Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Coke or Pepsi: My Fifth Anniversary of Cancer


Have you ever ordered a Coke and what you get is a Pepsi.  It’s just not the same. Try telling that to your health insurance company.


It has been five years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was lucky because I caught my cancer early: I found the lump myself.  Because it was not widespread, I had a lumpectomy, not a mastectomy.  Genetic testing made the decision not to have chemo an easy choice.  So once my seven weeks of radiation therapy (which I called “tanning booth sessions”) ended, most people assumed cancer treatment was behind me.


Not so.  Like many women with breast cancer, I was given a drug, tamoxifen, to take for five years.  The side effects, I was told, would include hot flashes, night sweats, and a host of other things that sounded a lot like menopause symptoms.  I was 49 when I was diagnosed, so I suffered these side effects right along many women my age without any history of cancer.  "Is it hot in here?" was my constant refrain.  But it wasn't too bad.


Until this year, over four years after starting tamoxifen, when I began to experience changes in my mood.  I have always been a very happy person.  I had never experienced depression until this year.  And then it hit me.  I was tired, and thought I was over-trained, having trained for an ultra-marathon in 2015.  I took some time off, but it didn’t help.  Objectively my life was wonderful, and I knew that logically.  But I sure didn't feel it.  There were days when I felt sad, and other days when I felt nothing. Nothing.  I slept for 10 hours or more a day.  I stopped my athletic endeavors almost completely.  I ate everything in sight and drank a lot of wine.  I gained over 20 pounds. 


I began to examine everything about my life.  And then I remembered I ordered Coke and got a Pepsi.  Well, what actually happened is that I went to the drug store to get my tamoxifen, and the pharmacist noted that he had filled a different brand. 


“It’s the same active ingredients as the other tamoxifen.  Just a new brand.  Your insurance company has required us to change it,” he explained. 


“So it’s like Coke versus Pepsi?” I recall asking.  I should have realized then that this could be a problem.


It’s not that one brand is cheaper than the other, it’s just that insurance companies negotiate volume discounts.  And it is not that Coke is better than Pepsi, or vice versa.  Some women have worse side effects on one type of tamoxifen, and others react the opposite way.  Clearly, the switch was a terrible idea for me.  I spoke with my doctor, and dropped tamoxifen altogether, just a few months before my five years was up. He assured me that the drug had already done its work in protecting me.  And I could not keep living the way I was living.


So now, the good news is that I am cancer-free, drug-free, and once again happy.   I have lost more than 10 pounds that I gained earlier this year, and have a plan to lose the rest.  I am back to training, and am eyeing what races I might do in 2017.   I am celebrating that I have passed that five year mark, which means that it is much less likely that my cancer will recur.  It’s a wonderful world!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

You cannot invite Lisa to your pool party: SwimRVA Splash Bash highlights efforts to boost swimming accessibility following legacy of discrimination

“You cannot invite Lisa to your birthday party at the swimming pool,” Mom said to me as we planned my Sweet 16 celebration in 1978.

I was thinking about Lisa as I began swimming in earnest again, training for the recent Richmond Rox sprint triathlon. I dedicated the swim portion of my race to those who cannot swim. 

I cannot imagine being unable to swim. Swimming was part of my everyday life, growing up in Alabama. I learned to swim at the YMCA, before I learned to read. 

Every summer, we swam in the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s panhandle, which we called the Redneck Riviera. A red neck was common for me then, because (millennials will be shocked) water-resistant sunscreen hadn’t yet been invented. I swam in the morning and evening, with thick, pasty zinc oxide on my nose and cheeks, and a t-shirt over my swimsuit. In the middle of the day, I played cards and board games inside with Mom, Dad, and my brother and sister. 

Later I joined the swim team. They gave out ribbons to all six girls who swam each race, and I have a large collection of sixth-place ribbons. By the time I was a teenager, “swimming” was mostly sitting beside the pool.

For my 16th birthday, Mom asked me whether I wanted to invite friends to a party, and if so, what I wanted to do. I attended Indian Springs School at the time, and there I had a much more diverse group of friends than before.

“I want to have a swimming pool party at the country club,” I told her.

She looked at me sideways. “Whom would you invite?” she asked. 

I ticked off my close circle of girlfriends, ending with Lisa. Mom knew Lisa. She knew what Lisa looked like. Mom took a deep breath and said, “You cannot invite Lisa to a party at the country club.”

“Why not???” I demanded, knowing full well what she implied. 

Swimming became popular in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, including among women. It was the introduction of women into the pools that led to the segregation. How could you have black men in the same pool with white women? The law changed in the late 1950s, and public pools could not operate unless they were desegregated. This change in law, however, did not mean that blacks and whites swam together. Instead, public pools were closed, filled in, abandoned. 

The small lake in front of my house today featured a high diving board in the 1930s. Today, the diving board is gone, the water is shallow, having been partially filled when a court demanded that it be desegregated. Across the country, after public pools were closed, many private pools and country club pools were built. These places typically restricted access to “members only.” In other words, white. The YMCA even figured out how to operate segregated pools: it did so in Montgomery until it was sued over this practice in 1970. Country clubs were still segregated in 1978, when I turned 16. I knew this, I knew that our club had no black members. But I didn’t realize Jim Crow laws were still so overtly a part of our lives. 

“I can’t invite Lisa to my pool, as my guest? That’s ridiculous!” I screamed at my mother.

Mom sighed and said, “I don’t disagree with your sentiment, but you would not be a good friend to Lisa if you invited her to the club. As soon as you started to enjoy yourselves, a man in charge would ask Lisa to leave. That would be very uncomfortable for everyone, especially Lisa.”

Mom went on to tell me that a black boy from Mobile, apparently a very talented tennis player, came to an invitational tennis tournament at the club not too long before, and the tennis pro in charge went up to him and explained that this was an invitational event and that he was not invited.

I felt sick to my stomach. How could this be so? Mom asked, “so, would you like a pool party without Lisa, or another party where she can be included?”

A party without Lisa?  Or be forced by bigots to go somewhere else just because my friend was black. I was outraged. Here it was, 1978! Segregation was supposed to be over. I wanted to do something! I wanted to picket. I wanted to boycott the place. I wanted to change things. But I was just one 16-year-old girl. I didn’t know what to do. Not then. “I don’t want a party at all, Mom. I don’t feel like celebrating.” 

I never told Lisa this story. 

 When you look around today, you might be inclined to say these problems are history. Country clubs now have black members. I have some African-American friends who not only swim, but also swim competitively, as part of triathlon races. Simone Manuel made history this summer by being the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming. Have we done enough to change things?

If a child asks her father to teach her to swim, and his answer is “sure thing, honey, let’s start today,” the chances are the father is white. Most black fathers cannot swim. According to a study by the University of Memphis for USA Swimming, only three out of 10 African Americans can swim. And African-American children and adolescents are more than five times more likely to drown than their white peers because of limited swimming skills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For one thing, if they start to drown, most of the family members around them cannot possibly save them. 

So, when I learned about the mission of SwimRVA, I jumped on board. SwimRVA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to elevate swimming in the Richmond region, making water safety and aquatic fitness more accessible to all. SwimRVA has set a goal to teach all second-graders in the region to swim, especially those in underserved communities. Recently, SwimRVA launched a program to teach children with autism to swim: such kids are drawn to water, but usually cannot swim. They especially are prone to drowning after wandering off from a safe environment. In fact, such accidental drowning accounted for 91 percent of deaths among children with autism spectrum disorder, according to the National Autism Association.

For months, now, I have worked on SwimRVA’s inaugural fundraising event, the Big Splash Bash, to be held on Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Tuckahoe Woman’s Club. It will be a special opportunity to support those who otherwise would not have a chance to learn to swim. We will have food and fun, a dunking booth, a photo booth, and some chances to win amazing raffle prizes. We also will be inducting members to the SwimRVA Hall of Inspiration: Robert Bobb, Whitney Hedgepeth, the inaugural 1962 team of the James River Swim Club, Marie Kelleher and Gloria Thompson. 

I hope you will join us for the fun. If you cannot attend, please consider a donation to the cause.  You can buy tickets or contribute here:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wrapping Up 2015

Ever since I got off the couch and started running, cycling and swimming, I have known that I am not fast, but I can keep going, albeit slowly, longer than most.  I’d rather run a half marathon than a 5K, rather swim slowly for an hour than one fast lap in the pool.  With this in mind, after the Richmond marathon in mid-November, I began planning my 2016 year of racing.   After a year of focusing on running, logging multiple marathon distance weekend runs, plus a 40 mile ultra, I decided to get back on the bike and back in the pool.  I figured I would run marathons, ride century (100 mile) bike rides and get back into triathlon.  I prepared charts and schedules with a logical progression from one event to the next.  I had planned to tell you all about the plans.


And then, one day, I took a “rest day” from athletic training, which I typically take once a week, and I found that I could not climb a flight of stairs without having to sit down for a minute.  The fatigue persisted for days and weeks.  I consulted with my doctor, who had all kinds of tests run.  Medically, I am perfectly normal.  My mind and my body tell me otherwise.  I need a break.  So, my “plan” is not to plan anything until after the New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, I am running only if I feel like it, and if I’m running and want to walk, I do so.  I’m hopping on the bike during the unseasonably warm weather, and enjoying the great outdoors.  I’m going to swim at the beautiful 50 meter SwimRVA pool, but I won’t push myself.  I won’t worry about what I need to do to improve for some future event.  I will celebrate the here and now. 


I also will celebrate everything that Amy’s Army of 100+ Cancer Warriors has accomplished in the year since the group was formed.  We have raised over $50,000 for VCU Massey Cancer Center, funds that will be used for life-saving cancer research.  We’ve raised awareness about cancer prevention and treatments.  It’s been a good year. 


Many thanks to all of you for your support!



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pine Creek Challenge

After a fabulous vacation in Ireland, during my “taper,” I returned to the office for a couple days and then headed to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania for the Pine Creek Challenge, the 100 kilometer (62 mile) race I have been training for all year.  While training for this race, I have been raising funds for, and awareness of VCU Massey Cancer Center, where I was treated for breast cancer four years ago.


My health. The first bad sign was that, on the drive to Pennsylvania, I noticed my throat was hurting.  Was I getting sick?  Maybe I shouldn’t have risked the plane travel just before the race: those airplanes are germ factories. On the other hand, I wasn’t having any pain in my hips or knees; whatever nagging injuries I had were gone.  When I told my friend Holly about my sore throat, she reminded me that when her daughter Emma, 9 weeks old at the time, had chemo, her throat and mouth were so covered in sores that the baby could not suckle.  She couldn’t keep a pacifier in her mouth.  I said, thank you, no matter how bad it gets out there, I will remember “I can still suck!”


100 Names.  On the ride up to Pennsylvania, I rehearsed my recitation of those to whom I would dedicate a kilometer.  I had 100 names and “fun facts” for each of them.  I was still working on memorizing the list, so I had Coach Dave hold the list and prompt me as I endeavored to recite them.  It took an hour to read the list, and in the end, I couldn’t talk at all.  We checked the forecast for the race:  COLD AND RAINY. 


Quickly my crew decided for me that I would not be able to talk for an hour in the rain and pitch dark after the race with my sore throat.  So we came up with an alternative strategy: Denise would film me with her “go pro” camera at each aid station with crew access, and SHE would read the names of the folks for whom that segment of the race was dedicated.


My Crew.  My crew was nothing short of amazing.  Coach Dave Luscan came to support me, and brought his family.  Dave is not a long-distance runner, and he was having some issues with his calf, but a month before the race, I asked him if he would pace me during the race, maybe 15 miles or so.  He said “I’m trying to get healthy enough to actually run the race with you.”  I took this to mean that he would run the entire 62 miles with me, and I registered him for the race.  It wasn’t until we were actually running it that he confessed he did not mean he would run the WHOLE race with me, but that I had been so enthusiastic about his apparent offer that he decided to go for it.  Susan Ann Glass planned to start running with me at the halfway point of the race, for 12 miles.  Holly McFeely, who was my running buddy for ultras in the past, would take over after Susan Ann to run 16 miles, which was on her training plan.  Then there would just be 3.5 miles to go.  Logan Harte, my massage therapist, was part of the crew.  And Denise, Holly’s mother, who has been part of my crew for many a race, was there too.


The first half.  The race started at 9:00 am, approximately ten minutes after the rain began.  The temperatures were in the upper 50s.  It was great running weather.  For a healthy person.  There were about 40 determined looking runners at the start line.  Dave, used to running fast in short-distance races, started with me at my slow pace. 


Dave seemed surprised when fellow runners chatted with us, I think because he’s used to running so fast nobody can eek out more than a word. One woman said she had done the 100 MILER last year.  “Wow! What made you decide to drop back to do the 100K this year?”  She said, “well, I was running and was having terrible pain but ignored it.  In June, running another 100 mile race, I found out that my foot was broken.  So I had to stop running for a while and I’m just getting back into it.”  My jaw dropped, and she waved good-bye and took off ahead of me. She broke her foot, and three months later she’s running a 100k.  Because more than that would be crazy.


As we went along, it was great to get to know this little band of runners. Runners in ultras will slow to chat with someone for a while before heading off.  It’s an all-day affair, so a few minutes here or there really does not matter.


As we came upon the first aid station, Dave mentioned that we might not want to spend too much time at aid stations if we wanted to keep our time goal in mind.  I realized then that he did not know how completely wonderful aid stations are at ultras, or how we would end up feeling about them later in the race. At this one, Dave’s daughter surprised him by showing up.  She spotted him, shouted “DADDY!” and gave him a huge hug. They ran a 50 yard dash together.  At the next aid station, which our crew couldn’t access, we stopped and ate a whole banquet.  Chicken soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ham and cheese sandwiches, cookies, pretzels, boiled potatoes with salt.


We ran along a “rail trail,” which used to be a railroad track.  The surface was packed dirt.  The scenery was gorgeous, with the leaves just starting to turn for the fall.  A creek ran parallel to the course the whole way, so we saw waterfalls mixed in with the changing leaves. As the day wore on, the rain got heavier and the temperature dropped. We pulled into the next aid station, at mile 20, where our crew was waiting for us.  I reported that this was just mile 20, but my body thought it was mile 30.  Already our running pace had slowed.  I announced that my hope of finishing in thirteen and a half hours (my stretch goal) was not in the cards.  My new goal was to finish in 15 hours, or by midnight.  I lay on a plastic poncho on the group and Logan massaged my leg and assisted me in some stretches. 


Dave was starting to fall apart.  He said his feet were on fire.  He was undertrained for the race, but he had originally planned to be my coach, not run the race with me.  He told me he had run for three hours the previous Monday, or about 19 miles, so I didn’t worry too much.  It was after the race that he confessed that his three hour run was cut short to 90 minutes because of the heat.  He thought that telling me that before the race would have discouraged me.  Anyway, by this point in the race, Dave knew he couldn’t continue beyond the halfway point.  “But you’ll still be an ultra-marathoner.  The halfway point is 31 miles, a 50 K.” What an awesome feat: to run a 50K on a long run of 90 minutes.  (NOTE: Dave does not recommend this strategy).


We set off, knowing that the turn-around was another 10 miles away.  There was an aid station in five miles, but our crew couldn’t access it.  By the time we arrived there, Dave and I were stretching out our walk breaks and running very slowly.  And we noticed that we had to go about a tenth of a mile off the course to get to the aid station.  I said, “Dave, I hate to make the run longer, but we are definitely stopping!”  This was the best aid station, and I was later to spend a long time there.


We set off again.  Dave was hunched over like an old man.  He remarked that he could tell that his run form was about the worst he’d ever seen. Two runners who were doing the 100 miler passed us.  The man noticed Dave’s form and asked if this was our first 100K.  He began to dish out running advice.  I tried a couple times to interject Dave’s role as a coach, but the guy didn’t listen. “Be sure to eat at the aid stations: nutrition is the key to a long race.”  “Relax while you are running.  Getting all tense just wastes energy.”  And, mysteriously, “you hurt now but the good news is the hurt doesn’t get any worse.”  I thought Dave might strike the man, and I think if he ever sees him again he might.  But on this day all he could do was say “ugh” and shuffle along like Tim Conway.


When we were at mile 30, we passed a runner, Mike, whom we’d seen many times along the course.  He said, “it’s only two miles to the turn-around!”  What the heck?  The turn-around was supposed to be at mile 31.  31+31=62. Mike must have misspoken.  Later, at mile 31, with the turn-around nowhere in sight, we realized Mike was right.  I thought Dave might cry.  We saw a woman ahead of us with a large golf-style umbrella.  “Dave, I’ll punch her in the mouth and you yank on her legs, and when she falls down, let’s steal her umbrella!”  Dave readily agreed, but before we could muster any violence, we realized the lady was our friend Holly.  She shared her umbrella with us.  I was sopping wet, shivering and miserable.


Finally at the aid station, I lay on a blanket in the back of my car while Logan took off my shoes and socks and gave me a foot and leg massage. “You are so inflamed!” he said.  The foot massage hurt, but I knew I couldn’t keep  going without it.  After he was finished, I put on new socks and shoes, changed my dress and put on a long-sleeved shirt, a dry jacket and a dry hat.  I felt better, though still pretty terrible. 


Dave decided to stop at this point and declared, “this ultra-running is horrible.  It’s the worst idea ever.  You people who do this kind of running are totally nuts.  Really, it should be ILLEGAL!” It made me giggle.


Deciding to Stop. Heading back, I was joined by Susan Ann, who became my pacer.  She was chirpy and chatty.  “Let’s GO‼!” she said.  “Hold your horses,” I retorted.  It was really hard to get running again, but after some false starts, I could run a little.  Susan Ann began to whip off story after story to distract my mind.  I listened to only about half of them.  She didn’t mind. After a mile or so, the relief that Logan’s foot massage had given me began to wear off.  My feet hurt.  My knees hurt.  My hips hurt.  I began to notice that my back was wracked with pain. I wasn’t standing up straight.  I couldn’t.  I soldiered on.  It began to get dark, and Susan Ann and I turned on our headlamps.  Soon thereafter I ran a step and experienced a sharp pain in my left foot.  “OWWWWWW!” I screamed.  We walked a bit and she worried that I had broken my metatarsal bone.  Then she examined my foot again, and though she isn’t a doctor, she decided it was not broken but merely sprained. 


This isn’t going to make any sense to many of you, but when she decided I didn’t have a broken bone, I was disappointed.  I wished I had a bone sticking out of my leg. Then I could stop with no questions asked. I could lie in the rain until an ambulance came to take me away, where I could eat as much ice cream as I wanted. But my foot was not broken.  Still, break or no break, I couldn’t run.  I couldn’t even walk fast without the sharp pain coming back, and I couldn’t tolerate that for more than a few paces.  I had to walk without flexing my left foot at all: a sort of “Frankenstein’s monster” walk.  So we walked slowly.  For the next four miles, we set a 30 minute per mile pace.  It took us nearly three hours to cover seven miles, with the last four or five miles being the slowest.


At this pace, in theory I could still finish the race.  It would just take me about twelve more hours of walking through cold rain while wracked with pain and a sore throat.   I had already been running (or walking) for 11 hours.  I thought of the reason I was doing this race: to raise funds for and awareness of Massey Cancer Center.  To honor and remember those touched by cancer.  Surely this pain was easier than chemo. I thought of all the people I knew who would be able to keep going.  I remembered the mantra: “I can still suck.”    


We were arriving at the aid station that was off the trail, in a location with minimal parking, so my crew would not be there.  I considered whether I could walk the next segment, six more miles, to meet them.  That would be three more hours of pain, in the pouring rain. I was pretty sure that I could not do that.  And if I did, I was absolutely sure that I could not continue after that. I cried and asked Susan Ann to call the crew.  There was a momentary panic when we realized that nobody had cell coverage, but of course the aid station had walkie-talkies.  My crew was already worried and had called back to see if we had made it through the aid station. 


I officially pulled out of the race and sat in a chair and ate chicken soup.  Several runners stopped for 10 minutes or longer at this aid station. One woman, doing the 100 mile race, changed her shoes.  She had huge bunions that had deformed her feet.  I was amazed that these feet could walk to the coffee machine, much less run 100 miles.  What was it that made these people so tough? Whatever it was, I didn’t have any of it left.  I left all my mojo out there that night.  It was just shy of 40 miles into the race.


As we pulled away from the aid station in the car, two runners approached, Mark Willis and Grandison Burnside.  They were running the 100 mile race.  (They, Som Sombati and Richard Nelson, all of Richmond, finished that next morning).  Grandison looked radiant.  When she heard my story she didn’t miss a beat to say that I had gone far and should be proud, and in any event it was all about the fundraising, so I should be very proud indeed.


Amy’s Army Finishes the Job.  The next day my friends decided we should “finish the race” symbolically. Holly started running where I stopped the night before. Holly is training for the Richmond marathon and had a 16 mile run on her schedule (and that is what she was supposed to run with me the day before).  She’s tough, but she’s a bit afraid of being alone in the woods.  She carried mace in her hand and set off. She was afraid she might encounter a creepy man, a rabid animal, or some other unknown danger. She told me an animal scared her to death and she almost sprayed it with mace.  Turned out to be a deer! 


The rest of my crew (sans Dave, who had had to return to Richmond) parked the car about 3.5 miles from the finish.  Logan and Susan Ann walked toward Holly, and when they found her they walked back with her to mile 3.5 from the end, where Denise and I joined the group.  By this time, 15 hours and a lot of ice after I stopped, I could walk fairly normally.  Together, Amy’s Army walked the last 3.5 miles together.  Holly ran and walked nearly a marathon by the end, and of course I told her she needed to finish her job too.  So, off she went, to run around the parking lot till her Garmin said 26.2. 


What’s Next?  Before I started this race, I thought my next race would be another ultra, this time in Africa, where I wouldn’t have my crew.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Amy needs Amy’s Army! 


I have been trying to wrap my mind around getting a DNF (did not finish) for this race I trained so hard to finish.  I’ve been wondering if I should try this distance again, and if so, when.  Or should I go back to something “easier,” like triathlon.  (My tri friends will laugh at that: triathlon is hard, too, but in a different way). 


I don’t know what I will do next.  But whatever it is, I know all my friends and family will support me.  I am blessed.  And I can still suck.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Independence Day Win!

On July 4th, I ran the inaugural Independence Day 17.76 kilometer race at Shirley Plantation.   This race took us around the Shirley Plantation and on nearby roads, including Route 5.  It was scenic, especially the "bonus" out and back path along which my friend Lilo escorted everyone at the start.  I felt strong, and eleven miles is not a long way for me, given that I have been running more than a marathon distance in training. 

After I finished, Lilo said, "did you look to see if you placed in your age group?" 

"What, me?  I didn't even look."

She encouraged me to go take a gander, so we looked.  Turns out I placed second in my age group (ladies 50-55)!  It was a small race.  Were there no other ladies in my group?  Turns out, there were a total of nine!  I placed second out of nine ladies.  Unbelievable!  Some were not too far behind me.  The lady who won our age group finished a full thirty minutes ahead of me: a truly fast runner.  This was the first time I have ever gotten the opportunity to stand on a podium. 

At the awards ceremony, some who are used to standing on the podium demurred when offered the chance.  I said, "I'm definitely going up!" 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Six Hour Tour of Richmond

There are a few people in the world (Dean Karnazes says he’s one) who can train for marathons and ultramarathons without getting injured.  I suppose it is because they are biomechanically engineered for running, have perfect form, and got the “running gene.”  Then there’s folks like me.  I run because it makes me feel great, but it also hurts sometimes.  I have to be careful.  On the other hand, if I stopped running every time I felt a little twinge, I’d be back on the couch where I sat for four decades.  No thanks.


Earlier this week, my Achilles tendon was a bit sore and inflamed.  Uh oh.  I iced it and stretched it.  I told Coach Dave about it on Saturday.  “Hmm,” he mused. “Had you not told me that, I was going to have you do a six-hour long run tomorrow.”  We consulted, and in the end he told me to have a six-hour run as my goal, but if the Achilles kicked up, stop running.  “And don’t take ibuprofen; that will mask the pain.”


The weather was not about to cooperate with this plan: forecasts were in the 90s with high humidity.  Last time I ran in similar heat, I ended up with some crazy rash on my feet and legs, diagnosed via the internet as “heat rash,” also known as “diaper rash.”  This time, I got ready by waking up at 4:30 am.  I put goop (aquaphor) on my feet and bra line to avoid chafing, and then I dumped powder in my socks.  I think this is what they do to babies with diaper rash.  Only they put the powder in their diapers.  I slathered myself with sunscreen, SPF 50 with zinc, and then I sprayed sunscreen on top of that.  I loaded my running pack with extra sunscreen for later.


And, as the sun rose, I took off.  I ran for about an hour circuitously from my house in Byrd Park towards the Sportsbackers’ Stadium, where my marathon training team (team Cocoa) was to begin its 8-mile run.   I got near the Stadium with some time to spare, so I did some nearby loops, and in doing so I spied several marathon training team peeps who looked at me quizzically, no doubt wondering why I was adding “a mile or two” to the 8-miles on the plan. 


I refilled my water bottles and added Tailwind, my nutrition, to my bottles, and listened to the banter.  “I usually run faster, but I think I’ll run about a nine minute pace today, because it is just so hot.”  A nine-minute mile is what I can do on a good day in the winter, if I don’t have to do anything else for a few days.  As I waited for the official start, I wondered if I should forge ahead, but because it was my first day with the group, I waited.  Coach Ellie, also a fabulous chef, said a few words about our route (which would take us back to Byrd Park and through Carytown) and we were off. 


Or I should say, everyone was off, and I was right there behind them.  After a half mile or so I spotted a woman behind the rest of the group, and I surged to catch up to her.  “I’m Lou,” she said.  Lou was more or less my age, and this was her first marathon training team year.  “Your first marathon?” I asked.  “Oh, no, not my first, and I’m getting slower, but I don’t worry about that anymore.”  How many marathons has Lou done? 80‼  Wow.  After a mile or so, I realized that Lou’s slow pace was around 11 minutes per mile, not something I could sustain if I planned to run for six hours, so I dropped back and let her go.  This left me dead last.  One of the team’s coaches ran with me for a bit, seemingly concerned at first about my slow pace, though he was kind enough not to say anything other than “how are you doing?”  “I’m doing FABULOUS, thank you!  Today I am going to run for six hours.”  (A/k/a, well, I’m slow, but I’m not about to fall out and require an ambulance.)  Once he realized I would make it and I knew the way, he was off to tend to folks who were faster, but less sure of the distance.  Soon I noticed a group of runners who had headed the wrong way and were retracing their steps. For a moment, I thought I’d catch them, but of course they were faster than I am, which is how they did this far plus “bonus miles” faster than I did.  I let them go, too.


Just around the corner, I heard and saw something terrible.  A dog was barking and slamming against the inside of a car.  There was no sign of a human.  Inside the car, I saw the dog, a pit bull, next to a bowl of water.  The windows were not cracked.  I noticed that the front door itself was cracked, as was the hatchback to the car.  But only a crack, and in this heat, the dog would die quickly.  I turned off my watch and looked about for the owner.  I took out my phone and wondered aloud what to do.  As I was about to dial 911, a police officer showed up.  Later I learned that Coach/Chef Ellie Basch had called 911 when she ran by.  She also was the person who cracked the door and hatchback. The owner had left the dog there without even cracking any windows or doors!  The police officer said that animal control was on the way: they would take the dog if the owner did not show up.  Later Ellie drove back and reported that the car was still there, with a ticket on the windshield, and the dog was gone: no doubt taken by animal control. 


Back at Sportsbackers, I refilled my water bottles and reapplied sunscreen liberally.  I asked for recommendations about the most scenic route to downtown, and took off, with one guy shouting at me as I left “you are going out again?  I saw you running in before we started.”  Little did he know that I had over three hours of running left to do.  One of the advantages of running on your own is that you can go wherever you’d like and change your mind at a moment’s notice.  So I headed through Northside neighborhoods to make my way downtown.  I enjoyed the scenery, the old homes and big trees, and then I turned onto an unfamiliar road.  I was a bit disoriented, and then I realized I’d been there before, on a bicycle, lost.  That other time, I had (1) asked a homeless person for directions (who told me something very confusing), (2) asked Siri for directions (who gave me directions to Hong Kong and mentioned water) and (3) cried.  This time, no tears; I just ran toward the tall buildings in the distance.  The key was that I had to run so far and so long, it didn’t really matter if I ran a few miles “too far” this way or that. 


It worked!  I got to Jackson Ward, then through the downtown streets I made my to Brown’s Island, where my friend Emily Bashton was doing her first race as a pro at Xterra.  I wanted to arrive in time to see her finish this race.  As I arrived, she was leaving “T2,” which means she had finished her swim and bike ride, and was headed out on the last leg of her race, a 10K run.  Well, Emily’s a heck of a lot faster than I am, so I knew I could get something to eat and drink and cool down a bit and she’d be back in no time.  And so she was. It was thrilling to watch her cross the finish line.  She came in 8th overall among the pro women triathletes. GO, Emily!


After more sunscreen, I walked with my friend Susan Ann toward her car and then took the pedestrian bridge from Tredegar to Belle Isle, where there is a scenic dirt running path on the grounds where, during the Civil War, Union troops were held.  The route was shady, thank goodness, so I did two loops.  On the second loop, I was thinking about what an incredibly lucky woman I am for getting to run for six hours on a hot Sunday. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.  And my mind went off into happy land.  Do you know what happens when you are running on dirt or trails and your mind goes into happy land?  My toe caught on a rock and SPLAT! I found myself lying flat, face-first on the ground.  There was dirt all over my legs, body, and arms.  And a little between my teeth.  I spent the requisite two minutes inspecting the damage and feeling sorry for myself, and then I got up and dusted myself off.  Oh, well.


Next up, I climbed the stairs at 22nd street to get to Riverside Drive.  I took one long pause to view the James River  from the top of the stairs, and then I was delighted to see that the entire 22nd street entrance to the Buttermilk Trails had been renovated.  It’s beautiful!   And the water fountain there was great for washing off my wounds from my fall. I hopped onto Riverside Drive on the theory that it is shady.  I had forgotten, though, just how hilly it is!  And by now, it was getting hotter.  It was a slow few miles that got me back to the Nickel Bridge, just a short way from home.  As the six hour mark loomed on the horizon, I began figuring out my last miles.  I had in mind finishing 27 miles before the end, but about two miles to the finish, I realized that to do that, I would have to find Lou’s 11 minute per mile pace again.  And that wasn’t going to happen.  So I started to walk.  It was right then that I realized: my Achilles was fine!  It had not flared up all day.  I finished my six hours right at 26.2 mile, a marathon.  A slow marathon, but not a bad day’s work for such a hot and humid day.  No medal, but I walked right into my backyard, took off my shoes, and got right in the pool with my running dress on.  Felt good on the boo-boos on my knees from the fall, and on the heat rash I’d gotten, yet again.  Ahhhhh! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


As you know, I ran marathons in February and March, then a trail half marathon, all on my way to running a 50K (that’s 31 miles) on the same course where in 2012, I missed a cutoff while attempting a 50 miler.  I was looking forward to tackling that course again.  But, alas, it was not to be.  Just before the 50K, I was running up and down a hill in my neighborhood when I felt, “uh oh, my hip hurts.” 


As you know, I’m not a “natural athlete,” so sometimes bad posture causes little issues.  Coach Dave suggests it is my running form.  He suggested I emulate the running forms of famous marathoners.  Instead I emulate Tim Conway’s “old man” form.  In that sense, I am a Grandma.  Anyway, this nagging Grandma issue caused me to take some time off from running, and then get back into it slowly.  But, by last Sunday, I felt about 95% cured of this latest nagging injury, and I was ready for my first double-digit long run since my hip started hurting.


I signed up for Jake’s Reindeer Race, which celebrates childhood cancer survivors, including its namesake Jake Maynard, the son of one of my partners.  It offered a 5K, a 10K and a one mile fun run/walk.  I signed up for the 10K and decided to run for a couple hours before the race started.  During my “warm up” run, I ran over to the finish line of the East Coast Triathlon Festival and watched some of the talented young triathletes race.  My friend Lilo took the picture you see under the tent. 


Back at the Reindeer Race, families gathered, played games and celebrated.  I looked around at the folks lined up to race and thought to myself, “hey, I might not come in last place!” At the triathlon, athletes were wearing svelte triathlon suits and had their “game faces” on.  At the reindeer race, folks were dressed in reindeer antlers, red and green outfits and their “game faces” said “Let’s have fun!” on them.  The race started, and I found myself in the middle of the pack.  It was fun running with all the kids, dogs and folks in costumes. 


However, I soon learned that all these fun folks were out for a mile or a 5K.  My race would be two laps of the 5K course.  Once I finished that first loop, I was on my own!  All other runners who had elected the 10K course were clearly talented runners.  That is, they were fast!  The sun was beating hotter and hotter, and I wasn’t quite acclimated.  They were playing Christmas music at the start of the second loop and I got in my head “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”  I couldn’t shake it out of my head for those last three miles.  I tried to convince myself that I was a reindeer, not Grandma squashed under reindeer hoofs.  In fact, my face was so red from the heat: was I Rudolf?  Because of the heat, I slowed to a slow jog intermixed with walk breaks.  I realized that though my nose was red, I was Grandma.  And I had gotten run over! 


But at least my hip is okay.  I’m happy to be back running long, even if I’m running slowly.  This coming weekend, my plan is to run for four and a half hours.  J

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Instant Classic Half Marathon: Napping

My experience with trail races lately has not been great.  In December, I tripped and fell four times in a trail 50K, and in January I got hopelessly lost in another trail race.  I saw a photo on-line about “napping” on the trail, meaning falling down face first.  I worried that I would do that again, or get lost.


So, I’m pleased to report that the Instant Classic Trail Half Marathon was nothing like that.  First, the course is so well marked that even I could not possibly get lost.  On one sharp turn, a sign admonished runners to turn, noting “NOBODY gets lost at the Instant Classic.” Thank goodness.  And I didn’t trip.  I have this feeling that the tripping I did in December resulted from fatigue brought on by many-a-Christmas-party plus many-a-year-end-deal.  Kind of a lethal combination for the little grey cells.


The trails were beautiful and we had two creek crossings.  A trail run isn’t a trail run if you don’t get your feet wet!  On one creek crossing, there was a huge log across the stream.  I paused, and a couple came behind me and began to use the log to cross the stream.  I recalled something my friend Jay once said about creeks: “Cross them like you mean it!”  I went splashing through the water, like a big kid.  A big smile came across my face, and I headed into the finish. 


About 30 seconds after I came through the finish, a man came through.  “He’s the winner!” someone announced.  Yep.  I was running the half, and he had run the full.  “I beat you!” I told him.  I’m usually half the speed of the winner of trail races, so I do count my 30 second lead as “winning.” 


I went home and reclined for just a few minutes.  Two hours later, I awoke from my nap.  At least it didn’t scar me!

Tobacco Road: Don't Smoke it and Smell Like a Rose

After a two week spell of some awful winter virus and respiratory infection (I felt as though I’d coughed my lungs up), I tried running again, slowly, the Monday before the Tobacco Road marathon.  That two weeks off left me feeling out of shape.  This is why people who run only rarely say they hate running: it’s hard if you don’t do it all the time.  Would I be able to run a marathon less than a week after returning to running after a couple weeks off? 


“You can run Tobacco Road,” my coach said, “as long as you don’t smoke it.”


So there you go. My fastest marathon was 4:54.  I had run the Mercedes Marathon three weeks earlier in 5:13.  So my goal for Tobacco Road was anywhere between 5:15 and 6, so that I could recover quickly and get back to running.  My target was 5:30.


The course was gorgeous.  After a couple miles on an asphalt road, we turned onto an old railroad trail.  The tracks are gone, and most of the route was packed dirt, though there were some asphalt sections.  I ran with my friend Virginia for a couple hours, until she decided to turn on the gas and go faster.  “See you later, Virginia,” I said.  “I am not going to smoke this one!”


The trail was not terribly hilly, but after ten miles or so I was heading up a small hill when I saw a woman with her dog on a leash.  It was the oddest looking dog!  HUGE.  Was it a Great Dane?  I got closer and realized: the lady was walking a GOAT!  A fellow runner stopped, pet the goat and got a photo.  Then she smelled her hand.  “Oh, no, I am going to smell goat for the next 16 miles!”  The lady offered to let me pet the goat, but I demurred.  When I finish a marathon, I like to smell like a rose. 


For most of the marathon, I made sure not to catch up to the 5 hour pacer, and to stay ahead of the 5:30 pacer.  At about mile 21, the 5:30 pacer caught up with me.  I was getting tired.  I asked him how fast he normally runs a marathon, and he told me his normal pace is 3:30, but these days he was running them slower and pacing.  Why?  Because he is planning to do a 100 miler in two weeks.  “I am a little beat today,” he said, “because I ran a marathon yesterday too.  I really wanted to do this one in 6 hours, but they didn’t have a pacer spot for that.”  WOW.  At that, I let the tired man pass me.  Turns out I was more tired than I thought.  The last couple miles were slow: I was still running, I suppose, though my pace wasn’t must faster than a fast walk.  In the end, my finish time was 5:45.  Success!  I didn’t smoke it, and I smelled like a rose.