Of Vacations and Setbacks

So this past month I finally learnt what it is like to bite off more than you can chew. I suffered the worst effects early through mid-October, with the languishing health effects putting a rather serious damper on my marathon training. Obviously Hurricane Sandy the last week of October has helped me to put everything in perspective as things out of one’s control can wipe out everything you have.

Even in the thick of things though, there are times when you wonder when the light at the end of the tunnel is going to occur.

For years upon years I’ve been screaming for a vacation, particularly one lasting more than a week, one where I am supposed to “shut off” and recharge myself, one with as little drama as possible where I can go somewhere and try something new, go to a place I’ve never been before, try new cuisine and whatnot. Squeezing a race is a bonus, it’s not mandatory for me or necessary, if it happens, it happens, but everything else also has to fall in place. Granted, although my parents have lambasted me for suggesting a race during a vacation or mini-getaway (vacation is meant to rest they say, the discrepancy runs as they define rest more so physically and myself more so mentally) thankfully I have managed to meet them in the middle when it comes to the beach and beach races. Virginia Beach in March 2011 went off without too much of a hitch. They can rest, I can run, simple as, right?

Since my university years, I’ve spent most of that time working and balancing night school, between post-bac studying, and then getting my CPA, and graduate school starting two years ago. Basically since university, if I’m not working, I’ve been stuck studying, and when I go out, the first question on my mind is whether my homework has been finished, whether I’m ready to go for the next exam. My mind wanders to the last vacation I had taken.

Exactly seven years ago, and being out of college, it was the first time I could spend my own money on a trip that I wanted. Was it tight? Yes, but I had never been able to take a vacation on my own. My best friend Mike from school wanted me to vacation with him at his parents’ home in Orlando, and for the first time in my life I saw Disneyworld. I remember being 9 and 10 and such, and other students I was with growing up all would take vacations every year or often enough. I could only imagine what it was like, and often found myself being unable to relate with many of my peers even today on experiences they had, which I lacked. Back then, with money tight, I remember being proud of being able to snag a $99 round trip fare on AirTran to Orlando (!!!) in August. (I imagine that would have to be unthinkable now.)

Admittedly, even out of university, money WAS tight for me as I paid back my student loans, paid rent (moving back home was not an option for many reasons – lack of job opportunities in the sciences for one and continued tensions with family), paid tuition for post-bac. I kept telling myself that there would be an end to this, even if it took years. That I could not put a price tag on being at peace with myself, going to work and loving it every day, but yet that time would not come until I had put in my dues at the beginning.

Of course money does not solve all problems. Even when I secured a post with significantly better pay and had some more funds to go somewhere, I struggled with the problem of lack of money being replaced with lack of time. As a result, I made the best I could with business trips, trying to get whatever sightseeing I could off the clock. I cannot complain about my trips to San Antonio, endless forays to DC, Boston, Chicago, and such. But soon, the start of graduate school even forced me to cut back on venturing out on the road and while I held the line for my first year of school, balancing a relationship, a full load of classes, full-blown travel, and training for the Marine Corps Marathon, this year, the school work – despite the same number of credits – proved to be unbearable.

One big problem: complete lack of sleep. Last year, even on the road I would manage 6-7 hours of sleep; this year I was lucky, VERY lucky with 3-4 hours. Massive problem. My classes this year required not one, but multiple deliverables per class, two of which were accelerated. Last year I would have one deliverable at most, I made sure with quantitative classes to keep up with the problems, but even this year’s normal pace (15 week) economics class, I am still having econ problem sets on top of a report and a presentation. The sheer irony is that even with illness and such setting in or even on rest days where I don’t spend the additional hour running or training, I am still up until 2-3am squeezing in studying and homework. Even on weekends I am staying up horrifically late, it’s not because I am partying with friends. And that relationship last year? Long gone (thankfully, although that’s another story).

To be blunt, I can count the number of times I have actually hung out with friends since the semester started: 3. And that’s between two entirely different groups of friends. On the upside this is where running becomes critical: one of the groups is comprised of runners and I have trained with them day in and day out, that is one way I do stay in contact with some of my friends. (And non-runners don’t seem to grasp this part.) Number of times I’ve actually been out? Until last Sunday, when I bussed out to NYC to see friends: zero.

Dropping classes is not an option for reasons related to work and travel and of course the fact that you don’t get your tuition back depending on when you drop a course. In the professional services world, you travel more over time, making it more difficult to complete my degree. In some fields, particularly accounting, there is the so-called busy season, making school nearly impossible for the spring semester for those that go through it. So unfortunately I have to bite the bullet.

In mid-October the bottom fell out. With severe lack of sleep, I became more and more heavily reliant on caffeine. It was one Wednesday where I had gone to bed at around 4am. Started work the next day at 7:30am (you read that right). Well I had 3 cups of premium coffee, followed by copious amounts of tea throughout the day. Normally upon drinking that amount of caffeine, I usually stop myself from running or undertaking exercise. Well, this go around, it slipped my mind. I ran the 6 miles or so that night and only when I finished did I realize how much caffeine I had.

The palpitations ensued and I wound up in the ER that night as I found myself drinking copious bottles of water. I needed a few days just to get my body back from breaking down underneath all that stress and to top it off I caught some nasty cold that I got from exposure in the cold outside or from the ER. All in all, I had to take the next two weeks off to get things back in order. Only after then, I have managed to run up to 10 miles or so, going up to a half marathon would be feasible for me given how I’ve been feeling as of late. A full? Probably not this year. I mulled withdrawing from the Philly Marathon, but I’ve decided to run the half instead. Finally I’ve decided to stick to halfs until I finish school. From what I can tell school will become more painful and after this semester I still have another three left.

Even Sergio warned me that the amount of time needed to properly train for a full was significant when piling on work and a ridiculous load of classes. He did agree that the strategy of sticking to halfs was feasible though particularly since I do train reliably year-round.

It’s been a painful lesson this fall, but I’ve learnt from it, and lately I’ve gotten more sleep and back on the pavement. The important thing is that I’ve been feeling better and hopefully I can move forward a happier and healthier person.

In the meantime, I’m planning my vacation next summer. San Diego, and hopefully snagging a spot in the Rock n Roll Half there in early June to boot.


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