Monday, January 17, 2011

I Can't Really Be Sick If I Could Do THAT Ride...

I haven't really been on the bike since the mysterious Female Troubles started over a month ago. The last time I did a long ride, 5 weeks ago, it was 45 miles. My plan at the time was to go 5 miles longer every weekend, until I was up to a century or maybe up to Ironman distance. Not that I had a century planned, or an Ironman, I just wanted to see if I could actually go that far.

This whole weekend Tim and I were throwing around the idea of a long ride for today, Monday, since it is a holiday and the weather... Oh, God, the weather. It is like a beautiful dream. It is like the Garden of Eden. Every morning starts out chilly, but then the sun comes up. Every sunrise the last week or so has been phenomenal. It warms up nicely into the 70's. Birds sing. People wear shorts and T-shirts. Being inside is a crime. Anyway, the outlook for a bike ride today was looking pretty shabby at 11:00 a.m. Both of us were awake, but just barely. We'd stuffed ourselves with banana pancakes and were each glued to our respective computers checking up on all the meaningless crap we always check up on. Tim mentioned something about a ride. I mentioned something about the front yard needing to be weeded. I didn't feel like riding, or weeding the yard either. I had tried a ride about a week ago. The plan was to go ride to the Y and swim. I got not even a quarter-mile down the road and had such bad abdominal pain I had to get off the bike and hobble home holding my stomach, then lie in bed with heat on it for the next several hours. So naturally I was afraid to try a ride again, especially since the number of miles we had talked about was 50. Gack. 50 is technically where I left off, but that was, like I said, 5 weeks ago. I ran Phoneline on Saturday; surely that deserved at least 3 recovery days in my present state of health?

Then I realized that if I stayed home I was not going to weed. I was going to hang out at the computer not doing anything useful, and maybe take a stab at trying to do some dog training, while Tim hung out at his computer and both of us silently started hating ourselves for being such lazy slobs and started resenting each other for not dragging each other's lazy asses out the door. I swear, didn't I just talk not even 48 hours ago about how every day you can exercise is a gift and you should never take it for granted? Tim had to do some convincing, but at last I got into my bike clothes, grumbling the whole time. I am now so lazy about bike maintenance that I won't even check my own tires, and I also won't put air in them either, so Tim did that too. Even though I hadn't been in any pain whatsoever earlier in the morning, the instant I agreed to a bike ride it started to hurt. I was so cranky as I got on the bike that I didn't even want to talk to Tim. I took one last look at the yard that wasn't going to get weeded and made a smart-ass comment about it, which Tim ignored.

We rode two miles up the Santa Cruz path and I informed Tim that I was probably going to have to quit because my abdomen hurt so bad. He asked if I wanted to go back and I grumbled, "No." By the time we got downtown, the amazing weather was working its charms on me and I was in a much better mood. The pain seems to have a direct relationship to my mood -- when I'm cranky, it hurts; when things are going well, it doesn't. I could still feel it but it wasn't getting any worse. The doctor did say it was fine to do any activities as long as I physically could. So I decided to keep on going, since one of my main beliefs is that you should not let pain stop you from doing anything as long as you're not actually causing damage.

We headed out on the Aviation Bikeway. Have I mentioned it was gorgeous today? By the way, Tim is the one who was really crazy to want to do this ride. He has a mountain bike that weighs twice as much as my road bike, and he hasn't done anything over like 15 at a time for... a long time. But he said he was doing okay and wanted to keep going. We decided to ride to Saguaro East and then see if we felt like going around the loop. Privately I doubted it. But when we got there I felt not just okay, but great. Honestly, I felt like we had done about five miles. Actually we had done almost 30.

We stopped at the bike ramada to discuss strategy. There were a couple other cyclists hanging out under the ramada. One wanted to talk about how it was impossible for him to get a bike frame that was comfortable because most cyclists are built like T-rexes with long legs and long torsos and short arms, and he was built like a gorilla with long legs, long arms, and a short torso. I looked at this guy and the twenty extra pounds (at least) he was carrying in his belly and thought that his arms, legs, and torso were not the real reasons he wasn't comfortable on a bike. The other cyclist started talking about China and politics and other crazy stuff that had nothing to do with anything we were talking about at all. I am nervous about crazy people these days and started discreetly checking his outline for a weapon. Luckily cycling clothes are skin tight and I could see he had nothing. A third cyclist came in and plopped down on the bench and said nothing at all. Tim and I liked him.

Tim wanted to ride the loop, which is 8 miles and hilly. I didn't have any real objection to riding the loop since I still felt fantastic, but I did worry about Zsiga at home in his crate. When we get home later than 4 p.m. he tends to express his displeasure by peeing in his crate, even if he was just outside a few hours before. I reminded Tim of this. Tim still wanted to ride the loop. I finally agreed but only on the condition that IF we got home to find a German shepherd puppy standing in a crate full of pee, Tim would be the one to clean both the puppy and the crate. He agreed to this although I knew that, of course, it would still be me cleaning up no matter what our agreement was.

"It's free entry day!" the ranger at the gate informed us cheerfully. "Just pay me back by making this the year that no cyclists wipe out on that first hill, please?" He was referring to the first hill past the gate, a steep drop with a 5 mph sign that terrifies me. I ride my brakes the whole way down and each time am sure I am going to die even though I am moving slower than some of the walkers going down the hill. (I won't crash and die at that speed? Fine, then I will lose my balance from going so slow, be unable to unclip in time, and die that way. Either way, I know I will die on that hill.)

Tim rocketed away from me as I was babying my bike and myself down the hill. I caught up to him on some of the steep climbs that followed. Ah, the joy of riding with someone stronger than me whose bike weighs twice as much as mine. He was also beginning to suffer at this point just from being out of shape on the bike. I dropped him on The Hill -- the big hill, nemesis of all Saguaro East walkers, runners, and cyclists, which goes up and up and up for over a mile. I also passed and dropped every other cyclist I encountered on The Hill. I felt strong the whole way, amazing. That feeling of strength lasted all the way around the loop.

Tim was really wishing we were done with the ride by now. Unfortunately for him (and for me, who kept thinking of Zsiga in his crate), we still had 20 miles to go. We stopped and refueled at Jamba Juice. It was awesome to sit outside in the sun on a January afternoon, wearing shorts and short sleeves, drinking frozen drinks, and feel warm. The smoothies hit the spot and reenergized us. Too bad we still had 15 miles left before we got home.

I never, ever, ever felt even the littlest bit sore the entire ride home. In fact, when we got to my road, my GPS said 53.2 miles, so I had to add another little extra bit to make 55 even. 50 was my goal but I was so close to 55 I felt like I might as well just MAKE it 55. I hate being obsessive about my Garmin but we all know I am. Besides, I figured that way Tim (who does not obsess over mileage) could get home first and deal with Zsiga and the crate full of pee that I was sure awaited us at home.

When I got home, I found Tim already soaking in a salt bath. Zsiga had NOT peed in his crate. Good boy. I hate when they grow up, but I also love when they grow up. I still felt great and realized there is no way my undiagnosed Female Trouble is that serious. No way could I have ridden 55 miles and felt this good at the end if there was anything really wrong. (And yes I know to lots of people, including some people I know, 55 miles on a bike is nothing, but I don't think most of them -- I'm talking to you, Tom, even though I know you're not reading because this blog entry greatly exceeds your attention span by about 11 paragraphs -- are still reading by now. So, trust me, 55 miles is a lot.)

Today showcased everything I love most about Tucson. Friendly people, beautiful desert, year-round outdoor training for endurance sports, sleeveless jersey and shorts in January on a bike! (Not to mention delicious Mexican food following the bike ride.) It's so sad to think that the rest of the country right now associates Tucson with violence and crazy people. Today was the real Tucson, and it was awesome.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This One Means Something

This morning was a run I did not want to skip, even though it was on a moderately challenging course (the Phoneline Trail) followed by 3.7 miles of downhill pounding on the return via the tram road. I have had numerous bad experiences on both Phoneline and the tram road, and have on more than one occasion run there as I was "coming back" from an injury. It is not really a run that you want to do if you are not in good shape. Plus, it is 9 miles and the most I've done since October 17th -- the ill-fated Mt. Lemmon Marathon Day -- is 5 miles. Still, I wanted to go.

It was the planned Come Run run, for one thing. But it was also a planned run for the Tucson Trail Runners, TTR, another running group to which I belong. I've gone on a few of their runs but have never really gotten into trail running, partly because for a long time I was so focused on qualifying for Boston, partly because I hate carrying my own fluids, and partly because I desperately fear stepping on snakes. They are a great group of people, as are all running groups I know of. This particular group, TTR, is headed by Ross Zimmerman, the father of Gabe Zimmerman, who, as pretty much everyone in the U.S. with access to the news knows, was killed last weekend at Gabrielle Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event. An announcement had gone out to the TTR list-serve that this weekend's planned trail run was cancelled and a Phoneline/tram road run would take its place, because Ross was planning on running and it was anticipated that a larger-than-usual number of people would want to turn out and express their condolences.

Now, I have met Ross on a few occasions but can barely even call him an acquaintance. I'm not sure I would recognize him anywhere but in running clothes at a trailhead. I know him mostly from the long, slightly quirky but always interesting emails he sends to the TTR list-serve. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't recognize me at all, at a trailhead or anywhere else. Still, I felt like I should be there. Why, I'm not sure. I felt like the group run -- to which Come Run had also shown up -- was a way to show support and to let Ross know that we all are in pain at the thought of his loss. I thought that even if I didn't know what to say it would be meaningful just to be there as another runner in the crowd. Because runners in Tucson belong to a community, a wonderful, amazing, inspiring community, and when something bad happens to someone in that community, we all hurt with and for that person and want to help them any way we can. I can't even begin to imagine the week he's just had, and the ones yet to come, but I have to think that a run in the mountains with the same old people who always run has to be at least a little bit of a relief, or something normal in this sea of chaos and loss that's been happening ever since January 8. So that's why I showed up. (That, and I really did want to gauge my own fitness and just enjoy being alive and [relatively] healthy and able to run. Every day we can run is a gift. Physical health and even life can be taken away at any time. We can't ever forget that! It is a cliche to say, "Don't take any day for granted," but I think events of the past week have shown us that a lot of times cliches become cliches because they are TRUE.)

We met just before the sun came up at the entrance to the trail. There were probably 50 or so people there, maybe more. I stood to the side while people hugged Ross and talked to him one at a time. Then, just before the run started, Ross got everyone's attention and said a few words about Gabe. About how athletic and talented he was, and how well he treated people, and about the woman he was engaged to, and about how he will be forever young and will never have to suffer getting old. I couldn't stop thinking the whole time about how Gabe, even though I didn't know him, was one of us. He fit in this group. He was active, healthy, caring, devoted to his family and community, everything a good person can be. He ran the Mt. Lemmon Half Marathon with his fiancee this past October and was planning on doing the full Mt. Lemmon Marathon with her this year. And even though it's useless to think about the unfairness and sorrow and tragedy of everything that happened, and pointless to wonder why it had to happen to all of those good people, I thought about those things anyway. I mean, seriously, WHY does his family have to live without him now? In what kind of world does that possibly make sense? It just doesn't to me.

RUNNING makes sense, though. The picking up of one foot and putting it down and repeating with the next foot, times a million, that makes sense AND doesn't require thought. That's why the Phoneline Trail, steep and rocky for the first couple miles, felt good. I did not care a whit about how fast I went. I wanted to run the whole thing but didn't care that much if I had to take a walk break. As it happened, I did run the whole thing. I was slow and my glutes, of all things, and lower back were killing me by the time I got to the end of that tram road, but I did the whole thing and none of the really threatening injuries (stress fracture, tendinitis, mysterious "female troubles") were causing me any problem at all. The pain wasn't a big deal. Running pain just means I'm alive and able to run one more day.

Gabe Zimmerman was a federal employee who made the government look good. I am a huge believer in the power of the government to do good. Say what you will about it being ineffective and wasteful -- I can tell you first hand, there are an awful lot of government employees making a positive difference in people's lives every single day. Everything written about him makes it crystal clear that he was that type of federal employee. It makes me proud to be a federal employee and have the opportunity to make veterans' lives better. Nothing about this whole ugly, terrible incident makes sense to me, and nothing makes sense about that fact that Gabe Zimmerman's family has to live without him for the rest of their lives. But I think we can all try to be more like him and make a difference in people's lives in the world as a whole.

And I am very thankful, as always, to be a part of the running community here in Tucson. I have never, thankfully, had anything anywhere near this terrible and devastating happen to me, but I know that if I did, I could count on my running friends to be there for me and support me through it just like I know Ross's friends will be for him and his family. And I would do the same for any of them.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Back in the Game, Hopefully

My leg has been pain-free for over a month now, and it's now or never as far as beginning to train for Boston. I'm 14 weeks away from the Boston Marathon, which probably means I won't have enough time to get into Ironwoman shape like I was when I qualified for it in the first place. Nevertheless, I will be more than happy just to run the thing and finish with a reasonable -- even a mediocre -- time.

Here's the thing: I was doing great with cross training all through October and November and well into December. I was almost at Ironman distance in the pool, and halfway there on the bike, and biking and swimming pretty religiously. Then The Pain appeared. No, not a leg pain. This was a "female trouble" kind of pain. It. Was. Horrible. It was first treated as a UTI. Then it turned out to not be a UTI. I went for a pelvic ultrasound. They couldn't see anything. By now it was time to go home for Christmas. I'd been walking around for a week bent in half, unable to eat much because I felt so bloated and sick all the time, and in major pain. I ate Midol, Tums, Gas-X, Vitamin I, etc. like candy and none of them made a bit of difference. I was pretty much positive I had either an ovarian cyst (actually one on each side, because the pain was the same on both sides) or else ovarian cancer. Naturally, being a good hypochondriac, I convinced myself it was the latter. So now I didn't even care if I could run the Boston Marathon or not, I just didn't want to die. But I also didn't want to tell anyone about it, since it was Christmas and I didn't want to ruin any of my family members' vacation. So I went to my mom's house after getting the ultrasound, suffered miserably the entire time, and mostly hid in my room writhing in pain. Heat on my lower abdomen was the only thing that brought any kind of relief. I somehow managed to make it through vacation without anyone knowing anything was wrong, but on my drive back home the pain was finally so bad that I had to stop in Bakersfield, call my mom, call Tim, and tell them I couldn't go any further. Tim drove up to get the dogs so I wouldn't have to deal with them (9 hours each way from Tucson to Bakersfield); my mom drove down from home, spent the night in the motel with me in Bakersfield while we debated constantly whether I needed to go to the emergency room or not, and then she drove me back to Tucson. That was one of the worst days of my life. I don't think I have ever been in so much pain, and hope to never be again. Once back in Tucson, Mom and Tim forced me to go to Urgent Care. They couldn't really do anything at Urgent Care, but they did prescribe me my beloved little anxiety pill Clonazepam. (I was on that pill one other time in my life, when I thought my inability to breathe was due to impending heart failure but it actually turned out to be due to major stress inflicted by a doomed relationship.) After popping a couple Clonazepams, I realized that about 75% of my troubles were likely due to the fact that I was perseverating on this pain being cancer.

Long story short: I FINALLY found a female gynecologist to replace my male general practitioner (the one who squirms when I ask him embarrassing sex questions ("Doctor, I get the blinding migraines from orgasms whether I'm having them with another person or by myself; what does that MEAN?") and who also, incidentally, told me he thought I had a brain tumor causing the aforementioned headaches. I never liked the guy; good riddance. If I'm having female trouble I want it in the hands of someone who looks at nothing but female anatomy all day, every day. This doctor was so awesome she makes me want to get pregnant just so I can see her more often. She told me it was most likely something that would self-resolve but that she would schedule a sonogram for three weeks from now just in case I was still having the pain. I had horrible pain and bloating on New Year's Eve, and since then... nothing. I feel like nothing was ever wrong and I could go out and run a marathon right now if I wanted to. Gee, I think what happened was that the cycle came around again and the thing self-resolved, who would've thought?

Anyway! Yesterday was the first day of 2011 and I did not want to let one more day go by without running. So I set out to do 1 mile, that was it. I was going to do it at a slow jog, not one bit faster. But once I got out, it was such a beautiful day, and I remembered how running can feel like an exhilarating grand tour, where you're moving slow enough that you don't miss anything beautiful the way you do on a bike. I loved looking at the desert and the city and even the pavement under my feet. I extended my run to 3 miles. I did go slow because I had no choice. I was only able to maintain 10:00 pace and even that was hard. But! I didn't walk, and I didn't quit. I got my 3 miles in. And the leg pain and the female pain both seem to be gone. If only they can stay that way for another 14 weeks...