Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Re-Cap Part II

Concussions suck. Especially when you are a sun worshiper, like myself, and you have a concussion in the middle of the summer when the sun is out and all you want to do is stay in a dark room because the sunlight makes your head hurt.

They also suck when you are trying to run and can’t because your head feels like it is about to burst. And finally, they suck when you are trying very hard to use your brain to think and write and come up with academically sounding sentences for your PhD.

The only good thing about concussions is that you can nap without feeling guilty for not doing a damn thing, because literally you can’t help but fall asleep. And on second thought, perhaps this will prepare me better for my career as an NFL cornerback…or not.


It wasn’t until the tail end of August that I started to feel better. By this time my running had suffered much more than my PhD. Which, is probably an okay thing. I was starting to hit my stride in August with PhD work. I was finally feeling like my data was worth something and that perhaps finishing this was worth it after all. Because there was a time this summer when I looked at my data and thought – I have nothing. I have nothing important here and nothing to say.

I took a “vacation” in August. My family and I went to the beach for a week. For the most part, it was a working vacation. I was determined to have a first draft done before the term started in September. I even had a week off planned in September to just write and focus on school to get this done.

Running in August sucked big time. It was like starting all over again by the time I felt well enough to attempt long runs. My lungs were aching, my legs were sore, my left ankle was acting up, and I just couldn’t get it together. Work was also busy in August, which pushed running down the list some more.

August felt busy. It was hard in some ways, and all I wanted to do was catch a little break and feel some sense of control before I had my week off in September. It used to be that summer was a time during the academic year when a person could catch up on some work. With record enrollments and large initiatives, that hasn’t been the case lately and certainly not this past summer.


By the start of this month I felt really burnt out. I just didn’t feel motivated about starting a new academic year at work, I still had two chapters left to write, and the most I had run was 18 miles, and that had been back in July. The day before my week break from work, I was feeling particularly overwhelmed, and it was all I could do to keep it together. It wasn’t the best time to be taking a week off, but it was the only time I could.

My week off started great. My parents were in town to help watch my kid, and that meant I had full days to focus on school and running. I started out the first part of the week running each day 13-14 miles at a time, and then locking myself away to write. I was plugging along on Chapter 4, and was starting to realize it was kicking my ass. But, I held strong - running and writing for hours each day.

By middle of that week a little something-something popped up. That little bit of a runny nose and sore throat that may or may not be something. By Thursday night that little something decided it was going to be a SOMETHING. By the end of the day Friday I lost my voice and had the shivers. A full blown cold complete with laryngitis came to visit. Oh, and did I mention that Chapter 4 is still kicking my ass at this point? Bye bye Chapter 5, don’t have time for you this week. Oh, and that 18 miler I was planning? Out the window – can’t breathe. I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself.

But as it with life, you adjust. (Caution, here comes the touchy feely part) You remember why it is we do the things we do. I remembered why it is that I love working in higher education, why it is that I love my job. I adjusted my expectations of myself – so what if Chapter 4 is not done? So what? I’ll finish it and move on to Chapter 5. And so what if I didn’t get to my 18 miler? I’ll just run 20 next week. So what if I don’t’ finish the marathon with my original time goal? It’s not like this is the only one I’ll ever run – I’m hooked on the running thing, and this will be the first of many, of that I am sure.

So, here I am. End of September and feeling pretty damn good again. My training post-concussion has been a bit choppy, but the thing is, I ran 20 miles this past weekend and I’m still standing. My goal with the marathon in two weeks is to finish running and have fun. I’m not attempting to set any records after all.

And now that the term has begun at work I feel excited. The students are all back, I’ve got a great crew I get to work with, the campus is all shiny and bright. I can also build back in those evening and weekend hours to work on school. I am so close, SO CLOSE to having this draft done. Then, I’ll turn it in and take it from there. Edits I can handle.

I learned two really important things this summer. These may not be new or groundbreaking, but for a control freak like me, and for someone (like me) who loves to compete against themselves, this was pretty big: First, let your body guide you. I love running. When I don’t get to run, I miss it. I am at my best running. But, if I want to run for many years to come, I need to listen to my body and give it the breaks that it needs. It’ll be fine. The challenge of starting over again and seeing your body get back into the groove, that’s pretty amazing. Second- while I do see more marathons in my future, I can honestly say that once I finish this PhD, I never want to do it again. Even if I do have that sickness they call “lifetime learning”.

Oh, I guess I did learn one more thing – if you do get hit in the head with a paddle, get it checked out ASAP. Don’t get on a plane the next day and ride roller coasters.

Goal Updates -

Running: Will work out a few times this week, run 13 miles this weekend and then take it easy before the big race on 10/6.

School: Will finish Chapter 4 and 5 in about a week and a half. Then, turn that into my major for first round of slashing (err..I mean editing).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Long (maybe long awaited) Update – Part I

Note to self – blogging may require more than the occasional posting.

Well internet, I am two weeks away from the marathon and damn close to a first complete draft of my dissertation. Where did the time go?

Since my last post was June 2nd, let us turn back the clock and pick it up from there. Here it is, my summer (Part I), re-capped just for your reading pleasure….


Running was going well. Very well. Which was a good thing, because in June I was wrapping up a job application process, which eventually led to me being offered the job I was in as an interim for the past year permanently. It’s stressful applying for and interviewing for a job you are in. Add on top of that the fact that I’ve been working where I work for close to 10 years – people know you, you know them, and you can’t hide. Running in June was a nice way to relieve the stress and then celebrate the good news. June was also the month that I took the plunge and got contacts. I don’t wear them everyday, and I got them mainly for running. I spent a lot of time swearing and poking my eyes in June. But you know what? Running with contacts is a whole new experience. I mean, have really seen Portland? Have you really seen Forrest Park and all the beautiful trails? Apparently I haven’t really seen them all these years (running without my glasses all that time) because it was like a whole new world. Now there is no excuse for me getting lost or turned around because I can’t read a trail marker or street sign.


I was excited heading into July for two reasons. First, I was running upwards of 15 miles – more than I had ever run before – and I felt confident going into the half-marathon I had entered. Second, this marked the month were I would begin to take one day off a week from work to write and work on the PhD. Actually sit down and have a whole day to myself to just work on school.

Now, I know that working on school for a whole day may sound horrible. But, I have to say it felt luxurious. I haven’t had the luxury in a very, very long time to just say I was going to do nothing but school work. Hey, it’s the little things in life.

My half-marathon was at the beginning of the month, and I set a personal record. I ran it with a 9 minute 30 second mile pace. This is by far the best race I have on record at this length. And you know what? I felt great at the end – like I could have done it again.

So, here we are, heading into the middle of July and I am feeling good about school and feeling like a full marathon is totally doable. Enter my trip to Maupin.

Last year I had the opportunity to go to a conference where white water rafting and the river are used as a metaphor for learning outcomes and assessment. If you think I am making this up, visit (and yes that is me on the webpage with a big goofy grin). This year, I had the opportunity to return to this conference and continue the work I had started with a team of folks from my college. Now, if you clicked on that website above and looked at that picture, you will see that I was sitting in the first row of the raft. That was last year. This year I was feeling all full of myself and opted to sit in the same spot.

Maupin is a little down in Oregon that sits on the banks of the Deschutes River. The stretch of river that we raft during this conference is affectionately known as the “splash and giggle” section of the Deschutes. Don’t let that fool you – there are some tricky rapids on this stretch. We rafted three days – same stretch of river, and increasing difficulty each day. The first day we started off on a rapid called Wapinitia. You aren’t supposed to fall out on this one.

I fell out.

Not only did I fall out, I fell out on the left side of the raft and got pinned between the raft and the large rock that helps to make this rapid. Not only did I get pinned, but I couldn’t swing my legs in front of me (as you are supposed to do when you fall in the river) and my left leg from my hip bone to my ankle got smashed on the rock…multiple times.

Okay, so I fell out. No big deal. I love, LOVE, the water. I am a pretty strong swimmer, so I’m not too worried. I get back in the raft. We all have a good laugh. Ha! Ha! Did you see that crazy Katy girl?! She fell out! Our guide could not believe that happened, but we soon put it behind us. Never mind that I couldn’t feel what was to come on my hip bone and ankle - the water in the Deschutes is cold enough to numb you.

So, on to the next rapid. We get through that without me or anyone falling out. Whew. But then the guide decides that we need to run it again. But this time, instead of going to the right of the rock, we are going to “floss the cheeks”. As in, go between the two large rocks in the middle of this rapid. Hey, I’m game. No one else in the raft may be, but I am.

So we make a run for it. And I bounce out. Again. And what I remember yelling on the way down was, “Are you serious?!”. When I looked back, the raft was curled around one of the rocks, and my buddies were all scrambling to the top of the rock so they wouldn’t tip over. I was rescued by another raft and dragged on. Except that there was no place for me to sit. And since we are about to approach another rapid and my raft was still maneuvering off the rock I had to ride the bull. Ride the Bull means I sit on the front of the raft holding this rope between my legs. When I did this same move last year and we hit the rapid, I fell backwards. Can you guess what happened this time? Yeah…I rode that next rapid with my feet stuck straight up in the air while my head was wedged down by the first row and the front of the raft with water all over me.

Okay, so that was day one. We put out down the river and get back on the bus that will take us back to the lodge. That’s when I begin to feel a little sore…a lot sore. I look down and see that there is a golf ball sized lump on the top part of my left foot. I also find out that I can’t walk very well. Turns out I busted that foot pretty bad. No broken bones (which I didn’t get confirmed until 2 weeks later) but it was bad enough that I couldn’t walk without a limp and I couldn’t run for almost 2 weeks. I also had a horribly large bruise on my left hip that was about the size of a personal pizza.

Oh, but wait. The story is not over. On the third and final day of rafting a fate worse than a bruised hip or banged up foot befell me. There I was, on the river – my last day. I was determined to have one last good run of the Deschutes. I wanted to get out and ride some rapids on my own terms. And when the time came for me to do so, I dipped out of the raft to ride a suck hole. Yes, a suck hole. That’s when – right at the precise moment – you tip out of the raft and get sucked into a whirling spiral of water and get sucked in and pop out of the river a little bit downstream. Super fun. The first time I missed the suck hole – bad timing. So, the raft went around again, and out I went. I felt the water sucking me in, and then my back hit the top of the raft. Not a big deal. I have a vest on, I know I’ll come out on the other side. And I do, I pop right out on the other side of the raft. And I mean pop right out (funny how when you are super buoyant and are trapped under something you just fly right on out when that something moves). And right as my little head pops out of the water….SMACK. A beaver tail hits me. A BEAVER. And it’s all, “Go Beavers!” and I’m all, “Go Ducks!”…..

Okay, not really – but that version had a few people going for a while. The smack came from a paddle. The perfect timing of the universe had it so that just as I was popping out of the water, the guide was instructing my raft mates to paddle forward in order to give me some room. Not just any paddle forward, but one HARD paddle forward.

I saw stars. Little flashes of light here and there. And I all I could say was, “Are you kidding me?! SERIOUSLY?!” From my smack came a goose egg. A big honking goose egg. Ideally I would have gone to get that checked out. But seeing as I was in Maupin and seeing that I was going to be on a plane the next day to San Jose, I decided that I didn’t need to. I mean, it’s not like I passed out.

Never mind that the next four days I am in San Jose I am constantly sleepy and can’t get rid of this damn headache. It’s probably just because I am so tired from the conference. I mean…I did get my butt kicked by the river. Hey, is that a roller coaster? I love those, lets get on it!

Fast forward to two weeks later. Me in the doctor’s office. Diagnosis – concussion.

So, to re-cap Part I of my summer – started off great, ended with an ankle I couldn’t run on and a concussion. A concussion that prevented me from running (constant pounding motions are apparently not good when you are concussed) and made it very hard for about two months to get through a day without a massive headache. Not so good for PhDing either.

Stay tuned for Part II…..