Friday, December 28, 2012

Drinking in the Garden

Just under two years ago, I had accepted a job at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and discovered that the commute from San Francisco was easily 1.25 hours each way. Matt and I set off on a rapid apartment search, exploring areas in the East Bay close to BART. One day we went to check-out an in-law unit in Rockridge. The walk-out basement opened to a beautifully maintained, gorgeous garden and patio. We were in love. We chatted with the lovely landlady who lived upstairs and hit it off immediately. We were a little worried that she might be a crazy landlady with a lot of rules, but we decided it was worth it. She claimed that we got the apartment because she liked us best, but my guess is that no one else had committed yet.

Well, we were right. She was a little crazy and had a lot of rules, but she was also fascinating, generous, and welcoming. She frequently brought us delightful food - extras from lunch or dinner, or part of the fancy dessert she had picked up for an occasion. I had worried about living with a landlady in such close proximity, but it turned out to be kind of like having a delightful grandmother upstairs. She told hilarious stories, brought down bottles of wine to share when we were out on the patio - which is how I learned one day that working from home was not so viable.

One day in late October she came downstairs and asked us to take her to the Emergency Room. Matt took her and I planned to meet them there, but she told him to just drop her off. When Matt picked her up later, we learned she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I can't imagine going to the ER by myself and receiving a cancer diagnosis. The next day she came down for pumpkin carving, plying us with wine and chips. She remained extremely positive and cheerful, going to endless doctor's appointments and having numerous tests done. She ended up with pneumonia at one point; I ran into her in the driveway as she came home from the doctor, and it was the only time I ever saw her look exhausted and a bit downtrodden.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, she was downstairs telling us hilarious stories about how she had gotten her oncologist's notes and was trying to decipher them. She thought he had written that she was "a lonely old woman" and could not understand why he thought she was lonely. She then later figured out he had actually written that she was "a lovely old woman." She didn't seem to be sure that that was a better assessment.

On December 4th she learned she would be having lung surgery the following week. She wrote us an email saying, "I may be gone (but not dead Winking smile) and will be at the hospital...Then, I may start chemo, will be a little weak but look forward to be on the road to recovery. Thank you for being generous, patient and understanding." Always thinking of her burden on us and focusing on the good.

On December 12th she underwent successful lung surgery. On December 14th, when a housemate called the hospital to see about us going to visit, we learned that the night before she had suffered a massive stroke. She had been moved to the ICU and we were not to visit yet. She was at first minimally responsive, but then stopped opening her eyes. I went to visit this week with another housemate. We told her stories and chatted to each other; read her mail and gossip magazines.

Today, her daughter is bringing her home for hospice care, to be surrounded by her beautiful flowers and music. She is just 66 years old. 


I wrote this post a week ago, the day she came home, in an attempt at catharsis. Yesterday, our lovely landlady passed away. It is so strange to be in the house she loved without her, looking at the garden she loved even more. It has been just two months since her diagnosis, less than a month since she was putting winky faces in emails related to an outcome that if she suspected or feared, she certainly never let on.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Training Log Resumes

About two of you probably remember that back in early 2011, I began chronicling my training for the Big Sur Marathon over at Alison's Training Log. Well, now that I'm back, I've decided to resume the training log. Most training programs recommend keeping a training log and diary so that you can learn what works and doesn't work for you, and in particular for my case, how you become injured. In fact, as I reviewed my 2011 training log, I remember things I'd completely forgotten, like how my left arch was causing me problems back then. I had only remembered my right toe.

So anyway, I'll be starting the log back up in case you're interested. I was hoping to find a more useful platform than a blog, where I could see my workout stats as well as my entries in more of a calendar format, but I guess I'll just have to go with this for now. Let me know if you have recommendations for something else.

Meanwhile, after looking through some training plans and my old training log, I've become paranoid that I will once again get injured before the marathon. I have four months to go. I'm already at half marathon distance, so I will be maintaining fairly high mileage (for me), for the whole four months. I worry that my body can't handle it. I start thinking that maybe I should find an earlier marathon and get it out of the way while I'm still healthy even if it means I'm undertrained. After all, the TNT program only calls for two long runs longer than a half marathon: 14-16 mile and 17-20 mile. Maybe I should just go knock a couple of those out over the next month, and get a marathon over with. Or maybe I should calm down and follow the program until the end of March. Maybe if I keep up with rolling and core work and strength (hah), I will have a better outcome.

Isn't exercise supposed to help you manage your stress rather than cause anxiety?

Xterra Trail Half Marathon World Championships Race Report

In January 2011, Matt and I were in Oahu on vacation, taking a movie sites tour at Kualoa Ranch. It was amazingly beautiful. The tour guide mentioned that they had just held a half marathon on site in December. I immediately knew it was a race I had to do. The ranch is private, so you just can't go out and run it anytime you want to. I made a vow to come back.

It didn't happen in 2011, but we made it out this year, 2012. I booked frequent flyer tickets way back in April. I love Hawaii, so we weren't going just for the race, but the timing did revolve around it.

Here we are before the start. A group called Team XTREME parachuted in with a wounded warrior and his wife. It was pretty awesome. It was quite windy at the time, and the parachute with the wounded warrior actually missed the landing area, flew over the restrooms, and then I'm not sure what happened. They did emerge later, but when we went to look, it seems they must have ended up in a farming area.
 Some of the beautiful scenery at the start:

 The area where the parachutist seems to have landed:
 Here we are, taking off. I really must work on keeping my arms at 90 degrees and not overstriding.
At about mile 2, I ran into a queue at some single track and decided to get out my phone and take some pictures. I think all the rest are in reverse order:

Nearly finished!

And finished! (Wearing my Komen shirt. I realized about half way through the race that I was wearing it and spent awhile stressing about the fact that people would be thinking I was a terrible person. For the record, I participated in their Marathon for the Cure program in honor of my mother prior to the Planned Parenthood fiasco. The shirt was so filthy following the race that I trashed it.)

It was amazing course. So beautiful - but hard to look around too much because of the various rocks and roots all over the place. Nearly the entire course was rolling hills. I had thought we were going to the top of the cliffs, but it turns out there were just a lot of ups and downs, and we went through a pass to go between valleys. The course claims to have 2900 feet of elevation gain. I uploaded my gps data to various websites that show between 2000 and 3000 so I am not sure what to believe. I kind of think 3000 might be high because when I ran 10.5 miles and 2000 feet at Usery is took me 2:15 and this only took me 2:26. It is hard to know if I did much better than I expected or if the elevation gain just wasn't as much as claimed. How does one learn the truth?

Overall, I was a bit disappointed that it didn't rain during the event (I mean CIM got a downpour and the North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon was cancelled that same day). Trail running in the rain in a jungle would be super fun and up the bad ass factor so much. (I'll pretend I wasn't freaking out the night before the race about reading the description of the 1/4 mile descent involving ropes and thinking how treacherous it would be with water cascading down the mountain.) I was also disappointed that the course didn't actually go to the top of the mountains. However, I had a great time, and I wasn't even that sore afterwards. I can't say I trained a whole heck of a lot for that kind of elevation gain, so I'm guessing the lack of pounding on asphalt just makes a difference in that regard.

I previously thought that I wouldn't enjoy trail running as much because I hate to stop running in the middle of a race. But I really didn't mind walking up some of the hills (along with everybody else) - it was a welcome reprieve when I felt my legs could carry me no further otherwise. I also had to settle my pace during a lot of the single track (including walking) because it was have been rather douchey to try to pass people. We only let the 10K leaders pass. At one point a runner behind me told his buddies that he was enjoying the nice, casual pace we were doing. The last mile when the field finally opened up, I picked off some people, but even so, I felt as if I could only take teeny tiny steps, so I'm guessing that my slow paces earlier in the race probably helped me rather than hurt me. I'm pretty pleased with my time given all the elevation gain.

I highly recommend this race - so beautiful! Maybe not great if you are trying to PR because of the queues in the single track, but a great opportunity to get a unique view of some outstanding scenery.

Also, I totally failed to note that this race had a photo finish. They could not decide who won, so they awarded a tie for first place. I find it so crazy that after more than an hour, two people can finish at exactly the same time. I wish I'd been there to see that. (Hah.) Incidentally, one of the guys had apparently run off-course more than once...

Turkey Weekend Race Reports

I like to race. More specifically, I like to sign up for events. They keep me motivated and entertained. Sometimes I race them, and sometimes I go out for fun. The Hellaween race was strictly for fun, so I'm not race reporting here. Turkey Weekend was another story.

First, Nitro Turkey on Thanksgiving morning. I signed up for the 5K (instead of the 10K) to run with Matt, but then Matt decided not to train. This means he would have to run-walk the 5K in deference to his testy IT band. I used this as an excuse to abandon him (are turkey trots supposed to be family events?) and go after my 5K PR. (I also had a friend at the event, but she was in the 10K.) I haven't run many 5Ks, and my fastest 5K time is actually during a half marathon this past March. I was pretty sure I wouldn't have to try too hard to beat it; however, short races are not my thing. I don't really like being that uncomfortable, even if it is only for something less than 30 minutes. In longer races you just kind of settle in and keep plowing foward, but in a short race, you kind of have to kill it.

The race was a bit hilly, about 200 feet of elevation gain, and I found it challenging. I think I had eaten or drunk too much before the race, because I could feel things bouncing around in my stomach most of the race, which is not too pleasant. Nevertheless, I plowed onward and finished in 25:45, or an 8'18" pace. Not as fast as I felt I should be able to do (based on pace prediction at least), but it was good enough for first place in my division. Turns out most good runners do the 10K instead, making that field much more tough to crack. So here's a tip for winning awards - sign up for short distances in local races. The race itself was very well run, nicely scenic, and had a smorgasbord of pumpkin pie and other delightful treats afterward, including hot chocolate with marshmallows. One could easily eat about 10 times as many calories as the 300 burned during a 5K.

I had also signed up for a race on Saturday of that same weekend, the Quarry Turkey 10K. Why, you might ask? I guess I was sucked in by the promise of a Double Turkey Mega Medal. Also we had no plans for the weekend, so why not race? Matt didn't plan to run this one, but luckily he came to spectate, because the parking lines were ludicrous! I had to abandon him in the car and walk to the start, and I still was only ready with about 10 minutes to spare. They ended up pushing all the races back 15 minutes, and Matt actually made it to the start. Here we are:

One might think that trying to PR two races in one weekend is not the brightest idea ever, but I thought it was fabulous. I had never actually run a 10K race before (shocking, I know), so anything I did would be a PR. I could just enjoy the scenery.

Nope. I went for it. I knew from my pace prediction charts that I should be able to run at about an 8'11" pace, so I tried to keep that up. It felt quite difficult. I kept looking down and seeing that I was running over 8'30" and internally chastising myself for not being able to run faster than half marathon pace in a 10K. So I kept pushing it. I spent the whole race being appalled at how tired I felt. Here I am, near the end, looking in pretty bad shape:

But then, I crossed the finish line, and low and behold, I finished in under 50 minutes: 49:42 to be exact, or an 8 minute mile. My Nike Plus was off by about 0.3 miles, which at this short a distance is enough to put the pace off by 24 seconds per mile, apparently. So my Nike Plus basically tricked me into running a super fast time for me. I wasn't struggling running at half marathon pace; I was struggling because I was running an 8 minute mile! My pace declined throughout the race, so I actually ran it very poorly. It worked out in the end, but I always need to remember to just go with my gut instead of trying to meet a pace. If I had started the race running by how I felt instead of by trying to hit 8'11" on my Nike Plus, I might have been able to get an even better time in the end. However, I should thank Nike Plus for tricking me. I think about calibrating it so my paces and mileage would be more exact, but it seemed to work out. Even if it doesn't tell me I set a 10K record because it thinks I only ran 5.9 miles. Anyhow, obviously I look super spent and relieved to be done at the end:

My rewards for the weekend. I finished 4th in my division for the Quarry Turkey 10K, just 20 seconds out of an age group medal. However, it was another great event despite the parking fiasco, and I will definitely consider Brazen Racing for future events as well.

Du the Bears Race Report

I had a fabulous experience at my first and only duathlon back in April. It was quite fun, and I did pretty well. It turns out that being okay and two sports is an advantage in the duathlon. I think other non-competitive types tend to have one event better than the other.

Since that duathlon, I'd been looking for more to enter, but it turns out there aren't very many, and most of them are on Saturdays, which interfered with my TNT trainings. As a result, I signed up for one shortly after the end of cycle season, along with two of my cycle teammates.  It was a beautiful morning at the reservoir just over the hills; I had never even been there!

It was a very small field, which was great. No stress getting all set up for the event. As we started, my friend asked me if we were going for it, and I said yes, not just for fun this time. (We apparently don't make decisions very far in advance.)

That's about when we took off:

Here I am finishing the first run:


Coming back in on the bike:

And here we are with our age group awards. I actually finished first in my age group, just 30 seconds ahead of my friend.

It was not easy. The run was very hilly, which I was not expecting. I also still struggle with going fast on my bike. I don't really know how to pace myself for that sort of thing, and to some extent, I still see bike riding as a casual event to check out the scenery. Plus, you're not allowed to draft in duathlons, so you can't use people in front of you for too much inspiration.

This was a super fun event. The race director stopped by afterwards to thank us for coming out. I realize I'm not competitive at a non-super-local level, but it's always nice to feel some sense of accomplishment. Plus, I discovered a great new place to run (not that I've been back) and a company (Wolf Pack Events) that puts on great races.