Saturday, November 3, 2012

Everything Changes

It might be simpler to list what hasn't changed since my last blog post, but in a nutshell:
I quit my job, started working from home doing another job, bought a new car, started getting frequent migraines, got a CT scan, stopped hormone supplements...

The new job was the biggest change given the fact that I had been with my previous employer, The Nature Conservancy, for over 12 years. I had a lot invested in the organization including amazing working relationships with some fantastic colleagues. Many will continue to be personal friends, but I still feel a sense of loss not seeing them on a daily basis. There was also a growing amount of negative stress associated with the job that was outside my control to change in the near term.

More than anything, when I looked at what I was doing on a day-to-day basis, I wasn't inspired. I am an ecologist. I became an ecologist later in life because I wanted to study nature. I love being in the field counting plants and dip-netting for shrimp. I am inspired by figuring out how nature works and applying that knowledge to conserving biodiversity. I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from that personal mission.

When I was presented with an opportunity to work with a small firm based in Berkeley with a group of like-minded biologists led by a guy that requires everyone to spend time in the field, I was very interested. This is a for-profit entity, so a very different operation than I am used to, but that is more exciting to me than it is scary. I am most excited about learning new things, and not just biological things. Learning is what makes me feel alive.      

While this change is positive for me, that doesn't mean it has not ben stressful. It has! Stress, whether caused by positive or negative forces, is still stress and affects the body all the same.  Maybe as a result of the stress, I started getting migraines every day a few weeks ago. This is very abnormal for me. I generally get one every six months or so. My doc ordered a CT scan just to make sure there wasn't anything really nasty growing in my head, and there wasn't.

In my last post I talked about my (hypothesized) low estrogen levels and how much better I was feeling being on supplements. My doctors became concerned about those supplements being responsible for my migraines since hormone fluctuations can trigger migraines in many women. I also learned that there's a growing body of medical science that shows women who get migraines with associated visual auras are at a greater risk of having a stroke when they are on hormonal supplements than women who don't get migraines or those who get migraines without the aura. This quote from this link made an impression on me: "the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the WHO have considered migraines with aura to be an absolute contraindication to the use of combined hormonal contraception". It's one thing for the ACOG to say this, but when a famous rock and roll band from the 70's like The WHO says you shouldn't take the pill, I knew it was time to listen. What I find scary is how few people seem to know this information. I have now talked to four women who are or were on BCPs that also get migraines with auras and they were unaware of their increased risk of stroke. Do doctors just not know this information? It's not exactly new. 

Even after stopping the pills, the migraines have not stopped, but they have become less frequent. I don't think the hormones caused the migraines--I think it was the stress. Nonetheless, migraines aren't fun. I actually got one in the first seven miles of a 20 mile run last Sunday. That was a first. I thought about stopping but really wanted to know what it would feel like to continue. It was pretty much as you would expect. I was pretty blind while the aura made its way around my field of vision and I felt wiped out about 30 minutes after it stopped. I did finish the run and at a decent pace.  

As you might imagine, running has had to play second fiddle to the other major events in my life. I am still planning to run the Cal International Marathon on December 2nd, but I've had to change my goals for the race. I have thrown out any goal time expectation in favor of running a comfortable first half and  ratcheting down in the second half if the day allows for that. I did this the last time I raced CIM and had the best marathon of my life. I negative split the course by three minutes and felt like a hero from mile 20 on. There's no better feeling in a marathon. A big key to that race was my mental state. I had run a shitty marathon five weeks before and had no expectations coming into the race. I knew I was in better shape than I had been able to run in the previous marathon, but there was no real pressure to perform. I have that same mindset headed into this race.

My training leading up to this marathon has been consistently inconsistent. Most weeks, I have only run 5-6 days. I've gotten in two 20 milers so far and my max weekly mileage was last week--67 miles. I hope to break 80 before starting to taper. This is lower mileage than I've run in the last five years of marathon training. Some may question why I'm even bothering to run the marathon. I see it as a great opportunity to test some of the foundational beliefs I have held about marathon training: namely, that I have to run high mileage and kill myself doing workouts to run a decent race.

If I was having all crummy workouts, I would probably be thinking about dressing up in costume and really treating CIM like a fun run. The interesting thing is that my fitness is really improving. My first 20 miler of this cycle was two weeks ago and included 10 x 1 mile @ marathon effort with 1 minute recovery on a hilly course. I averaged 6:25 for the marathon effort miles. My overall pace for the run was under 7:00.  I also had this crazy little 15 minute tempo run as a warm up for a set of shorter repeats where I found myself at 5:44 pace for the last 5 minutes. It's funny sometimes how fitness sneaks up on you. If nothing else, I'm setting myself up with a really great base for whatever I decide to tackle in 2013. Oh, and the fact that I haven't had a single niggle (knock on wood) in months is also a huge bonus.

My plan for the final few weeks leading up to CIM are to run a half marathon next weekend at marathon effort as part of a 22 mile run, get in one more 20 miler the following weekend and then bring the mileage down. I will do most of my workouts at marathon to slightly faster than marathon effort over the last few weeks to nail a rhythm down and then leave my fate to the running gods.

Happy daylight savings time everyone!


  1. We've had daylight savings for quite a few weeks. Love it!

    Those are quite some changes. Good to hear the migraines have settled somewhat. Does sound like they're aggravated by stress.

    Your running is going really well. Do you think the lower volume of recent weeks is helping with recovery? Your base is solid from the last few years so I don't see any reason why CIM won't be a good one.

    1. Thanks for your uplifting comments, Ewen. In fact, I am starting to believe you may be right about my body remembering the volume of the past. Had a good 1/2 marathon today to prove that.

      Jealous of your daylight.

  2. I have been a long time follower of your blog. Thanks for putting in the time and effort on this. WRT the hormone thing, my wife has been having these issues for a while and tried various replacement therapies but nothing seemed to work well for her. Recently however she has started a program called "Replenish". I recommend you give it a look at It is totally diet based and seems to be working very well for her. Good Luck!

    1. Thanks, Dan, for reading my blog and for commenting. I will check into the Replenish program. That's wonderful that it has helped your wife. I'm starting with some vitamin and mineral supplements right now to see where that gets me. Seems to be working so far!

  3. I'm late to this post but it's chock full of interesting stuff! Lol on The Who, boo on the migraines and congrats on the new job! Gotta say, I love the fact that you're trying something totally different running-wise, even if you don't have a choice :). I've got the mileage mindset in my head as well but am open to the thought that things go in waves, and as it appears from your running so far, you are riding a wave! I look forward to your progress, it's all very interesting. May the migraines disappear forever though, that just has to suck.

    1. Thanks, girl. I guess we're both having our fair share of crazy health issues as of late. I just updated my blog, and in the next post I mention that I'm taking B complex for the migraines on the suggestion of my doctor and numerous others on the interwebs. Maybe we've both hit on something critical! Go B Vitamins!!!