Friday, November 3, 2017

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

With our growing family, my travel now mostly is related to running events. It should be no surprise that this post is about running. The reason I am writing this is because in a few days, I'm going to be running the biggest marathon in the world: New York City Marathon. This is the story of how I got to race week.

First marathon. Regina, 2013
This all started a few years ago when I started running marathons. After completing a few, I thought it'd be fun someday to try to get into New York. I had looked into the options for entry in 2015 and concluded that the secured entry was too expensive and I'd already missed the lottery process. When the lottery opened late in 2016, I was ready. I talked to Christina and we thought it would be a fun trip to make as a family. I was coming off my best year of running. I had set PBs in 5k, 10k, Half and Full distances. The odds of getting picked were low, but we figured it would be worth a shot. If I did get picked, I was probably going to be in decent shape if I could keep up my training.

Before the lottery draw was made, I was already a little ways into a ridiculous training season. Early on, I  was focused entirely on my first ultra marathon June. That meant trail runs, strength training and hills. So many hills. My run commutes always included a hill repeat or two.

2017 runs
Next thing I knew I was awaiting the new from the lottery. Somehow, with a 17% chance of success, my name was drawn on my first attempt. I was in. We were going to New York. My race calendar for the year now had a significant anchor point and suddenly I needed to book flights and accommodation.

I quickly ironed out the details and immediately went back into training mode, squeezing in runs between my family and work life. This in itself is an incredible challenge, but I was able to make it work. I was racking up kilometers like I never had before. Month after month went by where I broke my record for kilometers and I found myself average nearly 250km/month through the first four (winter) months of the year.

Before this year, I had only exceeded 200km in a month twice (once followed by injury). I was a bit nervous as I was training nearly twice as much as I was used to. Even though there was potential for stress injuries, I listened to my body and kept going when I felt good.

First ultra 2017
Soon came summer and race season. I was still racking up crazy distances and even crazier climbing numbers. My first ultramarathon came and went and somehow it didn't wreck me. I was even back running within a couple of days. Later in the summer, I did the hardest leg of Sinister 7 and beat my expected finishing time by 30 minutes. I was feeling ultra confident. I even was doing crazy runs on my vacation, just for fun. All of these things were in the category of "not possible" even 12 months before.

Around this time of peak fitness for me, I was also now facing an ongoing health issue head-on. In 2015, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I was initially impacted for a few months before my symptoms receded. Without any issues since, I consider myself lucky. But how MS progresses is largely unknown and unpredictable. We didn't know if it would go away forever, or debilitate me in a week. With that uncertainty hanging over me, I needed to start treatment. The treatment I had chosen was a fairly benign oral pill that I would take daily. It had potential side-affects, but they are typically minor and wasn't supposed to impact my training.

In July, I started my treatment. I was thrilled to find out that I had no side-affects at all. I was still running like I normally would and everything seemed perfect. This lasted until September when one week I started to get random fever'ish symptoms. Thinking that I'd just come down with something, I wasn't too concerned. I knew my treatment was intended to compromise my immune system, so this was probably a good sign.

Where it all went sideways
But after a week, it hadn't gone away. I was now struggling to complete physical tasks that had become normal. Running was a challenge. By the end of week two, it was clear that I was being impacted by side-affects. My running was limited. On good days, I could get a decent distance in, but I was now starting to miss critical long runs leading up to NYC.

By week three of these problems, I didn't care about the race anymore. I had one particularly bad morning where I decided to stay home from work because I knew I wouldn't have been able to get my daughter to daycare by myself. Definitely not biking, and not even riding the bus. I was completely exhausted.

After crashing on the couch while everyone else in the house woke up, I needed to get up to go to the washroom. I remember thinking that, but then it got fuzzy. Next thing I know, I'm crouched down at the top of the stairs, incredibly dizzy. My house looked backwards. I ended up trying to go lay down in bed and had to stop and crouch again before I got to the bedroom door. From there, I pulled myself up (with difficulty and hanging onto things) so I could lay down in bed. When I got there, my whole body immediately started sweating profusely. It was a surreal few moments. I was struggling with everything. I couldn't eat. Sleep was interrupted. Physical activity, even walking, wasn't possible.

Aerobic walking. Not good
After some consultation with my neurologist, he suggested that if this ever happens again, I should be in the ER not staying home from work. This spooked me pretty good. This was something more serious than I'd feared.

We made the decision to stop my treatment to confirm it was indeed the cause. Thankfully, I started to improve almost immediately. Over the course of the next 4 days, I was able to sleep again, eat again and eventually run again. I had lost around 10 lbs through this time and my muscle mass was already starting to wane.

At this point, race day was in a month and my threshold for distance was around 10km. And even with that, I was noticing my heart rate was spiking well beyond normal ranges. So well I was feeling better, it was clear that there were other longer-lasting impacts from the treatment.

At 4 weeks from race day, I felt confident that I was at least improving and that I could probably make it better by training appropriately. Knowing that my previously training program had been obliterated, I started from scratch. That's right, I came up with a 4 week marathon training program.
Training in the dark
Week 1 consisted of a new long run of 14km, then another of 24km. Week 2 had strength training, speed work and the tradition long run (34km). Somehow through  these two weeks, I was able to build up some strength and get my heart rate close to normal again. After that, it was time to taper. I mean, it had been two weeks of tough training. :)

Now race day is on Sunday. It'll be here in no time, and I'm pumped. I think I'm ready and four weeks ago, I didn't think I'd even get close.

Now, my expectations have changed. I don't think my original pace goals are realistic anymore, but I'm going to get to run in the biggest race in the world this week. Something that I'll never forget. My family will be there and I can't even imagine what a potential finish would feel like. I'm happy I get to try.

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