Blowing in the Wind

Scout

Scout

Today there was a windstorm with gusts up to 60 mph. When we got home from work, Scout paced restlessly around the house and hit me with his adorable puppy dog eyes. It was time to go for a run. I had failed him yesterday, when the windstorm blew into town. Apparently, I was not allowed to avoid another run, using the poor excuse of a little breeze as an excuse. Unable to resist his doggy mind control, muttering to myself about craziness and Oz, I changed and laced up my running shoes. Scout wagged his tail and looked pleased with himself.

Off we go. Scout’s ears were flapping. I was still muttering to myself and promising a short run. There are advantages to not training for marathons anymore. The ability to cut runs short during hurricane strength winds are definitely one of them. Scout’s nose was busy, obviously something interesting on the wind. His paws trotted happily. I sighed. The dog is crazy.

A mile passes under our feet. I glance down at Scout as he looks up to me. His mouth was open in a smile, his eyes met mine, dancing in joy. In that moment, I knew his happiness and joy in the moment. I looked ahead and saw the snow on the Blue Mountains and felt the wind and thought “what a great day to run.”

I had an epiphany today. I am a runner. I never stopped being a runner. Before my TBI, I was a bit a of perfectionist. I did not judge other runners. Each runner has different goals and abilities. Some were faster than me. Some were slower. My goal was to improve my time in each age category and on each course. When I participated in the Missoula Half Marathon in 2012, I felt both like it was an accomplishment and a let down. First, it was “only” a half marathon. I “should” race a half marathon or run it as part of training for a full marathon. Instead, I completed the run for itself… and walked…. more than once. Part of me felt I failed. I was 15 months post TBI. I went from barely walking without falling to completing 13.1 miles. That’s not a failure.

My epiphany: I am a runner. Scout reminded me today the joy of running. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast or if I walk or not. The joy is in running, in being. Perhaps I am ready to consider running a marathon again.

Enjoy the roads!

Finish line me.  Looking "good."  lol

Finish line me. Looking “good.” lol

Scout’s Journey. Becoming a Service Dog

Becoming a service dog is hard work.  My human found me at the “dog pound.”  I didn’t know why I was locked up or what I did wrong.  I was only 8 months old, still a puppy.  So many humans looked at me and some even played.  There was something different about this human.  I know she felt it, too.   Soon after, I went to the Walla Walla Penitentiary.  That was scary.  The doors all clang behind you and everything smells different.  I met my trainer.  I really have learned a lot from him.  I know how to sit, stay, down, and heel.  I no longer jump up on people to say hello.  I guess humans don’t like that.  I’ve been working hard at learning how to be polite so I can go to my new home.  I’ve been here two months.  That’s a long time when you’re a puppy.

 

This is me- Scout

 

Today, my trainer’s trainer, she’s in charge of the program, took me to visit my new home.  I remembered the lady.  She was really nice.  I met these odd animals called “ferrets.”  There were two of them.  I met them one at a time.  They were in a little barred place so I could see and smell them but not play.  The humans took the ferrets out and let them climb on me.  I wasn’t sure I liked that.  It didn’t hurt, but they smell weird.  I think I did ok.  I got scolded a few times for wanting to play.  I guess I nip-played at them.  I don’t think she was angry with me but maybe I’m not supposed to play with them?  I’m not really sure.  I also got in trouble for trying to chase the cat.  Well, she ran.  What else was I supposed to do?  All in all, I know the lady was impressed with what a good dog I am becoming.  I did my down/stays and come really well.  It was hard to concentrate because everything was so new!  There were so many smells to sniff.   I like this human.  And she likes me.  I wonder what I else I need to learn to be a “service dog?”  I know I get to help her.  That will be fun!

This is one of those strange ferret-things. I think her name is Kaliyah

 

This is funny. Brigid was a kitten and didn’t know what to make of the ferret-thing, either. I know what to do with cats- chase. But, I was told I couldn’t.

 

I overheard the humans talking.  I get to spend a night next weekend!  That will be so good to be with the new human a while.

They also talked about what I need to learn to do.  There’s so much!  In addition to my basic commands, I have to be comfortable out in public, no matter what happens.  I’ll get to go into stores and resteraunt.   I have to leave things alone, not beg, get on something called an elevator, go through “automatic doors,” get into and out of the car on command.  I like people, so being nice to them and not barking isn’t a problem.  I forget sometimes and jump up to say hi.  I’m working on that.   I also have to help my human when she needs it.  She gets scared if someone comes up behind or from the sides.  I’ll learn how to tell her someone is coming.  From what the humans say, I have to learn three “tasks” that directly address my human’s problems.  I’m a smart dog.  I can do it.  I’ll be “in training” for almost another year.  I’ll also get my own uniform of a harness and patches to wear, telling everyone I’m training to be a service dog.   There’s so much to learn!  This tells you about service dogs: http://psychdog.org/publicaccess.html   That’s what I have to learn to do.

 

 

I like her.

My human seems happy about getting me home soon.  I’ll be a good dog.  You watch!

The Trip Home

On Sunday, July 8, 2012, I ran my first half-marathon since my injury.  The race was the Missoula Half Marathon in MT.  For a race report, click here: https://ferretrunner.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/missoula-half-marathon-race-report/

The trip to Missoula itself was extremely enjoyable.  My friends, Carol and Brenna, and I arrived the Friday evening before the race.  On Saturday, we picked up my race packet and looked around the expo.  After lunch, we returned to the hotel.  I needed my afternoon nap.  While I slept, my friends explored Missoula.   It is a nice little town, with plenty of activities.  There are trail rides, white water rafting, hiking, and other activities for those who are adventurous.  Due to my injury and the race, we didn’t participate in any of those activities.  Carol and Brenna returned from their power shopping trip in time to wake me up to explore a little before dinner.

That evening, Brenna and I had a bit of an adventure.  We went for a walk on the bike trail next to the river.  We saw a woman running towards us.   At first, we figured she was a runner out for an evening workout.  As she came closer, I noted she was barefoot and dressed oddly for a runner.  She was wearing jeans and a loose, flowery blouse.  Her legs were muddy.  This was strange.  As she came up to us, I asked if she was ok.  I had a sense there was something wrong.  She said she was fine and continued on.   Less than a quarter-mile later, we came to the footbridge over the river.  There was a police officer there, walking back to his vehicle.  I stopped him and told him what we had seen.  He said, “That could be the woman we’re looking for.  How long ago did you see her?” He then got on his radio with the information and jogged to his car.  I wonder what trouble she was in.  I wasn’t trying to “snitch” on her.  I was worried she was in danger.

After dinner, Brenna and I went to the casino in the hotel.  It was quiet.  Most of the machines were Keno or poker and were not of interest.  I found an electronic version of a “one-armed bandit.”  We spent a half hour trying to figure out how the game was scored; what made a winning line.  I liked the machine.  It had pictures of animals and played classical music when you won.  We played low bet for over an hour, laughing at the game and our own naiveté about how it was played.  One of the animals was a squirrel that looked like a beaver to us.  At one point, Brenna exclaimed, “I want more beaver.”  It was quite humorous, once she realized what she had said!

The next day was race day.  We didn’t do much after the race.  I needed to sleep and was exhausted the rest of the day.

We left to return home Monday morning.   Montana is a beautiful state.  We drove through a mountain range.  After about 2 hours, I was getting rather car sick from the curving of the road and the elevation gains and losses.  When I asked for a break, Carol didn’t quite understand the situation.  She passed three exits.  We finally stopped at a rest area.   Unfortunately, my stomach was in rebellion and I had a discussion with “ralph” in the rest room.  When I started feeling better, I noticed the prairie dogs.  There was a colony living in the grassy area at the rest stop.  The animals were obviously fed by humans.  They had little fear.  If you stayed calm, they came right up to you and would take food from your hands.  I enjoyed sitting in the grass in the sun, watching the prairie dogs and feeding them as they came up to me.  Several stood on their haunches, begging.  I felt a calm connection to them.   I was totally involved in the experience.  I no longer worried about the retreating nausea or taking care of the ferrets when I got home.  It was me, the sun, and the prairie dogs.  Mindfulness.

 

The race and trip gave me hope.  I completed the half-marathon!  I came home with a sense of accomplishment.  And increased hope that I will, eventually, be able to run a marathon again.   I felt more confidence in myself as I am now.  It also showed  me how much my symptoms have improved since the accident.  I have more hope I will return to full-time work.  I came back re-energized and ready to continue with my rehabilitation.

“Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it’s all about.”  -PattiSue Plumer, U.S. Olympian

Missoula Half Marathon Race Report

The Missoula (MT) Marathon and Half Marathon were run on Sunday, July 8, 2012.  I ran the half-marathon.  It was the first major running event I have participated in since my Traumatic Brain Injury.  I completed the half in just over 2 hours.  That was the hardest “race” I have completed.  I was not running for time or place.  Instead, I ran for the experience and the constant struggle to continue to live life post-TBI.

Starting area

The half-marathon started at 6 in the morning, in order to beat the heat of the day.   It was still dark when I arrived at the starting area via shuttle bus.  It was  5 am.  As I rode the bus, I reflected that I thought my days of pre-dawn bus rides ended with my Army service.  It was a surreal ride.  I kept checking to make sure I wasn’t in uniform and wearing OCIE (field gear).  Nope, still wearing running clothes.

Surviving the starting of the race required adjustment from my usual pre-race routine.  In order to reduce some of the sensory stimulation, I wore sunglasses, my running hat, and hearing protection.  It was not yet dawn.  I also had taken a half-dose of anti-anxiety medication.  The starting area was a large area.  I was able to stay away from the loudspeakers and the worse of the crowding while waiting to line up.  On the starting line, the familiarity of routine took over.  I knew what to expect.  Before longer races, runners tend to be focused.  Their conversations are quiet.  There is little yelling and unexpected motion.  I spoke to a member of the National Guard marathon team.  I hope he did well on the race.   I met a lady who was a veteran also.  I ran part of the race with her, until she sped up.  But, having someone “familiar” during the first miles helped.  Running is  calming. The pounding of foot to pavement is a centering and grounding experience.  I still had some problems with sensory stimulation during the first miles, when the runners were still crowded together.  I made a few stumbles with stride corrections and felt sick.

Mountains at the startline

The course was beautiful, especially the first half of the race.  We ran through a rural area, in the foothills of the surrounding mountains.  We were next to the river.  I watched the sun rise over the water as the race got under way.  The morning was clear and fresh and the temperature mild.    The first aid station was hard.  There were too many runners and some women cheered loudly.   I was overwhelmed and ended up tripping on the side of the road.  The fall did not result in injury but was jarring regardless.  Since I was carrying water and Gatorade, I made the decision not to take advantage of the aid stations from that point onward.  The stops were too busy.  I stayed to the left and focused on some point downroad from me.  Although I did not partake of most of the stops, the on-course support was great.  There were also a lot of people who came out just to cheer on runners.   Some home owners set up lawn sprinklers to cool runners as they passed.  The people of Missoula were awesome!

We crossed this bridge on course.

 

I got more tired as the run progressed.  I stayed to the plan to take short walk breaks.  However, for the most part, I did not “hit the wall” like I had during training runs.  I think having other runners with me helped.  Their energy encouraged me to keep going when I really wanted to quit.  The last few miles were a painful blur.  About mile 11, a migraine threatened.  I took Alleve in an attempt to stave of the inevitable.  It worked to a degree.  It kept the pain at a tolerable level until the finish line.  I took another trip about mile 12.  I managed to keep my balance with the help of another runner that I bumped off.  Fortunately, I did not knock him off stride.  As I got closer to the finish line, I heard the crowd cheering.  I put the hearing protection back in my ears.  I removed them soon after the start as I found them unneccessary on the course.  The finish line was incredible.  Given that it was just after 8 am on a Sunday, there was a large crowd out cheering on finishers.

spectators on the bridge at the finishing. Taken from Caras Park.

 

The bridge at the finish line.

 

The finish area was well organized.  At this point, my migraine had arrived, full force.  I swallowed my migraine medication with some Powerade provided at the finish.  I sat in the medical tent a few minutes to get out of the noise and sun.  I waited until the nausea subsided and the medication started to work.  When I left, I followed the crowd through the rest of the recovery area.   The food provided was ok.  This is one thing I would change.  They offered warm pasta, some fruit, nuts, and Popsicles.  To me, the pasta didn’t work.  The thought of hot food made me sick.  I had some watermelon and nuts.  The line I was in ran out of Popsicles.  The area had two lines through an open-sided tent for food.  I prefer to have more tables where runners can walk from one to another.  However, given that it got quite hot as the day progressed, the race needed to keep volunteers and runners under shade.  Given that, it was probably the best arrangement they could make.

Packet pick up the day before the race was held in Caras Park.  There was also a show, with vendors of running gear and other items.  The packet pick up was well organized and smooth.  On race day, Caras Park was the reunion area.  They had some vendors there in the tents.  One thing I really liked was the ability to get your finish results immediately.  The races were chip-timed.  You typed in your race number and got a print out with your gun time, chip time, and place finishes (age group and overall).  It was cool to have that information immediately after finishing.

Finish line me. Looking “good.” lol

 

 

 

I loved the park.  There was plenty of room to move around.  I found a quiet area in the shade of a tree to rest while I waited for my friends to find me.  It was a beautiful place.

The river at the park

 

The “other side” of the river

 

I returned to the hotel and slept four hours.  I did much better than I expected in managing the crowds and the run.  I wish I didn’t need the ear plugs and anxiety medication to be able to tolerate the crowds to run.  The migraine made the race ending unpleasant.  However, all in all, it was a great experience.

If you are a marathon or half-marathon runner or walk, I recommend the Missoula Marathon.

A Long Absence

I haven’t been blogging recently.  I went through a time where I withdrew inside.  Acceptance is a process.  Recently, I have been struggling with accepting the outcomes of my brain injury.  I keep improving, but so slowly.  Meanwhile, it seems like life is moving by at warp speed while I struggle along on impulse power.  “Captain, she’s nae firin’ on all thrusters!”    I think that really describes how it feels in my head sometimes.  Things come at me so fast that I struggle to keep up and comprehend what I need to do.

This weekend marks a step forward.   Although I struggled with pain, fatigue, and nausea, I continued my training for a half marathon.   The Missoula Half Marathon on Sunday marks the first race post-injury.  Really, I expect to walk a fair amount of the race.   The longest run I managed to complete was 8.5 miles.  That is a respectable distance.  I paid a high price in migraine and nausea.    However, it strikes a huge change in my previous running experience.  Two weeks before the accident, I completed the Yakima Valley Marathon, setting a personal record on the course.  I miss being able to lay down those long training runs and races.   They are a challenge, mentally and physically.   Completing the training cycle and race marks significant dedication to the sport.  It doesn’t matter how fast (or not) you run, if you complete a marathon, that’s an accomplishment!  For some reason, the longer runs trigger my symptoms.  I think it has to do with fatigue and repetitive motion.  Running is a physically difficult sport.  It involves all the senses and I often find myself struggling with sensory overload issues as I run longer.  It is encouraging that I can run around 5 miles on a good day fairly comfortably.   The first 2-4 are usually easy miles.  Maybe, over time, I’ll recover enough to marathon again.

So, this Sunday is a halfer (13.1 miles).   I ran the Missoula Marathon the first year they held the event.  I went the whole 26.2.  The course is beautiful.  There’s a few hills to make it challenging but there’s good course support.   The half course doesn’t have the toughest hill of the full.  Yet, there’s still some good scenic areas.   It will be good to put myself out there and try to run a half.   I wish I had the shirts.  I tried to design a shirt for the race about TBI Awareness.  I didn’t like any of the designs I came up with and ran out of time.  I plan to keep trying to come up with an idea.  I want to make shirts to sell to friends, with the profits going to Brain Injury Association of America.

Wish me luck for the weekend!  Race report to follow!

 

Not Funny

Today’s workout started out as a pleasant recovery run.  The plan was an easy 3-4 mile run.   I took a nap after work, then went out to enjoy the gorgeous spring day.  It is bright, sunny, and about 60 degrees.  The run went fine until the encounter.  A car with two young males slowed as it came even with me from behind.  One of the “men” leaned out the window and yelled something I couldn’t quite make out.  A wolf-whistle followed.  Naturally, I was startled and jumped.  My body went into “fight or flight mode.”  The car passed me.  I tried to catch the licence plate but with short term memory problems after the TBI anyway, I couldn’t recall anything past the first digit and a vague impression of the car.  Then, it circled back.  “Sex-y baby!  You hot!”  Now, being that I am passed the bloom of my youth, this could be complimentary if it wasn’t so frightening and inappropriate.  “Come on, baby.  Nice ass.”  The car paced me.  Ever been so frightened that you can’t speak?  I was there.  So much for being strong.  Of course, I was planning my defenses and preparing to fight if they got out of the car.  I did manage what my father called the “dour look” and what a friend refers to as “stink eye.”  I may have been scared but danged if I would show it.   It seemed forever, but was probably only a minute or two, when a police car turned onto the street ahead.  I waved at the officer, beckoning him to stop.  The car, naturally, took off.   I told the cop what happened and he called on the radio, then took my information.   The cop came to my house later to tell me what happened. They stopped the vehicle.  The young “men” said they were “only joking” and it was meant as a compliment.  Some joke.  Unfortunately, the police couldn’t charge them with any crime.  I guess following a woman yelling sexual comments is perfectly acceptable, or at least legal.  It’s not harassment, as it was a one time event.  Nor did it meet the definition of stalking.  The only thing the cops could cite them for was using foul language.  Seriously.  That law is still on the books in my town.  It is usually not enforced.  The police wrote a contact report and read the boys the riot act.  They warned the boys to leave me alone in the future.   Wonderful.   The only problem is now I am afraid to run alone again.  I don’t have enough friends who run to constantly have a training partner, so I suppose I’ll either have to give up running or suck up the fear.    You’ll excuse me if I’m not laughing at their “joke.”

After the police officer left, I had a meltdown.  I had three anxiety attacks in the past, all since my TBI.   This was number four.  Crying, hyperventilating, vomiting.  Yeah, that was a great “joke” boys.  My neighbors saw the police car and knocked on the door.  They’re great people.  I live at the end of a street and all my neighbors are retired and the nicest people.  They watch out for my place when I’m gone and keep an eye on vehicles and strangers.   One time, they almost called the police on my pet sitter.  He is a co-worker, another social worker.  But, he rides a Harley.  I’m out of town, and here comes this strange man, in motorcycle leathers, riding a Harley and trying to get into my apartment.  For what it’s worth, my neighbors called out to him.  He showed them his VA work ID and said he was pet-sitting.  I made sure to let my neighbors know I when I was out of town after that!  Anyway, I digress.  I was so upset that I couldn’t face talking to them.  It took almost an hour for me to calm down.  I washed my face, then went over to my neighbor and told her I was ok.  I didn’t tell her the specifics of what happened and she was respectful enough not to ask.  The TBI really changed how I handle things.  My sense of safety is a lot more sensitive.  I can’t let this take my strength.  So, I suppose I’ll be on the road again tomorrow.  I promised myself a long time ago that I will not let fear run my life.  Fear gives them power.  I won’t do that.  But, I won’t run in this area for a while.  Maybe I’ll invest in a stun gun.

Last week, a local store owner shot an intruder with a shotgun and killed him.  The intruder was a known gang member.  However, according to the news reports, he was not armed at the time he broke into the store.  The matter is under investigation.  I understand the feeling that is driving the recent increase of violence on the part of victims.  It often seems that the criminals have more legal protections and assistance than those they are victimizing.  Honestly, I doubt I would have shot those idiots but I wished for a stun gun and mace.  I suppose it is a human response to want to take back power after fear by harming those who harmed you.  I don’t particularly like that part of myself.  Yes, I will defend myself.  But, to be an avenger, no.  I really want society to succeed by law.  We need more victims’ programs and less money spent on defending and providing programming for criminals.

All in all, today was not a good day.  Writing about it helped but I’m still sitting here, checking my doors and windows for the third time in an hour.   Yeah, boys.  Nice “joke.”  NOT!

 

 

 

 

 

Great Day!

Whitman Mission site. The memorial.

Today was a great day to run! The weather was perfect; 50 degrees, clear, with a gentle breeze. The sky was an incredible blue. I ran from my house, to the Whitman Mission, and back. In the picture above, you can see the memorial site. It sits on top of a fairly steep hill. I ran the hill without stopping. The view from the top is awesome! The entire distance is 9 miles. My pace was comfortable and I experienced the wonderful “runner’s high.” The best part: no migraine. I didn’t struggle much with overstimulation problems. It was a quiet morning when I ran. I had some problems going past the private air strip. A hobby plane was taking off. The engine noise caused some dizziness. I stumbled on a rock but managed to keep my balance. No injury. I felt a bit queasy after that. I needed a two hour nap after the run. But, it was a smooth, enjoyable workout. My run time was 1:27:50.

The mill pond and mission site from top of the memorial hill. See the mountains in the background.

I haven’t had a run like that in a long time. I experimented with my hydration today. I usually drink water on runs under 10 miles. Today, I used CytoMax. I think the extra calories and carbohydrates helped. Since the head injury, I don’t feel hunger. I’m also more sensitive to changes in hydration and blood sugar. It requires me to be aware of my food and liquid intake much more than I had been in the past. This had positive impact on my dietary habits. I know that I drink more water and less caffeine. I am also more aware of what I eat and when. The half marathon is a little under two months away. I have not yet run that distance. Usually, for a half, my long run during training would be at least 18 miles. My long run now is 10, with a high price. My goal for the race is to finish. I am not worried at all about my time or place. It has been an interesting journey, learning what my body can do now, after the accident. In several ways, I became a different person. I process information slower than before. I also struggle with chronic migraines and stamina problems. I need daily naps. Recently, I increased my work hours. I tried to work a full day on Mondays. Unfortunately, about 2-3pm, my mind crashes. I start getting headaches, physical and mental fatigue. My processing time slows more, I become even more easily distracted, and I get downright irritable. The last three weeks, I have gone home after my full day, exhausted and in pain. I took a short nap, forcing myself awake after an hour so I could sleep at night. Monday nights were miserable. Tomorrow, I’ll speak to my supervisor about cutting my Monday hours back to getting off at 2:30. It’s ironic that a former marathon runner struggles with stamina issues. Mental stamina is a different ballgame. It is difficult for me to run. It tires me out like never before. However, I love running still. I get a sense of connection and peace that is so often missing in my life. Meditation brings much of the same feelings but not the health benefits of a good run! So many life problems were solved while pounding pavement or running a trail. This is something I am not willing to quit. I may adjust my goals, but my feet will continue to hit the streets! I am working with a friend on a t-shirt design for the race. My shirt will be a technical running shirt. My support team’s will be cotton. The shirt will have a green and gold ribbon on the front, with TBI Survivor, 4/25/11. On the back will be a design using a drawing of dogwood and Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor. Never Quit. My support team’s shirts will say “Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness.” Or support. Not sure which. It should be a cool shirt. Days until Missoula Half Marathon: 58