Trading disappointment for delight at the Bolder Boulder 10K

Disappointment is one of the emotions I have the hardest time dealing with. As I was standing at the start line of the Bolder Boulder 10K on Monday waiting for the gun to go off, I wasn’t sure how to prepare my mind for the letdown I was sure to have at the finish line. I knew before I even began to put one foot in front of the next that I had no chance of matching or beating my results from the last time I did this race in 2009. I hadn’t run for at least a month and had just found out from my physical therapist a few days before that I had some major pelvis misalignment issues that were likely causing some of my pain and injury. Though he didn’t say I shouldn’t do the race, he did say I should take it easy and stop to do some exercises and stretches along the route. I had no idea what a taking it easy pace would even be. Did that mean I should jog? Walk? I had never done a race where I wasn’t running as fast as I possibly could.

Making my way to the Bolder Boulder starting area at 6:30 a.m.

I was still pondering these questions when the shot fired. I took off at a pace between a jog and a run, but still the questions lingered. What time would I be satisfied with? An hour? Two? Though I don’t have a competitive streak when comparing my performance with others, I am fiercely competitive with myself. Ever since recovering from ostomy surgery, I had wanted to prove that I could do as well in this race as I had before getting so sick.  I knew that was impossible with my current painful hip, but there had to be some sort of goal, right?

As I ran down the street and watched the people in my wave pass me one by one, I realized that this race wasn’t going to be about reaching any pace goals. It was about simply being there. After all, just weeks ago Doug had picked up my race package for me. At the time, I couldn’t even make myself open it. I didn’t want to see the running bib that I was sure I wouldn’t be wearing due to what was thought to be a stress fracture in my pelvis. Yet luck had veered my way.  The x-ray had been a misread and I had been given the go-ahead to run while undergoing further tests for other pain causes. Here I was immersed in the event that I had wanted to do so much, and all I could focus on were things I had no control over. I couldn’t make my injury go away, and I couldn’t magically make up for a month of lost training time. I could, however, adjust my outlook.  As I ran under the banner marking mile two, I flicked an attitude switch in my head from the side that read  I am so bummed that I am not going to get the time I hoped for to the one that said I am so amazed to be running through the streets of Boulder surrounded by beautiful views, music on the street corners and onlookers handing out treats to the runners like bacon, cotton candy, and marshmallows.

I much preferred the second attitude and decided to keep the switch there for the remainder of the race. (I did, however, avoid catching any marshmallows. I had already had my fill of those the day before after consuming six of them to slow output before my appliance change.) At every mile marker, I stopped to do the exercises the physical therapist had recommended I do during the race. I knew that these stops were sabotaging my time, but I no longer cared. When my hips started to hurt slightly at mile four, I slowed down the pace. I had no worries. No expectations. In the past, I would never have veered off course to become a target for child with a Super Soaker. Never before had I taken advantage of the offers for high fives from sideline spectators. I don’t remember looking at the stunning vistas of the Flatiron rock formations along the race route in previous race years. At the slower pace, I took all this in.

Every other time I ran the Bolder Boulder, I finished in just under an hour. This time, when I looked at my watch at 59 minutes, I still had a little over a half mile to go. Just for old times’ sake and knowing that I was close to the end of the race, I picked up the pace and ran as fast as I could for that last half mile. I felt strong and vibrant as I entered the stadium and sprinted the final half lap to the finish line. Other than amidst the marshmallow-catching antics earlier in the route, this was the first time I thought of my ostomy during the entire race. I thought of  all the things I had gone through since last entering that stadium in 2009, and how lucky I was to be back to health and running there again.

As I crossed the finish line, the letdown and disappointment that I was sure would greet me there had been replaced by delight. And when I finally looked down at my watch to see my time, 1:06:33, I was even more blown away. That was only about eight minutes longer than my 2009 time. This was certainly enough to please my self-competitive side — well, for the most part. In the stands after the race, there was a moment when I lamented to Doug that had I not been injured, I would have really nailed it. He reminded me that I was injured and that I did nail it. Oops, that little attitude switch had gotten bumped into the wrong place again. I put it back to the “here and now” slot, slathered myself with some sunscreen and sat back to watch others racers jubilantly cross the finish line — including a banana, gorilla, coyote, bear ,and unicorn. Hmm… maybe my goal for next year should be to run the Bolder Boulder in costume.

Resting in the stadium with Doug after the race.
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Running ahead of osteopenia

Realizing that today is the Winter Solstice and has the shortest daylight period of the year, it is a fitting time to write about my recent nighttime jogging adventures with Doug. Just about every evening after work, we have strapped our headlamps to our noggins and hit the wide dirt trail near our house. Running by headlamp is a unique experience. There was one night that we saw four glowing eyes in the distance, and I froze in my tracks thinking they belonged to a couple of mountain lions coming down from the mesa near our house. As the animals approached, I was relieved to see that they were happy canines out for an evening stroll with their owner. Another night we saw a coyote trot across the trail, forming a silhouette against the dusky sky. We went right over to examine the tracks he left in the snow. Last night I got dizzy as giant snowflakes were illuminated by my headlamp, giving me the feeling that I was moving forward through outer space. Whether the sky is moonlit or pitch-black, temperatures are balmy or frigid, or clouds are misting rain or dumping snow, we will be out there. Lately, running and other exercise has taken on a new importance.

A couple of months ago, I went for my yearly physical. Because of my prednisone use over the past few years, my physician scheduled me for a bone density test. Within a week, the results came back showing that I have osteopenia, which is weakening of the bones and can be a precursor to osteoporosis. My doctors at the hospital last fall had warned me that this would be a possibility since I had been on such high doses of steroids while trying to get my flare under control, so this news wasn’t a huge surprise to me. Still, it was not something an active person like myself wanted to hear.

I first discovered the amazing healing powers of prednisone about a year after being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. A bad flare had led me to the ER where I was prescribed a 40mg taper of the steroid. I couldn’t believe how fast it worked. Within 4 days my symptoms completely cleared up. I was even able to climb the 14,255-foot Longs Peak two weeks later. However, foreshadowing what would happen when I took prednisone in the future, my symptoms returned when I got down to 10mg. My doctor added another tapering dose which finally ended the flare up. Over the years, it seemed like each time I needed prednisone, it became less and less effective. During my final flare, even high doses did little to control the severe ulcerative colitis.

As surreal as it can be to run the trail near my house a night, it is even crazier to think that such a small period of time on steroids could have had such a long-term effect on my body. I can’t remember the exact dosages and times I was on prednisone over the years, but the following list provides my best recollection:

  • July 2007- a 40mg taper over about a month’s time and then a few more weeks added when the flare returned
  • August 2008: a 40mg taper over about a month’s time
  • April 2009: a 20mg taper over two week’s time
  • August 2010: started a 40mg taper and ended up being on varying doses of oral and IV steroids for the next 3.5 months, with the highest dose being 80mg

After tallying these times up, it turns out that 6-7 months of my 39+ years of life was spent on varying dosages of steroids. It doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but was enough to effect my bones. I know that each of those doses was necessary to get my disease under control at the time, but I am glad that, barring any other health issues, I will not need to take prednisone anymore.

This brings me back to the topic of running at night. Because I am no longer on steroids, my physician thinks that my osteopenia might be reversible with calcium and vitamin D supplementation as well as at least 30 minutes of daily weight-bearing exercise like running. In three years I will be tested again and hopefully it will show less bone weakness. In the middle of the winter when days are short, running at night provides a convenient way for me to get exercise. Though heading to the gym is also a possibility, I have always enjoyed the simplicity of grabbing my running shoes and heading right out my front door.

In years past, I would come up with all kinds of excuses as to why I couldn’t stick to my workout routine in the winter… it was too cold, too icy, too dark and my schedule too busy. But those rationalizations no longer sit well with me. Excuses do not strengthen bones.

Running by headlamp.

Crossing the expanse (feat. new video)

“How about going ziplining,” our friend suggested.  My first thought was, Absolutely! That sounds fun, I have always wanted to try it. My second thought was, Wait, what about my ostomy? How will my pouching system hold up to zipping through the air in a harness attached to a cable? Not to mention that there won’t be any restrooms for three hours. What if my pouch explodes or leaks? Maybe I should hold off.  

Some fears keep you alive– like being afraid to climb higher on a route because it is above your ability, or being terrified of a river crossing because you know it might sweep you off of your feet and send you into the rapids. But there are also those fears that don’t have such dire consequences. The ones that pop into our heads and stop us from doing things that would actually be rewarding and good for us.

I recognized that the fears that were trying to stop me from going ziplining were of the latter variety and purged them from my head. I knew I could go 4-5 hours before draining my pouch– even longer if I pushed it a bit and let my appliance fill up a tad more. I knew the harness would likely cause no problems and that I was strong enough for the adventure. There was no reason not to give it a try.

We signed up for a 5-stage tour through the tree tops at the Crested Butte ski resort. One of the rules was that you couldn’t carry anything in your hands, so I guzzled a bunch of water to avoid getting dehydrated. Then we met with our guides and harnessed up. Much to my delight, the bulky, adjustable one-size-fits all harnesses still worked fine with my  pouch. The upper part of the hip belt sat well above my stoma, and the harness barely touched my appliance.

Continue reading “Crossing the expanse (feat. new video)”

Celebrating Ostomy Awareness Day on Longs Peak

Today Doug, his dad, and I summited the 14,259-foot-tall Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park via the classic Keyhole Route. This was an important ascent for me. I had climbed Longs Peak once before in 2007 and had loved the route. When I was hospitalized for 16 days with my final severe UC flare last fall, I would often walk down to a common area that had huge picture windows facing west and gaze at Longs Peak in the distance. I thought back to the day I stood on its summit, and wondered if I would ever be strong enough to be up there again. Today, I answered that question as I successfully hiked 15 miles with about 5000 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit. This peak was different than the others I have done this summer, as it is graded a class 3 climb. This means that the route has some sections that involve scrambling, or using one’s hands to ascend the rock, yet the terrain wasn’t technical enough to require the use of a rope. There are also areas of exposure where a person wouldn’t want to fall. It felt wonderful to move over rock, and the experience made me look forward to the days when I can climb technical routes again. I just want to heal up a bit more first.

Everything with my ostomy went well during the hike and there is not much to report. I once again used closed-end pouches to eliminate the need to take time to dig a cathole and empty my pouch. This helped ensure that we were on the summit before the afternoon lightning storms came. This ended up being an important detail on this trip, as we dealt with one of the largest lightning storms I have ever witnessed in the mountains later in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had just descended to tree-line when the storm reached its peak intensity and avoided being caught out in the open.

The day before our trip, I discovered that our summit attempt would fall on the United Ostomy Association of America’s (UOAA) second annual Ostomy Awareness Day. I was thrilled! UOAA’s call for this special day is to have “Ostomates Unite and Help Others See Ostomies in a Positive Light!” This is a message that is very dear to me and is one of the reasons I created Ostomy Outdoors.

However, I have to admit that I have not always been as open about having ulcerative colitis or an ostomy as I wish I would have been. Truth is, when I was first in the hospital with my severe ulcerative colitis flare last fall, I hardly wanted to tell anyone about it. Sure, I shared the details with my family and closest friends, but I was less open with others. My coworkers were all curious about why I had suddenly disappeared into the hospital. I sent out vague emails to them telling them I had an auto-immune stomach condition. I was too afraid they might look up ulcerative colitis and see what the symptoms were. Once my hospital stay became lengthier, I did fess up and share the name of the condition. Surprisingly, it felt really good to not have to keep everything to myself, and I found that the people in my life were very supportive.

Continue reading “Celebrating Ostomy Awareness Day on Longs Peak”

My ostomy is going swimmingly

Today I ventured to the town waterpark for a few hours. I shot down the slides, leaped off the diving board and played like a fish for several hours. Okay– going to the town pool may not qualify as an outdoor “adventure.” And plunging into the pool is a far cry from the dunks I have been known to take in frigid alpine lakes. Still, I had so much fun being in the water again. Hanging around in my swimsuit and feeling the sun on my skin was absolute bliss. I thought my gums might get sunburned I smiled and laughed so much.

Over the course of the afternoon, I checked on my appliance a few times. I fully expected to see the edges of my wafer peel up, but it held in place as if affixed with super glue. I am certain no one could tell I had an ostomy. My appliance could not be seen at all under my swimsuit– especially with the help of my Ostomy Secrets swim wrap. I am actually a little more self-conscious about those ribs that are showing. I lost a lot of weight and muscle when I was sick and it is only slowly coming back on.

I hope you’ll take my experience to heart if you’ve been hesitating about taking a swim yourself. Just get out there and give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.

Starting to forget my ostomy is there

After doing many backcountry adventures this season, Doug and I decided a fun weekend of car camping was in order. It was time to have a more luxurious trip complete with a larger tent, a cooler stocked with cold beer and soda, a guitar to make music, and pancakes and eggs for gourmet breakfasts.

Gluten-free pancakes!
No camping trip is complete without a little music

Some good friends from our original home state of Wisconsin were vacationing near Gunnison, CO, so we chose to camp along the nearby Taylor River so we could do some activities together. One of these was a three-hour zip-line adventure that I will write about in a future post. We also enjoyed fly fishing and mountain biking.

Suited up to begin my zip line adventure in Crested Butte, CO
Mountain biking on the Lower Loop Trail in Crested Butte, CO

Despite sweating in my waders for hours, bouncing down the trail on my bike, or wearing a harness when zip-lining, my appliance stayed on just fine. Making s’mores also had its benefits due to the output-thickening-power of marshmallows. I found that it was a wonderful excuse to eat many of these gooey, delectable treats.

Honestly, I hardly thought about my ostomy the entire time. In fact, on one afternoon fly fishing excursion, I forgot to bring along my toilet paper and other supplies in case I needed to go into the woods to empty my pouch. Fortunately, I was able to wait until I got back to camp that evening with no problems. Not the smartest situation, but it did prove to me that I am sometimes starting to forget my ostomy is there!

On the last day of the trip I had to change my appliance. The campsites were fairly close together, and we had a campground host that loved to stop by at random times. Therefore, I decided to head into our small pyramid-style gear tent for the change. It was the perfect spot to spread out my supplies and work, and before long I emerged with a new pouch on my belly, ready for the day’s adventures.

Changing my appliance in the gear tent

So, if you are not ready for a backpacking excursion, at least head out on a car camping trip. It is loads of fun. And as an added bonus, you will have a weekend free of splashback while emptying your ostomy appliance in the wonderfully deep campground pit toilets:)

Pacing Yourself After Surgery

One of the hardest things in recovering from surgery and getting back into outdoor activities is knowing how to pace yourself. There are times in the months after surgery when there are clear lifting restrictions and guidelines, which provide easy-to-understand parameters for your activities. However, once those restrictions are lifted and you are feeling ready to get back to your normal sport routines, the path isn’t as clear.

Though it may seem like I am doing a lot of outdoor activities since surgery, I have paced myself very slowly. I started out with many short walks. When those felt good, I moved on to longer and steeper excursions. On the hike to Mt. Elbert covered in this video, my legs got extremely tired on the hike out, and I thought perhaps I had overdone it. Still, within three days, my sore muscles had completely recovered–a sign to me that the hike, though strenuous, was not at a level that pushed me too hard. By the next weekend, my muscles were feeling great and ready for a new adventure.

The following is a list of additional things that I am doing to prevent injury:

  • I always wear my Nu Hope hernia prevention belt when I do any outdoor activity beyond a short, flat-terrain day hike when I am carrying no significant weight (say 10-15 pounds).
  • I have my husband, Doug, help me lift my heavy backpack on to my shoulders. Once it is resting on my hips, I am better able to handle the weight without straining my abdominal muscles.
  • I use hiking poles to help with my stability as I get stronger.
  • I leave for hikes extra early to allow myself the ability to hike at a slower pace with more frequent breaks.
  • I pay very close attention to my body. So far I haven’t witnessed anything more than normal post-workout muscle aches. However, if I feel something more significant, I will back off and give my body more time to adjust to the next level of activity.
  • I am working with a physical therapist to strengthen my core muscles using very mild and low-impact exercises that are safe for the level of healing I am at.

My goal for the fall is carrying out a week-long backpacking trip with a few peak ascents. Hopefully with my training regime, I will be ready for this challenge.