1

One weekend, two DNSes

Two races. I DNSed two races this weekend. I’m not too happy about it either.

Back in July, I started kicking around the idea of doing a second fall marathon this year. I didn’t want to commit to it at the time, but it was an idea I had in the back of my head. I figured there’d be two circumstances in which I would actually do it. The first was if I didn’t like how training was going for Chicago Marathon and wanted to push my goal race back. I would run Chicago easy as a training run and then focus on the second marathon as my goal race. The second scenario was if and my recovery both went well.

Enter Philadelphia Marathon.

I ran Philly in 2011 as my first marathon. It was a great experience and it’s less than two hours away. The great thing about Philly is registration stays open until 11/1, less than three weeks before the race. And it rarely, if ever, sells out. It’s perfect for a last minute marathon! This sounded great to me. I could wait and see how Chicago recovery went for three weeks and then make a decision. Even better, they moved the half marathon to the day before the marathon for the first time this year—rather than running both races together, as they always have in the past. This opened up the option of doing the Rocky Challenge, both the marathon and the half marathon. I really liked this idea, to be honest. I’ve done Goofy Challenge three times and Dopey Challenge once (I’m doing it a second time in January) so I’m no stranger to running a half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days. Anyway, I went ahead and booked a hotel room for the weekend in Philly just so I’d be covered. It was a refundable room so there was no risk to do so.

As we all know, Chicago went fucking amazingly. I didn’t go into it perfectly healthy, but recovery went well enough and, after a lot of back-and-forth, I decided to go for it. And by “it,” I mean the Rocky Challenge. I registered on Halloween.

The next couple weeks went okay. Running wasn’t going as well as I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t anything I was worried about either. Then, all of a sudden, I woke up last Sunday morning and my left ankle and arch hurt like hell. Walking hurt. WTF! I know from experience that pain in my foot and ankle is almost always due to tight calves so I went to work trying to loosen them up. I went to my scheduled physical therapy appointment and her focus on down there. I only did one three-mile run during the week and it didn’t feel great. I was not happy.

In reality, I likely didn’t do anything to cause it. However, since the election, I’ve been tense. Just stressed and tense like all hell. The kind where your whole body is constantly clenched. My teeth have been tightly clenched 24/7 since the 8th. I just can’t seem to get it out. I could feel this tenseness and tightness in my runs. I never felt like I was loosening up. And I especially felt it in my 13-miler the day before the pain started. This was the likely cause of the pain.

So I went into the weekend playing it by ear. Friday night, I decided I would run the half and I set out all my stuff for the race. While the marathon was more important to me, the half felt like a way to at least make sure I salvaged something from the weekend. When I woke up Saturday morning, I went through my routine of getting ready for the race. As I was about to head out the door to the start, things just didn’t feel right. My foot didn’t feel right and the decision to run felt wrong. I decided to take the DNS and try again the next day for the marathon. I got back in bed.

After another couple hours of sleep, I got back up and jogged the .9 miles to the starting line with the wife for the 8k (her race for the weekend). My foot felt kinda eh. I could have gone either way with it. I still didn’t know what to do. The rest of the day continued like this. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

Come 8pm, I had to decide what I was going to do. I knew I could go out there and run the race and likely finish. But at what cost? Was it worth turning this into a full-on injury? Risking Dopey and being miserable in Disney because of it? Honestly, it wasn’t. And I knew that. Plus, the weather was a major factor. For the half marathon, it was amazing weather—calm wind and nice temps. But overnight, everything changed. The temperature dropped into the mid to upper 30s and the wind kicked up to 20mph—and was predicted to get much worse from there during the race. Oof. If I ran, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Was this really a race experience I was worth taking the risk for? What if I did have to DNF out there in the cold? Ugh.

I decided to take another DNS. This was the smart decision. But I was disappointed. I’ve been intensely depressed since the election and this really drove me deeper into it. Not to mention how pissed I was about the money. I was pissed I even registered for both races and paid for the hotel for the weekend. It was a $1,000 I didn’t really need to waste.

And, of course, I woke up in the morning and my ankle felt okay. Good enough to run a marathon on, I thought.

In the end, the weekend wasn’t a complete loss. We met up with a ton of friends we hadn’t seen in a while and ate at a bunch of great restaurants. It’s just never fun to DNS a race. And it’s even less fun to DNS two races in the same weekend.

Life goes on. I’m bummed, but I’ll live. It wasn’t a goal race, it was only ever just a cherry on top.

7

How did I run a nearly flawless race?

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

It’s been a week and a half now since my nearly-flawless marathon in Chicago and I’m still trying to put together what I take away from this race. I’ve always been of the mindset that there’s much more to learn from failure than from success, but this race feels like the exception to the rule, for me. I want to analyze every bit of it and pick out what I did right and make it a part of my marathon training, planning, routine, and strategy going forward.

Two and a half years ago, I ran a personal worst at the New Jersey Marathon—if you exclude the Disney World Marathon and only look at races I’ve raced. To this day, I’ve never toed the starting line of a race more prepared or with more training miles under my belt—I even crushed a 20k five weeks before the race in a nearly exact mirror of my half marathon from three weeks before Chicago. Unfortunately, everything went wrong on race day. Weather was 30-50º warmer than nearly all of my training miles. It was windy as heck that day—the pacers all finished with their little flag sticks broken from it. I felt both dehydrated and uneasy to my stomach from the start. My legs just were not into the idea of running goal pace miles. And I all-around had no energy.

At the time, I chalked this up to overtraining. I assumed I just pushed too hard in training and burned myself out. My second peak week and both taper weeks were a pretty accurate precursor to race day, which felt like further evidence of overtraining. I spent the remainder of 2014 struggling through my running. Every run felt just like the crappiness of New Jersey. It exacerbated my slip into a months long bout with depression that year.

The following spring, I decided I wanted to run Grandma’s Marathon and made adjustments to my training plan to try to avoid the overtraining. Training went well for the first eleven or twelve weeks. Then I started feeling as I had the year before. Things feel apart. I felt like shit while running again. I started struggling through runs and I had zero energy. Two weeks before the race, I decided to DNS. I wasn’t where I wanted to be and I didn’t have the guts to fight it out on race day. A year and a half later, I’m now regretting that decision. I had good reason at the time and even thought I might have been developing an overuse injury. I don’t think I was. I should have raced instead of cheering through tears.

After that failure, I made a visit to my doctor to try to find the root cause of my problems. I had my theories as to why my energy levels kept crashing to zero and getting in the way of my running, but I needed blood work to confirm. It turned out that my hypothesis, which my doctor agreed with, was wrong. I actually had a severe vitamin D deficiency. Not to mention my testosterone was practically zero, but that was of no surprise. I started taking supplements, changed up my hormones, and lowered my testosterone blocker dosage.

A few months later, running started feeling good again, but it was too late to race another marathon before my surgery. So I had to go into surgery having started running well again and knowing I’d be out for at least six weeks.

When I was finally ready to start marathon training again, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be. I hadn’t been running consistently again after surgery long enough to build my base to where it normally is before I needed to switch gears into actual training mode for Chicago. I made a very non-aggressive training plan and set aside my hopes of a BQ and big PR. I was a little disappointed, but I knew going into surgery that this was the most likely outcome.

Much to my surprise, training quickly fell right into place and I started nailing my runs. I hadn’t planned any speed work into my plan on purpose, but I was destroying my mid-week long runs of 8-10 miles. Each became an unplanned tempo run and each was faster than the week before. I started setting unofficial 5k and 10k PRs during them. I felt unstoppable. These runs were fast. The fastest miles I’d run since I transitioned. I kept waiting for training to fall apart because it just felt too good to be true. I got my testosterone level checked, 100% expecting it to be higher than when I was still on blockers. It had to be.

It wasn’t.

So that theory went out the window.

Throughout training, faster and faster times kept feeling easier and easier. I started struggling to keep my pace at 8:00. I was feeling very comfortable 7:30-7:45 and I run by effort so that’s what I ran at. Additionally, my heart rate was the lowest I’ve seen it seen I started tracking it.

On the flip side, a couple of my long runs were busts and my overall mileage was the lowest it’d been for marathon training in years. In my head, I was focused on the number of miles and seeing that as what would be my undoing. What I kept consciously dismissing was how many of the miles that I did do were significantly under goal marathon pace.

Here’s where I’ll mention that by week eight, I secretly changed my goal from “just have a good race and stay healthy, spring will be a BQ attempt” to “fuck everything, I’m going all in for that mythical 3:30 time I really want.”

Three weeks before Chicago, I kicked ass at the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. It wasn’t the best race day execution I’ve ever had, but my time was solid and perfectly in line with a 3:30 marathon. Unfortunately, that was the last good run I had until the marathon. Based on this race alone, I was ready to go for it in Chicago. Based on the three weeks between this race and Chicago, I doubted my ability to even make it through the race uninjured.

So that was everything leading up to the race. What was it that got me there?

After analyzing as much of the race as I can, I’m giving credit to all those fast miles I kept throwing down.

It’s, what I’m calling, the Disney effect. Over the last five years, I’ve done the Goofy Challenge (half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days) three times and Dopey Challenge (5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over four days) once. Each year, I go into these races woefully unprepared. The last two years, I had zero business running a marathon at all, let alone one after doing other races. But each year, feel fucking fantastic. I negative split and I have tons left in the tank by the finish line. The reason it works out is I run these races much slower than I typically run my miles. I run them for fun, I don’t care about time. I try very hard to run as slow as I can. Even though my legs don’t have the miles on them, they are never working very hard during the race. They’re running easy and aren’t fatiguing quickly.

This was also the case in Chicago. Sure, I was running much faster than Disney (31 minutes faster than my fastest Disney Marathon), but I was running much slower than a very large amount of my training miles. The pace didn’t tax my legs the way other marathons I’ve raced do. This allowed me to keep my goal pace while not depleting the tank in the first half to two-thirds of the race.

Sure, I could probably have ran the last few miles even faster with more training miles under my belt, but let’s be honest, I can’t complain about anything here.

Now, of course, this isn’t the only story. Your training doesn’t make for a great race. There were assists along the way. A great race takes planning, hard work, discipline, confidence, and luck.

The leg pain I had during taper, while robbing me of my last long run, meant I got plenty of rest and toed the line with very fresh legs. And more than just the rest, but it made me go to physical therapy three times in two weeks to get my legs massaged and it forced me to actually thoroughly foam roll every day. It was like a blessing in disguise.

Another big factor was being free of my testosterone blocker. I knew the side-effects for it held me back a little, but it wasn’t until it was out of my system that I felt just how much it was. The only positive side-effect from my blocker was the extra potassium in my body, but the loss of that wasn’t as noticeable as I expected it to be.

I also think I nailed my carbo-loading. Maybe not nailed, but I ate a lot of carbs and really focused on making sure that’s where my calories were coming from in the three days before the race. While this is sort of a hard thing to measure, the fact that I had plenty of energy through all 26.2 miles is likely a good indication.

Additionally, I focused on my race plan and stuck to it. I mentally broke up the race into small, manageable chunks. I took it one bit at a time and never let the weight of “oh my god, there are still X miles left” get to me. My first mile was too fast when you look at the time, but was exactly right in terms of the effort and feel. After that, I repeated my plan and strategy over and over in my head during the race. I mean, it was pretty constant. I kept that focus strong. it kept me from getting stupid. Even when I wanted to push a little extra in the middle miles, I listened to the smart voice in my head telling me to hold it back and save it for later. I took my gels throughout the race and I took water at every stop in the first half. I only stopped taking water when I was 100% confident in my hydration level being good for the rest of the race. And that’s something I was only able to do because I know my body and I know my hydration. Training through a hot summer was invaluable here.

And finally, there were all the other things that just went right. I pooped race morning, which I never do. I had good hydration. The weather was fantastic.—cool with only a slight wind and no rain. I timed my morning perfectly to minimize the amount of time I spent standing around on my feet waiting for the race to start. It was a flat course with great crowd support. And there was a big cheer section of people I know literally exactly when I needed it. I really can’t overstate how much that boosted me going into the last 15k. It was like a short of adrenaline that lasted and lasted.

When everything goes right on race day, it’s easy to have a good race and that’s what happened. But a lot of those little things that all add up aren’t things you can control. So the takeaway here is the training and the focus on my race plan. My mindset for the last four years that I need to be putting in more miles to race better was flawed. It’s not about the number of miles. It’s about the quality. Sure, your body needs to build the endurance to go the distance, but quality over quantity. I don’t mean to say I didn’t run quality miles before, but the pace of my runs was always second to the distance in past training cycles.

Going forward, yes, I want to run more miles than I did this time. But I’m going to stop making the quantity the end-all be-all of training.

(I’m on the right in the video below. You can see the moment I realized my time at about 5 seconds in.)

8

2016 Chicago Marathon – 3:28:41

Amelia Gapin with 2016 Chicago Marathon medal in Grant Park

Oh, yes, look at that smile!

Marathon number nine is in the books! And it was fan-fucking-tastic! I would go so far as to describe this as not just my best marathon, but my best race ever.

Pre-race

The plan after getting to Chicago was to hit up the expo and then take it mostly easy though the rest of Friday and Saturday. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on my feet. I just wanted to rest my legs and keep them fresh.

Amelia Gapin at 2016 Chicago Marathon race expo

Got my bib!

The expo was the typical big race expo affair, but we were lucky to get there early enough on Friday that it wasn’t completely insane yet. We did a lap, grabbed some free samples, and I met up with my friend Heather for a few minutes. After that, we chilled at our hotel until it was time for the Oiselle meetup. And that was about it for Friday.

Amelia Gapin at the Bean

Wife and I at The Bean on our shakeout run.

Saturday was even more laid back. I went for a two-mile shakeout run with the wife which we ended at breakfast. I had considered going to one of the many group shakeout runs, but ended up skipping them all. The one with Meb was the one I really wanted to go to, but it filled up before I signed up. And when I woke up on Saturday, I opted for a little extra sleep over going to Bart Yasso’s run, which was also a mile longer than I had wanted to do.

Flat Amy 2016 Chicago Marathon

The obligatory Flat Amy pic of my race clothes laid out the night before.

After breakfast, we stopped by Target to buy some throwaway clothes—I didn’t have any at home, nor the luggage space to carry them if I did—and then relaxed until our delicious, and early af, dinner at Italian Village. Then it was an hour or so of foam rolling my legs before getting in bed! I got to bed by 9:15 which was 👌 for my 5:30 wakeup.

 

Race morning

I woke up easily and felt well-rested and ready to go. I scarfed down a Dunkin Donuts savory donut bagel and then I had to 💩! I never 💩 on race morning, but I considered this a good omen. One less thing to worry about in those late miles. Not that I often have to 💩 during races, but it has happened before. I had just enough time to get dressed and get my stuff together to head out of the hotel right according to plan.

Amelia Gapin pre-2016 Chicago Marathon

Dressed and ready!

The weather was basically perfect. Low 50s, hardly any wind, sunny. I knew it’d get a little warmer later on and I tend to prefer racing in the low to mid 40s, but I knew the weather was going to be a non-issue. Another good sign for the day!

I walked to the start, checked my bag, and got in line for a porta potty. I was feeling okay. No nerves. More calm and relaxed than normal. Before checking my bag with my phone in it, I sent a quick text off to the wife to let her know I’d be radio silence until I saw her at mile 17. She said “you got this” and I, without even thinking, said “I do have this.” And I believed it. I felt confident for the first time in two weeks.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

The porta potty lines were long and I got out with just a few minutes before the corrals closed. I pulled off my throwaway sweatpants, dumped my hoodie, and made my way over. The corral was packed and I entered from the back. But I knew my goal and race plan had me running much faster than almost everyone in my corral (based on the way the corrals were broken out by previous finish times). I slowly worked my way up to the front, but it was tough. There was little room to get through, but I knew that’s where I belonged and needed to be. I knew starting in the front would help me have a more controlled start because I wouldn’t be fighting to get around other runners. I’d have some space to run my own race.

Sun just starting to come up.

Sun just starting to come up.

I finally got all the way up to the second row of people just as the corral before us was sent on their way. I ripped off my makeshift tube sock arm warmers, reminded myself of my race plan, and told myself, again, that I had this.

Miles 0 – 7.5

Once our corral got going, I stayed calm. I had a lot of adrenaline, but I repeated over and over in my head “stay slow, take it easy.” I had switched my Garmin to manual lapping so I could have accurate splits and really be able to assess how I was doing throughout the race without having to worry about the typical GPS inaccuracy. I made it my personal mission to not look at anything on my Garmin except each split on the mile. That was it, besides the occasional heart rate checkin on my Apple Watch.

Throughout mile one I felt great. Easy and relaxed. I felt like I was running slow. I know, you’ve heard this before. When I got to mile one, I saw a 7:48 and panicked for a minute. “Shit! I was supposed to run around 8:20! Did I just blow my whole race?EVERY TIME, AMY!” But I quickly pulled it together and eased back a little. It’s a long race, I could recover. Plus, I felt like I was supposed to in that mile and I was running this race by feel.

My heart rate was quite high, in the mid-170s, for the first mile, but I didn’t feel it. I was totally confident in chalking that up to race start adrenaline.

Miles two and three ticked off uneventfully as I eased myself in. Almost got taken out by a few spectators crossing the course a few times, but that was an issue multiple times throughout the race.

The first 3-4 miles of this race are loud with strong crowd support, you need to take it in and store it for later, but you can’t let it go straight to your legs or you’ll blow your whole race. I just kept repeating my race plan in my head and kept telling myself I had this. Step one was getting to the northern most part of the course and hitting that turnaround at Addison (~7.5 miles). Then step two was getting to the Willis Tower and the halfway point. Step three was the Oiselle Cowbell Corner at 17 where my wife was. Then mile 20 and finally the finish. I had everything nice and broken out in my head. One step at a time.

I took water at each stop and tried to slow myself just a little as I drank to focus on getting some down, but I was still a bit splashy with it. Still out of practice, I guess. As I approached mile six, I realized I forgot to take my first gel. My marathon plan is typically to take one every five miles and this works for me. I gulped it down and set a mental reminder that I couldn’t make a habit of forgetting them.

When I got to the first 10k, I realized a new mental tool to add to my arsenal. Make each 5k a mental checkpoint. Each 5k had a timing mat and I knew my wife was tracking me. “Just get to the next checkin with Danielle.” In my head, I made this a big deal, almost as a way to connect with her telepathically throughout the race. It also meant that I was hitting mental checkpoints constantly throughout the race. This helped all 26.2 miles tick off like nothing.

Throughout this first portion of the race, my legs were back and forth between feeling great and feeling “ehhhh.” I knew going into the race my legs weren’t likely to feel good. I knew my IT band could be an issue. I knew there could be a lot of tightness and muscle soreness. It was never too bad, but it was always in the the back of my mind “okay, when is this going to get bad?” At a couple points here and there, I thought I felt my knees get weird and my left calf was tight for a mile, but nothing lasted or stayed consistent.

My pace throughout these miles was pretty consistent in the 7:55 to 8:05 range. I was hoping to for a less variation, but my effort level was very steady and I made very minor adjustments with each mile to keep myself on track. Besides being a little fast in miles one and two, I was right on plan.

Miles 7.5 – 13.1

Once we looped around at the top of the course and started facing South again, I used the Willis Tower as my North Star. I knew from running the course before that it’s the visible center of the course and it’s where the hallway point was. Whenever I could see the tower, I’d look up and say “Okay, you’re X miles away. I’m on my way!”

These miles were super uneventful. There is a lot of crowd support through here so I focused on keeping my effort on track and my pace right where it was supposed to be. I was really locked into where I wanted to be and overall feeling great. Legs kept having their moments of feeling weird, but still nothing consistent. To sound like a broken record, I just kept repeating my race plan in my head. I was not going to blow the day by not following my plan.

Throughout the first half, I slowly caught up on the pace groups in the corrals in front of me. 3:45 and 3:40 from each the C and D corrals (they had overlapping pace groups). I didn’t speed up to get around them, I just ignored them and ran my own race. My only thought was “whatever you do, don’t catch up to the 3:30 group.” The 3:30 pace group started in the C corral and had a nearly five minute headstart on my corral. If I caught them, I was running way too fast.

As I crossed the half, I was feeling confident. 1:44:29. Slightly fast for my 3:30 goal, but within a safe margin, I felt. I wasn’t trying to bank time, but I had an extra 30 seconds to work with in the second half, if I needed it.

Miles 13.1 to 17

“Okay, just get to Cowbell Corner!” That was my mantra here. I just kept on doing what I was doing.

At one point, a guy dressed like Mario passed me. Not long after that, I nearly slipped on a banana peel. Fucking Mario Kart out there, I tell ya!

Through this section, I started to have my doubts. Nothing major or self-destructive to my race, but they were there. I knew I was doing great so far, but my legs were starting to tire. I knew my long runs had been the weak part of my training so when they started feeling a tired here, there was some concern, but I still had energy and lungs for days. I expected this disconnect between my upper and lower body going into the race so I just kept to my plan. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day and nothing was at a point where I felt like I should ease back.

Sometime in mile 15, I got my first side-stitch. Ugh! But, hey, you don’t get to nine marathons without learning how to run through them, right? I switched my focus to my breathing for a few minutes. Deep breathes in and let it all out as the foot on that side comes down to the ground. It worked.

Normally, at the halfway point of a marathon, I switch from water to Gatorade. It’s another thing I’ve had success doing. But I was still splashing water on my face while drinking and didn’t want to risk having sticky Gatorade all over me. Plus, my hydration levels felt great. I typically try to take water at almost every stop for marathons (yet, almost never for shorter races), but I stopped taking water almost entirely in the second half. I paid close attention to how I was feeling and I was feeling confident I was hydrated enough given my current sweat rate. And when I had the option, I was sticking to the shadier side of the street.

As I approached the overpass for 290 right before mile 17, I knew it was time to get myself to the left side of the course for my wife and everyone at Cowbell Corner. Once I got over there, I noticed another pace group up ahead. I assumed this was the 3:35 group from corral C. Good timing for catching them, I felt. Anyway, I locked my eyes on the side of the course looking for everyone. Typically, I’m pretty oblivious to the the course around me, but I was getting tired and I need to see some familiar faces. About 50 feet out from them, I saw a big Oiselle sign and immediately sprung back to life. I soaked the excitement in and flew by with a HUGE smile on my face. So much energy!

Miles 17 to 20

I took so much of this energy in from Cowbell Corner that I went from running 7:55 to 8:00 miles to running ~7:47 for three miles. I was a little worried after the first mile, but I was feeling good again. I knew I was late enough in the race where I didn’t have to worry too much anymore about getting too fast. If my legs were feeling good with it, I could let them do what they wanted.

Sometime early in this three mile stretch, I got a bad cramp right in the middle of my chest. I focused on my breathing again while saying to myself “welp, this is where I die. This is probably something serious and I’m going to be that runner that dies at a marathon. Fuck it, legs are feeling good and I’m not pulling them back.” I ran through it for a few minutes and it went away. NBD. This happens to me in marathons a lot.

As I crossed mile 18, I stayed focused on my 5k checkpoints. “18.6 is 30k, just get to there and checkin with Danielle.” I was still using this mental trick and it was working.

Before I knew it—no really, it happened so quick—I was at mile 20. “Okay, here’s where things get hard. Stick with your plan. You got this, you’re fucking killing it, bitch.” Yes, I call myself bitch when I’m running. Anyway, I was confident and knew that almost nothing, short of an injury-related thing, was going to stop me from at least getting my B goal of 3:35. Even if I bonked, I had that on lock.

Miles 20 to 23

fullsizerender-10After crossing 20, my focus was getting to 22 and getting retribution from four years ago when my race fell apart right at the 22nd mile marker. I was not doing that again! I kept it steady. As I crossed mile 22, I forgot to lap my watch. Only mile all race I missed lapping exactly on the mark. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I realized it at about 22.25 and thought about lapping it there and then again at 23, but decided to just wait until 23.

In the 22nd mile, I started to get a really bad side stitch on my right. It was super painful to the point where I had to grab at it. I thought “welp, this is it. This where I fall apart…again.” I wanted to walk it out, but I refused to give in. I pulled back on my pace a little, but not much. I was determined to not give in until my body refused to keep going. “Four miles to go. You can deal with this for four miles. Okay…you probably can’t, but you’re going to fucking do it anyway.” Miraculously, I eventually worked it out within a mile and regained my pace and resolve.

Mile 22 was also where the “you’re almost there!”s started. I sorta wanted to punch every one of these people, but I let it go. I I was not letting this distract me.

These miles are where I really started to fall back on my half marathon from three weeks ago. I haven’t raced much in the last two and a half years so my race experience is a bit rusty. I drew as much as I could from this one race and used it as a reminder of what I could fight through.

I also thought about the elites who had just come through here not much more than an hour before me. I wondered who won and what it felt like for them coming down this stretch.

And when I needed to, I went to old faithful. I imagined myself running at him along my normal route. “Five miles left, just gotta get home from Port Liberte.”

The finish

Once I hit 23, I knew I had this race locked down. No, not just the race, my fucking A goal. I was going under 3:30 and absolutely nothing was going to get in my way. The question now was if I could hold on enough to finish in 3:28:XX. I knew I was on track for a negative split, but I wasn’t doing exact enough math in my head to know how close it was.

I fought these miles. My legs were tired and sore, but they kept on going. They kept doing what I was asking them to do. As much as I was hurting, I was never miserable. I was never begging for the misery to end. And I never bonked. I was focused on that finish and what had more left, the course or my legs. There was a lot of crowd support in the last 5k, but it barely even registered in my brain. I was in my own world focused on staying as strong as I could.

I hit mile 24 and my confidence grew even more. “This. Is. Yours. Finally. You’ve got your BQ. And you’re going to get your sub-3:30. All your marathon goals are happening today.” I briefly went back to imagining myself running at home. “Okay, you’re passing Ellis Island now. 2.2 to go.”

img_0489In those last two miles, the focus was on that stupid quarter mile hill as you hit mile 26. That last slap in the face from the course. It’s not even a huge hill, but I remember it completely crushing my soul four years ago. Not this time. I was going to fight with everything. And that was all I thought about from the 24th mile marker on.

I passed mile 25. Still had it. I the “one mile to go” marker. I was somehow staying strong. I felt slightly better than I did with this much left in my half marathon three weeks ago. But it hurt and I was putting down 100% of what I had left.

“Okay, the turn into the hell hill is almost here.”

800M.

“Let’s do this!”

I fought up the hill. I gave what I had knowing I didn’t need to save anything. I lost a few seconds on my pace, but not much. Less than I thought I would.

400M.

200M

I got to the top of the hill and made that final left turn. There was the finish. Waiting for me. I had it.

To be honest, when I saw the finish line, my first thought was “huh, this race kinda flew by. I can’t believe that’s 26.2 already.” I mean, I was hurting, but the race seemed to just fly by. I gave what I had down this last stretch, but I think most of my remaining energy was trapped in my smile.

I stopped my Garmin as my body crossed the finish.

3:28:41.

I literally screamed out loud. And then I cried. Good thing I was wearing sunglasses. All I wanted was to get to my phone and see what my actual chip time was. I hardly even cared about water.

2016 Chicago Marathon medal

This medal means so much to me after this performance.

I made my way through the long finisher chute grabbing water, Gatorade, and beer and then got to my phone. 3:28:41 here too.

“Holy. Shit. What?” I was honestly in shock for hours.img_0490

Post race

After I got my checked bag and texted my wife. I went through my dozens of texts and Twitter/Facebook notifications from people who were tracking me. I was almost too excited to function. My legs didn’t even feel that bad. I guess since I never hit my breaking point, they weren’t 100% wrecked.

I changed in one of the changing spaces and then made my way over to the post race party to find Danielle and get another beer in my body. I was walking pretty much fine. Sore, yeah, but not stiff.

Takeaways

This race was what happens when just about everything goes right and I focus on my race plan. It was a “best case scenario” situation. I’ve been on the other side where just about everything goes wrong and that’s pretty much the worst. This was the opposite of that and it was great.

Going into the race, I was not confident about my decision to go for 3:30 from the start. I knew it was a risky plan, but it still felt like the right decision. I never would have dreamed I’d not only hit that, but also hit my stretch goal. This was the first time I’ve ever negative split a race that I was racing. I typically suck at that. I also can’t believe I never bonked.

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

I was nervous about pacing myself on my own. I usually try to start marathons with a pace group to keep myself controlled and have something steady to focus on late in the race. I didn’t have that option this time around as the pace group I wanted was two corrals ahead of me. In the end, this seemed to work out really well. I was free to make my own adjustments in relation to how my body felt rather than be forced into what the group was running.

I’m a bit stuck on trying to figure out why this race. My training was fast, but it was low mileage and I didn’t do any cross-training or speedwork. In terms of marathon training, this was about the least work I’ve put in. To be fair, this was planned from the start of training. this wasn’t supposed to be a BQ race. I was focusing on just building back up. And then I spent all of taper dealing with making sure my IT band and quads were even going to be able to do the race at all. I was really aggressive with rehabbing everything, but it never felt right. And, again, my long runs. My longest run was only 17 miles. I had a 20-mile day, but it was split between a couple runs. My 19 and 21 milers were complete busts.

I guess, in a weird way, the issues with my leg forced extra rest during taper to allow me to go into the race recovered and ready, even if I didn’t feel like it. It also may be that my body responds better to lower mileage marathon training, which would go against everything I’ve ever believed would get me here. I’ve always felt like my body needed high mileage training to be able to stay strong late in a marathon. I might have been wrong?

I also had a solid race plan with many pre-planned options to handle anything the race threw at me. And I kept repeating that plan over and over and committed to it like I never have before. I made it gospel. I never let the race get away from me. I stayed in control of it.

No matter what, I couldn’t possibly be happier with this race. It was as close to flawless as I’ve ever been. I negative split. I PRed by 16 minutes. I got my BQ by more than 11 minutes. And I had fun and loved it. I finally feel like I have a PR that is mine. 3:44 is quite respectable and I’ve always been proud of it, but it felt dated and I knew I could do better.

I love the Chicago Marathon. Both times I’ve run it have been amazing experiences. It’s such a well put-together event that runs like clockwork. Crowd support is fantastic. The city is fantastic. It’s a big race, but it’s a great race.

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

1

Chicago Marathon training recap

img_0395It’s marathon time. I guess. Well, not I guess, actually. It is marathon time. Tomorrow. Oof.

For the most part, training went better than I had expected, but one part of marathoning that I’m really bad at is managing the nerves leading up to the race. I’ve be super stressed about it for the last two weeks. This is typical for me, but this time around it’s even worse.
I got a later start running consistently again after surgery than I hoped so my base wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted it to be by the time I started my training. I adjusted for this as much as I could with my plan and put together one of the least aggressive training plans I’ve ever done.
After a few weeks of training, though, my body started to really fall into sync. I was kicking ass on my runs and feeling pretty good. I run by effort rather than by trying to hit certain paces and it was turning out that my runs were overall much faster than I thought I could run at all effort levels.
As training progressed, my goal for the race started to move from “probably just want to be around 3:40” to BQ to “I don’t think 3:28 is impossible.” My training runs were faster than they have been for any marathon training cycle since Chicago 2012, which was before I transitioned. I was pleasantly surprised with that.

Not a lot of miles here at all :/

Not a lot of miles here at all, especially those weeks without long runs :/

I should make a clarification here, though. My mid-week runs were great. Even my longest, hardest runs during the week were beyond solid. By the end, I was crushing nine and ten milers at paces near my 5k PR. In fact, I had a 7-miler during a step back week that was a faster overall pace than my 5k PR and I felt fantastic doing it. Even my stupidly easy effort runs were quick despite some of the lowest heart rates I’ve since on runs since I started monitoring it.
What wasn’t consistently great were my long runs. Some were good. One was really good. Most were eh. And a couple were “god fucking dammit.” One of my 17-milers got split into two runs, a morning one and an afternoon one. And my 19-miler was cut at 11 because I was feeling terrible in every way and gave up. And my last long run, a 21-miler, didn’t happen at all.
Three weeks out from marathon day, I ran a half marathon. This was built into my training plan from the beginning. The race was on a 20-mile day and I ran 10k before it to cover most of the extra miles and then another mile after. The race went really well. I ran faster than I expected. Unfortunately, I also ran faster than planned and than I should have. I was sore afterwards, but I chalked it up to DOMS and then continued into my peak week of training without making adjustments to properly recover. I did my runs at an slightly easier effort, but I didn’t adjust my mileage or run as easy as I should have. By the end of the week I was still sore and started to have some pain on the outside of my right thigh. I massaged it a lot, but that seemed to only make matters worse. Come the Sunday following my race, I knew running a long run was going to be a bad idea. The pain had moved down along the length of my IT band from my hip down into my knee. I decided to take three days completely off. I wasn’t thrilled about losing a 21-miler, but avoiding injury is priority number one and I’d rather risk my time than risk my ability to run at all.
In addition to skipping a couple of runs, I also made an appointment with a sports physical therapist who is also a runner right away. I didn’t want to mess around. I got three appointments in with her where she mostly focused on massaging my very tight legs. With less than two weeks to go, there wasn’t time for much else. Just massage, foam rolling, and a few exercises to loosen things up. It definitely helped, but physical therapy isn’t magic.
Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen's Snapchat.

Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen’s Snapchat.

My runs during taper have been very easy effort, but my legs have been tired and garbagy. It’s really hard to feel out where they’re at right now. There is still some soreness in some spots, but the pain has mostly settled in behind the top couple inches of my IT band. This is the same place I had problems four years ago going into Chicago, but this is a bit more intense.
Ultimately, it feels okay enough to run on. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable during the race and recovery is going to be a bit harder and longer, but DNSing doesn’t feel like the necessary move here. I might just be being stubborn about it, but my physical therapist doesn’t seem too worried about it as far as my decision to run.
This does affect my goal a lot though. Missing that last long run after having a couple others not go well worries me for the last 10k of the race. My overall milage through training was lower than I normally do so I don’t have much confidence that my legs are ready for the distance.
I still haven’t fully decided exactly what my exact plan is for tomorrow yet. If I hadn’t developed this issue and had done my last long run, I’d be shooting for 3:30 as my A goal with a stretch of 3:27 or 3:28. Now I’m leaning more towards a 3:33 with 3:30 as my stretch, 3:37 as my B goal, and 3:40 as my C goal. This is still not fully decided though.
Boston 2018 is the day after my 35th birthday so I get an extra five minutes on my qualifying time. 3:40 will qualify me, but it’s looking like 3:37 is the slowest I can go to have a decent chance of actually getting in, based on the last few years.
I had thought about pulling back my goals a lot for this race and not actually racing it, but looking at how my race schedule is coming along for the spring (and with Dopey in January), it looks like this might be my last chance to make a BQ attempt before next fall. To be fair, a BQ attempt wasn’t really on the table when I started training. I didn’t think it’d be a reality at all, but my training makes me feel like a goal for a race any slower than BQ time would be selling myself short.
In the end, I hope to play it smart tomorrow and listen to my body. Not being injured is the most important thing so if my assessment is wrong, I need to be smart and stop. The key will be starting out slow and not taking off at the start like I always do no matter how hard I try not to. If I can have a slow start for the first couple of miles, I can feel things out and then hopefully stay stronger throughout the rest of the race. A lot of this race may be a play-by-ear situation.

3

2016 Newport Liberty Half Marathon – 1:39:51

img_0075I haven’t raced a half marathon in a long time. Sure, I’ve run half marathons, but it’s been about four and a half years since I actually tried to run a fast half and cared about my time. That was about a month before I decided to transition. Granted, I also haven’t raced much in the way of any distance in the last two years, but it’s certainly been the longest for the half. So I was due.

I should also mention the bigger point here, this was also my first race of any kind since having surgery in January. It’s definitely been a while since I’ve pinned a bib on.

I signed up for this race way back in like March before I even knew for sure when I’d be running again after surgery. They had a thing were you could register for the Newport 10k and Newport Liberty Half Marathon together, so I went for that. The 10k is in the spring, the half is in the fall. Unfortunately, I ended up DNSing the 10k thanks to some complications in my surgery healing. Boo! Anyway, I had my deferred entry for Chicago Marathon on October 9 so a half marathon three weeks before then seemed like a good way to test out my training. Plus, the race isn’t just in Jersey City (where I live) but it swings through my neighborhood and all the areas I spend my time. It even does a nice big lap of Liberty State Park which is where I log the vast majority of my miles. What more could a girl ask for? Though, I will say that this course map had a few WTFs in it…

help

help

I had 20 miles on the schedule for the day and I tend to prefer to do extra miles before a race rather than after. I like being able to run the race without needing to worry about leaving something in my legs for after. So I got up early to knock out 10k before the race. I ran my normal four mile route and then ran to the race start where my wife was waiting for me with a towel, some water, and a Kind bar. My run ended up being more like 6.4 miles than an even 6.2, but close enough. I was already dripping sweat thanks to 93% humidity so I decided it was gonna be a sports bra only race for me…a first. I even took a poll on Twitter the night before to see where most people pin their bibs. I went with on my shorts on my left hip. It was perfect.

I didn’t have a hard goal in mind for the race. I wanted to push it hard, but not a full 100%. With this coming at the end of my first marathon training peak week, I wanted to test out my training and get a good feel for where I was at for Chicago in three weeks. At the same time, I hadn’t tapered or done anything to set myself up for success—which is fine because my number one priority is my marathon. I figured I’d run in the low 1:40s with an appropriate effort. Yeah, I don’t really know what “appropriate effort” means either, but that’s about how I’d describe my plan.

fullsizerender-3I got into the corral and started with my friend Miranda. She’s also marathon training and her goal was to stay just under an 8:00 mile pace. That seemed like a good place to be so I said I’d probably stick near her.

When the race started, we took off at what felt like an easy and slow pace. I truly thought I was running just over an 8:00 mile until we got to the first mile marker at around a 7:36. Oops. In my head, I knew this was a little too fast, but in my legs and lungs, I felt right where I wanted to be. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mile 2 flew by in the blink of an eye. We dropped just over 20 seconds off the pace. Big oops. Just before the marker, I saw my wife on the side cheering. I flew by waving at her with both hands and being all around silly about it. This is about when I started to lose Miranda.

I kept things steady through mile three, but started realizing in mile four that I should slow myself down a bit. Miles four and five were 7:22 and 7:24. By mile six I was starting to feel the effects of starting out too fast and slowed down into the low 7:30s.

graphics-interchange-format-gif-42e8f027a5f9-1The miles in Liberty State Park were nice and familiar. There were no surprises which helped keep me on track and made it feel just like a training run—even though the route was a bit different than I typically do through the park. Approaching mile ten, I was really feeling it, but kept telling myself I just had 5k left. As we passed by the marina, I tried to make sure I had the room I needed for the bumpy part of the path right before the boat launch. I run this section of the path in both directions almost every day and it’s a bit rough. The path is really uneven and bumpy. But I’ve run it so much that I’ve mapped out where each step should land through the entire stretch to get through as easily as possible. I came down this section on the right side of the path nice and clean and then looped around the boat launch and out of the park.

From here on, it was just hang on and make it to the finish. The eleventh mile marker snuck right up as my time slowed a tad more to 7:39. I had passed the twelfth mile marker on my pre-race miles so I knew exactly where it was and just focused on getting to that point. And from there, the course followed along the same way I finished my pre-run miles so I just replayed that in my head. I knew exactly where I was going and what was left. This was a huge boost.

Some numbers

Some numbers

As I came down the last stretch, I passed my wife again, as well as my speedy friend Sarah—she placed 5th overall!—just before the final turn to the finish. I looked at the clock and saw I had just enough time left to squeeze in under 1:40 without having to push more. I was beat so I just coasted my way in. Any extra seconds I could have knocked off here weren’t important to me at that point. I cruised past the finish line and bent over like I was going to throw up, just like how I finish most races!

After gulping down some water, I met up with my wife and checked the printout of the times. My ears were literally clogged with sweat, I was dehydrated, and I was still in a post-race daze so when I looked my time, I only looked at the clock time and not my chip time. I wasn’t really thinking quite straight yet. I saw 1:40:03! I was pissed! I thought I had a few extra seconds there at the finish! I could have pushed enough to make it! It was stupid, but I was bummed about that. It wasn’t until about a half hour later when I checked online that I saw my chip time was 1:39:51 and I came in 7th in my age group. Everything felt right again!

We hung around for a little bit with Miranda and grabbed our free beers before calling it a day and walking home. I was pretty proud of my effort!

This is a sign I trust

This is a sign I trust

Takeaways!

Usually, I think you learn a lot more from failure or a bad race, but I actually have a lot of takeaways from this race. Mostly, they’re things I already knew, but had forgotten since it’s been little while.

fullsizerenderFirst off, I need to race more. I’m rusty. I forgot what it’s like to push through at the end of race. It’s nothing like pushing on a hard run.

Control is also a thing I need to work on. I’ve never been particularly good at controlling my pace early in a race and this has definitely been a big worry for me over the last few weeks as I look ahead to marathon day. I’m worried about starting off too fast. I’m really bad at slowing myself down even when I know I need to. It’s like my legs get into a certain rhythm and I can’t pull them back from there. If I can find the right pace early, I can usually keep it and even end up with a negative split. I took off too fast for the first few miles of this race and got in trouble later because of it. I just happened to be lucky enough to still sneak in with a great time, but I was struggling through the last 5k.

Running a race on a familiar route can make a huge difference. When you know the course like the back of your hand, it’s easy to wrap your head around the miles ahead. You know where they are and where they go. A trick I often do late in marathons is pretend I’m running on my normal route at home. I visualize myself with the same distance left on a training run as I have left in the race. I picture where I would be and what would be around me. With this course, I didn’t even have to do that. I was already on familiar paths and streets. It absolutely helped a lot!

Lastly, I’ve forgotten how to drink water while running at race effort, it would seem. I only took water twice, but I splashed it right up my nose the second time. I swear I used to be really good at this. I probably should have taken more water during the race as practice.img_0092-copy

6

Halfway to Chicago Marathon – training check-in

Eight weeks down. Eight weeks to go.

Training is flying by! It feels like I just started this training cycle, but here I am eight weeks in. That’s a good thing, it means things are going well and I’m not miserable or counting down the days until it’s over. I’m actually really enjoying it so far! If you recall back to eight weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect from training. I was still building up and nowhere near where I wanted to be at the start of a new training cycle. I started off training easier than normal and put together a fairly non-aggressive training plan.

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks. That big jump in miles halfway was something I was nervous about, but I needed it somewhere.

At the halfway point, that decision seems to be paying off, I’m running very well. I’m getting all my miles in and don’t feel like I’m struggling through much of them. Even when my legs feel tired, they don’t feel too tired. I’m able to push them. My mid-week runs are ticking off and I’ve gotten my body very used to 5:30am alarms for pre-work running. I’m getting out the door and destroying miles. My 10k – 8mi runs are going as well as they ever have for me. In fact, I’m putting down as good or better paces and splits than I have since I started transition. Even better, I’m getting faster. Last week, I threw down my fastest training mile in nearly four years at the end of an 8-miler. And I felt great doing it! I feel nowhere close to plateauing yet. And the best part is that I don’t typically really feel like I’m settled into training and hitting my stride until somewhere between week 8 and week 10; I’ve already been hitting my stride for a few weeks now.

I’m not doing any speedwork besides tempo runs, but I didn’t plan to this training cycle. My focus was mostly getting the miles in, staying healthy, and building and that’s what I’m doing. Unfortunately, I haven’t been getting any cross-training in. I’ve been wanting to start working a spin class into the mix, but I’m only just in the last 2-3 weeks feeling as though I might be ready to get my crotch back on a bike again after surgery—this took months longer than expected. Right now, I’m running six days a week and I’m still lacking the confidence to make any day a run + spin day so it may be a few more weeks still.

COME ON!!!!

COME ON!!!!

Where things aren’t going as well has been my long runs. I messed up my schedule and did 13.1 on my first week scheduled with 12 miles so I just went with it and ended up with three weeks at 13.1 miles (as opposed to two at 12 and one at 13.1). These were all tough. It was hot and humid out and hydration was a major issue for two of them. I ended up getting dehydrated and having to battle those symptoms, including bad nausea that kept forcing me to have to stop. The other 13.1-miler was plagued by some bad GI issues…which is pretty abnormal for me. Despite this, my paces were all right on point in the 8:40s and, besides the hydration and GI issues, comfortable.

This past weekend’s long run, a 15-miler, was a different story, though. Similar pace at 8:43, but very different feel. I felt strong, comfortable, and without any hydration issues. At the 85º, 83% humidity, and a heat index into the mid-90s by the time I finished at 9am, I expected hell. But I was smart about hydration early on and it made a difference.. I felt good the entire way, better than I have on any other long run in the last four or five weeks. Very encouraging!

In general, my body is responding well all around. Compared to my last couple of training cycles, my heart rate has been lower at most paces and the same efforts are yielding faster paces. I’m feeling good so far.

I don’t plan on making any adjustments for the second half of training. I’m going to stick with my plan and what I’m doing and see how that works out on race day. Every indication I have so far points to my suspicion and hope that surgery would pay off with my running performance. No longer having the side-effects of spironolactone (testosterone blocker) and now having (what I’m suspecting is) a higher testosterone level (I’m getting labs done soon to verify this) is making a huge difference. Why did that sentence have three parentheticals? Anyway, the only negative I’ve noticed so far is my potassium level may be something I have to actually start thinking about again. For three years, I didn’t have any cramping/charley horses in my legs on account of spironolactone being a potassium-sparing diuretic. Recently, I’ve had some minor post-run cramping, but so far it hasn’t been anything major. It’ll just be something to keep an eye on. Maybe throw a few extra avocados into my diet. You can never have too much avocado, right? Right.

So, that’s that so far. I still don’t have an official goal for Chicago yet, besides just having a good race. I do want to go for a PR, but given my relatively slow PR, the question seems to be less if I’ll PR, but by how much. And I don’t mean to sound like I think a 3:44 marathon is slow by any means. It’s not and it’s a PR I’m proud of. It’s just that I’ve had multiple training cycles now that have been on track for sub-3:30 and have yet to be able to execute a successful marathon. Anyway, I’m not going to lie, I’m eyeballing that 3:40 Boston qualification time for 2018—thanks Boston 2018 for being one day after I turn 35 and jump an age group! But I’m not setting anything officially just yet. Just going to see how the next few weeks go and play it all by ear.

How I watch the Olympics while at work

How I watch the Olympics while at work

And, of course, the women's 10,000

And, of course, the women’s 10,000

12

Six months

This is the fifth post in a series about my experience with getting my junk rearranged. The other parts are: Are You Excited?, I Got Sliced All The Fuck Up!Recovery Update, and 16 weeks post-surgery update.

As usual, proceed with caution. Total TMI-city ahead.


Ain't nothing stopping this!

Ain’t nothing stopping this!

In some ways, I can’t believe it’s already been six months (and a few days) since my surgery. In other ways, it feels like it’s been eternity. I legit can’t remember what having a penis feels like and that’s pretty cool. I remember life with it, but what it actually feels like day in, day out is gone from my memory. Peeing standing up? Did I ever even do that? It’s like I haven’t!

Anyway, it’s been a couple months since my last update so here’s where I’m at…

I’ll start with the bad worst stuff first.

I’m still in pain. A lot of it. And it’s the fucking worst.

At this point, I fully expected to have zero pain left. I knew it’d take a full year for the swelling to go down, but I didn’t expect six months of pain. While I got lucky with how well the surgery itself went, it seems I’m pretty unlucky with how my body is healing.

Since my last update, I’ve been going to the doctor roughly every two weeks for granulation. I’m lucky that I’m close enough to my doctor that I can drive there when necessary, but it’s a two hour drive each way. A full trip ends up taking nearly five hours, which means missing most of a day of work…every two fucking weeks. Plus the cost of gas and like $10 worth of tolls. And getting probed in a vagina that’s already in pain is the damn ass pits. My doctor herself is much better at this, but many of my appointments are with the PA and she’s…not gentle with the speculum.

At my last two appointments—two weeks ago from today and yesterday—I was granulation-free. That sounds amazing and I want to scream “FINALLY!!!!” BUT I’m still a lot of pain when I dilate so it’s not really as big of a win as I wish it was.

Two weeks ago, the PA prescribed more Estrace cream (basically it’s an estrogen cream you shoot up your cooch…it’s weird). It’s supposed to soften things up inside and make dilating easier. Honestly, it’s hard to say if it’s helped or not, though, since I’ve still be in so much pain. The good news on this front is it’s not just some phantom pain that we won’t be able to figure out. At my appointment yesterday, I saw my doctor and she found a tear inside. It was a few inches long in exactly the place where I have most of the pain. She cauterized it so we’ll have to see how it heals. I have some pain in other places, but it’s more of the muscle soreness variety deeper inside and near the opening it’s consistent with scar tissue that still needs to finish healing from the granulation. I’m really hoping this is all the end of it though.

After having to dilate three times a day for an extra two months beyond what I was originally told, I was finally able to drop down to twice a day in the beginning of July—I’ll have to keep this schedule up until the beginning of September. Unfortunately, dilation still hurts like hell and is a struggle a lot of the time. At its worst, it’s excruciatingly painful. At its best, time consuming. The morning is always easier so I can generally get both the purple and the blue dilators in (the blue is the biggest one I have). It takes some time and hurts, but it’s doable. In the evening, it’s always much more difficult. I don’t even try getting the blue one in anymore. And even with just the purple, it takes me 20-30 minutes to slowly work it in. It’s not just that things are tight down there, but it’s that I have to be very gentle because of how much it hurts from everything else. Much of it is just that I’m a very tense person and I have trouble relaxing while dilating. Unfortunately, even the muscle relaxers I was given a while back don’t help with this. Making the problem worse is that the opening of my vagina is tight enough that it wipes most of the lube off the dilator as I slide in so I keep having to pull it out and add more. Then I end up with an ass crack full of lube to clean out later on.

On the plus side, dilation is almost the entirety of my remaining pain. The ambient pain during the rest of my day is 100% non-existent most days. Every once in a while I’ll have a day where I’m in some pain, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. Another plus is that I don’t have to wear pantyliners much anymore. I wear one at night, but that’s about it. I can probably credit my vagina’s tightness which keeps the lube out of my vagina instead of having it slowly oozing out of me over the course of the next few hours.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Okay, that’s enough about the pain, right? Let me talk a bit more about the schedule.

Not having to dilate in the middle of the day anymore is a huge win. It means I can actually go out for a whole day at a time. It means I don’t lose an hour in the middle of my work day. It means I don’t have to carry my dilators to and from work anymore. It’s freeing as hell.

However, dilating is still having a huge impact on my life.

In the morning, I lose an hour to it. That means everything else gets pushed back an hour. Where I used to get into work around 8:30, it’s now 9:15 to 9:45. This takes me from getting on a nice empty train at 8:06 to having to ride a train packed like a Rutgers frat house basement party. It smells just as bad, is just as hot, and has just as many creepy dudes. I try to get up earlier to account for it, but on mornings when I run before work, which is 3-4 days each week, I’m already getting up at 5:30am and don’t have it in me to go earlier than that. These mornings become a huge stressful rush.

In the evening, I have to make sure I leave time for dilating. If I go out after work or on the weekends, I need to either plan to come home an hour earlier or resign myself to going to bed an hour later than I would otherwise. I also find it’s even more of a struggle to dilate if I’ve had more than one drink or…done other things. So I don’t really go out and drink…or do other…much anymore. And I don’t even mean like getting drunk or anything like that. I don’t drink heavily too often, but even just having two beers at the bar with my friends is something I can’t do now without regretting it later in the evening.

In general, I just go out a lot less than I used to now because it’s such a burden to have to deal with. Even if you take the drinking out of of the equation, which generally is completely fine by me, the time aspect of it is enough to keep me at home. That hour makes a big difference when I have to then turn around and get up at 5:30 the next morning. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to deal with it. Until I no longer have to dilate in the evening, this is going to continue to suck. I miss going out with my friends. And I hate having two hours each day that are just lost. I can’t really be productive while I’m dilating. I can’t get work done or write or anything, really. I can read or watch TV, but that’s about it.

Next month when I go down to once a day, I’ll get back either my mornings or my evenings, depending on how I want to do it. Eventually, I’ll probably be able to work it out based on my schedule for the day. And I’m hoping that once this tear heals that’ll be it for the pain and I’ll be able to insert my dilators more quickly and easily.

Random Magikarp hanging out at Tumblr HQ

Random Magikarp hanging out at Tumblr HQ

Okay, I think that covers us for all the ways in which this shit totally fucking sucks. There are a lot of positives, though! Despite all of this, I really love having a vagina. Not in like a weird way, but just in that it feels like the right thing to have. My body feels much more like mine (I think I’ve said this in every post). When I’m not dealing with dilating, life is easier. I don’t have to think about my genitals or worry about it. I still feel different from everyone else around me, but a lot less so.

I’ve been riding this huge high of body positivity recently. I actually really enjoy wearing a bikini now, even in front of coworkers like I did a couple months ago during a big outing the Tumblr engineering team went on to Mohonk Mountain House. I actually find myself looking for excuses to wear one now. I want to go to the beach or the pool now. I haven’t actually had a chance to, but I want to!

The body positivity has also spread beyond just things directly related to my genitals. I’ve been running in just a sports bra and shorts a lot this summer. It’s just something that’s really nice to be able to do. It’s just this whole thing where my body is starting to feel closer to “right.” I still hate hate hate hate just how tiny and basically non-existent my tits are, but one thing at a time!

And speaking of running, I’m like six weeks or so into marathon training for Chicago in October and that’s been going pretty well. The biggest issue is just dealing with the time constraints of dilating and training.IMG_0130

And while still on the topic of the body positivity, the weight I lost from surgery, about 12 pounds, has stayed off! This was a really unexpected win, but it’s helped a lot with my positivity. I hate myself for letting this be a thing that affects how I feel about my body so much, but I’m still taking this as a win.

Welp, I think that’s about it for now? I feel like these posts are just a jumbled up mess of thoughts. It’s hard to encapsulate a couple months of stuff at a time. Perhaps if I didn’t wait so long between updates it’d be a lot easier to form coherent posts.

9

Marathon training, I guess

IMG_1322It’s been about five months since I had surgery and over a year since I last did a formal marathon training cycle. And it’s fifteen and a half weeks until Chicago Marathon. So, I guess, it’s time to start a new training cycle.

Going into surgery, I had just run the Dopey Challenge and was crushing as many runs as I could fit into my schedule. I had to stop all of my hormones a month before the ol’ knifing so my testosterone level was starting to come back up and I was finding my body recovering from runs quicker and having no problem chewing up fast miles. I didn’t hate it. Well, the running potion, that is; everything else about not having proper hormones in my body was the worst. Anyway, I went into surgery in excellent running shape. My wife joked that I should not have surgery and instead focus on a spring marathon. I think I’d have crushed it.

Surgery kept me from running for six and a half weeks, but even when I started, it was up and down for a bit and quite inconsistent. It wasn’t until closer to sixteen weeks that I started getting more consistency back into my running schedule. That didn’t leave me a lot of time to build my base mileage back up and properly prepare for marathon training.

When I scheduled surgery, I knew I couldn’t make any firm goals for a fall marathon this year. There was too much unknown. I knew I’d likely not be able to race a marathon, but being able to run a marathon, even just for fun, felt realistic. Having deferred my Chicago entry from 2015, I knew Chicago would be my race. I wished it was a late-fall race, rather than an early one, but it is what it is. This was the biggest factor in choosing a date for surgery.

Ideally, I’d like my weekly mileage going into training to be over 30. I did 28 the other week and then did a step back last week, but this was far from a sustained weekly mileage. The last two weekends have seen ten mile long runs, but they weren’t easy. On the flip side, it seems I didn’t lose quite as much strength as I expected and I’m running slightly faster than I was going into the last marathon training cycle I did. Certainly faster than I expected to be, I’m still far from where I’d prefer to be.

My weekly mileage in 2016 so far

My weekly mileage in 2016 so far

I also don’t yet know how my body’s hormone levels have evened out after surgery (I haven’t gotten labs done yet). My hope is that my testosterone level has moved up into the normal female range—it was just barely above zero prior to surgery which makes building strength and overall training very difficult. My body may be able to do more with less than it has been able to for the last few years. Or it might not. That remains to be seen. What I do know is my body did a lot more than I expected with low mileage and making up a plan as I went along while training for my last two Disney Marathons I’ve done so it could also turn out that my body just works better with plans that aren’t as aggressive and intense.

So that’s where I am and the reality I’m dealing with. I waited until the last possible minute to make a training plan and sat down on Sunday to look over my previous plans and put together something that was going to push me while still keeping me from diving head first into a pool with no water. What I came up with was the least aggressive training plan I’ve done since the first time I ran Chicago, in 2012—six months before starting hormone replacement therapy.

I don’t have a goal for this race outside of having a solid training cycle, building strength, and not getting injured. A BQ (Boston qualifying time) is almost certainly out of the question. This race will be just a little too late for a 2017 BQ and I jump an age group for 2018 so my qualifying time goes from 3:35 to 3:40. I actually think I could get close to 3:40, but going under would be a stretch and going under enough to guarantee actually getting into the race would be even more of a stretch. It just doesn’t make sense to put my body through pushing for that right now. That said, my post-testosterone PR is a 3:44 so a PR isn’t impossible, but I’d be jumping the gun right now if I made that a goal. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

(As a side note, my PR before I transitioned was from that 2012 Chicago race.)

The end result of all of this is marathon training started this week. I’ve got a plan. It’s not super aggressive, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m going to hold off on setting a goal time until much closer to the race and focus on running by effort rather than hitting specific times throughout training.

Wish me luck!IMG_1404

7

All about being on the cover of a magazine

tumblr_2016-Jun-13It’s been a week since it was announced that I’m the cover model for the July issue of Women’s Running and I’m still trying to gather my thoughts on all of it. I’ve been trying to sit down and write this for weeks now, since well before the news even broke, but I’ve struggled to fully grasp it all. Most of last week has been spent with my phone vibrating with notifications faster than I could even read them. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Google Alerts, and texts. It’s been distracting to say the least!

I won’t lie, being on the cover of a magazine is kinda cool. I can’t act like I don’t think it is, especially when, apparently, I’m making history by being the first transgender woman on the cover of a women’s fitness magazine. I’ve been told I’m even the first trans woman on the cover of any fitness magazine, but I don’t don’t know that’s actually true or not. Honestly, it doesn’t make much of a difference to me so I haven’t bothered to look into it.

A lot of people have asked me what it all feels like. My answer is usually just something about it being super surreal and totally weird. Sometimes, I make a joke about how this is just my 15 minutes of fame and it’ll all be over soon. While my friends and coworkers have asked me about it, most of the attention is online so when I step away from the computer or my phone I get to go back to being a normal person. I like that. No one has recognized me (yet) out on the streets or anything and I’m thankful for that. I don’t want to be recognized! Though, if you are reading this and you do recognize me, totally say hi! For real! I’m awkward, but friendly.

As cool as all of this is and as proud of it as I am, I was hesitant to say yes. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited, I was. It’s that being a trans woman isn’t exactly all unicorns and rainbows. As you’re probably aware, our country is currently in the midst of a big debate about whether or not people like me are even human and deserving of simple basic rights. You know, things like access to restrooms. For most cis people (cis just means “not transgender”), this is relatively new, but we’ve been dealing with this for forever. The only difference is now this is happening with a lot of media attention. This isn’t the post to go into detail about how hard this world makes it for people like me to exist, but trust me when I say it’s extremely dangerous to be transgender right now. And it’s even worse for transgender women of color than it is for those of us who are white.

When Women’s Running’s editor-in-chief, Jessica Sebor, emailed me to ask if I wanted to be on the cover, part of me wanted to immediately write back with a resounding FUCK YES, but I couldn’t. I knew I had to really think this through. I spoke with my wife about it, I reached out to a few friends, both trans and cis, for their thoughts, and I slept on it. I almost said no.

I’m no stranger to visibility. I live my life very visibly. I’m open about being trans and wear that on my sleeve. I’m proud of it because it’s part of what makes me me. Between a number of articles I’ve had written about me before in regards to being a trans athlete and/or the startup I co-founded, MyTransHealth, I’ve also had a fair bit of attention outside of my daily life. To be honest, most of it kind of makes me feel weird. I say yes to things I think could be a net positive for trans people, but I generally don’t like intense amounts of attention on me. When I’m with friends, I’m certainly an attention-grabber, but outside of small groups of people I’m comfortable with, I get very uncomfortable. I don’t even like when I have to get up and speak at my company’s weekly all-team meeting.

This visibility is totally different though. This isn’t just a small one-off article that few people will actually read. This is the cover of a fucking magazine—I mean, it’s not TIME or Sports Illustrated, but Women’s Running has a respectable readership level. And because I’m, apparently, making history, there is a lot of attention around the cover from various news sources. Huffington Post, People, Cosmopolitan, USA Today, Shape, New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, Adweek, TIME, Today, NY Daily News, Jezebel, Pink News, New York Times, Hello Giggles, Pop Sugar, Business Insider, Perez Hilton, Greatist. Well, you get the idea. There’s been a lot. Plus, tweets seen by tens of millions of people. This is a lot.

I had to think about all of that. I knew there’d be attention and visibility, though, I didn’t quite expect this many news outlets to pick it up. This kind of attention isn’t just exhausting, but it’s dangerous. NYC is a hugely diverse city, but we have much more than our fair share of anti-trans violence. While most people will forget about me pretty quickly, I still risk being recognized by violent transphobes while out in the world. I have to endure an influx of internet bigots harassing me online and starting threads on Reddit and wherever else to talk about me. Over the past week, I’ve been called a man, it, freak, pedophile, and all kinds of other things thousands of times—yes, I broke the number one rule of the internet and read the comments. This is all par for the course for anyone like me who even dares as to so much as exist, but it’s greatly elevated over the normal level right now. While the reality of the last week has actually been much better than I expected it to be, I had to really think about this risk.

I also had to think beyond myself and about the rest of the trans community. Am I fueling unwanted visibility for trans people everywhere and giving into the cisgender voyeurism of trans lives? Am I making things harder for others, the way that Caitlyn Jenner has? Is another magazine cover really what trans people need? Ultimately, I would never want to do anything that makes things harder for others or sells out my community for a quick dose of fame.

And let’s not skip over the article itself. I wanted to know exactly what I was going to be on the cover of. I asked to read a draft of the feature before agreeing. I wanted to be sure the article was accurate and positive for trans people. Women’s Running, of course, had no issue with letting me read a draft ahead of time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect an issue here. Women’s Running has always been amazing with anything else I’ve worked with them on, but I had to be sure.

Finally, I had no desire to be “the face of transgender running.” Or even the face of anything. There are many others like me out there and I could never speak for them all. We’re all unique people. I do my best to be clear that when I talk about my experience, I’m speaking for myself. Still, I was already likely the most well-known transgender (woman) runner out there. Trust me, that’s not saying much. Mostly, it’s just because I’m a loudmouth on the internet and not because I’m special in any other way. I’m certainly not the fastest. I’m definitely not the most well-spoken. There are plenty of high school and college trans athletes who are more deserving than I am. And on the trans men side of things, let’s not forget we’ve got the amazing Chris Mosier kicking ass and making the US National Team for the duathlon. Really, I’m not all that special, I’m just a loudmouth.

Anyway, you’d think I’d have already figured most of this out after being a finalist for the Cover Runner Contest last fall. I entered because why not? I didn’t think it’d go anywhere. I was shocked when I was a finalist, but I still didn’t expect to win (and I didn’t). I never felt like I needed to actually face it as a reality.

Ultimately, I said yes to the dress cover, obviously. The shoot happened less than two weeks later at 5 freaking a.m. in Brooklyn (normally an hour from Jersey City by subway). I spent a few hours running 30ish feet at a camera while photographer James Farrell, said “one more time!” which turned out to mean “a hundred more times. We brought a few outfits with us, but I only ended up wearing two of them—I changed in a Starbucks bathroom.

I was really nervous to do the shoot. I’m not photogenic and I’m very particular about how I’m photographed. To be honest, though, it was a completely fun experience and everyone I worked with that day was super amazing. I didn’t want it to end! Not because I wanted to keep running laps in front of a camera, but because I was enjoying the time hanging out with the crew. And, yes, I got to keep the clothes!
tumblr_o8too2wrYX1trnxvxo1_540

After the shoot, it was pretty quiet until the week before the magazine came out—the interview for the feature had been done well before I was asked to be on the cover. Since then, it’s been a total whirlwind. Women’s Running had me make a video to introduce myself and asked if I would take over their Instagram and Snapchat accounts for a day. I did Instagram the day the issue hit shelves and Snapchat this past weekend. And, of course, there have been a bunch of talking to writers for articles about the cover.

In the end, I know I made the right decision. With everything blowing out of control over the last few months about bathrooms, this feels like a bit of a win for trans people right now. Of course, the timing of this coming out right after the awful and hateful attack in Orlando was a coincidence, but many reached out to tell me that this news served as a much needed ray of light for them. My heart has been so heavy since last Sunday, but knowing I was at least part of something positive for the LGBT community last week means a lot to me.

In the last week, I’ve had so many people contact me to tell me what it’s meant to them to see someone like them on the cover of a magazine. Not someone who is already a celebrity, but someone who is an everyday person like they are. I certainly don’t want to be anyone’s role model, and I shouldn’t be either, but I wanted to be able to show other trans people what’s possible. I wanted to do something that would give some amount of hope to other trans people right now, especially those who are seriously doubting whether or not they should transition or can survive in this world as a trans person.

Lastly, I just want to hit one last point since I saw someone comment about this. The feature does discuss the fact that I have had surgery. I was never asked about this. This was information I volunteered because it was relevant to my answers during the interview. Savita was respectful and never asked anything inappropriate. Besides, it’s not like it isn’t public information at this point anyway. I’ve written 10,000 words about it here!

On a shelf

A photo posted by Amelia Gapin (@entirelyamelia) on

12

16 weeks post-surgery update

This is the fourth post in a 10,000+ word series about my experience with getting my junk rearranged. The other parts are: Are You Excited?, I Got Sliced All The Fuck Up!, and Recovery Update.


IMG_0497I know, I know. I haven’t updated in a while. A lot of people have asked me to, but I honestly just haven’t really had a chance to sit down and write it all out. Since mylast update two and a half months ago, things have been a bit of a rollercoaster—I guess that happens with a major surgery—and there are a lot of things I’ve been wanting to share, many of which are things I was never told going into surgery or just had no idea to expect.

As usual, all kinds of content warnings and such ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Also, this post is kind of a poorly-written mess of updates. There’s just too much to cover to try to get it out coherently. So why even try?

I went back to work, like actually commuting into NYC, at five weeks post-op. I had planned for this to be six weeks. However, I was losing my mind at home and really eager to try to get back to some sort of a normal life. So, after things were looking perfect at my five week checkup, I went for it. Walking was doable, but not great. The swelling had gone down enough that it wasn’t inhibiting me anymore, but I still had stitches that were in the process of coming out and they hurt…a lot. It was difficult to move much without having them slice me up down there. It took another couple of weeks for them the finish coming out. Without a doubt, this was the worst part of weeks four through seven.

Also around the five week mark, I was able to switch from needing maxi pads to just using pantyliners. There was very little bleeding at this point and not needing a giant pad between my legs all the time was a major comfort improvement. Though, I find I still need to keep a pantyliner in place pretty much at all times to catch all the lube that is constantly oozing out of me. I don’t expect this to change until my dilation is less frequent.

Sitting at my desk at work, or anywhere, required positioning myself so there wasn’t any weight on my genitals. I found I was best if I was leaning to one side or just slouching a ton. It was doable most of the time, but some harder surfaces were tough for a while. I couldn’t really get comfortable on bar stools or hard benches until closer to like eight weeks. Oddly, even at five weeks, I was able to sit with my legs crossed and this was actually one of the more comfortable positions. Now, at sixteen weeks, I can pretty much sit however I want and not even that to think twice about it. I just can’t like plop myself down too hard.

At six and a half weeks, I started running again. My first run was a very tough one mile, but it felt really great to get out there again. Over the course of a the next four weeks, I built myself back up to five miles, but there was a lot of atrophying in my legs from spending five weeks barely leaving the couch.

First mile with a vagina!

First mile with a vagina!

Around the seven week mark I developed what was basically diaper rash on my perineum. Hey, I warned you! It only gets worse from here. Anyway, yeah, that was awful. It hurt a ton and it took sending another awkward photo of my frankenvag to my doctor to be sure of what it was. It cleared up in a couple of weeks after consistent heavy application of Desitin. I guess my in-between area was a little sensitive and not yet used to the idea of having a pantyliner rubbing against it all day while out and about.

Weeks six through ten where a very, very slow progression of healing. I had good days. I had bad days. I had really bad days. I had many days so bad I had to work from home or leave work early. Most of the time, it was just pain that could be easily relieved by laying down on the couch. It was not optimal at all and, at points, I was struggling to keep up with my job.

After five weeks, I was able to start dilating three times a day instead of four. This was a nice life improvement as it felt slightly less like I was just living my life from one dilation to the next. Dilating at work is definitely super awkward, but I worked out with HR a place for me to do it in the office. Unfortunately, my office doesn’t have a lot of rooms with a locking door, no windows, and a place for me to lay down. In fact, we only have one room that really fits all of that and it’s in the basement. The idea of locking myself in a room in the basement to dilate seems kinda like hiding the tranny out of sight, but the room has a sink and its own thermostat. The thermostat is very helpful for when you’re laying there with no pants on and lube is oozing out of you and down your asscrack. Yum. Every once in a while, someone tries to come into the room, but only a couple of people have keys and they know the deal so it’s generally okay…except for that time when it wasn’t and two of my coworkers walked in on me. Awk. Ward. Still, the basement is fine by me. I’m more than happy to work with what we’ve got and there’s less traffic down there than anywhere else so it feels more private.

Around eight weeks or so, I was starting to feel reasonably okay. I still had pain, but things were looking up enough for me to consider maybe trying to take this thing for a spin. Mostly, I just wanted to see if things still worked. I carefully started touching myself down there to feel things out. I really had NO idea how to operate my new genitals. Do I stick my fingers inside? Do I rub my clit? Do I do both? Should I use a vibrator? How much is too much? What if I can’t figure out how to set this thing off anymore? I also had a lot of trouble with where I needed to be mentally. Just, like, the idea of thinking about sex with a vagina instead of a penis was weird. I mean, I’ve thought about it pretty much every day for 20+ years, but this was totally different. I kept feeling like I didn’t know what to do without having a penis. Things also weren’t helped by the fact that I still had a lot of swelling that made it difficult to even get to my clit. Eventually, after long while of trying things inside and out, I was able to start getting somewhere. A few times I got really close, but just couldn’t quite get over the edge. The really interesting thing was the difference in how my body was responding to stimulation. It was a bit more full-body and there was a lot more tensing. Anyway, after a while, I gave up, but I tried again a few days later and succeeded. It was a really, really interesting feeling. It felt good, don’t get me wrong, but it was odd. The same, yet different. Unfortunately, it took over a month before I was able to perform an encore.

Shortly after the first time I was able to orgasm, I started having a ton of pain. Literally everywhere down there hurt. Inside. Outside. The area around it. It was beyond terrible. It built over the course of a couple weeks, but just kept getting worse and worse. I stopped running completely. I basically skipped out on my birthday because I was in too much pain to deal with being alive. I started taking expensive Uber rides home from work just to avoid having to be on my feet for the commute home. At the peak, it got so bad that I missed an entire week of work (this was the 12th week post-op). I don’t mean I worked from home, I mean I didn’t work at all. I spent the week curled up on the couch crying and popping Percocets like they were candy. I had never felt such pain—even in the first few days after surgery—and it was everywhere and every type of pain you can imagine. It was sharp, shooting, dull, achy, burny, stabbing, and anything else you can imagine. And the Percocets were doing nothing.

The pain was also made worse by dilating. I couldn’t stick anything in without feeling like Satan was fucking my vagina with a flaming spiked dick. It was the worst pain. And the pain caused me to start to dread dilating at all. I would get really tense and struggle to relax myself enough to get a dilator in. This, of course, made it hurt more which only fed back into this. I started using more and more lube to try to get my dilators in—as if I wasn’t already swimming in enough as it was—but eventually I had to stop using my largest one altogether. I just couldn’t get it in. Even my middle-sized one was difficult. It’d take me 10-15 minutes to slowly work it in while trying to do creating exercises to relax myself.

At week eleven, before things really peaked, I called the doctor’s office and the PA asked me to send another vag pic. She prescribed Estrace, which is basically an estrogen cream you inject into your vagina. Yup, the estrogen I inject into my leg with a needle on a weekly basis wasn’t enough for my body, I needed to also inject it straight into my vagina (is there anything more lady-like than this?). Moar lady juice! This was even more hell, though, as the applicator wasn’t exactly the most comfortable thing in the world. The tip was rough and caused me even more pain when I inserted it. I’m in pain just writing about it now. I kept this up for two weeks total, but it didn’t seem to make much of a noticeable difference. The PA also told me to start dilating four times a day again, but who’s got time for that when you’ve got a job?

At this point, I was completely regretting having surgery at all. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I was inconsolable. I just curled up on the couch and hated my life. I started to feel like I had some permanent problem and would spend the rest of my life in pain. You know, like those random people you read stories about who had some surgery and spend the rest of their life suffering because of it. Couple this pain with the stress of MyTransHealth‘s impending launch and the crazy amount of work I was putting in to get us ready and I was stretched beyond my means. This week was mentally and emotionally taxing beyond all possible comprehension. I was utterly defeated.

Waiting to get the granulation literally burned out of my vagina

Waiting to get the granulation literally burned out of my vagina

Back to week twelve, the peak of my vaginal hellstorm, I called the doctor again to see what was up. This time, I spoke to my actual doctor and not the PA. She was completely calm and collected about it. “Sounds like you have some granulation. Come in tomorrow and we’ll cauterize it for you.” I still don’t really understand what granulation is and why it hurts so bad except that it’s a relatively normal thing that happens—I mean, I’ve read about it so I kinda know, but I still don’t quite get it. It also, apparently, can result in displaced pain so it can hurt in places besides where it actually is. Who knew? I didn’t! No one told me about this beforehand!

Anyway, somehow, I was able to make the two hour drive down to my doctor with all this pain and she numbed me up down there and took care of it in a couple minutes. Despite her literally burning the granulation out of my vagina, I immediately had relief. After a few days, I was feeling GREAT. I was even able to start running again…again. However, my doctor had told me there would almost definitely be more. Still, a week of almost no pain at all was great! Well, no pain except for that damn Estrace applicator. Fuck that thing.

My doctor was right and the pain started coming back a couple weeks later, but no where near as bad as it was. So I went back again to have more taken care of. This was last week and I’ve been feeling pretty damn great this week. Though, I’m going back yet again next week for more, but I’m in not in pain from it anymore.

According to the original dilation schedule I was given, I should have been able to drop down from three times a day to just two earlier this month. Unfortunately, the granulation set me back a bit and I’m still doing it three times daily and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. Missing a dilation right now still makes the next one really suck. And I’m still trying to get the biggest dilator back in again. I’ve only been able to do it a few times since I stopped using it.

Hattie really likes to lay with my while I dilate

Hattie really likes to lay with my while I dilate

That’s mostly the gist of what it’s been like for the last two and a half months. Of course, there have been some other random notable bits…

The swelling was still causing my pee to spray everywhere for a while. It was only a few weeks ago that this finally stopped being an issue. The worst part was how unpredictable it was, though. Sometimes, it’d be fine. Other times, it’d somehow spray out of the toilet and all over the wall and my pants and underwear. This especially sucks when you’re at work!

I think in my last update, I had talked about nerve mappings and being able to tell where feelings, sensations, and touches are. It seems like almost everything is fully re-mapped now. I can tell where feelings and sensations are coming from without having to consciously think about it. When I touch various spots, the feeling I have feels like it’s coming from the spot I’m touching. Much of this slowly happened without me even realizing. Somewhere over the course of the last couple of months, I went from feeling like things were coming from their old locations or not being able to really tell exactly where it was coming from to it all feeling like it’s working as if it came like this out of the box (pun intended).

By three months, I expected more of the swelling to be gone and I expected the pain to pretty much be over with. I knew the swelling would take a while, but I went in expecting it to be 3-6 months, with most of the visible swelling being down by three months. Apparently, it’s really a full year for all the swelling to disappear. On one hand, I’m not terribly surprised it takes that long, but on the other, I just wish this was made more clear beforehand (I’m sure it was mentioned at least once, but there’s a lot to take in so it could have used more emphasis). While it does look like a vagina, it just feels like it really looking like a normal vagina is so far away still. My doctor assures me everything is looking perfect, though. As for The Pain™, I feel like it likely would’ve been mostly gone by three months if not for all of my granulation issues. Hopefully, that will be completely over with soon. I, honestly, don’t think I could take anymore of it.

Anyway, this week has been pretty good. I’m feeling mostly great. I got up to running 6.2 miles last weekend and felt great so that’s a huge plus. I’m feeling close to a real person again and finally starting to remember what feeling physically comfortable is like.

Seriously, every time I'm dilating

Seriously, every time I’m dilating

Lastly, a few other thoughts that didn’t really fit in anywhere else…

Up until just about last week, jeans were still really uncomfortable to wear. Granted, I typically only wear skinny jeans, but you don’t realize how little give there is in the crotch when you’re sitting or bending. It was just too much pressure on my vagina and I’d barely even get into work before regretting it. I spent most of the last 11 weeks since coming back to work trying to stick with dresses and leggings as much as possible, but my wardrobe only has so many options on this front. I never thought I’d be so excited to wear jeans, but here we are.

That does bring me to my next point, though. It’s amazing to be able to wear leggings, running tights and spandex shorts, and other tight bottoms that I couldn’t wear before. It’s just a lot more freeing in how I dress myself. I can throw on a pair of yoga pants without worry of wearing a long top. Or I can wear leggings as pants without worry that my shirt isn’t quite long enough to hide my junk. I mean, it’s not really about the clothes. It’s about the lack of having to think about my genitals just to run out to grab a coffee. And there’s a comfort level with my body that’s totally new to me and it’s great. Even just walking down the street feels more natural and normal to me in a way that I can’t explain but has been extremely apparent to me. I’m only just starting to fully experience all of this this week.

It’s hard to believe I’ve had a vagina for just 16 of my 1,721 weeks on this planet and I’m already forgetting what it’s like to have a penis. I mean, like I mentioned above, there’s still some weird muscle memory around stuff like masturbation, but there’s this weird inability to conceptualize what it was like with a penis and how it felt to just like…I don’t know, exist with one. It feels 100% normal to look down or in a mirror and see a vagina. It almost feels like it’s always been like that. Which is pretty wild.

It’s been a really rough 16 weeks and, like I said at the beginning, a big rollercoaster of ups and downs and everything in between. Mentally, emotionally, and physically, this vagina has been one giant pain in the dick. But the worst is definitely behind me and things are looking up (*knocks on wood*). Except for that one really dark week—fuck you, week twelve—it all feels worth it now that I’m finally starting to feel like one coherent human being. I look at my body and I actually see something that looks relatively like I feel like it should. I still have a lot of dysphoria around parts of my body, but it’s an order of magnitude better than it used to be.

Before I end this, I just kind of wanted to touch on how much I’ve shared regarding this. A few people have brought it up to me that I’ve been very open and personal about it (mostly thanking me for it). Part of this, honestly, is for my own personal documentation, but a lot is because I hope it will be helpful to others. Very little of what I actually experienced was expected or known beforehand. There is so much that no one ever tells you. I’m sure a fair bit of it exists in various places around the internet like Reddit, Tumblr, and private communities, but it’s hard to find without really digging. Most of what I was able to find consisted of small bits of information buried within larger conversations (some of which were minefields of problematic bullshit) that lacked a larger context for being able to really understand how it would relate to my own experience. But, overall, yeah, it’s weird to write about my genitals and things like masturbation in such a public way on a blog that I know friends, family, and coworkers read.

This is an awkward way to dilate

This is an awkward way to dilate

If she's not laying with me, she's watching

If she’s not laying with me, she’s watching