Hey this is just a quick post to bring this blog up to the present day! A WHOLE BUNCH OF THINGS happened since my last post in 2019, and I don’t have time to write about any of them right now. I launched Salt Song Runporium, an art business focused on running apparel, at the tail end of 2019. I’m now painting in gouache and oils and getting back into art in a major way, and I want to sell prints, cards, and originals. I’m still figuring out the branding and my ultimate direction, but I wanted this domain name to point directly to my artist shop. So here we are! The current shop iteration won’t be my final form, but here’s the link for now: https://grace-makley-studio.square.site/
As Is: Maybe it’s Magic, Maybe it’s the Work I Did
It’s November! While I haven’t been writing a novel, I HAVE been working very hard on a creative project. Possibly harder than I’ve ever worked on any creative project. I’m so excited to share it with everyone—but it’s not quite ready yet. It IS, however, very real and in a far-too-late-to-turn-back-now stage of production. I’ll be making an announcement here and on social media during the first or second week of December, so STAY TUNED.
I’m committed to keeping the project details a secret, but I wanted to tell you how I got here. On November 1st I read Anne Lamott’s pep talk for National Novel Writing Month, and I was really struck by the following quote:
“…You start now, as is.
‘As is’ is the portal to creation, to new life. ‘As soon as’ is a form of delusion and therefore soul death.”Anne Lamott
A few days before reading this I was sitting at my temp job, where I had a lot of time between tasks, and I decided to start drawing, just to draw. I drew a little rectangle and turned it into a dragon. I gave him some spots, and named him Punky. Then I drew a slightly more detailed dragon, trying to just draw and not get caught up in perfection, and I liked that one so much that I posted it on social media—my first art post in a long time. That same day it occurred to me to do some research, and I learned about a new process that completely changed the way I was thinking about a big project. The next day, I drew another version of Punky, and then I started designing my project and thought up a way to scale it down for December release. By the time I read Anne Lamott’s pep-talk, I had sketches and concept art, a thorough plan, quotes from multiple production companies, and a drawing of Punky for every single day of work. I shared Ann Lamott’s talk on Facebook. I was starting “as is,” and it was working. I titled Punky the As-Is Dragon, because that’s the whole point of him; you can’t be worried whether you’re drawing him right because he’s just a rectangle and there isn’t a wrong way to do it. He allows you to start where you are, and by the time you’ve drawn him you’re warmed up, you’re thinking about lines and color, and you’re ready to get to work.
As I continued to work and my big project began to feel increasingly real, I wondered: “Is this really all it takes to start making exciting art? Do I just have to decide to start where I’m at? And if that’s all it takes, why has it felt like I’m beating my head against a wall every time I’ve tried to make art for the last several years? Why couldn’t I do this earlier?” And that’s when I spotted the flaw in the “as is” philosophy. You first have to create the conditions that turn your “as is” into a place where your work can thrive.
A year ago, I was using a 6-year old laptop with a broken trackpad and about 20 minutes of battery life that could barely run photoshop. My “new” drawing tablet was broken, but I could sometimes get the ten-year-old drawing tablet to work if I jiggled the cord just right. So in February this year I invested in a 12.9” Third Generation iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil: the best of the best of Apple’s drawing-capable products. I’m still paying it off. I was buying this at a time when money was very tight (just like now LOL), and I wondered: can I justify buying professional-level tools when I haven’t made any professional-level art in a long time? But if I hadn’t made that investment, I couldn’t have made any of the art I made this November.
Once I had the iPad, I had to learn how to work in a whole language. It was my first touch-screen, and it doesn’t support Photoshop, which I’d been working in for more than a decade (and even if it did, other, cheaper programs are catching up and surpassing Photoshop for drawing). Everything I did in Procreate (the drawing program I’m using now) and on the iPad in general was so frustrating. Even very simple things would leave me stymied; I alway knew there was a way to do what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it. And every time I turned to Google for help with very basic tasks, I got a little more comfortable, and a little closer to the workflow I have now. Over the summer I used my iPad to design a shirt for my hashing club, which forced me to watch a lot of tutorials and discover some ways I didn’t want to work. In September I signed up for a free “Getting Started with Procreate” class at my local Apple store. I figured that, worst-case scenario, the class would give me some time to sketch. But it turned out the class was just me and the instructor, and I was able to spend the hour asking him every question I had about the program, rapid-fire. He even helped me with some basic iPad file management. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so many directly applicable things in such a short span of time. And thanks to that class, as well as those frustrating months I spent finding answers, when I started working on my big project I was able to just USE Procreate without being constantly frustrated that it isn’t Photoshop. I think I even like it better!
In addition to the technical aspects, it’s not a coincidence that my big project happened while I was working a low-stress temp job that allowed me time to draw on the clock. It’s not a coincidence that I didn’t get started on the project until I had the peace of mind of a permanent position lined up for after the temp assignment ended. It’s also not a coincidence that I was able to pour so much time and energy into this project during a time when I’m unable to run due to plantar fasciitis. Which might make you think that I’d make more art if I ran a little less—but I absolutely wouldn’t be making the art I’m making now if I hadn’t spent all that time running. And I wouldn’t have been able to make this project happen in such a short space of time if I hadn’t been sitting on the overall idea for more than a year. Most of the concept was ready to go. So even when it felt like I wasn’t making any progress, I was actually on my way, and putting all the pieces together. This November, when I started “as is,” I started on the strong foundation I’d already built—and in just a few weeks I was able to complete some ambitious work that I can’t wait to show you.
I also worked really hard. I’ve put so much time into this. And I couldn’t have done it without help; the endless encouragement of my roommate at every stage of the process, the monetary AND moral support of two dear friends, the “That’s a great idea, you should do it,” of my family when I told them about it. And drawing Punky as a ritual really did help me to start “as is.” He helped me find a way back into my work every day, and I have 18 drawings of Punky for 18 days in a row of drawing. You have to start “as is,” every day, because how else will you start anything? But when you’re trying, and failing, and it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, maybe the work you’re doing now is building a better as-is for tomorrow.
STILL Trying to Heal
Happy October! A lot of things have changed since my last post, but one thing hasn’t: my heel still hurts. A lot. I’m here to tell you that Plantar Fasciitis is an absolute nightmare.
I got plantar fasciitis in my right foot during the last month of training for Pineland Farms 50K, which you may recall was in May. Five months ago. I ran all 32 miles of that race with plantar fasciitis, and the heel pain mostly faded into the background of the day’s many pains and victories. At a pub run three days after that race I ran my fastest ever 5k according to Strava, which was a speed achievement, yeah, but more importantly a recovery achievement to be able to run so strong so soon after my longest distance yet. In June I ran the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in 1:58:59, fulfilling my goal of running a sub two-hour half marathon. For me, a person who clearly remembers a time when hitting a 10:30 mile during a short run was the absolute very best I could do, maintaining below an average of 9:10 minutes per mile FOR 13.1 MILES was a giant victory. I did it with plantar fasciitis. At work the Monday and Tuesday following the race day, my heel hurt like hell, and I decided it was finally time to try giving it a rest.
I’m still #*@$ing resting.
I’m not going to go into all the ups and downs of treatment, cortisone shots, stretches, miracle inserts, etc, etc, etc. Many people have struggled with plantar fasciitis, and everyone has different things that worked for them. On good days, I’m taking everyone’s advice and trying everything. On bad days, I’m feeling too overwhelmed and demotivated to even do 30 seconds of stretching. With running out of the equation, it seemed pretty clear that standing all day in a food service job was actively contributing to my heel pain. So I put in my notice, and a few weeks ago I stopped working at the donut shop. I’ve now returned to office work, starting in a temporary position. A week or so in, my foot still hurts. But I’m trying to make the best decisions I can, and I’m trying to keep my spirits up. Which I keep saying, over and over. The forced deadline helped me make a necessary and exciting career change. I’m going to the gym as often as I can. I’m spending more time reading, and writing, and working on myself. And I am so angry that I’m not able to run.
Running is exercise, but it’s also tied to my identity, my social life, my goal-setting, and my mental health. Without it I am struggling. Seasonal depression is hitting hard because I deal with winter by running in it. Running is something that quiets all those voices that are constantly wondering if I did enough today, if I lived life to the fullest, if I worked hard enough, if I made the right choices and didn’t miss out on anything amazing. When I spend time running outdoors I don’t regret it. Never. Not once.
People ask if I can just switch to a lower-impact exercise for a few months. Yes, I can, but it doesn’t replace running and it doesn’t make me any less sad that I’m missing out on so many group running adventures and solo runs on beautiful fall and summer days. I can still go to the social events around the runs, and I do, but without all the running endorphins it’s not quite the same. I am working my way toward doing more low-impact exercises to replace the running endorphins, but I haven’t spent years building shortcuts in my brain that make it easier to go swimming or biking. There are more mental blocks between the thought and the action: What if all the lanes are full at the pool? Where do I even buy chain grease? Where are my goggles? Biking could at least get me outside, which might help a lot, but it still isn’t running and it’s just. Not. The. Same.
I know that I am very lucky to have so many great things in my life, and I know I will get back to running eventually. Thanks for your patience if I seem a little grumpy in the meantime.
Race Report: My First Ultramarathon
As many of you know from seeing my facebook posts, I did it! 50K. About 32 miles. Ultramarathon. It was really hard. I expected it to be hard, and it was harder than I expected. It also went really, really well. I was capable of running the entire way, and I actually sprinted into the finish line, past so many friends, high fives, and smiling faces. There’s a lot of photos of me in that moment, but I wish I had photos from my perspective. I was out of the woods, done with the fields, heading up the grassy hill towards the finish line—and then I heard my name called out over and over again, and looked up to see an endless line of high fives from my friends gathered at our club cheering tent, and there was my roommate with a hand-drawn sign (which he’d gotten SIGNED by folks from our hashing club and the donut shop), and after seven plus hours out there in the sun my body was capable of running, really actually running, right until the end. It was magical.
Running until the end is my biggest accomplishment of the day. I know what it feels like to limp into a finish line. On my first marathon (MDI, Oct. 2017) the outsides of both of my knees were in intense pain for about the last eight miles of the race and I was forced to walk. I tried to put on a run for the last few paces and only ended up limping more. My legs wouldn’t go. This pain was due to iliotibial band syndrome, or IT band pain, which is one of the most common injuries for runners. I rested up, but it flared up again on a 10-mile race I hadn’t trained enough for, and then again during training for my 20-mile relay leg of the Riverlands 100 Miler in May 2018. I finally invested in physical therapy (cue $1,000 of medical debt, thankfully paid off by now) but started it too close to race day for it to have a real effect, and I walked about the last 11 miles of that 20-mile leg. (But I finished. And didn’t invalidate the 80 miles my teammates had already run.) Thanks to that experience I almost didn’t put another marathon on my schedule that year, and I wondered if my body just wasn’t cut out for the kind of distance I was asking it to go. But I signed up for Maine Marathon, kept doing my PT and added more strength training, got a coach and stuck to my training schedule, and in September 2018 I was able to run the entire distance of my second marathon—though I did have pretty intense IT band pain on the outside of both knees for about the last 6 miles. It was the same pain, but I’d done enough strengthening and training that my legs kept working just long enough.
At Pinelands 50K on Sunday (May 26, 2019), I didn’t have any IT band pain.
Maybe it was the day, maybe it was the slow speed, maybe it was the trails (though Riverlands was also slow and trails)—but maybe it was all my hard work. It always feels like I’m not doing enough, but maybe bringing my stretch band to the gym every time I go and doing my clamshells and monster walks in the minutes before every circuits class, and maybe all the heavy-lifting I was doing as I was just getting out of my concussion fog and starting to up my miles—maybe it all paid off, and maybe, just maybe, I earned it: A good day. A 7 hour, 22 minute journey with fully functioning knees.
I don’t mean to imply that it was painless. On those other long races I mentioned, I was able to tell myself that things hurt as much as they did because something had gone wrong. On Sunday, I learned how much it hurts when everything goes right. Around mile 17 was when it really set in; an deep ache in my thighs and butt and everywhere. Every step hurt, uphill and down, and a 14-minute mile felt like an 11-minute mile had a few hours before. I asked myself, hang on, why am I doing this again? Why is this fun? What is this for? There was still such a long way to go. The only thing to do was to get on top of the pain. I told myself that this is what I wanted. This is what I’d asked for. And since I was still able to run, I’d better do it. The mental game was easier after mile 20 or so, because with less than 11 miles to go I knew that I’d walked farther in worse shape, and had the perspective to be so grateful that I was still running. And I did walk some, and I stopped at aid stations, and I took my time. Maybe I should have walked more in the beginning—walking every hill is a standard ultra strategy. But I still have more trouble on downhills, and at the end jogging uphill felt better than stopping to walk. I did have a danger spot below my left knee by the end that was already saying no on downhills and probably would have turned into an injury if I’d had to go much farther. For the last few miles I ended up leapfrogging with several different batches of runners. They would pass me as I picked my way down a steep slope, and then I would chug slowly by them while they walked the next hill. I was hoping for a time under 7 hours and came in 22 minutes over, but the course was slightly long and it was a hot, hot day, my training hadn’t included quite enough hills, and I had so many friends out there—it was nice to be able to stop a minute and chat when I saw them. And there’s always next time. Which is not a thing I thought I’d be saying if you’d asked me around mile 17.
There’s lots more I could say about the race. It was such a big day with so many moments. I’m publishing this alongside a facebook post tagging a lot of people specifically, but I don’t want to close without saying thank you, again, to my friends and my parents and all the people who supported me and cheered me on. You’re the best and I am so lucky to have you on my team.
Three Days to Pineland Farms
Time for a race-week blog update. Pinelands 50K is in 3 days! I feel confident about my training, and I feel like I put in the work that I needed to. At my last blog post I had just logged a 46-mile week. I caught a cold two days later, and still finished the week out at 52, my most ever. The next week I hit 60. 60 miles in a week! Starting from concussion week back in January, I went from zero to 60 in just 15 weeks.
My heels had been hurting a little bit this whole training cycle, though. I think part of it was switching to a more minimal shoe in January, the Altra Solstice. Altras are SHAPED LIKE MY FOOT. Having enough room for my big toe is AWESOME and I don’t want to go back. But they’re a little less supportive in the footbed, and the Solstices especially are very light-weight without a lot of cushioning. I think they’re a better choice for shorter road distances than the kind of heavy endurance training I was doing. A few weeks ago I upgraded to Altra Escalantes. The Escalantes cost more and have a little more padding, while still being a very minimal zero-drop shoe. They also have a mesh upper (as did the Solstice) which is a NECESSARY shoe feature for me to avoid aggravating a tailor’s bunion on the outside of my right foot directly beneath my little toe. The Escalantes were immediately very comfy, so comfy I went on a surprise 22-mile long run from the store immediately after buying them, but right after that 60-mile week my little bit of heel pain exploded into a LOT of heel pain—three weeks out from the race. Oh no!
If you’ve never trained for an endurance race, here’s how it works: You up your weekly mileage slowly (ideally by no more than 10% per week, but everyone fudges that a little). You do one long run per week, and up the mileage of that run slowly as well. If you’re training for a marathon or ultra distance, you may be doing back-to-back long runs. This helps you get used to running on tired muscles and simulates how you’ll feel at the end of a race. There can be a lot of run math involved in stacking up miles per day, and miles over a 36-hour period. You don’t do a long run equal to your race distance; this would only wear you out and if your goal is to run a certain distance, why do it before you do it? You have to trust that your training will get you there on the day. And three weeks out from the race, it’s time to taper. You ease off your miles slowly, try not to panic, and rest up for race day.
So my heels, mostly the right one, started hurting lots right as it was time to start cutting back miles. I did a slightly more aggressive taper than I meant to, but not by too much—45 miles down from 60 in the first week, 35 in the second. Meanwhile I was trying everything to cut down on the heel pain (plantar fasciitis, to use the technical term). Taping, new inserts for work, stretches, rolling, ice, whatever. On one very rough 20-mile day I got a giant blister on the bottom of my foot from the tape I was using. The next day, due to walking funny in the morning when my heel was killing me, my tailor’s bunion flared up in a VERY PAINFUL way and started hurting when I was just walking around. Yikes. But with more ice, mesh shoes for work, bandaids for my blister, I was able to keep running. And my heel feels better after a 35-mile week than it did after 60. I did up my training pretty quickly, so hopefully I can avoid this next time if I keep up with all the stretches and train a little smarter. I also saw a podiatrist yesterday. He recommended giving my feet some rest when possible for the plantar fasciitis, and to mostly keep doing what I was doing (with the exception of KT tape because I was doing it wrong and in danger of squishing a tendon!). He also gave me a cortisone shot in my tailor’s bunion to cut down on the swelling, and the good news is that if I can keep wearing the right shoes I’m probably not going to need bunion surgery someday. Yay!
Everyone has an ache or pain or worry they panic about during the taper. I talked to a lot of friends yesterday doing the same race, and everyone has a thing. When you cut down your mileage suddenly, your body has a lot of leftover energy, and your brain uses that energy to panic. The mental game is to KNOW that you’re going to panic, accept it as part of the process, and convince yourself that it’s going to be okay. My other big worry this week was support at the race. My parents can only be there for the morning, and I have giant club full of friends who will be there cheering and running their own races…but I don’t know how I’m going to feel after running for 6-8 hours, and I really wanted someone there at the end specifically for me. And then I was pretty stressed (understatement) about being vulnerable enough to ask for that kind of support, and not sure who to ask, as it is a holiday weekend after all and I’m just going to be in the woods for 7 hours. It’s not the most exciting spectator sport. But my roommate, who is a hero and a saint, was able to switch his late shift for an early one (we work at the same shop). He’ll be able to be there when I finish—or very soon after, if I have a really good day—and I won’t have to drive myself home. So with that in place and my feet feeling somewhat better, I’m getting pretty excited to go out there on Sunday and actually do this thing I’ve been working towards for months. Hopefully, knock on wood, if nothing goes wrong, I’ll be a member of the Ultra club when I write my next blog post. Fingers crossed. And to close out: Good luck to all my friends racing this weekend. We’re all gonna crush it.
Today I’m writing about training for the Pineland Trail Festival 50K, because I haven’t been doing a whole lot else. I would like to preface any negativity in this post with this: I know I am incredibly lucky to be able to do this stuff. Having the health to push my body this way, the time to fit hours of running into my schedule, and the financial security to purchase shoes, gear, nutrition, etc. are privileges I do not take lightly. Life is good.
So I’m training for a 50K trail race, which equals 31 miles. That’s about 10K more than a marathon, which makes it an Ultramarathon—and it’s only a baby-step into Ultra territory. At the same race where I’m doing my first 50K, some of my friends are doing their first 50-Miler. I know at least seven people who have completed one or more 100-Mile races. I like to chase down a big goal, to do the big thing. That’s why I did my first marathon a few months after my first 10k. I STILL haven’t done a 5K race. So now that I’m training for an Ultra, my brain is doing a thing where a 50K—31 miles—feels like the 5K of Ultramarathons. I have a lot of friends doing the same race as me, which is so awesome and is going to make race day SO MUCH FUN. But as we’re gearing up for it, it also kind of normalizes it. It feels like everyone is doing the thing, so it shouldn’t be this hard or feel like such a big deal. I know the truth is that my friends in this particular run crew are a very small selection of the population that happen to be crazy people. Just, it turns out that hanging out with crazy people messes with your head, and you start to say things like “just” a 50K. So part of my head-game this training cycle is to remind myself that 31 miles is a lot of miles, even if other people are doing more.
Training! It’s actually going really well. Last week I ran 46 miles all together. This week I plan to break 50, which will be the most I’ve ever run in a week (at the height of marathon training last fall I had one week at 47.2). The transition from concussion-recovery to serious training happened pretty quickly. At my last blog post I was just working back to what felt like regular miles, and I’ve continued upping it every week since then. So far my body is handling it. The first week in April was my first week over 30 miles, and that week felt really rough. I was exhausted and just. Couldn’t. Seem. To. get on top of any life responsibilities beyond running and working and social events (and my social events are mostly runs). But the next week I accidentally hit 40 and seemed to be feeling a little better. I’m training differently than I have before because it’s been harder to schedule long runs, so I’m spreading the miles out over more days in the week, and doing multiple runs in the same day rather than one long run. In Maine we’re still working our way towards spring, and when it’s cold and rainy I’m less excited about planning long adventure runs. I find myself circling around trying to hit a certain number of miles on my watch before going to the pub run or whatever thing is next. When I’m feeling low, I joke that my entire week is just a math problem that hurts a lot. And I’m not feeling low all the time—IT’S COOL that I get to do this stuff, and it’s cool that my body keeps handling every increase in training. Watching the miles add up throughout the week is very satisfying. I think it’s just a side effect of being tired, and of being right in the middle of it, that it’s kind of hard to appreciate how hard I’m working. Hopefully it will all pay off on race day—but I am very aware that there’s plenty of time before May 26th to get injured, or for things to stop working. Also, like always, there’s a lot of anxiety about whether I’m doing enough or doing the right things. On a morning trail run last Thursday I tripped and fell a lot, probably just because I was tired from the 12 miles of trails I did the day before, but the next time I was on trails I was more nervous about falling and tripping on roots than I usually am—which, when you’re training for a trail race, is NOT GREAT. But I’m sure it will all come together. Or it won’t, and the miles I put into training will have to be their own reward, which would also be okay.
As a closing note, I really appreciate all the support I’ve received from friends who have asked about my training, put up with me mentioning running in just about every conversation, and worked around my schedule when my response to anything is, “Well, I have to run x-many miles that day.” I do hope the above paragraphs don’t look like complaining—I know I’m taking on big goals and doing a good job. This post is just an honest look at some of the thoughts my brain is having as I’m getting ready for next month. As for today, the sun just came out—maybe there will be nicer weather than I expected for my afternoon/evening run. And I’ve saved my longest run for tomorrow, which should be the warmest, clearest day this week. In conclusion: my feet hurt, but life is good.
Hi! Concussion update: I feel better! But it took quite a bit longer than the 2-3 weeks promised by all my “help I got a concussion” google searches. And by better I mean that I haven’t had a concussion headache for two weeks—I’m still testing things out and increasing my activity so this doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t get another concussion headache if I accidentally hit my limits. We’re currently almost 8 weeks out from concussion, so I had about 5.5 weeks of decreasing but continuing symptoms. I’m putting that out there in case this comes up in anyone else’s panicked googling about what to expect from a concussion. As the weeks went by I worried that I was one of those unlucky folks for whom concussion symptoms last years, and I was making all these calculations about how far to push it. If I get headaches when I run now, is it making the headaches worse if I run through them? Or is this just how running works now and I can run through them as long as I can put up with the pain of having a headache? For the last few weeks, though, I’ve actually felt better and I’m working back up to regular levels of fitness. 15 miles last week is way fewer than I wanted to be running this time of year and this close to a 50k race in May, but it’s the most I’ve run since concussion day on Jan 11th, and I also attended two circuits classes last week. My strength training goal is to hit the gym three times a week—one class and two more run-muscles-focused workouts on my own—so it felt great to make it out to more than one gym day. My message to any concussed people out there is that, if your concussion symptoms are hanging around longer than the expected amount of time, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel better. Rest up, take care of yourself, and give it a few more weeks. Of course I’ll keep this space updated about any lasting effects that have yet to make themselves known!
Blogging about my concussion was pretty helpful while I was having all these brain things going on that I didn’t understand. I did go to work the day after my last post, though, and as soon as I went back to work, work was the only thing I had energy for. Some people advised me to take more time off, and I would have if standing up was still making me queasy, but with my finances the way they are at the moment (I make tips and there is a HUGE difference between summer and winter income) I needed to prioritize working as soon as I was able. I wasn’t at all sure I would make it through the day but I felt pretty safe going into my coffee shop on a sleepy weekday to give it a try. It also helps that my work crew is a good family and I knew 100% that all my coworkers had my back. I needed to do everything very slowly for a few days and I still felt off and weird and headachey but I made it through. God bless my manager for how many times he asked, “How are you feeling, Grace?” that first morning. The answer was always a very tentative, “I think I’m okay.” The HILARIOUS thing is that, while having very few cold symptoms, my voice was getting a little hoarse towards the end of that first day, and I woke up the next day with LARYNGITIS. Nothing hurt, but it sure sounded terrible. My voice was reduced to whispers and occasional squeaks. Once I’d convinced people I wasn’t actually dying and it didn’t hurt to talk as much as it hurt their ears to listen, most people agreed the timing was pretty funny. And thankfully there was enough side work for me to do that I didn’t have to try talking to any customers.
I’ve learned a lot about listening to my body, and getting back to regular activities has been a slow process with several relapses. I received a few sessions of osteopathic treatment from a dear friend who is a DO, and that helped immensely. I’ve also been taking some supplements that are recommended for concussion (arnica, fish oil, homocysteine cardioplex) and I stopped drinking for several weeks after concussion day, right up until my birthday the first week of February. I think not drinking was a really good call, especially when I wasn’t running much. Running helps me maintain my mental health and stay positive during the winter, so I expected my mood to plummet when I wasn’t able to run. I actually felt fairly level and okay (though injured and exhausted) and I think removing alcohol, a depressant, at the same time I removed running helped me stay fairly stable.
Big news in other parts of my life. I purchased an iPad Pro for making digital art, and it is the BEST. Some of you have seen my sketches on Facebook an Instagram. More info and updates on that to come. Oh, and I’ve been working on my gym selfie skills:
Update: It was Definitely a Concussion
…which has made this a very weird week in Grace-land. (See Friday’s Post for context.) Of course I tried going to work on Saturday, the very next day, with a warning to manager and supervisor (both friends) that I was on concussion-watch but I thought I was okay. And I was okay! Until suddenly I wasn’t. The first warning sign is nausea in the back of the throat, at which point I can make it through a few more customers before I get real dizzy and have to go sit down. The first time it settled after a few minutes, and I was able to work a few more hours (a fixed heater and the sudden addition of WARM AIR blasting over the previously-freezing cashier area helped immensely) but then the same thing happened a little over an hour before I was due to leave. I clocked out immediately, but this time it took a while to settle. I had planned to take the bus home, slowly realized that wouldn’t be happening, and then I couldn’t even cope with the concept of ubering for about half an hour. Finally one of the upper managers was leaving and had a car nearby, and offered to swing back by the shop and give me a ride home. Where, thanks to pushing it all day, it took a while for me to feel better. This was probably my lowest moment all week. I had a pretty bad pressure headache, and I was very hungry, and another thing about concussions is you tend to get over emotional (that morning, while nursing a headache on a milk-crate in the hallway leading to the walk-in cooler, my manager asked if I was okay and I gave him a big thumbs-up but also started crying). So I was in my apartment trying to stand up to make some french fries, realized as I was getting the package out of the freezer that I couldn’t stand up to make the french fries, and then started crying because I was really sad and frustrated that I couldn’t stand up to make the french fries.
This is the type of moment where it feels especially hard to be single. It’s embarrassing to be a grown adult who can’t stand up to make french fries, and I wished I had a designated person, someone with a vested interest in my well-being and someone who has seen me in embarrassing situations before, who could make the french fries and assure my rattled brain it was going to be okay. I was seeing someone last spring while under strict orders from my physical therapist to ice my knee after every run, and one night after running and hitting the grocery store we were in the kitchen and suddenly that person was chopping and frying everything for dinner and just handling it, without me having to ask, and it was such a relief to realize I could sit down and ice my knee and not have to worry about it thanks to that other person.
What I did Saturday, though, was swallow my pride and text some nearby friends who had checked in with me after reading my blog post on Friday, one of whom is an EMT. Within an hour they were at my house with tylenol and a few slices of Otto’s (the local gourmet pizza). By then the worst of the headache was clearing up and I felt a lot less alone, but followed my friends’ urging to call out of work the following day. And I hate that, I hate calling out of work, but there are times when you just can’t tough it out despite your best intentions. I still wanted to get home (1 1/4 hrs away) for my mom’s birthday party on Sunday, and was considering driving despite my friends’ instructions not to, but it turned out two other friends were also going to my mom’s party and were able to give me a ride! I though getting a ride was mostly a precaution, but just getting my stuff together to be away for the evening pushed me into the headache zone, and when my friends arrived I had to ask them to come upstairs to help me carry my things and take the compost out. It sucks to already be carsick before getting in the car. But then it was so lovely to be home with family, cake, and home-cooked meals. The next day there was macaroni and cheese, and nothing beats home-cooked macaroni and cheese for comfort food. Of course I am a little nervous about how much I am eating without any of my usual physical activity—but there will be plenty of time when I am feeling better to get back on the road and back to the gym.
My parents gave me a ride home to Portland yesterday (Tuesday). On the way we made a grocery list (my mom wrote it down because once again I was carsick way before actually getting in the car), and…well, it doesn’t feel great to be a grown adult waiting in the car with a headache while your parents do your grocery shopping. But it did feel amazing to get home to my apartment as the headache was lifting and know that I had a bunch of yummy easy-to-make meal options. And my apartment was certainly a bit of a mess, but thanks to all the work I’ve been doing lately to keep on top of things it wasn’t the worst mess it could possibly be, and I felt really peaceful to be back and cozy in my nice space that I like.
Concussions suck! Don’t get one! I’m missing things this week that I don’t want to miss, and I’m getting behind in my training when I’d rather be getting stronger. But having to rely on your village makes you realize how strong your village is, and I am VERY GRATEFUL for friends who looked out for me at work, and brought me food when I needed food, gave me rides and helped me carry things while I was at my most pathetic, for parents looking after me and feeding me, and for everyone else who texted or messaged or commented to wish me well or ask how I was doing. Y’all are the best and I’m very very lucky to have you in my life. I am definitely improving and hope to resume some of my normal activities within the next day or two or three, so see you soon. 🙂
Ice, Or, The Story of Why I Didn’t Run Today
As it became clear today that I would not be completing a long run this afternoon, I told myself I would do a blog update as a consolation prize. Why did I not complete a long run this afternoon? WELL LET ME TELL YOU!
Falling on ice is a pretty common occurrence during a Maine Winter, but it all felt fairly dramatic while it was happening. (Mom you can stop reading now I’m fine!) I got a nice early start to the day, did some laundry and tidying up, had all my things together to leave the house and run some errands, was feeling really great. I went down the rear interior staircase from my 2nd floor apartment, opened the outside door, stepped out onto the three exterior steps leading from the door to the driveway…and immediately went down. There had been a drip of water from the roof onto the steps; the ice was wet and perfectly smooth. Zero traction. I’ve never had problems on these steps before and it wasn’t sleeting or anything, so I didn’t think to be careful. Just step and gone, keys and purse and my new vacuum-insulated tumbler flying out of my hands. I landed HARD on my right hip/buttock and my right elbow, and it HURT. I had to lie there on the steps a minute, whimpering slightly, in enough pain to wonder who I could call for help who wasn’t at work at 10:30 am on a Friday. I don’t remember hitting my head; it all happened very quickly and the largest amounts of pain were focused in the hip and elbow areas. When I eventually stood up, however, I found that I needed to crouch back down almost immediately and put my head between my knees like you’re supposed to do if you’re worried you might faint. It felt PRETTY SILLY to be crouched in pain at the bottom of the side steps next to the driveway, though, so with EXTREME CAUTION I eventually made it back up the three outside steps and through the door to the carpeted entry way. Where I felt very nauseous and once again had to sit down, low to the floor, and keep my head very still. In addition to the nausea, some of the arm muscles I was using to support myself were acting all shaky and not behaving precisely as told. But sitting in the shared entryway still felt silly, so after gathering my resolve I got up, shook the container of ice melt LIBERALLY over the offending outdoor steps, and made my way back up the indoor flight of stairs to my second floor apartment. I headed straight to the couch, and balance/walking was pretty tricky for a minute there. I saw the proverbial stars, which in actuality appeared as kind of a moving diamond pattern overlaying my vision. I was also overheating at this point, and struggled to remove hat/scarf/jacket while also lying down and ceasing movement as quickly possible.
And… within a very short amount of time the room stopped spinning and I was able to sit up, and felt fairly normal aside from general shakiness and bruises.
I figure I must have hit my head, although there still isn’t a bruise or specific place on my head that hurts. Once walking felt okay again I went to the bathroom mirror and checked for dilated pupils, and they looked fine. I also never lost consciousness, and I think those two things are some of the signs of a really bad concussion. After giving myself a good few minutes to make sure I stayed feeling fine, I decided to go about my day but take it with a grain of salt. When I stopped by the donut shop to pick up my tips I went for a mocha with whipped cream instead of my usual plain coffee—icy falls call for treat drinks! And I went to the bank and did all the out-and-about things I’d been planning on, feeling fine and capable but just a little sluggish and off. I decided my body would probably be better served if I replaced “doing a long run” with “resting on the couch” this afternoon/evening, and by the last errand on my list I was starting to get a tinge of a back-of-the-head, nauseous kind of headache. So I went home. And I feel okay, but also like “resting on the couch” is a good thing to be doing. And that’s my story!
I’m mad about the miles I’m missing. Due to scheduling conflicts I won’t be able to get a long run in on Sunday, and I’m not going to run tomorrow unless I really feel up to it. I don’t want to mess around with a possible concussion, even a mild one, and getting through work may be quite enough for the day. This might leave me with as few as 10 miles for the week , which is frustrating when I’m shooting for 20 at a minimum and would rather be in the 27-30 range (somehow I couldn’t fit in any extra mileage on top of the pub runs this Wednesday and Thursday either). But one thing I learned after an injury last spring is that sometimes rest is just what you need, so I’m trying not to stress about it. I’ll just try not to look at my Strava mileage for the week (Strava is the run app I use) and hopefully I can make up for it next week. I did a pretty hard workout at my circuit class yesterday and I’ve been leveling up on some of the weights, so it hasn’t exactly been an easy week and it might be an okay time to take a break. Either way it can’t be helped. And at least I hurt myself while walking, in winter boots and street clothes, and can still claim to be pretty darn good at running on ice.
Stay safe out there, and be careful on steps!
Is Running The Best Procrastination Strategy Ever? Discuss
LIFE. It feels like I’m looking into fog or deep water, squinting my eyes and searching for defined edges among so many shifting priorities and goals, all moving in and out of focus at different times. Running has been the clearest priority for a while now. I’m also trying to prioritize simple and practical self-care. I hate to use the term “adulting”…but I tend to go from work to runs to social engagements without a lot of time in between, and I’ll leave the dishes in the sink or the work clothes in the pile because getting to the next thing is more important to me than cleaning up my space. I’m really good at working towards big, flashy goals. Training for a marathon, finishing NaNoWriMo, making everything spotless before a party or event. I’m less good at the daily upkeep that would help me feel less scattered and anxious in my environment. So I’m working on it, because it’s winter and I need every bit of positive energy I can get. I’ve also been watching Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, and it is HIGHLY MOTIVATIONAL to imagine what the Fab 5 might say if they were looking around my apartment.
RUNNING. I am really proud of how much time I spend running…as anyone who’s talked to me for more than a minute has probably figured out. It’s hard not to mention it because any interesting thing I do in any given week probably has something to do with running or one of my running communities. Part of why I’m so proud is because it’s a GIANT CHANGE that I made in my life, and a change that I STUCK TO. I made this change not long after radically changing my hairstyle, which helps with my strong sense of “before” and “after,” and it’s reassuring to be in the “after” and to know that I’m capable of making giant changes. This is who I am now. And it’s a relief to no longer have the constant anxiety of feeling like I should be exercising regularly, because I do. That aspect of my life is now in place. I have different anxieties about whether I’m training properly or doing enough, but BARE MINIMUM I exercise 4 days a week. And even as I struggle with things I have struggled with for years, like keeping my space tidy, and even as I am sad about the things I am sad about, and mad about the things I am mad about (things that ended suddenly, without much closure), at least I am this person now. I ran 27 miles this week. I ran over 1,000 miles this year. This is who I am now, and that means a lot to me.
But… remember those shifting goals, edges obscure, some so vague you have to squint to see the shape of them? I started this blog to write about writing, and sometimes it seems like constantly crushing the running and physical goals has allowed me to slack off on other goals that are difficult, and that I’ve been working towards longer. I get a large or small sense of accomplishment after every single run, and if I’m feeling accomplished it’s easy to put off working on my book until another day. After all, I am tired. I earned this post-run beer. And my laptop is slow and bug-ridden, and I can no longer use it without a mouse and not plugged into the wall. So much hassle. I might as well just watch something on Netflix, or plan out my long run for the week and think about how accomplished I’ll feel after that.
I don’t really have an answer. Priorities shift and life comes in seasons. I may be failing miserably at my December Sketch Challenge, but several times over the past years I’ve been able to use my art training to design athletic T-shirts for one of my running clubs, which combined my big new running passion with my long-term goal to keep making art. Of course doing any of the art I want to do is hindered by my buggy laptop than can barely run Photoshop anymore and my broken drawing tablet…so the real answer here might be that I need to save enough money to purchase tech that would enable me to do the things I want to do. Which means finding a second or a different job and working more hours, which may be difficult to schedule with all the running and won’t leave much extra time for creative endeavors.
And those are some of the things I am trying to balance! Life is always messy and nothing is perfect. I try to make progress every day. Lately when I find myself sitting on the couch, exhausted from a late bedtime and early wake-up and body aching from my strength class the day before, I ask myself, “What can I do to work towards my goals right now?” Sometimes it’s writing a few cover letters and sending out some resumes—each one is a little easier to do. Sometimes it’s just washing my dinner plate and cup before going to bed, or doing a little foam-rolling and stretching to help my legs feel a little better. Maybe tomorrow it’s opening up my manuscript file and revising a chapter, or even a paragraph. A sentence. Who knows, right? Anything could happen. And this is who I am now. I have made changes, and I can make more.