Berlin Marathon – Take Two

Last year I was planning to run the Berlin Marathon.  My goal was to get a PR (personal record).  I worked for months with a personal coach with that goal driving me.   Then three weeks before the race I fell during a 20-mile training run, breaking my arm in four places.  I also broke my dream of that PR.  It was a difficult situation that forced me to sit in bed resting for a few weeks.  I couldn’t even take a walk through my neighborhood for over a month without pain in my arm.  I am an active person and sitting is my least favorite position.  (Here is a link to the blog post about my fall.)

Throughout my ordeal, my dear friend, Auntie C., kept telling me there was a reason why I fell, why all that pain happened.  The universe, she said, was trying to tell me something.  Auntie C. explained sometimes when we don’t listen to what the universe is telling us, it needs to slam a door in our face to force us to listen.  So the universe was to blame for me tripping on the trail and breaking my arm.  Too bad I can’t sue the universe for pain and suffering.

At the time, I was not particularly receptive to what I perceived as a bunch of crazy mumbo jumbo to get me to accept that I wouldn’t be running for a long time.  I was disappointed that I had come so close to my goal of running in Berlin, only to have it snatched from my reach.  I resigned myself to getting my mobility back and running the 2015 Berlin Marathon.

To Auntie C.’s credit, this week I finally realized why things happened the way that they did.   I am off to Berlin to run the race I missed last year.  As I started packing for the trip, it hit me.  I knew why 2014 was not my year to run the Berlin Marathon.  Last year I had been entirely focused on the race and getting a PR.  The goal of a PR was driving me.   Nothing else mattered.  The journey itself had lost importance.  But the journey is why I run these races.  Several things have happened over the last few months that made me realize 2015 is the year I was meant to run this race.

First, back in May, I went searching through my house for old class photos to take to a high school reunion.  In a box in my basement, I found all the brochures, ticket stubs, postcards, and other souvenirs from various trips that my husband and I had taken.  Among them were things we brought back from our 1990 trip to Berlin.  We were there for the reunification of Germany on October  3 of that year – Unity Day – when East Germany and West Germany were rejoined to become one country after being divided for 45 years.

1990 Berlin Marathon ProgramIn the box I came across the program for the September 30, 1990 Berlin Marathon.   The race was particularly historical because it was the first time that the course would wind through East Berlin and pass through the Brandenburg Gate.   I sat down and paged through the program. It is mostly written in German but I could figure out some of the information.  I recognized the elite runners in some of the photos, including Uta Pippig and Rosa Mota.  I didn’t know that I had that program when I was training for the 2014 race.  It gave me chills to think that it had been sitting in my basement waiting for me to find it.  I am happy I read it before my trip.  Reading it made me realize how much more special it will be to run this race.

Newspaper coverage of the 1990 Berlin Marathon

Newspaper coverage of the 1990 Berlin Marathon

The next thing that told me the 2015 race was my destiny came from my photo albums.  We plan to visit our German friends while we are there so I went through photo albums, looking for old pictures to take along and reminisce with them.  I came across the album from our 1990 Berlin trip where I found pictures of my husband and me hammering on the Berlin Wall.  For 20 Deutsche Marks we rented a hammer and chisel for 15 minutes.  The best we could get were small chips and Berlin Wall dust.  That was the job for a jackhammer.   Looking at all the pictures from our 1990 visit made me realize that the city we will see this time is vastly different.   I would not have appreciated that fact as much a year ago.  I was too focused on my PR goal.

Chipping away at the Berlin Wall

Chipping away at the Berlin Wall

There was a huge celebration at the Reichstag building the night of October 2, 1990.  It was like Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve with everyone waiting for the ball to drop at midnight.  It was the eve of Unity Day, October 3.  There were hundreds of thousands of people there that night.  The atmosphere was electric with flags, fireworks, and people cheering.  My husband ended up climbing a tree to get a better view of the ceremony.  Unity Day was a national holiday.  Throughout Berlin there were street festivals with all sorts of entertainment – bag pipers in kilts, traditional German bands, country western bands, and rock and roll bands – and booths selling food, beer, champagne, and Unity Day souvenirs.  We bought t-shirts to commemorate the reunification.

Reunification Day T-shirt

Reunification Day T-shirt

This week I received the schedule of events for the upcoming marathon weekend.  The day before the marathon is an International 6K Breakfast Run.  Participants include runners from all over the world and they typically dress in the colors of their country. I remembered that we still had our Unity Day t-shirts.   I went through my closets and found my t-shirt.  Yes, the universe wanted me to find that t-shirt and take it back with me.  I plan to wear mine for the Breakfast Run.

I am looking forward to this adventure.  My mind is focused not on a time goal in the race but on the experience, the journey.  When people ask me if I am ready for the race, I tell them yes, I am ready.  I have trained for this race for 2 years.  I have never trained that long for anything before.

And next time the universe needs to send me a message, I hope it just slips me a note under the door.  I don’t want another broken bone.

I found this video on YouTube of CNN’s coverage of the reunification ceremonies at the Reichstag.  It will give you an idea of the kind of celebration that occurred that night. What a historic night it was!

Kondo’ing My Race Medals

When you run a half or full marathon, they hand you a medal at the end.   Sometimes they even hand out medals for 10K, 20K and 10-mile races.  I think that was one of the things that I liked about distance races when I first started running.  There was nothing else in life that I could do where they would give me a medal at the end.  I worked a lot harder and longer at jobs but nobody ever gave me a medal.

Medals that I earned in 2012

Medals that I earned in 2012

If you run as many races as I do, you end up with a lot a medals.    A friend gave me a wall-mounted holder for my medals but I quickly filled that up.  I had so many that sometimes I worried that they would pull the hooks out of the wall.  Collectively, these things weigh several pounds.

Lately I have been feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff I have.  I decided that it was time to start lightening the load around my house and get rid of things.  You may have heard about Marie Kondo, the Japanese cleaning consultant, who developed a process for simplifying, organizing, and storing your belongings called the KonMari Method.  The process finds its roots in the Buddhist belief that we all have much more than we need.  We can live more happily when we let go of material possessions.  I agree with that thinking.  A few months ago I mentioned a similar thing – if you want to be happy, buy experiences, not stuff.

Here is an example of how the KonMari process works.  Let’s say you want to get your closet organized.  You take all the contents out of your closet and put them on the floor.  You have to touch each individual item and ask yourself whether it brings you happiness.  You only keep those things that make you happy.   Marie also says you need to express your gratitude to your possessions by thanking them.  You should thank a wool sweater for keeping you warm in the cold weather.  All the things that don’t make you happy are tossed or donated to a charity.  When you are done, your closet is Kondo’d (yes, people are now using her last name as a verb).

I decided that I would Kondo my race medals.  I took all my medals out and held each one.  I thought about the race where I earned the medal – maybe the weather was bad, or something funny happened along the course.  I quietly thought how much I appreciated what the medal represented – hard work and long hours of training.  Then I made a pile of medals that I would keep.  There certainly were races that were very special and I could not imagine parting with the medals from those.  I was pretty tough.  There weren’t too many medals in the keep pile.  The pile of medals that would be moving on was much bigger.

In 2008 I read about Medals4Mettle (M4M) in Runners World magazine.  M4M is an international non-profit organization that gives medals from endurance events (half marathons, full marathons, and triathlons) to patients dealing with serious health challenges.  This text from the M4M web site explains much better than I ever could how the organization started:

“The day after he finished the 2003 Chicago Marathon, Steven Isenberg, M.D., a head and neck surgeon in Indianapolis, paid a visit to a colleague who was hospitalized. The two men were a study in contrasts. Dr. Isenberg, 53, was on a postrace high. Les Taylor, who had prostate cancer, lay flat on his back with tubes running in and out of him.

At a loss for words, Dr. Isenberg pulled his finishers’ medal from his pocket and placed it around Taylor’s neck. “I want you to have this,” he said. “You are running a much more difficult marathon than the one I completed.”

Before he died, Taylor told Dr. Isenberg how much he treasured the medal. Those words inspired Dr. Isenberg to start Medals4Mettle in 2005, as a vehicle to collect runner’s medals which could be donated to those who are battling serious and debilitating illnesses and who have demonstrated similar courage and mettle in fighting those illnesses.”

M4M replaces the ribbon on the medal with a Medals4Mettle-branded ribbon before presenting it to the recipient.  Since a lot of the medals are given to children, M4M doesn’t accept medals that have beer bottle openers, beer logos, or other designs that might not be appropriate for children.  They will also deliver a medal to someone that you designate.  I always knew that when it came time to part with my medals, M4M would get them.

One of my friends told me about a young man in his early teens who was battling bone cancer that had spread to his lungs.  At his age, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be stuck in a hospital getting poked with needles all the time.  It was a no-brainer.  I set aside the first marathon medal I ever earned for him.  I found the M4M chapter nearest to where he lived and arranged for them to deliver the medal while he was going through a round of chemo.  He needed it more than I did.

After they delivered the medal to this young man, I continued to exchange emails with the chapter leader.  The chapter was near a children’s hospital and was just getting started.  They needed more medals.  They were the perfect people to give all my Disney-related medals.  I can’t say it was easy to part with my Inaugural Tinkerbell medal (it had a spinning Tinkerbell in the middle and I got a PR at that race!) but I could only imagine the joy that would give a little girl in a hospital.  I sent over 5 pounds of medals to them.  To help cover the cost of putting new ribbons on the medals, I sent a monetary donation too.

I don’t miss my medals.  They were just lots of stuff and not anything I spent much time looking at anyway.  I still have the memories – good and bad – from every one of those races.  The medals are off doing something good for someone else.  Now that I have Kondo’d my medals, I am looking at the race shirts spilling out of my dresser drawers.  I think I know what my next Kondo project will be.

Would you like to donate medals or make a monetary donation to Medals4Mettle?  Check out their website for more information.  They have over 70 chapters in the US and six overseas.  Angie’s List magazine published a terrific article about M4M in March 2015.  Here is a link to it.

Want to learn how to Kondo?  Pick up Marie Kondo’s best selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”.  Visit her web site Tidying Up where you can read an excerpt from her book.  

No Finish Line

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 10.41.18 PMWhen people hear that I run a lot of marathons and half-marathons, they have one of two reactions – they think either I am crazy or an extraordinary athlete.  Among the people who think I am insane is Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon Gold Medal winner.  I met Frank in December 2012 at the Expo for the Rock n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon/Half Marathon.  Frank asked me if I was running the race.  I told him I wasn’t because I had already run 8 half marathons and one full marathon that year.  His jaw dropped.  When he regained his composure, Frank told me I was crazy to run that much.   It was not, he said, something that he would do.  He shook his head and walked off.  Not too often that you can shock an elite runner.

I find the people who think I am some super athlete to be amusing.  Truth be told, I was always among the last ones picked for any team in school sports.   The only way you would have described me in terms of athlete would be to put “not” before it. I was not an athlete.

I am not crazy and I am not an extraordinary athlete.  I started running to show support for a friend battling lymphoma.  But when I started having episodes of paralysis and constant neuropathy, running became the only thing I wanted to do.  Funny how the threat of losing something makes you want it even more.  My diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis (TM) permanently changed my perspective.  While my condition is under control – no episodes of paralysis and no neuropathy – I never know if a day will come when running is something I won’t be able to do.  I run because I can.

A long time ago I found a blog written by a Canadian female runner who also has TM.  She is planning to run a marathon in each of the 10 Canadian provinces – she only has one more to run.  During one of her races, her paralysis returned.  She was able to finish the race but it was a frightening moment.  Her doctor later explained that she experienced Uhthoff’s phenomenom where her TM symptoms worsened due to the high temperatures during the race and her increased core body temperature.

Reading that was sobering. I had never heard of Uhthoff’s phenomenom.  I knew that I felt worse when I got hot, even a fever can trigger my neuropathy, but I never knew that it had a name.  I also understood why my neurologist, Dr. T., yelled at me when I told him I planned to run Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon.  He feared that the excessive heat would cause me to have life-threatening issues.  I was blessed the day I did the Rim-to-Rim.  The temperatures were only 84 degrees at the base of the Canyon (normally over 100 degrees) and I had no TM-related issues.  I am very careful when I run in the heat and I have many coping mechanisms including running with ice wrapped in a scarf around my neck.

At my last check-up, Dr. T told me about his cousin – a vibrant man in his 40s who ran marathons, competed in cycling events and triathlons.  His cousin was in a tragic bike accident during a race caused when the tire blew out on another cyclist’s bike.  After spending several days in a coma, Dr. T’s cousin regained consciousness but sadly will never be able to walk again.  Dr. T looked at me and told me to keep doing what I am doing.  He understands that at any time the music can stop for any one of us and we can find ourselves sitting.  Running is keeping me healthy.  Movement is good.

At the start line of any marathon, triathlon, or even century bike ride, you will find people like me, fighting against something that wants to take away our gift of movement, or maybe even our life – cancer, MS, TM, epilepsy, or a host of other physical challenges.  We aren’t crazy or super athletes.  We are just wringing every bit out of life while we can.  For us there is no finish line.

Brian Warnecke is an incredible young man who loves to play hockey and dreams of being the first person with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) to play on the USA Olympic hockey team.  Brian also likes to bike.  In 2014 he rode 1,065 miles in 43 days over 8 mountain passes and raised $260,000 for CF research.   Brian does this to thank the Children’s Hospital of Colorado “for keeping [him] healthy and to encourage other kids with disabilities to remain physically active and pursue their dreams.”  You can read more about Brian at his web site  OneRepublic made this terrific video for their song “I Lived” featuring Brian.  It says it all.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Every once in a while I have to ask myself why I chose a hobby that involves so much physical pain.  In marathon running there is frequently pain while you are running, pain when you are done, and if things are really bad, pain the next day.  I never hear people who paint or quilt complain about pain from their hobby.  But then I can’t see myself sitting still for long periods of time to paint or quilt.  I have to move.

Saturday was one of those days.  I ran my longest training run – 20 miles – in preparation for the Berlin Marathon.  I started my run early, hoping to beat the heat.  My running spouse was off working a race for a charity so I was running solo.  I arranged for my husband to meet me around Mile 10 with water, ice, and a banana.  The last 6 miles were tough because there wasn’t any shade.  My Transverse Myelitis doesn’t like the heat and I was starting to drag.  Except for being hot, I didn’t feel that bad while I was running.  Some dull aches but nothing extreme.  When I finished my run, I had a few spots – lower back mostly – that reminded me that I had just run 20 miles.  The next day was when I really felt the pain.

I asked Jessica, my physical therapist, to explain why it hurts the day after a long run or race.  She started talking about actin, myosin, trigger points and fascia, and my head started to spin.  From what I could gather, movement comes from the interaction of the actin and myosin.  When you do something like run for 20 miles, you can end up with trigger points where the muscles go into a spasm (a contraction) from all the repetitive motion.  Normal movement becomes painful or maybe not even possible, in the case of injury.

According to Jessica, massage is great for recovery and working out the trigger points that result from a long run.  My hero, Meb Keflezighi, uses massage as a key part of his recovery.  Unfortunately for me, my massage therapist, Jennifer, is not on call 24/7.   When I can’t see Jennifer, I have to resort to Plan B – self-massage.

There are lots of self-massaging tools on the market.  After my run on Saturday, I pulled out all the ones that I have in my closets.  It was astonishing to see all the things that I have bought over the years to keep my muscles moving.  Some were things I picked up at my local running stores but others were impulsive purchases made at race Expos.  In my self-massage arsenal I have two different kinds of foam rollers that you can sit or lay on (both in multiple sizes); three different massage sticks; a massage ball; and one hand massage roller.

I drafted my husband for a fun product evaluation experiment.  We tested the self-massage tools by using each of them on the same 6 areas of the body: calf, IT band, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and back.  We used the tools on each area and then gave it a score, using a scale of 1 to 10.  Here are our observations on each of the products (Disclaimer: these are our observations; your mileage may vary.) :

(top to bottom) Pro-Tech Foam Roller (full and travel sizes), the Grid (full and travel sizes)

(top to bottom) Pro-Tech Foam Roller (full and travel sizes), the Grid (full and travel sizes)

Pro-Tech Foam Roller:  This roller is long and smooth.   I have used this one to do some my PT exercises for my arm but not too much for self-massage because it is pretty hard.  It is like rolling on a hard floor.  Not very comfortable.  Neither of us found that it helped much with any of the 6 areas because it didn’t seem to get too deep.  Overall score: 2.17

The Grid:  The Grid is another foam roller but with raised areas, or bumps, of different sizes.  The bumps can get much deeper than the plain foam roller.  You have to get into some unusual positions to use the Grid on some muscles so you have to have balance and some upper body strength.  Both of us thought the Grid did a great job, though my husband felt it was uncomfortable on his back.  Overall score: 8.50

(left to right) the Marathon Stick, the Hybrid Stick, the RangeRoller Pro, the Orb Massage Ball, Addaday Marble Massage Roller

(left to right) the Marathon Stick, the Hybrid Stick with red trigger wheel, the RangeRoller Pro with four black Trigger Treads, the Orb Massage Ball, Addaday Marble Massage Roller

The Marathon Stick:  I think this was one of the first self-massage tools that I ever bought.  It is a stick about 20 inches long with beads that move independently of each other.  You can roll the stick over muscles to work out sore areas.  Because it is flexible, it contours to areas of the body.  The Marathon Stick doesn’t provide a deep massage like the Grid and, in my opinion, is only good for lightly massaging the legs.  I saw videos on the Internet that show how to use the Stick on other parts of the body like the neck and back.  I don’t have the flexibility with my right arm to use it that way.  Compared to some of the other tools, my husband and I didn’t rate this one too high.  Over all score:  4.0

The Hybrid Stick:  The Hybrid Stick is very similar to the Marathon Stick except it has a single trigger wheel in the center that can reach deeper into a muscle.   The trigger wheel made this tool score higher in our review.  Overall score: 5.0

The RangeRoller Pro: This 16” stick is firmer than the other stick rollers that I have.  It has 4 Trigger Treads ™ (similar to the trigger wheel on the Hybrid Stick) that can reach deeper into the muscles.  Like the other stick rollers, I had difficulty using this on some spots due to my arm and we both found that it isn’t as helpful on the glutes.   Both my husband and I gave the RangeRoller high marks for working our legs.  Overall score: 6.5

The Orb Massage Ball:  The Orb Massage Ball is a 5” nubby ball made by ProTec.  I bought the Orb at an Expo this year.  It appealed to me because of its small size.  It fits into my carry-on.  It works like the foam rollers.  You can roll along the sore areas of your legs and even into your glutes.  I thought it was a bit difficult to use on the outside of my calves but otherwise it was pretty effective.  Overall score: 7.0

Addaday Marble Massage Roller:  I bought this at an Expo last Spring.  The 3 marbles can get deep without sharp pain.  The Addaday roller fits easily in the palm of my hand so I can massage any place that I can reach.  While it is not very helpful for massaging hamstrings or glutes, I think it works great on calves, quads, and the IT Band.  Plus I can massage my neck and arms, areas that are still recovering from my broken arm.  The small size makes this one very portable.  I can toss it into my carry-on bag or even my purse for a quick leg massage when I am flying on the plane.   I liked this one more than my husband did.  Overall score: 6.0 (I would give it 7 just because of how portable it is.)

We summarized our observations:

  1. The more bumps or raised areas on the self-massage tool, the better the tool.  The smooth foam roller just doesn’t give the same relief.
  2. Foam rollers that you can sit or lay on are better.  You get the added benefit of your body weight to get deeper into the muscles.
  3. Portability is important when traveling.  You can buy some of the foam rollers in smaller travel sizes but they still take up a good bit of valuable space in your suitcase or carry-on.  I think the RangeRoller Pro, the Orb and the Addaday Marble Massage Roller are the best for trips.  [Note:  The Stick might be considered a potential weapon so when flying, put it in your checked baggage.]
  4. Different tools work better on different areas.  In his book, Meb for Mortals, Meb mentioned that he uses a foam roller on his IT band and a ball on his glutes.  We found that some tools worked better on some areas than others.  Experimenting with different tools will tell you what works best for you.
  5. I don’t need to spend any more money on self-massage tools.  I have enough.  I just need to use them.

None of the self-massage tools we tested is a replacement for my massage therapist, Jennifer.  She can make just about any ache or pain disappear with a 60-minute massage.  Plus I enjoy chatting with her while she works the kinks out of my muscles.

Not sure how all this foam rolling works?  Jenny Hadfield made this terrific video on how to use a foam roller.  Check it out!