The 57 miles (ok 59.8 miles) from Penn State to Bucknell RECAP

4 AM.

My alarm screams, ripping through the darkness and my eyes flutter open immediately. Scrambling quickly, I throw the heavy covers off myself in the dark hotel room and reach to silence my phone before I wake my parents. As I turn off my alarm I stare blankly into the dark room for a moment, trying to comprehend what I’m about to do.

Today is the day I run 57 miles from Penn State to Bucknell to raise money for Lyme disease research and awareness. It’s the day I’ve been training for since my diagnosis, over a year, and the day I prove to myself what my body is actually capable of doing. Surprisingly, I’m no longer nervous. I’m excited.

Shuffling quietly around the hotel room I gather my first outfit for the day. My parents are in the other bed and even though I’m tip-toeing around as if they are still asleep, I know they’re lying there awake, trying to process why my alarm rang at such an ungodly hour. But I can’t sleep any longer, and my legs are ready to hit the road.

Outside it is 40 degrees or so and I decide on a pair of tights, my Pacers race tank, arm sleeves, gloves and an incredibly lightweight jacket. The sun won’t come up until 7:30 AM so I stuff my jacket pocket with two LED lights and a headlamp.

Once dressed I push open the conjoining door to our other hotel room and join Dave and my sisters. We make sure my bag full of extra running clothes, nutrition, and shoes is set for the van, and we pack up the rest of our things for my parents’ car while I eat some toast and peanut butter. We quietly play the song Go the Distance from Disney’s Hercules, and giggle excitedly as we sing along, until my Dad comes in and sternly tells us to keep it down. As I ready my first bottle of Tailwind, Erin and I mouth the words silently to each other, still playing the song anyways, not letting my Dad put a damper on our energy.

When we step outside of the Nittany Lion Inn, I see the slick sheen of a wet street beneath the street lights, and realize it’s raining. It wasn’t forecasted, but because it’s just a drizzle I don’t worry too much. We hop in the van and drive through State College’s campus – not another soul on the streets. As we approach the stadium and the track facility my stomach does a flip flop. It feels surreal the moment is finally here.

We learned the day before the outdoor track was kept locked and we would be unable to get access to the traditional start line I had imagined myself standing at for so many months. But, because ROTC was practicing on the indoor track at 5:30 AM, I would be able to run a lap on the indoor track instead. As we hop out of the van I see the ROTC kids beginning to filter into the track facility, and I hurriedly grab my gels and gloves before rushing over to grab the locked door they’re holding open.

When I walk into the facility a flood of memories take hold. I remember the smell of the rubberized track, the lofty ceilings, and spacious warm up area. I remember the last time I stepped on this track as a freshman in college, sick and unready to run a 5k. I think about how that race felt apart for me, how I barely had energy to finish, and how disappointed I was in myself for failing my team. Not today, I say to myself as I approach the familiar 200m oval. Today, I would run a lap to start my 57 mile journey, on the track I never truly was able to be myself on and show my true potential.

ROTC shows me no particular interest as I step gingerly up onto the red lanes. I look over at my family waiting behind the rail and they smile encouragingly at me. My watch is

ready to go and reads 0:00:00. With a satisfying beep, the seconds start piling up on the watch face as I take my first few steps on the track.

It’s silent. I run past the 5k start and see my younger self standing there, unsure and afraid. I see a girl who doesn’t yet understand who she is and the strength inside her. She’s sad and confused, still struggling with depression and an eating disorder, and doesn’t know beauty and strength is more than a number on the scale or a reflection in the mirror. I blow past that girl on the track, my body strong, mind powerful and heart so full of love and gratitude it hurts. I don’t look back as I continue my lap around the track. I know she’ll be okay.

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My family cheers for me as I come back around the bend and finish my lap. I’m smiling now. It’s go time.

Once outside my Dad and Dave join me to run me out of Penn State. The roads are peaceful and dark and even though it’s chilly, I warm up quickly. We chat to pass the time as we run toward Route 45, the road I’ll be running the majority of my 57 miles on. As I try to keep pace in check, I notice the light drizzle is steadily increasing, and rain comes down steady and cold. Earlier in the first few miles we had all shed our jackets, but as the wind blows a sheet of icy rain in my face, I quickly throw my jacket back on in hopes of retaining a bit of heat.

Route 45 brings our first big challenge of the run. We run down the two lane road single file in the shoulder against traffic, but the road is narrow coming into Penn State. Traffic from the surrounding towns begins streaming in and we are faced with a constant line of fast-driving cars, coming dangerously close to the line. Even though we are decked out with headlamps, blinking lights and reflective gear, cars have a hard time seeing us in the rain, swerving out unexpectedly last minute as their headlights illuminate our single file line. Some cars angrily honk and my heart beats wildly in my chest. This was not what I imagined, and I am afraid for my family’s lives.

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Our first stopping point with Erin, Caitlin, and my mom is about 6-7 miles in. We can see them parked up ahead on the opposite side of the highway and I know it’s a no go. I’m already on edge because of my father’s frustration and the horrifying traffic, and as we come to a stop across the road from our caravan, we’re all suddenly screaming back and forth at each other with no real conversation happening.

“ENOUGH,” I finally scream. My entire body is shaking and I’m unsure if it’s from fear, frustration or the cold. “I’m running up ahead and I’ll meet you when I meet you.”

“I’m going to help them find a place to park up ahead,” Dave tells me and he expertly dashes across the road during a break in the traffic to talk with my mom.

“Let’s go,” my dad exclaims, “you stay behind me.”

The dark road and constant traffic is daunting. We make mad dashes across tiny bridges with no shoulder and I find myself singing over and over in my head, Jesus take the Wheel. I curse my sisters for getting the song stuck in my head in the first place, but I can’t deny how relevant the song is in the moment. Eventually, I see my mom and sisters in a pull-out up ahead and we re-assess, grab more fuel, and my dad and I decide to continue on together until the sun comes up.

The next few miles are a wash of head lights and rain. My dad runs ahead of me, the steady rhythm of his cadence guiding my own steps forward. I want to talk to him but there is no way he’ll be able to hear me over the traffic. In some ways, the silence is comforting in itself. We know we don’t have to talk to make a connection, running is our connection. Following his footsteps is something I’ve done all my life, and I feel comfortable with his reliable figure ahead of me.

Slowly, the sky lightens at the edges. The menacing dark fades and shadows of farmhouses and barns become clear against the graying sky. The silhouette of mountains surrounds us and my heart lifts as I watch the first ray of light peek through the trees on the horizon. We’re finally visible running along the shoulder and the traffic does not feel as threatening. My dad pulls along side of me for a moment. We look half crazed I’m sure – soaked to the bone from the rain and our brains still trying to comprehend the traffic. We ask each other if we’re okay, and we both lie, replying yes.

We meet up with the van around the half marathon mark and my dad switches off with Erin. Because the roads are still too dangerous to bike, she runs instead, packing her bike jersey full of nutrition and hydration. It’s still drizzling on and off and I change only my socks, deciding to keep on my damp outfit on until the rain is completely finished. Surprisingly, I’m not cold.

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The miles pass quickly as Erin and I chat about life, health, future plans and upcoming races. We fall into our old rhythm together and it is as if we’re out for just another training run, not 14 miles in to a 57 mile endeavor.

We are seamless with the undulating rhythm of Route 45 and we follow the ups and downs through winding countryside and one-street towns. It’s much later into the morning now but the world still seems to be waking. As we pass one farm in particular, all the cows in the pasture look up at us as we run by. Slowly, one of the cows trots after us. And then another. And another. I can’t help to pick up the pace as I glance back over my shoulder and see the whole herd chasing after us along the rickety fence. Laughing, we leave them at the end of the field, their curious eyes still staring as we disappear around a bend in the road. An Amish horse and buggy passes us a few moments later, and we wave to each other from the gravel roadside. It’s as if we’ve entered another world.

Being out in the Pennsylvania countryside reminds me of the hundreds of runs I set out on while a student at Bucknell. Runs I took with the team. Runs I took with new friends, Erin, or the runs I set out alone to try and find a little piece of my self. When I ran alone, I sought nature to heal me. Sometimes I ran to fight the demons I often felt lurking inside. Sometimes I ran to soothe heartache, and other times to distract myself from a feeling inside I did not quite understand how to describe. An emptiness I was sure I could fill if only I pushed myself a little harder, a little farther. If I felt a little more pain. I never found the answer then, but had a feeling I would today.

Miles pass. As we approach mile 23, I come to the parking lot of Millheim Small Engine Hardware. It is a small, local store and as I come up to the van I can see my dad up at the store front talking with an Amish man. At this point, I’ve fallen into a routine at my rest stops: check my Tailwind, grab more gels and check my socks. My legs are still feeling chilled so I decide to keep on my tights but opt to finally change out of my damp arm warms, tank and jacket. The rain must finally be done, I say to myself as I rummage through my bag, looking for my Bucknell training tech tee I’ve had since becoming a member of the cross country team. Grabbing the tee and sports bra from my bag I go around to the back of the shop where my mom tells me there is a port-a-potty and begin to change. As I don my fresh tops, I hear the pitter of rain against the plastic roof of the port-a-potty. Screw it, I say to myself as I burst out of the small bathroom and trot back over to the car. I love running in the rain, but I am quickly growing tired of it on this run.

When I get back to the car my mom tells me the owner of the shop wants to talk with me and he’s made a donation to my run. Although I’m eager to get back out onto the road, I know my run is just as much about the journey as it is about the running. I want this day to be about the people I meet and the memories I make with my friends and family as we raise awareness for Lyme disease research. I walk over to the man my dad is chatting with and introduce myself. His name is Henry and I learn his daughter is currently in treatment for lyme. He tells me her story and how no one could diagnose her, and how she probably had lyme for a long, long time once she was finally diagnosed. His story reminds me of how many people are affected by lyme and why I’m out running in the first place. I’m running for those who cannot, I remind myself. I’m 23 miles in, but I feel like I’m starting fresh.

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Dave runs a few miles with me and then switches off with my Dad. At this point we’re a few miles past my first marathon and we’re headed for Bald Eagle State Park. It’s here I’ll hit my biggest hills and where I expect my legs to start really hurting. As we near 30 miles, my dad and I run stride for stride, chatting about memorable runs long in our past.

“You’re going to learn a lot about yourself out here,” my dad says pointedly, during a lull in our conversation.

“I know.” Nothing else needs to be said.

A little past 30 miles we begin climbing a hill into Bald Eagle State Park. I can see a larger crowd of people standing on the side of the road up ahead. Our Bucknell alum friends have arrived, and I am excited to have fresh legs to run with and the energy they bring to all they do. There is a lot of hugging as I cross the road to greet them and they ask how I’m feeling. Surprisingly, my legs still feel relatively fresh other than some fatigue growing in my quads. I decide to finally change from my tights into shorts, and change into a new pair of Hokas, a wide width I planned to use as my feet swelled with the mileage. With a fresh pair of socks, I can almost trick myself into feeling brand new.

The guys decide to take turns running with me in groups of two or three. I head into Bald Eagle State Park with Justin and Tim and we talk to pass the miles as we continue to climb up and up. The trees are full of reds, yellows and oranges in Bald Eagle and even though my legs are starting to feel fatigued, I can’t help but feel happy to be running through the fall foliage with friends on a now-beautiful day. When we finally reach the top of an endless hill, around mile 35, Justin lets me know we’re at the top and it’s all downhill from there. Of course, I don’t believe him (he was right).

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The miles begin to blur together, but distinct memories stick out to me: randomly bursting into song, singing Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles as we head downhill through Bald Eagle; passing the gravel road where our cross country coach used to take us to run a wretched hill workout each season; leaving the park with Chuck and Mike and realizing I still have at least 18 miles to go.

It is the middle of the day now, and as we leave the shelter of Bald Eagle, I realize how much the road has warmed up in the sun. I assess how I’m feeling. My intake of water and Tailwind has been steady and with the help of my team, I successfully am taking gels every 45 minutes or so. Even though I have not eaten any real food since my toast early in the AM, I have no desire for real food. My legs feel stronger than I expected them to be this late in the game and my spirits are high.

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Throughout my training for this day I kept mentally preparing myself to deal with the inevitable wall I envisioned myself not only hitting, but slamming into full force once I went over a 50k. But the wall was no where in sight and in a moment of realization I knew I was never going to hit it. I was much stronger than I ever imagined. Every ounce of my body and soul was ready for this day and I was going to enjoy it.

Somewhere around mile 43 we come upon a gas station. I am running with Justin and Josh at this point, and I insist on going inside to try and go the bathroom. I don’t really need to go, even though I’ve been drinking fluids all day. Part of me feels I have to try because I had not gone since mile 7 of the run. We walk into the gas station and suddenly, everything feels surreal. I’ve been out on the road for so long running it doesn’t seem right for me to be in a public place, in front of other people, trying to function normally. Shuffling over to the bathroom I lock myself inside and look at myself in the mirror for the first time since the hotel room back in Penn State. It’s odd who I see staring back. I’m weary, but determined. My legs ache now, but they’re still strong. The days leading up to my run I had wondered, but what if I can’t finish, and now I only wondered what will we do once I’m finished?

Josh, Justin and I leave the gas station and head back out to Route 45. Although the road is beautiful, I’ve just about had it with the highway and when one of the guys suggest we hop over to the rail trail in a few miles I don’t hesitate to agree. It feels incredibly warm as we trudge along the open road and I can feel my stride shortening as I try to lessen the impact on my legs.

I keep shuffling along the shoulder as I get back into my rhythm after our stop, and step over what looks like a metal straight-edge spatula. Before my brain can even process what Justin is doing, I watch him scramble to pick it up mid step. As I look over my shoulder to see why he is holding it, I watch him turn back and chuck it tomahawk style down the shoulder. In a perfect arch, blade over handle, we watch it collide with a telephone pole, the metal end wedged deep into the wooden beam, sticking out perfectly perpendicular to the road.

“Did you see that?” Justin screams and for a moment we’re all just standing and shouting in excitement on the side of the road as we stare at a metal spatula sticking out of a telephone pole.

It’s then I realize we might be a bit dehydrated.

Mile 47 brings us to the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail. We’re about ten miles out and everyone is getting excited. My college coach is at the trail head and lets me know he plans to start track practice at the outdoor track because it should line up perfectly with my projected finish time. Even though I am so close, it is still hard for me to envision myself finishing yet. I know it is going to happen, but it seems too soon. My sense of time is warped.

The rail trail is relaxing. At this point I am taking small walking breaks more frequently, but it gives me more time to take in the little moments and appreciate all the support from my family and friends. My dad, Caitlin and Erin join me on the trail for one leg and it’s the first time I can remember all working out together since our childhood. Colorful trees and big open farm fields surround us and I begin to recognize the roads we cross over as ones I once ran down during college.

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My watch beeps and we hit 57 miles.

“Alright guys, we did it,” I jokingly exclaim pretending to slow to a stop, even though we have a few more miles ahead of us. The 57 miles stares up at me from my watch and it’s hard to imagine all those miles behind me. The morning’s dark treacherous miles seems like an entirely different day and I had been having so much fun with my family and friends over the past few hours, the miles built up effortlessly. Before the run, there was a part of me believing if the run ended up being more than 57 miles I wouldn’t be able to run another step. But here I was continuing on toward Bucknell, planning out what we would do for dinner since I was actually finishing at a normal hour.

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About 1.5 miles out, I say goodbye to most of my crew as they speed off to the finish. Our assistant coach, Coach Rob, from Bucknell has run out on the trail to meet me and run me to the track with Erin, Dave and a few other Bucknell guys. Being so close to the end, I feel a surge of energy and I know it will all be over soon, so I try to take in every moment. Every step takes me one closer and I can feel the emotions beginning to build. Soon my feet are carrying me down a familiar route I’ve run countless times before.

We hit Market Street and I gingerly step along the cracked sidewalk. The busy street is lined with Lewisburg’s historic green three-globe lamp posts and it’s a sign we’re finally home. We hang a right onto 7th street and campus looms ahead of us.

Running down 7th street feels natural. Back in college, I ended so many of my runs cruising down this road back to my dorm or the field house. It takes us past Stucco, our cross country house and past 7th Street Cafe, one of my places of work while a student. As we pass by Stucco we all glance over at the pale yellow house where we spent a good deal of our time. It held different memories for all of us I’m sure, but many we also shared.

We hang a right onto Moore Avenue and are greeted by Welcome Home decals hanging from the lamp posts. Campus is just as I always remember it, and I can almost trick myself into thinking I’m still a student and returning to campus after a quick afternoon run. We head down Moore and as we near the outdoor track, the guys race ahead to watch me finish. Coach Rob runs me up to the gates, and leaves me to run through to the track on my own.

My heart is pounding and I can’t stop smiling. This is it. The moment I’ve been envisioning for over a year. The moment where I enter Bucknell’s track and finish in the spot where I finished my collegiate career.

As I run through the front gate, my friends, family, and the track team are all waiting for me. They clap and cheer as I run past and I am overwhelmed by the support. I step onto the blue and orange lanes and am greeted with the all-too familiar smell of polyurethane. It reminds me of past workouts, races and endless loops with my teammates. It reminds me of the place I came from and the hardships I endured to make me the person I am today.

Rounding the final bend I can feel tears welling in my eyes. I am proud of myself. Proud of all I accomplished in the past 10 hours or so, and all it took for me to get to this moment. All my failures, struggles, accomplishments, and dreams led me here to the finish.

Running has always grounded me and steered me to clarity in my life. As I near the finish I think about the doctors who told me I wouldn’t be able to run again after my knee surgery and I should take up another “hobby.” I remember the triumph I felt after I finished my first marathon and qualified for Boston, the pride I had finishing Boston, and the absolute elation I felt after taking on my first 50k while still in treatment for Lyme. I think about all the things people have told me I can’t do and how I went and did them anyways – sometimes in spite, and sometimes to prove to myself I wasn’t the broken individual I often felt like.

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Crossing the line, I throw my hands triumphantly into the air. I slow to a stop and hit the final split on my Garmin to end the run. There’s so much hugging and celebration that I could not stop smiling if I tried. The final mileage on my Garmin states 59.8 miles in 9:28:49 (10:50:18 was the total elapsed time from start to finish).

After standing on the track for a bit, it finally dawned on me it was over. I raised $6,350 for Lyme disease research and awareness but the journey to and during November 2nd, was more than I could have ever asked for. The sun is setting as I slowly walk off the track (this is where the sore quads finally caught up with me) and I am so thankful for what my body was able to do and for all the friends and family who helped me along the way. I looked over my shoulder one final time at the finish line of my journey as we walked out toward the waiting car.

Until next time.

Many, many thanks to all who supported me during my training and the day of my event. I couldn’t have done it without my many friends who got me out the door on long run days and kept me company on endless runs. 

And again, thank you so much to my support crew: my parents (moms and dads on both sides of the fam!), Caitlin, Erin, Dave, Chuck, Josh, Chris, Justin, Tim, and Mike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello, It’s Me.

HI.

It’s been a HOT MINUTE since I’ve last updated! I always feel so guilty when I haven’t updated in a while, but it’s not because lack of passion to write. It’s a lack of time. Since my last update after visiting Bucknell, things have gotten incredibly busy for me. I’ve struggled a bit, but have also had some amazing triumphs. It’s absolutely shocking to me it’s already August.

Since my last update, I’ve been in a funk of sorts. Leaving Bucknell, I felt empty. While it was so much fun returning to my “home away from home” and seeing so many friends and familiar faces, it also got me thinking.  It was amazing to hear all these stories of what other alumni were doing in their communities since graduating, but I also sat there wondering, what have I done? And I guess that’s sort of a complex right there, comparing your life to others, but I’m not afraid to admit I do it from time to time. It wasn’t a comparison like, oh I wish I was them, but more of a reflection on myself of the potential I have to also do amazing things. But as Erin and I drove away from Bucknell I couldn’t fathom how to change, make a difference, and most importantly, make things happen.

So, I fell into a dark place for a bit.  I stopped taking my supplements. I stopped cooking nutritious meals. I felt constantly tired, broken. When I made it out for my runs every step hurt and I couldn’t even fathom 57 miles, let alone the six I was supposed to do for the day. I slept a lot, and fell into a routine unbeneficial to me or those around me. Maybe my body needed it because of the Lyme, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was my mind needing it more.

And then Dave and I went to Washington state. Our trip was booked in a bit of a rush, because we thought Dave was starting a job in Ocean City at the end of July, but we still had great aspirations for the trip. I couldn’t wait to get out into the mountains. The mountains make me feel my happiest. It doesn’t matter the state or the mountain range – I love the feeling of how small they make you feel.  You feel insignificant, but at peace. You can finally realize what a great, big, BEAUTIFUL world it is out there, and how there is so much more to life than just trying to “get by” through your daily grind.

While in Washington we hiked almost every day once we left Seattle. We hiked through ancient forests, up steep mountain sides and along the magnificent Pacific Ocean. A lot of the times we were out there early in the morning before any of the tourists were awake, and we trudged along single track trails in silence, lost in thought. I worked so many problems out in my head as I hiked through Mt. Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park.

Life felt pure.

And now it’s mid August. Happily, I’m finally coming out of my funk and starting to really get after living life again. It’s no secret I’ve never really enjoyed living in the Washington, D.C., area, but I’m adamantly trying to find the beauty and fun in living here. For awhile, I let myself think I couldn’t have fun with my friends anymore because of my Lyme, and I thought I would never feel well enough to do all the things I used to. But after Washington, and hiking day after day and also running almost every day, I realized my body can do a lot more than I credited it for. Which is great because you know, I’ve got that whole 57 miles to run thing.

Last weekend I went out with Dave and our friends and it was the first time in a LONG time that I spent the day bar hopping (granted, I wasn’t drinking) and genuinely having a good time. I wasn’t drinking during the day because I actually signed up to run a beer mile that evening in Navy Yard. I’ve always wanted to do a beer mile since college, but after being diagnosed with Lyme, I wrote it off as one of those things I could never do. But then I did it anyways. And it was amazing. And better yet, I had such a great night with all my friends, I’m still smiling thinking back on that day. I am so glad I listened to my friends to sign up and stopped listening to all the fears and the “I can’ts” in my head.

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Now, back to that whole thing of it being August again. It’s August 12. I have less than 3 MONTHS until my 57 mile run from Penn State to Bucknell raising money for Global Lyme Alliance, to fund better research and awareness. It makes me a little nervous, because I know November 2, will be here before I know it. I’m trying my hardest to be ready and my runs have been steadily increasing. It’s taken a long time, but I can feel my fitness finally returning.

I’m still managing some aches and pains in my lower legs, and physical therapy has been pivotal at keeping the tendonitis manageable. After 10 days of hiking in Washington State, my left Achilles and bad knee were NOT having it, but the discomfort is slowly getting better. Luckily, I had a down week in my training cycle this week and it’s been amazing. My achilles is still being a little bitchy, but I’m thinking I may get a sports massage soon to help work out some of the knots.

After this weekend my mileage is going to climb pretty high and while I’m nervous, I’m also really excited. Long runs are my thing. I love going slow and steady and taking all the time I need to get through the miles. They’re challenging, but I always feel so amazing afterwards. With my mileage getting pretty high in the next few months I know my nutrition is going to need to be on point. I’ve been gluten free since my lyme doctor suggested it, but I’ve actually been playing around with a plant-based (basically vegan) diet and have been feeling worlds better. Now, I’ve been having small amounts of gluten here and there (I still eat a predominately gluten-free diet…but hello beer mile) and I feel absolutely fine. Taking dairy out has helped me feel more clear-headed, helped take away my every day headaches, and I do feel like I recover a little faster from my workouts.

I feel like this blog post has been all over the place, but that’s just how it goes when I haven’t updated in forever. I seriouslyyyyy am going to try and update more frequently from here on out, especially because we are in the final push to my 57 mile run. I don’t think I’ll actually do weekly recaps of my workouts because it kind of stresses me out, but I will try to do a better job of keeping you guys in the loop.

So, that’s it for now. If you have any interest in learning more about my 57 mile run from Penn State to Bucknell, you can check out my info page HERE. You can also donate to my run HERE. I really would like to meet my fundraising goal so any help is much appreciated, and anything helps!

 

 

 

Visiting the Past.

Slowly, the small room comes into focus. I rub my eyes and roll over on the small cot of a bed, which I’ve been tossing and turning on all night.  My husband lays next to me, crammed up against the wall and I shake my head wondering how we used to share a twin bed comfortably like this back in college. In my rush to book housing for Bucknell Reunion, I forgot to book a double room for myself and Dave, and now we were paying the price. My phone vibrates loudly against the wooden desk and the room is so small I’m able to reach my arm across the floor and grab my phone while staying sprawled in bed. There’s a slight ache in my head and my throat feels incredibly dry.  It’s an odd familiarity, this situation – the feeling as if I have done this same act plenty of times before. That’s when I realize it – I’m hungover.

The text messages are from Erin.  Are we riding or what? I’ve been on the trainer since 6 AM. 

The last thing I trust myself doing is navigating my little road bike on the rainy roads outside but I enthusiastically reply yes! anyways. After all, we’re at Bucknell. And riding the old country roads we used to race down five years ago is so enticing I can’t pass the opportunity up. It takes about 25 minutes for me to pull myself together. Before I know it, Erin and I are standing in the narrow hallway outside my dorm room with our bikes, getting ready to head out for our ride. The hall even smells like my time at college.

“How’d you sleep?” I ask.

“Like shit,” Erin replies, “If we ever come back for Reunion weekend again, we are NOT staying in the dorms.”

I nod my head in agreement and try to get myself to focus on anything other than my headache. Because of lyme treatment, it’s been close to eight months since I’ve come anywhere near to being tipsy, let alone drunk.

“I’m not feeling the greatest so I don’t know how this ride is going to go,” I admit to Erin, “I’m definitely hungover. Or still drunk. I don’t know.”

“Ah. Bucknell,” is all Erin says in response, a smile on her face as she begins wheeling her bike toward the door.  It’s a simple reply, but it’s perfect. There are no other words and it is the perfect explanation.

It’s a chilly, wet morning but the rain has stopped. I shiver for the first ten minutes of the ride until we cross the Susquehanna river and begin hauling hard down the road. Everything clicks. I feel like I have been thrown back into time as we pass farm after farm on our left and catch glimpses of the susquehanna through the heavy tree-line on the right. Water from Erin’s back wheel sprays up into my face and I try not to panic about riding on wet roads when I can’t even remember the last time I took my bike out at home on a dry road, NOT hungover. But as we turn off the main road and disappear along the small country roads, I find myself unable to stop smiling. I feel at home. Free and happy.

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We begin climbing. Erin easily leaves me behind on the hill as I huff and puff, switching through my gears and hopping out of the saddle – trying anything to get myself to the top.   I’m reminded how badly out of cycling shape I am, especially compared to my days at Bucknell when I used to be the one to leave Erin behind. But when I get to the top, Erin and I both stop and look out quietly at the valley before us. Fog sweeps through the farmland and the rolling hills of the Appalachian range surround us. My heart swells. This is where I fell in love with cycling as a student. And I find it happening all over again.

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Going back to Bucknell was a lot like going back in time. While there are definitely changes to campus, most of it looks the same to when I was a student, and upon arrival, Erin and I fell into a similar routine as one we would have had as seniors. After checking in, we threw our belongings into our dorm rooms and immediately headed out for a run. We ran down the quiet roads we used to run every day at school, whether for xc practice or for our own solace. I had forgotten about how peaceful the roads are, how hilly they are, and how satisfying it felt to leave the busy city-life behind. Ten miles later, when Erin and I were sated from re-exploring our old stomping grounds, we showered, got dressed up and headed out for a drink. Just like we would have five years ago.

I have so many amazing memories from my time at Bucknell. My life changed there and what I learned helped shape the person I am today. I met my husband. I met some of the best friends I have in my life today, and I learned how to have a voice for myself. But most importantly, I learned how to love myself. When I first got to Bucknell in August 2008, I was not a healthy person and I wasn’t living life. But after being at school for a few months, I wanted to make a change. Bucknell and some of the people I met helped me see how beautiful life is, and helped me want to be a part of it again. And for that, I am forever grateful.

And while I have these great memories from Bucknell and had a wonderful transformation, not everything was perfect. So, as Erin and I stood on the Sojka Lawn at our welcome back reception, we were acutely aware of how alone we were. Many familiar faces floated past as we huddled next together sipping our drinks, but no one from all our small network was present. Most of Erin’s friends were in the geology department and couldn’t make it back. Most of my friends were on the cross country team or Dave’s year, and also couldn’t make it back. Fraternity and sorority life at Bucknell is enormous, and we watched as these brothers and sisters congregated together in the same exact groups I used to see mill around campus. Erin and I never joined a sorority. For a moment, I realized what it felt like to be on the outside again.

It wasn’t until the next day after Erin and I finished our fateful bike ride did we catch up with some friends. Erin and I walked around campus to see the new buildings and I revisited the track I plan to finish my 57 mile run on in November. There was a lot of, “remember this…” and “remember that…” as familiar sights evoked vibrant and often funny memories at school. There were also a lot of, “I miss this.”

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Toward the end of my senior year, I couldn’t wait to graduate and get into the “real world.” I wanted to leave because after Dave graduated, I felt isolated from the cross country and track team, and struggled to make any other friends. Standing on campus during reunion weekend, I realized I had no idea how good we had it, and how I should have cherished every second there.

Dave, Erin and I watched the sunset on the quad that evening, sipping wine as the blue sky melted into hues of yellow and pink along the mountain range. I didn’t want to leave the next day. I felt safe. Happy. How had it been five years already? We spent the rest of the night dancing and drinking like we were students again.

The next day Erin and I woke up early, loaded the bikes onto the back of my car, and headed back to DC. As we drove through campus one final time, I felt sad to be leaving. There were so many times as a student I hopped into my car and blew through campus, leaving it behind like it was nothing. But only now that I’ve graduated and been in this real world for five years, do I realize how naive I was during these times. Waiting to turn onto Route 15, I took a final glance at Rooke Chapel in the rearview mirror. It’d be months before I heard those bells ring again. But it was okay, because I at least knew I’d be back.

All in all, I’m happy I went back for reunion weekend. I’ve been in a funk lately, but being back at Bucknell helped me work through a lot of questions floating around my mind lately. I’m gaining motivation for my run again and inspiration for my writing. It’s baby steps. Sometimes, it’s nice to revisit the past so you can remember what made you the way you are today, and help you realize the only way to stay strong is to keep fighting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living with Lyme

May is Lyme disease awareness month!

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Even though I’m at the end of the month here, I thought it would be timely to make a post about how lyme affects me.  Generally, I don’t really like talking about my symptoms or when I’m sick. I’ve always struggled with sharing my feelings and feeling vulnerable, in fear of disappointing friends and family. But now that I’ve decided to do the 57 mile run in November to raise money for Lyme disease research and awareness, it’s only fair I share a little more about the disease.

I share my symptoms NOT because I want you to feel sorry for me, but because lyme is often viewed as an invisible illness. Myself and many others who struggle with lyme often look perfectly “healthy” on the outside, even though inside our bodies are raging in war. I’m sharing my symptoms because it’s a difficult disease to understand because of it’s complexity, co-infections, and vast ways it affects every single person who’s been bitten.

HEADACHES/MIGRAINES 

This is my number one problem of late.  I can have anywhere between 3-5 headaches a week and they last ALL day.  Usually, I feel the pain building throughout the day like an angry thunderhead, so by the time I get home from work it feels crippling to move (fun!!!!). I have the pleasure of experiencing light and noise sensitivity with these headaches too, so once I feel one coming on, I need to get out of loud environments to lessen the building pain.

FATIGUE

Since treatment, my fatigue has definitely improved. I used to hardly be able to handle going to work, and whenever I got home I was so tired I could only lay on the couch and nap until it was time to go to bed. Luckily, now I’m able to workout, go to work, write, see friends and do some house chores without completely destroying myself, but I still take things day to day.  I know when I’m overdoing it when I start to have trouble getting out of bed in the morning again, and when I wake up feeling like utter crap.  I still have weeks when I feel horrible and can hardly do anything but drive myself to and from work, but luckily these have lessened.

The past two weeks I’ve been struggling with fatigue a lot. I’ve taken this time off from training, and even though taking a step back is EXTREMELY difficult for me, my body feels much better and rested now.  Treatment of my fatigue is bundled up in my many supplements and restrictive diet, and I’ve learned with I’m lax with my diet, my fatigue increases significantly.

INFLAMMATION

Ah, joint pain. But this isn’t the only way I experience inflammation. While I do ache periodically in my joints – usually my elbows, wrists, fingers, knees (especially my arthritic knee), and ankles – these aches honestly don’t bother me much.  A few years ago, because of inflammation in my scalp, I was diagnosed with diffuse areata alopecia by the Mayo Clinic.  Basically, my hair hates me and likes to come out. A lot.  While the intense hair loss has lightened up since starting treatment, my hair is still incredibly thin and comes out whenever it pleases. I don’t think I’ll ever have the head of hair I had back in high school/college. The hair loss used to bother me a lot more because I tied my conception of beauty with my long hair, but I know better now.

DIGESTIVE ISSUES

This really ties into the inflammation, but because my stomach has pained me the most, I decided to give it it’s own section. Before I was diagnosed with lyme, I was seeing doctors for my stomach issues and we believed I could have Crohn’s disease. While my stomach issues are 80% better than last year, they used to be intense. I couldn’t eat a lot of the times, I had horrible lower stomach cramping/pain, and my stomach was constantly upset.

While my blood work did flag for Crohn’s (something to do with the inflammation I came back positive for) all other testing came back negative.  I had SO MANY procedures, I can’t even remember what they all were called but I was clean on everything except my endoscopy.  During my endoscopy my doctor discovered I have metaplasia (cells changing) in my stomach.  This is still something I need to monitor and will most likely have another endoscopy this summer to make sure it’s not worsening.

Because of my digestive issues, I try to stick to a pretty particular diet.  I am gluten free (except for the occasional beer every few weeks I can’t seem to stay away from) and mostly dairy-free too (this is new).  I don’t really eat much meat anymore either.

Recently I had a KBMO FIT test because of some continued digestive issues and my headaches/fatigue. The test identifies foods likely to cause food sensitivity. Using a blood sample, IgG and complement reactions are measured against 132 foods and additives which cause delayed food sensitivity. Basically, this test was able to tell me which foods I’ve been eating have been causing an immune response in my stomach!

I had a high reaction to whole wheat, gluten and cranberries (seriously, wtf cranberries). A medium response to pears (again, wtf) and coffee – the no coffee has been crippling – and a low response to cow’s milk, rye, green olives, beets, sweet potatoes, cinnamon and pecans.  Some of this seems very random to me but for the most part, I’ve been working really hard to take these foods out of my diet. I’m going to try and follow the elimination diet more strictly over the next 4 weeks as I dive back into training for my 57 miler – so we’ll see how that goes.

Reducing inflammation in my stomach is a huge goal for me. When there’s a lot of inflammation there, my body doesn’t really absorb all the nutrients it needs to. I’m had low iron so many times I’ve lost count, but what’s more concerning to me (especially with all my running) is being able to absorb calcium/vitamin D to protect my bones. Anyone who is close to me knows I struggle with stress fractures and have been diagnosed with osteopenia in the past. I’d like to never worry about these things again.

Those are the big symptoms for me. While I do struggle with a few other issues, they have gotten better significantly since I first started treatment:

  • Trembling
  • Dizziness/balance issues
  • Eye floaters
  • numbness in my hands
  • random skin rashes

 

And I think that’s a wrap. Even though this is my case, I feel as if every story I read online about Lyme disease is different. And that’s why it’s so important for me to do my charity run in November to raise money for research and awareness. Some of the stories I read are absolutely heartbreaking – lives are forever changed. And these individuals are the ones who motivate me to run more than anything. The easiest way I’ve come to deal with the frustrations of lyme is through motivating myself to try and make a difference for those who have it so much worse than me, those who have struggled for so long just to find an answer.

I don’t view myself as sick anymore. Even though I have these outlasting symptoms, this is the strongest in a long time. My symptoms don’t define me because I know I will eventually conquer them. And more than ever, I want others to be able to conquer Lyme disease as well.

I guess my last note here is kinda a PSA you might not care to hear, but seriously, be aware of ticks when you’re outside this summer. They’re going to be bad this year and you can pick them up in your own backyard. Whenever I’m out running on trails I always stop and check myself after running through any overgrown paths, high grass, or wooded areas.  Your pets can pick them up too – I always remember finding ticks on my dog growing up, even though she was protected. Just be careful and protect yourself please!

Feel free to reach out to me if you ever have any questions about my journey with lyme. There’s a contact button on my homepage of the blog.

Thank you for reading – until next time!

 

 

Chasing my 57 mile dream

This week I finally took some steps toward making my 57 mile charity run from Penn State to Bucknell REAL.  I created my charity page!  For whatever reason, I was so nervous about creating it and pushing it out to my family and friends, but I think my anxieties over it shows just how important it is to me.  Lyme has been kicking my ass these past few days, so it feels good fighting back.

If you’d like to check out my charity page, you can find it HERE.  I’ve set a $5,000 goal, but I’ve also never done this before, and I’d like to dream bigger and raise more money.  But we’ll see how it goes! There’s still plenty of time – 9 months of training here I come.

If you want to read more about my story and why I decided to do this charity run (and why Penn State to Bucknell??) you can check out my page HERE.  I go a little bit more into my background with Lyme and why I’ve chosen this particular run.

That’s it for now…just wanted to send out this quick update since I feel like I’ve been so busy over the past few days getting everything ready.  If you have any questions, you can always reach out to me through the contact page.  I’ll also have a “real” blog post coming soon.  I’m hoping by Friday so look out for it :).

And as always – thank you for your support.  It means so much to me, I can’t even explain. I’m not very good at showing my emotions, but I received my first few donations yesterday and I actually teared up.  This run is extremely important to me and I am extremely determined to get to that Penn State track come November.

Finding the Meaning Again

Lately, I’ve been searching for some meaning in life.  The past few weeks I felt constant aching – my heart, bones and mind – it didn’t matter.  There was a feeling of profound sadness I’m not sure why presented itself.  Lyme aside, I have nothing to be sad about.  Yet I felt it consuming me; ravenous, relentless.

All my life, I’ve always been at least a little sad.  Starting long before high school, the world began to look much different to me than it did to my naive child-self.  I was acutely aware of family struggles and whenever life was overwhelming my friends.  And all I ever wanted to do was help.  Draining every ounce of my emotions, it did not matter if I gave them to everyone else.  It did not matter if I was empty.  It only mattered if I could make someone smile or stop the hurt within them.

Last week, as I was driving down 110 to get blood work done, I saw a beautiful sunrise.  I haven’t seen the sunrise in some time now because all it seems I do anymore is sleep, but I watched as the purple sky in front of me came to life, and I felt a flicker of hope.  The rising sun reflected off the glass windows on the tallest office building in Rosslyn and the whole city seemed sparkling.  The orange glass looked like it was on fire, and when I glanced in my rear view mirror the sky was so bright it hurt my eyes.

After what seemed to be such a bleak few weeks, I smiled.  I was reminded there is beauty in this world, the fullness I seek.  I just need to know where to look.

This week I’ve decided to stop moping around and get back to LIVING.  Fresh off a recovery run week, I’m ready to train hard and get back to a healthier lifestyle.  Everything has suffered these past three weeks: my health, my diet, and my relationships.  But it’s 2017 now (yikes!).  There’s no time for messing around anymore.

While I’ve been gluten-free ever since being diagnosed with Lyme disease I’ve had my fair share of slip-ups these past few weeks.  Some were deliberate while others were complete accident, like the time for whatever reason I assumed vegan mac and cheese would also be gluten-free!  I’ll say all in all I probably slipped up three times total, but each time certainly did not help my health.  In my sadness, plant-based eating fell to the wayside, which is REALLY unfortunate because I felt my best without meant and most dairy.

But I’m back at it.

Sometimes, the sadness feels cyclical.  It’s no secret I’ve struggled with depression in the past.  So I monitor it.  I’ve always believed it is okay to feel, to be sad sometimes.  Often, I appreciate happiness the most when I know the deeper emotions I’ve felt before.

So with that being said, the past few days have been going much better for me.  I am following a near-vegan diet (I eat eggs occasionally) and I already have more energy and clear-headedness.  It is not easy, but I have been saving a bunch of recipes online to try some time in the future (not to mention – my cousin Natalie’s amazing vegan blog – https://rootedwithlife.blog).

As for training – it’s going.  My mileage is still relatively low but I hope to change that soon.  This week I am focusing on some speed work and some semi-long runs but I honestly play every day by ear.  I’ve started a few new medicines I’m increasing slowly but they’re wreaking havoc on my stomach.  There is only so much I can do.

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The troublemakers.

What I’ve also been thinking about lately is the purpose of this blog.  While I like using it as a spot to only write when I feel inspired, I feel it needs a greater purpose, especially with my 57 mile charity run coming up in November.  So if I can manage I think I’ll post a training update at the end of each week to track my journey toward the 57 miles from Penn  State to Bucknell in November.  I don’t know if I’ll push the content out on FaceBook each week so if you are interested in getting updates on my running, make sure to follow my blog.  I’ll still post my regular writing-sort blogs, but since I’m so inconsistent I feel a weekly update will be nice, especially for those interested in my ultra running journey.

So that’s it for now.  I’ll be going off my antibiotics soon and I am SUPER PUMPED about it.  I’m going to really focus on trying to get a quality week of training in even though I’ve been battling a little bit of mysterious foot pain.  It may be cuboid syndrome (I’ve dealt with it before) but we will see.  I’m headed up to New Jersey for a few days Thursday night so I plan on seeing my physical therapist I used to. go to from high school to my days as a collegiate athlete.  She’s seen everything from me, and helped me overcome so much back then, so I’m just excited to see her in general.

Hopefully I’ll have a post about it later this week.  Check back soon!

 

© Allison Donaghy 2017 All Rights Reserved

Finding my Stride.

Ah, it’s been awhile.  I owe an update of sorts, although I feel as if I’m running the same circles.  Thanksgiving has come and past and my Florida travels are over.  I’m exhausted, to say the least.  But things are just beginning for me.

In my last post, I announced my decision to run the 57 miles from Penn State to Bucknell at Homecoming 2017 to raise money for Lyme disease research and awareness.  While I still haven’t decided if I’ll be running November 2 or 3, I have decided I’ll be raising money for the Global Lyme Alliance.  Not only does GLA fund Lyme disease research, but they also raise awareness of lyme and its complexity among the public AND doctors.  The first blood test I ever had when I began feeling sick over a year and a half ago was for lyme but my physician told me it was negative, despite several flags.  Had she been more lyme-literate, I could have saved thousands of dollars and saved myself from plenty of pain.

So, training begins.  I’d like to say I’ve built myself a pretty decent base, but I’m always hesitant.  Last week I hit my highest mileage week since my stress fracture and I feel great.  (Ok, I’m a little sore from over-doing it lifting weights for the first time in many months, but that’s besides the point).  I’m being super flexible with my runs right now.  Everything depends on how I’m feeling from my medications, and I’m trying to learn how to slow myself down.  This is imperative, and I’ve been failing on my own at this.  I had my twin sister, Erin, pace me for my first 10 miler this past Sunday (she’s an Ironman and her pacing for endurance events is ON POINT) and although it was difficult for me to stick to a slower pace at first, it was nice to finish with some fuel in the tank.  Practice makes perfect, right?

Around lunch today I headed out for an 11 miler even though I’d been feeling sick all morning and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It’s been a few days since my last run and as I started out in the much-colder-weather-than-Florida, I wasn’t feeling good.  Within the first two miles I thought about turning around and calling it quits.  But as I ran down the C&O canal in complete solitude, something changed.

My breathing slowed.  My shoulders relaxed.  My stomach didn’t seem to hurt as much.  In the silence of the tow path I let my mind wander, tentatively allowing myself to reach into the past and think of long-gone runs on the Princeton Delaware & Raritan canal with Erin and my dad.  It’s always the chilly mornings I remember, the ones where we were so cold we ran the first mile too fast, just to warm our bones.  I remembered looking across the Millstone River at the great Princeton mansions and my father saying maybe one day, if I became a famous author, I could own one of those houses.

Today, the bare, shivering trees and deserted tow path reminded me of those early morning long runs in Princeton and it gave my mind the fuel to continue.  I didn’t know it then, but those runs with Erin and my dad were special.  There was a magical feeling running down that tow path, chattering about nothing and everything, urging each other along, I’ve yet to be able to reproduce.  And while I’m grateful I was able to run with both Erin and my Dad again this past thanksgiving – it wasn’t the same.  Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I know we could all feel some of the magic was gone.  When we used to run, we let everything go so we could be free and happy.  This thanksgiving no one could let go.  I felt our worries, anxieties, precautions hanging over us with every step in the Florida heat.

I’ve come a long way since my early-teenager days running in Princeton, but I had something back then I didn’t know to appreciate: innocence.  No one had told me yet I needed to lose weight to continue being a competitive runner.  No one was judging me.  Life hadn’t sucker-punched me yet like it would in high school, and all I knew was the happiness running with my dad and twin produced.

So today, I let go.  The miles ticked by as I zoned out and listened to each soft footfall, and my even breath in and out.  My aches and pains didn’t matter, and I pretended I was plodding down the tow path in Princeton, making my way back to the car with Erin and dad so we could head into downtown and get hot chocolate.  Today, I only cared about being happy during the short portion of my day I have the privilege to dedicate to nature and running.  When I finished 11 miles I wasn’t surprised.  FINALLY – I found my stride.

And I’m excited for my runs to come.

This morning I committed and signed up for the DC NorthFace Endurance Challenge 50k, April 29.  It’s going to be my first ultra (if you don’t count the ultra Ragnar Relay about a month before) and I’m so excited.  It feels good having a few races on the calendar again, even if they’re a long way off.  Since deciding to run the 57 miles to Bucknell, I feel my running has purpose again.

So stay tuned!  I’m still sorting out when I’ll actually launch my fundraising campaign with GLA and I want to get better at posting more frequently.  I’d like to do some vlogging for you guys one of these days but yeah, not sure how it would exactly go.  If you’re ever looking for more frequent updates on my training, I like to update my Instagram a lot more than this blog – @amd022.

‘Til next time!

 

© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved