Thursday, November 24, 2016

16 things that suck

It’s Thanksgiving, and I should acknowledge some things. These days this holiday is mostly an excuse to eat some of my favorite food, a reason to experiment with new cocktail recipes, and an annual source of motivation to break out our vinyl copy of Arlo Guthrie’s epic Alice’s Restaurant. I’ll admit that I don’t always spend a lot of time on Thanksgiving contemplating the things for which I am grateful, but in my defense: I’m pretty grateful most of the time. I don’t have everything I want in this life, but I certainly have everything I need, along with a clear sense of what I’m doing here on this planet, and I don’t take those things for granted.

But I also have to acknowledge: the past year has sort of sucked. Both literally and figuratively, it has torn me up, and I know that a lot of you are feeling the same way. So this year I thought that a brief exercise in giving thanks would serve me well. Here’s a list of 16 things that have really sucked about my 2016, and why I’m grateful for them.

1.     I tore my gastrocnemius. I started 2016 badly injured and unable to run, and three months with nearly no physical activity made for a rough start. But it did also create a lot more time and space in my life for pleasure reading, and during a year that would require a lot of moments of escape, this turned out to be a helpful new habit.

2.     My favorite uncle died. We lost my beloved Uncle Lynn unexpectedly this time last year, and in no way whatsoever is the world a better place without him in it. We started out 2016 consumed by grief, but a year later I can look back with gratitude for the opportunities to celebrate and remember him with my family and his huge community of friends.

3.     David Bowie died. Several artists who have been important to me personally died this year, and this was the first. As was his life and his music, David Bowie’s death was an inspiration to me. He faced terminal illness with courage, love, thoughtfulness, and poetry, and went out in a flash of brightness and color. May we all live and die so well.  

4.     My condo flooded. For the third time in two years, a pipe in the walls of our condo burst, causing extensive water damage and an expensive, time-consuming headache. You’re probably wondering (as does almost everyone I know) why we don’t sell it and move. But we love where we live, and don’t wish to give up our spot in this great little corner of San Diego. This third “test” reminded us yet again that great neighbors and a vibrant community are more valuable than gold. Or new copper pipes!

5.     Prince died. Another icon, an artifact of my childhood, gone. Watching the country mourn in vibrant shades of purple taught me a lot of about the power of our grief rituals. And noting that my generation’s heroes are getting older and dying was a poignant reminder that I’m moving up in the tree of life.

6.     Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The front man of one of my favorite bands, Canada’s The Tragically Hip, made the announcement in May, and when the band announced a last-minute, brief, and final tour, my sister and I scrambled to make our way across the continent to watch them play their final show in their home town of Kingston, Ontario this summer. I’m forever grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience with my sister, inspired by another of the world’s greatest poets.

7.     Charlotte McKee died. Charlotte wasn’t famous. And I didn’t even know her. But when she died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease this year, her husband Jon channeled his grief into a cross-country bicycle ride that raised funds and awareness for the non-profit where I work, Alzheimer’s San Diego. I’ve long hoped to cross this beautiful country on foot someday, and this summer Jon McKee inspired me to get serious about that goal.

8.     The National League lost the All Star Game. This was my husband’s and my first season as members at Petco Park, home of the notably horrible San Diego Padres. Through the season we lost a lot of games and traded away most of my favorite players. But, we had a whole lot of fun and since Petco was the home of the 2016 All Star Game, at least we got to be there to watch us lose!

9.     Gene Wilder died. This joyful, quick-witted, blue-eyed wonder starred in nearly every movie that I loved as a kid, which would have made his death hard enough. But as a professional advocate for persons living with Alzheimer’s disease, it was particularly hard to know that he and his family suffered this journey in silence. His death further strengthened my resolve to bring memory loss and dementia out of the shadows of stigma.

10.  Big Sur caught on fire. Life in California means wildfires. Like traffic jams and the “sunshine tax” they are part of the price that we pay to live here. Watching some of my favorite parts of our central coast (which are, in fact, some of my favorite parts of this planet) burn this year was particularly wrenching, but we were fortunately able to make our visit this summer as planned. Never have I appreciated more the beauty of a run than that one.

11.  I had to work on my birthday. I love birthdays, and traditionally take the day off and indulge in a spa day, a favorite indulgence. But as it happens, my birthday also happens to be World Alzheimer’s Day, and as you are surely gathering, the cause of dementia-related education and outreach is now a big part of my life. So this year I worked on my big day – as I suspect I will for many years to come – but did so with gratitude for the opportunity and the platform to be a voice.

12.  My transmission went out. I hate cars almost as much as I love birthdays, but the nature of the work that I do requires a lot of driving, and I can’t really get by without one. It’s always a hassle when your car breaks down, but a blown transmission while you’re out of town is a particularly nightmarish hassle. (Death and hassles: the emerging themes of my year.) But in keeping with the task of looking for silver linings, it did at least break down just as we arrived at the venue of my dear niece’s wedding, where we spent a magnificent long weekend with family and friends in celebration of one of the greatest couples I know. And we didn’t have to miss a thing.

13.  I just missed getting into a rally with President Obama. While I was out in Nevada in October canvassing with the Clinton campaign to encourage voter turnout, a last-minute organizing rally with President Obama at a local high school was announced. I decided to extended my stay, and stood in line for hours to try to get in. I was gravely disappointed to not make it inside, to just miss my chance to see one of the great orators of our time speak in person. But I’d invested the time, so I decided to stay anyway and watch the rally from just outside of the high school on a big screen that was set up for us. To our surprise and delight, the president came outside and spoke to us first before the rally started, and it was just as inspiring and energizing as anything I could have hoped for. A great reminder that showing up is always worth it.

14.  Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election. She shattered one important level of the glass ceiling, and unfortunately a lot of us got damaged in the shards. But the wounds are mending, and we’ll all emerge stronger for the fight.

15.  We forgot the 20th anniversary of our first date. Amidst the fatigue of having just run the New York City Marathon, and then the chaos and confusion in our lives surrounding the presidential election, my husband and I both plum forgot when the 20th anniversary of our first date rolled around earlier this month (a date we usually remember, and celebrate in some way). But the next day, some great seats at The Sound of Music at the San Diego Civic Theater dropped in my lap, a perfect opportunity for a much-needed night out together, and a great way to celebrate two decades of his putting up with my nonsense.

16.  The water crisis in Flint, more mass shootings, Brock Turner’s six-month sentence, more police shootings, continued war and humanitarian crises …. sadness has piled up on us heavily this year. Nearly all of us have felt torn up in some way or another, and I’ve seen a lot of ugliness emerge. But I’ve also seen us engage in thoughtful argument, and find ways to laugh together in the darkness. I for one intend to just keep running toward the light at the end of this tunnel.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The best medicine

I thought I knew the sport pretty well when I entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon in January of this year. I'd completed 19 different marathons in 19 different cities, and17 states across the country. In Estes Park, Colorado, I'd run at 8,100+ feet with 148 runners. In Chicago I'd run what the next year would become one of the World Marathon Majors in a field of 33,0000. And across the country I'd seen marathons of a range of sizes and varieties in between. Over the years I've had a few good races and a few terrible races, and while I'd never claim to know what to expect on any given day, I generally felt that I understood the 26.2 mile distance and its impact on me. When the lottery opened I was only one difficult month into what I knew was going to be a long recovery from a painful calf tear, and still prohibited from running for another several weeks at that point. But my brother-in-law really wanted to run NYC together, and figuring there's no way I'd actually get in on my first try, I went ahead and entered the lottery. Naturally, we were both struck with beginner's luck this year, and on March 8th learned that we were in. I had only recently been able to start running very short distances by that time, and was battling chronic compartment syndrome in that damaged calf, but still I couldn't help getting swept up in the excitement of the day. The Huffington Post ran a cute piece on The 11 Emotional Stages of Getting Accepted into the NYC Marathon that featured one of my tweets that was, naturally, focused on the subject of what I would be eating in New York City:

Fast forward through the eight months of rehabilitation, training, work, travel, and life that ensued, with an apology for having neglected this blog during that time. There's a slew of reasons for it, none of which really matter. I'm back. Hi.

The marathon expo (Friday November 4th),
at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Glass ceilings and all.
The week of the race was a jarring, disorienting, exhausting carnival ride of a week. The night before we left town, we stayed up late celebrating as the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. (For those who don't know me personally: I am a huge fan of the game of baseball and do not take the World Series lightly!) The night after we returned, we stayed up late mourning as America elected its 45th president. (For those who don't know me personally: I am a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, and was an invested volunteer on her campaign.) There were highs, there were major lows, and then there was a trip to New York City and the experience of the world's largest marathon stuck right there in the middle of all of it. 

The NYC Marathon is an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Between the race entry, the cross-country travel, lodging, food, and the cost of boarding the dog .... I don't even want to do that math. But whatever that total turned out to be, I can say with total confidence that it was worth every penny. I admit that I didn't expect it to, but the 40th running of the New York City Marathon lived up to all of the hype. It was unlike any 26.2 I've run to date, not only in terms of the sheer number of people -- a record-breaking 51,388 finishers and a million spectators lining the course -- but also in terms of its incredible organization and thoughtful amenities. The course is a breathtakingly beautiful foot tour of all five of the boroughs of the city, and is just as challenging and filled with energy as everyone says it is. As you enter each borough, you're greeted by residents, local businesses, and volunteers filled with neighborhood pride, screaming wildly. "Welcome to Queens! Welcome to the Bronx! Shout if you love Brooklyn!" I actively seek out and fully enjoy small-town and small-scale racing, where local cross-country kids help out along the course, and all of the funds that are raised will stay in the community. I love a good screaming crowd, but also appreciate the quiet miles in the outlying areas of those smaller races that afford runners an opportunity to chat with one another, or run in silent meditation. NYC doesn't give you much in the way of quiet time, though, beyond a few less raucous moments on the bridges (where spectators can't congregate, but still the police and construction workers are cheering you on). Crowds line the rest of the course, several people deep in most places, and the famous "wall of sound" as we turned onto 1st Avenue was utterly overwhelming, in the most perfect way. The final miles through Harlem and then through the rolling hills of Central Park were difficult but strangely almost painless for me. I can hardly remember any discomfort, but can recall with unusual clarity the rows of yellow trees, smiling and high-fiving with countless strangers, and the pleasant dizziness of the finish line. Thanks to the energy harnessed by the people of New York, I managed a steady pace through those final miles, awestruck and numbed by the best analgesic there is: love. 

In a period of my life and our history as a country that's so filled with conflict, anger, fear, and hatred, I am clinging to these memories of the NYC Marathon for my life. For my sanity. As I rested under my blanket in the starter village on Staten Island that morning, I watched and listened as runners from 124 countries, and all 50 of our United States spoke our shared language - advice, encouragement, and our mutual appreciation and respect for the great human challenge that is the marathon. For all of my hesitation about the crowds and logistical challenges, the NYC experience was one well worth having, and I'm eternally grateful to my brother-in-law Ian for talking me into it. To any extent that I helped inspire him to become a marathoner, his enthusiasm and curiosity about the sport has helped me infinitely more. 

So many thanks. To my husband and friends who supported me through my training and out there on the course. To the friends, family, and colleagues who contributed to my fundraiser for Alzheimer's San Diego. To the staff, sponsors, and volunteers that make everything happen. And to the people of New York City for letting us take over your town for the day. 

Here's the race, in a few pictures.

Oh nothing just me and Ian with American distance running goddess supreme, KARA GOUCHER, at the expo. We had her sign our bibs for good luck.

The runner graffiti walls at the expo were beautiful.

Everyone has their own pre-race ritual. Saturday night at Adrienne's Pizzabar, in Battery Park. We stayed in Lower Manhattan for easy access to the Staten Island Ferry on race morning.

Even with the extra hour of sleep due to the time change on Saturday night, race morning sure came early. Zombie-selfie on the 6am Staten Island Ferry! I sat next to an awesome runner named Paul who has run NYC many times, and provided me lots of interesting insights. (Hi Paul!)

And then, all of a sudden, the early morning wake-up was worth it.

At the starters' village on Staten Island, getting my first look at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, where the race begins.

Lining up on the Verrazano-Narrows, ready to head out of Staten Island. We were led in a huge chorus of "New York, New York" before the national anthem.

Waving to my awesome crew, somewhere in Brooklyn. 

Beautiful view of the long stretch of 1st Avenue, after just having passed the "wall of sound" that greets runners after crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. Look at that perfect, blue sky, 57 degree day!

Sarah, Tiffany, Marc, and Mike, killing time on the mean streets of New York. I was so grateful to have them (and Josephine, not pictured!) cheering me on, as well as the friends and family who tracked my progress on the marathon app.

Shout out to everyone who contributed to my fundraiser for Alzheimer's San Diego! Together we raised over $1,900 to help fund education programs and supportive services for families impacted by Alzheimers' disease and other types of dementia.

The RUNNER'S HI rocks the Bronx! Somewhere around mile 20.

The finisher's walk to the meet-up area, aka the zombie apocalypse. The fleece-lined poncho (for runners who don't check a bag at the start) is such a nice touch.

I generally crave a cold beer at the end of a marathon, but all I wanted was this warm cup of coffee! The 10 am start time was so disorienting.

My brother-in-law Ian crushed his second marathon! He said then it would probably be his last for a while, but I knew the truth. He's already looking at the spring calendars. #junkie

Friends Steven and Josephine (and Jojo the chocolate lab) hosted us at their beautiful apartment in Newark for the most magnificent post-race feast you've ever seen!

New York City Marathon
November 6, 2016

And the rest of the trip was pretty fun, too!

Ian after we shoved him into a subway car. 
New York is crowded.

Katz's Deli!

Wrenching visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

The 9/11 reflecting pools.

World Trade Center.

Being in New York meant the chance to reconnect with several friends.
Beautiful pre-race stroll through Central Park with Marissa.

Steven and Josephine:
Support crew extraordinaire, on the course and off!

My husband and I spent a fun day visiting with my very oldest friend, Melina.

Took a lovely ride on the SeaGlass Carousel!

Battery Park.

I prefer to carbo-load after the race.

With the marathon behind me, thoughts already turning to training for a January Spartan Race .....

Aftermath. Homeward bound.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The jerk store called

Today I got caught. I was being a silly, whiny jerk, and I got called out.

As you may have noticed, I've been thinking, talking, and writing nearly nonstop for two months now about the rehabilitation of my right calf muscle, which I tore during a December marathon. I've found some unexpected joy in the process of healing, but for the most part have been anxiously readying myself to run again. And last weekend, after eight weeks of walking, stretching, and gently regaining strength, I got in one first glorious mile of running. I tried not to favor my right leg, and although I ran slowly and with some hesitation, it was a joy to be moving like a runner again. I forced myself to stop after I hit that one mile marker, although I felt like I could have run for days.
I gave my calf a little extra love
before trying that first post-rehab run.

This week I resisted the urge to veer off of my rehabilitation schedule, dutifully kept up with the walking, stretching, and strengthening exercises, and kept my three runs to just one mile in distance each. With every run, I've become a bit less fearful that the muscle is going to re-tear, and today during my Sunday "long run" in the park (a 1-mile run followed by a 6-mile walk), I felt confident enough to run that mile like my old self. I comfortably ran a more normal pace, jumped onto and off of curbs with ease, and let my stride lengthen back out. When my mile of running was up, I slowed to a walk, and headed downtown for the remainder of my 6-mile walk. Downtown running (or walking) means frequent stops for traffic lights, so I use those opportunities to stretch. Bent over in a standing fold at the edge of the sidewalk during one of those stops today I noted, as I frequently do, how tight my hamstrings felt. "Ugh," I thought to myself, "after all of these weeks of rehab, I'm still so inflexible? How frustrating." I started up with the familiar mental kicking of myself for not getting to more yoga classes, not doing more foam rolling, not spending more time stretching. Blah blah blah blah blah.

And then in that moment, gratitude appeared in the form of a middle-aged stranger who walked up next to me at the stoplight. "Do you know what would happen to me if I bent over like that?" he asked me with a laugh. "I'd fall down in a heap, and you'd never get me back up." The light turned and signaled us to cross, and we walked and talked the length of the next block together. He was a former runner who had to give it up many years ago due to some chronic health conditions, and shared with me how much he misses not only running, but just being able to be active. He was out walking this morning for the first time in several days, and was hopeful that he would be able to keep at it and build back some of his strength. We were stopped again at the next stoplight, and when it turned he waved me to go on ahead of him, and thanked me for the inspiration.

How easily I'd forgotten to be grateful for everything I can do. How quickly I'd turned from the joyful appreciation of my slow return to running just a few minutes prior into a self-critical and ungrateful jerk who expects even more from these two legs. They just made a recovery that was nothing short of miraculous, mending from a nasty (and by the way: self-inflicted) tear, and now they have to be bendy, too?

Thank you, kind stranger, for today's lesson in humility and gratitude. As I continued to walk the streets of downtown San Diego this morning, I noticed with more clarity than ever the number of people making their way through the world with a variety of chronic disabilities. I hope I'll remember that man at the crosswalk the next time I'm being ungrateful for the good health I've been granted - and my ability to recover when I lose it - and that he'll help me to keep my whining in check.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Walk, don't run

Now in my eighth week off of running, I admit that I'm sort of coming around on this whole walking thing. Don't get me wrong: I am terribly eager to begin running again, and it's probably the fact that this brief interlude is nearing its end that I'm beginning to feel some tenderness toward my captor. But I love bipedalism in all of its variations, and over the last two months, have realized that there are some distinct advantages to walking, and not running.

1. The stink factor. I've always enjoyed "running" my errands when I can: running to and from the market if I just need a small item or two, running to the library to pick up and drop off my books, or even running to and from a concert at a nearby club. I almost always run to my polling place on election day, although this favorite tradition has probably alienated me from most of my neighbors. I'm not one of those people who delicately glistens when I run: I sweat. It takes a lot longer to get everywhere by walking instead of running, but I'm not a gross mess once I arrive, and it's been sort of nice not having to apologize when I get into elevators.

Two feet. Four eyes.
2. I can see where I'm going. I'm near-sighted and have worn glasses my entire adult life. Every year I tell myself I'm going to get a pair of prescription running sunglasses made so that I can see while I'm running, but I still have never done it. Because glasses will not stay on my face while I run (see "sweaty mess," above), I've just learned to run while unable to see clearly. I can see well enough to ensure my basic safety, but am always missing quite a lot of what's going on around me. But as a walker, my glasses can stay on my face, and in spending some long hours over the past two months in places where I'm usually running, I've realized just how much I usually don't see. I can get a better look at the flora, the architecture, and the public art as I pass by, and I can read the signs! And because I'm going slower, I seem to just be paying more attention. Last weekend I passed by the runway of the airport, which I do regularly (I live 2.5 miles from it), and saw lots of activity going on as I went by that I've just never noticed while running.

I seriously love my glittery tights.
3. The clothes are much cuter. Because I don't get so hot when I walk, I get to bundle up when I head out for these long walks in ways that I just can't when I run, even in winter. Despite being a lifelong runner, I've just never had those lean, muscular runner legs, and look and feel far better in a pair of tights than I do in a pair of running shorts. I (and surely everyone I encounter during my morning workouts) have been deeply grateful for the chance to don my knit caps and gloves, puffer vests, and my favorite sparkly long tights. I usually wear pretty ratty running clothes, but am starting to see the wisdom in investing in some warm-weather running items that make me feel cute.

4. I can touch my toes. It's amazing how much more flexible I've become in just seven short weeks. Decades of running (and not paying enough attention to flexibility as I've grown older) have left me with hamstrings like tree trunks, literally unable to touch my own toes when standing with straightened legs. Since stretching my calf muscles and ankles has been an important component of the rehabilitation from this injury, I've been more regular in getting to a weekly yoga class, and doing stretching exercises on my own. The other day I found myself grasping onto the balls of my feet while seated with legs straight, and wanted to jump for joy. But jumping is still strictly off-limits. <sigh>

5. I've even lost a few pounds. Over the past couple of years, some extra pounds have slowly crept their way on. I'm far from overweight, but for a small-framed marathon runner, an extra 5 or 10 pounds has consequences. As a person who's always had good exercise habits and a naturally healthy diet, I've never really concerned myself with the volume of what I eat or drink. This has mostly worked okay for me until recently, but apparently even marathon runners are not immune to shifting mid-life metabolisms. So when I began this rehabilitation process, I made a conscious decision to adjust my attitudes toward indulgence when it comes to food. Being unable to use my usual excuses for that extra slice of pie or another beer ("I'm in training," or "I ran six miles this morning," or "I'm running twenty miles tomorrow"), I'm instead paying more attention to how hungry I actually feel, and a few pounds have easily come off, even though I'm burning far fewer calories through exercise than is typical for me.

I'm hopeful that, once I'm back in the warm embrace of running, I won't forget the lessons I've learned over these last couple of months. Maybe I'll buy myself a new running top or two, and finally spring for those prescription sunglasses. Hopefully I'll maintain my improved eating habits, and keep showing up at yoga class. But, sorry neighbors: I'm still going to stink in the elevator.


Rehab update: Seven weeks of rehabilitation are in the bank, and I'm feeling healed and so completely ready to get back at it. Last week I walked 11 miles, did some strength and stretching sessions, yoga, and was back on a stationary bike for the first time since the muscle tear. All has felt great, and even when I'm walking fast up hills, everything seems back to normal. Last weekend, I felt 100% ready to start running again, so in light of my clearly limited insight and poor judgment, I decided I should wait one more week. :) Anxiously awaiting that slow, easy one mile run next Sunday morning. Valentine's Day.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Are you smarter than a marathon runner?

Last week during an episode of Jeopardy, there was a rare three-way loss: every contestant got the Final Jeopardy clue wrong, and had bet everything they had. I'm not even going to pretend that it was a coincidence that I happened to be watching when this unusual turn of events went down. Jeopardy airs at 7:30 pm where I live, and we're almost always watching it because a) it's usually on while I'm making dinner, and b) I am, and have always been, about 75 years old on the inside. The category was state capitals, and the clue was "A 1957 event led to the creation of a national historic site in this city, signed into law by a president whose library is there now."

One can imagine the satisfaction I derived at nailing the answer immediately: Little Rock, Arkansas. And then the thrill of watching the answer stump all three of those contestants and send them packing? People, this is the stuff that dreams are made of. I'm not a trivia buff, and in fact have a pretty lame memory for facts and figures, so I don't generally do very well at Jeopardy. But having just been to Little Rock four weeks prior to run the Three Bridges Marathon, I had also just visited the Clinton Presidential Library, and the historic site at Little Rock Central High School. This was where nine courageous black teenagers (the Little Rock Nine) faced an angry mob and a blockade by the Arkansas National Guard as they integrated the previously all-white high school in the wake of the Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of of Education ruling, a pivotal moment in the early civil rights movement.

Running gives me so much. It has kept me strong and energetic as I've crossed over into my fourth decade. (Wait, I guess technically I'm now in my fifth decade?) It keeps me sleeping well at night, and ensures a healthy appetite and (mostly) stable moods. And racing in marathons all over the country has given me even more. It's taken me to important places in our nation's history that I might have otherwise missed, like the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. It's reminded me that art and beauty can be found anywhere, including Fargo, North Dakota. It's given me running friends who live all over the country, and countless delicious new foods to try. From the Cuban coffee and guava pastry in Miami, to the beer brats and Bloody Marys of Wisconsin, to the glorious cheese steaks of Philadelphia .... this land was made for you and me.

I'm currently wrapping up week six of rehabilitating that calf muscle that tore in mile six of the Three Bridges Marathon in Little Rock, which for reasons that still elude me, I finished anyway. So the bottom line is: yes, you are smarter than a marathoner. This one, anyway.


Rehab update: I walked 10 miles this week (plus the 10 or so that I meander per week with my dog), did some strength training, a mile in the pool, and one gentle session of yoga. The calf is holding up and I am pain free, although I feel it tighten up when I walk uphill, so I know it's still delicate and I am being careful with it. Next week I intend to add a few more miles of walking and some easy cycling into the mix, and I'm currently targeting February 14th as my date to try a first gentle bit of running. Eight weeks from the injury, and the day that we celebrate love. Sounds on target to me.