become dangerous for the runners- i was trying to be courteous!).  Next came the long sleeve technical layer.  It was so heavy I could barely pull it off.  I tossed that to the side.  Then my gator- I was going to leave it on, but it was so heavy and wet that it seemed pointless.  I pulled it over my head, and lobbed it to the side- and almost hit some poor spectator in kenmore Square. “Sorry!” I yelled.  They seemed not to notice. OMG, it’s cold!!!! Thank goodness I have less than a mile.

I dropped under the Mass Ave underpass.  One runner later told me he stopped there for a moment to enjopy being out of the wind and rain.  “Why?” I thought- “when so close to the finish- who cares?”

Then came the moment every marathon runner dreams of, Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.  I spent so many years in Boston making that turn just during casual daily walks.  I could see the Hynes Convention Center in front of me, and memories of my first weeks in Boston as a nervous college freshman flooded my brain momentarily.  “Home. I’m home.  I did it.”

I was scanning the crowd for my friends, but again the see of umbrellas and winter coats was overwhelming.  I turned my attention to the finish line.  Some say the Boston finish line seems so far after turning onto Boyslton. To me it seemed so close- guess it’s all those years of running LA where you make a left on Ocean and still have a mile to the finish. I don’t know where it came from, but my knees just started lifting and I felt my pace pick up.  I had a giant smile on my face and was sprinting to that finish line. Some poor dude was walking and I nearly ran him down in my excitement. And then, it was over. I crossed the line. I started walking. Still beaming. I was walking quite quickly…shit, did I leave too much on the course?  Why do I feel so good?

That feeling did not last long.  Within a minute, everything seized up from the cold. I was shivering.  Where is my medal?  Where is my blanket?  Where is the water.  Everything seemed so far away.  Especially those blankets.   They are pretty nice though- with armholes and a hood.  And they velcro close- which I didn’t realize until a volunteer stopped me to adjust it for me.

Gear check- ugh.  There was a huge line.  And my hips were aching at that point.  I wanted to keep moving, but I had to wait for my stuff. I didn’t even have the energy to change- i was regretting my decision to even bother with gear check, and if there hadn’t been stuff in that bag that I really wanted back, I would have just skipped it.  What felt like an hour long wait was probably 10 minutes.  I could hear myself groaning as I stood, and my brain was saying “shut up you sound like such a whiner” but I was truly miserable.

Finally I retrieved my bag, and wandered back towards the family meetup area.  Off to one side was the finisher medal photo area.  Normally I would stop, but not today.  Being warm and with my friends and family was more important.  I was over “savoring ” the experience.

As I waddled along the street, clutching mystuff and shivering, I was stopped by volunteers checking on me, letting me know there were warming buses just ahead.  I briefly considered hopping on the bus, but then I saw that the “K” meeting area was right in front of me so I kept moving.  All of the sudden I heard someone yell “Hey!” and felt a pair of hands grab me. It was my friend Toni.  “You are so cold, omg!” She hugged me and kept her arms around me to warm me up.  Her friend took my bag away from me so my arms could rest.  Then I saw Will about 10 feet away, scanning the crowd and looking very concerned that I had not yet arrived.  Toni walked me over to him and handed me into his arms.

“I just want to get warm!” I said.

“Can you make it up the street to the Westin?”

“Yes.”

He chaperoned me up the street, it seemed so close yet so far. When we walked in the doors to the Westin, the entry way was filled with runners trying to warm up.  One security guard saw me shivering, and directed me to a heat vent, so I could open my blanket and let the heat flow in.  Toni gave me her down jacket. I stood there for about 5 minutes, did a couple of stretches, and was ready to move on.  Fortunately, the hotels and malls of Copley Square and the Prudential Center are all connected, so we could walk the rest of the way indoors- as I had done many hours earlier on  my way to the buses.

When I got back to the hotel room, I jumped in the shower and cranked up the heat.  I probably stood there for 10-15 minutes, just enjoying the warmth.  When I got out, I was still shivering.  My hips still ached, and I grabbed a muscle relieving cream called “Punch Gunk” which was created by a friend.  I slathered that stuff all over my legs, and learned something new- not only does it relieve aches, it can also be very warming!

It took me about 20 minutes to finally stop shivering.At which point, I was ready for a burger and a beer. As long as I didn’t have to go outside. And we didn’t.  At dinner, several other runners were seated near us, and I had a great time swapping war stories with complete strangers.   We survived. Would we be back?  We hoped so!

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Before and after. photo credit: Will Kennedy

And now it’s time to hit Mountains 2 Beach to try to qualify to do this all over again!

Boston Marathon Recap, Part 1

Where do I even begin.  Let’s start with late March, when I started stalking the weather forecast in Boston.  “Weather looks good!” said another runner who had run Boston last year.  And it did- partly cloudy, somewhere in the 50s, lovely for a PR and/or BQ.  But it’s the Northeast, and having grown up there, I knew things could change.  Over the next 3 weeks, I watched that forecast deteriorate.  I always kept some hope that it would either be wrong, or that it would suddenly change in true NE style. Every time it got worse, all I could do was laugh.

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(looking back, this forecast wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the T-storm part)

Friday was gorgeous. I went out for a run first thing, and while crisp, it was comfortable.  It stayed fairly warm during the day, and that evening at my friend’s house in Western Mass, we were sitting outside enjoying beers at sunset. It was perfect.  Couldn’t it just stay that way?

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Saturday was when things started to change, and by Sunday morning for my shakeout it was downright chilly. BUT, it was dry.  I remember thinking I could handle 26 miles of those temps….dry.

Will and I talked about my plan to get to the buses Monday morning.  My mother-in-law had graciously used her points to get us a kick-ass room at the Sheraton on Dalton…just steps from the finish line. On a nice day, it’s a lovely walk from there to the Common where the buses line up.  But Will thought it was too far to walk and started talking about me getting a Lyft.  This seemed ridiculous to me.  It would cost a fortune, and due to road closures, the Lyft driver probably wouldn’t be able to get me very close. Besides, I knew from my many years of working in the Copley Mall that I could get most of the way to the pickup area through indoor routes.  So that became my plan.

I woke up nice and early so I could sit, eat, drink my coffee, gather my thoughts and do one last gear check.  I was thankful for donations from my friend Tonianne- I had left LA without gloves, and she offered a throwaway pair as well as another long sleeve layer.  I didn’t now just how helpful that extra layer would become. Will took a photo before I left the room and his mom joked that no one would be able to recognize me because I had doubled in size due to my layers.

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One thing I forgot about the route that I had planned to take to the buses- once you step outside the Westin in Copley Square, you enter a wind tunnel (thanks to the John Hancock Tower) that creates gusts that rival those on the top of Mt. Washington.  I stepped into that wind and through the puddles and thought “oh hell no.” But fortunately once I had made it to Arlington for Gear Check it wasn’t as bad.  Just wet.

I had hoped to hook up with two friends by the buses at around 8 am, but it was so wet and cold, I was on a mission. Pee, and jump on the bus.  I texted once on the bus and hoped we’d find each other in Hopkinton.

The bus drive seems so, so, long.  Way longer than 26 miles.  I chatted with the woman sitting with me, who had traveled from England to run.  She asked if I had ever run a marathon in this kind of weather. She hadn’t either.  “And you’re from ENGLAND!” I said.

We all joked once arriving at Athletes Village that it would be nicer just to stay on the buses.  I couldn’t imagine our bus was heading back into Boston to grab another group of runners.  It was already 9:20 by the time we arrived, and I think the final buses left at 9:30 from Boston. So, why couldn’t we just stay?  Sadly, it wasn’t allowed.

As I approached the field where the athletes gather, they were calling the red wave (Wave 1).  The field was a sea of mud that i can’t even describe.  I was so glad that I had the forethought to bring throwaway shoes and socks.  My race shoes were safely wrapped up in my LA Marathon Mylar blanket, since they were too large to fit in the tiny plastic bag they give you and tell you it’s the ONLY bag you are allowed to bring with you on the buses (they were pretty lax about this rule, given the circumstances- nearly everyone had their extra shoes in bigger plastic bags and no one gave anyone a hard time).  But as I looked at the mud that seemed to go all of the way into the tents, I started to wonder how I’d even be able to get my shoes and socks on!!! I jumped in line for the bathroom and decided I’d sort that out later.

The rain was coming down so hard at times that the announcer who was telling us who should be heading to the start and when, would occasionally shout out into his mic “OW THAT HURTS!”  It was awful and funny at the same time.

When I got inside the portapotty, it was the only time I could text my friends- out in the rain my fingers were too cold and wet to get anything to work.  I laughed at the idea that I was doing “all” of my business in the porta potty.  But, I also didn’t want to hog too much time in there, as I knew others were waiting.

I wandered over to one of the tents in hopes of finding my friends and at least getting out of the rain for a bit.  I was thrilled to discover that once about 4-5 feet inside, the ground was solid.  People were tossing their mylars, towels, and yoga mats on the ground to sit and relax while waiting for their wave to be called.  I found a spot and stood and ate a banana.  Then spread out my mylar and began the process of changing my shoes and socks.

They started calling my wave as I laced up my shoes.  It seemed early, and I still needed to arrange my fuel and strip off at least one of my throw-away layers, so I took my time. I organized my Gu into various packets and wrist locker.  Stripped off my neon green jacket, and pulled off the cheap cotton sweatshirt underneath.  I decided the other throwaway layer, a tech pullover given to me by my friend Tonianne, should stay a little longer.  Green jacket back on.  Took a deep breath, glanced around, and said “let’s do this.”

To be continued….

OMG, I really am going to Boston

On Patriot’s Day 1993, even though it was a state holiday and a day off from classes at Boston Conservatory, I had a tech rehearsal for our final sophomore project and was forced to sit in an auditorium ALL DAY waiting for my handful of scenes to be rehearsed. My sister Colleen was running the Boston Marathon, and even though the auditorium was merely blocks away from the final stretch of the marathon, my instructor would not allow me to take a 30 minute break to go out and watch for her to sprint across the finish line. I sat, and I waited, and I waited, and I remember clear as day, my sister walking in the door, ecstatic, because she had just finished the Boston Marathon in under 3 hrs, and just 20 minutes behind Joan Benoit. I had done literally nothing all day but sit and watch others rehearse they scenes, and I felt like a terrible sister.  I was so proud.  And I had no clue what it took to run a marathon, let alone at that pace.  I also had no desire to run that far myself.  Ever.

The following year she was back, and thankfully, I did not have a rehearsal that day.  I remember planting myself near the finish, watching the clock, waiting for her to come in at around 2:50-2:55.  I really didn’t understand wave starts, so I began to get worried when 3 hrs came and went on the clock, and she was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until around 3:15 or so that I finally saw her, looking strong, yet pained, and I became emotional.  Of course, her time was actually only just over 3 hrs, but again, I had no appreciation of how differently you can feel in any given marathon, no matter what your capabilities and how hard you trained. 10 minutes seemed like such a huge difference to me, but she seemed just fine with her finish time, and I was still proud.1902780_10153290265658532_329581931_n

It would be 10 years before I found the marathon bug.  I completed my first half in 2002 (which is still my favorite half marathon, the BAA Half), thought it wasn’t that bad, and decided in January 2003 that I could handle a full.  The day after my training began, I took a strange fall while snowboarding, and destroyed my ankle- couldn’t run for almost 2 months, and it remained wonky for quite some time after.  I ran another half that fall, and in January 2004, tried again.

During training, I really had no idea what to expect.  My half had been just under 2 hrs, so I had hoped to be able to run the full in around 4.  And I secretly hoped that something phenomenal would happen, and I would run the current BQ time for my age group, which was 3:40.  It was a pipe dream, and not something I ever should have thought about for my first marathon, but, I did.  I remember starting to fade around mile 21 at the Vermont City Marathon that year, and watching that 3:40 mark pass by me on the giant clock at around mile 22.  And realizing I wouldn’t even make my 4 hr goal.  But then I decided I just wanted to finish while still feeling good, and then I could drink beer and visit with my friends that night.  I finished in 4:23.  It seemed “slow” to me, but now I know that for most people, that’s a pretty damn good time for a first marathon.

After that, I decided I was done with marathoning, at least for the time.  I still dreamed of running Boston, and refused to do so unless I qualified, but it seemed so out of reach.  10 years went by, and I hardly even raced.  Most of my running was done without a watch, just for fun. But in the summer of 2013, everything changed.  That summer, I learned that the Angel City Pit Bulls, the animal rescue group with whom I volunteered had been selected as an official charity partner of the LA Marathon in 2014. It was time to start getting serious.1981956_10153295102363532_1401577780_n

In 2014, I hoped to break 4 hrs.  It was ridiculously hot, and I nearly through in the towel at mile 18.  But I pushed on, and finished in 4:35.  I was not happy. In 2015, again, shooting for 4 hrs, again, stupid hot, I finished in 4:14. In 2016, we finally had slightly better weather, and I finally broke through that 4 hr barrier…by 30 seconds. But hey, it was a sub 4! And then, I watched two of my running buddies qualify for Boston at Mountains 2 Beach later that year. Suddenly, I felt empowered. Maybe, just maybe, if I worked hard enough, I could make my Boston dream come true.

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I trained through the summer of 2016, running one of the last marathons available (Ventura Marathon) for a 2017 BQ. [By the way, if you click on the link to go to the Ventura Marathon page and watch the scrolling photos at the top- that happy girl crossing the finish line? That’s me in 2017 doing the 1/2, decked out in my Skirt Sports gear.] I ran strong for almost 20 miles, and then  things started seizing up on me, and my stomach became unhappy too.  I rallied by mile 22, but due to cramping couldn’t quite pick the pace back up to full speed.  Though I had a PR, I did not have a BQ. I would have to miss the 2017 marathon.  But, there was 2018…

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I tried again 5 months later at Surf City. My training had been on fire.  I was so ready, or so I thought.  What hadn’t been on fire was my nutrition.  I bonked before I even hit mile 16.  I felt it coming on by mile 10, and tried to eat and eat to get the energy back, but I was done.  I almost bailed at 16, but my friends were waiting at mile 20, and I couldn’t disappoint, so I rallied.  Thanks to a buddy who helped keep me going the last 6 miles, I finished under 4, but still did not have my BQ.

Next up was LA, but as it was only 6 weeks after Surf City, I knew it wasn’t wise to race.  I ran the most comfortable marathon I have ever run, and finished in roughly the same time as Surf City…go figure! So, what next?

On Patriots Day that year, I watched with one friend who had qualified but couldn’t go due to injury, and tracked our other friend as he made his way from Hopkinton to Boston. I was insanely envious.  I needed to race, and decided that a half marathon would make me feel better.  I logged into the Mountains 2 Beach website to sign up for the half…and they had just released another 200 entries to the full, which had previously been announced as full.  It was a sign, I went for it.  I had 6 weeks to get in marathon ready shape.

Mountains 2 Beach, much like Vermont City, is held the Sunday of memorial Day weekend. And so 14 years after my first marathon, I set out with a goal of 3:40.  But unlike that day 14 years I go, I knew 3:40 was within reach. I had changed my nutrition, thanks to eat2run.comFat-loaded and carb-loaded properly  I felt strong.  I did not bonk.  I had the usual negative thoughts around mile 21, but as I did the math in my head, I knew I could slow down and still make it.  So I rallied.  My friend tried to get me under 3:40, so that I would have over 5 minutes and wouldn’t have the dreadful wait til the final day of registration, but I couldn’t quite get there.  3:40:39. Thankfully, it ended up being good enough for Boston 2018!

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Training began in earnest that fall, for both LA and Boston.  The plan: race hard at LA to BQ for 2019, and then have fun at Boston.  I was right on track.  That was, until December 21st, when I learned I had breast cancer.  It came out of left field.  No one in my family had it.  I had no lumps.  I had nothing on previous mammograms.  But, there it was.  My first questions to pretty much every member of my care team “so, will I be able to run Boston in April?” I asked so often it was in my chart “wants to run Boston marathon in April.”

If you’ve never been through a cancer diagnosis and subsequent scheduling of treatment (or had a close friend or family member go through this), you won’t understand how hard it is to get a straight answer to the question “how long will this take.” That’s because, there is no straight answer.  Every person is different.  Doctors don’t want to guess and then have a patient get upset and throw it back at them when complications arise and it takes longer.  I must have been the biggest pain in the ass.  I wanted to schedule a surgery date even though we didn’t know for sure whether it would be a lumpectomy or mastectomy.  I didn’t understand that if the latter, and I wanted reconstruction there would be 2 surgeons involved, so they couldn’t book anything until we knew for sure. When I asked for a timeline for recovery, they were masters at sidestepping the issue.  And while my surgeons always seemed to be optimistic, others I spoke with would tell me, “no way. absolutely no way will you be recovered by April 16.” But I stayed hopeful.

Finally, I was given a date.  February 1st. 10 weeks before Boston,  It would be a mastectomy, and since they felt they could spare my nipple, I would begin reconstruction right away (I had the option of waiting to reconstruct, which would have meant a faster recovery, but also meant losing my nipple. ) I still didn’t really have a good understanding of how the recon would work.

After my surgery, I woke up and was amazed at how great I felt.  I was not in pain, just stiff and sore, like I had just done a really heavy weight workout on my left side.  In a week, one of my two drains came out.  The doc said I could do the elliptical at the gym if I wanted, but I decided that was weird with a drain in.  Instead, I hiked.  A lot.  10 days after surgery I did a 7 mile hike.  Then  got frustrated because my one remaining drain was still outputting more than 30 ML/day, the number it needs to get below before they will remove.  I took two days off and did nothing.  The drain did not change.  Screw it.  I went back to walking/hiking.  FINALLY, on Feb 19th, the second drain came out.  My first question: “Can I run?” Sure, listen to your body. If it hurts, don’t run.  Otherwise, go ahead.  Just don’t lift your arms over your head.  “And when can I do that? When can I walk my dogs?” 4 weeks. Ok, cool.

I ran that night with my Pitfire family.

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It did not “hurt” but was definitely not the most comfortable running I’ve ever done.  I could not swing my left arm without feeling like a plat in my chest was shifting back and forth. So, I ran without swinging my arm for those first few days.  And then, things began to relax.  I broke up scar tissue.  And I started adding miles. I did a 16 miler two weeks before the date of the LA Marathon- which was one month before Boston. I decided to run LA.

One week before LA, I woke up one morning feeling off.  It ended up being a stomach bug, which left me stuck on the couch for an entire day, and unable to eat normally for almost 5 days. Not the best when you are trying to carb up for a marathon.

Even the day of the LA Marathon, I was not 100% sure I could finish.  My husband told me he would be angry with me if I ended up in the hospital. But he would be happy with ANY other outcome. I took that to heart, and promised if anything went wrong, I would stop. The day before the marathon, my throat was dry.  I felt fatigued, and had a familiar ache in my shoulders and back.  It was what happened whenever I had a cold coming on. I pushed it down and denied that I was getting sick.  I took Emergen-C.  I took Mucinex.  I went to bed early. That morning I was no worse, so I just told myself I wasn’t sick. During the run, I constantly checked my arm throughout the marathon, to make sure there was no swelling (lymphedema).  I kept the pace conservative. And I kept going.  I felt good.  Mile 20 came.  My muscles were getting fussy by then.  I had no gaol other than finishing, so I stopped. I stretched like I would at the end of a training run.  This was, after all, a training run for Boston at this point. I started up again.  Started catching teammates who were running just the second half of the marathon (they had a later start). I walked and talked with them as I passed, enjoying some quick breaks in the process. I stretched again at mile 24.  And then I pushed through those last 2 miles. 4:07. It wasn’t sub 4, but it was damn good considering.

And then I had my beer with my wonderful friends.image1

And then two days later, the bronchitis hit. My poor, poor immune system.  I took a few days off, but jumped back on the horse by Friday, even though I felt like I had COPD.  It helped to clear out my lungs a bit.

Oh, and let’s not forget the part where my foob (that’s breast cancer speak for fake boob, by the way) turned red after the marathon.  And didn’t fade.  But didn’t hurt or itch or anything.  But after a week, I decided I should probably see someone.  Of course, once I made an appt, it started to fade.  But the doc decided to give me some antibiotics, just to be safe. So far so good, LOL.

And then, on Thursday night, just 2 1/2 weeks before Boston, as if I hadn’t been through enough, I had yet another bout with a stomach thing.  This time, however, though it was much more violent during the episode (I’ll spare you the gory details), once it was done, it was done.  And on Saturday, I ran 18 miles.  Enough to be a final long run before Boston.

29665616_10157308193583532_6055438194668636810_oSo, yeah, I’ve still gotta get through the next two weeks.  And I probably should do some serious knocking on wood right now. Maybe I should wrap myself in bubble wrap and not step outside my apartment for the next two weeks.  Find some sort of Harry Potter-esque portal to Boston to avoid the plane (although even those have their dangers). But universe, I think you’ve tested me enough.  And I have proved I can handle it all.  So, how about smooth sailing from here on out, OK?  Thanks much. I’m really looking forward to seeing this:

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Let’s run a MARATHON! (maybe even two….)

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On Monday, my second drain FINALLY came out.  Ok, it wasn’t really the eternity it seemed….it was all of 18 days.  According to my surgeon, pretty darn average (doesn’t he know I like to be better than average????).  When it was out, what was the first question I asked….anyone? Any guesses?  That’s right:

“CAN I RUN?”

I think he is pretty tired of hearing variations on this questions (e.g., “Can I do the elliptical? Can I run a marathon with the expanders in?) because he looked at me blankly and said, “sure.” In fact, his answer was essentially, you can do whatever you want, just listen to your body to determine what’s comfortable, (hmmm…I don’t know if this guy has ever operated on a runner before) AS LONG AS YOU DON’T LIFT YOUR ARM OVER YOUR HEAD. I can run without putting my arm over my head. I think.

Next question- when can I walk my dogs. Answer: 4 weeks out.  After 4 weeks  I can lift my arm and start lifting light weights, and I can walk my dogs. More importantly, I can finally shave my armpit.  It’s getting nasty, I can tell. :/

Back to the running thing though. Lucky for me, I had a run club that night. I went in thinking I’d give it a try, and if need be, I’d walk.  Except…it was REALLY cold. So, I realized once I started I was committed, because I wasn’t dressed for walking.

I started my run.  Woah, this was weird.  Basically, I was aware of something inflexible right in the center of my chest. And it seemed to shift ever so slightly with each arm swing.  As did the support directly under my breast.  I also realized that the front zip bra I had bought specifically for wearing after my mastectomy (since I wouldn’t be able to pull anything over my head, or reach around to clasp something in back) was REALLY tight.  And felt even tighter over this foreign breast on my left side. But, it wasn’t painful.  Just weird, and mildly uncomfortable.  I stopped swinging my arm, and it felt a little more reasonable.  So I kept going.  I kept it slow- it was really hard for me to not chase down the fast crew, but I didn’t. And by about 2 miles in, I was able to start to swing my arm a bit. But by 3 miles I was glad to be done. And I wanted that bra OFF. While I sat socializing with my friends, I actually unzipped the bra under my clothes (it had a secondary clasp to keep it somewhat on.  Oh that felt so much better.

The next day- another little 3 miler.  Felt good.  Bra still uncomfortable though.

The next day, I wanted more distance, but was worried about doing too much bouncing and arm swinging, so I did a trail route that incorporated a lot of stairs that I would have to hike.  Hiking doesn’t cause the same discomfort.  But I forgot how hard (cardio wise) those stairs were.  Whew, it was a workout! But I managed 5.

Day 4 (I know, I know, probably time for a day off, but I had another run club, and miles to make up!)  I hiked in the morning (not running= time off). I ALSO, tried on an older looser sports bra that I could pull on over my hips. OMG, SOOOOOO much better.  I ran 3 miles that night in the same bra, YES this helped immensely.

Day 5….I took a day off.  🙂

Day 6- it’s the weekend, and long run day! But I had to lead a group walk. And again, it was so cold.  I arrived super early, and squeezed in nearly 7 miles in advance. Then led the walk- 2 miles.  Then  went back out for another 3.  I realized I hadn’t eaten in several hours, so felt a little tired.  Made a quick pit stop, topped off my water bottle, and realized my left fingertips were tingling ever so slightly.  Uh oh. Except- this hasp happened to me before from the cold. So maybe it’s nothing. I opened and closed my hand several times, and jogged back to my car.  Had some gu, and worked my hand a few more times.  It stopped tingling.  So, onward I went, but I was nervous about going too far.  I had hoped for 12 running miles, but decided maybe I should stop at 10.

Once home, my legs were achy.  Not my usual post long run achy.  Crampy achy.  Ugh.  Is this the Tamoxifen? Also, I felt sleepy.  Not, I just did a long run tired.  I want to take a nap tired.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been feeling that every afternoon this week. Ugh.  I hope it doesn’t last.

Day 7, Sunday.  Would have liked to have gotten more miles in, but had to be at a race site at 6 am.  Thought about arriving early and running before setup, but it was chilly, it was dark, and I didn’t know my way around.  So instead I stood on my feet for 4 hrs.  Ugh. And squeezed in 7 miles.  And then had a beer. YES, a beer. FINALLY. It felt so good, even if I could only handle one.

I ran 3 more times between Monday and Tuesday morning, and each time it felt more and more comfortable.  I could finally swing my arms.  And pick up my pace.  And then, the icing on the cake, I came across this story from RW 4 years ago…so similar to my story it’s uncanny.  And it gave me confidence that I can DO this.

But for the next few days, it’s break time, ’cause I just had my first expansion and I feel like I have a softball attached to my chest. 😯

 

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Finding balance

How do you know if you are doing too much too soon?  I guess it’s a bit of trial and error.  My plastic surgeon told me I could go to the gym and hit the elliptical as long as I didn’t feel pain. I decided against that, as it will be a giant pain with one drain still in me, and I’m still not allowed to wear a sports bra.  But, Saturday morning, I joined my volunteer group for one of our twice monthly pit bull pack walks.  Easy pace, lots of stops, 3 or so miles.  The only thing that “hurt” was my sciatica- not related (and a post for another day perhaps).

(Blake, available through angelcitypits.org)

Saturday evening, I joined some teammates for a low key night out.  I didn’t have any drinks- not ready yet and feels a bit irresponsible with a drain. But it was still a bit of a late night out for me.

On Sunday, I got up early to meet up with Team ACPB, who would be heading out for some of their longest runs for half and full marathon training.  Obviously I’m not running yet, so I went for a hike.  I was joined by a friend whose knee was bothering her, so she decided a 20 mile run might not be a good idea.  We took a long loop and hiked almost 7 miles.  Again, felt great, little bit of sciatica, but no issues otherwise.

Went to our post-run hangout, watched everyone else have a beer and drank coffee instead. Sigh….but I was glad to be back to a somewhat normal schedule.

However, once home, I noticed a lot of stiffness in my armpit.  My clothes felt tight. Oh no, is this lymphedema?  I kept touching and checking everything, changed my clothes to make sure everything was plenty loose. I didn’t have any swelling, it just felt constricted. I took a muscle relaxer and laid down with a pillow between my arm and chest to try to raise my lymph nodes a bit.  I felt mildy better, but then the dizziness came.  Not horribly dizzy, more just slightly light-headed and off.  Tamoxifen?  Wasn’t sure.   And then Monday morning, when I emptied my drain, my output had gone back up to around 40 mm. Yup, too much activity can cause this.  All in all, not the end of the world, but it could mean a few extra days before this drain comes out (and I can shower!) Ugh.

I took it easy Monday but met up with my Pitfire Run Club in the evening because I knew it would feel good to see my friends. I walked the 3 miles, and was happy to have a walking partner who was recovering from a little tendinitis. Tuesday morning- still 40ml. UGHGGGGH. Called surgeon and canceled appt- he told me not to bother coming in if the drain wasn’t ready. Then, I sat still ALL. DAY. LONG. Wednesday- 35 ml. Doing nothing didn’t make enough of a difference and I can’t sit on my ass all day. Plus, I committed to doing some work today- walking a couple of small dogs that ami can do one-handed. And Thursday an event at Road Runner.

So, while there won’t be any more 7 mile hikes until this drain is gone, there also won’t be any more days of absolute nothingness. Everything in moderation- I guess that’s how it is with life, even when recovering from surgery.

Fingers crossed for a Friday drain removal!