Jelly donuts

I’ve been quiet lately. After my second failure to launch (DNS) 50k at the end of May, I just really needed a break both physically and mentally. I took some time off from fitness entirely. Sometime during that month off I decided that I wasn’t going to spend this summer training again. I’ve put in a lot of hard work in the past 3 summers, suffered through some disappointing setbacks, and I’m just tired. I’m tired of trying to fit in the miles during the week, tired of spending an entire day of my weekend training, tired of missing birthday parties, and other such events. I miss my friends. I miss being invited to things. I’m really over talking about training or my injuries and realizing as I am speaking that I am the most annoying and boring person on the planet when I talk about these things (and only these things). Anywho, I debated writing this blog, but I know that future Brandi is going to be pissed if I don’t. So here I am.

I got an MRI on my lower back on Friday and today I got the results.

L4-L5 and L5-S1 broad based central disc protrusions, moderate degenerative changes in associated facet joints, mild stenosis and decreased disc space.

Translation: The jelly donuts in my spine are a little squishy and about to spill their filling. The impending doom is compressing some of my nerves which could and probably does explain some if not all of the nerve issues in my feet.

So I have mixed emotions. I want to be so angry with myself for not getting an MRI back in the winter of 2015 when all this started. Who knows what kind of damage I have done with continuing to train for two 50ks. Who knows how much sooner I could have been recovered from this damn jelly donut situation had I only had a clear picture from the start. But the past is not something I can change so now I’ve said it and I’m not going to focus on it. It’s time to just move forward.

I’m also kinda bummed that this isn’t something that will heal. Like ever. While it is true I may be able to get strong enough to be asymptomatic, my donuts are forever screwed. They will be looming like that one grey cloud off the coast during your beach day. But we can’t let that grey cloud control us, right? Right. So we continue to barbecue and hope it doesn’t rain. As a Florida girl from a family of southerners, I do love me the beach and some barbecue.

But the good far outweighs those potentially minor negatives. As I mentioned, I am tired of training. I want to spend my summer with friends and not feeling pressured about getting out the door before it feels like I am running on the sun. I’ve started with a new trainer that I really like and am establishing good trust with and am really enjoying getting stronger and learning how to lift. He is also working with my awesome chiropractic doctor on my strength protocol. (I feel so super blessed to have such amazing, smart, and caring people taking care of me, btw.) I went back to the rock climbing gym last week and got to spend time doing something I love that I haven’t done in many years with a friend that I haven’t gotten consistent quality time with since before she moved to Berlin for a year. I’ve also been working with a nutritionist–also my chiropractor and voice of reason in big training decisions for over a year–to help me safely reduce my body fat and get me back down to a more reasonable weight. (I know weight can be controversial, but I have my own personal reasons based on health and injury prevention.)

The thought of spending the next few months getting stronger and leaner, lifting, and bouldering sounds like an amazing vacation to me. I think that when and if I go back to endurance running, my approach will be much different. And I’m really excited to take all that I am learning from my focus on nutrition and strength back to my athletes. I would love to run another a marathon some day and would love to tackle that 50k distance, but for the first time probably ever in my life I feel patient. Like Granddaddies says, “Time, patience, and perseverance conquers all things.” I’ve always struggled with the patience part, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.

Failure to launch

“If I were to end up in the hospital on my death bed tomorrow, I would regret never seeing the Grand Canyon.”

I said that seven years ago during a discussion about life and direction. That moment snowballed and a year later my life was completely different. I was on my way to NYC–single and unemployed for the first time in 4 years. I’ve thought about that moment and those words a million times since then. It was a moment of clarity as much as it was a declaration of truth.

To be honest, I probably put too much emotional weight on this trip and this race. I made it into this monumental life moment. I even had this plan to get words from my Granddaddies’ favorite saying tattooed on me in his handwriting after I finished the race. Those words that have guided me most of my life, “time, patience, and perseverance conquers all things” will guide me again now. If only I had more time to be able to nurse my poor sick baby back to health before I had to leave. I can change many things, but not time–and patience has always been my hardest lesson. But I know it will all be okay because for some reason the perseverance comes naturally. Perhaps it’s all the practice I have had.

All of this is to say that I will not be running Grand Canyon 50k nor will I be taking the trip out there. It’s a large, tough pill to swallow letting go of not only the race after my second training cycle attempting to get to that distance, but knowing that I also won’t finally get to make that trip. I believe it is the right decision, though. I wish it didn’t feel so difficult or dramatic. But the fact is that this trip and this race have become so important to me that it feels like something that needs to be mourned. I will be patient and persevere, and know that in time I will eventually conquer my 50k. I will have my Grand Canyon moment.

Wild and free

I don’t intend for the Distance Traveled Endurance to become in any way political, but I will say this–I believe in inclusion. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I believe that for the most part people are inherently good and that love, positiveness, and inclusion is a better approach than hate, negativity, and exclusion. I believe that caring support is the best way to cultivate growth and success. I also believe that problems are solved by listening to all sides and facilitating a plan and solution that encompasses all, not some information and circumstances. A plan or solution that does not take into account all of the information and circumstances is doomed to fail eventually.

No matter your politics, I hope that you can remain open, positive, and inclusive. I hope that you will take the time to truly listen to people without judgement and be open–not defensive. I hope that you will take the time to realize that we are all connected and that the world is a complex place full of all kinds of intricate connections. And that we all have an opportunity every day to influence our environment in a positive or negative way. I truly believe that no matter your politics, you want the best for yourself, your loved ones, and the world as a whole, and that even if we may differ in our perspectives on how to get “there” we can coexist and respect each other.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

As a coach and fellow human who cares about you, I really hope that through challenging times you are able to take good care of yourself. I had someone when I was younger ask me, “If you were on a plane that was crashing, would you put the oxygen mask on yourself or your loved one first?” At the time, I had never traveled on a plane so I didn’t have the benefit of the flight attendants safety briefing and answered, “my loved one” which of course is the wrong answer. You put it on yourself first so that you can stay alert and help others. If you pass out, you are no help to anyone. It’s a great metaphor for self care and one that has stuck with me for over 20 years. Please remember to put your “oxygen mask” on first–self care is so important. It’s very easy to neglect nutrition and replace healthy stress relief like exercise with unhealthy things when we become stressed or fatigued.

In my recent travels and adventures, I have had opportunities to at least partially if not completely disconnect and immerse myself in activity and nature. I truly believe that nature is one of the best medicines. As a matter of fact, there is science to back up that being in nature has mental health benefits. (Google “Nature is the best medicine” or similar for studies.) In today’s modern society we are hyper-connected and bombarded with information all the time. It’s really important to give your brain time away from the internet, television, and other digital noise and just “be” so that it can process everything and reset itself.

And in my humble opinion, it’s always great to get into the wilderness and cross paths with all of the other life that shares the planet with us and the processes that support us–like plants that filter our air, the cycle of organics returning to the Earth once they have expired, and the outdoor community which always seems to be open to a “hello” on the trail. In the end, we all have to share our time on this planet together. It’s our choice as to whether we help facilitate that being a positive experience or a negative one for ourselves and our global family.

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When running isn’t therapy

Sunday morning I awoke to the same horrible news as you probably did. While I was sleeping, a man entered a gay club in my hometown of Orlando and opened fire killing 49 people. I was devastated. And concerned for my friends. I decided that I would go ahead and get in my 14 mile trail run. As I headed to the trail via subway, I had time to think. The more I thought, the more upset I became. The longer it took for friends to check in, the more concerned I became. By the time I hit the trail, I was a mess of emotions and choking back tears. I spent the next 3 hours stopping every 5-10 minutes to check my phone. I was checking to see if my friends had checked in okay, but at the same time was fielding replies to some of my posts calling for friends to please stop blaming guns at this sensitive moment and shift their attention to supporting the LGBT community which, for good reason, was reeling. My emotions went to some very dark and painful places on that trail.

I have not run since that morning. I just haven’t had the motivation. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been trying to process this insanity and have been grieving for my communities–both Orlando and the LGBT community. It is a “cut back” week in terms of mileage so I’m not really doing any damage aside from losing some conditioning. But when I think about running now, especially when I think about returning to that trail this weekend, I cringe a little. It’s like the trauma of that morning is now directly associated with running. I’ve had this happen before to a much lesser degree when I’ve had an exceptionally horrible run, but never to the point to where I start to question if I want to run again. Yes, in the past day, I have questioned whether I want to run again. Despite knowing that the best possible thing I could probably do for myself right now is get out there and work through this and make running my safe space again, my therapy.

And this is why I love running. I questioned whether I should follow my Saturday post with this because they both likely read fairly negative, but I think it’s important to document these emotions. This is all a part of the journey of being a runner for me. A part of my distance traveled. I don’t run to win races or even PR. I run because of how it changes me. How it makes me stronger not just physically, but mentally. I run because it allows me to know myself better, to help me acknowledge aspects of myself that I may not have otherwise realized, and to push through perceived limits. I run because it makes me a better me.

Vulnerability

This morning was tough. I had a pretty crazy week after a packed weekend and I woke up this morning after 9 hours of sleep, exhausted and full of doubt about my 14 mile long run. I did 14 miles last weekend, but it was along a towpath and this week I was going to be hitting the Long Path which is more technical (though not very at parts) with much more up and down than I did last week. In addition, it was going to be heating up pretty quickly and with a storm on the horizon for early afternoon the humidity was high, too. I made the call to flip my runs opting for 5 miles this morning and 14 tomorrow when it should be much cooler and I have another night to bank more sleep.

I actually ended up going back to sleep for an hour and a half this morning after getting up and eating. I had some friends running a 10K and had set up tracking, but a few minutes after the start had passed out. Upon awaking, I realized I had missed all of their finishes and felt like a jerk. Then I saw their times. I struggled during a 3.2 race last week that I had unexpectedly decided to race and some of them did quite well and at almost double the distance. It was late enough in the morning that other friends were posting about their long runs that they hadn’t decided to skip. I was feeling pretty low and like a failure. And the last thing I wanted to do was run. Especially now that it was late morning and the heat of the day was setting in. Luckily a friend was available to run with me and willing to take it much slower than she typically does so the 5 miles ended up being not as miserable as they could have been.

It’s interesting to me, mornings like these. I like to think that I don’t care what others do because all of my goals are personal and not externally driven, but I can’t help to look at my peers–especially those who I have typically been aligned with in regards to performance–and use them as some form of a measuring stick at times. I know my training and goals are completely different as is my life, but when it comes to being critical it is certainly easy for me to feel badly when I don’t measure up despite the reasons. I am training for my first 50k for goodness sakes and recovering from an injury that kept me from running for a month. Sometimes it is hard to keep things in perspective. And if I am being completely honest, I am still not 100% confident that I can even complete the training plan that I have selected for myself. It scares me a little. (Which is part of why I picked it.)

“Teams would be advised to put their strongest runner on this leg of Hood to Coast. Leg Nine’s runner encounters a scene from the Great Dustbowl in his or her second stage, and the third stage is eight miles long, which is, well, just plain long. Stamina, fortitude, and confidence are essential for this runner.”

I saw this in a blog post and texted it to a good friend (who is also a badass runner) in regards to my legs for Hood to Coast. Oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned yet that is happening. I got an offer to join a team last weekend and took them up on it. I asked to be runner #9 based on mileage without realizing the difficulty of the individual legs. (I will post soon about this particular race so don’t worry if you don’t have all the context.) Anywho, this person told me that not only am I the strongest runner in our van, but on our team. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but it made me realize something. Despite knowing that I am strong based on my own circumstances, I in no way have confidence that I am the truly strong especially in comparison to others. And I would say for the most part, I think everyone else is way more badass and strong than me. With all of my silly little health issues, injuries, and peculiarities, I sometimes feel like this frail bird or like I need to overcome being this frail bird. I totally discount the fact that it is exactly what makes me strong. If there is anything that I can do, it is persevere. And I think tenacity is one of my strongest qualities. (Tenacious B!) But it’s that deficit that makes me feel like I am always operating from that plays games with my head. I am starting behind y’all, not with, so I will always be behind.

This is something that I have identified as needing to be worked on and I find myself in the unique position of coaching myself here. What would I do if an athlete were to have similar issues? How would I help them to realize not just how strong they are, but how to disassociate that with their perceived deficit? I don’t have the answers yet, but I do know that this will make me a better an athlete and coach.

My morning run

I really did not want to run this morning. It started last night. I needed to get to bed a little earlier than usual because of morning calls being shifted to an hour earlier. I woke up this morning and my friend who was going to run with me bailed. I knew I had 60 minutes on my schedule and I really wanted it to be just 30 minutes. Or better yet, zero. Most of my run clothes are dirty and I didn’t feel motivated to hand wash last night so I ended up wearing my least favorite shorts, sports bra, and a pair of holey socks. I dallied around the house taking much longer to get ready than needed and almost cut it so close that I couldn’t get in the full 60 minutes. As I stepped out into the brisk morning, I realized that I forgotten my sunglasses. I put on my 80s playlist and walked towards my start.

My heart rate was high as I started. My performance condition indicator popped up and said “-7 Poor.” I almost used both as an excuse to turn around and go home or cut the run short. But I stuck with it at a painfully slow pace and slowly took in the morning. It was gorgeous this morning. Blue skies and 52 degrees. I made it all the way to the ball field which I have only done once or twice since my injury. I smiled to myself as I ran over chalked traffic lines with arrows that some kids had drawn on the sidewalk next to the playground. “New York kids” I thought to myself, “already know and trying to enforce sidewalk courtesy.” I was running in the Hasidic area of Williamsburg and there were lots of kids and men out. I passed a little girl sitting on a stoop and she stared at me I ran by. I love running by little girls. I am always secretly hoping that they see a woman running alone and free and it impacts them some positive way.

Got to my turnaround point then headed back. My legs felt a little lighter and my heart rate seemed a little easier to maintain. Peter Murphy serenaded me, “Can you feel the light? The air is wild, open…” I run passed some construction workers and not one make a comment. I own this morning. My turtle pace starts to feel empowering. I stop by a waterfront park for some water and there a bunch of dogs running free and playing.

As I start to head through a retail area, I can see the area is now bustling with people heading to work or to grab coffee or whatever it is that people do at 8am on Tuesday morning in the fancy part of the neighborhood. I see a woman in a Maserati pulling out from her luxury waterfront building. I realize how easy 45 minutes has passed. I’m so in my head that I don’t even notice that the man jogging towards me is Larry David. He passes me and I turnaround in disbelief. “Did that just happen?! Is Larry David a runner?” I think to myself. If it wasn’t him, he has a doppelganger. My heart rate goes crazy and then recovers. As I turn to head back towards my apartment, I think to myself about how gorgeous of a morning that it is and how New York City is so much more beautiful when things are green.

Last mile. I feel great. As I make my way through my last mile, across busy morning intersections I have a hard time slowing down. I’m so glad that I pushed myself out the door. I stop in the coffee shop to be greeted by my favorite barista. She confirms that I’ll take my regular–a decaf americano with 3 shots. She adds the 4th shot for me. ❤ I get back home just in time to get setup for my morning call. I dial in and greet my colleagues in India with a boisterous, “Good evening! It’s Brandi!” My energy catches even me off-guard.

As I take my first call of the day, my skin is buzzing. My head feels clear. I have a little bit of a run buzz going on. And I think about how I could have skipped my run this morning. I could have cut it short. But I got my butt out the door and I can’t say for certain, but I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t feel as amazing as I do now had I not.

60 minutes easy running on this gorgeous morning. My heart rate was high this morning so I took this one really easy and slow. Avg pace: 11:26. Avg HR: 141.

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How injury is making me a stronger athlete

So we all know the story by now, right? It started with a pain in the neck about two weeks after the marathon and then a sneeze at the beginning of January that set me back again. It’s been a crazy few months trying to balance my recovery–physical therapy, acupuncture, rest–with the rest of my life including a challenging project at work and several other leadership position responsibilities in other groups. Add to that being a new coach with 2 athletes and I have plenty on my plate!

So how in the heck is this injury making me stronger?

  1. Being injured is a tough mental game. And I’m not just talking about the frustration of dropped races, missed runs with friends, and feeling like all my training gains from my marathon training cycle are withering away. Not being able to workout and especially run, changes your brain. No workout endorphins, no familiar form of stress relief, and a total disruption of routine will have physical effects, for sure. Add a little bit of a feeling of a loss of identity on top of uncertainty of when full recovery will happen and training can resume and there was a lot to wade through all at once. It wasn’t all bad and I did enjoy my social life a bit more, but I did find myself feeling more stressed than usual. In the past couple weeks I have definitely noticed a mental shift as I learned how to adapt. Maybe not so coincidentally, my recovery had a sharp upturn in progress when than mental shift happened!
  2. Consistency in strength and conditioning. During marathon training, I was getting in strength and conditioning about twice a week for at least 45 minutes each session. My physical therapy calls for 10-15 minutes of stretching every morning and evening with a few minutes here and there throughout the day. Additionally, I have 30-45 minutes of strength exercises to get in every day: single leg balances, 60 squats, 60 weighted lunges, 60 single leg bridges, several different core exercises in multiple sets, some weighted upper body work. It was a lot to keep up with. But I learned that I can do strength work every day and it’s not too much. It was also great mental training on the days I just didn’t want to do it. This was especially true for days that work erupted or other life stuff seemed to compete. There were days I had to dig really deep into the motivation well to get that strength workout in! And the results are apparent both in my increased strength and my body composition.
  3. Adding cross-training to the mix. During marathon training, I was also supposed to be getting in 1-2 non-impact cardio (spinning or elliptical) workouts each week. I hate the gym and riding my bike in the city freaks me out. Needless to say, I made it out for 2 cycling sessions at the start of my training cycle then quickly forgot about the 1-2 cross-training days. My physical therapist only wanted me doing elliptical and walking on a treadmill for awhile so I had to work past my gym anxiety if I wanted to recover. I signed up for the rec center gym around the corner from my apartment and have been twice in the past week. When I get back to training, I plan to keep the elliptical and stair climber in my routine at least twice a week.

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    I’ve been cleared for elliptical and short run/walk intervals so this morning I signed up for 6 months at the local gym and hopped on the elliptical. Followed that up with 30 minutes of strength and 15 minutes of yoga/stretch. I feel like a totally new person. Not training has been TOUGH. Much tougher than actually training!
  4. Letting go of expectations. For the first 2 months of injury, I was pushing to get back to training–sometimes to the detriment of my recovery. After the sneeze, I resigned myself to taking my time and removing expectations. My desire to plan my entire year’s race schedule (including goal times) faded and I became comfortable with the idea of just getting better and being able to run short distances. My physical therapist told me I can probably train for a Fall marathon, but I’m not even looking. I know there is still plenty of time to figure it out. I can figure out my goals as my recovery progresses. There is no need to declare my goals months or even weeks in advance.
  5. Getting back to basics — and appreciating them. A few years ago, I never thought I would run again. That first and second year back I was just so excited about every small goal — a 5 mile run, finishing my first half marathon. Last year I had a really great year full of PRs, heavy training, and a marathon. When I crossed the line at NYC Marathon, I felt like a real runner and athlete. I was so proud that I felt great for most of the race and was able to make my last mile my fastest. I was ready to push myself to the next, bigger goal. Being injured and not being able to do anything for awhile has reminded me of what a gift it is to be able to run. (Or just workout, for that matter.) To have a body that is able and mind that is willing to move is truly a blessing.
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First time running since New Year’s Eve. Only 2-3 lanes cleared on the track after last weekend’s storm. This was mostly walking, only 10 of the 30 minute workout was running and it was only 1 minute intervals. I’ll start increasing my run intervals until I get to 30 minutes of solid running again. It felt great just to be on the track and moving a little!

I’m slowly getting back to running with run/walk intervals and hope to be up to 30 minutes of solid running in the next week or two. Then I will start slowly building my mileage through March. No speed work until at least April, but I will be able to run both Broad Street Run (10 mile) and the Brooklyn Half in May. My physical therapist let me know this week that she is hoping we can wrap up our work together in the next week or two, but encouraged me to continue with acupuncture which I am more than okay with. I don’t know how soon I will go back to group runs, though. Running with friends on New Year’s Eve was fun, but also stressful as I felt the need to keep up with them. I think I will continue to fly solo for awhile until I get back into a comfortable pace for myself.

I’ll save the updates about my new role as coach for another post. However, if you are interested in a personalized training plan based on Jack Daniels (VDOT) philosophy do let me know!