The Undeniable Ruth Rotating Header Image

running

Still Don’t Officially Know What’s Wrong with Me – and I Don’t Care Anymore

I love my running shoes.

I love my running shoes.

I am officially over my medical mystery. I don’t even want to think how much time I’ve spent in doctor’s offices and hospitals or how much money I’ve spent on medical tests related to my chest pains, dizziness, fatigue, and night sweats. And we still have no idea what’s wrong with me.

My cardiologists (all three of them) determined I have a hole in my heart but it’s a congenital defect that shouldn’t be causing my symptoms. My primary care doctor drew nine vials of blood and ran every test he could think of – CBC, thyroid, hormones, Epstein-Barr, other random illnesses – and everything came out negative or normal.

I’m annoyed that trying to do the right thing and take care of myself yielded no actionable results. It disrupted my marathon training and left me unprepared so I couldn’t finish the race. I feel like I wasted my time and I am frustrated that I don’t have any answers except what’s not wrong with me. I’m done doing this process of elimination. I’m ready to call it and apply Occam’s Razor. I say I have reoccurring costochondritis, fatigue from the fact that I work myself into the ground on a regular basis and have depression, dizziness from low blood sugar from my eating disorder, and night sweats caused by anxiety. I changed my linens and took the blanket off my bed so I’m cold when I tuck myself into bed at night, but it seems to be decreasing my night sweats so that’s good enough for me.

My Race Shirt for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

My Race Shirt for Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

I’m ready to say “fuck it” and get back into cycling and running. When I go on The Undeniable Tour for two weeks, I plan to go running in every city I stay in. I am a much more balanced person when I work out on a regular basis.

Just in case some things really wrong with me and they just haven’t found it yet, I still don’t leave the house without my Road ID strapped to my left wrist. That way, if I collapse or something, my bracelet will contain the information the emergency medical team should know about my medical history.

Will I try to train for another marathon? I’m not sure. I workout more consistently when I have a race on my calendar and a training program to follow, so I’m looking for a race to train for – either a 10K or a half marathon. I’m contemplating doing a half marathon trail run in June. That could be really fun. We’ll see what happens.

Cleared to Workout Again

. . .and there was much rejoicing.”

For those of you who haven’t been following the drama related to my heart, I started having chest pain after long runs in November. After seeing to cardiologist’s and having two ultrasound, a stress test, wearing a heart monitor for 24 hours, and getting a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), they diagnosed me as having a congenital heart defect called patent foramen ovale (PFO). However, my heart defect apparently is not the cause of my pain or the dizziness, fatigue, or night sweats I’ve been having.

My doctors aren’t sure what’s causing my symptoms but they’re pretty sure it’s not a cardiovascular problem so my first cardiologist said I was allowed to work out again and took me off the beta blockers. (Did you know that beta blockers are the only banned substance in archery?) I made an appointment to see my primary care doctor to run blood work to see what else is going on in my body. In the meantime, I’m working out!

Still Smiling after Running 3 Miles - Feb. 14, 2015

Still Smiling after Running 3 Miles – Feb. 14, 2015

And it feels so good to exercise again!

On Saturday morning, I took myself for a 3-mile run, probably at a 10-minute/mile pace. My body could definitely tell that it hadn’t worked out in a while. My chest hurt for most of it but not enough to get me to stop. My legs held up great. (I would be surprised if it turns out I have a bad case of costochondritis – which I’ve had off and on since I was 11 – plus another medical condition that’s causing the other symptoms. Costochondritis is an inflammation of the chest wall that hurts like a bitch that there’s not much they can do about it.)

I took myself for a bike ride on Sunday. I meant to do 10 or 12 miles but I ended up doing 14.5. My quads and butt muscles got a work out. I didn’t realize how steep Galvin Parkway is through Papago Park – thankfully I rode up the hill at the beginning of my ride so I can coast down it on the way home.

One of the best parts of working out again is it giving up my mind a chance to rest and let ideas flow through it. There is no way I can act on an idea while I’m running or riding – not even a chance to send myself an email – so my thoughts have an opportunity to tumble around in my brain and develop in a non-directed organic way. It’s the closest thing I have to being creative. It was very nice to have that mental respite again.

My return to running couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m going to the Dad 2.0 Summit this weekend in San Francisco (blogging conference for dads). I’ll be speaking with them about the legal dos and don’ts of having a blog. It looks like there’s going to be a group of us going for a run together one of the mornings. I hope our route includes at least one hill.

I Still have a Defective Heart – But That’s Not the Problem

So here is the update about my heart.

My doctor called me late on Tuesday afternoon to let me know that the transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) showed that I have a hole in my heart (PFO) but there is no blood flowing where it shouldn’t be. My doctor said unless I have a stroke, I don’t need to have the hole patched. I seem to be one of those people who have a heart defect, but it is not problematic.

GRRR by Meghan Dougherty from Flickr (Creative Common License)

GRRR by Meghan Dougherty from Flickr (Creative Common License)

The good news is my fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, and night sweats do not appear to be caused by a cardiovascular problem. The bad news is I’m still having the symptoms and we don’t know why.

So it’s back to the drawing board. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor and we can attack this problem from a new angle. I suspect he’ll order blood work to see if my numbers have changed from my last full physical. I may ask him to throw in a hormone test to see if it might be early menopause. I called my other cardiologist to ask if I needed to keep taking the beta blocker. (Remember: I’ve never had high blood pressure.) His office called me to say that he wants to see me for a follow-up. Perhaps he’ll have some suggestions about what else could be causing the problem.

Since my heart defect isn’t causing my symptoms and my symptoms didn’t show up until I was running 15 miles at a time or more, I hope I can start working out again soon. Before I started training for the marathon, I was running 22 miles and biking 19 miles a week. I was doing two 4-mile runs and two 6.5-mile runs each week. I’d like to get back to that.

It’s frustrating to feel like part of my life is on hold. Part of me wants to say “fuck it” and do whatever I want whether that’s running the hills when I’m in San Francisco for the Dad 2.0 Summit, taking a high intensity step aerobics class, or treating myself to a few hours of trampoline tumbling. I don’t like being told that there’s something I can’t do. I definitely plan to have a candid conversation with my doctors about being more active while we figure out what’s wrong with me.

In case you are wondering, no, I haven’t become completely reckless. And yes, I make sure I’m wearing my Road ID before I leave the house, just in case.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015 – DNF

I did the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon yesterday . . . well, more accurately speaking, I started the race. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish it. As many of my friends suggested, this was not my race.

AJ & Ruth at the Starting Line for the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon 2015 (Photo by AJ Grucky, used with permission)

AJ & Ruth at the Starting Line for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015 – Probably my Happiest Moment of the Day (Photo by AJ Grucky, used with permission)

I needed to have an awesome day on race day to complete 26.2 miles. That’s what I had a few weeks ago when I ran 20 miles and I felt like I could easily run 5 more. Yesterday was a good day, not a great day. I didn’t feel particularly bad when I started the day just after 4am. I got up, made coffee, got dressed for the race, walked the dog, had a banana and a bagel with peanut butter, packed my gear bag, and walked a mile to the light rail station. I had an enjoyable chat with a guy from Minnesota on the rail who was the 3:40 pacer for the race on the ride across town. He said he was going to run the race with a GoPro camera strapped to his chest.

The starting line is pretty uneventful. I met up with my cousin AJ and we lined up in our corral. Just before the race started, I had my usual pre-race 5 Hour Energy and 2 ibuprofens. As our group started the race I tried to be mindful of the advice I heard from so many people – Don’t start out too fast. I tried to tell myself, “We’re just going for a jog.”

I never felt like I found a groove in this race. My music kept me going and I occasionally found someone to pace with. My hands started tingling around Mile 2, and I knew that couldn’t be good, but thankfully a cleared up after a few more miles. My right arch hurt starting pretty early on in the race and I had intermittent hip pain on both sides, but I pushed on. By Mile 9, I was pretty certain I would be losing some toenails after the race.

In terms of time, I had a great first half of the race. My half marathon time was 1:58 (9:07/mile pace). Around Mile 12, I started questioning if I really wanted to finish the race. At Mile 14, I really started to hurt and started slowing down. The 4-hour pacers easily passed me. After the turnaround in Old Town Scottsdale, my chest and my liver hurt so I decided to walk. I was surprised by how much my whole body hurt once I stopped running and how slowly I was walking, even compared to how slowly I had been running. I was done.

Both of my Feet are Sore but this is the Worst of my Toes

Both of my Feet are Sore but this is the Worst of my Toes

I promised myself I could stop at the next medical tent, which turned out to be at Mile 19. A friendly nurse gave me a chair, verified my identity, and asked what was wrong. When she discerned that I wasn’t in imminent danger or in need of significant medical attention, she gave me a bottle of Gatorade and called for the shuttle. Another nurse put a towel that had been soaking in ice around my shoulders. I felt like crap.

Gene, my kind shuttle driver, zipped me to the finish line where I pick that my bag from gear check and met up with my family. I sent out a handful of text messages to the people who I suspected were tracking me via my RFID chip who might be wondering what had happened to me. I was bummed I couldn’t finish the race but it was the right decision. I felt so weak, so lightheaded, and my stomach hurt like a bitch that my aunt took me home instead of going out with everybody else. After a few hours of rest, I started to feel human again.

Thank you to everyone who supported me along this journey to do this race and a special thank you to the crew and volunteers who work the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and my friends Karen, La Dessa, Valerie, Dannie, and Bill who cheered me on from the sidelines. You guys made my race a lot less painful.

Will I try another marathon? I’m not sure. The next thing on my to-do list is seeing my new cardiologist and getting my heart fixed. My new guy specializes in my type of heart defect so hopefully he can determine what’s causing my symptoms and how to fix it.

Marathon Training Week 18 Recap – Final Prep

Colts Experience by Valerie Everett from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Colts Experience by Valerie Everett from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The last week of marathon training was pretty uneventful. My marathon training program had me taper down so much that I ran less this week than any other week during training. I did a 3-mile run on Tuesday and a 4-mile run on Wednesday. I was supposed to do a 2-mile run on Thursday, but my chest hurt that afternoon so I opted to skip it. A lot of people, myself included, are wondering why I’m doing this race with my current health issues. The only real reasons I have are sheer determination and because I want to do it.

I got some great advice from my friends who have run a marathon previously. Some of the best tidbits were don’t do anything different on race day than you did during your training and trust your training. I was really nervous about the race a few days ago and I reached out to a friend who is done plenty of marathon and Ironman races for a pep talk. He told me that I’ve done a 20-mile training run and I’ve run a 10K. A marathon is just the opportunity to do them consecutively. That made me feel better.

My Race Shirt for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

My Race Shirt for Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

My friend and I went to the race expo on Friday. We both ran the half marathon 2 years ago and I beat him by 67 seconds so his goal this year is to beat my half marathon time. He ran the full marathon last year and I wouldn’t mind beating his time of 4:30:16. But my real goal at this point is to just finish. We did a quick lap for the expo exhibitors, looking at products and grabbing samples, and I got taped up at the Rock Tape booth. (And for those of you who are wondering, yes I altered the race waiver and they accepted it.)

A few days ago I picked up my custom race shirt at Brand X in Tempe. I had them put “One More Mile” on the back of a highlighter yellow running shirt in silver lettering. It came out beautifully. I hope it will inspire anyone running behind me during the race.

At this point I’m enjoying carb loading and just trying to get everything ready for race day. I hope it will be a low-stress high-fun day.

Advice for First-Time Marathon Runners

Photo by Rich Kenington

Photo by Rich Kenington (Creative Commons License)

I’m running my first marathon this weekend at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona. I’ve done the half marathon four times, and now that I’ve fixed my shin splints and tweaked my running posture, I’m ready to go for the full.

Luckily, I have several friends who have run a marathon as a stand-alone race and/or as part of an Ironman. I asked them to share some advice with me and anyone else who is running their first marathon.

Absolutely nothing new on race day. No new shoes, no new clothes, no new foods, nothing.  Race day is not the time to find out those socks your friend recommended chafe and you don’t want to discover at mile 15 that orange flavored Gatorade makes you nauseous. If you didn’t train with it, don’t race with it. – Ben Schorr, Marathoner

Put your name on the front of your shirt.  – Peter Shankman, Marathoner and Ironman
(People will cheer for you by name if you do this.)

I would say to trust the training that you’ve done so far. Don’t overdo it the week before, but also be sure not to shut down completely. For me, I did an easy paced 5 or 6 mile run the day before the race with a long cool down and stretch. Get a long night’s sleep and make sure to hydrate well the morning of the race.  – Marian Grucky, Marathoner

If you look to the right, and you are standing next to a guy from Kenya, you are in the wrong corral. Okay, some more practical advice.  If you are feeling really good at mile, 5, 10, 15, or 20, DON’T speed up.  Just keep running your usual pace.  At mile 22 or 23, if you are feeling good, you can start to pick up your pace.  – Kolby Granville, Marathoner and Ironman

My advice for a first marathon is to go to enjoy it.  Go to feel out the distance and to see how your body responds to going that far. Stay well within your physical limits in the moment. Relax.  If you want to push wait until the last 6 miles or so when you have a sense that you will make it. Run with someone who has done it before and is not bound to a time. – Debbie Rubel, Marathoner

Assuming you have a target pace in mind, if the race has professional pace runners, stick with them or near them. Race day excitement usually makes me start too fast, and pacers keep you on track from the start, plus they put you in the starting pack at roughly the right place.  – Rick Ortmeyer, Marathoner

Thank the volunteers. The race would be much different without them out there to help us.  – Ben Schorr, Marathoner

Don’t worry about your time — your goal is to finish!  – Chad Belville, Marathoner

If you are reading this because you are preparing for your first marathon, have a great race! I hope you feel awesome when you cross the finish line.

Support your Runners at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 2015

If you live in the Phoenix area, especially if you live near the race route for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon or Half Marathon this coming weekend, please come out and support the runners. It matters that you’re there.

Photo by Tyler Hurst from Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon 2012

Photo by Tyler Hurst from Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon 2012

My sister came to Phoenix to do this race before I became a runner, and I drove her to the starting line, saw her start the race, cheered for her around Mile 8 and at the finish line. It was fun to be part of the excitement of the race and see all the fanfare, but I didn’t think it mattered that I was there.

I didn’t understand until I became a runner myself how helpful and encouraging it is to have people cheering for you on the sidelines, even when they’re strangers. It’s even better when you see a familiar face in the crowd.

When I did that half marathon in 2012, I knew my friends would be watching for me around Mile 8 and Mile 11. At Mile 4, I started counting down how far had to go before I would see my friends. It was so great to see my friend Tyler holding a sign that insulted me (per my request) as I ran by him and other friends. That kept my spirits lifted until Mile 11 when I saw my friend Barb who yelled, “Move your ass Bitch!” (I specifically asked my friends to insult me that year. It’s part of my masochistic nature.)

One of my Favorite Race Day Signs Ever - Photo by Jeff Moriarty

One of my Favorite Race Day Signs Ever – Photo by Jeff Moriarty

Even when I don’t recognize the people who are watching us run, it means so much that they came out to support us. I love reading all the funny signs that people make and seeing the volunteers who dress up in funny outfits. It’s mutual people watching. It’s fun to watch runners who wear costumes or running shirts with clever sayings on them. Quite a few people put their name on their shirt so you can cheer for them by name if you want. This year we had the option to customize part of our race bibs. Mine says “First Marathon.”

The 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona race routes will cross Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe. Wherever you live, you should be able to get to a portion of the race relatively easily. If you’re going to be on the marathon route and you want to make my race, make me a sign that says “Go Baby Duck!” Baby Duck was one of the nicknames my late coach called me. This will only be my second race since his passing. That would make me happier then having people insult me.

To everyone who has ever driven a runner to their starting line, made a sign, or cheered them on along the way, thank you for your support. It makes a big difference having you there.

Race Day Neuroticism

I got in email last week from somebody asking me to share my race day routine. I love the whole gestalt of doing races – the excitement, the comradery of all the participants and volunteers, and pushing yourself to be your best.

Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon 2013 - Pre-Race with my Uncle and Cousin

Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon 2013 – Pre-Race with my Uncle and Cousin

I’ll be the first person to admit that I can be a bit neurotic, and so part of my race day routine is all about making sure I am aware of where I need to be, when I need to be there, and with all my gear. My race day routine actually begins a few days before the race when I go shopping for the food I’m going to eat the days before the race. I also print out my confirmation form for the race and alter the waiver so that the organizers can be held responsible if they negligently cause me to be injured during the race. (What can I say? I’m a lawyer.)

The day before the race is the expo where I pick up my race packet, and that’s when I usually start feeling really excited about the race. I love talking to my fellow racers and the vendors about running. I usually grab a few samples of products and I get my legs taped up with KT Tape.

When I get home, I get super organized so I can be ready for race day. I lay out my clothes for the race and pay in my race bib to my shirt. I put everything I will want to have after the race that I can in my gear check bag and I make a list of the things I need to remember to throw in my bag before I leave for the race. (I warned you I’m neurotic.) I try to get everything prepared for the race that I can – even things like having my coffee cup and the toaster out so I can make breakfast that much faster on race morning.

Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon 2013 - Post-Race

Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon 2013 – Post-Race

The night before the race I usually treat myself to a big plate of pasta with veggies and chicken and I try to go to bed early. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon starts at 7:30 am, so that means I have to be awake, dressed, and get to my light rail station probably by 6:30. I’ll probably set my alarm for 4:45 just to make sure I have enough time to do everything.

Race day itself is always exhilarating. I’m always a bundle of energy as I force myself to eat a bagel and a banana and get some coffee in my bloodstream and get myself to the starting line. In the starting line area, I stretch out my legs and 20 minutes before the race starts, I down 2 ibuprofens and a 5 Hour Energy. I’ve heard you’re not supposed to take painkillers before the race, but that’s always been my pattern.

When my corral is that the starting line, I put my ear buds in my ears and turned on my race day play list of high energy music. My rules for most races are (1) Don’t stop and (2) Don’t die. It’s a pretty low bar to clear.

Marathon Training Week 17 Recap – Tapering Down

no. 17, somewhere down the jaisalmer highway by nevil zaveri from Flickr

no. 17, somewhere down the jaisalmer highway by nevil zaveri from Flickr

It’s the second to last week of marathon training and my training program has me tapering down before the race.

I was supposed to run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but I got too busy to run on Tuesday, so I rearranged my schedule. It’s been a challenge to make time for running lately. The temperature has warmed up again, but I’ve been busy with work so by the time I have time to run, I have to either run in the dark or use the gym at my complex. The gym is convenient but I don’t like running on machines. Running outside is more fun, has better scenery, and my options are to walk or run. In the gym, it’s boring and I have the option to switch from the treadmill to the elliptical, and even to the stationary bike.

On Wednesday, I did 6 miles in the gym – 2.5 on the treadmill and 3.5 on the elliptical. The treadmill makes my shins hurt and the elliptical makes my feet go numb. I’ll admit it was pretty boring staring at the walls and the machines. On Thursday, I ran 4 miles outside. I could tell my legs weren’t as used to running on pavement as I would like but it still felt good. I had some chest pain in the first mile, but it settled down by the end of the run.

I had my last long run on Saturday – 8 miles, and I ran them outside. It felt good to be out running in the first light of the day. My body didn’t fully appreciate it. I had a little shin pain starting around Mile 3 and some arch pain by Mile 4. I was already planning on getting both calves taped for the race and I think I’m going to get my left shin, arch, and post-tib taped too. I’m going to look like I have bionic legs. My chest hurt a bit from the beginning of my run and got worse around Mile 6.  Focusing on my running form seemed to help keep it in check and it was never bad enough where I thought I should stop or walk for safety reasons.

I have the No Pants Light Rail Ride on Sunday so I’ll be walking all over Phoenix before and during the ride so that will be my substitute for cross training. I don’t wear a GPS or a pedometer so I won’t know how  far I’ll walk but I’ll be walking and standing for the better part of 5 hours.

My plan for my last week of training and rest for the marathon is to make sure I stretch, foam roll, and use The Stick on my lower legs every day. I need my calves to be as limber as possible. I’ve heard stories about lots of runners having to stop during the last few miles to stretch their calves. There is a slight incline on the route starting around Mile 20 so I want to make sure my legs are ready for it.

Weekly Totals:
Running:  14.5 miles
Elliptical:  3.5 miles

Marathon Training Week 16 Recap: Running Scared

16 by  Karen_O'D from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

16 by Karen_O’D from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you’ve been following my journey towards running my first marathon, you know that a few weeks ago my cardiologist diagnosed me as having 2 holes in my heart. He said I can keep training and do the race as long as I can manage the symptoms and I don’t have a stroke.

Knowing that I have a potentially serious cardiac condition makes me nervous about running, but not enough to make me stop. I am much more mindful about where I run because I don’t want to find myself getting into trouble and being more than a few miles from home or my car. I’m more likely to choose a route that involves running loops close to home or running on the treadmill or elliptical. I definitely never leave the house without my Road ID on my wrist.

My Medications - Dizziness WarningsOne of the challenges of having this condition and being on my medication is I never know how I’m going to feel day-to-day. Last week I ran over 20 miles, and I felt like I could have run another 5 miles if I needed to. A few days ago, I had to stop running after 1.5 miles on the treadmill and finish my workout on the stationary bike because I was too weak to run anymore. Some days I feel great and other days I’m weak and prone to dizzy spells. (I recently noticed that all 3 of my medications have dizziness as a side effect.) I really hope I don’t have a bad day on race day, because there’s a good chance I’ll be riding the golf cart to the finish line.

Every time I suit up to workout, part of me is afraid of getting to weak or tired to finish my run or worse. I prefer not to collapse or have a stroke. I don’t need road rash or a treadmill burn on my face and I’m clumsy enough without adding in a semi-permanent weakness in half my body. I wonder how being on a beta blocker impacts my workouts, since I think it’s keeping my heart rate from rising like it would in a non-medicated person. My teammates warn me to “Listen to your body,” but they know I’m stubborn and it’s hard not to push through when I can. But I know the big goal is to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, and that might mean I have to take it easy a bit in my training to make sure I make it to race day.

2013 Post RaceThis week I opted to ride the stationary bike at the gym for an hour while reading my book and checking social media for cross training. It was pretty boring but I cranked out 15 miles. (I can’t wait ‘til it’s warm enough to ride outside again.) It made me miss the aerobics classes I used to take when I belonged to a gym. I’d buy a day pass for an intense step class. (I’m sure my cardiologist wouldn’t support the idea of me taking an intense step class, but it’s fun.)

I have good news in regards to race prep – I ordered my base shirt so I can have Brand X make me another custom running shirt for the race. They did a great job with my Masochist/Run Bitch shirt the last time I ran a half marathon.

Weekly Totals:
Running:  5 miles
Elliptical:  20 miles
Biking:  22.5 miles