inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, probably a bad idea, racing, running

Unable to walk just weeks ago, this guy will toe the line Sunday in Chicago

Paris Sunio will attempt to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Sunday.

He is not the only runner from Dallas headed up to Chi-town, but his is a special story.

Less than three months ago, Sunio—member of the White Rock Running Co-op and father of a 9-month-old girl—nearly died from severe staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as staph infection.

It started with an excruciating pain in the groin following his morning training and led to days in the hospital with mind-blowing stabbing pain, confused doctors and a 106-degree fever accompanied by shakes and delirium before medical staff finally figured out what was wrong.

Staph infections can range from relatively benign to fatal. Doctors told Sunio his was life threatening.

First walk back, at NorthPark, with Elise.

Following several days of hospitalization, Sunio returned home with a tube in his arm through which he administered daily doses of intravenous antibiotics.

He couldn’t walk a step.

Naturally, he was deeply depressed about his condition and the interruption of his plan to participate in one of the world’s premiere running events.

But only briefly.

Paris, his PICC line (that’s a peripherally inserted central catheter) and his baby take on the Katy Trail. Next stop: Chicago.

Sunio is one of those people with a near-unwavering optimism. He hardly ever stops smiling and never loses his sense of humor.

Within a few days, he was able to scoot around his house using a metal walker.

“The way I walked was like a pregnant lady waddling, only way slower,” he says. “My 9-month old can stand up from a laying down position 10 times faster than me.”

That little improvement gave way to a great motivation to recover.

Though they think he’s batsh*t crazy, his friends from the White Rock Running Co-op love him, and hope that he doesn’t kill himself in Chi-town.

Despite the fact that Sunio couldn’t stand without a walker, and that he would have an IV dangling from his arm for the next two months, he decided to follow through with his plan to run in Chicago October 7.

Most of his running friends called him crazy. Some kindly (or not so kindly) tried to talk him out of it.

“I know they are just worried that I might get hurt,” he says.

Over the next several weeks, Sunio walked at NorthPark mall, pushed his daughter Elise along the Katy Trail, did some jogging at Lake Highlands High School’s track, got the cursed IV removed from his arm and eventually ran the 9-plus miles around White Rock Lake.

He and his wife Grace left Wednesday for Chicago.

Sunio plans to run, slowly, the first half of the race and then walk as far as he can.

He is not hell-bent on finishing, he says, but he is hell-bent on giving it a shot.

Check out the November 2012 Advocate magazine for my story about Paris and find out how his Chicago trip turned out.

El Scorcho 50k, people with true grit, probably a bad idea, running, ultra

El Scorcho 50k: mucho suffering, good amigos, stories magnifico!

As I ran — make that shuffled — toward the finish line of my first 50k, I begged my stomach to accept, without a fight, the water I’d just given it.

It was about the time I saw the members of the Dallas Running Club on the final stretch — the winning female who had lapped me twice and was now resting comfortably included — that it all came back up.

For 50 yards or so I ran, unloading what seemed like buckets of undigested H20 in my path. I crossed the finish line and stumbled toward the sideline, puke continuing. A friend, Jose — not before taking a picture (these are how running friends are, folks) — helped me to a chair, where I sat with my head dangling between my knees.

A girl handed me a towel. A medic-type grabbed my arm.

Jose stepped away a minute and returned to tell me I hadn’t crossed the finish line.

“What the fu*k?” I say.

“Yeah, your tag (on the shoe) needs to cross the mat. You didn’t go over the mat.”

“Ah shit,” I muster.

I get up and stumble over to the mat and wave my right foot across it. There. It is done. 5:35. I told my husband I expected to finish in “a little over four hours – probably four and a half.” One of several stupid misconceptions I had concerning El Scorcho, the 10-times 5k-loop, in July, at midnight in Fort Worth Texas.

“Paul looks like death and Christina is on the death bed.” —Jose Vega

I was all set to start slow, at slower than nine minute per mile pace, but a storm came through Saturday night and the weather cooled to about 75 and I said to Paul, who would run with me, “Since it’s cool, we can run faster than planned. I mean, we can do 8:30-8:40s in our sleep, right?”

Paul — who I once considered a smart guy — agreed to this ridiculousness, which was in no way what we had practiced for.

It took about 12 miles (four El Scorcho laps) to recognize that that “pace-we-could-run-forever-pace”, was not a pace I could run forever. In about another three miles, my stomach was very queasy. As we embarked on the fifth lap, just halfway through, I threw up for the first time.

As we started the sixth loop, Paul began talking to me about my breathing and “toughness” and “hanging in there” among other bullshit. I started talking about quitting. “Plenty of good runners have dropped out of this race before,” I told him.

“You’re not dropping out,” he told me. He talked me through most of the seventh loop — stopping and walking through each water stop with me — “Just make it to the next light, he’d say. “We are going to do this in little sections,” he’d say  — though he could have kept running at a good clip at that point.

But by mile 21-22, after I had lost the ability to keep down any fluid, Paul was telling me I should probably call it a night. I was scaring him. Each time we passed the start/finish point, I leaned down over my bag, guarded all night by Jose, to grab a towel or piece of ice, but I was really hoping that by leaning over I would lose consciousness whereby, through no choice of my own, I would be forced to lie down.

But I kept standing back up.

So I would start walking and next thing you know I’d be jogging again. Jogging-walking through water stops-jogging … by the last six miles, I was able to continuously jog slog.

I simply stopped drinking anything so I stopped barfing for a while. Paul — who already had been suffering a bad case of plantar fasciitis — was barely able to walk now. I think if he’d not stopped with me, he’d probably have finished and would have been fine — this is a guy with a 4-hour-flat 50k under his belt. He told me to go ahead and in my extreme delirium and desperation to finish, I did. (I know. I am a jerkface and I am sorry, Paul.)

I knew I was too sick to stay out there any longer than necessary. At that point, I honestly believed there was a chance I could die. I saw my husband at the start/finish area and he’s all, “you did it” and I just walked over hugged him and said, “sorry, I still have about three miles to go.”

It was about a mile from the final finish that I could no longer resist the water. I was dying of thirst. So at that last aid station, knowing better, I slammed a full cup.

The result: the scene described at the front-end of this story.

After I got my damned foot over the finish line, I was hauled off to the medical truck where a nice guy stuck a tube in my arm and “bypassed my stomach”, giving me some essential fluid.

At one point when things were bad, Paul said to me, “I think you just get in these situations so that you have something interesting to blog about.”

Maybe it’s true.

No one wants to hear the braggadocios ramblings of a runner for whom things constantly go well (no offense ladies and gents, because I have friends and contemporaries for whom things seem to usually go well and I am actually very proud of them and I will surely write of them at another, better time); we don’t need to hear lengthy descriptions about how all went perfectly. Screw that.

My audience (Hey, Dad and my 4-6 friends!) wants the struggles, the pain, the violence, the dramatic horrifying puke-filled finishes. (Uh … right guys?)

I remember reading a book called, “Diary” by Chuck Palahniuk in which, if I remember correctly, an entire town collaborates to make the life of a young artist as miserable as possible, because “suffering is necessary to create art.” Do I believe that? Is that why I subject myself to such suffering? So I can someday write a masterpiece?

Hilarious. No, seriously. It sounds good, though. No, really, I just can’t get my shit together.

Nevertheless, one of these days, when I do have a perfect race, you will only need look back on this (or this) and you will understand that I paid my dues.

El Scorcho 50k, probably a bad idea, racing, running

I am running El Scorcho, a 10-loop 50k in July. In Texas. At midnight.

I have to just come right out and say it. Until now, I’ve kind of been in denial about the fact that this thing is approaching.

Now, before you say, “this is crazy”, like my mom did, know this: I have at least two friends from my Dallas running circle who are running hundred-mile races this weekend: Dave Renfro in the Black Hills 100 and Nick Polito at Western States 100. So, crazy is all relative.

But my own personal crazy is this El Scorcho thing. Here’s what I’ve done, so far, to train.

Up until mid May, I was in marathon training mode, doing about 50 miles per week, on average in preparation for the San Diego marathon, which never happened because of a calendar SNAFU. Yes, I forgot my son was graduating from high school that weekend. Really, graduations are supposed to be in MAY, people!

Anyway, I backed off and went through about two weeks of the blues before amping back up for El Scorcho.

Week 1 – 45 miles including speedwork (4×800 at a 6:25 mm pace), a 5k race in which I ran 19:48 but learned later that the course was a bit short :(, an 18 mile run, pilates class and the rest just easy running.

Week 2: 46 miles including a 4 mile tempo run at a 7:20 pace, a 13 mile long run followed by a 13 mile trail run the next day. It was supposed to be a 20-mile trail run, but I whacked my toe and fell on my face.

Week 3: 13 miles, all in one day, plus 2 60-minute stair sessions, a pilates class and a spin class in order to stay off the toe.

Week 4: 45 miles with my long run at 17

Week 5: 62 miles including some hill work, a little tempo work, a 20-mile long run followed by a 10-mile run the next day.

Week 6: 52 miles including a 24-mile long run, and a next-day 11-mile run (half on sand!), some tempo and hill work and the rest easy running.

Week 7 (that’s now, one month out from the race): I have a 24-26 miler planned Friday night and a 10-12 miler planned Sunday a.m. as my long runs. Last night I did a fairly hard 6 x 2-mile loop at Norbuck Park, which includes a massive hill at mile one. That was among my toughest workouts yet, but I wasn’t dead at the end. And, surprisingly I did not throw up. Heat + hills usually = puke for me. I plan to get in 65-68 miles this week, which will be the peak mileage of my training.

For the next three weeks after this I will reduce all of my long runs to less than 16 miles, though I might do one 10-mile double this Saturday, depending on how I feel. I will increase the intensity a bit while making my runs shorter.

Anyway, if anyone else is running this, or has run it, I’d love to hear your tips.

probably a bad idea, running, trail running

Trail of tears

The trail hates me.

That was my thought driving home from Rowlett Creek Preserve last week. I had run the ten-mile loop on several occasions and last weekend I planned to double loop for 20. Things went beautifully for a few miles. I was hanging back with a slower group, chatting and meeting new people. I anticipated the second half would be tough and I didn’t want to be fatigued because having tired legs on the trail for me usually means hurting myself.

Unfortunately, our slower group wasn’t exactly familiar with the trail, so about 7-8 miles in, we found ourselves standing in a field. Confused. Lost.

One of our sandbaggers, Alan, sprinted ahead, hoping to catch a glimpse of the more-experienced group. I stayed right behind him. I knew there were some even-newer-than-me trail runners in the slower group and I probably should have stuck with them, but at this point, for me, the pretty, laid-back trail run had quickly devolved to an every-man-for-himself sort of panic.

Within a 5-10 minutes, Alan hollered that we were on track. The faster group was just ahead of us. I fell in behind the rest of those bastards (sorry guys, that’s just what I was thinking of you at the time) for the remainder of the first loop.

We stop briefly at the trailhead and then three of us take off for a second loop. The pace is fine, but I am a little flustered from the whole getting lost thing. My knee is throbbing a little bit, which adds to my grumpiness. I run at the back of our little line, which is a good thing, considering what happens next. About two miles into the second lap, I kick a root. Hard.

Now, let me take a moment to describe my footwear: Sketchers GoRun. The shoes are great and light and flex-y, but when you hit a tree in ‘em, you might as well be barefoot. Ah! I yelled. You OK? My partners ask. Ah. Yeah. Fine. But my eyes were filling with tears and I could in no way land on my left toe.

So I run on the side of my foot for about another mile. Tired. Hurting. Frustrated. Off balance. Unable to land on my forefoot. Not surprisingly, this is where I belly flop into the hard, crusty dirt. (Later, our leader David would tell me, “I really thought I heard something break. You went down hard.”)

I jumped up fairly quickly, but the loudness with which I had hit the ground startled my fellow runners. Everyone stopped. I brushed myself off. I’m OK. I say. Their faces register extreme doubt. “You’re done,” Julia says. “No, I can make it.” We jog a few more feet and David says, “See that trail off to the right? You take that and the parking lot is less than a mile.”

I take the detour and return — shamed, filthy and broken — to my car.  At least I am not thinking about my knee pain.

Unsure if the toe was broken or just badly bruised, I took the week off running (I was no fun this week). I returned today for a 13-mile road run and my knee hurt, which means my toe is OK.

Ordered some trail shoes and I’ll be back at it soon. Even though the trail hates me, I don’t hate the trail. I will make you love me you stupid trail.

other sports, people who find runners annoying, probably a bad idea, racing, White Rock Marathon, yoga

Race report: Cross Timbers trail run half marathon

Don't know that these Go Runs will see another run, but I thank them for hanging on.

I have this reoccurring dream where I am running, but I can’t move. Like I am running through water or mud and in the dream, I grab the ground and roots and trees and anything I can to propel myself forward.

Yesterday, I lived that dream at the 2012 Cross Timbers trail half marathon.

As I mentioned earlier on the blog, I signed up for this run as part of my resolution to not take running so seriously and to do fun new things. It was an amazing remedy for the symptoms — self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, self-pity — that have been plaguing me since my November marathon.

Because of some chaos at home (nothing unusual) I sleep only about three hours Friday night. It rains all night long. Wake up at 4 a.m., drink about 40 ounces of strong coffee — this and adrenaline gets me through the 2 hour (dark and drizzly) drive.

Hari and Steve at the finish.

This will be my first trail race ever and it is going to be rainy and muddy. The difficult and unprecedented conditions mean no expectations. No pressure. Just go have fun. Perfect.

I love the trail race mentality compared to the road race. So low key. Get your number, line up, follow the little white flags. Seems simple enough. The race starts out on the road so runners can thin out according to speed.

I position myself behind the fastest two women and three high school boys who are holding a funny conversation. During the first 30 minutes or so of the trail it is all fun — people  joking, we are moving along, though there is a heavy layer of mud. On a downhill very early on, the leading female tells me to go ahead. I had planned to follow her for a while, but I can’t physically go slow on the downhills at this point, so I pass her and fall in behind two guys.

There is a lot of climbing up and down hills, but I manage to stay upright. We go through the first aid station at 2.5 miles and I take some electrolytes in the form of some terrible liquid called Heed.  At about 40 minutes in, one of the guys I am following looks back at me and goes: Have you run this before? And I go, No. And he says, It is a really difficult race and usually really slow.

Me and Hari at the finish.

So I have heard, I say. I know what he is trying to tell me: that I am going too fast and that I won’t last. Maybe so, but I need to follow someone; I am really scared of getting lost. I back off a little, knowing they are probably right, but I keep them in my sight.

Along the route there are short stretches where you can actually run and I run those at what I felt is a tempo pace (I had no watch, no mile markers, so I could only go by feel). Following the lead of others, I power walk the really steep uphills. Some of those I crawl, grabbing trees and roots in order to pull myself up. The downs are tricky — some I literally ski down, like I am on snow.

I don’t look up from the ground much, but at one point I glance out over the ledge and catch a great view of Lake Texoma. It is surreally gorgeous and I smile — I am so genuinely happy to be here! I begin passing some of the warriors such as Dallas runner Libby Jones who started the marathon version of this race a half-hour before us.

This, I think, is the Cross Timbers race director.

About an hour to an hour and a half in (still no concept of time) I am thrilled to see the frontrunners coming back through. The leader — a sinewy guy with a long red beard under a knit cap — embodies the competitive trail runner.

At the halfway rest station, there are all sorts of goodies — sodas, Gatorade, bananas, candy, cookies. I am loving trail running more and more. I try not to linger too long. As I shoot out of the tent, I see four or so girl runners who aren’t too far behind me. I tell them great job and tell myself You are OK. You don’t need to be first. If they catch you, there’s no shame in it.

Then, I have to add, But, since you happen to be in this position, you DO have to try your best to keep it.

Also at the turn around I see a familiar face, Hari Garimella, my friend from the White Rock Running Co-op, who also decided on a whim to come do this thing. I give him a big hug and take off.

Here's a portion of the muddy trail shot by runner Bryan Moore.

So, the way back is trickier than the way out. The mud has gotten muddier and slippery-er and thicker. Keeping my shoes on becomes a problem. I have to try to tighten the laces or else I will be barefoot. I fall hard one time — I rise with a thick layer of mud covering my butt and the backs of my legs. From trying to catch myself, I’m wearing mud gloves. I try to wipe my hands on the trees but just wind up getting an added layer of damp moss.

On some of the uphills, I begin to doubt my stamina. My knee is throbbing. I feel really tired, but then something such as falling or sliding down a wall of mud, or having to reach down with my hands to pull my shoe from a mud puddle takes my mind off of my fatigue and pain.

A few times, I laugh out loud or yell Whoa! as I slide down the side of a hill — I really am just playing in the mud. One guy passes me and says, You know, we are mentally ill? I laugh and think, Well at least we have a fine ensemble of enablers to organize  events for us. I also figure we are only moderately sick considering there are others in our midst doing 50 miles of this sh*t.

Another trail shot borrowed from Bryan Moore via Picasa.

There are about two guys who pass me on the way back, but I pass a few people myself. One might be the buddy of the guy who implied I was starting too fast. The last hill is an absolute joke. It is so steep and my legs are so tired that I am bent at the waist, holding the ground with one hand and with the other hand, physically lifting my other leg. I’m talking to my legs at this point too: Come on legs, move! Please!

A guy beside me here, doing about the same thing, says: So close to the end and I can’t move. I leave him. It is the words close to the end that launches me up the rest of that hill. Sure enough, I hear bells and cheering in the clearing. Then I see the clock and the finish line — 2:49 is good for first overall female in the half. Not a typo — a 2:49 half got me a first place!

The race director congratulates me and gives me a wooden plaque and a sweatshirt. And I head into the tent where wonderful volunteers serve hot soup, drinks, burgers and all kinds of goodies. Covered head to toe in mud, barely able to walk, eating delicious potato soup, feeling victorious for the first in a long time … life is just about perfect in this moment.

There was one guy about a minute ahead of me that seemed to be easing through the whole race (taking photos of the lake and then taking off as I approached) turned out to be another WRRC friend, Steve Griffin. Trail racing must be his forte (this was only his second ever). He never even looked tired. As I was lounging, I saw another friend Dave Renfro come through the finish line, but he — the 50-mile race leader — was only half done. Dave ended up winning the 50 miler.

I don’t think I will ever forget this race. I know dreams are symbolic of life’s deeper issues, so what does it mean to live out a reoccurring dream? I’m not sure, but it must be meaningful and therapeutic.

Also, my gluteus maximus, quads, back, shoulders, hips and knees won’t forget it for several days. #$%^, Ouch!

probably a bad idea, racing, trail running

Cross Timbers half marathon

I registered yesterday for the Cross Timbers trail run (half marathon), billed as the toughest little trail run in Texas.

I’m only doing the halfer, while the other few people I know who are going are doing 26.2 or 50, so I sort of feel like a wimp, but, I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew here. Just testing the trail-run waters.

This is all part of my resolution to not take myself or my running so seriously and exploring unchartered (for me) territory. I will post a race report next week.

Meanwhile, I did find a couple of years past race reports out in the blogosphere — in this report from “The Naked Runner”, I learn for the first time that the course has a 5,500 elevation loss/gain.

This blogger says the five miler at Cross Timbers would be a perfect introduction for someone who has never run on trails. Five-13.1: close enough.

marathon, Philly, probably a bad idea, racing, running

Marathon heartache

Marathoning, should you choose to take up the sport, can really hurt. And I don’t mean just the physical pain — the injuries sustained during training, the sore muscles and blisters.

When you love running, the marathon may at times bring you sheer euphoria — a feeling some of us pursue with the vigor of a junkie chasing that first high — but there’s also the risk that it will make you feel like you felt in high school when your First Love dumped you for someone cuter.

Feelings of insecurity, self loathing and misery reserved primarily for dramatic adolescents might rise to the surface, no matter how hard your reasonable and balanced adult self tries to shove them down.

Today, the roads where I have logged hundreds of hours of training now serve as a bitter reminder of my unrequited love. (‘scuse me as  I power up my old Smiths album and cry into a bowl of ice cream).

Sure, other races — a mile, a cross country 5k — can hurt your feelings too, but when you choose to run a marathon you put so much of your heart and life into the preparation. You invest time and money. And when your plans, hopes and dreams go to hell, it just sucks. It sucks so bad. SO FRIGGIN BAD (that is how you crazy-scream in a blog post). And it’s not as if you can just go try another in a few weeks. It takes weeks and months to recover and give it another shot. And once you’ve had a taste of the real pain, the fear of getting back on the ol’ horse really starts to creep in.

And for me, since last year at this time, things just keep getting worse.

I’ve now run three marathons injured and despite my best efforts to fight through it, it just ain’t working. My mind knows that running a marathon on a knee that won’t bend or straighten out all the way is a VERY BAD IDEA, but I am the type of person, to my great pain and misery at times, who needs to hit bottom damn hard before she will change the pattern that is destroying her. I am pretty sure I am at my athletic bottom now.

So the sidelines it is for me for now. For at least six weeks (six weeks ago, that’s what the doc said needed to happen. “But I’m running the Philadelphia marathon,” I had bellowed, and never returned.)

And at my so-coveted Philadelphia marathon, before mile 13, a knife was sticking into my kneecap — or at least that’s what I expected to see every time I looked down at it. Tears blurred my vision as I watched the 3:20 pace group, several of my training buddies, and finally the 3:30 pace group leave my view.

Here's me with the two, Meredith and Chris Stratton, who talked me into registering for the Philadelphia Marathon. I'd probably be mad at them if I didn't love them so dang much! Congrats to Chris on achieving our original goal of a sub 3:20 marathon (3:18). (And that's the awesome Angela in the background).

Watching from the sidelines is bittersweet experience in itself. Even last weekend in Philadelphia as I ran on one good knee and struggled mightily through the last 16 miles, I had moments I will cherish. More than 15 runners from Dallas’ White Rock Running Co-op made the trip. Many of them had the race of their lives and, though I am generally self absorbed, I actually felt warm and happy seeing the looks on my friends’ faces that proved that marathoning can produce pure ecstasy as readily as it can inflict heartache.

As bad as things were personally, I felt a few moments of sweet after I crossed the finish line. It was done. My seventh marathon. And even a knife in the knee couldn’t stop me. I encountered others who had a bad day — as bad days are an integral part of the marathon business — and we comforted one another with knowing nods and and arm around the shoulder. A band of beat-up brothers.

My husband, a non-runner, joined me for the trip and even he—who can’t understand why a 3:39 marathon is much different from a 3:30 or a 3:15, for that matter—felt the electricity and the magic that happens out there. It was nice to see him experience some sort of understanding of this exercise that simultaneously tortures and enlivens me.

After the race, I had some of the best sandwiches ever, saw a fantastic movie at the historic Ritz theater (The Descendants — I highly recommend it), the Liberty Bell and the Rocky statue.

Even though the failure to reach the day’s goal will plague my thoughts and dreams for weeks — and it will — the sting will eventually fade and what remains will be memories of a battle, if not won, well fought, and an adventure.