At the last minute, I decided to run

I was hesitant to run this race for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve had trouble breathing all week, and I wasn’t sure if running a 5K race would slow my recovery. With the Army Ten-Miler in two weeks, I need to be healthy! And two, the race benefits a local animal shelter. Why would that make me hesitant? Well, a friend recently had a horrific experience with this particular shelter, and part of me felt really bad supporting an organization that caused so much hurt for her family. We’ve run this race the last four years and thought it was a good cause, but now I just don’t know. In the end, though, I decided that B and I had already paid for registration, so running or not running wouldn’t make any kind of statement one way or another.

I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to see so many dogs so soon after losing Shadow. B got his dog-petting fix, visiting with every friendly animal on the premises. I was happy to see many smiley dog faces, even though it was bittersweet, but I still wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing by being out there.

So it was with mixed emotions that we showed up at the starting line this morning. I pinned on my race number and set up my headphones, but I stood on the sidewalk until the last minute, only deciding to run and jumping in with the crowd after the national anthem.

IMG_9208[1]We’ve run this race all four years of its existence, and the course has been different at least three of those times. So I really had no idea where I was going, but volunteers stood at pretty much every intersection to guide us. I even saw a few familiar faces out there!

I ran the entire thing, but took it easy the whole way. It wasn’t anywhere near my best time, but not my worst either. But considering I still kind of sound like Darth Vader, I’m okay with that.

 

I still sound like Darth Vader

Naturally, now that my knee seems healed, something else has to take its place, interfering in my training.

On Tuesday, I had all kinds of trouble breathing, but I managed to complete my 4.75-mile training run. By Thursday, I no longer felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, but I still had an annoying cough. We ran 3.1 miles out on some trails at the county park and for most of it, I felt pretty good. The last mile, though, I had some trouble catching my breath.

Source: darthvalley.com

This morning, I planned to run seven or eight miles, depending on how I felt. The Army Ten-Miler is two weeks away, and I’d like to get close to ten miles before the actual race! But last night’s margaritas this stupid cough didn’t make things easy.

We headed out at 6:30, into a slight drizzle. We took it slowly, but I knew early on it wasn’t going to be a pleasant run. Even so, I decided I’d rather run-walk seven miles than run all of a shorter distance. We stopped for water after a mile, walked part of the hill around two miles because I couldn’t catch my breath, stopped again for water at three miles, and turned around after 3.5.

The trip back went a little better–my stomach had been kind of funky, but I drank some Gatorade at the second water stop and that seemed to help. We ran more of the return route, and our last mile was our fastest. So at least we kind of redeemed ourselves there at the end. But I never could settle my breathing–I sounded horrible, I know.

I’m glad I got it done, even though it was unimpressive and unpleasant. My breathing is okay now, but sitting on the couch watching college football isn’t exactly strenuous.

B and I are supposed to run a charity 5K tomorrow, and I’ll decide in the morning if I’ll run it or not.  “Early must I rise. Leave now you must!”

 

Running with asthma, redux

Ah, fall. When a young man’s fancy turns…. Oh wait, no. Fall is when temperatures become slightly less oppressive and random rainstorms stir up lung-irritating molecules that have been dormant since May. And I wheeze my way through the day sounding like Kathleen Turner.

Monday evening it started with a wicked headache, then a cough. An asthma cough is different from normal coughs. It doesn’t sound like much at first, but if I give in to it, I’ll soon be barking like a seal from deep in my lungs. So I suppress it as long as I can. I slept poorly.

Tuesday morning, I had to break out my inhaler. I have a love-hate relationship with this thing–it helps me breathe when I’m struggling, but it makes me jittery and I stumble over my words. Not ideal for a middle school teacher.

Because it makes me jittery with a light saber–I might cut someone’s arm off. 

But my students were understanding and I managed to get through the morning, raspy voice and all. But by lunchtime, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my inhaler had zero effect. I couldn’t project my voice–I just didn’t have the lung capacity to breathe AND talk. Again, problematic for a middle school teacher.

My nurse friend K suggested a cocktail of Zantac and Benadryl, but I had classes all afternoon and no time to get to the store. Fortunately M was kind enough to swing by Walgreens and bring them to me just before 2:00. And amazingly, about half an hour later, I noticed I was breathing more easily and wheezing a little less. Hallelujah!

After school, I had to decide whether I’d be able to run with my training group. I had missed the first two Tuesdays (back-to-school night, then losing Shadow a week later) and didn’t want to miss yet another. But was it wise to run with diminished lung function? In the end, I felt well enough to try.

We ran a 1.25-mile warmup to the high school football stadium. Traffic came to a screeching halt at the one-mile mark, and for the next quarter-mile, I actually moved faster than the Corvette in the left lane.

From the stadium, we ran a “two-mile” loop which actually is more like 2.25 miles. Our coach had us work in ten 15-second bursts in which we picked up our pace to “comfortably uncomfortable.” Well yay, I was already there. 😉

The route made a square–downhill first, which meant finishing uphill. And I managed to pick up my pace those ten times.

I had a lot of time to notice vehicles and their drivers as I ran. Probably half of drivers were talking on cell phones. A frightening number had small kids riding in the front seat. A couple of passengers stared at me as they passed, like I was some kind of weirdo. I plodded along, trying to lose myself in Jameis Winston’s latest exploits via my ESPN college football podcast.

As I came up the hill, I focused on the traffic light that indicated the end of my loop. One foot in front of the other. I stopped at the water cooler, and my friends asked if I felt okay because I looked really pale. “Comfortably uncomfortable” indeed.

I know I’m behind on my training, mostly thanks to slowly recovering from injury. Six months ago, five miles was a breeze. Last night, I wasn’t sure I could run at all, let alone finish the whole loop without walking. I may have sounded like Darth Vader, but I did it.

We beat the Blerch!

If there was any run in which the Blerch was gonna get me, this would be the one.

It was a tough week at my house. We lost Shadow on Tuesday, and all week the weather matched our moods–grey and rainy. This weekend M and B are up at the ranch (they put flowers and a marker on Shadow’s grave) so I am on my own. Our house feels empty without her, but we are slowly adjusting to our new normal. To that end, I’m glad I’d signed up to participate in the Beat the Blerch virtual race this weekend.

The race kit came a week or so ago, and wow, it was one big envelope of happiness.

Envelope of happiness, I tell you.

Envelope of happiness, I tell you.

The stress ball lives on my desk and the magnet is on my fridge at school, and the other day one of my students saw it and gasped in recognition. “Respect,” he said with a nod. That made me happy.

We decided to run the 10K today (S and I are slowly coming back from injuries, and we felt 13.1 would be unwise) and we wore our matching Blerch shirts. We both even showed up in our green Rogue socks! We skipped the race numbers but brought the medals for later, and at 6:30 we headed out. The 95% humidity felt like swamp water, but at least the sun wasn’t frying us. It’s the little things, I guess.

Today’s route was a new one–lots of turns, but at least we only had to go 3.1 miles, then head back. I like the variety of a new route,  but I was not awake enough to follow a complex route for double-digits. I mean, c’mon. It even threw me that the water cooler was set up on the other side of the street this morning.

The most important thing I noticed during the first mile? No pain. Not even a twinge or a maybe or a phantom ache. I felt like I’d returned to my normal running gait again–no favoring an injured left side, no right side compensation. Noticing that something doesn’t hurt is almost as surprising as noticing that it does. My knee has given me problems since mid-July, and it felt weird to identify that absence of pain. But weird in a good way!

The second mile, I started feeling the swamp water humidity. We passed two guys (in running gear) sitting in a driveway, apparently recovering from their run. We said hi, and when they asked how far we were going, I said, “Just six.” I thought later, why did I feel like I needed to qualify that six with just? I guess because even though I don’t look like an athlete, I know I am capable of running longer distances and don’t want to look like a slacker to other runners? I’m sure there’s a psychological answer in there somewhere.

Somehow I lost track of how far I had to go, because I looked at my watch and saw that we’d run 2.5 and I thought, “Ugh, still a mile and a half to go before we turn around.” It took me half a mile to realize my mistake. D’oh!

Just past the water stop at mile 2.5, we encountered a house with its sprinklers running. Nevermind the fact that this area received 5+ inches of rain this week–I was grateful and I ran through them like a child on summer vacation. And conveniently, my watch hit 3.1 miles right in front of another house with its sprinklers on. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t run through those too.

We plodded our way back, slowly and sweatily. Around 4.5 miles, a friend came up behind us. We’d seen her earlier, so she knew we had the matching green shirt thing going on. She told us that as she ran behind us, she kept seeing green figures ahead. But then she realized they were the green trash cans sitting at the curbs of the houses. That made us laugh.

The last mile, we picked up the pace a little–according to my Garmin data, our last 1.2 miles were our fastest. It was truly a Long SLOW Run, but hey, we completed it. And then we got medals.

We beat the Blerch!

We beat the Blerch!

All things considered, it was a positive end to a truly awful week.

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Do you pronounce it BlerCH or BlerCK?

Thank you for all your kind words and condolences about my dog. I’m sorry it was a tear-jerker post but I’m grateful so many people got to read about Miss Shadow. 

A Dog’s Life

I know this is a running blog, and I’ve never run with my dog–she was already elderly when I started running. But yesterday, Shadow crossed the Rainbow Bridge and we lost a family member.

Shadow came to live with us in July of 1997. She was about seven months old and had been living at the Austin Humane Society for a couple of months. We were told she’d been left in someone’s car as a joke, and the car owner had brought her to the shelter. The Saturday we met her was bittersweet–we sill mourned the loss of Jessie, a dog I’d had since ninth grade and had lost suddenly two months before, but our dog-less house felt empty and were ready to bring home a new dog.

We applied to adopt Shadow, but they told us two other people had applied first. They said that if the other applicants didn’t return for her by Tuesday, she’d be ours. It seemed like a long shot. On the way home, I spoke a silent plea to Jessie, asking for her blessing and her help. It sounds corny, but I felt like I needed her to know we weren’t replacing her.

When we got home, M left again, accompanying a friend to look at a car about two hours away. He hadn’t been gone half an hour when the phone rang. It was the Humane Society. Both applicants ahead of us in line had called to release their applications. Shadow was ours.

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First day home

She was a high-energy puppy. I guess that blue heeler lineage contributed to her exuberance. She loved to race around the (fenced) back yard at top speed, chasing tennis balls. Turns out she was kind of a loose cannon though–once she got out the front door and took off at that same top speed down the street. Another time she slipped her leash and ran toward a busy highway. So from then on, we kept her on a tight leash (pun intended) unless she was in a confined area.

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She loved to wade, not swim. But she had to stay on a leash.

She was about six years old when B came along.

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B was about a week old.

I remember thinking he wouldn’t really get a chance to know her–she’d probably be gone before he was old enough to form lasting childhood memories of her. Spoiler alert: I could not have been more wrong.

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A boy and his dog.

She loved to sneak into his room and climb up on his bed. And what dog doesn’t quickly figure out that under the high chair is THE place to be?

When she was about eight, the vet told us her kidneys didn’t look so hot, and she might not live to be very old. Spoiler alert: he could not have been more wrong.

In recent years, she’d slowed down. No more racing around the back yard chasing tennis balls, no more furious barking at the UPS driver. But her eyes were bright, her ears perky, and she still followed us around the house. She lost a lot of weight, her back legs didn’t work very well, and she fell down periodically, but she didn’t complain.

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Hanging out at the lake

Two years ago, she developed an abscess in one of her molars. Her face swelled up and she had to have emergency surgery. This was tough on a 15-year old dog, but she was nothing if not stubborn, and she pulled through just fine.

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Home from surgery!

In May of this year, she got a urinary tract infection and she refused food and water. We thought it was the end. But once she finished her antibiotics, she bounced back. At least as much as a 17.5-year old dog can bounce.

But her world shrank to the family room. She couldn’t jump up the one step between that room and the rest of the house, so we moved her bed and food. She was mobile enough to wander around the room, but not strong enough to push herself up off the tile when she slipped. We tried to keep her on the rug, but every so often we had to rescue her from under the bar chairs because she’d get stuck and her feet just slid around on the tile.

Over the last few weeks, her nights and days flipped. She slept like a stone all day, then wandered the family room at night. Nothing like being woken up at two in the morning by a howling dog who’d trapped herself under some furniture.

Last week, she started whining during the night, but not because she’d gotten stuck. She was uncomfortable in some way that we couldn’t figure out or comfort. She was okay during the day, but nighttime was a nightmare. The vet prescribed some medications that could help her sleep and calm her anxiety. One of them was a controlled substance and caused some amusement when I went to fill it at the local grocery store pharmacy. “Yes, it really IS for my dog!” But unfortunately, neither medication had any effect on her. It was like having a newborn again.

Monday night she started crying at about 9PM and did. not. stop. I spent half the night with her, M the other half. At about 5AM, almost time for us to get up, she quieted and went to sleep.

We knew we couldn’t let her go on like this. At almost eighteen years old, she didn’t have much more time left. She weighed no more than about 20 pounds, she was stressed, and the look in her eyes told me she was ready.

B opted to stay home, so he said his goodbyes in the driveway. As we pulled away, I saw heartbreak and grief on his young face. He’d known her his whole life. He indeed did get to know his dog well after all.

Taking her to the vet yesterday was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. They were extremely kind and compassionate, reassuring us this was the right decision. But it still hurt, and even writing about it now brings tears to my eyes again.

But a friend posted this to my Facebook page yesterday, and I think it helps.

Sorry for making you cry.

And my friend Jenn said something really profound:

One thing that has stuck out to me recently about pets is the idea that however long they are with you like Shadow for 17 years, that’s a long time and a big part of your life but you were her whole entire life, and I know you guys gave her a damn good one .

We were her whole entire life. And it was a damn good one. Rest in peace, sweet girl. We will see you at the Rainbow Bridge.

Swim-bike-run: PRs and sportsmanship

Back in June, B competed in his first youth triathlon. He wasn’t the only tri newbie, but a bunch of the kids were clearly pros. I say that figuratively, but judging from their equipment, some may have been actual professionals. So he was at quite a disadvantage that day.

Since then, he’s improved his situation a bit. He now has a better bike–bigger frame, more gears, much more efficient for road racing. And the last couple of weeks he’s been going to a swimming strokes and conditioning class after school, and he’s made huge strides in his form and overall racing skills. So when a friend of ours mentioned that she was helping to organize a new youth triathlon in the area, he was excited to sign up and test his skills.

Naturally, this weekend a freak cold front moved into Austin on Saturday morning. It was perfect for my seven-mile run, but less so for an event involving swimming. Still, it wasn’t too chilly when we arrived at the park just before 7:00 this morning.

From the start, we knew this was more our style. Yes, I had to show his USAT card, and yes they followed all the rules. But the whole vibe was so much more laid-back and friendly. And it was much smaller–maybe 30 kids total. They were broken into five waves of 6-7 kids each, so each kid got his/her own lane for the swim. B’s wave was third, and he finished right in the middle–fourth out of seven.

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He appeared to finish the rest of the race roughly in the middle of the pack, and I estimated his overall time at about 15-20 minutes faster than his first race. He collected his medal and snack, and we stood near the finish cheering on the rest of the kids as they came in.

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When the final finisher came around the last corner, something amazing happened. About a dozen kids joined her and ran with her to the finish line.

It’s funny. I have been thinking about the upcoming Army Ten-Miler and how I’m not sure I’m capable of even approaching my (somewhat ambitious) goal time. But I keep reminding myself that race is about something bigger than PRs. I mean, I have all my limbs and the ability to run ten miles, unlike some of the participants. In the end all I really care about is soaking up the sights and sounds of the day and enjoying the experience for what it is. Today was like that too, but on a smaller scale. Watching these kids, some of them completing their first triathlon, not only finish with a proud grin but then go back and support the final finisher reminded me that there’s more to racing than time and equipment and speed. It’s also about sportsmanship and community.

So when B won a Road ID door prize and told the race director that he already had a Road ID and could he please give it to someone else, I had to wipe away tears for the second time in about fifteen minutes.

If I forget my Garmin, do my seven miles still count??

It was a rough week.

Tuesday I  had to stay at work for more than 14 hours–work a full day, then host parents at Back-to-School Night in the evening. We have ten minutes per class period to share a year’s worth of curriculum and expectations, and I always feel a little manic. This year I only have a couple of repeat families so for most of my parents, this 10-minute whirlwind is their first impression of me. I felt a little off my game, but later I received a couple of compliments so I guess I hid it well enough.

Thursday I met up with my new fall/winter Rogue group at Brushy Creek Park where it was 100* at 6pm. Because I’d missed Tuesday, this was my first day with the group. And my first real training run since my knee problem surfaced in July. I told my coach I was a little nervous about signing up for the Tuesday/Thursday option (not just Tuesdays) because I don’t want to overwork my knee. On the other hand, I have a 10-miler in a month and several big fall and winter goal races. He suggested I run Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday with the group and cross-train instead of running the other days, at least at first. And I think that’s a good idea. So Thursday night, in the blazing sun, we ran for 30 minutes. Most of it was shady, but the return trip across the dam was pretty miserable. But nothing hurt, so I’ll call it a successful start.

Thursday night my elderly dog (who is almost 18 years old) had some kind of discomfort overnight, whining and crying all night. One or the other of us got up every hour or two with her–it was like having a newborn again. Her whole life she’s never complained, so I owe her as much peace and comfort as I can give her for whatever time she has left. But man I was a zombie at work on Friday, and I did not look forward to an early alarm this morning. After dinner I texted S and asked if she still wanted to go at 6:30, or if 7 would be okay. Thankfully she agreed on the later time–I know 30 minutes isn’t much, but I need all the help I can get right now since both days this weekend require early starts and I’m already running a sleep deficit.

Last night I went to bed ridiculously early, and I think the dog had an easier night but still woke us up a few times. I managed to wake up before my alarm, which is always better than having the damn thing jolt me out of the wrong stage of sleep, and I staggered around looking for my stuff.

On the way to Rogue, my car informed me that the promised cool front had indeed arrived.

I'd forgotten what cool weather felt like.

It’s been a while since the temperature started with a five.

When I got to Rogue, I realized I’d forgotten my Garmin. I usually collect all my gear in one place the night before, but I’d been so tired, obviously I forgot. And this morning I was kicking myself for it. I know some people recommend running tech-free now and then, but I’m kind of a nerd about collecting the data. D’oh.

S and I had some discussion about distance. We’re both coming off injuries and don’t want to do anything to jeopardize recovery, but we had already run a combined 11.7 miles last weekend (Zilker Relays and Frozen Hot Chocolate) and knew we could do better than the 3-5 most people were running today. Plus we are both participating in the Beat the Blerch virtual race next weekend–it’s a 10K/half/full but our goal is to complete the half.

My race kit came in the mail the other day–so much awesome!  

So we thought maybe we’d run seven today and 6.2 next Saturday–combined it’s a half marathon, but we also meet the 10K requirement on the actual day of the race. Either way, we would be legit.

Once we decided our distance, we headed out. I felt naked without my Garmin–I kept looking at my bare wrist like it could tell me something. Fortunately S had hers, so I knew when we were done I could take a picture of it for my own data-geekiness needs.

It has been a loooong time since the temperature started with a five, so we took advantage. After Thursday’s workout on the surface of the sun, today’s cool breeze and slight drizzle provided a welcome change. We kept a steady (albeit slow) pace to the water stop at the first mile, then the second. We took a water break at mile 2.5, then sort of ran-walked the next mile before turning around. We took it easy on the hills (again, trying not to provoke an injury recurrence) but ran the rest of it. Since I didn’t have my Garmin I was just running by feel–I know we were slow, but for once I didn’t feel like I was going to keel over and die from heat exhaustion.

The last half-mile, I finally felt good. I had a smooth cadence going on, nothing hurt, and things just clicked. It’s been a while since I felt that way, especially at the end of a long run, so I savored it. It’s only the middle of September, so this is not a permanent temperature change. But it was perfectly timed to help me feel some optimism after a summer of setbacks.

So I guess that answers the age-old philosophical question. Yes, my Garmin-less seven miles still count.