Part I: The Race
I can honestly say, this is the first time I’ve ever written a blog post hooked to an IV. But I’ll get to that later.
On Saturday, I ran the Berryman Marathon. Back in January a couple friends had enticed me into signing up since they were doing the 50 miler. Coming off of Arizona, I didn’t feel like doing much. And while my usual motto is, when given the choice, choose the longer option, I didn’t think I should push it so I opted for the marathon. (That just sounds silly now)
On Friday night, after I closed up shop with James in Town and Country, I hopped in the car and drove to Potosi, a rural community on the edge of Mark Twain National Forrest, where they have a Super 8. I checked into my room and was in bed eating pie by 10pm. I had everything laid out and ready to go.
At 6:15 I rolled out of bed and began race prep. I dressed in my running gear and went down the hall to the ice machine so I could fill the bladder of my hydration vest. I grabbed my bottles of Scratch out of the mini fridge that I had mixed the night before and added them to the pockets of my vest, which was also stuffed with Huma gels and Gu. It was supposed to be humid, so I was going to be prepared.
Eventually I took my stuff to the car and went back into the lobby to grab some breakfast. Or some coffee at the very least. I was greeted by a gal in running gear who asked if I was headed to Berryman too. I confirmed that I was. While I drank my coffee, we chatted about previous races and our thoughts for the day. She was hoping to finish between 4 and 5 hours. I was hoping to finish. While I was the more experienced of the two of us, I wasn’t sure what to expect of this course and I knew that I hadn’t properly trained for it. So I set the bar low and my goal for the day was to go out and have fun.
By 7:30 I was in the car, driving the 25 minutes to the course. My race started at 8. The thing about trail races that is very different from the huge races downtown is that you don’t have to get there an hour and a half early. At Berryman, like many others, you basically pull up, get out of your car, slap on your race bib and away you go.
I saw several friends at the start. Rosie and John had already started the 50 mile at 6:30, but Rosie’s husband Alex greeted me with a hug. I handed off my keys to Megan and Seth to put in the Fleet Feet truck for safe keeping. Then I gathered behind the starting line with some of the girls from the tri club and a few seconds later we were running. About 10 steps in I knew it was going to be a slow day. Not that I hadn’t already figured that out from lack of training, but the humidity was at about 99%. It settled over us like a blanket. An oppressive wet blanket. It was making my legs feel like lead. It was then that I knew my body didn’t have it that day, my mind was going to have to do most of the grunt work to get this race in the books. But it’s not like I’ve never had to brush that feeling aside, and so into the forest I ran. I stuck right behind Tara and Donna for the first 5 miles or so. We broke apart at the first aid station, which was good for me, because then instead of mindlessly staring at Tara’s shoes, I started to take in the majesty of the forest. It really is an unbelievable trail. Tough, but beautiful.
I’m not really sure when it started raining, but it felt amazing! The cool water on my face felt refreshing and it made running seem easier. It also made the creeks rise, so where in the beginning I was able to jump from rock to rock to get across without getting wet, it wasn’t long until I would just trudge right through, soaking my shoes and socks. There’s something to be said about the thrill of returning to youthfulness, playing in streams, enjoying the woods, exploring and the satisfying crunch of gravel under your feet. This was the fun I had been seeking. Yes, I was going slower than usual and no I hadn’t adequately trained for this race, but it was reminding me of what I loved to do.
Just before the 14 mile aid station I caught up to Donna. She was walking, so I slowed to walk with her for a bit. Her stomach was off and she was having a rough day. Mine wasn’t the stomach, but we probably could have started a club. We approached the aid station and when I was ready to take off, Donna waved me on. She was done. “Have a good race,” she hollered after me. “Thanks!” I waved. And I heard someone from the aid station ask if she wanted a ride back in the truck.
And then, I was alone in the woods again. The terrain was rough, so there were several times throughout the day that I turned an ankle so hard I felt it down to my toes and all the way up the lateral side of my calf. That would probably hurt, I thought to myself, if I hadn’t taken that Aleve earlier. However, the Aleve was not only masking the ankle pain, it was also hiding the bigger, more serious issue. While making them worse at the same time.
As the race went on the hills seemed tougher, I don’t know if that was the course, my body, or the fact that the sloppy conditions were making it more challenging. I walked a lot of the uphills, I ran the down hills and the flats. As I cruised into the aid station around Mile 17, I saw Tara. I told her that Donna had gotten a ride back to the finish; she said she had a feeling that would happen. As we took off again, I vaguely heard one of the volunteers giving directions about when we get to the road the trail is only a little ways up. When we got to the only actual road we would encounter that day, there were 4 of us, Tara, me, a random guy and a random girl. We saw the arrow that appeared to point across the paved road directly at a gravel road, so down the gravel road we went. About half a mile down, a big white pickup truck pulled out and almost blocked us. The driver got out and said, “This here’s a dead end. Whatchya’ll doin’ out here?” We explained that we were looking for the Berryman trail. “Well, ya won’t find it down that way, that’s just Joe Bob’s farm.” Good thing he intercepted us. He couldn’t understand why in the world we were looking for a tiny little trail in the desolate weather we were experiencing, but he told us generally where we needed to go. He offered to drive us up there in his truck, but we politely declined. Nobody likes a cheater. But I can’t honestly tell you that none of us thought about it for half a second.
Usually around mile 17, 18, 19 of a marathon, your brain has to do a decent job of convincing your body to keep running. Even worse at that point of a race and you realize you’re not even on the course. You’re running to get back on course, I can assure you it’s more than a little deflating. But, just as I said in that moment, what’s a race without a story? We plugged along on that gravel road until we got back to the paved road, which we began to follow. And about 10 steps up, we came upon another spray painted arrow on the road. If only we had seen that sooner. Ah well, such is life. It wasn’t long until we ducked back into the woods again. We trudged up a hill single file with the rain coming down. Tara disappeared from my sight again shortly after that. And eventually so did everyone else. It’s funny how that works, one minute you’re in the midst of a crowd, the next minute you’re in solitude with a bunch of trees.
I continued my strategy of walk up, run down. There were times that I was literally running in a creek bed, slopping through mud puddles. It was amazing.
A lot of the latter part of the race is a little blurry. Looking back on that now, understandably so. I don’t recall ever feeling bad, other than tired. I remember a lot of telling myself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I even passed a few people in the last mile or two. And then, just as we were about to come out of the woods, there were Tara’s shoes right in front of me again. Just like I don’t I don’t recall exactly when it started raining, I don’t remember when it stopped either, but it wasn’t raining when we came out of the woods and ran through the finish. Despite running completely different races on the same course, we’d seen each other at the beginning, the middle and the end. Two races with times that were just seconds apart, and we spent most of the day not together.
I was so glad it was done. And even more glad I had signed up for the marathon and not the 50 mile.
Then there was a medal around my neck and I went to grab a bottle of water. There was a great spread of food, that I couldn’t even think about enjoying until I changed into dry clothes. I glanced around looking for Alex, but saw no sign of him, so I wondered if Rosie had decided to call it a day after 1 loop. I couldn’t fathom doing that a second time.
I hiked up to my car, changed into my flip flops, made my recovery drink, took off my empty hydration pack and began stripping off soaking wet clothes. Once I was dry and the Gu brew was gone, I started back towards the food.
I joined the other runners in the pavilion, downed a big cheeseburger, lots of chips, some cookies and more water. I was tired, sore, but I felt good. The girl next to me noticed my tattoo and asked which Ironman I had done. I can’t remember which one she said she had completed last fall, but we both agreed that we thought that one standalone trail marathon was harder than the marathon at the end of an Ironman. It took me 6 hours and 1 minute. Even in Arizona, I was solidly under 6, at about 5:20. It had been a tough day, one that I wasn’t truly prepared for. But I’d made it. And something I had thought about on that course was how often are we ever really prepared for the hard stuff? We aren’t. There really isn’t much we can do besides take things as they come and do the best we can under the circumstances. Ah, and wasn’t that a prophetic thought…
Part II: The Aftermath
On the drive home I wasn’t in any hurry, so I plugged my address into my phone GPS and let it take me home by way of the back roads. Hilly, twisty, turny roads with tiny little churches, grand houses with big white fences and fields full of wildflowers. I enjoyed the ride home as much as the race, maybe more. And by then the sun was shining.
I got home, unloaded the car, showered, and I was feeling pretty good about myself making 6:30 church. I grabbed a cup of coffee on the way in to keep me awake. As we stood to start singing, I felt it hit me. A wave of dizziness passed over me. I wanted the singing to end, I was desperate to sit down. Finally we did. I was shifty, fidgety, unable to focus. I was so tired, but it wasn’t an ordinary tiredness. I felt like I was going to pass out. I fought to maintain through the service. I survived. Then I drove home, grabbed more water and curled up on the couch under a blanket with my jacket still on. I was shivering. My heart was racing. It occurred to me that I hadn’t peed more than twice that whole day. Once in the morning before the race and once after the race. That’s it. I recognized some of the signs of dehydration and I started getting worried. After talking to my mom, we agreed I should consider having someone take me to the ER. I called Vega, who lives just a couple miles away, but he was over in Illinois so he suggested I call Heather. I did and she came right over.
I had turned on the movie Wild, which I’d been wanting to see, because I knew it would hold my attention and keep me alert as well as anything. I kept refilling my water.
When Heather arrived, I had already started feeling a little better, so we decided to sit tight and see how things went for a while. We hadn’t seen each other so we caught up on each other’s lives and the time passed quickly. Before too long I was going to the bathroom frequently and things seemed to be returning to normal. I sent Heather on home and I climbed into bed for the night.
I woke up around 1am and stumbled clumsily with marathon fatigued muscles into the bathroom. When I returned to bed, I had a hard time going back to sleep. I tossed and turned a lot. I didn’t feel right but I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I chalked it up to post-marathon yuck.
I finally got up around 8:30 the next morning. My muscles hurt more than they should have. True I hadn’t trained very well, but this seemed like an excessively miserable state.
I made my way to the kitchen and shoved a bag of lays potato chips in my face. Yes, for breakfast. Don’t judge me. I knew I needed salt. I chased them with a bottle of lemon lime Gatorade Silas had taken one sip of and then left in the fridge. Typically I loathe lemon lime Gatorade, but on that particular morning it tasted like the nectar of the gods. Again, I should have suspected that something was awry. I downed an orange Gatorade and some other easily accessible items. I avoided coffee, because I feared the feeling of my heart racing the night before was due to the quantity of caffeine I had consumed. Pre-race coffee, caffeinated gels, cola at the aid stations, coffee at church. It was a lot even for me. I settled in on the couch to study for my Monday exam, this week testing on the Urinary system. Oh, the irony.
As it closed in on 11 am, I got ready for work and headed out the door with enough time to stop for a burger on the way, I was craving one. I swung by 5 Guys and Fries, got stuck behind a whole baseball team and was shoving fries in my mouth as I drove the rest of the way to work. I pulled into the parking lot and in a cumbersome manner dragged myself and my supplies (food, water, Gatorade) into the store.
We were slow for quite a while. I told Hannah about the race. I used the massage rollers. I wanted to lie down. I wandered aimlessly. Hannah was helping a customer with a Garmin when a guy came in for a shoe fitting. Hannah knew I was going to have a hard time getting up and down off the floor, so she had already offered to take fittings first, but she was helping someone, so I sucked it up and did what I was there to do. I did have to explain to my customer that I am not typically so inflexible that it takes me 5 minutes to get up off the floor. He was kind about it, he probably should have laughed, I’m sure I looked absurd. After those 2 customers left, the entire store was empty. I was freezing, so I put on my jacket. Hannah and I were over talking to James and Ronette. I really wanted to just go to sleep on the couch on the SBR side. I went and stood halfway out the door.
James looked at me quizzically, “Are you cold?!”
At this point, Hannah started insisting I go home. We were mostly through the day, the “rush” was likely over and I was pretty much useless to anyone. So, I followed Hannah’s orders and I went home. The drive was one of those drives where you get to where you’re going and you’re like, huh, how did I get here?
I went in the house and resumed my position on the couch under the blanket, jacket still on. When B showed up about an hour later with my requested can of soup, I hadn’t moved and I probably looked like death. I had quickly escalated back to worse than I had felt the previous evening. I don’t recall that I said much for the next hour as I dozed on the couch. He asked a couple different times if I wanted my soup, but my appetite had become a thing of the past.
He sat down on the couch at my feet. I finally looked at him and said, “I don’t think I can fix this myself.”
B asked, “Are you ready to go to the hospital?”
“Yeah, I’m done suffering.”
We gathered my purse, a blanket, my phone charger, things I would need in case we had to be there a few hours. I wasn’t planning on days. I figured we’d go to the ER, they’d give me a bag of IV fluid, maybe a prescription for an antibiotic and send me on my way.
B dropped me at the emergency door and then went to park, I was already in Triage when he came in. I told the nurse my symptoms, she drew some blood and started an IV and put me back in the waiting room for a bit. I was glad I had brought my blanket. I was shivering again. B went and asked the nurse for another blanket for me. A nurse told him she would bring one over. The longer I waited, the more I shook. I was freezing, I actually had a fever of almost 103. Eventually, B went back to the nurse and got a blanket that felt fresh out of the dryer. It was heaven. But with the shaking, came the nausea. So then B had to go ask for something for me to puke in, just in case. If you’re wondering, I never did. Finally after the longest hour ever, they took me back to a room and not too long after the doctor came in. “You know your body well,” he said. Turns out I was severely dehydrated, with a kidney infection to boot. They planned to give me a couple more bags of fluid and some antibiotics. That right there was enough to confirm the decision to come in. They needed to run more tests, so they took more blood. And then I was admitted. More confirmation I had done the right thing coming to the hospital.
I got to my room just after midnight. I was exhausted. It took a while for that to change. My temp would ebb and flow, waves of nausea mixed with episodes of violent shivering, vitals every 4 hours, midnight round of antibiotics and shots in the belly, 5am blood draw for labs, one day would flow into the next with the hope of going home tomorrow. I started feeling like the little boy who cried wolf.
My diagnosis was Pyelonephritis. What are the odds that I know exactly what this is because there was likely a question about it on the exam I missed Monday. My kidney infection allowed the infection to be sent out from my kidney into my body through my blood. Had I ignored my symptoms longer, I might not have lived to tell the tale. Scary, but true. The good news is RRG rambles on. However, I may not be running much for a while. But that’s ok. I’ve got a lot to focus on. And after 4, almost 5, days in the hospital, I’ve got some catching up to do.
Something Rosie texted me the other day was, “Take care of you. Remember: your face mask first.” She’s right. I know everyone calls me supermom, but what good am I to my kids, or anyone else, if I don’t take care of myself? This was a good reality check that while I know I am capable of pushing through the pain, there are times that I probably shouldn’t.
So apparently, the moral of the story is, I’m not superhuman. Huh. Who knew? 😉
As for Berryman, we’re on for a rematch. Someday. When I don’t have a potentially life threatening infection. As for this weekend, be certain I won’t be traveling too far from the couch.