Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My road to Boston Ep 1: qualifying unwittingly at time..with cancer....

As an endurance junkie it is very hard; I mean very hard, to sift through the clutter that is the continuous pull between exhaustion and exhilaration from workout to workout, week to week, and race to race.  Am I over fatigued and need to let off, or am I just tired from a few hard days? Or is the stress of life/work throwing off centre? Is it work that I need to assess and adjust? How is my family commitments, am I falling off course with those (guilty often!) We go through all these spot checks well before we ever land at the one big question; am I sick?

From am I sick we work towards "I will be good in a few days after some rest.." and we soldier on to the track, or the climbs, or the lake. We soldier on dutifully crafting our fitness for the next start line. Process. Process. Process. Consistency is key. I must hit that workout.

2016 I learn a valuable lesson. I am not invincible. It is not "just a few good days rest…" that solves all. Indeed, I am actually very vulnerable.

My episode 1: Road to Boston is a story of reflection from the Vancouver Marathon finish line and what it taught me about myself. It took awhile to post because I needed to a) get healthy, and b) reflect. A lot!

Resilience: the ability to recover from adversity.

My last blog talked about learning of and dealing with cancer which was my June/July journey into and out of a difficult space. That was after this finish line. This is a story from what lead up to visiting a Dr. and saying, "something's not right".

It was May 1st for the beautiful Vancouver marathon. Meredith's BIRTHDAY! I was well trained and coached by a Canadian Olympian Malindi Elmore. I was ripping test workouts to a 3 hour marathon. I was primed and ready and enjoyed the process with my mate Vik Bains. We went down to the start together with his Kelowna run team. We soaked in some start line energy and paced nervously for the gun to go. My personal best was 3:08:55 from the 2014 Vancouver Marathon and I was now going for 2:59:59!

Vik and I heading to start with TD in background...i don't work there anymore though! Look close and my squamous cell carcinoma is on lip.

This at hand, my first start line of 2016 I had no idea I had cancer.  What I was deflecting health wise was serious and I had no idea. A few good days rest and all will be good wasn't working. Two weeks before the start line I had to take a sick day at work with an eye sty. 10 days before the marathon I had a cold sore under my nose always a telltale sign my body's immune system has crashed. Of course on the start line I had what I thought was a cold sore on my lip and it was this that ended up being squamous cell carcinoma.  I disregarded all that. A start line awaited.

And we're off. And 4:15 per KM pace for a 3 hour marathon went up the road pretty quickly. Vik and his mate were gone within the first mile. At 5km's I knew something was just "off". I was sluggish and was struggling for my usual race day focus. My mind wandered. My thoughts fleeting. My legs sluggish. I tried and found a mantra "Grind. Just grind".  I hit the climb at 10km on 4:16/km pace. Dead on pace for 2:59 marathon but the hills were coming. I wanted to be at 4:10 pace at 10K into race. "Stay calm. Grind. Just grind".

Popping up the topside I was now on 4:20/km average pace and I found a group that were clearly going too fast for who was in the group but on target for what I needed. They kept surging over each other. Pushing their pace. When they would let off we would come side by side. At 19km the Vancouver marathon is running through UBC campus and approaching a mile descent to Jericho beach. This hill killed my quads in 2014 so I stayed calm and on pace as my group faded into the distance. At the half way in Jericho Park I was 1:31. Right on pace for a negative split 3 hour marathon. I felt energy from this. "I can't believe I might pull this off" is what I said. Out loud. To a very confused few runners around me! I picked it up to stay on top of 4:15 pace. 2km's later it was all but over. My mind wandered. My thoughts fleeting. My legs sluggish.

Resilience: A climb out of Jericho and off into Kitsilano was my reset button to focus for a 3:05 marathon which is still a 4 minute PB and damn good for 45 years old.

Coming over to Burrard Street bridge was the last of the group I was running with at UBC. The rest were already behind me. He was in hit wall mode at 30km into race. I've been there. I tapped him and asked he come with me. He was done. Marathons are cruel. The Burrard Bridge might as well be a mountain. Up and over feeling like 3:05 marathon was easily doable but 3:02 is a new stretch target.

Grind. Just grind.

Left and into English Bay I dropped to 4:10/km pace and felt amazing. The headwind was building and into Stanley Park I was putting a bet down. 4:10/km for as long as I can hold and I am in serious contention for 3:02.

GO FOR IT! YOU DID THIS IN TRAINING. RIGHT HERE ON THIS COURSE. JUST GO!  I was flying. Feathers for legs. Mind was free. Then….it wasn't. My mind wandered. My thoughts fleeting. My legs sluggish. I was blowing up. Badly.

And I had 7km's to go.

Turning the corner under the Stanley Park bridge I had no fight. Fight is my weapon. Fight is what I do. Its what's won me races. No one ever out fights me. I had no fight. I went negative. How can this happen? What's wrong with me? why am I even here? 5:00km went to a 5:15km. I was dying a slow marathon runners death.

With 2km to go a guy in front of me let up. Staggered. Then promptly fell over. Do I stop? Is he ok? and thankfully 2 spectators ran over "I have CPR.." they yelled. Thank you; decision made. Keep going because I am him in 10 minutes.

Please just let this end!

2KM to go and I am running a marathoner's nightmare. Bricks for feet and on the back. Grind. Just grind.

Turning left onto finishing chute was Meredith and dad and I had barely enough energy to wave. 1 km to go and I was fighting in no man's land between epic fail and utter relief to be done. I was racing towards a reward I didn't know existed. With 400 metres to go I could see the clock and I was a sprint away from an award I didn't know was there. If I sprint. If I fight. If I just grind. I have a personal best. GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

3:08:41….14 second PB. The thing about personal bests? THEY ALL COUNT!

8th in Age Group. Top 2%. Who knew? Resilience.

I won't deny I was pretty happy. I enjoyed some brown pops with Vik, dad, Meredith and friends. Celebrated Meredith's birthday with steak dinner and Prosecco. Relaxed and soaked it in. I slogged out a PB despite feeling terrible. I am proud of this.  And I knew April 2017 Boston Marathon was ticked off the box.

Resilience. That thing we have that we don't know we do ... until we do know we have it.

But something was not right and I knew it. So did Meredith. From this finish line my path to vulnerability began.

Out the other side takes me to episode 2. A few more start lines. Post cancer start lines. And a different perspective on life with some changes in store.

Thanks for reading.