Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Chuckanut 50k

It's 6:30 am 12/1/17. I have a gnarly headache, but I'm still
doing my strength session. I will be hospitalized
the next morning. Little did I know in this silly selfie, it
was much more than a headache.
My initial reaction to the Chuckanut 50k was to beat myself up for missing my finish target by 40 minutes. I had forgotten that only four months ago my energy and health were so low that going for a one mile walk was a big deal for me. Below are my musings about a race and more importantly the journey just to show up for it.

On December 1st, 2017 I woke up around 4 am with a splitting headache. I frequently get tension headaches so I popped two ibuprofens and went back to bed until my alarm. My headache had dulled from the ibuprofen so I stuck with my intention of rising early enough to do my strength workout before work. During lateral hops I noticed that the back of my neck into my upper spine felt as if a tight Spider-Man-esque web was pulled across under my skin and was cinching up with each hop. I hadn't felt like that ever before, but I didn't think much of it. I was in a hurry to get my son to school and myself to the office before Chuckanut 50k registration opened at 8 am. After a few rounds of crashing Ultrasignup with 100s of my running brethren I was happy to be registered and ready to go about my work day.

By early afternoon my headache was back full force and I'd noticed the webbed tension in my neck and upper spine would pulse if I so much as walked. My eyes had started to become sensitive to the point where I turned the lights off in my office. Shortly after I told my boss I was going home sick, over a headache. It felt very foreign - I get bad tension headaches often and I don't leave work for that kind of thing. I went home to sleep and my boyfriend picked up my son for me.

By evening I had a fever and just felt more and more off. That led to consulting Dr. Google with my symptoms and then freaking out at bacterial meningitis with warnings of its ability to kill within 24 hours of onset. I texted a friend who is a nurse to ask advice about what I felt was my paranoia. By this time walk in clinics were closed and she advised monitoring myself for changes throughout the night as the ER on a Friday night would likely be a very long wait. I didn't sleep well, waking every hour or so. Saturday morning we arrived at a walk in clinic as they opened and after listing my symptoms were sent to the ER.

My son entertaining Cam, Bethany, and John with a game of
hangman on the nurse's whiteboard. They are all in masks
because we didn't yet know if I had bacterial or viral
meningitis. The former is highly contagious and scary
the latter is not contagious, it just wipes you out massively.

Once arrived I was quickly put in an isolation room. I was really cold at this point and kept getting new heated blankets from the nurse. After a few hours and a plethora of tests that eliminated all the other obvious suspects the ER doctor suggested a spinal tap for meningitis. He did not expect it to come back positive based on my overall demeanor, but it did and so began my four day hospitalization. Until the culture came back to show I had the less scary, and not contagious, viral meningitis I was very scared. I was scared of dying or losing limbs. I was scared of my son having contracted it also. Viral meningitis is a really awesome diagnosis compared to bacterial meningitis. It will wipe you out, drop your endurance to zero, render you unable to orchestrate even the basics of your life, and leave you sleeping all day dependent on your nurses and a cocktail of drugs in your IV, but it is oh so much better than bacterial meningitis.

Ali and Bethany visiting just after I'd found out I had the
far less scary and not contagious form of meningitis.
This is the most awake I felt my entire hospitalization.

My turnaround meal in the hospital. Homemade and kindly
delivered by Nichole

While my boyfriend took over my single parent duties and my friends came in and out between my numerous naps running was the last thing on my mind. Having the basic abilities to raise my son or go to work and do my job gone was very humbling. I burned through 60 hours of sick time at work and so many favors from friends. After getting released from the hospital walking outside became this big deal to me. To fit in a one mile walk around my sleeping, low energy, and light sensitivity made my day. I didn't run for most of December and when I ran again I felt like my fitness level had reverted to zero. My average HR showed my endurance was gone. I reminded myself that I'd dropped my Chuckanut 50k registration in 2017 from my tibial stress fracture and this was legit cause to drop it again in 2018.

By late January I was running enough again to feel like I might still be up for a 50k soon. Then in late January I fell on a group night run and woke up one week later with my lower back completely thrown out. A new chiropractor and an x-ray revealed a pinched nerve between my L4 and L5 and degenerative disc disease advanced beyond what one expects in a 34-year-old spine. The pinched nerve was creating referred pain in my left quad causing the muscles to lock up and running to not work very well. Again, I went the majority of a month with not a lot of running.

To say I wasn't particularly trained for the Chuckanut 50k is perhaps an understatement. I ran it out of stubbornness. I was mad that I'd had to drop it in 2017 when my tibial stress fracture was diagnosed five weeks out and I  just didn't want to drop it again. I ran it and I finished it in 7 hrs 37 min 9 sec which happens to be exactly 20 seconds slower than the Cougar Mountain 50k I ran in October. Cougar is a harder race from a total ascent standpoint (7,200 versus 5,000 feet of vertical), but I am nothing if not consistent.

I had hoped to crack 7 hours, something I have yet to manage in any of my eight 50k finishes. The only time I cracked 7 hours was in the first split of my one and only 100k finish (Sun Mountain 2016) that was two 50k loops, but it doesn't technically count. I am honestly not sure if I will ever crack 7 hours or if it actually matters.

Cupping before and later during the race
prevented the muscle issue in my quad
caused by my pinched nerve from
stopping me.
Using an inversion table daily, including
before the race, helped me run through
my pinched nerve issue.

I signup for races for the social aspect of seeing running friends and the ease aid stations add to a desire to go for a really long run. I dilly dally, I chit chat, I hang out too long at aid stations if I know the volunteers, I take shots of Jameson (well just one) at Irish bars setup along the course, and I even hide in the bushes to change from capris to shorts and cup my quad 19 miles in to get through the rest of the race. I do all this and then get mad at my inability to crack 7 hours. My boyfriend pointed out that my prerogative appears to be having fun, not racing for time so perhaps if I'm going to get out there and prioritize the former I should let go of the latter as they are in direct conflict. Sometimes the man is right. Often even, but don't tell him that he might get a swelled head :)
Watching sub 7 slip away
once again and taking it
personally a few miles from the
finish line.

This is Heather. She is wise. I caught up to her here at the
Irish bar aid station between the Cleator climb and the Ridge
around mile 15. I didn't see her again till the finish :)

Heather is also genius in her framing of reality. She raced as well and I was being hard on my time when I saw her after. She thought it was awesome that I even got out there and finished it considering all my recent health events in the way of training. She too is right. It just took me awhile to catch up mentally to all the right people in my life.
Ready to roll with Bethany and Cam at
the starting line. My speedsters :)

As for the race itself I was excited to see Bethany, who I run more miles with than I run without her, get out there and smash her first 50k in 5 hrs 59 min 54 sec. She had never run further than 21 miles in her life nor raced further than a half marathon and the notion of 31 whole miles felt inconceivable to her at times leading up to the race, but she did it and rocked it. I knew she could and would and the best part is now she knows too and the ultra bug has bitten her :)

The best part of the course was the chinscraper climb and the worst was the flat final 6 on the interurban. I've only run once since the race because I angered my right ankle and am working through some swelling and lack of mobility with rest, ice, etc. Each and every day there are so many many things that can cease the ability to run. Each day the run overcomes these things is a sweet spot in this life.
The Chinscraper climb around mile 21.
Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama.
Yvonne, one of the most impressive 100
mile favoring ultra runners I know captaining
her Irish aid station serving up a little
luck of the Irish on St. Patrick's Day aka race day.

Lost Lake is so rarely sunny, but weather
luck was shining down on us.

Delicious treats including sushi (ate a ton) and
Jell-O shots (skipped those) just before the
chinscraper climb.


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