Sunday, November 17, 2013

Siblings

Matt often says "Ginger's a worrier." It's true. And I suppose the translation is that I'm anxious. It isn't a crippling anxiety, but it is pervasive. Running has helped to temper it.

My youngest son was 15 months when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. He was an easy baby. We had even characterized him as "our easy child." I realize that probably wasn't fair to him or to our daughter. Yes, he was pretty easy as a baby, but parents and teachers should be cautious when categorizing and labeling children. Labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies - the problem child misbehaves because that's what they do, the well-behaved child suppresses emotions to fit the expected behavior only to take it out in other ways later.

But we are human and as humans we do categorize and label to make sense of our world. And until our daughter was diagnosed with cancer, she was the challenge (a spirited, red-headed three year old who refused to wear any clothes with buttons and who rolled her eyes when adults teased her) and our son was the easy child.

Cancer didn't immediately change things. Sure, our son could only stay in the hospital room about an hour on any given day because IV poles might go down like timber, but I said he was easy, not comatose. What 15 month old is going to want to check out the beeps of an EKG monitor, the buttons on an infusion pump, the inflating and deflating cuff on a blood pressure machine? And there were times when our one room "home" at the Ronald McDonald house was too confining for our happy toddler. But mostly he continued to be easy until we returned how, chemo over, our daughter in remission.

Somewhere around 2 years, he started resisting separation from me. At the time, I thought it was simply an age-appropriate behavior. Maybe it was. But whatever the case, he started crying when I left for work, resisting going to my mom, who had previously been his second favorite person in the world, and generally wanting to be held by me whenever I was close.

I don't remember all of the details of this, but I can safely say when we tried to put him in "2 day twos" (a small and nurturing preschool that our daughter was attending) it was a disaster. Matt was a "stay at home" and finally decided it wasn't worth the trauma.

The same thing happened when we tried three year old preschool, but at this point we had moved and had no neighborhood kid friends, so we pushed the issue. He was in an Arts based preschool that focused on development through play and creativity. Ultimately I think this was a positive move for our little boy, but the separation each morning was a challenge. It was worst when I took him, but he often cried if his sitter drove as well.

After a year of gradual improvement, I thought four year old preschool would be different. After all, he was getting older. Nope. We had the exact same setbacks, the exact same struggles to transition away from home and into school.

Then kindergarten.

Then first grade.

And now, 5 years post-cancer, my mom points out that maybe our little guy is carrying around post-cancer stress and anxiety. He's a "thinker" she says. (Sounds a lot like his mom, the "worrier", doesn't it?)

It hits me like a ton of bricks. How had this not occurred to me? He has always been more anxious about being sick, or about cuts or bruises or other blemishes than my daughter. "Mom, is it serious? Is it going to be okay?" He hates separation from me, when I leave for work or when he leaves for school there are tears or angry outbursts. He is very conscientious and worries if he leaves his homework at home or if he makes a mistake in his schoolwork.

Maybe this is who he is. Maybe this is unrelated to cancer. Or, maybe he is carrying around extra anxiety. After all, he watched cancer from the sidelines, helpless, not in the driver's seat like his sister. Maybe there is something to that.

I don't have a solution. I write about this not because I am certain that cancer is to blame, but because I'm so very uncertain. I write about this because siblings, often ignored in the battle against cancer, need as much if not more attention as their sick brothers or sisters.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Busy Mom Syndrome - A Pledge to Stop Complaining

I'm a mom. And I work. And I volunteer. And I fundraise. And, yes, I'm busy and overwhelmed.

I listened to (eavesdropped on) a mom at a birthday party today. She complained about how hard life was as a working mom. "That's the challenge of being a working mom." Something about selecting a jury after a piano recital. Evidently she was a lawyer. And very important, indeed. The mom she was talking to, a stay-at-home mom, said "Any mom," but the very-important-lawyer dismissed her and said, "I don't know." And on and on about her jury.

I immediately hoped I never sound like that. Then quickly realized, I do. Daily.

I complain to anyone who will listen. I catalog everything that has to be done and why nothing is accomplished. Excuses about housework. Homework. "Real" work. 12, 13, 14 hour days. Why dinner gets delivered by a man in greasy, red polo shirt. You know the man.

I've never picked a jury, but I've made an emergency c-section in a chihuahua sound like brain surgery. Want to hear about the schnauzer crashing from pancreatitis? What about the stray cat with a broken femur? Saving lives!

Really? Yes, I help pets. I do diagnose and treat illness and sometimes I save lives. But really. Let's not get carried away!

And it's fair to say that I'm busy and, lately, increasingly overwhelmed. But so is everyone else I know. Mom or otherwise.

And let's be honest, it's really, really hard to be a mom. But it's also really, really hard not to be a mom. Especially when you really want to be one. And your annoying, self-important mom-friends are complaining about how hard their lives are.

And it's hard to balance work and marriage. But it's also hard to be single when you want to find that special someone.

The truth is that I'm exhausted. And having a hard time staying on top of things - kids' homework and extracurriculars, the current big 5K fundraiser I'm organizing, my "Goofy" training schedule.

But I am so lucky to be able to do all of these things. To have a life so full of people I love, a career that is challenging and fulfilling, a passion for leukemia and childhood cancer fundraising and a community that supports it. Friends and relatives who will listen when I go on and on about how important and busy I am!

This morning I PR-ed my 5K and was the first place finisher in my age group. This is something I wouldn't have dreamed of a year ago. The rest of the day was spent helping kids with projects, birthday parties, hiking, and planning a huge fundraiser that will take place next week.

I'm lucky to have had the time to train for that 5K. I'm lucky to have kids who love school and want to spend their Sunday working on a project about Women's Equality Day. I'm lucky to have friends who invited both of my children to an amazing birthday party. And I'm really, really lucky to have a husband who cooked dinner at the end of all of that!

Yes, my schedule is overfull at the moment. But that's the last I'll say about it. I'm pledging not to complain for the next week. I will smile and move through each moment enjoying what I have and remembering those who are struggling through much worse. Who's joining me?

And if you prefer to complain, I'm here to listen. I probably owe you!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why I Sprint

When I started this blog, the name seemed all wrong. I'd always thought of cancer as a marathon. And as a runner, I'm really pretty slow.

But if you took the time to dissect it, our cancer journey was more of a sprint than an endurance event. A crazy, intense, balls-out sprint.

6 months of high-dose chemo. Sprinting.
Dozens of medications, close to hundreds of blood transfusion. Sprinting 
Odds of relapse highest, by far, in the first year. Sprinting.

And sprint we did. Leaving the hospital just one day shy of 6 months. Still in remission at the one year mark, 18 months, then two years. Benchmarks were flying by us.

But even though our cancer journey was a sprint, I was training for marathons and halfs. I couldn't sprint if I tried. 

When I started running, my pace in my hilly neighborhood was around a 12 minute mile (and I was thrilled with that). I completed my first half marathon at an 11:01 minute / mile average. Some people say the seconds don't matter for longer distances. They are lying.

Over the past year I have gradually improved my pace. Some of this has been a by-product of running regularly, getting into better shape. But lately my improved pace has been driven by speed work. On Tuesdays I go out an run 400s. Yes. That's like running laps. While I don't always go to the track, I do run (balls out) for 400 meters, then repeat, then repeat again. It's exhausting. In fact, in the current humid hot weather, it's miserable. But it works.

Thursdays are tempo runs. I start slow and gradually build my pace to a comfortably uncomfortable pace.

Why bother with any of this? I'm never going to win a race. The Olympics don't lie ahead. Even with all of the speedwork, a 9 minute mile is a goal, not a reality. Boston doesn't seem to be in my future.

But I run. I run hard. And I do it because it matters. Each time I run 3 miles even close to a 9 minute pace, the pride is immeasurable.

There will always be faster runners. It isn't about them. Each day I get faster, stronger, better. Cancer may have made me tough, but cancer keeps me there.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Masks and Possibilities

When Lindsay was going through chemo, she was severely immune-suppressed. So severe, in fact, that she was required to wear a heavy-duty mask when she left her hospital room.

She hated the mask, but it was worth it for the rare chance to explore the hospital.

Yesterday was Lindsay's semi-annual oncology check up. She was coughing and had to wear a mask, this time to protect the kids around her.

                                         

She didn't love the mask, and I felt a little guilty making her wear it. For me, it brought back memories of masks worn years ago. Memories that I didn't feel the need to share with her. Memories of a time when a simple cold could have landed her in the pediatric ICU. Or worse. Today was about focusing on possibilities, not lingering in what was.

The outpatient clinic where Lindsay goes for follow up is in the hospital on the same floor as the inpatient wing. This is where we lived for something like 159 nights in the hospital. I can't help but feel a little nostalgic going back.

If Lindsay feels nostalgic, she's not letting on. In fact, she is more anxious now than she was when she was going in for weekly or monthly visits. Blood draw, temperature, physical exam. It could be a lot worse, but I'd never tell her that. She's earned her medical anxiety, and my job isn't to tell her how to feel. 

Two nights ago, the night before the hospital visit, Lindsay couldn't sleep. "Mom, I'm really scared." So to prepare, we talked through what would happen. "I'll wake up. Brush my teeth. Get dressed." What's next? "We'll get in the car. We'll get a doughnut (a hospital tradition). We'll drive to the hospital." Do you feel anxious when you think about the drive? "Yes." Would it help to take your iPod? "No. I'll take Harry Potter #7." Haven't you already read that? "This is my second time. I'm almost done. What if I finish it?" Want to take another book, too? "Yes. Then we'll get to the hospital. Elevator. Check in. Playroom." Don't forget vitals. "Oh yeh. Vitals." Does that make you nervous? "No. Blood draw. That makes me nervous." Okay, what can we do to help? "I can squeeze your finger." Okay. What's else?

The list continued and she didn't miss a detail. Anytime something in her listed made her nervous, she told me and we made a plan for what would help. She was noticeably calmer and she had a long list of strategies to help her work through her fears and anxiety. Then she took a melatonin and was able to sleep.

The hospital visit went off without a hitch. We met a new PA and saw our favorite oncologist. The CBC was flawless. The plan was made to reduce visits to once a year and we can start going to the long-term survivors clinic if we prefer. This clinic will screen for relapse, but will also focus more on screening for the late effects of treatment: heart disease, secondary malignancies, delayed or premature puberty, fertility issues, even dental issues. This list used to terrify me. Now I see it for what it is. A list of possibilities. Nothing more.

There are other possibilities too, now. The possibility that this will be a great school year. The possibility that Lindsay will earn a medal in her triathlon this month. The possibility that my two red heads will write a play tomorrow and it will be "dinner and a show" when I arrive home from work. The possibility that Matt and I will continue to fight for cures, that we will continue fundraising, and training for marathons, and spreading awareness to anyone who will listen. The possibility that we will find safer, better treatments. The possibility that we will end this disease once and for all.

Life is full of possibilities. We simply have to embrace them!

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Real Marathon: When Cancer Comes Back

I signed on to blog about insomnia and midnight snacking. It's 2:47 am and I just ate a spoonful of raw cookie dough. I thought I'd blog about healthy alternatives, since midnight snacking seems to be my thing.

Then I checked my email.

I haven't blogged all that much about my daughter's cancer here. Many of my readers know the story. Many of you followed it when it was unfolding. Others have learned of it since. And while I'm happy to tell and retell, I don't want to bore you.

My girl smiling through chemo!
But when I signed into my email and read a Caring Bridge update from a little girl who has now relapsed with AML for the second time, I couldn't bring myself to write about cookie dough.

My daughter was three when she was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). About 20% of kids with leukemia have AML. It's more aggressive and harder to treat than the form of leukemia most kids get (acute lymphoblastic leukemia). We were given 50 / 50 odds of chemo working. 50 / 50 odds of survival.

AML treatment is tough. The doses of chemo are higher than the doses kids receive for other types of cancer. It is very, very intense. Some AML kids go through bone marrow transplant (BMT) right away. My daughter did not. Her subtype was deemed "intermediate risk" so she would only go through transplant if her brother was a match. He was not.

He may not have been a match for bone marrow, but he was darn cute growing up in the hospital!
Even for the kids who go through chemo alone, rather than BMT, the chemo is very, very intense. The immune suppression is severe, just shy of that achieved for BMT. The potential for permanent damage to the heart or bone marrow is high. As a result, the duration of chemo is short. My daughter went through 5 consecutive rounds of chemo, each around a month apart. After these 5 rounds, the body cannot easily tolerate more chemo, more poison so to speak, so there is no "maintenance" phase that lasts for years as in other leukemias and solid tumors.

AML chemotherapy is so intense that most kids require a feeding tube. Thankfully, our kiddo only needed one for a short time.

This is why I named this blog "The Cancer Sprint". When we were in the hospital for 6 months straight, we constantly compared the process to a marathon. Even the doctors used this analogy. Funny, since neither my husband nor I were runners at the time. But once we were out of the hospital, even when we were going back for weekly rechecks, I realized that if our daughter was lucky enough to not relapse, 6 very intense months was, in some ways, much easier than years of less intense chemo. Or chemo and radiation. Or surgery and chemo and more surgery. You get the idea.

Our daughter's treatment was more like a sprint. One of those really awful short runs, maybe even a 5K, where you feel like you are gasping for air the entire way. You get side cramps. Your legs burn. But then it's over and you're grabbing a coffee and heading home to read the paper and do laundry. 

So when I read that the little girl who relapsed for the second time, I thought about a marathon. Her first treatment was very similar to my daughter's. That awful sprint. Then, like most kids who relapse with AML, she did so very early, within a year off treatment. At that point she had a bone marrow trasplant. Now, 18 months post-transplant, she will face another. She has been given a 30% chance of survival. She is five.

Cancer breaks my heart. It rips it into a million pieces. Not a day goes by that I don't appreciate every extra moment that that horrible six-month sprint to remission has given us. And not a moment goes by that I don't hate everything about what cancer does to children and their families.

My daughter is alive thanks to research that has advanced the way we diagnose and treat AML. Much of that research has been funded by The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. There are moments when I feel so guilty for continuing to ask for donations. Then I read about a kid facing their second relapse. I remember that for every child that survives AML, there is another who won't.

This is why I train. This is why I wear a purple shirt when I run. This is why I will continue to come back year after year, event after event, and ask for donations.

So far, I've received $50 in donations toward my current fundraising goal of $10,000. If you are able, please consider making a donation on my LLS fundraising page.

Also I am having a yard sale this Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon and I am planning a Fall 5K fundraiser. If you are interested in coming to the yard sale or sponsoring or volunteering with the 5K, please let me know in the comments section below and I will respond below or directly in an email.

Together, let's make "Someday" today and End Cancer together!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day: The Inspiration to Change

When I was little, my dad would flex his muscles and I was absolutely certain his arms were as big as Mr. T's.

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/files/2011/05/mr-t-in-the-role-of-ba-baracus-in-the-a-team.jpeg

Dad earned a master's degree in athletic training from Appalachian and worked for their football team for a while. Then the practicalities of having a wife and two young kids kicked in. He traded in sports for sales.

Sales meant taking customers to dinner and driving all day. Naturally, dad put on weight. For most of his adult life, he didn't exercise. He would go canoeing or we would take a family hike here and there, but we weren't one of those fitness families. That's just the way it was. 

Then one day, about 6 years ago, he decided to make a change. It seemed to come from nowhere. He sent out an email and said he was starting a blog. A blog about cycling. He didn't even own a bike.

I'll be honest, I didn't think it was going to stick. I was a pro. I had taken up exercise lots of times! An aerobics class for 3 weeks. A yoga class that I never went back to. Running. Weight lifting. I had given up on exercise more times than I'd started! Dad had no idea what he was getting himself into. And in his late fifties no less!

That's the thing about family and friends. We aren't always the most supportive people, are we?

So dad bought the bike. And the gear. And gadgets. And deep down I knew it would never last, but  hoped it would. I wanted my dad to be healthy. I wanted him to prove that you could go from lazy to active. I needed to see it was possible. And not just for him.

And dad did something amazing. He proved me wrong.





For some reason, the cycling thing clicked for him. He started riding with friends and before we knew it, he was going out for 18 or 20 miles. He even had an accident that required shoulder surgery, but that didn't stop him.

At the time, I wasn't exercising. Since giving up ballet in high school, I had had an impossible time sticking with any exercise regimen. And here was my 50-something going on 60-something father who was making it look like a cake walk.

Then my daughter got sick. Cancer derailed any hopes of exercise for a while. We threw ourselves into fundraising, though, and dad was there every step of the way.

He shaved his head for St. Baldrick's.






He came to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society events.







And, of course, he rode his bike to raise awareness.




So when I decided to run a marathon to fundraise for LLS, even though I worried a lot of people would think "No Way. She's not even a runner." I knew the thought would never occur to my dad. 

Yet I've never told him how much he inspired me.

Seeing him go from couch potato to cyclist proved I could do it. My dad had become the most fit person in the family. If he could do it after years of not exercising, we should all be doing it.

My dad retired a couple of years ago and now works at the Y and at his local community college. Among other things, he's teaching health, PE, and, you guessed it, spinning lessons. He's not only teaching spinning, he's teaching it to high school kids at risk of dropping out. Spinning lessons! None of that would have been possible for him 10 years ago. None of it would have happened if he had just continued on his comfortable sales path.

At some point in our lives we will all slip into a rut. For me (like my dad and many other Americans) that rut involved junk food and sitting on the couch. Now I know that's not the way it has to be. People can change. They do every day. And for those of you sitting at home thinking you don't have it in you, you do. You just have to find it.

Now we're talking about a Century Ride with Team in Training in 2014. 100 miles on a bike. Two years ago I would have thought there is no way. Now I know. It can be done.

Dad, we've got this!





Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Funding the Cure

At times, it feels like we started fundraising on August 18, 2008 and never stopped. At first we were the ones who needed help. I was only one year out of school and Matt was staying home with the kids. Cancer meant one parent in the hospital with the 3 year old and the other trying to keep up with a 15 month old. Between lost income, medical bills, and the added expenses of living away from home for all that time, we struggled. But so many pitched in and helped.

At first all I could think about was how would we pay back those who had done so much for us.

When our lives returned to normal, it became clear that the only way to pay it back was to pay it forward.



Some days I feel very, very guilty as I ask people to dig deep and give again.

Other days I feel I'm not doing enough. Those are the days when I remember how it felt. Hearing my daughter might die. Struggling to pay for expensive prescriptions. Watching her, so sick from treatment, struggling even to breath. But still smiling.

I will do everything I can so that no other three year old has to add the words "hospital" and "transfusion" to her vocabulary.

So I am back at it. My fundraising minimum for "The Goofy" is $3600, but my goal is $10,000. It's going to take a lot of work. There will be yard sales, and wine tastings, lemonade stands, and requests for corporate donations.

But, together, we will End Cancer. I believe in that goal. And I believe Someday is Today. There is no more waiting patiently for a cure. We must make it happen. Now.

And even if I hate asking, again, for a donation, I know it is the right thing to do. If you're able to help, please do. If you can't, please share this page.

Any donation, small or large, adds up.

Someday is Today.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Case of the Mondays

Remember the movie Office Space? When the woman walks by and says, "Looks like somebody's got a case of 'The Mondays'!"?


Well I couldn't get her voice out of my head this weekend. Even though it wasn't Monday I definitely have a case of the Blahs.

I almost always take Fridays as a rest day because they tend to be long work days without lunch. But I always, ALWAYS, exercise on Saturdays. Not this weekend, though. Despite a shiny new training schedule packed with run-bike-swim, I just couldn't get off the couch.

I thought "Maybe I should give myself the weekend off. I can start from scratch on Tuesday. Maybe I need a break. Maybe I deserve a break." But that kind of logic is accompanied by anxiety. "What if 3 days off leads to 3 weeks. Then 3 months. Then I'm back in the same sedentary rut that I lived in before weight loss and marathon training!"

Other factors played into my lack of desire to exercise, as well as my anxiety over not exercising. The house was a disaster. Money's tight. I always feel like I don't get enough time with the kids.

Time. It's always at a premium. There's work. And the kids are out of school. And I am starting a new (exciting) volunteer position at LLS. Oh, and there's swim team and the neighborhood ladies group. Did I mention fundraising? I'm booked with meeting most nights of the week and my three days off are filled with appointments. It's simply too much.

And I know you have felt exactly the same. "There just isn't time to exercise! I'm too tired. Too stressed. Too..."



But Sunday was a new day. I woke up with the option we get everyday: to train or not to train.

I really wanted an entire day just with the family. But on days that I exercise, I'm a better mom, a happier wife, a better person.

So I got on my bike. I rode 14.5 miles. It was sunny, and warm, and beautiful. And I didn't regret it for a minute.

They say the hardest step for a runner is always the first step out the door. Have you ever regretted taking that step? I haven't!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Collateral Damage and Why We Train

When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, merely surviving wasn't good enough. I wasn't willing to accept collateral damage. She had been perfectly healthy before cancer, and I expected her to be perfectly healthy after.

We all know chemotherapy carries horrible side effects. Vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, infections. Yet we don't realize survivors often go on to battle long term complications even after their treatment has ended. This is especially true for survivors of pediatric cancer.

Almost 75% of survivors of pediatric cancer will go on to have a chronic health problem within 30 years of their diagnosis. Let's break that down. Three out of every four survivors will face a chronic disease by their 30s or 40s.

I couldn't help but thinking about this as I watched my daughter swim last night at swim team time trials. As she dove into the water, red hair tucked carelessly under her swim cap, you would never guess she was one of the few, lucky enough not only to survive, but to survive without complications.

We will cure cancer. I believe that. The tools are within our grasp.

We will find safer treatments. Treatments so specific to cancer cells, that they zoom past all of those healthy, developing organs and straight to the bad guys.

But the only way we will do this is if we continue to fight. Continue to spread the word. Continue to raise funds and awareness.

My husband and I are both currently fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Team in Training. Why?
  • Innovative research and its real-world success in the pediatric population. Pediatric ALL and AML treatments have improved more rapidly than many other pediatric cancers over the past few decades. The reasons for this are complex, but I believe LLS's role in research has been a factor. 
  • Unparalleled patient support. In fact, I am starting to volunteer with the North Carolina Chapter's first connection program
  • Political action that has been invaluable in combating issues such as the methotrexate shortage which affected pediatric patients as well as prescription drug coverage issues that make safe and effective oral chemotherapy difficult for many to obtain.

I believe in LLS. Their impact is felt beyond the world of blood cancers. Their mission helps patients survive and survivors lead better lives. This is why we train.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Inspiration: 70.3

When we lived in Madison, WI, I remember being stopped in traffic thanks to a 5K. I wasn't a runner. I wasn't even working out. As the runners ran by, I remember thinking, "Next year. Next year I'll do that." I'll start running tomorrow.

This happened several times. Even on the day of the Wisconsin Marathon. "Maybe I'll start running this week. I'd like to run a marathon."

If I did start running the next day, or the next week, it never last more than a day or a week or so. I knew the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle, but I couldn't make it happen.

Today, I'm taking the family out to cheer for the 70.3 Ironman (notice I am NOT calling it a Half!!).



I am already starting to think, "Maybe in a year or two or three. If I could just master the swimming."

The difference this time is that I believe it's attainable. I have found the formula. Set a goal (for me it has to be a race). Find a training schedule. Don't miss a scheduled training. If you miss a training, make it up. If things aren't going well, talk to your coaches or mentors. I've even found a swim coach.

I can't wait to cheer for the triathletes today and get some photos. But mostly, I can't wait to be inspired!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Running Like a Swimmer






For the last couple of months, I've been struggling with swimming. The problem is simple: breath. I swim too fast, get to the wall, and need to stop to breath and recover. It's like I'm running 400s. With swimming, there is no "take it easy, slow down, chill out pace". No equivalent of jogging between the 400s. I can't continue in freestyle and gasp for air on an as-needed basis.

A few weeks before the triathlon, it occurred to me to try to control my breathing while running. I imagined that if I inhaled over 1-2 strides and exhaled over 3-4, it might mimic exhaling in the water while taking three strokes, inhaling over one.

Oddly enough, Running on Air appeared in Runner's World at about the same time. The idea proposed in the article is that runners will be more efficient, less injury-prone, and maybe even more mindful, if they control their breathing following very specific rules.

I played with rhythmic breathing, but it felt awkward. Forced. Downright hard.

Then I read another article which said to "Run like a swimmer." I immediately thought, "I can't even swim like a swimmer. How can I run like one?" And that's when it hit me. That's the problem. Photo: Barefoot running!

For the past year, I have been building my fitness around running. But running forgives a lazy  breathing that swimming will not allow. If you get winded while running, you can simply fall into a pattern of pant, pant, pant, and push on.

Interestingly, yoga will also not tolerate this lazy breath. I will never forget when my dear friend and yogi, Senta, said "Yoga is not about stretching. It is about breath."

Breathing is the challenge and the brilliance and the heart of yoga. And swimming. And I'm coming to believe it should be at the heart of running as well.

If I train with more controlled, mindful breath will I fuel my run, my heart and skeletal muscles, more efficiently? Will I build speed? Or better yet, endurance?
On my last run - a hilly, humid 3 miles - I practiced rhythmic breathing for the final 1/2 mile.  Okay. I'll admit it was a gradual downhill. Nonetheless, this portion of the run was wonderful. I didn't achieve a true runner's high, but my focus was so narrow - inhale, e-x-h-a-l-e, inhale, e-x-h-a-l-e - that everything else was secondary. I moved almost instantly into my right brain, leaving logic and analysis behind. My feet were extensions of my diaphragm and lungs, blurring against the hot pavement.

I don't know if this was a one-time thing, but I plan to continue this method as I train for my second triathlon. My hope is that rhythmic breathing will build my fitness for the swim in a way that running alone has not.

What do you think? Do you run like a swimmer? Or swim like a runner?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pre-race Rituals

I don't know which I like more: racing or the feeling of race morning. 

My alarm is set for 5:30. The coffee maker for 5.

Dinner is plain chicken, spaghetti sauce, and whole wheat angel hair noodles. Pasta might be a cliche, but it works for me and you don't change what works.

As soon as the kids are in bed, I set out all of my gear, and check and double check it.

Two swim caps, goggles, two small towels, helmet with race numbers, jacket (just in case), Tri shorts and shirt, socks (rolled to go on fast), sports bra, shoes, race belt with number attached, knee strap, and compression socks for post-race.

What am I forgetting? Ah, GU and some shot bloks. Toss those in the bag. 

Then I set up the coffee maker and put my two water bottles in front of the coffee pot. This keeps me from forgetting cold water and gatorade in the morning.


I even put two pony tail holders on the bathroom counter. Then, most important of all, I paint my nails purple.

Purple nails started with Team in Training. Go Team! Our male coaches and several of the men on our team painted their nails purple for the Disney marathon. Since then, I think I've had purple nails every race day. 

It's getting late and I'm getting tired, but I'm packed and ready to go. Even though it's raining, the weather is looking fine. No thunderstorms! I'll bike through a monsoon, as long as the race doesn't get called.




Last but not least, it's time for a snack and some stupid TV. I sip gatorade and eat a little buttered wheat toast - simple but tasty.

Now I'm crashing. Don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight, but I'm feeling pretty stoked.

Yeh. I said stoked.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Parenting

Tonight, struggling with insomnia, I stumbled upon an article that really hit home. 

There was a time when my husband was the world's most amazing stay-at-home dad and I was mediocre, full-time working mom. He was so good as a stay-at-home. Other moms always told me how lucky I was. There are even pictures to prove how happy everyone was:



Then things changed. My husband went back to work, and I was home Monday through Friday. For the first six months, he worked 2 and 1/4 hours away and commuted home on the weekend.

"Honey!" I whispered nervously. It was a Friday night, and he had just arrived from his rush-hour commute. The kids were scurrying about, and I was following him around with a glass of wine. "Honey! I have to tell you something. Sometimes I yell at the kids!"

I stepped back, waiting for his shock. Maybe he would quit his job, right there on the spot, and insist I return to work. It wasn't what I wanted, but surely the right thing for the kids. After all he was clearly the superior parent. More patient. More hands-on.

He continued setting the table. 

"Honey! Did you hear me?"

He turned, raised his eyebrows, "Yeh? And?"

"I mean, I get really angry. And yell sometimes. Loud."

He grins, "Yeh. Me too. You just never saw it."

Surely he was saying this to make me feel better. I would arrive home from work, and everyone always seemed so happy. The kids might be having a dance party, my husband's nails painted green, clips adorning his short auburn hair. 

Maybe they'd be in the back yard, playing chase, dad right there in the middle of the fun. Enjoying the moment.

Even in the hospital, he had been extraordinary.



We were one year post-cancer, clinging to the joy that my daughter was alive. We were also carrying the knowledge that she could relapse at any moment. That we still might lose her. So why couldn't I enjoy what we had? Why were there so many times when I was unable to stop myself from feeling anger. frustration. annoyance.

Why are you whining? 

Do I really have to pretend to be Princess Aurora, again?

Just follow directions!

It must be me. I'm a horrible mother. I'm not cut out for this!


Then, in the last two years, things changed again. It wasn't overnight, but it was noticeable. I found myself feeling less angry. Less exhausted. I felt more balanced.

I no longer felt both guilty for doing dishes instead of playing with the kids and guilty for the fact that the kitchen was full of dirty dishes. I could say "No, I don't want to pretend to be Ron Weasley right now." without fearing my kids were going to end up in therapy with rejection issues. And I could at least forgive myself for ordering pizza instead of serving salmon with an avocado-lime drizzle over a bed of quinoa and spring greens.

I've also gotten to a point where it is okay for me to run. Or to make a long day at work even longer by grabbing a quick swim before coming home. And I don't berate myself for it.

For the past year or so I've been celebrating the fact that I no longer feel exhausted all of the time. I still get angry, lose my temper, fear that I'm falling very, very short as a parent. But all in all, things are better than they were.

And let me be clear when I say things aren't better because suddenly I'm an amazing mom. Or because I'm running. Or because I'm working part-time and get a break. Life is easier because something magical happened. The kids got older. It's that simple.

They are still loud, red-headed, and full of energy. They are still emotional and prone to drama. But six and eight beats two and four any day.

Parents of young children: It does get easier. I promise! Until then, remember you are doing a great job and your kids are going to be fine:

Taken with permission from http://spirituallythinking.blogspot.com/2012/01/highlight-reel.html

Just Tri (Three Days to Go!)

A year ago I was just beginning to run. I couldn't make it a mile without stopping to walk. Prior to this I had been sedentary. That's a word I hate. Sedentary. It's the kind of word your doctor writes in your medical record and it sounds technical, but really just translates to Lazy. Couch Potato. Slacker.

Sedentary.

So I got off the couch and started running. In fact, I started running hills. Not because I was tough as nails and up for a challenge. Simply because they were there. Our neighborhood is hilly. Very hilly. And it was easier to roll off the couch (that sounds pretty, doesn't it?), lace up the shoes, and push up the hills.

Wow. So much can change in a year.



In three short days, I will attempt my first triathlon. People keep telling me the bike course is hilly. And it is. But it isn't bad compared to where I've been training. For me, the swim will be the hill. The mountain to conquer. I am not a swimmer. And in stark contrast to the races I've run, I have not trained long enough to be confident in the swim.

Wish I were as confident in the water as my kiddo!


The thing is, this is a pool swim, and only 225 meters, at that. This is a mini-sprint. A women's only mini-sprint triathlon designed for first-timers like myself. And folks keep saying, "It's only 225!" Which, in my opinion, is like saying, "It's only a 5K." You may know that I hate a 5K but love a half marathon. There is no such thing as "only 3 miles" in my book. With swimming, I feel this even more strongly.


So those mere 225 meters will be my Mountbatten - a massive hill where I run. And when I finish my 7 +/- minutes in the water, it will be all downhill.

I keep telling myself, "7 minutes. Just get through those 7 minutes."

I've also learned in this past year that when nerves set in, it is best to have a goal and a plan. The goal should be attainable and the plan should be reasonable. So here goes:

My goal is to finish in under 1:20. There. You know it. Now I'm accountable.

My plan is a little more involved:
  • First, I'll break the swim into three parts. Three 75s. Once I'm past the first two, it will feel doable. Just like getting past mile 10 in a half. 
  • T1 (Transition one) is all about organization. Dry feet, roll on socks, yanks for shoes, (yep, I'm biking in running shoes 'cause I'm a Runner!), helmet, GO! 
  • Then the ride. GO GO GO. The first part of the course is downhill. Build speed. Then PUSH PUSH PUSH. There isn't a hill on this course that is longer than a 100-count. Oh, yeah. I count when I ride, just like I do when I run. Weird, I know, but it helps with pace and the voices in your head telling you this is too hard, you can't do it. There is nothing you can't do for a 100-count. 
  • T2 is all about simplicity. I'm already in the running shoes. Get the helmet off, the Tri belt / race bib on, grab some water, and go. 
  • Then, the run. A mere 2 miles. I've trained to run on tired, hurting legs. Here is where the counting becomes really important. The first 500-count post-bike feels really awkward. After that, I should have my running legs back and be able to push the last 1.5 miles as fast as possible. 

That's the plan. It feels good to write it down and share. It helps the nerves a bit. I'll be back Sunday to let you know how it goes!

Right: How I'll feel after the Swim. Left: How I'll feel after the Tri.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Meaning of a Birthday

When your child is diagnosed with cancer, the future becomes a scary prospect. Look too far ahead, and you may find yourself wondering if your child will be alive. To survive, to avoid panic, you break time into small increments, day-by-day goals.

If we can just make it to Halloween. to Valentine's. to the next birthday.

I stopped thinking about things like driver's licenses, visiting colleges, marriage, children of her own. I even stopped thinking about those things for my son, because I didn't want to think but will his sister be here to see it?


Celebrating her fourth birthday with Minnie on our Make-a-Wish trip!
But children are eternal optimists. Bald, puking, sitting in the "hofpital" bed, she would say,  "Mommy, when I grow up I going to be a stay-at-home mom." or "Mommy, when I turn 7, Michael going to be 5."
 
She was three at the time, and seven was just about too much to hope for.  I set 6 as the magic number. If she could just make it to six. 

Fifth Birthday - Sharing Time During Preschool
Six would be not-quite 3 years from diagnosis. Three years from diagnosis is an important benchmark for AML because kids with AML usually relapse in the first or second year. Kids who achieve and maintain remission for three years from diagnosis, though, have a very low chance of relapse.


Getting ready for the Fifth Birthday Party at preschool
So I looked forward to four, hoped for five, and prayed and begged for six. But I didn't let myself look past six.

Tomorrow she turns eight. There are no longer restrictions on how far into the future I go. I imagine her babysitting in the neighborhood. Going on first dates. Visiting colleges.

I can also look back, with joy, on the time before cancer. The time when I was just the regular amount of mommy-neurotic. Eight years ago, at this very moment, I was in the hospital, trying my best to avoid pitocin and achieve a completely drug-free childbirth despite the fact that my water had broken and my "time was up" so to speak.

Sixth Birthday - Drawing a birthday cake!
After the cancer diagnosis, for a long time I could only look back and think, "Where did we go wrong?" I would try to guess the exact moment that the mutation arose in her monocyte-precursor cells. AML is thought to occur as a result of two mutations. The first mutation may even occur in utero. Was it something I ate? An organic solvent I was exposed to in vet school?

Or did that mutation occur in infancy. Something in our neighborhood? After all, our dear friend and two-doors-down neighbor in Madison was diagnosed with breast cancer at a very early age. Maybe something in the water?

And that second mutation. Had to be after we left Madison. In that town where it seemed like too many other kids were being diagnosed with AML. What if we hadn't moved there? What if we had taken my mom's advice and moved to Raleigh? Or Asheville? Or stayed in Madison?

But now, almost five years post-diagnosis, I can look back at those pre-cancer years and see them for what they were. Three beautiful, exhausting, emotional years. Three years where two parents were doing their absolute best to raise two healthy children. Two parents who were a little too obsessed with being perfect parents. Two parents who wanted to do everything right and on our own and turned down help and scolded grandparents for not being quite perfect enough.

Sixth Birthday Party in the Park
I can also look back and say whatever caused those mutations, whenever they happened, they were building blocks for this life we are living. I am not glad my daughter had cancer. I will never say, "It didn't kill her so it has made us stronger." But we have managed to create quite a life for ourselves in this post-cancer reality.

I can look back at May 11, 2005 at 8:04 am. I can picture my 8 pound 4 oz, fuzzy red-headed, chubby cheeked bundle of perfection and smile. And not wonder, "Was cancer in her body? Were we already heading down that path?"
Seventh Birthday - she's wearing the same dress as her sixth birthday!

Tomorrow we will celebrate with pancakes and birthday presents in the morning. We will make tacos and swim in the afternoon. On Sunday, Mother's Day, she and I will run a one-miler fun run, which I'll follow with a moms-only 5K.

We are creating an amazing life, and cancer just happens to be part of the back drop.

 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Counting Down

My first Triathlon is in 13 days. It seems finishing a marathon gave me a little too much confidence. "I can run a marathon! I can do a Tri!"

Um, really?

Some how I managed to forget that I spent 4 1/2 months training for a marathon, after I'd already been running for 4 months on my own. I also managed to forget that that level of training was considered the bare minimum, and most marathon trainers seem to recommend running for at least a year before starting to train for the marathon.

So why did I then think I could magically conquer swimming in 8 weeks? Yeh. Did I forget to mention that I signed up about 8 weeks before the Tri? And then didn't manage to really get in good swims until 2 weeks after that thanks to training for a Half?

So I'm throwing out a lot of excuses here. And every time I get out of the water and think, "I just can't swim! I'm just not a swimmer." I hear all those voices saying, "I can't run because of my knees." Or "I only run if someone's chasing me." And I realize, "You're that guy! But with swimming."

I do not like swimming. Even the mere 225 yds. Yep. 9 short lengths of the pool. And if only I can make it through that to my bike, it will all be okay. Right?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Making the Best of the Worst (Happy Birthday, Son!)

I confess. I have a sailor's vocabulary. But I do a pretty good of keeping it in check around the red heads.  So when my seven year old tattles on the five year old, "He said a bad word! A really bad word! The S word!" I always have to ask for clarification.

To my kids, the S word is "stupid" and it's a major infarction. I can't even get away with, "That was stupid" after burning toast or spilling milk.

My son just turned six, and he's the best kind of handful. Funny, smart, and very much his own person.

Even though he won't let me get away with the S word, he definitely inherited the sailor tendencies:

"What's the password?"
"Harry Potter?" No.
"Sparkle Rainbows?" Nuh-uh.
"Glitter pom poms?" Nope!
He grins, "I'll give you a hint. It starts with a 'd'."
I know better than to respond. He cheers, "DIARRHEA!"

See that devilish smile? He gets that from his dad. The potty mouth comes from me, though.

Sometime early in kindergarten, a kid said to my son, "You're the worst!" In fact, he is not the worst. He's a pretty awesome kid. Thankfully, my kiddo recovered from the insult. Unfortunately, "The Worst!" became one of my son's favorite "swear words".

We hear it all the time, now.

Clean your room. "Mom, You're the worst!"
Eat your rice. "Aw, this rice is the worst!"
You need to pick a new swimsuit. "That bathing suit is the worst!"


Which is funny, since I'm pretty sure this bathing suit is The Worst:


Happy Birthday, Son! May you always make the best of your worsts!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fighting Fire with Fire

There was a time when I would have said you can't cure cancer.

Let that sink in for a minute.

A time before I became a Momcologist. When I was just a veterinarian. And before that, just a scientist. I was well-versed in the cautiously optimistic, third person lingo of modern medical research.

We always showed restraint. Even when trying to get funds designated for medical advancement.

If you want to get into graduate school, don't write, "I want to cure cancer" in your personal statement.

If you want to get into medical school, don't say, "I want to help people" during your interview.

Cynical? Maybe. But that's how it is.

With that in mind, watch this video. (It's okay, I'll still be here when you come back)

http://focusforwardfilms.com/films/72/fire-with-fire

In the opening scene, the interviewer asks, "Is it hard for you to say you are trying to cure cancer?"

Why is it so hard for us to admit we want a cure? To hope for a cure? To plan for a cure?

If my daughter had been diagnosed with leukemia 40 or 50 years ago, she would have been given a 4% chance of surviving. Our doctors would have told us to prepare ourselves, take a trip, enjoy these moments.

Today, kids with ALL have about a 90% survival rate. The survival rate for pediatric AML, my daughter's leukemia", is only about 50%, but that is much better than it was 50 years ago. We are curing cancer. And there is every reason to believe that progress can and will continue.

In a few weeks I will sign up for the Team in Training winter season. I will train for Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge. Why? Because if I can run a half marathon on Saturday, and a Full the following day, why can't we find a cure for cancer.

I will set my fundraising goal high. Greater than $10,000 this year. Maybe $20,000? $30,000? Why stop there?

There was a time when I was 25 pounds overweight and had a dream of running a marathon. But I wouldn't admit it to anyone. Why? Maybe the same reason physicians and scientists don't want to admit they are hoping to end cancer. What would their friends say?
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has slogan "Someday is Today." They believe they are curing blood cancers. They aren't afraid to say it. And their conviction and enthusiasm is contagious.

We will end cancer. Want to join me?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Destination: Marathon

Have you ever combined a race with a vacation? I want to hear about it. Was it fun? Life-changing? Stressful? Where did you go? Did you take your kids? Go with friends? Would you do it again?

My first marathon was the 2013 Disney Full.



The Disney Marathon Weekend was wonderful. The race well-organized with loads and loads of cheering fans. In 2014, I will return to Disney to complete Goofy's Race and a Half. On a hopefully cool Saturday, I will run the Disney Half and on Sunday (yep, the very next day) I will hobble the Disney Full. And, as last year, I will do this through Team in Training, raising money for blood cancer research and patient support.



As a Superoo for Trekaroo.com, I write reviews of family vacations. Since I combined a family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth with the most grueling endurance event of my life, it seemed logical to review the RunDisney series. In fact, I've been "working on" this RunDisney review for a while. I started writing it 3 months ago. Hmm. Looks like I have a case of writer's block.

So it occurred to me. How many of you have gone on vacation to run? Tell me about it in the comments section, and help unblock this struggling writer!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Devil in the Details

I don't consume news. I listen to NPR, but refuse to watch local or nightly news. I rarely visit internet news sites like CNN and when I do, it is only if I am looking for a particular story.

Surprisingly, though, I find myself on CNN.com tonight.

What is the name of the eight year old boy? Was he waiting to see a parent cross the finish line?

Who were the bombers? Are they in custody?

Why a marathon? Why the finish line? Of course we can answer these two questions as easily as we  ask them. Whoever the deranged loser(s) behind these murders, obviously they were looking for attention. The world's most famous race. Thousands of innocent people. A crowded location. The loser(s) have already received the notoriety they were hoping for and their name(s) haven't yet been mentioned.

But mostly, there is one detail I am eager to know. How did it feel to be at mile 26.1, the finish line in sight, exhausted, ready to collapse. And then have to start a new race?

I've been at the finish line of a large, well-organized race. Sweat dripping, my legs transforming from rubber to stone. My mind was chaos, disoriented. I could barely make it to claim my checked bag. I couldn't find the tent where I was supposed to check in even though it was large and purple and swarming with runners and volunteers wearing the same shirt I had on.

If an explosion had occurred, even an innocent, accidental one, I can only imagine how confused I would have been.

So how did runners -- exhausted, dehydrated, hobbling, many probably already dealing with injuries -- how did they sprint forward and start offering help? How did they have strength to deal with wounds they incurred when they were already debilitated? How did some continue on to donate blood? How did they move, even if just away from the sound of the explosions?

I am convinced I would have stood paralyzed. Not by fear, but by confusion.

Then there is a another question that will probably also go unanswered. The timing?

4:09. Was it an accident? 4:09 is impressive by most standards, but certainly not the fastest of Boston's elite. 4:09 in Boston would be older qualifiers, perhaps injured qualifiers, and charity runners. Were they going for a larger crowd of finishers as runners ended and hung out to cheer for others? I don't know  if I would feel any different if the explosion had been at 2:10:22, when the winner was crossing, but somehow this later timing seems even more tragic.

And then, lastly, when you get past the runners and think about the finish line of any race, even a 5K. There are 4 important groups of people: the runners, the spectators, the volunteers, and the police and paramedics.

When I think about the spectators, I'm crushed. I'm not the only one in my family who has been at the end of a big race. My children. My husband. My mom. My niece and nephews. My brother, brother-in-law, and sisters-in-law. Smiling, hugging, taking pictures. Celebrating with signs, "Go Team!" "You've got this." " I beat cancer, you can do this marathon."

Spectators are the unsung heroes of any race. They cheer just as loud for the pokies like myself as they do for the winners. I'm tempted to call spectators innocent bystanders, which is absurd since everyone in that crowd yesterday was "innocent". But the spectators are not simply there for entertainment. It's a marathon, it's not that exciting. They are there to lend support. They make the race possible, along with the volunteers and support staff.

I ran a Half on Sunday. During the race, I felt so lucky to be part of the running community. Where else can a middle age woman get cheers for a Sunday morning jog? A beautiful woman with an afro stood at the top of a vicious hill. "You got this hill, girl! Keep it up! You look great." My form picked up. I smiled. I pushed on. The kindness of strangers is so very real in a marathon. And those kind strangers deserved better than this.

The spectators at the finish. I want to know their stories. I want to consume this news. Why were they there? Were they pulling for a parent who spent the year training just to get here? Were they pulling for a charity runner who they helped raise thousands for cancer research? Were they locals, there to cheer for some of the world's most impressive runners? Were they thinking, "Maybe next year I'll train for one of these!"

Usually I find no value in obsessing over these tragedies. I turn off the news. The media will never answer the most important question of all: Why? I refuse to discuss, speculate. I refuse to sensationalize the loser(s) who perpetrated the crime.

But in the wee hours of the night, I find myself thinking of the runners and their families and everyone else at that finish line. It doesn't even seem real yet. And I find myself wanting to know more.

I know I won't be able to answer these questions. Not today, or anytime soon. So I'm going to accept that. I'm going to turn off the news and even facebook. I'm going to wear my favorite running shirt and I'm going to run today. I hope you'll join me. Even if you aren't a runner. Just go for a short jog to remember the victims and to celebrate the Spirit of Boston.




Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This Runner Needs a Goal. Suggestions Welcome!

The time is 1:24:49 AM. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Most nights, I fall asleep then wake in the middle of the night. Tonight I have yet to sleep at all. It started with a glass of wine. Why didn't I just have a beer?

Reasonable people are sleeping right now. My dog is wondering why I've joined him on the couch.

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=d3ef843140&view=att&th=13df78b7e4ead679&attid=0.1&disp=inline&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P8Nxgv1be6RVi5SCSV8xQiS&sadet=1365658304028&sads=F2i_PANayO_iZp_blSeS2ghCsZ0&sadssc=1


Even the guinea pig is quiet.

There is work tomorrow. And Friday. And Saturday. 

I should be sleeping or carb loading or planning my strategy for this Sunday's Half.

But there are so many distractions. So many reasons to lie awake thinking, worrying, planning.

Work. A cluttered house. A trekaroo trip next week. Not one but two birthday parties to plan in the next month. A triathlon in 6 weeks.

So my back-to-back Halfs are taking a backseat to Life.

I set a PR at Tobacco Road several weeks ago. That was a flat, cool race. This Half, on the other hand, is hilly and will be a tad warmer. Plus, it will be my second race in less than a month. Odds for a new PR are not in my favor. So while I've continued to train I've lacked focus. Clearly I need a goal for this race. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Running on Air

Sunday was the Tobacco Trail Marathon and Half. A flat, speedy course where ambitious runners set out to BQ, and I set out to PR in my second-ever Half Marathon.

I set a clear goal: under 2:15 (my first half was 2:24:24 on a mildly hilly course in November). I also set a "hope". Under 2:10. But deep down, this competitive girl knew 2:10 was the real goal.

The strategy: start off easy, begin gradually increasing the pace after the first 3 miles, then continue to pick it up through the gradual incline from 8 to 10, leaving enough in the tank to push hard at the end.

The challenge: I've been told that every race will bring some moment that you could not possibly have planned for. Mine was starting out beside the 2:10 pacer. This was not intentional. This was not a blessing in disguise. This was bad. I do not run well with others. I'm a surly, competitive runner who smiles and seems chipper but on the inside says many, many four letter words. So as our chatty 2:10 pacer set out to be the next John Bingham, I cringed.

Then I did what you are supposed to do when a race throws you a curve ball. Count to 10. Then think, "Am I going to die?" No. "Can I continue?" Yes. What do I need to change to make that happen?

I have to run my own race. I don't do well if someone else sets the pace - fast or slow. The only choices were to slow down and risk not finishing in 2:10 or continuing to run into this pacer or to speed up, break free and risk tiring myself early. I chose option two.

I pushed ahead. It was an ever-so-slightly hilly start, but I pushed to get far enough ahead to not have to battle with the group of 2:10ers the whole race. I felt some minor discomfort in my calves, but nothing major. I kept on moving now at a steady, comfortable pace.

I kept waiting for IT band tightness. It never came. I kept waiting for the knee clicking or pain that has been part of every training run since Disney. It never came. I focused on my pace, my stride, my breaths. I focused on relaxing my arms, engaging my core. I sipped water.

One mile turned into the next. I wasn't experiencing a runner's high, where you're suddenly inspired and invincible. But I was very much in the zone.

At 6.55 miles I has plenty "left in the tank" and started gradually picking up speed. As expected, miles 8 to 11 were the most challenging mentally, but they were not as bad as I expected. I felt like I was continuing to gain speed. At mile 11.5 I found myself wanting to run slow. I didn't give in. I said, "It will feel so good to push harder, finish tired, and be proud. Don't think 'I could have given more. I could have finished faster.'"

I finished in 2:10:42. Just over my "hope" goal of 2:10 and well under my 2:15 goal. Even better, I beat my City of Oaks half by almost 14 minutes. I'm elated. To run smart and pain-free felt like nothing I have ever experienced. Sure, the weather and the course were in my favor. But my focus and training played a role as well. And I'm feeling really proud of that!

My next race is in 4 weeks. I'm not hoping for a PR there. I'm just going out to have fun, while my husband runs his first Half ever. We won't run together. He's much speedier than I am. But I'll be thrilled to see him waiting for me with a beer at the finish line!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Quinoa Maple Breakfast Porridge

While preparing last night's delicious rice and tempeh with red peanut curry, I went ahead and cooked a big pot of quinoa. I stuck it in the fridge over night looking forward to a breakfast porridge.


Since quinoa is so nutritious - a whole grain and a complete protein source - I have wanted to  incorporate it into my diet for some time. Up until now, though, I have had bad luck with the execution.

This breakfast porridge has changed all that:

1/2 cup cooked quinoa (prepared ahead of time is fine)
1/4 - 1/2 cup soy or almond milk
1 diced granny smith apple
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1/2 - 1 tablespoon maple syrup
(I could have added chia or flax seed but didn't think of that until later. )

Microwave 1.5 minutes and enjoy.

This recipe is inspired by one in Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. I highly recommend this book if you're looking for running or dietary inspiration. This book and the eating it is inspiring are helping me focus on my upcoming Half this Sunday. I'm in taper mode, which was bringing a bit of stress with it. By focusing on nutrition, those pre-race jitters have subsided and I've started to look forward to Sunday's race.

Now I'm off for an easy 4 miles in the sun!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eat and Run

I painted the kids bedroom on Sunday. I'm a chemical-phobe and wanna-be tree hugger, so naturally I investigated several low or "no" VOC options. The first option, a German product called Unearthed Paint, was truly no-VOC. Biodegradable, mineral-based paint, natural and of the Earth, so to speak. I ordered a sample which arrived in a brown paper bag and required my blender for mixing the white powder with water and natural pigment. What resulted was a drippy watery mess. The sample looked light and airy and slightly chalky on the wall, great for a kids room. But the drippiness made it very hard to handle.

Months passed. I debated ordering a second sample. Trying to make it work. But this paint would cost 100s to cover the wall. And then the Bzz Agent free gallon of Benjamin Moore Aura "no" VOC paint offer arrived. I had considered this paint initially but knew it was not biodegradable, not truly VOC-free. Still, how do you say no to a free gallon of $60-70 paint?

I bought the paint plus another gallon. More months passed. In exchange for the free paint I was supposed to use it then review it, talk it up online. But I couldn't bring myself to.

Finally this weekend I cracked the can and painted the dreadful 80s not-quite-Hunter green walls a deep lavender my daughter picked. I couldn't be more disappointed.

The paint went on evenly and covered the green in one coat without priming. BUT. The fumes! Maybe these are environmentally friendly fumes, who knows. But they're bad. Three nights later and the kids are still sleeping in our room thanks to the paint fumes.



Maybe these fumes are more environmentally-friendly than other. I don't know. But the room wreaks  of chemicals and I'm kicking myself for not going with the German paint. My kids could have taste-tested Unearthed Paints and I wouldn't have worried.

There is an advantage, though, to the fumes, to the kids sleeping in our room. No mindless TV for three days. The only TV in the house is in our room and it is usually off until until the kids go to bed. Now it is staying off. And we have been reading.

Scott Jurek's life story "Eat and Run" has my full attention. He is one of the top ultramarathoners in the world and he advocates a plant-based, (vegan), unprocessed, organic diet for runners and all planet-conscious humans. He even includes recipes.

I've attempted to go veg in the past with varying degrees of success. I believe a vegan diet makes sense for the body and the planet but I've never been good at restricting foods. Then again, until a year ago I had never been good at exercising regularly, so maybe it is time to try again. The most successful we have been was when the whole family went vegetarian after our daughter's last round of chemo. We felt Veges and Fruits would help detox her body from the arsenal of chemo and other meds that had been thrown at her. We lasted about a year until my husband went back to work (after a 4 year stint as a stay at home dad). Since he's the family cook, it fell apart after that.

But it's time to try again. I want to run faster. I want to feel healthier and leaner. I am eating too much junk. I haven't declared the family meat-free, but I am dabbling in plant-based meals. Last night was bean taco night. Tonight I made tempeh and rice with red curry peanut sauce and a side salad of brussel  sprout leaves, fresh grapefruit, and avocado topped with sriracha walnuts. Very bit from scratch!

I have to thank Jurek for his inspiration and recipes! When I finish his book I'll have to find another similar one to keep me on track. Any suggestions?


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tuesday Muse-day



Lately I've been thinking about my friend Bill. He's sort of a renaissance man. Mechanic. Distance runner. Father to a rather successful crew of kids, including a couple of doctors. He's endlessly interesting to talk to.

There are probably many more things I don't know about Bill. I only recently learned that he's a dancer in a local modern dance company. Bill has a ponytail and graying mustache. If I had to guess I'd say he is in his 50s. Not what you picture when someone says "dancer". Or even runner. And that's what has me thinking.


What does a runner look like? Or a dancer? Dance is central to most cultures, a part of celebrations and self-expression, but in the West, we strip dance from its humanity.

You must look like a dancer. Behave like a dancer. Be a dancer. Or you aren't a dancer.

We go to ballet lessons. We are told to hold in our tummies in. We plié and relevé to soul-less music.

"I don't dance." We say at parties. "I don't have rhythm." But not kids. Turn music on and they can't help themselves.



And what about running? The way we ran as children? Impromptu foot races.  Barefoot or in sandles. Skirts or jeans. On dirt, sand, road. Only later, does running become an activity that requires $100 shoes, a start and finish line, K-tape, a mileage-tracking app, and many, many Facebook posts.

Runners divide themselves into those who run with music and those who don't. Maybe those of us running with music are looking to tap into something more primal. Running. Dancing. Losing ourselves in the music.

Here are a few songs to lose yourself to:

1. Scream and Shout (Will.I.Am feat. Brittany Spears)
2. Girl on Fire (Alicia Keyes feat. Nicki Minaj) - I made this a power song on my Nike Running app.
3. Body Movin' (Beastie Boys Fatboy Slim Remix)
4. What? (A Tribe Called Quest)
5. Lose Yourself (Eminem) - Great for running hills. Just picture yourself in a hooded sweatshirt, shoulders slightly hunched and you'll instantly feel unstoppable.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Speedy Wednesdays

Wednesdays are my speed training days and today was a beautiful day for speedwork. I've alternated between tempo runs and 400s. And I've loved it. Really pushing it, I can run a sub-9 minute mile. I can sustain 10 over a longer period and it feels good. The lungs burning kind of good, but good nonetheless.

But, with 18 days to go, I'm starting to get nervous. I'm starting to doubt that I can sustain the 10 minute pace that I so desperately want. My 12-miler didn't go well. And now I'm tapering. That period before an endurance race where you back off of the mileage and let your body recover a little. Tapering is making me nervous.

So, today, instead of formal speed work, I mixed it up. With less than an hour before picking the kids up from school, there was no time to drive to a track for 400s. Instead, I ran in my neighborhood and included three repeats of Mountbatten Hill. Mountbatten is the cruelest, most unforgiving hill I can imagine. Worse than any hill I've faced on Umstead. Relatively short, but steep as hell. I could barely walk it when I started running 10 months ago.

I save Mountbatten for days when I really need to prove something. And today was one of those days. This had nothing to do with training. Nothing to do with strategy or speed or endurance. Mountbatten is all mental. And today I did Mountbatten x 3.

When I felt the burn of my lungs and calves, I pushed on. When my mind said "stop" I answered, "why?" Mountbatten is the kind of hill that reminds you that you can do anything for 2 hours 12 minutes. Even running 13.1 miles.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Starting in the Middle

I could start from the start. August 18, 2008. The first time I heard the words, "Your daughter has cancer."

But where's the fun in that? Instead, let's start smack-dab in the middle.
In the middle of this charmed life with my red-heads - an amazing husband, a hilarious five year old son, and, of course, my daughter and cancer-fighting hero.

In the middle of training for my second half marathon, just a couple of months after completing my first full.

In the middle of trying to balance parenting, work, and many miles on the pavement.

 In the middle of an ongoing fight with insomnia and a new passion for Bikram's yoga.

 Let's start right here, at 2:57 AM on a rainy Sunday morning. Where we've sailed past Surviving and are moving on to Thriving. Wide awake and ready to run 12 miles in about 4 hours.

After all, this is more than just a memoir of my daughter kicking cancer's ass. But don't worry. We'll come back to that.