Members of Team SJS just minutes before the start of the 2010 Fox Cities Half Marathon!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Surf City Half Marathon

So, nearly two months after the fact, I think I might possibly have a few minutes to write about my incredible trip to San Diego, the events leading up to the trip and the footprint it has indefinitely left on my soul.  I can honestly say that training for that half marathon was the most focused I have been before any event, other than maybe my first triathlon.  It was the most incredible and gracious gift that I had ever been given.  My coach, Rob, handed me an opportunity I didn't know how to refuse, even though my head was telling me that he was crazy for doing it and that I wasn't anything special!  Why would he want to train me, fly my husband and I out to San Diego, let us stay with him and then run a half marathon with me?  Little ol' me?  Really?  Besides, he'd never even met me!!  After being there, meeting my incredible coach for the first time in person and getting to know him better and better, I still can't wrap my head around it.  There are just people in this world that make you want to become a better person.  They do the most selfless things and ask nothing in return and want you to believe that you are worth all of it.  I know this, because Rob is one of those people!  I like to believe that God has brought Rob into my life so that one day I can show someone else the grace that he has shown me. There's just no other answer.

So, the week did not start out the way we had planned!  Not by a long shot!  The short of it is that at the end of the previous week, I began having some problems with my bad eye.  The eye that I wear the prosthetic in. I was in a lot of pain. The type of aching pain like a sinus headache, something I have never really struggled with before, and then there was this horrible swelling under my left eye as if someone had cold clocked me a good one!  It was red, warm to the touch, painful and swollen for several days.  The stupid thing is that I really didn't think too much of it until 4:00 am on Sunday morning when the pain woke me from a solid sleep.  It was then that Mike and I made our way to the hospital.

Thinking it would be one of those, "here is an antibiotic (enter nervous tics and traumatic fear) and some pain meds, come back if it gets worse" kind of deals, but within an hour, I was being admitted.  Admitted??  What??  And then I was being wheeled in for a CT scan of my head.  Three IV antibiotics, pain medication that brought on intense nausea and vomiting, and a pretty scary CT scan left me with a diagnosis of Periorbital Cellulitis.  Of course my first reaction was that this had something to do with FAT!  Had to, right?  Cellulitis sure sounds a lot like cellulite to me!!  But basically, the area around my eye was infected and the fear was that the infection had traveled into the bone between my eye socket and sinuses.  If that was the case, we were looking at 6-8 weeks of IV antibiotics.  We wouldn't know anything for a few days when they would repeat the CT scan to see if there were any improvements.

Of course, my first words were, "Well, I have a plane to catch on Thursday and a half marathon to run on Sunday, so just make that happen!"  Hmmm....I don't think that was even close to being on the radar of the three doctors who were now in charge of my care.  A hospitalist, an ENT and an Infectious Disease doc.  They told me I couldn't fly, then they told me I might be able to fly, but wouldn't be able to run, they told me they would have to put in a PIC line and I would have to go to a hospital in Sand Diego twice a day for IV antibiotics while I was there, then they told me an oral antibiotic just might do the trick.  I had no idea what was going to happen!  The thought of sunny days, warmer temperatures and those looming 13.1 miles seemed so out of reach at that point.  I spent my days pushing my IV pole around the unit, visiting with friends and family and trying to stay positive.  I was going to California, damn it!  And I was going to run the race of a lifetime too!  I had cheated death on more than one occasion, a set back of cellulite or whatever the heck this was, sure wasn't going to mess with my half marathon!

A few changes were made to my antibiotics and, of course, the fear of SJS returning took hold of my heart and mind and ran with it.  I was scared and angry and hopeful all at the same time. Each and every time they would come in with a new bag of fluid, I thought this could possibly be me staring at the culprit of another bout of that terrible illness.  The fear is unlike anything I have ever experienced before I got sick, but lives with me every time I have to take a medication. But after the second CT scan on that Tuesday morning, I was on my way home that afternoon with a bottle of antibiotics, steroids and the best case scenario I could have asked for.  The infection  seemed to be responding to the treatment and I was getting on that plane in two days!!!!

So that's what we did!  Thursday afternoon, Mike and I got on the plane and within a few hours, we were shedding our jackets, driving past beaches and palm trees on our way to Rob's house!  Holy crap!  We were really in California!!!

So many things happened while we were there, but the reason we were there was to run the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach!  The doctors had told me that they wouldn't recommend me running the race, but I wasn't in any pain, the swelling was gone and I saw no reason not to do it.  So after a week of not running, the three of us went for a short two mile run to shake the cob webs out and fill our lungs with some awesome California air!

We ran the two miles and I was feeling a bit weak.  Of course, our pace was a bit quick for me, but ran along the boardwalk and I could feel the salty ocean air in my face.  The Pacific was so close I just had to walk across the sand to touch it.  The sun, nearly ready to set, was warm on my skin and if I could make tears, I'm sure I would have had one or two for the beauty of it all.

Checking out the Expo with Rob.

 The morning of the race was absolutely incredible!!  The sun was shining, the temperatures were in the low 60's, so getting to run without three layers of clothes was incredibly liberating!!  There were  nearly 20,000 runners between the full and half marathon, so this was a pretty big deal!

Rob and I had talked earlier about a plan.  My initial plan was to run the first 3 or 4 miles at a  slower pace, about 11:00 or so.  Then, after I settled in and could figure out how I was feeling, pick it up a bit and save some for the finish.  My goal was to finish in 2:30:00 and  feel good! That was my plan!

So when the "gun" went off for our wave, although I'm still not sure we started with the correct wave, I was doing everything I could to pull back the reigns a bit.  There were so many runners that I spent a lot of time bobbing and weaving trying to stay between Mike, who was on my right, and Rob, on my left.  I figured if I placed myself between these two big guys, I wouldn't end up kissing the pavement if someone cut me off on my blind side.  And, as it has in the past, my plan paid off!  No road rash on this girl!!!  The first three miles were straight out on the Pacific Coast Highway.  We would catch glimpses  of the beach or Ocean on our left and it was amazing.  I could see that my pace was holding steady at a 10:30.  A little quick, but I was feeling so strong and holding back was difficult with this many people around, so I listened to the Forrest Gump in my head and "just kept running!"  We turned to the right after mile three and ran through a residential area with a few slight hills and lots of curvy streets.  The scenery was beautiful and there were lots of cheerleaders along the route.  Spirits were high and at about 6 we turned back onto  the PCH for another 2 miles North before hitting the turn around to bring it 5 miles back in.  By this time, I was ready for that turn around.  I was holding that 10:30 pace pretty well and I was beginning to wonder where the heck mile 8 was!!

We reached the turnaround and headed toward the finish line.  At this point, my pace slowed and looking down at my Garmin started to become a bit of a problem for me.  I could feel some frustration building as I watched my pace get closer to that 11:00.  I wanted that 2:30:00 so bad, I was quite sure I could taste it.  Rob helped me through some discomfort in my right leg, telling me to widen my stance and shorten my stride. It was helping.  I found myself looking to the ground because I was feeling a slow and gradual incline and at mile 10, that was the last thing I wanted to tackle.  Rob said it was just a bit longer before the incline leveled off, but it never did!  Those  darn last 5 miles were all up "hill".  Again, Rob told me to look straight ahead and watch the bobbing heads in front of me, but that made it all worse!  I knew we were climbing, so looking down was all I could do at that point.  I was getting sore and tired.

And then, like a bat to the forehead, it hit me!  Yet again, I was in a situation where I was finding that I am so much stronger than I ever thought that I was or could be.  After three days in the hospital with a very serious infection, I was thousands of miles from home running a half marathon with my incredible husband and coach!  Yeah, I had run 13.1 miles before, but never feeling as strong as I was that day.  Sure, I was tired and my muscles were burning, but I was going to set a new PR that day, I could feel it in every step and I knew it with every beat of my heart.  Well, that and I was watching the time on my Garmin!  Must have been the Prednisone!  Hmmm...I don't think that is the steroid of choice, but hey, it just might have worked for me that day!

So as we neared the finish line, I savored every brief moment.  Although my body was ready to stop, I didn't want any of it to be over!  I had trained so hard, I had come so far and although finishing was the ultimate goal, I didn't ever want to get there.  Could this be the runner's high they speak of?  Or was it just that I had grown in ways that surprised even me?  The simple parts of life were becoming large, palpable, taking on a life of their own?  Was I truly learning to live again?  Without fear, doubt, anger, anxiety even?  No, not completely, but maybe with less of it than I used to.  And learning to live again after nearly dying, has got to be the scariest thing I have ever done.  Because now you know what you stand to lose.  You are aware of all of the beautiful things around you that before you never even knew were there.  And that in itself is worth living for!

We finished that race, not in 2:30:00, but in 2:25:44.  We had crossed the finish line more than 4 minutes faster than my original goal and nearly 15 minutes sooner than my previous Personal Record!  I had set a new PR for myself and on top of all of that, I felt AMAZING!  There were no dehydration issues, no stomach pains, and other than some tired muscles, I was perfect!  It was a day to celebrate for sure!

Mike and I enjoyed our trip to California so much.  So many highlights from that trip!  Seeing dolphins swimming in the ocean, stepping foot in the Pacific Ocean, getting to know my incredible coach, eating amazing food, setting personal bests, and continuing to learn more about myself.  But one thing that I will NEVER forget is getting to meet Silver Medalist and 2009 New York City Marathon winner, Meb Keflezighi.  Actually, we ate pizza with him!  Oh yes we did!  Meb and Rob happen to be dear friends and Rob asked Meb if he would be willing to join us for dinner.  He also shared part of my story with Meb, who also came into running with an incredible story of his own, and told him of my Surf City PR.  The surprising thing to Mike and I about Meb was how humble he was.  He congratulated me on a great race!  Ha!  He congratulated me!!!  Just a girl from Wisconsin who averages a 10:30 pace all for the sake of raising awareness of an illness almost no one has ever heard of.  A girl who had just weeks before watched Meb  win the Olympic marathon Trials on tv!  I watched him in my sweats, sitting on my couch, finish 26.2 miles in 2:09:07!  It was in that moment that he taught me, and I finally learned, that everyone has a personal best and that a mile is still a mile no matter how quickly you complete it!  In the presence of one of the best distance runner's of all time, I believed I was a runner!  I too am a runner!  Thank you, Meb!

To say that California was amazing would be an understatement!  California was life changing for me and maybe even for my husband.  With all of the wonderful things that we were able to do, I was also reminded that he will always be my biggest supporter!  He believes in me, encourages me and holds me up when  need it most.  What a blessed life I have!

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