The Great Pumpkin Run II: Luda Crisp and Cornstalks

Today was my first fall race kick-off!! A 5k called The Great Pumpkin Run in Oswego, IL.

Nothing went as planned, but I had a wonderful time.  Felt good to pin on a race bib.

It was only 67 degrees but still brutal. I’ve run hotter races– actually run them. Today, honestly, I probably only ran a mile. I’m not sure why the heat affected me so differently today. Probably because I tried to cram training into this past week only. I ran three times since last Saturday.

But that’s not what matters. What matters is that I had everything prepared when I went to bed, I got myself up early, I had food ready. I got my car parked, got a second pumpkin for the race since I forgot my five-pounder in my car — I got a 2.5 pounder instead, luckily.

And I did it! I wore the same outfit as last year: black skull tank top and gray shorts. The only additions to my “costume” for this race were some fun sparkly jack-o-lantern antlers on a headband and cheap orange sunglasses, found ’em at the dollar store. The antlers headband kept me cool

My hair is shoulder-length now; last year it was a black pixie. I just felt free.

The route started in an apple orchard and I saw a taped sign labeling them. One said, no joke, “Luda Crisp.” That’s GOT to be some farm humor, eh? Then we were passing what I think was a soybean crop, and finally, a corn field.

I stopped several times to take pictures. I was in the back of the pack with the turtles and the walkers. People just hanging out with their friends, significant others and families. Moms with their littles. Last year, I felt lonely.

This year I felt determined.

I asked a few random people to take my picture at different points. I overhead a woman making a comment that awhile back I had asked for one and needed another.

And I decided to let her comment go. Who cares if she’s judging me?

I’m not able to run fast today, so at least I can enjoy myself. Who says that races have to be about PR’s and beating your previous time? For me, I think running is about enjoying the journey. I’m not fast, probably never will become a fast or competitive runner. I have good races and bad ones. I used to be so hard on myself with races. I’d constantly put myself down if I had to walk a little. Or if my shirt fit tight or I had to go up a size.

Today I was just happy that I knew to wear a tank and shorts instead of the hoodie we got in our packets and some leggings, like so many others. I’m very sensitive to being over-layered and it makes me miserable. I know, for the most part, how to dress for my body’s needs now in most runs. That is a skill in itself. It’s not just about pace and distance.

The only thing I missed this year was actually running THROUGH the corn maze, like we got to do last year.

But it was wonderful. At the finish line I received both my finisher’s medal and the promised second medal, the “Tough Pumpkin” for carrying a pumpkin the entire race. We got a banana, Boxed Water, and then redeemed our coupons for free cider.

And I didn’t forget to turn off my running app at the finish line. I was delighted to see the map pop up, and all the beautiful turns and squiggles representing my journey.

I think I enjoy running because it’s a great metaphor. At the end of my runs, I see the map pop up showing me how far I traveled– the larger picture. Just like God has a plan for us, and we often don’t *feel that while we trudge along, just trying to make it forward. Just doing our best to keep moving without having the answers.

That map at the end of my runs, good or terrible, always comforts me. He’s taking me somewhere, and I’m reminded that I have nothing to fear.

After getting home I took a nap. I don’t know why today was so taxing, but doing the race on grass and dirt certainly made it harder.

I feel so happy. My next race is next weekend!

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The Extra Mile

Tonight after work I finally ran 3.04 miles, almost a 5k! And I ACTUALLY RAN! I only stopped to use a bathroom, and pause to get a picture of a blazing sunset. My pace has improved, too.

It’s my longest run since March, and I think that was a race. I feel amazing. After six months of not being able to sustain a run of any length, tonight I reached within myself and made it happen.

The temperature inspired me– in the ’70s! A breeze. I drove to a nearby trail rather than just the same route near my neighborhood.

I had planned on 1.5 miles but was going to try for 2. But I got lost somewhere and actually ran an entire mile out of my way before realizing this. Yeah, I know! I am something else. 😉 I laughed at myself, feeling like God decided I was going to run 3 miles tonight even if he had to be sneaky to arrange it!

Thus, tonight I ran an extra mile and felt so empowered. I decided after I hit the 2 mile mark I’d run the rest of the way back, rather than take it easy.

I won’t get down on myself for not running much this summer. I’ll move forward.

It was so uncomfortable for the first mile– my lungs were really feeling it! On the bright side I had no side stitches, no knee or ankle pain. No issues with my shoes feeling flat or uncomfortable. I was dressed just right for the weather.

Just when I thought I’d have to start completely over, my body has retained *some level of fitness. My body knows I’m a runner.

How lucky am I?!

A Baptism for Liam, an Epiphany for Me

I’ve been to Baptisms before, but today’s was special because it showed me something important about myself as well as celebrating the new faith of my friends’ first child.

It showed me that I do want a family life and I do want a Catholic marriage.

My friends Jenni and Ryan celebrated their first child, Liam. He was born on Ash Wednesday into an Irish Catholic family! They have been close friends of mine since high school, when all three of us went to youth group together. They’ve never missed a birthday of mine! They are both responsible but are silly enough to keep each other laughing, too.

Being there with our other mutual friends– also from youth group– was wonderful. They all have families now, and their kids were playing together in the back yard. I’ve seen them all be pregnant. I’ve been to their weddings and showers. I just felt so grounded and comfortable today with all of them.

A statue of the Blessed Mother was in the left corner of the yard and I found her presence very comforting. I found out it was passed down from someone in their family. My own Godmother has a similar one in her front yard. I’ve always hoped that one day when I hopefully own a home I will have one as well.

I spent the afternoon just catching up with our friends, getting to know both their families better, taking pictures and eating great food! It was wonderful to see them together as parents as well, knowing they prayed and planned for this blessing in their lives. They both have this wonderful, relaxed glow about them. And a big reason for that is their marriage is grounded in a strong friendship and shared Catholic faith.

If I’ve had doubts about whether religion is truly a deal-breaker for me in a relationship, today they were dissolved. Jenni has always been my voice of reason, reminding me that it’s not an unreasonable expectation and showing me that it’s possible in her own marriage. I’ve dated enough Atheists and people who profess no faith. They were all good men but there was definitely something elemental missing. I am unabashedly a woman of faith.

And the highlight of the day? Of course, it was holding Liam. He was so calm and cuddly. He felt comfortable with me and I got to take a few pictures with him. And for me, holding a baby is so natural and it just makes my day. To know this little being trusts you enough to relax and let you hold them is such a good feeling.

I will know when I’m in the right relationship and I’m genuinely happy single for the time being.

I’ve almost renounced my faith in the past because I wanted so much to be compatible with a man who was not religious. I am more confident now and will not compromise my religion again for the sake of being in a relationship. Now I recognize my faith is not only fundamental to my my identity, but my happiness.

My First 15k: Calm and Capable

Two weeks ago now, I smashed my first 15k AKA 9.3 miles!

October 29, I completed my first true distance race past a 10k in Chicago– The Hot Chocolate Run. And God bless my Dad, he went to support me. At 4:45 we drove up together. And I learned so much about myself that made me feel confident. I even got myself and my Dad signed up for updates on my progress en route: me on facebook and him via text messages.

Prior, I didn’t have anxiety about the race. I knew I could cover the distance because my last training run was 8.33 miles– with the last four in driving cold rain and headwinds.

But I did have anxiety about other aspects: finding parking for the expo: at the Shamrock Shuffle 8k last April I went to three flippin’ spaces before I found a spot. I worried about the parking garage I chose for the race, and then helping my 75-year-old father find the finish line and meeting up with him afterwards. What if I picked the wrong garage and it was full? What if we were late finding the start? What if one our phones died and I couldn’t find him afterward?

This was my first Chicago race where I wouldn’t be riding with a friend who knew where to park, who I could just follow to the start line. My Dad drove, but I made all the decisions. Instead of using SpotHero, which has proved unreliable, I chose one of the five garages suggested on the race website. I used the discount they offered instead. And everything worked out. I even used gear check, something I used to be too anxious to do.

I had a blast at the expo the day before, and things were easy from the beginning. I even found my car after without a problem! I stayed from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. because why not? I had no other plans, nothing else pressing to do. I tried on shoes, got fitted for a bra (none of which I bought)– sampled different flavors of nunn. Ambled around and passed by most of what I saw. Tried a rolling stick on my calves and feet. Tried on my racing shirt to make sure it fit. And I bought a few things I needed– including The Tube, a soft belt with three pouches, two zippered, that you can wear on your hips on race day. It’s snug and secure and actually comfortable.

I also bought my first medal rack. There were several for sale in different colors: silver, black, hot pink. I ended up going with a black one that says,

“Courage to start
Strength to endure
Resolve to finish.”

It has 10 hooks on it, and I got a hot pink magnet to go with it that says 15k.

I’m excited to put it up in my apartment! I have enough medals now.

On the way out, I stopped at a table and made myself a race poster. Why not? I was going to ask my Dad to hold it, but figured it best to keep it simple and left it at home. But he did hold it up for a picture for me after.

The race was amazing. So many people were complaining about the cold, but I was fine. I didn’t need a gaitor. I finally know how to adapt my clothes to races: in layers. I had on a t-shirt, the racing half-zip, and a waterproof thin jacket over it, plus gloves. I had on two pairs of tights and wool socks. My New Balances.

I also ran the full 9.3 miles WITHOUT music or my running app, since my battery was depleted so fast before the race even started. I had no idea bout my pace, and lost the 14:00 minute pacer around the 5 mile mark. I started out with a nun’s veil as a costume, but ditched it after mile four: it was too heavy and hot. And I ain’t no nun anyway!

At the 8th mile I called my Dad to alert him to watch for me.

And as I crossed that finish line, I didn’t cry like I had expected. I wasn’t even emotional. Instead, I was just very calm. Happy with myself. Even without my pacer, I still hit my goal of staying under 14:00 minutes per mile! My final time was 2:08:39 seconds at a 13:49 pace!

I had stayed moving for an entire 9.3 miles! It brought me back to the Cinco de Miler in 2016, my first five mile race, where I had to walk the last three miles and had terrible knee pain. I almost quit three times.

Now I can cover 9.3 miles moving continuously, NO PAIN!

And my Dad was right where I asked him to be: on the left. And truthfully, I didn’t need him to hold up a sign or even to yell my name as I crossed the finish line. Just seeing him there, my reliable wonderful father, was enough. Strong and silent. Then he took pictures of me through the fence, and we met up and he gave me a hug. I got someone to take a picture of us.

All the race photos were wonderful as well.

The way we took care of each other at this race was very special. Before the race started, he wouldn’t leave me until I got to my assigned corral. He was still concerned about me. At the gear check, I led him by the hand because there were so many people and it was dark pre-dawn, I didn’t want to lose him. Afterward we went to gear check and picked up my stuff, then to redeem my hot chocolate bowl! We shared my chocolate snacks and then went to breakfast after.

Just spending so much time with him was wonderful. Normally I can only see him at my parents’ house, or if he comes over to fix something or we go to dinner or a movie. He’s a man of routine! But being with with him in the big city, I felt so grateful and safe, too. I worry about him getting older, but he got around just fine to the finish line without my help.

Although now I walk faster than him, which makes me a bit sad. I used to always have to walk so fast to keep up with him as a little girl. I’d hold his thumb in my fist, his hands are so big. I slowed down and we walked together. He did this for me because he knew it was important, and that’s what I’d asked for as my 37th birthday present, that he come to one of my races.

And he picked the most important one.

I did one more race the following week: The Carrera de los Muertos in Pilsen. But it was rained out due to thunder, lightening, and some flooding on the course. We were still given our medals. It was actually November 4, the morning of my 37th birthday. But I had so much fun just dressing up, driving with my friend Heather, and taking pictures that it didn’t even matter. I met up with Diana, a friend from my run club, plus another girl I’d met in line for packet pick-up. The day was amazing!

Now my next goals will be a 10 mile and a half-marathon. I know I can do it. At work the next day a co-worker was impressed that I was walking without a limp. He said when he did the same race and distance last year, he had been in pain!

It seems my body is slowly acclimating to running and I recover quickly.

But I’m taking a little break from racing. Not because of winter. But because races are expensive and I was very social in September and October. I really got into Halloween. I want to save some money and catch up on some other things, too. I’ve been so focused on running the past few months and over the summer that I’ve fallen behind in some other areas. Plus, I need to recharge a bit.

I also have had a small cold for the past two weeks. Still a bit sniffly. Want to get that gone before I start running in the cold and risk another one.

There’s a race in December I may do, but no Turkey Trots yet this year.

I’m feeling amazing. It’s like a a new relationship where you feel secure in the connection and can take a little space knowing it won’t compromise what you share together already.

The Truth About Running

It’s more than hard.

I’m realizing that it’s a constant series of injuries and disappointments. They’re small, so you can do deal with it. But for me, anyway, it’s regular. And that constant– it breaks your heart a little.

And then fleeting moments of unexpected success where you surpass your own humble expectations. Those moments, those ENDORPHINS, make you feel more than human.

They make you feel better than you knew it was possible for you. Flabbergasted.

In those moments, you’re so confident and positive.

That’s when you dare to dream your new goals : to increase your distance, to PR.

That’s when you sign up for races.

This year since February has been extremely humbling to me.

I know now that I’m cleared by a respectable orthopaedist specializing in knees to keep training. My knees are healthy, I felt no pain when they rotated them. Four x-rays showed no bone spurs and plenty of open spaces– a wonderful thing.

He answered my question on the difference between normal discomfort and real pain that requires stopping a run or calling it a rest day, or a longer break from running.

He told me to start cross-training. Because what had caused my fall was what I expected: my right knee over-compensated for my left, and the knee gave out. He said if I start strengthening the muscles, it’ll be less likely to happen again. That I’ll be able to run longer distances.

So I renewed my health club membership, and I began cross-training last night.

I swam. And I felt free. I felt strong.

I felt proud, walking in my bikini. I could feel people looking at me. I felt voluptuous and strong simultaneously. Like Wendy Peffercorn, dammit! Amazing.

I swam forty minutes.

I’m doing what I can. I plan to invest in some goggles and a better suit.

I plan to start going to classes at my health club– maybe power lifting.

I want to to do this the right way. I want to be well-rounded in my exercise.

But today I got a blister on my second toe, underneath. Because of flip-flops. And it hurts to walk and I’m not tough enough to run on it yet. I did an Out of the Darkness walk on behalf of my friend Andi. That was my exercise today.

But later on I did put my running shoes through the washer and dryer.

Despite all these “surprises” and the recovery times and setbacks…

I still want this.

I can only pray that with time, my injuries will be less. My recovery time faster. My mileage higher and my pace quicker.

Because maybe what hooks us to running is the magical ability we gain to learn about about our bodies and their limits.

Running teaches us to be aware and to heal ourselves. To persevere.

I was supposed to go to a friend’s celebration of graduation from her doctoral program tonight. I brought my dress to change into after the walking event.

But instead, I came home. I washed the dirt off my blister. I cleaned it up, disinfected it, but Neosporin and a bandage on it.

I took care of my foot, because my feet are important to me. And then I texted my friend and told her I wouldn’t make it tonight– she understood. And it was just too HOT. I wasn’t up to driving 80 miles round-trip and meeting new people tonight. I just wanted to stay home and rest.

My body told me to pay attention today and I did.

So I’m getting smarter. I knew better than to ignore the pain and continue on.

Pain is a signal to stop and rest, to evaluate where it’s coming from and why.

So today I chose to pay attention to my body and that makes me feel responsible.

And now I can sleep deeply, knowing that I still have dreams to run.

Owning My Story

That’s exactly what I did — to a local class of nursing students two days ago.

Because I was invited! They’re studying the liver right now and I’m a liver transplant survivor since 1984. Initially, my friend Michael was in that class and asked me last February if I wanted to be his “show and tell” for that unit. I was game!

First, I congratulated them on a wonderful, important, career choice as nurses.

I did ask that no one record or take any pictures. I shared details about my diagnosis, lab results, the financial impact of buying health insurance, prescription refills, and hospital bills. I wanted those nursing students to leave with more empathy for their future patients and an appreciation to how managing liver disease is a part of so many aspects of your identity and daily decisions. With some humor sprinkled in on the fun aspects for comic relief!

But I didn’t want it to be public. This was something I normally keep private, as my Dad had advised me early-on not to talk too much about my illness. Mainly because he didn’t want me to lose any opportunities– especially business-related– based on my diagnosis. Most companies see any “health issues” as a liability and discriminate because of it. It’s not legal– but that’s why we have protections against having to reveal that in a job interview. Because all of have the right to work, even if one of those health issues includes a serious illness or disability.

I grew up to share his stoic views, but for a different reason. I didn’t want to be stereotyped as weak– as a “sick” person. It can also scare people off when it comes to dating. It’s the kind of information I don’t typically share until it looks like it’s headed toward a relationship, rather than the initial dates.

But in this context, I have an opportunity to empower and inspire hope.

In this context, being open about something I normally withhold would be helpful to others. I wanted to be an example of a person managing a serious diagnosis who has a normal life — and I wanted to embody for them a name to go with the diagnosis. To maybe help them become a little more understanding the next time a patient is difficult, angry, anxious or hurting.

The first time I spoke about it, I was more facts-oriented. I made sure to use technical terminology and the teacher sent me her power point so I tried to make connections to their material. It was more about feeling validated intellectually for me– I didn’t want the class to think I was uneducated about my condition and my body. I wanted to impress them with terminology, procedures I’ve had– facts like comparing lab values from when my liver almost rejected and present day, when it’s stable and healthy. Things they may study.

The students were attentive but also quiet. I wasn’t sure how I did, but Michael said I was great and the teacher invited me back.

This second time I spoke, I was confident. I validated myself, I didn’t need their approval. I relaxed. I did include some facts and terms, but decided instead to focus on telling them about me. What I like to do, what makes me happy, accomplishments!

I brought my own “show and tell”– running medals!

Two. From Warrior Dash 2016 (my first!) and the Titan 10k, just in July 2017. Two races which really challenged me. I JOKED about the Derby Firecracker 2017, when I was *dead last and was passed up by a 77-year-old woman and a snotty speedwalker. And I could laugh about it– especially since my Aunt Judy had been there taking pictures. And that was more important than my time and ranking!

And I never undermined myself by saying I was a “slow runner”– it never occurred to me. I got to stand in front of that class and reminisce about defining moments in my life when I did something with passion. I told them how happy running makes me, and that it gives me hope when I feel overwhelmed by the doctors’ appointments, price of medication refills, and those mornings when getting blood drawn hurts.

At the end, I got a bit emotional. I didn’t cry, but my voice broke a little.

The way *I see myself has changed since my first talk last February, and it was reflected in how I spoke.

Now I see myself as more than a liver transplant patient.
Now, I’m also a runner with serious training plans for long-distance races.

This opportunity was something I didn’t know I needed; it was a gift for me. Reminded me how far I’ve come– how resilient my immune system. Most importantly, my faith. My legs!

I told them my training goals for races this fall. I felt not just articulate, but healthy. You can’t run five miles without a certain level of fitness!

And I can run seven. I will run nine after training for this upcoming race.

Those students were all watching me. I had their full attention. And best of all, they really laughed and were more interactive. The teacher asked a few questions, and then I was done. And within the time limit!!

Last time I just left quietly, and then the teacher went on with her lecture.

But this time, two students approached me. They were on a small break. One brought me a postcard for an upcoming local Halloween 5k hosted by the college. She told me her name and that she’d be there. On her way out, she turned and stopped, made eye contact. Smile.

“Thanks so much for sharing your story.”

I’m invited back again. And I feel proud, happy, and healthy.

Race Day Resilience

I nearly forfeited the 5k my work sponsors tonight because of a possible injury.

But I decided to buck up and give it a try: and I was fine! Two plus hours later, no pain.

Tonight I learned that our bodies recover when we least expect it, and to trust mine more when it comes to my running.

And I also had my first-ever race mantra:

“Protect my feet. Make me powerful.”

After running 7 miles (for the first time ever!!) Tuesday and two miles yesterday to prepare for tonight, I noticed some pain in my right foot last night and again this morning. It had been seven days since my last run prior to Tuesday. The pain felt like it was on the top of my foot where the toes themselves connect to my foot. I’m a toe-cracker (sorry if TMI!) and it felt like I had cracked mine too hard. Walking at all was painful, though not agony. Just uncomfortable. But since I’m a receptionist I luckily spend the majority of my day seated.

After doing some Googling and posting on the message board for my running club, I was terrified that I either had a stress fracture or “a complete tear of the plantar plate, where the toes connect to the ball of your forefoot.” The latter was suggested by another run club member who said she’d had the exact same symptoms as me and ended up going to a wonderful podiatrist.

But I wanted to participate tonight with my co-workers, clients, and running club friends.

On my lunch I bought my first bottle of Ibuprofen (normally a Tylenol girl)– because people had said my usual remedy is useless for inflammation. I went home and took two 200mg and grabbed a freezer pack and towel from home. Elevated my foot underneath my desk for the remainder of the day. After work I slathered Bengay on both sides of my foot and hoped for the best.

And tonight, I was fine! I walked a lot because I had to pee BAD. I was afraid to run the first mile, but then the urge passed and I was able to pick it up a bit. The humidity was still horrid, but there was a magnificent WIND and the course ran downhill around a curve too, so that was helpful.

But I really felt like a runner today. Instead of getting all in my head and skipping the race to go to quick care, I just took practical steps to treat the pain and showed up determined to at least try. I had to laugh at myself– I’ve become the very stereotype of a runner who seems to live in total denial of an injury, obsessed with racing.

I’ve already missed one race in April, that 10k that I trained two months to run only to be saddled with such a sever cold I couldn’t get out of bed that morning.

I just want to get the money’s worth for my entry fee! Today I felt bad ass. And beyond that, the thought of having to miss races or even just a few days or a week because of injury made me… surprisingly sad. I had no idea what I had done to cause this pain. Even the possibility felt so UNFAIR!

And along with a several other vendors, there was a physical therapy tent. After the race, I asked a woman to take a look at my right foot. She had me take my shoe and sock off and examined me. She said there was no bruising, nothing seemed broken– I have a healthy foot and the flexing was normal. Relief! She attributed the pain to upping the mileage AND trying a new route simultaneously.

Glad to know I’m back in business! I’ll tape it up to be on the careful side tomorrow, and ice it a few times this weekend. Seemed it’s just pains of adjustment.

Which means I’m making headway as a runner. Which makes me happy.

The biggest gift is proving that I can take care of myself and that my body can heal faster than I anticipated. To not get hung up on “what-ifs” and solving a problem that isn’t even necessarily a definite problem yet.

I’m usually so solution-oriented and sometimes I need to just RELAX.

I get why running is such a mental sport now. It’s all about grounding yourself in your body, whilst also getting OUT of your head.

Prior to racing, we all were lead in some yoga. I was cracking jokes to my co-worker about how UNSUITED for yoga I am. He was laughing along until he just quit the stretching all together, when it was my turn to laugh!

Tonight I allowed my heart to lead, and my feet followed.