Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

This morning, we started out early–6:15–to beat the summer heat. What we got instead? Humidity. It was like a fireswamp out there. My breathing was better, but I felt slow and sluggish.

At least I saw no R.O.U.S.

As we slogged along for six slow miles and complained about  how uncomfortable we were, I thought about the races I’ve scheduled for the fall: two ten-milers and a half-marathon. I wondered what the hell I was thinking. I was miserable and slow. Then it rained–woohoo, 100% humidity!–and I felt temporarily cooler. But my quads hurt from the speed and hill workouts earlier this week. And my pace came nowhere near a respectable race pace. Distance too, for that matter! Fall races sounded completely impossible.

Every hill felt like the Cliffs of Insanity

I’ve been telling myself that this work in the heat will pay off when the weather cools down again. And I know it’s true from training through the two previous summers. But in the moment, when I can barely shuffle along, I have doubts. But then one of my friends commented, “We’re going to get slower before we get faster.” It was kind of a lightbulb moment. Yes, the whole summer we will plod out slow, hot, unpleasant, painful training runs. We will complain and sweat and probably become delirious.

Mostly dead, not all dead.

Mostly dead, not all dead.

But you rush a miracle man and you get rotten miracles. So we will work hard, and eventually we will get faster.

Anything else would be inconceivable.

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Wheezy

I’ve had minor respiratory problems my whole life–I was born five or six weeks early and as a baby I fought more than the typical episodes of bronchitis. The doctors said I was borderline asthmatic. Cold weather seemed to exacerbate it, so when I was three, my family moved to a warmer climate. I had few problems until I was in my late 20s, when I was officially diagnosed with asthma and given a raft of medications to get my breathing and wheezing under control.

Since then, I’ve had a few flare-ups, mostly in wintertime, but it’s been manageable with just an albuterol inhaler. It generally doesn’t get in the way of running, although I tend to have that wheezy cough the first few cold-weather runs (and those in temps below freezing) although there was that one March 5K in which I started coughing a quarter-mile in, and I struggled to breathe the rest of the way.

But I’ve been running for 3.5 years, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to use my inhaler in warm weather. Until this week.

Tuesday’s hill workout was tough, and several times I had trouble catching my breath. But it never progressed to the wheezy cough, and I just figured it was a combination of intense exercise and vacation re-entry. On Wednesday afternoon, though, I recognized that telltale tightness in my chest.

I don’t know how to describe it to someone who’s not asthmatic, but it’s kind of a … constricted feeling. My breath is shallower, and filling up my lungs is no longer involuntary. Imagine the focused effort it takes to blow up a balloon. I can feel each breath deep in my chest, but it’s like trying to breathe through a straw. Or one of those tiny coffee stirrers. I feel like I need to cough as if to dislodge whatever is blocking my airway. But I don’t want to give in to that feeling, because once I cough, there’s no going back. It becomes a wheezy, barking struggle to catch my breath.

But using my inhaler has its own perils. Well, not perils exactly, but it’s not a magical solution. Albuterol makes me jumpy at first, and once my breathing settles down, the headache kicks in. Albuterol hangover is definitely a thing. I try to put off using it as long as I can, to see if I can get it under control without using the medication. The prescribed dose is two puffs, but I’ll try just one first, hoping that’s sufficient. The second one is a last resort.

Unfortunately, Wednesday evening the cough won. I had to go last-resort, and the subsequent headache (on which Advil has no effect) rendered me useless. Needless to say, I missed my run and went to bed early.

Thursday I knew I’d have a speed workout so I took it easy during the day, trying to give my lungs a chance to recover a bit. But in the car on the way to training, that cough hit again. It wasn’t as bad as the day before, but it still required the inhaler. So I arrived kind of jittery and definitely not 100%.

The workout was a progression run. After a 1.5ish mile warmup around the park, we ran 15 minutes in which every five minutes we increased our pace by about a minute per mile. My data was based on the Chuy’s race from early May (when I ran my second-fastest 5K) so perhaps it was a bit ambitious under the circumstances.

On the first leg, the path was shady and my pace felt pretty comfortable. The only problem I encountered came when the path crossed a driveway and a motorcycle blew past me, ignoring the crosswalk. The second interval got more difficult. I found myself looking at my watch more frequently, which wasn’t much consolation because it’s not like I would get to rest at the end of that interval! The third segment I didn’t quite hit my target pace, but I did run faster than the previous one.

But my lungs hurt. I must have sounded like a wild animal, thundering along the path and gasping for breath.

Finally, mercifully, I finished. I walked a bit, let my breathing settle down, and jogged back to the starting point. Fortunately, I didn’t need the inhaler again, and somehow I managed to avoid the headache too.

I suppose it’s a good thing that my legs are sore after my Tuesday and Thursday workouts. I’ll take that over an albuterol hangover any day.

Re-entry

We spent last week traveling through the Space Coast and the Florida Keys. I ran a couple of times, but it wasn’t enough to offset the key lime pies and rum runners I consumed throughout the week. So re-entry to my training schedule has been a bit bumpy, to say the least.

Monday night I went to core class, after which my muscles felt like spaghetti. Tuesday night, guess what? The Hill of Doom. Again.

This time we sprinted up it, but instead of resting at the top, we had to keep running hard across the grass, only slowing when we reached the turnaround. I counted 50 short-person steps up the hill and 55 across the grass, so it was double the effort, pretty much. After four I couldn’t catch my breath, and I took a water break. Two more, water break. And after two more, I was done.

Some of my teammates not only managed ten of these things, but jogged down the path between sprints instead of walking and gasping for breath like I was doing. But I finished eight, something of an accomplishment considering the aforementioned key lime pie and rum runners.

Vacation running: Miami Beach

Our last full day in Florida, I woke up early and went out for my final run on the beach. Considering the South Beach nightlife (think Miami Vice), I figured I was the only one awake. And indeed, the guy passed out on the street corner as I walked the three blocks from our hotel to the beach seemed to support that theory.

But the beach itself was packed with runners and walkers, and it was a gorgeous morning.

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I ran south, pretty much to the end of the small island that makes up South Beach. Runners passed in both directions. Workers had begun setting out rental beach chairs and umbrellas. A yoga class was going on in the shade of one of the lifeguard towers. A guy was involved in some kind of photo shoot at another.

Each of the towers is different. One was painted like a tiki hut, another a lighthouse. They’re really cool, and they helped me orient myself as I ran.

At the end of the beach, a dozen different people ran strength drills on the path, the grass, or the little hill. I’d gone about a mile and a half at this point, and my back was hurting despite running on the beach instead of concrete, so I turned around and ran back to where I’d started.

From there I took a different route down Ocean Drive back to the hotel, past the iconic Art Deco buildings that define South Beach.

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We went for breakfast at a nearby Cuban restaurant, then spent the rest of the day at the beach and at our hotel’s rooftop pool.

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Thanks, South Florida. We had a great week.

Vacation running: Key West, FL

The morning of my birthday, I woke up to a thunderstorm. I’d mapped out a five-ish mile run from the hotel, but the lightning scrapped that plan. Instead, we packed our stuff into ziplock bags, boarded the hotel shuttle to Old Town, and set out to play tourist.

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We ended our day with a sunset dolphin-watching and snorkeling trip.

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The next morning, I woke up before the guys. No thunderstorm, so I headed out on the route I’d planned for the day before. I dodged the road construction and passed the little league ball fields and what was probably the high school football stadium. Go Conchs!

I don’t know too many high schools that have giant conch shells out front!

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After about two miles, I’d made my way to Smathers Beach. Did you know that there are no waves at Key West? And therefore no sand because there’s nothing to crush the shells and coral into beach. However, Smathers Beach trucks in sand, and at 8am, it was deserted and beautiful.

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This is the beach where Diana Nyad made her historic landing last Labor Day, after swimming from Cuba.

I ran on the sidewalk parallel to the beach for several miles. I passed the airport and watched a couple of planes take off. Some runners and cyclists were out, but clearly 8am on island time is different from 8am on the mainland.

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I ran on, Route One on my left and the Atlantic on my right. But I’d brought my old shoes, expecting more beach running, and pounding the concrete reminded me why I’d replaced them. After four or five miles, my back, knees, and ankles felt the stress. I walked some, but it didn’t really bother me because hey, it’s Key West!

The complete loop turned out to be more than five miles–6.2 to be exact. Perfect–a 10K on Key West, then an afternoon by the pool.

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There are some perks to birthdays.

Next up: part four, running on Miami Beach!

Vacation running: Florida Keys

The day after my five-mile run on Cocoa Beach, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, home of the Atlantis space shuttle. It was AMAZING. I won’t give it away, but I will tell you that if you get a chance to see it, GO. There’s a series of introductory films, and the finale leading into the exhibit is spectacular.

We also took a tour that visited important locations of space program history–the launch pad that sent up America’s first satellite, the Redstone launch pad that sent up Mercury astronauts Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom, and the Apollo 1 launch pad where Grissom, White, and Chaffee died. For space buffs like us, it was riveting.

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From there, we drove about 200 miles south to Key Largo. Because we’d stayed so long at KSC, we arrived late at our hotel and didn’t get a chance to check out the beach situation. So the next morning, when I woke up before the others, I decided to go for a run. Working off google maps, I thought I could run to the end of the street and get to the beach.

But I was wrong.

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So I turned around, ran back past the hotel, and crossed the road to see if I’d have better luck on the Gulf side. Alas, I found no public access. I ran through the neighborhood a bit–it was almost completely residential–but every access point was either blocked by a gate or was clearly someone’s back yard.

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So I meandered back to the hotel, circling around behind it. Turns out, we were on a little inlet in which dozens of boats were moored. It was a beautiful morning, despite the lack of beach.

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After my run, we loaded up the car for our bucket-list drive south through the Florida Keys. The most noteworthy of which, running-wise, was Marathon Key.

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I was wearing my Rogue shirt and ran across the road to take this picture. This is probably as close to running a Marathon as I will ever get!

The Florida Keys are connected by the Overseas Highway via 42 bridges, the shortest of which is 150 feet and the longest that’s just under seven miles. The speed limit is 45mph most of the way, so with photo stops and lunch at the No Name Pub on No Name Key, it took us about four hours to make the 106-mile drive.

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Key West is the most populous of the Keys, with approximately 26,000 residents. And I think we encountered every single on of them, stuck in traffic on North Roosevelt Boulevard, as we made our way to our hotel.

WHICH HAD ITS OWN BEACH.

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Not only that, our room looked out over the pool. Not a bad way to spend my birthday.

Next up: part three, a run around Key West!

Vacation running: Cocoa Beach, FL

It’s summer vacation, and we are lucky because that often means travel. This year we tackled one of my bucket list trips: drive the Florida Keys. But instead of starting in Miami, we flew into Orlando and visited the Space Coast first.

B is fascinated with the space program–last summer he spent a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and we took a day trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. He can recite facts and statistics about Mercury to Gemini to Apollo to the shuttles, and the astronauts who flew them. And he’s excited that this summer he gets to see two retired shuttles. The first of those is Atlantis, now on display at the Kennedy Space Center.

We arrived in Cape Canaveral around lunchtime. After some photo ops (I’m the queen of stopping for pictures) we checked into our hotel and changed clothes. Right behind the hotel, a path led straight to the beach, and we wasted no time getting our toes in the sand.

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But we’d only been there a half-hour or so before a thunderstorm rolled in and chased everyone inside.

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Our room had a balcony, and the College World Series was on television, but after flying from Austin, waiting in the world’s longest rental car line (seriously, I thought we were going to have a Seinfeld situation), and driving for more than an hour to Cape Canaveral, I got tired of being cooped up. Most of the storm had moved out over the water–a little rain never hurt anyone, right? My training schedule called for 65-75 minutes today, and I’d missed the workout this morning due to our early flight, so I decided to run a couple of miles on the beach.

A few intrepid souls braved the storm and waded in the surf. But as I headed north, I could count on one hand the number of people I encountered.

The rain picked up as I ran my first mile. I dodged abandoned shovels and buckets, flip flops, and sand castles. I maintained a steady pace in the sand, and I felt comfortable. No headphones, no podcasts. Just me and the sand and the rain and the surf.

I reached the pier where families had taken refuge from the rain. But I was short of my time goal, so I ran underneath it and kept going. One mile, then two. Just after I passed a fisherman huddling under an umbrella, I turned back. My goal was to run the return distance at a faster pace.

I’ve never found that runner’s zen, but today I experienced some elements of it. The droning sound of the surf and the rain, the cool breeze, the solitude of a deserted beach, the steady cadence of my footsteps. Before I knew it, I was back at the hotel. But because I’d met my goal of running a faster return leg, I hadn’t quite run the full time. So I kept going for another quarter-mile, then turned back again. I ended up running a solid five miles, on the beach, in the rain. It didn’t suck.

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Next up: part two, Key Largo!