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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...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Boring Urban Run

There is a saying about rivers, that you can never step into the same river twice.  I would argue the same is true about a city street.  You can never cross the same street twice.  Always the cars and trees and alley cats are changing.  There are new things to see on each trip.  And if you are with a friend, then the conversation will keep things new and interesting and maybe even inspiring. 

I recently ran with my friend Stephanie Gray on her urban route.  She claimed it was a boring route, and I guess I could understand that --boring becoming the adjective of the run as you wear down your path in the same concrete and asphalt day after day -- but for me the route was new and fresh and alive!  And yet, the route held parts old and familiar and dear, as a portion of it dipped through my old neighborhood run in Westmoreland.  Nostalgia abounded!  I wondered what it would be like to run in my current neighborhood in years to come if I happened to move away.

Stephanie narrated a bit of the path talking us through challenging hills and  down uneven sidewalks.  She commented on the cats she often sees, the changing leaves, her gratitude for the strategic location of a playground water faucet.  I also rambled, as I do.  I told her of my recent baking excursions, my afternoon coffee, the not-so-horrible mammogram of last week.  We talked through intersections, laughed around city blocks, commented on real estate and house paint colors.  All the while, I thought to myself that this run was anything but boring.

I recalled a moment at the start of the Portland Marathon when the announcer encouraged those of us in the line up to make a friend if we were all alone.  He said that the camaraderie would help us to get to the finish line.  As this memory came back to me, Stephanie and I had just started to climb a hill at 19th.  She is a great hill climber, and I commented on just that as she took the lead.  I thought back to our experience with the first half marathon we both completed in Eugene in 2011, how she ran "the hill" and how I followed being pulled along by her energy, grateful to have her lead.

Then it occurred to me that the reason why such runs are not boring to me is because I really enjoy the friendship that running has brought us, Stephanie and I.  We have never gone out to a movie or had coffee.  We talk about it sometimes, but we are just both so busy.  We have had our kids together for playdates and birthday parties, but mostly, we have a relationship that is based on miles and miles of running and talking while running or laughing while running or sharing ideas, thoughts, passions, all while running.  This has actually helped to keep me running!  It has made the route seem less boring or even not boring at all.  Yes, often urban runs are boring when they are solo, but when I have a friend along, they can be a wonderful adventure that extends beyond just one 4 mile run.

Thanks Stephanie for sharing your urban route with me...and for sharing all of the other stuff, too.  I am so glad we are friends.  Your camaraderie has gotten me to the finish line more times than I can now count.  You are a special kind of person to keep me inspired and moving, even if the route is boring (which, as you know I often think about our scenic river path).  I hope to return the favor many times over.

Bird's eye view of the half marathon finishers after Eugene 2011

Monday, October 1, 2012

Conversations with the Doc


(Warning: this blog entry is more about MS and less about my running.  I know I have readers from both avenues, so I thought I would clear that up right from the start.)

Over the years I have had many different MS doctors and many treatment plans.  It's funny; I am probably the most over treated MS patient in the history of autoimmune diseases... that is, in relation to my actual symptoms, which are minimal.  But, that's sort of the nature of this disease.  Just because it's quiet doesn't necessarily mean it's in remission.

MS is a slick bugger.  You never quite know what's going on with it.  Take my last scans, for instance.  I had new activity after six years of nothing.  There was not really an indication that anything had changed with me either.  The MS just reactivated.  I remember sitting across the room with my doctor, David Lippincott, hearing that I had a new lesion and then seeing the changed pictures of my brain.  He likes to show me a current view in contrast to last year's scans so that I can have some perspective.  I appreciate that.  Usually it's more of the same.  This year, it was different.  Still, I like that he takes the time with me to set it up and spell it out.  He wants me to understand him and he really wants to understand me.

Dr. Lippincott is pretty great.  I started seeing him after I had left another neurological practice because I did not like the responses of a new doctor.  It wasn't always that way.  For a few years, I had been seeing a wonderful neurologist who solidified my diagnosis, conducted my spinal tap and even prescribed my first intravenous medication.  I had built a level of trust with him and was very comfortable.  However, as life goes, he retired.  I was not given a choice in my new doctor. I was thrust into the care of a younger, less experienced neurologist.  But because I had been without symptoms for so long, I was really a very low maintenance patient, so I hardly saw him.  It wasn't until I started having site reactions from the injections, large bruises and ruptured subcutaneous vessels, that I started seeing more of the new doctor.  His response to my struggles with the injectables was that I should switch to a new medication that was being given as an IV infusion.  Certain side effects could include death, as some people are predisposed to a virus that goes dormant in the body (a relationship like shingles is to chicken pox) that is activated by the medication and then becomes fatal.

Fatal.  This is truly a case where the treatment is worse that the disease!

He was talking to me about a different kind of medication, only one that had a possible side effect of death.  Please understand that this was a few years ago now and that MS technology has come a long way with Tysabri and Novatrone, drugs of this sort.  I am not knocking these options.  I am also not trying to say that I know better than a medical doctor.  Yet, there I sat in front of this young doctor complaining of one rather mild, albeit gruesome side effect, only to hear descriptions of a possible trade for another that could include death! Also, at the time, the IV drug's side effect of death was something like 1 in 16,000.  Those were odds that I was not willing to gamble with, being a mom with young children.  Another thing to consider was that, at the time, they had no way to scan or test individuals to see if they might be predisposed to that dormant virus (it is my understanding that they do now and also that the odds of reactivation are much, much less).  But, to sum up my tangent here, I had never even had the classic MS exacerbation, let alone had I been struggling with relapse and remitting MS.  In fact, I had pretty much been symptom free since diagnosis, even before my current injections had been prescribed.  Did this guy even read my chart?

I fired that doctor.  I went to my gynecologist, who I had the most trusting relationship with, and I asked her to place me with a different neurologist.  She placed me at Dr. Lippincott's practice and I have been with him since.

When I first met him and after he heard my story, Dr. Lippincott said something that was amazing to me. He said that if I had been his patient from the beginning that he might have opted to not put me on the intravenous drugs at all.  He said that he would be interested in having me take a 'drug holiday,' as he called it, where I could get off of the injections and use lifestyle and diet to control my MS for a bit to see how things go.  This all sounded too good to be true!  In the 4 years that I had been on the injections, I had gained 30 pounds, I spent three days a week sick with side effects of flu like symptoms, I woke on injection nights with fever shakes, I had chronic dry eyes, purple bruises at the injection sites, I could not run a 5K in less than 35 minutes, and it was difficult to care for my young children let alone go to work each day because of the fatigue associated with the interferon drain.  HIV and Hep C patients whom I have talked to over the years share the same side effects.  But Dr. Lippincott was telling me that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  He said that he wanted to get to know me and to get to know my disease over a few months and then he would consider taking me off of the drugs.  The key there was that he wanted to get to know me.

About 7 months later, during another visit, he finally told me that it was time to start the 'drug holiday.'  This was one of the happiest days of my life, all thanks to some great and long talks with my doctor.

This October, it has been two years since I have had an injection.  In that time I have completed countless 5K and 10Ks, three half marathons and two full marathons.  I have also lost 35 pounds since then.  Up until last Winter, I have remained symptom free and my MS has been unchanged, and even though I had one more lesion appear in my scans, I still have no apparent symptoms, nor have I had any exacerbations.  I just got off the phone with my doctor and it was decided that we would skip the interim scan and wait again until winter for another MRI.  I feel pretty good about that decision, too.  I am starting another training group this weekend for a November half marathon and I am looking forward to it.  I love to run when it's cool!  Above all, I am grateful for today and for each day that I get to feel disease free even if that nasty old MS is just below the surface, quiet for now.  I am grateful for the kind and caring doctor who took the time to listen and to really hear me.  Thanks Dr. Lippincott!  This has been a great 'drug holiday!'

Here is a picture of me running the Steep Hill Chase 
after being on injections for about 2 years:


Here is a picture of me running the Women's Half Marathon last month 
after being off of injections for about 2 years:


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Children and Running

I have found that one of my favorite things about running is to run with newer runners.  By this, I mean those who have recently caught running fever and are on their runners' high!  But there is an even greater sub-group within this group of enthusiastic newbies, and that is children!

Children bring a certain panache to the running arena. They seem to flaunt their fluid ability to move and glide, yet they do so effortlessly.  I don't ever feel like this is a thing of arrogance.  Even when children intend to be arrogant or competitive, they really are just showing their natural ability to move around in a way that grown ups have given up over longer lifetimes.

Take, for instance, the child exiting a car when you pull up to a playground.  They will often full-sprint toward the swing set or monkey bars.  This effect is amplified when they have friends awaiting them at their destination.  Now think about your own running.  When was the last time you ran to see your friends?  Seriously.  Imagine a seen at the ATM.  You pull up and park your car, rummage through your wallet and find your ATM card.  When you exit your vehicle, you see your best Fantasy Football buddy just leaving the bank, and a little ways off across the parking lot.  Well, naturally you are excited to see your friend.  You want to sprint, but you resist the urge.  Instead you call out, wave, and head off at a snail's pace to the ATM machine.  If you were 10 years old, you would react in a much different way!

What is the difference?  Why don't we run anymore?  Does it look silly?  Does it make us feel awkward?  I think maybe we must wait until we are clad in our neon-lined running jacket and reflective shorts, adorned with the latest and most expensive running shoes in order to take the edge off of that awkwardness.  Kids don't worry about such nonsense.  And why would they?  Running is still fluid, easy, natural and logical.  When you see your friends, sprint to them!  Don't waist a second standing around or walking. Seize the moment!  Who cares what you look like or if your doing it correctly?

This summer, I had the opportunity to run with my daughter, 6 years old, for her first real distance.  She and I tackled the Butte to Butte's inaugural 5K.  It was fitting as it was my daughter's inaugural run as well. She had trained with me, running a few times in our neighborhood per week prior to the race.  The thing that I noticed most during our training runs was that I had wanted to coach her a bit on her form and footfall.  I wanted to tell her to keep her elbows bent and to work on her back swing, to keep her head up but lean her torso slightly into the stride; I wanted to tell her how to do what came naturally to her.  I found, as you might by now suspect, that I did not need to tell her much.  Instead, I got behind her and watched her gait comparing it to my own.  I took lessons from her carefree stride, how effortlessly she seemed to move along.  I also took note of her excitement and of her optimism.

When race day came, we lined up with everyone else.  People asked how old she was and she answered proudly "6."  I was proud also.  I did have an opportunity to teach her a bit about race day, which can be daunting to smaller competitors.  I cautioned her to stay at the edge of the pack and in front of me, to watch for people who might be stopping and also to let me know if she needed to stop.  I told her that in the beginning it can be a little scary with the many bodies all moving together in one direction and that we would stay close together.  We did, too.  When the gun sounded, we actually held hands for a good portion of the first half mile.

Just about 3/4 of a mile into the race, something miraculous happened that would change me as a runner.  My sweet little 6 year old daughter took a spill and fell sideways along the concrete, scraping her knee and elbow.  I scooped her up and she cried on my shoulder.  A Course Marshall ran to us to ask if she was okay.  She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "It hurts but I don't want to have to stop."  I looked her over and made sure she was okay.  Her scrapes were superficial and not bleeding.  She stood and wiggled and bounced, showing me that everything worked by running in place.  Runners passed us as we examined her at the curb.  Then I said "Okay, if you're okay, let's go."  And she took off just like that.  She didn't wait around or hesitate.  She jumped right back in the race and headed on down the track.  Later, after she finished the race, she had completely forgotten about the fall.  She remembered the run, the finish, the thrill of the cheering crowd surrounding her as she came in, and her sense of accomplishment.  Like I said before: effortless!

She continues to run with me now.  We are planning a Thanksgiving run together this year and I am really looking forward to it.  This time we think we will bring along her sister and papa as well.  If you have not had the opportunity to run with a child, or even to watch a child run, I strongly encourage it.  They remind us of where we all began and where we all can return in our form, in our enthusiasm, and in our optimism. 


In the grass, hunting ladybugs

Monday, August 27, 2012

Eugene Womens Half Marathon

Here's a run that I really took for granted!  I hadn't been training (really).  I mean, sure, I had a level of fitness that I had maintained from my Coburg Half one month earlier, but really, I had just been cruising, as far as any kind of real training goes.  I remember even telling people that if it wasn't for the $75 I had paid to enter, I would just skip it.  Boy am I glad that I didn't!

A cloudy and cool August day, I showed up early.  Dave dropped me off at the start line.  He would meet me around mile 7 later with my girls and mom and niece, Hannah (mom and Hannah we up for visit from Southern California for the girls' birthday).  I said hello to a few friends.  Lauri Simrin and I had a nice chat and she told me she would be walking it with another gal.  It was a comfort to see her as she was involved in the very first training group I was in when I had my terrible ankle injury.  Then another woman I know from the girls' school, Becky Cacioppi, visited with me as we lined up.  She was with a friend who's husband was making a video of their experience.  As we chatted the start time approached.  They realized that they should be pacing with a faster group and I realized that I should move to a slower group and so we went on our opposite ways.

Once lined up, I adjusted my iPod, set my fitness recorder and picked out my music.  Then I did something that I don't usually do: I took my earphones out to listen to the national anthem.  I am not sure why, but I moved my hand to my heart and I sang along.  What had come over me?  I checked my myself.  Yes, these were my Asics, my shorts, my hands.  Who was this person singing this song?  I didn't hear others around me singing so what had gotten into me?  Looking around, I had my answer.  I was in a sea of women.

Not long ago women were not allowed to run marathons.  In fact, women could not participate in tack and field competitions until 1928 and the first woman to run the Boston Marathon happened in my lifetime--in 1972!  And here we all were, lined up, elbow to elbow, strength in our numbers and spirits, and women, all of us!  Well, most of us; I saw about a dozen men, total, but so what.  We're not exclusive.  It's not in our gender's genes to be like that.

A woman's voice spoke above the crowd about our perseverance as a gender and we roared with approval.  The gun sounded and stampede of dainty feet took to flight.  I ran moderately and paid attention to my fellow runners.  We were courteous of one another and encouraging.  We carried each other along the way.  We were a force, an inspiration, moving in a single column to a single destination.  And we spoke without words to a past that treated us unfairly.  We yelled: "LOOK! YOU WERE WRONG!"

At mile 7, I met up with my family.  I was grateful that my mom and niece were there, too.  We have powerful women in our family and it was a moment for all of us to share. I am glad that my niece and my daughters do not have to know of a time during their lives when women are not allowed to participate in an organized run.  I am also glad that I ran that day.  I finished under my longest Half time, which I did not expect and I got to be a part of something special.  And I got to recognize something in me: I really do care about my gender and how we get to be...how we SHOULD BE included.

If you want a really great history lesson in brief, check out this website:

http://www.marathonguide.com/history/olympicmarathons/chapter25.cfm


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Second Marathon

I had a tough run for the Eugene Marathon.  Come to find out, this is not uncommon.  Lots of people start their second marathon faster than they should.  This was especially tough because I kept running into wonderful and inspiring people that I knew long the course, with it being my home marathon.

First, I saw my friend Bob Hutchings and his family sitting in their chairs by their house.  Last year, they were handing out bacon.  This year, they were dealing encouragement in heavy doses.  I demanded a high five as I passed and they all cheered.  It was very invigorating.  My next encounter was with the legend himself, Bill McChesney.  Bill and I have an interesting relationship.  He has given me loads of great running advice and even some parenting advice.  He is also something of a novice philosopher, though he will never claim that title.  He was seated in a lawn chair with his wife along West Amazon and they both gave me a peck of a kiss on the cheek for luck.  This small act quickened my pace.  I felt like I could fly the  next 26 miles if I needed too.  Next I saw my family along with friends from my girls' school. My daughters had made signs that said "Never give up, Mama." and "When I grow up I am going to run a marathon just like you."  They were a sight!  I was feeling good still and on the top of the world, so I didn't linger in my visit.




About mile 7, I saw my dear friend and running partner Stephanie Gray.  She ran with me for a bit which was  real thrill, fulfilling a dream for me.  She and I ran our first real distance together in the training and half marathon the year earlier, so it was comforting to have her along with me for a bit of the 8th mile.  I asked her to go along with me for "the hill" but she had left her family and husband curbside and had promised to run a sort distance with others.

Then, just after the water stop on 19th, I saw a giant, spray-painted sign that said one word: 'RHONDA' in letters that were each 3 feet tall.  I thought surely that sign is for someone else named Rhonda.  But when I got closer, I saw that it was my friends Tom and Marilee Peryam and their sweet little boys standing on the edge of the road looking for me, holding the sign.  This was the first time that I lost my control over my emotions.  My throat closed up a little, I will admit and I had to fight to maintain my composure and my breathing.  Some years back, before I had ever run more than 4 miles and before Tom and Marilee had their first son Charlie, we had run the Steep Hill Chase together here in Eugene. This was one of my first struggles in running.  I still don't know if it was because of the MS or not but I remember the run vividly.  I also remember their encouragement and kindness afterwards.  It was amazing to see them along the Eugene Marathon course cheering for me!  I cannot find the words still.  Truly good friends.

Shortly after that, I climbed "the hill."  I did well with the climb, never walking and keeping a strong pace.  At mile 9, I looked for my coach, Joe Henderson.  He was hard to spot because it was so packed with people.  Instead of spending too much time, I pressed on.  At the split, where the marathoners head east away from the half marathoners, I started to feel fatigued.  This was the first time that I thought I may have started too early.  Then there was the doubt that crept in about my MS; this always happens on my long runs or when I am not on the top of my game.  At the half way point I saw my dear friend Toviana Jackson and her sweet little girl way out in no man's land cheering me on.  It was great to see them because there were few spectators out on the Springfield side of the course, but also because I had been through a lot with Toviana.  She had known me since I had first really started running, since before I lost 30 pounds, and she had been a big cheerleader for me.  I didn't expect to see her at all, but there she was.  This was another moment when my throat closed up a bit.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

I have my doubts about what I can do.  With people and with my physical abilities, I just don't always feel confident.  I mean, sure I have MS-- I don't discount my efforts around overcoming that--but this was something more.  I had no idea how many people would come out to support me or how many people that believe when I do not.  I sure was surprised and I sure was grateful.  This is a good life and I am truly blessed.

When I checked my splits I saw that I started fast, much faster than is typical for me.  I maintained that speed, just slightly over my comfort level, for the first 13 or so miles.  Does that sound familiar to any second marathoners out there?  Then, right about mile 16, the sun came out.  Who knew it could be sunny in Eugene, Oregon on April 29?  Seriously.  Come to think of it, it was completely sunny the year before at the Eugene Marathon, so I m not sure what I thought.  I always take our spring weather for granted here in Oregon.

Here's the reality for me and for others with MS: heat is not my friend.  It zaps my energy and my drive.  Heat takes me from strong to string in about 2 minutes.  This was certainly the case by mile 17.  Honestly, I tried to return to my typical, slower pace, that steady beat that carried me through the Portland Marathon some mere months earlier, but alas, it was too late. I had paced too fast.  I was in over my head.  The sun was shining down. I was fading fast.

At about mile 18, I met up with my family.  My sweet little girls and darling husband decided to run a long with me for a very short distance.  I used this as my excuse to walk some and visit, taking me all the way up to the check table for my team.  Tonya McKay was waiting, smiling, taking pictures (bless her heart for being there!)  I wore most of my canteen's contents, pouring it over my head and down my back.  Tonya gave me a small, plastic water bottle to carry (God bless you Tonya!) So I bid my family a quick goodbye and I was off again.

Near mile 21, the French school had gathered and they were cheering in French and banging drums and rattling noise-makers, Mardi Gras style.  It was endearing and welcomed...and my last little bit of hope for a strong finish in the climbing heat of the morning.

Then at mile 23, I saw my family again.  Now they had been joined by a larger group of friends from the girls' school, including Darcy Guhl.  I had given Darcy a ride to the start line earlier that morning and she had run the half marathon, placing well in her age group and finishing in less than 2 hours.  My husband had run up to me and started coaching me along, as he could see I was not doing well.  "Do you need help?" He asked.  I told him if I stopped to visit the families and all of the cheering kids, that I would likely break down and cry.  This might cost me the finish all together.  Dave responded, "You don't have to stop. Darcy is offering to run with you if you need her to help you."  I gasped, "yes."  It was all I could say.

Soon, Darcy fell in next to me and took up a strong, yet slow pace.  She started talking about all sorts of things.  Honestly I do not remember most of it, but what I do remember is that she carried me with her words and her encouragement.  This was the hottest part of the route.  No shade.  No water stops.  No cheering crowds.  A narrow path that winds along behind an industrial stretch.  Darcy talked about her son.  She talked about her half marathon that morning.  She talked about persevering.  In a blur, bits of her conversation came to me, pressing my feet to the pavement.

Nearing mile post 25, I had the idea that I might actually make it.  Darcy took a call on her cell phone and found out that she did quite well in her age group (and in women's overall) for the half.  She was truly inspiring for me then.  She had already ran 13.1 miles and managed to do it with some recognition, and now she was back on the course with me, helping me limp in to just finish.  We entered the tunnel that goes under the train tracks and she reminded me that we were truly in the home stretch.  As we came out of the tunnel, I saw my friends The Peryams again with their giant 'RHONDA' sign.  They still had their young boys clutching them and cheering, having relocated and were there cheering me on.  At once, we were back in the crowd, and there was more cheering and more hoopla.  Darcy yelled as we approached the 26 mile mark.  She told the crowd my name and said I needed help and they all went wild!

And then I thought about that crazy fantasy that I have from time to time.  What if I never had been diagnosed with MS?  Would I have been inspired to push myself to this place in time.  Would I have allowed this person to help me along these last three miles?  Would I have so many supporters along this path? Would I ever have even attempted a marathon?  Fundraising?  MS awareness?  At the gates of Hayward field, the questions fell away from me.  Darcy stopped there and gestured me on.  She had already had her finish.  This was for me.
Darcy in green, me in orange (donor shirt)
And I ran into the stadium knowing that my daughters and husband were somewhere in the stands cheering for me.  I took each step knowing that I had carried the names of all of my donors on my shirt and that they had each carried me.  This was my first marathon at home and it was good to be there--to be home.  As I crossed the finish line, my coach Joe Henderson greeted me and hugged me and we took a picture together.

And I had to pause and take it all in, to relish the feelings of the moment knowing that I had not done it alone, that I could not have done it alone, that I don't have to do any of it alone again if I don't want to.  It was a tough run but it came with a valuable lesson that I would not trade for the pain, sweat and tears.  Thank you to all of my angels along the way, that day and always.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

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: keep running.  The crowd has thinned.  Only a few hours ago I was kissing elbows with 8,000 of my closest friends--for today anyway.  Now, we have all found our own pace along this course. The Halfers have turned off some time ago.  The spectators do not venture down this street for cheering.  I am alone with my race at last.

It is hard to tell when this journey began.  Was it a few hours ago when the gun sounded at Hayward field?  Was it a few months ago when our training group first gathered at the Eugene Running Company for our initial six mile run with Coach Joe Henderson?  Was it 2005 when the first neurologist attempted humor by saying, "The good news is you don't have a brain tumor."  Or was it before all of that?

I used to smoke cigarettes.  I started smoking when I was very, very young, the fourth grade, in fact. My friend from school, a fifth grader, stole a pack of Salems from her mom and we took them up into the field behind the waste dump and lit their tips on fire with stick matches.  I coughed and felt sick to my stomach when I first tried to breathe in the smoke through the strange cotton filter.  I can still imagine the taste, menthol and burnt and polluting my lungs.  By the time I was in middle school I was a regular smoker.  I never thought I would stop, either.  I tried many times.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done, to quit smoking (and I think I have done some hard things).  In many ways, I am still quitting by doing this race today. 

Soon after my last cigarette, a friend of mine, John Medenbach, took me for a run.  He actually took me running quite a bit back then, helping me to trade one addiction for another.  I was so grateful for his patience with my slow pace and nicotine detox attitude.  He ran my first 5K with me in 2004, a snail's pace at 34+ minutes, and he did not complain.  He just helped, encouraged, guided.  He also told me I would do this some day, that I would run a marathon.  I owe him a debt of gratitude.  Everyone needs a friend like that (thank you Johnny).

Deep breath, round the bend, press on.  Through the tunnel and then out into the dappled light of UO through a million trees and a thousand cheering people.  This is the dream.  I can only imagine what it must be like... but no!  I'm doing it!  Me!  I AM DOING IT!  The hardest thing I have ever done, still, quitting smoking with each stride toward that finish line.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thank You To My Generous Donors

Greetings to all of my generous donors.  *WE* have reached my goal of $1,500 before I cross the finish line tomorrow.  Heck, we did it before I even cross the start line!  I just wanted to send you all another note to say thank you so much, again. 

My initial diagnosis was pretty scary, and then 4 years of injections was terrible, but now that I am healthy, I intend to do all I can while I am healthy to enjoy my family and friends and also to raise the banner of MS Awareness.  One of the things that I have learned over the last 7 years is that this is a treatable condition dependent upon diet, stress management and close contact with a solid neurologist...and yes, often medication (though right now, I have been given a reprieve).   Another thing that I have learned is that it's okay to tell people and let people know what's going on.  Oh, and one of the most exciting things I have learned is that MS is one of those diseases that might be cured within our lifetime, even in a few short years.  How long has it been since we cured a disease?  How cool is it that you all --now--are a part of that!  Your contributions will help to cure a disease.  Even in 7 years, the medications have improved and those who suffer with MS enjoy much more mobility, freedom, health and peace of mind.

I am hopeful.  I really am.  This is why I run.

I think that by your contributions, you are hopeful too.  And you reinforce my faith.  Thank you for that and for your spirit of giving.

You will be with me tomorrow on my run and in my heart for the many runs to come.

-Rhonda


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Open Letter to my Family

Hi Family

I have 2 reasons for this email:

1) to make you all aware that earlier this year the doctor found another lesion in my brain when they did my annual MRI.

and

2) to let you know about my MS fundraiser.

At this point, the doctor is not extremely concerned about the test results, though he has moved my next scan up 6 months.  Still, it is a little disconcerting when I have not had any changes in my disease since I was first diagnosed some 7 years ago.  Until recently, we thought I had a benign form of MS.  Now there is reason to believe I have active disease.

We have talked about me starting up on the medication again, that terrible stuff that made me super sick.

There is some hope, though.  Since going off of the injections nearly 18 months ago, 2 more drugs have been released by the FDA.  One is an infusion therapy that is only taken once a month.  The other is oral.  Yes, oral!!  They each have pretty nasty side affects, but still, it's better than regular injections with site reactions (my legs and tummy were purple and green).

Anyway, I wanted to tell you all about the new drugs because these news forms of medication are a direct result of contributions to places like the MS Society.  No joking. This is actually a disease where you can see results of such charitable contributions in the strides that are being made in the treatment, and maybe one day even, the cure!

So, I am running a marathon in just a few short days.  I have been blogging about it on my blog and keep track of my progress.  I will wear my MS Orange running singlet that says on the front "I HAVE MS."  This is the same shirt I wore in Portland.  Only this time it will be adorned with the names of everyone who contributed to my fundraiser.  Each contribution could mean the difference between me running another race or even dancing with my kids at their weddings someday. 

I hope you would consider giving something, if even a few dollars.  I know these are tough times so it is okay if you cant contribute.  Also, if you think of anyone else who might want to help, please forward this to them.  It is easy to make a contribution.  Just follow this link and click where it says to:

http://www.crowdrise.com/rhondasrunformultiplesclerosis/fundraiser/rhondazimlich#top

I will wear your name on my shirt on 4/29 and in my heart for all time.  I am humbled to ask, but seeing the medical progress that has been made in these few short years with contributions just like yours, I can't help myself.  Each dollar makes a direct difference in the research and results...and maybe a cure.

Thanks so much.  And thank you to those of you who have already contributed.  Be sure to watch my progress on 4/29 on Facebook.  It will update as I cross section of the 26.2 miles.  Regardless, I'll be thinking of you all as I run.

Love to you all.

-Rhonda

p.s.  Here is my blog: http://rhonda-zimlich.blogspot.com/2012/04/eugene-marathon-asks.html

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eugene Marathon Asks

Tell Us Your Story...

So I did:

I have MS.  I was diagnosed 7 years ago when I was pregnant with my twin daughters.  At the time of my diagnosis, I was so afraid of what was to come.  Before my pregnancy, I was an amateur runner, mostly just running for fitness.  After the girls were born, and after they finished a course of 12 months of nursing, I started the MS Treatments.  Not many people know that the treatment for MS is often much worse that the disease itself.  I was taking intravenous beta-interferon, which made me feel sick and very tired all of the time. Last year, my doctor decided to give me a break from the meds (he called it a drug holiday).  During that time, I felt great.  My spirits were lifted.  My energy increased.  My running improved.  As a result, I thought I would try my hand at the half marathon here in Eugene.  I ran it in 2:22, which was pretty good considering the wait for the port-a-potty (nearly 7 minutes).  After that, I decided I would go for it and try my hand at an entire 26.2.  I trained for the Portland Marathon with Joe Henderson's group out of the Eugene Running club.  With the support of the coach and the team, and the love of my family, I made the distance in 4:49:27 (I know it by heart).  I cried like a baby at the finish line.  I ran in my singlet that says "I Have MS" right across the front.  Then I thought, what should I do next?  Well, I decided I would bring it home and run the Eugene Marathon on 2012. I was taking  big chance, because my drug holiday was nearing its end.  My MRI was coming up and I feared that if I had more disease activity and more lesions showed up on my scan, then my doctor would caution against another run of that distance...or worse, I might have to go back on the shots that kept me sick for so many years.  Well, needless to say, I went ahead with the training for Eugene.  Also, during that time I got hooked up with Crowdrise and started fund raising for the MS Society through the Eugene Marathon.  Things were going okay, but I felt tired in my running and slow in my progress with my training.  Then I had my MRI in February. Sure enough I had my first new brain lesion in years.  I panicked.  My doctor was very supportive and reassuring and so I pressed on with the training.  Well, we have just had our 21 miles training and I beat my pace by nearly 30 seconds per mile than when I trained for Portland.  I think the Eugene Marathon will be a wonderful and unique experience for me and for my family and friends who live here.  I especially want my daughters to see me doing what I am doing not only with this run, but also with the fundraiser.  I intend to wear that same singlet I wore in Portland (I Have MS), only this time it will be adorned with the names of those who have contributed to my Crowdrise fundraiser.  I want people to know that MS is not an end.  I can do this.  I am doing this.  I am honored and proud to do it in my home city of Eugene.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Counting The Steps

Saturday this last weekend, we ran 21 miles.  It was fun.  If someone would have told me a year ago that I would have put together a 21 mile run and also called it 'fun' I would have told them they were crazy.  Still, there we were, trucking along the old familiar route out along the Willamette.  I had a much stronger finish than I had a mid-section run.  My mile 15 to about 18 was bogged down with heavy thoughts of fatigue and failure.  Here's what I did to get over it:

I started counting my footfalls.  1, 2, 3, 4... as the right foot hit the ground.  All the way to 100 and then over again.  When I was sure I had hit at least 500 (more likely 700 or 800) I started counting the number of footfalls on my left foot.

Maybe this seems silly, tedious, boring, but it was just the thing I needed to distract me from my fatigue.  By mile 19, I was feeling strong again.  I ran the last few miles smiling and was happy to finish sure-footed.

Morale of the story: sometimes monotony prevails!

Friday, March 16, 2012

MS Week Comes to a Close

So, even though MS Month goes on for the entire month of March, MS Week itself comes to a close with me running a 9 miler with my team this Sunday, followed by a 5K in the afternoon called the 2012 Jog Your Brain (not related to MS Week, but connected in the Kevin Bacon sense).  I have a new brain scientist friend named Christina who turned me on to the race.  I hope some others will come out to play.  They have  kids run, too!

Here's how I celebrated MS Week:

Monday, I sulked a bit (honest) but by Tuesday, I felt better.  I reposted my fund raiser and my mom made a nice donation (thanks MOM! I love you!)  Wednesday, I ran 12 miles and that was good.  It was tough, but good.  I also filled out my March Madness bracket.  Again, tough, but good. Thursday, I got a note from Emily, my good friend (also organizer of the MS Stingers team in San Diego last year) telling me that Niagra Falls was painted orange for MS Week.  Very cool!

Thursday, I also went shoe (window) shopping with my friend Judy.  We tried on outrageous shoes and we laughed a bunch!  There was no such thing as sulking.  She has that effect on me.  And then today, I ran another 4 miles...only I ran today in my old Brooks and not my Asics.  Hmmm.  They felt really good.  Also, for the first time in a long time my legs felt strong.  Maybe the fatigue was all in my head (that means something in multiple ways for someone like me [a little brain humor]).

Anyway, we're finishing today up with a blanket fort in Gabriella's room and then movie night on the laptop in said blanket fort.  That's all I need today...maybe some popcorn, too.

Just so you know, since I was first diagnosed with MS, they have developed new medicines that have really made a difference in the way people deal with this chronic illness (caution, I am about to ask for your money).  There is even an oral medication now and there was not one just a few years ago when I was telling my doctor about my needle phobia.  This is a direct result of contributions to organizations like the MS Society.  I actually have a fund raiser set up that correlates with my marathon run coming this April.  You can contribute if you want.  It is super easy.  If you do, I will wear your name on my shirt for all of the 26.2 miles (though I am tempted to pull a a Brandi Chastaine at the end : )  Here's the link to my fund raiser (not to the sports bra incident):


http://www.crowdrise.com/rhondasrunformultiplesclerosis/fundraiser/rhondazimlich#top

Please know that your dollars have made a direct and immediate difference and will continue to help so many.  I believe in my heart that MS is more than treatable, perhaps even curable.  How long has it been since we cured a disease?  We're close.  Be a part of it.  We can't do it alone.

I hope you have had an amazing MS Week...as amazing as mine!  Or even more so!!  And may you all have many more amazing MS Weeks with mobility and family and friends and so much more.  It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Truth Be Told

Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach calls what I am experiencing "the trance of fear."  For the past few weeks since the results of the MRI, I have been living in my fear, overwhelmed by my emotions and distant from reality.  It has changed the way I sleep, eat, run and even interact with those around me.  I feel shut down, like I have been going around the house of my life flipping various switches to 'off' and putting emotions away.  I've left out fear; now I'm not sure what to do with it.

Truth be told, I am actually just being dramatic.  Seriously.  Part of the reason I react the way that I do is because I just don't know how I am supposed to react. I forget that there is no norm for feelings about chronic illness or how we are supposed to deal with it.  We just are (supposed to deal with it, that is).

So, here it is.  I went in for the 6 month MRI after the doctor took me off of the injections.  I felt great.  I was training to run a half marathon.  Life was good.  The scan was clean.  No new lesions; no new activity.  In the world of MS, no news really IS good news.  So, I got another 12 month vacation off of the injections.  The doctor joked with me about the half marathon saying I should've went for the whole thing...so I did.  I ran Portland in October--the whole thing-- having been off of the injections for just over 1 year.  I felt great.  I ran strong.  All was well.  Then I thought, if I did that, what else can I do?   Some of you remember, if you have been reading along.  So I signed up to run my hometown marathon here in Eugene.  Then ...

Then I had a bad winter.  I felt sluggish, fatigued.  My right leg started getting this warm feeling traveling up and down it.  The tingling in my left leg had returned, and for longer periods now.  My running slowed.  I blamed the bad weather, my busy schedule, my diet, stress--it couldn't be MS related.

So, then I got my 12 month scan.

One new lesion.

One.

Not several.  Not debilitating exacerbations. Nothing dramatic.  Except for one very dramatic thing:  me.  I am dramatic.  I am the flare to the powder keg here.  (See what I mean?  What powder keg?)

I have to tell you, recognizing that I am dramatic has been very helpful.  Helpful in many areas of my life.

You have to understand that after 6 years of new new activity with my MS, one new lesion is enough to tip me over. Again, there is no norm on how I should react.  No manual on emotions for chronic illness sufferers.  Feelings for Dummies, With A Special Section On Dealing With Disease.  Ooo, a book like that would do great on the B&N bargain table, though.

So what do I do now?

This Sunday, we will run 17 miles.  I plan to pace just less than 11 minute miles, going as slow as I can.  If I get it done in less than 3 hours, I will be amazed.  This is no time for me to showboat--even to myself.  Oh, I'm still running the marathon this spring in Eugene.  You'd better believe I am.  I plan to run until I no longer can.  Even if I no longer can run, maybe I'll walk...take in more of the scenery as I do.

On the not so dramatic news front, the doctor and I decided that I would remain off of the injections for another 6 months and do another MRI at that time.  Hmmm... That's enough time to train for the Victoria marathon, right?

Oh, look! Here's a sandcastle my girls built:


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Polishing the Time Bomb

Sometimes—not always, but certainly enough to note—I get scared that my efforts to continue to stay mobile and healthy are completely futile.  This is especially true for me now.  Now, I find that the fatigue often wins out over the desire to go for a run.  Now, I battle frequent headaches and migraines that the neurologist says are not related to my MS.  Now, I find it is as much of an effort to clean my house as it is to log even a few miles of activity.  I do not mean to be dramatic about this but the fear that I mentioned at the beginning here seems to be winning out.  I suppose I should congratulate myself that I have had great days that certainly outweigh the bad days.  Congratulations, Self.  Fear has cheapened that laudatory intent.

I recently told my daughter a story about fear.  I am trying to work it out so that it can also apply to me, here.  I’ll recall it for you now.

Several years ago I took a road trip with my sister and some friends.  We ended up driving through a spectacular stretch of King’s Canyon National Park in California, an area renowned for it world-class rock climbing.  We stopped at a vista near a particularly insane tower of rock to watch two figures scale the monolith.  The canyon was so quiet you could hear the tools of the climbers chinking away at the rock face as they installed bolts and anchors creating a new path for future climbers.  It wasn’t long before the climbers began an ascent and so we decided to wait around for them and introduce ourselves.  They were nice enough and we were all having a great time chatting it up on the vista turn-out so we decided we’d invite them back to our camp for some dinner and visiting.

Back at camp, one of the climbers started in with some tall stories about his friend next to me at the fire.  He said that he was a world-class climber, 3rd in the nation, though he would never brag about himself.  I was able to finally pry some experience out of the quieter of the two.  He did seem to know a lot about climbing.  And he was tolerant of my many questions.  Finally I asked, “Aren’t you ever afraid up there?”  His answer changed me forever.  Nearly half of my life later, I still think about what he said then.

He said, “fear keeps me on the rock.”

He went on to describe how fear is very thing that makes him take extra steps when preparing his climbing gear, coiling his ropes, and drilling his anchors.  He said that it is fear that gives him a keen sense on the rock face, determining whether or not he has a good hold before moving on.  He said that if ever there is a day when he wakes up and he does not have a healthy sense of fear then he does not climb that day.  He went on to explain why fear is healthy, why he thought it was more than just a vestigial reaction at a visceral level in us all for survival—that fear could actually save our lives, and does regularly.

So, here I am in fear.  I have enjoyed 14 months of relatively healthy mobility with few issues (maybe even none, really).  But now, I’m not so sure.  Multiple Sclerosis is so sneaky and individualized, it is hard to quantify an exacerbation or recognize a symptom.  In fact, the best I can do to describe what is going on for me lately is to say that I am afraid of my MS like I haven’t been in quite a long time…maybe even since my first diagnosis. 

So, how can fear keep me on my rock?  How can I use this as a motivator to push through?  See, I want to be motivated to push through this and I am so afraid that I cannot.  I am so afraid that this is beyond my control and that my sickness has started to take over in ways that I cannot see or prevent.  That's how MS is; I can battle it as much as I want and it just comes and takes over when it's time.  Meanwhile, I keep polishing the time bomb, making sure that it is nice and shiny until then.

But for today, I feel okay.  I am a little tired, but okay still.  I have an MRI this week.  I’ll use this fear to help me to lie very still in the tube so that my doctor can have the best pictures possible.  Still, I won’t dwell on the fear-- no.  I do not think this is what the climber intended.  I think I will use the time to reflect on my family and friends and those who love me.  They are the rock that I cling to.  In some ways, I am more anchored to them now than I had been, knowing that I should be careful to remain close and thorough.  I have come to rely on my husband’s strength when I am frightened, on my children’s hope when I despair, and on the encouragement from friends and family telling me it’s okay.  Yes, that’s how it fits for me right now. 

And it is okay…even if I am afraid.  Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to have fear and to push through it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Early Morning Wake-up Call

We are in full swing now, training for the Eugene Marathon on April 29th.  I had some very clear thoughts when the alarm sounded this morning at 6:30 AM on a Sunday. I was thinking about how this part of the marathon experience is actually harder than the run.  Now that I am awake and have had a few swallows of coffee, I would like to retract that thought.

No rain today.  It will be in the 40s this morning, a temperature I actually enjoy while running.  None of that is really what is on my mind, though.

I was met this morning by a Facebook picture of a dear friend of my husband.  His friend had been in the ER again last  night because he has cancer, in its final stages, and he has been reduced to a thin, unrecognizable image of who I remember. The slew of comments that followed the portrait were heartfelt, touching even. I couldn't help but imagine all of my excuses laid out before me, between me and this picture.  And not just excuses to not run either.  No.  I have been faced with scheduling my next MRI and have been putting it off for fear of bad news.  Somehow, the image of this man, still young and hopeful, but transformed by his illness to a much older version of himself, now weak and frail, somehow this image has brought me around to my own senses.  It has been a wake-up call, in the sense that I need to put aside my own fears and try my best to make it through my own ailments and disease, just like I have seen this man do over the years since his first diagnosis. ..and even now.

Even now, emergency room and medical people and death knocking but not yet entreating, he is peaceful.  I think this is the thing that prods me the most.  I want to say thank you to him for giving that to me, but I know better.  Instead, I will go out and do my training run this morning.  I will schedule my MRI.  I will.  I should do it gladly, but it is enough to do it.

Good morning.