Monday, April 12, 2010

Stress effects

"You're going to worry yourself to death."

"Worrying about it isn't worth it; you'll make yourself sick and it will do nothing to change the situation."

I've said these things over and over again to friends and family throughout the years. I don't believe in worrying about the little things, stressing yourself out when doing so isn't going to help the situation at all.

So I honestly wasn't aware I was overly stressed last week. I didn't think I was actively worrying about anything. I was very wrong.

Last week, starting on Tuesday or Wednesday, I began having major stomach pains. They'd only go away briefly; I was living with the pain the majority of each day, sometimes even when I was trying to sleep. I was concerned, but I didn't go to a doctor because 1. I was too busy and 2. whenever I go to a doctor they tell me I'm perfectly fine and nothing is wrong, and that really gets old. I suspected stress because I had developed a cold sore, too, and that's usually a sign. But stomach pains hadn't been a symptom for decades. And the pains continued even after I finished my major proofreading job.

By the time I left for D.C. on Saturday morning - on my way to meet Greg and his family and get ready for Sunday's 10-mile Cherry Blossom race - I was in terrible, terrible pain. I was starting to realize that something could be seriously wrong, it being Day 4 or 5 of the pain. But the race was important to me (I had bailed on so many races in the past year and didn't want to do it again, and I had trained really hard for it). I was determined to run through the pain.

The night before the race was the worst. I couldn't fall asleep and had restless sleep from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., when I woke up for good. The pain was bad. I decided to get up and organize my race clothes and clean and organize things and put my contacts in, etc. I was, needless to say, more than ready when it was truly time to "wake up" at 5:15.

It was a beautiful day for a race. Perfect temps. Sunny skies. I was excited to see my sister at Mile 3 (she's in D.C. for a performance). My shin was a little tight and that concerned me a tad, but my goal was to try to keep a 13-minute-a-mile pace as much as humanly possible until I inevitably slowed toward the end. If I exceeded an average of 14 minutes a mile, they would pull me off the course.

The first few miles were great. When I crossed back over a bridge that was an up-and-back part of the course, I saw that there were many, many people behind me, including Santa Claus! When I saw my sister at Mile 3, I was pumped. When I got to Mile 5, I could feel myself losing a little steam. At that moment, a woman came up from behind me.

"I've been your shadow this whole time," she said. "You're at a great pace and you're so strong. What time did you want to finish in?"

I was a little stunned, at first thinking "I've been in your shadow" was an insult but shocked beyond anything when she continued. I stumbled out, "I just don't want to be pulled off the course. But I guess I'd like to beat 2:13."

2:13, as you may recall, was my time at last year's Cherry Blossom.

"Oh you can so do that!" she said.

It was then that I looked at my watch and realized how good I was doing. We had passed Mile 5 a little ways back and I had been running for 1:03 or so. I doubled that in my head. 2:06? Really? I could really blow last year's time out of the water?

Around this point, I had started the run/walk of 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking. So my time was slowing down a bit.

"I don't know," I told her. "I think I'm slowing down."

She told me to keep it up and she ran ahead as I stopped for my 1-minute walk.

I was still feeling good and was looking forward to Mile 6 when I'd have my energy gel and could feel even better. But ever since I was in the start corral, I needed to go to the bathroom, so I knew I inevitably would need to stop. I did - a little bit after I saw the MIle 5 woman - and took about 3 minutes off my time to jog over to the Porta Johns and back.

The rest of the race was good; when I realized that I could walk the rest of the way and still not get swept up by the bus, I was ecstatic. All morning (and for most of the race) I prayed and prayed: "Please let me feel good and finish." It was the best feeling in the world to know that would happen. I often looked up at the bright blue sky and thanked God for carrying me this far.

The last part of the race was killer - up a steep incline - and I started to walk again. It was then that the blue twins (as I had been calling them during the race - cute girls in matching blue shirts and blue ribbons in their hair) passed me and one said "We're almost there; keep going." I was beginning to realize at that point that not only was God answering my prayers, he had sent folks out on the course to keep me moving.

Based on where I was at Mile 5, I finished much slower, but I also had run about a quarter mile extra somehow. My watch logged me at 10.22 miles in 2:14:21. Which - insert happy dance - is a 13:09-minute-mile. Yes, back in "the day" that was considered a slow time for me. But my recent 10-milers have all been 14-15 or more. So it was quite an improvement.

The official clock reading: 2:14:17 (or a 13.26-minute-mile pace). So officially a little more than a minute slower than last year (but I ran longer and had a bathroom break). So I was beyond pumped. Not my worst 10-mile race. And it blew my training runs away (2:25; 2:28; 2:24).

Steps after I crossed the finish line, I was welcomed by the Mile 5 woman. She hugged me and thanked me and asked my name. Hers? Betsy.

This was significant to me because there's a woman who used to read my old columns in Wilmington who still reads them on this blog. I've never met her but she's a big cheerleader of mine, always reminding me of the Little Engine That Could with regard to my weight-loss effort. Her name? Betsy.

Needless to say, I felt very blessed yesterday.

(I also, thanks to my boyfriend, was able to meet one of my running idols, Joan Benoit Samuelson, after the race.)

And what about those stomach pains you ask? I had some after the race. But then...

I'd say 1 hour after the race ended, so did the stomach pains. Done. No more. Gone.

It was then I realized just what I had done to myself. I'm still a little blown away by it all. Unknowingly, I stressed my body so much that I caused myself pain.

I had also decided on Saturday (see prior post) to not think about my eating this weekend. I had (knowingly) been stressing about my weight for awhile: eating perfectly and seeing very minimal results. So this weekend I decided I would eat what I wanted but instead work on not over eating. For the first time in more than three months, I ate cake. And cheesey things. And a few French fries. And I didn't care at all. I know the weight will be up tomorrow, but, hell, it was likely going to be up anyhow. I will refocus tomorrow and devote renewed passion toward the stair-climbing effort and some speedwork. My next race will be a 5K, so I'd like to get myself down to my standard 12-minute-mile effort.

I learned a lot about myself this week. I never realized how much pressure I was putting on myself. I knew I would freak out about not doing well or failing or getting injured but I thought that was just normal runner mentality. No, this was different. This was doing more injury to my body that any physical injury has in the past.

I loved that race yesterday. Despite being last among the group I traveled with. Despite running a 10-mile race slower than a fast runner can run a marathon. Despite the race photos that still show a round face and too many bulges on my body. I enjoyed that course and I enjoyed that weather and I enjoyed pushing myself and feeling the love of fellow runners and God's blessings.

I hope to remember those feelings and focus on them. There was much beauty witnessed yesterday, and it had nothing to do with the cherry blossoms.


  1. You are amazing. Never forget that.

  2. That sounds like a fantastic experience! Loved hearing about all your angels on the course, too! Take care.