Monday, November 12, 2012

SoCal USATF Cross-Country Grand Prix

Cross-country is not road racing.  Characterized by varying distances, often in between specific measurements, all sorts of surfaces and terrain, elevation gains and dips, run in seemingly remote locations, nature under you; over you; all around you, no worry of a PR because every race is a PR.  I took a break from the roads and did a small cross-country season and loved it.

The Southern California Association of USA Track and Field offered a sweet cross-country grand prix.  They compassionately offer prize money for the master's division and I always appreciate that.  As it turned out though, some of the toughest competition was in the master's division.

As previously reported, the first race for me in the series was a few weeks ago in Ventura, the Twilight's Last Gleaming 4 miler.  It was an awesome race featuring a long, steep climb in the first mile, the "Wall" in the 2nd mile, and an irate, dis-compassionate, unsportsman-like lunatic of a coach in the finishing mile.  That was last week's news.  The past two weeks brought a final qualifying race and a championship race.

The qualifying race was held last weekend at Will Roger's State Park in Pacific Palisades.  This spectacular park sits up in the Santa Monica Mountains and features an almost continuous view of the Pacific Ocean.  The park also possesses the only remaining polo field in LA.  When I arrived on the crisp, dry Saturday, I was first greeted by a herd of grazing deer.  No matter how many deer I see in my lifetime, I will always find them breath-taking to behold.  They paid no mind to me and I watched them buck around, drink and graze while I began my warm-up.  The air that morning was too dry, too hot and I knew that regardless of pace or effort, it was going to hurt to breath.  Dry air is a nemesis of mine and causes my bronchial tubes to rebel into spasm and chaos.  Unfortunately, this tends to begin with my first hard breath, and in this case, lasted a whole week following the race. 

I got a nice verbal course description from one of my fellow competitors.  She told me the 4.5 mile course is two loops up to Inspiration Point.  What?  Two?  Up?  Yah, so basically you go 1 mile up, 1 mile down, 1 mile up, 1 mile down, and then you drag your butt around the polo field to the finish.  See, cross-country is so cool.  It is fully unpredictable. 

The races were run by gender, so our race featured the 8 female competitors who needed this race to complete their two race requirement for the grand prix.  There were 4 open women (39 and under) and 4 master's women.  Need I say I began to worry about having to bring up the rear? 

There was no gun.  There was simply a "go."  What is it with these LA women - they have no sense of pacing.  Everyone took off like they were running a downhill mile and there's only 8 of us so you have to hang.  It's hard to run your own race in such a setting.  But it wasn't long before everyone began to slow, string out along the course in a particular order, and breath with much difficulty as the course wound up onto the first loop of the switch-backs to the top.  I settled in somewhat near two of the other master's women, but didn't keep track of anyone else.  I had no idea what place I was in, nor did it matter that much to me.  I knew a few were behind me and a few were ahead of me.  I was in pain.  Every breath hurt from the beginning and the 80'ish degree air at 8:00 am in the morning might as well have been 100 degrees in Death Valley.  The only race urge in me was to simply keep moving in forward motion hoping for the elusive "top of the hill" to come very soon.  I tried to put out of my mind the fact that this was only loop #1.  Up, up, up we strode and I may have passed someone, I'm not sure.  When we crested the top I saw a few ladies not far ahead, striding into the long, gradual downhill.  They were right there, yet they were so far away.  I had hoped the downhill would bring recovery and relief but though the pace naturally quickened, my lungs still screamed for mercy.  Dry, hot, dusty air and spasming bronchial tubes.

On the next loop, the female directly ahead of me finally gave in to the relentless climb back up and doubled over for some gasps of air.  I passed her feeling the urge to encourage her but having no strength of voice to force the words.  I could relate to the pain she must have been feeling but in my mind I reminded myself to just keep moving - once I made it to the next top, it was downhill from there.  So I journeyed on with painful breaths, saw the gap widen between me and the other "old lady" ahead of me.  Finally to the top of the second loop, I fell into the downhill with grateful loping strides but still found it difficult to push and to breath.  I did my best to let my body do most of the work using gravity instead of power.  I held my own and finally found the finish chute in 4th place.  Beaten by only one Open woman, I finished as the third master.  Old ladies rule.

My lungs were very unhappy and I struggled to breath for a while after I finished.  Each breath remained painful for the remainder of the day and into the next.  From there I suffered with a lingering sore throat while coughing to remove stuff that shouldn't be there. It was like I had this awful chest cold, only I didn't have a cold.  I just had all the symptoms. This lasted through the week and unfortunately followed me into the final championship race.

The Championship race was held this past Saturday at Kenneth Hahn Park in West LA.  This park has a reputation.  The reputation is ... gophers.  Randomly in the days before, three different people mentioned to me the issue of gopher holes at this particular location.  This park features a crater-like grass oval that can only be described as a gopher and ground squirrel's best friend and a runner's worst nightmare.  The course was of European design which meant, all grass, and was a 3 loop 6K distance.  To say that there was no fair footing to manage on this course would be an understatement.  It was fully riddled with trap-doors of collapsing tunnels, tufts of crab grass mixed with thick soggy areas, random holes and to make it all the more fun, a steep climb up a root infested hill onto a gruesome false flat.  And this was to be done three times.  It was awesome!  Like, true cross-country with the real threat of bodily harm.  John and I laughed audibly many times while warming up and trying to do strides on the opening 25 meter stretch had me almost rolling on the ground with "you gotta be kidding me" belly giggles.  The funniest thing though was listening to the other master's runners, especially the men - in fact only the men.  They were like the biggest weenies, complaining about the injuries they were sure to get.  The "I'm too old for this" cross-sectioned with "well, I'm not going to be able to do more than 10 minute pace on this junk."  "Should I keep my bi-focals on?  Can't see the contour of the ground as well with my bi-focals."  Then the guys tried to psyche themselves up.  One coach called his old guys together for a huddle and pep-talk.  "Shoot.  I didn't come to this race to get injured."  "Huh, you should have seen last year's course - it was even worse." 

So the master's men and women toed the line of this championship course while the race director, who was also running in the race, explained the course.  "The red flags are always on your Left, and the green flags are always on your Right, the blue flags just mean go straight on either side."  Wait a minute, the red flags are on the left, or right, can't remember.  No gun, just a "go."  And we were off like a limping flock of albatross trying to catch flight but unable to muster the speed.  The first thing I notice is a couple of orange cones ahead of me.  He didn't say anything about cones. Which side should I take to go around them?  That lunatic coach is watching.  Oh heck, I'll just jump over them.  Oh, is that a big hole - out of my mouth comes, "Um, I guess those were there for a reason."  But no broken ankle yet.  What is it with me and the orange cones?  Dead on, I hit the next orange cone, like I'm attracted to them or something.  Cones, I discovered, mean "hazzard".  They needed about 500 more orange cones out there.  Down the grass, around the big tree, back up the grass, arms flying all over the place, around the next bend, through the sloshy, thick, wet grass section, up the steep ground squirrel mountain, over the roots, yes, lungs burning already and it's only loop #1.  The best footing was up along the rim and we actually had the option of jumping onto the pavement up there for a short stretch.  Ah ankle and knee relief, but back onto the grass for the "if you make it down without breaking something it's a miracle" downhill portion.  From there it was through the desert of gopher holes (and this is where the tunnels will cave in under your feet so step lightly), around another tree, but make sure that green flag is to your right, um or left, can't remember.  Back up through gopher hole haven (must have been a resort area for them) around another bend and back to the start for the beginning of loop #2.

Three of those and then finally, and although it was only 23 minutes, it felt like an hour so when I say finally, I mean FINALLY, I make some sort of effort to finish strong, or at least to finish standing up.  The finish always means one thing first ... Oxygen.  They placed the medal around my neck while I was leaning forward shamelessly on my knees.  My predecessors were lying around in heaps so I know we all had a similar race.  Three seems to be my lucky number.  I was yet again third master's female.  With this concluding race being worth double points, I also secured third place in the grand prix.

Cross-country as I said, is unpredictable.  That's what makes it so fun.  I enjoyed my short little cross-country season.  It was a fitting end to a long come-back from a year of injury and to make it through these last three grueling races without re-injuring myself must be a good sign.  Challenges strengthen us.  I feel stronger.

While in West LA, John and I visited the Nike store in Santa Monica.  We saw a replica of Steve Prefontaine's track shoes made by Bill Bowerman in 1969.  It had "Pre" still visible on the heel and featured sandpaper for added traction. How cool is that.  A real piece of running history.  Oh how far our shoes have come in just a few short decades.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Twilight's Last Gleaming

As a possibly historic storm system is bearing down upon our East coast, I jest to a New Yorker on the phone today, "Yah, ummm.  It's ummm. It's 85 degrees and pristine today.  How's it looking for you."  I did wish the New Yorker safety and truly hope all our fellow countrymen stay safe and protected through the storm.

On Saturday, John and I took an evening trip to Ventura to compete in the first race of a Southern California USATF cross-country Grand Prix Series.  Well, it was actually the third race in the series but the first for us, and will be followed by another cross-country race next weekend, and will culminate the week after that with the SoCal USATF Section Championship.  Three cross-country races in three weeks.  It almost feels like the college cross-country season again ... except I'm not 22 anymore.

The weather Saturday was as it has been lately, hot and dry and the later evening hour didn't cool the air at all.  We were inland running the trails of Arroyo Verde Park.  It is a new favorite running spot of mine.  We arrived at 4:00 PM to register for The Twilight's Last Gleaming Cross Country Challenge.  The race cost a mere $10 per runner ($8 for return runners) and you had to pay a $5 penalty for registering early.  Andrew, the race organizer (he refers to himself as the race disorganizer) has a sweet sense of humor.  In fact, he must have been laughing a deep belly laugh 27 years ago when he planned this USATF certified 4 mile race course.  His primary course description goes something like this:  "This course is un-runable.  It is manageable only by Sherpas and mountain goats."  He finds humor in this.  I found challenge in it.  The first mile includes a lengthy steep, unrelenting slope up a city street.  But more on the course later.

I decided a few weeks ago, as I have been already dabbling in some of the SoCal USATF races and grand prix series events, to compete in the Cross-country grand prix.  In order to fully qualify for grand prix prize money, I would need to complete two events plus the championship event so our friendly Ventura race was a must do.  The remaining two races take place in Los Angeles.

So here we were, warming up on a grassy knoll in a wooded park that formed a valley, or maybe it was a wide canyon, in the middle of mountains.  I read the course description twice.  Neither time did it make a bit of sense, nor did it make any more sense when our humorous race disorganizer described it at our starting line.  The race is challenging and has a lot of up - that part I pretty much grasped and I otherwise hoped for a lot of volunteers or at least lots of chalk to define the particulars.  The Twilight's Last Gleaming has a 27 year history, and is characterized by uniqueness.  For one, it is indeed an evening race, run in the twilight.  Also, it is inexpensive and there is no chance of pre-registration.  It is not a profit making event but rather an event of community and camaraderie; runners doing what they do.  The age groups are segmented by 6 year increments instead of 5.  My age group was 42-47.  The fee covered only the essentials of park rental, sanction and insurance fees and awards.  We registered by writing our name and address on a piece of paper, no race numbers were used.  The average amount of runners to attend is 60, but there were fewer this year.  There were only 6 females in this year's race.  Andrew keeps a Top Ten times list and age group records.  The female record is help by Sylvia Mosqueda, a former elite American runner and still a formible Masters runner.  The four mile course takes approximately 5-7 minutes longer than the same distance on a normal course.  For a female to go under 30 minutes would be a huge accomplishment and only a few have ever done it.  This is just one of those unique perfect little races.  Just my kind of race, just my kind of course.

Now to the real point of this blog post.  Controversy and anguish.  There was an LA team attending this year's race, among which were all men, and one female.  They were fun and friendly, and like everyone else, were feeling the dry air in every pore wondering what kind of hell they were about to enter.  Many of the other racers in attendance were those who never fail to show up to the yearly challenge in the twilight.  There was also a 52 year old long time racer who held many of the top 10 times run on the course, including the record for my age group.  Unusual for me, I was calm and looking forward to the hills and the challenge.  I felt no feeling of competition but rather I felt we were all in this together - one of those "watch out for your fellow runner and leave no man or woman behind."  But too, I was running for grand prix points, so yes, I did intend to win.

Sometime after 5:00 PM our race disorganizer called everyone to the starting line.  He spent a gracious 8 or so minutes telling us the history of the race and detailing the ups and ups of the course.  First there was the steep road mile, then the pitted hard and soft ground which constituted the trails that lead back down and through the park.  There was this hideous thing called "The Wall" that was to hit around 2 miles, but there were a lot of other ups before The Wall, and many treacherous downs as well.  So on he spoke while runners stretched and fidgeted, with a few nervous chuckles thrown in.  Then finally the gun (and yes he used a gun - he's totally old school - I love it).  We took off with long strides up, over and down a grassy slope, onto the park road, through the skinny, narrow "you could lose some skin here" gait out of the park, up a steep "are you kidding me" cliff and whew! out into traffic, up the street to the other street.  The other street is the steep street and there was an immediate separation of men from mice.  I had already settled well close to the front, with mostly LA running club guys in red ahead of me, with a few of the locals in there too.  No girls though.  No girls anywhere close.  This was just one of those slow, steady, short strided grinds and you just do it.  You just get it done.  Up, up, up, very steep, then a leveling off, almost a slight down slope but then turn the corner and even more up, up, up.  But now I can see where runners are leaving the street back onto the path and I know exactly how much hill hell is left.  I shuffled past the first mile and received a nice "great job" from Andrew who had dragged his car up the hill in time to read out splits - not that you really want to hear 8:05 at your first mile, but he did warn us that this would be our slowest mile of the year.  Now the narrow downhill along a ridge line lay ahead and I followed a youngster down this spine, wanting to pass but having no room to do so.  I hung behind until we got vomited out (it was like a straight vertical path formed by water run-off that fed us onto another trail) onto a new and wider path and I challenged my young running buddy as we began to ascend another relentless part of the course.  We came to an even steeper hill and I though surely this must be the dreaded "Wall."  No, it wasn't.  The Wall was still to come.  Up, up, sometimes a little level and down, up, up we climbed toward the top of the park.  There came a time when the trail stayed level and went straight but our course turned right and bam, there was "The Wall."  I'm not a mountain goat and my lungs were beyond dry and dusty and screaming at me but I was catching the two guys ahead of me, Mr. Yellow and Mr. Sweaty Gray.  We finally crested this monster and were greeted by sandy, soft switch backs back down to the park and I hung with Yellow and Gray and tried to enjoy the ride.  We past the Beware of Rattlesnakes sign and proceeded straight across and followed the little flags that showed us the course.  Unfortunately there really weren't many volunteers to help us find our way so, here it goes, Mr. Yellow and Mr. Gray ... and I ... missed a right hand turn that was to take us to a path just above where we were running.  We followed a different set of flags and soon found that we were in the wrong spot.  I have never, and I have run competitively since I was 9 years old, ever gotten a course wrong.  Never.  The three of us at some point knew that we were running parallel to the course but off of the appropriate path.  We stopped, U-turned, ran back several yards until a spectator showed us we were supposed to be on the path just above.  With me now in the lead, we climbed up a steep ravine (thank you very much) and got back on course.  The remainder of the race was along this path, across the grass, onto a path on the other side of the park, up and down, until we came to a hairpin turn, down to the BBQ area, up around the round about full of palm trees, back onto the park grass until finally we had a 50 foot run up to the finish line.  It was on this final up hill that I was greeted by the angry accusations from the LA coach that I cheated.  He yelled at me as I was still running, so that for sure everyone in the area could clearly hear, that I skipped a section.  He also informed everyone in the vicinity that I was not an official finisher (just me, apparently Mr. Yellow and Mr. Gray get to be official finishers but I don't).  I crossed the line in 30:55 and my GPS showed that I completed 3.99 miles.  Mr. Yellow's GPS showed 4.17 miles (and mind you, John's GPS said 4.00 exactly and he ran the proper way).  We did indeed miss a right turn but essentially ran the same distance and the same basic slope in parallel to the trail up above.  I knew we had made a mistake so that wasn't so much of an issue.  What was an issue was the insinuation that I did so on purpose.  Like I really need to cheat to beat a girl I was already 2 minutes head of anyway.  It got even more ugly.  I was fully aware of our mistake and was fully prepared to let the race disorganizer do what he thought was best.  I did NOT appreciate a rapidly approaching LA coach yelling at me that I was disqualified from the grand prix.  I told him I know we accidentally missed the turn and that once we discovered it, we back tracked and got back on course.  I showed him my watch which showed the mileage I ran (he didn't bother looking at it).  When his girl came through to the finished he yelled, loudly mind you, good job, you're the first woman. This was to clearly inform me and everyone else that I indeed didn't count.  He looked back at me and informed me that I missed some huge section of the course.  Really, I missed a huge section of the course but yet still ran the same distance?  Later, one of the many compassionate on-lookers took me on the section I missed.  Like I said, we paralleled the course.  I ran virtually the same course except down below it and did not in any way miss a huge section of the course.  We also had backtracked, ran on a grass and wood chip path instead of dirt, had to stop, panic and u-turn, and ran up a steep hill to get back to where we needed to be.  I felt assaulted by this man and for what?  There was no logic in his motive except that he was looking for a cheap one single point for his female runner whom I easily beat.  But the fact remained and I knew it, that I did not complete the USATF course.  I could blame it on poor course marking and/or lack of direction on the course, or I could blame it on Mr. Yellow and Mr. Gray whom I was following.  But the fact is, it was my responsibility and I had to settle in my mind that this year's cross-country grand prix was not to be.  If I was disqualified I wouldn't have enough races to qualify for prize money.  It was in the hands of Andrew and Andrew had already been well informed by LA coach that I was not the official winner, that I cut the course, that I didn't complete the officially measured USATF course.  In the midst of this, the theme of The Twilight's Last Gleaming faded as the sun set.  I did not feel camaraderie any longer.  I felt attacked by a fellow runner/coach, relentlessly and discompassionately. 

I turned in my finisher's card and wrote on the bottom that I had missed a turn, ran the wrong way, back tracked as soon as I knew, and that my GPS read 3.99.  When Andrew was placing the finisher cards on the results board, he called my number and I walked up and began explaining.  He gently interrupted me before I finished and said, "I know what happened, and this is how I'm going to handle it.  I'm not going to disqualify you because that would put you out of the grand prix.  However, I can't name you as the winner but will still award you with your age group win.  Your time won't count for any records or Top Ten."  He pointed out that he himself is in charge of the scoring for the grand prix and since I'm in the Master's division and my fellow LA competitor is merely in her 20's, there is no reason why my race should be stripped as it would be no benefit to her anyway.  I thanked him exceedingly for not disqualifying me and for allowing me to collect the points, received my age group award tile pictured above and went home with John feeling like I had snakes in my belly.  I couldn't easily or readily get the whole experience out of my mind.  My time would have placed me 7th on the top ten list but I will have to wait one more year and hope for another strong race next year in order to officially post it.

Next Sunday I will head to Pacific Palisades to run another cross-country race.  I will see LA coach again.  Perhaps he will be less vocal this time, especially since John reprimanded him for his conduct.

It remains to be seen how this will really play out.  I'm unclear on how I will be scored for this race and don't know if I will even be listed among the participants in the results.  Will I be listed with an * next to my name which let's everyone know of my mistake.  Oh, and by the way, Mr. Yellow and Mr. Gray were completely unaffected by this little mistake.  No one even noted that they too had missed a turn.  LA coach could care less.  He was interested in pointing the finger only at me because he felt his runner had something to gain if I was disqualified.

I believe Andrew is an excellent race disorganizer and he handled the situation in a way that worked out for everyone.  By next week, hopefully this will be out of my head and I'll be ready for the next one, and then onto the championship race and possibly a little prize money.  And like I told Greg, the coach from San Fernando Valley who apologized to me on behalf of all coaches for the conduct of LA coach, it's yet another lesson learned.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Beware of the Super Anti's

I'm a self-proclaimed "naturalist."  Don't know the term?  That's ok.  I think I just made it up.  Here's an explanation.  I like to live my life naturally as much as possible.  Or at least as much as I deem comfortably, but not obsessively, possible.  I gave birth to both of my children at home with a mid-wife, no doctor involved, no hospital involved, certainly no drugs involved.  They were both born with the highest possible APGAR scores and could hold their heads up without support from their first intake of O2 into their strong lungs.  Something else I'm natural about.  My health care.  As a rule, I don't take prescription drugs, nor over-the-counter drugs.  I try to keep my body strong by using it for exercise and feeding it right.  When I have a sinus infection, cold, random symptom, I let my body work it out.  No drugs, no antibiotics.  I one time sat with John in a doctor's off and listened to a physician, who knew nothing about John, didn't know the cause of his ailment, had not run any tests, etc..., tell John he was going to prescribe him Lipitor.  "Well," says the physician, "when such and such and so and so happens, at such and such an age, we like to see our patients take Lipitor."  I felt my blood pressure rise and tried to control the quiver in my voice, working hard not to jump at the well educated professional's jugular, as I turned to John and said, no ... you don't need that drug.  Lipitor, one of many drugs which has side effects that are worse than the problem they are meant to fix.

Well this "naturalist" had a Urinary tract infection crop up a few weeks ago.  Because I knew this was one of those issues that if left unattended to, can become a much bigger problem, I visited a doctor knowing I would likely be prescribed a mild antibiotic.  Tetracycline or maybe a penicillin drug, which I knew were generally safe.  This was a big deal for me to visit a doctor and working through the dilemma of needing help to rid my body of an infection.  I have to, even in my desire to be as natural as possible, admit that our environment challenges our natural health and sometimes, yes, we need a drug.  So yes, off to the doctor, yada yada yada, 30 minutes and $100 later, boom, yes it is confirmed a UTI.  No big deal, we'll just give you this drug and you will be a new person.  "You will be a new person" were his exact words.  It's been a long time since I've taken an antibiotic, years and years.  I didn't realize the mostly harmless Tetracycline and penicillin drugs are basically obsolete having been overtaken by a new generation of Super Anti's.  I got my prescription ... wow, I only have to take 6 pills?  That's only three days and then I'll be a new person.  I picked it up at the window and in my busy day, rushed back home to resume my workday.

I read labels.  I read the extensive list of potential side effects of this Super Anti - by the way Cipro is it's formal name.  It is a fluoroquinolone - more on that in a moment.  I read the label from top to bottom and side to side and was suddenly conflicted.  I didn't want this stuff in my body.  Maybe I shouldn't have read the label and just mindlessly took the poison.  What happened to the old school antibiotic, the pink bubblegum stuff which I know would have sufficed?  This stuff was an automatic weapon and I was afraid it would take out more than just the infection.  Options, options, options.  What do I do?  Do I just take the stupid stuff - It's only 6 tablets total?  I was stressed with work, had no time to go back to the doc's office, was experiencing discomfort and feeling run down with a low grade fever and I wanted this infection to just be eradicated.  I tossed this all around in my head, and finally decided to go ahead and take the junk. 

Here's what Cipro (and all flouroquinolones) can do:  A far too common well-known "side effect" is spontaneous tendon ruptures, especially of the Achilles tendon.  The doc who prescribed this knew I was an athlete.  Cipro also causes toxicity in any number of body parts, most commonly in muscles/tendons, to the Central nervous system, eyes, liver and kidneys.  In 10% of the population, the body cannot rid itself of the drug ever.  A very recent article in the New York Times outlines in dramatic fashion, the dangerous side effects of these new widely used antibiotics.  Please feel free to read the article itself:  There have been numerous lawsuits filed.

For someone like me who just hates medication, this has been a hellish month.  I had immediate effects from the drug including nausea, light-headedness and dizziness, heart and respiratory issues, and yes, a severe reaction in my R posterior tibial tendons.  Just a few days after finishing the three day cycle of ingestion of the poison, I attended the Tuesday evening track workout with Mike Swan and the gang.  I felt ok prior to the workout, but once we began the intervals I was surprised to find that I quickly fatigued within even the first 200 meters of each interval, feeling like I had a tight rubber band strapped around my chest.  I was wheezing and my heart was working inefficiently.  I had to drop out of the intervals several times and couldn't recover in between.  I ended up leaving the workout early, feeling dizzy, wiped out, and frustrated. 

The next day, without direct cause, I woke up with an odd feeling of soreness in my inner lower calf.  It was clearly swollen and I could feel a soreness with my walking gait but the muscles and tendons themselves didn't seem to be directly involved in the motion of walking.  The soreness seemed to be in the stabilizing muscles and tendons and hurt acutely when I rolled my ankle from side to side.  I swam that night instead of running, and while in the pool began to experience the same constriction I felt the night before on the track.  I was in oxygen debt even while just warming up and I could feel the lack of oxygen all the way to my fingertips.  I wasn't able to draw in enough and my heart was working too hard for such a minimal effort.  By now I wasn't wondering if this was Super Anti related, I knew it was.

The following day I did my usual moderate pushed pace run, and handled it cardio-vascularly but had intense pain in that posterior tibial area and in my hip (how random is that).  I don't have issues with these body parts ever.  I ended the run limping and swollen.  From there I decided to cross-train until I could see the Chiropractor early the next week.  The issue persisted even though I wasn't running and seemed most effected by non-running movements.  This wasn't a "running" injury.  It made no sense and although one area was clearly swollen, the pain was manifested in various places.  This happened to be an area of the leg that contained many deeper tendons which attached the calf muscles to the ankle, foot and shin bones.  They were clearly all inflamed as confirmed by the Chiropractor. Is it a stress-fracture, is it a deep vein thrombosis?

A week later I was running a 10 miler with a fast running buddy, and felt pretty good, and was spending time being thankful that I felt pretty good.  But around mile 3, my heart began fluttering (palpitating) and pumping inefficiently again, and I felt as if all the blood (along with its O2) drained out of my body.  I had immediate fatigue down to my fingertips and felt dizzy.  I figured I'd keep going until I dropped or until my heart corrected itself.  Thankfully my heart did correct itself and so I mentioned nothing to my running partner.  It happened one other time on that run.

I have poisoned my body.  I took a drug that was literally poisonous and toxic.  Yep, I am indeed a new person doctor.  Thanks.  But I had it easy compared to many, many others (if you read that article above you will see what I mean).  Others have lost their vision, have psychological issues, seizures, weakness and loss of all manner of strength, and kidney failure.  The Super Anti's, which should only be used for life-threatening infections, are being widely prescribed for every little thing.  It's like killing a fly with a machine gun.  The fly isn't the only thing eradicated unfortunately.

Over the past week or so I have had complete resolution of the posterior tibial issue.  It's gone, completely without a trace.  My visit back to the track this week was a bit better although I still felt some constriction and difficulty with breathing, but it was much better than a few weeks prior.  It is my hope that my body is capable of ridding itself of this toxin, and that seems to be the case, but I don't feel completely back to normal yet.

Tomorrow John and I will be competing in the Santa Monica 5000.  I am in good fitness but I have this big question mark - how will my body react when I push it to the limit?  Will my heart flutter?  Will I be able to breath?  It makes it hard to have competitive confidence, but I am hopeful for a good race.

My plea to anyone who reads this is to be proactive regarding your medical care.  I should have asked questions when this drug was prescribed.  I should have asked for the most mild possible remedy and insisted on it.  If you aren't already, be aware that today's antibiotics are harmful and don't be fooled by the lie that side effects are rare.  Everyone has side effects from these drugs.

So onward to Santa Monica and free breathing (even though we will be breathing in LA air which is also toxic).  I wish the best to all of those who are racing this weekend in various places: Goleta, Solvang, Long Beach, Chicago, 100K ultras ... Do your best!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Four Races in Eleven Days: Race Reports

I'm not going to sit here and write, "What was I thinking?"  I know what I was thinking.  I was thinking that I was fully capable of handling the rigors of 4 hard race efforts in the span of less than two weeks.  After all, my training includes at least two hard efforts each week in the form of tempo or interval work, so this compact race schedule didn't worry me too much.  The races that I chose to do just fell into this schedule and I had to deal with it.  So it is what it is. 

I began with The Westmonster 5K (follow link to read Westmonster race report), which was a great race to start with.  A challenging, hard cross-country style race on a picture perfect evening, mid-week, on Thursday.  Although it was just a 5K, I have to admit that it took something out of me and my legs, leaving me ever so slightly depleted for my next race.

Race #2 would come 3 days later, the McConnell's 10K.  I didn't have the luxury of tapering into this race as I still had to be mindful of my preparation for the upcoming weekend which included my final two races.  On Saturday, the day prior to McConnell's, I ran a preview of the 10 mile run course of the upcoming Santa Barbara Triathlon.  It had to be a regular training day for me.  I couldn't afford to lose that last opportunity to run a vigorous preview of the course I would be racing on the following weekend.  As I sweated along in my Saturday "long" run, I kept apologizing to the McConnell's 10K, hoping that I'd have something left the following morning to offer to it.

Sunday, race day for the McConnell's 10K, was a leisurely morning.  I love that the race doesn't start until 9:30 am, while at the same time I hate that it starts at 9:30 am.  It is, after all, mid-August and although the race does start on the coast, it doesn't stay there.  The out-and-back course gets hotter with each mile inland, and for some unknown, freakish, inexplicable reason, it gets even hotter with each return mile.  So, here's the reality.  I do NOT run well in the heat unless I am fully acclimated, and at this point in my training, I am not well acclimated to high'ish temperatures.  So John and I arrived at Goleta Beach, trying to feel ready to run.  I knew I wouldn't be at my freshest, but I figured I'd be able to hold a decent pace and I set my goals accordingly.  When I factored in the temperature, I reduced my expectations just a bit.  I had a simple goal, one I was sure I could manage.  I simply wanted to run slightly faster than my last McConnell's 10K effort which was two years earlier.  Two years earlier I was the first female until I was passed in the last few meters of the race.  As it turned out, I was passed by another master's runner who therefore nabbed the master's course record, with me a wimpy 3 seconds later.  So, based on that I could only boast running the second fastest time by a master's woman on that course.  And, to boot, it was a crummy race and a poor time for me, and I had been coming off of a previous dreadful Achilles injury.  So this year I figured I would be able to, even on tired legs, run better and claim the master's women course record which would have required a 38:50 or better.  No problem I thought.  With less fitness and on a twisting, difficult course I had run faster than this a few months earlier at the Gaucho Gallop.  Surely on this mostly flat out-and-back course, even on a hot day, pre-fatigued, I could manage this goal.

Well here's how this year's McConnell's played out.  I felt no nervousness at the line, however I did feel this heavy blanket of ... blah, with sprinkles of .... yuck it's hot ... this is going to hurt ... do I really need to do this race, crud I paid, I should run.  Not the best mindset for a race start.  The "on your mark, get set, go" voice happened at some point, interrupting my complex thought process and I found my body moving forward.  Eventually my brain caught up and I settled into that first mile, feeling mostly ok and happy with a 5:55 completion of that mile.  As is typically the case, by the second mile I had slowed into reality and evened out the effort and was perfectly where I needed to be in my pace.  What happened after mile two is a whole other story. 

I found that my perfect pace was impossible to maintain and I began to creep into that realm of discomfort way too early.  I was only in mile three and I began readjusting my plan of picking up the pace on the way back.  Those thoughts were replaced by, "shoot.  Why couldn't this race be the McConnell's 4 mile."  I really thought that.  I was sucking eggs.  Why was I sucking eggs?  Was everybody else sucking eggs?  Ricky didn't look like he was sucking eggs as he zoomed back in the other direction, several long minutes ahead of me.  Joy didn't look like she was sucking eggs when she was heading back.  I was sucking eggs into my lungs and they were collecting in my stomach and at some point they were going to have to pop or come back up.  Finally, I made it to the turn around point, completely and fully off of my intended pace.  I wondered if somehow I would begin to feel better on the way back, like maybe the wind would push me or the unchanging bike path would actually have some inconceivable downward slope that just made running hard feel better.  I did not in any way begin to feel better.  I had to let go of my simple goal, and replaced it with a new goal.  My new goal was to finish this bad boy.  Why was this course and race spanking me?  Honestly I had no reason.  I had been running along here for weeks, 7+ mile runs, and at this point, those 7 mile runs were just about as fast as my current race pace.  Suffering along, sweating, feeling the searing heat, sucking eggs, this was mental torture, not to mention physical torture.  But alas, I see the water station up ahead and I need some.  But when I got to the water and grabbed a cup, I stopped and drank.  I stopped running and began walking.  I began walking with my water cup (I never do this in a 10K).  I doubled over for a chance to get more oxygen, dumped the remainder of the water over my head, and then pushed on.  How many seconds lost in that, who knows.  Too many.  But I only had 1 1/2 miles to go.  Only that far but so many eggs in my body and now I've dropped behind my fellow running duo who had been suffering along with me.  They were up there, I was back here.  Anyway, need I go on with this report?  I eventually did drag myself across the finish line in a time one whole minute SLOWER than I had run last time.  And Kevin, the race director (thank you Kevin for your dedication to directing this race year after year) asks me how old I am.  I mean, at the moment, I'm sure I looked something like Igor, humped over, dragging by body out of the chute into some shade where I would eventually crumble and contemplate why I felt I needed to do this race.  Kevin was so excited when he found out I was 44.  He announces to everyone that Cindy has just run the 5th fastest master's women time on this course.  He shoves a list of women in my face, the list that shows the four faster times.  "Do you recognize any of those names?"  Yah, that one right there, #2, that's me.  Different last name, but same me.  I guess I've hit an age milestone because when I was called to receive my award (for which I am truly grateful despite my difficult race), he felt it necessary to tell everyone again how old I am, and again repeated that I had run the 5th fastest masters time.  He could not have known my simple goal that had been defeated, crushed and squished into the asphalt back at mile 3.

But one can't dwell on the past, I had two more races ahead of me.  The next race was the 10 mile run leg of the Santa Barbara Triathlon, which I was doing as a relay with two other remarkable female athletes.  I had 5 days to recover and try to taper into it, which included more swimming than running.  There is a different type of pressure when you're doing a relay, particularly when you are the anchor.  The final fate was in my hands.  So I considered this race important and more of a goal race.  A complication though, was that I had a final race, a hard, competitive one, the day after the triathlon.  I wanted to economize my effort in the 10 mile so that I ran only as hard as I had to, and feel good doing it, so that I had legs for the next day.  So the first step to this was to spend ample time sizing up my competition, and like, trying to intimidate them.  We arrived early on Saturday (this is now 9 days after the Westmonster, and 6 days after the tortured 10K.  Did I mention I am mentally scarred from that 10K?  I drank my Americano at 6:30 am.  I wouldn't be starting my run for about 3 hours, so I felt the caffeine was a good idea.  Hmmm.  More on that later.  I watched our amazing swimmer, Becca, go off in her wave with the likes of Gary Hall Jr. who was himself doing the swim leg of a relay.  He wasn't our competition though.  We were competing only against other all women teams.  Becca transitioned in an excellent time to our cyclist Tiffany, with only one all women team ahead of us.  I began to hang near the transition area checking out the other women relay runners.  I lurked behind palm trees watching.  I still had an hour and 45 minutes before my turn, so I remained outside, in dark places throwing darts with my eyes.  A zone bar down the hatch, a bit of water.  Finally time to warm up.  It was much cooler today.  Much cooler, but holy cow it was humid and heavy.  The warm up was slow, slow, slow.  It was time to move into the transition area and join my fellow relay competitors.  Stretch, lots of time to stretch, but the pressure was building.  I slipped my Newton's on and continued to size up the women around me.  Soon the first relay cyclists began to arrive, all men's teams at first, but Becca and I watched in eager anticipation to see if any all women's team cyclists arrived before our Tiffany.  Man  #1, man #2, men #'s 3, 4, 5, hmmm, is that next one a man, no female, wait is that Tiffany.  Becca yells Cindy I think that's Tiffany coming, wait, I'm not sure.  Was she wearing that color?  My adrenaline totally surged, I ripped off my shirt to get ready to grab the timing chip from Tiffany's ankle, and ... no, not Tiffany.  It was another man.  Tiffany doesn't look like a man, but from a distance with a bike helmet, it can be hard to tell.  So, man #6, and oops, there's the first female and it was evident that I would have at least one to catch.  But no other females appeared until our Tiffany arrived and she was on the verge of tossing her cookies.  I could not let my team down.  They've already gutted it out for me.  It was my turn to return the favor.  Timing chip exchanged, and I was off on my 10 mile out and back.  Bouncy, bouncy in my Newton's and fresher legs, pink lulu, and shamelessly passing all the poor souls who were competing in the complete event.  I did feel a bit guilty that I was only doing the run and they were doing the whole thing and I was passing them mercilessly, while offering the encouragement that "Don't worry.  I'm on a relay. You're doing great!"  Mile one, nice.  I passed the team that was ahead of us.  Mile two, still pretty nice but I began to pull back on my pace to save something for tomorrow.  Mile three, uphill through Shoreline Park up to Mesa Park, steady, feeling decent, love passing all these people.  Mile four.  Where the heck is the bathroom!  Now!  From no where, it was the curse of the caffeine.  I had to go now.  Um, and it wasn't #1 that I needed to do.  I was running up the hill still but was past the park and into the neighborhood.  Could I duck into some one's yard?  I tried to but there wasn't enough cover.  But up ahead I found a slanted fence, a tree, a few bushes and an open gate and I was on it.  Off the course into the bushes for my first pit stop (the key word here is "first").  Back on course, still mile four, but now I have time to make up.  I began re-passing people and in some cases the conversation that ensued required me to admit I had to make a stop in the bushes.  Onward toward mile five and the turn around, yes, believe it or not, I needed a bathroom again quick (it had only been a mile since the last one).  This time I found refuge in a port-a-potty, but it wasn't a quick pit stop.  This is crazy.  Time is ticking off the clock, people are moving ahead of me, maybe one of the women's relay people, and here I sit.  Finally, out of the john and back toward the finish line.  As I once again re-passed people, I heard the snickers.  Ah, she had to stop in the port-a-potty.  Focus, but with the time lost I could no longer afford to hold off on my pace.  The tempo increased significantly and soon came mile 6.  Mile six brought another pit stop.  This time I had to run off course to the bathroom and more time lost, lots of time lost.  Panic, frustration, disbelief, pressure, and GI cramping.  This was becoming a nightmare.  Can I wake up now?  Mile seven was ok, nice and hard, passing, passing, passing, trying to catch up to a virtual time somewhere ahead of me.  Mile eight, I might make it without another stop.  Mile nine, another stop was indeed required.  Bathroom by the pier.  That makes a grand total of 4 stops.  Mile ten was the finish line, and by some miracle, a victorious finish line.  Becca and Tiffany were so excited.  Oh my gosh, you ran so fast.  John however, was looking a little confused.  I think I must have just stared at my teammates with some kind of weird crinkle in my brow.  Their expectations must have been different than mine.  I was at least 5 minutes off my intended time.  We did however win by almost 9 minutes.  Alright, so race number three was interesting but ended in victory, but unfortunately left me more tired and drained ... literally ....

Later that same afternoon it was off to Irvine.  We drove down to stay the night.  Race number four was the USATF Southern California Championship Road Mile.  That's a mouthful.  Only one mile.  Straight and flat, and as fate would have it, with the wind.  I was competing for prize money in the Master's Elite women division.  By this time though I must admit I lacked all manner of confidence.  There was no good reason why I should have a good race.  I was still dehydrated, it was another stinkin' hot day, my legs were dead, and I was facing fast women.  Fast women.  Based on the previous year's times, I would have to run a sub 5:10 to have a chance at getting at least third.  I knew I could do that, but I was fairly sure I wouldn't do that today.  A long warm up later, in the growing heat of the morning, Sunday, it was time for my race.  They bunched the open elite, master's elite, and senior elite (over 50) women all in the same race but not pitted against one another.  So everyone knew who was who, they placed an "O", "M", and "S" on our backs to differentiate.  The command would be runners take your mark, and then the gun.  What the heck?  These girls, there were 13 in my race, took off in an all out sprint.   At least that's what it felt like to me.  Are you kidding me?  Some of you are as old as I am, are you really going to maintain this ridiculous pace?  I was like almost last for at least 1/2 mile.  The first quarter clock read 1:12 for me, ummm.  Are you guys going to slow down?  I did.  The 1/2 mile was a more realistic 2:32, but I was thrashed and bascially still in shock by the pace.  There were 3 "M"'s ahead of me running in a cute little bunch, right there.  They were right there but they kept staying right there and I wasn't with them.  Three "M"'s ahead of me means I get no money.  Can I quit now.  This has been a long two weeks.  I'm hot, I'm tired, I'm thirsty, I want to cry, too dehydrated though so no tear would come out.  Darn it.  But there is life in the anaerobic realm of a mile.  Somewhere before the 3rd quarter one of the "M"'s began to drop speed and I felt like I was gaining speed.  Zip, passed her, dropped her like a bad habit, and since I could no longer feel my hands or feet (because they went numb from oxygen debt), I figured I'd just run harder.  Passed a few others.  I wanted that next "M."  I'm gaining, I'm going faster than she is, I can do it.  But alas, the stupid finish line came too soon.  The first thought that swept across my mind as I crossed the finish line was "I did it."  I did 4 races in 11 days.  A little smidgen of money wasn't a bad thing either.  My time was no where near sub 5:10.  It was in fact 5:18.  So there you go.  Third in the master's elite women category, 2nd in my age group.  And John completed his race in amazing fashion with a 5:20.  It was a lovely trip.  Time to rest.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Westmonster 5K

The air hung in the warm moisture of August in the foothills of Montecito.  Nestled there in its shaded glory is the Westmont campus.  It is quiet, like a forest padded by pine needles, the air stays calm, and the sky is fabulous.  Westmont boasts a cross-country course that truly is that.  In a day where everyone's looking for a personal record, there are fewer and fewer courses that offer you nothing close to that.  Westmonster boasts a course that other college cross-country teams prefer not to run.  After all, it leaves too many runners in tears.

I love the name of the race, Westmonster.  It has multiple meanings and sounds kinda cool.  There is a hill on the course (well, as it turns out, there are MANY hills on the course) that hits in the middle of the second mile.  The 15% grade is nicknamed the "Monster."  Yes, fitting.  I love the Monster.  It sucks everything you had left right out of you, gnaws slowly on your lungs and heart, picks pieces of your soul and will away until you simply wonder if you will not just drop dead right there and roll back down to the observatory.

So, last Thursday evening I arrived with my son to the Westmont campus for my second consecutive Westmonster 5K.  Now, just a side note, it is August, it is late afternoon on a muggy, hot day.  The time of day that acts as a funnel, taking the rising heat and humidity and concentrating it into an impossible summer heatwave.  Now having said that, I should also admit that it was only 80 degrees.  It was humid, making it feel like 90 degrees, but as you can see, I have become a coastal wimp.

So as I was saying, I arrived early to the campus so I could walk much of the course.  Although it covered basically same area and terrain as last year, the course had been rearranged this year and I had yet to find out if it was going to be harder or easier.  I took my time on the first loop as I walked, noting the subtle and sometimes not so subtle inclines and declines.  There was dirt, gravel, sloped grass, some kind of powder dust that was the consistency of flour, flat, firm pavement, meandering sidewalks, sudden turns off the main path onto hidden, shadowy trails.  There were even a few lovely U-turns or close to it.  I noted with moving discomfort that there appeared to be more uphill than downhill, but that's because the Westmonster gives you one sweet gift: a final mile of almost all downhill.  Of course the downside to that is the first two miles take almost everything and give nothing back, and then tops it off with the Monster.

So the walking of the course was productive and having made all the mental notes I could afford, I spent the next half hour warming up.  The warm up left me feeling hot, drenched and thirsty and I decided to stretch until the start.  I bypassed my typical routine of strides and drills knowing that I would likely feel the lack of these within that first mile, but didn't want to risk loosing too much precious energy at the end of an already long day.

Jessica Meyers Left, Cindy Abrami Right
So off we went, starting on a slight down slope which rolled right into a sharp upslope and a right turn toward the Eucalyptus lined trail ahead.  As expected, I didn't feel too sharp in my first mile.  I think my warmup was inadequate but on the other hand, it kept me from going out too fast.  However, I was rather surprised to find myself being passed by all sorts of guys and I had two females ahead of me.  But when I race, at some point I quickly have to let everything go that I don't have control over, and run my own race, which I do have control over.  I happened to be all too familiar with this course, and likely the others weren't.  I would soon have the pleasure of picking them off as they learned the hard way that the only way to run the Westmonster is to economize your effort carefully.  As we rounded a practice field and were filtered onto the back powder dust trail I began to calm a bit.  I still had the two girls ahead of me, but I just sort of hung back and watched and listened.  You can tell a lot by a person's breathing pattern.  The trail turned sharply to the left and began to ascend a gravel road back toward the heart of the campus.  This began a long uphill stretch that lasted for close to a mile but was at least on level paved ground for the moment.  I felt good going up the hill which was shaded by a canopy of trees, and soon passed one of the girls (Becky I would later learn).  I remained close on the shoulder of the other female still in a bit of a testing mode to see what she had to offer compared to what I was holding back.  Our pavement came to an end and after the shortest slight downhill, we turned sharply to the right onto a dirt and gravel path and continued up and into the middle of the campus.  Across a footbridge, along pine needles under massive evergreens, and finally we were spit out onto a concrete path near buildings, across a grass lawn, and curled around to the left as we finished loop number one.  It was at this point that I decided I no longer need to test my female competitor but decided to challenge her.  I passed her on the inside as we ran past the starting line back up the steep hill.  This time at the top of the hill we turned sharply left, continued up and eventually curled back around through the middle of the campus again.  I knew the Monster was only meters away and I began the mental preparation as we ran across a shaded trail.   I gave myself a moment of recovery, actually letting my competitor think she had a chance to pass me back, but I knew that wasn't going to happen.  Boom, out of the trail, across the sidewalk, across the grass, and steered right by volunteers, there lay the Monster.  I settled into the reality, dropped my chin down, leaned forward into the slope, shorten my stride, picked the pace I would keep, kept the pace and powered up.  I waited for that moment to hit.  To feel that sense of defeat.  This time, it never came.  This time I beat the Monster and I put distance between me and she that followed.  All that was left was the final mile.  The final mile isn't all bliss as it has an awkward and difficult U-turn to the right, covers a multitude of surfaces, but at least it offered that much needed bit of recovery along with the knowledge that the finish was within steps.  After the final stretch around the tennis courts and along the side slope of the grass, I entered the stadium and completed most of one lap on the track.  The Westmont track has a digital scoreboard of sorts which displayed the running clock so I didn't have to look at my watch to discover my time.  Slower than last year by 12 seconds.  I quickly had to conclude that the course was indeed harder this year, but who really knows.  It's cross-country and comparing cross-country races can be like comparing oranges and apples.  I gave it what I had today and I gave it what I could in the heat.  It was fun.  It was actually fun.

This was the first of four races for me that come all within 10 days.  Ha, it usually takes me 14 days to recover from one race, let alone handle four in 10.  But I'm thankful to have it in me ... or to at least see if I have it in me.

The Westmonster is an awesome 5K.  It is now dubbed by its organizers as Santa Barbara's toughest 5K.  It raises funds for the Westmont athletic programs and the Westmont athletes were out in droves cheering us on.  They lined much of the course with youthful exuberance and made it even that much more enjoyable.  It is well organized, the course is well marked and directed, the timing was accurate and to top it off, there was a fabulous catered healthy dinner enjoyed by athletes, volunteers and spectators, as the sun began to set over the horizon.  And it was a spectacular sunset.  Just beautiful.
Presidio Sports posted an online article and video which can be viewed at the following link:  Ho, Abrami Knock Out Tough Westmonster

Friday, July 27, 2012

Getting My Functional Diagnostic Nutrition On

Hmmmm.  It's hard to type with salt on your fingers.  I was craving popcorn ...

Anyway, I digress even before I get started.  Right.  We are writing about running ... old lady running ... masters running.  I am so very happy to write, according to that topic, that I am no longer injured.  While still getting periodic therapy, with the help of a great doctor and even more, the God given healing power within, the Achilles is strong.  So, more than enough on that topic.  Let's not talk about that for a while.

Popcorn.  Yes, food is on my mind.  Nutrition really.  I am a nutritionist by education.  I got that credential in the form of a Bachelor's degree in Food and Nutrition way back in the, ahem .... 90's.  I finished school and not long after, I began a family.  Once the boys came along (I have two sons, currently 19 and 17), I chose not to pursue any type of career, and worked through those years almost only from the home.  At one time a medical transcriptionist, and later a business owner.  None of it really involved Food and Nutrition, so there sat my degree and my education.  Was it just a waste of time, a waste of money, put it on the shelf as an "experience" without lasting value?  Well here's the answer to that.

A few years ago when I still lived in the San Diego area, there came a time in the circumstances of my life that I needed to begin working outside the home.  (Whew, this popcorn is good).  After what seemed like endless searching, endless attempts to respond to opportunities I thought were a good fit, I came across an ad for "An Executive Assistant needed for busy Entrepreneur."  Reading further it read something like:  Needs to be interested in health and nutrition (me, me, me), needs to have writing ability to ghost write (me, me, me).  There was more but I can't remember what else it said.  I sort of stuck on those two, but I know the other stuff was good too.  The point is, whatever it said was exactly what I was, am.  I responded immediately and had a glimmer of hope while still doubting I'd ever hear anything back, as had been the case 50 other times.  To my delight and joy I did hear back.  It turns out that my response was exactly what he was looking for.  I talked about my nutritional "background" and my writing gigs (along with samples), my view of allopathic medicine and the reasons why I gave birth to both my children at home, never having seen a doctor during those pregnancies (I had an exceptional mid-wife).  I explained that I was a competitive runner and in good physical condition with the mindset to remain that way.

To make a long story short, he promptly hired me and from day one it was indeed a perfect fit.  As it turns out, this Executive was a very busy clinical nutritionist.  He was busy because he also is the founder of Functional Diagnostic Nutrition which in a nutshell is using functional lab work to discover malfunctions within the body that are responsible for common health complaints and issues that most (probably all) people struggle with.  Things related to adrenal function, gut, immunity, digestion, pathology in the intestinal tract, steroidal hormone imbalances, and many other things.  He is a master at reading clues and following them until he has figured out the most underlying cause.  The treatment is often done with supportive supplementation and elimination of foods from the diet that are causing issues, removing pathogens when needed, correcting imbalances and other things depending.  This FDN guru, his name is Reed, not only founded this work but teaches it in an online course and to this day (4 years after he began teaching others how to do this) he has had hundreds of graduates spanning 35 different countries.  This man needed someone to help him out.  I truly did fit right in because, although I had not previously heard of FDN, I immediately embraced it, believed in it, and saw if work in his clients and students.

So to make another long story short.  When we moved to Santa Barbara, I attempted to commute to San Diego to maintain my work with Reed, but it became apparent that I was going to have to let that go.  I couldn't keep up the drive each week (3 days there, 4 days here) and he wanted his assistant in office.  We had to part ways, though it was a very positive parting.  And we had kept in touch since then.  I sought employment in Santa Barbara and was blessed with some opportunities, but always missed that perfect fit job with Reed (which wasn't really a job so much as just being a part of something that was making a difference).

This past April, as my contract with the school district as a PE teacher was winding down, I was needing to decide whether I would attempt to continue on in that capacity.  In all truth, there were a lot of reasons why I didn't want to, but felt I most likely would have to.  It was in that critical set of days that I heard from Reed (almost a year and a half later).  It seemed that he was continuing to grow in his work and needed additional support staff.  He wondered if I knew anyone who might be interested.  My question back, "Can this work be done remotely ... as in from Santa Barbara?"  And there began the continuation of my FDN career.

Beginning this past June, from a home office, I am experiencing what I believe my Food and Nutrition degree was meant to give me.  What I get to do though is so much more than food and nutrition.  While I work hard each day, I also am taking the FDN course.  I took it before, but never completed it.  This time I am jumping through all the hoops, learning the ropes, and within a few months, I myself will be a Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist.  In the process, I'm working on my own health as well.  Everyone who has any issue at all, any symptom at all, also has opportunities to heal.  And athletes that are looking for top performance are even more in need of perfect function at every level.  And there's no one size fits all solution, even when it comes to proper diet - especially when it comes to proper diet.  So as an athlete, with FDN I am now able to fine tune my diet, work on malfunctions in my adrenal, liver, digestion and detoxification systems, support the areas that need support, and am getting rid of things that aren't supposed to be there.  I am finding the healing opportunities and doing something about it.

So this has been a weird circle to run around but I'm glad to be back to the beginning of it.  When it's all said and done there's just one thing I hope ... that popcorn fits into my "proper diet."  Oh, and Starbucks, I hope that fits in there too.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Semana Nautica 15K Race Report

Summer came to Santa Barbara right on schedule.  Toward the end of June, the gloom gave way to sunny, warm, dry mornings, and sleeping past 5:30 am with open curtains became a struggle as the bright radiation beckoned for the days in paradise to begin.  But with this welcomed change of season, came also a change in my running.  I am not a heat runner.  Thankfully there are not many hot days in my area, but on the occasions that they arrive, running begins to hurt.

In preparation for the Semana Nautica 15K, I ran the course a few times in the weeks prior.  Although I had never actually competed in this race before, I had grown quite accustomed to the course as I had helped a few ladies train for it last year.  I always race better when I know where I'm going and what to expect.  So in the heat and dryness of our new weather, I set out on my first course preview run.  The result was psychologically damaging.  I felt utterly wilted and out of shape.  My lungs struggled to get enough dry air into my body to keep myself in forward motion.  I felt every gentle slant of the road and longed for the slant to go the other way, just for a moment of recovery.  Foolishly I didn't carry water (but then I never do) and my thirst became completely mind consuming.  I had ample time to think and my prevailing thought was "what the heck is wrong with me."  After such a rough go, I decided to cut that first course preview short and finished after 6 1/2 miles. 

The next day I hit the course again, this time feeling only slightly better.  I have had many wonderful runs here of late but this was not one of them, and as I struggled through the warm, dry morning's 10 miler, again I found myself pondering why I was feeling so awful.  This time, with some difficulty, I finished the run and managed to keep my pace slightly under 7:00 per mile, but there was no ease to it.

One more time the following week I ran a final course preview, and again the sun beamed down through dry morning air.  This time the temperature was decent and I did feel ever so slightly better, but still not the greatest.  By this time I decided I did not like this course.  There isn't any real reason to dislike the course, but since it has now kicked my butt three times.  I decided not to like it.

The reality of the matter is that running in the heat takes adaptation.  It is much harder for the body to maintain a safe, healthy temperature while running in 80+ degrees.  The course was not the culprit, the summer weather was.  Therefore I began watching the weather reports and forecasts as the 4th of July race approached.  If only it could revert back to June gloom just for one more day.

Race day came and when John and I awoke that morning, my heart, mind and body sang joyfully ... "This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice, I will rejoice and be glad in it."  It was June gloom all over the place.  Cloudy, foggy, marine layer hung over the mountain.  No sunshine, and even a bit of mist hovered and settled. 

With much relief and several layers of clothing, we arrived at the race and mingled with nervous runners.  So much of the dread I had been feeling evaporated and was replaced with a sense of peace.  I knew my race strategy and now felt like I could possibly do it some justice.  I set my goal sparingly with a wide range.  I needed to run at least a 6:20 pace, but that would have been the slow end of my satisfaction scale.  I would have loved to run a 6:10 pace, and would have settled with anything in between. 

Photo by Jarrett McFarland
A 15K, or as I looked at it, a 3 x 5K, is a nice distance.  After having run much shorter races lately, it was nice to take off in a relaxed pace and just sort of hang there for a while.  I planned on taking the first 5K a bit easier and really did a good job of disciplining my effort.  It helped to have a great group to run among.  They were steady and there was a mutual lightness to the effort that gave me confidence that holding back now would pay off in the end.  The first 5K was over in 19:41 and I was feeling fabulous.  It is hard to understand why running over this same stretch in the weeks prior at a pace that was at least a minute per mile slower, was near impossible, but now at a much quicker clip it felt almost effortless. 

As we made our way through the middle miles of the race, I was able to enjoy the gestures of the spectators.  I heard my name several times and although I don't usually show it during a race, I felt such gratitude.  I picked up the pace during these miles and saw my 6:20 pace start to slide down a bit.  There was a 6:10 mile mixed in among 6:14's and 6:12's and I was still running in the comfort zone.  I knew I had 3 females ahead of me and became anxious to see how the final miles would play out.  It wasn't long before I saw a blond pony tale bobbing around on a runner up ahead.  I could tell already that her pace was slowing while mine was remaining steady with still more in the tank.  By the time we began our final 5K I caught her.  She didn't want to let me pass, and tried to pick up her pace while at the same time cutting off my inside line along the bike path.  I love to see a runner fight for position but I didn't appreciate being cut off unnecessarily.  It didn't bother me for long as I passed her and left her in my wake.

As I had hoped, running conservatively at the beginning made the final miles of the race stronger.  I was able to pick it up yet again in the final miles, although at this point there was no longer any comfort to speak of.  The worst feeling in a race is to get to those final miles and literally die on your feet.  There was no dying for me today and I was able to push through the final two miles, not at a blazing pace, but at least a respectable pace that really put the frosting on the cake for me.

I hit the line in 58:43, well within my goal and felt satisfied.  It was a well planned and executed race. I met my hope and expectation, but didn't yet exceed my expectation.  Maybe next time.  I was just happy to be able to run, and to run without pain.  This was the 58th Annual Semana Nautica, held on the 4th of July.  I wore, for the first time, my USA Olympic uniform (since I missed the World Championships last year I never got to wear it), doing my best to represent the spirit of the holiday.  This race was also part of the USATF Southern California Association road race grand prix, so we had to contend with the LA crew who came up to grab points, and I think Santa Barbara runners represented well.  As a USATF member, I was myself going for those grand prix points ... and got them.  By age grade, I was listed as the first place overall finisher in the grand prix contention.

So it was a fun way to start a great day.  I love to watch runners at the finish line.  Everyone is in the greatest of moods, having just accomplished something amazing, while nibbling on yummy food and re-hydrating themselves.  There is really nothing quite like that post-race elation.  Now that the 15K is in the history books, it'd be fine with me if our sunshine returned again.  Thanks for a great race Wally, and so very many wonderful volunteers.  Thanks so all of you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vicki's 3000 Race Report

This post is coming hopefully better late than never.  Over a week ago I participated in a local track 3000.  Although I spent many high school and college years running track, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I actually ran a 3000, so I was assured a PR. 

The Vicki's 3000 is yet another special Santa Barbara race.  In the spirit of true and pure competition and fund raising for something more worthwhile than collecting a trophy, Vicki's was all about the cause.  All proceeds benefited the Special Olympics, a beneficiary rooted deep in the history of the race.

The race location couldn't have been better.  The Westmont College track is one of the best in the area and is nestled in the Santa Barbara/Montecito foothills, in a quiet, secluded, peaceful nook.  The overcast sky and low lying clouds muted the setting even more, and but for the jovial chatter from the folks who came out to run the track, a subdued hush rested over us.

It was a sweet day, Saturday June 9th, and the moist air registered a perfect temperature and little air movement.  The race went off in 3 waves, so between warming up and stretching, I was able to watch the first two waves go round and round.  Seven and a half laps isn't all that much unless you're red lining it the whole way.  In that case 7 1/2 laps is forever.  As I watched my fellow runners suffer around the oval, that old familiar intimidation rose within me.  It's interesting that a race can intimidate me.  It's not so much about the competitors I will face, but my own limitations that I will challenge.  There's no way to get around the fact that a 3000 hurts ... the whole way.  There really isn't a time of comfort or relaxation though the want for that increases with every passing lap. 

I try to set a realistic goal when I approach a race.  At this point, it is difficult to really know what I realistically can do as I am still fighting back from injury and striving for ideal fitness, but I have to have some goal for pacing purposes.  My goal for this race had a broad range and I based it, as I often do, on recent races and the McMillan Running Calculator.  For me the McMillan calculator is spooky accurate.  According to McMillan, if I look at my most recent strong efforts, I might be capable of around a 10:20 to 10:30 3000.  So I set my pacing goal firmly within this range.  The best way to ruin a race is to set too high of a goal and try to hold onto too fast of a pace until finally you break and trickle in like a wilted piece of lettuce.  Been there, done that ... many times.  This race needed to be paced properly.

So the goal pace was to be approximately in the 82 - 83 seconds per lap range.  Ouch!  This is why a race can intimidate me.  I knew it was going to hurt.

There was an excellent turn out of fast runners toeing the starting line in the third wave.  The field was mostly men, but there were four of us braves girls ready to keep up with the big boys.  I am proud of my fellow female runners.  All of them work hard every day and are being rewarded by the joy that comes from strong running.  I was honored to race with them knowing that we would push one another toward our best.  That day a proverb reverberated in my mind during and after the race: "Like iron sharpens iron, so one man (woman) sharpens another."

So off we went in light hearted competition but each one with a goal and a determination to fight through the pain long enough to cross the finish line with dignity.  The first lap was just a bit on the fast side in 78 but I expected this.  The adjustment often comes naturally as I settle into a pace.  The next lap was better in 81, and then the next several laps stayed consistent at around 82 (approximately - my Garmin was beeping a bit inaccurately).  A race on the oval is so vulnerable.  Spectators can see everything and knowing this I found it hard to let go mentally.  Also, we were responsible for counting our laps and I needed to keep my head in it so as to always to be aware of what's been done, and what's left to be done.  As the laps went on, I came across the mile in 5:31 and I noted that this is really right on ... but can I hold onto it.  Only 3 1/2 laps to go, but in perspective, that was a long way.  With 800 to go, I finally came to a point where I mentally decided to slow the pace.  I was in that desperate place and I just needed a reprieve.  That was my slowest lap in 83, and then with one lap to go I focused fully on the finish line.  Oh, that last lap.  This is where you push yourself beyond yourself.  You cannot will that much pain upon your body.  It's like something else takes hold and wills you on.  It wasn't so much about catching the person in front of me, or staying ahead of the person behind me.  It was more about just wanting to stop running and suck in ample oxygen.  I wanted the oxygen.  With 200 to go I was somewhat aware that my friend Joy was approaching me from behind.  Joy is amazing, really amazing.  She is one of those really fast and talented runners who began running later in life.  She has been improving by mighty leaps and bounds over the past two years, and she has such a sweet and humble attitude.  I have loved seeing her achieve so many personal records.  It's funny.  I am a fierce competitor but I also have this inner battle as I approach a finish line in close proximity to a fellow runner.  Although I hate to be beat at the line, I also hate to beat another female at the line (unless I am unacquainted with her).  Today was no different.  But my greatest desire today was to hold on it.  I wanted to be able to respond instead of letting it go.  The end result was that Joy and I both ran seconds faster than we otherwise would have.  Precious seconds.  My final time was 10:25 (10:24 on my watch).  After enough oxygen entered my body to begin thinking again, I realized that I met the goal.  Yes, there's always that hope that I could have smashed my goal and ran a 10:15, but it was yet confirmation that I am on the upswing and I was grateful. 

I'm thankful for a race that offers no award other than knowing you are running for something bigger than yourself.  I'm thankful for the strong tradition of races in this area.  I'm thankful for strong competition, for a perfect day, and for the ability to just do it.  I'm thankful for the encouragement from others and for those who cheered us on lap after lap.  I'm thankful to God for putting the capacity in my lungs, the length in my legs, the strength in my heart, and the race in my soul.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The State Street Mile Race Report

The mile is a special race.  It's not that common to run one on the road instead of the track.  The State Street Mile is even more special than the typical road mile: it is point to point on a gentle downhill slope, and there's a Starbucks at the finish line.  The State Street Mile course covers several blocks of Santa Barbara's popular and beautiful downtown area and is lined with spectators, both those who arrived to watch the race and those who were just lucky and happened to be there to watch the morning's waves of action.
Photo by Mark Polomski - 50 - 59 Race (John on the Right)

I'm not typically like this, but during the week prior to this race I spent time locating my favorite items of running clothes to wear.  Most of the time I don't give much thought to what I wear, I just make sure it is comfortable and appropriate for the conditions, but this past week in my mounting nervousness, I wanted everything the the State Street Mile to be perfect.  After all, I have waited three years to do this race, having to sit out the first two because of injury.  Finally, finally I get to run this downhill mile through paradise, end at Starbucks, kiss my husband and share a 5 shot Americano with him.  So I needed my favorite shorts, which required a load of laundry to be run.  I pulled out a very old running top the color of red because "red" signifies fire, passion, speed, determination, focus.  It was what I wore 3 years ago at my last road mile.  Lastly I needed my favorite socks.  I sifted through my over packed sock drawer and couldn't readily find them.  Hmmm.  Let's try that again.  I pulled out every pair of socks in the drawer and no fav's to be found.  Nope, not in the dirty clothes either.  Well, there's only one reasonable explanation.  John took them.  He must have thought they were his.  After all it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference.  I went through his drawer and nothing.  I looked in my backpack and in my running shoes and cycling shoes.  Not to be found.  So the night before the race, as I laid everything out for the morning, I reluctantly went through my sock drawer to find a worthy runner-up pair.  I chose some greenies to match my Newtons but was unsettled about the whereabouts of my favorite socks.

Race day was nice.  It was not an early morning rise because John's and my races were middle morning and we had merely to walk 4 blocks from our house to the start line, so it was a nice casual morning of getting ready, stretching, stretching, and more stretching.  I fretted one last time over my lost socks and then let that go in favor of focusing on the crushing competition I was likely to face.  We placed our entries weeks earlier and when I registered I had a choice I needed to make.  Was I going to enter the Open Elite race, or the Master's Elite race.  What I had noticed from looking at previous results, is the Master's Elite race lacked comparable competition.  The women who entered the Master's race were wonderful, strong, fast women, but I could see that my mile time was likely to be much faster than what had been posted by that group in the past.  If I entered the Master's race, would I run as fast if I had no one to puch me?  Then with the Open Elite race, the finishing times and participants varied greatly from year to year.  There may be a lot of super fast women or there may be a few super fast women.  But if I entered that race, knowing of course I was not likely to win, I might run faster against the competition and post a better time.  Oh the dilemma.  What was more important, to run the fastest time possible but finish well off the leaders, or to win?  I decided therefore to enter myself in the Open Elite.  It's one of those moments; you make your selection, check the box, pay the fee, hit submit and then immediately regret it.

I was not privy to information about who had entered the elite mile this year but not long after I arrived to watch the age groupers start, I sat and talked with a fellow elitists who began rattling off names and abilities of the elite entrants.  What????  How many are qualified for Olympic Trials? How many 22 year olds?  Or 25 year olds?  Decades younger than me?  She ran a recent sub 17, she runs a 2:16 half.  My jaw dropped and I thought, "Do I really belong in that race?"  After all, the point of having a Master's Elite mile is so the Masters can still compete at a competitive level yet against those who are at least dealing with the same age disadvantage. 

Ponder, ponder, ponder.  Should I switch my race?  I really didn't think about it for too long before I went over to the registration table and asked if I could change races.  They allowed it and I decided that I would quietly slip out of that elite category.  All things considered, I'm glad I did, but the question of whether I would have had a faster race as an elite still hangs in the air.  Who knows. 

It was time to slip on my racing flats.  With my runner-up socks already on my feet (who wants to wear runner-up socks in a race, really), I pulled out my lime green Newtons.  Ooops.  What's this, ha, my favorite socks stuck inside.  The one place I didn't check :)  With a quick switch of my socks I began my last minute preparation for my race, clad in my favorite running clothes all the way down to my feet.

Photo by Mark Polomski
There were only 4 competitors in my race and I had an immediate sense that I may be running this one alone and paced only against myself.  I would then have only my 1/4 mile splits to rely on.  I was nervous on the line and the pause between "Take your mark" and the whistle seemed an eternity.  Shoot, I don't want to false start.  Finally, off went the starters whistle and off went the masters.  I pushed into what I thought was a good pace immediately and felt nor heard anyone near me.  Focused ahead and watching for each 1/4 mile marker I prepared to gut it out as best I could.  The timers did not hear the starter's whistle so there was a bit of an issue with the splits - this is not good, and so I wasn't sure if they were reliable.  But you have to go with what you have so I simply pushed it regardless of the split.  Prior to the brain fade oxygen debt that eventually set in, I listened to the spectators' cheers and people calling out for me to run faster.  I think my eyes must have been as big as quarters as I passed a half mile in under 5 minute pace and feeling like I can surely keep this pace if not increase it.  I was feeling good about a sub-5 minute finish.  There did however come a time when I basically could no longer feel my legs.  I was pushing against nothing in particular with no one in my sites and no one on my shoulder but I could see the balloons arched over the finish line (the finish line which ended at the Starbucks) and I could still make out random voices calling out, willing me along.  It had been announced at some point as I approached the finish that the course record may be broken today.  The course record.  I hadn't even considered that.  It stood at 5:09 up to today.  When the numbers on the clock finally came into focus I saw 4:50's ticking away.  Wait, I need at least one of you to stay.  I'll even take 4:59.  But I saw 4:59 tick into 5:00 and I slipped in a moment later in 5:03.  I have to be honest.  Though I was glad to be done, glad I could take a moment to regain oxygen in my extremities, glad to have finished first, so glad for the support and the congratulations that showered out of the sky, I was yet disappointed in that finishing time.  It was then that Mike, the Newspress reporter began asking me questions about breaking the course record.  He asked if I expected to break it.  Heck, I hadn't even expected really to be in this race, so I hadn't given it any thought at all.  What began to occur to me was that a record being broken makes the race bigger than just today.  No woman over 40 had ever run the State Street Mile faster than I did, and and and, I set a mark that I and others can try to overtake in the future.  I like the idea of records.  Now I have a clear goal for next year.  I love being a master runner.
Photo by Mark Polomski
It was a great day for the Abrami family.  John surpassed his expectations and ran to a closely contested 3rd place finish among men in his age group.  His time of 5:08 (5:10 was the official time but it is inaccurate as I watched carefully as he crossed in 5:08) was only 6 seconds off the first  place finisher.  We were both happy with our races and even happier to grab a Starbucks Americano (Venti with 5 shots of espresso) and walk back home.

Santa Barbara is a great place to run and race.  It was great to get a chance to watch others run in their races and to cheer them on as they did me.  There were epic performances today.  Many age group records were surpassed on this cool, calm, overcast Sunday.  The elite races were phenomenal and there were excellent performances by local runners who ran in those elite races.  The race itself is well attended, well supported and well organized.  Thank you to all.