Posted by: runningitis | November 6, 2010

Thanks Joe

There is one story I’ve been burning to tell through this experience and no matter how many times I sit down to write it—I end up backspacing and deleting and eventually moving on to the next topic because I just can’t seem to convey how one person made such a huge difference in my life.  With just hours to go before my streak ends, here is my very humble eleventh hour attempt.

I remember the exact moment I decided I wanted to run a marathon.  It was before I even knew what a marathon really was, how long of a distance, and how deep you really had to dig to get through the endless training and then the race itself.  It was before I knew anything about IT band pain, Gu, finisher’s medals and even that holy grail, Boston—I knew I wanted to someday be there with a bib number to toe the line. 

It was my senior year of high school and I was sitting in Mr. Ryan’s AP Government class and I nearly had whiplash from whipping my neck 180 degrees behind me.  In the back of the class a student had just announced he ran the LA marathon.  Or rather, after provocation from our teacher (who we affectionately nick-named Rocky) Joe Olson was talking about the marathon, the conditions, his time…

All of those numeric details were lost to me.  I had no real frame of reference anyway for how long it should take to run 26.2 miles. All I know was here was Joe Olson, a kid I had known since the third grade describing how he had just accomplished a major athletic endeavor.  I thought, Joe? Joe Olson had just done a marathon?  What?

Like I said, I had known Joe since Mrs. Dunn’s third grade class at St. Michael’s school. Our class was small, but I mostly got to know Joe through his plastic-framed glasses with lenses you could measure from the side with our crude wooden rulers.  In gym class I could count on Joe as being one of the fellow inhabitants of the lonely side of the gym opposite of where the “athletic” kids were quickly drafted for games of capture the flag.  In that soul-crushing early humility-teaching way we were the last ones standing.  Through the ubiquitous system of elementary school segregation of boys and girls—Joe and I barely made verbal or physical contact.  But I felt through all that mental anguish—pick me, pick me—the two of us were somehow intertwined.

Over the years Joe had grown up—or more accurately, shot up in that bionic way of adolescent boys.  He got new frames for his glasses and maybe a new pair of Levis.  But it wasn’t the kind of transformation that is the stuff of an 80’s movie montage.  Joe wasn’t suddenly donning a letterman jacket and showing up to prom in a Porsche.  Rather, he grew a beard, joined the cross country team and continued being the nice and bitingly funny person he had been since the third grade.  While I and many others struggled with who we were and who we wanted to be—Joe simply become more Joe.  It was beautiful to see.

But here was Joe, my Joe, from my side of the gym explaining to the class how he had just finished a marathon.  “What!?” I remember saying out loud.  While Joe had been running Cross Country—I still considered him someone similar to me—an un-athlete.  Someone who ran from a game of pick up basketball rather than run down the court.  Now it had all changed.  Joe had left me and become one of them:  one of those wretched people who played with bats, balls and sticks and ran because they enjoyed it. 

But wait!  If Joe, my Joe could turn his lumbering gait into something smooth and strong so that he could finish a marathon—maybe, just maybe I could too.  Maybe there was room over on the other side of the gym for us all… my mind whirred with a spastic energy.  I think they call it inspiration.  I want to do a marathon I thought to myself as I opened up my textbook and plunged into checks and balances and the three branches of government.  That was it—a goal was born.

A few weeks later I was at home preparing for another graduation party.  For me, high school was over and all I had to do now was pick up my diploma on the stage the next day.  And then it was on to college and jobs and big and scary adult situations I couldn’t wait to throw myself into.  I don’t remember how I got the news—I think it was my friend Katie who called.  Two years ago she had reluctantly played Shiva the harbinger of doom—to tell me four of our friends were killed in a car accident.  Once more before exiting high school she revived the role.  Joe had gone cliff diving with some friends out on Lake Superior.  I think he was the first to dive in.  Head first.  The water was too shallow.  His neck was crushed in the impact.  He was paralyzed.

Paralyzed.  The word’s syllables sat on my lips in a strange way.  As a class we had already dealt with the realities of death.  We lost four good, happy boys and were told (or made to believe) their deaths were instantaneous.  But here was Joe—tall, funny and recently athletic Joe was paralyzed.  A small, evil voice in my head wondered who was worse off—the four classmates or Joe.

Days later after all of us had walked across the stage to pick up our diplomas I went to see Joe, who we were told would never walk again.  My boyfriend at the time (who I also had known since our days at St. Mike’s) said he had heard Joe’s mom was also in the hospital on tranquilizers she was so upset.  It sounded unbelievable—we both remembered her soft voice and gentle way she handed out cookies and cups of kool-aid after our Christmas concert and who chaperoned our field trips in such a calm and mothering way.  It seemed nothing could upset her.  Our childhood illusions of invincibility were quickly shattering before us.

I thought visiting Joe was going to be terrible.  I had never feared hospitals, but I had never been to one where my friend was sick.  And words like “Get Better Soon” seemed as inappropriate as “Congratulations on your Bar Mitzvah!” 

But when I saw Joe—I knew that everything was going to be alright.  He was sitting with his head propped up on a pillow, a glass of 7Up in a Styrofoam cup in front of him.  He greeted us both like we had just dropped by his house to hang out in his basement and listen to music.  “What’s up guys?”

We talked for awhile.  And everything seemed strangely…normal.  I started to forget about everything until Joe got hungry and I realized his hands hadn’t moved the entire time we were there.  Another Styrofoam cup, this time filled with Cheerios arrived and Joe stared at it. 

A beat went by and I said, “I’ll help you Joe.”  I awkwardly picked up the cup (here I was the one with full control of my body, but ashamedly uncoordinated) and began picking out two or three round Os and lifting them to Joe’s mouth.  “You’ve never done this before—have you?”  Joe laughed at my bumbling fingers and how I couldn’t quite figure out how to get the Os in his mouth without spilling them down his hospital gown.  “C’mon you’re going to have to get good at this.”  Then he gave me a look that bordered on flirtatious.  My boyfriend was not more than five feet away and Joe opened his mouth another mouthful—obviously enjoying the attention.  He might have been paralyzed, but his balls were certainly still intact.  I blushed as I fished for another O.  Joe’s life had turned on an instant and in one of the most dramatic ways possible.  But he was still Joe and it was still something beautiful to behold.

After that summer I went to college, and by Christmas I was also in a wheelchair (although very temporarily).  My arthritis came on suddenly and soon every joint in my body seemed to be burning in pain.  The morning I saw Dr. Hadley—my rheumatologist in Duluth—my mother had to dress me and all I could think about was that cup of Cheerios.  I remembered how Joe had taken mouthfuls of food from my fingers without a shred of self-pity.  Thinking of Joe helped me be brave and to keep it all in perspective. 

In the weeks and months that went by when my arthritis was at its worst, I kept going back to Joe for inspiration.  Joe hadn’t let his condition slow him down.  He was continuing on to college, moving hours away from his family and being just as independent (if not more so) than most young adults.  I was more than determined to do the same—giving up on any of my goals wasn’t an option.

One day I was laying down with my knees swollen like two overripe cantaloupes in front of me and I made a promise to myself that if I ever was able to run again I wouldn’t waste my life avoiding or despising it.  I finally realized how precious our ability to run truly is and when I got that ability back I would make the most of it.  Just like Joe. 

So here I am tonight.  On the eve of another marathon and about to realize what’s been a major goal for me—running every day this year.  And I can truly say that this year I did make the most of what my body can do and that is also a beautiful thing.

Posted by: runningitis | October 1, 2010

The Very Unsexy Side of Streaking

It’s day 327 of running.  And things are getting ugly.

With the marathon a little more than a month away (yikes!) I’m in full-blown training mode.  And that means I spent Sunday slogging 18 miles on an asphalt bike path instead of lingering over the New York Times Style section and a big plate of pancakes.  While I love the way running normally makes me feel–I’ve got to be honest–there’s nothing pretty when we’re talking about this kind of mileage.  By the end, the inside of my legs were rubbed raw (despite copious mounts of Body Glide), I lost two toenails and the inside of my ankles were cut up from my shoe dragging repeatedly against the bone.  Not to mention about three hours worth of sweat had dried and crusted all over my body so that I looked like I dove into a vat of baby powder (without the fresh scent).

Marathon runners aren’t exactly known for their sex appeal.  Subtract the elite super-human runners from the pack and you get a motley crew of bodies in all shapes and sizes.  Stand at the finish line and you’ll see a horrid array of bodily functions.  A friend of mine once volunteered to pass out finisher’s medals at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.  She thought it would be an inspiring experience.  Instead, she saw hordes of men finish with blood streaked singlets from nipple chafing and a woman with streaks of diarrhea running down her legs. To cap off her day a man actually threw up on her as she placed the medal around his neck.   Forget inspirational, she was turned off from running for good and vowed never to come within 30 miles of a race course the rest of her life.

Thankfully I’ve been spared (knock on wood) those race day horrors.  But another problem has reared it’s ugly and definitely un-sexy head and it’s a real pain in the ass.  Yes, I’m talking about hemorrhoids.

Are you still reading?

I first encountered this problem in 2006 when I trained for my first marathon.  I was logging bout 40 miles a week, including long runs of 12 miles or more.  After one of these long runs I went to the bathroom and noticed (there’s no easy way of saying this) blood on the toilet paper and extreme discomfort whenever I sat down.  I took a moment to think about the situation rationally and decided: it’s cancer and I’m dying.  I phoned my doctor in a panic and between hyperventilating I explained to the nurse what was happening:  pausing at times for dramatic effect (I was surely dying)  She let out a long exhale.  Oh no, here it comes! “Honey, I think it sounds like you have a hemorrhoid.”  A hemorrhoid?  I was 25 years old!  How does a 25-year-old get hemorrhoids? “It’s probably all that running you’re doing… but just in case, you better go see a specialist.”  I hung up the phone in horror.

Four days later I was enumerating all of the thousands of places I’d rather be than sitting in a doctor’s office for a case of hemorrhoids (Mall of America, in line at the DMV, Guantanamo Bay).  I was the youngest person in the waiting room by decades.  To pass the time, I fished through a pile of magazines, Urology Times, AARP and Pause (as in menopause) Magazine. Good times.  Suddenly watching the second hand of the clock move seemed riveting.

When I finally got to the privacy of the examination room I thought my humiliation was about to end with a paper gown.  I laid back on the crinkly paper covered vinyl chaise and took deep yogic breathes to relax.  This will soon be over… This will soon be over… “Hello!”  A sat up to see a young doctor jauntily bound through the door.  His build was impressive, he was tall and broad-shouldered with light-colored hair, but he wore geeky wire rimmed glasses and sensible, back-supporting clogs which seemed incongruous to his actual body.  He reminded me of a slightly balding Clark Kent and the glasses and clogs seemed like a weak disguise to conceal Superman’s true identity.   I felt my cheeks flushing in premature embarrassment.  Great.  Dr. Superman is about to give me an anal exam.

“Sow, what caan I help you wit today?”  Dr. Superman asked with a thick Wisconsin accent.  I noticed his ring fingered sparkled with a shiny gold band.  For whatever reason, knowing Dr. Superman was married and probably liked to drink Schlitz beer made me relax a little.

“Ugh.  A few days ago…”  I told him about the running and the incident with the toilet paper and what I read on the internet about long distance running and hemorrhoids (apparently it’s fairly common, but take my advice, don’t google image search hemorrhoids).

“Ooh-kay.  I’ll jast need to take a loooksey.  If you could rooll over on yer side.”  He said, reaching for a pair of plastic gloves.

I inhaled deeply and rolled over closing my eyes tightly.  This is the most embarrassing moment of my life, I thought.  But I was wrong.  As I was on my side with my eyes closed tightly, Dr. Superman in the same pleasant tone he had greeted me with asked me, “By de way… I waz lookin’ at yer name and you aren’t the girl on the news are yah?”

Scratch that.  This was the most humiliating point of my life.  “Ugh, yeah.  That’s me.”

“Oooh, dat’s great.  Is it okay if I tell my wife dat tonight?  She’ll get a kick out of dat.”

To this day, I wonder why he had chosen that particular moment to ask me that question.  Was it because my guard was down? Or was there something about examining my rear that triggered his memory?  The latter is so entirely unflattering, I hate to think about it.

“I guess that’s fine.”

“Yup, and it sure is a hemorrhoid, just a teeny one.  We’ve got some cream for dat.”


I left the doctor’s office with a prescription and some other instructions I only half-heard through my fog of shame and embarrassment.  I drove away thinking about Dr. Superman and Mrs. Superman sitting down to dinner tonight: “oooh, honey guess who I ran into today.  The girl on the news!”  Then I wondered if he would explain the reason for the office visit.  And I’ll always wonder if from that moment on, in the Superman household, if I was simply known as that asshole on TV.

Posted by: runningitis | August 6, 2010

Dear Old Dad

My runs have been a little lonely this week.  I’m missing my running buddy.  A few weeks ago, my parents were here in New York and before marathon sight-seeing excursions my dad and I would head out for marathon training runs.  It didn’t matter if we ran one mile or eight, my dad still kicked my ass.  I guess I should be annoyed that a man in his mid 50s can still cruise up-hill faster than I can run back down, but instead I’m insanely proud–yep, that’s my dad.  And even though I’m trailing behind, I’m so happy that after almost 30 years, we can finally (for the most part) run together.

Growing up, Saturday mornings meant three things Smurfs, Fruity Pebbles and seeing my dad come home from a run.  It was the jogging boom of the early 80’s and my dad had fallen in with the pack.  My sister and I would shriek when we touched his soaking wet t-shirt, but it didn’t stop us from trying to climb on his back as he did pushups on the avocado-green shag carpet in the living room.  When I picture him now, this is the image in my mind: a lanky, towering giant at 6’2″, with too-short green running shorts and big owl-eye glasses with tortoise shell rims.  It sounds nerdy I know, but to me he was stronger and cooler than Superman, or at least Hulk Hogan.  I’d ask, how many miles did you run today?   Whether he’d say 6, 10, or 18 miles–my reaction was always the same: whoooaaa!

In 1990, he signed up for the Rocket City marathon and for the first time I heard him begin to complain about running.  Back then, the dominating school of thought was: the more mileage, the better.  So an easy day meant six miles at a 7:30 pace.  Dad was suffering.  But it wasn’t his IT band or plantar fascitis–it was textbook burnout.  By the time the marathon came, dad was so tired he almost gave up somewhere around the 20 mile marker.  He admits the only reason he didn’t was because a group of female racers passed him as he sat on the curb and he decided he couldn’t let a couple of girls beat him.  He ended up finishing, but in the end, he was finished with running.

About the same time, Dad’s job became increasingly stressful.  He’d be gone on business Monday morning and wouldn’t get back until late Friday night.  Saturday was the only day he really got to spend with us, then Sunday he’d pack his bag again.  The running shoes and the rest of us stayed behind.

All those lonely restaurant meals and long flights spent sitting and snacking, eventually caught up with his middle.  Without running, he couldn’t combat the calories he was taking in.  The time apart was catching up to all of us, so when a desk job opened up he leapt at the chance.  Problem was, the job was just as stressful and now he had to help chauffeur two busy daughters and make meals at home.  We relied on takeout so often that when the Domino’s Pizza delivery girl’s car broke down, she walked to our house to use the phone (she knew us that well).  I swear to God I’m not making that up.

We were all getting a little chubby, so on a lark my dad and I bought running shoes and promised each other we’d start running together.  My dad mapped out an ambitious (for me) 3.1 mile loop and we headed out together.  Within a quarter mile, my heart was pounding so hard I thought I would break a rib.  My dad may have put on a little weight, but he still appeared effortless compared to my beet-faced huffing and puffing.  And we were not even half way.  I think we ventured out together about three more times when I decided to ditch the running and stick to Elle McPherson’s workout tape instead.

I didn’t really start running seriously until after I finished grad school and I signed up for my first marathon.  I had been running steadily for about a year and decided to do the Twin Cities Marathon to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation.  Many, myself included, were skeptical of both the physical and philanthropic goal.  But I was most surprised when my dad expressed his skepticism.  “Are you sure you want to do this?”  or “there’s nothing wrong with doing just three miles out and back.”  As I checked off the days, weeks and months of my training schedule, my dasd’s negative comments continued.  My father had always been ultra-supportive of everything I did my entire life. I was shocked that he of all people–the person who made me want to run all those years ago–was suddenly my biggest critic. 

Later I realized it wasn’t that he didn’t think I could do it, he just didn’t want what happened to him happen to me.  In his mind, the marathon was what turned him off running and for that he resented all races resembling 26.2 miles.  He didn’t want me to lose the joy of it all–like he did somewhere on the curb on the Rocket City course.

When I crossed the finish line and was ready to go out and do it again, it was something of an eye-opener for him.  But he wasn’t ready to lace up his shoes again just yet.  He was now 60-plus pounds overweight and his knees couldn’t support him.  I wasn’t so much worried about his knees, but about his heart and the family history of heart disease.  I wanted my dad to be around for a long time, and more than that, I wanted him to be healthy enough so that we could run together.  I spent a lot of my time during long training runs fantasizing about what that would be like–running side by side.

Maybe he had similar thoughts.  Or maybe he missed  looking down and seeing something other than flabby flesh.  Or maybe he just missed running.  Whatever it was, two-and a half years ago my dad started dieting, exercising and eventually running again.  I laughed when friends from home asked me if my dad was sick, because he had dropped so much weight.  He wasn’t sick, he was healthy again for the first time in years.

By 2009, my dad was a slightly grayer version of that same strong man I remember seeing over my bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Back then I thought,  Someday I’ll be big enough and go running with him.  The morning of my wedding, nearly three decades later, I finally got my chance.  Yes, having my father walk me down the aisle was important, but just as meaningful was the jog we took together on the beach the morning of my wedding day.

Posted by: runningitis | June 29, 2010

Change of Pace

“A Grey Goose dirty martini and Jameson on the rocks please.”

“Got it.”

The bartender turned and deftly began breaking the shaker in two, pouring ice into one side of the stainless steel.  I pulled a $20 and $10 bills from my wallet as he began to pour my cloudy drink.

“That’ll be $10.75.”

“No, I’m paying for both drinks.” I fingered the two bills in the air.

“Yeah, that’s what I said, $10.75.”

“Halleighluiah!  I’m back in Minnesota!” I threw my arms up in the air then grabbed a few singles shoved in the bottom of purse.

I haven’t been back to Minnesota in more than a year.  While I’m gradually adjusting to the kinetic pace of life in New York City, I really needed a dose of my midwestern roots.  About two weeks ago a familiar icky feeling began creeping into my bones.  The same feeling I got in the 4th grade when I went to sleep-away camp at Camp Batawagama.  Despite Parent-Trap-esque days swimming, arts and crafts and campfires, I spent every night in the Camp Director’s office, crying to my parents for them to pick me up: I was homesick.  I might be 29-years-old now, but I felt just like I did back in Batawagama—uneasy and anxious just wanting to be back in my parents’ house again.

The Lake in my parent's backyard as I remember it in Fall

Meanwhile, my mileage was ramping up.  My weekly long runs hit the double digits and my speed sessions included four or five mile repeats on the track.  Then one day about a week and a half ago I was on the track and was lagging 25 or 30 seconds behind my target split times.  I threw the stopwatch in the ground in frustration.  I had enough and needed to slow things down.  I needed a change of pace.

And just in time, my friend Marie from Denmark flew in for a whirlwind road trip we planned around our friends’ weddings in Minnesota and Denmark.  Marie lived my family 13 years ago as an exchange student for eight months.  Over the years we’ve kept in touch and my parents consider her their “Danish daughter.”  Marie, a fellow runner has been somewhat skeptical of my streak, wondering if it was the right thing for a person with RA… so when I told her I was thinking of backing off my mileage she was on board.  For five days in a row we just did a mile a day—my minimum daily mileage to qualify for the streak.  Within two days, I felt my body healing and was beginning to feel more like myself.

Marie and I after a run at my parents' house

Of course, it also helps to be around people like Marie, who I consider more than a friend, but a sister.  On Friday, we left New York and landed in Minneapolis to meet up with my mother and begin our Midwest road trip up North.  We landed at the Humphrey terminal and the familiarity of the terrain and “you betcha” accents instilled a sense of calm I haven’t felt in more than a year.  It was a different change of pace I needed to heal my heart.

Dad and Buddy on the Lake

I’m writing this right now in the easy chair in my parents’ house.  I’m still sitting in my sweaty running clothes from my “perfect four mile run” I just took with my dad, Marie and my parents’ black lab, Buddy.  It’s the kind of run I’ve been craving for months. Next week I’ll be ready to go back to New York and my longer runs and the expensive cocktails, but until then this is just the change of pace I need.

Posted by: runningitis | June 9, 2010

Brawl in the City

Another post that has nothing to do with running/arthritis, but needs to be shared.

Sometime over the last few years my passion for Sex and the City began to wane.  Carrie and the rest of the girls and I had grown apart.  While seasons one through six were once in constant rotation in my DVD player, they’re now in a box somewhere with Pilates for Weight Loss and Legally Blonde 2: “Red, White and Blonde.”  But living in New York got me a little excited to see what the girls were up to for Sex and the City 2.  It was kind of like going to your high school class reunion–you pretend you don’t care, but really you can’t wait to see who got fat, who’s bald and who gets really drunk and makes a fool out of themselves.  Besides, seeing Sex and the City 2 at a Long Island theatre might be like seeing Roman Holiday in Rome.  Turns out, it was more like the Holiday Inn Express.

My friend Karen invited me to go along with another one of our friends, her sister, her sister’s friends and her sister’s friends’ friends.  There were 14 of us in all.  I don’t think I’ve been with such a big group of girls since my 13th birthday sleepover party.  One woman even brought her fiance–who must really be in love with his betrothed because he seemed better suited for breaking up fights at a college bar than watching Carrie break up or makeup with Mr. Big.  Everyone seemed friendly and we chatted about our communal appreciation for cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahniks, while our bouncer-type friend acted the part of dutiful husband to-be.

Our posse arrived an hour early for the show, so when they lifted the nylon ropes to let us in the theatre we had our pick of seats.  We grabbed the coveted  center rows about three quarters of the way back, but we were only there for a few minutes, when part of the group decided they needed concessions and I’m not talking about Junior Mints or greasy popcorn.  The girls decided they’d run to the liquor store across the street from the theatre because Cherry Coke wasn’t going to cut it.  “You’re doing whaaa?” asked one of the sisters.

“Don’t worry! We’ll be back.” they said as they slung sweaters, purses and whatever else they could find over their chairs then turned to me, “Now don’t let anyone take our seats.”

Great.  Since I was the one sitting on the end of this group, it was up to me to respond to the waves of people now spilling into the theatre.  “Nope, sorry.  These seats are taken.” I had to repeat, repeat and repeat again.

It continued for about 15 minutes when a short, frizzy haired woman in her 50s wearing a Giants t-shirt started lumbering down our row like a tiny linebacker.  “I don’t care whooze saving whooze seats.”

I bent forward, “mam, excuse me, but these seats are taken.” I said, gesturing to the articles of clothing strewn across the seats.

The woman had her car keys in her hand and started to jingle them in my face like some kind of battle cry.  Then she made a big show of plunking her drink in one of the cup holders, making herself ready to plunk down in one of the seats that was covered with a sweater and purse.

“EXCUSE ME, mam!”  I repeated.

The woman took a step forward and I heard some member of our group behind me say,  “Who the f*#^ is this lady?”

“FIRST OF ALL!”  The frizzy curls began to scream, “I’M NO MAM.”  Her neck began sliding right and left and her hands were up in the air.  She didn’t follow up her point with a “second of all,” but I wasn’t expecting her to make a lucid argument at this juncture.  I’ve seen enough episodes of Jerry Springer to know where this was going…

Let me pause for a second to say, the woman was clearly middle aged and female.  Therefore, in any polite society, “Mam” would be considered the appropriate term.  Then I realized the rules of decorum didn’t apply and the Giants-loving ball of frizz may actually prefer to be called something more along the lines of, oh, I don’t know… bitch?  But something in my midwestern bones couldn’t bring myself to curse out a woman in the middle of a crowded theatre.

I did however, stand up and tried to use most calm, but firm tone of voice I imagine is taught to law enforcement for hostage situations.  “Mam, there are plenty of available seats in the theatre.  Please take one that is empty.”


“Mam,” I purposely slowed down my speaking hoping to de-escalate an escalating situation.  “These seats are taken, the women are getting concessions (I left out what kind) and they’ll be back.”

“Well you know what, they’re NOT here, but I am!”

The situation was heating up and I could sense the non-boozing part of the posse had had enough.  The last thing I needed was the bouncer-looking fellow leaping across the seat to tackle the Giants fan while I was in between.  And some of the women seemed ready to strike with their acrylic nails.  My heart began beating… and all I kept thinking is… are we really seeing Sex and the City or Conan the Barbarian? There was going to be a brawl–I could just see the headlines in the Post, “Sex” Gets Violent or Cat Fight at Cougar Flick.

I’m not sure if it was our bald-headed  bouncer friend that did it, or the off duty female NYPD officer who seemed ready to pull out her taser, but the woman eventually backed off.  And in the time she wasted arguing with us, she missed out on some other prime seats.  That’s no surprise, I mean, what was her plan anyway?  To sit on top of someone else’s clothing for a two and a half hour movie?  Right next to someone you just had a screaming match with?  I don’t care how good your view is–those are some pretty uncomfortable seats.

A few minutes later, the girls came back with water bottles filled with wine.  But I was the one who really needed a drink.

Posted by: runningitis | May 11, 2010

Sunday I was Almost Hit by a Car and Other Mundane Events

My chest was heaving by the time I opened the side door and stepped inside to kick off my shoes and quickly checked the kitchen’s digital clock against the stopwatch on my iPod (my runner’s watch got lost in the move).  1:18!  I was pumped.  I found my husband upstairs folding our laundry.  He asked me how the run went, I told him fine, grabbed a clean towel and took a shower.  It wasn’t until we sat down with his parents to eat and was in the middle of rehashing my route, between big sips of blue Gatorade that I finally remembered what made this run actually eventful, “and, oh yeah, I almost was hit by a car.  That’s what I forgot to tell you…  I actually ended up on this guy’s hood!”  Clang!  My husband dropped his fork on his plate and gave me a very concerned look.

To my husband and I would say anyone without much road running experience–getting almost hit by a car to the point where you have to leap on top of the hood is an eventful occurrence.  Don’t get me wrong–this is the first time in my life where I came that close where my body actually made contact with the cold steel (do they still make cars out of steel?).  But as a runner who spends a fair amount of time off the treadmill… well, these things just happen.  Or maybe it’s just me.

And honestly, in this instance I was partially to blame.  Looking both ways before going has never really been my thing.  Something I had to learn the hard way when I first began driving as a teen.  A few crashes later–I learned if I wanted to make it to college graduation alive, I couldn’t rely solely on “the force” when crossing intersections.

But after running 7,10, 15 miles–your brain gets a little foggy and you aren’t as alert as you should be.  Fatigue starts to set in and suddenly it seems to take tremendous effort just to stop, crane your neck in both directions and start again.  This was partially the case on Sunday during the nine mile run.  I was a little more than seven miles in and feeling some fatigue, I was running along a heavily traveled road with parking lots and residential roads running perpendicular.  I started to cross one of the small residential roads and a red compact car was waiting to cross the street.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a runner are right-hand-turning drivers.  You’ll be coming up on the driver’ right–but they are sooooo programmed to watch for traffic on their left for the chance to hit the gas and peel out–that they don’t see you and will hit you.  This has almost happened to me–I don’t know how many times.  I’ve learned to make eye-contact with the driver or just run behind their car (and risk them suddenly backing up and running me over).  I’ve also been known to actually smack the hood of their car to get their attention and let them know I am running in front of their car and let the a-hole know that he or she is blocking the cross walk too!

But the red car–didn’t have a signal on at all, so I wasn’t sure where he was going.  He was pretty far into the intersection, but not so far that I couldn’t scoot around.  I looked inside to make eye contact and saw a teenage boy, another boy in the passenger seat and two girls in the backseat.  I looked at them for about five seconds–thinking surely, the driver must have seen me behind his knock-off  Ray Ban aviators.  So I started running.  And just as my hip crossed his driver side headlight, he started going… and GOING.  Suddenly I was on top of his hood and my hands were sprawled out, practically touching his wiper blades.  I jumped off, but not before giving the hood a big smack as if to punctuate the WHAT THE HELL!? I had just yelled out.  The girls inside were screaming and the teenager on the passenger side was pressed as far back as he could into the upholstery.  I think he had seen the whole thing in slow motion–seeing–but not being able to stop what was about to happen.

As for me–I slid off the hood of the car and ran around the back.  One of the girls was still shrieking.  I threw my arms up in the air, doing my best pantomime of “what the hell?”  Not sure of what else to do… I kept running.

The next quarter of a mile I replayed the near-miss in my head again and again–I should have waited to make eye contact with the driver.  I should have just waited at the corner for them to pass.  I shuddered to think of what could have happened if he had really hit the gas and if I had gone down instead of up in the air.

There are many bizarre things we normalize as runners: black and blue (and missing) toenails, peeing in the woods en masse to avoid the port-a-johns, and applying Body Glide in public.  And we surely all have stories of dumb drivers and near-misses.  Let’s hope they continue to be misses!

Posted by: runningitis | April 26, 2010

The Real Housewives of Long Island

This story has very little to do with running, arthrtis or streaking.  But I think it needs to be told….

It’s week three living on Long Island and trying to fill my unemployed days with something other than Bravo programming.  So I took my laptop and journeyed out to find a quiet place to write, sugary carbohydrates and free wi-fi.  Behold: the Promise Land…Panera Bread!

As I ordered my foamy coffee drink and waited, I watched an elderly woman in a Panera Bread uniform fix a young woman’s collar.  Both the women were about 5 feet–nothing tall and I smiled thinking it must be the woman’s grand-daughter.  I smiled to myself, thinking this young woman must have stopped by to see her Grandmother at work.  I felt a pang inside as I thought about my own Grandmother and our strained relationship.  As the young woman turned to go, the older woman patted her on the back and told her she loved her.  The moment brought a tear to my eye.

I took my drink to a booth, which was covered in someone else’s breakfast.  As the old woman passed me by, I asked to have a towel to wipe down the table.  She brought it right over and began to wipe off the booth, which was a strain for her petite arms.  I took the opportunity to ask if the young woman was her daughter.  I saw her name tag said, Anne.  Anne looked at me dumbfounded.  Now, I knew the young woman was way too young to be the woman’s daughter, but I didn’t want to stick my foot in my mouth by assuming she was the woman’s grand-daughter.  “The young woman at the counter… you fixed her collar.”

“Oooohhh!” thankfully a wave of recognition passed over Anne’s face.  “Her?  She used to work here.”  “She’s a sweetheart.”  She spoke in a breathy, lilting Long Island accent that fell somewhere between Marilyn Monroe and Frenchie, in Grease.  “My daughter, is 61-years-old!”  She said with a raspy laugh, revealing a bit of her age.

“Well, pardon me for asking…”  (acknowledging my rudeness) “how old are you?”  A teasing smile spread across Anne’s face…

“I’m 86-years-old.”  I almost fell out of the booth.

“You are 86-years-old and you are working!?”  I couldn’t hide my shock.

Anne told me she applied for the job seven years ago after her husband died.  Anne and her husband had been married for 58 years.  She married him at 19, but had known him since she was 13-years-old.  They not only were a married couple, but they grew up together.  In that breathy, Monroe-like voice she told me how painful it was to lose him and the loneliness that nearly swallowed her up,  “I wanted to die.”  Her voice broke as she spoke.

“My daughter lives behind me, my son lives not too far away, but you know… they have their own lives.”  That’s when she said she took the Panera job.

Suddenly Anne perked up.  “And now I have a man.”  The teasing smile came back.

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

“Yeah, he lived down the street for years–he was a neighbor.  But nothing more than that.”  She added the last bit quickly–careful of what she might mistakenly imply.

My daughter and I even went to his wife’s wake.  “Sad…”  Her voice trailed off.  And then quickly picked back up.  “Then I was sitting reading the paper at a restaurant one day and he came by.  He started talking to me, but he had his sunglasses on so I didn’t recognize him.  I wasn’t going to talk to just some man.  Then he took his sunglasses off and I realized it was my neighbor.”  She went on about their courting, how she turned him down a few times before she agreed to come along with him to visit his sister who was in a nursing home.  I laughed thinking it was an octogenarian’s version of after-work drinks.  “We get along real good.”

“How old is he, if I may ask?”

She paused and a blush swept across her face, “He’s 88 and a half, but he’s very active.”

“Sure! My grandfather just turned 90 and he plays golf and cards everyday.”  I added.

“Yeah, he plays golf, but he’s very… active.”  She said again, because I clearly hadn’t picked up on what she meant the first time.  I must have still looked lost, because her volume dropped, “He’s very interested in S-E-X.”  I almost choked on my bagel when she said it.  Waiting for me to recover she said, “I was surprised, but he’s interested in it all the time.  He likes that I’m so active.”

Coughing up bits of bagel, I rasped, “that’s… wonderful.”

“Yeah, we’re very compatible, we like jazz and dancing.  That’s why he says he liked me, he saw that I was very active, I do pilates and yoga and walk everyday.”

“That’s… that’s…”  I sat there stammering.  “That’s really something.”  My 29-year-old brain was struggling to grasp this gainfully employed, limber-bodied, sexually active 86-year-old.  “Wow.”  Was all I could come up with.

Perhaps realizing she had stunned me speechless Anne began her exit.  “Well, enjoy your coffee.”

“Thank you… it was so nice talking to you.” I said in return.

“Your welcome!” And then in typical Marilyn-fashion, she blew me a kiss and said, “I love you!”

I waved and laughed goodbye.  I love you?  It seemed like a peculiar thing to say to someone you met ten minutes earlier, but then again, I knew more about this woman’s feelings than I did about my own grandmother’s present emotions.

For the next hour I sat at my laptop and surfed around the internet and the cafe became busier as the lunch crowd began arriving.  The place became impersonal once again as more people sat down and left without so much as a nod.  At one point a well-dressed older woman sat down to eat a sandwich.  She faced away from the windows, but kept her lunch-plate sized sunglasses on the entire time.  She talked to no one and made a point to avoid any interaction when a man needed her to move her chair so he could get by.

Soon after, I packed up the computer and headed for the door.  Anne was nowhere in sight.  The well-dressed woman was still sitting pin-straight in her seat, her dark sunglasses shielding her from eye contact.  I looked directly at her and made a point to smile.

Outside, it was a brightly sunny day, but I didn’t reach in my bag for my own sunglasses.  I turned my face up into the sky and my eyes squinted, not just from the sun, also from the teasing smile spreading across my face.

Posted by: runningitis | April 20, 2010

The Runway

I’ll admit, I’m usually the last one out of the house for any function.  Before church last Sunday I had no less than four different outfit combinations on my body before I simply ran out of time and had to head out the door.  It’s a trait I am well-known for in my family–because as my mother and sister like to remind me, I almost caused my sister to miss her high school graduation because I couldn’t decide what to wear that morning–delaying the entire family so that Betsy had to make a mad dash across the school lawn in her white formal gown (her boarding school’s version of the cap and gown).  I prefer to remind them of the upside–in that we have an adorable picture of her looking backwards as she is running.  But to my sister, her frantic expression is a reflection of her feelings about my persistent tardiness.  And it’s not just major events that confound me–sometimes it’s the simple run to the grocery store that causes me to tear my closet apart.  Choosing which scrubby t-shirt is enough to turn an errand into an odyssey.

I feel so superficial to admit this, but the same goes for my running clothes.  The night before a race, when others are doing positive visualization exercises, I’m lamenting whether my shorts are too short, or too bunchy in the butt and which shirt won’t ride up to expose a hermetic midriff? And then putting it all together… does it work?  And most importantly… does it appear to look like an outfit?  When dressing for a jog or a race–I like to take a page out of the old Grunge handbook and try hard to look like I didn’t try at all.  Somehow, I feel it gives me a mental advantage over the spandex-clad Niketown residents at the starting line.  Even though it probably took them less time to select their coordinating tank and compression shorts–I feel like somehow wearing the schlumpy six-year-old black running shorts gives me more street cred.  Top it off with a marathon finisher shirt from four years ago–and you’re bona fide.

Of course this makes me an enormous hypocrite (give me some credit for at least recognizing it).  I talked to a counselor once to find out what this was all about.  She says it has something to do with my compulsive (and fruitless) drive for perfection.  And subconsciously I’m telling myself that no matter what–I’m not good enough.  Now that’s harsh.

But true.  Which makes sense why choosing just the right sports bra and top for a six-mile run sometimes takes longer than the run itself.  No matter how many miles I’ve logged, or how many formal events I’ve attended–deep down inside there’s a voice that’s saying “who are you kidding?  You look like a fool.”

This streak has been an interesting exercise in countering those voices.  Unless you want to be doing laundry every day, running every day means accepting the fact your outfit combinations may be less than “pulled together.”  Shorts I had long ago relegated to the back of my closet are now suddenly making a comeback during two-mile neighborhood runs and long gym sessions.  And some hideous t-shirts handed out at races are now in regular rotation.  Yeah, the drawstring may have long ago fallen out.  Yeah, this shirt shows more midriff than a boozy Brittany Spears–so what?  I finished my run and that more than any article of clothing is what makes me a runner (or so I’ll keep telling myself).

Posted by: runningitis | April 14, 2010

Moving Right Along

I know, I know, I know I haven’t blogged in like…. a really, really long time.  But like all great failures, I have a great excuse.  Last week, I signed off the air at my tv job for good, went to bed and woke up the next morning to pack the car and drive a few hours North to join my husband in New York.

He landed a job doing what he loves, in the city that he loves and because I love him I’m along for the ride.  But since I don’t have a job yet and we haven’t found a place to live, we are bunking with my in-laws on Long Island until I get a job or they move out (whichever comes first).

When I started this streak, I realized an out of state move was a possibility.  My husband had been looking for a job for more than a year.  And compared to the pain of watching him grin and bare days on end of relentless job searching, I figured squeezing in daily runs during hours of packing (and unpacking) would be a problem I’d love to have.

The elusive job did happen (can I get an Amen?).  And we packed up the Uhaul and I bid him farewell as I finished up my last few weeks of work.  You would think a barely furnished apartment and subtracting a member from the household would mean more free time for running and blogging.  Curiously enough, I found it to mean less.  There was a yard sale to be had, countless trips to Goodwill, and meeting strangers on Craigslist to get rid of those last pieces of particle board furniture that I didn’t want to drag along to New York.  And then goodbye notes to write and last suppers with friends.

Having been a nomad my whole life, I am well versed in moves.  The piles of cardboard and reams of packing paper and the shuffling of new and old addresses and the bitter sadness of saying goodbye to friends and places you’ve grown to love.  As a child, my Navy brat mother taught us to bottle up the grief and concentrate on the possibilities in the next town… but I’ve learned in my adulthood that steeling yourself from the grief of goodbye only creates a more powerful nostalgia for the places we leave behind.  This time, I let my sadness out and tasted the bitter lump in the back of my throat every time I said goodbye.  As a child, we were taught denial, but I’ve now learned it’s much easier to move ahead to acceptance.

I followed Route 501 North out of Lynchburg–the reverse direction of when I first came.  The windy road scared me stiff the first time I drove it.  I gripped the steering wheel and prayed to God an 18 wheeler wouldn’t cross the double yellow line on the hairpin curves.  Driving out, I handled the curves with confidence.  Scaling the mountains, I felt resilient, four years in this place had taught me so much and as I stole glances at the beautiful Blue Ridge views I felt ready to say goodbye.

The next few days were spent packing and driving around in circles as I tried to learn my way around another new town.  Unlike any move I’ve ever made in my life, this time I did know people.  My husband grew up here and his friends and family are all still local.  Which makes things exponentially easier.  Rather than search and search for a new dry cleaner, gym, doctor, dentist–I have more recommendations than I do shirts to press or ailments.

What I didn’t have though, was a running route.  One thing I’ll miss about Virginia were the miles of trails just a few blocks from my house.  A ten mile jog?  No problem, I had a course complete with quarter-mile markers.  While New York City is an urban runners paradise, the suburbs of Long Island lack aren’t exactly runner-friendly.  So I coerced my brother-in-law, who also happens to be a Middle School track coach into teaching me a four mile loop around the neighborhood.  He obliged and took me for a quick (really quick–he’s too fast for me) jaunt around the neighborhood.  But I had to adjust my country legs to this new city way of running… stopping at every street corner, waiting for the lights to change and understanding the traffic patterns.  My 8:30 miles were turning into 9:15.

But just as my confidence was waning, the universe decided to really throw out what could be the best welcome mat… an accepted entrance into the New York City Marathon.  It took me ten minutes to believe my good luck–I had won the lottery after all.

It’ll take many more years until I feel like a real New Yorker.  But block by block I’m learning my way around.  And November 7th, 2010–exactly one year after my streak began I’ll be out there on the pavement hopefully feeling more confident as I climb this next mountain.

Posted by: runningitis | March 25, 2010

Pain in the Elbow

It isn’t my knee, ankle, arch of my foot that plagues me as a runner–it’s my elbow.  During my run today I found myself cringing, not with every step, but with every swing of my arm.  On the treadmill at the gym today, I think I caught a few stares as I jabbed my right arm out sporadically trying to ease the tension creeping up into my neck.  I’m sure I made the bicyclist in front of me worried.

Achilles had a heel, turns out my weakness is my right elbow.  It started six or so years ago when I experienced a bad arthritis flare in the elbow joint. A doctor injected it with cortisone and I was ordered to give it a rest, but just about everything I did required me to have it bent 90 degrees or more: talking on the phone, typing at the computer, even just sitting on the couch.

My elbows used to hyper-extend.  Something I could show off during elementary school to gross out the other kids.  While my left arm still does–my right is fused somewhere around 160 degrees–unable to fully straighten without a signficant amount of pain.  On the occasions where it does (like when my dog suddenly lunges for a squirrel while I’m holding the leash) it feels like hot lava poured on my arm.

RA Hands

Picture from New York Times of Hands with RA

But as joints go… I’m glad it’s my elbow and not my knees, hips or ankles that cause me pain.  Having experienced pain in all of those joints before–I think I got off pretty easy.  Someday I imagine I’ll have to have to replace the joint with something man-made considering there’s little cartilage left.  I’ve considered wearing a brace while I run for extra pressure around the joint, but I imagine what kind of stares I will get… kind of like wearing knee pads while washing dishes.

Wishing the pain away is about as fruitless as wishing my dog would one day be uninterested in squirrels–so I’ll learn to deal.  That means after my runs I won’t be dipping my knees in ice baths–I’ll be throwing elbows.

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