Oops… I Did it Again

What did I do, you might be asking? Well, I signed up for my second marathon.  I signed for the Indianapolis full marathon in early November, and training for this race begins soon.

I swore up and down that my first marathon would be a one and done for me, but yeah. I decided to give it another go now that I got over the whole, “Can I even do this?” I know that I can, so the new question will be, “Can I learn from my mistakes?”

When I signed up for Columbus, my primary goal was just to finish and the secondary goal was to finish in five hours. Well, I finished the marathon in five hours and 55 seconds (give or take a second or five). I came super duper close to coming in less than five hours and that has been haunting me.

For weeks afterward, I would think about my time and think, “Oh man, if I had trained just a little bit harder, I could have persevered and ran a sub-5.” 

I barely cross trained. I didn’t do any toolbox runs (ie tempo runs or speedwork). I swear on my pretty bonnet that I am going to do these and work my approaching middle-age tush off.

Once again, I have enlisted the help of a coach to help me reach the finish line. It’s a different coach this time around. The coach I previously worked with was booked, and I wasn’t going to be a burden to a busy man. I’ll be working with Sara, and I’m very excited about this.

So despite being busy with work and finding time to spend with my favorite fella who makes me grin from ear to ear, I decided to give marathon number two a real honest go. This is important to me, so I’m going to make time and shuffle my prioritites. Less TV, more running.  I’m so glad my fella understands how much running is important to me. He has even offered to go with me to these races in different cities. How lucky am I?

I plan on writing more about my quest for sub-5. It’s going to happen, my friends.

 

Marathon

My first marathon

Y’all, I am a marathoner. Straight up, after months of training, self-doubt and eating more than someone probably should, I ran 26.2 miles a month ago, and I have the shiny medal to prove it.

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When I signed up for the marathon, I was apparently optimistic and slightly delusional about my projected finish time because I was assigned Corral C. I’m not a Corral C runner, more like a D or E. I probably annoyed the other Steel City Road Runners about my Corral place.  “Maybe I should be in Corral D? Or E? But if I’m in Corral C, is that okay?”

After patient reassurances, I went into Corral C. I moseyed on down to the back of Corral C, and I ended up starting with the beginning of Corral D.

At the beginning of the race, they had fireworks. Fireworks! I felt like a little kid. I may have even squealed.

Since this was the Nationwide Columbus Children’s Hospital Marathon, every mile had a patient child champion wearing oversized foam hands, like you would find at a football game. Despite not being someone who gives high gives, I high fived these kids whenever I could BECAUSE I AM NOT DEAD INSIDE.

One of the miles was a Memorial Mile, and another one was an Encore Mile, which featured children who were past patient child champions. I honestly thought I was going to lose it during the Memorial Mile when I saw all the families holding up posters of their deceased children but still cheering me on. We all had our names on our bibs, so these families were honestly going, “You are doing great, Lara!” “Way to go!”

During the encore mile, I high fived a bunch of these former child patient navigators, who were also cheering and telling me I was doing a great job. I fought the urge to cry like I do at videos of dogs reuniting with their owners after a long period of time. Ugly. Crying.

I know I have been through some shit with my own cancer. I am an adult, though, and these are children. These were children. They are innocent. When I got sick, it wasn’t pretty but it made sense. My mom got cancer young, and now so did I. When a young child is going through cancer, it’s just heartbreaking and shouldn’t be how the world works.  How do you explain when a child comes down with a life-threatening illness or injury? You can’t.

The first half of the marathon, I felt strong. Hell, I even had a mile where I averaged 8:45, like how is that even possible. Oh wait, adrenaline. When the half marathon and marathon split and most of the runners went left instead of straight, boy I felt a weird sense of dread, like shit just got real.

Around mile 21 or 22, that’s when the mind games with myself started showing up.

What happened? You were so strong in the half.

You are a sham of a runner.

Why are you doing this to yourself?

I was my own worst enemy and my greatest cheerleader.

It’s okay if you’re not as strong as you were in the first half. Give yourself a break.

No, Lara, you are awesome!

You’re doing this because not everyone can do this, but YOU can do this.

The last two miles were the worst. I had to stop and walk a handful of times. Every time I started running again, the words “mother fucker” escaped my lips. I had to psyche myself up before I could run again. I swear, I probably went through the five stages of grief during the marathon. Bargaining and denial did play a big part of the last couple of miles.

With less than a mile away, the 5 hour pacer ran by me as I was walking. I thought to myself, “I need to run harder and beat her!” (Denial.)

Ten seconds later as I huffed and puffed, I thought, “Don’t be stupid. Just finish.” (Acceptance.)

For some reason, I stopped about ten or so feet from the finish line. I didn’t cross the finish line all strong and yay, woman power.  It was more like I crossed the finish line all crying and hyperventilating. With my hand on my chest and my emotions boiling out of me, I walked over the finish line with two medics waiting for me.

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“Are you okay?”

Instead of responding, “Of course not, I just ran a marathon,” I replied, “I think I might puke.”

I didn’t puke, though. I just hyperventilated and cried, and let this young man escort me about 20 or so 30 feet as I walked to the best of my ability.

So, I did it. My official time was 5:00:58. Seriously. I was one minute away from seeing four at the beginning of my time. One freaking minute. Maybe if I didn’t stop short of the finish line to have a mini-panic attack or outpouring of emotion, then I could have been under 5 hours. I could have trained harder. I could have had a better diet and been stronger.

Who knows?

When I began training for this marathon, I was going through a breakup of my 7.5-year relationship. It set me back, of course. I bounced back in so many ways. At the beginning of my training, I was in a horribly dysfunctional relationship that had been dead in the water for two to three years.

Even during a short period of time, things can always change for the better. How do I know? At the end of the marathon and outside the athlete area, an amazing man who has made me so happy and treats me like I am the cat’s meow waited for me . . . with a big smile on his face and a congratulatory hug.

I was never an athlete as a kid. I stunk at soccer, basketball or softball. I would rather be reading a book or watching television. I never had a competitive streak as a kid. If me and someone else were going for the ball, my first instinct would be to go, “eh.”

Running just has me competing against myself, and right now, I will probably do another marathon . . . just so that I break sub-5 hours. I will do it, too.

Huffman rules.

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Second Half Marathon

Today I completed my second half marathon, and I’m very happy to report that I beat my previous time by a lot.   My goal was to achieve a time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.  I crossed the finish line at 2 hours and 13 minutes.  Hot dog!   I guess not running with extreme IT band and foot pain really makes a difference.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100 percent injury free going into this race.  For the past two months, I have been working hard on renovations in my house with an emphasis on scraping glue and wallpaper off walls and ceilings.  Hours upon hours of moving my arm up and down or above my head, all sorts of repetitive motions.  Right now, I am nursing some pain and numbness in my right shoulder, and sometimes during a run, my shoulder will pop.  Dr. Google suggests that I might have some tendonitis in my right shoulder, but I will be seeing an actual doctor to try and figure out what exactly is going on.

I arrived at the race early, and I really didn’t need to, unfortunately.  Because I got there so early (well, on time), I ended up waiting around two hours before the race began.  It was cold and misting, and I shivered quite a bit.  I seriously need to remember to do the trash bag before races in the fall and winter.  This isn’t the first time I have came to a race under dressed.  One of these days, I will learn my lesson.  One day.

Around mile 5, my shoulder felt tight and popped – just once, thank goodness.  The bigger issue that came up was the giant blister on my left foot.  I blocked out the pain by totally people watching the other runners.  “What the hell is she wearing?”  “The runners who carry the American flag are bad ass.”  “That woman has a shirt saying ‘Run like a grandma.’  I can’t let her pass me…. crap, too late.  Go grandma.”

Before my half marathon, I contacted Metavivor to see if I can fundraise on the organization’s behalf.   They said yes, and I was able to raise around $700 for Metavivor!   I wish I could have raised more, but this won’t be the last time I’ll raise additional funds for them.   I want to raise more for them than I ever did for the evil Susan G. Komen Foundation.  I’ll right my wrong!

As of right now, I’m sore, hurt but feeling very proud.  I achieved a goal, and an amazing organization received money that will go to metastatic breast cancer research.  I feel actually more pride in that fact than hitting a PR.  I didn’t just write a blog saying: “Pinkwashing is bad, and money should go research.”  I’ve written many blogs saying just that, but this time I helped to raise money for just that.  All the people who donated to Metavivor hopefully learned more about the organization and might feel inclined to donate to them again without any provocation from me.

I run to help reduce my risk of a recurrence.  I run to quiet my demons that like to tag-a-long with me.  I run to keep myself in the best shape I can.  I run to get those endorphins released into my body.  I run to be something I never was before the age of 32: an athlete.  I run to hang out with all the awesome and wonderful friends I have made.

I run because I’m not out to prove anything to anybody but myself, and it’s freaking fantastic.

Half marathon…. check

I did it.  I freaking did it.

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Pre-race selfie and post-race selfie

 

I ran 13.1 miles today, and I didn’t stop to walk.  (I did stop for water breaks, but I’m not counting that.)  I’ve been training for this day for months, basically since last October.  This time last year, I was still recovering from five surgeries over the period of two years.  I was 10 to 15 pounds heavier, and I lacked direction.  I didn’t know how to change my life and bounce back from all the crap done to me during breast cancer.  I hated what cancer had done to me physically with all my scars, weight gain and the reconstruction.

I’m now in the best freaking shape of my life.  I have never looked and felt like this, even before cancer.  I have a feeling of purpose with running.  During all my treatment, I remember how absurd it felt to hear people say to me, “Oh, you’re so strong.  You’re a fighter.”  That always struck me as odd because I had never felt so physically weak and just beat up.  Like, seriously, who was I fighting and winning?  Cancer treatment puts the patient in a very passive role.  I didn’t do anything – rather, treatment was done to me.

I feel strong now, and I have realized that I’m not strong nor was I ever strong because I had cancer.  I am now strong even though I had cancer.

During the last three or four miles of the race today, I actually started getting flashbacks to my time in the chemo ward.  I could see myself in the chair, looking out at the other patient.  I remembered that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.  I’d snap out of that flashback and just ran harder.  Then I flashed to my hospitalization after my double mastectomy, and how much pain I felt.  I’d snap out of that, too, and ran harder.  It was like Runner Lara was running like hell away from Sick Lara, like I am finally able to put that period of life behind me (knowing damn well that it can always come back).

Nothing I can do will prevent breast cancer from ever coming back, either local or distant.  What I do today, like putting on a pair of shoes and running, is what i can do.  That’s the only control I have – this very moment.

This race was such a huge deal to me.  It was to see if I could even do it and a big fuck you to cancer.  Now it’s done and in the (Lara) record books, it’s time to move on.  I’m definitely not cancer girl anymore.

I am a runner.

Get Up Running – Marjie

Welcome to the inaugural post for what I hope can become an inspirational series about running during and/or after cancer – Get Up Running.  This should go without saying but if you’re recovering from cancer and want to start running, clear everything with your doctors beforehand.

My first friend to respond to my inquiry was Marjie from Pink and Pearls.  This woman has the kindest soul I have ever encountered, and I am so privileged to count her as a friend.

Name: Marjorie Miller

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Type of cancer & your treatment: 

Breast cancer; surgery (I also had childhood Leukemia at the age of 12, and for that, three years of chemotherapy).

Were you a runner before cancer or any other sports before cancer?

I ran my first 5K literally the same day I found a breast lump. (race that morning, found the lump in the shower that afternoon). I started running a few months before diagnosis, but was never a runner before cancer.

Did you run during treatment? If no, how long after treatment ended did you take up running?

Yes, I tried to run in between surgeries. I had six total surgeries, including a double mastectomy with reconstruction and lat flap. After each surgery when I got the go-ahead from my doctor to resume physical activity, I attempted to run again. It didn’t always happen with the expanders but I tried.

How has running helped you during and/or after treatment, both physically and mentally?

Mentally it helps me feel like I have control over my body again. It helps me feel in control of my health and my life. Breast cancer took my breasts but it can’t take what I do with my body, which is running. When I run it’s just me and my body; I have complete control. I take myself as far as I want. I push myself as much as I can. Nobody else gets a say when I lace up my sneakers. Physically it’s made me stronger and healthier. It gives me so much self confidence. It gives me energy, helps me deal with stress and anxiety, and I feel it keeps me sane 😉

What did your doctor/doctors say about you running?

They applaud it and encourage it.

What has big your biggest challenge running after cancer?

Being comfortable with the implants. My chest still feels tight and I am still regaining muscles under my chest wall. Running sometimes hurts and pulls at my chest.

What would you say to someone ending treatment or just out of treatment who might be intimidated to take up running?

Take it slowly. Take it one day at a time. Start with what YOU feel comfortable doing. Remember: when you run, you run for you and nobody else. My husband said to me before my first 10 miler a few weeks ago: “Just run YOUR race.”

You’re only running for yourself. Not to impress anyone else. Start with walking, slow jogging, taking breaks, whatever you need. You’ll find with time your energy and stamina will grow. Your confidence will grow. It does get easier and the more you do it, the more you love it.

Run happy!

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Another 11 miles

I did.  I ran another 11 miles.  Double-freaking-digits.  While this is my second double-digit run, this run was even more significant due to the fact that I have been a sickie again, living in Purgatory health.  For the last four to five weeks, I have been fighting off one illness after another.   It started off as a cold, then I had a stomach virus that completely wiped me out, then a sinus infection.  The Boyfriend has been sick, and then it seems I get it, and then so on.  Unfortunately, he has seemingly been hit harder than me with all these illnesses, and I’ve been bouncing back, while he has been splat on the ground.

Training during a period of time where you just want to lay down, curl up with a pair of crazy mutts, and watch bad reality television is challenging.  I want to run.  I want to go to yoga and get my stretch on, gurrrl.  The idea of resting when I’m so close to the half marathon?  No, I can’t!  I rested for two years, and I’m tired of resting.

I ended up listening to my training group’s advice to give it a rest.  Illness and training do not go hand in hand.  More like hand-to-hand combat.  The couple of times I tried to run when under the weather yielded terrible results.  When I went to yoga even though I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, horrible idea.  Finally, I threw my hands up, went to the doctor to get some much-needed antibiotics, and didn’t run for more than a week.

Today was my first long run in two weeks, and I felt pretty great until mile 9 when the IT band pain hit again.  Since I had two miles to go, I wasn’t going to quit.  Those two miles were tougher than the first 9 (I can’t believe I actually wrote that sentence).  When my watch beeped at the 11 mile mark, I resisted the urge to yell, “YES!”  I was also secretly overjoyed that one of my mentors said I was a “strong” runner.  SOMEONE CALLED ME STRONG AND IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HAVING HAD CANCER.

I wish I could spread the message to other people who just finished cancer treatment that they, too, can run.  (Of course, always get a “go-ahead” from their oncologist.)  I haven’t even been running for a year, like 9 months, and I’m weeks away from running 13.1 miles.  I’m not an athlete and well, have never been athletic.  It’s like all my surgeries and treatment have flipped a switch in me.  I know what it’s like to feel like you’re choking to death, or so sick and in pain that you have to have help walking up stairs, or so zapped of energy that you can barely get out of bed.  I have been pushed to my limits during cancer treatment.

Now I am being pushed to my limits but in a so much better way.

11 Miles

On Sunday, I accomplished something I never thought I could do – I ran 11 miles in two hours and three minutes.  When I began Fleet Feet’s No Boundaries program last July, I wasn’t even sure if I could run a 5K.  I thought to myself, “Okay, you signed up.  That’s the first step.”  I ran the Pittsburgh’s Great Race 5K in 31 minutes, and I was so proud of myself afterward.  When I saw that Fleet Feet was offering a training program for either the half marathon or full marathon, I hemmed and hawed about it for days.

No way I can run 13.1 miles.  You are out of your damn mind.

After I shook those “I can’t” thoughts out of my head, I signed up for the training group, and I have no idea why I ever thought I couldn’t do this.  Now that I have an 11 mile run under my belt, I know that I can run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon this May 4.  I am going to do it.  Even more so, I am going to run the Pittsburgh Half in two hours.  That’s my goal.  Whether or not I meet that goal, I’m going to be proud that I crossed that finish line.

Cancer is something that my body does.  Running is something I choose to do.

When I cross that finish line in just over a month, I hope my mother is looking down from wherever she is, shouting, “HUFFMAN RULES.”

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January 19, 2014

January 19, 2014

Yesterday I went for a six-mile run around North Park’s loop around the lake. I brought my little point-and-shoot camera with me during my run so I could capture all these winter beauty scenes. This time last year, I would have laughed hysterically at the thought of me running in the dead of winter, nonetheless running six miles. So much can happen in a year, and I can feel 2014 will be the year of more change.

Running

When I was in middle school and high school, I played sports but I was never good at them.  I probably would go as far as to say I stunk.  Pretty sure my family members who went to my softball games would also agree.  As soon as I turned 16 and could find a part-time job, I said good-bye to softball and began working at the local amusement park.

In an effort to get back into pre-cancer shape, at the recommendation of two dear friends, I joined this couch to 5K training group.  I had been pushing myself on the treadmill at my local gym in summer 2013.  Every time I pushed myself faster or longer, I felt so proud of myself, also fighting the urge to high-five other people at the gym.

High five me!  Come on, man!   I had breast cancer, and I’m recovering from months of reconstruction.  This is HUGE.

Both of my friends, who ran marathons and half-marathons, kept encouraging me to keep running but go beyond the treadmill.  Since they obviously knew what they were talking about, I listened and I’m glad I did.   Six months later, I just ran 5.5 miles on New Year’s Day with a group of runners, and I made good time.  Running to me is an individualized sport.  I’m at the point where I’m not trying to win in my age group.  I just want to improve my own time.  Sure, winning would be nice, but finishing the race is all that matters.

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Running has been the last step I needed to take for my recovery from breast cancer.  I am in the best shape of my life, and I’m not talking about post-cancer shape.  Right now, I am in the best shape of my pre- and post-cancer life.  I can run over 5 miles three times a week, which is definitely not something I could have said in 2009 or 2010.  Sure, I was thin and probably 10 pounds lighter than I am, but I was in awful shape.

Not anymore.

On top of the physical benefits, the mental benefits have been greater.  When I’m running, I’m not worrying about my job, my family, my relationship or what I have to do at home to keep it from turning into a pigsty.  While running, I think about my body, like where my arms are, bringing my knees up higher, making sure my hips are pulled in and my butt isn’t sticking out.  Running, for me, is like meditation.  My brain takes a breather while my body is being pushed to its limits.

Running also helps to reduce my risk of developing a new breast cancer or developing a distance recurrence (i.e., metastatic breast cancer).  Research after research shows that physical activity can lower your risk of breast cancer.  Sadly, nothing helps you prevent cancer, and I definitely do not believe that women who go on to develop a new breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer never exercised.  (Sorry health nuts, even healthy, in-shape people develop breast cancer.)  When it comes to cancer, we just don’t know.  The best we can do is lower our risk.

Recently, an October 2013 New York Times article published a piece regarding how walking may lower breast cancer risk:

Meanwhile, those few women who were the most active, sweating vigorously for up to 10 hours each week, realized an even greater benefit, with 25 percent less risk of developing breast cancer than those women who exercised the least.

A 25 percent risk reduction isn’t nothing to sneeze at, no sir.

A June 2012 Time piece discussed similar results and numbers.

For the study, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill compared 1,500 women with breast cancer to more than 1,550 women without breast cancer who were part of the ongoing “Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project” that looked at environmental causes of the disease.

The researchers found that women who exercised during their reproductive years or following menopause reduced their risk of developing breast cancer. The greatest risk reduction was found in women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week (or two hours each day for five days), but a woman’s risk was reduced for all levels of exercise intensity, even light. Exercise appeared to reduce the risk of hormone receptor positive breast cancers, which are the most commonly diagnosed tumors among U.S. women.

That article mentioned “hormone receptor positive breast cancer,” as the most commonly diagnosed tumors.  Indeed, New York Times specified that er+ (the type of breast cancer I had) consisted of approximately 75 percent of breast cancer diagnoses.

I came across this Washington Post article written by a woman who also went through breast cancer treatment.  Elizabeth H. MacGregor wrote:

There was virtually nothing I could control about the nightmare of my cancer, I thought. But give me one thing that I can take charge of, that I can do — that I love to do — and I’m going to ride as if my life depends on it.

Ding, ding, ding.  That’s it, at least for me.  When it came to my cancer treatment, I had little to no control of what happened to me and what I had to endure.  Ms. MacGregor again wrote:

Some women are empowered by a cancer diagnosis, but I was not. I only felt vulnerable. While I trusted the medical professionals caring for me and the treatments I received, I found my role to be unsettlingly passive. Cycling allowed me to be an active participant in my treatment; it gave me agency in my recovery.

I took my doctors’ advice, and I underwent the treatment they suggested in an “unsettlingly passive” role.  Sure, I could have said no or kept looking for a doctor who would eventually tell me what I wanted them to tell me.  I went the conventional route with the conventional treatment, and I have no regrets.  The control aspect has come after treatment, and running is something I can control.  I decide whether or not I put my running shoes on.

While I don’t know if I’ll ever go through cancer treatment again, I at least know I’m making it harder for breast cancer to catch me.