Monday, May 19, 2014

Hot lips

 Have you ever had an extremely minor injury catch you off guard and take over your life for a few days? This was my week. I sunburned my lips. It happened during my long ride over Diablo and Hamilton on Saturday. I'm usually very meticulous with the lip and face sunscreen; I keep a stick of SPF 50 within reach at all times, and Saturday was not an exception. Maybe it was the wind and excessive licking or maybe I just lapsed from my burned-in (ha!) sunscreen habit, but I fried my lower lip.

On Sunday it hurt a little, but something erupted on Monday and it bubbled into a full oozing blister complete with frequent bleeding and intense pain. Symptoms also included difficulty eating, drinking coffee and all other liquids through a straw, inability to sleep at night because it felt like a hot iron was pressed against my mouth at all hours, and uncharacteristic reluctance to venture outside. I had absolutely zero interest in the hot sun and anything under it, but figured this wasn't the best timing to sit inside for a week nursing this "injury." I slathered the third-degree mess in a thick layer of sunscreen and balm and forced myself out for a few short runs, reasoning that running is slower than biking and thus less likely to produce pain-inducing wind. But my spring allergies are also a mess right now; I can only breathe through my mouth, and every breath was like sucking fire. Argh. I was in such agony, but how much can you sulk over things you do to yourself, and silly things at that?

On Thursday, I headed down to Orange County to visit my little sisters. My youngest sister, Sara, lives in Huntington Beach, and Lisa was flying from Utah for the weekend as a birthday gift to herself. It was the perfect opportunity for quality sister time, and it was also sunny and 106 degrees in Los Angeles on Thursday. The lips were still a mess; it was embarrassing. I purchased some zinc oxide and enjoyed several fun outings that all three of us could enjoy, including an afternoon on the beach.

We had some fun re-enacting a favorite family photo. I took the photo when I was 11 and my sisters were 8 and 3, during a vacation to Southern California. I remember the camera; it was a purple Mickey Mouse Kodak point-and-shoot that ran 110 film cartridges. It was my first camera, and I relished the freedom to shoot my own images and capture my own memories. Shortly after I took the top photo, a church group was putting together time capsules that we were to open when we turned 25. That beach photo went in the mix, and was forgotten until I found the sealed can in my parent's basement and opened it in 2004. The photo was badly damaged in a misguided attempt to laminate it, but I retouched it in Photoshop and ordered a large print for my mother. My parents love that photo, and I thought it would be fun to recreate a 2014 version.

All in all it was a sister fantastic trip — we watched chick flicks, tried Shabu-Shabu (Lisa referred to the dish as "Japanese fondue"), ate frozen bananas on Balboa Island, and did the kinds of things sisters tend to do in So-Cal. My lip blister had almost sealed (not healed, I did mean sealed) when I drove home on Saturday. I'm pretty sure I'll have some permanent scarring from this incident.

 Sunday was the Ohlone Wilderness 50K. My friend Ann offered an entry to this race back in February, and of course I said yes because I love local 50K races and Ohlone is possibly my favorite. What's not to love about a classic point-to-point run through a scenic cross-section of the Diablo Range, with 8,000 feet of climbing in 31 miles, frequent and friendly aid stations, and a huge barbecue at the finish? Beat was en route to Nome when I signed up, and I forgot to ask about signing him up as well. The race was full by the time he returned. He volunteered for pre-race course checking, so he had the privilege of running the whole route two hours early and received the much-coveted tie-dye volunteer T-shirt.

I had a decent run at Ohlone. One couldn't ask for better weather (65-75 degrees, foggy in the morning and a fierce but refreshing wind in the afternoon.) The wind made the grass pollen situation quite bad; allergies got to the point where I could hear chirpy birds in every breath, so I blitzed the wheezing with two Benadryl pills. The drowsy side effect usually hits me hard, but this race necessitated such an early rise (4:30!) that it was difficult to tell whether the medication increased already prevalent drowsiness. It definitely opened my airways. Before Benadryl, I was becoming genuinely concerned about my ability to keep running; after Benadryl, I could breathe.

Besides the allergies I felt strong until a series of steep descents after Rose Peak, where I discovered that my downhill running technique is back to being sucky again. I suppose my running mileage has been reduced over the past few months and probably led to a lapse in confidence and return to bad habits. Every step was stiff and jerky; there was frequent skidding on the loose dirt, picking bad lines through the rocks and stumbling, panicking about hurting myself and and doing more downhill walking than anyone who calls themselves a trail runner should do. Pathetic. I shouldn't be running like this anymore, even if I took a substantial amount of time off. And I'm still running through my bike training, so I'm not exactly sure what happened today. At least uphill strength managed to pick up some of the slack. I mostly stayed near the same set of folks through the end of the race, so I finished where I should have. (Not sure where that was. 7:18 was the time. Nineteen minutes slower than the 6:59 in 2012 that I thought was fantastic, because Ohlone is not a fast 50K for most.) But yeah. Running. So hard. Why is it so hard? I do have fun with running though, in no small part because nothing about it comes easily.

I didn't do a single bike ride this week. I blame lips. 


  1. I'm not sure what it is about them, but I love grown-up recreations of childhood photos. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think the sun burn was a trigger for a cold sore. I find that excessive sun or stress are common triggers. They can be very painful and messy, but typically lips heal well and are not likely to scar.

  3. Try Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream for your lips, that stuff is pure sorcery for little burned/blistered areas.

  4. looks like a case of the herps, might want to get that shit checked out.

  5. That is so cool your sister Sara lives in Huntington Beach. I hope you had a good trip and that is the area we are going to be moving to in a year, so now you have lots of reasons to visit! I thank you for the warning about sunburned lips! Ouch. I will refrain from commenting about it being herpes or not since I know sunburn can cause blisters, too. I would just wait it out and see if it recurs. Finally with your running and feeling it is "hard" - just a thought is to work regular breaks and speed work into your weekly routine. I bet if you did that, it would not take long before you were cutting major time off of your ultras and not feeling they were as hard... just a thought!

    1. It surprised me how many people, here and elsewhere, jumped to the herpes conclusion. Sadly I manage to sunburn my lips 1-2 times a year, but I'm not sure I've ever done so to this extent. The symptom is a kind of puss-filled blister across the top part of my lower lip that sloughs off multiple layers of skin over the course of 3-5 days, leaving behind raw skin layers that are prone to bleeding. It more closely matches localized skin burns I've had than any cold sore I've heard about. And would be strange if all of my cold sore outbreaks were directly related to long days out in the sun, don't you think? Anyway, cleared up now.

      When I describe running as hard, often what I mean is the motions are mechanically difficult for me. It's difficult to describe to runners, for whom such motions come at least somewhat automatically. I do not consider myself a natural runner at all; the motion always feels somewhat awkward. My sense of balance begins to tip, if that makes any sense, and I find difficulty in making the mind-body correlations needed to simply stay vertical. Managing form to avoid load-bearing injuries is another thing altogether. Speed ... honestly, I'm convinced it's a dangerous game for someone like myself. Not impossible, of course; people can teach themselves some amazing tricks. But my interest so far is low because the costs are high. Runners like to go fast, I get it. I'm a walker who likes to go far. :-)


Feedback is always appreciated!