Tuesday, February 28, 2017

That butterfly in my throat

I remember when I finally was diagnosed with Graves' disease way back in my mid 20s. Once it was confirmed and my doctor and I decided on a course of treatment, I drove to the local middle school track and "ran" 2 miles. 

It was my first run in months. As I unknowingly became sicker and sicker, among other things, the muscles in my thighs and upper arms began to waste away. Even though I ran and worked out most days. One day I could run 10 miles. One day, I couldn't even run 1 mile. 

But when I understood that I was sick and that I would get well, I couldn't wait. And, so. I ran. 


It's my middle finger to the universe. It's my couch time with a therapist. It's my personal time with God. It's how I fight. It's how I survive. 

I did get better. Temporarily. What I didn't know then that I know now is that Graves' is an autoimmune disease. The best I could ever hope for was times of remission. My future held a confirmed diagnosis of Hashimoto's (Graves' partner in crime) and a possibility of a whole host of other potential autoimmune conditions. 

Graves' and Hashimoto's attack the thyroid. They are the most common autoimmune diseases and somewhere around 20-30 million people are affected. There are lots and lots of ideas about why people get Graves' and/or Hashimoto's. Genes. Environment. Diet. Stress. Inflammation. It's not fatal. It can be debilitating. It's not curable.

I see myself as one of the lucky ones. After two separate bouts with Graves', I spent nearly 20 years mostly symptom free. Even after my doctor told me I now had Hashimoto's, I was drug free and healthy.

But then. I wasn't.

The past 3 years have been an ongoing conversation with my doctors (who have always been my advocates) trying to get it right. 

I will be fine for a while. Then, not fine. We change my medication. Fine again. Then, not. 

This. This is typical for Hashimoto's patients. I am in no way special. The twist in my own situation is the Graves' that preceded. Sometimes I'm hyperthyroid. Sometimes I'm hypothyroid. 

These days...I live for the in-between.

Each time I "get sick," it's different. This time, it's been reminiscent of those days nearly 30 years ago when I was so tired I could hardly drive home from work.

This time, though, I refuse to stop running.

I will not surrender to the weakness. The fatigue. The sore muscles. The painful joints. The depression.

Just over a year ago, I ran a marathon.

Seven months ago, I ran an ultra.

Today, I can barely run 5 minutes at a time. Some days, even 3 minutes is almost too hard. Three miles feels like a marathon. It takes me 40 minutes.

Today, my doctor changed my medication. It will take about 2 weeks before I can really know if I am feeling "better."

Tomorrow, I will run/walk 3 miles. Even if it takes 50 minutes. Then, I will do it again. And again. And again.

Take that, universe.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My "off" season

The last triathlon I did was in 2015. Last year, I ran a marathon and relayed an ultra. Threw in a 5k here or there. I sold my bikes. I swam almost never. The new year is shaping up to be even less structured and more random.

Let's hear it for an "off" season that lasts two year. Or maybe more.

It's a little bit weird. I almost always have had something to train for. Something I wanted to train for. But, these days, if I even so much as consider anything resembling a training plan, I immediately become relcacitrant.

For the first time in forever, I am without structure. Without a goal. I run 3-4 days most weeks. Sometimes more. Most of those runs are an hour or less. Sometimes I do speed work. Sometimes I get on the treadmill so I can do "hill" repeats (no hills in south Florida). I use the neighborhood gym to lift weights once or twice a week. I even use the 20-yard neighborhood pool to swim laps when the mood strikes. I'm still without a bike, so my helmet and bike shoes languish in the closet.

However, as weird as it feels, it's probably for the best. In the past 6 1/2 years, I have, essentially, hit "restart" five times. After my world was turned upside down when Richard died (1), I quit my job and took a sabbatical for about 2 years (2), started a new, entirely different job (3), sold my house and either sold or gave away at least 50% of what I owned and moved into an apartment (4), sold or gave away most of the rest of what I owned and moved to Florida to be near family, specifically my parents, and started an entirely different job that is (I hope) only temporary (5). Soon (I hope), I will have a new, full-time job with benefits and my own place to live. At which point (I hope), I can settle down and stay in one place with a somewhat established pattern for a while.

And in an ironic twist, I recently turned down a job offer in St. Petersburg, FL, for a number of reasons, one of which was that I felt I should stay closer to my parents in the Palm Beach area. They then let me know that they are likely selling their home and moving, quite possibly, to the St. Pete/Tampa area. I'm not sure which hashtag is more appropriate... #facepalm or #knifetoheart

With all of that and an uncertain horizon, I
don't need the distraction of formal training for a planned race. It would probably be self defeating, and I want to feel good about my running and working out. I need to at least have that.

I know there is a path somewhere. It is certainly not straight. Right now, for me, it resembles the mountain biking trails in Ridgeland. But I am holding out for a stretch of path that is smooth and straight.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Big Butts Make the World Go 'Round

I only have myself to blame. 

"Never say never. Nothing is impossible..."

I had always viewed ultras as the one thing I would never do. I like long distance, but running one step beyond 26.2 miles? Nope.

However, after Christy and I had a delightful time strolling through the woods at the MS50 20k, and the Big Butts 100k advertised a 2-person relay option where each would run "only" 50k in increments of the team's choosing, I thought, "What the heck." As a team, we could alternate running the 10ish-mile loops (three times for each). And, for some reason, that just sounded so much more doable than running 50k consecutively.

One of the hallmarks of the Big Butts race is the
enormous pair of tighty whities in the swag bag.

So, I said to Christy, "Let's do it!" And she agreed.

Because training for a 50k during a Mississippi summer always sounds like a good idea.

By the time race day arrived, the venue had moved from the Butts Park mountain bike trails and the Choctaw cross-country course to the asphalt and sidewalks of the city of Jackson. The forecast had been for thunderstorms and somewhat cooler weather (and by "cooler," I mean low 90s), but the day dawned bright and sunny and temps at the 8:00 a.m. start were already in the 80s. 

After a fierce game of "rock-paper-scissors," I drew the first lap, and set off at the back of the pack, committed to sticking to my plan, knowing it was the only way I would finish. The plan was simple, born out of trying to train on hot, humid afternoons: run very slowly for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute. I carried Skratch in my water bottle that I sipped continuously and ate a gel about every 20 minutes. There was a well-stocked aid station about halfway through the loop, and I used that to refill.

I finished the first lap in just about 2 hours. Slow, yes, but I was nonetheless pleased with my pace. I had more than 20 more miles to go, and it was quickly turning into a very hot day with a "real feel" of over 100 degrees. 

While Christy was out on her first loop, I ate, drank, and changed clothes. Strategies, I am convinced, that really helped me get through the day. I had PB&J Uncrustables, Pringles, Coke, frozen Snickers. The race provided pickles, hot dogs, fruit, and lots of water. And I made sure I kept moving so I wouldn't get stiff.

Part of the race entry was diapers. It was like an inside joke.
The second loop started badly. I was worried. Maybe I wouldn't be able to finish. It was so hot. I got to the aid station and decided I needed to take a minute.

The volunteers were absolutely awesome! They were all running buddies, and they took care of anything we needed. They got water, food, and ice for me, and even texted Christy and Meg to let them know how I was doing. Truly, these events would not be possible without volunteers like them. 

After my minute (it might have been more like 10 or 15), I pulled myself together and mustered on. That second half of that second loop ended up being the best part of the whole day, I think. I managed to pick the pace up, it rained briefly, and I finished feeling pretty good.

Relatively, speaking.

Christy headed out, and I changed, ate, and drank to get ready for the last 10.4 miles. Our two middle loops were probably the hottest part of the day, so Christy struggled like I did, but made it back with plenty of time to spare, and then, all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other for 2 more hours. Another friend, Ken, joined me on the last loop for moral support...and quite honestly, his continuous chatting was a welcome distraction.

I don't remember many of the details of that last loop. Not many people were left on the course. Most of the starters, both individual and teams, had dropped out at this point. Ken and I managed to catch up to and actually pass another couple of ladies on relay teams. We walked a bit more than I had on the previous two loops...anything that resembled a hill. Breezed through the aid station, chafing at the bit, wanting to get it done.

Christy and me all smiles before the start.
And then. It was done. I rounded the corner. About 11 hours after we started and nearly 7 hours of running, I got back to John's front door. No official "finish line." No medal. But a bunch of really cool people congratulating me for completing a 50k.

It was pretty awesome.

But...I think it's a one-and-done kinda thing for me. Never again.

Never say never...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

2016 Houston Marathon Race Report

I've discovered that I have a short attention span with training. Which is kind of a challenge since I like the long stuff: half marathons, half ironman, and, sometimes, marathons and ironman. But, invariably, after about 12 weeks of following the plan, putting in the miles, running around the track, and hitting the gym, I lose focus, and it all becomes...meh.

I had 14 weeks from the time I finished Ryanman in October 2015 to the Houston Marathon (has it really been almost a year?...yeesh, time flies!). My base was good. My miles were where they needed to be. I just needed to focus only on running for a while.

It was (mostly) awesome. For about 12 weeks, that is. Then, it was Christmas. I was in Florida visiting my folks. Twenty miles on a steamy, early Sunday morning ended up as a painful 11. Nothing else during vacation was longer than about 6 miles. Too many other things to do...including sleeping in.

So, for that reason, among others, I headed to Houston with some trepidation. Even though I had managed to get some good runs in, I was unsure I would be able to run the full distance. I already knew my original goal of a Boston Q-time was not going to happen (has a lot to do with those other reasons). The handy-dandy McMillan Calculator had me at what seemed like a reasonable goal. But I was afraid. Worried. Really didn't want to go. Needed another month at least...

Luckily, this was a group effort, and I had with me, two good friends. One who had been running by my side since the first day of training and would run with me for the entire 26.2, her goal, my goal; giving up any chance at her own PR and a much faster time to run with me. The other, coming to support us during the race, holding all of our junk, passing gels to us, taking awesome pictures along the course, and running his own marathon+ just as a spectator.

The people in my life. I am lucky. I am a lonely person. By choice. By character and personality. But I have a "tribe" (as Meg would say) that is there for me when I need them...even if I don't know that I need them. And to all of them, thank you.

Turns out Houston is a pretty cool city, and the Houston Marathon is a top-notch event. I prefer smaller races. Being in the midst of 40,000 people kinda' gives me hives, but if I am there, I am grateful for race organizers who set it up so it doesn't seem too intense.

Race-day weather was perfect. Temperatures were in the 40s at the start, the sun was out, and there was little to no wind. Despite the gazillion people on the course, there were only a couple of spots that felt congested. The course is friendly and flat. At every single point for 26.2 miles, there are spectators...lots of them...cheering everyone on.
Thanks, Perter and Meg, for these pics! And thanks Meg's friend for the sign!

As we made our way into our corral, it occurred to me that marathons have become an event and a journey for people...more than an actual race. People were in costume, taking selfies, taking pictures of the crowd, the helicopter overhead. The music was loud and energizing. The announcer was loud and energizing. This was probably good for my brain. "Hey! It's just a traveling party! No big deal. It might be 26.2 miles...but it's just a party."

TMI alert. But, for me, an essential part of the race story. My standard long race M.O. is to pee every 5 minutes leading to the actual start and then one more time within the first couple of miles. I've always attributed it to nerves. I remain calm on the outside. My bladder becomes overwrought. However, I'm not exactly sure what happened on January 17, 2016, but I ended up having to pop into a porta-john four different times. Four. I'm convinced my finish time would have been at least 10 minutes faster if I hadn't been quite so well hydrated.

After that, though, the rest of the race was uneventful, and we were able to speed up a bit for a negative split overall. One of Meg's friends was on the latter part of the course and had signs with our names on them, which was cool since she had never even met me. Then, near the end, Peter jumped in with us and ran the last few miles before breaking off so he could meet back up with us in the Convention Center. 

Right before the finish, in a rare moment of extreme clarity, I killed Peter's cows. Sorry, Peter. (See, on the drive west from Mississippi to Texas, Meg and Peter introduced me to a driving game called, "My Cows." I learned from them that you claim your cows as you see them grazing peacefully in the fields, trying to have more cows than everyone else. If you see a graveyard, you can "kill" your competitors' cows. If you see a church, you can "save" your cows. I saw a graveyard during the last part of the marathon, and I decided that was an excellent time to continue the game we had begun two days prior.)

We got our medals, our finishers' shirts, our finishers' mugs, got in the car, and Peter drove us back to Mississippi. 

And that's the story of marathon #21.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

One Year Later

I just looked back at my last blog post. It has been one year. One. Full. Year. 

So much has changed. Yet so much remains the same. 

Three months ago, I left Mississippi. It was time. As much as I really hated to leave a job I loved and all of the wonderful people I have the privilege to call friends, my need and, more than that, my obligation to be closer to family convinced me I had to stop delaying the decision.

So, here I am, in Jupiter, Florida. Fifty-two and living with the 'rents. Most of my material life is in storage in Mississippi. When I changed my insurance information, the representative asked me if I was "renting or buying." I asked if she had a category for "freeloading."

But it really is the perfect set up for the moment. I have a part-time job tutoring at a private school, so I have some income while I look for permanent full-time employment. Plus, the beach is only a 10-minute drive. 

And I can scoot over to Tampa to see my sister and brother and their kids for the weekend anytime I want (or anytime they'll have me). I'm so excited for dance recitals, soccer games, and cross-country and track meets. 

And I'm excited to get to know my family again.

What has not changed is I'm still that girl trying to find her place in the world. I'm still a runner (on hiatus from triathlon...I sold my bikes), and I still like juxtaposing the "great" and "deep" questions of life against my athletic endeavors. 

In any case, this blog will pick up again and continue as a personal memoir of sorts as I try to figure out whether I am at a crossroads or a dead end. So, stay tuned, as I do a little review of the past year, my marathon, my first (and likely only) ultra, and KC's newfound love for the beach.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Hit the trails

This particular post comes from a column I wrote more than 10 years ago for the Fredericksburg Area Running Club's newsletter. I came across it recently when searching for samples I could use for a potential writing opportunity. It immediately made me think of Samantha and her dog, Rusty. We ran 1,000s of miles on those trails over many years. Then, it made me think of Christy, who is new to trail running and loves it as much as Samantha and I did. So, ladies...this one's for you.
It’s a Sunday morning, and I’ve missed the regular group of early-morning long runners. So, I resign myself to running on my own this cool spring morning, and I set off through the Lee Drive trails, which are still pretty bare.

There’s a lot to be said for running with a friend or a group, especially on those really long runs where the company helps to make time pass less painfully. On the other hand, though, I truly enjoy the times I am alone with my thoughts, tempered by my own breathing and modulated by the rhythm of my stride.

Today is no exception. The sun is shining (finally), the air is cool but not cold (finally), and there’s a light breeze that smells like spring (turned earth, mulch, clean laundry). My thoughts wander and then scatter as the past week and its tribulations rush through my head and off my shoulders. I’m relaxing as the initial jolt of the effort of running wears off, and I settle into a comfortable lope.

I don’t know what it is about trail running, but I always feel faster, taller, stronger. Today, I am Joanie Samuelson, and my legs are eating up the miles, with little effort. Today, all things are possible. I can run a personal best at the next race, finally breaking through my own barriers. This year, I will run my fastest marathon, qualify for Boston and maybe even win an age group award or two.

As I zip by the trees, my possibilities expand: I will finish my 20-page paper today, complete with annotated bibliography, and then I will get an early start on my heavy load at work. During my spare time this week, I will paint the kitchen and finish that cross-stitch project I’ve been working on for five years. I will plan a month’s worth of dinner menus, go to the grocery store, do all the laundry, and still have time to read that overdue library book.

TRIP! CRASH! THUD! Ouch! Damn root!

And reality settles back in. Well, okay, maybe I won’t accomplish all those things, but in the meantime, when I’m not tripping over an errant root, I am the fastest biped on the trails.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Marathon Training - Week 1

Total Miles: 30.4
Long Run: 14 miles

It's been 3 years since my last standalone marathon. That doesn't count Ironman Lake Placid 2 years ago because, well, those 26.2 miles are vastly different than the 26.2 miles you do without the swim and bike. And the training is vastly different.

I thought I might "chronicle" my training for my 19th (or 21st, depending on how you look at it) marathon here. It will be interesting to see how it goes, and if I can successfully stick to my plan and come out the other end satisfied with my effort. 

I have 14 weeks to get ready for Houston. I would love a 4-hour marathon. My body and the training I have been able to do to this point tell me that likely is not possible this time. The training plan I am following, however, accommodates my need for more recovery time and easy miles, but it also includes interval work, hill repeats, tempo runs, pace runs, and the like. Total mileage will max out around 40, and I'll do three 20-mile runs. (I have a "fun" run planned for that last 20-miler.)

This whole thing is an experiment. It's the first time in many, many years that I have trained myself for a marathon. It's the first time I've done a marathon while having to manage my Hashimoto's. It's the first time I've done a marathon as an officially over-the-hill person (got the word from my doctor just a couple of weeks ago).

I'm playing a lot of it by ear, using my heart rate monitor for some guidance, and being flexible with what I need to do to say healthy.

Week 1 went perfectly. I managed all five runs, including a set of hill repeats and a 20-minute tempo run. The 14-miler was done with run/walk intervals and was hard, but ended up being better than I had anticipated. 

I decided to do the long runs as run/walk (right now, 10 minutes running/30 seconds walking) because it occured to me that my most successful marathons in the last 10 years were run/walk. In the last few, I ended up falling apart at the end because, I believe, I attempted to run most of the entire marathon. So, no more of that. Run/walk will also help me recover more quickly from the long stuff.

The last 3 marathons I pretty much trained for and ran by myself. This time, I have running partners. We are committed to training together, at least the long runs, whenever we can. And I'm kind of excited for when we actually run the marathon. I hope that we can stay together for the entire race. The last time I did that was 10 years ago. (Egads.)

The first run of Week 2 is today. Just an easy 3 miler with some cadence drills. Need to work on my fast feet.