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.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Running and enjoying it again

Last year I didn't know if I'd ever be able to run again, let alone run any distances. First the knee injury, then the back injury, then the depression and the ulcer and the rampant insomnia and it hurt to run. I didn't have a single good run over ten miles all year and I canceled the only scheduled marathon I had planned. This year was going to be different.

But it didn't start that way. At the turn of the year I was training for a century and had no time, let alone energy, to run. I thought I could ride and run distances at the same time and was sadly wrong. After I rode my 100 miles I decided it was time to get serious and see if I was still a marathoner.

When I set our training schedule I planned many mid-teen distance runs. I wanted it so that running 14 miles was our standard run. I wanted our 18, 20 and 22 milers to feel good. I had planned to run 3 times during the week but hahahaha. Due to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to get in much more than the long runs on the weekends. But it seems that the training I did, worked.

Our 18 mile run didn't go well but that was because it was a gazillion degrees outside. We had other bad runs due to the weather or the air quality but if it was nice out we ran well. Saturday morning didn't start well. I left home with lightning flashing, lighting up the pre-dawn sky in blinding white. There were only a couple drops of rain but I was scared of getting electrocuted if we ran in it. We lucked out and got near perfect conditions.

Our first few miles, in the dark, were highlighted by lovely flashes. When the sun started to rise we saw gorgeous colors from the clouds. As we got toward the bird sanctuary we paused to watch the morning take-off flights of a squadron of pelicans, a skein of geese, and a congregation of egrets. The ducks continued paddling around the lake, glad to have the space to themselves.

Throughout our run we had some rain, some wind, some sun, some thunder, some lightning. The temperature remained in the mid-60s, the humidity high, but it was such a relief after the horrendous heat of our last long run that it didn't matter. We refilled our bottles at each fountain and took way too many gels. We managed our 4:1 run:walk for 16 miles, then switched to 3:2 for the remaining 4 miles. We finished strong and although tired, we felt good. Better than after the hot run, better than after the smoggy and smoky runs. We enjoyed ourselves! It was incredible.

I'm glad we have one more long run before the marathon and hope it goes as well as this one. A day after the run I have only one sore toenail; my legs feel as if I only ran a couple of miles. I still feel weary but heck, I always feel weary these days. I'm still not counting those chickens before they hatch -- er, the marathons before they're run -- but I think I can safely say that once again I'm a runner. Yay!

The high cost of being sick

In the middle of all this hoohaw about health care and the debate about coverage and the yelling and lies and insinuations and "death panels" and "patriots" toting guns outside of the President's speeches, the talking heads are ignoring the little picture. On June 30th my mom went to the hospital with chest pains, was mistakenly medicated with inappropriate drugs that made her crazy, stayed in that one hospital for 13 days, went to a nursing home for a night, then to another hospital for another 9 days, then 4 days in assisted living, went back to hospital #1 due to a fall (caused in no small part by the medications), then spent 20 days at yet another hospital. Now the bills are appearing.

In the first hospital the room was $5,750 each day. The room ONLY. A baby aspirin, 81mg tab, was $18.94. Yes, $18.94 for a baby aspirin. Acetaminophen 325 mg, a very basic generic tylenol drug, cost $21.91 per tablet. In all, oral medications for the first hospital stay (including the ones that caused this whole problem) were over ten thousand dollars. That's not even including the injected drugs or the inhaled drugs which totaled more than another six thousand dollars.

This first hospital stay cost $140,700. That's not including the doctors: the hospitalists, the cardiologist, the psychiatrist, the therapists, the whothehellknowsists. They charge separately. If that isn't bad enough, there are two more hospitals which have yet to send an invoice or statement.

My mom has very good insurance, but even so this could cost her tens of thousands of dollars. What about someone who has no insurance? What about the poor schmuck who gets this statement from the hospital and owes every single cent? There are states where you can buy a lovely house for less than this episode.

It all makes me so angry I could scream. My mom is feeling better now, slowly rehabilitating her body and trying to stabilize with her new level of cognition. She's living in an assisted living facility geared toward dementia residents. There are people screaming all the time, people who walk in her room and get in her face, people who, frankly, scare the crap out of her by following her around and making weird noises. And this is one of the very GOOD dementia facilities. With some stability she may be able to go to a facility less geared toward dementia but she'll always need 24 hour care.

My mom is an elderly lady who had chest pains, got incredible full medical care (although she shouldn't have needed it if they hadn't made a mistake) and it could cost her every single cent she had saved despite the fact that she's insured. This isn't right, it isn't fair, and shouldn't happen in our wonderful country. Health care debate? To me there is no debate. We need affordable care with reasonable costs. We need politicians who don't accept money from the insurance industry or the drug industry or the hospital industry and then make decisions based upon that money. We need truth and honesty and civil discussion. We need change and we need it now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happy National Teddy Bear Day!

I had no idea that there was a special day celebrating teddy bears. It's not an official government holiday (... yet!) but since I've seen it in a couple of places, I'll join in spreading the word. Go hug a bear. If you don't have your own I'll let you hug one of mine!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sitting at home watching the trees grow

This would more properly be entitled "Sitting at home watching the plumbing rot." Finally the drips went a-gusher and I had to call in the professionals. The quite expensive professionals. The quite take-all-day professionals.

The immediate problem was a leak at the pressure reducing valve outside my house. It was acting like a drink-all-you-can water fountain for my apparent pet gopher and that was just too much leakage on the foundation for me to allow. Since I've had a couple of drippy faucets and a won't shut-off toilet for several months (shhh, don't tell EBMUD) I figured I'd get those fixed too.

Turns out that the stems in the sink are rotted away into a sludge of metal and plastic. I was worried that might be the case since I'd been unable to clean up the rust around the handles since I moved in here (11 years ago). So I need a new faucet and of course it has to match the existing brass fixtures. Cha-ching! Also it turns out that my very high-flow old toilet would cost almost as much to repair as replace, so I'm getting a new low-flow toilet. Cha-ching! The only good news is that the valve in the shower is easily replaceable and I don't need to have a hole knocked in my living room wall. Uh, yay?

Since I needed to be at home for the plumber I decided it was a good idea to get another estimate from an arborist for trimming my two trees. In my front yard I have a very large Sycamore that's lopsided, growing onto my roof and filled with dead wood. In my back yard I have a very large Maple that's lopsided and growing onto my roof. Both are providing a lovely vermin highway to the top of my house (and thanks for pointing that out Mr. Arborist!) so they need to be cut back. The last estimate I got a couple of years ago was almost $1500 to prune both trees (seriously) and that's why I didn't hire those people and why the trees are so badly overgrown now. This time I was told it would be about half that. I don't know why I'm excited about spending $7-800, but I guess it beats (1) roof rats and (2) $1500.

All that and my water has been turned off for the past 5 hours. I gotta go!