Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Not Just LIKE An Ultra, This IS One...

And the gun must have gone off while I was having brain fog. This is my brain on wacked-out hormones. And this is how my brain feels during the day lately, most days.

This is Alene, emotions on speakerphone, these days feeling like she's losing her mind, her faculties, and her sanity. This is Alene who should buy stock in Kleenex. This is Alene approaching menopause, squarely in the thick of what's called perimenopause and the worst part of it.

Menopause is an ultra.

This blog is supposed to be about running, and running ultras. Women who read this will "get it" immediately. So I'm going to say a fast little apology to the male readers of this blog, just for a second, a quick whisper of "sorry" but guys, I'm not all that sorry, because it's relevant for you, too, if you have any women in your lives who are important to you.



Lately readers of this blog have noticed I've strayed from the topic of running. It's been difficult terrain for me for over a year, and worse the past two months. I've been struggling not only in running but all areas of my life and there's a reason.

I'm struggling to remember things. I have to write things down right away or they're gone. I can't multitask worth crap. I can't seem to process complex information coming at me in any form. I tried to sign up online for a class the other day and I was looking at the instructions on the screen, I stared at it, I knew it was in English and laid out in steps, 1,2,3,4, etc. but my mind could not make sense of it.

I'm overemotional about everything. And everything makes me cry. EVERYTHING. On the other side of that, I occasionally feel rage. Like I'm going to tear into something, scratch someone's eyes out, scream until my lungs blow out. Dennis made a joke about hiding all the knives in the house.

I feel transparent, like everyone can see me in all my emotions, naked and exposed to the world.

All of my buttons are visible and able to be pushed by the slightest breeze. And anyone in my life who intentionally tries to push my buttons gets a SUPERCHARGED response, usually preceded and followed by crying. And yes, there is at least one willing and eager button pusher out there.

My endocrinologist in Arizona warned me long ago that when I did hit perimenopause I would struggle. She said most women with thyroid problems have a harder time with the hormonal shifts of menopause. And that thyroid could be harder to manage during that time. Before I was diagnosed with Hashimotos one of the first things they thought was that it was early menopause.

While originally trying to get my thyroid regulated I can remember having horrible fatigue and brain fog, depression, mood swings, and feeling like I had someone else's brain. My original high-functioning, sharp version was temporarily dumbed down to something that couldn't even read an ordinary newspaper or magazine article, because by the time got to the last sentence of a paragraph, I couldn't remember what the first sentence said. I put off entering nursing school for several years until my thyroid was regulated with medication because I felt I couldn't learn. Fortunately once I got things back on track I was fine.

I've been shifting into this new gear for some time now, probably a couple of years, but there weren't any definite or consistent signs. Feeling brain fogged and having a hard time concentrating, I've also experienced with thyroid. Not sleeping well, that happens occasionally. Last fall I went through a few months of sleep problems and night sweats but they went away after I ran Across the Years. Strangely I slept better during that race and in the months afterward than I have in a while.

But at the end of this summer I started getting night sweats with a vengeance. Now it's almost every night. And then I got my first daytime hot flash a few weeks ago. And my menstrual cycle is all but impossible to predict. The best way to predict it? Sign up for a race. A big one, one that I train really hard for.

Time doesn't wait for you to feel better. You can't call into work because you didn't get enough sleep. You could once or twice, but you can't do that when it's happening every day. I work in a female-dominated profession and many of them don't even get it. Most of them are not there yet. Most of them will probably not be working at the bedside by the time they hit this phase of their lives.

One of the nurses I work with who is older than me has a magnet on her locker that says "I'm on my last nerve and you're getting on it!"

She gets it.

Another coworker said to me that she thinks I'm depressed. Well I'm not. It can get depressing when you feel like crap all the time from sleep deprivation and I do still (thankfully) have the presence of mind to understand that my brain's neurotransmitters are probably all screwed up due to sleep deprivation and low estrogen and all the other things going on in my body.

But I know what depression feels like and this is not it. It's not that I have lost my enthusiasm or interest, it's not that I want to crawl into a hole in the ground and never come out. I am enjoying the company of my friends more than ever, things in my life are basically good, and I'm not in despair. I know there's a light at the end of this tunnel, there's a finish line, but it's a long way off.

I have the support of my husband. He's been so patient and understanding and his sense of humor gets me through the rough moments at home. The girls are perceptive enough to know when mom is crying or upset and they stare at me until I notice, then they come over and give me hugs, without my having to ask!

The point is, it's an ultra. If you're having a rough time, you have to at least consciously make a plan. Get from one aid station to the next, don't focus on anything else. Distract yourself. Be one with the pain.

This is a process. It's a long run, and there is a finish line. I will come out on the other side and I'll be better. While I'm in it, I need to keep moving forward, even though I'm uncertain, charting new terrain, and sometimes afraid. The finish line is out there, out of sight, but it is there. I keep moving toward it even if every step I take is such a small fraction of the distance I still need to cover. I know that many small steps make up a long ultra and will carry me there.

There aren't any quick fixes, and you can't drop out. I can try different things but there are no miracle cures and finding things that work won't happen overnight. People expect it to happen like that, but it doesn't. And there are few remedies other than hormone replacement therapy that have scientific evidence that they work to back them up. Black Cohosh, Estroven, Melatonin, Red Clover, say the alphabet, there are "cures" from A to Z and I could spend a ton of money and time trying them all. I will try a few. With my sister's history of breast cancer, I'm not going the HRT route.

Instead I am working on a plan. It's sketchy so far, imperfect, but it's evolving.

First, one day at a time. That's all I can do.

A few things I can look forward to: I'm looking forward to getting back on track with running and I just ordered a pair of snowshoes given our early winter dump of a foot of snow. I am enthusiastic about training for ultras again in 2010 and doing miles with my running friends. I signed up for the Old Pueblo 50 in Arizona in March.

Get back on a regular running and training schedule with a goal. No high mileage or performance goals here. Just get out and do it. Make myself go out every day I'm not at work doing a 12 hour shift, even if I don't feel like it.

Cut out unnecessary sources of stress and fatigue. Set limits with the button-pushers and energy-suckers.

Work on ways to relax and remove distracting thoughts like work and other stressors from my mind whenever I'm going to sleep or need to go back to sleep.

Take some supplements like calcium, vitamins, and omega 3 and take the time to cook healthy meals for us. I used to love to cook. Now I will have more time to do that. Try a few of the so-called natural remedies, one at a time, see if they help.

Work on creative pursuits, writing and painting, and other fun stuff that comes up. For example, I met a woman on the flight back from Sacramento who is a spoken word poet from Chicago. She reminded me, among other things, of how I used to dabble in writing poetry and a few of my poems were ideal for spoken word. I'll have to go back and see if any sparks can fly. To dramatize the words and express my emotions creatively in a safe place, might be good therapy for those really bad days.

Read some new books to open my mind to new and different ideas to get the ideas circulating through my brain.

Get together with friends on a regular basis for social purposes and to talk, other than running. A number of my friends are going through this too. We can help each other.

Until next time...

Friday, October 16, 2009

New & Improved, 33% More

Last week I hit bottom. It was a bad week all around, and we got a sudden cold snap with ice and snow that made all the leaves dry up and fall off the trees within a few days. Then the wind came and blew the remaining leaves around and now we have fall, without the beautiful lasting colors.

I didn't sleep through the night for about 2 weeks straight. Finally last night I slept 12 hours, straight through. I worried for a minute when I woke up, it was 8:30 and I thought I overslept or forgot an appointment. But I didn't.

Today I got out for a mid-day run with Cat, and we did run about an hour at lunchtime for stress relief. We are very excited about getting our entries in for the Old Pueblo 50 early next spring near Tucson. I haven't run that one since 2003 and it used to be one of my favorites.

My mileage hit bottom last week too, with just one 6 mile run for the entire week. My energy has been so poor lately, yesterday I got out with the intent to do 6 miles and after 2 I started walking back to my car. I couldn't do it, my insides felt so heavy. Taking The Buffaloes for walks has been a challenge, I feel like I'm carrying this big weight and no matter how much the girls pull me, it's not enough to go forward.

In another 3 weeks I will officially be working part-time and I hope that after a few months of that I will feel like I am recovering and my life has more balance. I can be a mom to The Buffaloes again. I'll be the New and Improved Mom of Buffaloes, 33% more Mom time. That will be awesome.

Rebuilding my running mileage, starting to lift weights again, and restoring my enthusiasm are just a few more things I look forward to.

Tomorrow is the run around Boulder Reservoir and I am tempted to do it, but not planning on it. Lately what I've been wanting to do is get out all day one day, and listen to my music, and move forward until late into the night. Maybe I can do that before the holidays.

Friday, October 9, 2009

When the wheels come off...

This blogpost is not exactly about running, but it is so much about running without actually running.

"You must unlearn what you have learned"
- Yoda

"Hell is other people"- Jean-Paul Sartre

When the wheels come off, follow your own compass.

And start driving a tank.

That's about the only way to describe my past week. It's been overloaded, and by Wednesday my wheels were coming off in a big way.

I have always followed my own inner compass, my own light, the thing that guides me. Some people call it God, whatever it is, I follow it. I try to keep my head screwed on straight and I try not to let other people's "stuff" influence me.

Somehow lately I've lost my way, I've been distracted by a bunch of things, I feel vulnerable, and I seem to have gotten way off course. I need to find my compass again!

No human is perfect and no one knows the answers. Anyone who thinks they know the answers is way more screwed up than any of us admittedly screwed up people.

I adore my friend Chris. He is an ultrarunner, a nurse, an absolutely amazing fantastic, compassionate, understanding, nonjudgmental, generous human being, and he has the guts to admit his own weaknesses while following his own compass. He got me through this week and helped me find the compass I dropped in the deep wet grass and leaves and new snow we've been having the past two days.

Actually, if I had been running all this time and was still putting energy into doing ultras, I would probably be much more centered and able to clearly focus on the direction my inner compass is pointing.

I can't really go into the specifics, and it has nothing to do with running. Someone I care for is hurting and I can't do anything about it, and I got lost in it, and I need to back off and do my own thing.

After losing your way, losing the feel for boundaries, getting wrapped up in things beyond a point where it's healthy, you need your most trusted friends to bounce things off of, and get their feedback, to help you get back on track. Everyone else can weigh in but pretty soon you get lost in the blah, blah, blah and everyone's opinions and prejudices.

And people can be downright harsh and judgmental especially when they feel the least bit threatened by something they don't understand at all. It's really amazing how people you would expect to have empathy can have so very little. I wanted to drown out their noise, stick my fingers in my ears like the crazies on the political talk shows do and go "lalalalalalalalalalala".

Instead I spoke with three people I trust to be nonjudgmental since yesterday, including Chris, and that was so helpful. And that's all. I'm on my way back with my compass, but I'm driving a tank. I'll need it for protection when I go back and have to be in the middle of all the blah, blah, blah...

In the midst of all this, I haven't run. I worked four out of five days, busy, stressful days, and between that and the emotional burden of all this "stuff", I have been unable to sleep well and haven't been able to face my running shoes.

So yesterday, when I needed a good think and a good cry and some time alone, I went over to the environmental learning center and walked on the trails, in my clogs, risking my ankles, but I needed it. No one else was around.

There were big, low, gray puffy clouds that were off and on dumping sleet down on me, and the reds and golds of the trees in the dry meadows of tall grass were all so brilliant against the sky, I couldn't breathe, taking it all in, the intensity of the colors and how I felt, and the cold breeze with the wet snow coming down, it was like a psychedelic trip with all my senses and feelings!

And somehow as I walked that little place in the back of my brain started to click and things started to unravel and become clear and my compass appeared again. And some of the kinks began to straighten out.

And without even trying, the knots continued to unravel today. Still no energy to run, but I'm doing better. Maybe I will sleep tonight. Maybe I will run tomorrow.

I will run tomorrow.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I went to Arizona last week and got back Tuesday. Things are okay, dad is doing well, he has a lot of information and lifestyle modifications to consider, but otherwise doing quite well. There isn't much new information, and there isn't much exciting happening here.

It was weird to be in Arizona again. I enjoyed the heat, but I ran on the Arizona canal every day and it's the same flat gravel hard surface, the view only changes if you change directions from west to east. I can't say I miss it. The weather gets nicer in the winter, but quality of life is so much better here.

I feel like I'm on a plateau now. Things have leveled out, there's a certain amount of "stuff" I'm dealing with, trying to get a balance back in my life somehow, dealing with the fatigue that hasn't left me. I can't say I'm depressed because I certainly don't feel despair, and I don't feel a lack of enthusiasm. I just don't have much energy and running feels very slow and stagnant.

I saw two runners today on the bike path, both moving along at a good pace, looking light on their feet, and I felt like a pile of clay, peeling my legs one at a time over and over off the concrete path. I wish I could feel lightweight like that again. I'm only doing 25 miles this week, down from 30 and 40 the previous two weeks. I want to run, but I don't have the energy. I feel like I'm carrying a huge weight but it's not a physical weight. It's that feeling of needing to let out a big sigh, that empty, weighted down feeling in your gut when things aren't right.

Plateaus are something that athletes experience in their training, they get stagnant from doing the same workout routine over and over again. They make their gains, and then they reach a point where progress is so slow it's imperceptible. That's when they need to change things.

I am actively searching for a change. It will lead me down off the plateau or up another mountain, I'm not sure which, but these days I need to take it one day at a time and keep my eyes and ears open. Eventually I'll come to the end of the plateau and I'll see something that looks more like this: