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The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done

It is quiet.  The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt.  My heart reminds me of the task at hand: kee...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Back In The Saddle Again

It's been a long December (allusion intended).  This month I suffered one of the worst illnesses I have had since being diagnosed with MS.  It was a sneaky virus that I barely detected until I had a full blown sinus infection (we're talking skull splitting pain, vertigo, dizziness to the point of falling into my closet doors).  This came during my daughter's illness. She had the worst of it.  She got sick on December 2 and just recovered a few days ago; fever, pneumonia, hives (poor thing).  Thankfully, everyone is healthy today--it's Christmas. 

I am not sure I need to spell out how many times I have been running this month.  I cannot actually count any running at all these last 2 weeks.  Though, I have missed it greatly.  It was not for a lack of want.  We had some of the best December weather we can ever hope for in the Pacific Northwest and I was either confined to a couch, or else trying to stay healthy enough just to get through each work day. 

Now, I am at the end of my anti-biotics and we are at the end of the holiday arrangements and festivities.  Tomorrow is my day.

I guess I am a bit nervous.  I feel a little like I do before a 5K race, a bit out of sorts, but full of anticipation and hope.  I am getting my gear set out like I need to be prepared in advance (in many ways, I do).  I do not expect to do an epic run tomorrow, but I am still excited that I get to go out and feel my legs beneath me.  This is a sensation that I have come to love and have really missed these last week.  This is a sensation I hope to experience for many years to come.

That said, in about 1 week we start our training again with Joe Henderson's group.  Most are gearing up for the Eugene Marathon, either the half or the full.  This will be my second full marathon now and it will be my first here at home, though I did the half here last year (see earlier entries).  My dad might come for the event.  It is the day before his birthday, and it would be a cool birthday gift to give him my medal.  Ah, all such divine thoughts!

For right now, I am content to go out and cruise the neighborhood.  It is so good to have this as an option.  I cannot wait to feel my legs working in that way once again.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Best Way To Get a Little Confidence Is To Go Out And Do Something Tough

We had an amazing Thanksgiving with friends and family.  Naturally, we ate too much food and laughed a lot.  The kids put on an impromptu singing show.  The dog cleaned up the spilled turkey grease fiasco.  We played a little charades.  Wild turkeys visited the front yard.  You know, the typical Oregon Thanksgiving.  All in all, it was a great day.  Still, the highlight of the day for me was not the delicious food and the warm company, as warm and delicious as they were.  No, for me the best part of the whole day was running in the Turkey Trot with 9 year old Seamus McKinney.  To be able to do something like this with a young person so willing and enthusiastic was truly gratifying.  What made the event even more amazing was that my husband, David Vazquez, who has never ran anything longer than a mile, also took to the 4 mile challenge that morning with us.  Here's how it all came to be and ended up:

A few months back, Seamus had expressed  to his folks an interest in distance running and they mentioned it to me.  They thought I might be able to shadow him on a run along the river, or something light and casual.  So, over the next few months whenever I had the chance to bring up running with Seamus, I tried to keep any talk very casual as well.  From the experience of introducing running to my own kids I didn't to steer him away or freak him out.  Granted my kids are years younger than Seamus, still, it can be a delicate subject.  Besides, kids these days seem more interested in video games and loud music than in spending time getting fit and running, especially with their parents' friend.  I can't blame them either, with all of the flashy new games out and all of the rich music in its many-transportable forms, it’s hard to focus. Even I have videos on my teeny-tiny iPod Shuffle.  But I digress...

Seamus was a trooper on his first run.  It was a super cold morning!  He was wearing his skateboarding shoes (which, by the way, he moves in like champ), and he was pacing pretty well.  We even sprinted at one point around mile 2, just to see who could reach the turn-around post first (I think he beat me).  Seamus kept passing this other older kid during the first few miles and he was determined that the kid would not beat him.  After something like a leap frog act went on for awhile, the other kid was finally left completely in the dust, and Seamus was glowing, he was so proud.  It was cool.  I mean, he didn't rub the other guy's face in it or gloat or anything, you could just see that he had this look about him like he had done something he didn't think he could.  Sometimes the best way to get a little confidence is to go out and do something tough.  Seamus did that on Thanksgiving morning.

By then, we were pacing with Dave.   This is when I think it got really good for Seamus.  I know this is when it got really good for me.  Dave--bless his heart and his first distance run--let us shift the focus now to him.  Because we had planned to have a shared family dinner with the McKinneys later that day, I was telling Seamus that if Dave beat him, he would not hear the end of it and that dinner would be filled with ridicule and scorn.  Seamus assured me that Dave would not beat him.  Dave even got in on the encouragement by agreeing that dinner would not be the last place he would hear about it.  Dave even said that he would brag that he beat a 9 year old.  This was so funny to me that I had to keep myself from chuckling...but then I wasn't sure if Dave was kidding or not.  I had images of my husband with his fishing friends all telling tall tales about the one that got away when suddenly Dave pipes up with "I beat a 9 year old running the Turkey Trot."  

See, it's a funny image.

Anyway, we finally found ourselves back in Alton Baker Park and in view of the Defazzio Footbridge that would take us back across the river and to the finish line.  At this point, I called Seamus's dad to tell him that we were in the final stretch (this is my first run carrying a cell phone...and a camera).  We wanted a full-scale cheering squad once we got in view of the finish.  This is when the run started to get tough for Seamus, and rightfully so.  I mean, 4 miles is quite a trek when you are 9 and haven't really trained and are running in your boarding shoes (still very cool and apt, as I mentioned).  Seamus had spirit though, and also, the drive to keep Dave from bragging about beating a 9 year old.

Along the final leg I kept telling him I could see the finish.  I couldn't, but I knew it would keep his feet moving, and maybe also offer a little distraction to his being tired.  Then, finally, there it was.  There stood the gateway to completing his first distance run.  At this, Seamus picked up his pace all on his own, his feet moving faster than at any other point during the run.  I started cheering and telling him to put up his hands when he crossed the finish.  And then, he finished.  The next time I saw his face, he was beaming beyond the look I had seen earlier in the run.  It was a look I thought I recognized, like he had found something that made him feel complete.  Maybe I project too much of my own experience onto others, but it was definately an amazing expression, likewise an amazing experience.

If you ever have the opportunity to run with a kid, do it!  How gratifying and grounding, all at the same time!  I will always be grateful to Seamus for sharing that with me...oh, with us! 

Yes, Dave!  Wonderful, miraculous, persistent ...and finishing not too far behind the 9 year old. 

Seamus McKenny, congratulations on your first 4 miles!  I know there will be many, many more.  And David Vazquez, congratulations on your first real distance.  Thanks for sharing it with us in such a selfless and fun way.  I'm proud of you...both : )

Dave, Seamus and Rhonda, just before the Turkey Trot 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Faster Than I Thought

I thought I would check out a 5K, just to see if my time had improved any.  I ran the Run With the President 5K on UO campus on 11/12.  I wanted to see how fast I could go if I tried to go as fast as I could, without the heat of summer impeding me.  The results are astonishing, even to me.  I ran a 25:46 5K with a pace of 8:18 and I even walked up 18th. 

My previous best 5K was in 2007 at 29:19. 

A year ago, I ran a 5K on campus at 32:30. 

A year ago, I had been off the MS injections for 1 month.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What Does That Have To Do With Running A Marathon?

Six and half years ago, I lay on a cold, padded hospital gurney in a dimly lit room.  My husband Dave was at my side holding my hand, an imaging tech on the other side managing equipment and talking low.  I felt sick.  My belly—still somewhat normally shaped then—was covered in a thick, warm jelly and the tech slid a heated piece of medical equipment over my lower midsection, back and forth, saying things like “just need to get oriented” and “here’s your uterus.”  On the screen beyond my feet, mottled images of digital caverns moved in and out of view.  It was a surreal experience for me.  Only days earlier had we confirmed we were expecting our first child, and that news had arrived as a total surprise. 

I had been in Mexico working for a volunteer group that helps to keep young people off of drugs and alcohol.  Just before leaving the U.S., Dave called and said he had a premonition that I was pregnant.  He said he sat up in bed and said it out loud, “Rhonda’s pregnant.”

I told him to go back to bed and made jokes about his mental state.  Then I drove with some girlfriends deep into the interior of Mexico’s mainland and while I was there, I got very sick.  Naturally, I went to the Pharmacia and purchased some antibiotics; I had done this before.  Besides, this seemed like the right thing to do, suspecting I had been exposed to strep and had possibly developed a secondary infection.  In fact, I spent the entire trip in Mexico sick.  Headaches, nausea, vomiting—I thought I had the flu.  By the time I got back to the States, Dave asked about my ‘cycle.’  I told him his words got in my head and messed me up, so that I was just running a little late.  I also thought the Mexican antibiotics might have messed me up a little, too, but that I would be fine by the time I flew back to Oregon from San Diego.

A few days later, when Dave picked me up at the airport in Eugene, we went straight to the drug store and bought a pregnancy test.  It was one of those extra simple ‘plus/minus’ tests for people like me who over think things.  I didn’t even unpack when I got home.  Instead, I went right into the bathroom and took the test.  It turned to ‘plus’ as soon as I had taken it, while Dave stood nearby reading the directions.  He glanced down at the ‘plus’ sign and said something I’ll never forget.  He said “It’s not done yet.  The directions say you have to wait a full 2 minutes.”

This made me laugh, which might have also kept me from crying.  I wasn’t sure what I felt at that moment.  We had talked about having kids, but I was finally going to finish my degree (I was that close), we had just bought our house, had just moved 1,000 miles away from any family—the reaction was not what I dreamed it might be.

The next day, we made an appointment to see Dr. Blumenstein.  She came in to the exam room as gave us both a happy look saying, “What brings you two in?”  I answered and told her we had taken a pregnancy test and the results said I was pregnant.  She sang, “Ours did, too!” And she was giddy about it. 

Dave and I looked blankly at one another from across the small exam room, poker faces both, afraid to show any emotion or unable to.

Dr. Blumenstein asked if this wasn’t good news.  We both started in about how scary it was and how alone we were so far from extended family and how unprepared we felt…  She seemed all the more amused.  She reminded us that we have a lot more than many people when they first conceive and their kids end up fine and everything works out.  I insisted that the Mexican antibiotics should be considered as a threatening aspect of this experience, so to assuage me she made an appointment for us to see the imaging tech for an ultra sound.

This is how we came to be in that dark, cold room six and half years ago, at only 8 weeks pregnant, looking into the digital abyss that was allegedly my uterus.

“THERE!” the tech pointed to a small, peanut-shape on the screen.  There wasn’t much to it, the little legume.  It fluttered faintly and Dave squeezed my hand.  The tech said she needed to get some measurements and she clicked on the keyboard to her right with her free hand.  She was merry about her task commenting that she didn’t often get to see them so early.  I felt happy for her and that feeling started to transfer back to me—I started to feel happy for me, for Dave, for this little person within me.  Well, this measurement business went on for a bit, long enough for me to really start to like this idea of this little peanut growing in me that would someday call me ‘Mom,’ maybe play games with me, run around with me, and sings songs and dance and do all sorts of active things. 

I was fixated on the screen then, Dave squeezed my hand tighter.  The tech moved the instrument from one side of my lower belly to the other.  I thought of Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World: “camera one, camera two.”  The tech reapplied the warm jelly, continuing to move back and forth.  I thought, here is the peanut’s far left side.  Now, here is the peanut’s far right.  I glanced up at Dave.  He was not having the same experience I was, finally starting to accept and enjoy this special condition.  He face seemed pinched; it’s funny to remember it that way now.  See, he knew what the tech knew but what I had missed.  I would not know it or even for a split second suspect it until the tech spoke again, as if reading Dave’s mind and answering his question, “Yes, there’s two of them in there.”  My fleeting happiness diminished back into my former state of terror. She got them both in the same field of view—finally—and she snapped a picture and printed it out.

In our state of shock, we stumbled upstairs, picture in hand, back to Dr. Blumenstein’s office.  We couldn’t even speak when the receptionist asked if we had an appointment.  No.  What we had were twins…there on the small print out from the tech.  Without words, I extended the picture to the receptionist.  She looked at it, smiled wide, then asked us to wait just a minute.  We did and a moment later were ushered into another exam room.  Seconds later, Dr. Blumenstein arrived as giddy as she had been days earlier when she ordered the ultra sound for us. 

“You guys!” She was so excited; I envied her ability to respond with such joy.  “I am a twin!”  She then began recommending doctors for us, saying that we could no longer explore the option of a home delivery, etc., etc.

What does all of this have to do with running a marathon?

I’ll tell you.

During my pregnancy, I found out about the lesions in my brain and spine.  Shortly after the girls were delivered, I had my first spinal tap and confirmed that I had the abnormally high levels of immunoglobulins indicative of MS sufferers.  I also had what’s called oligoclonal bands in my cerebrospinal fluid that sealed the deal.  It was confirmed that I had MS, a much scarier diagnosis than being told there were two babies in my belly.

It didn’t happen all at once, but each time I thought about playing with my girls, running around the park with them, pushing them in the stroller, even seeing their faces on the day of their graduation, I became afraid.  What kind of a life would they have with a mother who might be dependent on a cane for walking, confined to a wheelchair, or blind?

The doctors wanted to get me on the MS modifying drugs right away.  I chose to delay starting them so that I could breastfeed my children and give their immune systems as much of an advantage as I could.  There was also the factor that I have a severe needle phobia, and MS medications are almost all still injectable.  However, when they were 13 months old, they were weaned and I was tested to start the medication.

All during this time, I ran when I could.  Naturally, I could not run during my pregnancy with two very large babies inside of me, but I ran again within a month after the girls were born.  I can tell you that it is not much fun to run as a breastfeeding mother when milk is letting down. I often wore two jog-bras and stayed near the house in case I needed to hightail it home.  Dave was very supportive during this time, as he always is.  He was hopeful that I would start the medication as soon as feasible, but he also supported my choice to breastfeed.  He also supported my running, as he always has and continues to do so now.

And an amazing thing happened during that first year with my children.  So amazing, in fact, that I never would have guess it, but at the end of that year it seemed so obvious.  Over that first year, I had fallen madly in love with my children.  I am not talking about the kind of love that has me giddy with joy or strong affection.  I mean that I would have done anything for those girls, that I would do anything for them still, whether they ask for it or not.  I knew it in my heart that no disease would keep me from being their mom in whatever capacity, regardless of my limitations, as long as there was still a breath in me.  I also knew that I would do everything I could to fight to be the mom that I had dreamed of being for them.

…then I decided to fight this disease.  I decided that I would not let the Multiple Sclerosis win.  Ever since then I have been pushing against it with all my might, in the name of the love that I have for my children.  They have been my inspiration, my motivation, my calming acceptance and my tenacity.  When the injections made me too sick to function, I functioned anyway.  When my fatigue renders me helpless, I look to my girls for strength.  When my fear holds me still in my tracks, the faces of Veronica and Gabriella smile at me in my mind with their hope and acceptance encouraging me to not give up, to keep trying.

And so it was at mile 25-point-something that they were there on the side of the marathon path.  Dave had brought them to watch from a few different places, but here, they decided they would jump out on the street and run a bit with me.  Veronica matched my stride, which by then was tired and slow.  Gabriella, however, took off into the river of runners, swept up by their current and pace. We had to call her back and I was laughing and crying and my girls were hugging my legs as we moved.

They are 6 now.  They do not know me to be diseased and frail.  They think of me as a runner.  They have seen me at mile 25 and after and they have carried me.  I ran this first marathon for them.  I told them days before that I was running it for them, though I am not sure they understood what that meant.  Some day they will.

See, that’s exactly what it has to do with running for me.  For me, running has everything to do with my children.  I run for them, for the chance to run for them again tomorrow, to show them (and myself) that I do not have to surrender to my limits.  They gave me the strength and courage each moment of each training session when I just wanted to quit.  The least I could do was give them my first marathon…and whatever else they want, whether they ask or not.  I can never repay the love I have received in knowing them, and the inspiration it has brought me.

Thank you Gabriella.  Thank you Veronica.  I ran it for you.  You made every step worth the effort.  You are the reason why I was able to do what I did that day.  You, my darling girls, carried me each mile.  I love you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Everything is Okay. Everything is Just Fine.

When was the last time I felt just like that?  That feeling that it would all be okay?  Maybe not perfect or sublime, but good enough to make me smile, even if I was in a little pain.

Here are the facts about this weekend:

Fact: I had a amazing first marathon experience

Fact: My husband David Vazquez, along with my dear friend Judy Hinson got the hotel situation all worked out! (Thanks so much!!)

Fact: I ran a 4:49:27 when just a few days ago I was not even sure I would run under a 5:00:00

Fact: I still have MS

Fact: A giant T-shaped pancake does take three spatulas to flip, and even so still might not stay in one piece (Kami and Travis Richardson, witness and testify!)

Fact: Only about 0.1% of all Americans have ever run a marathon

Fact: I will capture my entire experience in writing and tell all soon . . .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's The Least Of My Worries?

The hotel.

So, I made my reservations for the Portland Marathon weekend months ago.  In fact, my reservation was made in May and I have since then had a printed confirmation and maps to the hotel with directions.  I actually carried these papers with me for a few weeks because I was afraid I would misplace them.  This is my first marathon so I picked a hotel  within walking distance of the start; I did this deliberately.

Today I received a phone call from the travel agent, and also an email from him saying that there was a problem with my reservation.  I called him back immediately, but got voice mail so I left a message.  I finally heard back from the man saying that my hotel has oversold and that they can accommodate me for Friday night but not for Saturday night.  He has said they can move me to another hotel across town for Saturday night, over 3 miles away. 

Part of the reason why I wanted to stay so close was because I have six-year-old twin daughters who are coming along to support me. Arranging logistics between my husband and my daughters to support me while staying offsite are daunting at best. Especially considering the fact that spectators can't get within a few blocks of the start, it is very important to me that my family be there to support me. 

So, is it my fitness level?  My carbs? My stamina? ...training? ...psyche? ...the weather? ...my passion? ...sprained ankle? ...shoes? ...shotblocks?  ...multiple sclerosis?  ...acceptance?  No.

All of the downtown hotels are booked.

So, I had this idyllic 'marathon morning' image in my mind where I would get up early, dress in the dark so I would not disturb my slumbering family.  Then I would make my way out of the hotel and up 4th a few blocks to the start, find my corral in the dark and settle in to my warm up.  By the time I got to mile 4, my children and husband would be up and out along the course waving and cheering.  The girls might still be in their footie PJs.

Now, I need to go back to my old stand-bys, those paired up actions that have worked longer and more effectively for me than running and hydration:  Prayer and Action.

Yes,  lets try the old stand-bys now.  I've got no hotel for Saturday night so I guess I have nothing to lose.  I should have a little prayer now, followed by some action.  But what should I pray for, if not for selfish things?  How about acceptance?

Friday, September 23, 2011

High-Fives and Hand Shakes

My last run was motivated by three things: 1) the fear creeping up in me reminding me that the Portland Marathon is less than 3 weeks away, 2) the shuffle option on my iPod set to all songs Lady Gaga, and 3) the enthusiastic high-five I received from a stranger somewhere during mile six.  The latter carried me all the way home.  No residual pain or thumping Gaga could give me the same boost as this small interaction from a stranger on my quest.

Human interaction is a biological necessity.  Not only do we require social engagement with others of our kind, we actually pursue it.  And while running can be a very solo endeavor, wholly contained within the individual and requiring no other counterpart to get the job done, when we run with companionship or in a pack the task becomes more fluid, easing the burden of the one by distributing it among the collective empathy of a group.  I believe this is why big races are so energetic.

On occasion, I have felt a freedom during a solo run that is the equivalent of flight.  My body coming along for a ride over which even my thoughts have no control.  I slip into a groove and glide within a course as a slot car would, moving and bending to my constant forward momentum.  A few times, I have even experienced this when I run 5Ks with a crowd.  And though this may happen when I am with friends, running in a pair, I don't usually notice because I am too wrapped up in the discussion of our children, latest books we've read, politics, etc.  No, it is the solo run that affords me the opportunity to really get to know my pace and stride, to study my form and correct it as necessary, and also to be alone with my fear.

Sunday last, I was alone with my fear.  The distance was 21 miles--longer than I had ever run by three additional miles.  It was one of those last days of summer when autumn's chill is in the air in the early morning but by the time the sun pokes its head up over the Cascades, it's hard to forget it's still summer.  By mile 11 I wanted to stop running and go for a swim in the Willamette River.  My music was not motivating.  My shirt was too loose and trapping heat near my skin.  I nearly collapsed with a cramp in my leg at mile 14 and a stitch in my side had me walk almost all of mile 16.  By the time I reached our last water check point, I was ready to ask for a ride back to Eugene Running Company.  I agreed to press on but only on the condition that I could cut the length by 2 miles, turning prematurely, and finishing with a total of 19 miles instead of 21.   When I reported this to Tonya, one of Coach Joe Henderson's assistants, she was very reassuring, telling me that 19 was still a worthy distance.  I knew it was fluff, but I needed to hear it.  She got on the phone with Joe and told him I would head back early, running 19 for the day and not 21.  Somehow, when she said it on the phone, I did not hear the fluff that was meant to soften the reality of my depletion.

I ran.  I cursed.  Longing for companionship, I prayed my running partner Stephanie would feel an overwhelming desire to come to the river and finish out the last few miles with me.  I looked for sympathetic co-runners moving in the opposite direction, but they seemed to not notice me.  I was alone on my path.

Then, by the time I reached Ferry Street Bridge, the site of my opportunity to turn and head toward the Running Company finishing early but being able to rest, a small cloud had moved west blocking the direct sun.  Remember, I am already no friend to the heat.  In a moment's notice, I ran past the turn off and headed east and into the last leg of the 21 mile course--not 19 after all.  I struggled, I pushed, I dug in, I even walked.

In the end, my coach was standing there with his assistants, and also with my husband and 2 daughters.  They were all clapping and waving as I neared them.  At the site of the them, my lungs pushed out and I started to hyperventilate, knowing companionship was a few strides away.  As I crossed the finish Joe called out the time of my run.  I missed it because I had not yet thought to pull out my headphones, but I said in response "I ran 21 instead of 19."  Joe was genuinely excited for me and he said "I knew you would!  What'd I tell yah?!" He said to the others.  Then he did the one thing that helped me to regain my breath and return me to the living:  he reached out and he shook my hand vigorously.  This act, so simple and pure, made all my effort and pain worth while.

And while I am not sure if Joe Henderson or the hive-five stranger on the bike path have any knowledge as to the impact of their simple gestures of support for my efforts, I am sure of one thing:  I will take the memories of their actions with me to Portland.  I will carry them along to others I meet.  I will finish.  I have no doubt now that I will.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

8 Mile

This morning we ran 8 miles and my calves never quite stopped hurting.  I got to the 4 mile point, just barely trudging along.  When I turned to head back in the direction I came, I saw Jeanette coming up the way, running on bad heels.  The run last week had her hobbling in on blisters and prayers.  I thought, what the heck am I whimpering about.  If Jeanette can get out here a week later and do this with a smile on her face, I ought to be grateful for my sore calves.

The thing is, though, sometimes we have to have bad days.  Today was not a good day for me.  I didn't even listen when the coach announced my time on the way in.  I was neck-and-neck with Jeanette coming in and she was pretty stoked to beat me.  I just wanted to get it over with, though I was pushing to at least finish strong. I went right into Eugene Running Company and purchased a massager called 'The Stick."  This was recommended by the Physical Therapist and I hope it will do better than my rolling pin on these sore calves.

So, the moral of the story is, it's okay to not have the best run each time.  I am sure there is more in there than that, but right now, through the stiffening muscles, that's all I can see.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Barefoot in the Cool Grass

My reinjured ankle has become a blessing.  I am working once again with Physical Therapist Joe Uhan of Eugene Physical Therapy.  Joe is the Therapist I worked with after my sprain in February.  After reinjuring it this last month, I was embarrassed to learn that I had gotten lazy in my running form (I’m sure the number of bounce-houses I have been in lately did not help).  At any rate, Joe has filmed my running and has me looking at my form.  I am ankle striking.  On my longer runs, I am getting 25,000 steps, so half of that is going to my injured ankle.  I might as well be hitting it repeatedly with a hammer.  Anyway, I was given a series of stretches to do and told about ways I could refocus my form. 

I am not sure what other runners would do when handed a prescription for redesigning their running form, but I did what I do in many aspects of my life: I sulked.  I feel like I should automatically know how to do this, like running properly should be an intuitive action.  I am hard on myself because I don’t have that instinct that tells me to lift my feet behind me, to have a rotary form, to propel myself forward while being light on my feet.  I had focused on the Chi running form—well for a short while, anyway—and I admit I may have gotten a bit lazy.  But isn’t it quite arrogant of me to assume I can run intuitively when so many others have coaches, clinics, years of training?  Needless to say, I am no longer sulking.

So, am I back at square-one?  Well, not entirely.  The good news is that I have learned how to run for some distance.  I have learned about proper hydration and nutrition for long runs.  I also know that I have it in me to do this thing (though whether or not I can do 26 miles remains to be seen).  And, I am willing to learn.  This has been my experience, that as long as I am willing to learn, the world is open to me.

Having recently become obsessed with proper running form, I scoured the internet for information and videos (there’s quite a bit out there).  I tried out different exercises.  I got back into the Chi form.  I started running on a Tartan track twice a week working with speed and lean.  All of these were fine but nothing was magic.  I think I was still looking for some instant gratification.

One day, after a particularly intense massage on my sore ankle, my Physical Therapist asked me about barefoot running.  I told him that I had been at the playground with my little girls recently and the thought had occurred to me.  Naturally, in all my obsessive searching for the quick answer to my running problems, I had come across barefoot running.  As well, my occasional running partner Jeanette Welker had been running in 5-finger shoes and had talked about the benefits of her foot strike without the thick heel of a traditional training shoe.  Still, I told Joe my excuse for not trying the grass that day at the playground was that it was filled with clover, and the clover was filled with bees.  As much as I admire the metaphor of bees and even their simple beauty and role in life, I do not appreciate their self defense when applied toward me.  Joe explained that even a short barefoot run can refocus my feet and legs to a more proper form, reminding my body to strike below my column rather than out in front.  Then he gave me a another series of exercises to do, something like a crane stance with a flexed heel to a small kick to a swift stroke of the foot down then out behind me.  The key to this is to make sure I am lifting with my glute and really employing my hip to do the motion.  It is actually easier to write than to perform in reps. 

As it happened, I was at the track that night working on speed and form.  I had all of my attention on my feet and where they were striking below my column and which part of them was hitting the track.  Mostly, I was getting a mid-foot strike, sometimes exaggerating and getting up on the balls of my feet, but there was occasion to slip back into the heel strike when my focus was on the iPod or elsewhere.  Still, overall, I felt like it was a successful run.  It was only about 4 miles.  I stopped every so often and did the crane stance reps.  The night came on cool and the sky was darkening, but the neighboring softball fields gave off enough light so that I could continue to run without worry for the waxing evening. 

At the end of the run, I walked slowly to my car, sipping from my canteen and feeling my heartbeat slow back to a normal rhythm.  I sat in the grass and did some long stretches.  I put my hands out into the grass as I reached forward leaning over my legs.  I remember a friend once told me about the amazing properties of grass, about how each blade grows back to a point sometimes mere hours after it is cut square at its tip.  As I thought about this, feeling the warmth in my legs, I looked out over the stretch of lawn where I sat.  It was filled with sweet clover, but void of bees.  It was nighttime for the bees.  This thought moved me to my feet at once, and off came the shoes.

I began to slowly trot, over the grass, building cautiously to a more moderate pace.  I ran back and forth on the small swath of lawn feeling the cool carpet under my toes.  Yes, I was aware of the underside of my toes, the balls of my feet taking the fall of each step, my heels scarcely involved the effort.  It was fun.  I ran from one end to the next, turning and trotting and then sprinting on the stretches.  At one turn, I saw children by the side of one of the softball fields; they were also running in the grass.  I tried to mimic their form, their freedom.  After all, running is actually intuitive for children.  When I once asked Joe Uhan why he thought it changed as we got older he said that we get stiff, we spend too much time in one position, either at a desk or otherwise, and it is not natural for our bodies.  We forget that freedom.  Well, running in the grass that night, in the cool evening of summer, I awakened something in me.  Now, each time I run at the track, I finish with some time in the grass.  It is my cream at the bottom of the Hawaiian Shave Ice—summer’s sweet reward.

So, this latest session with Joe Uhan, he mentioned that I was making improvements.  We talked about my experience with the barefoot running in the grass.  He made a pretty radical suggestion.  He said that I should try the grass before I run the track.  He had me run barefoot in the clinic and then he took me outside and had me run the same way in my shoes.  It was a challenge; I feel like I am exaggerating a more organic form, but I am willing to try it if it is going to get me away from injury and back in love with running. 

When I left there that morning, I ran about 2.5 miles along the river trail.  I did this on the balls of my feet, slow and deliberate.  I felt like a kook, but I did it.  Toward the end of the experiment, my calves were sore (as they are today, over 24 hours later) but I feel like I gained something.  I think there is a happy medium.  Like tuning the strings on a guitar, each has its own ideal pitch.  If one is out, it could change the pitch of others and affect the sound of the instrument entirely.  Often it is best to have some outside source to give a true G or E so that all strings can be tuned just so.  I am fine tuning each element of my running and listening to a true outside source that wants to help me to be tuned correctly.  Again, as long as I am willing to learn, the world is open to me.

Now I need to stop writing and work on stretching out these sore calves or I wont be running with my training group tomorrow.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bonking and Salt

It was suggested by my physical therapist that I try adding a supplement with salt for heat issues and fatigue during the longer runs.  He suggested Clif's Shot Blockers in the Margarita flavor (the flavor with the highest sodium).  I have picked some of these up and will give them a try on Sunday during the 15 mile run.  Keep your fingers crossed.  I will update you then.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pain and Heat

I am not a good candidate for running in the heat.  Heat makes me slow, like running through thick syrup, and it taps my energy so that I am depleted and fatigued even a few miles in.  This is a phenomena of MS.  I need to be very careful about it.  It is because of this that I am running our next long run, 15 miles, at 6:30 AM.

That said, it has been a few weeks since I had a quality run.  I cannot seem to find the correct time.  It is always warm now, as we enter into the depths of summer.  Even so, I have tried running earlier, carrying water, reducing clothing.  Nothing has been a magical solution.  Then, to top it off, my ankle started hurting again just after the Butte to Butte 10K.  I pushed through it, running on a treadmill in Vegas to stay out of the heat.  I bounced in an inflatable bounce-house, which further aggravated it.

Heat and pain.  Who would have thought these factors would be my great undoing when I have tried so hard to overcome my issues with MS so that I could run distances?  Well, not me.

I started back in with physical therapy, stretching my injured ankle in new ways.  The PT filmed my run again and showed me that I am “ankle striking.”  This is extremely frustrating for me because I felt like I really focused on good form with the Chi Running, and that I have become lazy and all my hard work has unraveled.  He gave me a few things to think about as I run and I purchased a new pair of neutral shoes with less of a heel.  I am working on making my feet fall in a circular motion below and behind me, kicking up my ankles as I go.  He said it would feel “prancey” and it does.  Still, it is better than heel striking my 6 month old sprain 14,000 steps at a time.

So, there I was last night at the South Eugene track.  I decided to run on something soft, and in a controlled way so that I could measure time with distance.  I was joined by Stephanie, the gal I ran with for the Eugene Half and also the Butte to Butte.  She and I clocked a 8:45:00 mile, which is fast for me. Then we lapped a few times just relaxing into the run.  When it was time for Stephanie to go, I decided to stay and practice my “prancey” form.  I went around and around the track, four times, five times, six.  I kept a good strong pace and I felt great.   

The sun had gone down and so the air was cooling.  It was the first time in a very long time when I actually felt stronger as I ran.  In fact, I kept telling myself each time I rounded up to the last of my lap that I was going to sprint with my “prancey” form in the cooling night air just to see how fast I could really push it.  I would have, too, but each time I came around, I felt so much better than the prior lap that I just wanted to keep the feeling going.  Then, on what was to be my last lap, I started thinking once again how I wanted to sprint.  Just as I entered the straight-away, the lights around the track turned off and so I kicked my body into hyper-drive and pushed myself down the track, lifting my heels up behind me and digging in with each stride. 

I moved like plasma!  I cannot tell you how fast I ran because I was not timing it.  I can tell you that it was the fastest I have ever run, faster than the 440 when I was a kid, faster that when I ran the last leg of the Amazing Race at a friend’s engagement party.  I knew it was fast because I felt it in my entire body.  And I knew it was fast because the two other people still at the track with me, one an old man running in slacks since before I showed up and one a young teenage boy, both stopped and watched me finish (the old man gestured at me in what I thought was a thumbs-up).

I have never counted myself as fast, but I was last night.  Pain and heat and doubt and laziness can be overcome, too, just like some of my other obstacles. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Half a Marathon Later, or The Way To Cross The Finish Line, Part 2

Well, it wasn’t over at mile 9.  For those of you following along at home, we still had a few miles to go—4.1, as a matter of fact.  Now, I reserve the right to describe these last 4.1 miles with all the clichés I can muster.  This is partly due to the fact that I am feeling nostalgic tonight, but also because the experience remains (in my thoughts) wholly indescribable.  What a wonderful thing to have indescribable experiences.  Mostly, we get up, shower, eat, dress, dress children, feed pets/ourselves/each other, go to work, honk at squirrels in the street, call loved ones on the cell phone—all of these experiences are common and translatable through words, because they are typical.  Even the more exciting, extraordinary things that occur from time to time are usually something we can set to a similar example so that people will know our experiences if we wish to convey them.  The last 4.1 miles of the Eugene Half Marathon was not that.  Not at all.  No, the last 4.1 miles were both extraordinary and indescribable.  Therefore I can (and will) resort to clichés in my retelling of this experience.  It is my hope to convey some insight into the lesser known.

Once we crossed over Franklin, we set ourselves to an easy pace.  The crowds thinned to a few people on random street corners clapping with less enthusiasm than they might have had an hour earlier.  I remember that I felt good.  I was warm, but the sun was welcome after a month of rain.  We passed another water station and a small voice in my mind told me it would be okay to walk, but my body did not agree.  I was grateful for the conflict, because it brought my thoughts to my task at hand—run.

We had been reminding each other of our Chi training along the way, saying things our coach would have said: “Square your shoulders,” “Head up,” “Midfoot strike,” “Steady, calm breathing.”  Presently, I had taken up saying a few of these things out loud to myself, and to Stephanie and Jeanette but only because they were within ear-shot.  “Use your arms' backswing,” “Gentle lean,” “Like a Needle in Cotton.”  Then it occurred to me, as we bottle-necked down a narrow path with several other runners that my chatter might be a little obnoxious to those around, not to mention Stephanie and Jeanette who have already heard my external coaching for over an hour and a half.  So, I polled the crowd.  “If anyone wants me to stop, just say so and I can shut up.”  A woman near us asked me to keep going.  It had a counter effect, because I don’t think I really expected an answer.  It is funny now to think that permission to continue actually made me stop talking.  It’s the same with clichés, I guess.

We neared Knickerbocker Bridge, which is the actual name of the bridge, and always makes me giggle.  We crossed over the Willamette River on said bridge and then the half marathoners split off from the whole marathoners.  Our route led us up Day Island, on a treeless stretch of asphalt.  At this point, my legs were a little rubbery.  I didn’t feel bad, though, just thirsty.  The last water station seemed to be years earlier and I regretted not having Gatorade at that stop.  I watched a man in front of me slow to a walk and then start to hobble.  I passed him and ran strong up to the Mile 11 marker.  I shouted out to the people behind me “11 miles!”  Finally, there was another water station.  I fueled up and also had a few jelly beans.  Jelly Belly makes a sport bean now that has carbs and electrolytes.  They suggest eating an entire package, but I find that a few will do the job. Besides that, we were almost to our last mile.

“The first mile and the last mile,” a friend of mine used to say when he and I ran.  He would remind me as I complained about the first ten 10 minutes of each run that it is the first mile and the last mile that are the hardest. Back then, I was only—at best—running two miles so I couldn’t possibly understand what he meant.  Things were different now.

The path turned back toward the river.  The trees returned to line our route; they brought welcomed shade.  Stephanie remarked that she felt good.  I felt good, too.  I was not fatigued, nor was I winded.  My arms and legs felt alive and sparkly. Yes, that is the word I am resigned to using here.

See, this is where I really cannot describe the sensation.  I have heard people talk about a ‘Runner’s High.’  I have also experienced a more euphoric high, based on events and situations.  And, there were those times in my younger days when I smoked to get high, days now long gone for much healthier choices.  This was not like any of those things.  My limbs were, for all intents and purposes, sparkly and light.  My core was warm and glowing, like I had eaten a hot pie, only without a heavy after-feeling.  I was floating along then, my feet hitting down mid-foot, my breathing tempered and slow.  The dappled sunlight through the trees danced on the path and all around me.  I could feel my heart beating in my chest strong and sure; it moved my blood to each corner of my being and lighted my senses.  I felt alive, as alive as I had ever felt.  I mean that and I have no other way of saying it: as alive as I had ever felt.

How like a child I am sometimes, barely able to keep my emotions just below the surface.  That was how I felt then, ready to burst with laughter or weep from beauty or impossibility.  As we crossed back over the river and made our way toward Hayward Field and the finish, I was reminded of all of my friends with MS.  John in his wheelchair and Ticky leaning on her cane, and young MacKenzie barely diagnosed and trying to not look frightened—and all images of them were smiling.  They are the most smiling group of people I have ever known.  Maybe it is because they have to smile to ward off other expression, or maybe it is because I do not take their smiles for granted, and thus I seem to notice them more.  Still, there they were in my thoughts, smiling and laughing and happy to have their quality of life. 

The day before the Eugene Marathon, a group of friends and family, spear-headed by my dear friend Emily Huntoon, had gathered in San Diego and there walked the MS Walk in my name.  They were called the MS Stingers and they all wore bee masks.  They had done this because I love bees.  And I love bees, especially bumblebees because bumblebees defy physics—their large bodies are too big for their tiny wings and they are not supposed to be able to fly.  Still, they fly regardless.  I was so touched by the MS Stingers that I told them I would dedicate my half marathon to them.  So, too, was I a bumblebee that morning, flying with wings kept tiny by my disease, yet flying!  The emotions just below the surface came welling up then, just as they do now as I try to recreate the indescribable.  

Emotions alter my breathing, something I have focused on with my Chi training.  As a result, I nearly balked at 12.5.  I was emotional and hot and had begun to succumb to the feelings that were welling up from deep within.  I said as much to Stephanie, that I needed to slow down.  She said we could pace ourselves and so we slowed up.  But, just then, just as I thought I might finally have to walk, the course marshals started yelling “Make way for the lead runners!”  They were telling all of the half-marathoners to stay left and the let the lead runners pass on the right.  All of the Halfers merged and stopped running and we stood grounded, no concern for our finishing time, rooted to our spots.  We had all turned back like sunflowers facing the sunshine as it rose around the path's bend, full speed at us.  There he was, the first of the leaders!  He had run 26.2 miles in the same time it took those of us on his left to run half that distance.  He was awesome to behold.  We yelled and screamed and clapped and cheered as he passed. Then we turned and followed him, as if swept up by the energy of the trough he plowed through the air, his current moving us into Hayward Field.  There, the crowd had swelled to its feet and they emitted such a noise as I have never before heard.

Suddenly I remembered how afraid I was when I started out months earlier.  I thought about how I felt when I heard my tendons snap in my ankle 14 weeks ago.  I thought about running my first 5K after I had just started the MS drug injections and how I cried because I couldn’t run without feeling so very sick and so very tired.  All of this happened at once in my thoughts and I caught my breath in my throat feebly trying to assuage the sensation.  I could hold back my feeling no longer.  I knew that I was either going to wretch them out all at once and fall to the track crying like a new mourner, or else I would have to run faster.  And I said as much to Stephanie.  I had to go.  I said something like, “I have to run.”  Immediately, my stride grew wide and I bounded with each step, my heart pounding within me and my feet flying up behind me.  I passed people as the track turned toward the finish line.  I smiled as best as I could, because I was mere seconds away from earning my bumblebee wings.

It is still unreal as I recall it now, in words that I cannot find.  But I have photos and a medal that remind me that I was there.  My sweet husband and darling children were in the stands filming the crossing.  And I now have new training for a full marathon in the fall.  I figure as long as I have the wings, I should see what I can do with them.  As long as I am not sick with my MS, I can and should and do and will … run.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Way To Cross The Finish Line, Part 1

This is the blog I have been putting off writing. I include that statement mostly because it is obvious by the date, and also because I want my fellow MS survivors to understand that recording these efforts is not an easy task for me.  Sometimes I think it is easier to lay down a ten mile run than to write down this experience.  But, I did commit to recording the half marathon.  I did commit to scripturizing my labor, my love.  Here’s the truth of it:

It was an incredible day, one of the three clear days we have had all this Spring in the Pacific Northwest.  The morning held crisp air and anticipation.  I woke early and confident, ate granola and drank coconut water.  I exchanged an encouraging moment with my husband before we dragged the children from their cozy beds, fed them, stuffed them into the car and then drove to pick up my running partner and newest friend, Stephanie Gray.  Stephanie is an encouraging gal, herself confident in the technique of Chi Running, and also newer to this sport we both seem to enjoy.  We started running together through our training group and then took to extracurricular runs to supplement the program.  We are compatible runners and I am grateful for her companionship and support.  I am also grateful that she knows I have MS and runs with me anyway.
My husband dropped us off near the start line.  There were people everywhere—people stretching, people trotting in place, some waiting in long lines at porta-potties erected just for this occasion, an ocean of runners.  Nearly 8,000 people had turned out to participate.  The mood was electric!

We found our training group doing their Chi looseners, and quickly joined in.  Some hugs were exchanged and thanks to our coach, Keith McConnell, who gestured to his parked bike telling us his job was not yet over.  We posed for a picture then went to line up with our projected time.  Stephanie and I tried to get near the five minute pace, not fast by any standards of running, but completely realistic for us and also respectable.  We also tried to stay near the left side so I would see my kids and husband after the gun sounded.  There were so many people I was afraid I would miss them.  There were more hugs and encouraging words from people we knew, waving across the sea of eagerness.  Music.  Laughter.  A loud, indescribable sound.  The crowd moved forward and then cheering wafted up and at once we were off.

The initial pace was lesser than a snail’s crawl as we passed beneath the ‘Start’ sign.  We moved with those surrounding us.  I saw my husband, David Vazquez, and my 2 girls cheering and waving.  They saw me, too, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was something that might have a positive impact on them in years to come.  They threw kisses and merriment and my gratitude for them squeezed my throat and watered my eyes.  Stephanie told me that we would see her girls and husband somewhere around mile seven.  Then, we jogged along, at a much slower pace than either of us would have chosen, obligated to the pace of those around us.  Had the path been free and clear, we might have started too fast.  I was happy to be there, doing what I did not think could be done.  I was running a half marathon.  The thought of it choked me up a bit, so I pushed it from my mind.  I could not afford to hyperventilate this early in the run.

About mile 2, the crowd had thinned enough for us to get up to our pace.  The air was brisk and easy to breath.  We had started up Patterson when I saw my good friend Toviana Jackson stood at the curb, cheering.  Her toddler daughter was perched on her shoulders and they both waved and yelled.  It was a wonderful sight so early in the run.  On the road up to Martin, the first uphill climb, we passed a young girl with a tinfoil tiding.  She held out her snack to the passing runners and I thought her offer a wonderful thing.  I told her as much as we passed, then I heard a voice behind her say, “Is that Rhonda?” and then “Go Rhonda!”  I turned and saw that the girl stood in front of the house of my friend Bob Hutchings, and there he was in his lawn chair waving and smiling.  Later I learned that they were handing out bacon to the runners.  I laugh about it now, about the bacon, but then it felt so nice to have another spectator know me, to cheer me on.  Not too much further along, Stephanie also found one of her friends cheering from the side of the road.  I had no idea that spectators made such a difference, but they surely do and did.

We had strategically pre-decided that on the top of Martin we would take our bathroom break.  We were joined there by about 100 of our fellow runners who also had the same idea.  We enjoyed a lengthy wait in line and then a nice downhill surge.  We had paced with our Chi Running Group teammate Jeannette.  She brought new conversation to our regular talks and she and I spoke of going on to do a full marathon.  Stephanie regarded the endeavor with respect but also declined to commit to something so insane, especially in the middle of a run that none of us were entirely sure we could finish.  Still, it was an optimistic stretch.  We saw our coach, cheering from his bike.  We passed the 6 mile mark and then the 10K mark, where they logged our time for posterity.  Then we turned up Amazon Parkway, sure and confident.  We all remarked about how good we felt and we all reminded each other of our posture, our foot strikes and of our pace.  We were Chi Runners, after all.

We saw Stephanie’s family just where she said we would, and we paused so she could get some hugs and supportive comments to take with her.  Upon departure, her youngest daughter hollered after her “Run Mommy, run!”  I thought of the positive impact this action would have for her children and the moment returned me to my sentimental reaction.  I had to remind myself that I would lose my breath if I succumbed to the emotion of the scene.  On we pressed.

We neared 19th, or ‘The Hill’ as we non-affectionately had it dubbed.  19th is not a terribly steep hill all on its own, but after nine miles of running, it can be the factor that breaks a runner’s stride and confidence.  This is when Stephanie’s training really kicked in, and I was grateful it had.  She took the lead and she leaned into the hill.  I stayed behind her, riding on her energy and copying her pace.  She passed fit runners, she passed young men, she passed cheering spectators.  All the while, I stayed behind her, in awe of her tenacity and determination.  In Chi Running, there is a simple term called ‘Y’Chi” where you can focus on something ahead of you and feel its energy pull you along.  On 19th that morning, I focused on Stephanie and she got me over ‘The Hill.’  I am fairly sure I could have done it on my own, but I am not so sure I would have had the same speed, efficiency and determination.  The best part, though, was looking behind once we got to the top to see that Jeannette was right behind me.  The second best part was the down hill run and our camaraderie, then.  As we rounded the bottom of 19th and turned on to Agate, I high-fived anonymous spectators.  We all joked about our speed and strength.  It was truly a memorable time.  I thought, even if I don’t finish this race, or go on to the next race, this is enough.  Right then, I was a runner, and I was a runner among other runners, and we ran and ran, hearts pounding and heads high.

Stay tuned for Part 2

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bigger, better, harder

So, it occurs to me that I should push myself.  It also occurs to me that I can push myself.  I am looking at options for a full marathon now. 

I know I need to write about the amazing experience I had with this half here in Eugene, but I have not yet found the words.  Soon.

Maybe it is enough to say that I am inspired to want to run longer, farther, harder.  Yep.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Women's Half in September

This came up in our group today.  Training all summer for another half?  Hmmmm...maybe.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Last Mile

One more week until the Eugene Marathon.  Barring any illnesses, ankle sprains, alien abductions or acts of Gods, I am confident I can make the 13.1 miles in the time allotted.  The last mile is unknown to me, as my longest run is still only 12 miles. 

As I look back on the last three months, I am humbled by the progress—not just mine either, but the progress of my teammates and of my coach.  I have also watched the progress of people whom I work with who will also be participating.  I know a few friends along for the event as well.  Some are doing the full Marathon.  Some are walking.  All of us are doing something that we felt called to do in one way or another, called together in this communal affair that has spanned these many months.

Yesterday I ran along the river path.  I saw people out there with “Finisher” shirts on from years past.  I saw some of the same runners I have seen over and over again for the past few months, now leaner and faster.  Some of them are random blurs that have compelled me.  Some are distinct and I see their faces clearly in my mind’s eye, even now.  One person who stands out in my thoughts is a tall woman with sun-streaked hair, possibly in her late 40s, and flush-pink skin on her legs and face.  I have seen her a lot these past few months.  She pops up along the river path passing me at full stride.  She nods encouragement to me on her downhill as I climb my slow uphill out on Donald.  She is there at Oakway Center at the end of a 12 mile run, smiling and clapping. 

Like the 13th mile, I do not know her . . . or do I?

Isn’t she a part of me and this great effort?  Isn’t she the voice I hear when my thoughts of doubt creep in at mile 9?  Isn’t she the strain and stretch of the last mile, every last mile, my last mile? 

Yes, she was there at my first class with this coach and our team.  I’m sure I remember her curving smile when I crushed out my last cigarette some years ago.  She was at my first  5K, my first 10K.  In my mind, I see her standing over me at the curb when my ankle collapsed, telling me to get up, telling me I to get ice on the injury sooner rather than later.  I see her, too, there with me all of those nights when I could not bring myself to stick the injection in my body one more time, knowing that the MS drug would make me too sick to run the next day, or too sick to do much of anything the next day.  Yes, she was there.

So, it is no surprise that I see her now, one week out from the Eugene Marathon.  She has become a part of me and all that I do.  I think of her, her graceful stride, her smiling face, her tenacious spirit.  She is me and I am her.  She is my last mile, strong and sure.  She flows with ease and confidence over the distance drawing me nearer to her with each step. And she will be with me next weekend, I know.  I will look for her in the crowd at Hayward Field and along the route cheering, and running next to me and running through me. And in that last mile, that unknown mile, I will become her.  In the last mile, I will join her.

She is me, the person I am becoming.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Is It Still In Me?

Two months ago, at the very beginning of this training, I went out for a run.  The coach called it a "fun run."  "Have fun with your running this week," he said, all jovial and familiar, like a found button.  We had only just started on our regiment of six days on, one day off.  The beginning of three months of running in wind, cold, snow, rain and drizzle, which is like rain but much different when you live with the many degrees of showers that plague our Oregon winters.  So, I went out for that "fun run" on that innocent day two months ago, the Friday before the real training began.

It was an exceptional February day, the type of day that temporarily assuages the winter blues of the Pacific Northwest.  Sunshine, through cold.  Blue skies so clear they seemed to sing arias overhead like a mockery to the soggy riverbanks and naked trees.  A day in a calendar whose sky color did not match its season.  Photographs of such a day would surely cause surprise to the picture admirer to flip to their backs and read that it were any time besides July.  You get the point--it was a beautiful and clear day.  We are graced with those occasionally here in the winter, though those Oregon-born have forbid me to speak of it outside of certain circles (which I just have, and unabashedly so). 

My pace was slow.  Remember, I have told you already that I have a terrible and chronic illness.  This is not the reason for my measured pace--no.  I was purposefully marking my footfalls to gauge my improvement from this beginning.  I figured I would start slow, and then ramp up over time.  I assumed I would improve over my three months training.  My schedule dictated that I would improve simply by the suggestions of the greater distances I would tackle by the end of these few months.  We would see.

I did pace my third mile with a digital stopwatch.  I was just at eleven minutes, and not fast.  Here's the thing about it, though.  I was certainly happy with that time.  To be two miles in on a run and to have that 11 mile pace, purposefully slow, at the onset of my training--I was thrilled.  How could I not be?  I knew I could improve on that, and I agreed with myself that it was a decent speed for someone with my 'condition.' 

Now about my condition:  I have not kept it a silent suffering secret that I have Multiple Sclerosis.  Once, I did feel the need to keep this within the privacy of the knowledge of close friends and immediate family.  But no more to this.  Now, I shout it from the rooftops.  I have grown tired of people not knowing what the face of MS looks like or how it behaves (or doesn't).  I am one of its faces and people should see.  Those who have this terrible disease should see.  Those who have family members with this disease should see.  Those who hire employees with MS and those who volunteer to do clinical studies for MS and those who are currently being diagnosed as 'possible MS' should see; should you not?  

I took injections for a number of years and I feel very fortunate to currently be off of the injections and fairly symptom free.  It is a bargain of which I enjoy the better end.  I enter into this bargain with my disease each day with the understanding that all of this could change.  My disease and I have an agreement that I might be running (literally) on borrowed time and borrowed strength.  Be that as it may, I still run.  I do not mock my disease, nor do I underestimate its cunning.  Those who share its face know what I mean.

Anyway, back to the run on the sunny winter day, and the irony to which I build.  I was pleased with my pace for the third mile, as I have already told you.  I had quickened the pace of my fourth mile, just for fun.  After all, this is what the coach had encouraged: fun.  I was nearing the end of my route, the place of my employment and the location of my change of clothes and car, my water bottle, etc.  The only obstacle between me and a restful drive home to refreshing shower was the 'walk/don't walk' sign at the busy intersection.

Presently, it displayed that word that is wonderfully hopeful for those MS-faced: 'Walk!'  It said in a glow of green.

Still , as I quickened my pace and rounded the corner and caught sight of that glorious word ('walk,' in case by now you have forgotten through my verbose recollection) I found that I did not want to wait at the intersection, should the pedestrian instructions suddenly change to 'don't walk.' At this thought, I sprinted, not even sure that I had the energy in me, but more certain that I could not tolerate the delay at the post.  And then, as surely as I had decided to bolt for the opportunity to cross, the sign changed.  Indeed, I thought I could still make it and would!  Some delay always accompanied the timer once the 'don't walk' displayed.  And I was fast! Afterall, I was a runner now.  Had I not just run an eleven minute mile for my third mile?  I had.  I could make this light, or I would die trying.

I realized that that latter was more the reality once I saw the waiting autos lurching at the pole position, grinding their gears to get going with more impatience than I.  So there I came to a most abrupt stop at the curb.  However, by the momentum of my pace--fast like a cat, I assure you-- the body of me went beyond my planted feet and I crumpled over the curb and grabbed the pole to keep from falling.

Let me spare you the description of the sound my ankle made from inside of my body when it snapped beneath my weight.  I will likewise forgo the myriad of colors that developed there at once on my bent foot and leg.  Did I break it though?  No.  What I did, though, was sprain it in a fairly convincing manner.  The evidence that Urgent Care produced was two ligaments and a muscle torn, with a small bone fragment pulled from my foot.

I feel that if I colored in the irony here I would cheat you, if you have bothered to read thus far.  Let it suffice to say that I have continued to run, comitted to this thing.  The MS has not stopped me, as you know.  The ankle, though badly injured temporarily, only slowed me.  Let us see where the next 30 days will take me. 

This is the last month of our training and I am 100% again.

I think it is still in me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why I Run

I can't remember which mountain climber said "because it is there."  Mallory?  Hillary?  The amazing thing about the Internet(s) is that I could look it up.  Nah, I am lazy.  Speaking of lazy, I copy/pasted this from my old blog...but it feels more authentic today, now with my bruised toenail and my sore calves as I train for the half marathon.  Anyway, it was worth saying again (even if all I did was plagiarize myself from an earlier time).

Why I Run - Because I (Still) Can

The air is still and crisp with a bite that does not so much nip but rather gnaws at my ears. I have stretched my legs, arms, back, and am ready to run 3 miles. I plug in my headset: waves of something in the way stir my feet, a slow rhythm that pulls me to move gradually forward, a mere trot in the beginning.
      In the beginning, I do not have fatigue, I do not have doubts, I do not have MS.  It is just me, the pavement pounding up my legs, and the determination to move my body in ways that I usually do not.  In the beginning, I have the cool breath of morning filling my lungs, I have the sharp, gray sky standing above me, I have pain in my ears from the cold of the world all around me.
    The world around me rises up to greet me.  It swirls around me. It pulls me in and suddenly I am a part of the great show.  Here is a cat patiently waiting on its porch, eager to get back inside its warm home.  And now, a great black bird moves from a wire to a branch, an effortless-looking motion that was more like a hop than flight. A lone car glides past, puffs of its white steam issue its complaints against entropy. And then I am alone.
    Once alone, the direction turns left, the pavement turns to bark-mulch, the music turns to a woman holding her tongue knowing silence will speak for her. Steady, unlike my left hand when it trembles with nerve damage.  Rhythmic, unlike my courage against my fear that waivers when my symptoms flare. Fast, so unlike my typical movements, carefully measured, clumsy despite my efforts. Balanced. Now I glide through the morning, my head along for the ride, my body surprising me, mocking the disease that threatens me--a silent and constant menace. Here I come around the bending path, though the trees, mist clinging to their exposed roots.  Then there is the tree that reminds me.
    The tree that reminds me lives at mile 2.  It is a great and old maple.  This time of the year its leaves are all but gone, having drifted off to become the soil and other things. It reminds me of disease, with its exposed roots stripped of their protective cambium layers, like delicate nerves stripped of their myelin.  The tree leans in the direction of its injury, the wrinkles on its trunk and bark a telltale sign of how its life changed once the injury occurred. The injury, a singular event in its life. Disease, for me recurring.
    This life of mine moves me past the tree.  I am tired by now.  By now, I have reawakened the beast--that fatal memory of my limitations, of my body's desire to attack itself as an erroneous attempt to heal. Now I rub the spot on the side of my thigh where I last injected my medication. There is phantom pain there.  I know it is not real, but I am reminded nonetheless. By now, I not only feel my heart thump in my chest, but I hear it as well.  It replaces the song  now reverberating through a long fade. The tree is behind me by now. Now.
    The final push moves me back to the pavement, through the neighborhood streets, down the familiar road where I live. In the end, I have fatigue but I run anyway; I have doubts but I push at them with each new stride; I have fear but I press on.  In the end, I believe it is my anger that finishes the run for me, but it is my courage that wins the race, that incessant competition that only exists between me and myself.  In the end, I do not allow the MS to be a factor in the equation.  I cannot or else it stops me in my tracks.

Tree Struck By Lightning

Where it starts

I am starting this blog here.  Now.