Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The one where I run my fastest half marathon in almost five years

I am giddy about what has happened over the past four weeks. I have felt progressively better as my body has recovered from the most recent bout with anemia. I found out last week why when I got my blood test results back:

Hemoglobin: 14.0 (11.9 a month ago!)
Hematocrit: 42.6%
Ferritin: 38 (19 a month ago!)

These are numbers I have dreamed about. They are the levels that Jack said he thought I should be striving for. I didn't think it was possible for me since they are higher than I have ever tested! How did I do it? Well, the biggest factor was the lack of blood loss. I have swung in the opposite direction of where I was two months ago. I haven't lost any blood in nearly 30 days! This is unprecedented for me, but I am NOT complaining!

I have also continued to supplement with liquid iron 2-3 times per day. I had been taking other products and was watching my blood levels either stagnate or decline. Once I stopped taking those, I seemed to do a lot better. It is really difficult to determine cause and effect with the supplements. What I know works is: liquid iron supplement + no blood loss.

The challenge with this condition is that you never know when the flood events will hit. I have been walking on egg shells these last couple of weeks just waiting for one to hit. I can't say exactly why I haven't had one, but I suspect the progestin-only BCPS and all of the things I'm doing to reduce my estrogen levels must be contributing. It is also possible that the fibroids are shrinking. I can still feel them, but they do seem smaller. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

I decided a month or so ago that I wanted to plan some races. I had to cancel two of the three races I had planned for the winter/early spring racing season due to this health issue and  was anemic for the one race I ran. So, I wanted to test out my fitness in a low-key half marathon. I chose the American River Parkway Half Marathon. This race course runs along the American River Parkway Trail which is where I do all of my training.

I held off signing up for the race, because my calculations showed the next scheduled flood event would occur somewhere within the week leading up to the race, if I stayed on schedule. As I mentioned above, that didn't materialize but the anticipation was overwhelming. It also meant paying an extra $25 for the race ($75), but I figured that was worth it, especially since some of the funds went to support the Parkway Foundation. I use this trail so much, I was happy to contribute to that cause.

I have been running well in training and doing some hefty workouts again in preparation for the Eugene Marathon in July. My lactate threshold pace is back down around 6:00/mile and my marathon pace has been around 6:20-6:25. I suspected, on a good day, that I could at least hold the same pace that I did for the 10 mile race a few weeks back (6:25 pace). I decided to start out around there and then try to negative split the race.

Race weather was as perfect as you get here in Sacramento in April. It was foggy and cool. I actually wore arm warmers and gloves! The announcer said at the start that he was expecting some really fast times as a result. After the inexperienced and over-exuberant racing chaff separated from the wheat in the first 400m, I found myself pacing with a couple of guys. One was a friend who is faster than me, but he was doing a brick workout so had ridden for 90 minutes before the race. I was happy about that because for me it meant I had a chance of keeping up with him. Even though there was little to no wind, drafting is still a huge advantage in a race. As we clicked off the miles, I saw that our pace was faster than I wanted to go out. However, the advantage of having a group to work with was much more valuable than running my own race. I would try to hang with the boys for as long as I could.

My pack. Isn't this a great photo? Thanks to Randy Wehner!
We were averaging about 6:15 pace for the first 6 miles, and I felt good. We hit the one major turn on the course and headed back toward the finish. When we hit the 7 mile marker, our pack leader proclaimed that they had turned us too far down on the course and we were going to be running long. I looked at my Garmin and the total distance at 7 miles read 7.66. This sucked the air right out of me. I was so irritated that the course was going to be long and that I wouldn't get the chance to see where I was fitness wise.

Normally, I would have shaken this off better. It's only one race, right? Well, consider how difficult it has been for me to get to the starting line of a race for the past 3-4 months. Experienced runners know how rare it is to have the stars align on race day where you are healthy, you feel great, the weather is perfect, you have a pace setter. I mean, this was my day! I cogitated on this for the next mile or so but held on to my pack. Then, I saw the Genius at around the 8 mile mark and blurted out, "the course is long!" Something about vocalizing that made it real and I let one of my pacers go at that point. I slowed to 6:20-6:25 pace for the next few miles. I was feeling sorry for myself and tried to figure out how I could salvage this race given the circumstances. I knew that I was pretty far ahead of any other female runners, so I would at least get the win if I stuck it out. I will never pass up the opportunity to win, no matter how small the race!  

At around mile 11 I decided I could salvage the race by lapping my Garmin at 13.11 miles. I would then at least know what I had run for the distance. That time was 1:22:25. This lifted my spirits. While my PR is just under 1:20 for the half (set in 2009), I haven't run faster than 1:23 since July 2009. It felt really satisfying. I continued on for another kilometer and crossed the finish line as 5th overall and 1st female. I will say that I had little motivation in that extra kilometer to push myself and I didn't. 

Immediately after the race, there was a flurry of Garmin checking and discussion going on about the distance. I had the two lead men run up to me and ask what my Garmin read. They had traveled from Southern California to run this race and were trying for a qualifier for some collegiate event. I felt horrible for them but I told them to talk to the timing company. They would help them however they could to make it right. That afternoon the timing company measured the extra distance we ran and adjusted times accordingly in the results. While I would rather have run the right distance, I was pleased with their quick action and am grateful that my time was adjusted. It was pretty close to what I had split at 13.11 (1:22:35).

I have some really tough training ahead and have my fingers crossed that I will stay healthy for it. My fitness is in a really good place right now given the  times I was running at this point in my marathon training for Twin Cities 2009 (2:46) and Chicago 2010 (2:45). I am right on schedule if not a little fitter. Wishful thinking has me hoping the health nightmare I have experienced this year is completely in the past, but only time will tell. All I know is that running is effortless and fun again and I will cherish the healthy miles I get.        



  1. This is a GREAT story! So happy for you and to read this news.
    What liquid iron helped get you out of the hump. Keep doing what you're doing and you'll blaze trails!

    1. Thanks, Willie! I take 1 tsp. 2-3 times per day of ferrous sulfate elixir with a chewable vitamin C pill chaser. Nasty tasting but it works!

      You can get it on Amazon.


  2. Ordered! Thanks. I'm amping up training, may not be marathoning but following you and your determination and drive helps keep my masters motivation alive. I'm also sponsored to give blood every 16 weeks so have to make sure my iron is spot on. Look forward to your continuing adventures but not the ER ones. Carry on strong!

  3. Good to see you racing (somewhat) healthy again. Shame about the long course, but 1:22ish at the half is solid running - well done! Hope the training continues to build as you've planned.
    Speaking of badly placed course markers, back in the 90s at one Gold Coast Marathon the course was short by a few hundred metres due to a turn being marked at the wrong place. Not a good day to run your PB marathon!

  4. ...and had a similar experience about a week after you did-1:25 REAL half but the course was 23km!!!! How in the hell does one screw up by nearly 2 km when measuring? Very frustrating because it was my best half in years(have lots of 1:26s though) only here, they did not adjust or have the decency to write 23km in the results! Glad to see you are doing well again!!!