Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking forward

A year ago I was filled with hope and positive thoughts and visions. I hadn't much enjoyed 2008 and was sure 2009 would be a vast improvement. It was not.

People look back on this past decade and are doing best-of and worst-of lists and I don't even have to go to the way-back machine for that. Best-of for me was running my first marathon, then my second marathon, then finding through running a group of the best friends I've had in my life. Worst-of for me was family and health related, including losing my dad to cancer and almost losing my mom to dementia and over-medication. For the most part the best and worst are evenly balanced with one or the other periodically tipping the scales.

I only have one resolution for the next year and next decade, and indeed, the rest of my life. Too many years I've resolved to eat less or eat better or exercise more or start lifting weights or be less cynical or c'mon be happy and I'm tired of circumstances giving me an excuse to ignore those goals. I've found I have very little control over most of my life and most plans I've made for the past couple of years ended up getting shot to hell, so spontaneity will become part of me whether I enjoy it or not.

I do indeed plan to at least mentally register for a marathon, to set up a training schedule with runs and Wii's and rides and even weight lifting. I doubt I'll be exercising or engaging in any physical activity every day but I will again make it a habit instead of an oddity. I also plan to cut the crap out of my diet again, mostly because I feel better when I eat healthier choices. I'm not saying I'll totally give up popcorn, wine and ice cream for dinner but it will become a rarity instead of a usual meal. I will also not berate myself when circumstances have me chewing my nails as both a meal and an activity. Life happens and I'll adjust.

There's only one commitment, one goal, one resolution that I feel I can hold to. Indeed, I must hold to. I'd be happy if each and every one of my readers adopts the same goal, convinces others to share this goal:


I hope you all have a happy end to this crappy year and a wonderful start to the new one!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunny skies, foggy brain

I seem to be in my typical holiday mood: cranky, anxious and jittery. Normally the bright sunny days improve my state of mind but today I'd like the thick fog to return so that my grumpy wouldn't seem so out of place. The holidays aren't the reason for the mood, it's the entire December-short-days, get-everything-done-by-the-end-of-the-year thing that gets to me every time. I'm quite ambivalent about the holidays themselves. Having two days off work doesn't bother me at all.

In an effort to improve my attitude I've attempted to increase my level of activities from "lacking" to "low." I'm trying to get in at least a little extra bit of movement each day but my energy level is riding as low as the sun in the winter sky. I've been using my new Wii Fit, more for the entertainment value than the exercise value, and that's gotten me off my posterior most days. I don't think it's intended for a dedicated, hard-core fitness freak but right now my dedication is lost in the holiday mail and my core is flabby so the Wii is doing what needs to be done. It's less mind-numbing than a treadmill, I don't need any special workout clothes (I just start stripping off layers as I get warm and I'm using it barefoot now), and I don't need to even go into a different room.

I've also attempted to correct some of my sloppier eating habits but you wouldn't know that from my tendency to have popcorn, ice cream and wine at night and call it "dinner." I've limited my consumption of holiday crap goodies to no more than one each day, I'm eating healthy lunches and if my evening eating isn't quite what's recommended I'm not going to drive myself crazy about it until January. As long as I'm getting some good nutrition each day I'm sure I'll maintain.

My obsession with sunscreen might be getting slightly out of hand. I don't know why I think I need to wear sunscreen on my legs when they're completely covered with long pants and boots. I've been wearing an SPF 15 moisturizer on my face for years, but now I'm spreading it on my neck and ears too. I've also been hovering around the moisturizer/lotion aisles trying to discover a lightweight, non-oily, non-pore clogging, higher SPF goop to spread on my face but I haven't found anything yet. I like the Neutrogena sunscreen that I use when running but not for all day use on my face. I like the Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion with Menthol for the rest of my body but it doesn't have a sunscreen (and Aveeno seems to be trying to discontinue that particular lotion). I figure I have, at best, a couple of months before it gets warm enough that I'm outside with parts of my limbs uncovered and by then I hope to be fully sun protected.

Meanwhile, even with the sun exposure I was getting before this my Vitamin D levels were low. That was while taking 1000 mg daily. Well, almost daily. I tend to forget my vitamins and supplements on weekends. I doubled the D during the week and I try to remember to take it on weekends. I can see it now: lovely pale skin and rickets. Nice.

Whine whine whine. I told you I was feeling cranky.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon Report

Now that I'm not running as many races it seems to take me forever to write up a report. Now that I'm not running much it seems to take me forever to write anything. My life is filled to the brim with uninteresting things that I'm not having a bunch of fun experiencing the first time, let alone reliving them for public consumption. Will that stop me from writing here? Nopers it won't!

Anyhoo. RnR-LV. I registered for that right after I ran the Nike Half Marathon in October. I wanted a relaxing get-away and of course I can't justifying travel without a race involved. So I made my flight reservations, and my hotel reservations at what I thought was a swank Vegas hotel and I signed up for the race. In between that time and last weekend a crapload of stuff came up and I wasn't as excited as I had been. Nonetheless, I had spent the money and decided to hie meself forth. Or something like that.

We all know how excited I get about freezing (thus, moving from Michigan to California right after college graduation). I wasn't happy when Chicago ended up being the freezer of arctic races and I was less happy when I discovered that Vegas was going to be experiencing their first hard freeze of the year. Oh joy. I packed all my warm race stuff and decided what the heck, I'll live.

I got to Vegas in the early evening and checked into my hotel, the name of which I won't say except it rhymes with "Nonte Darlo." I had reserved a 2 queen, non-smoking room on a high floor. I got the high floor, a non-smoking floor. The room had 1 king bed which ended up being a non-issue since I was alone (although I like that second bed because the rooms are usually larger). The biggest issue was the smell. No, not the regular smoky Vegas smell. This was a nasty, overwhelming chemical-floral smell, as if the entire perfume industry had dumped their wares on the carpet. Over and over again. It was vile.

Luckily my window opened - an inch since it was the 31st floor - and there was a strong fan in the room. I managed to clear the worst of the smell out. The only time it smelled good on that floor was, oddly enough, when someone was smoking. Yes, the smoke smelled better than that perfumey miasma. I figured out it was probably something they were cleaning the carpets with. Ew.

That wasn't the only thing wrong with my room at the Lonte Barlo. There were 3 lamps in the room, all set to "dim." Unless I was directly underneath one I couldn't read or knit, or even see very well. The shower faucet slid by itself from "warm" to "scalding" if I didn't keep holding it. The room didn't seem clean. The curtains stuck. The television had hardly any channels. The safe needed a credit card to use it. Internet access was about $20 with the taxes. The worst was there was no coffee pot. Nada. Nor would they provide one. No, said they, call room service and spend $15 for a cuppa. Huh. Good thing the tap water reached scalding levels.

Yes, this is a race report. I'm getting there. (No wonder it takes me so long to write these things...) Saturday morning I headed over to Mandalay Bay for the expo. It was a typical RnR expo: huge. Lottsa stuff. Packet pickup was quick and easy. This year RnR was giving tech shirts (aww, the last of the big races with crappy white cotton tee shirts has crossed to the bright side). The half marathon shirt was a black short sleeved generously sized (very generously) Sugoi tech shirt. I was astounded when my XXL was tremendous. I'm so used to Nikesizing that I was unprepared for something too big. Whoopsie.

For this race RnR had jumped on the red and black bandwagon that Nike's race-branded clothing had at both Chicago and SF-Women's races and once again I was unable to resist my colors. I only bought a(nother) running hat but now I have 3 red and black running hats from this years' races. Between what was already in the goodie bag and what I picked up at the booths I got a ton of swag including dog treats (that was a first), oil and vinegar (another first), a full box of mac and cheese (yet another first), gel and bars and drink mix and more.

Vegas was busy last weekend. Not only were about 30,000 people there for the race, plus their family and friends (sniff, except for those of us all by their lonesome), it was again the big Rodeo finals (and I don't know the correct name for it, sorry, not a big fan of cows y'know) and also the big NASCAR finals (or some race car thingie, not a big fan of that either). My most amusing times all weekend were wandering around and trying to decide which of the groups a person and their companions belonged to. The cowboys (and cowgirls) were the easiest: big hats, boots, big belt buckles. The runners were wearing sneakers and some piece of race-branded clothing, carrying water. A very few of them also had the big buckles but the ultra-buckles couldn't be confused with the cowboy buckles. The race car fans were the out-of-shape drunks carrying a large beer. Oh No! See RunnerGirl unfairly stereotype people!!

Sunday morning I arose early. The race was starting at 6:15 and I knew it would take me about 20 minutes to walk to the start (I had timed it the day before). I ate my oatmeal, drank my surprisingly good instant Starbucks Via (thanks again Ponte Farlo for no coffee pot), bundled into all my running gear and headed out the door at 5:15 am. Ew smelly hallway.

The thing that saved the day for me was the instant I walked outside I covered my nose and mouth with my buff and left it that way until I started running. I managed to not inhale any of the icy cold air, and lemme tell ya, it was icy cold, about 30 degrees. I joined the throngs heading to the start. I was in corral 23, way at the back. It didn't take me that long to get there so I decided to go into the hotel/casino to stay warm and to go to the bathroom. Being in the very big and typically confusing casino I think I walked for a half hour before I made it to the bathroom and back out again. I exited through a different door than I had entered so I was way up by the front and had to fight my way to the back of the crowd.

RnR was doing a challenge with the elite women and men where the women started about 20 minutes before the rest of the crowd. There was a bunch of stuff that was apparently going on at the front, like entertainers and tigers and such, but we didn't know about that until after the race. We could see part of the fireworks that were going on but the trees in the median strip blocked the best of it. Finally the race started, I think. Because of staggered start times I didn't cross the start line for almost 45 minutes after the gun. Brrr.

The half marathon was run entirely on Las Vegas Blvd. except for a very short loop at the half way turnaround. I've got to say that the road surface was very good; I didn't trip once. Not a single time, and that could be a race record for me. It was both a good route and a bad one. I didn't mind running back and forth but some people were complaining toward the end.

I was surprised by the course support. Although water stops were frequent, by about mile 6 the tables were mostly broken down with only a couple left having water or Cytomax drink. There was Gu at just past mile 9 and when I saw it while wunning the other direction there seemed to be plenty. However by the time I got there, there were literally only a half dozen packets of Roctane left - nothing else, none of the regular Gu. People must have been grabbing handsful as they ran past. I feel bad for people behind me (and yes, there were lots of them) who hadn't brought their own gel and weren't carrying bottles. Let that be a lesson to you kids, even the best organizations sometimes run short. I had my favorite Gu's and Sport Beans with me, plus the freebie Gu that had been in my goodie bag, their new seasonal flavor Gingerbread. I tasted that one and threw it out, preferring my Beans.

My plan for the race was to wun my normal 9:1 until at least past the turnaround, hopefully to at least mile 8 (which was as far as I had trained), and then see how I felt. I ran straight out for the first mile and a half and unless the course was mismarked I unintentionally kicked ass. I still think that first mile was short. I wore my Nike+ for amusement value and it said I only ran about 12.25 miles total. Huh. Have to calibrate that thing. I convinced myself to stick with 9:1 for the entire race, mostly because it was cold and I wanted to finish while there was still beer left at the end. Nope, didn't make sense to me either.

Once the sun came out it "warmed" up to the high 30's, but when we turned around it had started clouding over and I discovered I'd been running with a tail wind. I had taken off my jacket at about mile 4 and I put it back on at about mile 10. The gloves and ear warmers were removed at about mile 5 and I didn't need them again until after the race.

It was crowded the entire time I was out there, which was almost 3 hours because although I felt like I was wunning my little legs off, I was going slow as frozen molasses. Again. I did a lot of zigging and zagging and because I was there for fun, and was only running 13.1 miles, I didn't really care. I had decided that I would enjoy the race simply because I was able to run it - I was healthy enough to run, I was monetarily capable of a weekend getaway, I could drop all of my responsibilities for a couple of days. Enjoy it I did. I was grateful that I could do it. Freezing air, crowded course and all.

At the finish they draped the big medal around my neck and gave me a bottle of water. I wandered until I found the space blankets, which are now generic "Rock 'n' Roll Race Series" blankets (guess they have to save money somehow with so many races now). There were tables full of plain bagels and bananas and oranges, pretzels and some energy bars. We were able to have our pictures taken either alone, or with a frozen showgirl. Very funny, they looked miserable standing there in their outfits trying to smile while some smelly stranger crowded next to them. Yes, I had my picture taken with one. Then I tried to track down the beer tent because I guess I wasn't cold enough.

(I just bought a new camera so hopefully this is the last of the crappy pix)

After wandering in circles I found that beer tent. I didn't need to dig out my bracelet showing I was over 21 (frozen face wrinkles were all I need to prove my age) and I was handed my can - yes, an entire can - of MGD 64. Hey, it's almost water, right? I was rehydrating! Vegas being Vegas, I was able to walk back to my hotel with beer in hand and it was far enough that I had finished the beer long before I reached the Ronte Garlo.

Also Vegas being Vegas, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the squads of running Elvi. Why is it that all impersonators dress as Fat Old Elvis instead of Hot Young Elvis? It's not like any of them can sing like him. There were also many couples who married, or remarried, while on the course (at about mile 3.5) and ran wearing wedding apparel. Always something interesting to see during a race!

Would I do it again? Yeah, probably. It's still a good excuse to get out of Dodge, it's an easy course, a cheapish trip. Although I love small races, there's something to be said for the large corporate ones too.

Will I travel by myself again? Yeah, probably. Among other things I discovered that you shouldn't go out for sushi meals alone (7 bites and you're done. Literally. Then what?) and that they'll put Amy in a corner. I never felt weird, didn't feel lonely (cell phone!), didn't have time to get bored.

Now I have to figure out what I can race next. Right now it feels good slacking off a bit, giving myself an excuse to let my leg heal without taking the chance of ripping stitches. This won't last long, I like having plans (even if I end up canceling them) and a schedule to follow. If you have any suggestions for a race, let me know!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"I need to remove a bit more"

Last week I had my annual appointment with my dermatologist. I've been having yearly full skin checks for about 10 years. Before that, for several years, the skin checks were twice annually. That was because about 15 years ago we found my first basal cell carcinoma. The day my doctor called me back to her office and gave me the diagnosis I was crushed. All I heard was "you have skin cancer" and the rest of the discussion sounded to me, and I remembered as "lalalalalalalala."

I finally absorbed the fact that my days as a sun bunny were over, that I had a skin disease that was harmful and dangerous but probably wouldn't kill, disable or disfigure me. About two years later I found my second basal cell carcinoma and redoubled my sunscreening efforts.

From that point on I learned my skin very well. I had found both carcinomas and my doc was surprised each time that they were indeed not benign. There were none of the usual ABCDE signs (A=asymmetry, B=border, C=color, D-diameter, E=elevation), they both looked more like pimples that wouldn't go away. I'm a very mole-y person, especially my multi-sunburned back.

In the intervening years I had several spots that I had my doc remove, several sliced and even more frozen. I'd gotten a bit slack about the "annual" part of the visit and had stretched things to about 18 months this time. I'm careful with sunscreen, I wear a hat with a brim when I run, but I'm still outside for long periods of time. Because I run so slowly my long morning runs often go until mid-day in full sunlight.

My doc has pictures of many of my moles so that she can compare from year to year. When I went in this year I had a few spots that I was concerned with and she decided that one spot we'd been watching for many years looked darker. So I had 3 spots frozen (and lemme tell you, freezing a very large mole on your spine hurts like a bitch) and 2 excised. The slices were on my face near the hairline (the doc thought it was just a cyst but I thought it was ugly) and above my left knee (the mole that looked darker). The doc warned me that the lab she was sending them to requested additional tissue about 10% of the time and I shouldn't worry if I had to return.

So I wasn't worried when she called me Friday and told me to come back and have the knee mole re-excised. She said she'd have to put in a stitch or two and I wouldn't be able to be active for a couple of days. She didn't say, and I didn't ask, whether the lab had given any diagnosis. I had a big weekend ahead of me and I just assumed that everything was ok. In my wildest thoughts I felt it could be another basal cell. Maybe, if horrible things were wrong, it could be a squamous cell carcinoma. But I was pretty confident that everything was fine. Because apparently I also believe in unicorns and pink puppies and rainbows with pots of gold at their ends.

I've been going to this same dermatologist for probably more than 2 decades and I know her, she knows me. So when I was there today and the first thing she did was pause, and look at me, I knew something was wrong. She told me that the diagnosis was "evolving melanoma in situ" and paused again. She started explaining, showed me the lab report and I asked if I could get a copy of the report because after "melanoma" all I was hearing was "lalalalalalala" and all I could think was "I have cancer."

My doc showed me pictures of cross-sectioned skin depicting the different parts and layers, and explained the type of melanoma ("I have cancer"). She talked of the Clark levels, where mine is Level 1 ("I have cancer"), she spoke of stages, where my is actually 0 ("I have cancer"). She told me about the treatment, which was cutting that bad boy away ("I have cancer") and spoke of prognosis, which was that once it was cut away, there was only about a 2% chance that it would reoccur in that spot ("I have cancer").

I had an odd reaction, freaked out and buzzed and focused and nauseous and very calm on top of it all ("I have cancer). I started talking too much, asking lots of questions (most of which I forgot all the answers to), babbling about this that and the other thing. Meanwhile the doc prepped my leg, I lay back and pretended that I was doing A-Ok ("I have cancer").

When she was done I had a long vertical purple line on my leg, held together on the inside with 3 stitches (she used extra strong thread since I'm a runner) and 8 stitches on the outside. She placed a nice dressing on it, taped it all together and I was good to go. I got verbal and written instructions of care and was told repeatedly to call her if I had any questions or problems ("I have cancer"). I was told I can shower tomorrow and can run when then tight wound feels like it won't split.

I made my followup appointment, went to my car and started crying. The same thing that I had done so long ago when I got my basal cell diagnosis. I went back to work and obviously couldn't focus very well. I went to my mom's house to get her mail (which the post office didn't deliver even though my mail-hold specified delivery today). I went into her house, checked a few things, went to leave and couldn't find my car keys. I looked all over for them ("yes, I looked there" "I looked there too" "of course I looked there, six times!") and an hour later gave it up. I had that little temporary key the dealer gives you and tells you not to use in the ignition and I used it anyway. I needed to get home.

Eight hours later I'm feeling a little more focused and a little less freaked out. Thanks to Mr. Google I know that if I had to get melanoma, I got the best type. Chances are very good that every little bit was chopped off today and it won't return. The odds are in favor of my getting more somewhere else, at some later date. But I know my skin, my doc knows my skin, and we'll keep on top of it. Right now I know intellectually, and I'm trying to feel in my heart and my nerves, that "I HAD cancer."

Evolving Melanoma in Situ

I'm ... speechless. Kids, use sunscreen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bittersweet weekend

The news was expected but still painful. Saturday morning while I was at the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas expo picking up my race packet, I received word that our friend Raji had passed away from cancer. Raji was a powerful, compassionate, funny, talented woman. She was an avid supporter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, not only being a Triple Crown recipient, a mentor and captain but a coach also. She was one of our running knitters who participated in our (at one time) frequent Stitch n Bitch parties. I will miss Raji's luminous smile, her energy, her enthusiasm. Claudia has a lovely tribute to Raji on her blog; please go look.

On Sunday I thought of all the races in which Raji participated. I'll never have her speed or her grace but I carried with me the memory of her joy of running and I smiled while I ran.

(I stole this picture from Claudia)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Let's go for a wun

Thanksgiving and the weekend following were wonderful. At the last minute I decided that my sis had to come to town so we tracked down some flights and got her out here. We spent some time with the rest of the family, some time at my office working, but mostly we spent time together. There's just something about having a sister, a best friend, that makes everything all right.

Makes everything tired too. As I'm fond of saying, my sis has more energy than a two year old who just consumed a box of Froot Loops. GoGoGoGo all day long and then collapse at the end of the day. I'm more like GoGo all day long and then get a burst of energy at 9pm. Our biorhythms aren't quite the same but we manage.

One thing we managed was to get outside each morning and get moving. We had decided to get ourselves up and do the Walnut Creek Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, the 5k version. Sis hasn't been running much for various reasons but at heart she's still a runner. I haven't been running much because I'm sluggish and lazy but at heart I'm still a runner. We decided that we'd run, and run:walk, and walk if necessary. Sis is faster than I am (by several minutes per mile) but she said she'd slow down for me. I've heard that one before.

It was cold Thursday morning and there was a lot of waiting around for the Trot to begin. We were bundled up because we anticipated lots of walking and so when we actually started running I was a little overheated. The race was crowded with real runners, families, dogs, baby strollers, walkers. We fit somewhere in the middle there, just wanting to have a good time. Seriously, who beats themselves up at a Turkey Trot? (Well, one fellow did. He was running along at a very fast pace, repeatedly projectile vomiting as he ran. Just as disgusting as it sounds. Dude. Slow the hell down and get your germs away from the rest of us!)

Somewhere in the middle of this Trot I decided that it was time we had a new word for the whole run-walk interval thing. Thus: "wun." Sure, I could have come up with "ralk" but that sounds like what the guy was doing as he ran. "Wun" conjugates like "run" so "I went for a wun," "yesterday we wan 6 miles," "we were wunning along the trail," "my wun was 9:1," and so forth. I anticipate that the same people that don't know the correct conjugates of "run" will also make a mess of "wun" (and seriously, what's up with that? Haven't schools taught grammar for the past few decades? Am I the only person bothered by this?).

So spread the word! Many people are training, and racing, with run:walk intervals. Heck, I've heard that people are training for Ironman Triathlons with intervals. Yes, you too can wun an Ironman. Join with me and be a wunner!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving thanks

This past year has been a tough one for me, my family, and many of my friends. Two years ago, then again last year, I posted a list of things for which I'm thankful. Despite the year of hardships, I still give thanks for so many of the same things. The list is repeated, with some changes for 2009:

I am thankful for:

Mom, Mom sane and healthy, Mom knowing who and where she is
Sue (and of course Tracy)
Ron Carol Mac
My other family who I don't see often
My dear friend Ellen
My oldest friend Carol who came to visit me a couple of weeks ago
My running friends (and those who walk, too)
My knitting friends (even those who have put down the needles)
My running and knitting friends
My friends who used to run with me and have moved to other states but still stay in contact
My friends who don't knit or run with me
My health and physical capabilities (and modern pharmaceuticals to keep it that way)
My job
My home
My bears (of which there seem to be more every month year)
My yarn and needles
My abundant stuff
The gorgeous area where I live
The trails and open spaces where I can run in beautiful surroundings
Sunny warm days, cool nights
Candy, popcorn and wine for dinner
Waking after actually having been asleep
The ability to do almost anything I want, anywhere, at any time
The knowledge that I am whole, complete, and mostly content

I hope you have as many things that make you thankful, and that you have a happy, safe Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Running and eating part 2

As happened the previous weekend, this past weekend my 10 mile run turned into an 8 miler. What was supposed to be the great reunion run of 2009 turned into just two of us; Anita and I met up at the Lafayette Moraga Trail for a chilly outing. Once again it was freezing and I decided to only run 4 miles and not blow out my lungs with the cold air. Once again we ended up running to the 4 mile marker before turning back. It was cold, I was wheezy, but it was still great getting out and running, looking at the bright crispy clear scenery, carefully making our way across the icy wooden bridge without slipping. We were both tired once we finished but not wiped out, not ready to drop in our tracks. That's an improvement.

I like going out to eat no more than weekly; my known habit is to feel that since I normally eat so well, a restaurant meal is a treat and I can eat what I want. That doesn't work well when you go out 4 days in a row. On Friday my bro had taken my mom to see a new doctor. Due to an obstructive nasty receptionist they walked out. Since there was time, they called and asked me to join them for a sushi lunch near my office. How could I say no?

Saturday night was an office party at a Japanese restaurant in Oakland. The food was incredibly good and rich, although not big in quantity. The wine was incredibly good too, but I only had one glass since I was driving (I should mention that the "one glass" was because after about 3 sips a waiter would walk up from behind and refill the glass. I never did empty that glass all night, so "one glass," right?). Sunday I took my mom to lunch at the newish Lake Chateau on Lake Merritt where we ate too much. Last night I took my mom to a doctor appointment and since she would have missed her dinner at the home I had to take her to dinner.

We were in the Danville area so we went to the new Maria Maria. I was ready to face the same awful service that they have at the Walnut Creek restaurant and was quite pleasantly surprised by the attentive waitstaff. That meal would have been nice and healthy if we hadn't ordered the melted cheese dish to go with my shrimp tacos and her chicken salad. At least I have a leftover taco and leftover salad for my dinner tonight, there was no way we could finish that much food.

So I'm still feeling sluggish and stuffed. Stuffed head, too. My allergies are acting up (no, it's not a cold. I keep telling you that). Mornings and evenings I'm sniffling, sneezing, coughing. Two mornings in a row I've felt like there's sand underneath my contacts. Before I put in my contacts. I've ended up wearing glasses instead. By mid-day I feel fine, get a burst of energy, breathe clearly. But by bedtime I'm all congested again.

I finished my nephew's hat and I'm not too impressed with it. Sure, it's very cute with the stripes, I-cord and tassel on the end. Being a novice I didn't use enough yarn for a true pom-pom but I think it looks less girly being less full. I'm sure it's because of the cheap crap acrylic yarn, but the hat doesn't feel shaped right and is too stretchy. I'll see what my nephew thinks about it and decide whether it needs any adjustments. Now I just want to knit with some natural fiber yarn, something that grew on an animal or plant and wasn't made from chemicals. Good thing I have about 5 WIPs on my counter, I can choose from those. Or go with my feeling this morning: it's freezing out, I need another pair of mitts!

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's raining, it's pouring

I'm hoping this will be a heavy, short storm that passes through the area by the middle of the night. I'm going to run long tomorrow morning and don't have happy thoughts of running on piles of wet leaves. Slippery and I don't go together.

My great plan for being back on track went all to crap again. I started the week well and just ... let's just say I tapered and leave it at that. I've been eating well so that balances it a teensy bit but this isn't particularly the way to stay healthy or not get fatter.

I've been knitting again, recently on a stupid, fun project. My little pre-teen nephew asked me if I would knit him a hat and how could I refuse that face? I asked what type and he said he wanted one where he could swing the top around in circles. Yeaaaaah. He doesn't want a long tapering point, more like a hat with a ball on the end of a string. Oooooookay. At least he said he wanted it in red. And black. So I'm knitting with colors I like and knew that I had in the house. I discovered some hand-me-down nasty acrylic worsted weight yarns in my stash and was happy not to have to waste my Malabrigo on what seems to be a joke hat.

A couple of weeks ago I cast on for a basic 2x2 rib hat. I was at the end of the decreases when I convinced myself that the damn thing would be too big for a jumbo pumpkin and there was no way to fix it. I ripped it back and started over on a smaller size. Again, 2x2 rib but this time only on the brim and plain old stockinette for the rest of it. I made the decrease on the pointy side and instead of binding off at the end I did an I-cord for about 10 inches. Now I'm trying to decide whether to make the pompom attached or whether to bind off the I-cord and do maybe 2 small pompoms and attach them. At this rate my nephew should be getting his hat just about in time for spring thaw.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Running and eating

I've been doing too little of one and too much of the other. Care to guess which is which? Alrighty, then!

I managed to go almost 2 weeks with close to no running, no cross training, no core work, no strength work. Any excuses I can come up with are exactly that, excuses. I was tired, I had a visitor, I was busy, wah wah wah. Shoulda run no matter what.

To make up for lost time I thought running 10 miles on Saturday would be an excellent idea. Thought that right up until my alarm went off Saturday morning. The reason I need friends to run with me is that I will not, unless sick as a dog, cancel out on them. I was supposed to meet Bree and Sandy (yes! she's in town for a short visit!) for this 10 miler so meet them I did. I'd like to say that once out of bed I was much livelier but that wouldn't be true.

The 10 miler turned into an 8 miler, which I considered a success since I really only wanted to run 6. It was a beautiful day running through the leaves on the Lafayette-Moraga Trail. I don't like running on leaves since they're slippery and hide pavement faults, but I kept an eye on the ground and only tripped once. I felt quite righteous once we finished. And quite tired too. I'm glad we didn't push those extra 2 miles because that would have been asking for injury or a tumble. Next week! Er, next week on the extra miles, not the tumbling.

I was pretty horrified at how badly I was wiped out from the run. I'm hoping that memories of that will keep me more honest with my workouts. Since I fully intend to keep my weekend runs at the 10-15 mile range I need to keep up with the the daily ones too. I'm pretty sure that when they say you should do an average of 40 minutes activity each day, they don't mean to do it all at one time and slack off the other 6 days.

Today my bro and I took my mom out for lunch. We had a fun, wacky, silly time (not to mention some great food). Because she dislikes the food at the Place, my mom looks forward to the weekend meals out. Also, before all this started she frequently went to restaurants and she misses that. My bro and I are always on the lookout for my mom's newest favorite place (it changes each time she has a great meal somewhere). When my mom went to the ladies room my bro and I remarked on how we had thought the days of my mom being bright and intentionally funny were gone. It's remarkable and great to have her back.

Of course, that also means that I only have 1 day on the weekend to get my regular chores out of the way. And that means that mostly they don't get done. A little laundry, and little grocery shopping, a bill or two paid. The rest of it I put aside and hope I have enough energy during the week to do everything else after work. Normally I don't, but somehow the essentials are getting done. The biggest essential, taking care of my mom, gets first priority. Cleaning house or gardening just don't seem quite so important any longer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Visit from a friend

Last weekend my one remaining friend from my college days came to visit. Although we had met a couple of times in the past few years (once in Monterey and once at her home in Washington), she hadn't been to visit me for more than 17 years. Yikes! She'd never seen my house and hadn't seen the valley area since it was so built up. Although my compulsive cleaning days are long since past, I'm still house proud enough to have spent the weekend and week before the visit cleaning and straightening frantically.

Carol was supposed to visit during the summer but we rescheduled until a time we thought my family life would be more settled. The timing worked out well. We spent one day with my mom, taking her to lunch and to see her old home and all her "stuff." We spent another day at the Jelly Belly factory and wine tasting. Another day we sat around and schmoozed. It's incredibly reassuring to talk with another person who knows your history, knows your family and is experiencing the same trials of getting older (everything from elderly stubborn parents to slower metabolisms to wrinkles).

Without a doubt my closest and oldest friend is my sis, but it's different. With my sis, my history is her history, my family is her family, my aging is her aging. There's no outside point of view, no gap in experience, no comparison of families. It's great to catch up when there's been a long time apart, reminiscing about people and places that you haven't thought of for decades. It's fun to trade stories of the past years, interesting to get another opinion.

Thank you Carol, for a wonderful break from real life. Let's do it again soon!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Moving and moving on

This summer my family was told by several doctors, in many specialties, that my mom would never recover from her hospital-caused mistaken over-drugging that led to psychosis and dementia. They said she might improve but she'd never be back to how she started, the day she was taken to the emergency room. They expected little cognitive and only partial physical rehabilitation. I'm quite happy to say they were full of shit.

These days my mom is living in a dementia oriented assisted living facility. When she was initially discharged from hospital #3 and delivered to her room she was confused, weak, slightly agitated. She spent most of her time the next couple of weeks in her own room; she had had enough of the 24 hour sitters watching her every move. When she did go into the common areas she didn't engage with the other inmates residents and in fact was frightened and creeped out by many of their behaviors (understandably). She had difficulty transitioning from sitting to standing and was assisted with many day-to-day tasks. After constant adjustment of her medications, physical therapy and time she is almost the same as she was back in June.

Almost, not quite. In some ways she's physically stronger than she was then. If she's not tired she moves well with a walker (and is actually willing to use it most of the time), she can walk stairs easier than she did, her endurance has increased. Her memory of the time when she "was someone else" is thankfully blank. When she tries to remember things from then we try to dissuade her since it was such an ugly time. Her short-term memory has suffered and her long-term memory isn't quite as sharp, but she's still improving so that may change.

All that means it's time for her to move on. When we placed her in the facility we were told something to the effect of when you move in, you don't ever move out. People don't recover from dementia, they just get worse. But when the dementia is in large part created by chemicals it can be reversed. My mom wants to get out of the "nuthouse" and away from the "crazy people." And we agree that she needs surroundings that are more stimulating and more open.

Now we're looking for a new home. She can't live on her own, she needs help with medications and meals and cleaning, and really needs someone to periodically check on her to make sure she is ok. She's willing to give up her independence to a point, but still wants to be able to come and go at her own whim. That's fine, but she can't drive again and that will be limiting (although she still has hopes that she'll improve enough that we'll return her car keys) (which won't happen). The type of place we want is an assisted living facility that also has transitional areas for nursing care and dementia care. Those places are few and far between.

My bro and I took my mom to see one such place yesterday. We had dinner in their very nicely appointed dining room (tablecloths and linen napkins and wait-staff included!), toured the spacious building, common spaces and activity rooms, watched some of the residents as they interacted and then looked at the personal rooms. They were small.

My mom moved last year from a very large crowded home, with a 1000 square foot living room, to her current 2 bedroom smaller unit. Now she's looking at something under 600 square feet total and she's freaking out. She has so much "stuff" that it'll never fit into something so small and she loves all her "stuff." Yes, her "stuff" is mostly incredible; antiques, rarities, collectibles, folk-art from around the world. But it's just "stuff." Until she's willing to part with some of it, she won't be able to move. Until we find a place that fits all of the family's criteria, and all of hers, she remains with the people she's fondly calling "crazy." Hopefully she'll get enough of crazy that she'll adjust her hopes and we can find an affordable, lovely, comfortable, stimulating and safe place that is acceptable to us all.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nike Womens' Marathon Half 2009 Report

Another day, another race report ...

2009 charm in upper left

This is going to be easy because mostly I can say "see last year" or "see the year before" about -- well, just about the whole thing.

Anita and I both made it through the lottery this year and decided that even though we had just run the full Chicago Marathon, we'd run the Nike Half a week later. Maybe a little too enthusiastic but you have to remember that all this registration took place before last spring when life was a bit simpler all around. Our goal was to enjoy the scenery, walk the hills, laugh at the crowds, have a good time and get the necklace.

We decided to go to the Expotique on Thursday night, their so-called "ladies night" and get it out of the way. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes we got to enter the big tent in Union Square. Packet pickup went very smoothly, then we continued into the even more crowded main tent. They had the usual things inside like the Nike+ tie-in, shoe sampling, manicures and oxygen bar. Outside were samples of cereal, chocolate, Luna bars and the free food and drink. We had a glass of wine and some nibbles, wandered around a while and went across the street to see what clothes were for sale this year.

Last year I was able to buy a couple of tops because I was at my lowest weight since I'd started running 10 years ago. This year I wasn't quite so lucky. I lusted after the race-branded shirts and jackets since they were in my colors of black and red. Very nice. But very small. C'mon Nike! How many times do I have to rant about this? This particular race is directed toward newbie runners and walkers training with Team in Training. Many of the women doing the race are completely out of shape and very big and this will be their only race -- ever! They want to buy a shirt and a jacket and a sweatshirt and nuh uh. Nothing for them, they're too big to wear Nike clothes. Even one of the Nike saleswomen couldn't have fit into those tops (she kept apologizing to all the women trying on the tops and putting them back on the racks). I ended up buying another running cap to add to my (really big) collection - at least I got something in my colors!

Sunday morning I met Anita at the Rockridge BART station and we headed to the City. Sadly we're both completely hopeless with directions. Luckily we managed to find the parking lot. Very luckily since my stomach wasn't feeling very well and I didn't want to have to stop on the side of the road. Sorry, TMI. We got on the very warm comfortable bus and got to the start area well before the crowds arrived.

It was such a change from our previous Sunday morning; 30 degrees warmer! I don't normally find standing around in 60 degrees very warm but this time was ok. We had worn our matching tops that we hadn't been able to wear in Chicago and sleeveless was a little chilly for hanging out. I decided not to bother with a poncho since I'd just toss it as soon as we started running. I did keep my gloves and was glad I did.

We checked our gear, hit the porta potties a few times and found our corral. We lined up in the one that went to 11:59 since we didn't plan to walk in the first mile until it thinned out and that's about our normal running pace. We waited, waited, waited. While there we chatted with a group of women who were from Chicago and who had run a bunch of other races. We checked our watches and knew the race had started but were standing still 15 minutes later.

I think it took a good 20-25 minutes to finally cross the start and it was just like last year (well, like all the years I've done this race) with people seeding themselves improperly. Since we were in no hurry we tried not to do too much bobbing and weaving but it was impossible. We ended up darting and dashing for almost the whole race, even when we were ourselves walking.

It was apparent very quickly that I was tired and didn't have too much to offer. I tried to make our walk breaks regular but with the crowds that wasn't easy. Once the hills started I gave it up and we ran when I could and walked the rest. We ended up walking way more than I had hoped. I may say before a race that I don't care when I finish but in real life I do care. Once I get in a race I want to have a good performance. Hell, it's a race!

My worst moment was at about the 6 mile mark when the wide flat road thinned to go up the hill. People were packed in like sardines, in front, on both sides and behind us. I was watching the women next to me who were moving over and totally missed the foot tall barrier pole directly in front of me. I tripped on it, kicked myself in the leg (talented!), started to fly and only Anita's grip on my arm help me stay upright. Ow. OW! This was not my plan for the day, to bruise my leg and wrench my back before the hills even began.

We walked up the hill, along with almost every single other person there. What, does nobody run hills during that race? I feel very sorry for the 2 or 3 people trying to run around the plodding crowds. We were walking and still passing a majority of the other people.

The great views we're used to weren't there. The fog was in and the bay scenery was absent. Too bad for the people hoping for photo ops of the Golden Gate Bridge; all that was visible was one of the lower pilings. It also meant that the fog was coming in, not a problem while we were running but it got a bit chilly when we walked. It was, however, a great weather day for a race: not too cold, not too hot, not too windy, not too sunny.

Blah blah walk walk run run whine walk. See last year and the year before for descriptions of the water stations, crowd support, food and drink - it was the same again. We walked more and more as the race went on because I was exhausted. My breathing was as bad as it had been in Chicago so we just decided to take our time. I felt awful since it looked like Anita could run the whole thing very comfortably and I was holding her back. She insisted that she was happy to stay with me so I just shut up about it.

We did have fun crowd watching, looking at what we could see of the views, searching for bison in the park, walking, eating chocolate (they had plenty this year), chatting. We ran some but very little until the last mile when it flattened out again. As we turned the corner toward the finish I told Anita to take off for her patented sprint but she stayed with me and we crossed the finish together, smiling.

We got our little blue boxes from the tuxedo'd firemen, got our timing chip-thing removed, got a space blanket, a bottle of water, then our shirts. The necklace this year had a very fine short chain with a square charm. The front says "Run Like A Girl" and the back says "NWM SF 2009." The shirts were very similar to the shirts given out at Chicago the week before, the same cut and fabric, with one exception - they had XXL so even with Nike-sizing it was a decent fit. The color was another blue, this one more turquoise than Chicago's.

like usual, my camera doesn't reflect the real colors

Instead of the little blue Tiffany bag we'd gotten in the past, this year the major sponsor Safeway distributed a reusable shopping bag with their own and the race logos. It was very nice, held everything we needed it to hold. There was a different cereal sponsor this year but they still had the cups of yogurt/cereal/fruit. We grabbed that (and then threw it out because it didn't taste good) and headed to the bus to grab our checked stuff since it was getting cold.

The bag check and retrieval was very efficient again this year and we threw our warm duds back on then tried to find the bus line. It was long. Very long, winding back and forth and hither and yon and we started to freeze. An hour later (no, this is not an exaggeration) when we got to the bus my feet were numb, my fingers were numb, my lips purple and I was shivering. That was my excuse when we finally got back to the parking lot and were walking toward my car. We found the car, arrowed that way aaaaaand ... I tripped on the only freaking rock in the entire parking lot. Once again I managed to not fall but I twisted my back again. I shouldn't be let out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Late review: Chicago Marathon 2009

Yes, I do {heart} Chicago!

If a blogger runs a race and doesn't write about it, does that mean she didn't run?

Way back in February I had grandiose plans for the Chicago Marathon. A large group of us registered for the race the day it opened (hurry! it might sell out! do it now!). We made our hotel reservations, dinner reservations (yes, in February) and then flight reservations once they became available. Although I hadn't yet started running because I was too tired from century training, I knew that come October I'd be in tip-top shape, running fast and easy. I didn't know if I could PR but I planned on being close.

Then, as usually happens with good intentions, life intruded. My training was hit and miss. I had scheduled many runs in the 13-16 mile range so that distance would be comfortable; that was the only thing that made running a marathon possible. My during-the-week training was a joke and there were weeks when I only ran our long weekend run. In addition to all the family drama I faced blazing heat, smog and smoke and then a thunderstorm. I tried, and for the most part succeeded, to show up for each weekend run. They were my outlet and my therapy and without Bree and Anita I would have been lost. We laughed, cried and counseled each other and made the miles fly by.

Our 18 miler was a tough run because of the heat, mid-90s when we finished. The 20 miler was the best run of the year, despite the thunder and lightning and rain. My little mishap during the scheduled 22 miler turned the run into a limping 19 miler. I knew by that point I wasn't going to have the greatest marathon ever but I was certain that if I stuck with the plan I'd finish well with mostly even splits.

In 2007 it was so hot during the race that the Chicago Marathon shut down mid-way and pulled runners, those who hadn't collapsed, from the course. It was another hot race in 2008. We had prepared to run in shorts and tanks and weren't prepared for the blast of arctic cold that descended on Chicago this year. I packed for the cold, bringing tights, a long sleeved shirt, gloves, jacket and extra buffs. It wasn't enough so at the expo I also bought one of the cheap throwaway tyvek jackets and an ear warmer that I also wouldn't mind throwing at the side of the road. I ended up wearing running tights, the long sleeved tech shirt, the throwaway jacket, throwaway gloves, throwaway ear warmers, a buff around my neck and another around my wrist. I knew I'd be warm through my core but was afraid of my extremities.

We were frozen waiting at the start. After my last huge run, New York in 2007, I was afraid of what the start would be like. I'm not great in big crowds, getting a little claustrophobic. But this actually went pretty well. I thought there were enough portapotties and the lines moved quickly enough. The gear check seemed to be very organized and quite easy to get to. The corrals were a little harder to deal with, especially close to starting time when every single person decided they'd be the last person to enter. It was hard for people to squeeze into the faster areas and it wasn't very clear where all the pacers were. But we spotted ourselves just behind the 5:30 pacer and waited to start. It was freezing; my teeth chattered and my fingers were numb.

I stood in line with Bree, Anita and Sandy. We didn't see any of the others, they had left the hotel later than we had and in that crowd it would have been amazing to find anyone. My plan was to start out steady, running about a 12:15 pace. I planned to continue with the 4:1 run:walk since we had trained that way, but to not start walking until 14 minutes so that we wouldn't get run over by the crowd. I thought that running the entire first mile might thin things out a bit. Ha.

It finally turned 7:30 am and the gun went off. I think (we were too far back to be sure). It took us about 25 minutes to creep up to the start line. We crossed, started running, and never saw Anita and Sandy again until the race was over. They never looked over their shoulders to see how far back we were and we absolutely weren't going to try to catch up.

It was very crowded and hard to run at any set pace. It was slow down, side step, stagger, run, speed up, speed faster, halt, side step, repeat. Like usual people hadn't seeded themselves in the right place. Hell, we were passing people right and left and we weren't going as fast as our placement would have put us. For several miles we dashed and darted and probably wasted more energy going sideways than we did going forward. We kept up the 4:1 and were going strong through mile 11 or so.

It was amusing (and not a little annoying) that at one point we were being squeezed in by 2 very large pace groups; the 5:30 on one side and the 5:45 on the other. We had seen that both groups crossed the start at very much the same time, so either one was going too fast or the other too slow or maybe a bit of both. But one group was doing a 2:1 run:walk and kept passing us then slamming on the brakes right in front of us. We tried to drop them a few times and finally got away from them. I don't even know if they were ahead or behind, just no longer near us.

With this big of a crowd you expect some pain-in-the-ass people and this race didn't disappoint. My pet peeves during races (or even just on a trail) are runners not paying attention to their surroundings, people not glancing around before darting in front, people pushing and people who take walk breaks coming to almost a halt without moving to the side. With all those and more it was surprising that I wasn't cranky or crabby or mean. I rolled my eyes several times at idiots and muttered obscenities to Bree a few times, but mostly I just went with the flow. I didn't want to waste energy on jerks.

We started slowing down when we were getting close to the half marathon distance and I told Bree that maybe after mile 14 we should switch to a 3:2. She happily agreed and we continued on. Despite that, our paces were too different and before mile 15 I went ahead. I went back to 4:1 and continued with it until, I think, about mile 20. At that point the freezing air in my lungs really started to get to me. I know my form was off from the cold and that tired me also.

Yes, late morning and it was still only in the mid-30s outside. There was a steady breeze making the wind chill factor even colder. Once in a while the sun would pop out but mostly it was overcast. Cold and gray. Brrrr. I had shed my jacket at about mile 10 and threw it away at about mile 15. I alternated with gloves and bare fingers, sometimes one hand covered and one not. I didn't throw the gloves away and wore them continually for most of the last hour I was out there. I never removed my ear warmers and didn't feel that I needed to. The only problem was when I tried to wear sunglasses; my hot breath and the cold air fogged them right up.

Although I had slowed waaaaay down, at about mile 20 I figured that if I kept vaguely on pace I could finish under 6 hours. It became a goal to me to try to keep my time under 15 minute miles and that mean very little walking, except the regular breaks. I was sucking air so badly that I finally stopped regular breaks and just ran until I was gasping and walked until I my breath calmed. I came down with a lovely case of marathon brain and amused myself trying to figure out math and times and speeds. After every walk I'd re-calculate my time and for some reason at mile 24 I still thought I'd break 6. Then I realized that I must have hit the split button on my watch at a wrong time and that I'd have to run mile 26 in 9:30. Heh. Not likely. Then I realized that I had also forgotten to calculate in the .2 mile at the end. Crap. Then I saw that huge mountain leading up to the 26 mile marker and decided that walking was fine until the top (ok, it was a little hill, but it looked like Mt. Diablo to me).

I made it to the top, not even bothering to smile at the photographers like I usually do, and decided to "power" in the last .2 stretch. Despite "sprinting" there were many people who passed me there. I ran as hard as I could, gasping and wheezing, and crossed the finish line at about 6:04. Better than the 6:15 I had expected before starting but not as good as the 5:59 I had hoped for. Nevertheless, as my first marathon in almost 2 years, it was an emotional finish.

I got my mylar blanket and my medal, had my chip removed, and staggered forward. I got a bottle of water, a dry bagel (yuck), a banana and there might have been some chips offered. I was supposed to meet the girls at the beer tent and imagine my surprise when the "tent" was a table set up right after the food, before the baggage tent. Sandy and Anita were waiting for me and one of the beer fellows urged me to take a beer and rehydrate. Being the compliant type I did just that. I steadied my breathing, tried to stretch and almost fell over. Instead, I took my beer over to the nearest curb and plopped myself down while we waited for Bree to cross the line.

During the race there were aid stations at about 1 mile apart; a couple of places it was longer but they were frequent and well supplied. There was water and some electrolyte drink (maybe Gatorade?) at every station. Most of them had a couple of portapotties and a first aid tent also. The volunteers were, in a word, incredible. There were tons of them in that freezing air, friendly and encouraging and helpful. Lots of races have lots of volunteers but these were the nicest ones I'd ever seen. Gu was distributed at one later station and people along the course offered various fruits and candies and waters. And beer, don't forget that (yes, I did have a couple of sips of that, thank you very much). Even late in the race there were plenty of spectators cheering and supporting the runners (and walkers).

Retrieving our bags went smoothly but remember, we were among the last several thousand of people to get there. It's possible that people finishing in the 3-5 hour range would have had more trouble. Even there the volunteers were friendly and helpful.

After the race I was tired and a bit sore, but elated that I had finished. I was stiff and didn't know if that was because I was still so cold. My lungs hurt more than anything else but I had expected that. My knees felt fine and my back felt fine; I had been worried that the injuries last year would complicate matters but luckily, no. Nothing recently has felt as good as my 20 minutes under a hot shower after the race. It would have been even longer but I needed to collapse on the bed and eat something.

To finish this up backward, the expo was incredible. We took the shuttle bus Friday afternoon and it took forever to get there, damn Chicago rush hour holiday weekend getaway traffic! Due to that we had about 40 minutes to get our stuff and go line up for the return shuttle. We decided we'd have to go back on Saturday and spend time then. It was very quick to get our numbers but then we had to hike through the entire expo to get our shirts, located at the back. I wasn't excited by the shirt. It was a lovely blue tech short sleeve top, but Nike-sized. I think I've stated my preference here for looser tops. And my utter hatred for tight, form-fitting woman-specific race shirts that Nike keeps producing. Yo Nike: not every runner is built like a "runner" and not every runner who is built like a runner likes tight clingy clothes. Sheesh. At least offer a XXL for those of us who like loose shirts.

The cap-sleeved girly shirt, with goody bag contents

Anyhoo, we stopped and bought the throw-away jackets because I've seen that company run out in the past. We also stopped at the area with the marathon-branded clothes and other stuff since I've seen those run out in the past too. I got a nice running hat to add to my collection and a long sleeved top and we left.

Saturday we returned early and since it was so empty we realized how utterly huge the expo was. I'm not certain but I think it had more space and more vendors than the New York expo. Anything running-related and lots of things not running-related could be purchased there. Despite my very good intentions I ended up spending some money. My favorite purchase is perversely something I hope I never have any use for: a knee-specific ice pack from Moji. It not only ices, it compresses. Unlike my dependable frozen corn, you can move around while using it. I tried it on and it felt wonderful, even though my knee wasn't hurting. I wish I had had it when I tumbled during our Alameda run. In fact, I wish I had had one for each knee. I bought a second liner so that I could switch off while one freezes. Again, I hope I wasted money on it and that I never need it.

We all did our part in supporting the vendors at the expo. In addition, I was amazed at how much loot we got for free. The official goody bag didn't have much, but we got tons of other stuff. Considering there were about 35,000 runners and many of them had family and friends attending the expo, there was a lot of swag given out. Below is my haul and remember, I didn't take lots of things I knew I wouldn't use.

freebies, including my favorite yogurt

more freebies

the rest of the swag

Will I run this marathon again? Probably not. If I didn't want to run so many many other fall marathons I would definitely consider a re-run. The race was very well produced, the course interesting, the route fast and easy (comparably), the volunteers fabulous and Chicago is a great city.

Will I run any other marathon? Oh HELL yeah! Despite the cold, despite my lungs, despite my pitiful training regimen, despite the exhaustion, I love running marathons. I would like to improve my condition so that the end isn't so tough and I want to return to the old 9:1 interval, but I want to keep racing. Planning is tough right now; I know I could, at any time, have to rush out and take care of my mom since she's my priority. My spring goal race is Vermont (yes, because of the bears!) but I'd like to run 1 or 2 in-between. I'll let you know as soon as I know!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

... and by the way

I finished the Chicago Marathon, I really did. I just haven't gotten around to writing about it (although I will, soon). The short version is that I had a good day. I was mostly able to stick with my plan and ended up finishing more than 10 minutes faster than expected (and 4 minutes slower than hoped for). This ended up being the coldest full marathon I've ever run and it reinforced the reason why I moved from Michigan after college: I truly hate being cold.

The weekend in Chicago with my friends was wonderful. It was relaxing and interesting and fun and expensive. My head has been spinning since I returned, real life intruding as it always does.

Except for the Nike Half Marathon this weekend I have no concrete plans for my next runs. There are races I very badly want to run but right now my schedule isn't my own to plan. I'm superstitiously afraid to register for anything in advance right now because I ended up canceling every plan this summer. I don't want to waste money and I don't want to raise my excitement level and then get shot down. I also feel incredibly guilty planning any time away from my mom, and guilty relying on my brother to take care of her while I play. So the future now is a gigantic blank slate. I guess I'll fill it in on a daily basis.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Are we there yet?

Tick tick tick tick. I'm ready to go, set to run, eager to get the hellouttahere. Counting down the days to leaving: 4. Counting down the days to the marathon: 6. Counting down the days to driving myself insane: -2.

We had a great taper run on Saturday. Bree, Anita and I met in the cool autumn air at the Lafayette-Moraga Trail for a planned 6 miler. I was afraid to do more than that because I'm still feeling the effects of the fall and didn't want to risk hurting myself more. It went quite well, despite a twinge (ok, a pain) or two in my knees. We walked a little and I determined that running hurt less, so we went back to our run:walk. As usual on the L-M Trail we did negative splits - gotta love that downgrade return trip.

We've been (obsessively) checking the weather forecast for the race and we really should just stop looking until Thursday, it's been changing that much. One thing is almost certain, or as certain as weather forecasting ever gets: it will be much cooler there this year than it has the previous two. In fact, we might not be able to wear our matching sleeveless tops. The current forecast (there I go, looking anyway) shows it might not even get out of the 40s. Perfect running weather but not for a tank top. If the rain prediction gets higher than 50% again we might even have to wear long sleeves. Rain hurts!

I've been doing my visualization that I always do before a race but I've added a little something. I hope that picturing myself not toppling over will help me stay on my feet. Falling in front of 40,000 other runners would be much more embarrassing that falling in front of two friends and a couple of fishermen. But the majority of my visualization has me comfortably running miles 20-26.2, speeding across the finish line, feeling great.

And heading straight for the beer tent.

Friday, October 2, 2009

LIVESTRONG Day - Spread the Word

An Open Email from Lance Armstrong:

I had a pre-existing condition

Today is LIVESTRONG Day. Thirteen years ago today, my doctor told me I had advanced testicular cancer. What most people don’t know is that at the time, I didn’t have health insurance. In the following weeks, I received letter after letter from the insurance company refusing to pay for my treatment. I was fighting for my life—but also for the coverage that I desperately needed.

The legislation currently being debated in Congress is not just words on a page—for many cancer survivors, it’s a matter of life and death. Now, as this debate enters crunch time, I need your help to ensure that what happened to me doesn't happen to any other American:

No matter what side of the healthcare debate you're on, I believe we can all agree on two things:

No American should be denied health insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

No American should lose their insurance due to changes in health or employment.

Will you sign the LIVESTRONG Action petition to make sure any legislation includes these two critically important reforms? We’ll deliver these to Capitol Hill this month as the debate reaches its climax and make sure our voices are heard in the debate:

When I received my diagnosis, I was between cycling contracts. My new insurer used the diagnosis as a reason to deny coverage after the new contract was signed. Fortunately, one of my sponsors intervened. At their insistence, I was added to their insurance company and was able to continue my life-saving treatment. If my sponsor, a powerful company, had not gone to bat for me, I may not have made it.

I was lucky. We can't rely on luck to ensure coverage and treatment for the millions of Americans affected by cancer. Some cannot get coverage because they've already been diagnosed. Others get calls from their insurance companies saying they have been dropped. It happens all the time—and it's unacceptable.

Every year on LIVESTRONG Day, we come together to take action for a world without cancer. In the U.S., a critical step is to make sure cancer survivors can get and keep their health insurance.

It has been 13 years since my diagnosis, but in some ways, not much has changed. No person should have to worry about health insurance while battling cancer. That so many do is an outrage, and we must speak out.

Please sign the petition and forward it along to your friends and family:


Lance and the LIVESTRONG Action Team

P.S. Don’t forget today is LIVESTRONG Day. There are more than 1,100 events taking place to raise awareness about cancer all over the world. View our interactive map to see events in your area:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A marathon, a half marathon and an ... ultra?

Counting down the days (12!) until the Chicago Marathon. Run that, then count down the days to the Nike Women's Half Marathon a week later. Run that, then count down the days until -- well, maybe nothing. But maybe my first ultra.

I've been wanting to try an ultra (just a 50k, about 31 miles; I'm not totally insane) for several years and had set my 55th year (that would be now) as the time to get it run. I don't have much choice for ultras because I'm so uncoordinated. Most ultras are run on trails and I'm unable to even keep my footing on pavement. It would be disastrous for my skin, bones, muscles, tendons and sanity to even try to run on trails. That leaves the few local ultras that are on roads or asphalt paths.

There's a legend in the ultra world by the name of Helen Klein. Now 86 years old, she didn't even start running until she was my age. She discovered that she's a fast, efficient runner and loves distances. She's completed over 100 marathons and close to 150 ultramarathons. Yikes! She's set age records all over the place and although she's slowing down now she continues to run ("slowing" being relative of course; she's still faster than most people). She was the speaker at the Leading Ladies Marathon back in 2006 and I found her to be highly inspirational. She and her husband also put on a little race each year called the Helen Klein Ultra Classic, this year set for October 31st.

Early this year I set my sights on this race, feeling that Chicago would be a perfect test of my running ability and a perfect training run for this ultra. Of course, early this year I had no idea that my family situation would cause such upset and turmoil and lead to the cancellation of most of the plans I've made. I decided not to tell anyone since that would be a commitment, right? I didn't want to announce my plans and then (like almost every single plan I've made for the past few months) have to cancel. I can't reschedule a race like I've rescheduled the visit of an old friend (hi Carol!).

I think I'm in good enough shape to run the ultra (except for that whole tripping and falling thing) (and the breathing thing) (and the not-enough-time-to-train-properly thing). It's a perfect race for a beginner and even more perfect for a slow beginner. It's on a bike path for most of the distance, it's well supported, it's open for 10 hours for the 50k, some people walk the entire thing and the weather should be ok. I'm pretty sure I could do it in about 8 hours (give or take an hour).

What's the problem then? Same as it's been all summer. Just when I thought it would be safe to register, my mom's doc told us that she feels my mom will be ready to move from the dementia facility to a less restrictive assisted living facility at the end of the October (yes, she's doing that well). The race is October 31st. There's no way I can go away for a couple of nights, exhaust myself in the longest run I've ever completed, and still be available to help my mom.

Could I register at the last minute? Yeaaah, but with my propensity for planning ahead that doesn't sit well with me. I like to know what's coming up, what I need to prepare for, where I'll be and what I'll be doing. I've had enough of last minute changes this year, enough of being unsettled, enough of being on edge and not knowing what comes next. That isn't about to change so I hate to put my leisure activities (heh! running an ultra is a leisure activity!!) in the same unsettled category as the rest of my life.

So what will I do? Hell if I know.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Have a nice trip; see you in the fall

I had very high hopes for our last long training run before Chicago Marathon. Although our 18 miler was hard because of adverse weather conditions, our 20 miler went great despite the lightning and thunder and rain. Our short 11 miler last week went well. Everything looked promising for our 22 miler on Saturday. My prep went well and I was excited to get to the run.

It started out well. I met Anita and Bree at the Alameda Ferry Terminal parking lot at just after 6:00 am. It would have been just before 6:00 am had I known that Highway 238 was going to be closed. It didn't delay me too much and we got on the road by 6:10. It was dark and since my headlamp had fallen apart the night before I carried a disposable flashlight.

The plan was to run the long way around to the bridge, across then out to Crown Beach, then back to the parking lot the short way for 12-ish total miles. We'd refuel and do one more out-and-back to the beach for the last 10 miles. Done that way we couldn't take shortcuts. There are enough water fountains and bathrooms along the way that even on a hot day we'd be able to hydrate. The weather forecast was back and forth all week; first they said hot, then not, then hot again. Maybe windy but that was expected. Overcast/not overcast. We weren't worried, we'd trained with all of that.

The first part of the run to the bridge went very well. It slowly got lighter out, and warmer. We got to see the beautiful sunrise, made even prettier by the smoggy skies. I felt good until about mile 7 when I started tiring. I ignored it, knowing we had a long way yet to go. My legs were heavy and flat and my breathing started to get sloppy; I didn't know which was causing the other problem. I didn't want to change our 4:1 run:walk until at least after 13 miles so I pushed on, whining just a bit.

We crossed the big bridge and started running across that little wooden bridge that goes under the road. We normally walk that but for some reason didn't. About halfway across I caught my toe on an uneven board and tripped. I tried to catch myself but couldn't. I went down, hard, catching most of my weight on my hands and knees. Ow. I was a bit stunned and instead of popping back up like I normally do (and doesn't it suck that there's a "normally" for my falling) I just stayed there.

Like the wonderful concerned friends they are, Bree and Anita asked if I was ok, if they could help me up, told me to take my time, etc. Like a total cranky bitch I told them to go away. Leave me alone. Go on. I might have yelled a little. They walked off and I peeled myself off the bridge. I knew that I was scraped and bruised and dirty and sore but I didn't want to look. I was wobbly and jittery and very stiff and sore but after I hobbled off the bridge I decided to suck it up and keep running. I told them to go ahead of me, insisted on it, and followed behind them. There were a few tears of pain and self-pity, but I kept running.

Adrenaline kept me going for a short time. I loosened up, started running a bit better. But within that same damn mile I tripped again! I caught my toe on the uneven pavement and literally went flying. I kept my feet moving, tightened my core and somehow managed to remain upright and in motion. After that I just stopped. Stopped dead and told them I was finished. I was done, I quit, no more, the end. I send them off ahead of me and forlornly (and slowly) walked on. A few more tears and a major pity party with myself being the only invited guest. There were close to 2 miles left until I got to my car.

Sure enough I got tired of walking after a while. Cautiously I started a slow jog, intermingled with regular walk breaks. I stayed behind Bree and Anita, not wanting any company. I got back to the parking lot fully intending to quit. I went into the bathroom and washed some of the blood off my knee and some of the dirt off my hands and went to my car.

At that point we had done about 13 miles. I really didn't want to leave it that way but I had very little energy or patience left. Bree suggested doing outs and backs to the bridge a couple of times and again, I didn't want to go and didn't want to socialize any longer. I crabbily told them to set out and I'd follow as much as I could.

Do you have any idea how boring it is to run while not being able to look up from your feet? I was convinced that if I didn't stare at the ground that I'd trip again. I was probably correct in that assumption but I didn't test it. We made it back to the bridges and walked across that time. We refilled our bottles on the far side and turned around to return. We walked the bridge that time too.

I varied but mostly stayed behind them. I went in front when our shadows turned because I couldn't see the ground as well with them in front. We went slower and slower and walked more and more and once again returned to the our cars.

We decided to do one more short out and back to get a couple additional miles. This time there was no pretense of running, we were hardly walking. Strolling, more like. Still, it was hard. My little wounds stung with the breeze, I had blood oozing down my leg, I was bruised and still not breathing well. It was fully sunny, a light breeze and getting warmer by the minute. It was upper 70s by that time.

Finally back to the cars with a total of 19.2 miles. Not too bad for crashing at 10.5 and quitting before 11. All that time on our feet had taken its toll.I was not a happy camper and would have been uncomfortable even if I hadn't taken a tumble. Thank you to both Bree and Anita for putting up with my whining, my falling, my crankiness, my crabbiness, my anger and my self-pity. You guys are great!

Obligatory notice of beauty: it was a clear day, beautiful views of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, Oakland, the Bay, the Estuary. Beautiful. The birds were out in full force, pelicans fanning their wings in the sun, little whatdoyoucallits splashing around. It's a lovely place to run and we are incredibly fortunate to have places like that so close.

When I got home I decided I'd better take an ice bath. Although I used to take them regularly after long runs, I stopped doing it for some reason (probably because they're damned uncomfortable). But I had too many swollen spots to ice individually so I decided to plop into freezing water. I had ground-in dirt on one knee and palm, dirt all over my arms and legs, swollen knees and palms and a pull in my lower back from catching myself that last time. I'm sure the 20 minutes in the icy water was good for me but I didn't enjoy one minute of it.

A day later and the damage isn't too bad. I don't feel at all like I went 19 miles. My feet don't hurt (and they can hurt after just a few miles). None of the usual aches and pains from a longer run. Both of my palms are bruised (and I must have caught myself on the edge of one of the boards because I have a distinct line). My left knee is bruised and swollen but internally feels ok. My right knee is a mess. It's scratched, scraped, bruised, oozing and bloody. But again that's all on the outside and structurally it's fine. The only non-surface part that really hurts, strangely enough, is my shoulder. I apparently strained a muscle when I fell and caught myself.

The marathon is in 2 weeks. I intend to be fully healed by then. I also intend to stay upright for the entire 26.2 miles. What are the odds?

Monday, September 21, 2009

I fought the lemon tree and the lemon tree won

In the past I've written about my craptastic gardeners. A typical mow-and-blow company, once in a while they'll get bored and try to pretend they know something about plants. Their biggest thing is taking a hedge trimmer to something that isn't a hedge. They've frequently mutilated my jasmine, which is almost a hedge but needs to be cut by hand because of the way it loops back on itself (and the way the leaves will die if there's any damage). The gardeners have also butchered my lemon tree, despite my telling them over and over to leave it alone.

For some reason they seem to think a nice, tight, round shape is suitable for a tree. Nuh uh. It's a tree dammit! A fruit tree! Where you have to be able to pick the fruit, let alone have sun and air for the fruit to grow. I've been busy enough this summer that I've rarely even looked at my garden, let alone done anything. I saw several weeks ago that they had attacked my tree but I didn't have time to do anything. Once again, insomnia to the rescue. I was awake early Sunday morning and decided to go spend some time in my garden before it got hot.

I wore long pants but it was already too warm for long sleeves. I wore gloves, but the thorns on the tree are long enough, sharp enough and strong enough that I think I'd need steel gloves for them to do any good. My arms look like I was attacked by a pack of feral cats. I had to reach into the interior of the tree to remove the last of the previous season's fruit (yuck - big and squishy and purple-ish green and moldy and diseased). Way into the interior, because otherwise the fruit had already been picked. Ouch. I had to reach into the middle to cut back the suckers, so overgrown that they were almost branches. Owie. I had to cut away some dead wood, and it needed to be cut back right to the main trunk. Youch. By the time I had the tree looking again like a tree (instead of some ornamental ball) I had blood literally dripping down my arms. Oooh.

Then, just to make sure I was grimy enough, I cut back a lot of the jasmine. Jasmine "bleeds" this sticky, milky fluid. I ensured that I'd have to scrub those new scratches just to get the gooey stuff removed. I wasn't able to finish everything since my garbage can was full, but my yard looks vastly improved. I'll still need to cut more and hopefully the gardeners will stay away from my plants.

You might be wondering why I don't fire the bums. This is the 3rd gardening company I've had since I decided that I didn't want to cut my lawn myself, about 9 years (oddly enough just about the same time I started running marathons; go figure). The last company was good, but the owners retired and sold the business to their workers. I've called around, tried to find another company that won't charge an arm and a leg but still understands plants, but apparently there is no such thing. I'll probably start looking again when (if) my life quiets down, but for now I'll just keep gritting my teeth, ripping up my arms, and hoping for the best.