There Are No Problems, Only Opportunities.

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No news is good news. But, this is a blog. I need news to write; be it good or bad.

The good news: No stress fracture.

The bad news: No running.

In other news: Meet my new friend, Sexy Boot. We’ve decided to start going on adventures together around the grand city of Portland. He’s not the fastest means of transportation, and we get some strange looks, but overall, it’s looking like it will be a mutually beneficial (and hopefully short-lived) friendship.

Remember my mention of shin pain in my last post? Two weeks prior April’s marathon, I started getting twinges similar to shin splints in my right leg. The pain worsened, but I still ran my marathon on it. Even when the pain kicked in at mile 2. I gave it a couple weeks post-race to see if it would get any better. It started aching all the time. If I tried walking around on it too much, it would turn into a shooting, sharp pain in the lower part of my shin. The thought of running would make me cringe. I’m not a big fan of doctors. I’m not at all against them; it just takes a lot to necessitate going in. The lack of improvement after two weeks and my complete inability to run was reason enough.

A trip to the orthopedist, an x-ray, and an MRI later and I learned what ailed me: torn tendons in the lower portion of my right tibia. Overuse injury. The Remedy = No running + Sexy Boot + Physical Therapy.

Sometimes, it takes being deprived of something to make you truly appreciate it. Running is a gift. A privilege. I felt that I’d always valued this ability. But, to be suddenly told that I’m not allowed to run, not allowed to partake in an activity that brings me happiness, mental clarity, and most of all, sanity? The world better watch out. It gave me an entirely new perspective. I’ve only been a real runner for 20 months, but it has become such a defining feature of myself. “Hello, I’m Jessica. I’m a runner, an amateur photographer and a lover of teeth.” To have to add a caveat to the first on that list was painful (pun intended.)

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Yes, my house has stayed incredibly clean. I’ve found myself getting anxious and irritable when Sunday rolls around and I’m not heading out on the trails for a long run. I see runners on the road and find myself thinking murderous thoughts that would surely get me in trouble if I verbalized them. Those runners didn’t deserve my negative attitude.  I was (am) surely just jealous. Side effects of not running: mood swings, irritability, insomnia, guilt, crying, irrational behavior, excessive caloric intake to expenditure ratio…

A reality check was needed. I’ve found new activities to occupy my time. Sexy Boot and I have gone on some adventures. We hiked Munra Point in the Columbia River Gorge. This is a view at the top of the hike, facing west.

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It was a beautiful and steep climb that was absolutely enjoyed. The day was warm and none too windy. The hike was 7.5 miles round trip. The only downside of the hike was that the first portion of it, you walk pretty much parallel to the freeway. Once you pass Moffet Creek though, you begin steadily climbing and leaving the road noise behind.

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This is facing south, looking down Tanner Valley. I was perched rather precariously to even get this photo.

In addition to hiking (slowly, I might add), I was given the okay to start biking. This is an activity that Sexy Boot and I are not together for. I’ve been cycling over 100 miles a week to help in my pursuit of the mental clarity that running brings me. I’m also trying to take all of this extra time I have and start learning to properly cross train and strength train. My sister’s wedding is less than 3 months away. As her maid of honor, I can’t be the dumpy looking one of the group…right?!

Sexy Boot is not getting me down. My mantra right now is the title of this post, and comes from one of my dental hygiene professors. She said this to us at the beginning of our program, “There are no such thing as problems, only opportunities.” That is how I’m viewing this setback. It is an opportunity for me to discover new things, new ways to stay fit. It is an opportunity for me to focus on improving my overall body strength, work with physical therapists so as to prevent myself from injury like this in the future. I had three half marathons scheduled for the months of May and June. It has taken a lot of willpower and a humbled attitude to have stepped down from them.

I want to be a runner until the day I die. If that means taking time off to heal now so I can be stronger in the future, then I am ready for it. It is surely a test of my mental toughness, as I have a hard time even considering myself a runner right now. Regardless, this setback is going to set me up for an even stronger comeback. Be ready for it.

Whidbey Island Whims.

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“Sweetie, we need to let Jessica get to sleep. She has to get up before the crack of dawn for her race.”

“When it’s still a butt?”

This is how my aunt informed my ten year old cousin that I would be setting the alarm for the ungodly hour of 4:45am to be at the Whidbey Island Marathon on time. Getting up before the (butt)crack of dawn…when it’s still a butt. At the very least, a pain in one.

What a crazy weekend. Saturday was an all day volunteer dental event called Give Kids A Smile. From there, I drove straight up to Burlington (4 1/2 hours) to meet up with my family. We had dinner together and drove the country roads to look at all of the tulip fields. Who knew there was a tulip festival going on? The dinner was what we call a pre-race meal of the gods: sweet potato fries and a bacon cheeseburger. Not to mention the avocado on top and sautéed mushrooms. Did I mention these were bottomless fries? This decision was not regretted for a moment. Besides, this photo was what went through my head during that evening and probably the three weeks prior to my race:

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In further preparation for the race, I had to make a last minute trip to the store. Who loves gummy bears for long runs? This girl! I don’t mind the Gu Chomps, Shot Blocks or other sport gummies, but I am a firm believer that a gummy bear does close to the same thing. It’s a little sugar boost. I like to suck on them, rather than chew them. It gives my body something to process, my mouth some flavor, and my brain something to think about and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a weakness for watermelon flavored Gu Chomps. Just no Gu gels, please.

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Don’t worry, I didn’t buy all three pounds of gummy bears. I cannot imagine how absurd that would have looked running with that bag…I bought a sensible amount. Clearly.

Race day brought that pre-5 am wakeup time. Ugh. I hardly slept the night before. Pre-race excitement is real. I drove out to Oak Harbor with enough time to catch the shuttle up to the race start and pick up my race bib. Crossing over the Deception Pass bridge on the bus, I was reminded of one of the many reasons why I run, why I get up at ungodly hours, why I push myself to do what I do:

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This. Nature’s beauty in all of its simplicity. It was a perfect moment leading up to the start of a marathon. The last 25 minutes until the race start was spent waiting in line for a porta potty/blue room/honey bucket (read: every runner’s best friend before a race.) Then began the 5 minute, 4 minute, 3 minute, 2 minute countdown, which was when I dove into the next vacant stall. There’s nothing like the start of a race to make you pee fast! With not a moment to spare, I heard the gun go off as I pushed my way into the tangibly anxious group of runners, relieved in more ways than one.

The energy at the beginning of this run was palpable. So many energetic, smiling people. The views in the first two miles were phenomenal. That same view above on the Deception Pass bridge was revisited by over 600 runners. Many times throughout the run, glimpses were caught of the snowcapped Olympic mountains.

Mile 6 brought the ever so difficult shedding of my long sleeve. Okay, so taking off a layer wasn’t the hard part. The difficulty came from removing my race bib from my sweatshirt and putting it on my tank top; removing and reattaching safety pins while running. Not easy. I managed to both avoid stabbing myself and put the bib on straight. Success.

Mile 9 brought a lovely hill. And, a sign that said, “Run faster. My legs are getting tired waiting for you!” They, of course, had to put a photographer in place when we were a quarter of the way up it. Quick, hide the miserable look on your face!

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Miles 10-15 found me lost in random thoughts, random chats with runners about cupcakes, and the delight in many gummy bears. It was a perfect mixture of shade and bright, bright sun. I spent nearly two miles trying to remember the saying, “Did not win is better than did not finish, is better than did not start.” Just imagine the variations and disorder in trying to put that together. Mile 16-17 was a struggle. Another beast of a hill. One. Mile. Long. I was losing my rhythm. I started to realize how little sense my thoughts were making.

I’d told my aunt, uncle, and cousin the night before to sleep in. I told them that I could hold my own through the first half, but their support in the second half would be invaluable. Indeed, it was. After climbing that beast of a hill, I needed some positive reinforcement. And there they were, shouting at me, “We love you! You’re amazing! Do you want a banana?” A banana?! To my semi-delirious mind, a banana sounded like gold. Outside of delirium, a banana is such a great snack while running. As she handed it to me though, I looked at the banana perplexed…How do I peel these things, again? I gave my aunt a hug and said, “Thank you! You mean so much to me!” To which she replied, “Don’t pants your poop!”

The runner in front of me turned around and gave her such a strange look. I had no choice but to explain where that phrase was from and the amazingness of this Marathon thoughts video:

Now, imagine a mildly delirious runner trying to describe the above video. Complete with wild hand gestures, shouting about Rob Thomas, second winds, and the perils of chafing. After that, my thoughts were making even less sense. So, imagine my surprise when those thoughts turned themselves into continued conversation with this random runner. I’m really curious what this runner thought of me; especially as I started spouting off about how I fancied myself a ballerina. That is, when my feet get tired and my legs feel heavy, I think about light feet. Keeping my steps light and not plodding. The first image conjured up in regards to light feet is a ballerina. I completed this thought with, what I thought, was a beautifully graceful leap in the air. Mind you, this was mile 23ish. Graceful and 23 miles do not go in the same sentence.

I passed a runner around mile 20. She says to me, “this is what I call guts.” I’d never thought of it that way. What is that ever popular adage? ‘No guts, no glory.’ Miles 18-26 are the guts of the run. It will gut you. It will take guts to push through, to make it, to complete the marathon. Without guts, without mile 18-26 gut of the run, there can be no glory. The glory of the finish line, the glory of another feat accomplished, the glory of knowing you pushed yourself to Empty.

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I think of those last few minutes of the run, coming into Windjammer park. All through the race I’d kept a smile on my face. I was happy out there. I was doing something I truly love. But that last half-mile was the biggest mental game. I wish I could perfectly capture that moment, those emotions, the utter and complete desire to stop moving, stop breathing and pumping my arms. All I wanted was to be done. To cross that finish line. To collapse on that lush, green, sun-soaked grass that had come into view. My lungs hated me, my legs felt mechanical, and JT had become too much in my ears. It was exhaustion at its finest.

I gave everything I had left in the tank to sprint the last 0.2 across the grass. With simultaneous feelings of euphoria and the desire to die, I crossed the finish line of my second marathon. 13 minutes and 20 seconds faster than my last. I found my aunt, embraced her, and, as was true with my first 26.2, cried tears for the spectrum of emotions that washed over me.

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When people ask how my marathon was, I tell them it was both agonizing and amazing. These two words could not have explained it more accurately. It was amazing in that I was pushing myself to do something that less than 10% of the population ever accomplishes in a lifetime. It was amazing how much my body could endure. It was amazing the runners I met, the views of the beautiful PNW, and the strength I demonstrated in which I did not know I possessed. It was equally as agonizing. It was agonizing mentally to push through that negative self-talk. The proverbial blerch that tells you that you’re better off walking up that hill, slowing down for a minute, or, hell, stopping to take a nap. It was agonizing physically as I’ve been nursing some pretty intense shin pain for the last month. It started acting up about mile two.

They talk of people being able to push through pain. The ability to push it out of their mind and focus on other things so that it doesn’t affect them. I never believed this was possible until it happened on this run. I pushed aside the pain in my shin. I managed to push through it all the way to the end. I crossed that finish line and collapsed in the grass. It took a week to be able to walk without limping. But, I just remember this:

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I run for me. I run to keep my sanity. I don’t run for you. Or for them. I don’t run to beat other people. I don’t run to be fast. I run for those who can’t. I run to find myself.

Addictions.

Hello. My name is Jessica, and I am addicted to almond butter. And gum. And running. And cupcakes.

Handling these addictions is not easy. But I manage.

I once tried to quit chewing gum cold turkey. It lasted 2 weeks. I developed other nervous habits…clenching my teeth, biting my nails, chewing my lip. It was really rather unhealthy. And besides, what reason is there to stop chewing gum? It’s not bad for you. After all, Trident contains xylitol! Xylitol helps to neutralize the pH in your mouth after you eat, preventing your mouth from becoming too acidic (read: it helps prevent cavities!) But, when I realized I consumed an entire Costco size pack of gum in 3 weeks, I knew a had a bit of a problem. 3 weeks = 21 days, Costco container of Trident Original contains 20 packs with 18 pieces in each. 20×18= 360. 360 pieces of gum in 21 days. That’s just shy of a pack a day. It’s like I’m a smoker. I’ve quelled this obsession down to a piece of gum after each meal. You have to remember, I love teeth. And that piece of gum is the fastest way to fresh breath and peace (piece? hah.) of mind.

Two weeks ago, I travelled to Seattle for my lovely Auntie’s birthday. In addition to celebrating with family, I decided to be a complete tourist and traipse around Pike Place Market with a good friend of mine.

Anyone heard of Post Alley with the delightfully disgusting gum wall?

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Isn’t it lovely? 6 feet of sugary bubble tape purchased.

4 1/2 consumed to create this splendid work of art.

Number of times I touched the wall: 37.

Ew.

My next addiction: almond butter.

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The above is hands down the best snack in the entire world. There’s just something so entirely blissful about munching down on a sweet-tart Pink Lady apple and 2 spoon fulls of crunchy, nutty, wholesome almond butter…

A really rather healthy addiction. Unless you consider the fact that each tablespoon contains 100 calories. One hundred calories of bliss. I usually purchase it at the grocery stores that offer the ‘grind it yourself’ type option. That way it’s fresh almonds and no added sweetener. That being said, I have a particular weakness for Justin’s brand Maple Almond Butter. There was this once that I consumed an entire pound in 2 days. Please don’t judge.

My third and newest addiction….running.

 

I think about it, dream about it, talk about it; it’s incessant, really. The half-marathon is less than a month away, and I cannot shut up about it. I want to run every day, but refrain. You see, my left hip was recently replaced by that of an 80-year old woman’s. I’m none too sure what’s going on. It’s encouraging the people I’ve talked to lately that are also runners. Rain or shine, they’re out there getting their run on. No such thing as bad weather they say, only soft people.

Suddenly, my thoughts are filled with the next pair of running shoes I’m going to purchase, the GPS watch/heart rate monitor I want and how much waterproof gear I really need (a lot). The Camelbak I want. All those fabulous knee high socks I saw at the running store… Now I know what is going on the Christmas wishlist.

The above are shoes I scored at the Nike Employee Store. LunarEclipse +. Retro and super comfortable. Not recommended for runs longer than 5k.

Filling my thoughts too is what half-marathon I’m going to run next. I’m not stopping at one. And there are so many options. You can go on vacation and run a race? I like this thought. Though, that Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in Las Vegas doesn’t sound too brilliant. Alcohol and athletic achievements aren’t generally synonymous.

Let’s talk about Progress:

Cross-training has been mediocre at best. I’ve been a slacker at strength training. Stretching is becoming my best friend. But, I’ve been a good runner.
I’m up to running 20 miles a week now. 20 miles. Boys and girls, I feel like a badass. I want to shout this aloud. Do a happy dance. Tell anyone who will listen and force those who won’t. Never in my life have I run this much. Sunday, I ran 7 miles without stopping. And it felt good. Who am I and when did I become a legit runner?

My biggest obstacle: my brain. The negative self-talk. ‘Oh, you’ve been running for so long, your legs must be tired.’ ‘Your lungs are hurting…stop’ I’ve just had to give my brain the middle finger (kindly, of course) and turn of whatever obnoxious tunage I have on at the time to drown out that silly little voice.

Don’t worry, I can do this. And I will. Just watch.

My shin splints are immensely better. I’m unsure whether this is due to ice, ibuprofen or incredible compression socks. Let’s just call them the Terrific Trio and leave it at that.

My hip is another story though. Sigh.

What I’ve learned: I love running in the rain. 4 degrees C for a run is absurd not bad once you start moving. Windshield wipers need to be invented for glasses as they tend to fog and obscure one’s field of vision. I hate wearing pants.

All gone.

My Best Friends.

 

This weekend was a bit intense. In a good way.

Trail running is amazing. And. I am immensely thankful for being introduced to it. Puddle jumping and getting muddy while running? Count this girl in! I, however, have a lovely left shin that is none too happy with my running more than 20 miles in three days’ time. (Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment?)

Friday, I discovered an extension to an existing park trail near my house. Not entirely sure of how far I wanted to run that day, I went at a leisurely 9:15/mile pace. Unfortunately for my olfactory glands though, I had to cross paths with a main road and fast food restaurants. My nose engulfed in diesel exhaust fumes and the overwhelming smell of grease, I unfortunately lost my lunch. I could not get home fast enough to brush my teeth. Friday’s run totaled 5.05 miles at an average pace of 9:13/mile. My small mishap aside.

Saturday, I acquired myself a badass running partner (I love you, Lexi! You’re a badass running partner too. I’m sorry our schedules haven’t been able to mesh. Sad face.). He was so kind as to even map out our run in Forest Park (the white squiggly line):

It looks like a pretty little run, doesn’t it? All squiggly and so much green surroudning. 7.92 miles. I glanced briefly at it before putting on my running shoes. Yes, that’s quite a distance, but I’m ready to kick this trails rear end. -Hey, guess what? It was all uphill. Did I mention this running partner of mine is a sadist and a marathon runner? This route didn’t even phase him. By Firelane 2 at the end (by far the most loathsome hill in existence), I was dying. My legs were about to fall off, my lungs were collapsing in on themselves and all I could think about was how splendid a cupcake would be right about then…

But I survived. And then did it again on Sunday. (Who am I?!)

Sunday’s run took us to Silver Falls State Park. We did the Trail of Ten Falls and the Rim Trail.

This trail map is mediocre at best. Sorry, everyone.

I cannot even come close to describing the beauty of Oregon forests in the autumn.

 

 

The weather couldn’t have been better either. A perfect 20 degrees C. According to the interwebs, the trail is 8.7 miles long. I tried using my Nike Running app on my phone with just the GPS, as there was not any cell reception. It tried to tell me that I ran something like 14 miles with an average of a 6:46/mile. I’m a rockstar, but I’m no Steve Prefontaine. Come on, now.

I will admit, I wasn’t the most dedicated runner on Sunday. There were many photo ops along the way that could not be ignored. That’s my defense. Many miles and a steak dinner later, I was exhausted from my weekend but unwilling to admit it.

This brings me to Monday.

I have 3 new best friends.

Compression socks. Ice. Ibuprofen.
There’s not much else to say.

Both my left shin and hip are a little unhappy at the moment. I took today off and did some low-impact strength training. All for the love of running, right? Or maybe it’s love of cupcakes…