Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Grow Megatron, Grow!

We are coming up on a year since we eliminated egg, wheat, dairy, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish/shellfish, oranges and bananas from Megatron's diet due to his GI issues.  It was such a huge learning curve for me to find safe food for him to eat.  He was eating the same couple foods over and over until I finally caught up and found some resources online, at the library and from other "allergy moms."  I've had a lot of fails but far more successes.  And really, anything that is healthy, not overly processed and Megatron will actually eat is a success in my opinion.  Know what else is a success?  He recently weighed in at 27 pounds.  He's still short but he grew 2 inches in 2 months over the summer.  I'm obviously doing something right.

Making allergy friendly pumpkin muffins
Something else that plays a huge factor into this?  Megatron.  He's usually drinking 20+ ounces of hypoallergenic formula each day, which the makes up for any deficiencies in his diet.  He will also try anything I put in front of him.  Seriously.  He will take at least one bite of anything on his plate.  It's rare though got him up refuse to take at least several bites of a new food.  I've learned what those things are so I just avoid them if I can.  And I think there may be an even bigger reason why he doesn't like those certain meals.  He had a reaction to an orange once so we've just avoided them all together ever since.  And now, if there is any lemon or lime juice in a recipe I've prepared, he won't eat it.  I suspect that in addition to the taste, his body knows it doesn't like citrus.  That's just my gut telling me that though.  I'm not an MD, but I have a mom degree now and that's almost the same thing, right?

Digging into that cucumber/avocado roll!
Everything else though, he chows down.  He doesn't seem to have a favorite food either.  Some days he will eat his weight in one food (recently, it was green beans.  I'm not kidding, for two days in a row I had to get him a second serving of green beans and even had to bribe him "if you eat more rice, you can have more green beans" actually came out of my mouth) and then other days he picks and chooses from his options or hardly eats more than a couple bites.  Just like any toddler from what I hear from my friends. 

A recent discovery that Megatron will eat?  Vegetable sushi.  The Pilot made some for himself while I was away (I actually went on a mini vacation by myself!!) and then we ordered it to-go from a local Japanese restaurant and Megatron dug in!  Watching him eat it is pretty entertaining too.

Feeding him has gotten easier and easier with one exception.  Eating out in a restaurant.  I have to pack his meal and take it with us.  Sometimes I've called ahead or asked the waiter when we arrive about very specific menu items (that I have scoped out in advance on the restaurant's website.) to check ingredients but more often than not, there isn't any safe food in a restaurant.  That's hard.  Sometimes if we are rushing around and getting home late, it would bee nice to just stop somewhere to pick up something. Social gatherings revolve around food and sometimes its easier to avoid those situations rather than make sure I have a cooler full of his food with me.  That's been a hurdle I've really tried hard to get over because if I avoided these situations, we'd never leave the house and Megatron would turn into an even weirder kid for sure.

One thing I've done a couple times when I'm just tired or out of ideas, is go to Giant Eagle or Whole Foods and hit up the salad bar.  This can be off limits for a lot of people with allergies but Megatron doesn't seem affected by trace amounts of his off-limits foods.  We regularly feed him food that is labeled that it is processed in a facility with wheat, nuts, etc.  Some people can't even do this.  Because of this, I can select safe foods off a salad bar: lettuce, carrots, peas, bell peppers, beans.  Everything is usually already bite sized so I can take it home, add a few other safe foods and call it a meal.  I don't do this often so it seems like a novelty to Megatron, who spends a lot of time playing with all the individual pieces but he eventually eats enough.
Whole Foods date night
I had anxiety about Halloween too.  We participated in the Teal Pumpkin Project and handed out non-food items (temporary tattoos, pens, glow bracelets, stickers) but unfortunately no one else on our street happened to participate.  It's not a huge deal yet since Megatron doesn't fully understand.  And it's not like I would have let him eat a bag of candy anyways.  There are a few safe candy options out there but in my opinion, a 2 year old doesn't need to be eating candy yet.  He doesn't know what it is, so he doesn't try to beg for it anywhere.  I'll keep it that way for a little while longer.  There's also fine line between teaching him healthy eating habits but also letting him enjoy special treats for special occasions, Halloween being one of them.  I did end up taking him to several houses up and down our street and while he has no idea what candy is, I told him to ask the neighbors for a treat and once he understood that they would give him something, he really got into it.  He walked around a lot longer than I thought he would.  But when we got home and I sorted through his treats, I realized he couldn't eat anything in his bag.  Not one piece.  Again, I wasn't really planning to give him any candy,  but I won't lie, my heart sank a little.  If the food restrictions stick around indefinitely, it makes me worry for how to handle this as he gets older.  What do we do when there is a class party at school?  Or a birthday party?  I can easily keep myself awake at night thinking about things like this.  It's a rabbit hole that I try very hard to stay out of.  But with Halloween, I had my head in the hole for sure.  I had prepared though (because that's what I do) and when we came inside, I dumped the candy out his little bag and gave him a safe cookie.  He was so happy with that cookie too.  It was past bedtime (he still goes to bed at 7 so tick or treat was still in full swing at that point) and there he was, still awake, wearing his costume, and eating a cookie.  Of course he was happy!  What kid wouldn't be?  My mom and I took one for the team and ate his Halloween candy after he was in bed. :)
My little Ewok with his bag of treats.
Having his post trick-or-treat cookie.

Now that it has been a year on this restricted diet, and the fact that he's 2 (kind of a magic age for kids who have allergies they are going to outgrow), we are going to start the process of food challenges.  We recently had his blood work tested to see if there were any changes from last December.  He stills shows allergies to nuts and some other things but there was no presence of allergy to egg or dairy.  That doesn't mean he's NOT allergic but it certainly makes it less likely.  So next month we will go to the allergy clinic and he will be fed a very small piece of egg.  They will wait awhile for a reaction.  If none, they will give him a larger piece, then they wait longer.  If no reaction, he will get a "full" serving and then they wait again.  They told us to allow 4 hours for the entire process.  Doesn't that sound pleasant, with a toddler?  I'm anxious and excited and nervous for it.  I'm trying to have NO expectations but honestly, I'm expecting him to have NO reaction while in the clinic.  While I am trying to be optimistic, I'm also afraid that a week or more after the food challenge, he's going to start vomiting mass amounts and will need Zofran and Prednisone to make it stop. That's what happened the last time he ate wheat.  I have some anxiety that he won't even want to eat the egg (we are planning to not let him eat anything else all morning so he will, at minimum, be hungry).  He is a toddler after all and if they don't want to eat, you can't really make them.  I'm crossing my fingers and toes that he cooperates and that he passes the challenge.  If he passes, we will try another food three weeks later. 

I naively thought that Megatron's liver disease would be our only hurdle but as I have now lived first-hand and have seen with other post-transplant families, there are often secondary issues.  Eosinophilic gastroenteritis (EG), the reason for the food restrictions, is one of Megatron's additional hurdles.  Going hand in hand with that food issues is a sensitivity to his own bodily secretions.  His own saliva, tears, sweat, and snot all give him eczema. Guess what?  Toddlers drool and cry a lot.  They don't know how to blow their noses.  Tasty!  But, so far these have been very manageable hurdles. So what if he sometimes eats some strange concoctions.  He eats healthier than a lot of adults I know.  So what if his face and hands get all red and splotchy for two days after he's had a day full of crying tantrums or if he breaks out all over his face because of a cold.  Despite the hurdles, he's here, he's growing and thriving! I really don't think a parent can ask for more of a toddler.

When he was first diagnosed, I was so upset.  I literally sobbed the second I hung up the phone with the doctor when she told me to eliminate the top 8 allergens from his diet.  I've cried A LOT since then also.  I remember before all the vomiting started that I was thankful he didn't have food allergies because I was overwhelmed enough with taking care of his post-transplant needs. Ha! Joke was on me.  But there has been an unexpected result of Megatron's restricted diet.  I'm starting to feel more confident as a parent.  I'm finally starting to realize that my gut is hardly ever wrong when it comes to Megatron.  That's been true from the start of this journey.  I've also learned that a parent's love for their child has the potential to bring out the very best in that parent.

I'm going to toot my own horn for a minute because it's important.  I need to tell myself that I am totally nailing this special needs parenting gig.  Because there are days when I know I fail.  There are days when I think I'm failing but I'm not really, it just feels that way.  There are some days where I'm just way too hard on myself.  I need to remind myself that I have most certainly risen to the challenge of raising this kid and keeping him healthy.

You know who ordered the allergy lab work a year ago though?  It was me. Megatron had been admitted to the hospital because he was vomiting so much that he was losing weight.  We didn't know why.  We had already tried some meds as well as had multiple other tests done but still didn't know why he was vomiting.  An endoscopy was scheduled but while we were waiting for that to happen and as they started him on tube feedings to help him gain weight, I asked about food allergies.  It had come up a several times but it was always deemed unlikely because he didn't have any issues prior to his abdominal closure surgery. The attending doctor during that hospital really didn't think that's what it was either because his only symptom was vomiting. But Megatron was vomiting 6 times a day and filling an emesis basin each time.  He was IN the hospital with a feeding tube. We needed answers.  I pushed harder and asked for a blood test.  He reluctantly did it and sure enough, just as the endoscopy results were coming back (confirming the diagnosis of EG specifically), so were the blood test results.  The results were all over the place but it told his medical team a lot, led them to put him on the restricted diet and it's because I pushed for it.   

I spend, at minimum, 2 hours a week researching food for him.  Every week.  For the last year.  He not only eats a variety of foods, he eats healthy foods.  With the exception of some fake cheese and fake pizza now and again, he eats almost nothing but whole/real, mostly unprocessed foods.  I'm damn proud of that.   So when we go to see someone on his medical team and they weigh and measure him, I hold my breath until they tell us what the measurements are.  When the team is excited to see how well he's growing, I can breathe again.  When he had a baseline endoscopy several weeks weeks ago and the results showed a big improvement over what it looked like back in January, I let out a sigh of relief.  Not only is the diet working, but he's thriving too!  And it's not a fluke.  It's because I spend 2 hours a week researching.  It's because I pushed for answers.  Of course I sometimes yearn to give him some string cheese, graham crackers or a banana, and sometimes I'm sad that he might always be a little different and have to have a special treat during school parties, but then I get some reassurance from his medical team that he really is doing great. And I remind myself that that is all that matters.    
12 pounds at 7 months old....
...to 27 pounds at 28 months!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Band on the Run 5k

Doesn't everyone run a 5k as their first post half marathon recovery run?  Yeah.  Not exactly sure what I was thinking when I registered for a 5k just 6 days after the Columbus half but you gotta get back to running at some point, right? 

Katy and I originally signed up for a local 5k but unfortunately it was cancelled but then a fellow teammate, Lisa, let us know about another race called Band on the Run.  A 5k to raise money for a local high school's music boosters.  I got past the fact that it was for a high school that was my alma mater's biggest rival and registered anyways.

It was also going to be my first time running a 5k while pushing the stroller.  I've walked two 5ks with Megatron but I've never run.  Always being competitive with myself, I had to look up what my previous 5k time was before the race started.  I wasn't planning to go all out but given how much I've improved this year, and knowing that my last 5k was probably pretty slow, I couldn't help but keep that time in mind when the race started. 

It was a really small race and started next to a playground so Megatron was a happy kid!  There was even a kids' kazoo march right before the 5k.  They even had bibs for the little ones so I think this qualifies as Megatron's first official "race" on his own 2 feet.  The high school marching band leds the kids just around the playground for a few minutes while playing their school's fight song.  Megatron was so confused.  Haha. Once it was done,  I think he was perfectly content to get into the stroller and out of the wind.  I gave him his immunosuppressant at 9 am like always, right as it was time for the race to start (we are getting good at taking meds on the go!).  He had his breakfast and sippy cup so he was ready to sit back and relax!

Playing with his buddy Katy.
The high school bank warming up.

Kazoo in hand, ready to "race!"
We got started and instantly, me, Katy and Lisa were whining.  None of us had done anything since the Columbus half so we were all stiff.  We plugged along though, taking in the fall scenery, and hoping the skies wouldn't open up.  It was threatening raining and while Megatron had the weather shield over the stroller, I still felt like I'd get some stares if I was out running in the pouring rain with a toddler. 

The leaves are just hitting their peak colors!
Action selfie! I love this picture so much!  Such happy people!
As we made our way through the last mile, there were two men ahead of us.  They had a run stroller with them but the toddler had gotten out of the stroller.  She was up on her dad's shoulders for awhile.  Then they tried to put her back in.  Nope.  Then she was out walking.  Nope.  She was then being carried.  As we gained on them and then passed the guy pushing the stroller, I joked that it wasn't fair for him to beat me since he was pushing an empty stroller.  We could see the finish line and I know Katy and Lisa were grumbling as I picked it up a little.  Oops.  The dad started to run faster...while carrying the little girl.  So I started to run faster.  As did the guy pushing the empty stroller.  There we were, having a "sprint" to the finish.  Two dudes, two strollers, two toddlers and me.  It felt ridiculous.  Haha!  I backed off and ultimately the guy with the kid finished before me but I did beat the guy with the empty stroller.  There was even a finish line video.  Check it out starting around 20:21.  You can see the guy carrying the little girl, another guy, then me and Megatron (with me in the blue jacket and white hat), then the guy with the empty stroller and then Katy and Lisa, who were probably rolling their eyes at my back.  Haha.

Megatron got a banana for all his hard work.  Not really...he's actually allergic to bananas.  He's a great sherpa though and likes to hoard things in his stroller.

And while all of that was happening, I pulled off a 5k PR.  My 4th PR in a span of 6 weeks.  I went from 41:42 more than 3 years ago (I hate 5ks, which is why I don't go many!) to 35:53....with a stroller!  BIG TIME!

Monday, October 19, 2015

2015 Columbus 1/2 Marathon

So you know how I mentioned I was wondering how fast I could run on a flat course?  Yeah, well... I ran another half marathon yesterday. The Nationwide Children's Hospital full and Half Marathon in Columbus (aka, The Columbus 1/2 marathon).  A marathon that several years ago used to have the slogan, "flat and fast."  And suddenly I had the opportunity to do the sold out race.  I figured I'd give it a shot.  Worst case scenario, my body wouldn't be fully recovered from my race 2 weeks ago and I would just slow down and have fun (Plan B).  Plan A would play out with me hanging on for dear life.  Kim, who helped pace me 2 weeks ago, was registered for the half as a competitive race walker and was hoping to place within the competitive walkers.  She was aiming for a 2:30 finish.  I just wanted under 2:40.  I decided to follow her and hang on as long as I could.  I told her in advance to drop my like a bad habit if I was weighing her down.

Ever since my very first race back in 2005, I have laid out my clothes the night before, including pinning my number to my shirt so I don't forget it!  Megatron wanted in on the "Flat Amber" picture.
My day started super early.  4:30 am. I ate, got dressed and made sure all of Megatron's meds and meals were listed out.  The Pilot was home but had to leave at 8 am to go to work so my mom was coming over.  I drew up meds and checked my lists for my mom before heading out around 5:45.  My mom came over at 7:30 so The Pilot could sneak out of the house before Megatron woke up.  If he sees The Pilot and then The Pilot leaves, it's bad news.  Megatron gets hysterical so we try to avoid that scene whenever posible.
This group (along with a few others) raised over $16,000 for Habitat for Humanity this season!  Never underestimate the power of like-minded runners. 
Kim, THE Competitive Walker was all ready!
Our running group met up at 6:15 am.  One of our team mates is with the Columbus Police Department and was able to let us into the downtown headquarters so we would have a warm place to hang out, with access to bathrooms.  It was wonderful!  Though his colleagues were probably wondering what kind of friends he has.  Especially when I showed up wearing this.  Oh yes, I went all Macklemore and wore a thrift shop bath robe.  Which I personalized.

It was cold!  As in below freezing cold.  This is the first cold snap of the season so we haven't been animated yet.  Plus, I still have done a test run with a smaller size running tights so I had to wear capris again.  The robe was to keep me warm while we were waiting for the start.

The race started at 7:30 and everyone was divided into corrals based on anticipated finish time.  It took us maybe 10-15 minutes before we actually crossed the start line.  This race is the exact opposite of the Broke Man's Half.  It has all the bells and whistles.  And fireworks.  We were joking that they should skip the fireworks and just lower the cost of the race.  Can you tell we're all racing veterans?!?  So jaded!
Party in Corral C!
Kim, Kat, Samantha, John and I all stuck together.  Kat and John were planning to pace Kim and of course I was along for the right.  I wasn't planning to but ended up wearing the robe over the start line and kept it on for about just shy of a mile!  Once the race started and we weren't jammed into the corral with 20,000 people, it was COLD!  I finally warmed up a little and was about to toss it when Samantha decided she wanted to try on the amazeballs bathrobe.  I shimmied out of it and she slid into it with such ease that you would have though it was choreographed.  A guy behind me was laughing at our little dance.

It was about that same time that someone came up behind me and asked if I was Amber.  I looked and said yes but she didn't look familiar.  I did a quick search in my brain but couldn't pull up her face in my memory.  She then said that she reads the blog!  Haha.  So if that was you and you are reading this, I hope you had a great race!  I then squealed to my friends "I thought my mom was the only one who read my blog!"

We plugged along, trying to get warmed up.  I was not feeling great.  We were running in the low 11s, fast for me, plus my gut was not happy.  It's been weird all week and I told my buddies that the only thing that would hold me back from another PR was my intestines.  By mile 4 I was already thinking about dropping back.  But I really didn't want to run 9 miles by myself.  So I told myself, get to the half way point at least and then slow down if you need to.

Around mile 6 I let them know that I was probably going to drop back but Kat was having none of it.  She threw me her rope.  She was actually carrying a little piece of rope that our friend Krista gave to all of our teammates.  I grabbed on for a second and hung with them.  We saw some of our friends who were spectating/cheering/coaching.  Because this was Kim's big race, our friend Meg jumped into the course and literally started chasing Kim, waving a cow bell at her.  It was hilarious.  The other runners probably thought we were all nuts...which is true.

Then again, just after mile 7, I really wanted to slow down so I gave them a heads up.  And again, Kat, said no and took my hand and pulled me up next to her. It was what I needed to stick closer to them for a little longer.  The longer I stayed with them, the faster I would go.  But I also had to keep checking in with my body to make sure I had enough in me to actually finish!

It was another mile or so that I realized where we were.  The course had changed slightly from last year and I hadn't noticed the change until I realized Nationwide Children's Hospital was coming into view. We were coming up along the opposite side as we did last year.  That meant we would be running along the entire length of the hospital campus.  I was starting to actually hurt at this point and yet again, wanted to drop back but I was nervous about passing the hospital. I wanted to stick with my friends just in case I needed a pep talk.

It was such an emotional experience to run past the hospital. Everything was starting to hurt at that point but I had to keep going.  Because Megatron kept going when things hurt last year.

I feel like I know every corner of that building. We've spent more inpatient days (about 40 nights) there than we have in Pittsburgh.  And day trips?  I wouldn't be surprised if those are in the triple digits.  We have been in inpatient rooms on the surgical unit, GI unit and very often, the PICU.  The GI clinic is our home away from home.  I have found myself in the emergency department, allergy clinic, imaging/ultrasound, interventional radiology, hematology, mothers' rooms (for nursing/pumping) and a classroom to learn home care for a central line and feeding tube/pump. We've even been on the helipad on the roof.  Twice.  I think I've cried in every bathroom, parent lounge, both cafeterias and both parking garages.

I'm super thankful that Kim, Kat and John were there because I might not have felt as strong as I did.  Instead of having a complete meltdown, I simply took a second to look up at the windows on the 2nd (PICU) and 11th (GI) floors, where we spent our darkest days, and then just kept moving.
(Not one of mine or my friends' photos)
I got to run right on past without having to go inside.  Megatron sure has been a fighter but yesterday I felt like I was the one conquering that hospital!!  I had the power this time.
Take that NCH!  I'm in charge today!
We made it passed the hospital and I'm not sure if Kim kicked it into a other gear as we passed the 9 mile marker or if I reeeeeally just needed to slow down. I looked at my Garmin and realized we were running (well, she was walking of course) a 10:45 pace.   Umm...no. I knew if I tried to hang on at that pace I wasn't going to be able to finish.  And that wasn't an option.  I slowly faded further and further back.  Kim looked over her shoulder and I waved her to keep going.  I'm pretty certain she nodded and then kept going. I am so friggin' proud of that girl!  She's worked so hard to improve her race walk technique and gain overall strength. I was a very proud coach in that moment as I watched her take off!

It was about mile 9.5 when I was on my own and I instantly started to wonder if I could pull it off.  I took my first walk break.  It wasn't a long break but man was it hard to get going again. My body was really telling me that attempting another PR with just 2 weeks recovery was a bad idea.

Just before mile 11, I started thinking that certainly I would see some friends spectating/coaching.  I kept thinking Katy would pop out of the bushes to run me in.  Then I was thinking about some friends who were spectating in that area last year and in my foggy mental state, I just figured, "oh, they will be in the same place again."  Nope.  Who knows why my brain thought they should still be there (James and Susan, I was thinking about you!!! I was hoping I'd get another stinging high five that I would feel in my hand for a half mile. Haha!!).

I was getting anxious for mile 11. Since the race benefits the hospital, each mile is represented by a patient of the hospital.  It is so fun to see all of the kiddos out cheering for everyone.  Side note, we applied for Megatron to be a "champion" but he wasn't selected.  Which worked out because I'm not sure I would have run if he had been selected.  Anyways, mile 11 doesn't have a single patient representing that mile.  Mile 11 is called the angel mile. It's for the patients who have earned their angel wings. Their families and friends stand out there with pictures of their kiddos who are no longer with them.  It breaks my heart. Even more so because we came so close to losing Megatron.  I also can't help but feel guilty that we got so lucky and those parents have suffered the worst kind of loss there is in this world.  I cried for them.  I tried to pull it together quickly so I wouldn't forgot to breathe.

Once I got into mile 12, I knew I had it in me to PR still. I just needed to hang on.  Luckily I saw a teammate who was spectating and she jumped out onto the course with me for a couple blocks.  It was sooo nice to have a distraction.  Then Samantha reappeared (she was coaching so she dropped off at the 3 mile mark to catch up with some if the rest of the gang) and she ran with me up until there was less than a half mile to go.  I whined that I didn't have the kick to finish like I did at Broke Man's.  She looked at her watched and yelled at me that I didn't need that much kick, I just had to hold on.  She dropped off and I gritted out that last little bit.

Even though I remember how deceptive the finish area was from last year, I still started to pick up the pace. Until I realized I was still further away that I thought.  I saw a sign for 1/4 mile to go.  That seems so short yet so long!  I slowed down until I could actually see the finish line and then I picked it up again to have a really strong finish.

I shuffled toward the medical tent and grabbed a handful of BioFreeze and shoved my hands down my pants.  No shame. My hips hurt so bad and within a minute they were gloriously numb!

I saw Kim and John nearby so I shuffled my way to them.  I think Kim and I both asked each other "did you do it?!?"  The answer was yes!  She got her 2:30 PR goal and my time?  2:34:21!  I took 7 minutes off my Broke Man's time!  That is a total of 15 minutes off my 2012 PR! Now THAT is BIG TIME!!
11:40 average pace?!  Holy moly I've come a long way during this Big Time adventure!  I started out hoping for a 12:40 average pace!
We shuffled our way out of the finishers area, after stopping to stay hello to our friend (my tri coach!) who happens to be the finish line director.    I will say, of all the finish lines I've crossed, this one is by far the best. The area is huge. No bottle necks.  They hand you a space blanket and then a bag to hold all of the goodies they pass out.  Chocolate milk, bananas, bagels.  Even a box full of snacks!

Kim stopped by a tent for the competitive walkers.  Competitive walkers had to leave their names and a special bib they had to wear.  Unfortunately they said it might take a couple days for the walker results to be posted.  Bummer!!

We met up with our friends who were already finished and then I headed off to find a bathroom.  After running that fast and with a gut that was already not feeling so hot at the start, I needed to go!!   I found a bathroom trailer (a trailer with stalls but is really just a fancy portapotty) but the line was soooo long for the women's side.  Naturally.  I got in line and it took me about a minute to realize there was no line for the men's. Now if this was still in the athlete's area, I wouldn't have thought twice about using the men's.  I feel like most men at races don't seem phased by sharing.  Trouble was, this was in a public area so there were spectators using the bathrooms also. I thought it over but my insides answered for me.  I hustled into the men's bathroom.  When I came out, I ran right into an older gentleman all bundled up in a winter parka.  Here someone's grandpa just got plowed into by a girl, who was running out of the men's portapotty.  I apologized and ran out of there!  Keeping it classy.

Once I returned from my bathroom adventure, it was time for me and Kim to officially celebrate our PRs. This race has what is known as the PR gong. If you get a PR, they have an actual gong you get to hit!  So much fun!

My sticker says "I hit the gong!"
Wanting to get home to relieve my mom of toddler duty, I headed for my car.  And quickly was wishing I had parked further away.  I was too close to the race course and because of the road closures, it took me 45 minutes to get from the second floor of the parking garage out into the street because of the traffic.  Then another 25 minutes to get home.  It's normally a 20 minute drive. By the time I got home, all of my muscles were so tight I about rolled out of my car and onto the garage floor.
Super thankful for that box of snacks and the Jimmy John's sample sandwich I got at the finish.  I munched while I waited in traffic.
Later in the afternoon, Katy and I commiserated together via text about our various aches and pains.  And our "runger".  You know, running induced hunger.  Seeing that I earned 35 Weight Watchers points during the race (I usually only have 26 points for the day so I could eat an entire day's worth of points if I wanted to!), I ate whatever the heck I wanted for the rest of the day.  So that means a trip to Arby's, which I haven't had in who knows how long.  Definitely before Weight Watchers!

It was another amazing race weekend. I joked that the only way for me to get some "me" time is to run a race. I think I need to come up with a different hobby so my body can recover!  One person who doesn't care how hard I worked or how tired I was?  Megatron.  After I got home and my mom left, I was on my own with Megatron.  And man is it hard to keep up with a very busy little boy when your body is screaming to just lay on the couch and watch a movie.  Once he was in bed for the night though, that is exactly what I did.  It was a nice end to a great day!
Cat on my lap, ice on my knees.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Broke Man's Half Marathon

The race I've been training hard for all summer long was this past weekend.  It was called the Broke Man's Half Marathon and it's only the second year for it.  It's an interesting concept.  It's a bare bones race.  No bells and whistles.  No technical shirt, no shirt at all for that matter.  No chip timing.  Depending on when you registered, the price ranged from $10 to $25.  Considering that the other local half marathons are way overpriced at $80-125, I was all about paying $12.50 including service charge!  I will say that I'm glad this wasn't once of my first races because I think this kind of race is better for a more experienced walker/runner.  That's just my opinion.  There weren't any clocks or mile markers.  I think the lack of mile markers would have made a huge difference to me several years ago.  But now, I have my Garmin to tell me about where I am on the course and I'm not as reliant on the markers.  There were only 3 water stops and they were cup free.  They had water, but you had to have your own container.  I always wear a Fuel Belt so that wasn't even a concern of mine.  Though, if I didn't wear one and was trying for a fast time, having to stop to fill my bottle as opposed to just grabbing a cup and keep moving, would have been a bummer.  It was also a narrow course, though for the most part, that wasn't a problem because the field was so small.  The course wasn't closed either, so there were cyclists and other pedestrians out there.  Pedestrians weren't a problem but the cyclists are something I don't normally have to be on the lookout for while doing a race.  I think I went into the race with very low expectations for the race itself (not my performance obviously).  I knew it was going to be bare bones and unlike any race I've done before.  It was probably the smallest race I've ever done too (I think it was somewhere in the 250 people range).  There were a few hiccups that I'll mention later but ultimately, it was a good experience and I would do it again.

Finally after such a roller coaster of coming back after pregnancy, then all the time off when Megatron was sick and recovering, the weight loss, gain and then loss again and then falling apart at the Cap City half in May, everything seemed to fall into place.  Saturday was a wet, cold, dreary day but Sunday's forecast was dry and cool.  I fully expected it to be overcast and dreary again but it turned out to be the most beautiful racing weather.  I couldn't have asked for better half marathon weather!  Though the forecast confused me in terms of what to wear.  It always does.  You would have thought I'd never done this before because I was texting with friends the night before asking about what to wear.  Will I be too hot?  Too cold?  Do I wear a trash bag at the start?  Do I need a throw away shirt or gloves?  So many options!  I opted for short sleeves and took old tube socks to keep my arms warm, along with a trash bag to keep my core warm while waiting for the start.  Capris were really my only option for my legs because capris are the only bottoms I have that fit currently (downside to losing weight is I keep finding that my clothes are too big and I don't have time or money to keep going to shopping) and have been "tested" for long distance runs.

I didn't even bother to cut the toes off the socks...but realized the flaw in that was that I couldn't give the thumbs up with my sock on my arm.  First world problems.

Since I was wearing my Recycle Yourself shirt, I also wanted to take my Elias along for the ride.  I wore a ribbon for him as well as a ribbon for Cillian, a little boy who recently earned his angel wings while waiting for a liver.  These strong little boys would be my inspiration for when the race got tough.

I met up with my friends around 7:30 am.  We all ended up parking in the exact same place so we wandered over to the starting area to find the bathrooms. Here was the first hiccup.  There are two public restrooms in the park where the race was held.  The women's restroom had 4 stalls.  Four stalls for who knows how many women, all of whom need to use the restroom at least once before the race started.  Yeah.  Not enough.  If I would have noticed the men's restroom before we got in line, I would have suggested we just use the men's because there was no line.  It wouldn't be the first time I've done that before a race.  I think the number of bathrooms would probably need to be quadrupled (if the same number of people are expected) in the future.  We were early enough that it wasn't a problem.  We waited in line and made it out with a couple minutes to spare.  I think all of us are used to much larger races so we kind of stood around, unsure of where to go.  There weren't any corrals or signs indicating paces so we weren't sure where to line up to start.  We opted for the back half of the crowd.    Someone sang the national anthem and the race started right at the advertised time (which I point out because there is another racing company in town that always seems to start late).  Since there wasn't chip timing, I made sure to start my Garmin right as we passed by the flag indicating the start line (no giant, fancy and probably expensive inflatable arch like most races).  I had no idea how they were going to time the race since it wasn't chip timed so I knew I was going to be relying on my Garmin in case their timing plan didn't work or was significantly off what I had.
Pre-race selfie

There was the usual fanfare at the start, a DJ playing music and lots of cheering as we crossed the start line.  The person next to me got really excited and threw her arms in the air.  As she brought her arms back down though, her elbow came right down onto the top of my shoulder.  It had to have hurt her because it left a heck of a bruise and a sore spot on my shoulder.  She apologized, I shook it off any we headed out of the park.

My friend Kim was recruited to pace me for the race but ultimately, there 3 others who joined us just for fun.  Well, to totally call her out, my friend Meg came armed with a cow bell and the intent to just cheer/spectate but when we realized we had an extra bib, she put her cow bell in my car and just decided to run it with us.  I'll also add that she ran a full marathon last weekend.  Who does that?!  My friends.  Haha.  Anyways, Kim had instructions to keep me between 12:30 and 12:45 for the first two miles.  I didn't want to get swept up in the excitement and go out too fast.  Yeah... despite their best efforts, it didn't quite work.  I was the one setting the pace and I felt great.  They kept randomly yelling, "breaks!" and putting their hands up to get me to slow down.  Haha.  We finally settled into a comfortable (for me) pace though.  I knew I wanted to stay around the 12:30 pace in order to just beat my previous PR but knew I had it in me to go faster.  I was hoping to go slower in the beginning and gradually pick it up but that's mentally hard to do and I just haven't practiced that very much.
Lots of smiles less than a half mile in! :)
The first 5-7 miles were a blast!  The course went out and back so my friends were all clapping and cheering for the faster people who were coming back towards us.  I was just focused on running and not falling apart.  They all run faster (or in Kim's case, walk faster) than I do and were just along for the ride with me so they were able to yell and clap.  It was a lot of fun and worked out better than I expected.  I was nervous that it would be too narrow but since it was a small race, it worked out.  We did play leapfrog with two ladies doing a run/walk combo for several miles but we all had fun with it since we were all able to easily get around each other when needed.

We also saw some of my favorite spectators!  The Pilot and Megatron came out!  We saw them a couple times and it was so cute to see Megatron holding a tiny sign that said "go go go!"  Which when he says it, comes out like "doh doh doh." He says it a lot when he's running around the house or sitting in the run stroller, heckling me.  The second time we passed by, he ran right out onto the sidewalk but instead of going to me, he ran up to Meg.  I didn't have time to stop though so I kept running.  Then we realized he totally thought Meg was me.  Pale skin and dark hair, yup, must be my mama!  He didn't realize it wasn't me until Meg started to hug him.  Haha.  He hugged her anyways because he's sweet like that.  The pictures crack me up though because there's me, buzzing right past my own kid while Meg squats down to hug him.

There are a couple photos like this and everyone seems to be smiling at him.  :)  I have to say, he is pretty darn cute.
Who knows what I'm doing.  The lady in the white vest ran with us for the first half and I think she enjoyed the running commentary we had going on. 
See ya, kid. Mama's got a PR to chase down!
At least Auntie Meg loves you!
Mile seven was the first time I noticed my energy wane a bit.  I was also starting to feel some soreness creeping into my knees and ankles.  I knew at that point that I was going to feel this run on Monday.  I was torn between wanting to just gut it out and keep at that pace and being smart and doing what I knew I could run and still finish (a 12:30-12:45 pace).  I was nervous I would bonk at mile 10 if I stayed in the 11s.  I opted for smart and slowed down a little.  This is also when I started mumbling every time we had to go up and over or down and under highways/train tracks/etc.  It's no secret that Central Ohio is pretty darn flat.  But I swear to you we went up and down every single man made hill in Franklin County.  None were that long and only two that I recall were obnoxiously steep but it felt like it was one after another.  Running uphill sucks.  I've always hated hills.  Running downhill isn't much better.  Sure, you can get some momentum so you aren't necessarily working as hard but it's hard on the knees.  Which were already a little achy by that point.

I think if I had run this on my own, I wouldn't have run as fast.  Even though I was setting the pace, the girls kept my energy up and kept me from slowing down too much.  When I whined, they countered with singing, positive thoughts...or told me to shut up.  All of which I needed.  They even "threw me the rope" when I started cursing (loudly towards the end) when I would see a hill.  Taking advice from a dear friend Krista, our teammates frequently throw each other an imaginary rope that they can use to pull themselves forward so they keep moving.  Our entire team has a rope so you can grab on whenever you need it.  I was absolutely using Meg's rope to get up those last couple of hills.

Proof that Meg was trying to throw me a rope to pull me up that hill!

The last 3 miles were into the wind and while the breeze kept us cool now that the sun was getting high, it was definitely pushing into us.  I was starting to lose steam too.  My girls talked to me non-stop in that last mile.  I don't even know how far we had left but all of the sudden Kat told me I had 2 minutes to finish.  Two minutes?  What?!  Since I was pretty fried at that point, I thought she meant two minutes until my previous PR time (2:49:44....completely forgetting that before the race I finally admitted to them that I was aiming for 2:40).  All I could think was "oh hell no!  I didn't work this hard to miss my PR again!"  I found another gear.  But like a slap in the face, there were two more inclines.  One of which was right at the finish line and actually had two very sharp switchbacks to navigate.  I wheezed out a couple more obscenities as my girls all started screaming my name and telling me to go.  Right as I was cursing the last hill, I saw The Pilot and Megatron, along with my mom, my training buddy, Katy and several other of our amazing teammates who came to cheer me on.  Everyone was screaming.  All I remember is another runner saying, "I don't know who Amber is but she's got great friends."  If I didn't feel like I was about to pass out and vomit, I would have laughed and responded, "I have THE BEST friends."

Just my security detail and we came in toward the finish.
These lovely ladies were cheering at the finish.
The couple that cheers together stays together.  Haha...I think they were just happy to NOT be running considering they ran a half marathon last weekend. :)
I was absolutely zoned out and I felt like I was flying, but also wondered if I looked like Phoebe from Friends.  I actually told Meg that I thought I was going to be sick and she just responded, "no you aren't, keep running!"   So I did.  The next thing I knew I was at the top of the hill and the finish line was right there.  The Pilot jumped onto the road and was running alongside me, carrying Megatron, who was grinning from ear to ear because he was bouncing up and down.  I plowed ahead and grabbed my Garmin the second I was fully passed the small flag (the same one as the start) indicating the finish line.  How I didn't throw up right then and there was a miracle.  I walked a few more steps as the girls all came across the finish line, wheezing and out of breath just like me.  I don't think any of them expected me to find that gear at the finish!  I made them work!  Haha.  Sorry, ladies!  Love ya!  A gentleman at the finish asked me for my bib number and wrote it down on a piece of paper.  I assumed it was to record my time but I noticed he didn't seem to have a clock/watch/timer of any kind.  I quickly assumed that my Garmin time was going to be my official time.  I wasn't optimistic that I would have any kind of time published with the race.  Right behind him, a woman handed me my medal, which is actually a really cool wood cutout of the state of Ohio with the race logo printed on it. I took a few more steps and finally looked down at my watch.

Screaming me towards the finish line. :)
My finish time?  2:41:15.  It happened.  BIG TIME PR finally happened!  A more than 8 minute PR at that!  Just shy of that lofty 2:40 goal but I am damn proud of that one!  Honestly, I think I'm just as proud of this race as I am of my first half marathon.  It was such a stretch for me to do anything athletic when I finished my first half marathon 10.5 years ago and now, finishing my 12th half marathon nearly 45 minutes faster than that first, is huge for me.

Kim, thanks for pacing me.  Now I think I'm about to puke on your shoes.
But seriously, I have to give this girl a shout out.  She did a half marathon last weekend.  Offered to do this race with me as a training day, is attempting to place in the competitive race walk division of a half in 2 weeks and then will do a full marathon a week after that.  She's a machine. I'd like to say I taught her everything she knows but she's simply a natural.
It took a good 10 minutes after the finish before my tunnel vision went away.  There was lots of hugging, high fiving and picture taking and it was all a blur.  I wandered around, trying to keep my legs from cramping up and had a piece of corn bread.  That was a finish line first for me.  I didn't see any water anywhere but I still had some of my own in my Fuel Belt.  They also had chili but that was the last thing I wanted in that moment.  We took a few group photos and then went our own way, knowing we would all see each other that afternoon at a party with our running group that just happened to already be scheduled.  I lingered a little while longer to make sure my stomach was ok before walking to my car with The Pilot, Megatron and my mom.

Nothing like giving your mom a sweaty hug!  I was so happy to see her cheering me into the finish...and for holding me up after the finish! :)
Taking a load off while having a drink.  Spectating is hard work!
Seriously, some of the most supportive people I have ever met and I feel so lucky to call them my friends.

It was a perfect day!  I got to spend the morning running with friends, I ran a great race, BIG TIME PR happened and then I even got to enjoy the afternoon hanging out with even more running friends.  Needless to say, I was exhausted by that evening.  Surprisingly, I felt pretty good by the evening.  I had a head ache but the only things that hurt were my shoulder where I got elbowed and my face.  Yup, my face.  I think I was really gritting it out at the end and clenching my jaw for the last couple miles and it left my face sore.  Haha.  I don't think there is a way to train for that!  Even more surprising was the 2 days that followed the race.  I felt great!  Hardly any soreness in my legs, not even my knees which I was sure were going to hate me.  My abs were a little tight, I'm assuming from the fast last half mile (my Garmin data shows the pace at the end was 9:41.  Say what?!).  Everything else felt great though.  I really feel like I left everything out there so I take my lack of soreness as a sign that for once, I went into a race really really well trained.  I've never had a race where I wasn't sore afterwards.  I'm pretty proud of that feat also!

I'm really glad this guy came up with the "Big Time" PR goal and supported me until it happened.
 As for a official time through the race web site the next day?  I was correct in my assumption.  I don't have a finish time listed next to my name.  Oh well.  My Garmin's distance was spot on so it's official enough for me.  Again, it was $12.50.  Can't complain about that!

Naturally though I'm sort of wondering what kind of time I could pull off on a flat course.... ;)
Not exactly what I had in mind for my splits but I got it done so I'm not complaining!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

One Week Until Big Time

It's hard to believe that operation "Big Time" came about a year ago!  And entire year!  I've obviously been running that entire time but didn't start my official training for my intended "big time" PR race until January.  When I didn't pull off "big time" at the Cap City half in May, I knew I wanted another chance.  And I knew I needed to step up my game and train harder.  So now, here we are, a year after the "big time" goal was established and one week before race day.

I am feeling exponentially more confident about next weekend's race than I did before the race in May.  Obviously that was a bit extreme given that I was in the ED with breathing issues just 5 days before the race but even before that incident, I wasn't 100% confident I could pull it off.  This time around though is a whole different story.  I feel much better trained, I've been churning out PR pace nearly every single run.  I'm the lightest I've been in years.  I'm more acclimated for heat in case the weather is warm.  And if it's cooler out, watch out.  I'll be on fire.  I almost always do better in cooler weather.  I feel like now the only things that would prevent me from getting that big time PR are things that are out of my control.  It could be pouring rain, or snowing, or 90 degrees, the course is over crowded (a big concern of mine actually, given the location), illness or other unforeseen circumstances.

Speaking of illness.  A cold bug has officially entered our house as of this morning.  In the middle of a 6 mile run pushing the stroller.  Megatron was sneezing a lot in the stroller.  By the time I finished and looked at him, he had snot all over the place and his eyes were watery.  And as the day has gone on, the snot just keeps coming.  Damn.  But, like I said, that's out of my control so I'm trying not to freak out about that.  I'll take some extra precautions so hopefully I can avoid it (remember, Megatron is immunosuppressed so I have a slightly higher chance of avoiding a cold than he does.).  I also have a back up plan in place that's helping to ease my mind.  There is another half marathon 2 weeks after my first race and a friend offered me her bib in case something goes awry.  I'm hoping I won't need it!

This morning was my last "long" run before I back way off and rest up.  It was pretty comical to be honest.  On the way out, I felt like I was flying.  It was comfortable and even pushing the stroller it felt good, despite the pace being in the 11's.  I even joked with the ladies I was running with that I was shocked I was able to keep up at that pace and that my wheels might fall of fon the way back. There was even a frickin' rainbow out in the distance.  And then we turned around.  And suddenly it wasn't rainbows and fun anymore.  Why?  Why do I always forget that on that particular trail, the wind (if there is any), is always at your back on the way out?  Yup, we turned around and were running right into the wind.  We are all either tapering or post-race so all of our legs suddenly felt like lead and that stroller turned into a giant sail, pushing back on me.  We opted for a half mile walk break since none of us was really looking to push the pace.  We picked it back up though and managed a decent pace on the way back but dang was it work.  I was huffing and puffing with that stroller.  My friend Cathy even took a turn pushing.  We still pulled off a 12:32 average pace, which if I can keep that up next weekend, I'll be golden. 

Fingers and toes are crossed.  I've done the training and there isn't anything else I can do this week that will make any difference other than trying my best to keep myself rested and healthy.  I say this like I'm 100% calm and collected.  That just depends on the moment.  I had a momentary freak out a couple days ago about my training and emailed a friend asking about my tapering plan.  I was pretty spot on with my plan, which she confirmed and her response was enough to calm me down and realize it was just the "taper crazies" setting in.   Hopefully when I write my race report, it will be all rainbows and fun.