Sunday, June 29, 2014

Road to Recovery

My last chemotherapy treatment was June 16. This was my first official week of being finished with treatments. I woke up Monday morning and decided to try a simple fartlek style speed workout. I have maintained a base level of running over the past few months but I certainly do not feel fit or in racing shape. 

A common theme for me throughout my treatment was that I had trouble practicing my mantra of "moderation in all things" on the days I felt halfway decent. This continues to be an issue for me. Instead of going out for a couple of miles of speed work, I felt so good and so happy that I ran ten miles at a faster pace than I have become accustomed to running. 

I had to ditch my watch long ago. I knew I was getting slower and stressing myself out by looking at my pace as it fell off over a cliff was mentally destructive. I have no idea what pace I was running on Monday, but I know it was faster than what I have been doing lately. I let perceived exertion be my guide. It felt great to really use my leg muscles and work my lungs. When I finished I felt so happy. The physical and emotional boost of getting in a good workout was tremendous. Still, I probably ran too hard for too long. I spent the next couple of days paying for my over exuberance. 

On Tuesday, I did a run/walk. I wanted some exercise but I took it easy because I had to. I really had nothing left in the tank after Monday's run. That evening, my family made it's first post cancer appearance at a Jack Quinn's Running Club run. Last summer, we were regulars at JQRC, but after I found out I had to have surgery, we stopped going. I had hoped to go some over the winter and spring, but found that I had absolutely no energy in the evenings during my treatments. It was great to be back this week and it just kind of worked out that JQRC was having a field trip to Boulder Running Company. We ran the route and enjoyed some food and family friendly games afterwards. It was a treat to get to see so many friendly and familiar faces all in one place! 

All of this activity caused me to crash by Wednesday. I met Tracey for a run in the Garden of the Gods and I am pretty sure that she thought she was going to have to call 911 while we were out there. To say I huffed and puffed my way through the Garden is an understatement. Even when I slowed to a hike, I was breathing hard and felt dizzy. A couple of times I had to come to a complete stop to return my breathing to normal. The company was great and the scenery as spectacular as always, but frankly I felt extremely frustrated with myself. I felt embarrassed that I was in such sorry condition and wondered aloud if I will ever be back to normal. 

By Thursday I started to feel a little bit better. I ran about 8 miles with minimal walking and felt more positive about things. On Friday and Saturday, my husband and I ran together and I managed to get through both runs with minimal walking. On Sunday, I woke up feeling good and managed to get in a 16 mile run with my friend Debby.

Throughout my chemotherapy, I have made it a habit to do one run over ten miles each month. Typically, it would be the weekend of my week off from treatment. So, once a month I tried to get in about 16 miles. Sixteen miles is what I consider a middle distance run. For the past several years, I have run "long" year round. I love long runs. I love being out on the trails for hours at a time. I love to run long with company and I also love to be out alone. This year, I knew I couldn't keep up with super long runs, but if I could just get that middle distance run in once/month, it would be so much easier building my long run back up. Going from 16 to 25 or 30 miles seemed manageable. Going from 5 to 30 seemed impossible. Knowing I have done what I can to maintain an endurance base will physically and mentally help me get back on track as time goes on. 

I have a ton of work to do. I am slow. I have had to incorporate walking breaks into many of my runs. I have lost a lot of the muscle I used to carry. But I know I can pull the pieces together. I may not ever be as strong a runner as I used to be, but I hope to some day be able to get back to the ultramarathons that I love. 

I have had  people say I will come back stronger than ever. I have had people say that my story has inspired them in some way. I do not know if I will come back stronger. Frankly, my body has been through a lot. Things have changed physically, and that is a reality I have to live with. If my friends or readers have been inspired in some way by my story, I am thrilled. I hope the inspiration comes from how hard I have continued to work with what is my "new normal". I have never been a particularly fast runner. I have never been running to win. I run because I love running. When it all comes together, running is my bliss. I hope that I have conveyed that it is not necessary to be fast or to win or even place in your age group. What matters is that you keep moving forward, no matter what. Not quitting, in running and in life, is more than half of the battle. You do not have to be the best, but you have to have heart.

I am excited to see what the coming weeks bring. I do not know how much longer it will be before I really notice a difference in how I feel. I realize that he road to recovery will be one of rolling hills. Recovery will not come in a straight progression. I have to learn not to push the pace too hard on the days I feel well because I pay for it afterwards in a way I never have in the past.

No running photos this week. Instead, here is a picture of my daughters and me at the Colorado College campus on the final day of Peyton's camp.

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