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!