Austin Half Marathon Race Weekend

Austin Half Marathon Race Weekend

Man oh man. It felt so damn good to be back in Austin.

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I have been reading “The Alchemist” (I know- I’m late to the party), and it has me lookin’ for good omens. On Friday, our first day in Austin, we ran into the UT baton twirler from when we were students who was TWIRLING OUTDOORS in this very spot. You guys. It was an omen.

I taught baton twirling in college, and I was maybe her biggest fan. Twirlers are a rare breed, and we literally ran into her, and then stopped to talk to her. Made my day. As weird as that sounds, it was an omen. Not sure what it meant, but it was a good sign- promise.

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We happened to be in Austin for two reasons:
1. Hope! She’s a friend that I met on instagram, and she flew to Texas to race.
2. And race we did! Pictured above, we were at the Austin Half Marathon expo on Friday.

Then we ate. That’s actually what we did the majority of the weekend, but I need to give special thanks to:
-True Food Kitchen
-Picnik
-Hank’s
These places were especially kind about my dietary restrictions, and the food was incredible.

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True Food Kitchen was so enthusiastic to help with my food restrictions. ENTHUSIASTIC. They didn’t make me feel like the difficult customer that I hate to be, and they were fantastic. They helped me craft my own menu item to suit my weird dietary needs, and I left feeling great knowing that the food didn’t contain the stuff that my autoimmune disease won’t let me have right now. If there’s something I can learn from this experience it’s BE KIND to the wait staff, and gently explain/advocate for yourself. Be vigilant. But be gentle, and people will bend over backward to help you and your health.

It was breezy and 80something degrees. We walked back across the bridge to the car and called it a night. Austin, ya look good.

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On Saturday, we ate at Picnik for brunch after a warm-up run, and had a very similar experience to True Food Kitchen- everyone was so helpful. Then we took Hope to see some touristy sites, like the Loop 360 Bridge overlook.

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And stayed hydrated via Juiceland. Pictured here: “The Rehydrator”.

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Sunday morning was race day, and it was a cool, crisp 55 degrees at the start on Congress Avenue. The first three miles were gradually uphill, but we were on South Congress, and there was live music. No complaints! All four lanes of the road were open for runners, so even though the start wasn’t in waves, there was plenty of room. I never felt crammed.

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I HIGHLY recommend running Austin without headphones- there was live music EVERYWHERE, and I loved the course. I stayed hydrated via my own sports drink: water, lemon juice, lime juice, and salt. I brought along banana slices with a smidge of peanut butter and rice cake in my spi belt for fuel once I got to mile 9, and it was perfect. I had previously been a tried and true gatorade gels fan, but I recently discovered that I’m sensitive to the dye that’s on the ingredients list (womp womp), so I have been DIYing my fuel instead, with great success.

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I wrote a positive mantra on myself for the race. I NEEDED this around mile 10 through the finish line, because those hills weren’t playin’. I ran this race because I paid for it, and I love to run. I love a good race- I do. But in all honesty, I had no business running. Let me tell you why:
– Shingles! I had the shingles virus, and while it was (almost/mostly) gone, my energy levels were NOT up to par.
-Symptoms. I had to go off my immunosuppressants to try to heal my body quickly from the shingles virus, and my GI situation was very touch and go.
-Training. My training for this race was very lacking.
-Rest should’ve been priority. Shingles + GI + a rough week of tests in grad school calls for ample rest, and 13.1 miles wasn’t ideal.

If you’re strugglin’- solidarity! One foot in front of the other, friend.

Am I glad I did it though? Shoot yeah. Can’t you tell? Honestly- I had the most fun.

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Hope had a really great race though! A new PR for a half!

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And Zack was at the finish AND a cheer station at mile 9.

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Afterward, we all went to Hillside Pharmacie for brunch, and I inhaled my breakfast and coffee so fast. We sat outside and the wind was COLD! But we had the very best time.

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If you’ve never been to Austin, you should definitely visit, but don’t move there. I’m planning on moving back one day, and there’s really not room for all of us to play.
Sorry not sorry.

Highly, highly recommend running the Austin Half Marathon. The more races I run, the harder it is for me to pick a favorite, but this race is up there. It’s not a fast course- very hilly, but the crowd is great, the live music is unbeatable, and there’s no place I’d rather run than under the sun in Austin on a 55 degree Sunday morning.

Keep moving forward!

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8 Simple Rules for the Aspiring Marathoner, as Told by a New York City Marathon Finisher

8 Simple Rules for the Aspiring Marathoner, as Told by a New York City Marathon Finisher

Hi, Friends! Hope y’all are having a wonderful week.

Today’s post is guest-written my friend and fellow UC warrior, Lizzy! She’s a recent first-time marathoner, and in case you were thinking about signing up for 26.2 miles, you get to hear firsthand advice and race recaps from a finisher of the New York City [freakin] Marathon today! So from one friend to another, here’s Lizzy :).

Oh- and if you can’t get enough of her, be sure to check out her blog HERE!

Hello, Internet Friends! My name is Lizzy, and I ran the New York City Marathon on November 5th. What?! It still feels so crazy whenever I say that out loud. I’m comin’ atcha today with my experience, things I learned, and key takeaways for those of you crazy enough to consider doing 26.2.  Hopefully I can give y’all a little bit of a better idea about what to expect when training for a full marathon.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

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1. Why did you decide to run the NYC Marathon? 

One of the biggest responses I faced when telling people I just wanted to do a full marathon (knowing I’m a slower runner) was “Well, why even run a marathon if you’re going to be out on the course for that long?” Fair enough. I’m a slow-poke runner.  But, I actually chose to do the race for a special reason, that had nothing to do with my love for running.  In 2014 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. The diagnosis came after almost a year of questions, miserable symptoms, an incorrect Crohn’s Disease diagnosis, and four different doctors and specialists. Stacey shares a similar diagnosis to me, which is how we met originally. Getting diagnosed with a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease is really tough on a number of levels, but one of the hardest pieces is it’s effects on your physical ability and energy. When you are flaring, you have close to zero energy. It is so, so hard to bring yourself to do anything physically challenging because your body is working so hard to keep itself healthy. I did not choose to run a marathon because I thought it would be a *fun* challenge. I chose to run a marathon to prove to myself that UC will not limit me in every aspect of my life.  This is why I originally started running 3 years ago; to show UC who’s boss.  The NYC Marathon was offered as a race through the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Team Challenge program—where you fundraise for the Foundation and train for a marathon at the same time. I’ve done several half marathons with this organization before and they are a BLAST.  This felt like the perfect way to tackle my first 26.2!  I signed up and immediately hyperventilated.  I felt like I’d bit off way more than I could chew!

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2. What did your training schedule look like, and how long did you train? 

My training officially started in June of this year. I ran three days a week, cross-trained twice a week, did strength training one day a week, and took one solid rest day.  There are so many different training plans to follow, and I felt like three days of running was plenty for me.  My cross training consisted of low-impact activities (I usually flip-flopped between swimming/aqua jogging, the elliptical, and spinning), while my strength training was more focused on full-body movements that built up my core and lower body muscles.  For some context: I was returning to running after an injury I sustained last fall—so I needed the extra days of cross-training to make sure I didn’t re-injure myself. Thank goodness for my physical therapist. 

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3. What was the most difficult part of your training? 

The training itself was really, really tough. I felt like I turned down a lot of opportunities over the summer because I was so focused on my training schedule. Then, to add another layer to the crazy, I auditioned and got a part in a musical that was occurring in mid-November. Add weeknight rehearsals on top of marathon training, and I felt like I hadn’t seen my friends or live-in boyfriend in three months. Ack! The time-suck is easily the worst part of marathon training. You have to mindfully plan your time, and this can be kind of a buzz-kill. Spontaneity wasn’t something I could really afford myself this summer and fall. Training is really a part-time job. 

4. What were you most nervous about? Advice?

The day of the race was next-level. I was so, so nervous.  There was a lot of excitement, too. But mostly nerves. I knew I needed to trust my training, but I was feeling a bit discouraged because of what my time goal was. I wanted to finish around the six-hour mark. Listening to others at the start who’s goals were two hours shorter than mine was tough, I won’t lie to you. It messes with your head a bit and made me wonder if I was really cut out to do this.  But, I was excited to deliver a big “eff you” to Ulcerative Colitis and prove to myself that I could finish.  I’m happy I went in with that attitude, because the race exceeded my expectations. The crowds were so supportive, and it didn’t matter that I was running with the six-hour pacer. There were so many of us in the back of the pack! I wish that I had seen more stories about slower runners before I attempted this—there are a lot of us!  The energy was infectious and for the first 19 miles, it didn’t matter how slow or fast I was. I fed off the New York energy and felt like a total rockstar. Running these larger races can do that to you.  It also helped to see family and friends on the course. I would absolutely recommend bringing a hype squad with you, especially for your first race. 

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My mom and her sign on the course!

5. What was your least favorite part of the marathon? Best part?

I started to have a really tough time right after mile 19. For whatever reason, my hip gave out. I had done all my training runs, I felt healthy going in—it just goes to show that sometimes things don’t go as planned.  I tried to run a little bit, but I ended up having to slow down to a full walk (I had been doing a walk/run interval prior to slowing down) and that was really, really disheartening. It slowed my time down significantly, and put me finishing about 45 minutes after I thought I would. The last 7 miles were the worst for me mentally. After doing so well, having to slow down just as you’re about to hit the wall was not a fun feeling and I’m not going to lie—it was a struggle.  There were many tears and I considered just giving up.  But, all of this emotion was followed by one of my favorite parts of the whole race—at mile 22 a very nice lady in the Bronx offered me a slice of cheese pizza. It was exactly what I needed, and made me smile. I was able to stay positive for rest of the race. 

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6. Mental or physical- which did you rely on the most for this race?

What everyone says about the mental game of the marathon is true. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you are, the most important thing is believing you can do this.  I bawled when I crossed the finish line. Physically, I was so tired. Mentally, I was spent. It was such a mix of relief/exhaustion/frustration/elation; it took me a while to fully process what I felt after finishing.  I was so glad to have finished, to have done it, to have shown my body that I could do it. No matter how hard it was, I did it.  UC limits me in a lot of ways, but it didn’t keep me from finishing my first marathon. And for that I was grateful.

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Me right after I finished, post-cry sesh!

7. Did you have a finish time goal in mind? If so, did you meet it?

Try to not have a set finish time in mind. Take it from someone who was told this—it is so, so hard to not go into something like this with a time goal. I had one, and I so wish I hadn’t. I think if I had gone in with the ONLY goal of finishing, I wouldn’t have beat myself up so much after I had to start walking at mile 19. I finished an effing marathon, and my concern for those last 7 miles wasn’t finishing—it was finishing quicker. That wasn’t fair to me, my emotional state, or my body at that point in the race. My biggest regret with this race is that I didn’t just try to enjoy the last couple of miles. I was positive, sure, but I was so anxious.  Besides the nice lady offering me pizza, I don’t remember a lot from the last 7 miles. I wish I had.

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THE BLING!

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8. What’s the best advice you can give to someone thinking of running a marathon? 

For those of you who are thinking of doing this, I have three pieces of advice: train well, stay healthy, and for the love of all that is holy, try not to go into your first race with an exact finish time in mind.  Train well so you feel confident going into the race. It’s ok to miss a run every now and then—I missed a long run about a month before my race and had to shorten it because of a bad cold.  This leads to my next piece of advice-STAY HEALTHY. You are not doing your training a favor if you run with the flu. Give your body a break. You know what’s best for you. I’m glad I shortened that longer run with a cold, because I was able to crush my 20-mile training run the following weekend since I wasn’t sick. 

Give yourself lots and lots of grace while training for a marathon. LOTS AND LOTS OF GRACE. This is a massive undertaking. Surround yourself by people who support you and encourage you. Make sure you take your full rest day each week.  When that’s all said and done, ENJOY THE HECK out of the race and wear your medal for as long as physically possible. I’ve carried mine with me the last week because I’m so proud of myself. Wear your finisher’s gear. Own that pride. You just finished a flippin’ marathon! Will I do another one? Heck yes. But for now, a half marathon is still my favorite distance, and I’m going to give myself a break. I want to focus on staying healthy with UC. I also want to treat myself to a big ole’ plate of cheese fries. Priorities.

-Lizzy

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HUGE shoutout to Lizzy, for not only taking the time to write this post, but also for making marathons sound far less intimidating and attainable, even for us mere mortal slow-pokes who just wanna make a difference. You are an actual badass.

And now, I’ll dream of that mile 22 New York style pizza all the live-long day…

 

A Life-Changing Diagnosis & 5 Ways to Cope

A Life-Changing Diagnosis & 5 Ways to Cope

The question I get asked most often by friends and strangers alike is, “How did you know something was wrong?”

Please don’t use my experience in lieu of a doctor’s professional opinion. If you think something is wrong…go get checked out! 

Okay. Here’s my story:

Once upon a time in early Fall at a coffee shop on campus at The University of Texas at Austin in 2012, I began having excruciating stomach cramps. When I say the word excruciating, I mean excruciating. Unbearable. The BEST way I can describe the pain for the sake of being relatable…have you ever had a violent stomach virus? Multiply the frequency of your symptoms to several times a day and night, for weeks. Then you get me.

I excused myself a couple times over the duration of my brief meet-up with a friend at the coffee shop. “Guess I should switch the chai lattes to soy,” I thought to myself.

But the pain and the symptoms weren’t alleviated by omitting dairy. Within weeks even ice chips resulted in pain, followed by 10-15 wind sprints to the bathroom.
X rated version: I knew something was wrong when I noticed that my stools consisted almost entirely of blood, and nothing seemed to offer even a hint of relief (not even drinking imodium from a straw…not recommended, by the way). 

About a week and a half later, I made an appointment with University Health Services; they accommodated me quickly when I described my symptoms. They prescribed me high-powered antibiotics, which didn’t phase my symptoms. “Come back in 8 days for a follow-up.” I noticed that I had already lost twelve pounds when I weighed in with the nurse before my appointment.

I found a local gastroenterologist, without a referral from a professional. Something had to be resolved fast.

At the time I would wake up two hours before class began (after a night of restlessness because of constant stomach cramps and running to the bathroom), to ensure that I would arrive to class in time, allotting plenty of time for bathroom stops in the buildings on my way to class until I was finally able to make it to my class. I received permission from my professors to record their lectures during this time, because I would have to sneak out of class three or four times to be sick. This went on for a few weeks.

During my first appointment with the gastroenterologist, he scheduled a colonoscopy for the next day, and so began my life of poking, prodding, stool samples, blood samples, and biopsies. The prep juice wasn’t bad because I was pretty clear from shitting thirty times a day…still not entirely sure what the big fuss over colonoscopies is all about.

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THE DIAGNOSIS
After my colonoscopy the doctor read my diagnosis, “You have moderate to severe ulcerative colitis. There’s no cure, but there are treatment options. You’ll be monitoring this disease for the rest of your life.”

Honestly, I was pretty certain that I was dying of cancer. When I was diagnosed, almost three weeks beyond my very first noticeable symptom at the coffee shop, I had lost twenty-five pounds. I looked like a bag of bones.  I was weirdly relieved to have “ulcerative colitis” as a diagnosis. Having answers makes all the difference.

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Taken two days before my scope at 102 pounds

(During this time I got recruited by Abercrombie model scouts on campus for a live audition. They were quickly educated…thanks to the prednisone and my lack of sleep.)

All that I had heard about “ulcerative colitis” was a brief overview in a pharmacology course, and I knew that Crohn’s was its cousin, both under the umbrella of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD)…not exactly enough for me to understand what the heck the doc was talking about. He explained that my immune system was hyperactive, recognizing even food as a foreign substance that needed to be expelled immediately.
Not cool, immune system. Not cool.
My body was rebelling against my colon. Why? Could be genetics, or the environment (e.g. toxins, antibiotics altering gut bacteria), or an interaction between the two.

“What can I eat?”

“Eat whatever you want. Since you’re a bit underweight, drink as much dark beer as you want. Eat burgers.”

^ Never made sense to me. UC is an autoimmune digestive disease in my gut, where most of the immune system is located, and I’m being told to eat whatever I want? Too good to be true. I knew immediately that dairy and beef physically hurt to eat, so I eliminated those. Next to go was processed meats and fast food, because no way are those beneficial. To my surprise there were still plenty of good options to eat, despite being in college and on a budget. Good food didn’t have to be expensive. I began researching which foods to eat to help with inflammation, since UC is an inflammatory disease, and I tried to eat more of those helpful foods: leafy greens, grilled fish, lean meats, and blueberries became my go-tos. And so began my interest in nutrition. I watched it help me, change me, and I dreamed of how it could help the people I love. Present day Stacey is in school again pursuing a dietetics degree.

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THE MEDS
After my scope, the doc handed me a paper folder full of info pamphlets and immediately prescribed me an IV biologic & immunosuppressant: Remicade. MANY people ask, “Why did you decide to be on such a high octane medication?” At the time I didn’t feel a like I had much of a choice. Looking back, I still would’ve agreed to such aggressive treatment, because I felt (and looked) like I was actually dying. It’s different for everyone, but for me it was serious at the time. I mean. I LOST OVER 25 POUNDS IN THREE WEEKS, PEOPLE.

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I remember my first infusion, walking into a dimly lit infusion suite with recliners bordering the walls, each with a patient hooked up to an IV pole. Some were asleep, others read books, flipped through their phones, and a few watched HGTV buzzing in the background on the televisions. Not all the patients had Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, some had rheumatoid arthritis, MS, and a host of other autoimmune conditions. This was the first time I realized that my life would not be the normal I remembered. I needed medication from an IV so I could live life like I remembered living. Weird.

Overnight, I felt like I had gone from being a normal, healthy, social college student to a smaller, weaker shell of myself: spending more time alienated by my symptoms; a more vulnerable person, more medicated, with less autonomy over my own health. I bought a pill pack from the pharmacy store that looked like the one my grandmother carried in her oversized old-lady purse, so I could keep up with my new lifestyle.

In addition, I was prescribed pain and sleeping aids (which I never took), along with a hefty dose of Prednisone, a corticosteroid. Jesus and steroids saved my life, and I honestly believe that. Prednisone was the only oral medication that seemed to ever work.
But I hated it.

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On the left: steroid-free! Right: “Moon Face” side effect in full swing after a flare, taken seven months apart

Steroids were great in college, because I felt very energetic (almost jittery) while taking Prednisone, so even on little sleep I was able to get a lot accomplished. However, the mood swings made me feel like a crazy pants to say the very least, so I avoid Prednisone at all costs today. I also like to sleep…and I have the hardest time sleeping when I’m on the ‘roids (disclaimer: not the same anabolic steroids that give you muscles…womp womp)

LIFE AFTER DIAGNOSIS
Slowly but surely, my energy levels began to creep back up to normal. I got my life back.  Sure, I had to make some adjustments here and there (still learning), but heyyy I’m alive!

I graduated with a pretty decent GPA, even with a hospital stay, despite my family’s pleading for me to take a medical leave of absence from college. I never asked for a project deadline extension. I honestly look back on this time in life and think, “How?” But I was in survivor mode. Don’t say “I could never.” You could. And you would.

I got into the working world, took some time to get a Crohn’s diagnosis, had a doc switch diagnosis back to “ulcerative colitis”, changed shifts, changed jobs, conquered anxiety, and got to know myself really well. Wasn’t glamorous, and wasn’t what I anticipated, but it’s okay! I’m okay.

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LEARNING TO COPE
1. Haters Gonna Hate
People will criticize you whether or not it’s warranted. I have been criticized for being a “pill popper”; for “taking the easy way out” with the infusion (that one is beyond me); for being “too stressed”; for not taking a medical leave of absence from college; for drinking beer; for the way I eat. People don’t mean to be as nasty as they can be sometimes; they simply don’t know your situation. I control as much as I can with diet, but I’m also human and sometimes I slip up or make conscious decisions to indulge. The meds help where nutrition cannot for me. My dream is to be 100% in remission with diet, but I’m not there yet. I can’t advise YOU if you were recently diagnosed on which course of action you should take. This disease is different for everyone. What works for one person may NOT work for another. It’s all about figuring out what works for YOU until there’s a cure. But shake off the negativity. You’re living with this- YOU are the badass.

2. Keep your people close
There will be people in your life who are with you during your diagnosis, and I don’t just mean the people who happen to be around. Who is WITH you? Who is there keeping you strong? These are the people you want around forever. For me that’s my sister, my college roommates, and my Zack. Story time 2.0:

One night in my apartment that I shared with friends, I was THE most physically ill I had been in my life, sick from both ends for hours and hours (pretty, huh?). I called Zack and begged him to come over. He spent the entire night on the phone with pharmacists, arguing with my doctor about medications, all while I slept on the bathroom floor in between being sick. Finally, around 4am, after much harassing Zack managed to get me some anti-nausea meds. My gawsh, the guy is a saint.

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 He fought with me. He went to bat for me. He never judged. He didn’t do good things for reward. He was just there, beside me, gutting it out with me. And so were my roommates. The BEST people I know.

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After Roommate Haley’s UT Graduation, the Spring after the diagnosis. We rewarded our girl bossery by finishing a sprint triathlon

I promised myself that if I ever had the energy again to move, then I would. Sounds overly emo, I know. But y’all. I really struggled with weakness for so long. So my roommate and I did this thing ^. Not pictured: Roommate Becca, still one of my greatest friends, probably drinking a mimosa at the finish while snapping this photo. 
KEEP YA PEOPLE CLOSE.

3. It gets better
There will be times when you think, “TF HAPPENED? I was doing so good! Where’d these symptoms come from?” This will pass. It will get better. You will prevail. You’ll come out stronger with every flare. You’ll live to tell about it, and you’ll develop a pretty damn good sense of humor from it, too.

4. Find your silver lining
There may be days when you shit yourself in your car while in traffic. It’s okay to cry about it, but then try to find some humor in that.  When you’re in a flare and EVERYTHING makes you sick, think about all the amazing Netflix you’ll be able to watch. “I won’t be able to do this when I’m better.”  Think about all the food you CAN eat. If none of those options work, recognize how this has changed your life. I wasn’t interested at all in nutrition before this disease, and now it is my life. I sho wasn’t going to run before UC, and now it’s my hobby.

5. You’re still you
You’re still you, but you’re more relatable. You’ve seen struggling, and SO.MANY.PEOPLE. are struggling. You’ve seen sickness, and SO.MANY.PEOPLE. are sick. You’ve seen recovery, and people NEED to find their strength to recover. Help them find it. See this as a weird superpower. This disease doesn’t define you, but if you let it, it will make you a better, bigger, badder, stronger, gassier(?) version of you. You’re still you, only better.

Please let me know how any unexpected life situations have changed YOUR life!  I’m with you. Solidarity!

Keep moving forward 🙂

-Stacey

OH! And have a great Monday! There is such a thing, I promise.