Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Race Report: Pensacola Marathon

The cough started out in standard fashion. I managed to catch a minor end-of-summer cold that left me with the normal, lingering cough. It wasn't a bad cough. Nothing like the chest rattling, ab-ripping bronchitis coughs I've occasionally had in the past. More of a nagging, dry cough that would wax and wane and sometimes send me into an exhausting paroxysm that would make me wonder if it was something more than "just a cough." At one point, I looked up "walking pneumonia." But I wasn't feeling too bad, the cough, at that point, seemed to be on the mend, and the information on WebMD said that it can resolve itself. I really didn't think that's what I had, though, and I variously thought it was allergy related or an onset of exercise induced asthma, as the worst seemed to occur after I ran. And it didn't seem to affect my running. Sure, I was extra tired some days, but I figured that was because the cough was in one of its "active" phases and had kept me up basically all night. 


About a week and a half before the Pensacola Marathon, I decided that a cough that lasts nearly 3 months and doesn't actually get better was probably something more than just a "nagging" problem. The cough was definitely on an upward trend and getting worse. Plus, my back, under my shoulder blades, was really beginning to ache. Sleep was next to impossible, and none of the OTC cough meds did anything at all (except knock me out until I started coughing again).

Time to go to the doctor. Except. Except I had a marathon coming up, and I didn't want (1) the doctor to tell me not to run and/or (2) to be taking medication that might interfere with my performance.

(I still had myself convinced the cough wasn't affecting my performance. Funny how we can spin a little fairytale for ourselves if we think it's necessary and believe it. It's not like I'm stubborn...)

So, as I packed up for my trip to Pensacola, I told myself that I would go to the clinic when I got back.

I had been feeling good about this marathon...unlike the previous 2, I felt as if I had done a good job with my training, and while I didn't anticipate a PR performance, I was confident I could run faster than I had last year.

Any other day, maybe.

By the time I got to Pensacola, got checked in, and settled into my room, I was feeling pretty peaked. I had decided to eschew cough medicine and ended up suffering all night long. I woke up with a mild headache and a lot of fatigue. I was desperately hoping that, as I got ready, I would start waking up, find some energy, and just feel better. Mo and jo, where are you when I need you?

I wanted to cry at the start. I already knew that this wasn't the day for me to run a marathon.

It was a breezy day that started mild but promised to warm up to the 70s. There was on and off cloud cover; that, along with an early 6 a.m. start helped ensure most folks finished before it got too warm. For me, the temperature wasn't much of an issue, as long as I remembered to drink enough. I'm used to warmer weather and I actually like it.

The Pensacola Marathon course is surprisingly (to me) un-scenic and includes a good bit of climbing up a couple of long hills in the first several miles. After running the Double Bridge Run in February, I guess I expected a bit more of the course to be along the bay. And the city of Pensacola is really pretty, but only the last part went through the town...and really, at that point, whose looking at scenery? At one point, as we ran past a sign that said, "Pensacola Scenic Bluffs," someone said something about the scenery. I never saw it. Maybe if I had been feeling better, I would have noticed the more attractive aspects of the course. Not that it's a bad course. I think it's probably good for a fast marathon. For a small race, it's very well supported by both volunteers and spectators. Just don't go thinking you get to run along the beach.

In any case, I struggled in the first few miles to keep my heart rate down. Even though that's where the majority of the hills were, my heart rate was definitely higher than it should have been. After a bathroom break that took a few minutes, it was still way up. I finally had to take an extended walk break, which seemed to calm it down and keep it down for a while. But perceived effort did not equate to actual heart rate/pace. I felt as if I was working too hard. 

At mile 7, the marathoners and the half marathoners split, and the marathoners head out on an 8ish mile loop. I seriously considered just following the half marathon course. But I couldn't do it. That would be like quitting, right? 

(It seems I have spent a good part of the last 2 1/2 years trying very hard not to quit.)

So, I turned right and tried to convince myself that I was feeling better and could pick up the pace. And I did. For a little while. I lasted till about mile 12 or 13. The jig was up. I wasn't coughing, but my back ached something fierce, my feet hurt, and I just felt awful. By mile 16, I was coughing. I took off my heart rate monitor strap to try and ease some of the discomfort around my back. I stuck it in the back pocket of my running skirt and figured I would finally see my heart rate numbers go down. Hah. Apparently, I have a strong pulse in my ass. The average basically stayed the same for the rest of my run jog slog.

More than anything, I just wanted to stop. But, when you are out there solo, with no one expecting you to finish, it's hard to pull the plug. How was I going to get back? There wasn't anyone I could call to come get me. I'm sure race support would have come for me, but how long would I have to wait? I didn't want to hang out and get chilled in the wind for some indefinite amount of time.

Keep moving forward. Walk. Run 200 steps. Walk some more. Run 200 steps; keep running; get to the next mile marker. Walk. Play tag with two other runners. Run some more. Eight more miles; 10k to go; only 5 more miles. Four miles...less than most training runs. The wind, which had been a headwind at the beginning, changed directions, so it was also a headwind for the last couple of miles, as well. Sweet.

Finally, nearly 5 hours after I started, I was at the finish line. Happy to be there. Not crying. Too tired to even cough. Got some food. Got a beer. Copped a squat. Afraid if I were to lie down, I might not get up. Walked back to the hotel. Decided that it was really, really dumb to run that marathon.

After coughing all night again, I headed home, picked up the pup, and drove myself to the clinic. It was a holiday, so pretty busy, but the wait wasn't too bad. Had a nice visit with the doctor. He didn't chastise me for running the marathon, so I think I like him. Took 4 vials of blood. X-rayed my chest. I am exceptionally healthy. Except I have a stupid cough. When all the obvious gets ruled out, consider mycoplasma, or "walking pneumonia." I guess it's somewhat of a pain to actually test for this bacterial infection and easier to treat it with antibiotics. If it goes away, then probably that's what it was. I went back to WebMD to review the symptoms:

  • Cough that may come in violent spasms but produce very little mucus (check)
  • Mild flu-like symptoms like fever and chills (nope)
  • Sore throat (nope)
  • Headache (check)
  • Tiredness (check)
  • Lingering weakness that may persist after other symptoms go away (nope)
  • The entry also noted that OTC flu and cough medicines don't help much with the symptoms (no kidding)
Fifty percent chance, I guess. 

In addition to the antibiotic, the doctor prescribed a corticosteroid inhaler, just in case it was actually the result of some sort of extreme allergic reaction. Really, he was just trying to cover the bases and rule out the "easy" stuff before referring me to a pulmonologist.

Well, it took nearly the entire 5 days of the z-pack, but the cough finally subsided, and I started sleeping at night. I no longer feel as if I have to take a nap every afternoon, and I am waking up at a normal time, mostly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. 

I've enjoyed a rest after the marathon. A full week off, and very light, easy workouts these next weeks. I am enjoying being somewhat unstructured, but looking forward to getting back into a training cycle soon. My next marathon will come at the end of a 112-mile bike ride. I may try for that standalone PR again in the fall, but am reserving deciding on that until after July 28th.

So, marathon #19 ranks as one of my slowest and most painful. Each and every one is an experience...a learning experience. This lesson: don't ignore the cough.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Horses' Names

Mystic. Golden Boy. Desert Fox. Lil’ Bit. Cevahir. Ceylon. Kelebek. City Player.
I remember the name of every single horse that was part of our family. I may not remember my friend’s name from pre-school, but I know that my mom and dad rode horses named Mystic and Golden Boy when we lived in Oklahoma. 

Then, my dad had a horse named Desert Fox when we lived in Monterey, California. Desert Fox was stabled at Fort Ord. I remember this, and I wasn’t even old enough or big enough to ride, yet.

When I was 9 and 10, we moved back east and Dad was stationed at Quantico. I finally started taking riding lessons at the stables on base. My riding instructor was Major Meek. I rode horses named Da Nang, Montezuma, and Fubachi. I took my first fall when Da Nang decided he had enough of the horse show and took off at full speed for the stables.

Dad got orders to the embassy in Turkey and, in preparation, we moved back to Monterey so he could go to language school. He bought a sweet, chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Lil’ Bit and kept her in beautiful Big Sur. She will always be “my” first horse.

We moved to Turkey and lo’ and behold, it is horse country. They love their horses. The American base in Ankara had stables. We first acquired Cevahir. A lovely, liver chestnut, Arabian-Thoroughbred stallion. He was a retired racehorse (racing was a big deal) and a direct descendant of KuruĊŸ, the Turkish equivalent to our Man O’ War or Secretariat. Shortly after we arrived, a retired colonel from the Turkish Calvary came to manage and teach at the stables. Ahmet Bey. He had been the Turkish national champion in dressage many times over and had trained for a time in Germany. He remains, to this day, the most amazing rider I have ever seen.

Cevahir was an incredible horse who taught me so much. On him, I learned dressage basics. I jumped over my first 5-foot fence (with my eyes closed, I’m sure). I blew up in frustration on more than one occasion, and he always forgave me.

My brother started to get into riding, and as I was not willing to share my beloved Cevahir, my parents bought Ceylon. Ceylon was the quintessential Arabian. Petite, beautiful dished face, big brown eyes with long lashes, perfect ears, high tail carriage, all wrapped up in a dynamo package.

I rode a lot of the other horses at the barn, as well. There was Ceverhan, Zeynip, and Bebek. And then, there was Kelebek. While most of the horses were long-term residents, passing from one ex-pat family to the next, Kelebek was a new arrival. She was a baby—a mere 3 years old when she arrived—and, unlike the Arabian or Arabian-Thoroughbred backgrounds of the other horses, she was all Thoroughbred. A bright bay with perfect black points and the only white, a little upside down question mark on her nose. She was goofy. I rode her some when her owner was out of town or unable. She dumped me nearly every single time. Not my favorite horse. Initially, at least.

Then, I fell in love, and Kelebek became a part of our family for a while. On Kelebek, I learned how to school a young, green horse. How to stay on when said young, green horse decided to buck and romp with joy. Kelebek in Turkish means, “butterfly.” Aptly named, this horse.

When we moved back to the States, we had to leave Kelebek behind. It broke my heart, but I know others were able to delight in her joie de vive.

Back in Virginia, I returned to the stables at Quantico and Major Meek’s tutelage. Da Nang was still there and still a favorite of the beginners. I rode Sir Winston, Punkin, and, sometimes, this crazy horse named, City Player. One day, City Player came to live with us at the barn in Aquia Harbour. My dad and I spent the next 2 years trading off who took morning barn duty, and it was there that I learned all about "hands on" care for horses: stall cleaning, feeding, horse cleaning, vet care, farrier, tack cleaning. I felt as if I lived at the barn, and I was perfectly content with that.

Then, I was off to college and City was off to a different barn where his temporary owner kept him (we leased him initially, and while it seemed like a good idea, now, in hindsight, I think he would have been better off if we had sold him outright). By my junior year, I had discovered a nearby show barn and got a job as a stablehand/groom. Funny that I don't remember many of the horses' names there…maybe because I didn't ride them? They all had fancy show names anyway, but the couple of barn names I remember were Sven and Squid. I ended up having City brought up to school, and it was great for a while. But toward the end of my senior year, it sorta' fell apart as I got ready to graduate and kind of forgot I had a horse to take care of. In the end, he stayed there, and I went home. It's one of those things that I look back at and am horribly ashamed with how I treated a trusting animal that was supposedly under my care.

Maybe that's why it's taken me so long to "return to my roots." I was always an equestrian--long before I was a runner, gymnast, swimmer, or triathlete. Of all the sports I have participated in, I always felt as if I was a better horseback rider than I was anything else.

And so, here I am, some 25 years later, taking riding lessons again. Riding horses named Rowdy, Laddie, Duo, Woodrow, and Bentley. I even rode Cody Pony once. They all live in a beautiful barn in Mississippi with Stainless, Boppie, Lily, Desi, Monty, Ethel, and Prince. I share them with the Mississippi College equestrian team, and just like those young girls, I canter around the ring, jump a few fences, and I dream of one day owning my own horse…again.